Bardsey Island & the Cretzschmar’s Bunting

Before I move onto my highlights of the week long field trip to Bardsey Island I think it is important to get the elephant in the room out of the way. The Cretzschmar’s bunting.

Hailing from the Greece/Turkey region of the Mediterranean this bird was certainly lost indeed. What was peculiar though was that despite this being only the sixth bird to be seen in the UK, it is the furthest south it has occured.

All the birds previously have appeared in the far north of Scotland, somewhat counter intuitively when you consider where it has come from.

Arriving on the island the Wednesday before I arrived on the island (10th) I (as well as a few others who were due to go out) was kicking myself that I would miss this rarity by a few days.

Initially it didn’t look promising, the bird was appearing infrequently, not being spotted on the evening before and the day we arrived.

The following morning however I head down to Cristin (the Bird Observatory) to find out the bird had been spotted this morning near the lighthouse.

Before long I had gone back to Ty Nessaf to collect my things together (camera, backpack, food and drink but foolishly no rain coat) and headed down to where the bird had last been spotted.

For two hours though there was no sign of the bird (nor the black redstart that had been spotted that morning as well) and the weather was deteriotating (could have used that raincoat…).

The group of us that was still there, including the island warden Steve Stansfield, decided to take shelter in a nearby hut where two of the bird observatory staff call home.

No sooner had we opened it up and moved our stuff inside, a bird appeared on the concrete area within the lighthouse compound.

Low and behold it was what we had been waiting for, the Cretschmar’s bunting.

We were very lucky in this instance, the bird showed well for 5-10 minutes allowing us to get good views of it and a few photos (though with my old and heavily dated bridge camera I almost could have not bothered).

My own poor offering, captured on my old bridge camera.
My own poor offering, captured on my old bridge camera.

This turned out to be the prime location for the bird. For the next week of the bird’s stay, the warden would put seed down on this area to attract the bird which would show for a few minutes every 1-2 hours.

What came next I did not expect, at least not to this extent.

I’d heard about twitching, the crazy obsession of rushing off to another part of the country to see a rare vagrant but what surprised me was the lengths to which people would go to tick something off their list.

Ordinarily Colin Evans the island boatman would run 1-2 boats a day for day trippers and people staying the week on saturdays. The demand was so great though that he had to run seven boats a day, weather permitting.

Usually day trippers got a solid seven hours on the island, this was cut to just three to cope with the numbers. Thankfully for the twitchers Colin decided to keep the ticket price the same.

However even with seven boats running, with each boat load container twelve people that is only 84 people a day and initially there were 200 people waiting at Aberdaron to cross with more on the way.

On one day people even chartered a fishing boat to get to the island and people were even sleeping rough on the beach in order to secure a trip across to Bardsey. At this point something needed to be done.

Lee Evans, a well known twitcher stepped in and managed to cobble together a basic booking system to bring order back to the island crossings. It worked well, ending the previous chaos and uncertainty.

Luckily once people were on the island spotting the bird was pretty easy, everyone just headed over to the lighthouse hotspot and saw the bird without fail.

This resulted in lots of happy twitchers who donated large amounts of money to the Bird Obvervatory (some days as much as £700) and some who expressed a desire to return and explore the rest of the island.

The bird certainly helped put Bardsey on the map.

People weren't just taking photos! Here is twitcher/artist Richard Thewlis speed painting the Cretzshmar's bunting. Make sure to check him out on twitter and on his blog.
People weren’t just taking photos! Here is twitcher/artist Richard Thewlis speed painting the Cretzshmar’s bunting. Make sure to check him out on twitter and on his blog.

What worked out well was that the bird was on one specfic part of the islands, away from everywhere else which left the rest of the island free from disturbance and allowing everyone else to carry on as usual (with the exception of the warden and his team).

Staying on the island all week certainly had its perks as well, allowing myself and others to head to the lighthouse in the evening when all the twitchers had gone for a more relaxing experience.

During the week I must have seen the bird about six times.

This was definately the highlight of the trip for me by a country mile, to see a bird this rare was certainly a thrilling experience and having a taste of twitching was fun as well.

However it’s not something I’ll be taking up any time soon! It’s one thing to walk a mile or so from my house, it’s a completely different ball game when you are travelling from hundreds of miles away only to travel back a few hours later.

It couldn’t last forever though, and the bird finally disappeared on fathers day (21st), the day after we left.

Still, ten days on the island was certainly a good spell!

The following video showcases some of the action, captured by Pete Hines:

The cover photo was taking by the up and coming wildlife photographer Ben Porter. Make sure to check out his amazing work on Flickr, at his webite or his blog:

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