Bardsey Island 13/6/15 – 16/6/15

I’ve never done a repeat trip before so it was somewhat surreal to be landing back on the shores of Bardsey island just two years after I made my first trip.

Whereas that trip had been a field course that counted towards my second year marks this trip was for my MSc project. I was looking at the areas of wetland on the island and collecting soil samples for analysis in the lab back in Bangor.

Day 1 – 13/6/15

The first day was largely uneventful, once we made it across we shifted all of our belongings to the house, Ty Nessaf, we went out on a walkaround the island along with the official University trip and the island warden, Steve Stansfield.

Nigel Brown the field course leader gave us a run down of the island and some of the plant life.

Perhaps the most remarkable find of the day was this Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus) which had been literally turned inside out by a Greater black-backed gull (Larus marinus). Quite an unusual find despite it probably happening fairly regularly.

A Manx shearwater (Puffinus puffinus) that has been turned inside out by a predatory Greater black-backed gull (Larus marinus).
A Manx shearwater (Puffinus puffinus) that has been turned inside out by a predatory Greater black-backed gull (Larus marinus).

Day 2 – 14/6/15

After the Cretzschmar’s bunting was hiding on the first day it finally showed itself for the island to see and kicked off one of the biggest if not he biggest off shore twitch in Britain. To see how that went check out my previous blog post dedicated to this rarity.

After a morning of twitching I decided to hike up Bardsey ‘mountain’ to get a better look of the entire island and see if I could spot one the pair of Peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus) that are resident on the island.

One of the great things about Bardsey is that you cannot see the mainland when you are on the main, lower section of the island, it makes it feel all the more isolated. Climbing up to the top of the mountain in turn gives you great views looking back at the Llyn Peninsula.

The good weather was certainly an added bonus as well, had it been raining or foggy visibility would have been extremely poor and it can make walking up there quite dangerous if you can’t see where it suddenly slopes away into the sea.

Kicking back and enjoying the view.
Kicking back and enjoying the view.

I did a full circuit, walking along the ridge line before descending back down into the lowlands and walking around the North of the island.

Unfortunately I didn’t see the Peregrines I was looking for but I did see a large amount of sea birds attacking shoals of bait fish. No cetaceans though.

It’s a shame that the currents are so strong around the island, as it did look very inviting for a swim, although I imagine it would have been pretty chilly.

Exploring the coastline at the North side of the Island.
Exploring the coastline at the North side of the Island.

Day 3 – 15/6/15

The day started fairly quietly, nothing had been planned and I spent a couple more hours up at the lighthouse to get more views of the Cretzschmar’s bunting.

The day picked up from the afternoon with a boat trip around the island. Whilst you can get good views of the seabirds standing on the island, the best way to see them (and up close!) is by boat.

Some of the most common species include: Guillemots (Uria aalge), razorbills (Alca torda), shags (Phalacrocorax aristotelis), cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), lesser black-backed gulls (Larus fuscus), greater black-backed gulls (Larus marinus) and herring gulls (Larus argentatus).

Puffins (Fratercula arctica) have historically been rare on Bardsey, but their numbers are steadily increasing.

The coastline around Bardsey is dotted with large numbers of sea birds.
The coastline around Bardsey is dotted with large numbers of sea birds.
Grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) are also a frequent sight.
Grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) are also a frequent sight.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the boat ride was seeing the feeding frenzy, that I’d witnessed the previous day at the top of the mountain, up close.

Hundreds of gulls and a smattering of auks and comorants were sitting and diving into the water in order to get at the bait fish below.

The feeding frenzy of gulls.
The feeding frenzy of gulls.

As good as the boat trip was the highlight of the day was yet to come.

Bardsey is an island covered in Manx shearwaters but is is also home to another elusive sea bird that only comes in at night, the storm petrel (Hydrobates pelagicus). The world’s smallest seabird.

That night was quite a big event with the entire island invited to come along and witness the arrival of hundreds of sea birds at night.

The manxies are so large in number that you just have to wait for one to land nearby before picking it up. However special measures are required for storm petrels.

Earlier in the day I went out with an assistant warden and a few others to set up a large mist net along the side of the island we were on.

At night the call of the storm petrel was then played on big speakers to draw them in. When caught in the mists nets they were removed and shown to members of the public.

Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus)
Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus)
Storm Petrel  (Hydrobates pelagicus)
Storm Petrel (Hydrobates pelagicus)

I really was amazed at how small the storm petrels were, it is incredible to think the long distances such a small bird undergoes.

The also have quite a different, notable, smell from other seabirds. It’s best described as the smell of a dusty book.

The main aim of nights like these (when there isn’t a crowd of 40 people!) is to capture birds for ringing for long term data collection. This helps us understand more about individuals birds and the species as a whole including age and migration.

Day 4 – 16/6/15

The fourth day was a little less busy than the previous one. We kicked off the day with a group walk up the mountain in search of the rare golden hair lichen (Teloschistes flavicans).

Although easy to find on Bardsey it has a very limited distribution throuh the U.K., found only in the Western Isles as it requires close proximity to the sea (but above the splash zone) and clean air.

Golden hair lichen (Teloschistes flavicans)
Golden hair lichen (Teloschistes flavicans)

I finally managed to see the pair of Peregrines I missed out on before. The group saw them sit on ledges above the bird colonies before taking to the skies. We didn’t see any hunting which was a shame but it was still great to see these aerial aces outside of a city centre.

After lunch I decided it was time to scout for potential areas of wetland in the lowland areas of the Bardsey. At first I had thought it wouldn’t be too difficult.

I remembered the reed beds when I had been on Bardsey two years ago and decided to check those out first.

To my disappointment and surprise they weren’t true wetlands at all. The first giveaway was that generalist species was growing right in amongst them.

When I finally dug my hand into the ground to see what the soil was like it was dry, typical of what you might find in your garden and contained earthworms.

The area must flood during winter time in order to keep generalist species from taking over but that means the area is better defined at wet land as opposed to wetland.

I’ll avoid going into the long intricacies of wetland classification and definition.

The second place I looked were the withy beds which looked to be the only promising areas of the island that may yield wetland soils.

All in all it was a little disappointing, I was looking at the possibility that there wasn’t any true wetland at all on the island.

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