Saturday, 28 March 2015

The Oystercatcher project

Over the last week I have started up a small photography project with the breeding Oystercatchers around the island's coast. Essentially, I am just trying to capture the birds with the movement of the waves and sea. To do this requires a few variables to come together: firstly, the Oystercatchers need to be on reasonably exposed rocks that are subject to the battering waves; secondly, there needs to be a good movement of the sea, and ideally some larger waves; thirdly, the tide should ideally be rising, so any Oystercatchers roosting on isolated rocks will gradually be encroached upon by the rising water. So, plenty of difficulties, and plenty of variables to come together. It's certainly a work in progress, and I have yet to get 'the one'. Here are some of the best so far:

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Well, its been a great few days on the island for birds and photography. This has largely been helped by the settled conditions and great lighting, making it pleasant to be out when no help is needed with the lambing that is currently underway. The weather has taken a chilly, breezy and somewhat damper turn today, but we can't complain after the last few weeks of great conditions. The first Blackcap of the year arrived on the island today, and Manx Shearwaters have gradually been increasing in number at night. There were 32 Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests present at Nant yesterday, many of which I trapped and ringed, whilst Redwings, Wheatears, Stonechats, some Sand Martins and Meadow Pipits have all been on the move.

We appear to have three pairs of Little Owls on the island this year, with one on Pen Cristin, one above Plas, and one at the North End. The Plas pair have been showing quite well in the evening on occasion, which has made for some nice images

Dunnocks are in full display mode at the moment, with the males dancing around gorse bushes flashing their wings at the females. I caught this one mid way with a shutter speed of 1/2500th sec, with the early morning light backlighting the primaries and secondaries

Peregrine Falcon

Starlings flying in front of yesterday's sunset 

male Stonechat- at least six pairs are about at the moment, and some have already been gathering nesting material

Monday, 23 March 2015

European Shags

I spent some of yesterday morning photographing the Shags on the East Side. There are plenty of pairs around at the moment, all collecting nesting material from the surface of the sea (twigs, grass, dried seaweed, rope etc.), and taking this back to create their 'nest' on the seacliffs. I really love the green eyes of Shags, and the fluffy crests are very cool on some of the more mature birds. Here are some images from yesterday:

The background in these pictures is a very calm, almost silky sea, which gives the impression of cloud! I have converted these two into black and white

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Spring update

Well, its been an exciting few days on the island: on the night of the 16th, we were treated to an amazing display or aurora, with faint green curtains to the north turning into a spectacular scene once a camera and 30 second exposure were taken to it. Yesterday (the 20th), the awesome solar eclipse took place in clear blue skies between 0830 and 1000 in the morning- it was very cool to watch the whole spectacle unfold with the aid of a white light filter, my Dad's telescope and my own camera and lens. The results of the near-total eclipse are pictured below.

Its not just the meteorological side of things that have been interesting- spring is really warming up now, with moths emerging, migrants arriving, and lambs appearing. The first Sand Martins of the year have flown North over the island (18th+19th), and more and more Wheatears continue to arrive, accompanied on the 18th by some 20 Stonechats. Chiffchaffs are starting to sing, and are also increasing in number, along with Goldcrests. Finches have been on the move in the last day or so, with Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Siskins, Lesser Redpoll, Bullfinch and House Sparrow all recorded. A pair of Puffins have been seen off the North End too, which is quite early for their arrival here. Manx Shearwaters are now on the island too, and can be heard every now and then at night. I have uploaded a small selection of images from the last few days: 

This was pretty flipping awesome!! The Northern Lights from Bardsey, with the Celtic Crosses and 13th century Abbey in the foreground

The Solar eclipse was an awesome spectacle, taking place between 0830 and 1000 on the 20th. Using a white light filter in the clear blue skies, it was great to be able to get images of the sun and look directly at it. Towards the end of the eclipse some cloud rolled in and acted as a natural filter (lower image)

Honey Bees have been out collecting pollen from a variety of sources, including gorse and pussy willows (above)

I have had a small heath trap (moth trap) out in the last few days, and on the calmer nights this attracted a small range of species, including classic earlies like Dotted Border, Early Grey, Mottled Grey, Red Chestnut, Hebrew Characters and some micro moths such as Agonopterix heracliana and Emmelina monodactyla 
Hebrew Character

Early Grey

Dotted Border

Common Buzzard

Chiffchaffs have been moving through in decent numbers, although they have not arrived in true force as yet. Its been great to hear a few singing, and feeding in a classic spring setting of these pussy willows

A selection of Wheatear images taken in the last few days around the coast. It has been interesting to see how virtually all the birds at the moment are males. The first two females have only just arrived today (21st), which is over 10 days since the first males arrived on the island. This is presumably so that males can start singing and displaying on territory before the females arrive


Raven flying in front of Bardsey Lighthouse

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Spring is here!!

Spring has sprung! Chiffchaffs have arrived, calling from the coastal gorse and gardens; Wheatears are hopping around the coast; Wrens, Dunnocks, Stonechats and Meadow Pipits are singing; seabirds are returning to breed on the coastal sea cliffs; Daffodils and Gorse are flowering and adding a flush of yellow to the landscape; and the first few moths of the year are emerging from their winter hide-outs. 

With a nice big high pressure sat over the UK at the moment, the weather has taken a turn for the better, with calm winds from the North and East accompanied by chilly temperatures and occasional patches of bright blue sky and warming sun. The movement of migrant birds over and through the island has been very slow compared to previous years, but Chiffchaffs, Wheatears, Black Redstarts and a single Manx Shearwater have all arrived and certainly make it feel like spring has begun. Swallows and Sand Martins should be here soon, with one of the former reported over Nefyn (just up the coast) a few days ago, and a few of both moving through southern parts of the UK. Many of the island's breeding birds are 'waking up', and showing signs of nest-building and pairing up: Choughs have split up from their winter feeding flock, and are often opposite their respective nesting sites feeding away, or gathering wool and twigs for their nests. 
Here are a bunch of images taken on the island over the last week...

Wheatears have arrived! They were somewhat later than last year, with our first ones appearing on the 14th this year, compared to the 10th in 2014. Many of the first birds moving through have been stunning males such as these

This smart Snow Bunting spent a couple of days on the island from the 13th to the 14th. Last year we only had one Snow Bunting in the whole of the Spring, and that was a fly-over, so it was nice to get such good views of one so early in the year

Meadow Pipits have been moving through the island en masse in the last week, with numbers gradually building from just 473 on the 13th, and a peak count of 690 on the 14th.

Seabirds are now firmly established back on the coastal sea cliffs and many have already made a start on constructing their nests, such as the pairs of Shags collecting drifting seaweed and twigs from the sea. Hundreds of Guillemots and Razorbills are lining up on the cliff ledges and in the various boulder scree areas. Fulmars are courting and jostling for places on the grassy ledges...
Guillemots, with a smart 'Bridled' Guillemot standing out amongst the crowd in the lower image

Fulmars showing off their aerial prowess, with such a graceful flight. In the lower image, I tried using a lower shutter speed (1/100th) to capture the speed of the birds in flight. It is a little different and not totally sharp unfortunately

A pair of Herring Gulls

Common garden birds such as Dunnocks, Wrens and Robins are making up the largest contribution to the chorus of bird song at the moment. 

Oystercatchers have started splitting off from the overwintering flock, and settling in pairs around the coast at their various nesting sites and territories

With lambing now underway, many of the corvids are making use of the free meals lying around the fields, in the form of...many things.

Ravens are also making use of the free meals, and it is a very good year for this species on Bardsey. With as many as 12 birds on any one day at the moment, there are at least two pairs hanging around the coast at the moment, and some have been showing very well

Pied Wagtails have been returning to their respective nesting sites and territories

Hooded Crow

Just the one pair of Shelducks have been present on the island, which is a bit worrying, as usually there are three to four pairs of birds at this time of year, ready for breeding a little later on in the Spring. They had an appalling year breeding on the island last year, with just two broods, and no surviving chicks