Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Ecuador 2015 - short film

It has been a few months since my trip to Ecuador, and for one reason or another I have not as yet managed to write a trip report. I am hoping to get this done in the next month or so, but for now I have made a video of my time in the country. This short film includes footage of birds and insects, as well as a few bird call and song recordings. It is quite long, and is best viewed in HD. 

I hope you enjoy it!

Thursday, 18 June 2015


It has been another busy couple of days on Bardsey...the Cretzschmar's Bunting has settled down nicely in the Lighthouse compound on the South End, where it carries out a predictable routine throughout the day: showing up on some seed in the compound for about five minutes every hour or so, before flying off into the gorse. It can occasionally be heard singing in the gorse, and sometimes will perch out on top of the wall right next to the viewing area. Views can be fleeting, but it can remain in the thrift feeding for over 10 minutes. It is a stunning bird, and very special to think that we have a sixth for Britain gracing the island. 

Understandably, there are hundreds of other birders who also would like to see the bird, and this has sparked the island's largest every twitch: up to 100 people have been ferried across by the excellent Colin Evans every day (weather permitting). Boat trips have been starting at 0530 from Porth Meudwy, and continuing every hour for the rest of the morning. Virtually all of the visiting birders have happily connected with the bunting, which has been largely a result of great coordination between the Bardsey Bird Obs team and Colin. It has been a large undertaking, although a big thanks must go to Lee Evans for his excellent job in organising boats and taking the booking system. Not only has this meant that people are no longer queuing for hours in Porth Meudwy to get onto the island, but also that Steve Stansfield (warden) and Colin Evans (boatman) have not had to deal with anywhere near the amount of hassle that would otherwise have been generated. 

Apart from the 17th, the weather has been very settled, with stunning blue skies, low winds, and warm temperatures. This has made for very pleasant visiting conditions, and also for good conditions to find a variety of insects and scarce lepidoptera for visitors. Several Thrift Clearwings have been found in the last few days, and shown to eager audiences, whilst other species such as Red-veined Darters, Painted Ladies, Green Tiger Beetle and Silver Ys have also been around to see.

One of the great things at the moment is meeting all of the enthusiastic oncoming birders, some of which I know, and some of which I have never met though have connected with over social media. It has been great meeting new people, and sharing this fantastic bird with the birding community. Several visiting birders have written some great pieces on the twitch. Here are a couple:
James Lowen's visit to the island: Click here
Mark Golley's RBA weekly round-up: Click here
Alan Davies and Ruth Millers' trip blog: Click here

A selection of images taken yesterday evening, when the bird showed really well:

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Thrift and Lepidoptera - recent sightings

I thought I might break the monotony of Cretztschmar's Bunting posts (as exciting as it is), and do a blog on some recent insects and lepidoptera on the island. The flowers around the Bardsey are truly stunning at the moment, and the Thrift in particular is carpeting many areas of the coast. This coastal and rather unique habitat is home to a variety of interesting species of lepidoptera. The most well-known of these on Bardsey is that of the Thrift Clearwing. I have managed to find a little over 10 individuals around the South End this year, and also another individual on the East Side. In addition to the clearwings, there are plenty of micros to be seen: Lobesia littoralis, Bryotropha terrella, Teleiopsis diffinis, Celypha cespitana and many more. It is also proving to be an excellent month for migrant lepidoptera, with daily sightings of Silver Ys, Rush Veneers, Rusty Dot Pearls, double-figure counts of Painted Ladies, one Small Mottled Willow and also a handful of Bordered Straw.

Away from the coast, and into the moth traps...on the calm and cloudy nights, my heath trap at Nant has been pulling in as many as 50 moths, of over 20 species. There hasn't been anything massively exciting, although a Small Elephant Hawkmoth in the trap today was a great surprise. Some of the commonest species present in the traps at the moment include Bright-line Brown-eyes, Brown Rustics, Flame Shoulders, Common Marbled Carpets, Small Square Spots, Broom Moths and Shears. Caterpillars have been featuring well around the island, although most of the Lackey nests have been abandoned as the large final instars seek more food and a place to settle down into a pupa. Yellowtails and Six-spot Burnet caterpillars are also all over the place.

The flowering Thrift near Ogof Ystwffl Glas (a minute away from where the bunting is showing). Here is one of the favourite haunts of the following species...

Thrift Clearwing. This is a Nationally Scarce (Na) species, which we have small numbers of on the coast 

Painted Lady

Purple Bar

There have been plenty of Hoverflies making use of the thrift- this appears to be some species of Eupeodes

Honey Bee on the thrift

A different angle on this Drinker caterpillar

The Spectacle

Brown China-mark

Common Marbled Carpet (white morph)

Canon 7D mkII
Canon 15mm fisheye
Sigma 105mm f2.8 macro

Monday, 15 June 2015

The Big Twitch

It has been a pretty manic couple of days, following on from my last post. Yesterday morning, Steffan Walton stepped out of his humble abode near the Lighthouse at about 0600, only to find that the male Cretzschmar's Bunting had been feeding on his doorstep, and then flew up onto a nearby wall and burst into song...out went the news, and all the island's birders were there within half an hour. The bird remained around the Lighthouse compound, feeding on areas of open and rough ground, although disappearing into the long grass for long periods. Once we realised that the bird was actually going to be *relatively easy* to connect with, we put the news out and contacted the boatman to see what trips could be organised....

30 hours later, there have now been a total of 12 boat trips to the island, carrying over 100  birders to see this very special bunting. There were reportedly over 85 birders queuing up in Porth Meuddwy at the crack of dawn this morning, and unfortunately only 72 of these have been able to board the boat across due to limited space. All of the staff from Bardsey Bird Obs have been doing a fantastic job in coordinating the viewing and making sure everyone sees the bird, and although a very tiring task when done all day long, we are pleased to say that virtually every visiting birder thus far has seen the bird!

Fingers crossed that this beast from the east will be present for the early boat trips tomorrow...

CRETZSCHMAR'S BUNTING! Still can't believe that we have one feeding at the base of the lighthouse! What a bird

It really isn't too bad a view from the lighthouse- this is looking north-east to Bardsey Mountain, with a wall covered in thrift and bird's foot trefoil in the foreground

TWITCHERS!! A very rare species indeed on Bardsey. Well, satisfied twitchers are rare at any rate...

Some scenes from the bunting twitch at the lighthouse

Friday, 12 June 2015


Full account of the story:

Well, it has been quite an 'interesting' few days. The whole saga began back on Wednesday, at about 11 o'clock in the morning. Elfyn Lewis and Ieuan Bryn were walking up the main track towards Nant, when a bird dropped down onto the track in front of them. It fed on the rough ground for a minute or more, allowing Elfyn to take some stunning shots, and also take in a variety of features which lead him to think that it was one of the rarer Emberizia buntings. After a little while, the bird dropped over the wall adjacent to the track, and appeared to drop into a nearby field. Elfyn then went immediately to the obs, where he showed Steve Stansfield the images...Steve confirmed that the bird was in fact the rarer of the two possibilities, and that we had a flipping spring male CRETZSCHMAR'S BUNTING on the island!! The news went straight out on the radio- I was helping with some work in the withies, which is about 200 metres away from where the bunting was seen. We all gathered to the site where it had been seen, but there was no obvious sign. A few glances at Elfyn's images on the back of the camera produced a mix of responses all around, mostly involving expletives.

A search ensued in the next hour, initially focussing on the area around Plas (where it had been found), and then all observers began to split up and cover wider areas: the mountainside, the track, a ploughed field at the North End, and the meadows. It was about an hour later that the call came through on the radio from Steve Hinde (working at the observatory) who had just seen the bird drop onto the track from the garden at Plas- right back where it was initially seen, and where we had all been searching not long before!! Panic-stricken birders all began stumbling towards the site, but literally seconds before arriving, Steve had the bird fly from the track and into the back garden of the observatory! We all spent the rest of the afternoon (from about 1230 onwards) searching for the little beast. We surrounded the obs garden, scoured the hillside, patrolled the track, and desperately searched the coastline...all to no avail. It was to a pretty bleak outlook and depressed state that most of the island's birders and observatory staff went to bed that night.

Fast forward to yesterday (12th June)...after not a single whiff of the bird on the 11th, despite thorough searched, we were in for a big surprise. It was mid-morning, and I had just been out in my rowing boat, and was talking to Steve and Steffan (warden+assistant), when one of the members of the Dyfi osprey group who were on for the week came walking briskly towards us. He told us that Elfyn and a few of them had just had the bird singing on the South End wall!!! Steve and Steffan immediately started running towards the site, whilst I had to speed in the other direction back up to my house to grab my bins and camera. Managing not to run anyone over with the quad bike, I arrived and grabbed my stuff, before speeding back down the track on my bicycle. I was half way down to the South End, when I had to stop to open a gate. As I opened the gate, I suddenly saw the bunting take off from the track ahead of me, fly in a tight circle around me, and then head off towards the observatory over the wetlands!!! I was taken aback a little, by seeing what basically looked like an Ortolan in flight, apart from being blue and orange! I picked up my radio and was relaying the news as it occurred. Steve, Steffan, and the rest of the birding gang who had re-located the bird joined me to try and relocate the bird.

We headed up towards the observatory through the wetlands and up the track, but there was no sign. I was about 200 metres from the obs when I heard the distinctive dry 'glip---glip' call of a bunting coming from a northward direction. I looked up and got onto the bird, which seemed to fly out of the obs garden and then head south-east up the mountainside. It landed briefly on a gorse bush, before dropping out of view. Once again we had to set up a thorough search of all possible areas, starting with the gorse patch on which it alighted. After a fruitless search, myself and Mark Carter were looking around in the small bay of Traeth Ffynnon, when Mark suddenly exclaimed 'I have got the bird!!!'. It was feeding on some dry earth just in front of us. We radioed out the news, and just a few minutes later most of the obs staff and visiting birders were staring at this stunning bird. It fed out in the open for a little while, before flying down onto a small prominent, and then disappeared into thin air, not to be seen again...

Several boat trips were organised for mainland birders to attempt to connect with the bird, including local North Wale birders Steve Culley, Reg Thorpe, Julian Hughes, Simon Hugheston-roberts, Chris Jones and Eddie Urbanski in the evening of the 12th. Unfortunately, several boat loads of unhappy birders had to depart, with no further sign of the bird. Will it turn up again?

What makes this Cretzschmar's Bunting so special
  • first ever record for Wales
  • sixth record for the UK
  • first time the species has been recorded south of Northern Scotland 
  • the first record for Britain turned up on 10th June 1967 on Shetland
  • it should be singing on the rocky outcrops Mediterranean hillsides in countries such as Greece
  • IT IS A MALE, and is stunning...
A big congratulations to Elfyn Lewis for this mega find!!

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Seabirds - the Gwylan Islands

After yesterday's events (dipping the bird of the century is not very easy to bear), I am feeling a little annoyed. I will write a post on the Cretzchmar's Bunting in the next few days, but for now here is a load of images from some recent seabird-focussed work that we have been doing.

A few days ago I visited the nearby Gwylan Islands with Steve Stansfield and Steffan Walton. The two small islands are just off Aberdaron beach, and are home to a broad variety of seabirds, and some great numbers too. We were there to carry out the annual survey of breeding bird numbers, as well as to ring as many chicks as we could.

It was a great day out, although tough at times, and we managed to get some good counts. There are well over 700 pairs of Puffins breeding on the islands, along with some 30 Shags, 12 Cormorants, 70 Greater Black-backed Gulls, Razorbills, Guillemots and Herring Gulls. After getting counts of chicks and nests for some of the species, we set about ringing many of the hatched chicks. We managed to ring approximately 30 Shag chicks, 30 Greater Black-backed Gull chicks, 20 Herring Gull chicks, a Puffin and two Razorbills. A good day's work all in all!

Although they may look very innocent, Shag chicks are very aggressive birds and can do some damage to arms, hands and fingers during the ringing process. A next of three can be lethal! This image was taken with a fisheye lens looking over towards the end of the Lleyn

With over 700 pairs of Puffins, the two small islands have a lot more than are currently present on Bardsey. This allows for some great photo opportunities, as many of the pairs have chicks and are thus regularly bringing in beak fulls of sand eels. We managed to ring one adult, but will have to make a separate trip to do any larger numbers

In contrast to Bardsey's breeding population of over 1500, the Gwylans have just a few tens of these smart birds. These images were taken on Bardsey's north-east corner, with a particularly tame population that allow a very close approach

Guillemots are also rather scarce on the Gwylans, due to an absence of large cliff faces with appropriate ledges. We have a good number on Bardsey at the moment, but many have to be viewed from a boat due to the steepness of the ground above

Lesser Black-backed Gulls are not quite as scary as Greaters' when the attack, but they can still give you a bit of a fright if you don't expect them coming!!

Friday, 5 June 2015

Storms and Seabirds

I have been quite busy in the last few days, as the weather has finally calmed down (a little bit!) and allowed for access to the island's seabird colonies on the East Side. I have been helping out counting and ringing a broad selection of species on the island's rocky cliffs. We have made some good progress in counting nests and breeding pairs, although many of the breeding species are still just a little behind in terms of ringing- almost all the auks are still on eggs. Some of our highest counts have included 30 Fulmars, two Storm Petrels, two Cormorants, 72 Shags, 267 Kittiwakes, 1000 Guillemots, 1595 Razorbills and 41 Puffins.

In addition to the breeding seabirds, it has been great to start seeing some emerging lepidoptera and insects around the island. Yesterday's very calm and sunny weather encouraged a great selection of micro and macro moths out during the day, including the year's first Thrift Clearwing, hundreds of Celypha cespitana and Lobesia littoralis, Teleiopsis diffinis, Bryotropha terrella, Elachista argentella, Rush Veneer and Pyrausta despicata. Fresh avian migrants have been very thin on the ground, although the last two days have been reasonable, with double figure counts of Spotted Flycatchers, along with a scattering of Reed Warblers, Whitethroats, Garden Warblers, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers. A smart first summer female Red-breasted Flycatcher was great to see and ring this morning.

Here is a selection of images from the last week:

I used a Canon 15mm fisheye lens on my 7D mkII to get some close-up landscape images of these Razorbills. They were very tame and thus allowed a close proximity. This worked really well for grabbing some wide-angle shots. I hope to be able to continue this project and produce a few more interesting environmental images

The howling south-westerly gales produced some very impressive swells and rolling breakers around the coast. It was tricky to capture any decent images of passing seabirds because of their distance from the shore. This was my best attempt at a Manx Shearwater

Kittiwake on the East Side

There are a minimum of three, and perhaps as many as five pairs of Little Owls on the island this year. One or two of the pairs are quite predictable in where they show, and so some reasonable images can be taken. This bird has been sitting out on a regular perch just above our house on the mountainside. Although they are obviously nesting in one of the banks nearby, we have been unable to locate the nest as yet

It has been great to see so many Spotted Flycatchers around the island in the last few days. Some years we can have triple figure counts, but this year has been more of a steady trickle. Over 20 have been several times in the last week. 


There are a lot of Wheatears around the coast feeding hungry chicks at the moment, and the combination of the vivid emerging thrift makes for some pretty stunning views and spectacles

A Sanderling treading water

You can also view my images at the following links: