30 Days Wild | Day 14

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It was one of those rare mornings that dawned with barely a breath of wind – that unfamiliar sound of silence. As a consequence, I arose to the bubbling song of our two territorial Blackbirds adjacent the house; to the twinkling song of male Wrens, the chattering of awakening Swallows and more raucous cries of Carrion Crows feeding their ravenous chicks.

At least the recent non-stop period of winy weather allows you to really appreciate the island’s limited dawn chorus when the wind finally stops!

I was up at 5.30 for a walk over the mountain to appreciate the still morning air and a superb sunrise…
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Most of the ensuing day was spent on the two little dots towards the centre-right of the above image…the Gwylan Islands (Ynysoedd Gwylanod in Welsh). These two small islands are literally called ‘the Seagull Islands’ in Welsh, and it was for this reason I headed over with the staff of Bardsey Bird Observatory aboard Colin Evan’s trusty Benlli IV vessel…

As you’ve probably gathered, it was time for our annual trip to the islands to complete the seabird census counts for breeding birds and fit BTO rings to as many of the birds as we could. Whilst we ideally would have headed over to the islands a couple of weeks ago to do this work, the weather has had other ideas – and it needs to be flat calm to land on the steep cliffs encircling each rocky grass-topped platform!

 

 

 

 

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Ynys Gwylan Fawr. Scrambling around the rocky cliffs, you really get a sense of the volcanic history of the Llyn Peninsula’s geological past: streaks of extruding igneous rock protrude in areas, which is a relic of the great uplifting event that formed the spine of the Llŷn

After being dropped off on the island with all our gear, we set about systematically working our way through the seabird colonies counting nests, chicks and adults. We first headed into the Shag colony: a white-washed cliff covered in guano with the odd stick nest-platform full of gular-fluttering chicks ready to lacerate your arms…

We managed to ring over 25 Shag chicks in total, which will help us understand more about these bird’s ecology: how long they live, what juvenile overwinter mortality rate is like (which can be very high in stormy winters), and their site fidelity to breeding areas…the oldest known European Shag was ringed on Saltee Island in Ireland in 1977 and was last seen in 2007 – almost 30 year’s old!

Next up was the gull colonies…Great Black-backed Gull chicks lurking in the long grass and Tree Mallows towards the island’s interior, and Herring Gulls around the rocky coast amongst the auks and shags. The gulls and their chicks were noticeable in their absence, with very a low GBBG chick count, and a lower-than-average population count for Herring Gulls too

Whilst clambering about the rocks, we were always listening out for the high-pitched squeaking calls of Razorbill chicks

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the ‘awwww’ factor: a young, fluffy Razorbill chick

We managed to find a good number of both Guillemot and Razorbill chicks, which we fitted with their specially-designed metal rings. Auks have uniquely-shaped legs, and half their life is spent aukwardly (excuse the pun) scrabbling about rocks and cliff-ledges: as a result the leg rings used are triangular in shape and the inscription is only present on those surfaces not in contact with the rock.

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Guillemot chicks of varying ages – ready to receive their shiny new bling

Ringing in Britain on these characterful seabirds has revealed that they can live for a long time! Here on Bardsey we actually hold the World record for the oldest Razorbill: ringed as a nestling in 1962 (only ten years after the observatorie’s establishment!), the bird was seen intermittently in its natal colony until June 2004: a ripe old age of 41 years!

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adult Razorbill

The oldest known Guillemot was ringed on the Isle of Canna in Scotland in 1978 and was last seen in 2014: making it almost 36 years old. You can check out more longevity records in the UK via this BTO website link

The Gwylan Islands are also home to some 600 pairs of Puffins, although we didn’t have time to try ringing these clowns of the sea. I did have a quick scout out of the cliff edge for micro moths, and came across some smart Lobesia littoralis, some weird Paederus Rove Beetles feeding on a Puffin skull, and lots of dark hoverflies (to be ID-d!)

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Lobesia littoralis: a coastal specialist whose larvae feed on the heads of thrift

After a long day exposed to the burning sun, we finished our ringing and census operations by mid-afternoon. Our arms scratched and bleeding, our trousers richly fragrant with the smell of guano, and our notebooks full of this season’s counts, it was time to hop aboard Benlli and skim across a smooth Bardsey Sound back home…

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after recent southerly storms, there seem to be many more Jellies gathered in the island’s bays. There were several of these striking Compass Jellyfish (Chrysaora hysoscella) slowly undulating in Cafn upon our return. These beautiful jellies are amongst the few that can give a bit of a sting to the unwary. They’re also pretty remarkable in the fact that they change sex from male to female as they mature!

 

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