It’s a belated post for Day 18 of #30DaysWild, but it was a superb day!
Easily one of the year’s hottest days yet, temperatures climbed to over 20’C (a rarity here!) during the midday sun; with barely a breath of wind and no cloud cover, it felt pretty toasty!
I took an early morning wander around the South End before the ‘golden hour’ of light faded into bleached tones: several screaming parties of Swifts blasted southward overhead, along with a single Grey Wagtail and a slow stream of Lesser Black-backed Gulls – perhaps already making their way southward to the Mediterranean?
I counted 147 Oystercatchers between the Narrows and South Tip, probably around half of which were in non-breeding flocks; the rest were dotted regularly along the coastline beside their territories. A steady trickle of Manx Shearwaters skimmed the silky surface of the sea a few hundred metres out, along with flocks of auks, Kittiwakes and Gannets. It was good to see two pairs of Pied Wagtails with newly-fledged young, plus a rather early White Wagtail on the very south tip – its silvery mantle sending alarm bells ringing before it turned to show its darker breast ‘shoal’ (it’s getting close for Citrine Wagtail time of year!).
The floral display underfoot was quite spectacular, with Thrift, Eyebright, Bird‘s Foot Trefoil, Rock Sea-spurrey, Sheep’s-bit Scabious and Common Centaury to name a few of the species in a patchwork of colour…
I checked my garden moth trap after returning home, although amazingly there were only two moths within! Perhaps a consequence of a bright and clear night?
The garden was filled with the very strong fragrance of a nearby Honeysuckle plant: this species is amongst a few that are rather well-adapted for attracting moths as pollinators. With tubular corolla, pale, yellowish colouration and producing their scent largely at night, they tend to attract moths such as Small Elephant Hawkmoths and a range of Noctuids. These co-adaptations relate to a concept known as the ‘pollinator syndrome’, where a plant possesses a certain set of characteristics that make it suited for pollination from a specific group of insects. You can read more about this idea here
After breakfast I headed off with Mark Carter to scan the Thrift beds on the East Side for a special little moth. We also popped into one of the island’s most amazing hidden secrets: a large coastal cave that Grey Seals use as a low-tide haul-out. The cave has both land and seaward entrances, allowing you to very quietly spy on the seals as they drift in and out of the turquoise-green water…
As we walked along the steep East Side in the pressing heat of mid-morning, it was brilliant to pick out five of these intriguing-looking moths…
They are Thrift Clearwings (Pryopteron muscaeformis): one of around 14 British species in the peculiar clearwing family (Sesiinae), whose members adopt the appearance of wasps and hornets to evade predation from would-be predators.
They are an intriguing group, taking up to three years to complete their lifecycles and going under-recorded across much of the UK due to their elusive nature. The use of synthetic female pheromones has been used more recently to attract males and greatly increase our knowledge of their national distributions.
The Thrift Clearwing, as it’s name suggests, relies on the flower heads and bases of Thrift for its larval foodplant. Consequently they have a restricted distribution in western UK and are a Nationally Scarce moth. We have a small population here on the island, with low numbers recorded every year in June and July.
After lunch I headed to one of our favourite cliffy swim-spots with Sian Stacy (the island manager), her partner Mark Carter, and obs staff Liam Curson and Elliot Montieth. It was pretty refreshing to take a dip in the overpowering heat of afternoon, though the sea water temperature was freezing! A couple of Grey Seals looked on from offshore in a bemused manner!
One of the day’s most satisfying #30DaysWild moments was being able to prepare a delicious evening meal exclusively using ingredients from the island: courgettes and kale from our garden, field mushrooms from the coastal pastures, potatoes from our veg plot and three Pollocks caught in the afternoon by a visiting friend. It’s certainly one of the great things and aspirations of living here – trying to be as self-sufficient as we can whilst being able to sell some produce to visitors.
Late in the evening, after the sun had lost some of its strength, I headed off with dogs for a walk down to the South End. Mark had spotted a Minke Whale at 6.30pm off the West Side, so I was keen to do some seawatching and see if any other cetaceans popped up
I couldn’t quite believe how crystal clear the horizon was: the distant outline of Irelan’s Wicklow mountains was visible on the western horizon, whilst every detailed feature of the Cardigan Bay coastline stood vividly in the evening light, stretching way southwards to Pembrokeshire some 60 miles away.
The amazing visibility meant I could pick out shearwaters for miles around, as they lazily flapped over the breathless ocean to gather in their evening rafts. As the evening wore on, I started making some tallies of the gathering shearwaters, noting some 3500 birds in scattered flocks off the east of the south end, with a further 800 off the West Side. It was brilliant to see the flocks periodically alight in their hundreds, flashing black and white as they wheeled around before settling back on the surface…
Aside the Manxies, there were plenty of Razorbills and Guillemots, Gannets, Shags and Kittiwakes, with the odd Sandwich Tern and a handful of Porpoise feeding on the edges of the tide races. It was quite cool to pick up two dark-looking blobs in the distance (perhaps some three miles away) that turned out to be a pair of Grey Seals. They seemed to be making their way to the island from the south-west (Pembrokeshire direction), and arrived in the bay at about 10pm after an hour’s slow swimming.
Sadly no Minke Whales to be seen, but the sunset, shearwaters and ridiculously clear 330′ panoramic of coastline made up for it!