From Ireland to the Island

After a brilliant ten days exploring Ireland’s southwest coast – its rugged peninsulas, spectacular coastline, dramatic mountains and forested valleys – it was time to head back across the Irish Sea to Wales on Friday.

Remarkably calm conditions prevailing beneath a high pressure meant we were also able to board the first boat back home to Enlli on Saturday morning…zipping across a silky-smooth Bardsey Sound aboard Benlli III, shearwaters skimming the sea alongside.

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Manx Shearwater

It’s lovely to be back on the island, not least because of the stunning weather we’ve had over the last few days. It’s also been interesting to note the various changes that have occurred whilst we’ve been away – it’s amazing how quickly the season can move on even in the space of ten days, and often a time away can really highlight what might otherwise slip by unnoticed.

The East Side’s seabird colonies have experienced something of a mass exodus recently, particularly of the Razorbills, Guillemots, Shags and gulls. The white-washed cliff ledges which were packed with lines of Guillemots just a week or more ago are now barren: most of the ‘jumpling’ chicks will have chosen the calm, moonlit nights last week to make the leap of faith to the water below, encouraged by a parent calling some way offshore. The chicks, with stubby wings barely large enough to ease the fall, will take another month to fully develop, and so one of the adult birds (usually the male) will swim by the fledgling’s side for the next few months out at sea whilst it learns to swim, fish and fly.

The mountain’s flush of purple foxgloves has receded to the browner tones of longer grasses and green of bracken and gorse; though the meadows couldn’t present much more of a contrast, having burst into a myriad of pinks, yellows, purples, whites and blues with a fragrant overload of clovers, vetches, hawks-bits, and bedstraws.

A few feet beneath the ground, the island’s Manx Shearwaters now possess their precious fluff-ball chicks covered in grey down. Though a small proportion are still incubating eggs, most have small chicks to tend to now, some as large as 240 grams already. The adult shearwaters will have their work cut out provisioning these fast-growing chicks with fishmeal in the coming weeks.

I am thus looking forward to the next stage of my dissertation study, which will comprise tracking these adult birds to see where exactly they are foraging now they have hungry chicks in their burrows…

Even with a bright full moon illuminating the nightscape, moths are out in full force: all those bright caterpillars carpeting willow and damson copses on the island in May and June have been through the marvel of metamorphosis, and are appearing in the traps in their adult form: Lackeys, Garden Tigers, Yellowtails amongst countless others….although it’s not just night-flying moths that are in abundance. Day-flying micro and macro moths are plentiful, particularly on the East Side’s short grassland and maritime cliff habitats, with Pyrausta despicata, Deplanqueia dilutella, Lobesia littoralis, Celypha cespitana and Diamondback Moths to name a few. Migrating day-flyers like Silver Ys and Hummingbird Hawkmoths are also trickling through.

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Lackey moth
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Garden Tigers
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Hummingbird Hawkmoth

The soundscape of the island is now punctuated by the squeaking calls of young: particularly the inquisitive families of fledgling Wrens, although juvenile Stonechats, Sedge Warblers, Dunnocks, Blackbirds and Meadow Pipits are also conspicuous. It sounds like the Swallows are having a fairly poor breeding season, however, with several broods failing at whilst I was away – hopefully their second or third broods will be successful. Choughs, on the other hand, have had an excellent breeding season, with several family groups of three or four young noisily flying around the mountain.

Another noticeable aspect is those birds that indicate we are now indeed in autumn already! Small numbers of waders such as Curlews and Common Sandpipers are lounging around the coast, heading south from their breeding grounds; the odd reeling Grasshopper Warbler has appeared in the wetlands or gorse, indicating the passage of warblers we have yet to come; and hirdundines like Sand Martins and Swallows have trickled through in small numbers, southbound to more distant lands.

Whilst 30 Days Wild has come to an end now, I hope you enjoyed taking part (if you did) or perhaps reading some of the posts from here on Bardsey. I’ll not be blogging as religiously in the coming weeks, but will certainly post up the odd update!

If you’d like to keep up to date with news from the island, you can either take a look at the Bardsey Bird Observatorie’s daily sightings blog, and keep an eye on my twitter feed for other updates

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Grayling butterflies have emerged in the last few weeks, and can be found all along the island’s more rocky slopes and mountainside
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