A change of scene: home for Easter

As our spring term came to an end at the Penryn Campus, it was time to make my regular pilgrimage northward back home to the isle in the tides: Ynys Enlli. Whilst I usually have to endure a pretty gruelling (though very scenic!) 12-hour train journey to return to North Wales from Cornwall, I was fortunate that a friend was driving all the way anyway, making for a far more enjoyable and less taxing seven-hour trip!

Our total reliance on the weather to get to and from the island means it’s never guaranteed that we’ll be able to cross the Bardsey Sound after arriving at the tip of the Lleyn Peninsula. This time, though, we were lucky to enjoy a gorgeous spring day of light westerly winds, clear blue skies and warm sunshine. Our boat back was to be in the late afternoon, on the ebbing tide at ‘slack water’…this is approximately two hours after high water when there is minimal flow through the sound and so permits a relatively smooth crossing across this famed stretch of water.

In the meantime, it was brilliant to get out and have a little explore around Rhiw mountain to see what wildlife was emerging in the warmth of the sun…

Amongst a myriad of insects and birds, there were hefty queen Buff-tailed Bumblebees whizzing by towards puffy yellow ‘pussy willows’ (a good pollen source at this early time in spring); dazzling Green Tiger Beetles scurried through short grass, the first I’ve seen this year; a bumbling Black Oil Beetle was spotted by my sister, which bore the distinctive kinked antennae of a male (females have straight antenna); and most surprising for me was discovering a pair of Mistle Thrushes nesting in a Yew tree some two metres from the kitchen window at our mainland cottage! I can’t wait to follow their progress through spring.

At 4.30pm, we lugged our bags down the winding dirt track of Porth Meuddwy, and were met shortly after by my Dad in our small blue-and-white vessel to take us home. We passed Razorbills, Kittiwakes, Shags and Fulmars on the trip back, before easing in to the sheltered waters of Henllwyn on the island, where the usual Grey Seals lounged around, welcoming us with their mournful, wailing cries.

I was home.

Since arriving back, it’s been great to get out and about and re-acquaint myself with the island…noticing changes induced by the ferocious storms both along the coast and to the houses inland. Remnants of the impact inflicted by the ‘Beast from the East’ are still very much apparent, particularly with the corpses of Golden Plovers and Lapwings lying around the fields – those that succumbed to the conditions. The landscape is noticeably brown, too, with plants like gorse scorched by the salt spray from winter storms.

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One of the victims of the ‘Beast from the East’: the remains of a Golden Plover

Whilst I’ll mainly be attempting to get my head down and focus on finalising my third-year dissertation and revising for finals exams (hmmm, I hear you say…), it will be exciting to welcome back migrants and nesting seabirds as spring builds in momentum. In the last few days, we’ve had a trickle of Goldcrests passing through the island, a handful of smart male Northern Wheatears along the coast, the first Willow Warblers of the year amongst a scattering of Chiffchaffs, and small numbers of migrant Stonechats, Common Snipe, finches and a rogue Greater Spotted Woodpecker too.

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Wheatears are, to me at least, the true harbingers of spring. Each year I have to suppress an urge to punch the air on seeing the distinctive white ‘arse’ of this faimilar chat disappearing off around a corner

Aside migrants returning from the continent, the Mediterranean and areas much further south beyond the Sahel, one of the exciting aspects of living on a remote offshore island is the seabird colonies. As birds return to take up their guano-covered rock ledges and suss out nesting sites for another season, the sounds and calls of courting pairs is brilliant to witness…here is a recording of one of the island’s Kittiwake colonies:

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an adult Kittiwake
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Razorbills and Guillemots are currently spending most of their time bobbing about of the island’s East Side in gregarious rafts, but there’s a bit more action going on behind the scenes too!

After spending the winter in large flocks, both here on the island and dispersed around the UK’s various estuarine habitats, Oystercatchers are dotted around the island’s coast in pairs. They will soon begin the nesting season, excavating their small bowl-shaped scrape in which to lay three or four incredibly camouflaged eggs, and then they will begin their vicious assaults on any animals that happens to pass their territory.

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A couple more scenes from Enlli…

Stay in touch with wildlife news from the island by keeping an eye on the Bardsey Bird Observatory blog: bbfo.blogspot.co.uk, and I’ll attempt to update mine as and when time allows.

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