Spring migration underway (finally!)

After what seems like weeks of unsettled weather conditions, we’ve at last been able to enjoy a few days of calmer winds and the odd warm ray of sunshine. The mixture of southerly and easterly airflows has also enabled a slow but assured movement of spring migrants to pass through the island, although numbers are still far below the norm for this time of year.

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The current national reporting rate for Wheatears (top) and Chiffchaffs (bottom) compared to the historic average…it gives something of an idea for the lag in numbers we’re experiencing this season. That said, species like Ring Ouzel have already surpassed the usual reporting rate for this time of year. Have a play around with the data yourself (and submit your records!!!) on the excellent Birdtrack website

Movements of classic spring migrants have been dominated by warblers: Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers and Goldcrests are present in the double figures most days at the moment; the first Grasshopper Warblers of the year have made their presence known with their superb reeling song; and the odd Firecrest has added a splash of colour to the more muted tones of Phylloscopus warblers like Chiffchaffs (‘though you can’t diss their song!).



We’ve been mist netting whenever the weather allows this last week, with Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers unsurprisingly amongst the most numerous birds in the nets…I always enjoy seeing the fresh and cleaner-looking Willow Warblers after the browner, more sun-bleached plumage of Chiffchaffs

The first House Martin of the year was seen on the 9th, although both Swallows and Sand Martins have barely crept into the double or triple figure counts expected for mid-April; chats are on the move, with Wheatear numbers slowly building around the coast, and a few migrant Stonechats noticeable alongside the island’s breeders. Two Black Redstarts arrived in the Lighthouse compound on the  8th, and the first Common Redstarts of the year should find their way to us in the coming days. Just today (12th) we’ve also had our fist Pied Flycatcher and ‘flava’ Yellow Wagtail. It’s all kicking off!

a smart male Northern Wheatear. Their beefy and more orange-toned cousins (Greenland-race Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe leucorrhoa) will be arriving soon, on a brief stop-off en route to their breeding grounds in Greenland and further north in the tundra!
White Wagtail

Otherwise, we’ve enjoyed some real island rarities in the absence of spring overshoots like Hoopoes and Woodchat Shrikes: who can beat the single Greylag Goose and pair of Canada Geese touring the island yesterday? or the gripping male House Sparrow chirping away in the lowlands? The quirks of island birding…

The moth traps have been stationed in the observatory garden and amongst the wind-battered shrubbery in our garden over the last week. Despite the perfect conditions (calm, cloudy and moonless nights), there has been a distinct lack of diversity…a handful of Dark Sword-grass, Early Thorns, Hebrew Characters, Common Quakers and a Common Plume (Emmelina monodactyla) is the about the extent of the fare currently on offer. Hopefully this will change as temperatures are set to rise next week.

An Early Thorn. This is one of the common early spring species that is multi-generational, and so often makes a secondary appearance in its summer brood from August to October

The plantlife of the island is – like everything else – progressing rather slowly. That said, there is still plenty to look at. Even without the bright and charismatic wildflowers that tend to draw attention from the casual eye, a closer look at the ground and rock crevices might reveal some of the amazing mosses and lichens inhabiting their distinct niches. We’re lucky to have some rather scarce species here on Bardsey, including the dazzling Golden Hair Lichen (Teloschistes flavicans) and Ciliate Strap Lichen (Heterodermia leucomelos). Amongst the mosses, the most prominent species at the moment are Rhitidiadelphus squarrosus and Polytrichum juniperinum/piliferum.

The bright Golden Hair Lichen
Polytrichum juniperinum or ‘Bristly Haircap’: a common species, but very attractive nonetheless when you take a closer look. In the spring, male plants become bright reddish-orange as their modified leaves form a small terminal ‘flower’-like cup at the end of the shoots.

Thrift is sprouting into life here and there, with some flowers tentatively flowering in the more sheltered areas. Otherwise this highly salt-tolerant species is displaying fresh growth in its colourful basal leaves, looking almost like coral polyps when viewed closely!

fresh shoots in Thrift (Armeria maritima)

With a couple of brilliantly still, clear nights, it’s been fun to get out with the camera and do some astro imaging. I’m always blown away by the amount of light pollution from the mainland, even in this relatively un-populous part of the country…

A panoramic from Bardsey’s mountain top looking north-east to Pen Llyn, with Dad taking a look at the Milky Way.
Enlli’s 13th Century angustinian Abbey and some of the Celtic crosses with a starry night sky as a backdrop

Lastly, I’ve been enjoying testing out a new sound-recording setup purchased second hand off ebay recently. This consists of a Sennheiser ME-66 shotgun mic, a ‘deadcat’ to muffle out wind noise, and the app ‘TwistedWave’ on my iPhone (thanks to the advice of one of my lectures, Richard Ffrench-constant). I’ll be posting up recording on my soundcloud account whenever I can, but here are some from the last few days…


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