Bideford-Lundy survey report 16 July
Summary of Sightings
Seabirds: Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 282 Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1 Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 4 Gannet Morus bassanus 4 Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 8 Guillemot Uria aalge 47 Herring Gull Larus argentatus 49 Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 8 Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 3 Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 178 Puffin Fratercula arctica 3 Razorbill Alca torda 7 Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 4 Auk sp. 4 Gull sp. 47
Other waterbirds: Redshank Tringa totanus 29 Little Egret Egretta garzetta 5 Wader sp. 50
Terrestrial birds at sea: Carrion Crow Corvus corone 1
Weather: Sunny, wind 1-2, sea state 1-2, occasional glare
Grahame and I were joined at the quayside by Judith Tatem, who was to be the Wildlife Officer (WLO) for this trip, and it was good to see her again. It was also good to see Kevin Waterfall, another of our volunteers, who was going to stay on the island for a few days to help out with the Marine Festival.
We left Bideford Quay with a full vessel on an early morning departure in near calm conditions. Moving north along the Torridge Estuary, the bridge of the MS Oldenburg allowed time to observe a flock of 27 Redshank, five Little Egrets and a gathering of mixed gulls.
Around 130 Black-headed Gulls and a distant tight flock of waders kept us busy until we had got over the bar and into the sea proper. Setting course for Lundy, after a few minutes the first seabirds started to move into view with single Guillemots on the sea and a few Manx Shearwater crossing our path in small lines. Where are they heading with such joint determination?
We enjoyed ideal viewing conditions with no swell and little glare on the journey. Manx Shearwaters were the most frequently encountered seabird with over 100 seen during the crossing. A few dozen auks, in ones and twos – mostly Guillemots but a few Razorbills – were sprinkled along our route. Several birds with chicks were reluctant or unable to fly out of our path, instead preferring to dive. Every visitor wants to see a Puffin and three were sighted as we neared the island.
Although the conditions were optimal for spotting cetaceans we were disappointed not to record any ‘fins’ on the crossing - where were they today? Only four distant Gannets were seen on the crossing. Had they joined the cetaceans or was there another reason for their relative absence? Avian flu is badly affecting some breeding colonies, though thankfully those in the Celtic Sea seem to have so far escaped. A mix of gulls, mainly Herring, but with Great and Lesser Black-backed in the mix tracked our route. A few Kittiwake and Fulmar were also seen.
Mooring on the jetty in the island’s landing bay brought back fond memories for our trainee surveyor who had just completed the first half of his initial official MARINElife passage. It was also a special reunion to visit the island he hadn’t seen in over 25 years and that he first visited four decades ago. On this journey there were no seals in the landing bay to greet us. They would come later.
Disembarking from the Oldenburg, we made our way to the top of the island. The Lundy Marine Festival was now underway, and we headed to Jenny’s Cove for a sea watch. This natural amphitheatre on the western coast of the island is one of the best locations to see the most famous seabird resident – the Puffin. Mid-July is nearing the end of the seabird breeding season and most of the Puffins were on the sea instead of the cliffs with numerous small rafts of them littering the sea like charming flotsam. In a leisurely count over lunch around 80 birds were seen, along with Guillemot, Razorbill, and several Kittiwakes. From a cleft in the cliff a small colony of these elegant gulls were repeating their name: ‘kitti-wake, kitti-wake, kitti-wake’. Given this bird’s dramatic decline over recent years, we shouldn’t take this gull’s presence for granted.
Trip around the island:
As part of Lundy Marine Festival, Jason the captain of the MS Oldenburg, arranged a one-hour trip around the island. This provided an opportunity for passengers to gain a seabird’s eye view of the island’s marine wildlife. Thanks to the highly amenable captain, the hour-long clockwise tour of the island included an opportunity for a MARINElife casual survey. Around two dozen Grey Seals – missing in action today from their usual haunts around the south of the island – were spotted along the east coast either bottling or hauled up on the rocks. In Jenny’s Cove the sea was peppered with seabird activity.
Surveying was becoming challenging and almost overwhelming for the trainee as we cut a course through seabirds that were all around us. At least 60 Puffins, along with other auks were rafting on the sea, while Kittiwakes closely approached allowing good views of their clean-cut plumage and yellow bills. Touring the island allowed the surveyors to appreciate those birds only usually seen in small groups. In particular, small parties of Shag were all around the island – their numbers only really becoming evident as the tally racked up during the voyage. The ‘peeping’ of Oystercatchers was a welcome sound above the sound of the gentle swell.
The voyage provided a snapshot of seabirds and seals around the island and creates a good guide for what visitors can expect to see during a round-island excursion.
We stayed on the Oldenburg back at the jetty to pick up the remaining passengers for our return to Bideford. The return trip was pretty much as the trip over as far as sightings go! Reaching the mooring in Bideford, we said our thanks to Jason and his crew and made our way home.
Rick Morris and Grahame Madge: Research Surveyors for MARINElife