From our surveyors: Ilfracombe-Lundy report 8 October
Updated: Oct 13, 2022
Summary of sightings
Gannet Morus bassanus 9
Guillemot Uria aalge 66
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 9
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 2
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Auk sp. 7
Outward: bright and dry with mostly clear skies and good visibility. Winds of around force 2 from a largely south-westerly direction. Moderate sea state with 1m swell height
Return: On the return journey there was increased visibility with reduced swell height.
Boarding the MS Oldenburg for the last official MARINElife survey to Lundy this year, Rick and I met Kevin – the wildlife officer for the trip – and we contemplated the journey and survey ahead. Rick, who was supervising me today, led the survey on the outward journey. As a trainee I gathered regular observations on the weather and sea state. It was also my duty to gather journey information such as our course, position and speed, from the instruments on the ship’s bridge.
As we head towards mid-autumn, the conditions during our outward voyage were mixed. The relatively bright and sunny conditions were a welcome echo of the summer just passed, while the moderate sea state was a reminder that heavier weather is often not far away at this time of year.
The relative lack of numbers and variety of seabirds was also a reminder of the passage of time through the season. We are definitely closer to winter than summer. Guillemot was the most frequently sighted bird with individuals dotted along our passage. While the occasional Gannet created additional interest and detail for the survey. Given the plight that Gannet and other seabirds are facing from the avian flu outbreak, it would have been reassuring if we had seen more.
The usual gathering of Grey Seals, including some pups, greeted our arrival in the Landing Bay. Disembarking on to the jetty and heading up the long path to the top of the island, small parties of Swallows and House Martins encouraged us to break our ascent with the tempting prospect of obtaining photographs in flight - a vain, but enjoyable, endeavour. Small White and Red Admiral butterflies, however, provided more lucrative opportunities for photography.
After a welcome tea at the Marisco Tavern, we wandered through the village looking for the juvenile Rosy Starling, a rare visitor from the east which has been associating with the Common Starling. A quick scan of the pastures allowed Rick to spot the bird among a small group of its more familiar relative. Rather distant views but in good light allowed us to take some reasonable photos and appreciate its plainer and paler plumage compared with its more familiar cousin.
Given the number of migrant Swallows, we decided that a slow walk down through Milcombe valley – the island’s only true woodland – would be our best chance to see some interesting species. As it turns out that was a highly insightful decision.
Along a track at the top of the valley we met one of the long-staying birdwatchers who have been monitoring the island during migration season. In hushed tones, he excitedly whispered to us that he had just found a Baltimore Oriole only moments before. There have been just 24 previous records of this beautiful North American songbird in the UK and amazingly this was the fourth for Lundy, the last having been seen way back in 1967. Just as we were discussing the rarity of this bird, it flew from cover in a dazzling blaze of black, white and golden-yellow feathers. Not only one of the rarest birds to be recorded on Lundy this year but it was a stunning adult male which are almost never seen this side of the Atlantic. Almost paralysed with excitement, we managed to obtain a few shots before it dived back into cover.
Lundy Island is a location where you can never truly predict what will turn up. But with birds more at home in Eastern Europe and North America within 300 yards of each other this was especially true today.
The steep descent to the Landing Bay for the journey home seemed a little easier as we basked in the glory of what we had just witnessed.
Back on board, we prepared for the return leg of the survey back to Ilfracombe, which Rick was happy for me to lead. I observed similar numbers of Guillemot and Gannets to the outward journey, but a couple of Kittiwake were new for today’s tally.
Many thanks to the staff and crew of the Oldenburg who were extremely helpful and made this a very enjoyable trip.
Rick Morris and Grahame Madge Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)