WLO report Bideford-Lundy 19 August
From our sheltered mooring at Bideford Quay on the River Torridge, it was difficult to assess whether the overnight ravages of Storm Betty would have calmed sufficiently for a smooth crossing to Lundy.
After a gentle voyage to the estuary mouth – with attendant Common Sandpipers and Little Egrets - our questions were soon answered. Crossing the notorious Bideford Bar – at the boundary between sea and estuary – a significant swell was clearly going to make the journey interesting. The MS Oldenburg’s skipper Jason set a course for the island and the vessel ploughed assuredly through the moderately heavy swell.
I have never minded challenging sea conditions: partly because of the sheer spine-tingling excitement, but mostly because you get an unrivalled chance to see seabirds as true masters in their element. Clutching the handrail with one hand and holding my binoculars in the other I was able to point out Gannets to some passengers. Battling through the conditions these relative giants displayed their strength and stamina. For me though the more delicate Fulmar and Manx Shearwater were more impressive as they worked with the conditions, rising and falling over the wave crests with small parties of Manxies gaining uplift from the subsequent trough, for all the world like Battle of Britain fighter planes.
At this time of year, I would also expect to see father-and-chick pairings of Guillemot. The heavy swell made observations difficult, but I did manage to spot the odd group here and there bobbing like corks. I knew that conditions like this will often bring the best seabirds, but the real challenge is trying to pick them up. Looking through the salt-spattered lenses of my binoculars while being rocked from side to side are not the conditions most conducive to picking out interesting seabirds.
With a south-westerly blow, nearing the eastern side of the island brought relative calm, which was heightened by the sun’s appearance. The Landing Bay appeared to be a relative oasis of serenity. The group of Grey Seals languishing in the bay certainly thought so.
As I was gathering my belongings, ready for disembarking I caught up with my MARINElife colleagues Rick and Olivia who had been completing a monthly survey from the bridge.
Uttering the words dreaded by every birdwatcher, Rick said: “Well, did you see it?” Knowing that I had seen a lot of birds, but probably not the one that was the subject of my colleague’s apparent glee. I replied cautiously: “No, probably not then.” It turns out I had missed a Bonxie, more formally known as a Great Skua. Although I would have loved to have seen this bird – a noted pirate of the sea -it was a good bird for the survey. A valuable MARINElife record of an increasingly imperilled species.
By the time we had made our ascent to the village, the conditions had changed remarkably. So much so that the gentle sunshine picked out every feather of a small group of Raven which like a group of teenage boys were goading one another. The key game for this ‘conspiracy’ of raven was to maintain ownership of the discarded end of a French stick.
This was Olivia’s first visit to Lundy so we continued along the island’s path to soak up as much of the island’s atmosphere as a one-day visit will allow.
All-too-soon, it was time to head ‘back to the boat’ for the journey home which was much calmer. I was able to pick out a lot more Manx Shearwater, along with Kittiwake and Guillemot. A small party of migrating terns was a highlight. When too distant to confirm their identity as either Common or Arctic terns, birdwatchers use the hybrid term of ‘Commic’ tern.
By the time we reached the River Torridge, the westerly sun picked out groups of Black-headed Gull who escorted us home.
Our thanks to Jason and his crew for another enjoyable trip to Lundy Island.
MARINElife/Lundy WLO Grahame Madge
Summary of sightings:
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull