WLO report Ilfracombe-Lundy 24 June
For those who have not had the pleasure of a voyage to Lundy on the MS Oldenburg it may be difficult to understand what this vessel means to die-hard fans of the island. For those who have made the voyage you will appreciate my excitement to be back on the vessel once more heading to one of my very favourite places. This was my first time on board this year.
Leaving Ilfracombe harbour behind us we set forth along the North Devon coast in a moderate swell, conditions I knew would make it challenging to find dolphins and porpoises. After chatting to a few groups of passengers it was clear that many of the day visitors wanted to catch a glimpse of the island’s special species, but one species stood out on their wish lists - Puffin.
I was delighted to be able to advise people on the best locations for seeing the island’s Norse namesake - Lund-ey is Norse for ‘Puffin Island’. One lady told me that she was leaving the UK in the next few days, and she had set her heart on seeing this engaging auk before her travels took her overseas.
Coping well with the swell, I kept a look out for seabirds and cetaceans in between chatting to passengers, but I have to say the opportunities for spotting seabirds were limited. All the typical species were represented, but in far smaller numbers than we are usually used to seeing.
One by one representatives of each species finally gave themselves up, but the tally for most species could be expressed in single figures. The only species which made double figures was Guillemot, as small parties punctuated our journey. Having seen Gannet, Fulmar, Kittiwake and Razorbill, the delicate Manx Shearwater still eluded me. A very eager ten-year old birdwatcher told me confidently he had seen some on the horizon. But it was a while before I finally connected with a couple of individuals whistling past the vessel on a northward track close to the eastern side of the island.
Slowing down before our arrival, the ever-present Grey Seal put on a show in the Landing Bay, to the obvious delight of passengers. Joining them in the calmer waters were one or two Shag feeding here too, and a Great Black-backed Gull soared menacingly over Rat Island.
After docking, the 250-or-so passengers disembarked and made their way slowly up the path to the village. Many of them had thoughts and hopes of seeing Puffin, which put an obvious spring in their step. In the searing heat and humidity of a hot June day, the ascent to the top of the island seemed steeper than normal. I took a welcome break in the shade of Millcombe to look for migrant land birds.
June is usually quiet for land bird migrants, but thankful of the shade I took an extra-long time checking every bird just to be sure! Leaving it a little late to make it to the west coast and the island’s principal seabird colonies, I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to leave Puffin for next time, but I hoped that the lady who wouldn’t have a chance to return would see these special birds.
I always like to see birds for myself, but I have discovered there is a certain delight in seeing birds vicariously as several of the passengers were delighted to tell me later, they had enjoyed extremely good views of the birds where I had told them to look.
Lundy is extremely important for seabirds and the island is enjoying a good season. However, I was pondering where they were feeding. The fact that we had seen few seabirds and no cetaceans suggested that there were good feeding grounds somewhere, but they weren’t on our journey today. There has been discussion of a marine heatwave around the UK with higher-than-average sea-surface temperatures for the time of year. Could this be the reason for the relative absence? Possibly, if the birds are following their food into deeper waters.
The return leg was less subject to the morning’s swell, but seabird numbers were still low. It was a delight to catch up with the crew. Thanks to all of them, especially Paul the captain for another wonderful trip. Grahame Madge MARINElife Wildlife Officer
Summary of sightings:
Grey Seal 3 (around the Landing Bay)
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Wildlife seen on Lundy Island
Meadow Brown (butterfly)
Small Heath (butterfly)