Saturday 13 June 2015

The CRETZSCHMAR'S BUNTING on Bardsey Island - Part One

On Wednesday the 10th of June it was was brought to the attention of Britain's tick obsessed birders that a CRETZSCHMAR'S BUNTING had made landfall on the relatively accessible island of Bardsey in North Wales. Unfortunately there was only one brief sighting of this extremely rare vagrant near the bird observatory. Despite an extensive search there was no sign at all during the rest of that day or the following day either. Then, just as we all thought the trail had gone cold, the bird reappeared once more, early on Friday afternoon in the south of the island. A couple of brief views were obtained but the bird was highly elusive and extremely mobile and once again the rarity disappeared with not so much as a sniff of the bird again by dusk.

In preparation of our visit to Cymru!
Photo by Adam Archer

After weighing up the pros and cons of heading to Bardsey we eventually made a group decision to make the journey west and give it our best shot. With my risk assessing brain in overdrive I estimated that we only had about a 5% chance of success. The lads thought it cynical of me but I was just trying to be realistic and not set our expectations too high. Then again, I had a far better chance of seeing a CRETZSCHMAR'S BUNTING over in Gwynedd than I did moping around in North Warwickshire. 

After finding a BLACK KITE and seeing a Melodious Warbler in my home county earlier in the week, I knew the chance of something else as mouth-wateringly rare dropping in locally would be miniscule. We were relatively safe to turn our backs on the West Midlands and head across to Cymru for a day. 

After a very early start we arrived at Porth Meudwy just west of Aberdaron at about 7.15am. After a hike down to the beach we were greeted by the familiar face of Steve Richards who quickly informed us that a boat load of a dozen eager birders had already departed. As we awaited the next crossing in the rain, a Chough showed well and the local Fulmar population wheeled around the cliffs providing a bit of pre-twitch entertainment.

The Bardsey crossing: Steve Richards, Jason Oliver & Jack Oliver.
Photo by Adam Archer

On the rapid crossing over to Bardsey we encountered the odd Shag and Cormorant as well as several Manx Shearwater gliding by. As we approached the island we also saw several Puffin with good numbers of both Razorbill and Guillemot too. As we docked we were greeted by Steve Stansfield, the warden of the Bird Observatory who provided us with a plotted history of the bunting's movements and a few rules to adhere to during our brief visit. Following our induction, we then split into small groups to begin the search.

With the first group of birders having already covered the southern section around the lighthouse we decided to grill the western side and northern tip of the island. As we made our way through the fields dodging the sheep and cattle we could see that both Meadow Pipit and Linnet were present in decent numbers along with several Northern Wheatear and the odd Stonechat. Every single passerine we encountered was scrutinised. 

The site of St Mary's Abbey.
Photo by Adam Archer

Although the island is just over a mile long and only half a mile at its widest point, it was soon pretty evident that a degree of luck, as well as hard work would be required if we were to relocate the rarity, especially with the blustery and damp weather conditions. As we approached the old ruins of the 13th century St Mary's Abbey, I stopped briefly to pay homage to the 20,000 Saints that the island is known for. Maybe one of them could take control of my spiritual side and point me in the right direction? With only thirty other birders bothering to make the journey to Bardsey we needed all the assistance we could muster, whether it be alive or dead.

A steady walk scanning Mynydd Enill, the rocky, gorse strewn ridge along the east of the island looked pretty good for harbouring a CRETZSCHMAR'S BUNTING. All we could find though were the usual suspects, mainly Meadow Pipits and Linnets along with the occasional pair of Chough. After a quick search around the Bird Observatory, Steve Richards and I decided to head back south and concentrate around the lighthouse and the southerly tip.

Bardsey Lighthouse (built 1821)
Photo by Adam Archer

The area around the lighthouse was busy with feeding Oystercatcher, Linnet, Meadow Pipit, Northern Wheatear and House Martin. There was also the odd pair of Rock Pipit, Pied Wagtail and Stonechat along with a few Starling. Offshore there were a scattering a Shelduck and an estimated 30 Grey Seals loafing in the bay. Despite our best efforts there was no sign of our target bird and so we concluded the search back along the main track that runs north to south along the length of the island.

Grey Seal on Bardsey Island, Gwynedd.
Photo by Adam Archer

Grey Seals on Bardsey Island, Gwynedd.
Photo by Adam Archer

After just over three hours of searching, our time on the island had come to an end. Although disappointed at not seeing a CRETZSCHMAR'S BUNTING, I had thoroughly enjoyed the adventure. Bardsey is a beautiful island full of character and history. In medieval times, it was said that three pilgrimages to Bardsey had the equivalent benefit to the soul as one to Rome. I was convinced that the bird was still lurking in some quiet area of Ynys Enlli (Welsh for 'the island in the currents') and I had a sneaky, little feeling that a second pilgrimage would be required sometime soon. I honesty did not believe we had heard the last of this elusive visitor from southeast Europe.

No comments:

Post a Comment