Saturday, 20 June 2015

Cretzschmar's Bunting, Bardsey Island, Gwynedd - 13th and 18th June 2015

On Wednesday 10th June, news broke that a male CRETZSCHMAR'S BUNTING had been photographed on Bardsey Island, but despite the wardens searching, it was only seen briefly again that day. Then on Friday 12th, it was again seen briefly. The first boats went over that evening but again it wasn't seen again all day. 

There was actually quite a lot of decent birds around, and we'd already planned a trip out on Saturday 13th, visiting the HUDSONIAN WHIMBREL and GREATER YELLOWLEGS on the south coast, plus keeping our eye on birds like the BLYTH'S REED WARBLERS in Essex and Norfolk, a PADDYFIELD WARBLER on Blakeney, BROAD-BILLED SANDPIPER in Lincs. But for some reason, my attention was focused on Bardsey. 

I spent a whole evening agonising on whether to keep to the plan with two (almost) guaranteed birds, and a tick for CJW, or to take a gamble and go to Bardsey. Following two conversations with colleagues also planning to go, I decided on "he who dares" (having had success with this policy this year) and I changed the plans. 

It was first come first served on the boats, and the first boat was at 08:30hrs. We set off at 02:00hrs and arrived at Porth Meudwy at just after 05:00hrs. Our first gamble had paid off as we were only the third car in the car park. One was empty and the other had a sleeping Paul Flint in it. We got ready and sat and waited, but as soon as the next car arrived (Neil Bostock from Norfolk), we panicked and walked down to the quay. We were 6th, 7th and 8th in the queue and knew we would be on the first boat across.

Colin Evans getting the boat ready
At 07:00hrs, Colin Evans arrived. There were 12 of us by now, and out of the blue he told us he would take us over straight away as the boat would only carry 12. However, he said, we would be the last ones off at 16:00hrs. Another huge stroke of luck and off we sailed, seeing just a few Manxies on the way over.

We were met by Steve the warden who gave us a few ground rules and then told us the exact movements of the CRETZSCHMAR'S BUNTING over the last few days, pointing to the exact spots. One of my concerns was communication, as there was no phone signal or Internet connection on the island. My idea was for everyone to keep together, but immediately two birders wandered off on their own. We stayed with the majority and headed up towards the lighthouse. There was plenty to see - a few Chough showing very nicely on the cliffs, juvenile Wheatears (not something you see everyday), Grey Seals just offshore. 

It was raining for the first hour or so
The lighthouse

Beyond the lighthouse
Grey Seals

With no initial sign, we headed off towards the observatory, loosely following everyone else. The second and third boats across landed, and from the vantage point of the obs, you could see the 36 birders who had come across well spread out over the whole of the island. A plan was hatched by the warden that if there was any sign, an orange blanket would be draped over the obs walls. Then we'd have to run back to the obs to see where the bird was. All this for a bird that so far had only been seen briefly on most occasions.

The day carried on in the same vein. The second boat, then the third boat left and we carried on plodding around, resigned to the fact that today wasn't to be our day. At about 14:30hrs, myself and CJW headed one last time back up to the lighthouse. The area did look quite good. We stood by the wall and looked into the compound. Amazingly, there sat on the wall was a juvenile Meadow Pipit. It looked like it could barely fly. But it could and it was even rung.

Extremely young Meadow Pipit
And so we'd dipped. The gambled hadn't paid off and even backfired spectacularly when a BLACK-EARED WHEATEAR was found in the New Forest; very close to where we would have been if we'd stuck to our original plans. If it could get any worse then it did on Sunday morning when news came through that the CRETZSCHMAR'S BUNTING was in fact still present and singing in the lighthouse compound.

Boats ran during Sunday, and the bird was finally successfully twitched from the mainland. I decided as I was starting work early on Monday, that I would try and catch one of the late afternoon boats over. Plans were made only to be scrapped again when at 07:00hrs it was announced that all boats were full for the day. It transpired that there were over 100 birders waiting for 84 seats. Tuesday was even worse with birders queuing from 20:00hrs on Monday evening. By 21:00hrs there were apparently 40 birders already asleep on the jetty waiting. I started to think how on earth was I going to get a boat over on Saturday.

There were no boats on Wednesday due to a bad forecast but on Tuesday afternoon things started to develop on Twitter. I stumbled across a conversation by LGRE about the boat availability. He had taken it upon himself following discussions with Bardsey Island to start taking bookings for Thursday and Fridays boats. I immediately contacted him and booked three seats on a late afternoon boat on Thursday. Hopefully that was there would be time to finish work at 12:00hrs and drive over for the boat. A tense, nervous wait and finally during the evening I had confirmation

Unfortunately, on closer inspection, the boat was leaving at 12:30hrs. That would mean leaving work before 09:00hrs. Just when it was looking good as well. CJW was also finishing work at 12:00hrs too.

In typical Clayhead fashion, everything was sorted and we set off at 07:30hrs on Thursday morning (Again for legal reasons I must point out I wasn't ill on Thursday). We arrived at a fuller car park than on Saturday but a boat had just come in so cars were heading off. We spoke to a few birders who sort of said yes it was showing a bit but...Anyway, we walked down to the quayside and waited for our 12:30hrs boat. The 11:30hrs boat was a non birders boat, but there were only ten on board. Colin the boatman loaded up then shouted mine and pops name. He asked if we wanted to come on an earlier boat. The problem was though leaving CJW behind on his own. It was a difficult decision to make.

Anyway, GAS and myself arrived at 12:00hrs and were met by Steve the warden. The news was the CRETZSCHMAR'S BUNTING was showing hourly, and on the hour. We'd just missed the 12:00hrs showing, so we ambled up, joined the crowd from the previous boat and waited until 13:00hrs.

My view of the yard
Finally a clear view
As if by magic, at 13:00hrs, the Cretzschmar's Bunting flew in and landed on the concrete pads. After about 30 seconds it flew off. And that was that. I'd managed about ten seconds of video and two photos of its back. It was an odd feeling. Then the 12:30hrs boat arrived and CJW joined us. The previous boat people had gone and we saved him a good space.

CJW amazingly at the front leading the group up the hill.
We stood, I explained what was going on and we waited. The 13:30hrs boat arrived and we waited more. I started to get very anxious because its pattern had changed and it had missed out a feed. The group stood in absolute silence. You could smell the tension and fear. 

Then at 14:30hrs it flew in. The noise of the cameras going off was amazing. It was as though it was being shot in a hail of gunfire. Not surprisingly it flew off after less than a minute.

Then the mix up occurred. We were told originally to catch our booked boat home at 16:45hrs with CJW. But CJW told us that he'd told all of his boat to come back at 16:45hrs, so that meant two too many. Steve radioed Colin the boat man and we were on the 15:45hrs boat. Following these two views, pops and I left CJW and wandered back to the boat. We joined the queue. Then Colin came over to us and said he'd made a cock up (he admitted it was due to exhaustion). He asked if we minded staying another two hours and catch the 17:45hrs boat back. I asked if CJW could stay too, and he said no problem. 

I walked back up the hill and had a few funny looks. Since I'd been away, the Cretz had come back at 15:00hrs and had shown well for longer. I set up again, stood and waited. It was after 16:00hrs when there were only a few of us left that it returned again. It flew in, started feeding then started to sing. It was a surreal experience. As it hopped about it was calling its  head off. Finally following six hours on the island I'd got the views I wanted.
Male Cretzschmar's Bunting, Bardsey Island, Gwynedd

While we stood, Steve the warden was being excellent company to us all, but it was nice to chat with him as he remembered us from Saturday, as did Colin the boatman. He managed to find a Thrift Clearwing for us and a Small Elephant Hawkmoth.
Thrift Clearwing. He said we'd see more Cretzschmar's in GB than these.
The Small Elephant Hawkmoth