Ynys Enlli, or Bardsey, has featured regularly in Bird Notes and its predecessors in The Daily Post, doubtless back to 1929 when Eric Hardy initiated the Liverpool Echo column. The island has recorded some of our rarest avian visitors: among the 334 species recorded are 37 that had not been seen in Wales previously. The gallery of 'firsts' include Britain's only Summer Tanager, from North America in 1957, and a Cretzschmar's Bunting from southeast Europe in 2015.
Bardsey Bird & Field Observatory, based in an old farmhouse in the centre of the island, was set up in 1953. Like the other 20 around the coast of Britain, Ireland and neighbouring Crown Dependencies, a major focus of the observatory’s year is migration. It has played a valuable part in understanding movements of birds along the East Atlantic Flyway by ringing an astonishing 310,500 birds. The lighthouse at the southern end frequently attracted and confused migrants, some of which collided with the glass and were killed. At the RSPB’s instigation, perches were installed in 1913 and from 1978 a strip of land was floodlit by an imitation lighthouse to attract birds to the safety of the ground. Neither solution completely resolved the issue until the lamp changed to a red LED in 2014.
Staff, volunteers and researchers also study the seabirds and Choughs that call the island home, and birdwatchers can stay at the ‘obs’ to see the work, which also helps to fund it. An annual highlight is monitoring the Manx Shearwaters that hatch in burrows, but the element of surprise during bird movements is what motivates many to visit.
A small island at the end of a narrowing peninsula is an ideal location for monitoring bird migration, as true now as when West Midlands Bird Club set up the Observatory, which is now an independent charity. It has been a valuable training ground for three generations of ornithologists and conservationists, and the current Director of Operations Steve Stansfield – himself celebrating 25 years at the helm – encourages young birders and early career researchers to spend time there. Wales should be proud of the Observatory, both its heritage and its future.
The anniversary will be celebrated on the mainland this weekend, with presentations at Canolfan Prenteg near Porthmadog on Sunday from 11.30am. Details at bbfo.org.uk/agm.
There were a few scarce visitors around the region last week. RSPB Conwy’s first Icterine Warbler sang for a day but stayed stubbornly in foliage, Quails called at RSPB Cors Ddyga and below Llyn Cowlyd, and a continental Blue-headed Wagtail was beside the Dee at Sealand. A Little Tern dropped into Cemlyn lagoon on Sunday, where two Mediterranean Gull chicks are in the tern colony.
Click on the images to enlarge and for captions. Thanks to Steve Stansfield for his help with this article.
A weekly update of bird sightings and news from North Wales, published in The Daily Post every Thursday.