Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Cretzschmar's Bunting, Bardsey Island, Gwynedd, Wales - Sunday 14th June 2015

One of the most enjoyable and pleasant twitches I've ever experienced. The Cretzschmar's Bunting was pretty spectacular, not least because of its rarity value, but also because it has cracking plumage. But add to that a "lively" boat crossing to the beautiful island of Bardsey; some fantastic weather; some good chat with other birders; and that ace feeling you have when you end up somewhere completely different to where you'd planned when you got up that morning... and you have yourself a near-perfect day out.

Cretzschmar's Bunting, Bardsey Island, Gwynedd, Wales - Sunday 14th June 2015

The bird had initially been seen and photographed near the Bardsey Bird Observatory, around the middle of the island, on 10th June; and then again on the 12th, towards the south of the island. Birders of the first boats (on the evening of Friday 12th and the morning of Saturday 13th) all drew a blank. It seemed as though it may have moved on almost as soon as it had arrived.

But then at 08:07 on Sunday 14th news came through of a "Cretzschmar's Bunting - male still singing at south end from 06:00 but elusive and skittish", with additional information: "...boats leave Porth Meudwy (if there is demand) at 12:30 and 13:30 (1st come, 1st served, £150 for boat if fewer than 5 people or £30 per person if more) - do not enter hay fields, gardens or lighthouse compound."

I smiled at the phrase "if there is demand". There'll be demand all right! But it wasn't until an hour later when a second message came through confirming the bird was at the lighthouse - and still singing - that I decided to go. I had just enough time to get the 13:30 boat...

After first going to the wrong beach (Aberdaron), I parked at the NT car park above Porth Meudwy at 12:50 and headed down the ravine. I was surprised to find only four birders waiting. They were relieved to see me, as there were now five of us, so their trips would only cost £30 each rather than £150. By the time Colin Evans arrived with his empty fishing catamaran there were exactly twelve of us - a full quota. It turned out most of the people on the boat had been over for the previous day's dip. They weren't exactly local either, with one couple having set off from Nottingham at 10:00 that morning.

Colin took our names and told us that twelve birders had already gone across at 12:30, and he'd heard that the bird was still showing occasionally. The pressure was building. Close, so close... The weather was lovely and the Irish Sea looked flat as we set out. Then Colin put his foot down and we blasted towards Bardsey. As we cleared the Llŷn Peninsula we hit the choppier waters of Bardsey Sound and most people on the boat got completely drenched :-)

The tide was low, so Colin couldn't get near the landing slipway on Bardsey. He excellently manoeuvred the boat into a gap about three inches wider than the boat itself and we all clambered out on to the seaweed-covered rocks. A quick yomp up to the lighthouse, a jostle for position, and everything was set...

Apparently, the bird was showing every hour or so and had been showing as we'd landed, so we wouldn't have to wait long... Having been to see birds that were "just showing a few minutes ago", but never reappeared, my inner tension was building. After a few minutes we were told the bird was showing on the other side of the lighthouse, and those of us from the 13:30 boat could go round and see it. Off we raced, silently, looking like clumsy paratroopers with all our gear. And of course, the bird flew round the back of the wall before any of us could see it...

But ten minutes later, back round the other side, the Cretzschmar's popped up on to the wall and then down on to the seed amongst the Sea Thrift. What a beaut!

At first, just the bird's blue-grey head was viewable above the flowers. The large dark eye with the thick pale ring was really clear, with a rusty-buff area above the lores. The rusty-buff formed the moustachial stripes and throat patch too. It pecked at the seed then lifted its head up slightly above the horizontal when chewing, looking both nervous and pompous at the same time. The bill was a pinkish colour, with the lower mandible looking quite orange especially when backlit by the sun.

The bunting eventually moved to where we could see it properly. The mantle was a lovely pattern of black feathers with broad rusty edges (or rusty feathers with black centres). The flank and belly were a strong coppery orange. Just describing it now reminds me of how fabulous it looked.

All too soon it flew back around the lighthouse, while we all breathed, smiled and patted each other on the back. We were all still corralled in the same spot, waiting for it to reappear, when the warden call us over from the seaward side of the lighthouse again. A quick scarper round and the bird was showing - and singing - in a wild rose by the wall, and then down in the nettles. Here it stayed for a few minutes as a another boat load of birder arrived. A nice bonus Black Redstart showed well on the wall in the bright sunshine too.

A few minutes later we had our most prolonged views back in the lighthouse compound. When the bird flew this time, I caught a great view of the bird's back - all black and coppery stripes. Lovely. Then it was time for most of us to clear off and allow the new arrivals to get a good look.

I doubled-checked with the warden that the boat was definitely £30 for the round trip, and not each way (boatman Colin hadn't collected any money on the way out). The warden and some of the others chuckled and shook their heads like I was stupid (thanks). But earlier Colin had told us the Obs was short of dosh, and wanted to put as much in the donations bucket as possible without being stranded on the island. I had £61 on me, so was it to be £1 or more? What I put in was definitely worth it, and must have doubled what was already in there (stingy buggers).

I had a lovely walk back to the quay, then up towards Mynydd Enlli and back, though unfortunately I missed the Thrift Clearwing moths that were apparently on the wing.

Atlantic Grey Seal, Bardsey Island, Gwynedd, Wales - Sunday 14th June 2015

Northern Wheatear, Bardsey Island, Gwynedd, Wales - Sunday 14th June 2015

Our lift home

The boat trip back across Bardsey Sound was an enjoyable one, made even more so by the teams of Manx Shearwaters fliying along side the boat. An absolutely ace day out. A wonderful, beautiful place - certainly want to visit again.

I'd actually started the day at 07:00 at Rodley Nature Reserve, helping with the monthly BTO WeBS count. The weather here was overcast with the odd spot of drizzle, and the birds were quiet. I'd picked out a couple of Rooks with a small flock of Carrion Crows on some distant overhead wires; only my third and forth Rooks ever at Rodley. These would count nicely towards my Patchwork Challenge 2015 total, and for a while I thought they'd probably be the best birds of the day!

Rook, Rodley Nature Reserve, Leeds - Sunday 14th June 2015

I'd also picked up a couple more Patchwork Challenge points in the form of a Little Ringed Plover on the wet grassland (so much better when the water level is low) and a Garden Warbler. And to think, I would have been happy going home with just that. ;-)

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