Bardsey Island


Bardsey lies two miles off the Lleyn Peninsula and covers over 440 acres. The landscape of the island is dominated by the imposing 548-foot high Mynydd Enli (the 'Mountain'), clad in bracken and rocky outcrops. To the north of the island is a bird observatory, established in the 1950s. Within its grounds are withy beds, shrubs and a small pine plantation, which offer cover and refuge to many migrant birds. In total, over 200,000 birds comprising 181 species have been ringed at the observatory.

The south of Bardsey is separated from the north by a thin strip of land, bordered one side by a sandy beach and on the other by shingle. Here lies the lighthouse, built in 1821 and renowned for attracting nocturnal migrants. In certain weather conditions, particularly cloudy nights following a new moon, hundreds of birds can be attracted to the light. Unfortunately this frequently resulted in many fatalities, so in 1978 a 'false' light was built nearby and thankfully greatly reduced the number of birds killed.

American Robin: Bardsey, Gwynedd. (Photo: Alan Clewes) American Robin: Bardsey, Gwynedd. (Photo: Alan Clewes)

Owing to its location, Bardsey is a migration 'hotspot', with migrants being particularly numerous from late March-mid May, and early September-early November. Rarities and sub rarities are annual, North American passerines in particular providing some extremely rare and interesting species. Bardsey has provided (to date) Britain's only record of a Summer Tanager (September, 1957), as well as Yellow Warbler, Sora, Common Yellowthroat, Blackpoll Warbler, Grey-cheeked Thrush, White-throated Sparrow, Red-eyed Vireo and Rose-breasted Grosbeak; an impressive collection. Add to that list American Robin, American Black Tern, Song Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco, and it is obvious to see why Bardsey is such a popular choice for birders during the spring and autumn.

From the opposite direction comes a list equally as remarkable as that of the American vagrants. Rarer warblers in particular are a major feature of migration on Bardsey. Species recorded include: River Warbler, Pallas's Warbler, Dusky Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler, Icterine Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Lanceolated Warbler, Booted Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Greenish Warbler, Radde's Warbler, Hume's Warbler, Western Bonelli's Warbler, Barred Warbler, Aquatic Warbler and Eastern Olivaceous Warbler. It's hard to imagine anywhere else in the U.K. having such an impressive collection of warbler species, considering the size of the island.

A whole host of other species have been sighted at various times of the year, including Night Heron, Baillon's Crake, Black-winged Stilt, Alpine Swift, Thrush Nightingale, Isabelline Wheatear, Penduline Tit, Great Snipe, Black-eared Wheatear, Common Rosefinch, Isabelline Shrike, Arctic Redpoll, Collared Flycatcher and Little Bunting, Yellow-breasted Bunting, Black-headed Bunting and Rock Bunting.

A striking group of sub-rarities are sighted near annually, including Red-breasted Flycatcher, Ortolan Bunting, Wryneck, Hoopoe, Tawny Pipit, Bee-eater, Honey Buzzard, White Stork, Serin, Firecrest, Woodchat Shrike and Great White Egret.

More typical migrants can be numerous throughout passage periods. Redstart, Lesser Whitethroat, Ring Ouzel, Pied Flycatcher, Spotted Flycatcher, Black Redstart, Wheatear, Whinchat, Turtle Dove, Tree Pipit, Yellow Wagtail, Goldcrest, Brambling, Lapland Bunting and Snow Buntings with Grasshopper Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Garden Warbler and Reed Warbler all regular.

During these busy periods the sea should not be neglected. In the past, birds like the Black-browed Albatross, Fea's Petrel and Little Shearwater have been observed, demonstrating Bardsey's seawatching potential. Slightly more regular species include Sooty, Great and Cory's Shearwater, Long-tailed Skua, Grey Phalarope, Little Auk, Black Guillemot, plus Bonaparte's Gull has occurred.

More expected species include Manx and Balearic Shearwaters, Sabine's Gull, Black Tern, Gannet, Storm Petrel and Leach's Storm-petrel, Great Skua, Arctic Skua and Pomarine Skua and various species of auk, wader, tern, duck, diver and grebe.

Aside from spring and autumn, Bardsey has a great deal of ornithological interest. During the winter months, divers, grebes and seaduck can be found in good numbers in the general area, along with a good selection of waders. Hen Harrier, Merlin and Short-eared Owl are regularly noted, as are Brambling, Twite, Black Redstart, Snow Buntings and Lapland Buntings.

It is perhaps though during the summer breeding season that Bardsey is at its best. Over ten species of seabird breed around the island, most notably the 3,000 pair strong colony of Manx Shearwater. Many of them breed on the steep slopes of Mynydd Enli, the east side of the mountain being riddled with their breeding burrows. Large colonies of Kittiwakes and Guillemots dominate the rock face, complemented by Razorbill, Fulmar, Shag, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, and Great Black-backed Gulls, along with Gannet, Puffin and Storm Petrel often present offshore. On the land, Peregrines add interest, along with Raven, Wheatear, Stonechat, Little Owl, Rock Pipit and Oystercatcher.

Bardsey is a stronghold for Chough, with six-seven pairs normally nesting. One of the key facts in maintaining the success of the Chough breeding population has been the large areas of cropped turf and the presence of large grazing animals. The Choughs on Bardsey have been studied extensively and have provided useful information about their biology and behaviour that has been used to aid their conservation and dispersal in other regions.


The bird observatory is open from late March to November, with small accommodation available. The observatory boat makes the journey from Pwllheli each Saturday. There are three hides around the island.

Bird Observatory Warden: Steven Stansfield, Cristen, Bardsey Island, off Aberdaron, Pwllheli, Caernarvonshire, LL53 8DE - steve@bbfo.freeserve.co.uk.

Booking Secretary: Alicia Normand, 46 Maudlin Drive, Teignmouth, Devon, TQ14 8SB. Bob&lis@solfach.freeserve.co.uk.

Written by: Steve Portugal

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