Bardsey's Wildlife 2016


Bardsey Bird Observatory was founded in 1953 and has just produced a bumper B5-size, information-packed, 60th edition of its bird report. First impressions are that it is of a high quality throughout its 280 pages. What is also obvious is that this is one extremely hard-working observatory and the report is a credit to all concerned; it being produced within eight months being indicative of this fact.

Lying off the southern tip of the Llyn peninsula at the northern end of Cardigan Bay in North Wales, Bardsey is one of our most well-known accredited bird observatories. The observatory undertakes a very busy schedule of traditional obs work, including long-term studies, ringing work, daily census counts and education opportunities, while offering a high standard of accommodation for visitors. The fruit of all this effort is displayed here.

Before looking at some of the work being reported, the rare birding highlights included one new species for the Bardsey list: a Black-browed Albatross, which took the obs total to 328. The year’s species total was 197 and included Britain’s first spring Blyth’s Pipit. Further highlights were Great Shearwater, Black Kite, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, two Woodlarks, four Richard’s Pipits, Citrine Wagtail, Marsh, Blyth’s Reed, four Icterine, four Melodious, Eastern Subalpine, Western Bonelli’s, Radde’s, four Greenish, 60+ Yellow-browed and three Pallas’s Warblers, three Ortolan Buntings and a photogenic Little Bunting – which appears on the front cover. The island also hosts breeding Manx Shearwaters, European Storm Petrels and Chough – more than enough to tempt any would-be visitor.

Typically, the report commences with a chairman’s welcome and secretary’s report, followed by a 10-page warden’s review which does great justice to the various activities being undertaken. The educational effort is monumental and includes such aspects as public outreach, guided walks, nocturnal shearwater walks, daytime shearwater chick walks and educational presentations, while some 2,500 visitors attended the moth mornings during the year! This latter activity was considered to be ‘one of the biggest successes of public outreach BBFO has undertaken for getting people engaged with wildlife and nature’. The obs also hosted week-long visits from Next Generation Birders and North Wales Wildlife Trust.

The main contents then follow, including a 32-page detailed migration diary, a systematic list, table of migrant dates and a separate detailed breeding report. The species order is a familiar one, with for example falcons in the birds of prey section. A brief status description and Welsh names are included; ‘everyday English’ names were adopted in 2011 and continued here. Monthly and annual data, sometimes back to 1953, is very well presented by way of tables and graphs within the species accounts.

Several long-term avian studies are also reported on. In 2016 a Manx Shearwater population study entered its third and final year. The result was a total of 20,675 apparently occupied burrows, representing an increase of 30 per cent on 2008-10 figures – a phenomenal achievement, given that every single burrow, including unoccupied ones, was checked and logged.

Manx Shearwater productivity and chick growth studies are also covered, as are detailed Chough breeding activity and productivity (eight pairs), extensive ringing work, exciting Blyth’s Pipit and Black-browed Albatross finder’s accounts plus a fabulous two-page detective story of an Osprey seen moving north but later identified as one which was carrying a satellite-tracking device; the layout and graphics on this last paper are excellent. Photographic galleries of birds ringed and of the rares all carry a date, which is nice to see.

The non-avian section runs to 55 pages and includes two awesome photographs of breaching Risso’s Dolphins at point-blank range. This is a wide range of natural history, including six species of bat, two species of turtle, various invertebrates plus comprehensive reports on butterflies and moths, a photo identification update on Risso’s Dolphins and two Grey Seal papers. One of the seal papers examines disturbance issues – again, this is a strong evidence-based paper, very well presented and making great use of modern graphics.

A review like this has to be balanced but any constructive criticisms on my part fall into the ‘cosmetic’ category. The quality of photography throughout the report is superb, so perhaps there isn’t the room for any artwork from budding artists? And, by using a pretty familiar species order, there may be no need for an index? Both points are debateable, of course.

In summary, this is a superb report and befitting one of Britain and Ireland’s top bird observatories. Several super panoramic photographs of the island add greatly to the read.

Copies are available for £12.50 inc P&P from Bardsey Bird Observatory - email warden@bbfo.org.uk

Written by: Steve Holliday