Show & Tell: Birdwatching on Bardsey
The Magic of Bardsey, part of Bardsey Bird and Field Observatory‘s 60th birthday celebrations, was a guided week planned by warden Steve Stansfield, together with his wife Emma and council members Alicia and Bob Normand, to introduce new people to just how special the island, and its bird and plant life, are. As someone whose experience was limited to feeding the birds in my garden and watching Springwatch, however, I signed up with just a little trepidation.
Things got off to a great start though when we were met with coffee and chocolate cookies freshly baked by Steve’s son Connor. And it was a promise of things to come as, courtesy of Steve, Emma, Connor and Alicia, we were treated to a three-course dinner every night and a full English breakfast on our last day. They might have played havoc with my waistline, but mealtimes were definitely one of the week’s highlights. 14 of us, aged from under ten to over 70, could have proved tricky but the presence of Bob (our tour guide extraordinaire) meant embarrassing silences never stood a chance!
Our experience covered someone who’d spent many years birdwatching, casual birders who’d recently started to take it more seriously and virtual beginners like me. Our knowledge of Bardsey was similarly varied: first visit (me again), a day-trip more than 50 years ago, or a volunteer who, despite frequent visits, was usually too busy to learn as much as she’d like about the birds and flowers.
It’s hard to capture how much we learned – and just how much fun we had doing so – during a packed week of day-time walks, evening talks and midnight Manxie-ringing, but some of the group’s highlights should provide a hint:
The midnight Manx shearwater ringing. We’d already seen (and heard) them from a distance, and learnt about how far they fly, so it was even more remarkable to see them up close. They’re such an amazing little bird. And coming across an oystercatcher nest with chicks was pretty special.
In terms of identifying birds – not just their topography, but their behaviour and song – I learnt a lot more than I anticipated. It makes such a difference to your pleasure if you don’t have to stop to look everything up.
BBFO’s 60th birthday party. We invited all the island’s residents and visitors and seeing everyone turn up to help us celebrate was heart-warming. And I loved seeing how much the group enjoyed – and got from – their stay.
The peace and quiet. It might sound odd as Manxies are incredibly noisy, but it was lovely to hear the sea and birds rather than traffic. And I felt utterly safe when I was out and about on my own – everyone was so friendly.
My bird highlight would have to be seeing the Manxies up close, although learning about the ringing process and Heligoland traps was fascinating, too.
It was lovely to meet new people and make new friends. The week was such a good mix of learning and laughter. And, largely due to guidance, I came across six new birds including a golden plover (it helped that it stayed put for so long!). It’s given me a great confidence boost in what to look for.
Probably the morning we spent in the hide watching hundreds of Manx shearwaters stream past. Walking back to the observatory, uphill in the pouring rain with the wind against us, was slightly less fun – but it was worth it! It reminded me how exciting birdwatching is when you’re new to it.
And my highlights? Personally I’d be hard pushed to choose between the excitement (yes, really) of the opening of the moth trap each morning; my first view of Manxies or puffins; the earth moving one night as a 3.8 earthquake hit Aberdaron; tracking down golden hair lichen in glorious sunshine; or wandering around by myself on the final day and spotting (and being able to id) a group of fourteen ringed plover and dunlin.
Not to mention trying not to let my lack of gratitude show when, after being out till 2am watching the Manxie-ringing, we were woken at 6.30am by a disembodied voice asking if we’d like to see a rosefinch. I stumbled downstairs, expecting something resembling a parakeet, to discover … another LBJ. (Thanks, Steve and Mark!)
Despite BBFO being a working observatory, someone was always on hand to answer our questions patiently so, after a week in which I learnt to tell a wheatear from a spotted flycatcher, and a millipede from a centipede, what I’ll most remember is how generous people were with their time and knowledge. Being part of the first group was a privilege and if, before I went, the idea of a week birdwatching suggested the crossing of a Rubicon (bye bye Ibiza and parties, hello Bardsey and birds), then all I can say is come on over – the view’s great!
Posted: 21st June 2013