"Its not just Puffins..." A typical week for birds on Lundy?

Millcombe valley and walled gardens

Millcombe valley and walled gardens

It was the third week of April. We were sitting on the deck of the Oldenburg, chatting to another couple, who were going over to the Island for the first time. They were keen birders and, as Lundy had been recommended to them by someone, were taking the opportunity, during a trip to Devon, to have a short break on the Island. "This friend of ours said he saw 42 different species over there in one week, so we thought we ought to give it a try" said one of our new companions. Discussing this afterwards, we thought this sounded a little unambitious for Lundy, so decided to keep our own list for the week we were over, and try to beat the "42-Challenge".

Although the island is small, it provides several very distinct localised habitats: The steep exposed cliffs of the West side provide shelter and nesting sites to gulls, auks and shearwaters. The central plateau of moorland is home to larks and pipits. The sloping, plant-covered cliffs of the East side have food and water for finches, chats and warblers. Many of the Lundy rarities drop in to the sheltered haven of Millcombe, some favouring the more scrubby upper half of the valley and others the lower half, with its overgrown walled gardens, a favourite place for fly-catchers and twitchers.

So, how did we do?

A trip to the Battery, on the West side gave the perfect vantage point for plenty of sea-birds: there were greater and lesser blackbacks, herring gulls, common gulls and fulmars, with pairs of ravens adding an extra touch of atmosphere to the already dramatic setting. The walk back saw (and heard beautifully) skylarks and meadow pipits on Aclands Moor, with a pair of pied wagtails at the top of the High Street and plenty of starlings around the tavern.

St John's valley below Millcombe

St John's valley
below Millcombe

The ever delightful Millcombe valley gave us sightings, at various times over the week, of chaffinch, blackbirds, greenfinch, song thrush, collared doves, wren, dunnock, a lovely pair of blackcaps, goldfinch, sparrows and more willow warblers and chiff-chaff than you could shake a proverbial stick at! I spent a lovely quiet half-hour leaning against one of the walls in lower Millcombe watching a flock of linnets and the odd chiff-chaff bathing and preening in the stream, about 5 or 6 metres away.

A guided walk with the warden proved very worthwhile. As well as being a very knowledgable and entertaining guide, she also had the apparent ability of making birds appear by just talking about them - well that certainly happened for the kestrel and the gannet anyway. The others turned up without prompting: razorbills, shags, a lone lapwing, guillemots (in their hundreds), kittiwakes and crows.

A stroll down to the South end brought sightings of oystercatchers on the rocks, five cormorants flying in formation over South Light, and a spectacular dust-up between two beautifully dapper male wheatears near the castle. The lady involved didn’t seem at all interested in the outcome, she just left them to it and flew away.

The East side brought a group of marauding mallards from Quarry Pond, ( I think they were expecting a share of our sandwiches), woodpigeon, a lone buzzard and a pair of peregrines. There appeared to be two pairs nesting on the island, and we were lucky to see them hunting and feeding on several occasions.

The east side and quarries

The east side and quarries

A change of weather or wind direction can often bring in a new set of birds overnight. Later in the week Millcombe produced a goldcrest, a spotted fly-catcher, and the first swallows and house martins that we had seen this year.

Panic stations, it was our departure day and we’d only equalled 42! I wanted to count the chickens ( if you pardon the cliche), but John wouldn’t allow that. What were we likely to find that hadn’t shown up on the list yet? We knew that there was usually a robin around somewhere in Millcombe, so we set off on a last hunt. We heard the little devil in a bush, really close by, but couldn’t get a sight of him. However, being desperate we agreed to count him. Real birders identify birds just by their song, so why shouldn’t we? So, robin it was!

We succeeded in our self-imposed "42-Challenge" - but more importantly had a thoroughly enjoyable week. Why not try it for yourself? Just don’t count the chickens, O.K.?

Lower Millcombe showing the walled gardens

Lower Millcombe showing the walled gardens

M.S. & J.B.

P.S. The birds above are mostly the regulars on the island. However, unexpected rarities can drop in at any time, but particularly in the Spring and Autumn migration periods. A return trip on a working party two weeks later saw water pipit and little ringed plover logged, together with whimbrel and dotterel. The highlight was a super male red-backed shrike which spent 3 days in Millcombe valley, and made a nice complement to the woodchat shrike seen in the same place last June.