Recently I found myself once again speeding towards Flat Holm Island for a weekend of bird ringing. Unlike the last visits, we were not after gull chicks but targeting the islands smaller birds.
Landing on the island late afternoon, the first thing that struck me was the noise, or more precisely the lack of it. Without the raucous calls of 10,000 or so gulls, Flat Holm is a tranquil island; it took an hour or two to come to terms with cliffs and grassland not covered by gulls. The vegetation was also higher and more lush. It really did feel like a different place.
On landing it was very heartening to hear from Stewart, the islands warden, that plenty of migrants were on the move; walking from the jetty to the farm house wheatear and meadow pipit flitted across the island’s grasslands while house martin and swallow poured overhead. After a much needed cup of tea we set up the nets ready for the morning and put on an impromptu ringing demo outside the island’s pub, the Gull and Leek, for members of the Flat Holm Society. Willow warblers and chiffchaff made up the bulk of the catch. We rounded off the evening with a pint before hitting the hay, ready for a weekend of ringing migrants.
Saturday was ideal for mist netting on Flat Holm; still, cloudy and hopping with birds. I must admit to being somewhat surprised by the number of birds there were. Most of my visits have been in early spring or summer for the gulls; its a fool hardy passerine that doesn’t keep a low profile then. But on this trip birds seemed to be everywhere, flitting from bush to bush, every patch of alder seemed to be rife with birds.
Chiffchaffs and blackcaps made up the bulk of the catch but we had some nice surprises in the form of reed, sedge, and garden warbler. Around lunchtime house martins started to move again and circle near the light house; we managed to catch 32 using a tape lure. Although we didn’t catch any species that would get the pulses of local birders running, we did trap an island rare in the form of a treecreeper! This was only the fourth one to be caught on the island, with the last having been caught in 1998! As the cloud lifted in the afternoon so did the migrants and our catches got smaller. Eventually we closed the nets on 119 birds.
Sunday lived upto its name and so there were fewer birds. We added the odd blackcap, goldcrest and chiffchaff to the totals. However, we did manage to catch four meadow pipits and a rock pipit – both species new to me in the hand. With the catches diminishing we decided to close the nets and pack up. Having caught 180 birds over the weekend, I spent the last few hours on the island enjoying birds in the field – just in time to watch several hundred swallows make their way accross the rock!
Having spent the afternoon walking round the island in glourious sunshine, with hordes of grasshoppers exploding at my feet, it was time to get the boat back to the mainland. I won’t be back until October – it will be interesting to see how different the island looks then.