Report on Holy Island Day Tour, 6 October 2018
Another mild, dry and eventually sunny autumn day on Holy Island. Yet our tour started on the mainland - at the Beal end of the Holy Island causeway. It was a good start too as it wasn’t long before we were enjoying our first Pink-footed Geese of the day, followed by excellent views of Greenshank, and a lone Little Egret. Bar-tailed Godwits showed well amongst the Redshank and a lone Ringed Plover seem to appear out of nowhere in front of us. Andrew spotted a female Merlin in flight having a go at some small birds before she perched on a fence post for all for us to enjoy seeing through our telescope. A small flock of Barnacle Geese flew close overhead - the geese use Holy Island as a stop off on their journey to the Solway Firth. A final scan before moving on added Grey Heron and Carrion Crow to the day list. A quick pit stop at the roadside revealed a very large flock of Golden Plover on the sands and behind them our first and only flocks of Brent Geese for the day made themselves known.
No sooner had we parked up than we were enjoying brilliant views of two stunning Lapwing as they made their way around the grassy car park. The walk into the village was quiet other than the ever present House Sparrows and Pied Wagtails. A quick glance at the Rocket Field gave us our first and only Dunlins of the day and impressive numbers of Teal. Our next stop was St Cuthbert’s Island where the waders were starting to gather as high tide approached; the rocks were almost entirely covered over one half of the island by the cryptically handsome Bar-tailed Godwit flock. A few flocks of Knot flew in and landed around the island and the Oystercatchers added a splash of colour as their black and white plumage almost cast a chequered effect. At the water's edge there were Shag and Cormorant standing together allowing for close comparison of the differences between the two, while Turnstone fed actively among on the rocks around them . On the surrounding sea we saw Guillemot, Gannet and Red-breasted Mergansers. We moved on and added Great-black Backed Gull, Meadow Pipit and Robin, but a quick look for a long-staying Barred Warbler was unsuccessful. However, another look at the Rocket Field came up trumps with a 'wow' moment when a lovely dark Short-eared Owl appeared and proceeded to hunt the field, flushing the Teal in the process. We moved on, had lunch and made our way to Emmanuel Head on the island's North East corner. Birdwise, the route was quiet with only Common Gull being added, but it was great to see another impressive Golden Plover flock amassed in one of the grass fields.
We arrived at Emmanuel Head for a sea watch where the wind was blowing a strong northerly. We managed some good views of feeding flocks of Kittiwakes off shore and Gannets were continually heading past close by. A few Common Scoters flew north, some Eiders dotted about on the sea and Mark had a brief view of a possible Long-tailed Duck. The walk back along the sea produced Red-throated Diver before we stopped off at the freshwater lough to look at water birds. A Mute Swan family was on show and the trip ticks came thick and fast with Tufted Duck, Mallard, Moorhen, Wigeon, Little Grebe, and Shoveler, while a few distant Roe Deer added a mammal tick. Yet it was our final bird of the day which turned out to be the star of the show - a ridiculously tame Snow Bunting! We arrived to find it perched up on a stone wall only several feet away , but if that wasn't close enough it then flew down to the path we were on. Why was it so tame? We could only presume that this young bird had no fear of humans due to lack of contact. What a way to notch our 59th species - not a bad total for a day with so few passerine migrants.
Co- guides Andrew Kinghorn and Mark Winter