Weekend Visit of 8th – 10th May

A weekend party of three left a wet Donaghadee Harbour on Friday evening. It took the Copeland Shearwater RIB around 10 minutes to get to the South Jetty on Old Lighthouse Island. Once on the Island, the party made their way up to the Observatory building to get settled in for the weekend. The persistent rain limited the outdoor activities of the party for that evening. The Chris Bailey Hide provided a suitable refuge for seabird watching.

Early morning netting on the Saturday was quiet with no new birds ringed. The weather looked promising for the arrival of the roof working party that day. The weekend party were able to watch the chartered boat leaving Bangor on route to Donaghadee Harbour to collect the first of the roofing materials. This information was passed to the awaiting party on Donaghadee Harbour via mobile phone.

The chartered boat carrying the first of the roofing material arrived at the South Jetty around 10:45am. Some members of the work party arrived with the materials while other members remained at Donaghadee Harbour to assist with the next load.

Boat loaded with roofing materialsBoat loaded with roofing materials

Once docked, the roof panels and building materials were unloaded from the boat and left on the foreshore. While the boat returned to Donaghadee to pick-up the next load, the work party on the Island started to bring the heavy materials up to the Observatory building.

Roofing materials on the foreshoreRoofing materials on the foreshore

Wheelbarrows and other improvised lifting methods were employed to move the roof materials up to the Observatory building. This operation continued for two more boat trips. By the time the third and last boat was unloaded the water was up to the top level of the South Jetty. Another half hour or so and this jetty would have been unusable.

Roof panel being transported up to the Observatory buildingRoof panel being transported up to the Observatory building

Work party transporting materials up to the Observatory buildingWork party transporting materials up to the Observatory building

After a hard day’s work in the sun, it was time for the Saturday work party to leave. The Copeland Shearwater arrived at the East Jetty around 5:30pm to lift the remaining work party members. This had been a very successful day, with everyone working efficiently together to get an important job done.

Roof panels sitting outside Observatory building on Saturday eveningRoof panels sitting outside Observatory building on Saturday evening

Sunday was overcast with strong winds as forecasted. Rope was used to secure the stacked panels together to prevent them from lifting. Three new birds were ringed that day, with one re-trap bird.

The weekend party left from the East Jetty on the Sunday afternoon. The strong winds made the return journey on the Copeland Shearwater a little choppy. Despite some mixed weather, the weekend was productive and enjoyed in good company.

Bird Summary

Over the weekend, reasonable numbers of Swallows were seen on (or perhaps moving through) the Island. The odd Swift, House Martin and Sand Martin were also spotted. Four Puffins were in the water just north of the East Jetty.

In total, three new birds were ringed (Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Spotted Flycatcher) with one re-trap (male Reed Bunting).

Spotted FlycatcherSpotted Flycatcher

Weekend of 1st – 3rd May, 2015

The weekend party of five arrived on the island on Friday evening full of anticipation for the Force 8-9 gale which had been forecast for Saturday afternoon into Sunday.

The couple of hours of daylight left on Friday evening allowed for the setting and baiting of traps and the erection of 4 nets in preparation for improved conditions – and therefore, the arrival of migrants – on Sunday.

As it turned out, we had a few hours on Saturday morning before the rain came, as forecast, in mid-morning. This lull allowed the trapping of 2 Hooded Crows and 2 Pied Wagtails in the Crow Trap and a Blackcap in the only reasonably sheltered net – NW Garden. Two Greenland Wheatears also arrived, but remained un-caught, despite a close encounter by one in the un-finished Gully Trap.

The wind gradually increased from an un-forecast (and unexpected) Force 1-2 at 06.30 on Saturday to Force 8-9 by lunchtime which, with face-stinging rain, effectively put an end to all out-door activities, except sea-watching from the Chris Bailey Hide. A significant Southward movement of 860 auks in an hour was recorded. Earlier in the day, 25 Puffins visited the Sound between the Observatory and Mew Island.

stormy weatherFlooding on top of the islandOld well brimming fullGale-force wind and very heavy rain persisted all night, causing much surface water across the top of the island and significant “waterfalls” cascading down the rock faces close to the ‘Loo With A View’. The Old Well is brimming full.

When the wind and rain eased by lunchtime on Sunday, the 4 nets were opened – more in the need to dry them for packing away – and it became clear that a small arrival of migrants was occurring. Two Blackcaps, the first Sedge Warbler and a single Willow Warbler were caught in the short time available before departure. Single Whitethroat (the season’s first) and Skylark were seen, along with several more Willow Warblers. Meanwhile, an even larger Southward movement of auks was noted from the Chris Bailey Hide – 2800 in one hour.

On Sunday, the supply of water from the roof to the upper cistern which supplies our (almost) en-suite loo at the buildings was repaired.

All-in-all, despite the relative dearth of migrants, it was a very interesting and enjoyable weekend. The return journey to Donaghadee on Sunday – in thick fog – was also interesting!

The weekend ringing tally was as follows:

Hooded Crow 1 (+ 1 re-trap); Pied Wagtail 1 (+1 re-trap); Blackcap 3; Sedge Warbler 1; Magpie 1 and one re-trap each of Wren, Goldcrest and Reed Bunting.

CBO – weekend visit of April 24th – 26th

  • 8 species ringed – including the 1st Blackbird and Sparrowhawk of the year.
  • Species list increases: Mediterranean Gull, Rook, Sedge Warbler and Sparrowhawk added.
  • Important work continues:  mesh wire fitted to Gully Trap, and the jetties and cliff steps cleared

Nine people departed Donaghadee on board the Copeland Shearwater for the third weekend visit of 2015 on Friday the 24th of April.

Although the forecast for the weekend was for strong north/north west winds, with rain until Saturday lunch time, the weather cleared by Saturday afternoon leaving some nice sunshine for the remainder of the weekend – although it was still cold in the brisk winds.

North/north west winds are not ideal for bringing spring migrants to the island, so those birds that were present may have arrived on the southerlies through Friday and remained throughout the weekend – waiting for the next break in the winds.

Despite the conditions, the team did manage to open a few mist nets on the east side of the island, which was relatively sheltered, and, in combination with the Heligoland traps, caught and ringed a few migrants.

Female BlackcapFemale Blackcap

Sparrowhawk Sparrowhawk – following the migration

As with the weekend previous, the crow trap, baited with bread, tuna and dog food, was again successful, catching two new Hooded Crows.

In total, 14 new birds were ringed with 2 re-trapped wrens.

CBO Weekend trip 24th-26th April Ringing Totals (retraps in brackets)

Species ringed Number ringed
1.   Blackbird 1
2.   Blackcap 1
3.   Chiffchaff 1
4.   Hooded Crow 2
5.   Willow Warbler 4
6.   Goldcrest 1
7.   Goldfinch 3
8.   Sparrowhawk 1
9.   Wren (2)

There was some great bird watching on offer, with particular interest in the island’s breeding species. CBO is a fantastic place to get up close to Black Guillemot, Eider and thousands of Manx Shearwater.

Four species were added to the 2015 bird list: Mediterranean Gull, Rook, Sedge Warbler and Sparrowhawk. The Med Gulls were initially picked up on call; flying in from the south, they settled on Mew Island amongst the Black-headed Gulls, allowing some good views through the telescopes.

Really good progress was made in the restoration of the gully trap. Both sides now have the wire mesh replaced and the first 5 metres of the roof was attached. It is planned – with just a little more effort – to have this trap in full operation by mid-May (perhaps in time for Whinchat & Cuckoo!).

Other tasks saw the jetties scrubbed down, and the Cliff-path steps were also given a little TLC having become overgrown and covered in loose gravel.

Cliff stepsSpruced-up Cliff-steps!

Sunrise over Mew IslandSunrise over Mew Island on Sunday morning

If you would like to arrange a weekend stay, contact our Bookings Secretary (davidgalbraith903@btinternet.com)

Remember, your membership support is essential to us. Please consider joining or renewing your membership today!

CBO Spring weekends and other plans

Now that the new CBO season is upon us, why not consider a weekend visit?

Spaces are still available on the following spring weekends:

  • w/e commencing Friday 08 May
  • w/e commencing Friday 15 May
  • w/e commencing Friday 22 May

The trip commencing on 15 May includes a week visit (to 22 May) as well as the standard weekend visit.  This will be primarily for habitat management and volunteers for either the full week or Sunday (17th) to Friday (22nd) would be particularly welcome to allow this valuable work to proceed.

Whilst the day trips planned for 16 and 23 May are both now fully booked, we are holding a list of those still interested in going on either day and already we have sufficient interest to arrange a second boat for 23rd, on which there are now only 6 spaces left.  So if you want to go you will need to be quick!  Day trips are only £15 for adults, £10 for under 16’s.

We also hope to have a work day on 09 May for delivery of the materials required for the roof project.  Willing (and physically able) volunteers are sought for this important work, which is likely to take the whole day, but it should be possible to help for parts of this.  The roof project itself is planned to commence on 07 June.  The observatory will close then to normal visiting until this project is completed (hoped to be around 2 weeks), but a small number of physically able and willing volunteers are required to assist with this work.  If you think you can help for any of this time, then do please get in touch.  We will probably be able to arrange boat transport to/from the observatory to suit the availability of volunteers, but all visits are likely to include at least two overnights.

You can find details of our accommodation by exploring this website or check out the following link for panoramic views of the island and buildings http://www.virtualvisittours.com/copeland-island-bird-observatory/

Visit fees are:
Adult overnight visit fee (any number of consecutive nights)  £30
Under 18s overnight visit fee (any number of consecutive nights)*  £20

Note: Junior members must be accompanied by a responsible designated adult.

This includes use of all of the facilities that we have available and the boat journey to/from the island.  This compares very favourably with other UK bird observatories and so far as we are aware, CBO is still by far the cheapest (off shore) bird observatory to visit anywhere in the UK.

Please remember that you must be a full member to visit, so if you haven’t renewed, our membership fees are detailed on our Join CBO page.

For more details contact the Bookings Secretary at davidgalbraith903@btinternet.com

As always, you can see all the latest news and pics either on our website, or do visit our Facebook page.

Weekend Visit of April 17th – 19th

  • Five species added to ringing list including, Pied Wagtail, Hooded Crow, Goldfinch, Blackcap and Reed Bunting.
  • Crystal clear night sky with great views of the International Space Station (ISS), Milky Way Galaxy, and moons of Jupiter.
  • New door frame fitted to Gully Trap.
  • First Puffin of 2015 seen.
  • Migration underway – notable movements (>40) of Hooded and Carrion Crows, and three Wheatear seen.

Sometimes the weather can be almost too good!

The second weekend team of 2015, covering Friday 17th – Sunday 19th April, certainly got spectacular early spring weather. The clear air in the mornings gave the eye a full sweep from Goat Fell on Arran in the North, to the Calf of Man in the south; a panorama from the old lighthouse stump which easily covered over one hundred miles. This is not, however, the weather that a ringing team necessarily want! When the conditions are so clear the birds often keep moving. Despite this, the weekend provided a steady trickle of birds through the nets and traps. Notable were the first Blackcap and Goldfinch of 2015, and an exciting catch of three Hooded Crow in the walk-in Crow-trap (feeding on old smelly cheese!). Other migrants included two Willow warbler, and singles of Chiffchaff and Goldcrest.

This photo shows the rarely seen underfoot of a Willow warbler – a vibrant yellow sole.
This photo shows the rarely seen underfoot of a Willow warbler – a vibrant yellow sole.


Several pairs of Reed Bunting breed on the island. A female was ringed on Sunday morning.
Several pairs of Reed Bunting breed on the island. A female was ringed on Sunday morning.


Regular visitors may bemoan the night-time loss of the familiar sweep of the beam from the Mew Island Lighthouse, recently decommissioned and replaced with a fixed flashing light. The night sky, however, somehow seemed enhanced. The Milky Way was clearly visible, and the team also tracked a four-minute transit of the International Space Station across the southern sky.


The spring flowers are really starting to show. The early double-flowering daffodils have already turned, but the narcissi probably have another few weeks left.


Clumps of Marsh Marigold can be found in wet areas.
Clumps of Marsh Marigold can be found in wet areas.


Bird lists and migration logs are updated every day. Large numbers of crows – mainly Hooded, but also some Carrion – were noted on passage. The first Sandwich Tern was heard off Mew, and a Puffin dropped into the sound between Lighthouse and Mew Island on Sunday afternoon. Three Wheatear spent an hour on Sunday morning feeding around the front of the Gully trap.

Some island views…

East jetty under high tide.

East jetty under high tide.


South jetty underwater
South jetty, the same…


Ship passing behind Mew…
Ship passing behind Mew…


Occupied Loo with a View…

Occupied Loo with a View…


Scopes ready for the next species…

Scopes ready for the next species…


Chris closing the nets on Saturday evening.
Chris closing the nets on Saturday evening.


If you would like to arrange a weekend stay, contact our Bookings Secretary – davidgalbraith903@btinternet.com

Remember, your membership support is essential to us. Please consider joining or renewing your membership today!

CBO – First overnight Weekend Visit of 2015 (April 10th – 12th)

  • Coastline clean-up removes 4 large bags of rubbish.
  • Species list increases: Peregrine, Water Rail, Manx Shearwater, Fieldfare, Wheatear, and Jack Snipe added.
  • Important work continues: mesh wire fitted to Gully Trap, and jetties spruced up for new season.

The CBO 2015 overnight manning season commenced on Friday 10th April when a small team departed a blustery Donaghadee onboard our Rigid-Hulled Inflatable, the Copeland Shearwater.

Unfortunately the deterioration in the weather conditions over the weekend restricted the passage of migrants through the island, and hence the ringing return was zero. The team, however, still completed very useful work making the jetties safe by removing the winter growth of green weed, and made significant steps in getting the Gully trap ready for catching.

Seventeen species were added to the bird list, including Grey Heron, Peregrine, Water Rail, Moorhen, Jack snipe and Wheatear.

Depressingly, a beach clean-up around the island on Saturday afternoon removed four large bin-bags full of waste, including hundreds of plastic bottles, a coil of discarded rope, 5 gallons of used engine oil and various large lengths of plastic pipe….. everything excluding the kitchen sink. (In fact it could be argued that we got the kitchen sink too in the form of a plastic basin!)

Where does it all come from?

Where does it all come from?

Kitchen sink!

Kitchen sink!



On a positive note, progress was made with the refit of the Gully Trap; wire mesh was fitted to one wall and all the support wires are now in place and fully tensioned.

Refit of Gully Trap

Refit of Gully Trap

This weekend illustrates how important overnight visitors are to maintaining CBO as a functioning observatory. There is always something to do.

If you are thinking of planning a weekend stay, contact our Bookings Secretary through our Visiting page.

Remember, your membership support is essential to us.

Please consider joining or renewing your membership today!

First trip of 2015

  • Exciting start to new season – work progressing on refit of Gully trap.
  • Buildings and jetties intact after winter storms.
  • 6 species ringed – 1st bird ringed of 2015: Song thrush.
  • 33 species sighted – including Snipe, Swallow, Chiffchaff, Willow warbler and Goldcrest.

On Tuesday 7th April a team of seven volunteers paid the first visit of 2015 to the observatory – mainly with the purpose of preparing the Gully trap (our East-facing Heligoland walk-in trap) for the new season, but also to check over the buildings and jetties after the winter storms.

This was also the first outing of the season for our Rigid-Hulled Inflatable, the Copeland Shearwater.

The sea conditions from Donaghadee to Lighthouse Island were superb; flat calm, with the sky and sea merging into horizon.


After five minutes the team had their first sight of the island


Landing at the South Jetty just ten minutes after leaving Donaghadee, disembarkation was watched with interest from the cliff-top by a group of ten Shelduck. A dozen drake Eider were milling around the Gavney channel after a few females, and calling with their distinctive nasal mew.

The island is still looking very sparse and spring is yet to get a grip; the Bluebell carpet is just beginning to show and the thick patch of Narcissi around the front of the buildings is still waiting to flower.


Despite the recent spell of dry weather, conditions underfoot were soggy. Both the ponds were full to the brim.



Mew Island was resonating with the calls of Grey seals.


Early double-flowering daffodils were out above the Seat.


Philip Galbraith set a mist net in the garden, and worked the Wall and Heli Traps. On the first run of the Wall trap, a Song Thrush was caught and ringed – the first bird ringed in 2015.

After that, the Garden net provided a steady catch throughout the day. Six Goldfinch were caught and single Willow warbler and Chiffchaff.

Interestingly, the Chiffchaff had a pollen cone at the base of its bill – probably built-up during feeding in Africa and Iberia.


You can find out more about this at the following link


Meanwhile, work progressed with the refit of the Gully trap. All the support wire was replaced and tensioned, and the trap is now waiting for a team to refit the wire mesh.


In addition to the birds, a group of eight Porpoise were spotted just beyond Mew, and a Peacock butterfly beside the wall trap.


In total 33 species were counted. The bird list is a follows:

Species sighted Number counted
1.       Cormorant 1
2.       Gannet 6
3.       Mallard 3
4.       Eider 30
5.       Shelduck 16
6.       Greylag Goose 2
7.       Buzzard 1
8.       Snipe 2
9.       Curlew 6
10.   Oystercatcher 6
11.   Whimbrel 1
12.   Common (Mew) Gull 100
13.   Black-headed Gull 20
14.   Black Guillemot 80
15.   Pied Wagtail 2
16.   Meadow Pipit 10
17.   Woodpigeon 1
18.   Stock Dove 10
19.   Robin 2
20.   Song Thrush 1
21.   Blackbird 1
22.   Dunnock 1 (singing)
23.   Wren 20
24.   Willow Warbler 3
25.   Chiffchaff 2
26.   Goldcrest 12
27.   Swallow 3
28.   Raven 3
29.   Chaffinch 1
30.   Linnet 5
31.   Lesser Redpoll 1
32.   Goldfinch 1
33.   Reed Bunting 8


In total, 12 birds of 6 species were ringed:

Species ringed Number ringed
1.   Song Thrush 1
2.   Willow Warbler 1
3.   Chiffchaff 1
4.   Wren 2
5.   Dunnock 1
6.   Goldcrest 6

The team departed at 4.30 pm, again in near perfect conditions.

Your support is essential to us. Please consider joining CBO or renewing your membership – check out our new Direct Debit option with our Membership Secretary.

Why not consider a weekend visit?

Join, visit, donate…

CBO grant cuts – your continued support is essential to us!

This week the Department of the Environment (DoE) announced drastic cuts to the funding which they provide to a range of environmental organisations across Northern Ireland.

Unfortunately, Copeland Bird Observatory was not immune to this severe action and it is with deep regret that we have received word that our entire Natural Heritage Grant has been slashed/terminated.

Like so many of our fellow environmental sector NGOs, we expected a significant reduction in our Natural Heritage grant, but we are still astonished that any NI government would consider completely cutting this massively important source of funding.

The Natural Heritage grant allowed CBO to maintain an intensive habitat management and restoration programme – essential to our nationally important colony of Manx Shearwaters – continue with our ongoing (for sixty years) seabird and passerine ringing operations AND helped the Northern Ireland Government meet its statutory obligations, under European Law, as regards monitoring and reporting on priority species within the Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) and Special Protection Areas (SPA). This high-quality service was provided, for relatively little outlay, by CBO volunteers.

Failure to adequately monitor and report on our protected areas could lead to Northern Ireland failing to meet our commitments to European Directives such as water quality, biodiversity, air quality, habitats and birds; which, in turn, will lead to Northern Ireland being fined for non-compliance. Fines which will amount to totals much greater than the £1.5m cut from the Natural Heritage Grant Programme. In the grand scheme of things, this is a relatively small amount for the DoE to pay for the support and information they receive from groups across NI.

You can find out more about the impact of these cuts on environmental NGOs on the Northern Ireland Environment Link Facebook page.

In terms of CBO, the loss of this grant will not stop us from continuing to actively monitor and manage one of Northern Ireland’s most important wildlife sites. Your help, however, will be critical.

Here’s how…

Please consider becoming a member of CBO or, if you’re already a member, renew your membership now!

By visiting the Island you not only support the Observatory financially through your visit fees, but you also contribute to over 60 years of data monitoring the wildlife here, some of which is found nowhere else in Northern Ireland. Remember, you don’t even have to be a birdwatcher or ringer – you can help in so many other ways.

You can help the Observatory by fund-raising or making a donation. The loss of NIEA funding will make operating the Observatory very difficult as the cost of providing the boat service is the main financial challenge which we face.

This will be a difficult year for CBO and we face many challenges, so we appreciate the help and assistance from all our supporters.

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