Weekend Visit of May 15th – 17th


  • Breeding in full swing –first chicks of the year seen
  • 12 species ringed – 5 new species for the year including Swallow and Whitethroat
  • Important work continues:  habitat management resumes across the island

A team of five volunteers including Ian McKee, who planned to stay for a week to progress with the first serious attack on the grass-cutting, departed Donaghadee on Friday 15th May for the sixth weekend visit of the CBO 2015 season. [Ian was joined for the remainder of the week by another volunteer on the boat switchover on Sunday].

The weekend weather remained dry throughout but with constant winds blowing at around 20 mph coming from the west/south west. Sunday morning brought this nicest weather with a drop in the winds and a near cloudless sky.

Sunset over Mew IslandBeautiful morning over Mew

The breeding season is in full swing on the island with large numbers of Eider, Black Guillemot, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull and Lesser-black Backed Gull sitting on eggs. The team also spotted nesting Oystercatcher and saw the first two Eider chicks of the year.

The Fulmars are sitting on the ledges on the East cliffs and a pair of Rock Pipits are bobbing around the foreshore. The pair of Starlings which nest in the workshop were working tirelessly to feed to their noisy brood, flying back and forth across the island continuously in the hunt for insects. The local Swallows were checking out the usual nest sites around the Observatory buildings and the cave. Two curious Swallows flew into the ringing laboratory on Friday evening to look for an ideal nest site and were caught and ringed.

Many of the other resident breeders remained inconspicuous, so may be sitting on eggs e.g. female Reed Buntings, Shelduck and Stock Doves. The Arctic Tern numbers are building; reaching c180 birds on Saturday 16th May but we expect plenty more to arrive. Four Puffins were again present with two sitting among the decoys. A highlight for the species list was a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers, spotted on the sound between Lighthouse Island and Mew.

Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher

In terms of passerine migrants (except Swallows) the Island appeared to be devoid of any birds on Friday evening and Saturday morning between 5-9am.  Birds then started to appear with a Spotted Flycatcher, a Blackcap and a Chiffchaff feeding in one tree in Bluebell Gully.  The ringing then picked up with a Spotted Flycatcher, a couple of Chiffchaff and a Whitethroat caught.  These birds appeared just in time to show to a group of 20+ people who had arrived by boat on a guided island tour.  The baited crow trap then produced some birds, with 5 Jackdaws and a Magpie inside – although 2 of the Jackdaw and the Magpie managed to slip out when extracting them.  A busy couple of hours quietened down after midday.  Swallows were the only obvious persistent migrant, with birds flitting through much of the day with 9 ringed and a single House Martin, of which 4/5 passed through.


On Sunday the conditions between 6-8am were ideal with full cloud cover and force 3 winds coming from the south west.  The first two net rounds caught the majority of the day’s birds, with the second round producing a Spotted Flycatcher in the ‘Heli trap’, a Chiffchaff in the ‘Garden net’, and the ‘Withy net’, which was the best of the lot, produced 2 Spotted Flycatchers, 3 Blackcap and a Reed Bunting.  A few more birds were picked up through the rest of the morning but, with the wind increasing, and switching back to westerly, many of the migrants seemed to have moved on. Spotted Flycatchers

Spotted Flycatchers

CBO Weekend trip 15th-17th May Ringing Totals

New Retrap
Blackbird 4
Blackcap 3
Chiffchaff 4
Eider 1
House Martin 1
Jackdaw 3
Pied Wagtail 2
Reed Bunting 1 3
Spotted Flycatcher 4
Swallow 14
Whitethroat 1
Wren 3 3
Total 35 12


In the meantime, the habitat management progressed apace. Long hours were spent mowing the vegetation to maintain the short sward grass in designated areas, and keeping the pathways and net rides accessible. It takes a full week to complete all the mowing around the island and this takes place 3 times a year. Without this effort and work, moving around the island would very difficult with the dense cover of Red Campion and Bracken. It also maintains ideal habitat for the island’s diverse flora, and for many of the bird species (and the rabbits!). To find out more about habitat management and how to get involved, contact Ian McKee at cbohabitat@gmail.com

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

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.

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