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

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.

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

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