Western Morning News (13 October 2007)
Birdlife on Lundy is more than just puffins
A new, comprehensive book shines a light on Lundy Island's birdlife population. While the iconic puffin is sadly in decline, there is much more to keep birding enthusiasts interested off the North Devon coast, as Graeme Demianyk discovers.
Ten miles off the North Devon coast, the splendid isolation of Lundy Island has long been a birdwatcher's paradise. Even its name is derived from the Old Norse word "lundi", which means puffin.
Matched perhaps by the Fair Isle and the Isles of Scilly, there are few better places off the British coastline to watch spring and autumn migrants.
Indeed, scores of wildlife enthusiasts take the island boat from Bideford or Ilfracombe across the Bristol Channel each year.
Lundy is synonymous with puffins. At the turn of the 20th century, ornithologists recorded puffins "nesting in countless thousands".
In 1939, Lundy's puffin population was estimated at 3,500 pairs.
Yet the ground-burrowing seabirds so inextricably linked to Lundy are facing a troubled future.
"With Puffins teetering on the verge of extinction on the island, it remains to be seen whether Lundy will continue to be known as the Isle of Puffins," according to The Birds of Lundy, a new book that tells the story of the island's feathered population.
Naturally, it would be remiss of an exhaustive guide to the outcrop's wildlife not to give over a substantial proportion to the iconic black-and-white bird.
The authors, self-confessed Lundy addicts and North Devon residents Tim Davis and Tim Jones, claim that the birds "hang by the narrowest thread" as numbers have shrunk due to changing sea temperatures, pollution in the Bristol Channel and predatory rats.
The book is sympathetic to the plight - the island without its trademark seabird is "unthinkable" - but it is keen to point to the rich population that also gathers there.
"Whatever the future holds for puffins, the island will remain a magnet for birdwatchers, drawn by the sheer variety and number of birds that - given the right time of year and weather conditions - can be encountered within a relatively tiny area," it says, adding that the 455 hectare island plateau [is] a "haven" for land birds.
This is what The Birds of Lundy underlines. More that 300 species have been seen on Devon's old fortress isle, including an impressive list of British "firsts" and many other rarities.
Indeed, the book's centrepiece is a "systematic list" of sightings made by the Lundy Field Society and the Devon Bird Watching & Preservation Society since 1947. As such, it is the most comprehensive account of birdlife since Nick Dymond essayed the island in 1980.
Complementing the list, the book offers an insight into the most common arrivals as the seasons turn. Spring, for example, is a "go-stop-go affair" where the birdwatcher's bounty is predicated on the weather.
"Clear starlit nights often lead to thin pickings for birdwatchers, since night migrants tend to overfly the island, having no need to stop. On the other hand, the same fine weather may bring impressive movements of daytime migrants, such as swallows and martins which sometimes occur in their thousands, skimming low over the top of the island or hugging the shoreline in the lee of the cliffs."
Pied and white wagtails, meadow pipits and stonechats are among the countless birds from late February.
Even cuckoos, rarely seen on Lundy nowadays, can be spotted by the keenest eyes "usually pursued by an attack squadron of meadow pipits".
Guides to the remaining seasons, notably autumn, "the time when most birdwatchers choose to visit Lundy", are similarly detailed.
Enthusiasts would do well to have a copy to hand the next time they visit.
The Birds of Lundy is available as [a] limited [edition] hardback for £35 or as a softback at £18.95.
For the latest sightings and photos of birds on Lundy visit the Lundy Birds blog