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Bird Observatories in Britain and Ireland

Portland Bird Observatory

The Bird Observatories Council co-ordinates and promotes the work of Bird Observatories at a national level. Individual Observatories are accredited to the Council when they meet specified criteria relating to activities and facilities. All the accredited observatories are listed below. For information about the Bird Observatories Council contact the secretary: Peter Howlett c/o Dept. of BioSyB, National Museums and Galleries of Wales, Cardiff. CF10 3NP. Tel. 029 20573 233. E-mail: info@birdobscouncil.org.uk

Search Britain & Ireland Rarities Photo Archive by Bird Observatory
Bird Observatory

Bardsey (www.bbfo.org.uk/)

Contact details: Mr Steven Stansfield, Bardsey Bird Observatory, Bardsey Island, Off Aberdaron, Via Pwllheli, Gwynedd, LL53 8DE. email steve@bbfo.freeserve.co.uk

Bardsey Bird and Field Observatory was founded in 1953. Subsequently the Bardsey Island Trust was formed when the island came up for sale in the mid-seventies. Members of the Observatory and some of the locals from Gwynedd initiated the purchase of the island and formed the Trust, whose main aim is to conserve the rich heritage and natural history of the island.

Bardsey is the breeding ground for nationally important numbers of Chough and Manx Shearwater. A sizeable seabird colony on the east side of the mountain supports 11 species of seabird including Kittiwake, Storm Petrel, Razorbill and Guillemot. The island's other breeding birds include Oystercatcher, Wheatear, Little Owl and Long-eared Owl.

The island is an important site for migrant birds. It lies on the Irish seaboard migration route and is therefore well situated to attract migrants that pass through in prolific numbers. Large arrivals of Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Goldcrest occur in spring and autumn complemented by other regular migrants. Some of the more memorable birds include Eye-browed Thrush, Radde's Warbler and Isabelline Wheatear from Asia. Black-browed Albatross from the southern oceans, and Dark-eyed Junco, Yellow Warbler, Sora Rail, American Bittern, American Robin and Song Sparrow from America. Bardsey also has the only record of Summer Tanager on this side of the Atlantic.

In 2003 on Bardsey a Manx Shearwater was caught that had been ringed as an adult in 1957, making the bird at least 51 years old (as young birds do not return to breed for several years). This is the oldest known living wild bird.

Calf of Man (www.gov.im/mnh/heritage/countryside/sound/observatory.xml)

Contact details: Mr Tim Bagworth, C/o Mr J Clague, Kionslieu, Plantation Hill, Port St Mary, Isle of Man Warden tel no 0860 640006

The Bird Observatory on the Calf was established in 1959 and became an official British Bird Observatory in 1962. From March to November wardens live on the Calf, keeping detailed records of migration and of the breeding birds which visit the Island. By the end of the year 2001, 99,042 birds of 134 species had been ringed since the Observatory opened of which 11,280 have been traced along their migration routes by other bird observatories.

Cape Clear (www.birdwatchireland.ie/bwi/pages092003/wildlifecourses/capeclear.html)

Contact details: Mr Steve Wing, The Bird Observatory, Cape Clear, Skibberen, Co. Cork, Eire. Senior Ringer tel no 01237 476114 (eve)

Cape Clear Island is the most southerly tip of Ireland. The island is approximately 5.5 kilometres long and approximately 1.5 kilometres at its widest. There are several hundred hectares of rough pasture on the island and many of the inhabitants are engaged in farming and fishing. On the higher and more exposed ground, areas of rough moorland with heather and low gorse can be found.

The island has become famous for its birds. Its breeding population includes several species confined to Ireland's western seaboard like Chough, Black Guillemot and Rock Dove. Migrant birds include vagrants from all corners of the world. Seabirds also pass the island in impressive numbers with varieties and views rarely witnessed elsewhere in Europe.

Copeland (www.cbo.org.uk/)

Contact details: Dr Peter Munro, Talisker Lodge, 54b Templepatrick Road, Ballyclare, Co. Antrim, BT39 9TX Secretary tel no 028 93323421

The Observatory lies off the County Down coast of Northern Ireland at the southern side of the mouth of Belfast Lough. It is operated on a part-time basis by local amateur ornithologists.

The Observatory is situated on Old Lighthouse Island, or the 'Bird Isle', as it is known locally. The Island is 40 acres in area, with a cliff on the east side and fairly gentle slopes elsewhere leading to a rocky shoreline. The Island is an excellent place for newcomers to birdwatching. It is the only place in Northern Ireland where rare passerines turn up with any regularity.

There is accomodation for up to 23 overnight visitors in the converted ruins of the old lighthouse.

Dungeness (www.dungenessbirdobs.org.uk/)

Contact details: Mr David Walker, Dungeness Bird Observatory, 11 RNSSS Dungeness, Romney Marsh, Kent, TN29 9NA Warden tel no 01797 321309

Dungeness is a dry shingle beach jutting out into the English Channel at Britain's most south-easterly point. Bird watching, wildlife migration and bio-diversity have been at the centre of casual and professional observations for over a century and the Observatory celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2002.

Dungeness Bird Observatory has a resident warden and an assistant warden, usually between March and November. The Observatory's main recording area is the south-eastern corner of the Dungeness shingle promontory which juts out into the English Channel at the western limits of the Straits of Dover. A daily record is kept of all birds in the area and is available to visitors who are encouraged to help in this work.

The Observatory makes an ideal centre, too, for exploring the varied habitats of the Dungeness promontory. The various lakes in the area (at the RSPB Reserve, Scotney, Lydd and Lade) support an important breeding seabird colony whilst in winter large numbers of wildfowl are attracted to the area. Unusual birds can turn up anywhere and at any time during the year.

Fair Isle (www.fairislebirdobs.co.uk/)

Contact details: Mr D N Shaw, Fair Isle Bird Observatory, Fair Isle, Shetland, ZE2 9JU Warden tel no 01595 760258 email fairisle.obs@zetnet.co.uk

Fair Isle, 3.5 miles long by 1.5 miles wide, is Britain's most isolated inhabited island. It can be divided geographically into two parts: the higher moorland areas and cliffs in the north, with the flatter, more sheltered and fertile land in the south.

Fair Isle's seabirds are the main reason why much of the island (the cliffs and hill area) enjoys a Special Protection Area status. The seabird populations on Fair Isle are perhaps without equal for both population density and species diversity in Europe, for such a small land area. Another important bird species, the Fair Isle Wren (a unique island sub-species, Troglodytes troglodytes fridarensis) inhabits the cliffs too. At the moment, strenuous efforts are being made to secure a marine protection area around Fair Isle so that both marine and terrestrial habitats, on which the seabirds depend equally, are conserved.

The work of the Observatory is divided into two parts; seabird studies and migration studies. Since the early 1900's, Fair Isle has been an internationally renowned site for the observation of migrant birds. Migrant birds become evident from late March, becoming more numerous through April and by the time the Observatory opens to visitors in late April, migration is well underway. Fair Isle relies heavily on the weather to blow migrating birds off course. If conditions are right, large falls of common migrants such as Wheatear, Whinchat, Redstart, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Tree Pipits can occur. Scarce migrants will also be mixed in with Bluethroats, Wrynecks, Red-backed Shrikes, Marsh and Icterine Warblers and occasional Ortolan Buntings seen. Rarer birds in the past few years have included Thick-billed Warbler, White-throated Sparrow, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Collared Flycatcher. May is the best spring month to visit Fair Isle for numbers of migrants, with more unusual birds seen from the end of May and through June.

Autumn migration is well underway by mid-August with waders, gulls, ducks and passerines all seen in good numbers. Falls of birds often occur, usually toward the end of the month. September is the traditional month for seeing good numbers of common migrants, rarities and bird-watchers! The 'Fair Isle specials' seen during this month can include Pechora Pipit, Olive-backed Pipit, Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler, Great Snipe, Yellow-breasted Bunting and Lanceolated Warbler. October can be as good as September, but there is the added bonus of our rarest vagrants during this month with Harlequin Duck, Brown Shrike, Black-faced Bunting, Savannah Sparrow, Siberian Rubythroat and Red-flanked Bluetail all seen in the last few years.

Filey Brigg (www.fbog.co.uk/)

Contact details: Mr Peter Dunn, 43 West Garth Gardens, Cayton, Scarborough, YO 11 3HA, Recorder: Lez Gillard lez.gillard@talk21.com Senior Ringer tel no 01723 583149 (eve) email pjd@fbog.co.uk

The recording area for the Bird Observatory includes the freshwater nature reserve at Filey Dams, reclaimed and planted 'tip' at Parish Wood, the Country Park caravan site bordered to the north by the 'Top Scrub' which is the main ringing site, the seawatch hide on the Brigg and the whole of Filey Bay as far as Speeton. At the present time there is no observatory building or accommodation, but accommodation can be arranged through the Filey Tourist Association by contacting High-Light Studio on 01723 512708.

During the summer months there is a log kept in the Country Park Café, where keys to use the seawatch hide can be rented. The Observatory maintains a daily log.

Visitors to the area are asked to respect the privacy of both householders and the landowners, by keeping to the public footpaths and not damaging fences or hedges. On the occasions when rare or unusual species are located on private land, access will be arranged with the appropriate landowner, where possible.

Flamborough Head

Flamborough Head is probably best known to birdwatchers for its seawatching. The best time for seawatching is from July-December. Large numbers of Sooty Shearwaters, Gannets, Fulmar and Common Scoter and good numbers of divers, skuas, terns and Little Auks can be seen given the right wind direction. Flamborough gets a good range of less commonly seen birds such as Cory's and Great Shearwaters, Long-tailed Skua, Sabine's Gull and Roseate Tern. A wide variety of ducks and waders can also be seen during seawatches.

Autumn is also when large falls of land migrants are possible, particularly thrushes. Unusual birds at this time can include Dusky, Barred, Yellow-browed and Pallas's Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Red-backed and Great Grey Shrike and Lapland Bunting.

As with many east coast sites spring can be quiet but easterly winds in May will often produce Icterine, Marsh and Subalpine Warbler, Red-backed Shrike and Bluethroat as well as good numbers of common migrants such as Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler and Willow Warbler.

The observatory does not offer accommodation but there is plenty of reasonably priced caravan sites and B&Bs available in the immediate area.

Gibralter Point

Contact details: Mr Kevin Wilson, C/o Gibraltar Point Field Station, Skegness, Lincs, PE24 4SU Warden tel: 01754 762677 lincstrust@gibpoint.freeserve.co.uk

The Observatory was established in 1949 and is a small part of the Gibraltar Point National Nature Reserve, which covers 1,100 acres of coastal dune scrub, saltmarsh and freshwater marsh on the coast of Lincolnshire. The Reserve is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Ramsar Site.

Between 1949 and 1995 over 140,000 birds of 163 species had been ringed by the observatory. Most common migrants are trapped in good numbers, the most ringed species being Blackbird and Willow Warbler (13,000+ of each). Scarce migrants trapped have included: Arctic Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Northern Waterthrush and American Redstart. Most areas of the reserve are accessible for ringing, with two Heligolands in the east dunes and another planned for trapping migrants on the storm ridge.

The Field Station is open all year for group bookings, offering excellent facilities, including a library, laboratory and common room. Visiting groups are always welcome.


Contact details: Mr J M (Mike) Reed, 21 Hardings, Panshanger, Welwyn Garden City, Herts, AL7 2EQ Chairman tel no 01707 336 351

The observatory was established in 1962 on 13 acres of pine and scrub covered dunes between the shore and the Broadwater at Holme-next-the-Sea. This strategic position is a key migration point allowing the observation study of the various streams of migrants arriving, leaving or passing through the county.

Since 1962 over 40,000 birds have been ringed and more than 300 species have been recorded. The full time warden takes a census of the birds present each day. Land migrants are recorded together with any sea passage. The reserve has five hides, which overlook a variety of bird habitats and winter feeding stations.

For details of sightings contact the Observatory on 01485 525406. Please note that the Observatory is closed on Mondays.

Isle of May

Contact details: Derek Robertson, Woodlands, Bandrum, Near Carnock, Dunfermline, Fife, KY12 9HR Secretary tel no 01383 852997

Situated on the east coast of Scotland, the Isle of May lies at the mouth of the Firth of Forth, 5 miles south-east of the Fife coast. It is about 1.6 km long and 0.5 km wide.The island is a national nature reserve and is owned by Scottish Natural Heritage.

The island is of hard volcanic rock and rises at the west side sloping gently to sea-level to the east. The west coast is largely vertical sea cliffs which are occupied in the breeding season by large numbers of Razorbill, Guillemot and Kittiwake. There are also large numbers of breeding Puffins, Shags, Gulls, Eiders and terns, the Puffins have also been the subject of much scientific study. It is worth noting that while Blue Tit has been recorded fewer than 10 times, species such as Bluethroat, Icterine Warbler, Barred Warbler and Wryneck are caught and ringed almost annually.

The Observatory was founded in 1934 and migration studies have continued since that time. The Observatory does not employ a full-time warden, though SNH employ 2 summer wardens on the island between March and September.

Accommodation is provided for visitors in the Low Light which houses not more than 6 people at one time. Visits to the island are normally from Saturday to Saturday.

Landguard (www.lbo.org.uk/)

Contact details: The Warden, Landguard Bird Observatory, View Point Road, Felixstowe, Suffolk, IP11 3TW Tel: 01394 673782 E.mail: landguardbo@yahoo.co.uk

Landguard Bird Observatory is housed in disused Military Buildings on the Local Nature Reserve at the Southern end of the town of Felixstowe in Suffolk.

Landguard is probably most famous for a succession of rarities in the late eighties and nineties, a trend which sadly is less the case than it was. Obviously, the most exciting times to visit are in spring and autumn when migration is in full swing, but even the depths of winter can offer some interest. Mediterranean Gull are regular, while Snow Bunting and Shore Larks often put in an appearance.

The observatory is open all year, provided there is a member onsite to give access - please ring observation room on (01394) 673782.

North Ronaldsay (www.nrbo.f2s.com/)

Contact details: Miss Alison Duncan, Twingness, North Ronaldsay, Orkney, KW17 2BE Warden tel no 01857 633267 email alison@nrbo.prestel.co.uk

North Ronaldsay lies at the northeastern extremity of Orkney, Scotland, with open sea beyond towards Shetland and Norway. It is well-known as one of the best birdwatching sites in the country, especially during migration periods, and the quantity and variety of birds passing through can be spectacular.

Depending on the weather, large falls of migrants can occur during April and May. Some of the regularly occurring scarcer species include Wryneck, Bluethroat, Marsh, Reed, Icterine and Wood Warblers, Red-backed Shrike and Common Rosefinch. Notable spring rarities in recent years have included Red-necked Stint, Red-throated Pipit, Collared Flycatcher, White-throated Sparrow, Rustic and Pine Bunting.

During July and August large numbers of Storm Petrels and a few Leach's can be tape-lured at night and both August and September can be good for seawatching as birds pass from the North Sea round the north end of the island into the Atlantic Ocean.

September is good for all migrant families from raptors to near-passerines, more chats, small numbers of thrushes, a wide variety of warblers and flycatchers, and finches towards the end of the month. Regular scarce species in September include Short-toed Lark, Bluethroat, Reed, Icterine and Yellow-browed Warblers, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Rosefinch, Lapland, Ortolan and Little Bunting.

October is the month for large movements of thrushes, Robin, Blackcap and finches, along with rarities such as Red-footed Falcon, American and Pacific Golden Plover, Great Snipe, Snowy Owl, Olive-backed and Red-throated Pipit, Thrush Nightingale, Blyth's Reed and Arctic Warbler, Rose-coloured Starling, Arctic Redpoll and various buntings.

Established in 1987, the observatory provides comfortable, inexpensive accommodation for visitors to the island.

Portland (www.portlandbirdobs.btinternet.co.uk/)

Contact details: The Old Lower Light, Portland Bill, Dorset, England, DT5 2JT. Telephone ++ 44 (0)1305 820553 Warden, Mr Martin Cade.

Portland Bird Observatory and Field Centre, situated at the Old Lower Light, Portland Bill, in the county of Dorset on the south coast of England, was established in 1961.

Birding on Portland can be good at all times of the year. When the season or conditions are not good for land birds, try sea watching at the Bill, or in winter, have a look for ducks, grebes and divers in Portland Harbour. Remember that a Coal Tit, Willow Tit, Long-tailed Tit or a Treecreeper... and many other species you may take for granted 'inland', are considerable rarities on Portland whilst rarities such as Serin, Wryneck, Woodchat, Melodious or Yellow-browed Warbler are all annual visitors.

Sanda (www.sanda-island.co.uk/pages/start.html)

Sanda Island is a privately owned island of 400 acres, situated near the Mull of Kintyre in Argyll. Strategically placed between Campbeltown, in Kintyre, and Red Bay, in Northern Ireland, it is roughly 13 miles from both.

A beautiful and picturesque Scottish island, rich in history, Sanda also boasts an official Bird Observatory. The Island was accorded SSSI status in 1995, acknowledging its importance in both the breeding and migratory aspects of its bird population. Noted for its colonies of Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins, Sanda also provides a regular home to a pair of breeding Peregrines.

Sandwich Bay (www.sbbo.co.uk/)

The Field Centre is located on the south-east coast of the UK, and is the base for the work of Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory Trust, which has been in existence for over 50 years. It is situated in the Sandwich and Hacklinge marshes SSSI, the large flood plain found between Deal and Dover to the south and Thanet to the north

The sandhills have attracted naturalists to study the rich flora and fauna of the area for many years, being a stretch of coastal dunes unique in the county of Kent and recognised for their high scientific and amenity value. The Observatory, in 1994, created a fresh-water wader scrape to attract migrant waders in spring and autumn. This is proving highly successful in attracting good numbers of common species and the occasional rarity. Two 24 ft hides are provided for members. In 1997 the Trust purchased it's headquarters and surrounding land in order to plan for the future Field Centre.

Skomer/Skokholm (www.wildlifetrust.org.uk/wtsww/reserves.htm)

Situated 15 minutes boat ride from the picturesque Pembrokeshire coast, the 750-acre island of Skomer has the largest colony of breeding seabirds in southern Britain. From early spring, thousands of puffins watch the visitor from the entry to their burrows or pass overhead. Keep an eye out inland for short-eared owls, which fly and hunt during the day on the island. At night, Skomer, home to the largest population in the world of manx shearwaters (up to a quarter of a million birds), is alive with their calls as they return to their burrows, which can be seen all around the edges of the island. Other species of bird to be seen here including: kittiwakes, oystercatchers, choughs, fulmars and gulls.

There is a limited facility for visitors to stay, on a self-catering basis. Please ring 01239 621212 for details.

Situated slightly further out to sea than its neighbour, Skokholm's Bird Observatory is now internationally recognised for its importance to wildlife. During the day, walk the island paths between rabbit, puffin and manx shearwater burrows amid the carpet of wildflowers to the magnificent red cliffs that surround the island. Marvel at the thousands of seabirds, which both live at and visit this Nature Reserve making this an ornithological paradise.

Spurn (www.spurnpoint.com/Spurn_bird_observatory.htm)

Spurn is a three and a half mile long sand and shingle spit, well vegetated with marram grass and sea buckthorn. To the west is an extensive area of tidal mudflats. Spurn's location makes it one of the best places on the east coast from which to watch the spring and autumn migrations, and in the winter large numbers of waders and wildfowl gather on the sand and mud of the river Humber. Spurn boasts an impressive list of rarities, which are particularly likely after easterly winds.

Most migration takes place in April and May, and between August and October.

Spurn is located at the mouth of the river Humber (North Side). From Hull follow A1033 to Patrington then B1445 to Easington and then on to Spurn Point. In 1996 the observatory celebrated its fiftieth anniversary and now enjoys the services of a year-round warden.


Walney Island is located at the south-west point of Cumbria and the north-west point of Morecambe Bay. The island, which is joined to the mainland by a road bridge, is about 14km long and 2km wide at the widest part. The observatory compiles records from the whole island but activity is concentrated at the southern most tip where an 85 hectare Nature Reserve is maintained by the Cumbria Wildlife Trust.

In summer the area holds a large population of Eiders and one of the largest of Herring, Lesser Black-backed and Greater Black-backed Gulls in Europe. During winter large numbers of waders and wildfowl associated with the Morecambe Bay populations are recorded, while there are resident totals of more than 1,000 each of Teal and Wigeon.

Bird ringing utilises 6 heligoland traps at the south end and mist nets at the other parts of the island. Passerine ringing predominates and among 24 species of warbler caught have been Greenish, Booted, Subalpine and Paddyfield.

Visitors to Walney can gain direct access by car (taking the A590 from the M6) and are welcome to make day visits or take overnight or longer term accommodation.

surfbirds is grateful to the BOC and the listed observatory websites for the information presented on this page.