by Kathy James

Archive for January, 2012

Nature and Bites

You may by now realise that I enjoy my food rather a lot and of course I love my birds, so to be taken to a cafe for breakfast surrounded by birds was a great addition to last weekend!

At first I was just struck by the lovely location, nestled in the beginnings of the Llanberis pass, and then the building itself was enough to please me. It is a multi-use building with the cafe taking advantage of views of the garden through almost entirely glass walls. I chose my breakfast and then I started seeing things…Great Tits, Blue Tits, Coal Tits and Chaffinch all feeding right in front of my face…who was watching who feed I wonder?! The glass barrier afforded views I’m not accustomed to and was an excellent way to appreciate the size differences of these realitively common birds.

My friend went up to order and as I glanced over towards him, treecreepers! Two, over the otherside of the cafe. I (actually) skipped across the cafe exclaiming “Treecreepers! Look! Look!”. The rest of the clientelle politley smiled as I interupted their serenity.

I was so overawed by this dining-birding experience that I actually returned a few days later with my visiting friend, Sam. This time the weather was less in our favour and the little guys weren’t showing. Still it is a lovely spot for breakfast. Then, a Sparrowhawk flew in and perched on a branch metres from our window. Prooving that no matter the weather this is a top place! If you like to try it for yourself it’s called the Caban and can be found in Brynrefail off the the A4244.

Tuesday was spent with Ken and Sam. We had a walk around Pentraeth Forest before moving on to Red Wharf Bay. As we pulled into Red Wharf Bay I decided it was most definitely time for lunch. I think Ken often despairs of me and my need to eat so frequently – he is built for birding, other functions are secondary. Ken scanned the estaury with his scope, whilst from inside the car – literally biting into my cracker with cheese, I shouted “Bird of Prey Ken!” tee hee, small victories 🙂 Ken identified it as a Merlin. I could see it chasing after some small bird but had to settle for watching ‘cracker-in-hand ‘ as lunch had buried my binoculars somewhere.

We saw a flock of Common Snipe take to the air and as we walked along the coast path towards Llandonna and several Jack Snipe popped out of the saltmarshes to say hello.

This Saturday morning I joined the North Wales Wildlife Trust for a guided walk around the Alaw Estuary near Valley, lead by Ian Wright and my very own Ken Croft. What a fabulous morming we had awoken to?! The previous evening had been wet and windy, the sea battering against the cliffs at South Stack. I left my house before Ken arrived to pick me up and was stunned at the millpond-esque sea around me. What a transformation!?

Down at the Alaw a sizeable group had gathered and we spent a couple of hours enjoying the weather, the company and the plentiful birds. There was a whole range of birders there, from novice to expert and it was nice to be able to share the sights with them all. We had a list of some 39 bird species in and around the estuary before the rest of the group headed on to Penrhos Coastal Park.

Saturday night was a starry, starry night down at Treborth Botanical Gardens. Nigel Brown, along with ‘Friends of Treborth Gardens’, presented a star-gazing evening. It was well worth the £3 entry fee. My knowledge of the night sky is limited to say the least and armed with a torch, Nigel led us on a guided tour of the constellations. It was incredible! The moon alone was worth looking at in more detail, through binoculars the craters and seas were well defined. I have now learnt various constellations and notable features of the sky tha I hope will be able to find on my own. It is definitely something I will do again. I will take advantage of the skies up at South Stack on a clear night and see how I fare. A big thank you to the astronomical society who came along and let us look through their mammoth scopes – through these I saw an up-close shot of the moon and even the striations on Jupiter!!

Can’t sign off without mentioning the naturebites birdrace which is fast approaching! I am starting to gather teams, but it’s not too late to enter…just email me before you head out with your team members, which county you are choosing and which day you are going out. I am excited to say that so far we have participants in the West Midlands, East Yorkshire, Benbecula, Leicestershire, Norfolk, Gwynedd and Anglesey – why not represent your county?! It really is all about having fun so if you have a day where you can spare six hours then give it a bash 😉 See my previous post for the brief rules and you’ll be on your way…

I really look forward to hearing from more of you who want to join in,

Kathy xxx


One week to go!

Afternoon! Just a quick note to remind people that is now one week until the start of the naturebites birdrace…If you are taking part, first of all, that’s great news and secondly can you please send me an email to let me know who is on your team, which day (from 1st – 7th of Feb) you plan on doing it and which county is your weapon of choice! Send emails to: naturebites.wordpress@gmail.com.

If you missed my introduction to the birdrace way back in December then basically I’m asking you to spend a day outdoors, having fun and spotting birds. You can’t loose! However, you can win…. the winner will be the team who spots the most bird species within a six hour period. And, to prove that size isn’t everything, there is also a prize for ‘best bird’ as voted for by followers and visitors to naturebites. Have a look at The (Simple) Rules so we’re all playing the same game. You can take part as an individual, a group of friends or a family and the most important thing is that it’s just for fun!

My team and I are doing our race on the Sunday so those of you able to make it are invited to an after-birdrace gathering on Sunday 5th February in an, as yet, undisclosed location where there will be food to buy for those that want it and drinks for others.

I am really looking forward to my day out birding (we’re doing Anglesey of course), to a bit of a get-together afterwards and i’m excitied to know how everyone else gets on!

Those of you on twitter can now find me at @naturebites which is a great way to interact, but otherwise email me at naturebites.wordpress@gmail.com with any questions.

Peace and love.

Kathy x


A weekend of glorious weather! (Shame this one is pretty much opposite!)

This time last week my Dad and his girlfriend arrived for a weekend visit. With a relaxed start to Saturday morning with bacon and egg butties for my Dad and Elaine and crumpets (my absolute favourite!) for me, we joined Ken and Cal (the South Stack volunteer) for a day out.

As mentioned in a few of my blogs now, my Dad is suddenly absorbed in bird-watching and, knowing that he has his daughter so well placed in Anglesey with renown bird expert Ken Croft in tow, decided he’d like a tour of what the island has to offer!

The Fulmars were once again down at Hen Borth, but they were difficult to see as they plunged down behind the cliff edges. From the description I gave of these rigid-winged seabirds Cal decided that he’d also seen these a few days previously near the lighthouse. We visited our usual haunts of Soldiers Point, Penrhos Country Park and then meandered through the centre of Anglsey ending up at Llyn Llywenan. We saw a buzzard circling high above the lake and various waterfowl such as Greylag Geese, Shoveler and Goosander below. As my Dad got to grips with Shoveler in the scope I took the opportunity to get a better view of the Buzzard, now much closer by. It struck me that I rarely get lasting views of the majestic creatures, I normally whizz past them on the A55 or they are far to high for me to make out much detail. It struck me that this Buzzard looked a bit different to how I usually thought of them, it’s head looked odd. It was then that Ken asked if I’d had chance to have a look through the scope at the Shoveler, I said “Yes, I’ve just been watching the Buzzard quartering over those shrubs”. At the word ‘quartering’ and knowing that this was not characteristic flight of a Buzzard, Ken grabbed his binoculars, hurriedly looked over in the direction of the Buzzard and exclaimed “that’s a Marsh Harrier!!”. So, having apparently learnt nothing from Martin Garner and his talk about questioning things that appeared different, I spent a good minute watching an ‘unusual-looking Buzzard!” – idiot!! In my defence, this was a first for me, I’d never encountered a Marsh Harrier before and because of this I will probably always recognise them straight off. The female harrier continued to give us great views as she quartered back and forth, a quality birding experience we all agreed. I shame-faced got back in the car.

Another highlight of the day for me was seeing Yellowhammer, not a bird I had encountered on Anglesey before. They were once commonplace here, but as with other birds that thrived on Anglesey, the once bread basket of Wales, have become virtually extinct with the change in farming practises.

We finished the day off at Benllech sea front with my Dad spotting a Red-throated Diver flying off into the distance and a Guillemot popping up right in front of us. Having worked at South Stack all summer with the 8,000 odd Guillemots I can say that this was the closest I’ve been to one…and luckily I had Dad’s camera with me to show you just how close.

On Sunday we yet again went out birding – we’re insatiable! We completed our haul of Corvids (the crow family) when a Jay flew across the road in front of us as we’d seen a Hooded Crow flying near Hen Borth the previous day. We took in Eider ducks from some distance close to Penmon Point on the far corner of the island (diagonally opposite to South Stack). We totalled 75 species of bird over the weekend (including three new species for me!) and had glorious views of many so I’m hoping Dad thought it worth the trip!?

The following day, yet again, had clear blue skies and glorious sunshine. I took an afternoon trip into Snowdonia to climb Cnicht. A mountain that looks like one you draw as a child, a full-on pointy triangle! I could not quite comprehend that I would make it up there without some serious climbing equipment as I started out, but the ordinary people I met walking back down did enough to reassure me and the school group I could see up ahead (thank goodness for binoculars!). As I rounded one corner I saw an elusive Tree Pipit in the path ahead, but alas the altitude was getting to me and it was Meadow Pipit certainly at this time of year. The mountain afforded stunning views of Snowdonia and down the Porthmaddog estuary. The day was perfectly lit and I was warmed by the exertion, only cooling if I admired the view for too long. Throughout the climb I could see a Raven circling the summit and was pleased to be greeted by it and it’s partner as I reached the top for cheese and pickle sandwiches. One of the Ravens (presumably the one I’d seen circling from below) came really close in to check us out. The wind whistled through it’s wings as it effortlessly soared. Then, a new noise. My ears pricked up instantly. I thought there’s not much it could be up this high and upon my return and after my rendition of what I can only describe as a rattling trill, Ken confirmed it must have been a Red Grouse. I couldn’t see it though. Making our way back down the hill a flock of Linnet flew overhead. Although there are many Linnets at South Stack in the summer months, this was my first meeting with them this year. Right down at base camp, a village named Croesor, was a field full of fieldfare. Along with sheep, that completes the list of wildlife I saw that day and quantity cannot out compete the quality of those encounters. I find mountains (along with the sea) bring out a spirituality in me and sitting on that pinnacle watching a Raven fly around in front of me with a huge drop below is really not a thing which, to my mind, can be beaten.


That evening I had been invited to dinner with Alan Davies and Ruth Miller of ‘The Biggest Twitch’ fame. Alan and Ruth hold the world record for the most bird species seen in a year and ‘The Biggest Twitch’ follows their quest to do so. After a lovely dinner, Ruth showed me their photographs from a recent trip to Botswana, I promptly fell in love with the Black Crake. It fits my ideal description of a bird; yellow beaked, black bodied, long-legged and red legs just for the wow-factor – yes please! I have not yet read Ruth and Alan’s book, but came home on Monday night with a signed copy that I have promised them I’ll read after I’ve finished David Attenborough’s ‘Life on Air’.

One last thing to share with you before I sign off is a couple of photographs of Snow Buntings at Cinmel Bay along the North Wales coast. A beauty of a bird, a year tick for me and an absolute pleasure to watch as they posed on and around a log on the beach.

Kathy x


You don’t get Bullfinches on Holy Island…

I’ve still got some catching up to do in terms of telling you what I’ve been up to, so let’s revisit the story of Martin Garner (bird ID expert featured in yesterday’s blog)…

Martin finished his vivacious talk on finding rare birds and promptly went out the following day with Alan Davies (of The Biggest Twitch fame) for them to only go and find a first for Wales (that is to say the first recording of a bird of it’s type in Wales)!! The bird in question was a race of Iceland Gull, named Kumeliens. I believe it is still awaiting official ID but speaking to the chaps afterwards there was no doubt in their minds – cool hey?!

I had spent the day following the talk birding around Holy Island with Ken and we bumped into Alan, Martin and the rest of the group at Penrhos Country Park where we were watching a couple of Meditteranean Gulls amongst the Black-headed variety. This was a bit of a refresher for me because I’d apparently got a bit rusty on my old med-gull identification and after watching them for a while I soon got to grips with the differences again – the white wing tips and bandit mask being particularly useful things to look out for.

This was the end of my days birding, but what a day it had been! First thing, Ken I went down to Hen Borth at the bottom of South Stack road to see Fulmars for the first time in months! I love Fulmars because they seem to take their time about everything, on this occasion I think they were checking out ledges to nest on in summer, early bird catches the worm eh?! Next we had a scout around soldiers point with a grotty little pool throwing in a Water Rail stood next to a Grey Wagtail! Beautiful! The Rail even looked at the Grey Wagtail bobbing around for a moment, decided it was not too fussed and continued to toss leaf litter around. It was a beautiful morning with plenty of birds flitting in and around the trees, and then something stopped me in my tracks…a beautiful male Bullfinch! This might not sound so exceptional except that as far as I knew you just didn’t get Bullfinches on this part of Anglesey – get in!! We watched as it was joined by a female and a couple of Dunnocks danced around below. Fingers crossed that they stay!

I got to see Purple Sandpipers for the first time on the shore at Treaddur Bay, these tiny fellows were a delight as they snuggled amongst the rocks and preened. Here we stopped for lunch and were dismayed to find one of the clementines was mouldy 

Afterwards we took a route between Treaddur Bay and Penrhos and I was aghast as once again there was a pair of Bullfinches! Brilliant! I’m hoping that now I’ll be able to tell people that we do have Bullfinches on Holy Island and (in the future) that they breed here too…let’s hope so!

Fridays find me helping out on the reserve (RSPB South Stack) and last Friday was particularly enjoyable. Along with a team of other volunteers, Denise (the assistant warden) led us in heather burning. It seems abhorrent to me to write that. It seems the most unnatural thing to do when you spend the summer extolling the virtues of Wales’ largest maritime heathland and reminding certain visitors that it is illegal to take it away with them. This seemingly barbaric process however is a vital part of the habitat management undertaken on the reserve and around Britain. The idea is to create a mosaic of heathers at different stages of development to benefit the ecosystem as a whole. One particular area of focus at South Stack is the conservation of the Chough population we have here. Last year there were eleven breeding pairs of Chough and these exist within a Special Area of Conservation which means we need to provide them with a habitat to see them thrive. Heather burning is one way in which the reserve can provide suitable foraging area for the invertebrate-eating beauties.

To put your mind at rest further I can tell you that this burning process is all carefully planned. Besides waiting for an ideal day where the wind was on our side, Denise had been busy creating firebreaks around the area we wanted to burn so that along with our help on the day the fire would be contained to that specific area. Also, the linear method of burning means that anything not rooted to the ground has the chance to escape, as exhibited by a darling shrew that day.
Weather permitting; there will be further burns throughout the next few weeks to help complete that mosaic I referred to.

Here are some pictures…


…and despite what you might think about burning Heather…it does not smell good!

This satisfying day was topped off with a stunning sunset over the sea as we walked back to the visitor centre. I tried to photograph it, but it’s never quite the same. To quote a Greenday song, I like to “take the photographs and still frames in (my) mind”.

Kathy x


Still enjoying January :-)

It’s been a little while since I wrote… I can only apologise for having too much fun!

Since my last update I spent a few more days in Derbyshire, had a short trip to Sheffield and returned home to Anglesey mid-week. I’ve decided that there’s so much I’d like to share that I’m going to split in to three separate entries.

Sunday 8th was spent in Derbyshire with my darling sister, nephew and brother-in-law (without the law part). As I have mentioned in previous entries, my nephew Jack is only a wee nipper at just over one year old so our little outings with him are perfectly suited to stopping and taking in our surroundings. We had headed out to Cromford (a place one would hope to bump into a Hawfinch) and did the obligatory scout round the churchyard and surrounding area for this most elusive of finches. We didn’t see a Hawfinch but there were Long-tailed Tits, Goldcrest and Jackdaws galore! Plus, Cromford is a designated world hertitage site and well worth a visit. With Jack’s dinner time upon us it was also the perfect excuse to try out the café there – it comes highly recommended and has a huge choice for vegetarians.

After dinner we took a stroll along the disused canal and had numerous encounters with Little Grebes. When I’m on Anglesey I usually see Little Grebes from quite some distance perhaps on a lake and I need to look through a scope to fully identify them. On Cromford canal I had a wonderful opportunity to really study the birds. It appeared that these little fellows were paired up ready for spring and gave us stunning views of them diving down to the bottom of the shallow canal rummaging around in the weeds below.

The following day we took a trip to see Jack’s Grandparents. We met them in the lovely ‘winter gardens’ in Sheffield for a coffee and I’m pretty sure I spied a Peregrine out of the corner of my eye zooming past the cathedral. Meanwhile, inside Jack was captivated by a Feral Pigeon hoovering up around the table.

Tuesday 10th saw my mother and I travelling back to North Wales together in the glorious sunshine. We passed Jack’s daddy, Edd, building a dry stone wall somewhere near Hartington and then made our way westwards.

The following morning Ken, Mum and I took a trip to the beach at Rhosneigr, seeing a few snipe at Llyn Maelog as we arrived. The waves were crashing on to the beach as Pied Wagtails danced on the shingle above and there were Common Gulls, Herring Gulls and Black-headed Gulls to point out to my Mum, now a gull expert 😉 I often feel sad leaving my family behind in Derbyshire and I think that this day Anglesey knew that and welcomed back all my senses. What struck me the most about being down on that beach on Rhosneigr was the smell, the intoxicating smell of the sea. It certainly affected my Mum too and we stood admiring the dramatic views of Holy Island over to our right and the picturesque beach sprawling away to our left. The Islands just out to sea here are home to Tern colonies in summer under protection by the RSPB. Mum’s train back was at two so we spent a few hours out in the open air, had a Stilton and Broccoli Soup at a café in Four Mile Bridge and then Ken and I waved Mum on her way.

Wednesday evening was another visit to Bangor and a talk at Bangor Bird Group ( Don’t let the name put you off if birds are not the be all and end all for you – there are also talks in conjunction with the North Wales Wildlife Trust from all manner of guests). This date was billed as the talk ‘not-to-be-missed’ and, as it turned out, quite rightly! Martin Garner is something of an oracle when it comes to bird ID. So for someone like myself who is challenged to identify species of bird it was amazing to hear how Martin can also pick up on their origins, for example Russian Herring Gulls at a glance. Martin was an inspirational speaker. Whether you applied his mantras to birding or to any other aspect of life it still worked. His basic message to us was that of passion. He is obviously a man in love with his line of work and wanted to share his knowledge and passion with anyone willing to listen. Although some of the information accompanying various slides of birds may have been a bit technical, the talk also appealed to the most novice of wildlife enthusiasts. The underlying message being get to know your common birds, plants, or whatever it is you have a penchant for and the rarities will soon become apparent to you. I cannot agree more.

First and foremost I am a wildlife lover and for most of my life have been seemingly oblivious to the winged creatures in the sky. It is only in the past couple of years that my love affair with birds has blossomed and only in the last 14 months that I had truly paid attention to detail. In that short space of time I have learnt so much about birds that I can now feel confident in my identifications. That’s not to say I always know what just zoomed by, but I have had enough encounters with quite a variety of birds that I have developed a sort of sense for what is it front of me. I have gained an appreciation for size, shape, colour, habitat, sound and movement of birds which means I am now able to make educated decisions about what I have just seen. Twelve months ago I would look in a bird guide and I would have no idea on the differences between many birds, especially if I then saw them in the field. I wouldn’t have believed that I could confidently go outdoors and identify most of the birds I see. Then when there is a bird that doesn’t fit my recognition system in terms of size, colour, shape etc then the ‘spider senses’ start tingling and I think perhaps this is something different. This is the same phenomena that birders like Martin Garner, or indeed Ken feels… I am just somewhere way down the scale of complexity! So, Martin’s recognition of minute details on some far away gull isn’t inconceivable to me, I just need to keep on looking!

More to come this week!

Kathy x


Happy New Year!

On New Years Day I’m afraid to say that I barely made it out of the house although from inside the house could happily start my new list with Starling, Blackbird and Herring Gull (some of my favourite birds!).

Since then I have unfortunately been a little unwell, but today managed a great birding trip with my Dad back home. We met at Kirk Hallam Lake after a tip-off about an exciting visitor nearby. We thought we’d play it cool though by having a wander around the lake first. It’s probably not a lake you’d know about or visit unless you lived in the locality, however it was a wonderful asset to the estate it was contained within and the birds were certainly making the most of it. We saw Mute Swans, Mallards, Coots, Goosander, Black-headed Gulls a plenty, Carrion Crow, Woodpigeon, Canada Geese, Blackbirds, a couple of Mistlethrush, Starlings and a Great Tit. Now, it seems that I am lucky when it comes to seeing birds, but even more so is my old man! Dad has always been keen on birds and wildlife but has recently taken a great interest in the field (we call it retirement preparation) and it seems that he just walks into the path of all sorts of glorious birds! As we walked the short distance around the lake we looked from a little bridge down nutbrook stream and my Dad said “looks like Kingfisher country”. We headed on around the lake, I looked back towards the stream and perched on the near-side bank was a heavenly Kingfisher – what a stunning sight! It sat there long enough for me to point it out to Dad and we were only a matter of metres away so no need for binoculars. A brilliant unexpected bonus thanks Dad!

We moved on from the lake to look for the small group of birds we’d heard had dropped in since New Year. I described to Dad where we should be looking and as we drove up the road we were left in no doubt that we were in the right place as the familiar sight of people in dark green clothing and massive telescopic photo lenses came into view. The three people waiting on the brow of the hill (where Lime Tree Rise meets Oliver Road ) confirmed that they had been watching Waxwings just a few moments ago so we had a chat and waited. It wasn’t long before the five targets flew into view, but in a twist of further excitement they were being rapidly pursued by a Sparrowhawk! Wow. The Sparrowhawk didn’t manage to feed this time and the Waxwings were understandably put off landing in the fruit-filled trees nearby. A few moments later I glanced over the bungalows behind us and another raptor flew into view. This time a Peregrine. It zoomed over the estate and down the hill we could see the gulls from the lake take to the air in unison. We didn’t have to wait too long and then the five travellers came into land. They flew right over our heads and into the tree at the left of us. These were the first Waxwings I’ve ever seen and what a fancy bird! The wind ruffled the crests on top of the head to show them in full splendour. The photographers snapped away and me, my Dad and the others who had now joined us gazed on in delight. I am hoping that Mike, one of the phototographers, will send me in a picture!

There was a massive ‘irruption’ of Waxwings last year but probably due to mild conditions and plentiful food in Scandinavia this winter there are much fewer wintering individuals in Britain. It was even reported at the end of 2010 that some of the waxwings that had flown over here and were so hungry that they’d take food offered on the end of a branch by a young boy, a stark contrast to the few visits to the country this year. Perhaps the largest irruption of Waxwings in this country (according to Birds Britannica) was in the winter of 1946/47 with at least 12,500 birds noted! Another interesting thing I picked up from the fabulous Birds Britannica is that their name ‘Bohemian Waxwing’ is infact derived from their exotic and unusual appearance as opposed to their place of origin.

So remember that if you’re getting the January blues then get outside and cheer yourself up with our wonderful wildlife!

Kathy x