It’s almost as if there’s too much to see at this time of year and working really doesn’t help accomplish seeing any of it! Since leaving the RSPB accommodation and moving into Holyhead however, I have started biking to work and this means I get that little bit of outdoors on my way to and from the office. I’m not going to claim any rarities or life ticks, but what I have had are really intimate encounters with some of our more familiar birds, particularly the lovely wrens and robins. It seems they are less bothered by me on my bike than on foot. Is this because I can sneak up to them more quickly?! Not with my squeaky seat and panting breaths. It feels as though I am being serenaded all the way as blue tits, chaffinch, house sparrows and now chiffchaff brighten up my commute. Another added bonus of this new path to work is that I’ve caught up with something I’ve somehow missed before; the beauty of a collared dove. What elegant little fellows they are?! A bit too relaxed about moving out of the way, but stunning nonetheless.
I’m currently sat outside writing this blog, perched on a rocky outcrop near to Trearddur Bay. I love it here. Were it not for the haze in the distance I’d see Snowdonia and the Lleyn laid out before me, but as it stands I’ve got Rhoscolyn beacon and the rocks of Trearddur Bay, glimmering sea to my right and the collection of holiday homes to my right. Down on the water in front of me there’s four oystercatchers having a good old beep and a rock pipit displaying over to the left. It might not be as warm as the past week, but out of the wind that sun’s got some heat in it!
Moving on…I want to transport you back to 3:15am last Monday. Now there aren’t many things worth getting up at this time for, a holiday, (insert hearthrob here), or a Black Grouse Lek. I wonder which did it for me?!
Ken and I left in the black of the night to pick up Etienne from Bangor and joined Brian at RSPB Conwy to go off on one of Alan Davies ‘Biggest Twitch’ tours. By this point I had breakfast on the mind. Arriving at our destination, World’s End (interesting name!), we stepped quietly out of the car to see what we could pick up. Sure enough, from the slope across the valley we heard the incredible sound of Black Grouse bubbling calls echoing across the moor, intercepted by a shrill bark (please ask Alan to imitate this – he does it very well!). With his scope, Alan picked up the white bottoms of the grouse bumbling about in the distance as the sun rose behind us, this was worth getting up so early for.
Just as it was light we headed along the road through the moorland and pulled up in a spot where we were to see six black grouse lekking right in front of our eyes, just thirty metres from the car. Wow! We were able to watch their incredible display for a couple of hours. A few noted observations being, they generally just waltz up to each other and back away before they have to fight, they do this with the appearance of being attached to each other by an elastic band (envisage fencing and the stepping back and forth) and that there were no ladies to be seen!! You have to wonder what the female black grouse think to all this bravado. Etienne, a student at Bangor University, is also a photographer and has very kindly let me have access to his photos from the day. You can see all his work at http://www.flickr.com/photos/etiennelfr/page3/.
On from this spot we stopped in a nearby plantation and headed uphill to see what we could see. There were crossbills at plantation level although it took us a while to each see them. From half way up the hill, Ken spotted something on the far side of the valley perched in a tree – a great grey shrike!!! Now, this bird had been seen in the area but we were all impressed at Ken’s spot that morning – it was so distant! I’ve not been birding very long so to have two great grey shrikes under ‘my belt’ seems a bit too good to be true!
We toddled a few steps further up the hill and I stopped to have a look back at the shrike and spotted something unusual in a tree nearby. I couldn’t pick it up in my bins and asked Alan to set the scope on it. It was a female black grouse!! Alan was so impressed by my spot that gave me an enthusiastic pat on the back which took me and my feet by surprise! I felt happy to have contributed to what was turning out to be an amazing days birding.
Spending a little while longer on the heath we saw stonechats and meadow pipits galore. Watching the meadow pipits chase each other around in their courtship display was like watching butterflies fluttering over the heath.
This is where I have to give Alan’s car a big shout out. It looks a little bit like a spaceship inside and was very comfy, the best bit for me though was the glass roof – I was sat wedged in between Ken and Etienne and yet I had near on panoramic views! Brilliant for looking for those high up birds of prey.
The sun was beaming down on us that day and we took in Grey Wagtails and Dipper at Llangollen, dozens of buzzards and even a red kite on the way back up to the coast.
Next stop Kinmel bay to see if the last remaining Snow Bunting had moved on. Although we didn’t find it, we did have lovely views of some waders. Etienne’s photos tell the story. Here we also saw the most incredible view of a skylark. It sat, bold as brass, on a post just metres from us! I have never had such good views of the species.
I had already been awake for about twelve hours when we took one final stop at Old Colwyn. Here, it has been estimated, there are around 30,000 of the sea duck Common Scoter. At times it apparently looks like an oil slick. I saw nothing at first glance but then the little black dots started appearing out of nowhere, there were thousands of ‘invisible’ birds. Amongst the lot were two drake surf scoters, a few velvet scoters and a long-tailed duck. Velvet scoter and long-tailed duck were new birds for me. I could easily identify the velvet scoter but the long-tailed duck took more pinning down. At this distance it would be easy to say you’ve seen a bird when in fact you could see none of it’s features. Eventually I felt the duck was tickable, but I would like to see one at a closer range.
Phew, we were exhausted. So exhausted in fact, that when we picked up our cars from RSPB Conwy we didn’t stop to look around the reserve, missing a visiting Iceland Gull- doh!
Anyway, great thanks to Alan of ‘The Biggest Twitch’ for an incredible day out – apparently they even put on the weather! You can check out tours with Ruth and Alan at http://www.thebiggesttwitch.com/ . Also, big thanks to Etienne, Brian and Ken for making up a thoroughly enjoyable birding party 🙂
Literally just as I finished typing that last sentence a sandwhich tern flew over the water in front of me and had dived for fish a number of times in Trearddur Bay in the distance. I could get used to this outdoors writing!
And now a cormorant is having a splash.
Thanks for reading,
P.s- as I headed home to post this blog a group of twelve Chough playfully escorted me back to the car. These guys must be the non-breeding individuals as the others are paired up already.
I left my washing out on the line just a little too long this summer-like evening. When I brought my clothes indoors I realised I had some added extras!
Two beautiful Comma butterflies…the first of the year too 🙂 So i’ll let them off for their inappropriate choice of my clothing!
Well it’s been all change this week as I left behind me the delightful cottage at South Stack where I’ve spent the past year falling in love with each season. In my wisdom I decided to forego another season at South Stack, not because I didn’t love the place, but because I wanted to branch out a little bit. This weekend heralds the start of the summer contract for my replacement so I started my last South Stack fry-up, stopped cooking half way through to dash outside and down to the cliff tops for some Wheatears that Ken had picked up, and then dismantled my home.
After giving up my job at South Stack I was very, very happy to be offered a job with the North Wales Wildlife Trust as a Tern Warden over the summer months. However, with no overlap in accomodation I am spending a few weeks staying with a friend. I expected moving onto a housing estate to be a shock to my system after so long couped up in a cottage by myself, but I knew it was okay when I pulled up on the new driveway with a newly arrived Chiffchaff in the tree to my right. A lovely welcome, my first of the year too 🙂 I am also enjoying the number of House Sparrows and Starlings which are bursting out of bushes and dripping from telephone wires. Also, there’s a lots of Rooks around and these are not a bird I’ve ever seen at the stack. A Sunday morning highlight for me was a Jackdaw screaming at a rock outside Tesco. Maybe it was impressed by the echo?!
It was glorious weather here on Sunday and Ken and I took a walk around the Breakwater Country Park. We saw and heard lots of Greenfinches as I struggled to get to grips with spring bird calls again and we saw Goldcrests all over the place!
Later that afternoon we made it down to Treborth Botanical Gardens just outside Bangor where we were met by rather a lot of cars! A friend of mine, the zoologist from the island’s ‘Pili Palas’ had told me there was an event on, but I had not expected this – cars were parked all along the roadside backing up to the Menai Bridge and as we walked down the road we passed dozens of families clutching their new toys, instruments made from sticks and bottle top (more impressive in real life). The event was ‘Wild Science Day’ and was the finalle of Bangor University’s ‘Science Week’. There were stalls along the grass, a tree top lift, a specially made planetarium as well as exhibits filling three green houses and a ‘refreshments lab’. The atmosphere was great as kids of all ages (Ken was my honourary kid) learnt more about our wild science. I think Ken and I were most captivated by the BTO stall where they were showing bird-ringing in action. It’s always amazing to see a bird in the hand, it puts a 10g Coal Tit into perspective. Built on the success of last year, this was the second time this event had been held thanks to the organisation of Nigel Brown from Bangor University and a former Countryside Management student Tom (I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your surname).
Today I went to Cemlyn (my soon to be place of work) with a volunteer party to set up for the breeding season. We were particularly lucky with the weather as Cemlyn is famed for being windy and we had it calm and mild for most of the day. Between us (around 15 volunteers) we set out nest boxes (in the hope of attracting breeding Roseate Terns), set up the weir (to control the water level of the lagoon during breeding season) and fenced of the shingle ridge (visitors are welcome here, it’s just a fence to allow the Terns a little privacy – the views are still second to none). It was a really fun day and lovely to meet all the volunteers: for some it was their first volunteering experience and for others a regular occurance. If you are thinking about volunteering, then go for it. Your help is vital to charitable organisations and you’ll get lots out of it too. You can ‘like’ the North Wales Wildlife Trust on facebook, where there is a picture of our work party posing on the weir today https://www.facebook.com/northwaleswildlifetrust.
I am hoping to take a very exciting trip this Monday…can’t wait to let you know how it goes…
Kathy x x x
Yesterday was my birthday and I felt that the bird world handed me a few presents.
Travelling back up the A55 after a night out in Bangor around 3:30am, I did my best impression of my 14 month-old nephew Jack by pointing silently at a Barn Owl as it flew across the road in front of us. The common denominator with me and Barn Owls is that i’m never sober at the time..are they really there??!! Obviously, I wasn’t the driver and a sober Ken saw it too so it wasn’t in my imagination. Birthday Barn Owl – great 🙂
In the morning as I lay in bed wondering why I was awake, I watched out of my window as a forty-strong flock of Meadow Pipits swarmed around the field in front of my house. This did rouse me from my bed and I got my binoculars on a female Reed Bunting sat on a shrub at the side of the field.
Next, I had a text to say that the first Sandwich Tern had been sighted at Cemlyn Bay on the north of the island so I dragged my friend Elizabeth (visiting me for my birthday), Ken and Cal up to see if we could spot it. Cal spotted the fella first and I re-found him again as we neared the lagoon. This was a very special birthday present as I will be working at Cemlyn this summer for the North Wales Wildlife Trust. We watched the tern fly off out to sea, he’d just come to wish me a happy birthday perhaps?!
As we drove back to Holyhead we thought we’d have a drive through Ken’s estate on the off-chance that the Rose-coloured Starling would make an appearance. We surveyed a few roof tops and about twenty birds later, bingo!! A lovely little chap. I’ve not seen one of these before and having heard that it was juvenile and therefore lacking in the distinguishing plumage, thought that I might find it difficult to identify. This was not the case however as it was much smaller that the other starlings, much paler and it’s beak much less pointed. I have been having banter with a birder/blogger (http://theregionaltick.blogspot.com/) on twitter about this bird, he’s says it’s scruffy and I’d like to confirm that he is wrong, it’s lovely :-p Then again, I do always go for the underdog.
Then, as Elizabeth left and my next guests arrived, we went for a walk around South Stack. South Stack is really coming into it’s own at this time of year, bursting into life…
Had a chilled out day yesterday and had some great birds, so a result!
Have a read of my walk to work on the South Stack facebook page https://www.facebook.com/#!/RSPBsouthstack. I started this facebook page around a year ago when I started working for the RSPB there and am pleased at it’s popularity and the interactions we have had with our visitors, so check it out and keep up the good work!
Enjoy the rest of your day,
Having had an emotional rollercoaster in recent history I realised that getting outdoors and experiencing our wildlife is a great form of therapy. I knew that already, but sometimes I guess we just need reminding. It was also an added challenge to have Spring unfolding all around me and yet to have none of the joys of it. It pained me to see how beautiful everything was, bursting into fabulous life! I’m back on track now and I’d just like to share with you the things that helped break through the gloomy bits.
Along with the wonderful girly fun I had with my friend Hilary, we had a lovely ‘Springy’ moment in the woods at Newborough. Hilary was another volunteer when I donated myself to the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust for a month back in 2010 and this was her first visit to Anglesey. On our way to Llanddwyn Island (always like to impress my visitors with this gem) we stopped for lunch in carpark in the forest where the rangers fill up bird feeders. The birds were not phased by the arrival of my car and continued busying around the feeders. We saw Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpeckers all stocking up. It was really the first moment that it felt like Spring. We looked for Red Squirrels in the surrounding trees but to no avail.
Another ‘spring-euphoria’ moment for me was the day that England played Wales in the Rugby (I’m sure we don’t need to be reminded of the result), as I buzzed around Holy Island that morning it was like summer! The sun was beating down and I was listening to the tunes in my car. Ken rang me to say he’d spotted a Black Redstart near the ferry terminal and as I was nearby I went, light jacket in tow, to have a gander. The little fella was flitting about the shoreline as a friend of ours and top birder, Robin, sat on the ferry waiting to go to Ireland with his bride-to-be. As I drove down the A55 later that day, birds were flying out from all angles and curiously seemed to be paired up. I found the drive exhillarating as I headed to Menai Bridge to watch the game with company. Even in the carpark I was uplifted by the pairs of Blackbirds, the gaggle of House Sparrows chattering away and…a Great Tit singing “teacher teacher” – spring had most definitely sprung. Those are the moments when I breathe in and feel happy to be alive.
Back in the midlands I spent a day with my Mum and sister at Carsington Water where my sister treated me to a willow weaving course. The Derbyshire Wildlife Trust lent their expertise and we helped to craft a living-willow hide for school groups to use on their visits. Barnacle Geese flew overhead as Lapwings patrolled the shorelines. I would recommend this activity to anyone, the ladies that ran the course were lovely and would have helped to achieve whatever we needed out of the course. I will definitely be doing more of this!
I spent some time with my sister and family in Matlock and was greeted by fantastic sunshine! We ate lunch in the garden and little Jack, now 14 months old, saw his first Ladybird and was fascinated by the bee surveying the honeysuckle.
My Dad was eager to show me around what has now become ‘his patch’ one Saturday morning back in the Long Eaton area, but the weather was not on our side. We drove to a couple of sites where Dad has seen woodpeckers flitting around but they too were not impressed by the weather. We caught up with a Whooper Swan in a field with a load of Mute Swans, a nice comparision to be had. Finally, my Dad wanted to take me to what will be part of the Midshires Way, Hopwell Hall. As we battled the miserable downpour (I had left my sensible coat at my sisters) we were rewarded with a splendid sign of spring. Twenty Skylarks performed to us all the way up the drive to this former stately home. Zooming up into the air and parachuting back down, these singing sensations were our first of the year. Unexpected and warmly received.
My little nephew Jack has been a real tonic. The first installment of his magic was going to watch him at ‘Otter Tots’, he and his friends all try to remain cheery as their Mummies dunk them rhythmically along to nursery rhymes – hilarious. Jack was very pleased to have an audience and would stretch out his arms each time he saw me. It’s nice to be wanted 🙂
After my visit home, my sister Caroline and Jack accompanied me back to Anglesey. Jack is quite the bird expert and loved the noisey seagulls, we did point out that some were Black-headed Gulls like he sees on the duck pond in Matlock and the others were Herring Gulls – poor child. One afternoon we headed down the road to feed the tiny ginger pony I have dubbed “Ginger Jack” – a comparison easily drawn when you see baby Jack’s gorgeous red hair. After the two Jack’s were aquainted, baby Jack added Chough to his 2012 list (he met them on a previous visit when he was five months old!). We also took Jack down to the beach at Porth Dafarch; Caroline and Jack donned wellies and I opted for the ole wet feet option…soggy boots. Here we saw Jack’s awe as he saw seaweed, trickling beach streams and limpets. He also got his pointing finger out for some vocal gulls and another pair of Chough.
This afternoon I said goodbye to Jack and Caroline as they got on the train to go home. Before they did though, we had just enough time for a visit to my fave cafe that i’ve mentioned before, Y Caban near Llanberis. We took Ken along too as he hadn’t yet sampled the delights. Fun and good food was had by all. Siskins on the feeders a personal highlight and perhaps panoramic birdviews the highlight for Ken and Jack.
Nature bit back and has me back on track.
Lastly, a little house-keeping…the winners of the birdrace prizes. Unfortunately, not everyone that took part voted so I have had to use a bit of blog-keepers license in my awards! I figured as there was not actually anyone with multiple votes that I would just go with my intial reaction which I already stated. I am going to award ‘best race’ to John and June from the West Midlands for their inspiring effort, on buses around Birmingham to find three lifers!! Congrats on your efforts guys – prizes donated by Neil Glenn of ‘Best Birdwatching Sites in Norfolk” fame. ‘Best Bird’ I am going to award to ‘Not your avergae birders’ who did their race in Hampshire for their account of the Bearded Tits. Not only are they some delicious-looking birdies, but I loved their account of their experience that day. So well done to you too guys…you will be receiving a signed copy of The Biggest Twitch, donated by the authors and world-record holders Ruth Miller and Alan Davies.
Hope spring has you smiling,