by Kathy James

Archive for May, 2012

Historical Records.

I think by now I’ve taken things far beyond the realm of suspense..! Apologies for my two week absence, despite even finding time to blog during a recent holiday, I have just been far too busy these past two weeks!

As I stumble through life I find myself thinking “I must mention that on naturebites”. One such incident was a recent twich to see three stunning Dotterel that had landed on Anglesey. I’ve had the blog title “Dot.Dot.Dotterel” in my head ever since. With almost two weeks having passed since then I thought it was just a little out of date. Those round, colourful birds are still getting a mention though. I was particularly impressed to find that these striking specimens were female, showyness mostly associated with the males of a species. Following on from this, it may interest you to know that this reversal in aesthetics is a sign of their reversal in habits also, with the males left to rear the young.

There was an initial delay in updating the blog because I was awaiting the results of the ‘Together for Trees’ Rainforest Reporter competition. The result came in on the Tuesday following the final and I was told not to broadcast the news until it had been made public by the Together for Trees team… I am pleased to report that they found a worthy winner by the name of Gareth Jones. Of course it was very disappointing not to win, but it was also very pleasing to know that a great person would be going in my place (Welsh readers are probably also pleased to read that a characteristically Welsh name will be flying the flag!).

The same Tuesday that I found out the results of the competition, I also visited the RSPB Glaslyn Osprey project and Harlech castle in the afternoon. The weather was pretty miserable as we pulled into the RSPB carpark and as we looked through the telescopes to view the nest, the rain was driving straight through the holes in the hide. Moving indoors, we saw on the live cameras the three chicks that were now hatched (one just the day before) and their mother stood proudly at their side.

Last week a mega rarity made it to our shores, the Cream-coloured Courser in Herefordshire. I want to share with you the texts I received from Ken concerning this bird. To me, it seems that Ken has seen every bird one could possibly hope to see in Britain and yet it was heart-warming to hear that he is still as wrapped up in our winged-friends as he ever was. Text message number one 21/05/12 10:14am: “Kathy, I know the timing is awful but is it possible you could leave work, Sam (my visiting friend), everyting NOW! and join me on the twitch of a lifetime? A Cream-coloured Courser(!!) has been found in Hereford. I’m leaving in the next few minutes, what do you say? X”. The timing wasn’t great so I sent Ken off without me. Later that day I spoke to a giddy child on the phone who was absolutely over the moon about the bird he had just seen. It was a pleasure to listen to 🙂 Afterwards, text message number two 21/05/12 16:12pm: “Wow! a ‘Stunner’ I’m speechless a dream bird I’m all of a flutter won’t sleep tonight X”. (.,., – here are some punctuation marks for you to insert into Ken’s excited text!). And the following morning, after I enquired if he had managed to sleep…text message three 22/05/12 08:42am: “Very little. I’m still on cloud nine and fearing it was all a dream and I’m guna wake up soon X”. I hope these messages and his love and enthusiasm made you smile as much as I did when I read them.

Another week and another day of work saw me take to the hills as my desire to laze on the beach book in hand was scuppered by a sudden onset of mist over Anglesey. I was right to abandon ship as Ken and I had a marvellous (and sunny) trip out to see Pied Flycatcher and Redstarts in the woods. We started the day revisiting the Nant Ffrancon Pass where we searched for Twite, to no avail, and had a glimpse of a Ring Ouzel along with Redpoll and Mistlethrush. By now it was lunch time, or so said my tummy, and we took our lunch in the spot where we had stopped to scan for Tree Pipits. From the road below we almost instantly saw and heard a Tree Pipit displaying up above us. In the bush in which in landed we were thrilled to see a pair of Whinchat emerge – bonus birds. We sat in the sunshine admiring the view and the birds. Perfect.

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On from here we travelled alongside Llyn Gwynant, where there were fields of intense purpley-blue bluebells. These are well worth a look at if you have chance soon as the concentration of flowers was breath-taking!

I first visited the woods at the beginning of the Watkin trail up to the summit of Snowdon with Ken almost exactly a year ago. During that trip, I soon realised that I would never be able to rush in a business-like pace through a woodland again. The wood was alive and the slower I went, the more I would see. This visit took similar form and we dawdled our way around, seeing Pied Flycatchers and Redstarts as well as me catching up with the elusive Wood Warbler that had evaded me this time last year. Such a distinctive and loud call and yet incredibly hard for me to pinpoint. Gotcha this time! Both Ken and I had achy necks after this prolonged session of staring upward – ouch!

Kathy x

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And now for the suspense…

I now know why those people cry on X-factor and other such programmes. Realising their dream is just moments away and in the hands of a panel whom they’ve had just moments to impress. Standing outside the Natural History Museum in London today (my favourite indoor place might I add) I was overcome with emotion at the idea that I could realise my dream… to go to the rainforest and report back. Although the competition itself, for the RSPB/Tesco collaboration ‘together for trees’ is a recent development, my wanting to broadcast environmental news has been a lifelong ambition and why you see this page in front of you now. The emotion I felt was mixed, to be so close to a dream and not achieve it and also the what if I win excitement. Either way, it has been a fabulous experience of which I am proud to have taken part in and today’s London final was an AMAZING experience; not least because of the people who I met today.

The other finalists were a fantastic bunch and we chatted as we each went downstairs for a grilling from the panel. The panel consisted of Ed Stafford (Explorer and Together for trees representative), Ruth Giradet ( Tesco Corporate Responsibility and Community Director), Adam Vaughan (Editor of the Guardian Environment site) and Dieter Hoffman (RSPB Head of International Country Programmes) – what a dream?! It was billed as a grilling, but I enjoyed every second and wish I had at least twice as long to convey exactly how much I thought I could do this opportunity justice. Twenty minutes is a very short time.

We had one more short task to complete, which was an all-finalist discussion under observation by the panel, before we were treated to the ‘Animal Inside Out Exhibition’ at the Natural History Museum. We scrutinised the insides of squids as the panel, no doubt, sat about scrutinising us. They’d have had a hard job i’d say with such strong candidates in attendance.

Alas, I do not yet know my fate.

There is a startling fact that has kept cropping up as I prepared for this competition… an area of rainforest the size of a football pitch is being destoyed every four seconds. That’s the sort of statistic we all hear banded about, but please just think about it as you read this again… an area of rainforest the size of a football pitch is being destroyed every four seconds. That is almost incomprehensible to me. Whichever lucky soul gets to go and report from the rainforest on behalf of together for trees is going to have a huge impact on public awareness of the rainforests’ plight and this is fantastic news and makes it a very worthwhile expedition in my eyes.

Thanks for reading,

Kathy x


London bound…

Who says social media and the internet discourages real interactions? This week I was I was lucky enough to meet my twitter friends, and winners of ‘best bird’ in the naturebites birdrace this February, @SecretBirder and @chrisdowns77… otherwise known as Josie and Chris the keepers of the blog ‘Not your average birders’  http://notyouraveragebirders.com/. Having met these guys via twitter in was lovely to see them making their way along the ridge towards me at Cemlyn this Sunday (although, I have to say I did stutter as I started to say hello as I realised it may not be them and that some really embarrassing explaination would have to follow). It was them, thankfully, and it was a pleasure to hear about their challenge…Josie (acknowledged birder) is going head to head with Chris (acknowledged novice) to see who can see more bird species in the year than the other. They also have a top ten birds list each which they are aiming to see. On Chris’s list in particular is the magnificent creature that is an Osprey. Unluckily for Chris he had missed an Osprey just a matter of hours earlier at Cemlyn!

Ken knocked on my door to say he’d caught up with a beautiful male redstart that had made an appearance earlier in the day. I was collecting my things to go and have a look as the phone rang, it was David (fellow tern warden) saying “there’s an Osprey above the lagoon!”. I promptly hung up, alerted Ken and gawped as a gigantic Osprey soared towards us from across the lagoon. Wow. I have seen an Osprey previously at Glaslyn where the RSPB have a hide set up to watch the nest. The view I was getting now though was second to none as this pioneering Osprey searched for fish below. Although the terns reacted at first I was surprised at how calm they were in it’s presence. Perhaps they were content to let the gulls see it off? As the gulls mobbed it, the Osprey seemed barely to notice. I wonder if they spend their whole lives wondering at the attention they receive from other birds? After all they are only out fishing.

Bird-wise that topped off an amazing Sunday with loads of birds knocking around at Cemlyn including a hooded crow, whinchat and water pipit!

Although the weather took a nosedive, Monday saw me see my first Swift of the year (finally!). I added to my Swift collection just a couple of hours ago as, sat on the train London bound, I decided to start a ‘train-list’. After this decision, I looked up to see four swifts zooming around above the track near to Llanfairfechan.

Terns are back at Cemlyn in good numbers now and we have sandwich terns incubating. It has been a pleasure to watch their courtship rituals and interactions on the islands. Aside from the glorious terns, a hilarious behavioural moment to watch was a black-tailed godwit (who has spent a few days in the lagoon now) looking from side to side and his seeming alarm when two red-breasted mergansers popped up either side of him. I could almost see him blush!

There’s been a bit of a delay but here are some pictures from my recent holiday to South Wales:

My train journey is almost over now and I am looking forward to tomorrow’s excitement… the final of the ‘togther for trees’ rainforest reporter competition! I am likening it to the apprentice as there will be a board room appearance, hired or fired and a “treat” afterwards (I’ve even brought my wheely suitcase to complete the look!). I’m looking forward to the whole of tomorrow, but am also hoping that I can win the competition as it’s me through and through…I will let you know…Fingers crossed for me!

Kathy x


Wales Coast Path Launch.

Where I work, at Cemlyn Bay, the birds seen from the section of coast path that passes through the reserve are surveyed on a daily basis throughout the tern breeding season, and today we invited members of the public to join us to add to the Wales Coast Path Birdrace organised by Visit Wales http://blog.visitwales.co.uk/10630/wales-coast-path-bird-race-2012/.

The weather was certainly on our side with glorious sunshine throughout the day (which actually felt hot when we managed to get out of the wind!). There was a morning and an afternoon walk led by Ben and Nia from the North Wales Wildlife Trust.

Highlights for me were:

1) Watching the terns bring in huge fish with which to impress their lady friends. The beauty of Cemlyn is that the terns pass right over your head as they cross the shingle ridge to the lagoon. The coast path is actually temporarily diverted on this section during summer to afford the breeding colony some privacy. The walk is barely altered though as the path is just on the seaward-side of the ridge.
2) Seeing two Canada Geese swimming out to sea with necks bent parallel to the surface of the water, disguising the four goslings sailing between them.
3) A calling Chough overhead (my first Cemlyn sighting).
4) Seeing a pair of Whinchats on the Trwyn (the headland on the westward side of the bay). The first time I have ever seen this species and especially welcomed in the absence of Stonechats locally.
5) Everyones enthusiasm and interest. I will never tire of seeing how wildlife delights and inspires people.

Below is the comprehensive list of birds seen (64):

Arctic Tern

Bar-tailed Godwit

Blackbird

Black-headed Gull

Blue Tit

Buzzard

Canada Goose

Carrion Crow

Chaffinch

Chough

Collared Dove

Cormorant

Common Sandpiper

Common Snipe

Common Tern

Coot

Curlew

Dunlin

Dunnock

Fulmar

Gannet

Goldfinch

Grasshopper Warbler

Great Tit

Greylag Goose

Grey Heron

Guillemot

House Sparrow

Feral Pigeon

Jackdaw

Kestrel

Lesser black-backed Gull

Lesser Redpoll

Linnet

Magpie

Mallard

Meadow Pipit

Mediterranean Gull

Mute Swan

Oystercatcher

Pied Wagtail

Raven

Razorbill

Red-breasted Merganser

Red-legged Partridge

Reed Bunting

Ringed Plover

Sand Martin

Sandwich Tern

Sedge Warbler

Shag

Shelduck

Swallow

Swift

Turnstone

Tufted Duck

Wheatear

Whimbrel

Whinchat

Whitethroat

White Wagtail

Willow Warbler

Woodpigeon

Wren

You can now ‘like’ naturebites on facebook http://www.facebook.com/Naturebites and you will soon find pictures/videos from today’s event on the North Wales Wildlife Trust facebook fanpage – hope to see you there!

Ken Croft (@angleseybirdman) was birding elsewhere and has asked me to submit his records…

At South Stack Ken saw: Goldfinch, Blackbird, Willow Warbler, Song Thrush, Jackdaw, Wren, Wheatear, Woodpigeon, Teal, Herring Gull, Mallard, Robin, Pheasant, Carrion Crow, Pied Wagtail, Swallow, Great Tit, Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Greylag Goose, Linnet, Gannet, Guillemot, House Sparrow, Chiffchaff, Dunnock, Peregrine, Meadow Pipit, Oystercatcher, Manx Shearwater, Raven, Skylark, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Kittiwake, House Martin, Razorbill, Shelduck, Red-throated Diver, Rock Pipit, Cormorant, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Shag, Stonechat, Great Black-backed Gull, Fulmar, Puffin, Chough, Chaffinch, Blackcap, Sand Martin and Lesser Redpoll.
At Soldier’s Point, Holyhead Ken saw: Starling, Black Guillemot, Greenfinch, Sandwich Tern, Collared Dove, Feral Pigeon and Ringed Plover.
At the Alaw Estuary Ken Saw: Mistle Thrush, Grey Heron, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Dunlin, Sanderling, Black-headed Gull, Red-breasted Merganser and Buzzard.

Hope you all had fun out and about today,

Kathy x


My first week at Cemyln.

I have struggled to know where to begin with this blog. I feel as though as I have had so many fantastic experiences during my first week as tern warden here at Cemlyn, and yet it seems they are for me and my brain alone!

I first visited Cemlyn on very rainy day about one year ago with my friend Sam (the same fellow I have just visited Pembrokeshire with). I cannot remember a single bird, but can remember having wet feet all day. I next visited Cemlyn with a group of birding enthusiasts during an event run by Birdlife International with Rio Tinto to encourage the local youngsters to become interested in their natural surroundings. I remember stepping out of the car in the Bryn Aber (west) car park and gawping skywards as the tern colony had taken to the air to chase away a peregrine falcon that had taken the opportunity to strike. The scene was immense and we all took that powerful image away with us. I visited several more times throughout the summer and I think I was always a little bit glad to get back in the car and out of the infamous wind.

Starting at Cemlyn little over a week ago, it hasn’t taken me long to fall head over heels for the place. There is so much more than at first meets the eye when you take a trip over here to trudge along the shingle ridge to look at the terns. Although this is a spectacle in itself, there are little nooks and crannies full of life that are just waiting to be explored. The past week has thrown some dreadful weather our way, but the way I see it is if I can fall in love in the wind and rain then that love will bloom in the sunshine! (Perhaps a little optimistic of me to expect sunshine!)

It might sound a little bit odd for a ‘tern warden’, but today was all about familiarising myself with the three sorts of tern we regularly encounter here. Like with spring calls, the subtleties of these summer visitors needs some revision. sandwich terns stand out with their black-crested heads and their yellow-tipped bills, but arctic and common can look very similar indeed. One suggestion I would make to visitors is to come at either end of the day when the sun affords you a better glimpse of the black-tipped common tern beak, or the bright red (although short) legs of the arctic. Today was the first day that we had common and arctic, often dually referred to as ‘commic’, terns back in any number so was my first opportunity this year to compare.

Some of my favourite moments, however, have not been tern-related; spotting the first whitethroat of the season was a great feeling; a washed up coconut on the beach; having a patch to own, not in a possessive sense, but in a knowing sense; and perhaps finding a robin here in a place where a robin is a ‘red letter day’ (according to fellow warden, David).

I mentioned in my last blog that I had taken part in a competition to become a ‘rainforest reporter’ – a joint initiative between the RSPB and Tesco. I am both surprised and pleased to announce that I made it through the regional heat and now have the final to attend in London at the end of next week! There’s a little about this online http://www.togetherfortrees.com/reporter.aspx , but so far your guess is as good as mine as to what the final will entail! I would be over the moon to win this so send me your good vibes please!

Looking forward to tomorrow with a visit from a butterfly expert and then a North Wales Wildlife Trust barbeque for the Cemlyn volunteers, excellent.

Kathy x