by Kathy James

Archive for June, 2012

Perhaps the best wildlife spectacle of my life?!

Yesterday had done enough to please me. It wasn’t raining, the wind had dropped and I had had a glorious morning walk around the reserve, documenting all our feathered inhabitants. It was a long walk as there was lots to see! It was very apparent that morning that the birds were also enjoying it. New families finally emerging from the bushes, Whitethroats in great number and other youngsters branching out on their own. By now the islands at Cemlyn are teeming with bouncing baby terns (mostly Sandwich, but also Arctic and Common) and the lagoon is host to a variety of ages of young Oystercatcher, a family of Red-breasted Merganser and a solitary Coot chick. Away from the lagoon there are young Great Tits, Blue Tits, Blackbirds, Whitethroats, Sedge Warblers, Little Owl, Meadow Pipits, and Pied Wagtails all bursting into near-grown life.

The afternoon was spent, like many, meeting visitors on the shingle ridge that separates the Tern islands from the sea. Although the weather was stunning, there were few visitors, but those that had made it stayed a long while and were rewarded with one of the most remarkable things I have ever seen.

A tip of mine for visitors to Cemlyn is to sit down on the shingle ridge, the sea-worn shape naturally means that you’ll be facing out to sea. With your profile lowered the Terns zoom low over the ridge and you get the most amazing close-ups of elegant terns and their silvery prey. Yesterday afternoon I was sat on the ridge doing just so and saw an almighty splash of water metres from a boat that was moored up in the bay. My initial thought was *what have those people thrown off their boat?!*, my mind rationalised that they would not be able to throw something so large as far as that. Seconds later a re-emergence and a cetacean rose up out of the water and into view. Suddenly, bubbles of grey skin were rising all across the bay in a rapid progression toward the shore where I was now stood up and running across the shingle to my nearest visitors. After I had alerted the unsuspecting couple to the activity in the blue, I plonked myself down next to them and gawped as twelve bottlenose dolphin leaped out of the water, flipped in the air and chased fish skywards! I have never seen anything like it. I was amazed (and kept telling the couple so!). The spectacle lasted minutes as dolphins of various sizes appeared and disappeared all over the bay. Looking around the bay, I was pleased to see that everyone in the vicinity had cottoned on to them. Everyone along the shingle ridge, those on the coast path towards Wylfa on the east and those enjoying the “Trwyn” headland to the west all faced inwards to witness this special moment together. We were all beaming.

Around ten minutes later my dear friend Ken arrived on the ridge and had to listen time and again as we all recounted our tale. I’m sorry he missed it.

Another spectacle at Cemlyn this week was kayaker John Willacy as he completed his solo circumnavigation of the UK. Check out John’s latest post about the wildlife he saw as he battled through our stormy seas. It’s particularly fascinating to hear about how the birds acted as weather forecasters…

Wishing you all wildlife spectacles of your own,

Kathy X



One week ago I was presented with a tiny mallard duckling that had been abandoned by his mother. He had been left outside over night in case his mother returned, but she did not show. As I arrived for work that morning, my eyes lit up as I was first introduced to my ‘little man’. David (fellow warden at Cemlyn) said “I think it’s a boy…let’s call him Orphan”. And so a few brain flashes later he was named Orville.

I knew nothing about rearing ducklings, but realised he needed warmth and food. I fashioned a ‘mobile nest’ out of my binoculars case, tissue and grass so that this precious little bird could come around with me on my morning survey whilst I worked out what to do. I text my good friend Sam whose mother keeps ducks and chickens and asked for her advice on what to feed him. Following her instructions I fed Orville firstly on boiled egg and mashed veg that I had in the house and soon went to buy him a dedicated duckling crumb.

Not living in my own house, I was very limited as to where I could keep him and his young age meant he needed my undivided attention throughout the day if he was to avoid being squashed or predated. This was no problem, I was already in love. Orville went everywhere I went, even to the loo! I tried giving him his independence and putting him in a box with a hot water bottle on top, but he would squawk as I left the room and not be content until I whistled back at him or returned. By now, I was Mum.

Some may frown about how I have anthropomorphised this wild duckling, however the simple fact is that I am a human and I am a woman. My maternal instincts took over, he was my little man.

On Tuesday, Orville became inexplicably weak. I could see him fading and was powerless to help him. I knew nothing better to do than to place him on my chest next to my heartbeat as he passed away.


We buried Orville at “Uncle Ken’s”. A peaceful place where I can think of him resting his beautiful weary body.

Night feeds as well as constant warmth and attention had given me a bond with this duck that six days of knowing cannot account for.  I keep hearing his calls, the contented purr, the merry cheap and the don’t you dare leave me by myself squawk. I keep assessing the place I am sat for its suitability for him to run around. I wonder whether he’d like to try this food or that. It’s not easy to shake these instincts.

I do not know why Orville passed away, but he seemed like a happy little fellow to me. He seemed to relish my spidery house and the mischief he could make there. The way he’d instantly snooze when you held his tiny body in your clasped hands must surely be a sign of contentedness..?

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I wish with all my heart that this introduction to Orville was not also his obituary.

A sobbing, Kathy xxxxx


I wanted to share with you the magical terns at Cemlyn using the new-fangled medium of video…however, it would appear that I cannot upload videos on to my blog. Instead my cunning plan is to share the videos via my ‘naturebites’ facebook page. Apologies to those who aren’t logged on to facebook, but those who are please have a “shufty”!

You may have seen similar (and somewhat better quality) footage earlier this week on Springwatch. It was filmed on the same day unbeknownst to me and using a proper television camera, not me sticking my camera down a telescope! So if you can’t watch my inferior video on facebook, you can always watch Springwatch episode 10 on iplayer.

Hope you enjoy! And if you do… why not visit the thriving colony of terns at Cemlyn where we have record numbers! There are now over 2500 nests, over 2000 of which belonging to Sandwich Terns. It’s quite a spectacle!

Much ‘Spring’ love,

Kathy x


Life out-of-the-loop

After being a warden at Cemlyn for more than a month, my last day off was a chance to explore the surrounding area. From the reserve a hill with a trig point is visible and I made this my first goal. From here I carried on cutting a diagonal corner off north-west Anglesey by heading over to Church bay. This part of my adventure was pretty overgrown and although following footpaths, it was evident that they were not much used. Facebook and Twitter followers will have seen a picture I posted en route, where in an attempt to highjump a spiders web I was viciously attacked by a nettle on the sidelines. Ouch and silly girl!Image

From the beautiful Church Bay I followed the coast path back around to Cemlyn, taking in the sights of the isolated Carmel Head. Having not re-visited South Stack since I started working at Cemlyn this walk was a welcome opportunity to be reaquainted with some of the cliff top birds i’d known there. Just a few minutes walk from the cafe at Church Bay, Fulmar were easily visible zooming, straight-winged, out from under the cliffs (where they were nesting). A moment later and a pair of Chough screeched into view and a Peregrine Falcon tried her luck. Anglesey really is amazing for happening upon such renown and enigmatic birds.

I was also taken a-back by the stunning cliff-top flowers. Bright pink, blue and yellow from the Sea Thrifts, Sheepsbit Scabious and Dandelions of all things! Further round were luminescent Primroses adorning the steeper gullies.

This trail also provided hidden gems, bays that I had viewed from the top of Holyhead mountain, but had never visited. It was novel to meet just one other walker on this coast path stretch and the isolation added to the areas allure.

Returning to Cemlyn and after a shower, I headed out to the hills where a non-birder was showing me his patch. The stunning Moel Faban at the foot of the Carneddau. As well as being ‘wowed’ by the breath-taking scenery, I was astonished to see a huge white bird soaring at the summit. At the time I couldn’t pinpoint what I was looking at, but upon reflection it must have been the pale underparts of a male Hen Harrier made surreal-looking by the setting sun. Beautiful. It’s things like that which make the desolate mountain tops so special.

Last weekend, Cemlyn was invaded by visitors and field experts as we tried to document everything we have on the reserve in the first Cemlyn Bioblitz. A brilliant organisational effort by those at the North Wales Wildlife Trust. Saturday was great and we saw lots of species. Sunday, however, was a bit of a wash-out. Nevertheless, we (the wardens) were able to add the days bird species and an intrepid Spider expert made the trip outdoors. The results are currently being collated, it will be interesting to find out how many species we racked up and, in time, how that changes.


The weather picked up for bank holiday monday and we saw our first Sandwich Tern chicks had emerged on the islands. It must be hard for those guys and their parents in all this rain. The islands are covered in foliage this year though, so we hope that they have plenty of shelter and height to their nest-sites. We, as always, will be keeping a watchful eye.

There is no television reception here at Cemlyn so David (fellow warden) and I have not managed to keep up-to-date with everyone’s favourite Springwatch… it is a pleasure though to have so many nest-cams up and running around the country. I’d like to share two of my favourites with you; my old friends from South Stack and some new friends from Attenborough Nature Reserve back home Enjoy!

Kathy xxx