by Kathy James

Posts tagged “Cemlyn

The view from the top.

My head is a whirlwind at the moment, we are writing the end of year report at Cemlyn, I am busy organising ‘Anglesey Marine Week 2012 Wythnos Morol Mon’ and I am trying to sort out my future employment. Sometimes, we just need a break don’t we?! In order to get away from it all, I thought dangling from a steep rock face would do it.

For all you non-climbers (such as myself) out there, I’d like to go through so climbing terminology with you. Climbs are graded; according to their technical difficulty and how protected they are (as in how many places you can attach yourself to the rock with a big sigh of relief!). I get the impression that anyone who climbs looks straight to the grades that I am not even going to mention…beneath those, however you have climbs rated moderate, difficult ‘diff’ and very difficult ‘v.diff’. A note on this terminology: these descriptions were coined by the pioneers of modern-day climbing way back when and refer to the severity of the climb as it would have been at the turn of the last century (without today’s knowledge and fancy gadgetry). However, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that ‘diff’ means this climb is going to be difficult, shortening the word isn’t going to fool me! If people who were bona-fide climbers back in the day thought it was difficult then I won’t be so bold as to think that a novice like me can waltz up there (no matter what you climber types tell me!).

Yesterday’s adventure took me, in very capable hands, to Glyder Fawr in the Snowdonia National Park looking over the stunning Llyn Idwal and Ogwen Valley. We were going to climb a route called the Cneifion Arete. According to the guide books, this is a ‘moderate’ climb or a top-grade scramble (i.e. the full ropes and harness set up is not needed). It was around a 45 minute walk from the already high up Ogwen Cottage to the foot of the “scramble” and from here the arete (a thin ridge of rock) headed vertically away from me to a jagged ridge curving left high above my head (140m above my head to be precise). The nature of the climb meant that I would use all my might to meet my guide at a belay point (a place of anchorage) and he would toddle off ahead on the next pitch like he was hopping over a style in a grassy meadow! It was at these points where the pleasure of the experience was most intense. Firstly, I made it. One hurdle down. Secondly, a rest for my weak arms and legs. Thirdly, a Raven calling (below me!) swirling around in the air; king of the mountains. Finally, the excitement of my next part of the challenge as the “safe” call beckoned me upwards.

I look quite happy in the photo… If you had a true series of events unfolding in pictures before you, it would be something quite different. I noticed that I bite my bottom lip a lot, as if that is somehow going to magically propel me upwards and I make some great tennis-playing noises as I commit to grab a hold above me.

After all the playful moaning about what an ordeal I was having, for the most part I felt a fantastic sense of achievement and was able to admire a staggering view from an aspect I would not normally have been able to visit.

Oh and my biggest inspiration to reach the top…dinner! It’s amazing how hungry you get clinging to the side of a rock!

Kathy xxx


What a difference a day makes!?

What a pleasure it is to be alive these brief sunny July days! The sunshine certainly makes things seem better (especially after having had so little!). Cemlyn shows it’s softer side when the wind drops and the sun bounces off the water. Something like the St Ives effect… I’ve heard it said that artists are drawn to St Ives (in Cornwall) because it is surrounded by the sea and consequently the light is reflected in great quantity. Having spent a lot of time there when my Mum lived there, I am certainly under it’s spell.

Last week I was especially lucky to spend my day off in the sun. Simple pleasures like wearing flip-flops and no coat, sitting outside of a cafe and actually feeling warm, these things help to content me. I have to add that Laura’s delicious Butternut Squash soup and a refreshing Elderflower presse helped also. Laura is the hands-on owner of Ann’s Pantry in Moelfre (which I can highly recommend!). It’s a gorgeous little place with scrummy food and with a garden for days like these (can’t help but think of the Van Morrison song).

I was visiting this part of Anglesey to go kayaking. And what a brilliant time I had!? Pictured above is Ynys Moelfre, affectionately known as Rat Island too! Rats didn’t appear to be much of a problem for the birds that had evidently bred there though… Shags, Cormorants, Lesser Black-backed Gulls and as I travelled through Y Swnt (the channel between the small island and the village of Moelfre) the eponymous “Kittiwake” call rattled through my ears. I had been told that Kittiwakes are named after their call, but I had never actually had the realisation that this is so phonetic until I passed by that island serenaded with “Kittiwake, Kittiwake”. I was taken aback and grinned like an idiot! An awesome sound and a pleasure to witness.

And finally…I am pleased to announce that I have arranged ‘Anglesey Marine Week’; a week of events in August to celebrate the wonderful marine environment that surrounds Anglesey. From August 18th-25th, these events will be open to all; local residents and tourists alike, aiming to enthuse about what our seas have to offer. I am liasing with the participating organisations and businesses to put the finishing touches to the timetable before I share the details with you. In the meantime, I am so excited at the prospect of all the inspiring events and hope that you’ll be able to join me at one or maybe more of the events on offer 🙂

Here’s to more sunny days by the sea!
Kathy x

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

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’ 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