by Kathy James

Posts tagged “Chough

Aside

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.

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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 http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/s/southstackcliffs/webcam.aspx and some new friends from Attenborough Nature Reserve back home http://www.attenboroughnaturecentre.co.uk/sightings. Enjoy!

Kathy xxx


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


Road trip.

My bike to work became even more enjoyable last week as Swallows and Linnets added to my ‘commuting list’. I hope I can get away with saying the swallows stopped me in my tracks as I peddled up south stack hill…? I was obviously going to make it up before I saw them! That evening on the ride home more swallows were zipping across the road in front of me. I had a big beam on my face – I had missed these guys. The volunteers accomodation at South Stack has a swallow hatch above the garage so a worthwhile place to check out on your way past. I opened the hatch nice and early in anticipation so I hope they come back this year!

Friday saw my last day of work at RSPB South Stack and I was sad to leave behind the magical place. It looks like the chough are on eggs. The pair that are the stars of cctv displayed in Ellin’s Tower and the new visitor centre were both sat on the nest when we first switched on the camera a matter of weeks back now. They had just landed with huge beak-fulls of animal hair (probably from the fields opposite the visitor centre) and it was a lovely sight to be greeted with. Since then they’re visits were sporadic, until about this time last week when ‘Mrs Mousetrap’ began spending increasingly more time tweeking the nest below. It is hoped that she is now sitting on eggs – the exciting news being that we soon be able to watch the nest-cam online, I will broadcast when it is up and running as it truly is a wonderful and special thing to see.

Friday night was home to a quiz organised as my leaving do. I love quizzes. I remember sitting by my father on the river bank while he was fishing and after I had raced the maggots and made snail caravan parks I would annoyingly plead “Ask me questions?! Ask me questons?!”. This abnormality of my mind has not left since this time. Hayley, one of the staff at RSPB South Stack, did me proud with this quiz. I loved it, thanks! Oh, and of course my team won :). Before we quizzed we had chips down by Holyhead harbour where I was twitched!! Two sandwich terns swung by to say hello to the new tern warden at Cemlyn (that’s me!) and then promptly came back with three more of their friends. I hope rare birds feel that privileged when we twitch them! My guess is that they’re not so egotistical, but there you go. It made me smile.

Another highlight of my weekend was watching a sandwich tern off Traeth Bychan, near Moelfre, diving beak-first down in to the sparkling blue sea whilst the mountains of Snowdonia and the Carneddau glistened, snow-capped, in the background. If you can picture this, I was making the noises of someone watching fireworks as I watched it plunge time and again. A magnificently elegant bird! I cannot wait to see more of them at Cemlyn soon.

Sunday and a roadtrip down to Pembrokeshire with my mate Sam. The journey down was beautiful, firstly though the mountains then the lush valleys of mid-Wales with two red kites to boot, the sun setting over the enormous expanse of sea below Aberystwyth and darkness approaching as we neared our destination of St David’s.

Monday took me over to Ramsey to visit the lovely RSPB Island Assistant, Nia. Nia did some work up at South Stack last year so we lived together for about a month and I thought I had better pop and say hello! As we rocked up at St Justinians lifeboat station the weather wasn’t looking too good and the slipmaster advised us that the weather might restrict our visit and that we should return to the mainland on the twelve o’clock shuttle. That would give us only two hours on the island and so we decided to risk the four o’clock boat being cancelled – the thought of being stuck on Ramsey wasn’t much of a deterant to be fair. As we bounded across the sound I saw Fulmars gliding around the cliffs. Seeing them from this perspective was a joy as I normally look down upon them from the tall cliffs of South Stack. I met a very interesting lady on the boat, Sarah Beynon from Oxford University, who is looking into the dung beetles that the resident Chough eat. It sounds like she may have some very interesting findings soon to be published and if you watch ‘Coast’ in the not to distant future you will be able to catch Sarah discussing the subject on there. It looks as though her work will reinforce the habitat conservation work already undertaken by organisations such as the RSPB in ‘special areas of conservation’ aimed at chough populations which is, of course, great news. As Sam and I wandered around the island we stumbled across a splendid fellow (pictured below) and wondered if this is one of the species Sarah was recording..? Sam and I had our bellies to the grass watching this guy cross the path in front of us. Stunning in his shimmery blue outfit!Ramsey Island is a very similar habitat to South Stack. As I said to Sam, it’s like South Stack crossed with the Isles of Scilly. The excitement I feel when on  Scilly, I felt as I looked back at mainland Wales from Ramsey. Real life is accessible but somewhat detached.

It only took a few hours to quite slowly tour the island and we sat for lunch watching Grey Seals frolicking in the bay below intrigued by the tourist boats  circumnavigating the island.

Behind the wardens cottage was an ideal drop-in spot for migrant birds; a fresh water pool surrounded by gorse. Here we sat for some time aquainting ourselves with varuous chiffchaffs and my first blackcap of the year.

We saw an oystercatcher mobbing a Raven near the slipway which caused me to comment and for Sam to agree that “Oystercatchers are the gentlemen and gentleladies of the bird world”. Very true I think! Dressed up to the nines in their suits with their fancy orange beaks, peacefully existing along our shorelines. I was glad to see them sticking up for themselves!

Lambing was in full-swing on the island so we didn’t see much of Nia or the other staff and volunteers. We had time for a quick catch up before the four o’clock boat sailed (the weather had gradually improved throughout the day) and we were very sad to leave behind the lovely vibe of the island. There was a real family feel to the group left there to manage things. I would recommend a visit or volunteering stint to anybody, I don’t imagine you’d be disapointed!

That evening we strolled around a dimming St David’s and the grounds of the STUNNING cathedral. The ambience exaggerated by the Rookery in full chorus in the silouetted trees.

The weather has not entirely been on our side, however we have sat amongst sea thrift having lunch, attempted to surf at Whitesands bay and had a cosy pint in the smugglers cove of Porthgain so I’d say that was pretty good so far. By Friday I have to be in Newport, so between now and then let’s hope we can squeeze in some more holiday fun!

Kathy x


Not enough hours in a day. Let’s find some more!

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,

Kathy x

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.


Nature bites back.

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,

Kathy x


My birdrace :)

Well it may seem like a long time ago now, but I thought I should finally get around to telling you about my team’s birdrace. I loved it!

Firstly, I got to spend the weekend with my Dad which is always good and secondly, we saw far more bird species than I had ever imagined!

The night before my team (Me, my Dad, Ken and Dave) went for dinner at the Seacroft in Trearddur Bay where we took advantage of their two for one deal – a perk of hanging around these windy shores in winter time. Here we planned where we would head the following morning on our birdrace. We’d already decided that an early start wasn’t the way forward for us, especially as one of our team has a problem with getting up early (uh humm, Dave!) and opted for latter six hours of daylight.

Starting at South Stack and after a hearty breakfast (always), Ken, Dave and I set off down the path from Plas Nico car park down the path to Ellin’s Tower. If you have visited the reserve before, that is the path from the lower car park diagonally through the heath to Ellin’s Tower. If you haven’t visited the reserve before (get yourself over here!), Ellin’s Tower is the RSPB’s lookout over the breeding seabird colony which is open for visitors April through to September – a point of note being the new visitor centre and cafe on the reserve so now you get a warm welcome when visiting any day of the year! I digress, My Dad had headed up the hill in his car where we were going to meet him after our initial pre-eleven o’clock reccy.

Soon our plans were dashed though as I saw a ‘little brown job’ on a telephone wire above the heath. I shouted it out and we were able to pin-point it as a Meadow Pipit (the sort of bird that might craftily evade us on a bird race), as I scanned the heather I saw a female Stonechat standing proud atop a gorze bush. That was it, we just had to start – we couldn’t risk that those two birds would show up again somewhere else. Dad would have to miss them. Sorry Dad! From here we charged along the path to Ellin’s tower as now the clock was ticking. Add Magpie.

From Ellin’s Tower we saw thousands of Guillemots and a rapid scan for Razorbills was to no avail. There were also a couple of Fulmars nestled on the ledges. Tick Tick. Making our way up to Dad on the road above Ken and I saw and heard a Rock Pipit zooming around the cliff tops. Get in. When we got to the top we stopped for a group photo and got Dad up to speed with the cliff-side species adding a Kestrel, Greater Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull and a last-minute obliging Chough.

Looking out from the car as we headed back down the hill we saw Starlings and Jackdaws with a Blackbird and Songthrush in my garden.

Leaving South Stack and heading towards Holyhead we stopped to scan the small reservoir on the side of the road and picked up Gadwall, Coot, Tufted Duck, Teal and Pochard. A Black-headed Gull flew over. This is the point at which Dave was mostly lost to the world of Dad’s camera – worked quite well really as we birded and he recorded.

A Blue Tit flashed across the road, only visible to me and my Dad in the front of the car and the House Sparrow bush in Llaingoch did not let us down. In fact, Dad pulled up on the side of the road in this unassuming looking place on the outskirts of Holyhead and found us Greenfinch, Collared Dove, Dunnock, Robin, Carrion Crow and a Mistle Thrush!

A Feral Pigeon flew high above the houses as we drove down towards Holyhead Harbour overlooking the breakwater (1.5 miles long don’t you know?!). Scanning the harbour we were happy to pick up Black Guillemot, Oystercatcher and an unexpected Razorbill.

Quickly back into the car and along to Soldier’s Point, in the shadow of Holyhead Mountain and flanked by the breakwater. Down in the sea we saw a Curlew atop an exposed rock and the usual Redshank – I’m sure he’s the same one…always there by himself. Also down by the waters edge was a Turnstone and there was a Little Grebe sailing the waters. Flitting around in the shrubs were a couple of Goldfinch and Ken spotted a ‘stripey-eyed guy’ for me to have a look at, a Redwing foraging amongst the blackbirds of the horse field. Behind us a Woodpigeon flapped it’s way into the trees. Next, much to my Dad’s embarrassment I announced that “I’ve got Great Tits” (an oldie but a goody and always completely by accident). We pop our heads round the grasses to seek out our familiar Water Rail but he’s a no show. Carrying on down the road we add Chaffinch and Wren. We couldn’t resist searching for our Water Rail again on the way back to car but he’s still not out to play. In his place we find a Grey Wagtail though (!!) and a Bullfinch shows us his rump. Elated with these bonus birds we march onwards. Ken as relentless as ever scours behind us as we near the car and picks up a Moorhen and behind that a Water Rail! There you are!!

Pied Wagtails escort us along the harbour-side where we see Common Gull (new for my Dad I think?), Shag, and Red-breasted Merganser.

I swear by there always being Rook in Morrisons car park so we head there on our way out of Holyhead, none. None in McDonalds’ car park either! “Rook” I scream as one zooms out of everybody else’s sight down Porth Dafarch Road. Damn!

It’s always a relief to pull in at Penrhos Coastal Park as you will always be greeted by some familiar faces, tick Mallard. We use scopes out on the estuary and see Dad’s first Brent Geese as well as Knot, Grey Plover, Curlew, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Shelduck, Goldeneye, Great Crested Grebe and Slavonian Grebe. At this point it suddenly dawned on us that we hadn’t yet been to many of the places on our list and we’d been out nearly two and a half hours. The clock suddenly seemed to have sped up. Not deterred we thought that there were a few key species we might hope to see in the woodland beyond the duck pond. A couple of small dudes zipped across the trees in front of our eyes. They evaded us for a few moments and then we had them again, a Coal Tit and a Siskin! On the otherside of the path a flock of Long-tailed Tits, it’s like the birds knew what we needed on our list. A magical moment in the woods.

Worried about time and having already seen some of the species we hoped to pick up there we ditched Trearddur Bay and headed straight for Four Mile Bridge and surveyed the Inland Sea. A flock of Lapwing overhead was our first of many sightings over the day. With many shore birds ticked off already we had to ignore the vast majority of the birds in terms of the birdrace, although Wigeon finally made an appearance! Using a scope though, Dave sprang back into action asking me who the black and white stripey guys were…his first Ringed Plover and a bird needed for our list. I can safely say that this was Dave’s bird of the day. A Meditteranean Gull was chilling out in the middle of the expanse. Then in the revelry of Dave’s find we nearly missed the Little Egret flying in right in front of our faces – Ken was nearly spitting feathers, how apt.

Passing out snacks around the car we moved on to Valley Lakes, our second RSPB reserve of the day. Almost apoplectic than none of the black birds around were Rooks I shouted up a field of ominous looking fellas skulking in a field beside the road we travelling on. Dad and I hopped out the car as Ken attended to his newly painful foot and tiptoed to look over the hedge (Dad is 6’3” so I’m pretty sure he didn’t tiptoe). Whoo hoo, a Rook. Finally.

Valley lakes is surrounded by the houses and runways of RAF Valley and we pulled up in a lay-by alongside the most accessible lake. As Dad, Ken and I picked up Shoveler (hundreds swarming around and around in a perfect circle), Mute Swan, Lesser Black-backed Gull (bonus) and Cormorant, Dave was being questioned by a man in uniform back at the car! You’d think scopes, binoculars, and loitering by the side of the road in a military area were perfectly normal, surely?!

On our way to pick up some more woodland species we stopped to look across fields close to Valley wetlands for more Geese species and were a tad disappointed to see only lovely Greylags. I desperately tried to put someone on to the Pheasant I could see many fields away but a working description evaded me as no one could see where I meant. But oh, a Raven honked way above us!

A Pheasant teetered by the edge of the road before we checked out the usual feeders at Presaddfed and clocked up a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Reed Bunting! Ken saw it first and we had to wait for it to show above the wall again. I willed a Nuthatch to make an appearance but no such luck.

A buzzard and father and daughter nearly come to blows as I criticise his stop-time. Apparently it has something to do with other road users, but I tried to explain that this was different. It was a birdrace!

A flock of Grey Plover have taken to the skies, but we have already counted these. Amongst them Ken spots a glittering golden gem, a Golden Plover. Hee hee.

Our list is looking pretty impressive by now, but there are more sites on the island we think we can make it to for some of those species we haven’t seen yet. As we wind our way across the island we keep an eye out for Fieldfare and soon see masses in a field. A quick stop and a tick. Then we only went and had a Merlin dashing across the fields to our left!! I was giddy (more than usual).

Ken had a ‘nailed-on’ spot for some Whooper Swans and unlike his ‘nailed-on’ spot for the Shropshire Starlings it was successful (read his Shropshire Starlings write-up in the previous blog)!

We paced on down the island to Benllech to search the sea and I’m afraid to say that I had to dash off with Dave to find a proper loo. I’m all for ‘nature wees’, but in Benllech I think it would be punishable by law. Whilst I was otherwise occupied Dad and Ken scoped out Common Scoter and a Great Northern Diver. Well done boys!

Hang on a minute, where has all the time gone?! There’s only an hour left and we are on precisely the opposite side of the island to where we planned to end up to spend time looking for Hen Harriers coming in to roost… Insert expletive here.

Well, we were here now so we’d thought we go for Snipe at Red Wharf Bay, the pointy-beaks weren’t playing, the Jack Snipe neither. Wasted more time! Full speed ahead across the island. Ken and I had taken full control now and decided that for sake of the race we’d sacrifice our Hen Harrier sighting, clock up some other species and go for the Harriers after our allotted time.

As we approached Llyn Coron near Aberffraw I spotted another bird of prey (I was having a good day!), this time a Sparrowhawk – tick! Ken watched as it zoomed down into the grasses and saw it dash back up as quickly as it had gone down. At this moment a male Hen Harrier emerged from nowhere – wow, wow, wow!!! My first Hen Harrier 🙂 And a stunning male, just as I had imagined and even better, it was still within our race time! What a high?! Unbelievable. We like to think that the Sparrowhawk thought *ummmm that looks tasty* only to be surprised by pouncing on the harrier – who knows??

Llyn Coron gave us Canada Goose and White-fronted Goose, thank you. There was a matter of minutes left in our six hours so we hot-footed it over to Malltraeth Cob. Ken and Dad picked up a Spotted Redshank as I sprinted along the cob. I was embarrassed to realise that I was racing towards Jane and David on their bird race and that I was thumping my way along the path (most un-birderly). Pintails, yes! With seconds to spare. Then I realised I was the only member of my team there…”DAVE!!DAVE!!” I bellowed along the cob (sorry quiet birders), he got there just in the nick of time.

Rejoining Dad and Ken back at the road, I caught up with elegant Spotted Redshank and was suddenly exhausted by our amazing, eventful day.

Dozily, I daydreamed in the car back to Menai Bridge and had time for a quick change of clothes and a cup of coffee before joining other bird racers in Bangor.

I was so pleased to hear how everybody else had gotten on that day in North Wales. Everyone was buzzing and I was so pleased that we had all done it. As mentioned previously, Dan, Nigel and Eddie won the race in our Area, only beaten by the Norfolk birders.

I am immensely proud of all your efforts. Thank you.

Even if you didn’t take part then please take the time to vote for your ‘best race’ and ‘best bird’ from the previous blog.

Kathy x

P.s- just as I’ve come to post this entry I have been sat in the office watching with satisfaction as my washing dries on the line and was fascinated by a Magpie in glorious plumage that swooped down into my garden, pecked around in the grass and then proceeded to hop in manic magpie style over to the bush in the corner. I saw him work his way up inside the bush and come out with a  piece of nesting material as long as himself (including his tail), he struggled to get away as his wing got caught on his impressive find. Full of the joys of spring 🙂


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