This time last week my Dad and his girlfriend arrived for a weekend visit. With a relaxed start to Saturday morning with bacon and egg butties for my Dad and Elaine and crumpets (my absolute favourite!) for me, we joined Ken and Cal (the South Stack volunteer) for a day out.
As mentioned in a few of my blogs now, my Dad is suddenly absorbed in bird-watching and, knowing that he has his daughter so well placed in Anglesey with renown bird expert Ken Croft in tow, decided he’d like a tour of what the island has to offer!
The Fulmars were once again down at Hen Borth, but they were difficult to see as they plunged down behind the cliff edges. From the description I gave of these rigid-winged seabirds Cal decided that he’d also seen these a few days previously near the lighthouse. We visited our usual haunts of Soldiers Point, Penrhos Country Park and then meandered through the centre of Anglsey ending up at Llyn Llywenan. We saw a buzzard circling high above the lake and various waterfowl such as Greylag Geese, Shoveler and Goosander below. As my Dad got to grips with Shoveler in the scope I took the opportunity to get a better view of the Buzzard, now much closer by. It struck me that I rarely get lasting views of the majestic creatures, I normally whizz past them on the A55 or they are far to high for me to make out much detail. It struck me that this Buzzard looked a bit different to how I usually thought of them, it’s head looked odd. It was then that Ken asked if I’d had chance to have a look through the scope at the Shoveler, I said “Yes, I’ve just been watching the Buzzard quartering over those shrubs”. At the word ‘quartering’ and knowing that this was not characteristic flight of a Buzzard, Ken grabbed his binoculars, hurriedly looked over in the direction of the Buzzard and exclaimed “that’s a Marsh Harrier!!”. So, having apparently learnt nothing from Martin Garner and his talk about questioning things that appeared different, I spent a good minute watching an ‘unusual-looking Buzzard!” – idiot!! In my defence, this was a first for me, I’d never encountered a Marsh Harrier before and because of this I will probably always recognise them straight off. The female harrier continued to give us great views as she quartered back and forth, a quality birding experience we all agreed. I shame-faced got back in the car.
Another highlight of the day for me was seeing Yellowhammer, not a bird I had encountered on Anglesey before. They were once commonplace here, but as with other birds that thrived on Anglesey, the once bread basket of Wales, have become virtually extinct with the change in farming practises.
We finished the day off at Benllech sea front with my Dad spotting a Red-throated Diver flying off into the distance and a Guillemot popping up right in front of us. Having worked at South Stack all summer with the 8,000 odd Guillemots I can say that this was the closest I’ve been to one…and luckily I had Dad’s camera with me to show you just how close.
On Sunday we yet again went out birding – we’re insatiable! We completed our haul of Corvids (the crow family) when a Jay flew across the road in front of us as we’d seen a Hooded Crow flying near Hen Borth the previous day. We took in Eider ducks from some distance close to Penmon Point on the far corner of the island (diagonally opposite to South Stack). We totalled 75 species of bird over the weekend (including three new species for me!) and had glorious views of many so I’m hoping Dad thought it worth the trip!?
The following day, yet again, had clear blue skies and glorious sunshine. I took an afternoon trip into Snowdonia to climb Cnicht. A mountain that looks like one you draw as a child, a full-on pointy triangle! I could not quite comprehend that I would make it up there without some serious climbing equipment as I started out, but the ordinary people I met walking back down did enough to reassure me and the school group I could see up ahead (thank goodness for binoculars!). As I rounded one corner I saw an elusive Tree Pipit in the path ahead, but alas the altitude was getting to me and it was Meadow Pipit certainly at this time of year. The mountain afforded stunning views of Snowdonia and down the Porthmaddog estuary. The day was perfectly lit and I was warmed by the exertion, only cooling if I admired the view for too long. Throughout the climb I could see a Raven circling the summit and was pleased to be greeted by it and it’s partner as I reached the top for cheese and pickle sandwiches. One of the Ravens (presumably the one I’d seen circling from below) came really close in to check us out. The wind whistled through it’s wings as it effortlessly soared. Then, a new noise. My ears pricked up instantly. I thought there’s not much it could be up this high and upon my return and after my rendition of what I can only describe as a rattling trill, Ken confirmed it must have been a Red Grouse. I couldn’t see it though. Making our way back down the hill a flock of Linnet flew overhead. Although there are many Linnets at South Stack in the summer months, this was my first meeting with them this year. Right down at base camp, a village named Croesor, was a field full of fieldfare. Along with sheep, that completes the list of wildlife I saw that day and quantity cannot out compete the quality of those encounters. I find mountains (along with the sea) bring out a spirituality in me and sitting on that pinnacle watching a Raven fly around in front of me with a huge drop below is really not a thing which, to my mind, can be beaten.
That evening I had been invited to dinner with Alan Davies and Ruth Miller of ‘The Biggest Twitch’ fame. Alan and Ruth hold the world record for the most bird species seen in a year and ‘The Biggest Twitch’ follows their quest to do so. After a lovely dinner, Ruth showed me their photographs from a recent trip to Botswana, I promptly fell in love with the Black Crake. It fits my ideal description of a bird; yellow beaked, black bodied, long-legged and red legs just for the wow-factor – yes please! I have not yet read Ruth and Alan’s book, but came home on Monday night with a signed copy that I have promised them I’ll read after I’ve finished David Attenborough’s ‘Life on Air’.
One last thing to share with you before I sign off is a couple of photographs of Snow Buntings at Cinmel Bay along the North Wales coast. A beauty of a bird, a year tick for me and an absolute pleasure to watch as they posed on and around a log on the beach.
On New Years Day I’m afraid to say that I barely made it out of the house although from inside the house could happily start my new list with Starling, Blackbird and Herring Gull (some of my favourite birds!).
Since then I have unfortunately been a little unwell, but today managed a great birding trip with my Dad back home. We met at Kirk Hallam Lake after a tip-off about an exciting visitor nearby. We thought we’d play it cool though by having a wander around the lake first. It’s probably not a lake you’d know about or visit unless you lived in the locality, however it was a wonderful asset to the estate it was contained within and the birds were certainly making the most of it. We saw Mute Swans, Mallards, Coots, Goosander, Black-headed Gulls a plenty, Carrion Crow, Woodpigeon, Canada Geese, Blackbirds, a couple of Mistlethrush, Starlings and a Great Tit. Now, it seems that I am lucky when it comes to seeing birds, but even more so is my old man! Dad has always been keen on birds and wildlife but has recently taken a great interest in the field (we call it retirement preparation) and it seems that he just walks into the path of all sorts of glorious birds! As we walked the short distance around the lake we looked from a little bridge down nutbrook stream and my Dad said “looks like Kingfisher country”. We headed on around the lake, I looked back towards the stream and perched on the near-side bank was a heavenly Kingfisher – what a stunning sight! It sat there long enough for me to point it out to Dad and we were only a matter of metres away so no need for binoculars. A brilliant unexpected bonus thanks Dad!
We moved on from the lake to look for the small group of birds we’d heard had dropped in since New Year. I described to Dad where we should be looking and as we drove up the road we were left in no doubt that we were in the right place as the familiar sight of people in dark green clothing and massive telescopic photo lenses came into view. The three people waiting on the brow of the hill (where Lime Tree Rise meets Oliver Road ) confirmed that they had been watching Waxwings just a few moments ago so we had a chat and waited. It wasn’t long before the five targets flew into view, but in a twist of further excitement they were being rapidly pursued by a Sparrowhawk! Wow. The Sparrowhawk didn’t manage to feed this time and the Waxwings were understandably put off landing in the fruit-filled trees nearby. A few moments later I glanced over the bungalows behind us and another raptor flew into view. This time a Peregrine. It zoomed over the estate and down the hill we could see the gulls from the lake take to the air in unison. We didn’t have to wait too long and then the five travellers came into land. They flew right over our heads and into the tree at the left of us. These were the first Waxwings I’ve ever seen and what a fancy bird! The wind ruffled the crests on top of the head to show them in full splendour. The photographers snapped away and me, my Dad and the others who had now joined us gazed on in delight. I am hoping that Mike, one of the phototographers, will send me in a picture!
There was a massive ‘irruption’ of Waxwings last year but probably due to mild conditions and plentiful food in Scandinavia this winter there are much fewer wintering individuals in Britain. It was even reported at the end of 2010 that some of the waxwings that had flown over here and were so hungry that they’d take food offered on the end of a branch by a young boy, a stark contrast to the few visits to the country this year. Perhaps the largest irruption of Waxwings in this country (according to Birds Britannica) was in the winter of 1946/47 with at least 12,500 birds noted! Another interesting thing I picked up from the fabulous Birds Britannica is that their name ‘Bohemian Waxwing’ is infact derived from their exotic and unusual appearance as opposed to their place of origin.
So remember that if you’re getting the January blues then get outside and cheer yourself up with our wonderful wildlife!