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!
The wildlife highlight of this week for me has to be an encounter with a Water Rail. I thought my first meeting with these bird might be a winters day down at Valley Wetlands RSPB reserve, however it turned out that I would first meet this gorgeous bird down on the Isles of Scilly. I visited Scilly in October, visiting my very good friend Hilary that I met that there last year as a volunteer for the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust. Whilst enjoying the beautiful scenery, boat trips and the Scilly Disco (legendary!), I also made time for a spot of twitching.
Scilly is the home of the ‘Twitcher’. With it’s extreme South-Westlerly position it acts as a sink for all manner of lost birds and geographically it’s ideal to search, especially with so many dedicated birders to cover the islands.
Just to differentiate, ‘Twitchers’ are those that pursue species of bird in order to compile a list: a year list, a British List, a foreign list or perhaps a life list. There are also ‘birders’ who watch the behaviours and habits of birds from their back garden to the mountain tops. As with all things this is spectral, one can both enjoy the behaviours of birds and also compile a species list – obviously! I just wanted to stress the point that some people are much more towards the ‘Twitching’ end of the spectrum and that a lot of these people end up on Scilly in October.
Whilst I was on St Mary’s in October there was a Northern Waterthrush, an American species, that was a must see. Having spent an afternoon snorkelling around Toll Island, I was inappropriately dressed in flip-flops as I went in search of this beautiful speckly bird. The bird was located behind the dump and I had to trudge through black slude and got flithy! That time, there was no bird to be seen. Undeterred, I returned at sunrise the following morning with birder friend Paul Long (he took me on my very first twitch!) and whilst we “dipped” on the Waterthrush I saw my first Water Rail – I loved it. It was a strange experience because the huge crowd gathered there were disappointed by it’s appearance because they were ‘twitching’ and wanted to see their new species. Well for me, the Water Rail was just that – I went back to cook breakfast with a smile on my face.
The Water Rail I saw this week was just the second I’d seen and an Anglesey first for me. This sighting was particularly exciting because it just ran across the road in front of us – a usually very secretive bird giving us a spectacular view. Ken was in fact driving and had he not been there I might not of known what it was. Seeing it out of context and with the naked eye (as opposed to binoculars) I couldn’t work it out. It was so tiny and so slim, it looked like a shrunken, ironed version of the bird I’d seen on Scilly. It was thoroughly gorgeous!
So, in order to explain the title of this blog – Naturebites proposes a six hour birdrace to see as many different species of birds as you can in your chosen county! If you are a hardcore twitcher or just want to get out and see birds then this is for you. We all have various commitments so all I’m asking is that you pick a day from 1st-7th of February. This is a little way off but I wanted you have chance to get it in your diaries. Please do not be deterred if you are a novice in birding terms, it is precisely you that I want on board. If you cannot hook up with an experienced birder for the event then email me at firstname.lastname@example.org telling me where you are and I’ll see if I can add you to a team. Please also register any teams to the birdrace by email, telling me who’s in your team, when you propose to do it and where. Please click on and read Some (Simple) Rules for the birdrace and I’ve also provided a species tick-list for you to print off to use on the day (isn’t handwritten just so much nicer!?). The list will not be comprehensive and will vary depending on where you undertake the challenge so feel free to add other species to the bottom. And of course, I want to know how you do! So send me your results after the event and we can establish a winning county!
Hope you can join us!