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.
Had a fabulous Friday night at the North Wales Wildlife Trust’s annual Lacey lecture. This time it was over to Wrexham to hear Mike Dilger give a talk on the “Trails and Tribulations of being a Wildlife Presenter”. You may have seen Mike presenting wildlife pieces on The One Show where his cheery, enthusiastic demeanor has inspired many an armchair naturalist. It was very pleasing to see that Mike is just as bubbly and on form in the flesh too (and I am reliably informed by a mutual friend that he hasn’t changed a bit since his days living in Menai Bridge). Mike shared with us many stories, right from his first bird-watching experiences as a youngster to jumping off a ten metre diving board, emulating the awe inspiring dive of the Gannet, for the tv cameras. It was really lovely to know that lots of the people I have met in my time here have also been instrumental in Mike’s development. My birding buddy Ken was one of those who got name-checked 🙂
Saturday took me to Moelfre and as I wound my way around the village I came across a hedgehog! I hadn’t seen a Hedgehog in ages! I escorted this little, and surprisingly fast, fella across the road into the safety of a garden. Now I just keep thinking the fallen Autumn leaves are more of these spikey friends.
Sunday night I arrived back in Derbyshire to visit some of my family and on Monday went for a walk with my sister, boyfriend and my baby nephew strapped onto the front of me. In a forest on the fringes of Matlock I spotted a small bird creeping up and flitting between the trees, sure enough it was a treecreeper! Admittedly, it’s quite hard to focus when you have an 11-month-old little man bobbing around in front of you. Wouldn’t change that for the world though!
Monday night involved a trip to Buxton and an evening with the wildlife royalty that is Chris Packham. Chris was mainly showing us through his stunning photographic collection which you can view at chrispackhamphotos.com. His pictures were truly astonishing and it was funny to hear Chris tearing them apart with his own criticism – the moment he referred to a Cheetah as “that idiot in the background” for ruining the composition of one of his animal portraits had me in stitches.
Most importantly, for me, Chris also voiced his opinions about Tiger conservation and it’s wider implications for conservation issues on the whole. Without criticising any one party Chris extolled the virtues of a more cohesive conservation program with more powerful effects. I look forward to hearing if Chris has any proposals on how we go about this…
On Tuesday, during a muddy bike ride back from Buxton to Bakewell I was lucky enough to see what Packham referred to as a ‘birders bird’, the Hawfinch. Brilliant. It’s rich brown colouring, white wingbars and chunky features were unmistakable as it dashed across the track in front of me.
Conversely, on my travels home I have stopped to have a walk around a woodland at Manly Knoll in Cheshire and seen virtually nothing! That’s birding for you!
Back in Wales soon,
Kathy x x x