The reason I decided to holiday in Pembrokeshire with my mate Sam was because throughout my summer at RSPB South Stack many of the visitors had urged me to visit the island of Skomer and parade my way through the puffins that brazenly breed there. With just one goal in mind you’d think that was quite achievable…? Alas, I still have not been to Skomer. Except the day I visited Ramsey Island the other days were all too windy to sail (sad face). I have to say that in the absence of this nautical trip I had an amazing wildlife moment elsewhere at Manobier. Just a two minute walk from the youth hostel we were staying in brought us to the top of some rather impressive cliffs. Sat proudly atop a buttress jutting out towards the sea was a Kestrel that sat perfectly still letting us admire each and every feather. We then made our way down the concrete steps to the beach (138 steps was it Sam?). It was a magnificent little cove with a giant sea arch over to the left and a tiny ‘smugglers passage’ through the rocks to our right leading to a secluded bay inhabited solely by two relaxing Herring Gulls. Having crept though the passage and with Sam ‘playing’ on the rocks behind me, I looked out to sea to sea a dozen gannets swirling around in the air. They were soon in very close and I pointed them out to Sam as they began diving for fish; always an incredible sight as they pierce dart-like through the waves. Knowing that these two creatures are often associated I soon spotted a fin of a dolphin or porpoise protruding from the blue. I was unable to get Sam onto this lone dorsal fin and I took my binoculars back to see two familiar faces gliding just above the water. Flap, flap, gliiiiiiiiiiiiiide. Two manx shearwater – my first of the year. Back up the now 300 odd steps I stopped at the top and gazed back to the sea. Do we do this to say “farewell, until we meet again”?! Excitedly, I exclaimed “dolphins”! And a pod of perhaps fifteen dolphins surfaced travelling east to west. Despite having brought two pairs of binoculars on holiday to prevent exactly this problem I had to throw my binoculars Sam-wards as he had forgotten to bring the other pair out on this walk and I couldn’t have him missing out on seeing them altogether! Unfortunately, I was not able to identify the species further.
A quick mention of the Pembrokeshire youth hostels, a big thumbs up from us this holiday. The Manobier hostel, was a very smart set up and perfectly adequate for a self-catering stint, however we absolutely loved the hostel at St David’s where we had our own cottage in beautiful surroundings – perfect for coastal walks and surfing. Would highly recommend to large groups, or people that don’t mind sharing. High five!
I had to be in Newport by Friday as I was in the regional final of a competition to become a ‘Rainforest Reporter’, part of a Tesco and RSPB initiative called ‘Together for Trees’. The idea of the competition being to find someone to visit the rainforest and report back on the destruction/conservation work being done there. Ideal! Friday, at Newport Wetlands, entailed several tasks which were filmed and I expect to be put online – not spotted them yet. It was certainly a very challenging task and because of the spontaneity of the recordings there are many things I have since thought I should have said and things I definitely wish I hadn’t said. All in all though, as cringe-worthy as it will be to watch myself back, I think I did okay. Hhhhmmmm, maybe I should have saved this comment for after I had actually watched the tapes back…?! The winners from this regional final will go on to a national final in London where there will only be one winner. No pressure there then! I only got to meet one other competitor and that was the lovely Cat, also living in North Wales. I’m not sure what the selection process will be, but good luck to all in this and especially Cat as she appeared a deserving winner!
I spent Friday evening watching the red sun drop into the sea at the huge expanse of seascape that is Aberystwyth. En route Sam piped up “look at all those birds over there…”. He knew exactly what they were as this was his home patch. I absolutely had to pull over when I saw around sixty red kites circling like vultures around Nant Yr Arian – magic!
To finish my week off nicely my Dad visited and as well as a yummy dinner out on Saturday night, we visited the stunning Lleyn peninsula on Sunday and only and went and saw a bloomin cuckoo! It was a magical headland on an enchanting peninsula. I was particularly spellbound by a ravens feather swirling down towards me from a mid-air scuffle as a crow tried to see it off it’s patch. Elsewhere we saw our first speckled wood (butterflies) of the year.
I said goodbye to Dad and then the rest of Sunday was spent packing for my new job and new home as a tern warden. Expect far too about terns in the future as they will be my life for the next few months… you have been warned!
A very sleepy Kathy -X-
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!
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,
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.