Yesterday had done enough to please me. It wasn’t raining, the wind had dropped and I had had a glorious morning walk around the reserve, documenting all our feathered inhabitants. It was a long walk as there was lots to see! It was very apparent that morning that the birds were also enjoying it. New families finally emerging from the bushes, Whitethroats in great number and other youngsters branching out on their own. By now the islands at Cemlyn are teeming with bouncing baby terns (mostly Sandwich, but also Arctic and Common) and the lagoon is host to a variety of ages of young Oystercatcher, a family of Red-breasted Merganser and a solitary Coot chick. Away from the lagoon there are young Great Tits, Blue Tits, Blackbirds, Whitethroats, Sedge Warblers, Little Owl, Meadow Pipits, and Pied Wagtails all bursting into near-grown life.
The afternoon was spent, like many, meeting visitors on the shingle ridge that separates the Tern islands from the sea. Although the weather was stunning, there were few visitors, but those that had made it stayed a long while and were rewarded with one of the most remarkable things I have ever seen.
A tip of mine for visitors to Cemlyn is to sit down on the shingle ridge, the sea-worn shape naturally means that you’ll be facing out to sea. With your profile lowered the Terns zoom low over the ridge and you get the most amazing close-ups of elegant terns and their silvery prey. Yesterday afternoon I was sat on the ridge doing just so and saw an almighty splash of water metres from a boat that was moored up in the bay. My initial thought was *what have those people thrown off their boat?!*, my mind rationalised that they would not be able to throw something so large as far as that. Seconds later a re-emergence and a cetacean rose up out of the water and into view. Suddenly, bubbles of grey skin were rising all across the bay in a rapid progression toward the shore where I was now stood up and running across the shingle to my nearest visitors. After I had alerted the unsuspecting couple to the activity in the blue, I plonked myself down next to them and gawped as twelve bottlenose dolphin leaped out of the water, flipped in the air and chased fish skywards! I have never seen anything like it. I was amazed (and kept telling the couple so!). The spectacle lasted minutes as dolphins of various sizes appeared and disappeared all over the bay. Looking around the bay, I was pleased to see that everyone in the vicinity had cottoned on to them. Everyone along the shingle ridge, those on the coast path towards Wylfa on the east and those enjoying the “Trwyn” headland to the west all faced inwards to witness this special moment together. We were all beaming.
Around ten minutes later my dear friend Ken arrived on the ridge and had to listen time and again as we all recounted our tale. I’m sorry he missed it.
Another spectacle at Cemlyn this week was kayaker John Willacy as he completed his solo circumnavigation of the UK. Check out John’s latest post about the wildlife he saw as he battled through our stormy seas. It’s particularly fascinating to hear about how the birds acted as weather forecasters…http://clockwisekayak.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/wildlife.html
Wishing you all wildlife spectacles of your own,
I wanted to share with you the magical terns at Cemlyn using the new-fangled medium of video…however, it would appear that I cannot upload videos on to my blog. Instead my cunning plan is to share the videos via my ‘naturebites’ facebook page. Apologies to those who aren’t logged on to facebook, but those who are please have a “shufty”!
You may have seen similar (and somewhat better quality) footage earlier this week on Springwatch. It was filmed on the same day unbeknownst to me and using a proper television camera, not me sticking my camera down a telescope! So if you can’t watch my inferior video on facebook, you can always watch Springwatch episode 10 on iplayer.
Hope you enjoy! And if you do… why not visit the thriving colony of terns at Cemlyn where we have record numbers! There are now over 2500 nests, over 2000 of which belonging to Sandwich Terns. It’s quite a spectacle!
Much ‘Spring’ love,
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):
Lesser black-backed Gull
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…
Hope you all had fun out and about today,
I have struggled to know where to begin with this blog. I feel as though as I have had so many fantastic experiences during my first week as tern warden here at Cemlyn, and yet it seems they are for me and my brain alone!
I first visited Cemlyn on very rainy day about one year ago with my friend Sam (the same fellow I have just visited Pembrokeshire with). I cannot remember a single bird, but can remember having wet feet all day. I next visited Cemlyn with a group of birding enthusiasts during an event run by Birdlife International with Rio Tinto to encourage the local youngsters to become interested in their natural surroundings. I remember stepping out of the car in the Bryn Aber (west) car park and gawping skywards as the tern colony had taken to the air to chase away a peregrine falcon that had taken the opportunity to strike. The scene was immense and we all took that powerful image away with us. I visited several more times throughout the summer and I think I was always a little bit glad to get back in the car and out of the infamous wind.
Starting at Cemlyn little over a week ago, it hasn’t taken me long to fall head over heels for the place. There is so much more than at first meets the eye when you take a trip over here to trudge along the shingle ridge to look at the terns. Although this is a spectacle in itself, there are little nooks and crannies full of life that are just waiting to be explored. The past week has thrown some dreadful weather our way, but the way I see it is if I can fall in love in the wind and rain then that love will bloom in the sunshine! (Perhaps a little optimistic of me to expect sunshine!)
It might sound a little bit odd for a ‘tern warden’, but today was all about familiarising myself with the three sorts of tern we regularly encounter here. Like with spring calls, the subtleties of these summer visitors needs some revision. sandwich terns stand out with their black-crested heads and their yellow-tipped bills, but arctic and common can look very similar indeed. One suggestion I would make to visitors is to come at either end of the day when the sun affords you a better glimpse of the black-tipped common tern beak, or the bright red (although short) legs of the arctic. Today was the first day that we had common and arctic, often dually referred to as ‘commic’, terns back in any number so was my first opportunity this year to compare.
Some of my favourite moments, however, have not been tern-related; spotting the first whitethroat of the season was a great feeling; a washed up coconut on the beach; having a patch to own, not in a possessive sense, but in a knowing sense; and perhaps finding a robin here in a place where a robin is a ‘red letter day’ (according to fellow warden, David).
I mentioned in my last blog that I had taken part in a competition to become a ‘rainforest reporter’ – a joint initiative between the RSPB and Tesco. I am both surprised and pleased to announce that I made it through the regional heat and now have the final to attend in London at the end of next week! There’s a little about this online http://www.togetherfortrees.com/reporter.aspx , but so far your guess is as good as mine as to what the final will entail! I would be over the moon to win this so send me your good vibes please!
Looking forward to tomorrow with a visit from a butterfly expert and then a North Wales Wildlife Trust barbeque for the Cemlyn volunteers, excellent.
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!
Yesterday was my birthday and I felt that the bird world handed me a few presents.
Travelling back up the A55 after a night out in Bangor around 3:30am, I did my best impression of my 14 month-old nephew Jack by pointing silently at a Barn Owl as it flew across the road in front of us. The common denominator with me and Barn Owls is that i’m never sober at the time..are they really there??!! Obviously, I wasn’t the driver and a sober Ken saw it too so it wasn’t in my imagination. Birthday Barn Owl – great 🙂
In the morning as I lay in bed wondering why I was awake, I watched out of my window as a forty-strong flock of Meadow Pipits swarmed around the field in front of my house. This did rouse me from my bed and I got my binoculars on a female Reed Bunting sat on a shrub at the side of the field.
Next, I had a text to say that the first Sandwich Tern had been sighted at Cemlyn Bay on the north of the island so I dragged my friend Elizabeth (visiting me for my birthday), Ken and Cal up to see if we could spot it. Cal spotted the fella first and I re-found him again as we neared the lagoon. This was a very special birthday present as I will be working at Cemlyn this summer for the North Wales Wildlife Trust. We watched the tern fly off out to sea, he’d just come to wish me a happy birthday perhaps?!
As we drove back to Holyhead we thought we’d have a drive through Ken’s estate on the off-chance that the Rose-coloured Starling would make an appearance. We surveyed a few roof tops and about twenty birds later, bingo!! A lovely little chap. I’ve not seen one of these before and having heard that it was juvenile and therefore lacking in the distinguishing plumage, thought that I might find it difficult to identify. This was not the case however as it was much smaller that the other starlings, much paler and it’s beak much less pointed. I have been having banter with a birder/blogger (http://theregionaltick.blogspot.com/) on twitter about this bird, he’s says it’s scruffy and I’d like to confirm that he is wrong, it’s lovely :-p Then again, I do always go for the underdog.
Then, as Elizabeth left and my next guests arrived, we went for a walk around South Stack. South Stack is really coming into it’s own at this time of year, bursting into life…
Had a chilled out day yesterday and had some great birds, so a result!
Have a read of my walk to work on the South Stack facebook page https://www.facebook.com/#!/RSPBsouthstack. I started this facebook page around a year ago when I started working for the RSPB there and am pleased at it’s popularity and the interactions we have had with our visitors, so check it out and keep up the good work!
Enjoy the rest of your day,