My head is a whirlwind at the moment, we are writing the end of year report at Cemlyn, I am busy organising ‘Anglesey Marine Week 2012 Wythnos Morol Mon’ and I am trying to sort out my future employment. Sometimes, we just need a break don’t we?! In order to get away from it all, I thought dangling from a steep rock face would do it.
For all you non-climbers (such as myself) out there, I’d like to go through so climbing terminology with you. Climbs are graded; according to their technical difficulty and how protected they are (as in how many places you can attach yourself to the rock with a big sigh of relief!). I get the impression that anyone who climbs looks straight to the grades that I am not even going to mention…beneath those, however you have climbs rated moderate, difficult ‘diff’ and very difficult ‘v.diff’. A note on this terminology: these descriptions were coined by the pioneers of modern-day climbing way back when and refer to the severity of the climb as it would have been at the turn of the last century (without today’s knowledge and fancy gadgetry). However, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that ‘diff’ means this climb is going to be difficult, shortening the word isn’t going to fool me! If people who were bona-fide climbers back in the day thought it was difficult then I won’t be so bold as to think that a novice like me can waltz up there (no matter what you climber types tell me!).
Yesterday’s adventure took me, in very capable hands, to Glyder Fawr in the Snowdonia National Park looking over the stunning Llyn Idwal and Ogwen Valley. We were going to climb a route called the Cneifion Arete. According to the guide books, this is a ‘moderate’ climb or a top-grade scramble (i.e. the full ropes and harness set up is not needed). It was around a 45 minute walk from the already high up Ogwen Cottage to the foot of the “scramble” and from here the arete (a thin ridge of rock) headed vertically away from me to a jagged ridge curving left high above my head (140m above my head to be precise). The nature of the climb meant that I would use all my might to meet my guide at a belay point (a place of anchorage) and he would toddle off ahead on the next pitch like he was hopping over a style in a grassy meadow! It was at these points where the pleasure of the experience was most intense. Firstly, I made it. One hurdle down. Secondly, a rest for my weak arms and legs. Thirdly, a Raven calling (below me!) swirling around in the air; king of the mountains. Finally, the excitement of my next part of the challenge as the “safe” call beckoned me upwards.
I look quite happy in the photo… If you had a true series of events unfolding in pictures before you, it would be something quite different. I noticed that I bite my bottom lip a lot, as if that is somehow going to magically propel me upwards and I make some great tennis-playing noises as I commit to grab a hold above me.
After all the playful moaning about what an ordeal I was having, for the most part I felt a fantastic sense of achievement and was able to admire a staggering view from an aspect I would not normally have been able to visit.
Oh and my biggest inspiration to reach the top…dinner! It’s amazing how hungry you get clinging to the side of a rock!
I think by now I’ve taken things far beyond the realm of suspense..! Apologies for my two week absence, despite even finding time to blog during a recent holiday, I have just been far too busy these past two weeks!
As I stumble through life I find myself thinking “I must mention that on naturebites”. One such incident was a recent twich to see three stunning Dotterel that had landed on Anglesey. I’ve had the blog title “Dot.Dot.Dotterel” in my head ever since. With almost two weeks having passed since then I thought it was just a little out of date. Those round, colourful birds are still getting a mention though. I was particularly impressed to find that these striking specimens were female, showyness mostly associated with the males of a species. Following on from this, it may interest you to know that this reversal in aesthetics is a sign of their reversal in habits also, with the males left to rear the young.
There was an initial delay in updating the blog because I was awaiting the results of the ‘Together for Trees’ Rainforest Reporter competition. The result came in on the Tuesday following the final and I was told not to broadcast the news until it had been made public by the Together for Trees team… I am pleased to report that they found a worthy winner by the name of Gareth Jones. Of course it was very disappointing not to win, but it was also very pleasing to know that a great person would be going in my place (Welsh readers are probably also pleased to read that a characteristically Welsh name will be flying the flag!).
The same Tuesday that I found out the results of the competition, I also visited the RSPB Glaslyn Osprey project and Harlech castle in the afternoon. The weather was pretty miserable as we pulled into the RSPB carpark and as we looked through the telescopes to view the nest, the rain was driving straight through the holes in the hide. Moving indoors, we saw on the live cameras the three chicks that were now hatched (one just the day before) and their mother stood proudly at their side.
Last week a mega rarity made it to our shores, the Cream-coloured Courser in Herefordshire. I want to share with you the texts I received from Ken concerning this bird. To me, it seems that Ken has seen every bird one could possibly hope to see in Britain and yet it was heart-warming to hear that he is still as wrapped up in our winged-friends as he ever was. Text message number one 21/05/12 10:14am: “Kathy, I know the timing is awful but is it possible you could leave work, Sam (my visiting friend), everyting NOW! and join me on the twitch of a lifetime? A Cream-coloured Courser(!!) has been found in Hereford. I’m leaving in the next few minutes, what do you say? X”. The timing wasn’t great so I sent Ken off without me. Later that day I spoke to a giddy child on the phone who was absolutely over the moon about the bird he had just seen. It was a pleasure to listen to 🙂 Afterwards, text message number two 21/05/12 16:12pm: “Wow! a ‘Stunner’ I’m speechless a dream bird I’m all of a flutter won’t sleep tonight X”. (.,., – here are some punctuation marks for you to insert into Ken’s excited text!). And the following morning, after I enquired if he had managed to sleep…text message three 22/05/12 08:42am: “Very little. I’m still on cloud nine and fearing it was all a dream and I’m guna wake up soon X”. I hope these messages and his love and enthusiasm made you smile as much as I did when I read them.
Another week and another day of work saw me take to the hills as my desire to laze on the beach book in hand was scuppered by a sudden onset of mist over Anglesey. I was right to abandon ship as Ken and I had a marvellous (and sunny) trip out to see Pied Flycatcher and Redstarts in the woods. We started the day revisiting the Nant Ffrancon Pass where we searched for Twite, to no avail, and had a glimpse of a Ring Ouzel along with Redpoll and Mistlethrush. By now it was lunch time, or so said my tummy, and we took our lunch in the spot where we had stopped to scan for Tree Pipits. From the road below we almost instantly saw and heard a Tree Pipit displaying up above us. In the bush in which in landed we were thrilled to see a pair of Whinchat emerge – bonus birds. We sat in the sunshine admiring the view and the birds. Perfect.
On from here we travelled alongside Llyn Gwynant, where there were fields of intense purpley-blue bluebells. These are well worth a look at if you have chance soon as the concentration of flowers was breath-taking!
I first visited the woods at the beginning of the Watkin trail up to the summit of Snowdon with Ken almost exactly a year ago. During that trip, I soon realised that I would never be able to rush in a business-like pace through a woodland again. The wood was alive and the slower I went, the more I would see. This visit took similar form and we dawdled our way around, seeing Pied Flycatchers and Redstarts as well as me catching up with the elusive Wood Warbler that had evaded me this time last year. Such a distinctive and loud call and yet incredibly hard for me to pinpoint. Gotcha this time! Both Ken and I had achy necks after this prolonged session of staring upward – ouch!
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.
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.