by Kathy James

Posts tagged “Water Rail

You don’t get Bullfinches on Holy Island…

I’ve still got some catching up to do in terms of telling you what I’ve been up to, so let’s revisit the story of Martin Garner (bird ID expert featured in yesterday’s blog)…

Martin finished his vivacious talk on finding rare birds and promptly went out the following day with Alan Davies (of The Biggest Twitch fame) for them to only go and find a first for Wales (that is to say the first recording of a bird of it’s type in Wales)!! The bird in question was a race of Iceland Gull, named Kumeliens. I believe it is still awaiting official ID but speaking to the chaps afterwards there was no doubt in their minds – cool hey?!

I had spent the day following the talk birding around Holy Island with Ken and we bumped into Alan, Martin and the rest of the group at Penrhos Country Park where we were watching a couple of Meditteranean Gulls amongst the Black-headed variety. This was a bit of a refresher for me because I’d apparently got a bit rusty on my old med-gull identification and after watching them for a while I soon got to grips with the differences again – the white wing tips and bandit mask being particularly useful things to look out for.

This was the end of my days birding, but what a day it had been! First thing, Ken I went down to Hen Borth at the bottom of South Stack road to see Fulmars for the first time in months! I love Fulmars because they seem to take their time about everything, on this occasion I think they were checking out ledges to nest on in summer, early bird catches the worm eh?! Next we had a scout around soldiers point with a grotty little pool throwing in a Water Rail stood next to a Grey Wagtail! Beautiful! The Rail even looked at the Grey Wagtail bobbing around for a moment, decided it was not too fussed and continued to toss leaf litter around. It was a beautiful morning with plenty of birds flitting in and around the trees, and then something stopped me in my tracks…a beautiful male Bullfinch! This might not sound so exceptional except that as far as I knew you just didn’t get Bullfinches on this part of Anglesey – get in!! We watched as it was joined by a female and a couple of Dunnocks danced around below. Fingers crossed that they stay!

I got to see Purple Sandpipers for the first time on the shore at Treaddur Bay, these tiny fellows were a delight as they snuggled amongst the rocks and preened. Here we stopped for lunch and were dismayed to find one of the clementines was mouldy 

Afterwards we took a route between Treaddur Bay and Penrhos and I was aghast as once again there was a pair of Bullfinches! Brilliant! I’m hoping that now I’ll be able to tell people that we do have Bullfinches on Holy Island and (in the future) that they breed here too…let’s hope so!

Fridays find me helping out on the reserve (RSPB South Stack) and last Friday was particularly enjoyable. Along with a team of other volunteers, Denise (the assistant warden) led us in heather burning. It seems abhorrent to me to write that. It seems the most unnatural thing to do when you spend the summer extolling the virtues of Wales’ largest maritime heathland and reminding certain visitors that it is illegal to take it away with them. This seemingly barbaric process however is a vital part of the habitat management undertaken on the reserve and around Britain. The idea is to create a mosaic of heathers at different stages of development to benefit the ecosystem as a whole. One particular area of focus at South Stack is the conservation of the Chough population we have here. Last year there were eleven breeding pairs of Chough and these exist within a Special Area of Conservation which means we need to provide them with a habitat to see them thrive. Heather burning is one way in which the reserve can provide suitable foraging area for the invertebrate-eating beauties.

To put your mind at rest further I can tell you that this burning process is all carefully planned. Besides waiting for an ideal day where the wind was on our side, Denise had been busy creating firebreaks around the area we wanted to burn so that along with our help on the day the fire would be contained to that specific area. Also, the linear method of burning means that anything not rooted to the ground has the chance to escape, as exhibited by a darling shrew that day.
Weather permitting; there will be further burns throughout the next few weeks to help complete that mosaic I referred to.

Here are some pictures…

…and despite what you might think about burning Heather…it does not smell good!

This satisfying day was topped off with a stunning sunset over the sea as we walked back to the visitor centre. I tried to photograph it, but it’s never quite the same. To quote a Greenday song, I like to “take the photographs and still frames in (my) mind”.

Kathy x


I propose a birdrace! (Please sing these words along to The Kaiserchiefs “I predict a riot!”)

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 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!

Kathy x