It looks set to be the biggest winter for Waxwings in Wales for seven years, as more flocks of the Starling-size songbirds were spotted across the region. Near Colwyn Bay, last week’s small flock at Llysfaen grew each day and topped out at 55 on Sunday. Originating from Scandinavia, their trilling call has also been heard around berry-laden trees in Colwyn Bay, Llanddulas, Gronant, Bethesda, between Ruabon and Chirk, and at Hope, near Wrexham. More flocks are in north Powys. With plenty of Hawthorn berries still in the hedgerows, there is every chance of greater numbers visiting North Wales.
An impressive nine Long-tailed Ducks were with a Velvet Scoter off Black Rock Sands at the weekend, and another Long-tailed Duck was with Slavonian Grebes and a Black-necked Grebe off Harlech. The northern end of Cardigan Bay can be an excellent place to see wintering seaducks and grebes, but it is underwatched compared to the north-facing coasts of Wales. A Black-throated Diver was off Llandudno’s North Shore and four Velvet Scoters off Llanddulas.
Spotted Redshanks, a Siberian Chiffchaff and a Jack Snipe were at RSPB Conwy on Sunday. Four Cattle Egrets fed near Llanfwrog, north of Valley, and another is on fields near Pwllheli golf course. A Little Gull dropped into RSPB Cors Ddyga briefly on Monday.
A consultation on lead ammunition closes on 10 December; conservation and shooting organisations are encouraging people to get involved. The Health & Safety Executive is seeking views on ending the use of lead shot, bullets and airgun pellets, which are toxic to birds that ingest the tiny fragments. Hunting groups have called for an end to use of lead shot by 2025, but an assessment by Cambridge University earlier this year reported that a voluntary approach had “little impact” among Pheasant shooters.
The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust and the RSPB have campaigned for an end to lead in all ammunition (not only shot) for many years, and are encouraging participation in this consultation. Both organisations have set out their views and provided details of how to respond – see WWT website and RSPB website.
Unusual plumage caused by abnormal feather pigmentation can catch out the unwary, even of very familiar species. Anglesey reader Annwen Hughes has received regular garden visits from this Blue Tit with a white head and pale yellow body. The condition is known as leucism, where the cells responsible for the production of melanin are absent, so the bird lacks its darker patterns but the yellow carotenoids are unaffected. It is sometimes stated that leucistic birds are more vulnerable to predators, although evidence is hard to find except in nocturnal species that rely on cryptic plumage to hunt after dark. The British Trust for Ornithology runs a long-running survey of birds with abnormal plumage. If you see, and ideally photograph, one please participate at surveymonkey.com/r/plumagesurvey.
Waxwings have finally made it into Wales from the northeast, with seven at Llysfaen on Monday, and two at Hawarden and a flock of 17 at Cilcain on Sunday.
A Glossy Ibis is feeding between Abererch and Pwllheli and Snow Buntings near Llanbedrog and on the Great Orme. Four Slavonian Grebes were off Aber Ogwen, two in Beddmanarch Bay and one off Llanddulas, with Long-tailed Ducks there, at Benllech and Glan-y-Môr Elias. Strong winds last week pushed late Sooty Shearwaters inshore past Cemlyn and Point Lynas, and five Great Northern Divers and a Little Gull off Rhos Point.
Two Cattle Egrets were reported on Rhyl’s Marine Lake and two Black Redstarts in Fairbourne. A couple of Hawfinches and a Firecrest were behind Bangor Cathedral last week, with another Firecrest in the St Mary’s Village part of the city. A Great Grey Shrike was near Pentrellyncymmer, below Llyn Brenig, for a couple of days.
Whooper Swan flocks have increased in the colder weather, with 56 upriver from Porthmadog and 15 at RSPB Cors Ddyga, where a late Swallow was seen on Sunday along with a Merlin and Water Pipits; four Cattle Egrets and a Siberian Chiffchaff were on the reserve last week.
Although I have neither the patience nor skill to ring birds, I’m always fascinated by the discoveries that ornithologists make by attaching alloy rings to the legs of birds. My minor contribution is reading colour rings and flags on legs of waterbirds, such as a Curlew I saw recently near Llanfairfechan that had been ringed at RSPB Snettisham, in Norfolk, earlier in the autumn.
The 2022 Ringing Report by the British Trust for Ornithology includes three birds in Wales that are now the oldest in the British and Irish ringing scheme. A House Sparrow in Gwent was recorded in the same village more than 13 years after being ringed there as a nestling in 2008, and Kittiwake returned to Skomer where it was ringed in 1991. On Anglesey, a male Chough was seen 24 years after being ringed as a chick on the island in 1998, and the ringer reports that he’s nested again in 2023. That beats a record set by a Ceredigion bird in 2019 and becomes the oldest passerine (a perching bird) in the BTO database. Indeed, it is the oldest known Chough in Europe, and maybe the oldest passerine in any European ringing scheme.
Meanwhile, a Guillemot on Ynys Gwylan-fawr, off Aberdaron, had been ringed there as a chick 35 years previously, although it needs to be seen again after 2028 to become the oldest on the BTO’s database.
The report also documents movements, some global but others of birds we consider more sedentary. A Collared Dove ringed in Norfolk in 2016 was found in a Bagillt garden; a Barn Owl ringed in Northumberland in 2014 was found near Rhuthun; and a Nightjar that hatched in Denmark in 2021 was in Clocaenog Forest a year later. Most intriguing was a ring found in a bag of compost bought in Aberystwyth that had been attached to a Curlew chick in central Scotland in 2010…
You’ll be able to read more in the Ringing and Nest-recording Report by Lee Barber in the Welsh Bird Report 2022, to be published soon by the Welsh Ornithological Society. And if you find a bird with a ring, please report it to ring.ac and contribute to science.
This week saw a flock of Greenland White-fronted Geese return to the Cefni Valley, where four Cattle Egrets remain at RSPB Cors Ddyga, and 37 Whooper Swans are on Glaslyn Marshes. A Snow Bunting was unusual inland in Penllyn Forest, above Llyn Tegid, which hosted a Common Scoter last week. A Grey Phalarope and Firecrest were reported at Morfa Madryn nature reserve, with Firecrests also at Bangor Cathedral and at Moelfre. Fifteen Jack Snipe were with 250 Snipe at Traeth Coch, and a Long-tailed Duck off Benllech.
Updated on 22 November to include information from Tony Cross that the Chough in the story is the oldest passerine in the BTO ringing database, and may be the oldest ringed passerine in Europe.
Results from a mammoth survey of almost 15,000 seabird colonies is published today, following seven years of fieldwork by more than 850 people. It’s an amazing feat to survey millions of birds on the remotest islands and islets across Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man and Channel Islands, which are collectively of international importance for many species. It would have made for grim reading even before bird ‘flu hit several species in the years since fieldwork finished, as it shows that 11 of 21 species have declined and populations of only four have increased by more than a few per cent.
Climate change, predation and depleted fish stocks have all played a part, with declines most acute in Scotland, the most important part of the archipelago for seabirds. The results for Wales also show serious declines for species such as Cormorant, Kittiwake, Shag and Fulmar.
Wales now holds a greater share of the UK’s Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins, and especially Little Terns and Arctic Terns, which have benefited from intensive conservation efforts in North Wales. However, some of Wales’ increased importance may result from crashes elsewhere in the UK, and the small number of colonies here highlights that their eggs are in a few vulnerable baskets. I look forward to diving into the book Seabirds Count and, given the significance of its contents, I’m sure this is a topic to which I will return…
This week’s bird sightings include nine Cattle Egrets and a couple of Water Pipits at RSPB Cors Ddyga, Hawfinches around Llanrwst church and a Yellow-browed Warbler that made a short stop at Rhyl’s Brickfield Pond. Over-running summer migrants were a Hoopoe at Rhoshirwaun, Ring Ouzel with Fieldfares near Bryn y Maen and Arctic Tern off Moelfre. Long-tailed Ducks are on Llyn Maelog and off Benllech, and Slavonian Grebes on the Inland Sea and Menai Strait. Black Redstarts were spotted in Bangor and Porthmadog, and Snow Buntings at Holyhead, South Stack, Great Orme and Point Lynas.
Choughs, the red-billed crow with a distinctive ringing call, is very much associated with Wales; the country held around 80% of the UK population at the last count. However, a new study shows that the population in North and Mid Wales is not as healthy as expected. Using data from 25 years of nest monitoring by Adrienne Stratford and Tony Cross, the paper published in the journal Bird Study found that the proportion of territories occupied each year at inland sites has fallen by more than two-thirds and that nesting success fell by one-third. Breeding metrics have fallen at coastal sites too, although less dramatically.
RSPB Cymru has warned that this could lead to local extinctions and has called for targeted options to enable livestock farmers to provide the grazing that Choughs need. The birds have already gone from inland sites in much of Wales, and there are fears that they could be lost in Eryri National Park away from the coast. In the 19th century, Choughs were a common sight in the slate quarries across the region. You can read more about what Choughs need in this Daily Post article from 2019.
A Pallas’s Warbler was a good find at Talacre last week, a quarter-ounce songbird that has travelled here from the mountain forests of northern Mongolia. An American Wigeon at RSPB Cors Ddyga is the first in North Wales since 2007 and showed pale cheeks indicative of a rare form that US hunters call ‘Storm Wigeon’.
Flooded fields attracted a Glossy Ibis to Valley and two to Llanengan, near Abersoch, which may have been the duo over Aberystwyth on Sunday. Elsewhere, two Black Redstarts were at Amlwch, a Firecrest at Glanwydden, Garganey at Cors Ddyga and Snow Bunting at Holyhead breakwater. A Ring Ouzel remains on Holyhead Mountain, Slavonian Grebes have returned to the Inland Sea and several Great Northern Divers are off Cemlyn.
Two Waxwings dropped in briefly on Sunday to Llaneilian, the first village on Anglesey for birds arriving from the northeast. It’s been seven winters since there were last good numbers of this noisy, punkish songbird from northern Europe, but with numbers in Scotland already, perhaps more will arrive in the coming weeks. There’s certainly no shortage of berries to feed them, following the spectacular Hawthorn blossoms last spring. Listen out for their excited, high-pitched trill, especially around supermarket car parks planted with Rowan trees.
A dozen Twite are on the shingle shore at Gronant, perhaps freshly arrived from the Western Isles of Scotland and set to head up the Dee estuary to their regular wintering area at Connah’s Quay nature reserve. Three Woodlarks were a great find at Morfa Nefyn on Monday and a Black Redstart was by the halfway tram station on the Great Orme. Yellow-browed Warblers were at Talacre and Porth Meudwy, a Firecrest was ringed on the Orme last week, and a Ring Ouzel remained at Holyhead’s Breakwater Country Park on Monday. A Surf Scoter and half a dozen Velvet Scoters were among the growing flock of Common Scoters on calm seas off Llanddulas, and a Slavonian Grebe was in Bangor harbour last week.
Several Cattle Egrets remained in the region on Monday, with four on Anglesey’s Alaw estuary, three by the Cefni upstream from Malltraeth and one by the sluice at Porthmadog. Late Garganeys are at Connah’s Quay nature reserve and RSPB Conwy, where a couple of Spotted Redshanks remain. Two Glossy Ibises flew south over Bardsey last Friday, just before Bird Observatory staff departed the island for the season. Short-eared Owls are arriving from the north and can turn up anywhere: Lleweni, Aber and Holyhead are among the sightings in recent days.
News that bird flu has reached the Antarctic region, with confirmed cases in Brown Skuas on South Georgia, has elevated fears of the impact if the virus spreads, including to albatrosses and penguins already under pressure from long-line fishing and a rapidly changing climate.
Cattle Egrets were, until fairly recently, a bird seen during Mediterranean or African holidays, small groups of the yellow-billed herons foraging around cattle, buffalos or other grazing animals. Prior to 2000, only four had been recorded in North Wales, and there were only another half dozen in the next 15 years. Christmas 2016 saw the first flock in the region, in the Cefni Valley, and the following spring the species bred just over the border, in the Wirral part of RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands, then the most northerly nest in the World.
Now roosts of more than 200 Cattle Egrets occur in Somerset, the county which holds the bulk of the UK breeding population. Up to 40 were in North Wales last week, including two different flocks of 14 at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands and RSPB Cors Ddyga, the largest ever recorded in the region. Four were seen from Porthmadog Cob, three at Valley, two near Uwchmynydd and singles at Pennal, Pontllyfni, RSPB Conwy, Holyhead and south of Rhyl.
Long-tailed Ducks are feeding on Llyn Maelog and RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands’ Border Pool. Lapland Buntings were on Bardsey, at Talacre, and at RSPB Conwy, along with six Great White Egrets and a Garganey. Sunday saw Snow Buntings near Pontllyfni, a Great Grey Shrike and Short-eared Owl on the Great Orme and the second Barred Warbler of the autumn on Holy Island. A late Osprey flew inland from Caernarfon and two Twite were among migrants logged at RSPB South Stack.
In tough times for breeding seabirds, a welcome announcement was that a new Sandwich Tern colony has become established on Anglesey’s Inland Sea, where 118 pairs fledged 71 young. Common and Arctic Terns, and Black-headed Gulls also nested at the site, which was wardened by RSPB Cymru. It is the first time since the mid-1980s that there have been two Welsh colonies of Sandwich Terns. The other colony, at Cemlyn, was – like many sites - hit by bird flu this year.
It is not just the weather that is feeling more wintry. Most of our summer migrants have left the country, so it was nice to see a few Wheatears on the Great Orme on Monday, and a White Wagtail that had arrived from Iceland. It’s been a chilly start for a brood of young Swallows that fledged late last week on Anglesey and while most Chiffchaffs have gone, a few will remain through the winter. The first flocks of Whooper Swans were over Bangor and at RSPB Point of Ayr, Cors Ddyga and the Cefni estuary, and Golden Plovers are arriving on Mynydd Hiraethog. Small numbers of Chaffinch and Goldcrests are moving along the coast.
At least five Yellow-browed Warblers were found on Bardsey last week, and two more were on Holy Island. I remember seeing my first, on the Great Orme, in 1988 when they were genuinely rare. The species underwent a transformation in its status during the last decade, becoming a scarce but expected passage migrant each autumn. It seems that these are no longer lost vagrants but small numbers journey between Siberia and southwest Europe, a shorter distance than their usual winter haunts in southeast Asia. North Sea coasts welcome the majority of European records, but some make it to North Wales in most years. And with many miles of suitable scrubby habitat along the coastline, who knows how many pass un-noticed?
Bardsey Bird Observatory also recorded a Common Rosefinch last week, while a Barred Warbler was a good find on Holyhead Mountain. A Hen Harrier on the Great Orme, and Merlin and Short-eared Owl at Point of Ayr are migrants from hilly areas. Two more Cattle Egrets have joined the flock at RSPB Cors Ddyga, that now totals five birds and look very much at home among cattle grazing the nature reserve.
I’m looking forward to speaking at the Welsh Ornithological Society’s conference at Aberystwyth University on 4 November, and hope to meet birdwatchers from across North Wales. Also speaking on the theme of ‘’Into and Out of the Red – creating a brighter future for birds in Wales” will be WOS President, Iolo Williams, the BTO’s Rachel Taylor, NRW’s Patrick Lindley, Rare Breeding Bird Panel chair Dawn Balmer, and Bob Haycock from the Pembrokeshire Bird Group. You may just get one of the last few tickets on the WOS website.
From the east, large numbers of Fieldfares came to Bala and more than 200 were at Moel Arthur in the Clwydian Hills at the weekend. A few Redwings are already as far west as Bardsey. They’ll find plenty to eat, with Hawthorns and Rowan laden with bright red berries this autumn. Keen ears picked up the calls of Common Scoters west over Penrhyn Bay at night, which will probably have travelled here from farther east, as far away as northern Siberia. These all-black ducks will be in Liverpool Bay until next March, joining many tens of thousands wintering here.
Flooding at RSPB Cors Ddyga has attracted large numbers of waterbirds to the Cefni Valley. A Red-necked Phalarope was the rarest visitor, but also present are a Wood Sandpiper, Garganey, Mandarin Duck, a trio of Cattle Egrets among the grazing cows, and at least four Great White Egrets. Two Spoonbills are on Anglesey’s Inland Sea, a Glossy Ibis was south of Aberdysynni last week and a Little Gull flew past Bangor Pier on Monday. Grey Phalaropes are on a flooded field at Valley and at Glan-y-mor Elias, west of Llanfairfechan, and another Garganey is at RSPB Conwy. A Hoopoe was a surprise find in a Rhoshirwaun garden and the first Black Redstart of autumn is on Bardsey. Most of our summer warblers have departed, but a Garden Warbler was on the Great Orme on Monday.
The Curlew LIFE project reported on the third breeding season of the four-year project working with farmers and landowners, including the National Trust, in Ysbyty Ifan and Hiraethog. A team of 30 volunteers helped to find 49 territories in the project area and monitored 28 nests and broods. Temporary fencing around nests resulted in successful hatching of many nests, and at least 11 chicks fledged. Data from lightweight radio-tags is being analysed to understand the loss of other chicks in order to steer future management. More details are on the project’s blog.
Last week’s Storm Agnes deposited several phalaropes around North Wales. Globally, there are three members of this family of slim-necked waders, two of which breed in the high Arctic. Unlike other shorebirds that winter along the coast, phalaropes behave more like a seabird, spending their non-breeding season far out in tropical oceans. A Red-necked Phalarope is at RSPB Cors Ddyga, while Grey Phalaropes were on flooded fields at Valley and Dinas Dinlle over the weekend, with others at Criccieth (including one walking down the promenade!), Porthmadog, Porth Oer and Morfa Madryn, near Llanfairfechan. Three more were on Penrhos floods near Llanbedrog, with a Pectoral Sandpiper and Little Stint also there last week. The storm also claimed a Leach’s Petrel, which apparently hit the windows at Pontio in Bangor.
Bardsey had its third Black-and-White Warbler in a week, all three of which were ringed at the Bird Observatory, the only individuals of this North American species ever to be ringed in Europe. More trans-Atlantic vagrants were seen in Britain last week, including a probable Tufted Puffin reported off Porth Oer, and a Monarch butterfly at Rhoscolyn may have made the same crossing. A Wryneck was also found nearby.
Both RSPB Conwy and Cors Ddyga nature reserves hosted Garganey and Cattle Egrets, with three of the white herons in the Cefni Valley and one at Conwy being the first ever at the site. Seven Curlew Sandpipers were at Cors Ddyga, with others at Morfa Madryn, Beddmanarch Bay and the Clwyd estuary, and two Dotterels were in fields near Fort Belan on Friday. Anglesey’s first ever Red-throated Pipit was identified from a sound-recording made at RSPB South Stack on Sunday. Also from the east was a Red-flanked Bluetail in Dyfnant Forest, just south of Lake Vyrnwy. Thousands of Swallows streamed through coastal sites on Monday.
A weekly update of bird sightings and news from North Wales, published in The Daily Post every Thursday.