Hot on the heels of last weekend’s popular RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch (don't forget to enter your results!), Friday sees the start of the GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count. It asks farmers to spend half an hour before 19 February counting the birds and submitting the results to bfbc.org.uk. Last year, 1900 farmers participated, recording Blackbird, Woodpigeon and Robin as the three most common species.
I wonder if any farmers on Pen Llŷn will be taking part? My coastal path walk from Aberdaron to Uwchmynydd on Sunday was rich in birdlife. A flock – clattering is the collective noun - of three dozen Choughs made their space-invader calls as they tumbled over the cliffs, which are grazed by a small herd of beef cattle. A little farther on, a Kestrel swept low over a field, scattering a flock of Chaffinches into the hedgerow and spooking 60 Skylarks upward in a cascade of liquid trills. Flocks of Lapwings and Curlews, both Welsh Red-listed birds of conservation concern, foraged in roadside fields. It’s good to see farmers and the National Trust producing good conditions for wintering birds.
Anglesey’s second Surf Scoter and an impressive count of 215 Great Crested Grebes were off Benllech at the weekend. The duck was probably the one recently off Llanddulas, where a dozen Velvet Scoters were seen on Friday. Black-throated Divers were off Moelfre and Pontllyfni, Ring-necked Ducks remain at Cefni Reservoir and Llyn Tegid, a Snow Bunting at Kinmel Bay and a Little Gull was off Llandanwg. Up to 2000 Pink-footed Geese were at Towyn, surely the largest flock in the area since the fields were drained for agricultural improvement. In Flintshire, a Yellow-browed Warbler was found at Basingwerk Abbey and a flock of over 6000 Common Gulls at Gronant included birds colour-ringed in Estonia, Poland, Germany and Norway.
The monthly Wetland Bird Survey takes me to the Conwy estuary, and my January visit generally sees the highest numbers of waterbirds. Well over 1000 Dunlin huddled on the rocky groynes and hundreds of Turnstones and Oystercatchers aggregated above high water. It’s the month when I see the greatest number of Common Gulls, which winter in North Wales from their breeding homes in Scandinavia. My counts are small compared to the Flintshire coast, where more than 4000 Common Gulls are between Gronant and Talacre, some with coloured leg-rings that shows their Norwegian origin. Smaller than a Herring Gull, with green-yellow legs and a bill with a thick black band, it’s not well named in English as it’s less common than our other regular gulls at most times of year.
Also off our coast is a Surf Scoter at Llanddulas, Slavonian Grebe off Beaumaris, Velvet Scoter off Criccieth, Black-necked Grebe and Long-tailed Duck at Borth-y-Gest, and another two Long-tailed Ducks off Benllech. A Ring-necked Duck from North America is on Cefni Reservoir, European White-fronted Goose on the Afon Glaslyn at Porthmadog, Black Redstart at Kinmel Bay, and several Twite and a Siberian Chiffchaff are at Gronant.
Next weekend is the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, the UK’s biggest citizen science event of the year. I remember taking part as an eight-year old in the 1970s and it’s great to see multiple generations participating. You don’t have to feed birds to take part, or even to have a garden. Visit your local park for an hour instead. If you provide food and water, give the feeders and bath a good clean this week, air-dry thoroughly, and fill with seeds and water. Watch for one hour next weekend and visit rspb.org.uk/birdwatch to send in your results. Remember, the zeros or low counts are just as important as big counts!
The winners of the Welsh Ornithological Society photographic competition for 2022, announced last week, showcased a healthy crop of talent across Wales. Bangor University student Sophie Dorman was highly commended for her Snow Bunting image and runner-up in the Young Photographer category for her shot of an Osprey carrying a fish, both taken in North Wales. Third place overall went to Robin Sandham from Conwy for his Arctic Tern composition, while the winner was a fantastic interaction between a Jay and Great Spotted Woodpecker, by Linda Yeardley-Williams from Presteigne. To see more of the winners and shortlisted finalists, see the montage below and visit the WOS website.
Each morning’s additional two minutes of daylight encourages Robins and Song Thrushes to claim their territory with song. More signs of the breeding season were Fulmars sitting tight on cliff ledges and a very early Manx Shearwater off North Stack last Friday when most of its brethren will still be in the South Atlantic.
Slavonian Grebes are scarce, annual visitors to our coasts, but inland records are unusual, so one on Llyn Aled Isaf, the reservoir high in Mynydd Hiraethog, on Saturday was a surprise. Others were at Llandanwg, Beddmanarch Bay and Borth-y-Gest, at the latter with two Great Northern Divers. Another Great Northern Diver is far from the sea on Llyn Tegid, while a Surf Scoter is off Llanddulas and a Sooty Shearwater was reported off Porth Oer.
Ten European White-fronted Geese are near Holt in the Dee Valley, while another flock of Whitefronts are in Anglesey’s Cefni Valley, with 60 Pink-footed Geese at RSPB Cors Ddyga. It seems that Pinkfeet have spread around the Irish Sea this winter, with a flock on the Isle of Man also unusual. A single Snow Bunting forages among pebbles at Kinmel Bay’s Horton’s Nose, while two Long-tailed Ducks fed in the nearby Clwyd estuary south of Rhyl on Sunday and a Water Pipit is at Point of Ayr.
A selection of winners of the Welsh Ornithological Society 2022 photo competition (click to enlarge)
Call to count Woodcocks
The British Trust for Ornithology and Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust are calling for volunteers to survey Woodcocks this spring. Males conduct a distinctive ‘roding’ display flight to attract a mate, and finding these is the best way to monitor breeding populations of a woodland wader that is superbly camouflaged on the ground. The Welsh population declined by almost 50% in the decade to 2013, so this is an important opportunity to understand what has happened recently. There are several dozen 1-km squares to cover in North Wales, each of which needs three visits in May and June – full details on the BTO website.
A flock of Twite is at Connah’s Quay nature reserve, although numbers are far smaller than used to winter on the Dee, reflecting the fall in breeding population across Britain. Despite windy conditions at the weekend, Firecrests were seen at Borth-y-Gest, Penrhyn Castle, Colwyn Bay rugby club and RSPB Conwy, where a Scaup, Spotted Redshank and Jack Snipe are on the lagoons.
Among Common Scoters off Llanddulas are a Surf Scoter, Velvet Scoter and Long-tailed Ducks, while another Velvet Scoter and two Little Gulls were off Criccieth and a Little Gull at Aberdaron at the weekend. A Snow Bunting remains on the beach at Kinmel Bay, with a Black Redstart there last week and two more at Amlwch Port.
In the Glaslyn Valley, a Greenland White-fronted Goose is with the flock of over 50 Whooper Swans near Garreg. A flock of Pink-footed Geese remains in the Cefni Valley, with a couple of Whooper Swans at RSPB Cors Ddyga and a Mandarin last week. In mid Wales, a Baikal Teal at Llangorse Lake is potentially the first in Wales, although it will require a close look to see whether it shows any signs of having escaped from a collection.
For a longer read about work by volunteer ringers to understand more about migrating Woodcock, read this Daily Post article from 2016.
The pre-Christmas arrival of Waxwings on the east coast of England, a few of which penetrated as far west as Merseyside and Shropshire, raised hopes of an influx into North Wales. One lucky householder in Mynydd Isa, near Mold, snapped one feeding in her garden last week, but otherwise these winter wonderbirds have steered clear. However, birdwatchers keen to see new birds in 2023 made a good start to the year elsewhere.
On Anglesey, a Grey Phalarope saw in 2023 in Trearddur Bay, a Cattle Egret was found near Llanfwrog, north of Valley, and a couple of Scaup were on the Inland Sea. A flock of Pink-footed Geese roam the island, the most recent sightings at RSPB Cors Ddyga and Traeth Dulas, with several hundred more heading west along the North Wales coast. Meanwhile, thousands of Guillemots made a pre-season visit to check out the cliffs around Puffin Island.
A Hawfinch and Firecrest were in Llandudno Junction’s Marl Woods, another Hawfinch at Llandrillo, in Y Berwyn and several more along the river in Llanrwst. Downstream, a couple of Great White Egrets are in flooded fields at Maenan Abbey.
A ringtail Hen Harrier quartered over reedbeds in the Conwy Valley this week, with others at Mynydd Bodafon and RSPB Cors Ddyga, which also hunt at the mouth of the Cefni estuary. Another is in the Glaslyn Valley, where over 40 Whooper Swans and a Greenland White-fronted Goose graze near Garreg. Smaller groups of Whoopers are near Llyn Alaw and at RSPB Cors Ddyga.
Three Long-tailed Ducks are off Benllech and another, more unusually, on the river Clwyd south of Rhyl, with an impressive count of 28 Goosanders on the nearby Brickfield Pond. A Black Redstart watched over shoppers in Llandudno’s Upper Mostyn Street at the weekend, and others were spotted at Tywyn, Kinmel Bay, Hawarden, Rhoscolyn, Amlwch and South Stack. Twite and a couple of Water Pipits are on Gronant beach, with more pipits and a Mandarin Duck at RSPB Cors Ddyga on Monday.
Three Slavonian Grebes are in the Menai Strait off Aber Ogwen and a Caspian Gull roosted at Gresford Flash. In north Cardigan Bay, a Black-necked and two Slavonian Grebes were with a Great Northern Diver off Borth-y-Gest, and a Velvet Scoter and Long-tailed Duck remain off Criccieth.
2022 may be over, but Anglesey enthusiasts can already read about the birding highlights in the Anglesey Bird News annual report, online here with suggested donations to the North Wales Wildlife Trust’s Cemlyn Wardens appeal.
In case you missed it, here’s another take on the recently published Birds of Conservation Concern Wales, and why 2023 will be a critical year for policies to reverse the declines.
A weekly update of bird sightings and news from North Wales.