‘Tea-cher, tea-cher’ was the strident call on Monday morning, not only from primary pupils returning to school after lockdown, but from Great Tits in my local wood, where a Great Spotted Woodpecker has resumed loud drumming on a hollow tree. This week’s burst of spring-like weather brought out the first butterflies and hoverflies and encouraged more birds into song, and even nest-building. Last week saw the first Wheatear and Sand Martins make landfall in South Wales, and in recent days there has been a Garganey in Cheshire and Swallows in southwest England.
Southerly winds mean that one or two should make it to North Wales this week, but for now a few overwintering ‘summer’ migrants have stirred: Blackcaps were singing at Llanfair PG and Wrexham, Chiffchaff at Amlwch Port and a Common Sandpiper remains on Church Island in the Menai Strait. Several Chiffchaffs have wintered near Penrhyn Bay, including at least one of Siberian origin. Increasing numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, many of which will have wintered in Iberia, are another sign that spring beckons.
Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were on the move over the Little Orme at the weekend, but otherwise the region’s sightings retain a wintry feel: Iceland Gull and Scaup on Rhyl’s Brickfields Pond, Long-tailed Duck in Beddmanarch Bay, Snow Buntings on the Great Orme and at Kinmel Bay. The overwintering Rose-coloured Starling is at Amlwch Port, Firecrest in Gloddaeth Woods and nine Great Northern Divers were in Caernarfon Bay, with another off the Great Orme.
Great White Egrets are on the Afon Glaslyn at Pont Croesor, on the Clwyd floods by the A55 near St Asaph and on the River Dee at Shotton. A Cattle Egret remains near Valley, six Pintails are at Llay Pool and a Marsh Tit reported in Bangor was a rare westerly record. A flock of 90 Choughs near Aberdaron was encouraging to see after the recent ice and snow.
Photographer and sound-recordist Ben Porter has produced a wonderful seasonal audio-visual journey through the nature and landscape of Pen Llŷn as part of the LIVE collaboration between communities on the Iveragh Peninsula in southwest Ireland and the Llŷn Peninsula. If you fancy an escape during lockdown, I strongly recommend five minutes immersing yourself in it!
A Hen Harrier that hatched in Snowdonia in 2019 and returned here to nest last year, is spending her second successive winter in the Navarra region of northern Spain. Nicknamed ‘Bomber’ (as her leg-ring was inscribed ‘B2’), she is part of an RSPB scheme that uses GPS satellite tags to track the birds’ movements. This has found around 10% of British-bred harriers migrate across the Channel in winter. A previous study by Natural England shows that Hen Harriers are ten times more likely to die or disappear on moorland managed for grouse-shooting than other land-uses.
Bomber’s return to the same Spanish valley, after flying over 1000 miles in just two weeks, has coincided with heavy snowfall and the lowest temperatures for 20 years. Last year, she didn’t return to Wales until May, so the team will be watching the data closely to see when she begins her journey north this spring.
There's more about Bomber, and the equally surprising travels of 'Apollo' from Lancashire's Forest of Bowland on the RSPB blog.
Technology has also been deployed by the BTO on Greenland White-fronted Geese wintering on Anglesey. Several have been fitted with GPS tags that send data to local base-stations, enabling their use of the island’s wetlands to be studied. Local birdwatchers have been asked to report any sightings of neck-collared geese via greenlandwhitefront.org.
Last week’s cold weather brought an increase in Woodcock sightings, including several in gardens. Snow Buntings remained at Holyhead’s Soldier’s Point, Kinmel Bay and the Great Orme, Black Redstarts at Amlwch and Beaumaris, and Water Pipit and Firecrest near Glanwydden. Great Northern Divers were on Llyn Tegid and off the Little Orme, and Amlwch Port’s Rose-coloured Starling was resighted after a week’s absence. A Cattle Egret remains on a flooded field near Valley. As the weather warmed on Monday, a Peregrine took a surprise mid-afternoon meal over Llandudno when a bat woke early from hibernation.
Freezing winds and widespread snow are expected to push birds eastward into Wales this week. Hundreds of Woodcocks were found in Yorkshire and Northumberland on Sunday ahead of the cold conditions, including many washed up dead on the tideline. Many have evacuated Norway, with large numbers reported to have died along the coast at Stavanger, and doubtless others will have perished on the journey across the North Sea. The harsh weather will add stress to some birds that are already struggling as a result of avian influenza. Wading birds have been found dead in the Waddensee, Europe’s largest wetland, and authorities have confirmed the disease caused the death of 750 Great White and Pink-backed Pelicans at a nesting colony in Senegal.
On a walk from home on Sunday, it was evident that Redwing numbers had increased overnight, with birds feeding among the woodland leaf-litter, which has not yet frozen. A Firecrest dropped onto a bare branch at eye-level, although this one has been in Gloddaeth Woods above Penrhyn Bay all winter. Look out for Bramblings and Blackcaps at garden feeders this week, and keep water unfrozen if you can.
Snow Buntings are on the Great Orme and at Holyhead’s Soldier’s Point, and Water Pipits at Glanwydden and Llandudno’s West Shore. A Cattle Egret and Green Sandpiper remain on a flooded field north of Valley on Anglesey and other long-stayers include two Black Redstarts at Amlwch, Iceland Gull and Scaup at Rhyl’s Brickfield Pond, and a Long-tailed Duck in Foryd Bay.
A Tundra Bean Goose was feeding among Pink-footed Geese at Ridleywood in the Dee Valley on Monday, and in recent days there has been a small flock of Pale-bellied Brent Geese on the Clwyd estuary, two Great White Egrets in the Cefni Valley and over 20 Velvet Scoters off Shell Island, near Llanbedr.
Garden birds were the centre of attention for last weekend’s Big Garden Birdwatch, with the RSPB reminding participants to submit sightings via its website. Among the more unusual visitors overwintering in north Anglesey are a probable Siberian Lesser Whitethroat at Carreglefn and a Rose-coloured Starling in Amlwch Port.
Many people have reported Blackcaps, visitors from mainland Europe, in gardens in recent weeks. Bangor University student Toby Carter collated records from Daily Post readers and reports on social media during January. He received sightings of 263 birds in 158 gardens across North Wales. Most were along the coast, with concentrations around Colwyn Bay, Llandudno, Bangor and Menai Bridge, whereas only a handful was reported on Llŷn and around Cardigan Bay. Not surprisingly, there were none in the mountains, but there were some inland, as far south as Corwen.
Two Black Redstarts remain at Amlwch, with others in Beaumaris, near Llanfairfechan and at the tax office demolition site in Porthmadog. A Long-tailed Duck and four Slavonian Grebes were on Anglesey’s Inland Sea, with another four of the grebes north of the A55 in Beddmanarch Bay and two off Aber Ogwen. Three Snow Buntings are on the Great Orme, two remain on Holyhead breakwater and two returned to Horton’s Nose, Kinmel Bay, after a break of several weeks. An Iceland Gull and Scaup remain at Rhyl’s Brickfields Pond, a Little Gull was reported off Rhos Point and more than 30 Twite feed in saltmarsh off Flint Castle.
A flooded field near Gronant held 550 Black-tailed Godwits, an impressive count for North Wales, and presumably part of the flock of over 7,000 that feeds on the Dee estuary. Another flock of 58 was in Bangor harbour, where 53 Goldeneyes were counted at the weekend. Great White Egrets are off Porthmadog Cob and near Llyn Alaw.