Colour-ringing, the practice of attaching lightweight plastic markers to the legs of birds, has its critics. Seeing birds with a colour ring makes some people feel that birds are ‘de-wilded,’ an illustration of human intervention. I’m not a bird-ringer, but when it’s done for the purpose of gaining new knowledge and especially to contribute to their conservation, I see its real value. Because it can be seen with optical equipment, the reporting rate is far higher than standard rings, which are only found when caught by another ringer or after the bird is dead. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve found Black-headed Gulls in North Wales that hatched in Poland and Nottinghamshire, illustrating the wide area from which birds visit our coast. Our understanding of places used by foraging Choughs is greatly enhanced by a long-running project in North Wales.
Most Ospreys hatched in Wales are colour-ringed, and this week Dan Brown - originally from Bangor and leading a wildlife tour in Scotland - photographed an Osprey at RSPB Loch Gruinart on Islay in the Hebrides. It had hatched beside the Afon Glaslyn in 2017, but this was the first sighting of ‘Z8’ since it departed on its first migration five years ago. It probably stayed in West Africa for a couple of years, so where is it heading to breed? This year’s Osprey nest at Glaslyn has two eggs, while the nest at Cors Dyfi already has three, and the first was laid at Llyn Brenig on Monday. Passage Ospreys have been over Belgrano, Gronant, Mochdre, Penrhynside, Malltraeth and Holyhead in the last week.
On my visits to Pen Llŷn and the Great Orme over the weekend, dozens of Greenland Wheatears paused on migration before the final leg of their journey north. But my counts were small compared to more than 200 on Bardsey on Sunday. Whinchats were at several coastal watchpoints on Monday, while other migrants included a Dotterel at RSPB South Stack, Little Gulls at Connah’s Quay and off the Great Orme, and a Curlew Sandpiper on the Alaw estuary. An Egyptian Goose that was briefly on the Conwy estuary, and an unusual bird in North Wales despite breeding widely across central England, has relocated to RSPB Cors Ddyga. A Hawfinch on a feeder near Denbigh is a superb garden record.
Many people are wondering where the Swallows are, with far fewer reported than is usual at the end of April. Unsettled weather in central and southern Europe may be responsible, so let’s hope for a change over the weekend.
This Thursday is World Curlew Day, the annual celebration of the eight species of curlew found worldwide. Two of the eight are almost certainly extinct, one is listed as Endangered and two more are Near Threatened, which means the outlook is not bright. The last category includes Eurasian Curlew, of which 400-600 pairs nest in Wales but are at risk of extinction here by 2033 without urgent action.
Musician Merlyn Driver has travelled across the UK to produce a double album from various artists inspired by, and including, Curlews. Merlyn visited Mynydd Hiraethog and the National Trust’s Ysbyty Ifan last summer to record the birds on their moorland breeding grounds. The first track, Simmerdim, was released this week, with profits going to the RSPB’s Curlew conservation work. Fans are hoping that with enough downloads, Curlews could make it into the charts.
Organisations involved with Curlew conservation are asking for readers’ help monitoring breeding birds across Wales this spring. Partners in Gylfinir Cymru, which includes the Farmers’ Union of Wales, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, RSPB and BTO Cymru, have joined forces with Local Environmental Records Centres Wales so that anyone can report suspected territorial pairs. You can report sightings away from the coast at bit.ly/curlewcymru (neu bit.ly/gylfinircymru yn Gymraeg). BBC Radio Wales is marking World Curlew Day with a special edition of Country Focus devoted to the people who are helping to save the species from extinction in Wales.
One member of the family not currently at risk of global extinction is Whimbrel, and it was good to hear its seven short whistles on the Conwy and Anglesey at the weekend. Spring passage was boosted by improved weather: Wheatears flooded in from Wednesday and the sky was full of Swallows at Carmel Head on Monday. Star bird was a Black-winged Stilt that dropped into RSPB Cors Ddyga briefly on Sunday before flying to Lancashire, while a Dotterel at Llanfwrog was a good find on Monday. A Hoopoe was reported at Penmon, the first Wood Warbler of the year on the Great Orme and Lesser Whitethroat at Amlwch. Cuckoos were seen at several locations last week, and the first Swift of spring in North Wales was at Fairbourne last Thursday.
North Wales Police, along with the three other Welsh forces, launch Operation Seabird Cymru this week, to highlight the impact of disturbance on coastal wildlife from recreational disturbance. It comes after increased reports of incidents, and the police hope that engaging local and visiting coastal users will prevent crimes against birds and mammals taking place.
Officers will patrol key locations and launch points through the summer, starting in Colwyn Bay and Abersoch this Thursday. Operation Seabird highlights problems such as collision of watercraft with whales, dolphins, seals and flightless seabird chicks when they leave their cliff-ledge colonies; noise disturbance by speed boats and jetskis; unleashed dogs chasing birds; and visual disturbance by walkers, paddleboarders and kayakers. The force is urging readers to report disturbance events to the Rural & Wildlife Crime team via 101 or the NWP webchat facility. The initiative coincides with the release of the Wales Coast Explorer smartphone app that includes the Marine Code of Conduct for coastal users.
RSPB Cymru has published the results of January’s Big Garden Birdwatch, in which over 36,000 people participated in Wales. The top five species were identical to 2021: House Sparrow, Starling, Blue Tit, Blackbird and Great Tit, with Goldfinch up two places to eighth and Woodpigeon to 10th. Long-tailed Tit dropped out of the top 10, to number 12 with numbers recorded down by 22% on the previous year. The only species in the top 40 that fell by a greater amount was Coal Tit, down by more than 23% and in 16th place.
The biggest change saw Jay climb from 33rd to 22nd place in the Welsh rankings, no doubt a result of birds dispersing to feed in gardens over winter following a UK-wide shortage of acorns that saw a record movement of Jays from around southern Britain to the Welsh coast.
In North Wales, the results were generally similar to the national picture, but Starling was number one and Chaffinch in fourth place on Anglesey, while in Gwynedd gardens Chaffinch was the third most abundant species and Starling was down in fourth. In Conwy county, Jackdaw was in fifth place, appropriate given that the name is borne by those born within the walls of the historic town. Blue Tit was the second most common species in Denbighshire gardens, after House Sparrow, while in Flintshire, Woodpigeon made the top five. The full results for Wales are on the RSPB website and those for each local authority in North Wales appear in the tables below.
The waiting ended at the region’s Osprey nests, with pairs reunited at Llyn Brenig, Llyn Clywedog and Cors Dyfi. A soap opera is developing at Glaslyn where returning female ‘Mrs G’ has moved to a nearby nest to join Aeron, after waiting a week for her usual mate, Aran, to arrive. Aran returned from Africa on Sunday afternoon, but will Mrs G return to her nest or move in with the younger male…? With live-streaming of the nests, web viewers will be the first to find out.
Continued northerly airflows and unsettled weather in Spain slowed migration last week, but that is set to change with southeasterly winds forecast. The first Redstarts and Pied Flycatchers were reported from Llanberis at the weekend, where a Snow Bunting fed beside Llyn Padarn. Single Snow Buntings were at Bull Bay and Uwchmynydd last week, and a Pied Flycatcher singing in a Queensferry garden was unusual. Willow Warblers, Swallows and House Martins were in several locations at the weekend, and there were good numbers of Sandwich Terns around the Anglesey coast. Two Great White Egrets flew over Bodysgallen on Saturday, a Greenland White-fronted Goose was at Morfa Dinlle, Black Redstart on the Little Orme and Iceland Gull on the Great Orme.
Ring Ouzels are on territory in the Aber Valley and Nant Ffrancon, while four on the Great Orme (with a few Tree Pipits) on Monday and others along the Llŷn coast were stopover migrants. Most remarkable were at least 21 Ring Ouzels at Penycloddiau on Saturday afternoon, and another was seen near Minera.
It seems only a few weeks since I was counting Siskins in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, the results of which are due to be published on Friday. But as the Earth tilts towards the sun, the birds in my garden are ringing the changes. I haven’t seen the overwintering male Blackcap here for a couple of weeks, but today one sang enthusiastically – perhaps the same bird, but more likely a new arrival from Africa as the wintering bird returned to central Europe. A Blackbird is feeding worms to chicks hidden away in next door’s garden, and a smart male Bullfinch is fiercely defending the seed-feeder from Goldfinches and Blue Tits. It's only the second Bullfinch that I've seen here in 15 years, so I hope there may be a pair and that the species is turning the corner after a long decline. I remember when Bullfinches could be killed under a General Licence because of agricultural damage, and the anger in some quarters when they were given improved legal protection...
Home-working over the last two years has really made me appreciate the annual cycle of the garden visitors. The British Trust for Ornithology is still offering free access to its year-round Garden Birdwatch, to which you can contribute valuable data without leaving home.
Northerly winds have put the brakes on the arrival of summer migrants, although Ring Ouzels were at Talacre and World’s End at the weekend. The first Swallow of the year in North Wales (save for one that overwintered on Anglesey until early February) was at RSPB Conwy on 29 March, with others past South Stack and over Rhyl Brickpits the following day. Several Mediterranean Gulls, along with Sandwich Terns, were welcomed to Cemlyn by North Wales Wildlife Trust wardens who have set up the lagoon islands with nesting shelters and an electric fence for the breeding season. Single Ospreys await the return of mates from Africa at nest sites in the Glaslyn Valley and Cors Dyfi, with others seen at Llyn Brenig and over the A55 near Rhosneigr.
Large numbers of Fieldfares were moving east through Mynydd Hiraethog last week, a Snow Bunting was on the Little Orme on Sunday and a Pink-footed Goose on Bardsey was only the tenth island record. Two Velvet Scoters remain among Common Scoters between Penrhyn Bay and Pensarn, and an Iceland Gull at RSPB Conwy was perhaps the bird that overwintered on the Little Orme. Several Green Sandpipers were on Anglesey at the weekend, Black Redstarts at South Stack and Rhoscolyn, and a Garganey at RSPB Cors Ddyga.
A weekly update of bird sightings and news from North Wales.