Sad news from two of Wales’ Osprey nests, just weeks after the outrageous destruction of another Osprey nest at Llyn Brenig. All three chicks died in the nest by the Afon Glaslyn last week, following several days with no food provided by the adult male, which had suffered a wing injury. One of three chicks at Cors Dyfi also died last week, having been accidentally suffocated just hours after hatching.
The history of Ospreys nesting in Wales is one of 451 species documented in a new book, The Birds of Wales, published by the Welsh Ornithological Society and Liverpool University Press next month. As one of the editors, I’ll confess some relief at signing off the final proofs last week, two years and two days after our first meeting to plan the venture. Four of the editors are based in North Wales, as were many of the expert authors of species accounts and photographers whose wonderful images illustrate the book. The front cover and frontispiece paintings are by Anglesey-based artist, Philip Snow.
Wales is significant for its populations of Chough, Hawfinch and Pied Flycatcher, our Manx Shearwaters are of global importance, and the bird observatories on Skokholm and Bardsey have played an important role in the study of migration. Only a quarter of breeding species have experienced an improvement in status since 1900 and one-third of Welsh breeding species are projected to lose some or all of their geographic range here by the end of the century.
The Birds of Wales will cost £45, but you can pre-order it for £25 (plus p&p) until 30 June. Visit liverpooluniversitypress.co.uk/books/id/54476 and use the code WALES50 at the checkout.
It was a quiet week for migrants, but Spoonbills were seen on the Dee Estuary and Anglesey’s Inland Sea, Hooded Crows at RSPB South Stack, Cemlyn Bay and Ynys Llanddwyn, and Great Northern Divers off Cemlyn and Beddmanarch Bay.
This rather odd message buzzed onto my phone on Saturday morning, and it was only when I saw the accompanying photo that it started to make sense. Nightjars are summer migrants, arriving back on heathland and clearfell forestry nesting areas in mid-May, where males display with an eerie ‘churring’ call from dusk. During the day, they sleep on the bough of a tree or fallen trunk, relying on their cryptic, mottled plumage to remain safe.
The Nightjar roosting at RSPB Conwy was just metres away from a busy footpath, but rather than selecting a tree, had chosen the back of a model heron placed in the growing reeds by staff as part of a children’s quiz trail! It was found by visiting birdwatcher Sean McCormack, who shared this video on Twitter, just moments after making the discovery. The Nightjar remained on its chosen roost all day, ignoring the steady stream of admirers who had a rare opportunity to study the bird in detail, right down to its ‘rictal bristles’. These are whiskers along the upper beak of nightjars, which may play a role in navigation, foraging and collision avoidance at night, although the exact function remains unknown. Not surprisingly, having lifted off to feed on moths on Saturday night, the Conwy nightjar was not seen again.
It had hitherto been a quiet week for unusual birds, as breeding species worked hard to find food and protect their eggs and young from the cold, wet weather. Sadly one Osprey chick from broods of three at Glaslyn and Cors Dyfi died at the weekend, but farther south, the first chick hatched at the Llyn Clywedog Osprey nest. A Storm Petrel found dead in the Crafnant Valley may have been a victim of Sunday’s storm. A Black Tern has fed off Cemlyn Bay since Friday, roosting with a couple of thousand Sandwich Terns on the lagoon island, where North Wales Wildlife Trust is celebrating 50 years of its leasing the nature reserve from the National Trust. There's a fascinating blog here about the history of the site before it was acquired for the nation.
A Scaup is at RSPB Valley Wetlands, a complex that in 1988 recorded the only case of this northern species nesting in Wales, and a Bonaparte’s Gull from North America was at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands on Sunday.
A new national avifauna, The Birds of Wales, will be published in July. Liverpool University Press is accepting pre-orders for £25 (plus p&p), which is £20 below the published price. Click here for details and to order, using the code WALES50 to get the discount.
Redpolls are a springtime mystery
Many birdwatchers have reported Redpolls in recent weeks. Those on garden feeders are Lesser Redpolls, a species that will soon breed locally but widely across North Wales, especially in upland birch woods. However, some over coastal watchpoints are larger, paler and longer-winged than local birds. These are Common Redpolls, which breed around the Arctic Circle, although some don’t quite match the textbooks. It is suspected that many passing through North Wales in spring are Icelandic, though some may go on to Greenland or Canada. And where have they wintered? Around 80 Redpolls headed high to the northwest from the Great Orme on Sunday, while a flock of 28 was at Cemlyn last week. Redpoll taxonomy is complex, and I admire anyone who takes the time to observe them closely on a breezy spring morning. If you really want to take a dive into the identification of Icelandic Common Redpolls, you could do worse than start with this blog by the late Martin Garner.
The rarest birds of the week were at the most eastern and western points of the region. A smart male Woodchat Shrike was a great find on Bardsey, a spring migrant that had ‘overshot’ the Mediterranean after returning to Europe from west Africa. On the Dee Estuary, a Crane was found during a thunderstorm on Sunday, although it stayed resolutely 100 metres east of the national boundary, before moving on overnight. Cranes have made a wonderful recovery as a British breeding species, partly thanks to releases in Somerset of captive-bred birds. This one may have been heading for Scandinavia before being brought down to earth by the rain. Just beyond North Wales, a Squacco Heron was at RSPB Ynys-hir on the Dyfi Estuary last week.
On Anglesey, Short-eared Owls were over the Alaw Estuary, a Hooded Crow at RSPB South Stack and a Garganey at RSPB Cors Ddyga on Monday. A Hobby hunted the first emerging dragonflies at Cors Ddyga, but the sight of 20 of these sleek falcons over Fenn’s and Whixhall Mosses, near Hanmer, on Monday must have been truly impressive. It’s almost certainly a record count for Wales.
Fencing has been put up on beaches at Gronant and Point of Ayr this week to protect the Little Terns returning from Africa. These seabirds nest nowhere else in Wales, and the groups that protect them are reminding visitors to keep dogs on the lead when visiting these beaches. Ringing shows that Little Terns visit this coast from other colonies around Britain and Ireland, and last year one came from a colony in Denmark. In winter they head to West Africa, where a Gronant-ringed Little Tern was re-caught in Guinea Bissau in November 2019, the most southerly record of any British Little Tern. The North Wales Little Tern Group hopes to retrieve tiny geolocators that were attached to some birds in 2019, which will provide insights to the birds’ travels for nine months of the year. They are also appealing for volunteers to help warden the sites.
The switch in wind direction has opened the doors for summer migrants awaiting encouragement to move north. Swifts arrived in numbers across the region, and so have waders that will move on to the Arctic Circle to breed. Dotterels have been on the Great Orme, Foel Fras and Cemlyn in the last week, the Alaw estuary hosted more than 250 Dunlins, 200 Ringed Plovers and a Curlew Sandpiper on Monday and there were also waders a-plenty in Foryd Bay and the Clwyd estuary. Whinchats were scattered along the coast, including 15 at Point of Ayr alone on Sunday, and Black Redstarts were at Aberdaron and RSPB South Stack. A couple of Yellow Wagtails at RSPB Conwy on Saturday included a ‘Channel Wagtail’, a hybrid of the continental Blue-headed variety with the near-endemic British form. A Wood Warbler singing outside the Leisure Centre in Queensferry was away from its usual habitat of western Atlantic oakwood - evidence that you can find birds pretty much anywhere during migration!
A reward of £3000 has been offered for information leading to the conviction of anyone for the destruction of the Osprey nest at Llyn Brenig last Friday. People across the UK reacted angrily to the appalling photograph of the nest platform lying in the shallows of the reservoir, and the sad image of two Ospreys looking at where their nest had been, just days after the female laid their first egg. It reminded me of the Loch Garten Osprey nest platform being attacked with a chainsaw in 1986, but that was while the birds were away in Africa.
While most were horrified, I can’t imagine how the staff and volunteers felt on Saturday morning. Monitoring a rare bird such as Ospreys is an emotional investment, and the news must have been devastating. Full credit to Welsh Water and the North Wales Wildlife Trust for acting so rapidly to open up a second nest platform and to build and erect a replacement. They will be watching the birds’ behaviour closely to see whether the pair will continue their breeding season.
Most people find it incomprehensible why someone would do this, but it highlights the challenges faced by birds against a tiny minority with a grudge against nature. Ospreys are, thankfully, rarely targeted but persecution and intentional disturbance remains a problem for other birds of prey in parts of the UK.
In happier news, the first Lesser Whitethroats, Spotted Flycatchers, Garden Warblers and Hobbies of spring were reported in North Wales over the weekend, and a White-tailed Eagle was tracked by its satellite-transmitter across North Wales for two days early last week. One of several young eagles released on the Isle of Wight, it spent a morning exploring the Arenig mountains south of Ysbyty Ifan.
A weekly update of bird sightings and news from North Wales.