And so our Cuckoo’s spring draws to an end. The last I heard, in Coed Crafnant above the Conwy Valley, was on 24 June, with only one in North Wales reported to BirdTrack subsequently, on the heathery slopes of Arenig Fawr. The British Trust for Ornithology has fitted nine adult males in England and the Republic of Ireland with satellite transmitters, and five have already crossed the Channel, with one close to Ravenna on the Adriatic coast.
Young Cuckoos are, of course, still to fledge, having evicted the eggs of their step-siblings – most frequently Meadow Pipits in the uplands – several weeks ago. They now ravenously consume all the insects that their unwitting foster parents can provide, and in just a few weeks will follow their biological parents to the forests of central Africa.
Other signs that we are past the summer solstice were evident on a visit to the Menai Strait, where the Ash trees hang heavy with bunches of their ‘keys’, at least those not already lost to the wilt fungus that is causing so many to die. A good number of recently fledged Lapwings suggests a successful breeding season at Morfa Madryn nature reserve, where four Greenshanks have joined the single that stayed here through the spring. Nearby, a tiny Ringed Plover chick racing around the saltmarsh still has a lot of growing up to do.
Little Terns at Gronant, under the watchful eyes of Denbighshire Council wardens and volunteers, are having another good season with more than 210 nests and most now hatched. Live images from the beach and edited highlights from selected nests are on the North Wales Little Tern Group’s YouTube channel. Four Avocet chicks hatched at Cemlyn on Sunday, the first ever on Anglesey. It’s less good news from a tern colony elsewhere on the island, however, where RSPB Cymru report several dead birds and fears that they have been struck by bird flu.
Roger Lovegrove OBE, one of the people who shaped Welsh bird conservation in the second half of the last century, died in Shrewsbury last week, aged 88. He set up the RSPB’s first office in Wales, in 1971, in Newtown where he had been the high school Head of PE for several years. He pioneered a suite of conservation initiatives over the next 27 years, using a government employment training scheme to give many young nature enthusiasts the first step on a career in conservation. Roger was also known for several books, including The Kite’s Tail and Silent Fields, reflecting a conservation success in the former, and the failure of generations of policies to prevent the decline in Welsh wildlife. He also co-presented an annual Birdwatch programme on BBC tv with Tony Soper from 1980, which was a precursor of the popular Springwatch series.
My own encounters with Roger were mainly as a teenager in the 1980s, when I was a wide-eyed enthusiast at the annual RSPB Film Show, which he would present each November at Colwyn Bay's Prince of Wales Theatre (now Theatr Colwyn). Those must have been busy evenings, with a thousand things needed to run the event, but he always took time to ask how I was doing, what birds I had seen, and to tell me that caring about nature mattered. I know I'm not the only young birder that set down a path because of Roger's encouragement.
Hundreds of birds have died at Wales’ largest Common Tern colony. The seabirds nest on two large rafts next to Tata Steel’s works at Shotton, but since the start of spring more than 40% of the terns have died, Pete Coffey from Merseyside Ringing Group told Radio 4’s Today programme (at 2h 40m). The Group also estimates that 200 Black-headed Gulls have died and not a single chick survived at the site, which hosted more than 400 pairs in 2021, making it the largest in Wales. The British Trust for Ornithology fears that at least 10,000 Black-headed Gulls, 4% of the population, have died across the UK since the end of March. Since these are long-lived birds, the losses will be evident for many years, as illustrated at Anglesey’s Cemlyn reserve where Sandwich Tern numbers are half their 2022 total even though there was no sign of avian influenza there last summer.
In better news, North Wales Wildlife Trust reports that around 560 Sandwich Tern chicks are growing quickly at Cemlyn, and Avocets are due to hatch eggs this week. It’s the first time that Avocets have nested on Anglesey, and the first North Wales record away from RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands where they have bred on the Flintshire side of the border since 2017. A Wood Sandpiper visited that reserve’s Border Pool last week. At least 15 Mediterranean Gulls are on the Glaslyn estuary, the start of a summer influx from mainland Europe that can bring many hundreds to Cardigan Bay.
Nesting Curlews on Anglesey and Choughs on Pen Llŷn are among 67 species that will benefit from a Wales-wide recovery project announced this week. Natur am Byth, a partnership of charities and Natural Resources Wales, will work with farmers and owners in Eryri, the Dee and Cefni Valleys, Anglesey fens and the coast and inshore waters of northwest Wales. The project will start in September following a £4.1 million award by National Lottery Heritage Fund. RSPB Cymru will lead a project on Llŷn and Ynys Mon, Marine Conservation Society a project off the Llŷn and Ynys Mon coasts, and Plantlife a project on arctic-alpine plants in Eryri. Buglife will manage work for Scarce Yellow Sally, a Critically Endangered stonefly whose only site in western Europe is a 20-km section of the river around Bangor-on-Dee.
Ynys Enlli, or Bardsey, has featured regularly in Bird Notes and its predecessors in The Daily Post, doubtless back to 1929 when Eric Hardy initiated the Liverpool Echo column. The island has recorded some of our rarest avian visitors: among the 334 species recorded are 37 that had not been seen in Wales previously. The gallery of 'firsts' include Britain's only Summer Tanager, from North America in 1957, and a Cretzschmar's Bunting from southeast Europe in 2015.
Bardsey Bird & Field Observatory, based in an old farmhouse in the centre of the island, was set up in 1953. Like the other 20 around the coast of Britain, Ireland and neighbouring Crown Dependencies, a major focus of the observatory’s year is migration. It has played a valuable part in understanding movements of birds along the East Atlantic Flyway by ringing an astonishing 310,500 birds. The lighthouse at the southern end frequently attracted and confused migrants, some of which collided with the glass and were killed. At the RSPB’s instigation, perches were installed in 1913 and from 1978 a strip of land was floodlit by an imitation lighthouse to attract birds to the safety of the ground. Neither solution completely resolved the issue until the lamp changed to a red LED in 2014.
Staff, volunteers and researchers also study the seabirds and Choughs that call the island home, and birdwatchers can stay at the ‘obs’ to see the work, which also helps to fund it. An annual highlight is monitoring the Manx Shearwaters that hatch in burrows, but the element of surprise during bird movements is what motivates many to visit.
A small island at the end of a narrowing peninsula is an ideal location for monitoring bird migration, as true now as when West Midlands Bird Club set up the Observatory, which is now an independent charity. It has been a valuable training ground for three generations of ornithologists and conservationists, and the current Director of Operations Steve Stansfield – himself celebrating 25 years at the helm – encourages young birders and early career researchers to spend time there. Wales should be proud of the Observatory, both its heritage and its future.
The anniversary will be celebrated on the mainland this weekend, with presentations at Canolfan Prenteg near Porthmadog on Sunday from 11.30am. Details at bbfo.org.uk/agm.
There were a few scarce visitors around the region last week. RSPB Conwy’s first Icterine Warbler sang for a day but stayed stubbornly in foliage, Quails called at RSPB Cors Ddyga and below Llyn Cowlyd, and a continental Blue-headed Wagtail was beside the Dee at Sealand. A Little Tern dropped into Cemlyn lagoon on Sunday, where two Mediterranean Gull chicks are in the tern colony.
Click on the images to enlarge and for captions. Thanks to Steve Stansfield for his help with this article.
With many summer visitors already feeding chicks in nests across North Wales, you might assume that spring migration is over. But birders know that the rarest birds are often found in early June, especially with a continuous easterly airflow.
The region’s only bird observatory, on Bardsey, had a very busy week. As well as monitoring the island’s breeding seabirds, the team clocked up some first-class rarities. A smart male Eastern Subalpine Warbler was found singing last Tuesday. Hailing from the eastern Med, it was the 12th record for the island, whereas none has been found in mainland North Wales. The following day saw a male Golden Oriole and an unseasonal Redwing, while small numbers of Spotted Flycatchers continued to pass through.
On Sunday, an unrecognised song outside the observatory proved to come from a White-throated Sparrow, which later hopped into an outbuilding. It was weighed and measured before release, and in good health probably arrived on a trans-Atlantic ship. Remarkably, it’s the second North American sparrow on Bardsey in a month.
Anglesey’s Holy Island gave Bardsey a run for its money, with a male Red-backed Shrike at Rhoscolyn on Friday and a female at RSPB South Stack on Monday. A Broad-billed Sandpiper on the Inland Sea is en route to the taiga bogs of northeast Europe; the species has only been recorded in Wales on ten previous occasions. Other unusual visitors this week include a Red-rumped Swallow at Oakenholt, two Cranes over Colwyn Bay on Saturday, and just outside the region, two Black-crowned Night Herons at RSPB Ynys-hir.
In the Carneddau at the weekend, singing Ring Ouzels indicate that first broods of young have fledged and incubation of second broods will soon be underway. A recently fledged juvenile on the Great Orme on Sunday was unexpected, however.
It is the 70th anniversary year of Bardsey Bird & Field Observatory, to be celebrated at a Members' Weekend and AGM at Canolfan Prenteg on Sunday 18 June (from 11.30am). Details, including details of how to participate, on the BBFO website.
Click on the gallery below to enlarge the images: Broad-billed Sandpiper (Steve Culley), Eastern Subalpine Warbler (Steve Stansfield) and White-throated Sparrow (Steve Stansfield).
A weekly update of bird sightings and news from North Wales, published in The Daily Post every Thursday.