Birdwatchers in Norfolk are celebrating successful nesting by two families of Bee-eaters this summer. A small flock of the brightly-coloured birds were spotted around a former sand quarry in June, and the RSPB and North East Norfolk Bird Club were quick to ensure the nests were protected while giving people the opportunity to visit without disturbing the birds. Thanks to a webcam, people across the country were able to watch the adults entering the nest tunnels with flying insects for the stripy-headed chicks. Last week, the five youngsters left the two nests for the final time and have migrated south to equatorial Africa.
This bird was once strictly Mediterranean, but climate change is causing Bee-eaters to spread north and it’s becoming scarcer in the south. Having nested in Britain only once prior to 2002, the number of breeding attempts is already in double figures durng the last 20 years. In Germany, the breeding population has increased from one pair in 1990 to 2,500 pairs! Bee-eaters have yet to nest in Wales, but are occurring more frequently: there were more records during 2000-19 than in the whole period since records were kept several centuries ago.
Rare sightings in North Wales recently include Dotterels on the summit of Foel Grach and the Great Orme, Cattle Egret at RSPB Cors Ddyga, and several Balearic Shearwaters off Anglesey. Curlew Sandpipers have been at Llanfairfechan and on Malltraeth Cob pool, where a Garganey was seen at the weekend. Three more Garganeys were on Cefni reservoir, along with four Green Sandpipers, and an impressive 26 Greenshanks were at Aber Ogwen. A Hen Harrier flew from Pen Llŷn to Bardsey on Monday and four Black Terns were at Dinas Dinlle on Friday. Bird flu continues to kill thousands of Gannets in Pembrokeshire, with several washed up dead around the North Wales coast. Bird flu is also suspected on the Dee estuary.
The Welsh Ornithological Society has opened bookings for its first in-person Conference since 2019. Excellent talks have been arranged on the theme of ‘After Dark’ for the event at Aberystwyth University on 5 November. WOS is also reminding photographers that its annual competition is open until 31 December, with the winners to be chosen by tv wildlife presenter, Iolo Williams.
The delayed Northeast Wales Bird Report, covering 2019 and 2020, has been published recently, and can be downloaded free of charge from the Bird Recording North Wales website.
Strong winds on Saturday brought seabirds closer to shore as they passed through the Irish Sea before heading out into the Atlantic Ocean. Black Tern and Little Gull fed off Point Lynas, and two Little Terns roosted at Rhos Point. A couple of Roseate Terns were off Bardsey and an impressive 1300 Kittiwakes roosted on the island. Single Balearic Shearwaters – a globally-threatened seabird that feeds off the west coast of Britain after leaving its breeding burrows in the western Mediterranean - were off Wylfa, Cemlyn and Criccieth. In the first decade of this century, Anglesey averaged 35 records each year, but numbers have fallen sharply in line with the population decline.
I expect Great Skuas to be scarce off our shores this autumn too, after huge numbers died on their breeding grounds in Scotland and the Faeroes this summer. Highly pathogenic avian influenza (bird flu) continues to kill seabirds around the coast, with the number of Gannets dead or missing from Grassholm in Pembrokeshire– until recently the only colony in Wales – now estimated to run into the low thousands.
Southbound Ospreys stopped at Aber Ogwen and the Conwy estuary en route to west Africa. Songbirds are also on the move, with migrants such as Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Willow Warblers and a juvenile Cuckoo on the Great Orme. Spotted Redshanks are at RSPB Conwy and Cemlyn lagoon, and Green Sandpipers were at Llyn Llygeirian and The Dingle nature reserve in Llangefni. The count of Mediterranean Gulls on Anglesey’s Inland Sea reached 32 on Sunday, three Garganeys were on Cefni Reservoir last week, and others at Burton Mere Wetlands and Ynys-hir, both sites also recording Spotted Crake at the weekend. A Red-backed Shrike is at Whixall Moss, just into Shropshire, and Hooded Crows remain by the Clwyd estuary and Aber Dysynni.
Birders are on the lookout for Sandwich Terns with coloured leg rings this month. Liverpool Bay is an important mix-zone for these seabirds before they head to southwest Africa for the winter. The colour rings, usually placed on chicks before they leave the nest, show that terns from colonies across Britain and Ireland feed along our coast, as do some from Denmark and The Netherlands. The records illustrate the importance of our shallow bays to birds from across northwest Europe, where they fishing for sandeels and sprats prior to migration. The records holds even greater significance since several colonies have been hit hard by bird flu.
My early morning visit to Rhos Point last week found just two ringed Sandwich Terns, one of which – dark blue 631 - hadn’t been recorded in North Wales previously. Scrolling idly through Twitter over breakfast, I saw a photo of a Sandwich Tern with dark blue ring 631, taken not in North Wales but the previous afternoon at Port Seton, east of Edinburgh. A quick exchange of messages confirmed that it was the same bird, which had crossed from the North Sea to the Irish Sea - 186 miles in a straight line - in less than 18 hours. It was ringed as a chick north of Aberdeen in 2018 and visited a nesting colony in Co. Donegal, northwest Ireland, in June this year, where the colour-ring was added. These birds get about!
Other visitors to the coast this week include four Spoonbills at Connah’s Quay nature reserve, two Roseate Terns at Hafan y Môr, Purple Sandpiper at Kinmel Bay and Spotted Redshanks at Morfa Madryn and RSPB Conwy, although the most exciting wildlife sighting was of two Orcas off Aberdesach last Friday. Hundreds of Swallows followed the coast west on Saturday, clearly on migration, and 10,000 roosted that evening at RSPB Cors Ddyga, where a Purple Heron continues to reside. A Ring-necked Duck remains at RSPB Valley Wetlands and an Egyptian Goose is at Foryd Bay.
On the Anglesey coast at the weekend, flocks of Swallows gathered, perching briefly in treetops a sign of readiness to depart for Africa. Smaller numbers of Sand Martins fed on insects over the cliffs, and several Wheatears may also have been early southbound migrants. A few Swifts screeched over the village this morning, suggesting that one or two nests have young that are yet to fledge, but most have gone already.
A visit to the Inland Sea, separating Holy Island from the rest of Anglesey, found a flock of 20 Mediterranean Gulls, all adults with white wings and various stages of black head feathers moulting to white. That is a good count for North Wales, but nothing compared to the sight of more than 1,250 in a field above Llanon, Ceredigion, a flock count that smashed the Welsh record for the third successive year. Three dozen of them bore colour rings which will explain more about the origins of this late summer influx to Wales, where the species remains a rare breeder. The recent European Breeding Bird Atlas shows that Mediterranean Gulls have shifted northwest in recent decades, away from the Black Sea and into western Europe. Wetland creation, protection of their colonies and a warming planet are all contributing to this change.
A Purple Heron has spent several days at RSPB Cors Ddyga, the most westerly of a small influx into the southern half of Britain, and a Ring-necked Duck remains at RSPB Valley Wetlands. A Black Kite was over Llyn Coron on Sunday, perhaps the same as seen in mid Wales last week. A Curlew Sandpiper and three Ruffs were on Malltraeth Cob pool on Sunday, and several Balearic Shearwaters were seen around the Anglesey coast last week. Hooded Crows are near Rhoscolyn, the Alaw estuary, Uwchmynydd and on the Clwyd estuary, and a family of Garganeys is at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands.
It is at least 162 years since the first, and until now only, Gannet colony became established in Wales, on Grassholm, Pembrokeshire. The colony has grown to over 36,000 nesting pairs, protected as an RSPB nature reserve since 1948, the charity’s first land purchase in Wales. This week, The Seabird Group, a global network of researchers, announced the establishment of a second Welsh colony, off the Anglesey coast. The first photographs to confirm that chicks had hatched were taken by Steve Culley in mid-July.
Gannets are seen regularly off the North Wales coast through each summer, as non-breeding adults roam widely. As well as Grassholm, our coasts are probably visited by gannets from Ailsa Craig in Scotland’s Firth of Clyde and from Ireland’s Eye in Dublin Bay, which became established as recently as 1989.
The presence of Gannets on Ynys Badrig among nesting Cormorants, Guillemots and Razorbills was noticed by a visiting birder in 2019, since when volunteers from the Seawatch Foundation have monitored numbers. Bangor University has used trail cameras to record developments on the island. Also known as Middle Mouse and lying just one kilometre off a headland east of Cemaes Bay, it is the most northerly point in Wales and according to legend, the site where St Patrick was shipwrecked.
It’s early days for the colony, with 21 nests counted. Experts hope that this will be an important step for Gannets in the UK, especially as several Scottish colonies have been devastated by avian influenza this summer. Welcoming the news, RSPB Cymru reminded boat users and paddleboarders to steer clear of the island. The Anglesey marine code asks users to get no closer than 100 metres of seabird colonies and to travel at less than five knots within 300 metres.
Other highlights this week include a Wood Sandpiper on the Clwyd estuary, Spotted Redshank at RSPB Conwy, two Roseate Terns at Afon Wen and a Little Gull on the Dwyfor estuary. A Cory’s Shearwater flew past Cemlyn on Friday, a Ring-necked Duck remains at RSPB Valley Wetlands and a Corncrake was reported calling west of Llanfairfechan.
A weekly update of bird sightings and news from North Wales.