Through the summer, I’ve been digging into Birds on your Doorstep, the vast data archive from the British Trust for Ornithology to assess changes in local birdlife over the last 50 years. You can read about the 10-km squares with the most birds recorded here, the fewest records here and the areas that have lost most breeding birds here. This week, I look at the parts of North Wales with the greatest number of ‘new’ species since 1970.
Top of the league is Carmel Head and The Skerries in northwest Anglesey, where a remarkable 44 species have been recorded in the breeding season for the first time since 1970. These include common birds such as Chiffchaff, Goldcrest and Coal Tit, in the plantation and gardens, and RSPB wardens looking after the huge tern colony have doubtless bumped up the total. Increased recording may account for 27 new species at Kinmel Bay too, including Whitethroat, Grasshopper Warbler and Stonechat, although some of the ‘new’ species are unlikely to have bred.
Other areas with net gains are the 10-km squares east of Trawsfynydd and south of Llangefni. Among 26 colonists in the hills east of Llyn Trawsfynydd are Great Crested Grebe and Tufted Duck, but Golden Plover, Redshank and Green Woodpecker are now absent. There are 24 new breeding species in central Anglesey, many resulting from the creation and management of the RSPB’s Cors Ddyga wetland in the Cefni Valley. Arrivals here include breeding Bittern, Pochard and Cetti’s Warbler, although Yellowhammer, Nightjar and Redshank have been lost.
A couple of Wood Sandpipers visited RSPB Cors Ddyga last week while Black Terns continue to pass Rhos Point and north Anglesey, and Sabine’s Gulls passed Point Lynas and Mynydd Mawr, near Aberdaron. A Spotted Redshank, scarce now on Anglesey, was on the Alaw estuary, and RSPB Conwy hosts Green Sandpiper, Ruff and Great White Egrets, plus the first Pintails of the autumn. A Cattle Egret was on the Border Pool at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands on Saturday, and a Melodious Warbler among the migrants on Bardsey. While most Swifts have already left the country, a brood at a nest in the Clwydian Hills has yet to fledge.
Blustery weather may have dampened family barbecues and outdoor events, but attracted birders to coastal watchpoints around North Wales. Black Terns were seen in an arc from the Dyfi estuary and Harlech to Kinmel Bay, with the largest counts of 70 from Rhos Point, where some roosted on the stone breakwater, and 65 at Criccieth in a couple of hours on Saturday afternoon. Two dozen passed Amlwch and Point Lynas in north Anglesey, and those reported were probably the tip of an iceberg. With at least 250 past Pembrokeshire’s Strumble Head, more Black Terns were seen in Wales in three days than in any year since 2005 (see the chart below).
Black Terns haven’t bred regularly in Britain since The Fens were drained in eastern England, and they continue to decline in western Europe because of habitat loss. The birds seen in the Irish Sea at the weekend originate from lakes and peat bogs in the eastern Baltic, Belarus and western Russia, where they recently finished their breeding season. They usually fly through the southern North Sea and down the Bay of Biscay but strong south-easterly winds pushed them farther west. Their ultimate destination is the Gulf of Guinea in west Africa, where they will spend the winter.
A handful of Arctic and Great Skuas were alongside the terns, numbers of the latter lower than usual because of bird flu on their breeding islands, and a Long-tailed Skua passed Rhos Point. Easterly winds also brought a Melodious Warbler and Nightjar to Bardsey, a Little Stint and Ruff are at RSPB Conwy, and a Wood Sandpiper dropped onto Cemlyn lagoon.
Rowans and Hawthorns hang heavy with fruit in the Carneddau, attracting roving flocks of Mistle Thrushes from the valleys, attention drawn by their rattling calls. In just eight weeks, the first Redwings from Scandinavia will arrive to pick off the remains.
Twice a year, billions of individuals of around 4000 species make a journey. Some travel farther than others, and in the northern hemisphere ‘autumn’ the direction is broadly north to south, but of course, it’s not quite that simple. While some have almost completed their migration by mid August, such as adult Cuckoos that left us in June and are already south of the Sahara, our Swifts are only now leaving their nest sites for Africa. Monday’s rain brought Spotted Flycatchers and warblers including Willow, Sedge and Whitethroat to Bardsey, where Bird Observatory staff will monitor numbers as they have annually since 1953.
One of my favourite waders is Greenshank, elegant in white and grey winter plumage, although some late-summer arrivals still have brown wings and mottled underparts from the breeding season. Their ‘tieu-tieu-tieu’ alarm call as they take flight gives away their presence. Numbers increased sharply at the weekend, with a flock of 28 at Aber Ogwen and 24 at Morfa Madryn, on the southern shore of Menai Strait.
Greenshanks breed from Scotland to the far east of Siberia, bordering the Bering Sea. Those in North Wales are most likely to breed in Scotland and will stay for the winter or move on to Ireland or France, whereas those on North Sea coasts include many from Scandinavia that are heading for West Africa. But even that journey is nothing compared to Greenshanks from eastern Russia that fly to Australia and New Zealand to winter. In all cases, they depend on a network of wetlands such as Traeth Lafan at which to refuel. For more information about Greenshank migration (and lots more amazing Wader Tales), I thoroughly recommend browsing through Graham Appleton's excellent blog.
A Balearic Shearwater fed among Kittiwakes off Anglesey’s Point Lynas on Saturday and a Storm Petrel fluttered past Criccieth. Farther south, a Wilson’s Petrel became a snack for a Peregrine; it was the first Wilson’s Petrel in Ceredigion, but is one of the most abundant birds in the world, having made it to Cardigan Bay from the South Atlantic. Ruffs were at Cemlyn, RSPB Cors Ddyga and Malltraeth Cob, a Little Tern at Cemlyn and a Roseate Tern at Gronant. A dozen Black Guillemots are off Penmaenmawr.
A seabird that breeds on tropical islands has made the national birding headlines after turning up near Criccieth. The Bridled Tern, which nests no closer than the Caribbean, was found on Sunday close to where the Afon Wen meets Cardigan Bay, and seen again on Monday afternoon.
Bridled Terns breed on rocky islets, but little is known about where they spend the rest of the year. There have been only 25 previous records in Britain, of which two were in Wales: one found dead on the Gower in 1954 and another that spent several weeks among Sandwich Terns at the Cemlyn colony on Anglesey in 1988. This week’s, close to the Hafan-y-Môr holiday park, was also with Sandwich Terns feeding offshore before starting their autumn migration to West Africa.
The rare visitor came in the wake of strong winds that had brought two Cory’s Shearwaters past Cemlyn, and three more plus Great, Sooty and Balearic Shearwaters past Bardsey. Birders on Bardsey and Rhos Point also recorded Storm Petrel last week, and Arctic Skuas were seen from several coastal watchpoints.
Smaller migrants are also on the move, with Wheatears and Whimbrels appearing on coastlines from which they have been absent since heading north in May. On Bardsey, the first Spotted Flycatcher of autumn and increased numbers of Willow Warblers took their first steps to an African winter. Four Curlew Sandpipers were on the Border Pool at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands on Friday, and numbers of Curlews, Turnstones, Redshanks and Oystercatchers are building after completing their breeding season in the Arctic, mainland Europe or farther north in Britain.
Although many terns have left their Anglesey nesting colonies, where hundreds have died from bird ‘flu this summer, a few remain at Cemlyn, where broods of Shelduck and Ringed Plover fledged successfully.
A weekly update of bird sightings and news from North Wales, published in The Daily Post every Thursday.