Skeins of geese filled the skies at the weekend as colder northerly winds got behind Pink-footed Geese arriving from Iceland. Most touched-down on the saltmarshes and fields at the top end of the Dee Estuary, where several thousand will spend the next six months, making dawn and dusk commutes between inland stubble fields and the night-time safety of the estuary. Smaller numbers were seen farther west, over Llysfaen and Colwyn Bay. A flock of 14 Whooper Swans over Bull Bay also came from Iceland but more surprising was a Taiga Bean Goose at RSPB’s Cors Ddyga, the first ever seen in North Wales. Closely related to ‘Pink-feet’, these geese breed in Scandinavia and Russia and usually winter around the Baltic Sea, although a handful visit Norfolk and central Scotland each year. It joined two Glossy Ibis that have spent the week on the Anglesey wetland.
The northerly wind brought scarce waders to the region, with a Pectoral Sandpiper at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands, Little Stint on Llyn Trawsfynydd, and Curlew Sandpipers with Spotted Redshanks at RSPB Conwy. It also deposited a Lapland Bunting at Uwchmynydd, pushed Sabine’s Gull close to Point Lynas and a Little Gull off Rhos-on-Sea. RSPB Conwy, Porthmadog Cob and Anglesey’s Inland Sea each hold two Great White Egrets, while an Osprey has hunted at the latter site all week.
A Whooper Swan at RSPB Conwy may be one that was off Aber Ogwen in recent weeks, while the escaped Black Swan travelled in the opposite direction, from the Conwy estuary to Llanfairfechan. A couple of Common Sandpipers on Church Island in Menai Strait will probably stay for the winter while most of their brethren fly south of the Sahara. A Yellow-browed Warbler is at Amlwch Port and Sunday night brought the first wave of Redwings across North Wales.
Most waders live on the shoreline, close to water. Except those that don’t. In a few short weeks, Woodcocks will arrive in woodlands and pastures in number, to winter in Britain after nesting in Russia and Scandinavia. Another wader lives at altitude, high on the Scottish and Norwegian mountains, and the tundra of northernmost Europe: the Dotterel. Three were seen on coastal headlands in North Wales at the weekend, two at Mynydd Rhiw and one on the Great Orme. These juveniles are typically unwary, and photographers were able to sit and wait for the birds to walk to them. Having hatched a couple of months ago, it’s quite possible that the birders of North Wales were the first humans they had seen.
Fine weather brought waterbirds from farther south. Two Glossy Ibis are at RSPB Cors Ddyga, one was near Cemlyn over the weekend, and one roosted on Porthmadog’s Cob pool last week. Great White Egrets have been reported from two dozen locations in Wales this week, including two at Cors Ddyga, up to five at RSPB Conwy, and singles at Cemlyn, Porthmadog Cob, Harlech and Llyn yr Oerfel near Trawsfynydd. Signs of autumn came with the first Yellow-browed Warblers at Pengroeslon and on Bardsey. The island also hosted a Woodlark, Wryneck, Jack Snipe and several Lapland Buntings; and there were Lapland Buntings on the Great Orme and at RSPB South Stack.
Garganeys were at RSPB Conwy, Llyn Maelog and Glan y Môr Elias, and Hooded Crows at the latter site as well as at RSPB South Stack and on Bardsey. A Rose-coloured Starling remains a regular sight on rooftops in Anglesey’s Bull Bay, an Ortolan Bunting was near Aberdaron, a Yellow Wagtail at Holyhead’s Breakwater Country Park, and a Surf Scoter among Common Scoters off Uwchmynydd may well winter in Cardigan Bay.
North Anglesey has been the toast of local birders recently, with two scarce songbird visitors at the weekend, following a Pectoral Sandpiper last week. A juvenile Red-backed Shrike was found on the east side of Cemlyn lagoon on Monday, one of a dozen scattered across Britain in the last week. Sadly it’s uncommon in Wales now, and this one almost certainly hatched in Scandinavia, but that was not always the case. In 1838, Thomas Eyton wrote that above Capel Curig “some dozens of them may be seen on the side of the hill above the lakes, which is thinly covered with scattered hawthorn bushes, and abounds with their prey”.
Another former breeding species was at nearby Hen Borth over the weekend, photographed by Tony White. The Turtle Dove is the bird is heading fastest towards extinction in Britain, numbers having declined by half in just five years, and by a staggering 98% since 1967. The last Welsh pair bred in 2011. Changes in farming, primarily on arable, have driven the decline, but hunting now threatens the diminishing population. Turtle Doves leave Britain each autumn to winter south of the Sahara, and there was an outcry when the French government permitted the hunting of more than 17,000 this autumn. That decision was overturned by a French court at the weekend, although the Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux estimate that up to 10,000 have already been shot. But it’s good news for the individual resting up at Hen Borth when it does begin its southward voyage.
Other sightings over the weekend include a Little Stint at Point of Ayr, two Hooded Crows at RSPB South Stack and a Rose-coloured Starling at Bull Bay. A scattering of Curlew Sandpipers included six at Foryd, two each at RSPB Conwy, the Alaw estuary and Pwllheli lagoon. There are six Great White Egrets at RSPB Conwy, and singles at Connah’s Quay nature reserve and Cemlyn Bay. Lapland Buntings were on the Great Orme and Carmel Head, a late Swift over Penrhyn Bay, and two Garganey, a Firecrest and a Spotted Redshank at RSPB Conwy.
Some of the world’s great travellers visited North Wales at the weekend. Sabine’s Gulls pass en route from the Arctic tundra of Greenland and eastern Canada, where they hatched this summer. They will spend the northern winter with albatrosses off southwest Africa. Juveniles have distinctive dark wings and triangular white flashes, although Kittiwakes are an identification pitfall for the unwary. ‘Sabs’ were rare in Wales until the 1980s, but are now seen in small numbers each September. Sightings came from Porth Ysgaden on Friday, from Llanfairfechan, Rhos Point and several sites on north and west Anglesey including four at Point Lynas on Saturday, and the Great Orme on Monday.
From the same area, the first Pale-bellied Brent Geese of autumn have arrived from the high Arctic of eastern Canada. Flying over the shrinking Greenland ice cap in the longest migration of any goose in Europe, these will stay around the Menai Strait through the winter. Several dozen are back on the Foryd near Caernarfon with others in Beddmanarch Bay and at Abergwyngregyn. Leach’s Petrels, Little Gull and Balearic Shearwaters were among other seabirds reported, with Grey Phalarope and Pomarine Skua seen from Bardsey.
Wrynecks are a regular autumn visitor to Bardsey, which hosted one over the weekend, but more unusually there were also sightings of this compact ant-eating woodpecker at NWWT The Spinnies and near Bethesda. Lapland Buntings were seen over Bardsey and Cemlyn Bay, Hooded Crows at Aberdaron and RSPB South Stack, and a Garganey on a pool beside the A55 near Valley.
Curlew Sandpipers were at RSPB Conwy, Llanfairfechan and on the Alaw estuary over the weekend, and an impressive flock of 10 was at Burton Mere Wetlands. A male Rose-coloured Starling was seen at Bull Bay, a Purple Heron at RSPB Cors Ddyga and Spotted Redshank at Porthmadog’s Llyn Bach.