Although Buff-breasted Sandpiper is the commonest trans-Atlantic shorebird to occur in Britain, it had been found in North Wales on just 15 previous occasions prior to this year. They nest in the high Arctic of Alaska and northwest Canada and remarkably there have been two in the region this autumn, both found by Simon Roberts. After discovering one near Cemlyn, Anglesey, earlier this month, he found one near Caernarfon airport over the weekend. It’s the first ever in mainland Caernarfonshire too, as all five previous records in the county were on Bardsey. It is consorting with Golden Plovers, as is an American Golden Plover that remains near Cemlyn. Other scarce waders include four Curlew Sandpipers at RSPB Conwy and others on the Clwyd, Cefni and Alaw estuaries, and a Dotterel was on the Great Orme last week.
From the east, the first Yellow-browed Warblers were seen over the weekend, with records near Aberdaron, on Bardsey, in a Valley garden and at Wylfa Woods. Other sounds of autumn came with Redwings over Bangor last Wednesday and a flock of Pink-footed Geese over the Alaw estuary. Larger numbers of the geese are on the Dee estuary with a Snow Goose among them, and a Cattle Egret at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands. A Great White Egret remains on Llyn Brenig, where a Common Scoter dropped in recently.
Strong winds brought Sabine’s Gull, Long-tailed Skua and Grey Phalarope past Bardsey, Pomarine Skuas off Point Lynas, Criccieth and Tywyn, two Leach’s Petrels reported off Colwyn Bay, and a handful of Arctic Skuas and Red-throated Divers around the coast. A Lapland Bunting flew over RSPB South Stack on Sunday and a Marsh Harrier flew north over RSPB Conwy on Monday.
Ospreys remain at Aber Ogwen and at Malltraeth for the third consecutive week, but surely must be on the move south very soon.
Ospreys draw the crowds
Osprey tourism has long been a phenomenon in Scotland and for almost 20 years around the nest site at Pont Croesor on the Afon Glaslyn, but the north coast got in on the action this week. Two individuals have been drawing the crowds and cameras. Unringed juveniles at Aber Ogwen and the Cefni Valley have remained throughout the week and are still present today (Monday), taking advantage of a good supply of fish before they head to west Africa for the winter. Others were over Pen-y-cil, near Aberdaron on Monday and a second bird was at RSPB Cors Ddyga, but the family from Pont Croesor have left the area.
A flock of Pale-bellied Brent Geese, a few of the locally rarer Dark-bellied form among them, at Foryd Bay signal the arrival of autumn from northeast Canada. Pink-footed Geese now arriving in the Dee Estuary and seen over several other places, including Llysfaen and Conwy, have bred in Iceland; a flock over Bardsey was unusual.
Two Curlew Sandpipers are at Barmouth, Dotterel on the Great Orme, Black Tern off Aber Dysynni, Little Stint at Llyn Brenig and Spotted Redshanks at Foryd Bay and RSPB Conwy, while an American Golden Plover remains west of Cemlyn. A Barred Warbler and five Tree Sparrows dropped into Bardsey last week, as did a Hoopoe at Anglesey’s Porth Wen and a Cattle Egret at Aber Ogwen, but each stayed only for an afternoon. Four Garganey remained on Cefni Reservoir last week, with another at Llyn Llygeirian. A count of 81 Little Egrets on the Inland Sea was the highest ever on Anglesey.
Sabine’s Gull and Long-tailed Skua flew past Bardsey last week, but there have been relatively few sightings of Great Skua off our coast this autumn, perhaps not surprising given that they are one of the birds hit hardest on their Scottish breeding grounds by bird flu.
Reports of birds sick and dying of avian influenza continue from around the Welsh coast, with Gannets especially affected. Images from the established colony at RSPB Grassholm in Pembrokeshire show large gaps in the breeding area and many birds lying dead on the rock. There are reports of many others dead in the water and washed up on beaches. Smaller numbers of dead Gannets around the North Wales coast may be from colonies in Scotland or Ireland. Many other species have been affected, including seabirds ringed in North Wales. A Great Black-backed Gull that fledged from a nest on St Tudwal’s Island West, off Abersoch, that was found dead near Rosslare, Ireland, with several Gannets and is presumed to have died of bird flu. It is another species that can ill afford more bad news, as a recent assessment shows that numbers of Great Black-backed Gulls have almost halved worldwide since 1985 and recommended that it should be classed as Vulnerable on the Global Red List.
The fools on the hill
It has been another good week for wader migration in North Wales. A trip of four Dotterels on the Great Orme showed well, meeting their reputation for being trusting and unafraid. The Dotterel’s Welsh name, Hutan (y Mynydd) means ‘oaf’ and its English name comes from ‘dote’, an old world for a gullible fool (the same origin as ‘dotty’). Both were given by hunters who found them easy to obtain for the pot. Perhaps it’s not surprising they show little fear of humans; having hatched high on a northern mountain, they will have encountered few people. Now the threat from people is indirect: a factor in their decline as a breeding bird in Scotland is nitrogen in rainfall from burning fossil fuels. Higher deposition of nitrogen reduces alpine specialist plants, including species of moss, that are important breeding habitat for Dotterels.
Other wader highlights were Red-necked Phalaropes at Llyn Coron and off Porthmadog Cob, an American Golden Plover near Cemlyn, Wood Sandpiper at Valley Cob and Curlew Sandpipers at a host of sites, including double-figure counts at Malltraeth Cob and the Alaw estuary. A Barred Warbler was among a small fall of migrant songbirds on Bardsey on Monday, a late Swift was over Glanwydden last Wednesday and hundreds of Swallows are pouring south. I saw House Martins still attending a nest at Bethel, near Bodorgan, on Friday. Anyone else still have nesting House Martins?
An Osprey has hunted along the Menai Strait for several days, most regularly at Aber Ogwen, while another fished in the Cefni valley. The unringed bird near Bangor fledged from a nest this summer, probably in Scotland. Most Welsh Ospreys have left, but two remain in Nant Glaslyn, and on the Dyfi estuary, chick Padarn has yet to go. Her brother Pedran, was seen in Northumberland in late August, 15 days after he was last near the Dyfi nest site.
RSPB and BTO Cymru have thanked homeowners in Meirionnydd for suspending bird-feeding and emptying birdbaths over the summer, to reduce the risk of the disease Trichomonosis spreading to the nationally-important Hawfinch population. The organisations have asked people to refrain from feeding birds until the start of October. Read more about why here.
It’s the best time of the year to watch waders, or shorebirds as they’re known in some parts of the world. Breeding wader populations in much of western Europe have fallen dramatically for a variety of reasons, including the expansion of upland forestry and changes in farming policies and practice over the last century. Dunlin and Golden Plover are, sadly, now rare breeding birds in Wales, and Curlew, Lapwing and Redshank are far less widespread than formerly. September sees adult and young waders of many species stop in North Wales from northern Europe, Asia and the far northeast of Canada.
Cemlyn, on the north coast of Anglesey, took the prize for rare waders this week. An American Golden Plover has been present since last Wednesday and a Buff-breasted Sandpiper dropped in at the weekend, both having crossed the Atlantic. A White-winged Black Tern, from eastern Europe, shared the Cemlyn limelight on Sunday.
Other waders hail from the northeast, having already flown at least 2500 miles in recent weeks. A Pectoral Sandpiper at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands most likely came from that direction, in the Siberian Arctic, as do the Curlew Sandpipers and many of the Little Stints encountered here in autumn. Their journey is far from over. North Wales is just the halfway mark en route to west Africa.
Curlew Sandpipers are being seen across the region, with counts of 12 on the Alaw estuary and the Border Pool at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands, nine at Malltraeth Cob, five on the Clwyd estuary, three on Porthmadog’s Llyn Bach and Connah’s Quay nature reserve, and singles at Aberdyfi and RSPB Conwy. Very unusually, one was on the shore of Llyn Aled Isaf, in Mynydd Hiraethog, illustrating that at some least travel overland. Little Stints have come too, with three each at Malltraeth and RSPB Conwy, where a couple of Spotted Redshanks and Ruff are present.
Other notable visitors to the region in the last week include a Marsh Warbler ringed on Bardsey, three Balearic Shearwaters off the island, a Cory’s Shearwater off Point Lynas, Cattle Egret and a juvenile Cuckoo at RSPB Cors Ddyga, and another at Cemlyn on Monday. Three Garganeys were on Cefni reservoir and one on the Alaw estuary.
I was delighted to try out the updated BirdTrack mobile phone app at the weekend, with new features that make it even easier to enter bird sightings in the field. Records of other popular wildlife groups, including mammals, butterflies and dragonflies, can now be added too. Bird recorders in Wales and the Welsh Ornithological Society draw on sightings submitted through BirdTrack, so it’s the one-stop-shop to ensure sightings count. If you already use BirdTrack, head for your phone’s appstore, and if you haven’t tried out BirdTrack yet, register first at www.birdtrack.net.
A weekly update of bird sightings and news from North Wales.