Three sounds dominated my walk in the woods at the weekend. First were the numerous Mistle Thrushes, which gave away their presence with their football-rattle like call. Other thrushes included large numbers of Redwings and Fieldfares that had just arrived from Scandinavia. The Mistle Thrushes are more local, family groups that have spent late summer feeding on bilberries in the hills and are now coming into the valleys to raid the Rowan trees hanging heavy with bright red berries. Second was the hum from every bunch of Ivy, its umbrella-like yellow flowers providing an autumn lifeline for the bees and flies still on the wing. Third was the raucous screech of the Jays – its Welsh name Sgrech y Coed says much more about the sound of autumn than its English name (which originates from the old French).
Student birders on Bangor Mountain monitored some impressive visible migration at the weekend as part of the Global Birding initiative, which brought together 30,000 birdwatchers in 120 countries. Their highlights were three Hawfinches, Yellow-browed Warbler, Lapland Bunting, Ring Ouzel and a Firecrest, which contributed to a global total of 6,910 species seen in a single weekend.
Monday saw thousands of Chaffinches and small numbers of Bramblings moving along the North Wales coast. Hawfinches were on the Great Orme and at Caerhun, and one colour-ringed in the Conwy Valley two winters ago was photographed in Lincolnshire recently, presumably returning from its breeding area in Scandinavia. The Great Orme also hosted several Snow Buntings, Lapland Buntings and Ring Ouzels, and a Firecrest was ringed there last week. Other Firecrests were at Holyhead’s Breakwater Country Park and Porth Meudwy. A Wood Sandpiper was unseasonally late at Traeth Dulas on Anglesey, a Dusky Warbler was at Uwchmynydd and a Barred Warbler at Tonfanau last week.
It’s been a week for birders to listen out for the disyllabic ‘tsw-eee’ sound of Yellow-browed Warblers, an autumn migrant that has rapidly changed its status in western Europe. I remember seeing one on the Great Orme in the late 1980s when it was a real rarity, but now we expect to see small numbers in North Wales every year, and thousands across Britain. They breed each summer in forests around the most eastern margin of Europe, in the foothills of Russia’s Ural Mountains.
Yellow-browed Warblers can turn up in any patch of coastal scrub or woodland. Over the weekend there were several on Bardsey, and singles near Pwllheli, at Holyhead’s Breakwater Country Park and Uwchmynydd on Llŷn. Most winter in southeast Asia, so are these westbound movements all doomed to die? Well, perhaps not. Winter records in Iberia and North Africa have also increased and it may be that these tiny birds travel all the way back to Siberia in spring. Although this has yet to be proven, one was seen in November 2018 in the same Andalucían copse where it had been ringed the previous winter. It had presumably been to Russia and back in the meantime. Although the second week of October is the peak for sightings in Wales, I’m sure there are more to be found as winds turn easterly again from Wednesday.
Other sightings in recent days include a Great Northern Diver and Leach’s Petrel in Bull Bay, Whooper Swan off Aber Ogwen and a Velvet Scoter off the Great Orme. There were two Lapland Buntings at Uwchmynydd and two Spotted Redshanks at RSPB Conwy, where several Great White Egrets remain, with more egrets near Denbigh, on Bardsey and from Porthmadog Cob. There are also Firecrests at Porth Neigwl, Porth Meudwy and RSPB Conwy.
I'll be answering your questions about birds in Wales on the Bywyd Gwyllt Glaslyn Wildlife Facebook page on Tuesday 13 October at 7pm. Hope to hear from you there!
The combination of easterly winds and heavy rain made birdwatching difficult at the weekend, but there were interesting sightings for those who made the effort. The rarest birds in the region were on Bardsey: a Siberian Lesser Whitethroat, and an Eastern Yellow Wagtail, that is only the second ever seen in Wales - check the Bird Observatory blog for 3 October to read more, including how to identify the wagtail's call.
Mainland highlights include Rose-coloured Starlings at Morfa Nefyn and Bull Bay, Lapland Bunting at Llanystumdwy, three Great White Egrets at Porthmadog Cob and six at RSPB Conwy. Yellow-browed Warblers were at Porth Meudwy, Bangor and on the Great Orme.
The east coast saw the pick of the sightings, which included a trio of Russian thrushes in Scotland: White’s, Siberian and Eye-browed, while a Masked Shrike near Hartlepool and Two-barred Warbler in Northumberland also originated to the east. A Tennessee Warbler dropped onto Yell in Shetland from North America, illustrating how almost anything is possible during autumn migration.
Wales’ summer migrants are arriving in their tropical or southern winter quarters now, including thousands of terns that left our coast just a few weeks ago. The North Wales Wildlife Trust wardens at Cemlyn recently wrapped up their season with a webinar to report on a successful year for the tern colony. Almost 2000 Sandwich Tern nests was slightly down on the peak of a few years ago, but nonetheless amounts to almost 2% of the global population. The 750 pairs of Arctic Terns and 250 pairs of Common Terns were their highest ever totals, and over 1000 non-breeding terns added to the spectacle. The increase occurred following the abandonment of The Skerries colony, illustrating the importance of having alternative places that these seabirds can feel safe if they need a Plan B. Common Terns previously ringed on The Skerries also bred at RSPB Hodbarrow in Cumbria and Dalkey Island, close to Dun Laoghaire port in Ireland.