Two Waxwings dropped in briefly on Sunday to Llaneilian, the first village on Anglesey for birds arriving from the northeast. It’s been seven winters since there were last good numbers of this noisy, punkish songbird from northern Europe, but with numbers in Scotland already, perhaps more will arrive in the coming weeks. There’s certainly no shortage of berries to feed them, following the spectacular Hawthorn blossoms last spring. Listen out for their excited, high-pitched trill, especially around supermarket car parks planted with Rowan trees.
A dozen Twite are on the shingle shore at Gronant, perhaps freshly arrived from the Western Isles of Scotland and set to head up the Dee estuary to their regular wintering area at Connah’s Quay nature reserve. Three Woodlarks were a great find at Morfa Nefyn on Monday and a Black Redstart was by the halfway tram station on the Great Orme. Yellow-browed Warblers were at Talacre and Porth Meudwy, a Firecrest was ringed on the Orme last week, and a Ring Ouzel remained at Holyhead’s Breakwater Country Park on Monday. A Surf Scoter and half a dozen Velvet Scoters were among the growing flock of Common Scoters on calm seas off Llanddulas, and a Slavonian Grebe was in Bangor harbour last week.
Several Cattle Egrets remained in the region on Monday, with four on Anglesey’s Alaw estuary, three by the Cefni upstream from Malltraeth and one by the sluice at Porthmadog. Late Garganeys are at Connah’s Quay nature reserve and RSPB Conwy, where a couple of Spotted Redshanks remain. Two Glossy Ibises flew south over Bardsey last Friday, just before Bird Observatory staff departed the island for the season. Short-eared Owls are arriving from the north and can turn up anywhere: Lleweni, Aber and Holyhead are among the sightings in recent days.
News that bird flu has reached the Antarctic region, with confirmed cases in Brown Skuas on South Georgia, has elevated fears of the impact if the virus spreads, including to albatrosses and penguins already under pressure from long-line fishing and a rapidly changing climate.
Cattle Egrets were, until fairly recently, a bird seen during Mediterranean or African holidays, small groups of the yellow-billed herons foraging around cattle, buffalos or other grazing animals. Prior to 2000, only four had been recorded in North Wales, and there were only another half dozen in the next 15 years. Christmas 2016 saw the first flock in the region, in the Cefni Valley, and the following spring the species bred just over the border, in the Wirral part of RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands, then the most northerly nest in the World.
Now roosts of more than 200 Cattle Egrets occur in Somerset, the county which holds the bulk of the UK breeding population. Up to 40 were in North Wales last week, including two different flocks of 14 at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands and RSPB Cors Ddyga, the largest ever recorded in the region. Four were seen from Porthmadog Cob, three at Valley, two near Uwchmynydd and singles at Pennal, Pontllyfni, RSPB Conwy, Holyhead and south of Rhyl.
Long-tailed Ducks are feeding on Llyn Maelog and RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands’ Border Pool. Lapland Buntings were on Bardsey, at Talacre, and at RSPB Conwy, along with six Great White Egrets and a Garganey. Sunday saw Snow Buntings near Pontllyfni, a Great Grey Shrike and Short-eared Owl on the Great Orme and the second Barred Warbler of the autumn on Holy Island. A late Osprey flew inland from Caernarfon and two Twite were among migrants logged at RSPB South Stack.
In tough times for breeding seabirds, a welcome announcement was that a new Sandwich Tern colony has become established on Anglesey’s Inland Sea, where 118 pairs fledged 71 young. Common and Arctic Terns, and Black-headed Gulls also nested at the site, which was wardened by RSPB Cymru. It is the first time since the mid-1980s that there have been two Welsh colonies of Sandwich Terns. The other colony, at Cemlyn, was – like many sites - hit by bird flu this year.
It is not just the weather that is feeling more wintry. Most of our summer migrants have left the country, so it was nice to see a few Wheatears on the Great Orme on Monday, and a White Wagtail that had arrived from Iceland. It’s been a chilly start for a brood of young Swallows that fledged late last week on Anglesey and while most Chiffchaffs have gone, a few will remain through the winter. The first flocks of Whooper Swans were over Bangor and at RSPB Point of Ayr, Cors Ddyga and the Cefni estuary, and Golden Plovers are arriving on Mynydd Hiraethog. Small numbers of Chaffinch and Goldcrests are moving along the coast.
At least five Yellow-browed Warblers were found on Bardsey last week, and two more were on Holy Island. I remember seeing my first, on the Great Orme, in 1988 when they were genuinely rare. The species underwent a transformation in its status during the last decade, becoming a scarce but expected passage migrant each autumn. It seems that these are no longer lost vagrants but small numbers journey between Siberia and southwest Europe, a shorter distance than their usual winter haunts in southeast Asia. North Sea coasts welcome the majority of European records, but some make it to North Wales in most years. And with many miles of suitable scrubby habitat along the coastline, who knows how many pass un-noticed?
Bardsey Bird Observatory also recorded a Common Rosefinch last week, while a Barred Warbler was a good find on Holyhead Mountain. A Hen Harrier on the Great Orme, and Merlin and Short-eared Owl at Point of Ayr are migrants from hilly areas. Two more Cattle Egrets have joined the flock at RSPB Cors Ddyga, that now totals five birds and look very much at home among cattle grazing the nature reserve.
I’m looking forward to speaking at the Welsh Ornithological Society’s conference at Aberystwyth University on 4 November, and hope to meet birdwatchers from across North Wales. Also speaking on the theme of ‘’Into and Out of the Red – creating a brighter future for birds in Wales” will be WOS President, Iolo Williams, the BTO’s Rachel Taylor, NRW’s Patrick Lindley, Rare Breeding Bird Panel chair Dawn Balmer, and Bob Haycock from the Pembrokeshire Bird Group. You may just get one of the last few tickets on the WOS website.
From the east, large numbers of Fieldfares came to Bala and more than 200 were at Moel Arthur in the Clwydian Hills at the weekend. A few Redwings are already as far west as Bardsey. They’ll find plenty to eat, with Hawthorns and Rowan laden with bright red berries this autumn. Keen ears picked up the calls of Common Scoters west over Penrhyn Bay at night, which will probably have travelled here from farther east, as far away as northern Siberia. These all-black ducks will be in Liverpool Bay until next March, joining many tens of thousands wintering here.
Flooding at RSPB Cors Ddyga has attracted large numbers of waterbirds to the Cefni Valley. A Red-necked Phalarope was the rarest visitor, but also present are a Wood Sandpiper, Garganey, Mandarin Duck, a trio of Cattle Egrets among the grazing cows, and at least four Great White Egrets. Two Spoonbills are on Anglesey’s Inland Sea, a Glossy Ibis was south of Aberdysynni last week and a Little Gull flew past Bangor Pier on Monday. Grey Phalaropes are on a flooded field at Valley and at Glan-y-mor Elias, west of Llanfairfechan, and another Garganey is at RSPB Conwy. A Hoopoe was a surprise find in a Rhoshirwaun garden and the first Black Redstart of autumn is on Bardsey. Most of our summer warblers have departed, but a Garden Warbler was on the Great Orme on Monday.
The Curlew LIFE project reported on the third breeding season of the four-year project working with farmers and landowners, including the National Trust, in Ysbyty Ifan and Hiraethog. A team of 30 volunteers helped to find 49 territories in the project area and monitored 28 nests and broods. Temporary fencing around nests resulted in successful hatching of many nests, and at least 11 chicks fledged. Data from lightweight radio-tags is being analysed to understand the loss of other chicks in order to steer future management. More details are on the project’s blog.
Last week’s Storm Agnes deposited several phalaropes around North Wales. Globally, there are three members of this family of slim-necked waders, two of which breed in the high Arctic. Unlike other shorebirds that winter along the coast, phalaropes behave more like a seabird, spending their non-breeding season far out in tropical oceans. A Red-necked Phalarope is at RSPB Cors Ddyga, while Grey Phalaropes were on flooded fields at Valley and Dinas Dinlle over the weekend, with others at Criccieth (including one walking down the promenade!), Porthmadog, Porth Oer and Morfa Madryn, near Llanfairfechan. Three more were on Penrhos floods near Llanbedrog, with a Pectoral Sandpiper and Little Stint also there last week. The storm also claimed a Leach’s Petrel, which apparently hit the windows at Pontio in Bangor.
Bardsey had its third Black-and-White Warbler in a week, all three of which were ringed at the Bird Observatory, the only individuals of this North American species ever to be ringed in Europe. More trans-Atlantic vagrants were seen in Britain last week, including a probable Tufted Puffin reported off Porth Oer, and a Monarch butterfly at Rhoscolyn may have made the same crossing. A Wryneck was also found nearby.
Both RSPB Conwy and Cors Ddyga nature reserves hosted Garganey and Cattle Egrets, with three of the white herons in the Cefni Valley and one at Conwy being the first ever at the site. Seven Curlew Sandpipers were at Cors Ddyga, with others at Morfa Madryn, Beddmanarch Bay and the Clwyd estuary, and two Dotterels were in fields near Fort Belan on Friday. Anglesey’s first ever Red-throated Pipit was identified from a sound-recording made at RSPB South Stack on Sunday. Also from the east was a Red-flanked Bluetail in Dyfnant Forest, just south of Lake Vyrnwy. Thousands of Swallows streamed through coastal sites on Monday.
A weekly update of bird sightings and news from North Wales, published in The Daily Post every Thursday.