I rarely twitch a rarity these days, but waking early on Christmas Eve, the draw of a Belted Kingfisher – five times the size of our colourful Common Kingfisher - near Preston was too good to ignore. At daybreak, I joined dozens of others in a field opened up by a local farmer, and was soon watching it catch fish in the River Darwen. It has been seen sporadically in the area since early November and is only the fifth British record of this North American visitor. It could even be the same bird that spent last winter in southern Ireland.
Closer to home, the subadult Iceland Gull continues to share Little Orme’s Angel Bay with Grey Seals, above which auks and Fulmars occupy the cliff and former quarry ledges, looking ahead to warmer days of spring. Dozens of Red-throated Divers are off Llanfairfechan and Pensarn at the moment, three Slavonian Grebes are in Beddmanarch Bay and another is with a couple of Long-tailed Ducks and Velvet Scoters off Llanddulas. Another Long-tailed Duck is on Shotwick Boating Lake.
A Swallow over Ynys Llanddwyn on Christmas Day was one of several in the country in the last week, and a Common Sandpiper is overwintering on the Dee at Flint. Also unseasonal for North Wales is an Avocet on the Braint estuary, south of Newborough.
Three Great White Egrets are at RSPB Cors Ddyga and others at Llyn Llywenan, Llyn Ystumllyn and RSPB Conwy. Five European White-fronted Geese were alongside the Clwyd estuary below Rhuddlan on Monday and a Scaup remains nearby at Rhyl’s Brickfield Pond. Up to 34 Pink-footed Geese are on fields between Penrhyn Bay and Coleg Llandrillo, and there were smaller flocks near Caernarfon airport and near Cemlyn last week. Single Snow Buntings are at Fort Belan and Mynydd Mawr, near Aberdaron, and elsewhere on Pen Llŷn, up to three Siberian Chiffchaffs at Porth Meudwy and another at Pontllyfni. At least three Hawfinches regularly visit Llanrwst churchyard and another was seen deep in Clocaenog Forest last week, along with several Bramblings.
Very many thanks for reading BirdNotes throughout this year. I wish you an enjoyable new year, and a nature-rich 2022.
Birdwatchers are encouraged to help surveillance for H5N1 avian influenza this winter, as conservationists raised alarm at the potential impact on wild bird populations for which the UK is important. RSPB Scotland has released images of hundreds of carcasses at its nature reserves on the Solway Firth, and estimates that 10% of the Svalbard breeding population of Barnacle Goose may have died here in recent weeks. With the highly pathogenic virus confirmed at 65 poultry premises across the UK, including two in North Wales, wild birds confirmed with the disease include a Buzzard in Gwynedd, a Mute Swan on Anglesey and several Pheasants in Wrexham CBC.
Although ducks, geese and swans are especially susceptible, infection among Great Skuas nesting in Scotland last summer and scavenging species such as Buzzard and White-tailed Eagle has been confirmed, and several dead Curlews have been reported. Thankfully, no sites have yet been affected on the scale of the Solway and although the risk of contracting the disease from a wild bird is very low, people are reminded not to handle sick or dead wild birds. Dead waterbirds, gamebirds, gulls and raptors should be reported to the DEFRA helpline on 03459 335577.
An Iceland Gull has joined the Little Orme grey seals in Angel Bay, almost 200 Pink-footed Geese feed on fields in Penrhyn Bay and another flock is near Cemlyn. Several Black-throated Divers are off northwest Wales, Long-tailed Ducks in Foryd Bay and Kinmel Bay, and a Bittern at Morfa Dinlle. At the tip of Pen Llŷn, a Snow Bunting was on Mynydd Mawr and Black Redstart near Aberdaron, with another on a Llandudno rooftop last week. Up to 16 Hawfinches have been along the Afon Conwy in Llanrwst, three Siberian Chiffchaffs at Pontllyfni and Scaup at RSPB Conwy, Llyn Trawsfynydd and Rhyl Brickfields Pit.
If you are off work over the break, I hope you get a chance to enjoy some time outside exploring nature, a vital tonic in uncertain and challenging times. I wish all BirdNotes readers a safe and peaceful Christmas.
Sunday’s sunshine tempted me to walk along the Wales Coast Path between Llanddulas and Pensarn. The two recent storms have washed thousands of dead and dying fish, starfish, octopuses – and yes, I did have to look that up to check that’s the correct plural form. These have attracted thousands of gulls to the beach, mostly Herring Gulls, with smaller numbers of Common and Black-headed Gulls. They were repeatedly flushed by dogs and walkers, but always tempted back by the feast on offer. Offshore, a few thousand Common Scoters and five dozen Red-throated Divers were visible with a telescope, though I failed to pick out the white wings of a Velvet Scoter seen by others.
There were also Red-breasted Mergansers on the sea, but several had taken sanctuary on Llanfairfechan boating pond. Also seeking shelter were several Black Guillemots and two Great Northern Divers in Holyhead harbour, with another diver on the Afon Dysynni. Anglesey’s Inland Sea also provides a refuge during storms, hosting a Scaup and two Slavonian Grebes. Another Scaup is with Goosanders at Rhyl’s Brickfields Pond and a Long-tailed Duck on Shotwick boating lake.
Three Whooper Swans flew over RSPB Conwy on Sunday, their trumpeting call ringing across the valley, and small herds are at RSPB Cors Ddyga and Morfa Dinlle, near Caernarfon airport, where a couple of thousand Golden Plovers are feeding.
It’s tough finding small songbirds in recent conditions, so a Firecrest and several Chiffchaffs in scrub east of Glanwydden were welcome finds, and Snow Buntings are at Llandudno’s West Shore, and on Anglesey at Traeth yr Ora and Holyhead marina. Two Hawfinches are in Llanrwst, a regular winter sighting in the town in recent years; at least one Great Grey Shrike roams Clocaenog Forest, and a Hooded Crow has been at Hen Borth, near Cemlyn.
After the wind abated, I spent a glorious afternoon exploring Anglesey’s wetlands on Sunday. A Slavonian Grebe fed frenetically among Goldeneyes and Great Crested Grebes on the Inland Sea, but the real highlight was a golden hour at RSPB Cors Ddyga. With recent floods receding, the shallow water is alive with hundreds of Shoveler, Teal and Pintail that winter here from northeastern Europe. I missed Water Pipits and Great White Egrets that were spotted earlier in the day, but really didn’t mind. The magical sound of hundreds of Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits and Lapwings remained in the cold air long after it was too dark to discern their fine plumage, the airspace patrolled by an elegant grey male Hen Harrier. Thousands of Starlings streamed across the orange sky as the sun set, finding overnight sanctuary in the reedbeds. It really is a very special place.
Purple Sandpipers are roosting in Trearddur Bay and Rhos-on-Sea, lashed by waves that brought a Little Auk past the Great Orme and Great Northern Divers to Llandudno Bay, Holyhead harbour and the Menai Strait. Eight Whooper Swans touched down at Morfa Dinlle near Caernarfon airport on Monday, recent arrivals from Iceland. Long-tailed Ducks have been on Shotwick Boating Lake, Foryd Bay and Morfa Bychan but the Smew admired by visitors to RSPB Conwy for the last week has moved on. Single Scaup remain at Conwy and Rhyl’s Brickfields Pond.
At least two, perhaps as many as four, Great Grey Shrikes inhabit the clear-felled forestry around Llyn Brenig, but these master hunters roam widely across their winter territory, so it’s hard to be sure how many are involved, and it’s easy to miss them. Black Redstarts are at Moelfre, Amlwch and near Rhoscolyn, and a very late Swallow was at Malltraeth village on Sunday.
A weekly update of bird sightings and news from North Wales.