I made my second visit on Sunday to the two squares above Conwy that I monitor for the Breeding Bird Survey, the main source of our knowledge of trends in populations of widespread species. There were so many birds, it took me almost an hour to walk each kilometre, carefully recording everything I saw and heard. In the square counted almost every year since 1994, this year has seen a record number of species (42) and the highest ever counts of Blackbird, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and House Sparrow.
Improved weather conditions last week are welcome news for birds whose eggs hatch in June, but may have come too late for some species. The dry and cold April meant that insects were in short supply, especially for aerial feeders such as Swallows and House Martins. The hard, dry ground made it difficult for wader species too, such as Curlews and Lapwings. Walking on moorland in April, even the sphagnum was crispy underfoot, conditions we often don’t witness in Wales even in late summer.
It was the wettest May in Wales since records began, with several centimetres of snow lying in the uplands early in the month. This suppressed insect numbers, with moth enthusiasts reporting a terrible start to the season. Swollen rivers washed out first nesting attempts by Sand Martins and Kingfishers, and many broods of Starlings, Great Tits and Blue Tits starved in their nests. These single-brooded species will be especially hit, as they rarely rear a second brood. Birds that can lay another clutch of eggs may do better, although later broods are usually smaller.
Some warblers have arrived later than usual, some by a couple of weeks, and for those that nest in reedbeds, such as Reed and Sedge Warblers, the reeds are only now large enough to support a nest. Choughs in west-facing nests suffered during windy and cold conditions in early May, but elsewhere they have fared better. Pied Flycatchers in southwest Britain have nested later than usual, with smaller clutches of eggs than usual reported, but ringers in North Wales report eggs hatching on typical dates last week and good size broods.
The warmer weather also brought an influx of birds from continental Europe. A Golden Oriole sang at Llanfairynghornwy, near Wylfa, on Friday, a Common Rosefinch sang in a Holyhead garden and others were at Cemlyn Bay and Bardsey. A Quail sang near Ynys, on the Dwyryd estuary, and a female in meadows near Penygroeslon became only the 138th ever to be ringed in Britain & Ireland. Rarity of the week was an Eastern Subalpine Warbler near Carmel Head, only the second in Wales away from Bardsey or the Pembrokeshire islands. A Spoonbill on the Glaslyn Marshes was only the third record there and two Avocets at RSPB Conwy on Saturday are likely to have been failed breeders from elsewhere.
Pink-and-black Rose-coloured Starlings have arrived in huge numbers in southwestern Europe in the last week. Around 100 have been reported in Britain in recent days, including three in Holyhead, and singles in Valley, Beaumaris, Cemaes, Cemlyn Bay, Rhyl and on Bardsey. We could be on course for a record year, and unlike many rarities, these Rosy Starlings are quite likely to turn up in towns and gardens.
A new national avifauna, The Birds of Wales, will be published in July. Liverpool University Press is accepting pre-orders for £25 (plus p&p), which is £20 below the published price. Click here for details and to order, using the code WALES50 to get the discount.