Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Late Wheatear

First thing this morning I opened the window to hear a distant party of Crossbills flying over - could not see them but judging by the noise I reckon there were at least four.

Late afternoon I had a stroll over towards Mynydd Penarfynydd where a late Wheatear was around the trig pint and a couple of Chough overhead.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Blyth's Reed Flashback

There's been a probable Blyth's Reed Warbler today at Breakwater Country Park, Holyhead although views were short and the ID not completely clinched..

Sounds very similar to an experience I had in Porth Meudwy on 19th October 2005, and being such a rarity I thought I'd mention the tale! Firstly, I had brief, frustrating views over 45 minutes of a skulking Acrocephalus warbler clambering around in a dense ivy-covered hawthorn.

It was a rather featureless bird, and in some ways it felt similar to the process I go through sometimes when finding a skulking Garden Warbler - bit by bit you realise that you have obtained a full description of a relatively nondescript bird!

This was a (greyish) brown Reed sized acro with a v.short primary projection, the very slightest hint of some warmer colouration on a rump which was almost concolourous with mantle, no buff tones on underparts, pale throat, no obvious brow like Booted, short off white supercillium barely extending beyond the eye, no contrast or obvious pale tips to primaries in wing, bill longish with pale lower mandible and fairly broadish base... The legs were not seen and call not heard.

That evening I studied all I could online and in my many books and journals, focussing on Blyth's Reed' and confusion species, leaving me in little doubt what I had seen.

Unfortunately nobody I spoke to was able to make it down to look for the bird next day when I 'enjoyed' similar views over a two hour period, reinforcing my suspicions.

Attempted some digiscoping but ended up with lots of shots of the ivy as the bird dropped out of view ;-(

Any comments on identification would be welcome.

This bird is on my "ones that got away list"!

Saw the species at Spurn Bird Observatory in May 1985 (edit: '84) during a classic east coast fall (Bluethroats, Icterine Warbler and Red-backed Shrikes about). It had just been extracted from a mist net and the ringers were giving us a running commentary on the main id features of this legendary species. I remember the massive twitch that ensured - I think this was one of the first available mainland birds. Have vivid memories of hundreds of birders - including some guy in bright yellow waterproofs - chasing this along some hedge!

Anyone else got any memories of the ones that got away on the Lleyn?

Friday, 21 October 2011

Porth Meudwy Peregrines

Had a brief look in Porth Meudwy this morning with Peter Kemmis Betty. I've never visited the valley so much as this autumn, and although at the end of the day rare birds are seldom seen in this area (apart from a certain rocky island not too far away!), the site's potential is great for something good to turn up and regular coverage is the best means of  connecting.

It has, after all, played host to quality birds such as Ruppell's Warbler and Red-eyed Vireo, as well as a virtually full set of scarce migrants despite extremely limited coverage over the years. I'll always remember a conversation I had with the late Clive Stephenson of Bangor who recalled being told of an unidentified Dendroica warbler (as they used to be called) glimpsed some years ago by a friend of his in the valley.

Of course, if I was only interested in the rares I'd be going crazy down here - torn between twitching Scarlet Tanager in Cornwall and Siberian Rubythroat in Shetland. Although I do enjoy the craic of an occassional twitch the prospect of staring at tarmac for hours and then finding myself in a crowd with a good percentage of idiot twitchers is not my cup of tea at all!  At the end of the day the reason I get out as much as I can is because there's a fascinating range of resident and migrant birds and loads of other wildlife to enjoy in the area. 

Anyway, today conditions were far from ideal as time was limited and there was a big SW blowing and many birds were keeping low in the cover - although at least the temperature was significantly higher than yesterday.

The highlight for me was great views of a couple of Peregrines chasing each other low up the valley. The lead bird was carrying prey with the other in hot pursuit. Not much else to report today; the 3 resident Chough, 4 Redwing, 14 Blackbird, a calling Ring Ouzel (hidden in the undergrowth), 4 Blackcap and a Chiffchaff were noted while Goldcrests were down to 12 birds... plus a few other common species.

Overhead a few Starlings and finches were moving while 12 Lapwing flew east.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Goldcrest invasion

First, have to mention some late news for the last few days:

Eddie Urbanski and Dan 'Punkbirder' Brown visited Porth Meudwy on Tuesday and saw very little apart from a Clouded Yellow just before the pool and a Hummingbird Hawkmoth. Later they found a 2w Med Gull in Pwllheli Harbour sporting a yellow ring on its right leg.

Yesterday I walked down to Plas yn Rhiw for a quick afternoon visit. Rhys Jones interrupted my birding by informing me of a ringtail Hen Harrier on Mynydd y Graig. He joined me later and we had a look around the Plas and down towards Tre-heli Farm. A nice selection of woodland species were about (Jay, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Bullfinch etc) but more surprising was a flock of tardy hirundines actively feeding over the farm - 4 Swallow and 3 House Martin. A group of 12 Lesser Redpolls were also in the area. 

This morning Rhys and I visited Uwchmynydd then the valley where we met Eddie.

One of the first species we noticed before sunrise was a large flock of Raven - a minimum of 34 were 'gronking' away over Mynydd Mawr. Presumably these just left a local roost?

Visible migration was good again; totals between 0740-0840 hrs came to: 

Skylark 4
Meadow Pipit 49
Alba wagtail 3
Fieldfare 28
Mistle Thrush 3
Carrion Crow 1
Jackdaw 40
Raven 3
Starling 194
Chaffinch 655 
Brambling 4
Greenfinch 6
Goldfinch 15
Siskin 3
Linnet 25
Redpoll sp 1
Reed Bunting 20 
Yellowhammer 6

A 1w Merlin was chasing the finch flocks for breakfast.

A quick look at Safn Pant revealed a few Blackbirds and 10 Goldcrest while a Wheatear - and a large Fox - were up on Mynydd Mawr, with another Mistle Thrush was feeding at the Ty Newydd campsite. If you're not a local patch worker you may wonder why the excitement about this species - and Goldcrest numbers for that matter - but they are relatively uncommon down here!

A Woodcock was flushed at Pwll Bron-llwyn while a couple of Yellowhammer and a Great Spotted Woodpecker was at Ystolhelyg.

Porth Meudwy was quite simply crawling with Goldcrests today - a couple of years ago they were as scarce as hen's teeth for some reason but this morning we counted a minimum of 36. Unfortunately there were no rare phylloscs - just a Chiffhcaff for accompaniment.

Another Woodcock leaped out of the undergrowth while other bits and pieces included a fine male Ring Ouzel, 18 Blackbird, a couple of Redwing, 6 Song Thrush, 7 Blackcap, 6 Bullfinch, 12 Crossbill heading SW and 3 Brambling. A Stoat was also down by the boat house.

A Merlin was busy terrorising the passerines on the stubble field at Cwrt which held 38 Skylark and a couple of Reed Buntings.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Country Diary

Nice to hear (cheers Steph!) that Mark Cocker of The Guardian newspaper published a Country Diary column about Uwchmynydd yesterday. He was mainly waxing lyrical about the noisy local Choughs - but also managed to enjoy some visible migration!

To be honest it's easy to get a bit blase about these corvids - I've even seen them in the garden at times - but they really are something special. According to the recently published paper 'Rare breeding birds in the UK in 2009' the total UK estimate was between 281-487 pairs, of which there were 222 confirmed breeding pairs of a total of 293 territorial pairs in Wales. The old Vice County of Caernarfonshire supported 74 confirmed breeders of a total 100 recorded pairs - therefore we support a big percentage of the total population.

Many of the local birds are colour-ringed by a dedicated team. I hear stories of boats and ladders entering sea caves and lots of dangling off ropes to reach the nest sites. Thus many of the local birds are wearing jewellery. If I carried my scope more often I might be able to forward a few more records to them.

Anyway, I did zero birding today but was fortunate to encounter a Hummingbird Hawkmoth and a Red Admiral flying around in gale force winds on a walk down to Aberdaron this afternoon; the first hummer - and I suspect the last - that I've seen this year.

Sunday, 16 October 2011


Destination was eventually Mynydd Mawr, Uwchmynydd this morning (after some vehicle problems!). Arrived a little later than planned but immediately the sky was absolutely full of birds, to the extent that it was difficult to know where to look next - never mind noting things down.

The weather was again great; cool, dry and bright with a little cloud inland and a light WSW. Visibility was excellent all the way down to the tip of Pembrokeshire and the coast of Ireland.

Minimum counts (again, the majority of birds heading SW) between 0800-0930 were:

Red-throated Diver - 1 high over the mountain heading south
Golden Plover 1
Woodpigeon 5
Great Spotted Woodpecker 1 circled
Skylark 169 (inc one flock of 149 birds)
Meadow Pipit 56
Tree Pipit  1 (or 2 - more on that later) 
Alba wagtail 3
Redwing 30
Carrion Crow 15
Jackdaw 24
Raven 5
Starling 1304
Chaffinch 840 (big underestimate as huge numbers were calling high overhead but impossible to see)
Brambling 6 - my first of the autumn
Greenfinch 6
Goldfinch 25
Siskin 8
Linnet 21
Redpoll sp 4
Reed Bunting 21

A smart 1w Merlin was seen hunting  the flocks of migrants. After ending the count I wandered down to Pwll Bron-llwyn and back. Several flocks of irrupting tits were working their way along the hedgerows including 3 Coal', 31 (!) Blue' and 4 Great'. Interesting to hear of similar movements on Skomer Island today also.  A Bullfinch was calling at Safn Pant Farm - presumably a migrant. Eleven Chough were also in the area.

After lunch, Porth Meudwy held the same Ring Ouzel and Garden Warbler as yesterday plus a few other bits and pieces including 5 Blackcap, Chiffchaff, 14 Goldcrest, a beautiful Woodcock that crashed into the bracken, 6 or 7 Buzzards, another 1w Merlin and a single Yellowhammer.

I also bumped into Eddie & Sally Urbanski (The Urbanski Birders!) who had found another Garden Warbler nearby in Porth Simdde and a couple of Med Gulls offshore. I was happy enough to finally connect with a Common Gull in the cove - the first I've seen for ages.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Ring Ouzel & Garden Warbler

Worked Porth Meudwy and Cwrt Farm today in fine weather - blue skies and broken cloud with a light easterly.

No sign of any scarce 'phylloscs' but a Garden Warbler was late (thanks Dave!), a different 1w f Ring Ouzel to yesterday's male was at the bottom of the valley and at least 3 Crossbills headed high overhead.

Again, there were good numbers of diurnal migrants on the move: 97 Lapwing, hundreds of Skylark, many Meadow Pipit, 1 Grey Wagtail, the odd alba wagtail, hundreds of Starling, plus many Chaffinch, 1 Greenfinch, 3 Siskin, 12 Linnet, 1 Redpoll spp, 1 Reed Bunting and ca 10 Raven that went over at a great height calling away.

Other thrushes included 12 Blackbird, 7 Song Thrush, 72 Redwing and 63 Fieldfare - many of which were dropping in to rest and feed in the valley before heading off again. Nine each of Blackcap & Goldcrest, and a single Chiffchaff were also present. 

A Painted Lady and 2 Red Admirals were the only butterflies seen while a Grey Seal was close inshore by the cove where Grey Wagtail and Rock Pipit showed well feeding amongst the seaweed on the shoreline.

Cwrt was very quiet with just a single Yellowhammer and 20 Linnet in the remains of the game cover crop by the farm.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Yellow-browed Warblers

I started the day intent on carrying out a visible migration count at Uwchmynydd and was pleased to hear the first Redwings of the year passing over as I set off from Rhiw.

On arrival at Mynydd Mawr, a few Fieldfare could be heard and soon these - and a nice range of other species - were seen overhead. The weather was mild and dull with drizzly showers clearing later and a light SW breeze.

Totals between 0700-0900 hrs (with most birds heading SW) came to: 45 Lapwing, 1 Golden Plover, a Great Spotted Woodpecker - which headed over then circled back, 12 Skylark, 1 Swallow, 49 Meadow Pipit, 1 Grey Wagtail, 8 alba wagtail, 117 Redwing, 285 Fieldfare, 5 Jackdaw, 259 Starling, at least 1,110 Chaffinch, 2 Greenfinch, 14 Goldfinch, 20 Siskin, 63 Linnet, 1 Redpoll and 10 Reed Bunting.

Peter Hall reported a massive arrival of winter thrushes at Llithfaen this morning with approximately 3,000 Fieldfare and 'thousands' of Redwings. 

A grounded Ring Ouzel was located in the area plus 25+ Chough, a Peregrine and 14 Yellowhammer between here and Ystolhelyg while the 'odd amphibian record of the day' goes to a large Toad walking down the road by the mountain.  

Next stop was Porth Meudwy where one of the first birds I encountered was a Yellow-browed Warbler feeding with a mixed tit and warbler flock at the top of the valley before flying off in the direction of Cwrt farm. I never tire of watching these superb phylloscopus warblers that reach the west coast annually in small numbers all the way from Siberia.

Working my way down the valley a male Ring Ouzel was located then I heard another Yellow-browed' calling from the willows below the landslide down from the campsite. Having spent some time waiting for it to appear I continued past and saw it - or another bird - feeding with Goldcrests in a different willow clump. For a moment I had a flashback to Shetland where I had my last multiple inornatus moments. Eddie Urbanski then had the good fortune to turn up and see this bird.

Other bits and pieces on site included 9 Blackbird, 7 Song Thrush, 8 Blackcap, 2 Chiffchaff, 9 Goldcrest, 60 Fieldfare and 4 Bullfinch. Eddie and I headed out towards Solfach and Pen-y-Cil later, which was v.quiet, highlight being a late Lesser Whitethroat at Pwll Cyw.

Also, Dei Rhys Jones reports a pod of ca.12 dolphin spp species feeding off Aberdesach this morning.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Shoreline Stoat

I found one of these mustelids running along the seaweed covered boulder scree at the western end of Porth Neigwl / Hell's Mouth this afternoon at low tide. It was carrying food but views were brief and I was unable to see what it had caught.

In all my 40 odd years I've never seen one actually on the beach - or in this case - way below it in the inter-tidal zone - and winder if any readers might have encountered such behaviour before?

Also, a Grey Phalarope was reported briefly in Pwllheli harbour yesterday afternoon... shortly after I had checked the site and seen very little apart from a 1w Med Gull.

Saturday, 8 October 2011


The weather forecast last night was poor so I opted for a lie-in this morning - mistake! I awoke to a cool westerly and some drizzle - which usually means a few grounded migrants around - so visited Porth Meudwy late morning. Having forgotten my jacket in the rush I endured a couple of cold hours, with a few migrants seen.

An obvious influx of Robins and Blackcap saw at least 15 of each present with a couple of Chiffchaff and 5 Goldcrest. A fine Peregrine and a trickle of 4 Swallows headed over plus 38 Skylark, and a few pipits and finches, including a couple of redpoll spp. Thrush numbers are still low with just 10 Blackbird and 2 Song Thrush... where are all the Redwings & Fieldfares? Despite the cold a Red Admiral was on the wing.

After lunch - and this time suitably dressed - I headed for a wander around Uwchmynydd. Highlight was a terrific1w Merlin perched up by Mynydd Mawr while other bits and pieces included 6 Stonechat, a single Blackcap, 3 Goldcrest and a Yellowhammer near Gwyddel.

Also, some belated news from earlier in the week;

Eddie & Sally Urbanski found a Hooded Crow at Cwrt, Aberdaron on Wednesday with 60 Skylarks and 40 Linnets around the farm while yesterday there were c100 each of Skylark, Linnet and House Sparrow. A local resident informed me of a Hoodie a few weeks ago in the area, presumably the same bird.

Rhys Jones had 4 Red-throated Diver, 2 Med' Gulls, a juv Sabine's Gull, 2 Pomarine', 9 Great' and 7 Arctic Skua past Porth Ysgaden on Thursday while along at Porth Iago Dave Lamacraft scored with a Balearic Shearwater, 3 Leach's Petrel, a Grey Phalarope, 1 Sabine's Gull and 2 Poms - possibly the Ysgaden birds. Great stuff!

Monday, 3 October 2011

Spotted Flycatchers

Checked Porth Meudwy again late morning. A strengthening but mild SW meant most birds had been pushed to the top of the valley. The avian highlight was at least three tardy Spotted Flycatcher which were actively feeding and calling.

Swallows were passing overhead in small numbers (43 in two hours) with a single House Martin and a few other migrants. Warblers comprised; a Lesser Whitethroat, 3 Blackcap, 7 Chiffchaff and 4 Goldcrests while finches included a couple of Redpolls, 34 Godlfinch and 8 Siskin.

A single Water Rail was squealing from the stream side while butterflies included both Red Admiral and a stunning Comma.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Lapland Bunting

Did a visible migration (or 'vis mig') count at Mynydd Mawr, Uwchmynydd this morning and was impressed by the numbers and variety of species as usual.

Conditions were perfect - warm, dry, some high cloud and very light SSW winds, and the sunrise over southern Snowdonia and Cardigan Bay was superb!

Total counts (with all birds heading SW) between 0715-0845 came to:

Grey Heron 1
Meadow Pipit 222
Grey Wagtail 2
Alba wagtail 10
Skylark 4
Raven 25 probably local birds
Jackdaw 11
Chaffinch 1,080
Greenfinch 10
Siskin 8
Linnet 86
Redpoll sp 1
Crossbill 1
Lapland Bunting 1
Reed Bunting 11

The figures above are mostly underestimates as my sound recording equipment was picking up many birds high overhead that I could not see and it was difficult at times to note everything down that I could. A click counter was used for the Chaffinches.

I just love vis migging - a reminder of time spent learning my birds as a keen teenager back in Sheffield. I spent hours staring at bleak moorland reservoirs hoping for something - anything - to fly over.

Rhys arrived and we decided to work around the mountain then make our way back to Porth Meudwy. Birds were still pouring overhead and the Skylarks - which always enjoy a lie in - started to come through in numbers but I had abandoned counting and was concentrating on locating any grounded migrants.

As usual, there was one that got away; this time a Locustella (probably just a Grasshopper Warbler but who knows at this time of year?) that was flushed near the summit then flew away down the precipitous slope.

Other species in the area included 1 Golden Plover, one or two Peregrines, a Wheatear and lots of grounded Meadow Pipits. The Chough flock had increased to an impressive 42 birds.

One of the weirdest sightings was a Magpie carrying a large stick - as in nestbuilding - at Pwll Bron-llwyn! This might explain why we saw no hirundines this morning - have they all headed north again in the balmy weather?!

A quick look in Porth Meudwy was pretty fruitless, with notable species being another Golden Plover over, a Great Spotted Woodpecker - which did impress one visiting Irish birder - single Blackcap and Chiffchaff, 3 Goldcrests and 10 Coal Tits.