Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Porth Ysgaden Pipit

I had a call from Dei Rhys Jones this afternoon who had the good fortune to come across a probable Richard's Pipit at Porth Ysgaden around lunchtime today. Although Dei is not the most experienced birder his description sounds spot on. He had prolonged telescope views of the bird on the pasture - describing it as a large pale upright pipit - alongside the resident Rock Pipits, and also heard it's characteristic sparrow-like calls in flight. It also hovered before landing as it flew around the area before heading north-east.

I decided to meet up with Eddie late afternoon in the hope of relocating it. Sadly there was no sign of the target but a nice flock of 56 Golden Plovers were overhead, 16 Turnstone fed on the beach and 16 Wigeon were roosting offshore. Two vocal Red-billed Chough were busy demolishing the clawdd in the search for food.

Before long the sun was setting and it was time to head home - grumble, grumble... November days are too short but only a month to go before the shortest day and the promise of all that verdant green lamb frolicking bird singing daffodilly springness!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

November Birding

Oh well that's another autumn over - or is it? Just heard we've had one of the coldest October's on record and it really feels like it with some low temperatures and that horrible greyness I associate with this month. I've done a little birding since the last update but not seen too much of interest apart from a decent flock of Wigeon and a party of Pintail on the Llanengan floods a few days ago.

So the year turns and with it the annual rituals. The Sibley Guide to North American Birds has been removed from the car boot and is firmly back on the bookshelf as the forlorn hope of finding a Yankee passerine in Porth Meudwy is swept away for another year.

Porridge every morning.

The sunrise and sunset has become more rapid unlike the long drawn out dusks of summer (well at least the odd night when it was possible to sit outside).

The medium sized blackish birds zooming across the sky are Starlings now, rather than Barn Swallows.

Eternal dampness outside... but the wood burner is lovely of an evening.

I had a wander around the fields by the house tonight at dusk and glimpsed a Barn Owl in the twilight over the rough grassland. A posse of Redwings called overhead. Song Thrushes and Robins were disturbed from the gorse topped cloddiau as I passed while a distant bonfire glowed on the road to Pen-y-caerau.

Hoping for a local Waxwing soon...

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Wood Lark Dip

There was a young man called Marc
Who went out and found a Wood Lark
(on my patch!)
He told me, I twitched it, then sadly I dipped it
So now I'm gonna punch his face off....


But (gggggggrrrrrrrr), it is a teeny weeny bit gripping when a One Man Bird Observatory turns up and finds stuff that I should have!

The fact that Mr Hughes was actually out looking (rather than limping around in recovery mode after a particularly spine-bending yoga class the night before while contemplating a day of meaningless toil) probably helps to explain his good fortune. Plus the fact that he's a bloody good birder. Nice find - they're a scarce Welsh migrant - and it could have been a lot worse (think Calandra worse).

The bird was seen in flight between the Ty Newydd Campsite and the end cattle grid onto Mynydd Mawr then landed in the weedy field adjacent to the lower car park but was not relocated. Having dashed along (all of 17 minutes on the road) I discovered that there were loads of birds on the move - Starlings, Jackdaws, hundreds of Chaffinches, Reed Buntings, Siskins and a few Brambling and began kicking myself for not getting out earlier.

So never mind, lesson learned and to be honest I don't really need Wood Lark on the patch - having heard one over Mynydd Mawr a few years ago that pitched down on Bardsey 20 minutes later. I was still stuck in the wires from my Sennheiser when I received the news from the island, having managed to pull the microphone lead out from my MiniDisc while simultaneously attempting to hit the record button and fit my headphones - becoming hopelessly entangled while trying to reconnect. Fortunately my Anglo-Saxon expletives were not recorded at the time. I tend to keep the record button on these days...

Fortunately, the interloper will be heading off back to the Great Orme soon - leaving the hardcore Lleyn Birder(s) to soldier on, probably counting Jackdaws... PS he also had at least two Firecrests in Porth Meudwy.

Good for him...;-)

Monday, 29 October 2012

Merlin, Firecrest & Jay

First off, apologies for the lack of updates. I simply have not got round to it! Any readers left?

It's been a truly beautiful autumn morning. The weather was dry, calm and cool with the sun slowly breaking through a veil of cloud over the bulk of Cadair Idris, making for a  nice start to the day.

My attention turned once more to migrant counting at Uwchmynydd and a fine Merlin dashed across the road on arrival. Unfortunately, after an hour I gave up disappointed with low numbers of birds on the move. Click on the image below for the details:

Good to bump into Marc Hughes aka MarcBuzzard (and definitely worth a follow on Twitter) who joined me for a while and then had a wander around the area, finding a Woodcock near Ty Newydd Campsite.

Selected species in Porth Meudwy included: Great Spotted Woodpecker, 28 Blackbird, a Fieldfare, 10 Redwing, one Mistle Thrush, two Blackcap and three Chiffchaff. A flyover migrant Jay was being pressured by the local Crows to continue. A couple of Brambling called overhead while Marc picked up a Lapland Bunting on the move with a flock of Skylarks.

Finally, a brilliant male Firecrest ( a new bird or is t the same one hanging around?) was found just below the Tir Glyn campsite.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Aerial Plovers

I could watch Golden Plover flocks all day, especially when they take to the wing. This is when they're transformed from the shy, slow moving waders of open grassland and moors to sky dancers; often circling endlessly across the sky back and forwards from horizon to horizon. Whenever I see them - and even more so when I hear them - I'm taken back to wilder landscapes than the farmland that dominates so much of the peninsula.

From searching for golden-spangled breeding birds on long hot May days, across upland bogs white with Cottongrass, high above the Derwent Valley in Derbyshire's lovely Peak District, to watching resting flocks of autumn migrants on Unst - the most northerly of the Shetland Isles - they've always been a delight to encounter. A flock of c.100 circling the Llanengan floods late afternoon today were as captivating as ever.

A single adult Mediterranean Gull, 47 Teal, 16 Wigeon and 60 Curlew were virtually the only other birds present but the Goldies stole the show.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012


It's been a rather cold, dull and wet day but a fine Redwing calling over the house - my first this autumn - was a good start.

Later, I had a message from Steve Stansfield reporting a Citrine Wagtail on Bardsey - first for the island, and probably another one to add to my 'flown over the house' list...

Anyway, this is a bit of a late post, but the avian excitement yesterday on the mainland was probably just a statistically significant Jackdaw movement ;-p as witnessed by yours truly at Mynydd Mawr. I see by using the 'Migration Pattern' page of Trektellen that there were some big numbers moving in Europe. If you're as fascinated by migration as me and have never had a play with this remarkable database then get on the case (or throw your binoculars away). Full count from yesterday below:

With a relatively uneventful session on the hill I called into Porth Meudwy for a quick look on my way home. First surprise was a group of eight Mistle Thrushes by the car park, my highest count here, as was a flock of 17 Magpies (presumably a post-roost group).

Other selected species included; two Grey Wagtail, six Blackbird, 13 Robin, 10 Blackcap, three Chiffchaff, 17 Goldcrest, a single Coal Tit, a flock of 10 Red-billed Chough over to the east, Lesser Redpoll, Bullfinch, Reed Bunting and a flyover Common Snipe. 

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Continental Jays?

I set the alarm for another unearthly hour and was rewarded by a brilliant starscape and silver moon on waking. The ritual of breakfast, gathering food, flask, optics etc was quickly over and I was out on the road again, heading west. After some very heavy showers the morning dawned dry and cold with the wind in the northwest and expectations high.

Visible migration was again on the agenda but sadly the results were a little disappointing - click the Trektellen screengrab below for full details:

The two Jays were seen by an unknown birder who I met in Porth Meudwy after completing the count where I was pleased to see another couple of these smart corvids - presumably they're Continental birds as big numbers are presently being reported from both sides of the North Sea.

With the sun hitting the top of the valley after a cold night plenty of birds were busy flycatching and eating the blackberries, haws and elderberries. Blackcaps were most evident with 19 logged plus a total of three Chiffchaff. I was fortunate enough to refind both the Yellow-browed Warbler and the male Firecrest and was able to view both from the same location at one point (in the bottom section of the valley in the willows by the stream). By this time the sun was really warming the place up and it tuned out to be a gorgeous day.

Overhead, hirundines were passing through with 19 Barn Swallow and 25 House Martin. While watching these a group of Common Buzzads were located very high up in the clouds (two adults and four 1st years - presumably also on the move).

The usual suspects were around the valley including twenty Robins, two Blackbirds and a single Song Thrush were also seen. Where are all the Redwings and Fieldfares? Very late arriving this year. Small groups of Chaffinch were again dropping in, a Lesser Redpoll buzzed overhead and a few more Skylarks headed over. A couple of Coal Tits could also have been migrants as they were the first I've seen here for a while.

After bumping into Eddie again I was relieved when he connected with the Yellow-browed' before we had a drive around Uwchmynydd, checking Pwll Cyw (quiet apart from a few Goldcrests, Chiffchaff and a nearby Northern Wheatear) and Ystolhelyg. A nice Red Kite was a bonus bird drifting overhead. After dropping him back in the valley an Adder slithered across the track as I departed.

On reaching home received a message that a probable Richard's Pipit was at Porth Colomon today (no further details) and a Firecrest was at the crossroads by Ffynnon Saint just west of Aberdaron. This was still showing late afternoon.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Leaf Warblers

Fooled by a bad weather forecast I was up later than planned to a cold, mostly grey but dry morning. I reckoned that a quick look in the valley would be a good idea and arrived mid-morning.

Immediately it was obvious that there were a few more migrants around than yesterday with several thrushes exploding out of the dense cover and several pulses of Barn Swallows moving NE, totalling 141 birds.

A fine Peregrine (always a delight to see) zoomed over, spooking a flock of Herring Gulls. Then I finally connected with what has been a site 'bogey bird' for a very long time as I heard then saw a stonking male Firecrest make it's way quickly down the valley. I've seen and found several of these lovely 'crests in various parts of North Wales over the years (even in my old garden) but, despite many historical records, I'd never actually seen one in Porth Meudwy. I was here with Jesse Wilkinson once who called one just yards from me but as I reached him the bloody thing disappeared (same thing happened with a Barred Warbler a few years ago). So, finally I connected (and I take back all the malicious rumours I have spread about the veracity of some of the historical accounts)!

Total counts of selected species (for those who are interested) were: 15 Robin, five Blackbird, six Song Thrush, six Blackcap, three Chiffchaff, 17 Goldcrest, 7 Blue Tit (not quite Falsterbo but I had to include this for Eddie who's only interested in common birds), a few Chaff', Gold' & Bullfinch plus a couple of Siskin.

I was chatting at the cove with Idwal, one of the local lobsterfishermen, about various things he'd seen during a lifetime at sea locally (Sunfish , balls of Herring, countless dolphins etc) when he mentioned a turtle (presumed Leatherback') that he saw powering through the Bardsey Sound some 40 years ago. As he put it "I told no one then, as we did not know about turtles in the area... and I thought I might get locked up in a small room!". He was not insane - what a lucky chap!

Anyway, the Urbanski Birder then arrived at record speed after my text about the Firecrest and we proceeded to work our way back up the track. While checking various things out I noticed a small green warbler - Yellow-browed! Another great bird. Unfortunately, I could not get Eddie on to it as the thing dropped into cover and failed to re-emerge in the next half hour. This was the 7th or 8th one of these cracking little Sibes that I've (co-)found in the valley over the years but I've a special affection for them and every one is a total delight to see and hear. Four hours after arriving I set off home a happy birder... 

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Bird of the Day

Here's a screenshot from the amazing Trektellen website detailing the species I counted at Mynydd Mawr this morning. Apologies if the text is a little small (simply click on the image for a full screen version).

Anyway, as can be seen there was some fantastic passage - at several points I simply did not know where to look as the sky was full of birds.

Although I saw no rare or scarce birds today (although a brief blast of probable Lapland Bunting was just too distant to confirm) it really was worth the early start. Bird of the day was a single vocal Rook that headed purposefully out over the Irish Sea towards Ynys Enlli and beyond! The great thing about vis migging here is that best is yet to come as numbers of migrants increase steadily as the autumn progresses.

After walking up and around the mountain (noting a few Chough, Northern Wheatear and more Mipits) I worked my way back down along the road. Another Grey Wagtail, a Barn Swallow and Yellowhammer were by Pwll Bron-llwyn at Llanllawen, the small pool and willows at Ystolhelyg were heaving with Goldcrests (12+) then the valley beckoned.

As I arrived at Porth Meudwy I bumped into Eddie again and we spent the rest of the afternoon walking down, along the coast to Porth Simdde then back along past Cwrt, before doing the valley again! It felt promising but despite a thorough examination of the cake there was no icing on it so to speak.

A party of 15 Barn Swallows zipped overhead, a couple of Rock Pipits were by the cove,19 Robin, four Blackbird, three Song Thrush, three Blackcap, three Chiffchaff and eight Goldcrest were in the valley with three Bullfinch but, surprisingly, little else.

Porth Simdde held a few more Blackbirds and four Blackcap while a couple more Wheatears were on one of the ploughed fields at Cwrt where the Little Owl was again sunning itself at the window inside one of the outbuildings! With a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers seen on Enlli and one ringed at Penygroeslon today and a change in the weather, with the rain beating down as I write this things seem promising for a decent arrival in the next few days. Fingers crossed... 

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Flood Ruffs

After my previous post about the Llanengan floods and waxing lyrical about ye olde records from there I've been either avoiding the rain, busy and/or away, but found myself staring at the site yesterday afternoon as massive thunder clouds rolled across the sky, the showers came down and brilliant rainbows appeared when the sun broke through.

Hundreds of large gulls, 80+ Curlew, 23 Eurasian Wigeon, an early Goldeneye, a few Teal, two fine Ruff, plus single Lapwing, Dunlin and Bar-tailed Godwit were making the most of the transient floodscape while a Grass Snake was dead on the road in Llangian - presumably 'washed out'. A minimum of 30 alba wagtails were around and a smart Yellow Wagtail flew north.

With the rarities coating the northern and eastern parts of the UK I reckoned that some must have made their way this far west and had a quick look in Porth Meudwy as the sun was setting. A couple of Spotted Flycatchers were the best sighting as most other species seemed to be getting their heads down ready to roost.

This morning I reached Porth Meudwy in much brighter conditions, although a cool NW was blowing. A couple of hours spent slowly grilling every bush revealed... not much!

Hirundines comprised 11 Barn Swallow and a single House Martin, Robins seemed to be eveywhere (especially in the upper valley) with a  minimum of 23 present, while three Blackbirds were lurking in the undergrowth. As was a large grey wabler that I saw enter and fail to reappear (it did look suspiciously like a Barred' on the brief flight views but will consign it to my large 'ones that got away' list).

Just six Blackcaps, three Chiffchaff, 13 Goldcrest and a single Spotted Flycatcher were logged. A few finches - including two Bullfinches - were the best of the rest, while a couple of hawker dragonflies, several Red Admirals and a lovely Comma represented the non-avian fliers.

Friday, 14 September 2012


Today saw me join Rhys Jones on the south part of the peninsula. It's been one of those weeks and a few hours of ornithological therapy was much appreciated.

First stop was Llanengan where the flooded fields looked great for hordes of waders. I do have to wonder what's passed through here over time (like so many local sites!). Marc Hughes found a well-twitched Glossy Ibis here back in October 2005, a Golden Oriole was seen in the village a few years ago, there are historical records of Bittern, Greenland White-fronted Goose and regular visits by small numbers of Whooper Swan... am I forgetting anything else people?

Talking of historical records, I'm always intrigued by the tale of a White-tailed Sea Eagle seen 'near Abersoch' for two weeks in November 1910 before the poor thing was shot in the wing, captured and sent to an aviculturist in Wrexham. I can well imagine the bird hunting the fowl over the flooded Afon Soch! Check out the great books by H.E. Forrest The Vertebrate Fauna of North Wales (1907) and the updated supplement entitled A Handbook to the Vertebrate Fauna of North Wales (1919) for other fascinating tales from the old days.

Sadly, five Dunlin was the highlight although 14 alba wagtails (mostly Whites) and a mixed flock of  Barn Swallows, Sand' & House Martins gave us something to check through. The wind was a bit of a pain today with a fresh W veering NW later although at least the sun was out. Seawatching weather even; indeed, Rhys had been at Porth Ysgaden this morning but there was very little moving apart from a few Arctic Skuas and Red-throated Divers.

Next stop was Abersoch which was surprisingly busy with various touristy types wandering around. The beach held the usual few Great Ringed Plovers and a small posse of loafing gulls that included nine fine Mediteraneans (eight adults and a second-winter - all unringed). We also managed to gain entry to some swanky eatery pub place overlooking the harbour despite me not getting changed for lunch ;-p

The fields at Penrhos beckoned afterwards. These really look 'monster' at the minute with a couple of natural scrapes having formed there after a summer of wet. On arrival something managed to flush everything off them but the birds soon returned. These were a decent flock of Curlew, 26 Dunlin and a couple of Ringed Plover. Twenty Golden Plover hunkered down out of the wind while a Northern Wheatear and a couple more White Wagtails were scatttered around. No Buff-breasted Sandpipers revealed themselves although we did try hard to string one. Visiting birders should check this place out - pull off the main road down the track to Carreg-y-defaid and walk back along the sea defences to view.

Pwllheli harbour was about as dead as it ever has been although a fine peachy Greenland Wheatear scuttled along the shore flycatching and 20 Teal were on the Cob Pool.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Red Knot

A flying visit through town on a lovely calm, hot and sunny afternoon gave me the opportunity to check the harbour as the tide dropped. Not much change on the wader front although 14 Red Knot included a beautiful summer plumaged bird amongst the 1st winters. Also here was a single Bar-tailed Godwit, a couple of Dunlin and a few more Oystercatcher.

I didn't have time to check the place thoroughly so I'm sure other birds would have dropped in, still there's always something to look at, even if it's only the weird and wonderful pedestrians passing by. I had one old guy the other day who walked along, took one look at my scope and said "well... that looks like a real lens". Having explained that it was, and a telescope at that - not a photographic one -  he did not reply but proceeded to stand staring at me from about 3 metres away for a minute, grunted and turned on his heel to continue towards town. I felt like he had seen a rare vagrant that had left him speechless (I wish). Before any of you ask, my beard is now more designer stubble than Old Testament - having snagged in my binoculars on a few too many occasions and I was smartly dressed in the usual Craghoppers green. I always find it interesting/disturbing how people react to me (and my scope)... usually a mixture of bemusement, wonder, pity, suspicion and awe...

So, have you - dear anonymous reader - had any particularly memorable encounters with the public when out bird spotting? Please keep the anecdotes tasteful as I don't want to lower the tone of this blog any more than the depths it has already reached; I am thinking tern wardens in particular - some of the tales they tell make even me blush!

Friday, 7 September 2012

Mynydd Mawr Migrants

I've enjoyed a couple of early morning sessions at Uwchmynydd logging visible migration these last couple of days. All details are again over at the phenomenal 'real-time' European migration website Trektellen.

Although there hasn't yet been huge numbers of birds - as occurs here in favourable conditions later in the autumn - a good mix of pipits (including a few Trees), wagtails and finches make the early starts worthwhile.

The Red-billed Chough flock numbered 17 today with many noisy birds arriving from a roost to the south at dawn and loafing on the hillside in the morning sun; preening, loafing and stretching. They seem to be indulging in a spot of Choga - Chough yoga! After a while the birds disperse and start feeding in the area but you are virtually guaranteed to connect with the species here.

Next stop was Porth Meudwy where I had a good long search for migrants. Four Grey Wagtails were calling around Cwrt Farm as I arrived. A few Barn Swallows were moving through while the highlight of the morning for me was suddenly being surrounded by a dense flock of over 70 House Martins. They simply dropped out of the sky to refuel on migration and began feeding over the scrub in the sheltered east side, calling constantly and sweeping around the valley sides.

Robin numbers were up to 11 birds and many of these were presumably fresh in, being chased by the territorial residents. Blackcaps seemed to be everywhere, with a very conservative count of 13 birds, although there could easily have been double that, while 10 Chiffchaff, 3 Goldcrests and a couple of Common Whitethroats added to the variety.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Poor show

I set the phone alarm for 0515 this morning, ready for a dawn blitz on the headland. Unfortunately, I managed to accidentally set the bloody thing to 'vibrate only' and slept straight through it. Doh! 

Anyway, with sunshine, fresh northerlies and no rain the plan was to grill Pwllheli harbour yet again and produce a mega wader like the Lesser Yellowlegs that lingered here between 9th-10th September 1975. Did any readers actually see it?

Sadly (read predictably) this did not happen, despite a few hours here as the tide dropped afternoon. In fact, there wasn't anything even remotely uncommon (and I did try for Semi-palmated Plover but could not pull one out from the mass of distant Ringed Plovers).

No Little Stint, Bar-tailed Godwits, Sanderling even... just 13 Oystercatcher, 160 Great Ringed Plover, 6 Red Knot, 6 Dunlin, 15 Curlew, 75 Redshank and 4 Ruddy Turnstone were revealed through the trusty old Swarovski scope. Even hirundine passage was reduced to just a trickle of Swallows, unlike yesterday.

A group of 15 Teal were feeding at the Cob Pool plus the usual mix of gulls but little else here either. Must try harder next time!

Talking of readers I note that I'm on roughly 10,000 page hits and nearly 100 Twitter followers. I hope you're enjoying my now regular missives from the peninsula, really appreciate any feedback you can be bothered to write and would like to send my best regards to all of you, whoever and wherever you are!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Swallow rush

The village I live in is up on a hill and was sandwiched in cloud this morning after heavy overnight rain so I did not venture out until it had cleared, only to hear that the Bardsey Island Bird Observatory team had an incredible movement of 3500 Swallows passing north early morning! They were still streaming north and east mid-morning (with a handful of House' & Sand Martins) as I birded Porth Meudwy, and although numbers were not quite as high it was absolutely fantastic to witness these royal blue birds head off on their way to South Africa for the winter! Presumably the slight detour is related to a passing cold front.

A few migrants and residents were showing in and around the valley;  20 Goldfinch, Bullfinch, a single Spotted Flycatcher, at least 13 Blackcaps, 7 Chiffchaff and 3 Goldcrest while apart from the hirundines other birds overhead included several alba wagtails and a buzzing Tree Pipit.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Tripits, Mipits & Mud

With a definite drawing in of the evenings and a few hirundines on the move it was time for a proper session of visible migration counting over at Mynydd Mawr this morning.

Weather conditions were great - dead calm, some high cloud and a great sunrise. I counted between 0637-0837 hrs and logged a nice selection including a flava wagtail, 8 Tee Pipits, 4 Grey Wagtail, 28 alba wagtails and a good count of 38 Red-billed Chough.

Full details are over at the amazing Trektellen migration website (I'm unable to copy the table but here is the link).:

Having completed the count I wandered uphill to have a go at reading some of the Chough colour-rings but found the birds very skittish, the closer ones seemed to be unringed although I did manage to get a couple. I then headed for Porth Meudwy, when on arrival, I realised that I'd managed to leave my notebook on Mynydd Mawr. Fortunately I found it (never lost a notebook before fortunately) after an hour but decided to postpone a visit to the valley and enter some records instead!

After lunch I had to visit town so naturally checked the harbour. With the tide well out I wandered around and grilled the waders. The highlight was a single juvenile Little Stint - the first time I've connected with this species here - and although no great rarity they're a fairly scarce migrant in the area.

Also noted were: 9 Teal, 8 Oystercatcher, 131 Great Ringed Plover, 11 Red Knot, 5 Turnstone, 5 Dunlin, 50 Redshank, a single Bar-tailed Godwit, 12 Curlew with both Northern Wheatear and Common Whitethroat on the passerine migrant front.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Birding Walk

I had the pleasure of taking a group of North Wales Wildlife Trust members birding in the area yesterday. Having met in Pwllheli harbour (where the tide was wrong for looking at shorebirds) we made our way to Rhiw.

A gentle walk took us up past the Plas and along through the network of paths on the east side of Mynydd Rhiw then down through the forestry at Ty'n-y-parc. Highlight here was a family party of Spotted Flycatchers with around half a dozen birds busy feeding. A flock of 12 Red-billed Chough circled over while other entertainment came in the shape of Ravens, Sparrowhawk, a selection of warblers and a few other woodland birds. Several hawker dragonflies whizzed past, a dead Slow-worm was seen and a variety of nice autumn plants.

Reaching back to Pwllheli and the tide was well out. Birds here comprised the usual wader suspects including a couple of smart Bar-tailed Godwits, 6 Red Knot and 7 Turnstone although numbers of Dunlin and Ringed Plover were low. Altogether we saw around 50 species - not a huge amount but it was a pleasant day in very good company - many thanks to all who attended.

I've been busy with other things today although a vocal flock of 50 Curlew over the house this afternoon was a nice distraction.

Sunday, 26 August 2012


Flushed a couple of Northern Wheatears by the road to Aberdaron this morning - was it a sign of hordes of migrants passing through? Checked Aberdaron briefly to see a couple of Sandwich Terns on the beach and a Grey Wagtail around the stream.

A few hours wandering around Mynydd Mawr/Uwchmynydd in beautiful weather - sunshine, blue skies with some fluffy cumulus and a refreshingly cool northerly breeze resulted in very little.

The garden at Safn Pant proved tempting so I sat on the heath above it and waited for the migrants to appear. Result - zilch! The 'flycatcher' I staked out turned out to be a juvenile Robin and a Goldcrest called from the trees but that was about it. I've said it before but will reiterate, as one of the last small patches of cover on the peninsula I reckon it must have paid host to some great migrants. Within a few hundred metres of here there have been Tawny Pipit, Alpine Swift, Shorelark, Hoopoe etc in recent years despite very sporadic visits (plus that funny flyover passerine with the totally unfamiliar call I had a few years ago!).

Anyway, the only presumed migrants this morning were a single alba wagtail, 15 Meadow Pipits that seemed to be moving and a couple of Wheatears.

Four Red-billed Chough swirled around the hill and dropped out of sight towards the seacliffs. A (family party?) of three Kestrels were hunting over the heather then a fantastic female Peregrine buzzed me along the clifftop then returned for another look. Offshore 40+ Northern Gannets were feeding.

Butterflies and other insects were out in force including several Graylings, Gatekeeper, Red Admiral and many Small Tortoiseshells.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Painted Lady

Yesterday we enjoyed some rather wet and windy summer weather -  a strong SE with heavy rain showers. I decided to check Pwllheli harbour and arrived as the tide was dropping during late afternoon.

It was good to bump into and put a face to a name in the shape of blog reader Dave Elmley who was checking the waders on the Cob before the increasing torrential rain drove both of us away. I went around to the large shelter on the north side of the harbour and waited to see what would appear.

Waders were the main attraction, comprising: 31 Oystercatcher, 181 Great Ringed Plover, 2 Knot, 2 Turnstone, 9 Dunlin, 2 Common Sandpiper, 61 Redshank, 2 Bar-tailed Godwits and 8 Curlew.

This morning the wind was in the north and I hit Porth Meudwy for a couple of hours. I might as well have stayed at home with very little avian activity although some nice butterflies included an immaculate Painted Lady (seen v few this year), Red Admirals, a blue spp, some Walls and a Speckled Wood.

Small numbers of phylloscopus warblers included a couple of Willow Warblers and 5 Chiffchaff, 3 Goldcrests were calling and just two Blackcaps were noted. Small numbers of alba wagtails seemed to be on the move and a few hirundines. A flock of 12 distant presumed Golden Plover flew high to the south but there was very little else to report.

With the wind easing and some welcome broken sunshine later I decided to head for the harbour again and managed just an hour here as the tide began dropping early evening. Fantastic views at point-blank range are guaranteed here as the mud is exposed and the flocks arrive to feed!

Total counts were: 35 Oystercatcher, 119 Great Ringed Plover, 2 Knot, 3 Turnstone, 20 Dunlin, 52 Redshank, 1 Bar-tailed Godwits and 7 Curlew.

Again I was left wondering - what passes through here undetected!? At times like this I wish we had a few more active birders in the area.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Guided Walk - Bird Watching on Lleyn

I'm leading a guided walk for the wonderful North Wales Wildlife Trust in a couple of weeks time. Thought I'd give some advance notice for anyone who's interested.

We're meeting by the War Memorial on Pwllheli Cob at 10 am on Saturday 1st September. The intention is to do some birding around the harbour then share lifts up to Rhiw for a walk around the village, probably near Plas-yn-Rhiw. We may well have another look in the harbour on the way back. Finish time 5 pm at the latest.

Bring lunch, binoculars, telescopes, suitable clothing and footwear as some of the paths may be a little muddy. Everyone welcome!

Sunday, 19 August 2012


No, I'm not talking about the funny long wellies you wear to go fishing in or nightclubbing (yes, I have seen it with my own eyes... many years ago in a rather dodgy establishment in Sheffield...) I am talking about shorebirds dudes.

Specifically Ringed Plovers (or whatever they're called these days) marching across the mud in Pwllheli. I counted at least 245 of them which is a personal site record.

Also here were 35+ Dunlin, a cracking summer-plumage Bar-tailed Godwit that looked like it had flown straight out of a Lars Johnsson painting, Common Sandpiper, 60 Redshank, 13 Curlew, 46 Oystercatcher, a couple of Ruddy Turnstone and 4 Sanderling. Plus a few other bits and pieces. It was certainly worth the hobble around the harbour, which has gone up a gear as the back pain seems to be easing.

Spurred on by this unprecedented bit of patch birding I had an early dinner then wandered down the treacherous muddy path by Tre-heli Farm to Porth Neigwl. The target species was Med' Gull but I was disappointed to find the only laridae were literally miles away along the beach and dropping on the sea to roost. With the light fading I only managed to pick up a couple of adults and a 1st winter and with virtually no other birds on the beach  I headed back.

With little wind, a cloudy sky and high temperatures it was rather sticky going - certainly not a night to be wearing waders!

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Dark Green Fritillary

One of these beauties sped past through the yard this afternoon where I had hobbled out (back still knackered) after another misty morning. They really can accelerate!

A (family?) party of five Red-billed Chough wheeled over Mynydd y Graig later on while I soaked up the sunshine, something severely lacking this year.

The young Common Buzzard continues to vocalise incessantly. It's a really pale thing - very white underparts. I really should get around to digi-scoping it if I can stand it anymore (yes, I hear you laughing - you don't follow this blog for the photos). Will try not to throw any rocks in it's direction first. Noisy bugger! Plenty of rabbits in the fields around here, surely it will learn to feed itself soon?

Friday, 17 August 2012


Crikey... how time flies! Since my last post, and despite getting out fairly often between the showers I've been been rather slack at updating this site - hope to remedy that in future, if there are any readers left!?

You'll find a few short missives if you follow my Twitter feed.

Rhiw has been cloaked in thick mist today with some heavy downpours off a strong SSW wind and I've been stuck inside most of the time with a knackered back. Maybe the yoga session the other night in the village hall was a bit extreme. I am trying to get prepared for the autumn migrant hunting extravaganza where crouching under bushes in strange positions, breathing steadily and awaiting the next avian excitement, while maintining concentration and blood pressure levels as the rarities turn up at sites all around my own patch exerts special demands on the birding body.

Already feels autumnal as the nights draw in rapidly and the grasses fade. Bird-wise it's quiet around the village with many passerines presumably moulting after the breeding season. Young Buzzards are constantly begging for food and one of the adults obliged yesterday by flying over the garden dangling a huge Rabbit between it's legs.

I see that the big shearwaters have been and gone past Cornwall and southern Eire recently. Shame we get so few up here - apparently even Pembrokeshire has only managed 15 Great Shearwaters in a day despite years of observations from the shelter at Strumble Head. I intend to reach Porth Ysgaden soon. I've had a couple of Cory's there in the past but something different would be rather nice...

Anyway, until next time - Good Birding!

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Tardy blogger!

First apologies for the delay in updating - I've been busy with a load of different mostly non nature related things and have not been so intense in my birding as usual. Anyway, I have finally got around to typing...

What a beautiful evening we've had tonight. After nearly being sucked into some crap movie (aren't most of them!?) I noticed that the (incessant) wind had dropped to force zero and decided to turn the TV off and have a wander around the fields/garden. The Irish Sea was becalmed and the Wicklow Mountains/Dublin coastline very clear. The red sun slipped away and bounced off the clouds nicely while a crescent moon emerged.

I adore that time between sunset and the dead of night on calm summer evenings. I love to just sit, slow down, absorb the endless natural activities (whether it's a Rabbit speeding along or a Whitethroat going to roost)... and think. Bliss.

There are loads of Red Campion flowering around the cloddiau, which look great in the day when the neighbouring pink Foxgloves are out but they alone remain open and take on the most intense magenta tones when the light fades - marvellous! No photograph will do this justice -  you have to experience it with your own eyes as they adjust to the changing light. A host of different moths were swarming around the plants but don't ask me what they are.

Birdsong is still a real feature and a Song Thrush was singing away while a gang of Blackbirds were tacking in unison - presumably they had found a predator to scold, probably one of the Little Owls which I watched this afternoon from my office window. Bizarrely, someone has a posse of Peacocks a few miles towards Rhoshirwaun -  what a racket they make! At least the incoming tide rolling against the rocks of Porth Ysgo was drowning them out to some degree.

One of the highlights of the evening - and a new garden tick - was a brief blast of singing Quail, which was calling from the direction of the cereal fields over near Ty Croes Bach around 2230 hrs when it was still light. What a great end to a fabulous evening stroll.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Tardy Fieldfare

What a difference a few days make weather wise. After the weekend's freezing deluge temperatures have risen remarkably and the winds have settled down. After a few showers overnight I arrived at Porth Meudwy on a mild, dry morning, with a slight easterly breeze and some broken strato-cumulus.

Some nice surprises today, nothing rare but as any local patch worker will understand, the arrival of migrants, a greater awareness of resident species and the occasional unusual record is what makes regular visits to any site so rewarding - no matter where you are!  I've had the good fortune to work a great number of areas over the years from sub-urban parks, woods and farmland, upland plantations and moors, rugged mountain rivers and lakes and various stretches of coast and I value the understanding that comes from getting to know a site and it's wildlife intimately more than any other aspect of birding.

First off was a large thrush glimpsed as it flew away from me near Cwrt. Fortunately I relocated this (or another) further down the valley later and confirmed it's identity as it began chacking in typical Fieldfare style from the top of an Ash tree. It's been ages since I've recorded any of the winter thrushes down here.

Small parties of Barn Swallow were slowly drifting across, probably 20 birds in total, followed by a Swift then a vocal Tree Pipit. The Blackcap count came to 13 birds while a Garden Warbler was another year-tick and two Grasshopper Warblers reeled away. A singing Lesser Whitethroat was new in (with another in Aberdaron village later) while a couple of Common Whitethroats were on territory. Phylloscopus warblers seemed to be down with only 17 Chiffchaff and 6 Willow Warblers plus a couple of Goldcrest.

Many resident species were busy singing and Goldfinch seemed to be doing this from virtually every part of the valley with several small parties bouncing around hyper-actively. A cool monotone Stock Dove dropped in (possibly my first site record - hazy memory!), but scarce on the peninsula always. Has anyone else had them here?

Finally, two pairs of Bullfinch were seen plus five Siskin and three Lesser Redpoll passed through.

A flying (non-birding) visit to Pwllheli late afternoon found me connecting with my first singing Reed Warbler of the year on the Cob Pool while a Whimbrel was calling high overhead.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

A Little Tern Action

Great to hear a Common Whitethroat rattling away in the garden this morning plus a trickle of Barn Swallows throughout the area. Car was fixed this afternoon - at last, so sped off towards Porthmadog for provisions and a wild Sterna hunt. Weather was absolutely lovely for a change with warm broken sunshine, cool breeze and a few showers later.

Walking along the Cob, I noticed a half-dozen Northern Wheatears and a few Rock Pipits. A female Merlin whizzed over spooking the waders and gulls. I met another serious local patch obsessive - Elfyn Lewis - and got stuck into some distant tern action. Flocks of Arctic Terns were heading in off the sea to the confluence of the rivers Glaslyn and Dwyryd and dropping down to bathe and roost on the sandbanks. Occasionally groups would fly high up, head inland a bit, then circle back, 'chickening out' of going inland (or sussing out routes for later?). At one point I counted 123 individuals but with distant views and much activity there could have been many more.

I always find it completely mind-blowing to consider the migratory feats of these birds!

To quote Pat Monaghan, writing in the monumental B.T.O. Migration Atlas 

"The Arctic Tern moves on a global scale, performing the most remarkable and extensive migratory journeys undertaken by any bird... It breeds north to higher latitudes than any other tern.... In the non-breeding season it heads south to the Antarctic seas.... involving a return, straight-line journey of 20,000 km"

What a traveller! I also saw a single Little Tern with one flock and Elfyn had another earlier although there was no sign of any of the previous evening's Black Terns.

A flock of 35 Eiders were a surprise in flight way out towards Morfa Harlech (with another group of 21 that might possibly have been different birds?). More regular these days was the spectacle of a male Osprey hunting over the marshes - and our heads - for at least 30 minutes - what great views of a brilliant bird!

At least nine Bar-tailed Godwit included four absolutely stunning brick red summer plumage males while other waders included a few Dunlin and 34 Whimbrel, with several small parties heading inland. Finally, my first Swift of the year headed over - a nice end to a great couple of hours of avian action.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012


Been stressing with car problems for the last few days with unhealthy noises from the engine. Shame as it seems like Bardsey has been enjoying some decent birds (as usual!)... wonder what I've been missing in the valley? Got my mechanic to finally have a look at it today and the diagnosis is not as bad as I thought and was given the all clear to do some limited motoring while I wait for the part to arrive.

Headed to town afternoon and enjoyed a few waders (see my Twitter feed). Whimbrels are cool birds - love the sound they make!

With the weather still feeling ripe for a good grounding of migrants, and the heavy showers easing up, I drove 'down the end' for a couple of hours. Phylloscs were popping out of the hedges all the way to Mynydd Mawr while a party of Northern Wheatears exploded out of the car park on arrival.

The next thing I saw was a soggy female Whinchat. Despite various attempts to digiscope this, the Wheatears and one of the three singing Yellowhammers in the area I eventually gave up as the little blighters would not stay still and the battery died on the camera. Grrrr - what did I say - I hate digiscoping!

An obvious arrival of 28 Wheatears were noted in the small area around the lower car park and heath above St Marys Well, 12 White Wagtails flew east, a Brown Hare bounded along and three House Martin and four Swallow passed over. A Blackcap in the gorse looked out of place while a couple more were in the hedge near Safn Pant with a party of 15 Goldfinch and a few Willow Warblers and Chiffchaff.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Wheatear Magic

Freezing NE gales and continuous heavy rain battered the region all day - a moist, cool end to an April dominated by such weather.

I decided to stretch my legs as the rain eased up early evening. Flash floods covered large patches of some of the fields out towards Aberdaron and several parties of gulls and drake Mallards (females presumably incubating) were using them. It's great to see how the water temporarily brought life back to some of the old watercourses around the village. Ghosts of streams and ponds that some of the idiot farmers drained and destroyed to claw back a few more square metres of grazing sprang up in a matter of hours... it's a shame that the dragonflies, bog plants and wetland birds are long gone.

I walked down towards Porth Ysgo (where I took the photo on my Twitter profile page) just as the sky was slowly darkening and the flowers closing for the night. A pair of Stonechats scolded me at the top of the steps - the male had a beak full of caterpillars destined for the nestlings nearby. The waterfall was in full flow but somehow never looks photogenic! A party of three noisy Sandwich Terns fished close inshore and a couple of Northern Gannets were scything over the sea out towards Ynysoedd Gwylan.

On the tideline six Oystercatchers, a smart Whimbrel and a party of five White Wagtails scuttled along the sand. Closer, a movement caught my eye on the seaweed coated pebbles - a very damp Wheatear. Slowly as I refocused I noticed several more, camouflaged, silent and still, in a tight group. Scanning along revealed more and more... they seemed to be everywhere... on the beach, perched on the rocks, tucked into crevices under the boulder scree and feeding around the rotting seaweed by the high water mark. Eventually, I logged a minimum of 33 (many were big orange Greenland race birds) - with several literally falling out of the sky as dusk fell on the beach - an absolutely magical mini-fall! As anyone who knows the site will remember Ysgo is only a small cove and these were encountered in an area of only c200 metres length - I can only imagine how many more might have made landfall and found shelter on the beaches of the peninsula tonight?

Monday, 23 April 2012

Year ticks

Typical April showers today - lots of sunshine and broken cloud and a fresh easterly breeze. A couple of hours in Porth Meudwy this morning resulted in three year ticks: a Common Whitethroat, two Grasshopper Warblers and a couple of House Martins.

Blackcaps seemed to be singing everywhere - I counted 12 singing males and a single female but I've no doubt that I missed many more. The Blackthorn is becoming very dense and widespread throughout the upper valley which means that large sections are invisible. Some sensitive habitat management would be sensible to enhance the site for biodiversity and improve access for birders.

Willow Warblers (8) and Chiffchaff (15) numbers were down while I only saw a couple of Swallows. Where are all the hirundines and Sedge Warblers and why only a single Whitethroat? The male Sparrowhawk was again causing terror amongst the passerines near the nest site while two Siskins overhead were signs that a little visible finch migration was underway.

Thursday, 19 April 2012


Some heavy rain showers and the ongoing strong, cold northerly wind kept me inside until mid-morning. I decided to concentrate on the lower slopes of Mynydd Mawr then walked back towards Uwchmynydd village.

After wrapping up in a variety of thermal layers, scarf, gloves and hat I discovered the weather to be quite tolerable. I am a bit of a wuss when it comes to the cold - I find it hard to concentrate on my nature watching if I can't feel my fingers or have a drafty midriff - never mind if I'm out on an empty belly! So having sorted the day's wardrobe out (today I was mostly modelling Ventile - which is "in" this season and most seasons around here) I was ready for a veritable avian smorgasbord.

Bird-wise the stars of the day were the Wheatears with a bit of a fall of 15 individuals - including several big orange Greenland race birds - between the car park and St Mary's Well. Overhead, a bit of migration was evident with a single Sand Martin, three gloriously blue Barn Swallows, 12 Goldfinch, a Lesser Redpoll and a Mistle Thrush (or was it a displaced local bird?).

A nice sit down, tucked out of the wind, gave me the opportunity to try a half-hearted bit of seawatching. What I mean is that I can never get properly into this strange but addictive aspect of birding unless I drag myself to some windswept headland at dawn when the waves are pummelling the shore and the salt spray covering your lenses and filling your nostrils. Starting any later tends to produce far less birds but can still be worthwhile.

Scanning the Swnt or Bardsey Sound immediately produced several sightings of Harbour Porpoise powering through the turbulent waters. I conservatively counted between 5-7 individuals but there could easily have been many more as they were popping up over a big area. Several seabirds were attracted by the cetaceans (which act as markers for prey) - several Northern Gannets, Manx Shearwaters, Razorbills, Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Kittiwakes. A classic MSFA or 'Multi Species Feeding Association' as it's known in marine ornithology circles.

Having only given it about 30 minutes ("slacker!" I hear you say) I walked back inland. Three Willow Warblers along the lane appeared to be 'fresh in' as they were voraciously consuming insects while the resident species (eg Blackbirds, Chaffinch and Greenfinch) were busy with their breeding season activities. Later, six Sandwich Terns fed in Aberdaron Bay on the way home as the weather began to brighten up.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Phylloscs and Sylvia

Headed down the patch this morning - managing to forget my new camera and phone on the way!

Weather was typical April. Cool, dry, looming cumulus clouds scudding across the blue sky and warm sunshine when you could get out of the cold northerly wind.

Very few migrants were around Mynydd Mawr - two Northern Wheatears were knocking about, two Barn Swallows, a Sand Martin, a couple of Goldfinch and four Siskin headed over. One of the resident male Stonechats was carrying food to the nest and two male Yellowhammers continue to delight with their song and good looks.

Porth Meudwy was full of birds, mostly singing residents. Highlights were at least six Blackcaps, 19 Chiffchaff and 7 Willow Warblers. A Greenfinch was busy with it's wonderful bat like display flight and a Lesser Redpoll dropped in briefly to the Blackthorn. Can't be long before we get a spot of rain and a decent fall of migrants!

The Egret has Landed

Done little real birding lately, real as in seeing much of any interest! One of the most exciting moments this week was watching a weird raptor over the house. I was busy swearing at the laptop (bloody Windows!) when this thing got closer, flying parallel to the window, and my super sixth-sense kicked in. To put it bluntly I thought "What the **** is that!?!". Osprey? Kite? Rough-legged Buzzard?

I did some Olympic-grade parkour to get downstairs and rushed out the back door, grabbing the bins on the way. Fortunately there were no children or old people en route or they would be flat. On relocating this avian mystery I was a tad disappointed to find it was a very pale Common Buzzard with 90% of it's tail feathers missing - hence the v weird flight. It powered on north in shame to go and re-grow it's end bits before suffering any mews of derision from the local birds. 

Pwllheli harbour has been virtually dead - really dead, apart from a few Redshank... while down here the local Red-legged Chough, Ravens, Yellowhammers are all present and correct and there have been no huge falls of migrants.

Anyway, I've been receiving a lot of flak recently from various people about the lack of images on this blog - notably Mr Stringer... as if my well-crafted words are not enough... so have decided to do something about it! I have a little experience of digiscoping, mostly traumatic. I got caught up in the hype during the first flush of digiscoping in 2003 (the digital equivalent to the Mesolithic) and bought a second-hand Nikon Coolpix 990 3.34 megapixel from the lovely folk at Cambrian Photography for £300 (yes really) which I considered an absolute bargain!! Years of half decent images of people and places were the result plus loads of terrible birds. The probable Blyth's Reed Warbler in Porth Meudwy a few years ago is a case in point. Point, click, fail to photograph it!!! I kept losing adaptors, batteries got flat and the lens got greasy. Arrgh! Fortunately it expired a while ago to my immense relief.

The cunning long-term Plan A is to purchase a nice DSLR with huge lens as the images are the very best and at least I'll be able to answer Joe Public with a yes if they ask me if I take photographs when out birdspotting and mistake my scope for a camera. Problem is they're rather expensive -  as in new family car prices! I've contemplated selling body parts (my own I must state!) - but doubt I'd get much for anything I put in the medical bargain basement of eBay, am still hoping and waiting to meet a (very hot young) wealthy birder woman to subsidise my photographic fantasies...and for some reason Canon and Nikon still refuse to long-term loan me one of their bazooka lenses.

So time for Plan B and yesterday I popped into Curry's Bangor and bought a new Panasonic Lumix camera. My God it felt so wrong, knowing it would be out of date before leaving the shop and I would still miss loads of birds and take hundreds of shaky blurred images!

Having tucked the shiny gadget in my pocket I  headed east towards Llanfairfechan and the great little reserve at Morfa Madryn Local Nature Reserve. On parking up a Wood Nuthatch was calling by the sewage works and my first Willow Warbler of the year was singing away.

I do like Madryn. Comfy oak and pine hides have been well placed and designed for people with scopes and long legs. Point-blank views of calling, gallivanting, floppy-winged Lapwings are guaranteed in the Spring, lots of waders roost at each high tide and wildfowl, grebes and divers all winter offshore. The Cornchiwglen were "pee-witting" away, doing a spot of foot-pattering to bring the worms to the surface in the wet grassland and Skylarks were singing overhead.

The spit where the waders roost held 250 Curlew (quite a lot for such a late date in the Spring) while 59 Redshank were on the lower pool plus a couple of Ringed Plover. I met a lovely woman and her daughter on their first visit to the reserve who were also charmed by the birds and were blown away with scope views of their first couple of very plumey Little Egrets.Great birds, albeit common as muck these days.

So here's one of them, and If I've ever gently taken the Mickey out of any of your photos dear fellow bloggers/readers you're very welcome to do the same!

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Change in the weather

I've been feeling a little under the weather these last few days and the temperature drop (to 8 degrees C) following the recent fine days was a bit of a shock to the system on arrival at Mynydd Mawr this morning. "Maybe that was summer then?" I thought as I struggled into my winter waterproofs, hat, gloves, scarf etc.

Fortunately there were a few migrants around to remind me that Spring is here - three smart Wheatears and a Chiffchaff calling from the gorse. Ten Redpoll sp headed over with 17 Goldfinch and a Siskin.

A brief seawatch from St Mary's Well resulted in a year tick as two Manx Shearwaters headed south. Great to see these back! Talking of Manxies there's a seabird inspired storytelling evening next week at Menter y Felin Uchaf

Although it's rumoured to be the best day of the year for finding Gyr Falcons (I have fond memories of the South Stack bird - was it really ten years ago?), none materialised - despite a valiant attempt -  although I did have a Canada Goose moving through the Swnt for consolation!

A quick stomp around Pwll Bron-llwyn resulted in... nothing at all, not even a Snipe, never mind a Jack Snipe. Seems like the good weather might have inspired some migration.

Porth Meudwy was rather quiet. Mostly the usual species but Chiffchaffs seemed to have increased somewhat, with a conservative count of 16 birds. Finally, a male Blackcap down near the cove announced it's presence with a burst of beautiful song - it was great to hear this again after so long!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

House Martin

One reported at Nefyn this morning plus several Sand Martins.

The Surf Scoter seems to have taken up residence - it's still present today. Had great views of it yesterday afternoon; it was fairly close in on a sunny day with a sea like a millpond. Also large numbers of auks on the sea around the colony at Carreg Llam.

Several migrant Siskins and Redpoll over Rhiw today also.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Visibly migrating

Had a fantastic morning on the end of the peninsula today in beautiful weather - warm, sunny and dry with a variable easterly wind (force2-5 then dropping again).

I reached Mynydd Mawr shortly after dawn and it was immediately obvious that birds were on the move both overhead and at sea while some fresh arrivals had also pitched down on the heath and pasture.

Visible migration was interesting as ever. Although nothing like the phenomenal counts we get here in the autumn there was a good selection of birds between 0732-1135 hrs. The highlights were: 8 alba wagtails, three Coal Tits high over the maritime heath!!! (plus two at home in Rhiw in the afternoon), 5 Jackdaw, 13 Carrion Crow accompanied by a single Hooded Crow - all headed out to sea, 2 House Sparrow, 2 Chaffinch, 2 Greenfinch, 24 Goldfinch, 9 Siskin, 32 Linnet (plus the resident birds), a Reed Bunting and 12 Redpoll sp (presumably Lesser'). It's always interesting to compare these totals with those noted by the crews on Ynys Enlli (aka Bardsey Island) and the Great Orme

Three Pied Wagtails were knocking about, there were four singing Stonechats, 5 Wheatear, single Goldcrest and Chiffchaff, 4 Chough, two stonking male Yellowhammers sat out on the gorse singing away plus a female Black Redstart by the lower car park.
Seawatching was interesting - most of the following birds were moving south for some reason: several hundred auks (mostly Guillemots), 10 Gannets were logged, a Red-throated Diver, 55 Black-headed Gulls and 5 Common Gulls plus the usual Fulmars and Kittiwakes etc

An hour in Porth Meudwy gave me the usual suspects inc just 3 Goldcrest, 3 more Siskin over, 8 Chiffchaff, a Peacock (butterfly!) and a mighty fine Comma whizzed past. Please note that this was a simple sight record - unlike the rather unconventional trapping methods (and blatant attempts to increase the number of website hits) detailed here by one of the area's naturalists!

Friday, 23 March 2012

Wheatears at last

Weather conditions were good today - dry, light winds and a blanket of high cloud that broke in the afternoon to produce lovely warm sunshine.

I started the day at Mynydd Mawr where a trickle of visible migration was evident: 3 Starling, 2 Goldfinch, 5 Siskin, 9 Linnet, and a redpoll sp. while the local Stonechats, Yellowhammers and Choughs were scatterred over the heath and song-flighting Meadow Pipits were dropping out of the sky everywhere.

Porth Meudwy held the usual suspects including a cracking male Sparrowhawk and eight each of Chiffchaff and Goldcrest. I bumped into the Eddie and his relatives Richard and Chloe and was encouraged to return to the headland. Pwll Bron-llwyn gave us two each of Snipe and Jack Snipe while back around Mynydd Mawr a Chiffchaff was in the gorse, five alba wagtails included a probable 1st summer female White' and three Wheatears were seen - here at last!

A quick check of Aberdaron Bay on the way home was worthwhile with a site mega offshore- a beautiful breeding plumage Great Crested Grebe, my first ever record for the village. Lovely weather, great company and some decent birds made for a good day.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Easterlies and gulls

Weather today was cloudy and mild - average of 13.5° C with a strong easterly wind blowing. After a morning of staring at screens (distracted by a Fieldfare over the house and small parties of Meadow Pipits calling overhead) I broke out for a wander around Uwchmynydd - 'better late than never' being my philosophy!

Despite it being a fairly uneventful trek it was good to see some breeding activity from the resident Ravens, Choughs and Kestrels with a fair amount of nest-building/investigation going on.

The soundtrack of my walk consisted mainly of the calls of streams of hundreds of Lesser Black-backed' and Herring Gulls passing high overhead, heading out towards Ynys Enll - presumably many were birds returning to the island breeding colony.

Small numbers of migrant Chiffchaff and Goldcrest were also scattered around the lanes, hedges and pools while a flock of 26 alba wagtails headed north over Cwrt at dusk

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Sun and showers

I reached Mynydd Mawr this sunny morning to see an ominous looking lump of cloud way out to the SW and thought I'd be quick enough to dodge it as I wandered up to the old coastguard lookout, around the hilltop (which was quiet apart from small numbers of singing and passage Meadow Pipits), down and back to the car. Unfortunately I got my local weather forecast wrong and got rather moist, albeit while admiring the super Black Redstart which was still down near St Mary's Well.

A group of three diver sp heading north were at the same altitude as the Great Northerns which we get every October coasting south high over the lookout, but I could not be certain of species on the brief, distant, back end views alone. Eleven Choughs wheeled around Mynydd Gwyddel while a group of seven Raven came in off the sea from the direction of Ynys Enlli. A couple of Siskin and a lone Goldfinch were calling overhead while a few LBB Gulls were also on the move north.

With the showers clearing I had a wander down Porth Meudwy to find it remarkably quiet - notable birds being nine Chiffchaff and a flyover Peregrine.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Black Redstart

The village was cloaked in a drizzly mist with a cold SW wind this morning; conditions which continued throughout the day. Fortunately, Eddie persuaded me to join him for an afternoon's birding in the Aberdaron area and I'm glad I made it out.

The walk up Mynydd Mawr was unrewarding; indeed the heath was virtually dead, but one has to try as for every nine bird-less treks around the hill - it's hardly a real mountain after all - one provides some avian excitement.

Despite swapping stories of March Shorelarks, Snow Buntings, Hoopoes and Alpine Swifts in years gone by, none were forthcoming today - not even the hoped for  Wheatear. However, a wander down towards St Mary's Well resulted in brief views of an absolutely immaculate male Black Redstart - a real stunner. A few Stonechats were around the gorse- plus the usual Chough and Ravens, while a single Siskin called overhead. A couple of Chiffchaff were on the lane by the camp site.

The area around Llanllawen was the next stop and I headed out across Pwll Bron-llwyn in my wellies in the hope of kicking up a Jack Snipe. Not one but three of these little beauties and 12 Common Snipe were logged.

Porth Meudwy was rather quiet - 13 Chiffchaffs being notable, while a very smart adult Med' Gull off Aberdaron beach was a final bonus.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Chiffchaffs and Choughs

Inspired by the settled weather I focused on 'the patch' today, starting with a few hours around Mynydd Mawr, Uwchmynydd. Despite the cool cloudy morning it was dead calm and the swirling waters of the Swnt were as beautiful as ever. A few gulls and auks were passing through plus a single Harbour Porpoise.

Wandering up and around the mountain a few alba wagtails, Chaffinch and Siskins (totallt 10) were noted on migration while a couple of Yellowhammers and Linnet were singing from the gorse. Between 4-6 Chough were showing well including two of colour-ringed birds. A couple of visiting birders reported the long-staying Surf Scoter still at Porth Dinllaen this morning plus they encountered a flock of 13 Brent Geese there last night - a good record for the peninsula.

Porth Meudwy felt positively spring-like with a vocal flycatching Chiffchaff near the car park and hordes of honey bees around the willow catkins plus the odd Bumblee sp zooming about these and the first Primroses of the year. Various birds were marking out territory inc two pairs of Goldcrest while a kettle of eight Buzzards were overhead.

One of the highlight of today was finding a beautiful Long-tailed Tit nest in a dense bramble patch. The adults were finishing off the building work with a spot of interior decorating - in the form of loads of feathers which are used to line this lichenous dome. I've read the remarkable statistics about the number of cobwebs, lichen, moss and feathers involved in the construction of these amazing residences and I've only seen a few in the past so was well pleased to witness this. It seemed very early - checking BWP it states that they breed from late March so probably not that remarkable.

I had the pleasure of bumping into Eddie the Urbanski birder and located another singing Chiffchaff before departing to check Aberdaron beach. A Peacock butterfly whizzed past while the loafing gulls held no surprises and the bay was dead.

Next stop was a Little Owl site (scored) on the way to the minor road overlooking Cors Geirch near Rhyd-y-clafdy. Eddie confidently predicted both Stock Dove and Green Woodpecker and after a long wait in the broken sunshine he delivered with a calling Yaffle and at least four Stock Doves including a brief singing bird.

Whilst driving home late afternoon I encountered a huge gathering of Ravens at Saithbont near Botwnnog. At least 51 were in and around the sheep pasture here before some headed off north, presumably to roost. With many local birds already busy nest building, and, according to Derek Ratcliffe's superb monograph The Raven, virtually all on eggs by 24 March throughout the U.K. it is interesting to speculate that these are presumably non-breeding flocks (Ravens don't start breeding until at least two years old and most are probably older).  There's always plenty of Ravens around Saithbont and what draws them here in particular is yet another mystery of nature.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Seaduck and Celandines

Greetings blog followers and apologies for the delay in updating.

As I get older the back end of winter seems to drag on ever more, almost to the point where I think it will never be over... especially grey, damp ones like the latter  (give me a snow bound, frosty one any day) and the birding is generally unexciting... then all of a sudden the birds are clearing their throats and displaying like crazy, the lambs are frolicking and the Lesser Celandines are brightening up the slowly greening hedge bottoms reminding me that I'll be complaining about the heat haze and midges soon enough.

To be honest I've not done a huge amount of birding lately and the little I've seen has been unremarkable; a trip to Anglesey resulted in a Whooper Swan at Llyn Rhos-ddu, Peregrine and Pintails at Malltraeth etc... Chough and Ravens in Rhiw... hardly earth-shattering news but still very nice. 

One highlight of the last few weeks was a day long workshop where Martin Garner (of the Birding Frontiers blog and book fame) gave us an advanced gull ID workshop - both in the classroom at Conwy RSPB reserve and at various sites along the coast. Despite the lack of large gull action - and dodgy weather - a good day was had; the undoubted highlight was watching tens of thousands of mostly Common Scoter, but also a few Velvets and at least two drake Surf Scoter and a few flocks of Red-throated Divers off Pensarn, a truly incredible sight as the birds were flushed by one of the Rhyl Flats wind farm service boats. Marc Hughes has done a fine write-up over at the 'We Bird North Wales' forum.

Yesterday took me to Pwllheli where I did the WeBS Count a day early. Not a lot to report with many wintering species moving off to their breeding areas. Wader numbers were down ( inc 36 Redshank, 8 Bar-tailed Godwits and c25 Dunlin) although I would have been happier if the probable Whimbrel that flew off had called to confirm it's identity or or given me a better look at it. Duck numbers well also down (28 Wigeon and 13 Teal), although gulls are still moving through with a few hundred Herring' and 39 Lesser Black-backed.

Pont Solomon was rewarding as ever with six adult Grey Herons cackling away and indulging in a bit of prancing around the nests, giving excellent views to the small group of admirers. The wealth of wildlife right in the middle of Pwllheli always amazes me and whenever I turn up at this roadside heronry with optics the passing locals always queue up for a look through the scope and enquire how "their birds" are doing and/or give me an update on what's been happening.

With settled weather - at last -  the destination this morning was Black Rock Sands, Morfa Bychan. I reckoned that the best time to visit would be around high tide (mid-morning) as the hordes of seaduck would be close inshore.

I parked up by the new holiday chalets near the top of Graig Ddu and got comfortable on the rock. Although there was a dirty great lump of cloud enveloping the mountains visibility was not too bad with some broken sunshine out to the SW and flat calm seas.

Unfortunately, the first thing I noticed on the water was a jet-ski, then another... plus a small RIB boat... then some water ski-ers... as I sat there cussing to myself a micro-light drowned out my expletives, while the beach was strewn with cars, dogs and people. Not good. Yes, I made a mental note to self: best not to visit here on a Sunday monring at dude o'clock!

Fortunately, some seaduck action was available, albeit with a certain degree of eyestrain and the trusty old Swarovski scope zoomed up to the max; the flotilla of birds were several kilometres away, mostly out towards Harlech. Highlight was a cracking drake Long-tailed Duck with at least three Eiders (a female and two immature males) mixed in the mass of 490+ Common Scoter. It was great to watch some parties of scoter displaying - the males flicked their heads back and jerked their necks skywards followed by a bit of tail waggling and a quick attempt to moonwalk across the water - hilarious! A few Great Grested Grebes and Red-throated Divers were also scattered across the bay.

Rhys popped by later after finishing his WeBS count on the Glaslyn and picked up another flyby female Long-tailed Duck plus a Harbour Porpoise - allegedly - as I failed to see it.

I headed back towards home, calling in at Afonwen where the sea was remarkably quiet apart from a flock of 24 Red-breasted Mergansers then Pwllheli, where the harbour was full of a similar selection of birds to yesterday i.e.mostly common stuff - Wigeon, waders and common gulls but the blast of sunshine and a Skylark singing it's heart out was most welcome.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Still here!

Both the Surf Scoter (at Porth Dinllaen yesterday) and myself!

Despite getting out a few times these last few weeks between the wind, rain and cloud I've seen very little - hence the lack of updates. A single Grey Plover in Pwllheli harbour last weekend was only my second ever at this site - and the previous one was over a decade ago! Has anyone else recorded them here?

Good to hear more of the resident species in the village clearing their throats in preparation for the proper dawn chorus over the next few months. Chaffinch and Little Owl were both 'singing' this week for the first time this year. The latter species seem to have been hard hit by the previous two winters with their prolonged cold spells; it will be interesting to see how they fare this spring after a particularly mild and wet season.

Friday, 10 February 2012


It was cold, grey and foggy first thing this morning and the cloud has hardly lifted all day. The sort of bone-chilling drizzly cold where you think it's going to sleet or snow but never does.

Anyway, I had to drop into town afternoon so took the scope and checked the harbour as usual. Fortunately the council have repaired the shelter on the north side which enables you to keep out of the elements whatever the wind direction. Despite trying all I could find today spread across the mud at low tide were the usual mix of several hundred Dunlin, a few Knot, Redshank, gulls etc... hard work!

I'd noticed a couple of LBB Gulls on the floods at Penrhos on the way in and found another three at my next stop, Llanengan - so at least some migrants are moving through. Numbers of Lapwing and Golden Plover were down from last weekend (to several hundred each) but 42 Wigeon, 71 Teal and three drake Shoveler added some interest.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Whooper Swan

Had an hour in town today before heading off for my morning appointment. The timing was perfect with the tide receding and the waders appearing. The Dunlin count was 192 with 11 Bar-tailed Godwits, 10 Oysteratchers, 9 Redshank and 4 Knot, plus the usual gulls, Shelduck etc so not the best selection but all showing well on this calm, dry morning.

I was interrupted from the waders by a good ten minute burst of Skylark song from the rough ground opposite the council HQ - fantastic! Greenfinch, Song Thrush, Robin and Dunnock were also clearing their throats in preparation for the breeding season while the single Great Crested Grebe in the harbour was moulting into summer plumage.

After lunch a brief drive-by stop at Aberdesach resulted in another Great Northern Diver, 3 Red-throated' and 12 Red-breasted Merganser.

A detour on the way home to Llanengan proved worthwhile with good numbers of birds on and around the flooded fields between here and Llangian. This marsh looks excellent for Bittern (and I've heard of one flushed from there in recent years) but none were seen today. A single Whooper Swan was associating with a handful of Mutes while 110 Teal were nearby. Decent numbers of waders were noted; 15 Dunlin, 120 Curlew, 660 Golden Plover and 770 Lapwing plus hundreds of Starling. Several hundred Herring' and Black-headed Gulls, plus a single LBB Gull, were also around.

Steve Stansfield also called to report a fine adult Mediterranean Gull showing from his temporary base down the road from me in Rhiw - where he'd also discovered a wing-tagged Red Kite heading over my house on Friday - fortunately I was in when he called and managed to connect with it!

The long-staying Surf Scoter is still showing well at Porth Dinllaen today, as is the adult Iceland Gull at Rhyd-y-clafdy. With the near Continent and the eastern part of the U.K. frozen I have to wonder what else might be lurking out there?

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Pwllheli to Llanfairfechan

Headed up north this morning, on a freezing day with persistent rain showers and a biting SE wind, calling into the harbour for a brief look on the way. A single Grey Heron was again roosting above the nest at Pont Solomon while the tide was rapidly incoming pushing the waders really close to the Cob; these included 180 Dunlin, 3 Bar-tailed Godwit, 25 Redshank plus a few Oystercatcher and Curlew. Also, 10 Snipe and an adult LBB Gull were on the pool.

Later, I stopped off at Llanfairfechan mid-afternoon where a single Great Northern Diver, a couple of Red-throats and at least 40 Great Crested Grebe were noted. I reached Aber Ogwen just before dusk as the tide was dropping, revealing the vast expanse of Traeth Lafan. A smart Spotted Redshank and two Greenshank were notable while way offshore a group of seven Eider drifted past. Also enjoyed point blank views of a party of five Bullfinch feeding on dock seeds along the strand line. The males brought  some much needed colour to the gloomy afternoon.

As I departed a party of 40 Greylag Goose headed over with the peaks of the Carneddau cloaked in low cloud and snow in the background. Unfortunately there was no Bean Goose with them - as reported here a few days previously. Does anyone have any more information on this bird?

The feeders by the hide were buzzing with activity (usual tits and finches) including a female Blackcap, while one of the distant Little Egrets on the estuary was sporting a whitish colour ring but was too far away to read. It was good to revisit sites I checked regularly some years ago, and despite the miserable weather some nice birds were seen.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Wind, rain and birds

After a day swearing at the computer I finally broke out mid-afternoon, despite the strong SSW wind and showers, and headed over to look for the Iceland Gull which Eddie found yesterday (picking Steve Stansfield up in the process). This beautiful adult was very active in flight over a roadside field just NE of Rhyd-y-clafdy at SH 333354 - good find!

Next stop was Porth Dinllaen and a brisk walk in the failing light over towards the Ty Coch. After a long time scanning we managed to connect with the immature female Surf Scoter again; it was actively feeding fairly close inshore between the pub and the lifeboat station.

A few auks, four Great Crested Grebes and a Red-throated Diver were also in the bay with several Turnstone and Redshanks. As the light faded a small gull roost began to assemble and four Mediterranean Gulls (3 adult and a 1st winter) dropped in. A nice end to a rather grey day.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Surf Scoter & Iceland Gull

Rhys Jones was fortunate in finding a cracking 1w Surf Scoter at Porth Dinllaen this lunchtime which I managed to connect with later this afternoon. I also witnessed the biggest assemblage of twitchers I've ever seen on the peninsula today - a shocking total of six birders!

This North American duck was eating crabs with a great appetite, diving constantly for them. When first found it was fairly close inshore between the Ty Coch Inn and the Golf Club car park, then began drifting out as the tide dropped - affording excellent scope views, unlike the drakes I saw off Llandulas last winter which were mere specks through the Swarovski at full magnification! The bird was first reported as a probable female Common Scoter back on 16th January by a less experienced local birder who soon had doubts about the identity and was delighted to have it confirmed as something better today. Some nice photos here.

Having returned from a spot of duck twitching, Eddie Urbanski had a quick look over Cors Geirch later and found an Iceland Gull in a field by Rhyd-y-clafdy - another good local record.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Snipe and Catkins

Despite grilling the gulls in Aberdaron this morning I was unable to find anything out of the ordinary - just 145 Herring' were counted plus a few Great Black-backed' and Black-headed'. It's a bit depressing to read of sites that attract these birds in their thousands with scarce species guaranteed to add some spice to the mix. A couple of Canada Geese were on the shore - uncommon down here, but hardly exciting. Gulls and geese - winter birding at it's best!?

The breeze was fresh on Mynydd Mawr where seven Chough and four Raven wheeled overhead. A few auks were passing through the turbulent Bardsey Sound which was otherwise quiet. A quick wander around Pwll Bron-llwyn, Uwchmynydd flushed a good count of 26 Common Snipe (but no Jack Snipe at this regular spot).

Porth Meudwy was extremely quiet - a Brambling being the highlight plus a couple of Bullfinch, three Goldcrest, 10 Blackbirds and two Song Thrushes. 

A few sprigs of willow catkins were flowering by Ffynnon Saint plus Butterburr in Porth Meudwy where a single Bramble flower looked rather out of season. 

Sunday, 22 January 2012

LBB Gulls

Not much to report of late -  the return of strong cold winds and some heavy rain showers has not helped. I dropped into Llyn Glasfryn the other day where a Goosander and a few Canada Geese were seen - not the most productive of visits!

A flying visit to Pwllheli harbour yesterday revealed a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls plus the usual mix of gulls, waders and wildfowl.

Although it's great to see the first Wheatears and hear the first Chiffchaffs in mid-March, I always think of LBB's as a species at the vanguard of spring migration - many start appearing from around February onwards. They are virtually absent from the peninsula during the winter with most of the local breeders migrating as far down as Iberia and NW Africa. Strangely enough if one ventures over to parts of N.E. Wales this species is more regular in winter - I've seen good numbers at places like Gresford Flash near Wrexham for example.

Low tide in Porth Neigwl today saw me checking the Rhiw end of the beach. A Stoat was again seen feeding amongst the boulder scree; nearby an adult Med' Gull was roosting with 246 Common', 30 Black-headed', 3 Great Black-back' and a handful of Herring Gulls.

Way offshore a feeding flock of 410+ Kittiwake was spread across the bay where the usual few Comrorant, Shag, Razorbill and Guillemot were busy fishing.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Grey Plovers

Another day of high pressure - the morning started sunny, with blue skies and a bone-chilling south-easterly.

I called in at Aberdesach at lunchtime and was relieved to find the wind had eased off and conditions for scoping the sea were near perfect. A single Great Northern Diver was munching crabs as usual with 5 Red-throated Divers, 33 Wigeon and 23 Red-breasted Mergansers. A flock of 15 Grey Plovers were a nice surprise as this is quite an uncommon, localised species in Gwynedd.

Pwllheli harbour played host to a similar selection of birds as of late including; 14 Shelduck, 9 Wigeon, 2 Little Egrets, a Water Rail, 59 Oystercatcher, 41 Ringed Plover, 6 Knot, 171 Dunlin, 2 Turnstone, 4 Bar-tailed Godwit, 59 Curlew and 27 Redshank.

Various gulls dropped in to wash, preen and loaf around, prior to flying off to roost at sea; 179 Black-headed', 70 Common Gull, a Lesser Black-backed', 92 Herring' and a Great Black-backed'.

Also, there was a 2w Med Gull at the west end of Porth Neigwl yesterday afternoon with 225 Common Gulls.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Cob Pool Water Rail

Despite regularly hearing these secretive reedbed inhabitants squealing and whistling away, I've seldom seem the elusive little ******* in Pwllheli!

An afternoon visit in perfect conditions (calm, dry and sunny blue skies, albeit a tad on the cold side) found me enjoying really cracking views of one wandering along the muddy edge of the Cob Pool, only metres away from the passing traffic - brilliant. Years ago I found a still warm bird freshly dead on the road in Nefyn and was amazed at how small and narrow it was; perfectly designed for scuttling around between the reed stems.

The Teal flock on the pool was up to 21 and 10 Snipe dropped in. Despite giving the harbour a good grilling there was little else to get excited about; a small group of Wigeon and Shelduck, 3 Little Egrets, 15 Ringed Plover, a couple of Oystercatcher, 4 Knot, 60 Dunlin, 20 Curlew and 23 Redshank, plus a couple of hundred gulls.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Kumlien's Gull

Unfortunately, during my late teenage years, I phased out of birding quite badly. Although I still noticed birds (e.g. flocks of Waxwings overhead while out with my girlfriend in my native Sheffield) I did not pay them too much attention... and missed some quality rares (the Black-throated Thrush wintering in the Botanical Gardens which was a stone's throw from where I lived hurts most).

Back in late 1993 I found myself living at the GreenWood Centre, Felinheli - deep in 16 acres of woods where it was impossible to avoid the cracking woodland birds on offer. I dusted off my binoculars and started birding again, trying to make up for lost time.

One of the first books I bought during this period of rediscovery was the excellent 'A Field Guide to the Rare Birds of Britain & Europe', by Ian Lewington, Per Alstrom and Peter Colston. This superb guide - worth buying for Lewington's exquisite paintings alone - outlines identification pointers and the occurrence patterns of these avian waifs and strays. Inside were detailed some of the rarities I had seen during my early twitching days and some I'd never heard of or missed in my years "in the wilderness".

One of these birds was Kumlien's Gull - a cracking looking Arctic species, that breeds no closer than Baffin Island in northern Canada. Variously classified as a sub-species of Iceland Gull or even a hybrid between this and Thayer's Gull; whatever it's genetic make-up - I was intrigued and wanted to see them.

This lunchtime Marc Hughes texted me to say he was looking at a 2nd winter at Pontllyfni. Although I rarely twitch these days (this usually entails way too much time spent staring at tarmac and is stressful if/when you see the bird in question), I headed off and studied the bird until dusk (with thanks to Reg Thorpe and Adrienne Stratford who relocated it when it went missing); it was ranging up and down the beach with the fantastic immature Glaucous Gull (which is now thought to be a 2nd winter). Incidentally, if you're going for this bird Wellingtons are a must as the public footpath from Pontllyfni is muddy and there's a stream to cross if the bird has moved north up the beach.

Kumlien's can be tricky birds to identify and this is certainly at the paler end of the spectrum with limited brown markings on the primaries. Some cracking photos have been taken by Steve Culley - see them here.

Marc was out with a group led jointly by Martin Garner of Birding Frontiers with Alan Davies and Ruth Miller's tour company The Biggest Twitch.

Martin gave a really inspiring talk last night at Bangor Bird Group about various aspects of cutting edge bird identification which was delivered with great humour and enthusiasm. As a friend said at the time - he wanted to go birding straight afterwards (although there would be a limited palette of species late at night in Bangor!). If he is speaking near you - get along!

Also, Eddie reported a herd of one (!) Whooper Swan at Llanengan today plus a Chiffchaff in his Rhyd-y-clafdy garden.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Tufted Duck & Kingfisher

An hour in Pwllheli pre-dusk at low tide saw a few interesting birds; with regular coverage of late in different weather conditions - and at various states of the tide - it's fascinating to see how the species composition and numbers change day by day, even on such a small site.

A couple of Tufted Duck accompanying the Wigeon flock in the harbour were notable (I've only ever seen one or two here previously) while the Shoveler male was now accompanied by a duck on the Cob Pool where a handful of Snipe were busy feeding on the edge of the reeds with the Teal flock.

Unfortunately something - presumably an unseen raptor - flushed many of the small numbers of waders and gulls in the harbour, but a Kingfisher speeding down the main channel was a nice consolation on this remarkably mild calm afternoon.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Arctic Gulls

This morning dawn broke calmish and murky. A thick mizzle soon came down and everything became a bit moist. The lens cloth was soon in action as I began by checking Llanengan (virtually bird-free), Abersoch (fog bound and even worse) and then on to Pwllheli.

Reaching Pont Solomon a quick perusal of the traditional heronry saw a big pile of freshly plucked sticks on one of the renovated nests and a soggy adult roosting above it. So no eggs yet but it won't be long hopefully.

A couple of Little Egrets continued the heron theme - feeding in the harbour, and I managed to catch the tide just as it began to drop. The wader tribe comprised: 13 Oystercatcher, 10 Ringed Plover, 3 Knot, 215 Dunlin, 3 Bar-tailed Godwit, 2 Curlew and 47 Redshank. Otherwise, there was little to report although any sensible bird would have been keeping it's head down out of the precipitation.

Calling at Aberdesach the conditions began to improve and the hills of Yr Eifl began to emerge from the clouds. Three Great Northern Divers fished here plus a few distant Red-throated Divers and a handful of Mergansers.

I'd heard reports of an Iceland Gull at Pontllyfni but intended to continue further up the coast as time was limited. Imagine my surprise as I had split second distant view of what might have been a 1w Glaucous in a gull flock as I drove past. Finding a safe parking space I scanned back but the bird was gone inland... 

Next stop was Foryd Bay. Scanning from the hide at the south end produced a nice selection of waders (n.b. Greenshank), wildfowl (big flocks of Wigeon, the odd Goldeneye and a smart flock of 105 Pintail) then the target bird - a female/1w Smew that was feeding in close association with a Merganser (synchronised dives) in the main channel.

I then spoke to Rhys Jones who informed me of three different white-winged gulls between Pontllyfni and Dinas Dinlle yesterday so I rapidly changed my plans and headed back to meet him. Both Dipper and Grey Wagtail were on the river by the bridge as we headed down to the beach. Here big numbers of gulls, plus a few more Great Northerns' and pair of Goosander were seen.

The gulls were skittish - flushing at great distance but eventually, with the help of Reg Thorpe, we managed to relocate all three of the Arctic gulls; a smart adult and a lovely 1w Iceland and a very pale 1w type Glaucous. There's photos and more details here and here. Ten Chough dropped in to feed by the beach briefly as I crossed the river (wellies advisable) and headed back to the car.

Later I did a spot of hunter gathering in Tesco Bangor and as the store closed and the cars rapidly dissappeared they were replaced by a pre-roost gathering of 46 Pied Wagtails spread across the tarmac. A nice end to a good day.

Friday, 6 January 2012


It was great to hear a couple of Great Tits belting out their song at home this morning - more harbingers of Spring. No doubt an Arctic blast will silence them before too long - we've hardly even had a frost so far this winter ;-)

A late flying visit to Pwllheli presented the chance to give the harbour a quick scan. A drake Shoveler was a surprise - my first here for a very long time. Twelve Wigeon, 77 Dunlin, two Bar-tailed Godwit, an adult Med Gull and a Water Rail were also noted.

Thursday, 5 January 2012


More howling gales from the NW kept me inside for most of the day but I could not resist the chance of some potential white-winged gull action so headed out after lunch.

Aberdaron beach was virtually devoid of life and the bay dead so I hit the road to Abersoch. Fair numbers of gulls were bathing in the stream outfall and loafing on the beach between sporadic disturbance from the inevitable dog walkers. Several hundred of the same mix of species as yesterday included a single1w Lesser Black-backed' but three Meds (including two pristine adult and a 1w) were pleasant as ever.

Of more interest were a couple of Black Guillemots just offshore and a Great Northern Diver in the same area as yesterday's bird - off The Warren. As the (expletive deleted) canine exercisers increased in number I decided to wander around to the South Caernarfonshire Yacht Club to scan towards the Tudwal islands. Immediately I locked onto a superb Great Northern' which was sheltering very close inshore below the club house, giving really crippling views. Superb! Another loon was further out with a party of 12 Common Scoter, another Black Guillemot, a single Great Crested Grebe and a few Mergansers and Shags.

Back around by the stream outfall a party of 15 Ringed Plover and three Sanderling were on the beach while signs of Spring included both Alexanders and Butterwort in flower by the footpath. 

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Goosander & Great Northern Diver

Another day of strong winds and low cloud saw me in town for a dental appointment. I decided the best remedy post-filling was a wander around the harbour. Highlight was a male Goosander flying upstream from the Cob Pool. I bumped into Kim Atkinson & Gwydion Morley who had been watching the bird - and also passed on news of a group of Purple Sandpipers reported to them a few days ago in the harbour.

Goosander are a scarce species in these parts. I've seen them occasionally on the Afon Rhyd-hir by the roundabout on the way out of town and at Llyn Glasfryn. The more regular sawbill - Red-breasted Merganser -  was again present with six birds showing. Other 'wildfowl' included a good count of 37 Teal on the pool, a pair of Wigeon, seven Shelduck (including a group displaying) and a Great Crested Grebe.

Wader numbers were down, despite the low tide; a handful of the usual suspects included three Knot and 12 Dunlin. A couple of hundred gulls were present including 37 Common Gull. I received a message tonight from Dave Lamacraft who found a 1w Iceland Gull off Gimblet Rock yesterday -  an excellent local record. Another (or the same) "immature" was reported off Criccieth today, with other many other records these last few days throughout the U.K.

Next stop was Abersoch where a superb Great Northern Diver was fishing offshore and a Black Guillemot flew SW. The Larus tribe here included three smart adult Mediterrnaean', 6 Great BLack-backed', a Lesser Black-backed' (early migrant?), 159 Common', 110 Herring' & 130 Black-headed Gulls.

The floods at Llanengan played host to 118 Teal, c110 Wigeon, 348 Lapwing and 168 Curlew before the rain came lashing down and I headed for home, disturbing a Raven feeding from a Brown Hare corpse on the minor road by Glan Soch.