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.

Monday, 2 January 2012


Some belated news via Eddie Urbanski from yesterday:

"I spent an hour sitting in the car on the bridge by the Polish Home entrance and noted the following:-

At least 250 Golden Plover and probably the same number of Lapwings.
Large numbers of Curlews (50+), 12 Ringed Plovers and 7 Redshank.
Lots of Black-headed Gulls, one Common Gull, 2 Great Black-backed Gulls and 3 (perhaps 4?) Mediterranean Gulls.

Quite a few Teals on the north side of the road and about 1000 Starlings.

Also, Kelvin Jones relocated, caught and ringed the Black Redstart at Criccieth on 31st December and found it to be an adult female."