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.