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!