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.