Thursday, 30 May 2013

Introduction to Bird Song - Saturday 1st June

Want to get to learn your bird calls?

The Arfon Branch of the wonderful North Wales Wildlife Trust have organised a free introduction to bird song walk this weekend.

Saturday 1 June 2013 12:00 (yes, midday - when the confusing dawn chorus will have diminished!)

Location: Rhyd-y-Clafdy on B4415, near Pwllheli SH329349

Join us for a gentle walk in the early summer countryside and learn to recognise common birdsong. Beginners welcome. Bring packed lunch.

Get in touch for more detailed directions  -  please book by calling 01248 351541.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Roseate Tern

One reported this morning at Porth Dinllaen, Morfa Nefyn. Possibly the Penychain bird from a few days ago? Anyway, a good find for whoever it was - Roseates are very scarce down this way and always a delight to see.

Unfortunately, I was out of the area when Eddie relocated it at lunchtime as well as a Black Guillemot. A dash back early evening and in a flying visit I failed to connect with it from the beach by The Cliffs Hotel. There were a few very distant terns roosting on the rocks towards Nefyn but I couldn't hang around to explore any further.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Long-tailed Skua

This afternoon the wind was again blowing SW/W around force 5-6 with the odd shower and a good deal of sunshine. I persuaded The Urbanski Birder to join me for another look at Cricieth, arriving around 1415 hrs for a couple of hours.

Immediately, Eddie connected with a group of distant skuas on the water off the castle and when a couple flew up then dropped down (shuffling the deck for want of a better description) we were able to see the spoons and confirm them as Pomarines. It was then a case of wait and see, and as usual at this site, it took a long time for the birds to change gear, get up and fly another short distance. They are easily overlooked and visitors are advised to scan very carefully with scopes from one of the shelters to have a decent chance of ticking this species here.

In the meantime a handful of Northern Gannets, just 15 Manx Shearwaters, 8 Sandwich' and a "Commic" tern were noted with a Red-throated Diver and a few Guillemots on the sea. A fine pale-phase Arctic Skua moved west when shortly afterwards El Player (don't ask!) picked up another very distant skua. The bird was  heading our way at very long range and initially looked good for Arctic. As it got a little closer I thought I could make out a bluntish tail and considered a sub-adult Pom... but was the chest really heavy enough and surely the wings weren't broad enough at the base?

At this point a very beardy passer-by popped his head in the shelter and asked us what we were doing. I managed to multi-task by fielding his questions with one eye on him and the other still watching the mystery skua come closer and closer..... There was an ominous silence, he departed, the light improved and then our star find suddenly banked, lifted above the horizon and confirmed our growing suspicions by revealing the longest thinnest rat's tail of any skua; it was an immaculate adult Long-tailed Skua and was heading our way!

We then enjoyed a fantastic performance. The bird decided to head west then turned and headed back towards Black Rock Sands (seemingly flushing the group of 15 Poms in the process and affording excellent comparison) before starting to circle and climb high towards Morfa Bychan. It drifted a couple of hundred metres over the beach before abandoning thoughts of an overland passage and dropped back down and headed west, landing briefly on the sea in front of us at one stage before resuming it's journey, being mobbed by a Northern Fulmar at one point on the way. Great stuff!
Also passing were a couple of distant Bonxies, two unidentified tiny specks of skua over in the direction of Harlech and three Whimbrel. After a shower had passed over the Poms took off and headed purposefully west straight past us - again mostly pale-phase adults.

Happy with our session it was time to retrace our steps. A quick stop at Afonwen produced a nice Dipper before calling in at Pwllheli's harbour channel. Rhys Jones had a Roseate Tern off Pen-y-chain yesterday and we were half-hoping it might still be around. No joy, but we did manage 19 Sandwich' and 17 Commons plus a respectable 50 Dunlin and a high figure of 37 Ruddy Turnstone. The afternoon's birding ended with a beautiful sea and towering clouds as the next pulse of rain clipped the peninsula.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Spoony Poms

We've had a couple of days of cold, gale force south/westerly winds and heavy rain showers. This weather in May always gets me thinking of one species - Pomarine Skua.

Regular readers/friends will know that I'm often grumbling about the lack of decent facilities for seawatching down on the peninsula. Fortunately, the problem is solved if one heads east to Cricieth where two touristy beach shelters are found on the west side of the castle. Late afternoon, after the latest pulse of heavy rain had pushed through, I found myself wrapped up and wedged in the corner of one and began scanning the turbulent sea. Immediately I picked up a flock of six superb pale-phase adult Poms riding the waves just a couple of hundred metres offshore then occasionally flying up before settling back down, as they often do in such conditions. Eventually, as the winds eased a little, they were off - heading strongly west and almost clipping the shoreline at times. I followed the birds as far as I could before they presumably cut inland and out towards Caernarfon Bay. They are such weird and wonderful looking birds with their almost Peregrine like jizz and crazy long tail spoons!

My systematic count between 1607-1815 hrs was interrupted somewhat when a rather random but lovely young woman decided she was going to chat up the strange bloke with the telescope - although I did manage to keep one eye open while engaged in polite conversation and saw another flock of 18 Poms powering past before dropping on the sea in front of the shelter! These were mostly magnificent pale-phase adults, plus a couple of swarthy dark-phase birds.

Later I picked up a group of three Arctic Skuas (again riding the waves) by the castle, plus a few auks, Northern Gannets, Manx Shearwaters and Great Cormorants with a trickle of Arctic' and Sandwich Terns.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Greenland Wheatears

With some seriously black clouds promising heavy rain overnight - and the chance of a major fall - I hit Uwchmyndd shortly after dawn. Sure enough, the ornithological Gods had spoken and the Mynydd Mawr area was jumping with birds.

The most obvious species today was Northern Wheatear; with a very conservative figure of 83 feeding all over the hill and pasture. Most appeared to be big peachy Greenland-race birds. Small numbers were seen throughout the day in virtually every field in the Aberdaron area, indicating a significant regional arrival.

Offshore, a few Gannets and auks were passing through the Swnt, while overhead a trickle of hirundines and finches headed north and east. These comprised 1 Sand Martin, 5 Barn Swallow and 18 House Martin with 17 Chaffinch, 36 Goldfinch, 3 Siskin, 24 Linnet and 5 Lesser Redpoll.
Other bits and pieces included 5 Pied Wagtails, a Willow Warbler, Common Whitethroat and one of the resident psychedelically bright male Yellowhammers. If these Yellow Buntings were rare I would travel a long way to see one! Talking of rares, the Subalpine Warbler was located quickly, feeding low in the cut gorse on the hill affording excellent views to a steady stream of admirers.

Meanwhile, a single Greylag Goose flew north - good local year tick. If any readers suggest I have gone mad, then just get yourself a local patch, visit it regularly... and you will understand the relative importance of all species!  

A singing Lesser Whitethroat, plus a few phylloscs and Blackcaps, made the walk down Porth Meudwy worthwhile.

It would have been rude to pass the Aberdaron Woodchat without a quick look as it had been reported earlier in the day. Unfortunately, a couple of over-enthusiastic twitchers had walked down into the field for better views and pushed it away. Having suggested that it was better to keep the local farmer happy by keeping on the public rights of way, and to give the bird some space they both graciously agreed to retrace their steps. I saw a few photographers pushing the bird along the roadside fence in the week and think it's worth reminding people that great views can be obtained as it works it's feeding circuit by simply staying at your vehicle.

The shrike was not seen in the time I was present, although two Brown Hares in an adjacent field were some consolation.

As well as the Wheatear fall, residents, migrants and year-ticks it was great to meet a few old and new birding acquaintances today.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Scarce Migrants

Busy with computer problems lately, hence another tardy update. So first some old news.

I returned for another grilling of the Subalpine Warbler and eventually caught up with the Woodchat last Sunday when the rain finally eased and the sun came out in the afternoon.

I had the pleasure of meeting up with several birders on site including Steve Culley, Martin Jones, Eddie, Phil Belman, Austin Morley and Scott Reid. 

Phil has kindly forwarded the following image of the warbler lurking in the gorse.

Scott was good enough to send the shrike photo. What a cracking bird!

Thanks to both of you and please note the images are copyright the photogrpahers.

Five Lesser Redpoll and 15 Goldfinch showed at point blank range on the feeders from the excellent little conservatory cafe at the Ty Newydd Caravan & Campsite at Uwchmynydd. The tea and fruit cake were pretty good too - well worth calling in!

Tuesday produced my first Tree Pipit, Swift and Grasshopper Warbler of the year at Uwchmynydd, several lovely Yellowhammers and a female/immature Merlin amongst other birds.

Today dawned rather moist and became increasingly so until early afternoon when the rain moved through and conditions eased. The Subalp was feeding actively at Mynydd Mawr with four Common Whitethroat and 13 Willow Warblers part of a mini-fall dotted around the walls and hillside.

Hirundines comprised 18 Barn Swallow, 20 House Martin and 3 Swifts. The passage of Goldfinches was still evident with another 10 north and 11 Siskins.

Some idiot has burnt a fairly large chunk of the mountain overnight (probably an acre or so) with the gorse still smouldering and a few distressed looking Stonechats and Meadow Pipits dotted about with 8 Greenland Wheatears.

On the positive side, it was good to locate a pod of 18+ Harbour Porpoise feeding in the Bardsey Sound. Porps are virtually guaranteed here but it's the largest number I've encountered for a long time - the figure above is probably an underestimate as they were popping up all over the place.

A quick check of the fence lines resulted in me locating the Woodchat again at Aberdaron early evening, ranging the fields south of the road.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Aberdaron Woodchat

Well yet again an influx of birders produces the goods. A visiting Subalp twitcher discovered a male Woodchat Shrike on roadside wires on the way out of Aberdaron today. Bird was by the main B4413 road at Hendre until mid-evening at SH184277.

I've been busy out of the area and had my phone switched off all day so was pleasantly surprised to hear about it later. Unfortunately, after dealing with my other commitments I didn't manage to arrive at the site until the sun was getting low and presume the bird had gone to roost but hope it will be around tomorrow.

Have to wonder if anyone managed to get any photos of the beast?  

Subalpine Warbler

Well this blog seems to have been deep frozen like some of the awful weather we have had the last few months but after a warm Spring afternoon (and some encouragement from a few readers ) it is slowly defrosting. Friday's good local patch find is more inspiration to get the blog rolling again....

I'd started the morning with a wander around Mynydd Mawr, noting a few good birds - mostly diurnal migrants - passing through A steady passage of hirundines was apparent: 40+ Barn Swallow, 27 House Martin and 8 Sand Martin A constant trickle of Meadow Pipits, the odd alba wagtail, 5 Chaffinch, 25 Goldfinch, 4 Siskin and 11 Linnet all powered north The highest numbers of Northern Wheatear so far this year (36) were scattered around the heath, including several peachy Greenland race birds and there was a handful of Willow Warblers in odd places.

Systematic counting was put on hold around midday when I noticed a small bird that seemed to flash blue drop into a small bramble patch alongside the big square field by the lower car park. Having waited 5 minutes for it to reappear I walked up to the brambles (all of 2m square) and found a Dunnock popping out. Oh well, my mistake? Surely "it" was smaller than the offending accentor, and a spot of pishing was in order. At which point a superb Subalpine Warbler poked it's head out then flew along the fence line. Bingo! After years of records virtually every year from a certain small island only a couple of miles away it was good to connect with this lovely Sylvia on the mainland.

The bird showed extremely well all afternoon, feeding actively, flycatching and dozing off at times, and a small band of admirers turned up. Good to see you guys. The plumage, calls and song seem to point towards it being an adult male of the western race, S.c.cantillans. (Edit - it's a 2nd calendar year male). There's a series of nice images by Phil Bellman over at this website.


Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Backyard Birding

More high pressure dominating the weather in Rhiw tody. Cold, grey and strangely calm with a milky sun breaking through at times late afternoon, hinting at some warm spring sunshine sometime soon. Bardsey/Ynys Enlli disappearing in and out of the mist... and a few interesting birds around the house.

Flyovers (a mixture of both residents and presumed migrants) included 6 Redwing and a Grey Wagtail to the east, a single Meadow Pipit,  two Red-billed Chough and both Woodcock and Common Snipe at dusk. A Green Woodpecker yaffled from the fields north of me with a calling Yellowhammer in the same area while a Little Owl was vocal from the adjacent cloddiau. Pretty typical peninsula birds but as nice as ever.

Monday, 25 February 2013

I need a Horse

And I'm not talking a Shergar burger. The other day I managed to break even my own enviable record for vehicle breakdowns, hence the consideration of an equine substitute.

Last week I had taken the car to the garage for a new exhaust as there were more temporary welds than pipe left and picked it up on Thursday. Forty minutes later (!), while off on a shopping trip the bloody thing refused to change gear and I was stuck in 4th on the A499. There then followed another garage visit, 24 hours of gearbox behaving, another failure, a lift home form the AA and now major surgery for the beast. Fingers crossed.

So I've been walking and bussing it and seen a few things on the way. Saturday last took me around Aberdaron and Rhoshirwaun then back home. A moulting adult Mediterranean Gull was between the two villages with a vocal Golden Plover and five Common Snipe overhead then a Short-eared Owl again on Mynydd Rhiw during a brief flurry of snow. Today the Pwllheli heronry at Pont Solomon was busy with several birds on nests and some building work occurring. A Lesser Redpoll was over the Cob Pool with a Reed Bunting calling away.

At troubling transport-less times like these I'm glad I'm not a serious UK lister as there are some very nice birds around, from a Pied-billed Grebe in Somerset to a Harlequin Duck in the Outer Hebrides. Although I've tried it, duck twitching is not really my thing. Years ago I met a very keen premiership twitcher who was studying at Bangor University and he mentioned the possibility of sharing a lift (and fuel costs) to a few birds if I required. A breathless phone call from him about a Redhead on a lake in the Midlands followed or was it about a Bufflehead? I forget. Both these web-footed prizes were available over a matter of a few months. Words like 'underwhelmed' came to mind. The general idea was to drop everything and stare at tarmac for hours before hopefully connecting with a couple of dodgy possible escapee wildfowl. Having seen Redhead, Canvasback et al at a private backyard collection in Sheffield years ago I refused the offer of a lift.

Sometime later the next call was regarding a possible car-share to view not one - but two - Harlequins that had turned up somewhere in Scotland. Now he really had my attention and the adrenaline was pumping. I then asked if these real wildfowl were males or females and remember the shock in his voice when I again declined a tick on finding out they were a couple of girls. Give me a stunning drake Harlequin on a winter seawatch past Porth Ysgaden one day! Funnily enough the phone calls ended after this last refusal.

I've kept my listing gearbox in selective mode ever since... essentially it's got to be very special or of great local interest to get me racing around like a headless chicken. The Abersoch Royal Tern from a few years ago springs to mind and ticks both boxes. Roll on the next one...