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A perfect birthday present, a day out in North Wales

We thought it would be nice to have a different voice on our blog, Dorothy wrote to us following a day out with The Biggest Twitch, here is her account of the day.

Conwy Castle

My Christmas present from my daughter Helen in 2013 was a day of bird watching with Alan & Ruth of The Biggest Twitch in Llandudno & I arranged this for 21st June.

I met them at RSPB Conwy at 8 am. It was (selfishly!) a wonderful surprise to discover I would be the only client on the trip, the other lady being in Portugal, having forgotten all about it!

Ruth & Alan were delightful, so friendly, incredibly knowledgeable & informative, & very easy to get along with. A highlight was the use of their telescope, giving amazingly clear views of birds to allow appreciation of the finer detail of their characteristics. I do not plan to recount every bird we saw but the ones that were especially exciting to me.

Lapwing male 1

We started in the reserve, in the big hide, where we saw lots of redshank (40, which was lovely for me, but they should still have been up on the moors breeding), a male wigeon, gadwall (like female mallard with a white diamond on the side), greylag geese, shelduck, oystercatchers, little egret, a great crested grebe on a nest & a curlew flying over. It was interesting to see the heronry in the woodland opposite (but not so good for the future grebe chicks!)

Bullfinches Conwy

We walked through the reserve (which has rare flowers including beautiful bee orchids), hearing reed warbler (the song just goes on & on), to the bird feeder, where we saw reed bunting (with its dark head) & had brilliant views of 2 pairs of bullfinches including a male feeding young on the feeder.

After an hour we set off for the Great Orme, stopping at a couple of sites under the cliffs on the East side. We saw chough tending a nest in the rocks, fulmar (with stiff-winged flight, repeated attempts to land on the cliffs, & a nest where there may have been a chick), lots of kittiwakes (the smallest gull, with rounded white heads & triangular black wingtips), razorbill (black) & guillemot (brown) together on the water for easy comparison (the guillemot hurl themselves off their crowded cliff nesting sites), cormorant & shag. I asked if there were gannet & sure enough one obligingly appeared – large, white, with extensive black on their wing tips.

After this we turned inland and headed up onto the moors. Along the way we stopped several times & saw stonechat (the males with their black heads & a speckled juvenile), wheatear, meadow pipit (like a small thrush) & lots of lovely views of whinchat, also a great spotted woodpecker on a telegraph pole. We stopped for coffee & there saw the highlight: a ring ouzel sitting on a rock wall on the skyline. It was there for ages – finally in the end we had to go & leave it behind, which seemed wrong! Alan & Ruth are very clever – they have places where they clearly hope to show you a specific bird, but they don’t let on till you’ve seen it, to avoid disappointment! On the way back we heard yellowhammer & cuckoo.

We then visited an area of forest. We stopped to look for goldcrests (heard but not seen here), & had a good view of chiffchaff. Further along we had fabulous views of a redstart along the line of a fence. Also saw a tree pipit right at the top of a tree (they look very like a meadow pipit but land at the tops of trees) & had good views of common buzzard (the most likely larger bird of prey to see).

The next stop (after passing several tiny goldcrests just beforehand) was The Ugly House at Ty Hyll for an excellent lunch in the lovely garden (prawn sandwich & salad) & to purchase carrot cake to go. Over lunch we had a lovely view of a jay on their bird table. After lunch we walked into a nearby woodland (with lots of bat boxes). Alan did his wonderful collection of bird calls & soon we had several pied flycatchers, including a female feeding fledged young & good views of the black & white male, and a collection of lively nuthatches all around us. Nor far away, we stopped by a river and we watched a dipper eating the contents of caddisfly larva casings until he was so full he just stood still on the bank opposite us, and a pair of grey wagtails. Again we had to leave them behind!

We drove along a back road stopping for lovely view of linnet by the side of the road. (So that wasn’t what I saw in Lanzarote – Alan suggested the Trumpeter Finch which looks far more likely). We stopped in open land along here to look for red kite; there was no sign when we scanned the skyline in all directions, but we heard curlew & lapwings & saw a curlew across the grassland. I now appreciate the difference between the meadow pipit flight (a long way up then smoothly down, with a narrow tail) compared to the familiar pattern of the skylark, which we heard & saw here. Then further on we had amazing views of red kite hunting over a field beside & below us, in full sunshine, enabling us to see the top & bottom plumage & the orange tag on its right wing. Further along there is a fantastic viewpoint, from where we had an incredibly clear view of the mountains of Snowdonia We saw swifts clearly here.

By now it was time to return to the reserve. Thus ended a most wonderful day of bird watching, with incredibly lucky sightings, fabulous weather, glorious scenery & all just for me! I drove home (enjoying the buzzards) feeling as if I’d been on holiday, not just out for a day. Many of the sightings gave me happy memories of previous occasions e.g. curlew in the Yorkshire Dales with Helen, chough in Pembrokeshire with Helen, a yellowhammer while out running above Loch Ness & lots of cuckoos heard during our running by Loch Leven.

We would love to arrange a day out birdwatching perfect for you. Just drop us a line and we will do the rest.

We look forward to hearing from you.


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