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23 June 2010
An early start saw us heading south from Llandudno. We had not gone far when we stopped to admire two Little Egrets in the first light of dawn. David and June are from Texas and this was their first birding trip in Europe so new species were going to come thick and fast! A family party of Goosander seen from a bridge had us stopping again before heading up in to the rolling hills. We immediately found our target bird, Black Grouse. Five of these gorgeous birds were strutting around in a field on the edge of the moor and we soaked up the views. It was pretty cool at this hour and mugs of steaming hot chocolate or coffee, or both combined for June, were very welcome as the grouse continued to show off. Skylarks and Meadow Pipits filled the air with song.
As we drove slowly back over the moor an emergency stop was called for as a ghostly grey male Hen Harrier floated over the heather only yards from the car! The raptor was in no hurry and hunted low over the heather. As it twisted and turned, it showed off its banana yellow long legs and white rump patch, breath taking! Stopping to admire a handsome singing Whinchat proved a good move. Three more Black Grouse were found feeding in the heather and much closer than the birds seen earlier, and now in bright sunshine. The blue iridescence of the males’ necks and red combs above the eyes were wonderful to see. Four Common Crossbills flew over uttering their deep “chip, chip” calls. A male Grey Wagtail danced along the lane in front of us and more Crossbills were in larches above the road.
A fast-flowing river gave us prolonged views of a juvenile Dipper learning to fish, repeatedly pushing his head under-water but not taking the plunge to dive in. Another family of Goosander rested on a boulder mid-stream.
A very welcome, and very late, breakfast was devoured as a Red Kite soared over the café, almost as welcome as the food! Another Red Kite was just up the road and the huge sun-roof of the Peugeot was ideal for keeping this raptor in view.
Stopping to admire a pair of roadside Stonechats we quickly realised this area was alive with birds and we enjoyed Willow Warblers, a family of Common Redstarts, a Tree Pipit, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker that climbed up a fence post right in front of us.
An upland lake gave us great looks at Common Sandpiper, a scare breeder in these parts. Common Buzzards were every where and we enjoyed great views.
Dropping down into the Conwy valley, shaded woodlands were welcome as the sun beat down, though for Texans it was still far from hot! Nuthatches and Redstarts showed well and we finally saw a Chiffchaff after hearing many.
The day concluded at RSPB Conwy nature reserve where Lapwings really pleased David and June as they had long wanted to see this beautiful wader. A flock of Redshanks were a sign of autumn already, it being likely that these were failed breeders returning from upland breeding areas. A pair of Great Crested Grebes was nesting on the second lagoon while Tufted Ducks were another lifer.
It had been an excellent day’s birding with great weather and even better company
24 June
The day began with a quick visit to the beautiful Nant Ffrancon valley south of Bangor. Here we quickly added Treecreeper and Wheatear to the trip list, species we had hoped to see the previous day. Then it was back to the plan as we headed for Anglesey.
First stop was Beddmanarch Bay and Penrhos Coastal Park where a stunning Mediterranean Gull was immediately seen! This rare gull was scrapping with Black-headed Gulls for bread in the car-park. The jet black hood, white eye-lids, blood red bill and legs made this a stunning bird. Cameras whirred and clicked at this wonderful bird which was literally feet away. Amazingly a second Mediterranean Gull was found roosting on the nearby beach.
Holyhead Harbour was next and here we quickly found our target bird: Black Guillemot. At least five of these charismatic piebald auks showed very well. We were able to watch a pair ferrying fish to a nest hole in the harbour wall, looking very comical as they came in to land with their bright red feet splayed below to act as airbrakes. It was nice to see both Cormorants and Shags sitting next to each other just offshore on a large marker buoy.
A short drive and we reached Cemlyn Lagoon North Wales Wildlife reserve, the lagoon behind a shingle beach being home to a huge tern colony. Overlooking the lagoon from the shingle beach, we enjoyed wonderful views of the masses of breeding terns. The majority, over 1,700 pairs, were noisy Sandwich Terns, many of which already had well-grown young, and there was a constant to-ing and fro-ing of adults arriving with fish for the young, then heading back out to sea for more. Around the edges of the Sandwich Terns, small numbers of Common and Arctic Terns could be seen. Close views made comparison of these look-alike species easy, and the subtleties of plumage and structure could be appreciated. Both Oystercatchers and Ringed Plover were also nesting here and a single Redshank was on the main island.
A short walk took us to the open beach west of the lagoon, where Atlantic grey seals were hauled out on a rocky island, sunning themselves lazily. 
We then headed west to the magnificent cliffs of South Stack RSPB reserve. Our walk along the cliff top path was soon interrupted by loud calls, and we looked up to see a party of five Chough swirling overhead. These charismatic corvids repeatedly swooped and rolled in the updraught from the cliff giving us plenty of time to admire their acrobatic flight. We soon reached the viewpoint overlooking the chaotic seabird colony. Here thousands of Guillemots lined the narrow ledges, calling loudly and the whiff of guano reached our nostrils, all adding to the assault on our senses. As we looked closer, we soon picked out Razorbills, Kittiwakes and Fulmars amongst the massed ranks of Guillemots and on the sea bobbed colourful-billed Puffins. As always, Puffins were the real stars of the show and through the telescope, we could see every detail even their ‘plastic’ orange legs and feet as they paddled about in the clear waters. The scene was hypnotic and we just stood and soaked up the wildlife spectacle. Scanning offshore, huge Gannets were majestically beating over the tide race beyond the lighthouse as lines of auks sprinkled the calm seas. At our feet, we admired the endemic Spatulate Fleawort, a bright yellow flower, unique to just this one spot.  After all this excitement, we enjoyed a welcome cup of tea in the RSPB café above the cliffs. Even here, we were able to sit outside and continue to see birds as Chough entertained us overhead.
Llyn Penrhyn near RAF Valley was next and here we enjoyed both Great Crested and Little Grebes, and wildfowl including Pochard, Tufted Duck and Gadwall. Both Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler were calling from the extensive reed beds.
With a fantastic list of birds under the belt, we headed home for Llandudno, well pleased with our haul for the day.
For more information on our guided birding trips in North Wales and beyond, email us on


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