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We have just finished guiding a tour in North Wales for Celtic Bird Tours, we had a great time despite the gale force winds! As you can see below we saw some wonderful birds....5TH May
Our tour began early afternoon at the Swallow Falls Hotel, Betws-y-coed. Raymond, Peter, Judith, Don and Heather meet with Alan and Ruth.
We took a short drive north to a lovely area of deciduous woodland near Capel Curig. A light rain was following and it was surprisingly cool for early May. At first the wood seemed devoid of birds but as we ventured further in we soon began picking up the hoped for species. A Wood Warbler delivered its trembling song and we all enjoyed close views of this yellow, green and white beauty. At least two more Wood Warblers showed off giving everyone a chance to soak up views of this classic North Wales bird. A little further along the track we found Pied Flycatchers in good numbers. Both male and female birds performed at close range even coming down to the ground saving our necks from looking up into the canopy. Male Common Redstart was next up, what a beauty! He sat low in a young oak quivering his red tail. A Tree Pipit appeared briefly and we headed back to the bus with all target birds here seen very well. We had only gone a few hundred meters up the road when a stop at a small bridge gave prolonged views of a Dipper feeding in the fast flowing waters of a mountain stream. Cameras clicked and smiles all round, lovely bird. A Grey Wagtail was the last new bird of the afternoon and we returned to the hotel for the daily log call. 6th May
The weather was pretty poor with strong winds and showers. After breakfast we headed south down the Conwy Valley and first stop at Dolgarrog. A footbridge here gives good views of the River Conwy. We did not have to wait long for our target bird, Red-breasted Merganser. Two birds were on the river just north of the bridge and as we watched they took off and flew right under us!
Further north we visited a beautiful 13th century church overlooking water meadows alongside the Conwy River. The yew trees here can hold Hawfinch but none had been seen recently so we were not surprised to draw a blank. The views of the Conwy valley here are wonderful, and of course we added birds to our growing list. A pair of Little Egrets complete with lovely head plumes fed in the ditches and a Stock Dove put in a brief appearance. Next we tried nearby Llanbedir-y-cennin village another possible site for Hawfinch but the near gale force wind made birding very tough. With very few birds at all we moved further down the Conwy valley to Conwy RSPB reserve. This great reserve alongside the Conwy Estuary always has lots of birds and importantly in these weather conditions sheltered hides! Four Black-tailed Godwits flew in landed on the lagoon, great views of these breeding plumaged birds. Lapwings tumbled in the air over the islands in display flight; wildfowl included Tufted Duck and Gadwall. Both Great-crested Grebe and Little Grebe showed close to the hides. Another pair of Red-breasted Merganser loafed on one of the islands. Good numbers of both Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler sang from the reed beds. We walked around the reserve to view the estuary and had views of four Whimbrel feeding on the mudflats. Back near the visitor centre a Lesser Whitethroat sang and showed briefly.
Next we headed west along the coast to Llanfaifechan where the strong winds had driven Gannets close in shore and we enjoyed marvellous views of them plunge diving. Sandwich Terns were roosting on the sands and three Razorbills were riding the waves.
We then made an unscheduled stop in Bangor to change vehicles as the one we had been given was a little small for the group and all our scopes and day bags. With a much larger bus it was smiles all round and we headed back to the hotel in comfort.7th May
This morning we headed north through Snowdonia enjoying the great mountain scenery. At Llyn Ogwen we left the main road and took a narrow lane into the stunning Nant Ffrancon valley. The wind was still near gale force making birding tough. Our first stop produced great views of Wheatears, including singing males. Then our target bird appeared, a fine male Ring Ouzel landed on a ridge above us, sadly he only showed briefly. A female Ring Ouzel also showed very briefly.
We then headed north and crossed the Menai Straits onto the island of Anglesey. Our next stop was the RSPB Valley Lakes Wetlands Reserve, shallow lakes with reed beds. The near gale force winds made birding slow but we did enjoy great views of drake Pochard and a lovely sight of a Great-crested Grebe with a small chick riding on its back. Hundreds of Swallows fed over the lake and Reed Warblers sang from the reeds.
Holyhead Harbour was our next stop and we were soon enjoying amazing views of Black Guillemots by the harbour wall. We were able to enjoy these charismatic auks on the water and up on the wall in a nest site. It was great to see their vivid red legs and even the red gape inside their mouths.
A short drive took us to RSPB South Stack reserve, towering sea cliffs thronged with birds. Even before we reached the reserve we found Chough feeding in a roadside field and had great views on the ground and sweeping through the air, wonderful! We battled the gale down to the cliff edge and were soon enjoying an amazing bird spectacle. Thousands of Common Guillemots lined the ledges and amongst them plenty of Razorbills. Fulmars swept past on the updrafts and Kittiwakes picked food from the surface of the sea below. After a little searching we found some Atlantic Puffins bobbing about on the rough sea at the base of the cliffs. As always a real highlight of any birding trip. Offshore Manx Shearwaters were passing, slicing through the waves at high speed and difficult to pick out as they vanished into the troughs. More Chough showed very well on the cliff top, what cracking birds. We retreated to the café for hot drinks and a welcome shelter from the gale. Heading down to a nearby headland for our picnic lunch we jammed in on a Hooded Crow in a nearby field, which also held more Chough.
After lunch we visited Beddmanarch Bay, a shallow tidal area, which held Bar-tailed Godwits, Whimbrel, Dunlin, Turnstone and Ringed Plover. A small flock of Sandwich Tern loafed on the sands and amongst them a single Arctic Tern.
Heading back to the mainland we again visited Nant Ffrancon valley and were very lucky to find five Twite, a very scarce bird here in North Wales. These small finches fed right in front of us a great end to the day.8th May
A very start today as we headed into the hills in search of Black Grouse. The wind was still blowing hard but at least it was dry. We arrived at the Berwyn Mountains at 6.30am and almost immediately found four superb male Black Grouse displaying on the moor. Despite the bitter cold, was this really May? we enjoyed these gorgeous birds as they fanned their white tails, spreading their lyre-shaped outer-tail feathers and fluffed up their blue necks, what a spectacle! These amazing birds also make weird and wonderful noises as they display and are truly one of the most remarkable birds any where. Nearby another two males were found displaying closer and on the other side of the moor two more. We enjoyed our picnic breakfast overlooking the beautiful moorland listening to Skylarks singing above. We retraced our steps back across the moor and were very lucky to see a Merlin dashing after a Meadow Pipit low over the heather.
Back north up the A5 we stopped for a second breakfast, this time hot food, much needed after the unseasonably cold conditions on the moor. Full of food and hot drinks we were ready for more birds.
A short drive took us into the pine woods of Clocaenog Forest and we walked around a small lake picking up fly over Common Crossbills and Siskin. We then visited Llyn Brenig, a large reservoir surrounded by heather moors. A cracking male Stonechat showed well and a Common Buzzards and Raven passed over, but still the gale blew keeping birds low.
Heading down off the moorland we screeched to a halt to watch a beautiful Red Kite right next to the road, this amazing bird showed off and we soaked up the spectacle. At Ysbyty Ifan we saw and heard a Cuckoo. Climbing back up again to the moorland near Llyn Conwy we watched a Peregrine quartering the heather, skimming the vegetation, perhaps trying to flush prey out? The wind here was incredibly strong so we decided to drop down into the next valley and seek shelter. At Penmachno it was a little sheltered and we enjoyed a walk by the fast flowing river and lovely woodland. A Grey Wagtail showed well at the top of a waterfall and we enjoyed great views of Long-tailed Tit. As we returned to the bus a female Goshawk glided past at tree top level but was gone as quick as it came, sadly some missed this powerful raptors brief appearance. Back to the hotel after a long but very rewarding day.9th May
Today we headed south through Snowdonia passing wonderful scenery on way down to the coast at Porthmadog. We drove onto the beach at Morfa Bychan and were met by a wild scene as the waves crashed onto the beach. The wind was so strong we could hardly stand and we soon realised the best tactic was to view from the bus. For once we were glad the wind was so strong as we had come here to look for seabirds blown in by the storm. We soon picked up Manx Shearwaters passing along with Gannets and Kittiwakes. Five Common Scoter flew low over the breakers and a Common Gull struggled past into the wind. But then came the birds we had hoped for, Pomarine Skuas! A tight flock of 19 of these long tailed deep chested seabirds slowly flew across the bay giving us time to jump out and set up scopes to view them, an amazing sight.
A quick look at Borth-y-gest gave us a Rock Pipit but little else. At nearby Porthmadog we braved the elements to walk along the cob to view the pools behind the embankment. Here we had a real stroke of luck when a lovely Little Gull flew in and joined a flock of Black-headed Gulls. We also had great views of more Red-breasted Mergansers.
After a very welcome hot drink in a nearby café we visited the RSPB Osprey Project just north of Porthmadog. With the gale still blowing the female Osprey was sitting tight on her nest with just her head occasionally visible. Luckily the RSPB have CCTV cameras on the nest and we enjoyed amazing images of the bird sat on the nest. The male bird came in and a quick change over at the nest was made. Unexpectedly an Arctic Tern flew along the river here. Nearby we had a real piece of luck when we found six drake Mandarin, very scarce birds in North Wales, on a slow moving river. What beautiful birds! Also here were a pair of Common Goldeneye and a summering Whooper Swan which sadly has a damaged wing and was left behind by the wintering flock.
Next we went to Cricceth seafront and again scanned the rough seas for more seabirds. Gannets and Manx Shearwaters were passing in small numbers with a few Sandwich Terns. Seven Common Eider rode the waves just offshore and showed well. A Common Guillemot was also offshore along with both Great Cormorant and European Shag. With the rain starting again and us getting very cold we called it day and headed back to the hotel with a real quality list of birds.
Alan and Ruth joined the group for a lovely meal at the hotel in the evening.10th May
Our last day of the tour and finally the wind had dropped but had been replaced by light rain. We headed for the moors again and walked to a lake. It did not look good as we trudged through the rain and saw very few birds. At the lake our spirits were lifted by a pair of Common Sandpipers and a lovely male Northern Wheatear posing just yards away. A Red Grouse called loudly and showed very briefly. But then came the star bird, a ghostly grey male Hen Harrier floated over the heather very close! Wow! What a cracking bird, luckily the harrier was in the mood to show off and we enjoyed long looks. As we watched a female Hen Harrier joined the male to drift over the heather and both birds landed in view and we enjoyed scope views. If this was not enough a Goshawk then soared over the lake showing off to all. As we walked back to the bus a Golden Plover flew over Raymond who had stopped for a comfort break! A male Whinchat hopped up onto a fence as we dropped down off the moors.
We then headed for RSPB Conwy where we again birded around the lagoons and the estuary. A very strange gull was on the lagoon in front of the coffee shop, sooty grey all over! What on earth is it? As we studied this weird bird we came to the conclusion it was a Herring Gull with very abnormal plumage. On the lagoon we enjoyed views of breeding plumaged Dunlin, Common Sandpiper, and Lapwing with chicks and Little Egret. In the reed beds a male Reed Bunting sat up and sang and we had wonderful scope filling views of a singing Reed Warbler. We enjoyed a picnic lunch, with no rain and no gale, before doing the final bird log. That concluded the tour and we said our farewells.
A really enjoyable tour and a pleasure to meet Don and Heather, Judith, Peter and Raymond and look forward to meeting them in the field again soon.


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