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Our weekend of great birds in North Wales

Caroline Rainbow Holyhead

Looking for gold at the end of the rainbow!

A great weekend with amazing birds and great company. On Saturday we met Andy and Caroline at RSPB Conwy and headed down the Conwy Valley. The weather looked pretty grim but we know from experience that does not mean the birds won't show. We were soon watching a male Hawfinch singing in a bare tree! What a brilliant start to the day. As we watched the bull-necked finch a gorgeous Red Kite flapped slowly over. Two Peregrine Falcons showed keeping watch over the marshes from their lofty perch.

A quick look at RSPB Conwy boosted our list nicely before we moved west along the coast. The sea was rather choppy and rain showers swept across but we saw Red-throated Diver and Great Crested Grebes offshore. A hot cup of coffee in the cafe warmed us up nicely and the rain stopped as we emerged, good timing.

At our next stop we had great looks at a large flock of Goldeneye riding the waves and on the beach we were very lucky to watch a Spotted Redshank and four Greenshank, great to compare these scarce species with the nearby Common Redshank.

Onto Anglesey and with the tide high, we scanned the sheltered waters of a shallow bay. We soon picked out a Great Northern Diver, that lived up to its name of diver as it spent so much time underwater! But we watched and waited, the diver came th the surface with a crab and then spent a long time on the surface, eating then preening, allowing us all to enjoy great views. The bay also held three Slavonian Grebes, which also showed well after a little patience.

At RSPB South Stack we quickly found a pair of Chough in a flooded field, we had never seen so much water here! The road to the reserve was under water in several places, luckily not deep enough to stop us getting through. Another pair of Chough were feeding near the cafe and we enjoyed a fantastic fly-past by a pair of very vocal Ravens.

Time for lunch and we enjoyed a welcome hot meal at the RSPB cafe. Back out, we walked down to the cliff edge and were surprised to see several Fulmars on the cliffs. We also enjoyed more Chough and Ravens here.

Caroline Andy Alan South Stack

Caroline, Andy and Alan braving the wind at RSPB South Stack

Chough South Stack 180114

Great birds even in the car park!

As we left South Stack we found two male Stonechats near the lower car park. Surprised to see them out and about in the strong winds. Our next stop was Holyhead Harbour and even before we had got out of the Birdmobile we spotted a Shag close to the harbour wall. As we all jumped out we quickly saw a Black Guillemot and as we watched this bird, we realised there was a Common Guillemot just beyond it. More scanning produced two Great Northern Divers and at least another five Black Guillemots.

Black Guillemot

Black Guillemot in winter plumage

Black Guillemot diving

Head first!

On the harbour wall a Turnstone was feeding unconcernedly in the sunny interlude as the sky blackened behind us.

Turnstone Holyhead

Turnstone surveys the scene

Back at the shallow bay, the tide was now dropping and the mudflats were being exposed. Here we enjoyed another hot drink while we scanned the bay for birds. Pale-bellied Brent Geese were feeding at the water's edge alongside many waders including Bar-tailed Godwits, Grey Plover, and masses of Dunlin. In the channel we watched Red-breasted Merganser and Razorbill diving for fish.

Time to visit one more venue, the RSPB Valley Wetlands reserve. Despite the wind there were many ducks on the open water and we enjoyed great views of Shoveler feeding close by. Lots of Pochard, Tufted Duck and Goldeneye were diving in the open water and amongst them we picked out a Long-tailed Duck. As we focused the scope on this rarity, we were amazed to see there were in fact three Long-tailed Ducks here! A wonderful record for an inland water and a great way to round off our day. Over 80 species recorded at a gentle pace with plenty of time to enjoy each and every one. A huge thanks to Andy and Caroline for making it such an enjoyable day!

On Sunday, we put on a very special custom half-day for young birdwatcher Eve and her mum, Melanie. Again we met at RSPB Conwy and headed off down the valley. This time the weather was kinder to us: calm and sunny conditions! And again we were lucky with Hawfinches and we were soon enjoying great views through the telescope. A new bird for both Eve and her mum.

Melanie Eve Alan Caerhun

Happy Hawfinch-watchers!

Hawfinch Caerhun

Hawfinch sits still to allow scope views!

Hawfinch watchers

Checking the flock

Melanie Eve Caerhun

Enjoying the views of the Hooded Crow

After feasting our eyes on the Hawfinches we looked over the water meadows alongside the Conwy River where there were plenty of birds: colourful Shelduck, Lapwings, Curlew, and a Common Buzzard all showed in the sunshine, and then Ruth spotted a Hooded Crow, a very rare bird in Wales, on a sandbank in the river. Through the telescopes we were able to enjoy great views of this grey-waistcoated crow.

We were very impressed with Eve's knowledge of and enthusiasm for birds. Although only young, she's already got her future mapped out and is determined to work for a bird conservation charity in the future. Watch out, you could be looking at the future president of the RSPB. You saw her here first!

Eve told us there was one particular bird that she had always wanted to see: Nuthatch! Luckily there was a wood nearby and it wasn't long before we were watching a pair of these gorgeous blue-and-orange tree climbers. It was wonderful to see Eve's delight at seeing her most-wanted bird and we were thrilled to have been able to help her achieve one of her birding ambitions.


Eve's most-wanted bird!

Back at the car we were amazed to see a flock of nine Hawfinches fly in and land in the top of a leafless beech tree- wow! From here we headed north and had a quick look at RSPB Conwy where Eve particularly enjoyed watching three Grey Herons as herons are one of her favourite birds. It was nice to see a Little Egret land right next to the herons while Black-tailed Godwit and Teal were in the same scope view. Further along the coast we visited a high-tide wader roost seeing hundreds of Oystercatchers, Curlews, Redshank and Dunlin waiting for the tide to drop. Wildfowl here included super views of Wigeon, Pintail and more Teal, all looking resplendent in the morning sun. Two Common Snipe were spotted out in the open and we enjoyed wonderful views of these cryptically marked birds. The nearby copse held Great Spotted Woodpecker, Treecreeper and Coal Tits.

The morning had flown by. It had been such fun birding with such an enthusiastic young birder. We really hope that we can meet up with Eve (and Melanie of course!) again soon, and we hope that Dad (Andy, also a birder) wasn't too gripped off by the girls' tales of Hawfinches, Hoodies and more!

If you'd like to join us for some great birding in Europe, we still have space on our trip to Extremadura in April, and Finland/Norway in May/June. Just drop us a line on for details.


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