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So you think July is not so good for birding?

Think again!

When we were contacted by Gerry, a very keen North American birder, about a guided birdwatching holiday here in North Wales in July, we were a little apprehensive. Many people consider July not to be a good month for birdwatching so we knew we were going to have our work cut out finding the key species that Gerry had requested on his wishlist for the trip.

We met up with Gerry at 5am on the first of his three-day tour with The Biggest Twitch. It was immediately apparent that Gerry is a very experienced birder and had really done his homework about British birds. This made us even more nervous given that we were about to set off at the 'worst' time of year for birding in the UK.

We were soon in an area of high moorland and it was with bated breathe that we made our way across the heather moor in search of our first of Gerry's target birds. Would they still be visible in July? Huge sigh of relief as we picked out not just one but five superb male Black Grouse - a perfect start to Gerry's birding trip! The high moors also gave us wonderful views of both Whinchat and Stonechat.

Stonechat with food

Stonechat after a successful hunt

Dropping down in altitude we were fortunate to come across a family party of Common Redstarts that showed off in the morning sunshine. It was so good birding with Gerry as he was very keen to get really good looks at many of our 'common' birds so we found ourselves really studying such beautiful birds as male Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Greenfinch with fresh eyes and renewed enthusiasm. Britain really does have some stunning birds when you take the time to stop and look.

Lower down again, we were soon watching Dipper and Grey Wagtail by a fast-flowing river and Gerry's sharp eyes picked out a female Mandarin lurking below the riverbank at some distance. Not many UK birders would have picked out this subtle bird at that distance.

With the July temperature now in the mid 20's, birding was always going to be slower but we kept going and with patience enjoyed some lovely views of a Wood Warbler, followed by Siskins, Blackcap, and some flyover Crossbills. We ended the day in the high hills of Snowdonia enjoying great looks at a family party of Wheatears.


Handsome male Wheatear in the uplands of North Wales

On Day Two of Gerry's tour we started at RSPB Conwy and very quickly boosted his growing list of Welsh birds. This was the first wetland area that we had visited so new birds came thick and fast. Highlights included beautiful breeding-plumaged Black-tailed Godwits and two Greenshank. Gerry was just as keen to soak up views of Tufted Duck and Reed Warbler.

Next we headed back into the uplands of Snowdonia where we again enjoyed great looks at Redstart, Whinchat and Stonechat. Lots of new birds too - Gerry particularly enjoyed a male Lesser Redpoll that posed in the sunshine for us; a pair of Yellowhammers was a nice bonus here before we moved on to the main target. We first heard a Ring Ouzel calling but frustratingly failed to locate it. Then Alan had a glimpse of a flying Ring Ouzel which unfortunately dived out of sight before even Gerry's sharp eyes could connect with it. Was it going to be one of those days? Undaunted we continued the search and suddenly Alan picked up a male Ring Ouzel posing on a large boulder. This time this mountain thrush was in no hurry to move on and we feasted on the views. As we watched, the female Ring Ouzel flew in and joined the male - great to compare plumages of these scarce birds. Three sightings of Red Kite in the area added to what was proving to be a brilliant day's birding - was this really July?

With a long list of great birds already under our belt we headed across the island of Anglesey to RSPB South Stack. The weather was holding, glorious blue skies and millpond-like seas: no better conditions to enjoy the spendours of South Stack and what a view we had from the clifftop!

South Stack

Classic view of South Stack on a sunny day

The cliffs were alive with birds, masses of Guillemots jostled for position on the narrow ledges, Razorbills were in pairs all over the place and at least six Puffins showed off. We were very lucky in seeing some of the Puffins out of the water, standing on the rocks sunning themselves. Manx Shearwaters and Gannets were offshore, Kittiwakes and Shags were loafing around at the base of the cliffs. Gerry was studying a pair of Razorbills in his scope and called Alan over to look at the couple preening each other. Just as Alan took over the scope a Rock Pipit landed right next to the Razorbills! We had been scanning, unsuccesfully, for this species, so to have one land in the scope view was very lucky! Even better, it stayed in view for great looks.

In the fields near South Stack we had great views of Chough on the ground, we had seen five in flight earlier. The Chough were using their long decurved red bills like minature pickaxes to dig out grubs for their recently fledged young.

Leaving South Stack behind we were soon in Holyhead and watching an impressive 17 adult Black Guillemots on the calm sea in the glorious sunshine. Some of these dapper little auks, with the most scarlet of legs, came very close indeed.

Black Guillemot

We grabbed a very late, and very delicious, lunch at The Jam Factory before spending the rest of the day at one of our favourite birding sites - Cemlyn Lagoon on the north coast of Anglesey.

Cemlyn Lagoon

The lagoon behind the shingle beach was alive with Sandwich Terns, a record 2,200 pairs are nesting here this year. The noise and the fishy smell was pretty impressive too! Amongst the Sandwich were smaller numbers of both Common and Arctic Terns showing well at close range. Two Mediterranean Gulls, a juvenile and a second summer bird, were also on the lagoon along with a Red-breasted Merganser.

Offshore more Manx Shearwaters and Gannets were passing and on the rocky beach we picked out Turnstones and a Whimbrel - nice to see in July.

Turnstone Cemlyn

On our third and final day birding with Gerry we again met up early morning at RSPB Conwy. The reserve held plenty of birds and we had nice looks at Common Sandpiper, Redshanks, Black-tailed Godwits and a pair of Great Crested Grebes with three young. We then made a brief visit to Pensychnant Local Nature Reserve where we enjoyed Redstarts, Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Coal Tits. On the nearby hillsides we found a party of five Chough, a family of Stonechats and several showy Common Whitethroats.

We then headed east towards the Dee Estuary. We enjoyed a picnic lunch overlooking Burton Marsh before heading down to the hide at the Inner Marsh Farm end of RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands nature reserve. A Green Woodpecker was seen just beyond the parking area and as we had our first view of the lagoons we counted over 40 Little Egrets in the shallow pools. The view from the hide was brilliant: lots and lots of birds feeding in the beautiful sunlight. A flock of 130 Black-tailed Godwits made a wonderful sight, many in their brick-red plumage. Amongst the taller godwits we picked out seven Spotted Redshanks and a moulting Ruff, all great birds for any birder, let alone one from the United States. Gerry loves his shorebirds AKA waders. A Sparrowhawk flashed past flushing all the waders but luckily they returned to the lagoon.

Mixed waders and gulls IMF

Spot the Ruff and Spotted Redshanks - pre-Sparrowhawk!

Mixed flock in flight IMF

Post-Sparrowhawk mayhem!

Next we moved round to the other side of the reserve to the newly-built visitor centre. The pool in front of the centre wss equally alive with birds and we quickly found two Little Ringed Plovers amongst large numbers of Black-tailed Godwits, and then Gerry picked out a Green Sandpiper, a bird we had really hoped to see today. More scanning produced more birds with a single Avocet, a Spotted Redshank and three Yellow Wagtails amongst the highlights.

Sadly our day was drawing to a close and it was time to say farewell to Gerry. We had thoroughly enjoyed our three days birding together and we really hope we can repeat the experience again one day, either here in the UK or perhaps on Gerry's home ground in the USA.

We think you'll agree after reading this report that July is a wonderful month to be birdwatching in North Wales. Gerry had booked a three-day custom tour with The Biggest Twitch which enabled us to target the birds that he particularly wanted to see and go at a pace that was ideal for him. If you'd like to book a custom tour with us at any time of year, simply drop us a line on and we can put together a custom tour to suit you. We look forward to hearing from you!

Gerry and Alan IMF


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