Sunday, 16 February 2014

Conwy & Anglesey day out with Alan Davies - Saturday 15th February 2014

The eagerly awaited days birding with Alan of (The Biggest Twitch) fame finally arrived after weeks of anticipation. Last year myself, Shaun & Paul had a cracking day out with Alan in May, see link :-

Sadly, Shaun could not make this trip, however myself & Paul were keen to get going, despite the recent storms we had been having! As the alarm rang out at 5.10am, I went into the kitchen bleary eyed to make a cuppa and eye the barometer in the outside porch. The needle was in the 6'0 clock position!! Not a good sign as it was off the chart!! Low pressure would dominate today, but hopefully any stormy weather would blow through by afternoon! At 6.15am, Paul arrived and we set off. It was not raining yet! As we got on the A55 and headed towards Conwy, it started to get very windy and the rain was pounding against the windscreen! Oh dear! Arriving in the car park at Conwy at 7.20am, we tried to see any birds on the estuary but the rain was absolutely belting down and being blown across in front of us in great sheets. Alan arrived and our day had begun, so donned in waterproof overtrousers, waterproof coat and rugged boots, we were off looking for our first birds of the day. Additions to the yearlist are shown in red!

Inside the reserve, we had Mallard, Teal, Redshank,Tufted Duck, Canada Geese, PochardRed Breasted Merganser and then I spotted a drake Scaup on the near pool and then Alan saw the female Scaup. This pair have been around for a while by all accounts. The weather was vile and it was all we could do to shelter in corners and peer out like 'chad over the wall' just to avoid being blown away.

Ahem, moving on we went to see if we could locate a Firecrest that has been knocking about. Alan tried his best pishing sounds to see if the bird would rise from its morning slumber in amongst the brambles, but no luck. However, we saw Reed Bunting, Robin, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Chaffinch, Wren and a bonus Bullfinch! It was time to move back to the car and get to our next stop the Conwy Valley. It was that cold, my fingertips were numb and the warmth of the car offered a brief respite.

We arrived at Caer Hun church, which is a very old church dating back to the thirteenth century. It is a good sight for Hawfinch and one of our target species today. As soon as we got out of the car, Hawfinch were calling!! We crept through the church gate and peered around the wall to see some chaffinches feeding on the ground below the Yew trees. The Hawfinch were about, but we could not see them. The rain was still coming down strong, so we went up against the church wall to offer some shelter from the wind and get a good view into the tree tops. Bingo, three or four Hawfinch flew out of the tree and into the next one. Solid stumpy birds with short tail and huge nut cracking beak. Trying to get a fix on them with bins or scope was proving to be a very challenging task. Alan had an idea and we moved around the back of the church and tried to get views from a different angle. After a while, voila! Hawfinch at the top of a Yew tree, what an absolutely stunning bird, I was speechless. Paul took a couple of photographs of this beast of a finch.

We watched at least 7 or 8 birds moving between the trees, it was truly magical. After a while of viewing, Alan spotted a Red Kite high over the Forest on the opposite bank of the raging river! It was being mobbed by a couple of crows (no surprise). That was three new year ticks :) Moving on our next stop was The Spinnies/Aber Ogwen. The coastal path was a bit flooded and Alan was unsure about going through the water as he was not sure how deep it was or with incoming tide, if we could get cut off. We pulled over and looking in the nearby fields we saw lots of Curlew and Oystercatcher. Just then supergran went past in a small car and not phased by the water, she just ploughed through sending great jets to either side of the road, cue some laughter and on we went up to the car park at the top of the road. Not a lot was out on the River, but we did spot at least 14 Goldeneye, all drakes and all displaying tossing their heads back which is quite comical to watch. On the nearby pools we had Little Egret.

Moving on and next stop was Holyhead Harbour. Well, the waves were crashing over the harbour wall and the sea looked wild! Winds were gusting up to 50mph+. In the harbour we saw some great birds that were evidently sheltering out of the way of the tempest. Paul spotted a female Red Breasted Merganser diving down for food and very near to where we were parked up. We also spotted a Shag that was also diving down for grub.

Further out we had great views of a Black Guillemot that was unmistakable in breeding plumage, also visible were a few Guillemot. Further out were a few more Black Guillemot near to some boats. Paul tried for a few pics but they were too far away and kept diving down.

Next stop up to South Stack and the search for Choughs. We were really cold and needed a quick tally up on species seen, also the cafe offered warmth and a cuppa and some chocolate cake :) It was about 11.45 by now and still no let up in the weather, on the way out we were nearly blown over the edge it was that windy (indeed in the past, a chap had left the handbrake of his car off and it had gone over the edge of the cliff!) Driving to the bottom of the road and swinging a right, we went to look into some nearby fields for Chough, but only had Jackdaws. Just then Alan spotted something promising so a bit further on and hey presto Chough in the field and right by the car. Paul snapped this pic.

 The bird was doing some sort of crab like dance and was moving from side to side whilst probing the ground but with little success as we could not see it eating any food? Very odd, but great to watch up close and a good success story for this bird here on Anglesey.

Next stop was Trearddur Bay and it was still lashing down but we got out of the car and looked out across the bay and straight away we had Razorbill up close. Also two Rock Pipit flew past whilst calling. Out in the bay Alan spotted a Long tailed Duck and a Great Northern Diver. After watching these birds in very difficult viewing conditions, we moved on to the Inland Sea.

The weather seemed to be picking up just as it had forecast. It was now around 1.30 and we set up our scopes and scanned out across this vast area of water dotted with the odd rocky island. Some Goldeneye and a further 3 female Long tailed Duck, but much too far away for photos. Just then we saw a Slavonian Grebe, so the target birds were coming along nicely. At least another 3 Great Northern Divers were also spotted. A Goldcrest was calling it's head off in a nearby tree and a Collared Dove flew right over our heads as we now had to move on and Penrhys and Beddmanarch Bay.

Last year Petes Burger Van was a welcome sight, this year the car park was a temporary affair and his van was not so welcoming and out at the back of a makeshift park. Never mind, we were soon looking out across the bay at Wigeon, Cormorant and yet another Great Northern Diver. I managed this phonescoped shot but it was difficult due to the wind.

Over the other side of the bay, we spotted amazingly another 4 Slavonian Grebes and at least another 2 Great Northern Divers. Alan spotted a Red Throated Diver as well. A couple of waders flew in nearby and they were Bar tailed Godwits. I got this shot of one probing the mud for invertebrates.

I went back to the car as I needed some grub and a cuppa from the Burger Van. Paul spotted some Pale Bellied Brent Geese fly in and got this picture.

On the other side of the bay at the Alaw Estuary, lots of Dunlin, Lapwing and Golden Plover were spotted.

After a while we moved on to Llyn Coron which is a lake that is a fly fishery. The sun was coming out and the wind was dropping somewhat, very welcome. Scanning the lake we could see Coot, Teal, Mallard and then Paul spotted a female Goosander. As we scanned we spotted at least another 4 birds, the drakes looking very resplendent with Salmon pink underparts and black and white up top. Curiously one male bird had decided to climb up onto a large rock! On the way out of the park, I spotted a Hen Pheasant sitting low down in a bush above the flooded lake. Moving onwards we saw some Canada Geese and a few Greylags in a field and a nice Stonechat flew into view on top of a small hedge.

Driving past the inland sand dunes we spotted a Kestrel, a veritable scarcity here on Anglesey these days. Alan said he had never seen so much water inland on the island and it had created new habitat areas of flooded grasses for the birds. Upon arrival at Malltraeth Cobb, we saw lots of waders including a Greenshank which was a new addition for the day. Further on we saw Pintail in some flooded fields. Beautiful birds :)

Moving on, we arrived at Newborough Forest and Alan said we may pick up some new ticks on the feeders in the car park. As we pulled in there were scores of Chaffinches, we also enjoyed watching a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers and also saw a Coal Tit. I was informed today that this is a known major Raven Roost as well and birds are known to have travelled from as far as Ireland to use it as a roost!!

Moving further on up the island we stopped at a few coves and spotted Kittiwake out to sea in amongst flocks of gulls. The sea was still whipping up and the wind was depositing the sea foam some distance from the shore and across the roads into nearby houses. We had a quick look for Purple Sandpipers but could not see any sheltering on the rocks. Quite a few Turnstones however were busily scurrying here and there amongst the rocks searching for food, great to watch!

Back on the road and we decided to stop at Llanfairfechan to have a look if we could see a Dipper. Despite an extensive search of the river, we dipped on Dipper! The river was very fast flowing after the storms and most of the rock perches for the bird were covered, so hardly surprising it was not in sight. One last look out to sea only produced a local dog walking nutter whose dog we christened 'Benson' as it had gone out on the mudflats and was at least a good mile from the owner and despite his anguished cries for it to come back towards shore, it was having none of it :)

Surprisingly we had missed out on Peregrine, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Linnet & Pied Wagtail. Surely we could see a Pied Wag somewhere along the sea front or in a grassy park area nearby? No, not a chance.

Arriving back at RSPB Conwy at around 4.30pm, we said our goodbyes to Alan and thanked him for a thoroughly entertaining day with some great birds seen and for me 19 new year ticks and for Paul (7 lifers!) My year list has moved on to 116, so with last years total of 210 to better and it only being Feb,who knows? Me & Paul had one last look around the reserve to see if we could get Firecrest. We had Long tailed Tit and then near to a hide.....a Pied Wagtail flew up!!!!! Yay. This bird was nearly missed on last Mays twitch, so much amusement as we finally got it, haha. Who would have thought after what we have seen today a Pied Wag would create so much amusement.

I cannot emphasise how enjoyable today was a big big thank you to Alan, despite the awful weather early on we had a cracker of a day with 87 species seen! We cannot recommend to anyone enough how brilliant Alan & Ruths days out are. See Link for anyone interested in joining them on what I'm sure would be a special day. We can't wait for the next 'biggesttwitch' day out.

Species seen list :-


Alan Davies


Mike Buckley
Paul Kurs (photography)

Monday, 10 February 2014

Black Redstart at Flint Castle - Friday 7th February 2014

Got a text from Shaun around 1pm asking if I fancied a quick trip up to Flint Castle to see if the Black Redstart was still in residence. Upon arrival we walked around a bit and spotted some Goldfinches in nearby trees. This was my first visit, so after a short while we sussed the entrance and spotted about 6 birders inside with scopes trained up into a corner tower of the castle. Some faces I recognised, except for the guy in bright red shorts and flip flops!!

The Black Redstart was sat high up on a rocky outcrop of the tower and was occasionally flying out to catch insects, very flycatcher like! This was a 1st winter male, so not as dark as the adult male, more mouse grey I would say. It was still lovely to watch from a respectable distance and Shaun took a couple of pictures a bit later when it flew lower down.

A lovely bird to watch and gets my yearlist up to a respectable 96 species. The tide was quite a way out on the Dee Estuary, but large numbers of Canada Geese were flying up the river and making their way to the grassy banks by the Tower Hide at Connahs Quay reserve.

On the way home, we stopped off by the pool at the back of the M.O.D shooting range as we had reports a Bittern had been spotted in the reedbeds. Alas, no sign today but a solitary Mallard and eight pairs of Tufted Duck sat out on the pool.

Walking around the corner, we had views over towards Station Road and Burton Point. We both agreed we had never seen so many Lapwings out on the marsh. Suddenly they were all up in the air and we witnessed two Peregrine Falcons on the hunt. It was a remarkable spectacle as the birds wheeled left then right to avoid capture. Smaller numbers of Golden Plover were in among the Lapwings which we estimated to be in the region of at least 10,000 birds.

In this next shot you can see a bird above the main group of birds, this is the Peregrine (I think) as there was a solitary Buzzard in amongst the masses of birds if I recall.

You can see quite a few cars at the bottom of Station Road, maybe also enjoying the spectacle and no doubt the long staying Buff Bellied Pipit! So not a bad hour or so spent birding, very enjoyable indeed.


Mike Buckley
Shaun Hickey (photography)

Monday, 3 February 2014

Glorious birding at Manisty Bay - Sunday 2nd February 2014

It was good to catch up with my old mucca Shaun as our last visit out was early New Year. Today was WeBS (Wetland Bird Survey) count on the River Mersey and weather was fine and sunny. As Shaun arrived he told me he had spotted the Green Woodpecker on the park at the front and I explained I had heard it's maniacal laugh earlier in the morning! Song Thrush, Dunnock & Great Tit were all belting out their songs like it was the first day of spring! Let's hope we don't have a late winter like last April, although it's looking increasingly more likely.

Arriving at Stanlow at 9am, we checked in with security and obtained our passes, today we had 8 counters which is the maximum as the ferry only holds 9 including the ferryman! The minibus picked us up and took us over to the ferry area and with a toot of his horn to notify the ferryman, we disembarked onto the pier area. On the Manchester Ship Canal we could see two Coots, first count of the day! All aboard, off we set for the brief journey over to Stanlow Point. The South Shore of the River Mersey and tidal Estuary is a mix of fresh and seawater generated by the tide's ebb and flood. This is in the top 10 sites for wildfowl and waders in the whole of Britain. Today a 10.2 metre tide was forecast for 12.45 so we expected the whole saltmarsh to be covered! First up we see the River Gowy and it's tributary as it flows into the Mersey. This is excellent for Teal and Redshank who feed in the creeks.

This area is undisturbed as it is managed by the RSPB and has no visiting arrangements due to it's difficult access, other than the designated counters, nobody comes over here, so we are very privileged to get to see this amazing area for birds and wildlife.

After we had flushed the Teal and Redshank from the creeks, we walked up to Stanlow Point and spotted two foxes playing on the marsh. They were totally unaware of our presence and even when they noticed us, they looked shocked as humans are not normally here!!

At Stanlow Point, we looked out and the tide was well out and all the sandbanks were exposed. Few birds were on these banks as they have fewer resident invertebrates than the mudflats so are of little importance to the birds. However, huge numbers of Dunlin were roosting on the mudflats. Over the years and where the currents are at their slowest, sediment builds up. These high mudflats are colonised by salt tolerant plants. Grassy banks are covered by sea poa; the ungrazed Stanlow & Manisty Banks support herbaceous species such as sea aster, scurvygrass and orache, which all produce huge numbers of seeds. These seeds are excellent for Teal, Pintail & Mallard, while Wigeon prefer the grazed sward.

We now go our separate ways, so myself Shaun & Ian were counting at Manisty, Ray & Toni were staying at the point and Dermot, John & Katie Swale were making the long walk up to Ince banks. Katie is from Natural England and was here today to get an idea of the work we do on these counts. Ince banks & Frodsham score are particularly important for large numbers of Lapwing & Golden Plover who join many other waders and grazing Wigeon.

Walking towards Manisty is about a two mile trip and on the way we pass a couple of pools that are normally good for Egrets. Straight away we spotted some Egrets feeding and after I looked through the scope, I could see it was the Great White Egret!! Shaun managed some photographs just before it flew off over towards the point. A bit further on, we spotted another Great White Egret, so maybe a pair? If so this would be excellent news!

As we hugged the edge of the banks that separate the Ship Canal from the Mersey, we encounter small birds in the bushes. We had some Reed Buntings and Chaffinches that followed us on our way. Also we flushed a few Snipe and were tuned in to Mipits & Skylarks overhead.

Half way down, we spotted a Peregrine hunting and it was mesmerising to watch it swooping on Curlew (yes Curlew) but without success, it landed a bit further out, but too far away for a good pic. Overhead, the Buzzard must have been watching the activity and was calling as it flew past.

Ian was counting about half a mile away from myself and Shaun so we could get the best count of birds available, as at high tide, some areas would have been unobserved had we all stayed together. We set up on a pipeline on the banks of the Ship Canal about an hour before high tide with a great view of the River. The tide was making it's way in slowly but surely and numbers of birds began to appear in the forming channels and creeks.

Shelduck were making their way across the river and forming large groups close to Manisty Bay.

Redshank were wheeling around excitedly and calling very loudly (warden of the marshes) I took some phoneskoped pics of roosting birds just before the tide and Shaun got some cracking flight shots (spot the two birds with no legs?)

Lots of Teal were emerging from the grass as it became further covered by the approaching tide, as were Pintail and Mallard. Curlews were calling and flying in even closer to get on the grass not yet covered by the tide.

A short 1 minute video I made before the tide was coming in, click Manisty Bay link below :-

Manisty Bay 

These glorious Pintail are one of my favourite ducks and to think back in the 1980's, Pintail numbers here on the Mersey peaked at around 18,000 birds, sadly today we only counted 64! This is most probably due to the mild winters :(

The tide was racing in now and completely flooding the marsh, huge numbers of birds were up in the air seeking refuge on drier ground. Black tailed godwits wheeled past us and flew North West disappearing behind Manisty Bay.

The tide had now reached the bottom of the bank we were sitting on, so we were trapped here for at least an hour until it started to recede! Hopefully :/

It was at this point, Shaun went on a recce to try and see if he could spot any birds we may not have counted a bit further up nr Manisty Bay. This involved walking along the wall on the Manchester Ship Canal side and also gave a good chance to see any birds that may have passed over onto the canal. Meanwhile I was busily counting passing Godwits, Cormorants, Redshank, Mallard, Teal and some Wigeon who were quite a way out on the river. Just then a Sparrowhawk flew right from a bush a few metres away from me and glided effortlessly past me and back out over the river and over to the canalside! Brilliant, I had not even spotted it sitting there! After an hour or so, Shaun came back and had some more records of birds further up the river. He took some shots of Redshank on the canalside.

He had heard another Green Woodpecker at Manisty and also managed a photo of a Long tailed tit in the reedbed.

A solitary Teal cut a lone figure on the ship canal :(

This Mallard photograph made me laugh, because if anybody remembers watching Coronation Street in the 80's, it looks like the wall in Hilda Ogdens house (you will know what I mean) :-)

With the tide receding, it was time to head back, so sloshing our way through muddy grasses, we wearily started the two mile trudge back towards base at the point. Huge numbers of Dunlin were visible when we got near to the point, Ray had estimated around 20,000 Dunlin were seen during this count period at the point alone!

As you can see, this is just a snapshot of some of the Dunlin!!

Nearing the end of our journey, we spotted some Little Egrets feeding and also flushed the Great White Egret again.

After all meeting back at base, it was back over on the ferry and to the car park to record our details from the count with Dermot Smith who is the local co-ordinator for the River Mersey counts. What a thoroughly enjoyable day in great company, a big thanks to all those that took part and in particular to Stanlow/Essar the RSPB & BTO.

For more information on The Mersey Estuary, go to

Observers at Manisty :-

Mike Buckley (phoneskoped Shelduck & Redshank)
Shaun Hickey (photography)
Ian Coote

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Parkgate High Tide 1st February 2014

After the mini tsunami of 5th December and high tides of 3rd January, this forecasted 10.5 metre tide was not one to be missed! The day started off nice and bright but cold with some early morning ice. I got the number 272 bus into Parkgate and arrived around 10.15am and after setting up my scope, spied a few Golden Plover, some Black tailed godwits and Curlew at the very bottom of Station Road by The Old Quay pub.

A ringtail Hen Harrier was being mobbed by a Crow and had spooked quite a number of Lapwing who were wheeling up into the air in great clouds!

After about ten minutes of having my hands freeze (forgot my gloves) I decided to walk further up The Parade and stopped at the Donkey Stand where the RSPB were set up and also Jeff Clarke was giving a guided talk on behalf of Cheshire Wildlife Trust. (a very animated one for those that know Jeff ) :-) After looking out over the pools and seeing yet another Hen Harrier and a hunting Peregrine, I decided to walk up to the Old Baths Car Park to my usual spot.

On the way past The Boathouse pub I spotted small finch flocks which included Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Linnets and Mipits and Skylarks. They were feeding in the tide wrack and also included a lovely Stonechat and numerous Pied Wagtails.

It was very busy as expected at the Old Baths CP and I bumped into Heather & Findlay Wilde so set up shop by them with scope etc. Fin had spotted a Pintail out on the pools and we also spotted a Black Headed Gull (with full hood) prob a young bird (1st Summer?) who retain the hood even in winter.

Lot's of Pink Footed Geese were out on the marsh and were becoming more airborne as the tide made it's way closer in. Shelduck, Oystercatcher, Little Egrets and Cormorants could be seen in fair numbers right on the edge of the incoming tide. One or two Hen Harriers (ringtail) were hunting out on the marsh and big flocks of Redshank were making their way across the marsh whistling their plaintive cries as they went along before landing on pools in front of us.

Quite a few Curlews were being disturbed as well and a group were huddled together on a raft of vegetation as the tide sailed past them!

I mentioned that we should begin to see the Short Eared Owls soon and I managed to pick one up right out on the waters edge flying low. Then another flew into sight in amongst the gulls as it flew high then low across the waves in amongst a few Canada Geese.

Heather & Findlay were busily clicking away with their cameras as the tide raced in towards the wall. Nowhere near as dramatic as Decembers surge, but did reach the wall and not one Water Rail was spotted coming out from the marsh! Nor for that matter any small mammals which I fear have sadly been depleted with previous months high tides!

The wind was becoming quite strong but thankfully the rain that was forecast had not materialised. Findlay had munched his way through several baguettes in between watching and I was now becoming hungry! A Sparrowhawk flew across in front of us and put up all the Mipits and Skylarks that were busily feeding on the floating rafts.

It seemed to be getting colder so we decided to call it a day and see what we could spot on the way back to the boathouse car park before the rain arrived. Just then a female Kestrel flew across in front of us looking for a quick meal and landed close by.

A very cold and frightened looking Water Rail was spotted close to the road in amongst some vegetation and was well camouflaged, the first Rail we had seen all day!

Finally and also looking very afraid, wet and miserable, we spotted a Fox sitting by the wall of The Boathouse Pub, poor thing could probably smell all the pub food cooking as well!!

I had managed to bum a lift home from the very kind Heather & Findlay and I even got a delicious cup of Oxtail soup as well, just in time before the rain started to pelt down.  :-) Was very nice to see them again.

All in all, another very good birding session at a fantastic venue.


Mike Buckley
Heather Wilde (photography)
Findlay Wilde (photography)