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)


  1. Sounds like a fantastic day out mate, you saw some amazing birds

    1. Thanks mate, it was a very memorable days birding. :)

  2. Just wow, all those tea breaks LOL Sounds like a fantastic day, I would have been happy with just a few of those birds. Daren't let Finn read this, he will be phoning Alan himself.

    1. Haha, yes many loo stops. You would love a day out with Alan & Ruth.

  3. Wow can only dream of birding days like that now. Are the hawfinches gone from halkyn?



    1. Not sure to be honest, I'm sure Alan would know though. It was a great day.

  4. Sound like a top day.
    You deserve medals for venturing out in that weather. Great set of birds seen.