A Bleak Day on the Saltmarsh

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January 5th

Not a great day weather-wise; from my window I could see cloudy grey sky and more than a breeze blowing through the trees. But I hadn’t been out for a proper walk for a while and after a wonderful but hectic family Festive Season I needed fresh air and exercise. And I had a fitness-monitoring, step-counting watch gizmo as a Christmas present that I was keen to try out. Sticking to my resolve to improve my duck recognition skills and knowledge I decided to go back to Llanfairfechan, which would be sure to fulfil the exercise and fresh air part and would hopefully have birds too. My target ducks for the day were to be Teal and I was hoping to improve on the photographs I took at RSPB Conwy a few days ago.

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.”

13:20 The car temperature gauge read 7°, and minded by Alfred Wainwright’s famous quote, I’d put on extra layers in anticipation of the cold, but a stiff breeze made the air that greeted me in the almost-deserted car park feel bitter: and worse, the café was closed! So no tea to thaw out with when I got back. For birds though, it has to be business as usual or starve, so there were the usual Mallards on the river and a few more on the grass; they and the Jackdaws were looking rather disappointed by the lack of human-donated titbits.

13:21 The Swan family was out sailing on the wind-rippled model boating lake.

The cygnets, if you can still call them that when almost fully-grown, are definitely no longer Ugly Ducklings, they have the size and grace of the adults and are turning white to differing degrees, which I guess must relate to the order they hatched in. They too are used to having food thrown to them by visitors and travelled towards me hopefully. I had nothing to offer even though they posed nicely for photographs.

Mute Swan – Cygnus olor

13:28 It felt cold there, but out from the shelter of the trees at the side of the lake the effects of the wind blowing into my face, it got worse. I met a few hardy souls making their way back, mostly dog walkers braving the elements for the love of their pets, but I almost had the place to myself.

1330: The tide was out but there were a few waders out on the sand close enough to see; a Black-headed gull, an Oystercatcher and a Redshank.

13:41 I reached the corner where the stand of trees gave a smidgen of shelter from the icy blast and stopped for a couple of minutes to look at the pine trees. They are very exposed to the elements here, but in the main they stand straight and tall and look to be a good age.

I think they are Monterey Pines – Pinus radiata, an introduced species originating from California that is probably the most widely planted tree in the world. It is characterised by having branches that radiate out from its trunk, hence radiata. The trees often has conspicuous cones that may fall or that sometimes remain on the tree for years. I must look for cones another day.

13:44 As always, the view over the slate-fenced green field dotted with sheep, with the hills and mountains beyond was beautiful, even on a dull cloudy day like today.

13:45 At the end of the Promenade I stopped again to take in the vastness of the view across the Menai Straits to the dark blue coastline of Anglesey.

 A lone Curlew stalking through shallow water seemed small and vulnerable out there on the expanse of sand, emphasising the bleakness of the day.

13:49 In the rough grass on the other side of the wire fence a small flock of lively Starlings were foraging and bickering amongst themselves as Starlings do.

Apart from the cheery Starlings, my first impression was that the saltmarsh was peaceful – and empty! The great flocks of Wigeon that were here a month ago are gone. I guess they’d exhausted the available food supply here and that most of them will have moved inland to fresh pastures. I’m so glad I got to see them while they were here and with luck thought there may still be a few remaining here to see.

Redshank

13:50 A Redshank, its bill half-covered with mud stood motionless nearby. It must be hard work for birds to find enough food to stay warm, let alone mobile on cold days like this.

13:51 As I said, my target ducks for today were Teal and I was starting to think they too had gone along with the Wigeon; then I spotted a pair swimming together along a water-filled channel. Against the background of the textured water surface they were a pretty sight and may have made a pretty picture if the light had been kinder. But at least I’d seen some and there could be more out there sheltering from the weather.

Teal drake & duck

13:52 Scanning along the channel for more ducks – I actually had binoculars with me today- I caught sight of a Grey Heron standing with its shoulders hunched up and its back turned to a stand of reeds. It was some distance away; in this picture showing the channel the Teal were swimming in, it’s the tiny grey dot on the right hand side, other side of the water just above centre and about an inch in!


It looked miserable; it’s plumage ragged and blowing in the wind and wings folded around itself like a cloak.Grey Heron – Ardea cinerea

I was distracted by some frantic and noisy wing-flapping coming from the muddy bank nearer to me. I felt a moment of dread, half-expecting to see a duck having been seized as prey by something, but it turned out to be Starlings who were dipping  into the water and flapping themselves dry. I couldn’t help thinking they must be hardy little migrants from Russia or Scandinavia or somewhere similarly cold, that water must be icy.

When the tide is out water drains back out of channels exposing the soft mud at the bottom.

13:59 – Thus far I’d not had much luck seeing birds, so I was more than happy to see another Redshank foraging on the side of an empty channel.

I’d rounded the bend in the track and was heading towards the Reserve boundary. The railway line runs through the middle of the photograph below and you can just make out the Expressway (A55) at the base of the mountain.  There were a few Mallards sitting on the edge of a muddy peninsular, more were sheltering below against the bank at the water’s edge.

Three more were hunkered down on top of a gravelly bank with their backs to the wind.

14:05 I’m happy to spot a pair of Teal resting on a muddy beach on the other side of the little peninsular where the Mallards sat.

A bit further along, higher up the bank I found some more.

The little flock was quite spread out, I counted about twenty that were visible, but there could well have been more nearby and further back.

14:08 A pair headed into the water, disturbing a bird already there that otherwise I may well not have seen. I thought for a minute that it may fly off before I’d had a chance to have a proper look, but it just gathered itself together and carried on stalking and scanning the shallow water for potential food.

Apart from having been engaged by the Teal flock, it’s not surprising I hadn’t spotted the wading bird by myself. The light was dull, the water grey, the mud a greyish-brown and the bird merged into all perfectly. I wasn’t holding out much hope of getting any really good images, but my thinking is that when you’re looking at a bird you don’t immediately recognise, take as many shots as you can and chances are some will be good enough to at least confirm an identification and serve as a record.

Greenshank – Tringa nebularia

As it happened I’d worked out what I thought it was as I focussed in on it. It must be a Greenshank, which are pictured on the information boards back at the beginning of the walk. This was the closest view I’d ever had of one though, and the first I’ve been able to photograph, but certain features rang bells: an elegant wader; long, slightly upturned bill and long legs that are as its name implies green. Although they looked more grey to me in this light.

The Welsh name for Greenshank is Pibydd Coeswerdd

In the UK Greenshank breed on the wild moorlands of the Scottish Highlands and Islands. In late summer and autumn they move south on migration, stopping to feed in marsh pools, on estuaries and rather less scenically, on sewage farms and are widespread in the south. Only a few birds remain in Britain over winter, mainly on the Irish coasts, so maybe that’s where this one is heading for. It’s not far to Ireland from here. It’s yet another bird on the BTO’s AMBER list because of breeding numbers and winter range declines. 
It’s moments and sights like this that make the effort of going out on days so worth it!

My favourite moment was when it was joined by a Redshank, which suddenly appeared from nowhere. I was so lucky to get the two related birds in the same shot.

Greenshank with Redshank

The bird carried on with its quest for food regardless of much bigger ducks entering the water nearby. I did wonder if they might be helping by stirring up the mud beneath the water and disturbing anything it may eat, like small fish or worms.
And to put the birds into scale and context within the landscape, this view shows the pool of water the birds were in, tiny specks just visible, and the adjacent bank where the Teal were roosting.

I carried on around the path to the other side of Shell Island and stopped just past the front of the bird hide of the Morfa Madryn Reserve. A few Mallards were resting in the rough grass and out on the gravelly sand; the pebbles may be hard but they’re mostly smooth and may have retained some warmth from the day’s scant sunshine. They gave me a focal point for the photograph too – I loved the zig-zag pattern and different shades and textures of the pebbles and grassy ground.

A few more were up and about foraging on the damp sand.

A Crow, that I’d hoped might have been a Raven, but wasn’t, was also hopefully patrolling the sand.

Once again I contemplated carrying on along the Coast Path for a while, but no, it was way too cold and windy for me to derive any joy from that today.

I took the more sheltered path back. On the scrubland gorse is coming into full bloom now, bringing a welcome and cheering touch of gold to the landscape. 

14:28 I had a closer view of the Heron walking this way. It was still in the exact same spot as before. It must have been sleeping.

The path ahead of me was unusually deserted.

Beyond the railway line Penmaenmawr Mountain, looking big, bulky and brooding.

14:45 I love the view across the Traeth. All you can see is the Pavilion, the café building, the Tower House and a stand of dark pine trees.  Promenade I see that there is only one person on the sands with a dog. At this time on a Saturday there would usually be a lot more. 

14:53  There were a few more birds to see on the way back; Oystercatchers, a Redshank, a Curlew and Black-headed Gulls out on the sand; and on the field side of the path a Chaffinch up in an ash tree and a Dunnock perched on the barbed wire fence.

I didn’t linger to look again at the Swans and other collected ducks and birds that were now gathered on and around the lake. I did wish the café had been open though.

Sightings for the afternoon: Grey Heron; Little Egret; Mute Swans; Teal; Mallard; Khaki Campbell; Oystercatcher; Greenshank; Redshank; Curlew; Black-headed gull; Herring gull; Carrion Crow; Starling; Dunnock

Not too many species today, but what was lacking in quantity was made up for with quality; the Greenshank was a real treat!

Oh, and I logged about 7.300 steps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wigeon in Winter

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Wigeon are generally known as winter visitors to the UK, although in some places, mainly in Scotland and the north of England, some are established as resident breeders. The birds begin to arrive back in their wintering grounds in the British Isles as early as September. The influx continues through October and November and by December the BTO estimate that they number around 440,000 birds. They gather in spectacular vast flocks mainly in coastal locations, moving inland at dusk to crop the grass in fields and meadows, but some winter inland, in flooded districts and on large lakes and reservoirs. Highly gregarious birds; flocks of Wigeon hundreds strong rest by day on estuaries and mud-flats.

November- Large flocks of Wigeon gathered to graze on the salt-marsh at Llanfairfechan

WigeonMaraca penelope (previously Anas penelope) Welsh: Chwiwell

Length: 48 cm: Wingspan: 80 cm: Weight: M: 800 g F: 650 g

Wigeon drake

The Wigeon drake is one of our most handsome ducks. Medium-sized and distinctively shaped, the head is dark chestnut with a wide creamy yellow stripe extending from the base of his short blue-grey bill upwards between the eyes to the crown of his head. The body is softly patterned grey, the chest pinkish-brown, the underbelly is white and the rear end a contrast of black and white. The wings are pointed and in flight he reveals white shoulders and green wing patches. In eclipse plumage (June-October/November), the male resembles a dark female, but with the white forewing. Immature males lack the white shoulders of the adult.

Wigeon duck

Similarly distinctively shaped, females are more subtly attractive, being more uniformly brown than females of other species. They are slimmer and have a more pointed tail than a female Mallard. As the male, they have a high forehead, but the head is a darker chocolate brown and the bill, still blueish, is smaller than the drake’s. Her back is patterned brown, she has a greyish-green wing patch visible in flight and a white belly.

Immature males lack the white shoulders of the adult

 

Wigeon are lively birds and the whistling of the drakes and low growling, or “purring” of the ducks, which don’t quack as other species do can often be heard when several birds are together.

181102-wigeon 7

DIET

Wigeon are classified as dabbling ducks and are closely related to Mallards, Shovelers, Garganey, Gadwall, Pintail and Teal. But they are unusual amongst ducks as they spend much of their time out of the water, where they graze in waterside grassy areas, rather like geese. Wholly vegetarian, their diet consists mostly of leaves, shoots, rhizomes and also some seeds, which seem to be what those in the photographs above and below are stripping from the grass stems.

Wigeon grazing on grass

The ducks do spend time in the water where they also feed on waterweed, occasionally dipping ‘bottom’s up’ as their cousins do.

Wigeon male, female & juvenile

BREEDING

The first Wigeon’s nest found in the UK was in 1834, in Sunderland. During the early 1900s Wigeon were expanding as a resident breeding British species, but by the late 1960s this came to a halt and there was then no regular breeding south of Yorkshire. The habitats they favour for breeding are lochs, rivers and marshes, especially those in wooded countryside, although they do occasionally nest on coastal marshes. The BTO estimate there may be somewhere in the region of 400 breeding pairs, mainly in Scotland and northern England. Their habitual breeding grounds are in the far north, in Iceland and throughout a wide Arctic and sub-Arctic belt that runs west from Norway across Asia to the Bering Strait.

ETYMOLOGY

The scientific name for the Wigeon as given by the BTO is now Mareco penelope (prev.Anas penelope) The more recent name derives from both Brazilian Portuguese: marréco=a (small) duck and Greek: penelops=a type of duck. The RSPB and bird books show the previous scientific name of Anas penelope.

Wigeon have been recorded in the British Isles since the Mediaeval times of the 16th century. According to the eminent language expert Professor Walter William Skeat, the name was then spelt “Wigion”. In 1767 Gilbert White in his History of Selbourne recorded seeing “multitudes of Widgeon and Teals (which) in hard weather frequent our lakes in the forest“. It is still referred to as “Widgeon” in one of my old nature books that was copyrighted in 1934. In another which is not dated, but titled “Birds of our Country & of the Dominions, Colonies and Dependencies” that must be of a similar age, the author refers to it as Common Wigeon. These days it is commonly known simply as Wigeon, or as Eurasian Wigeon.

Cream head stripe may have given rise to old name of bald pate

The Old English names are much more fun and evocative, most of them originating in Norfolk and the East of England or in Northumberland where historically the birds have wintered in their thousands.     Whew; Whim; Whewer and variations of these such as Pundle-whim and Pandled Whew, are all thought to have come about from the bird’s whistling call. “Whim” equates to whistle, as in the name of the Whimbrel, which translates as Seven Whistlers. I think the Welsh “Chwiwell” also derives from the bird’s musical call. A “pandle” or “pundle”, is a winkle, which it was thought the ducks collected as they fed on bottom-living water plants.

Another old name is “bald pate”, referring to the broad cream crown stripe and “lady fowl” – I’m not sure about that one!

DUCK HUNTING & CONSERVATION STATUS

The collective name for a flock of Wigeon is a Bunch.

Wigeon have long been hunted for eating. I read that historically, Wigeon were easy prey for wildfowlers, which may be why in the 18th Century the name also came to be used for a stupid person. They may not have always been the first choice of the hunters as according to my trusty “Birds of our Country & of the Dominions, Colonies and Dependencies” – They are not the nicest to eat, for they sometimes have an unpleasant fishy taste, although at other times they may be excellent. As with Wild Geese, which are always very ‘fishy’ when they first arrive but rapidly improve upon a diet of British greenstuff, the flavour of the Wigeon varies with its food. 

That prompted me to research current legislation on the hunting of wildfowl and learned that within the designated shooting season, Sep 1 – Feb 20 in England, Wales, Scotland & Northern Ireland, it is legal to shoot Wigeon. I was surprised to see that: I naively assumed that birds’ with an Amber conservation status, which Wigeon have as a species with declining numbers, that they would automatically be protected. Clearly not. It is also permitted to shoot Gadwall, Goldeneye, Mallard, Pintail, Pochard, Shoveler, Teal and Tufted duck. I knew shooting Mallard, the classic Wild Duck, was approved and had my suspicions about Teal, but as for the rest, how does that fit with our horror at our European neighbours that shoot other migrating species of birds? I don’t suppose anyone knows how many ducks are shot in the wild each season, but game shooting is becoming an increasingly popular sport and without its feathers, who knows what you might be eating in a trendy restaurant with Wild Duck on the menu?

Conservation Status of Wigeon: (BTO)
UK: AMBER because Recent Breeding Population Decline (1981-2007), Recent Winter Population Decline (1981-2007), Recent Breeding Range Decline (1981-2010), Recent Winter Range Decline (1981-2010), Important Non-breeding Population
Previous Assessments: 2009-2014 AMBER 2002-2007 AMBER 1996-2001 AMBER

European: Least Concern Global: Least Concern

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Waterbirds

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31st December 2018-Conwy RSPB Reserve 

Location:  Llandudno Junction Postcode: LL31 9XZ
Grid ref:  SH797773

Located on the eastern side of the Estuary of the river Conwy, this reserve is a perfect example of how a once industrial site can be reclaimed by and for nature. The reserve  was created in the early 1990s from material dug out from the estuary during the construction of the A55 road tunnel that passes under the River Conwy to bypass the historic town of Conwy. The reserve also incorporates mudflats and saltmarsh, part of the Afon Conwy SSSI, important for migratory waders including curlew, oystercatcher and redshank.

Conwy Castle

I was meeting up with friends this morning and arrived a few minutes early, so I pulled into the parking area in front of the estuary to admire the views across and along the sands and mudflats of the estuary of the River Conwy. This is the eastern side of the estuary, so firstly looking north there are perfect views of Conwy Castle and town with Conwy Mountain behind it.

Most of the land on the opposite western side of the estuary is within Snowdonia National Park. To the south is the town of Glan Conwy.

 

 

A Pied Wagtail scuttling over a patch of lime chippings was my first bird of the day.

 

 

A flock of metal Lapwing adorn the entrance to the Reserve

As you enter the Reserve there is a man-made mound in front of you that acts as a vantage point from which to get an overview of the site. Circular walks have been created that pass through a variety of habitats such as reedbed, young woodland, grassland and scrub.

There are two lagoons, originally created to hold the sludge from the tunnel excavations; one holds shallow water while the other is much deeper, both of which attract waders and waterbirds, especially from August to March. The lagoons are filled with fresh, not tidal water and are dependant on winter rains to fill them. If they ever need to be topped up, water is taken directly from the nearby river, the Afon Ganol. Islands have been created within them providing havens for roosting and nesting birds. These are best for birds at high tide, when the river covers the mudflats pushing waders to roost and feed on the islands.

At low tide, as now, there are not as many birds to see as there may be when the tide floods back into the estuary, but our first sighting gave me another duck species to add to my list of ones I might recognise when I see them again. We worked out these were a pair of Gadwall, which are quite understated in their appearance, not colourful or flashy, but quite common so likely to be seen again.

Gadwall-Hwyaden Lwyd

11:19-The sun shining through a break in the clouds momentarily created a darkly dramatic, almost monochromatic view of the lagoon and the distant mountains.

We moved on and followed the boardwalk that wends through the reedbeds. Water Rail are resident here and sighted fairly frequently, so we were listening out for their distinctive calls, but all was quiet. We admired the surroundings instead; the dried reed stems glowing golden in the sunlight and reflected in the clear water of the well-filled pools are a beautiful sight.

11:19- A Coot cuts purposefully across the wind-rippled surface of the lagoon temporarily disrupting its pattern.

11:21- A pair of Mallard occupy on the end of a grassy island, the male standing watchfully over the resting female.

Mallard – Hywaden Wyllt

11:29 A Mute Swan glides across the water, wings raised.

11:30- A minute later the peace is shattered as another suddenly rears up in the water with a great deal of splashing and drama and sets off in pursuit of it.

The first Swan turned and travelled away as quickly as it could towards a narrow grassy island, the other in close pursuit and catching up just as it reached the edge of the spit of land.

The pursuer heaved himself from the water and on top of the other, which we now realised must be a female, his weight almost forcing her beneath the water as he positioned himself to mate. Mute Swans mate for life, so we couldn’t be sure if this was consensual or whether the female had been trying to escape or hoping to get onto the firmer ground of the island or just the shallower water at the edge of the island before she was caught. Either way it didn’t look like much fun for her.
Although it all took place in little more than a minute or so, the activity attracted the interest of another individual who sailed up close to the mating pair, its wings raised.

The mating male turned to face the intruder, rearing himself up with the poor female still pinned beneath him and the other mirroring the movement, stretching its neck up towards the other.

Was this a victory display?

Goldeneye (m)

Whilst all this had been going on a black and white duck had been unconcernedly carrying on with the business of searching for food nearby. It was tricky to follow as it spent much of its time below the surface, bobbing up only briefly before dipping down again. I managed only one quick snap of it, fortunately good enough to be identified later on by one of the staff volunteers as a male Goldeneye.

He also identified another mostly brown duck that had been behaving similarly in the water in front of the hide, as a female Tufted Duck.

Tufted Duck- Hywaden Gopog

Another Coot

11:38 – We got back out onto the path and turned off to head towards the eastern edge of the Reserve as indicated by the Magpie that landed on the signpost.

 

A short way up the path we spent a few minutes being completely charmed by a close encounter with an exceptionally confiding Robin. He, or she, sat on the tip of a bramble stem at the edge of the path, tilting its head to look at us. I think if we had been able to offer it food it may have come to a hand to be fed.

 

A grounded giant dragonfly

We reached the gate that gives access to the fenced area of wilder scrub vegetation.

This path leads to the Estuary edge.

To the left of the path in a dyke below us, a small party of Teal travelled slowly upstream, stopping frequently to feed.

The bright light and shadows weren’t helpful in showing off the real beauty of the little male, so you’ll have to trust me when I say he was looking splendid in his bright breeding colours.

The female may be brown, but she has her own subtle beauty in her brown-shaded plumage, with each of her feathers edged with white.   

A trail of freshly deposited poo on the path finally led us to the Carneddau mountain ponies that roam the southern section of the reserve where they graze down unwanted vegetation. They will happily munch on brambles, reeds and rushes as well as grass,  which they keep short creating the habitat needed by a wide variety of wildlife.

The sun came out again as we got to this spot, lighting up the Castle and Conwy Mountain behind it.

The bright sunlight also rendered birds feeding on the Estuary mud as silhouettes, most of their colour hidden in shadow. Shelduck are distinctive in size and shape though, and in the way they dip their heads to ‘hoover’ the ground in front of them.

The Shelducks were behind a large flock of foraging Redshank. The buildings in the background are in the village of Glan Conwy.

There were more along the edges of a channel of water

A few higher up on the bank made it possible to distinguish their diagnostic orange-red legs.

A solitary Little Egret stood stock still on the mud gazing intently out over the Estuary. Perhaps waiting for the tide to turn and bring in fresh food.

A surprise was this large patch of Sow-thistle in lush green leaf and in full bloom.

A view back into the reserve gave us Canada Geese, Mallard and a Goldeneye male, maybe the same one we saw earlier.

And on a narrow rock-strewn island in front of a hide, one of the iconic birds of the reserve, Lapwings.

They were too distant from where we stood to see them well, but just a few moments later as we continued to walk, something had disturbed them and the whole flock was up in the air.

There is another bird visible in the photograph, but it’s too small and distant to make out whether that could have caused the disturbance. Whatever the cause, a flock of Lapwing flying is always a lovely sight and particularly so today as the sunshine caught the white undersides of their wings turning them silver. Mesmerising.

Back down to earth and a much less glamorous sighting of a Dunnock gave us our final sighting. It had fluttered in front of us, giving the impression of something a bit more exotic – we’d been keeping an eye out for Brambling – but it was a nice sighting none the less and didn’t let us stopping to stare at it put it off having a little snooze in the sun.

The path leads back to the gate at the parking layby I mentioned at the beginning of the post that marks the boundary of the Reserve.

 

 

 

It too is embellished with Lapwing images.

The bars of the kissing gate resemble the wings of a Lapwing

I thought I’d finish as I started, with another view of the Castle, now lit by the sun before we headed to the café to thaw out with soup and a cup of tea.

Thanks to Jill, Pete and Christine for an enjoyable outing on which to end 2018 and a Happy New Year to everyone that reads this!

 

Llanfairfechan 2

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Part 2-Hiding while seeking

I had never been into the Morfa Madryn Reserve before, so I thought I’d take a quick look around it while I was here.

As are most bird reserves, this one is furnished with hides, three in fact, that will have been carefully placed to maximise views of particular aspects of the reserve.

13:34- I came upon the first of the three hides, opened the door cautiously and ventured inside. This was partly to see if there was anything to see from there that I couldn’t see from outside and partly to have somewhere to sit for a few minutes out of the cold wind.

I have to say that I’m not a fan of bird hides for several reasons: 1) If I’m alone I dread opening the door in case there’s people in there watching something rare and I upset them by scaring it away. If I’m with someone I always get them to go in first. 2)  If there are other people in there I never know whether to speak or not. 3) I’m not good at sitting still for long periods of time, especially on hard wooden benches. 4) I worry about opening up hatches in case they either break or I can’t do them up again. 5) I confess that I get bored looking at the same view for ages, especially if I’m supposed to be waiting for something to put in a rare appearance that may only last for seconds. 6) I rarely have binoculars with me, so feel like a fraud and can’t really see if there’s anything there to watch unless someone kindly points it out to me. 7) I think about what I might be missing outside.

All that said, this hide was empty and it was definitely warmer in there. I decided to stay for a while. I lifted up one of the heavy extra-wide, slightly warped hatches, worked out how to keep it up and sat down to look out. I quickly realised there was a lot more than bird activity to sit and gaze at, got out my notebook and wrote:

“The tide’s way out so not much to see in the way of birds, but the views across the sands are spectacular: it’s rare to get such clear views of the Anglesey coast.

I’m on the other side of the slate boundary fence now and think what a work of art it is. Each post will have been cut to size, probably by hand as each one is different from its neighbour. It must have been hard work putting it up too, but that now it’s there it will probably last for ever with far greater resistance to the elements than this wooden hide that’s already showing signs of wear and tear. It’s weakness is doubtless the metal wire it’s linked with.  Tradition of Slate Fences 

Slate pillar fences became common in north-west Wales from the middle of the 19th century. In 1861, the Penryhn Quarry at Bethesda, Gwynedd – one of the largest slate quarries in the world at that time – produced around 9,000 individual pillars. These pillars consisted of poor quality blue slate, typically about 150cm (4.9 feet) tall.
They were used to mark fields, gardens, railways lines and roads, with their simple construction being particularly well-suited to the harsh weather experienced by upland areas.

It’s warmer in here and peaceful too if I zone out the constant sound of traffic racing along the nearby A55. Harder to ignore the raucous racket being made by of a couple of Crows though.

13:51- A Little Egret stalks back and forth in a shallow trench of a tidal pool. It takes a few slow graceful paces, pauses and delicately stirs up the muddy sand with one foot. It leans forward peering intently into the water, then strikes down rapidly with its beak.

I enjoyed that, it brought back warm and fuzzy memories of time spent watching them on the little Reserva close to where I lived in Spain.

A helicopter flies very low overhead making a tremendous noise but the birds must be accustomed to it as none of them react at all.

13:56- I’m getting restless already and about to leave when I spot a swimming duck from the side window. It’s a Wigeon drake and he seems to be thoroughly enjoying a vigorous bathe and preen of his feathers.

WigeonAnas penelope – Welsh: Chwiwell


There’s a Redshank pecking around on the edge of the pool. The chunky Wigeon makes the Redshank look tiny and dainty.

I sit for a bit longer and watch a small flock of Redshank fly in. They are fidgety, taking off, flying around then returning almost immediately to the same spot several times before settling. Maybe they have to check out the health and safety aspects of the spot carefully as they seem to want a nap.

I take in the view across the Menai Strait to Puffin Island, in between there are so many shades and textures of shells, sand, mud, grass, rock and water the landscape looks almost other-planetary. 

 

14:04- A pair of Shelduck come into view waddling across the sand. They have their heads down and look like they’re hoovering up what’s in front of them with their bills.

(more about Shelduck here)

14:11 – The formerly noisy Crows come back for a quiet shellfish lunch.

14:12- Sheep have wandered into view, heads down intent on grazing, which is exactly the job they are here to do; keeping down the grass and helping to clear scrub from bird nesting sites.

I stand up to leave, having a quick look through the rather dirty window on the other side of the hide before I do. There’s quite a large pool here but I can’t see it properly as it’s hidden behind reeds. I did see a dragonfly though. I’m surprised to see it this late in the year. I tried opening the window as it was too dirty to see through properly, but one of its hinges was broken, (see back to reason 6 of why I don’t like hides!), I tried to close it back properly but it was too heavy; sorry, hope it’s still there. I take a snap of the manufacturers details on the door just in case, but I suspect the guarantee is up now….

14:21 The Reserve is well vegetated and the height of the shrubbery either side of the paths is quite disorientating and feels a bit like a maze. I didn’t see even a single small bird in there today, but I’m sure there’s enough of a mix here to suit a variety of species. A train passing, this time coming from the Holyhead direction, makes me aware how close the train tracks are.

The busy A55 is also only a small field’s width away too.

The far end of the Reserve is open and has a seat but I couldn’t quite work out why it was placed at the angle it is; it doesn’t directly face either the view overlooking the saltmarsh and Menai Strait or the mountains and there’s a young tree growing up in front of it too.

I may have placed it to face this way….. Not that it mattered really as it was too cold for sitting around. 

14:35- I’d left the reserve and came upon this lovely little party of Wigeon swimming about in a pool of water. You can see it was windy by the ripples on the water.

I noticed that the birds were all facing into the wind, I wonder if that made them more aerodynamic to stop them being buffeted about, or perhaps they had only just flown in and landed. Another Redshank stood nearby watching them.

They soon broke out of their orderly arrangement on the water and began free swimming in all directions. I noticed from the photograph that two of them are looking upwards; perhaps checking for aerial predators.

This little group of three may (or may not!) be a family. There’s an adult drake with his more patterned back plumage and chestnut head with the lighter stripe and a plainer chocolate brown duck, so I think the one with the white underbelly and brown upper parts must be a juvenile.

I dither about what to do now, should I carry on along the Coast Path for a while or start heading back? I opted to walk on a short way, then stopped, admired the view, saw how long and open the path going forward was, realised the light was already beginning to fade, that it was getting noticeably colder and turned round to walk back.

Wales Coast Path heading towards Bangor

The Spit or Shell Island

The beach area here in front of the reserve is the Spit, or Shell Island and it’s clear where it got its more attractive name from.

It literally is a stretch composed almost entirely of empty seashells.

In my previous post, which covers the first part of this walk, you may recall the notice that requests that you stay off this area from March-September to avoid disturbing nesting birds and also at high tide from October-February so as not to disturb roosting birds.

A further notice here advises that Ringed Plovers nest on the shell ridge till the end of August, so please stick to the Coast path that follows the line of the fence, and once again keep dogs under control. This is one of many instances along the Coast Path route where there is a conflict of interest between people and nature.  Of course walkers want to be as close as possible to the coast, but unfortunately don’t always respect that this is first and foremost a wild habitat that they have the privilege of passing through.

There’s a mix of shells here, cockles, mussels and clams to name a few. Most are broken or crushed, but some remain intact. Beyond the high tide line at the back of the beach there are small plants, mostly moss, which is often one of the first plants to establish on rocky land: they can break down rock and soil to create a more hospitable environment for other plants and absorb moisture so act as sponges, soaking up rainfall and helping prevent erosion of the landscapes. I noticed a lot of rabbit pellets scattered around too, adding fertiliser and fibre. I was pleased to spot this tiny storksbill plant in flower. I’m not certain of the species but I’m hoping it was Sticky Storksbill-Erodium lebelli. (Storksbills are notoriously tricky to identify with certainty).

A last view from here over Traeth Lafan sands to Puffin Island and Anglesey and I set off to walk back. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Llanfairfechan

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Part 1 – to Morfa Madryn

Located about halfway between Conwy and Bangor, Llanfairfechan is linked to the other small seaside towns of the North Wales coast popularised by adventurous  Victorians by the main Chester to Holyhead railway line and more latterly the A55 North Wales Expressway. The town grew on a narrow strip of coastal land backed by the steep hillsides and mountains of the Carneddau range. Its continuing wide appeal is easy to see. The scenery and views are spectacular and there is an array of well-established wonderfully diverse walks along the coast, through woodland, along the river and in the mountains behind it.

Once mostly privately owned, much of the landscape is now the responsibility of Conwy Borough Council and managed as a series of Local Nature Reserves and I was heading for one of them, Morfa Madryn, which sounds and often looks like it belongs in a Tolkein novel, but is the salt marsh area that lies to the west of the town. I’m trying to improve my recognition and knowledge of ducks, so I was particularly hoping to see some of the ducks and waders that are permanently resident or that overwinter here.

The route I took on a gloriously sunny November day began and ended in the seafront car park at the beginning of the Promenade. As always I found a great deal of interesting stuff to see along the way and on the way back; too much for a single post, hence this being Part 1.

Penaenmawr Mountain from Llanfairfechan

12:12 The tide was out, it was cold, a bit windy but brightly sunny with a bit of a haze on the horizon. Being a Saturday, the  (free) car park was already busy. The café was filling up but a good few people were out walking along the Promenade, or the Cob as it is known locally and there were others on the beach. It’s a popular spot with dog walkers. The great bulk of Penmaenmawr Mountain fills the view to the east, but then from the Promenade the sea views are wide and spectacular. Vast expanses of the sands of Traeth Lafan are exposed and the bulks of rocky headlands are dwarfed under endless skies. The Great Orme could almost be mistaken for an island, but today you can see the tenuous connection, upon which Llandudno is built, that tethers it to the mainland.

Great Orme headland across Traeth Lafan

A bit further along are Puffin Island and the distinctive lighthouse painted with black and white rings that stands in the sound between the island and Penmon Point on the tip of Anglesey.

I followed the Promenade and crossed the bridge over the river, the Afon Llanfairfechan, the water was shallow but fast-flowing and the resident flock of Mallard was hanging around hopeful of some easy lunch. Dippers are often to be seen further upstream, so it’s always worth a look for one here, although I’ve yet to see one this far down.

Afon Llanfairfechan

The bridge leads into the landscaped recreational area with lawns, tennis courts, bowling green, children’s playground and a large lake. Originally built as a Model Yacht Pond it is still used today by enthusiasts of engine-powered model boats. In the shelter of the pavilion sun-faded information boards show the ducks and waders most likely to be spotted here. Ducks include Shelduck, Gt Crested Grebe, Widgeon, Goldeneye, Teal, Red-breasted Merganser, and of course Mallard. Waders pictured are Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Greenshank, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Lapwing, Dunlin, Turnstone and Knot. I guess the spikes on top of the boards are to deter less desirable birds from roosting in the shelter.

I headed away from the Promenade towards the children’s playground to follow the path along the far side of the Boating Lake. The mountain in the background with its distinctive peak is Garreg Fawr.

An orderly line of well-groomed pine trees stands to attention along the edge of the path.

The Model Boating Lake

On the grassy lawns around the lake Black-headed Gulls rest or seek prey in the grass. Their heads showed varying stages of plumage; most now have lost their dark heads and sport the winter-white head with the black spot to the side of each eye. One was darker around the eyes; I’m not sure if it’s late changing from breeding to winter plumage or already beginning to gain back its breeding plumage.

The Promenade here is a safe and popular spot for outings with families and with dog walkers, so there are many signs advising what not to do. Lakeside, one such reminds folk to resist the temptation to feed the ducks and swans with bread and chips! I’m not sure how much notice is taken of that one.

A pair of Khaki Campbells

Most of the resident ducks are recognisably Mallards, but a few clearly have both Mallard and domestic ducks as ancestors, inheriting characteristics from both as have this pair I passed on the edge of the lake.  Typically a blend of Mallard, Rouen and Runner ducks, these are Khaki Campbells Anas platyrhynchos domesticus and are often kept commercially for their generous egg production. They come in variations on three basic colours, khaki, dark and white. A Khaki Campbell drake is mostly khaki coloured with a darker head, usually olive green and without the white ring (male) of its Mallard ancestors;  the duck (female) typically has a more modest plumage of khaki covering her entire body.

One notice on the wall, placed there in 1908 is well worth stopping to read; a reminder that this wild and free land was once privately owned and public access granted under sufferance and a strict code of conduct!

click to enlarge and read

Small ferns push out their fronds from crevices in the stone wall that bounds the woodland. Mostly Common Polypody, there are also a few smaller, finer plants of Maidenhair Spleenwort. Both species have seed spores, sori, on the backs of their fronds.

The pathway soon rejoins the Promenade and continues past a few houses and fields on the landward side. Residents here have enviable views over the sands and the Menai Strait to the coast of Anglesey, but it gets wild here in the winter.

Traeth Lafan with Anglesey coastline on the horizon

I stopped to watch an Oystercatcher in a pool of water. The mud and sands hold a bountiful supply of cockles, mussels, lugworms and small fish which draws in large numbers of wading birds. Needless to say the food supply also attracts humans and the gathering of shellfish together with water pollution is impacting on the fragile ecology of the area.

Oystercatcher (with leg ring)

The exposed sand is left patterned and textured by the movement of water rippling over it creating fascinating artistic effects. Changes in level results in tidal pools of varying depths being left; good hunting places for the birds. In the bright sunlight it took a while to ‘get my eye in’ and spot wading birds, especially when they were as distant and well camouflaged as this Redshank was. Camera at full zoom I watched as it stalked knee-deep in water, scanning intently for prey, then stopped to plunge the entire length of its long bill below the surface.

Redshank – Welsh: Pibydd Coesgoch

Another stalked the sands, better showing its diagnostic red legs. Stopping it too probed deep into the sand and pulled out something, maybe a smallish flat fish which it carried away clamped in its bill.


12:46 A metal fence/gate with more notices pertaining to dogs, fines and disturbance safeguards the entrance to Glan y Môr Elias Reserve.

Log counter-weight

 

I love the log tied on with rope that acts as a counter-weight to keep the gate closed. Simple but effective.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A short way into the reserve a movement on the sands below gave me my first view of the day of a Little Egret. A lucky spot as its bright white plumage rendered it barely visible in the bright sunlight.

It elegantly and stealthily stalked prey in a shallow stream of water, its lethal dagger-like bill poised then struck at speed.

Further out again, the wet muddy sands were punctuated with hunting Oystercatchers, which interestingly were all travelling along in the same direction. 

Thus far the path had followed the woodland edge. Now it was open and exposed to the elements on both sides allowing a wonderful view of the mountains. The field boundary fence has remnants of traditional slate ‘posts.’  

12:56 The main Chester to Holyhead train track defines the boundary of the reserve. Trains pass by frequently, this one an Arriva operated train (now Transport for Wales).

The Promenade peters out here where the expanse of salt marsh begins and stretches forwards along the Menai Strait. 

A wooden bench located here offers two widely-differing panoramic vistas.

You can sit and gaze both at the mountains and out across the exposed windswept mudflats where Puffin Island and the tip of Anglesey are visible on the horizon. I was surprised to find Sea Daisies still flowering here. Despite the sunshine the wind was keeping the air temperature down, not a day for lingering on benches, best to admire the views while in motion.

13:02 The Wales Coast Path includes the section of the Promenade I’d followed to here and it continues on to follow the line of the seashore as a grass trail along a raised embankment. Before carrying on I obeyed another sign in front of a gate to STOP. It asks that from March-August: Please keep off the spit (Shell Island) at all times. This is to prevent disturbance to breeding birds. September-February: Please keep off the spit (Shell Island) when the tide reaches the base of the white-topped fence post. This is to prevent disturbance to roosting birds at high tide. And another plea to keep dogs under close control.

It took a few minutes for me to realise that there was a large flock of ducks on the ground in front of me, but to be fair you can see how tiny they were in the landscape and they were moving very slowly if at all. 

At times like this I know I should carry binoculars. But with the camera I could see there were what appeared to be two large flocks, separated by an inlet and that they were Wigeon. 

Wigeon, or Eurasian Wigeon Mareca penelope, are our largest native dabbling duck and unusual amongst ducks as they often graze on grass like a goose. They are the most numerous of the overwintering species: the BTO quote an estimate of 440,000 pairs throughout Great Britain. There must be several hundred here. Intent on grazing they were lovely to see, but tricky to get good views of, so I left them to it, hoping for better views later.

13:07 – A speeding Virgin train bound for Holyhead shows how close the train tracks are to the reserve’s boundary.

There was a sign to say the coastal section of the path was closed. There were people peering over a plastic barricade to see why that might be. I decide to heed the sign and continue around the alternative more inland track. As I was about to move on, a flock of noisily-chatting Starlings descends on the bank and lands in the long grass. They can’t seem to settle and flit around restlessly, seeming to be squabbling amongst themselves.


Small groups of birds dash off in varying directions, some heading off over the heads of the intently grazing ducks, who barely give them a glance.

The track I’m heading for sweeps around the marsh in front of the line of trees.

I spotted a single wading bird, again regretting my lack of binoculars as the sun directly on camera lens. It seemed quite large but perspective is a funny thing and it didn’t have much in the way of identifying features. Most likely another Redshank. 

13:14 Looking back a nice view of Penmaenmawr Mountain partly shadowed by a large passing cloud.
13:18 In front haze softens the  dark, somewhat intimidating bulk of Penrhyn Castle

Across the reedy marsh to the other path it seems quite a few people have ignored the sign advising that the route is closed.

Whilst looking in that direction I spotted a Curlew.

and  have a closer look at the reeds too.

A flowering Gorse brings a touch of gold to the landscape. The fields and farms in the background are on Anglesey.

 

Towards the end of this section of the path which is damp and shaded by trees I was surprised to find Yarrow still blooming.

 

 

 


Back out into open ground a small bridge crosses a stream


You can choose whether to follow the grassy path around and back to where you started (the track that’s supposed to be closed), or follow the slate fence around to continue on the Wales Coast Path as indicated by another signpost.

I decided to carry on a bit further and have a quick look around the fenced-off woodland of the Morfa Madryn Reserve before heading back. 

 

Zig-zagging up the Great Orme

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I hope everyone’s enjoyed this amazing summer as much as we have here in North Wales. It’s been glorious, but I seem to lose my blogging mojo when it’s hot and dry and tend to stray away from my local patch whilst it’s busy with tourists and holidaymakers. But the cooler days we’ve had recently have rekindled my enthusiasm for getting back out there and I’m planning to add a few more of our local trails to my repertoire.

September 7th-Great Orme

The Great Orme headland attracts a great many visitors throughout the year, particularly over the summer and in the school holidays. Most are drawn to the Summit, which offers fantastic views and other amenities, and choose to get there on the historic Tram; via the dramatic option of the Cable Car on the bus or by car. The more energetic, and those wanting to experience the wilder sides of this unique Country Park prefer to get there under their own steam and walk. There are a good few route options for doing that, including specific mapped and marked Trails leading you up, down and around the headland, including the one I followed today, the Zig Zag Trail or in Welsh, Igam Ogam.    

The Zig Zag Trail ascends, or descends the Great Orme between Llandudno’s West Shore and its Summit, or vice-versa of course. I hadn’t walked this trail in its entirety before, so decided to do it going upwards and consider my options for getting back down again based on how I felt when I got to the top. The official Trail Guide informs that ‘this historic trail gives easy access up the steep West Shore escarpment. It promises breathtaking views across the Conwy Estuary to Snowdonia and warns that the route is on steep ground. 

The first part of Zig Zag Trail marked by the fence posts

This morning was damp and showery, so having waiting for it to clear up I set off later than I’d hoped.

14.30  I parked on the road alongside West Shore. The strength and coolness of the wind blowing in across the sea caught me a little off-guard as I left my car; I was thankful I’d worn a fleece and even more so that my lightweight shower/windproof jacket was on the front seat where I’d left it a couple of days ago. I guessed it would be even windier higher up on the exposed sides of the headland, so anticipated arriving at the summit with hair looking like that of a wild woman, but probably not hot and sweaty. I walked up to where Marine Drive ends and where its old Toll House, now a private dwelling is located. A lovely spot to live, but the clatter of cars driving over the cattle grid not far from your living space and the metallic clunk of the gate closing behind people passing through to and from the pathway might get a tad irritating.

14:34 The view across the bay and the Conwy Estuary is always amazing, but today’s weather has made it spectacular. Low clouds coloured from dark steel grey to bright white hang low over the summits of the mountains, partially obscuring them and the Anglesey coastline. The tide was low and shallow water and exposed sand reflected back the light passing through the ever-changing cloud pattern above. It’s a cliché I know, but it really does look like molten metals, silver, mercury, steel, pewter all blending together and ruffled by the wind.

14:35 Looking towards where I am heading, I spot three goats lying down just below what I think of as the Butterfly Track. Contentedly chewing cud they’ve doubtless found the warmest spot catching any available sunshine.

A Herring gull momentarily hangs motionless over the edge of the clifftop, supported only by air.

14:36 Just before the Toll House I turn right, go through the metal gate and am on the path that will lead to the beginning of the Zig Zag Trail. The path begins as it will soon continue, with a series of zig-zagging steps. The views from up here are even better and people and cars are already tiny.

Turning to look down I spot a Kestrel hovering very close by and almost at eye-level. It’s flapping wildly trying to maintain a position, but quickly flies off over the headland. (I was disappointed that my one image of it was blurred, but no time to focus properly!)

At the top of the steps the path levels out and is edged along one side with a line of seats; all bear plaques commemorating people that once loved the views from here.

 And who wouldn’t admire the views there are from here?

If you were to carry on along this path, you would arrive at the Haulfre Gardens, but before you get to there you find the beginning of the Zig Zag Trail, tucked close to the side of the second little shelter building you come to. There’s an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ Trail marker on the ground here too,  pointing back the way I’ve come.

14:46 I’ve been dawdling as usual, so have taken almost 20 minutes to get this far. It would likely have taken 10 minutes at the most walking at a normal pace. I think I’d better get a wiggle on when I read on the post that the Trail is 2 miles long and estimates two hours to reach the summit from here. But then the Trail Guide says the Trail is about 1 mile long and should take about 1½ hours. We’ll see.

14:48 The Trail immediately begins to climb, in the promised Zig Zag style, via a series of stone steps that vary in their length and incline. There are plenty of opportunities to stop and pause for breath if you need to and in places there are benches to have a sit down on.

14:53 It’s not long before I stop to look at that view again. The sky is darker now so it looks even more magical.

In places the track is dry with loose gravel making it slippery and other eroded areas where exposed rocks could trip you up. I’m glad to have my walking pole and that I’m walking up, not down. I don’t want to exaggerate though, mostly it’s in a perfectly safe condition, you just need to pay heed to where you are and take plenty of breaks to take in views and notice the wildlife.

15:01 Late August and early September is when patchworks of golden Dwarf Gorse and purple Heather light up some of the higher reaches of this headland, and seeing them before they are finished was part of the reason for walking this trail today. There is some of the coarser common Gorse in flower too.

Dwarf Gorse is a much neater, more compact plant than its common cousin.

Dwarf Gorse-Ulex minor

There’s not much in the way of wildflowers in bloom along the trail now, a sprinkling of Rockroses and the occasional dot of Scabious linger and there are a few later bloomers, Goldenrod and what I think is Calamint amongst the grass and gorse of the trackside.

15:03 Still climbing steadily

There’s a bench at the top of this flight of steps, the second one I’ve passed.

I check out the views from here; they are becoming increasingly extensive. The Trail’s less steep from here and a way-marker post directs you to the left.The way-marker posts for this Trail all have a narrow black band around them.

15:07 You can see from this view that the Trail is still going up and has begun to curve around to the left.

15:09 My first spot of Heather

15:13 A short distance to the right of the Trail there’s a stone wall that from a distance looks like a building. Making a short diversion to investigate I see it’s just a wall supporting or holding back ground that is at a higher level and is probably part of the farm wall noted in the Trail guide. I hadn’t expected to get this view over Llandudno town and Bay to the Little Orme from there. I’d be really bad at orienteering.

 

15:14 Back on track, it’s beginning to feel a bit ‘wilder’. The next section is narrower, edged with bracken and long grass and seeming to lead to a solid cliff-face.

Hawthorn trees, stunted and leaning over show this area is frequently exposed to strong prevailing winds.

A few sneaky invasive Cotoneaster plants are laden with bright shiny red berries, so tempting to hungry birds that will doubtless ensure its spread…

15:19 The Trail cuts up through the cliff and now the landscape opens up and the well-worn track wends around a rounded hilltop between domed bushes of gorse.

Near the cliff edge now the path straightens for a while and there are views across the sea. The low land on the horizon is Anglesey with the tiny Puffin Island off its tip.

Sheep graze up on the ridge above; there’s plenty of fresh new grass to keep them busy.

15:22 Continuing along the cliff the landscape changes again. There’s a long stone wall that looks like it bounds the long edge of small fields and what could be a hedge along the far side, maybe of gorse.

I spot a patch of paler purple amongst the golden gorse; this is Heather, or Ling. Looking closer I see the a little of the darker purple Bell Heather too, which is more prolific here on the dry heathland.

Dwarf Gorse with Heather

The Trail continues along the side of the hill and I see more wall going up and along the ridge. Is this the farm wall the Trail guide says is ‘above you and to the right’, I wonder.

You can also see the back of houses which I guess are on Tyn y Coed Road. As I said, even with a map and in a confined space I don’t necessarily know where I am!

It’s easy walking along here and really pleasant despite the continuing side wind.

15:24 Down below me I spot a little flock of sheep that are tucking in to a patch of what seems to be long green grass. Seeing them this close to the cliff edge with their heads down makes me feel a little bit nervous, but I’m sure they know what they’re doing.

15:25 As I’d stopped to look at the sheep I turned around to look back at where I’d come from. The view just keeps getting better. The patterns of sand and water are fascinating. I can clearly see the Conwy Estuary and can just make out Conwy Castle on the far bank of the river. The sun is shining on Deganwy.

15:26  The track continues wriggling along the clifftop, now curving through an expanse of Dwarf Gorse, some in flower and interspersed with the dark purple of Bell Heather.

Such a beautiful combination.

Dwarf Gorse with Bell Heather

15:28 A bunny out nibbling the grass pricks up his ears and turns slightly to watch me. He obviously doesn’t see me as a threat and stays put until I’ve passed by.

Another moody view of the clouded Snowdonian mountains across the Bay.

15:31 Towards the end of this flattish section of track along the cliff it starts to rise again. I can see where it’s headed as there are two people up on the rise that I assume are walking down. I realise that they are, or will be the first and only people I’ve encountered since I got onto the Trail. What a privilege having all this wonderful space and scenery to myself.

15:32 A rocky bit.

Down below I see that the flock of sheep I’d photographed grazing on the cliff edge a short while ago are on the move. Behind a leader they’re walking in an orderly line along a defined narrow track on the way up the side of the cliff, which must mean this is a well-used route. I am charmed by the sight and also can’t help but notice that they add another element into a pleasing intricate pattern of sand, water, groynes and rock.

Above me are more sheep. I focus on a ewe that has been given an interesting layered haircut and her well-grown chubby woolly lamb intent on grazing at her side.

Another view of the Bay with its ever-changing patterns of light and shade. The sun is still shining on Deganwy.

It’s also chosen a big green field to light up.

15:37 In front the far tip of the headland is just visible.

Looking back you could imagine you were on a wild and windy moor with views of far distant mountains. Perspective is a baffling thing.

A little further on more of the far end of the headland is revealed and I can make out the line of Marine Drive, the Toll Road, curving around it.

I’m a little confused here: there’s a sharp turn to the right, but is that  narrow gravelly track cutting steeply to the top of the cliff the way I should be going, or is it just a sheep track?

I take the track and stop half-way up for another look at the view. Although it’s all a bit hazy, I can see even further along the Estuary from here to Conwy Castle and just beyond.

Fascinating sky and sea.

15:43  I’m glad to see this I’m going the right way. 

I’m on heathland now and see more of the glorious golden gorse and purple heather I was hoping to see.

Sheep are pretty much everywhere, but I spot the first back-fleeced lamb I’ve seen today. I recognise it as a Herdwick, only because I know the lambs are born with black fleeces and they’re about a year old before the wool on their heads grows out revealing the white hair beneath. As they age their fleeces turn to a dark brown and then to their characteristic grey, but their heads stay white.

15:45 A nice view of the Little Orme and the distant Clwydian Mountains.

15:46 The track seems to disappear here and I hesitated before carrying on.

There’s another track to the right that leads to a wall with a stile, should I go that way?

I head that way and pass what must once have been a small enclosure, surrounded by now tumbled-down walls. They make an interesting foreground for a view.

I climb over the stile and walk down a narrow track that looks like it might lead to a farm or something.

15:54 Round the corner there’s a man with a dachshund dog standing looking at two goats in an enclosure. He told me this is indeed a right of way, but not the one I want. I need to go back and head for the cliff. I find the path.

15:56 Ahead is another view looking down over Llandudno Bay with the Little Orme on the left, Penrhyn Hill and the Clwydian Mountains again beyond Colwyn Bay.

15:57 High up, not quite at the top yet, but I spot the aerial planted on the Summit on the horizon.

16:01 The end of the Trail is in sight.

The gorse-and-heather mix is beautiful here.

A look back at the way I’ve just come

Just look at that sky!

So now I’ve almost reached the road that leads to the Summit.

The end, or beginning of the Trail is here, a little to the side of Bishop’s Quarry.

16:15 I walk up towards the Tram’s Summit station and cut across the track to the refreshment kiosk. Sitting at a bench with a cup of tea it’s time to consider how to get back to the car. The sun has disappeared now, it’s windy and quite chilly. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my walk but am not inspired to retrace my steps. I look at the Tram that will be leaving any minute now. I buy a ticket to go down on it.

Hot on a Hillside Trail

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July 7th – BRYN EURYN

Another hot sunny day. Not my idea of perfect walking weather, but I  wanted to see how the hill, or rather its wildlife was holding up under the scorching weather, in particular hoping there would be butterflies.

It was pleasantly cooler inside the woods, but the ground was bone dry, hard and at this lower end of the path scattered with shed Laurel leaves, often a sign the plants are short of water.

I stopped at the small scrubby patch, often an insect hot-spot. Hot it was, but not with aerial activity. The nettles have flowered and are beginning to set seed and I noticed many of their leaves have been ravaged by insects. That set me thinking about the battles going on all around me between plants and their attackers and some of the other roles that leaves play.

An insect-eaten nettle leaf with stinging hairs left in place

I like to see eaten leaves as it’s a sure sign there are insects about, but of course plants need their leaves to supply them with food, so many do what they can to preserve them. Nettles have particularly aggressive defences;  as those having had  painful encounters with them will testify. They’re not aimed at us specifically of course, rather at grazing animals. They have stinging hairs, every one tipped with a tiny glassy needle that breaks off at the slightest touch that is sharp enough to cut skin; simultaneously poison is squirted into the wound from a small chamber at the base of each hair. Ouch! Even nibbling rabbits avoid them as they have sensitive noses and find the sting as unpleasant as we do. Despite this, nettles are the favoured food of such insects as the caterpillars of the Small Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral butterflies: they simply chomp through the safe juicy parts of the leaf, going around the dangerous stings, leaving them neatly in place.

Nearby a more pacific Wild Privet shrub is blossoming. Harmless in itself, but spiders have built webs over their fragrant blossoms in hope of capturing unsuspecting nectar-seeking insects.

Sycamore leaves are already freckled with Tarspot-Rhytisma acerinum. Although it occurs on other trees too, including Willow and Eucalyptus, it is generally referred to as Sycamore Tarspot and by this time of the year it’s practically impossible to find a Sycamore tree without it. This common and widespread fungus doesn’t look pretty, but doesn’t seem to adversely affect the trees it afflicts. Looking at Tarspot I then noticed a leaf that was curled at an edge. I have no idea what had accomplished this neatly rolled cylinder, clearly some species of insect at some stage of its life, but it impressed me greatly.

The structure is tightly rolled, like a small cigar, secured along the long edge and open at both ends. There are ‘blisters’ on the leaf too, so I wondered if there may be a connection?

Leaves make perfect landing and resting pads for butterflies too. This bramble leaf had served as such for a Green-veined White butterfly that took off just as I’d focussed on it! You can just see it rocketing out of the top of the photograph.

A Speckled Wood was more obliging, pausing on an ivy leaf at ground level.

Another spider’s web, this time utilising an Ash leaf.

WOODLAND TRAIL

Close to the junction of my Woodland Path with the Reserve’s Woodland Trail there are a few plants of Hogweed flowering. It was devoid of much insect interest at this time – occupied by just one feasting Eristalis sp. hoverfly. (I’m fairly sure it was Eristalis pertinax, but its diagnostic yellow tarsi were sunk into the flower petals.)

Hogweed has impressively large and interestingly-shaped leaves; this one was showing signs of having been nibbled and there are aphids dotted around on its surface. These plants often play host to great colonies of aphids that pierce the veins of its stems and leaves to feast on its sap. The aphids then attract insects that eat them, such as ladybirds.

Away from the peaceful confines of the shady wood and out onto the wider more open track I was soon distracted by insect activity. There’s not much about at the moment in the way of wildflowers, so what there is is in high demand. Wood Sage is both still flowering and beginning to set seed. The remaining little flowers of the plants close by were being visited by busy little Carder bees.

There are a whole host of different bramble species, which is possibly what accounts for them flowering and fruiting at slightly different times; a mercy at this time of year for insects seeking nectar and pollen.

Many bramble bushes are down to their last few flowers and are busy setting fruits. They may not come to much if we don’t get rain to swell them soon.

The enormous bramble here at the side of the track was positively frantic with insects this early afternoon. Hot sunny weather makes capturing images of insects tricky, they zoom around at high speed and bright sunlight reflects off shiny wings, bodies and white flowers. I saw more species here than I could catch, including a Red Admiral, Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper butterflies, Tree and Buff-tailed Bumblebees, Carder Bees and a few hoverflies. I managed to get a snap of a Honeybee, looking rather worn,

and an always-impressive Great Pied Hoverfly – Volucella pellucens

I would happily have stayed here for longer, but out in the open it was way too hot to stand in the blazing sun! Moving on along the trail there were very few flowers, some of the last are of Tutsan, but that too is also developing berries.

It’s unusual to see a Meadow Brown butterfly out in the open resting up on a leaf, especially opening up its wings to reveal its upper wings, but I think this one had not long emerged as it was still slightly crumpled. It may well have been a female as males tend to be a darker brown and may not have the orange patch.

It was quite a relief to get back into the shade.

 

Another new, still-crumpled butterfly caught my eye; this one a Large White.

 

 

 

 

 

MEADOW

With no hint of a breeze to stir the air it felt even hotter out in the open meadow. The thin soil was baked hard, the grass browned to a crisp. There are some green stems amongst it; there’s some Knapweed, its few flower buds small and tightly clenched closed.

Goat’s Beard has kept some leaves, and green stems support its lovely big globular seedheads, or clocks. There are tiny yellow dots of a hawkweed/hawkbit in there too.

Goats-beard – Tragopogon pratensis

A lovely big patch of Lady’s Bedstraw grows under a network of collapsed grass stems. It too has retained surprisingly green stems and leaves.

More Meadow Browns were doing what Meadow Browns do – that is flitting about amongst the long grass stems and landing in line with a grass stem that renders them barely visible.

Two very small dark ones were feeding on a single plant of flowering Ragwort.

LOWER HILLSIDE/WOODLAND EDGE 

Too hot to consider hiking over the summit of the hill and down again to make a proper circuit, I got to the bottom of the hill by cutting back into the woods to reach the bottom of the Summit Trail. It was baking hot here too and although this is the cooler North side of the Bryn, it too is largely brown and very dry. I was surprised to spot a bird out here, hopping around in the grass and not too bothered by me watching it. I only saw it from the back, but could tell it was a young Mistle Thrush.

Greenery here is that of brambles, young trees, some grass and another stand of Rosebay Willowherb.

Knapweed is faring better here than in the small meadow and the first of its flowers are opening. Open flowers are sparse though and in high demand. Where 6-spot Burnet Moths lay claim to a flowerhead they settle in for a  good long time and are reluctant to share.

I was here hoping to see a Dark Green Fritillary, but on first sight of the dryness and lack of flowers, didn’t have much hope. Then lo and behold I suddenly spotted a large fast-flying butterfly head for the very Knapweed occupied by a Burnet Moth. It tried to land but the moth denied it access and it shot off again. Fortunately it spotted an unoccupied flower nearby and settled, though only briefly before setting off again.

Dark Green Fritillary – Argynnis aglaja

This part of the hillside, covered with long grass, brambles, gorse and pitted with rabbit holes is definitely off-limits for walking through, so no chasing butterflies! Best to stick to the few narrow tracks and hope something may cross your path. I did get a couple more glimpses of this gorgeous insect, but no more photo opportunities. I’m happy they are there and hope that there is more than one.

Last evening’s weather forecast promised sea mist over the Irish Sea and so it has come to pass. The whole landscape, including the Little Orme was veiled by it. It didn’t seem to being having much effect on the land temperature though.

Large Skipper-Ochlodes venatus

Peering around for the fritillary I did spot some Skipper butterflies. Several Small Skippers living up to their name, skipping  through the grass and a single male Large Skipper that kindly settled momentarily to pose on a grass seedhead.

And more luck as a Ringlet settled on a bramble flower. It didn’t settle for long either as it was dive-bombed by Bumblebees.

Ringlet – Aphantopus hyperantus

Time to get out of the sun. A passing glance at a Hazel tree on the woodland edge revealed a little bunch of ripening nuts, surprisingly not eaten yet by squirrels, and then a lovely fresh-looking Gatekeeper.

Back into the meadow on a different track I spotted the silken tent of a Nursery Web Spider, but no sign of its weaver.

Then a tiny flutter of a butterfly; a Brown Argus.

WOODLAND PATH

On my short-cut track back home, the sound of loud screeching drew my attention to a family of Jays up in the treetops; three together. One flew off, so I think it may have been two young ones demanding attention from a parent. One of those left in the tree wasn’t too happy though, you can see it has its crest raised.

Such pretty birds and a good note, albeit a loud one, to end a walk on.

 

 

Going Wild on the Beaches

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Rhos-on-Sea

Rhos-on-Sea has a small sandy beach protected from the worst of the elements by the piled stones of the breakwater wall.

Most of the time it’s quiet, with most beach-seekers opting for the bigger expanse of sand further round Colwyn Bay, but it can get busy on warm sunny days as it’s handy for the village cafés, shops and the all-important public loos. It’s popular too with some of the younger local Herring Gulls whilst the grown-ups are otherwise occupied with raising the next generation.

The nearby wooden jetty is a draw for those wanting to try out the gentle sport of ‘crabbing’ too.

But my interest in the beach is with other visitors, the opportunistic wildflowers that grow there, mainly at the back of the sandy beach pressed against the sea wall.

The line of small dinghies lodged haphazardly against the wall don’t get much exercise by the look of things, but they help give the plants a bit more shelter. There’s a nice spread of Wall Barley,

Wall Barley- Hordeum murinum

then more Wall Barley, touches of Dandelion and Groundsel surround a clump of Sweet Alison. This does have origins as a wildflower and it grows wildly around the Mediterranean, but is more familiar to us as a garden edging plant. This one is probably the offspring of such a one that has escaped the formality of a bedding scheme in favour of a wilder life.

There’s more Dandelion, past flowering for now, and a couple of clumps of Curled Dock. This is one of our two most common docks, whose narrower leaves with wavy edges make it distinguishable from the other more familiar Broad-leaved Dock, a much sturdier plant whose leaves we used as kids to alleviate the pain of nettle stings.

Dandelion and Curled Dock-Rumex crispus

Sea Mayweed-Tripleurospermum maritimum

 

There’s some Sea Beet here, but much more further along, so I’ll get back to that. By far the most prolific plant though is Sea Mayweed, which has the odd flower open but although it’s leaves are pretty, it’s not at its best yet.

There’s another Mayweed too, the Pineapple Mayweed, so named because it’s supposed to smell of the fruit when it’s crushed.

Pineapple Mayweed-Matricaria discoidea

More Curled Dock, silvery-grey leaved Fat Hen which is not flowering yet and Shepherd’s Purse with the distinctive heart-shaped seed capsules that give it its common name.

Curled Dock, Fat Hen and Shepherds Purse

And to finish this section a nice group photo featuring most of the aforementioned main characters.

At the far end of the beach, there’s a change in character. The sand thins  gradually petering out, and the now stony ground offers an opportunity for other plant species to stake a claim. I find it amazing that any plant can survive the harsh conditions of any beach, let alone one as exposed and seemingly hostile as this one. Some like the Sea Beet and the Curled Dock are perennials and look tough enough to have staked a permanent claim.  Others appear at first sight to be small and fragile, although looks are often deceptive and some, like this White Clover should surely be somewhere more lush and grassy?

Growing through the clover in my photo above are bits of a plant I like very much, the Buck’s-horn Plantain, named for the shape of its attractive leaves. This one is a toughie, and is found on disturbed ground and on rocky sites mainly near the sea, but it may be pushing its boundaries a bit here.

Bucks-horn Plantain-Plantago coronopus

There’s a sprinkling of Annual Wall Rocket plants

Annual Wall Rocket-

and a straggly looking Cat’s-ear, one of the few hawkbit-hawk’s beard or otherwise dandelion-flowered hawk-something that I think I know.

Cats-ear-Hypochaeris radicata

There’s more ferny-foliaged Sea Mayweed

Sea Mayweed

more Curled Dock

Curled Dock

and another one of my favourite toughies, the pretty Common Mallow.

Common Mallow-Malva

There’s more Wall Barley too.

And some impressive specimens of Sea Beet. I’m surprised this doesn’t get fashionably-foraged for one of our trendier local restaurants – it’s the plant from which our cultivated beets originated, so does have edible roots.

Behind the now empty buildings it grows prolifically.

Speaking of the buildings, I stop and wonder what will happen to them. They are very much a local landmark with an interesting history. An impressive pier once stretched out into the sea from this point and the buildings, including the iconic octagonal one, originally served as a toll both and entrance building for passengers embarking on steamers that docked here. There have been a few subsequent changes of use since the council finally bought the pier and demolished it in 1954. Many people seem to particularly remember the café once located here.The  walls on this beach side also form part of the sea wall, so perhaps partly for that reason their continuing presence was secured last May when it was added to the Grade II list of buildings.

Looking towards the old pier buildings

Leaving the beach there were more little plants to see on the paved areas at the side of the buildings and on the steps leading up to the front of it, so maybe this area is not included on the council’s weed hit list.

Against the pink-painted wall

Sow Thistle, Rocket & Chickweed

and from a crack in the paving

Pineapple Mayweed & Wall Barley

and growing across a drain grille was this White Stonecrop

White Stonecrop

THE PROMENADE

From here I walked back along the Prom; this view is taken looking back  along a section I’d already walked along   

Promenade Rhos on Sea

and this is going forward showing the embankment. Quite unusually I thought, it had been allowed to grow long, so was sprinkled with patches of buttercups, red clover and flowering grasses. It’s uncut state is probably more to do with council budget cuts than as an aid to wildlife. I’m sure it’ll be neatened up before the start of the official High Season.

Buttercups and Plantain

Red Clover

Several plants have colonised the huge piled up rocks that provide extra sea defence, including a Sycamore tree which is currently flowering and  visited by Bumblebees. Despite the sunshine and the flowers on offer, admittedly not a great selection, there were very few insects about. I saw perhaps half a dozen bees and one White sp. butterfly.

Sycamore flowers with Bumblebee

The daisies have been spectacular here this year.

Daisies by the sea

To finish, almost home I spotted another couple of little gems tucked in against walls on the street

Wall Speedwell

and two tiny pink-flowered Cranesbills

 

 

The Place for Wheatears,Pipits & Chough

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April 25th – Great Orme 

A bright sunny morning prompted me to leave early for the Great Orme today, giving myself time to walk at least part of the way up to the summit and arrive on time to do my shift in the Wildlife Trust shop. Bearing in mind that wherever I walked up from I would have to walk back down to later on, regardless of what the weather may be doing by then, I decided to park in the layby just beyond St. Tudno’s Church. It was much fresher up here, still sunny and clear but a strong breeze made it feel cool.

view from half-way up looking down onto St Tudno’s church

13:05 From here at the bottom of the steep slope, there are obvious short-cropped grass trails that lead off in various directions including up to the cable car station and the Summit Complex, where I was heading. Walking at a good speed it may take 10 minutes to get up to the top if you’re reasonably fit, or a bit longer if you stop to admire the views behind you or need to stop for breath on the steepest part nearer the top. Of course you all expect by now that I would take longer, as I would inevitably find things of interest that I would need to stop and photograph.

Either side of the tracks the hillside is lumpy and bumpy, with hillocks and hollows clothed with long tussocky grass and bushes of dwarf gorse; perfect terrain for the Meadow pipit that I was hoping to see. Birds foraging here are often well concealed, suddenly appearing and disappearing like this Magpie, one of a pair out hunting.

Sometimes they leave flying off until you’re almost on top of them, as this Jackdaw did.

Fond as I am of the Corvids, the unexpected sight of this elegant male Northern Wheatear was a lot more exciting.

Northern Wheatear-Oenanthe oenanthe- Welsh: Tinwen y Garn

and the excitement was doubled when a more softly plumaged female popped up onto the top of a hillock.

Absorbed with the female wheatear a distance away, a Meadow pipit popping up onto a hummock close by me took me by surprise, but a sighting at last and some photographs! It was hunting and I was pleased to get a pic of it with an insect in its beak.

Meadow pipits, in common with the majority of basically brown birds don’t get much of a write-up in the bird books. They’re mostly described as something like ” a small, brown, streaky bird, the most common songbird in upland areas, where it’s high piping call is a familiar sound’. Perhaps because of their lack of glamour we take them too much for granted, as according to the RSPB, ‘Meadow pipit numbers in the UK have been declining since the mid-1970s, resulting in this species being included on the amber list of conservation concern.’

Meadow Pipit- Anthus pratensis- Welsh-Corhedydd y Waun

Meadow pipit with insect

It’s strange that we  give such high praise to the similar-looking Skylark and the not-dissimilar Song Thrush and are so dismissive of the pipits. Is the bias based on the fact that the latter sing delightfully and pipits not so much? For sure our hills and uplands would be lonely without them, so perhaps we could appreciate them more and enjoy them at every opportunity.

There are little wildflower treats hidden down in the grass like this pretty violet.

13:25 As usual I’d been led astray by the birds and had to put a spurt on and get to the top in time to start my ‘shift’. As I said earlier it was breezy on this side of the Orme, but crossing the top and starting down the other side I was suddenly fighting to make progress against a continuous very strong head wind! Checking the wind gauge inside the visitor centre it indicated it was blowing in from a North-north westerly direction, so it felt cold too despite the sunshine. I anticipated selling more hats and gloves!

4:50 Finished for the day I retraced my steps along the trail back down towards where I left my car. On my own time now I was free to take my time and paused to admire the view over towards the Little Orme and beyond. The post tells you that this is the way to The Town (Llandudno).

A closer view of the Little Orme shows its intact, non-quarried side which was deliberately preserved to present a much prettier view to visitors and residents of Llandudno.

A little further on there is an interpretation panel that reminds you that this is the ‘Historic Trail’ and informs that 800 years ago you would have been looking down onto one of perhaps three villages established on the Orme, whose inhabitants would have grown crops and raised animals to eat or trade. I was hoping the wheatears may still be around and I was in luck – I soon spotted a female.

The sun was lower now, creating shadows and highlights and the wind, stronger now, rippled across the long silvered grass, creating a magical almost alien landscape. In amongst it I realised there were more Wheatears, another three birds.

All Wheatears spend winter in tropical Africa, heading northwards via Spain in the spring. Those that breed in the British Isles sometimes arrive on our coast as early as late February, but mainly during March, with males arriving ahead of females. They move inland to  breed.

GREENLAND WHEATEAR

It is possible that the birds I saw here today belong to another race, known as the Greenland wheatear, which arrives a little later in April. Many wheatears make a refuelling stopover in North Africa, but as the Greenland wheatears fly furthest, they need to put on more fat before leaving and spend longer at stopovers. They have a long journey ahead to their breeding sites on the other side of the Atlantic. From Britain they fly northwest across the sea, via Iceland, until they reach the Arctic tundra of Greenland and northern Canada. By June they will have started to breed there.

Wheatear & Meadow pipit

Whichever they were I was appreciating some lovely views of the two males and two females foraging together in the long grass, using the little hillocks as look-out platforms to survey the ground around them for likely prey.

Female wheatear

Then a distraction; a black bird flew in that I may have dismissed as a Jackdaw had it not called out. This was a Chough. It had landed somewhere behind a particularly hillocky part of the hillside, which is also pitted with well-disguised sunken craters. You have to watch your footing if you risk going off the proper trails.

Landscape pitted with sunken craters

I walked carefully until I spotted the bird, almost up to its beak in the long grass.

It had its back to me, eventually turning enough to show its diagnostic curved bill and legs, these are bright red in an adult bird, but this was a juvenile so it hasn’t quite got that far yet and its are more of a dull orange colour.

Chough, Red-billed chough – Pyrrhocorax

It didn’t stay for long before taking off, but it’s always a treat to see them at all, especially this closely.

Making my way back to the main track I noticed this rock, a little island rising out of a sea of grass and heather, it was almost totally encrusted with white lichen and embellished with mosses.

There was a lovely patch of violets growing in a grass-lined crater too.

I spotted two Wheatears perched on the top of a gorse bush; a male and a female. The birds spend most of their time on the ground, travelling in hops or runs on the ground, so it’s quite unusual to see them perched up higher.

I couldn’t have asked for a prettier picture than a handsome male Wheatear perched amongst golden-flowered gorse.

I liked the two images below too; perfect records of the birds’ exact location!

Two males together on the short turf of the trail

And one last image of a nicely posed one on his own.

17:16 Walking on down I spotted three bunnies on high alert, in poses that could have come straight out of Watership Down.

Rabbit-Oryctolagus cuniculus

 

 

But then I saw the new Peter Rabbit film during the Easter holiday too and thought this one, which I think may be the ‘big bunny’ of a previous post, may have seen it too – he’s got Peter’s pose to a ‘T’.

 

 

And wouldn’t you know? After all my efforts to find a Meadow pipit, there was one posing on a rock almost in front of my parked car!

It flew down to the ground and looked back over its shoulder at me as if to say

“what kept you? I’ve been here for hours waiting for you!”

It allowed me a couple of photographs, then took off, leaving a lone Jackdaw to patrol the layby edge for his supper.

On the way down I had to stop just past the church as these little Goldfinches fluttered down onto the bare ground of a bank where they must have spotted food potential.

The views were stunning as always; good today as the mountains were more clearly visible than usual and the clouds above added to their drama.

17:45 The view of the Conwy Estuary was stunning too, the sun was hitting the castle perfectly so it stood out from the trees, you can clearly see the road bridge that takes you across the river to the town and there were boats on the water….. the perfect scene for a painting.

The view of the sea meeting West Shore wasn’t bad either.

 

 

On a Perfect Spring Day

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April 19th – Bryn Euryn

Today was the middle day of the three consecutively warm sunny days that tantalised us with the notion that Spring had truly arrived, and judging by the activity here today it had a lot of our wildlife fooled too. The sky was clear and that almost-unbelievable shade of deep blue, the birds were singing and best of all, it was warm!

WOODLAND PATH

A few metres along the Woodland Path of my patch is an untidy-looking stretch, divided by the narrow path, where missing trees have opened up the canopy, letting in the light and warmth of the sun. Somewhat mysteriously, it holds great allure for diverse species of insects, some of which at certain times can be found here in surprising numbers. At the right time on the right day, ten minutes spent in this  ‘hotspot’ can be as productive as two hours spent ranging over the rest of the site.

11:44 Today I was here at the right time to see a surprising amount of insects. Most prolific were hoverflies in all shapes and sizes from big and bulky to teeny-tiny and dainty.

Syrphus sp.

There were few flowers here for nectaring upon, so that wasn’t the attraction for the majority of the hoverflies; I caught just one on the tiny flowers of Dog’s mercury. There were dozens of this small black and yellow striped species here, all very fresh and shiny and mostly basking on the sun-warmed leaves of brambles and nettles.

One side of the ‘hotspot’ is open to sunlight, clear of trees but sheltered by those standing behind it and by large shrubs of laurel and holly on either side. A large tangle of bramble fills the gap in the vegetation and is the only barrier between you and the Expressway below at the bottom of an almost-vertical slope. (Only joking, there’d be plenty of trees to stop you if you fell!) On the other side is a large patch of nettles, the aforementioned Dog’s mercury, more bramble and a pretty patch of periwinkle, all growing through a ground-covering of ivy.

A lone Tree bumblebee flew in, visited a couple of the periwinkle flowers then stopped to bask on a last-year’s half-eaten bramble leaf. I think it was a male (no pollen baskets) and was looking a bit the worse for wear. He seemed to have a burden of mites and I wondered if exposing them to warm sun might dislodge them. I’ve seen birds do that.

A smaller bee caught my eye as it came to rest on an ivy leaf. I didn’t realise what it was until I saw my photograph, then was excited to see it was a Hairy-footed Flower Bee, this one a male and my first record of this species here.

Hairy-footed Flower Bee – Anthophora plumipes (male)

Hairy-footed Flower Bee (m)-Anthophora plumipes

A species common and widespread in much of England and Wales, especially in towns, cities and villages. Often nests in the soft mortar and exposed cob of old walls, but occasionally will nest in the ground, preferring bare compacted clay soils. Flies from late February to mid-June, and is particularly partial to Lungwort (Pulmonaria) flowers.

Males and females look very different from one another: the female resembles a small, black bumblebee with orange-red hairs on the hind leg and a rapid-darting flight; she’ll  often approach a flower with her long tongue extended. Males are mostly brown with a dark tail (fresh specimens are gingery). Cream markings on face distinguish it from all bumblebees.They are often among the first bees of the year to emerge and often hover in front of flowers and when pursuing females.

Another little bee came to rest on a nettle leaf, this one I recognised as an Ashy mining bee and another male.

Ashy mining bee – Andrena cineraria (male)

Ashy mining bee (m)-Andrena cineraria 

A distinctive and obvious spring-flying solitary bee. Females are black, and have two broad ashy-grey hairbands across the thorax. Males emerge well before the females. They look similar, but their thorax is entirely covered with less dense grey hairs, and there’s a pronounced tuft of white hairs on the lower face. Species has a single flight period each year from early April until early June. Nests are constructed in the ground; entrances are surrounded by a volcano-like mound of excavated spoil; often in dense aggregations in  lawns, flower beds, mown banks and in field margins.

And where there are mining bees there are those who would prey upon them….. Bee-flies: quirkily-cute in appearance but not good to know if you’re a hard-working mining bee; they’ll spy out your nest-hole and craftily kick their eggs inside with those long legs, then later their hatched larvae will feast on yours.

Wasps were out on the prowl too; I didn’t get a clear enough image to tell if this was a German or Common Wasp – the latter have a distinctive anchor mark on their face; this image is a bit fuzzy.

12:07 I could have lingered longer, but birds were singing, I’d been serenaded by a Song thrush and a Robin as I stood watching insects, Blue tits twittered on all sides and I was keen to see what else was happening.

Bluebells are beginning to flower and offer nectar to those that can reach it, there’s also Greater Stitchwort and lots of Dog Violets. A male Orange-tip butterfly raced past me over the bluebells and through the trees, clearly on the trail of a female and not stopping for an instant.

Greater Stitchwort – Stellaria holostea

There are masses of glorious glossy golden yellow lesser celandines shining in the sunlight too.

I stopped to admire the celandines lining a section of the path and not at all concerned by my presence, a Blue tit perched above me and began to sing.

Beneath him dozens of shiny new flies arrived to bask on soft sun-warmed new bramble leaves.

There’s one special spot I know where Wood Anemones light up the woodland floor like fallen stars, turning their faces to the sun

and another where those of the shamrock-leaved Wood sorrel shyly hide theirs.

Over the boundary fence, the formidable thorny boundary hedge of gorse and blackthorn is softened now with their fragrant gold and white blossoms.

I heard a bird singing, a short loud burst of notes that I thought at first was a Wren, but it wasn’t quite right. I’d forgotten that another tiny bird, the Goldcrest also has a disproportionately loud song, remembering when he broke cover and flitted about in shrubbery in front of me. He wasn’t going to oblige me with a photograph, much too busy! So I stood gazing upwards for a while – you can’t get too much beautiful blue sky…

… or pretty blossom, can you?

WOODLAND TRAIL

12:58 There’s another hotspot around the junction of my Woodland Path with the reserve’s Woodland Trail, this one for birds. Here there is a territory of both Blackcap and Chiffchaff so there is the possibility of hearing if not seeing both species here. Today I was lucky; I heard the Blackcap’s song as I approached and walking slowly and as quietly as I was able I spotted him. He continued to sing but moved restlessly through the branches as I got nearer then flew off across the other side of the track.

While he sang from behind foliage over there I watched a pretty female Tawny mining bee feast on Blackthorn blossom.

Then the Blackcap came back to where he’d started, so I think perhaps his red-headed mate may be on their nest somewhere close by.

This gorgeous gorse is below his singing tree. It would make a safe place to nest and the flowers would attract insects for dinner.

I had heard a Chiffchaff singing nearby too but was pleasantly surprised when he appeared, continuing his song while flitting about amongst the twiggy branches searching for insects.