As I continued my walk behind the rocky sea-break, it occurred to me that if I was finding it hard going walking against the strong wind,then the small birds I was hoping to see may be finding it even harder and may not be there today. Fortunately I was underestimating the powerful draw that an abundant supply of food is to hungry intelligent and opportunistic birds.The reason the Rock Pipits and the Pied Wagtails, (both species members of the motacillidae family) gather in this small area, more-or-less at the spot where Rhos-on-Sea becomes Penrhyn Bay is not pretty. A sewer outlet, that I was informed serves the village of Mochdre, runs beneath the sea wall and out into the sea here, and for some reason I do not really want to ponder too much, large numbers of flies swarm around the sea wall here. The flies are quite sizeable and it was quite unpleasant walking through the midst of a crowd of them, but the opportunity they presented to watch some beautiful birds in action was well worth a bit discomfort.
I sat down close to where the main fly-catching action was taking place hoping the birds would not feel too threatened by the presence of me and my long camera lens. At first both Pipits, of which there were 2, and the more numerous Wagtails did fly off, but only to a very short distance away and they returned to resume their feasting very quickly, elegantly pursuing their prey along the top of the sea wall then darting across to the rocks and back again. Their speed and acrobatic turns were impressive and highly entertaining, mostly too quick for my manually-focused lens, but wonderful to observe.
Rock pipit – Anthus petrosus
Scientific name from: Gr.: anthos=a small grassland bird described by Aristotle and Gr.: petros=a rock
A coastal bird with a preference for rugged coastlines, Rock Pipits are easy to miss as their inconspicuous plumage shaded in greys, olives and buffs blends readily with the seaweed as they search for food amongst the boulders. It is larger and darker than its close relative, the meadow pipits and has a more heavily-streaked breast and dark olive-brown upper parts. In flight the dark-coloured legs and orange soles of the feet may be seen.
The Rock Pipit is very strongly linked to rocky shores and usually nests in rather inaccessible sites on cliffs and among boulders of sheltered coves and gullies. During the winter months however, it sometimes deserts the high cliffs and may be seen on flat sandy coastlines and inland at sewage farms, floodlands and the borders of reservoirs.
Their food includes a large proportion of marine animals, such as sandhoppers, small worms and marine molluscs.
Pied Wagtail – Motacilla alba yarrellii
Scientific name from: Greek: muttex a bird described by Hesychius and Latin: albus=white
Once regarded as a species in its own right, the pied wagtail is now regarded by ornithologists as a race of the white wagtail of mainland Europe and Asia. The white wagtail may be seen on migration; it has paler grey upper parts and there is no join between the black cap and bib.
Increased numbers of Pied Wagtails have been a regular sight across the area for some weeks now. Small parties of them, which as they are mixed adults and juveniles could be families, can often be spotted foraging on the seashore amongst the vegetation and dry seaweed.
Pied Wagtails really live up to their name, with black upper parts, throat and breast contrasts sharply with a white forehead, face and chest and long black tails that are in constant motion. Females show a lesser degree of contrast and have less black on their heads and a slate-grey back.
Overhead the Pied Wagtail’s call is as distinctive as their undulating, looping flight – a few flaps followed by a descending glide that is accompanied constantly by the ‘tschizzuck’ flight call.
In the early evenings I have seen them gathering on the lawns lining the streets that back onto the Little Orme. Pied Wagtails roost communally during the winter, often in great numbers, meeting up in the same place every evening before taking off together to roost for the night. Roosts may be in a reedbed, a copse or even in a built-up area.