Cormorants flying overhead refocussed my attention and I began the climb up the steep slope to the next level of the cliff.
I didn’t get far before stopping to watch the Whitethroat I had been heading for pre-Chough. He was singing from an old bramble stem close by and was nicely visible apart from being seemingly garotted by a twiggy branch. Song done, he flew across the track into the base of a huge bramble shortly followed in by his mate coming from the other direction, carrying food in her beak. So this is where they are nesting, no doubt tucked low down in the protective thorny thicket.
About half-way up I welcomed the excuse to pause, granted by the sight of another Swollen-thighed Beetle, this time a male sporting a splendid pair of said swollen thighs.
At the top is a reminder that the slope’s purpose was not originally as a walking track. Here stand the remains of supports and cogs for winding gear, once employed to steady trucks full of quarried stone on tracks down the steep slope, then to haul back empty ones.
This quarry face accommodates many nesting pairs of Jackdaws, whose cries often echo loudly around the bare stone cliffs. They were quiet today, the only sound made by a sheep bleating from the edge of the wall towering above. Clearly a mother, she may have been calling for her young one; I hoped he hadn’t been hauled off to market to end up as Welsh Spring Lamb in a butcher’s shop.
I took a very quick look at nesting Fulmars, didn’t want to disturb them so stayed well back.
Attractive birds with an elegant stiff-winged flight, it’s hard to believe they produce such a loud, rather harsh cry and that their tube-like nostrils are designed to allow them, inelegantly, to snort out salty water.
From up here you can look down on the flat quarried-out ‘Level 1’ of the site, with the cove of Angel Bay at its edge. The dry grassed areas are already showing signs of wear and tear.
Onwards and upwards, following the track that is both on the routes of the North Wales Coastal Path and the national Wales Coast Path. It is heavily eroded in parts, and bridged by gnarled old roots, (or branches?) of gorse.
Ravens had made me aware of their presence since arriving here today, being more mobile and noisier than usual and as I ambled along this part of the track an outburst of their calls broke out from somewhere ahead of me. I had just seen birds harrassing what I assumed to be a Buzzard and thought that may have escalated into a bit more of an incident. Getting closer I saw three birds having a bit of a to-do; two of them seemed to be attacking a third that was sitting atop a fence. Not a Buzzard.
I was still too far away to see properly, but this may have been a pair of Raven upset with an intruding one. Does it have something in its beak in the first picture, an egg maybe? I have no idea but they took off from here and continued to express their annoyance from the field below for some time.
None the wiser as to what I’d witnessed I carried on, scanning the track ahead of me, as I am wont to do at this time of year, checking for sheep poo; you never know when there may be something interesting dining out thereon. I got lucky, a fairly fresh deposit yielded a little male Yellow Dung-fly. In an awkward spot to photograph, I had no option than to kneel down in front of the dung, then almost had my nose in it to get him in close up without using the lens zoom, quietly hoping no-one came along the path to witness my odd behaviour. It was worth it; I realised he hadn’t flown off as he was otherwise occupied with a lady Dung-fly. Females are far fewer in number than males, so there was no chance he was leaving, whatever I was doing.
THE CORMORANT COLONY
Reputedly the largest Cormorant breeding colony in the British Isles, this is an impressive sight, even from this distance and this is only a part of it; it continues around to the other side of the rocky outcrop in the photograph below, where there are even more of them.
I’ve shown this aspect of the Cormorant colony several times before, but this is the first time I’ve visited it at the right time to catch the birds on their nests. I was thrilled to get a glimpse of young birds in some of the nests; Cormorants usually lay 2-3 eggs, and from those I could see most seem to have hatched and grown successfully, so there must be plenty of food available locally to keep offspring and parents well fed.
Some of the young birds seemed a bit more advanced than others and were already out of the nest exercising their wings, but many birds were still sitting.
The bulk of the colony is not as easy to see, and viewing the birds involves a bit of rambling up and down the uneven cliff top, then peering down from cliff edge, but it is well worth the effort. The photograph below shows the colony to be situated well out of reach of nosy people.
Around the rock I was now upwind of the birds, so as well as amazing sights and sounds I was greeted with the equally amazing smell produced by a large number of fish-eating birds confined to a relatively small space. I wish I could share it with you!
But pungent aromas aside,the colony on this side holds another treat; right in its centre is another smaller colony – of smart little penguin-like Guillemots. Surrounded by the much bigger Cormorants I imagine it is a safe haven for them from potential predators such as gulls and the Cormorants seem perfectly accepting of them.
Cormorants and Guillemots sharing fishing space on the rocks below. There were many more birds of both species flying back and forth and hunting and diving in the water too. Cormorants stay separate but Guillemots often join together in ‘rafts’ floating on the surface of the sea.
These two birds, who I fancied were enjoying some fresher air away from the colony, is my favourite Cormorant image from the day. The birds weren’t making a sound; they gape their beaks as a means of cooling down their bodies, but it seems like they’re commenting on something out at sea. Possibly the ever-encroaching turbines of the wind farm, or maybe they were sureying for likely fishing spots.
It was a sunny day with some cloud and really strongly windy, particularly noticeable up here at the top of the headland on its sea-facing edge, but the elements’ combined effects on the water was breathtaking. I sat for some time watching the ever-changing patterns of light and shade on the surface of the blue sea as the wind rippled across its surface and clouds cast shadows above it. It really was the colour of the photograph below and quite mesmerising.
Birds flew past the cliff at eye level; mostly Herring Gulls, but one Greater Black-backed gull too, and a Raven gronked a greeting as he passed by; all strong birds gliding effortlessly on the wind and thermals created by the cliff face. A Rock pipit popped up over the edge briefly but popped down again when he spotted me. A Jackdaw also appeared over a ridge, but disregarded me completely and carried on foraging within touching distance, even posing for a portrait.
Returning to the main track I passed a ewe and her lambs who had found a shady and sheltered place to rest with her lambs.
I watched a 7-spot ladybird scrambling through the mossy turf. Grazed by sheep and rabbits, baked by the sun and exposed regularly to strong, salt-laden winds anything that survives here has to be tough, especially the flora. Amongst the toughest of our native flora are the thistles, the two most common species of which thrive here.
The Creeping thistle has already begun flowering and even up here was being visited by bumblebees and a wind-blown Red Admiral butterfly.
The other is the fierce-looking Spear thistle with its aptly-named long sharp spikes protecting its every part, which has flower buds almost on the point of opening now.
On the ledge beneath an overhanging rocky outcrop I was surprised to spot a clump of white-flowered plants. Getting closer I saw they were Sea campion and also Moon (Ox-eye) daisies with one of the best specimens of Salad burnet I’ve seen anywhere so far this Spring. I wonder how they got there?
Going back down I took a photograph to remind me to say that although fading fast there is still gorse in flower and also hawthorn, but the main blossom plant now is the creamy white elder.
And another to remind myself that I can never tired of looking at this view across Penrhyn and Colwyn Bays, even when on hot days like this one much of the distance is lost in a haze.