In common with the rest of Britain, we have experienced a mixed bag of winter weather on the North Wales coast so far this year and last week brought the whole selection together in its 7 day span. There were gale force winds, dull grey overcast days and some clear bright sunny days that darkened into clear night skies full of brilliant stars. Of course the clear nights brought forth morning frost and freezing temperatures, but they did not last for long.
I usually try to avoid popular local walking spots on high days and holidays, but a need for some quick-fix fresh air and exercise on a cold but sunny Sunday afternoon found me heading for the nearby nature reserve on the headland of the Little Orme. When I first arrived I was pleasantly surprised by how few other people were there and set off towards the cliff edge to look out across the small bay. There were a few cormorants flying back and forth with a few more diving off the tip of the headland. I watched a pair of fulmar flying around close to the cliff face, but that was it for sea birds; even the gulls were otherwise occupied elsewhere.
I turned around to walk back and heard the distinctive ‘barking’ call of a raven that I tracked to the top of the rockface. The bird was perched, hunched down with its head and neck pointed upwards and with its feathers bristling out around its body. At that point I couldn’t see any other birds around that may have been provoking its behaviour, but a little later I heard it calling again from the cliff edge slightly further inland and looked up to see two buzzards circling closely above it, so maybe they were the objects of his annoyance.
I already mentioned that this was a sunny day, but not yet that the sky was blue and – wait for it – so was the sea. One of the things I had come out hoping to photograph was gorse in bloom and luckily there were several bushes with flowers, but this picture of sunshine-golden gorse against a background of a blue Irish Sea had to be the one I included. It reminded me so much of Spain – apart from the sharp cold air that is.
In total contrast I was then drawn to a patch of what from a distance I took to be low-growing white flowers but that was actually frosted moss.
I had been meandering around rather than walking with any purpose and stood for a moment looking around trying to decide which direction to head in, or as the place suddenly seemed to be filling up with people and their dogs, whether to leave and move on somewhere else. Just then a small flock of jackdaw flew in very close to me and landed on the short grass at the base of the cliff. I am very fond of these intelligent and sociable birds, and for want of much else to photograph I decided to approach them and try for some close shots. I got within a few metres, began to slowly raise the camera so as not to spook them, then almost dropped it when I realised that foraging alongside the jackdaws there were two chough. I was excited by the completely unexpected sighting of these much rarer birds, and panicking too as I could see a couple with a loose dog heading straight for me. I managed to get two shots only, one that was too out of focus to present and this one that is a long way from brilliant but does record the event.
I got my shots with just seconds to spare as the dog spotted the birds and bounded towards them, deliberately chasing them away. I watched disappointedly as they flew away, but sadly the dog owners smiled at me as they passed, probably amused by their dog’s ‘playfulness’. I was not at all amused. I had a long enough look to see that one of the chough had quite a collection of leg rings of varying colours, so it is obviously one that has been well monitored and it should be possible to find out where it came from. Most probable is the nearby Great Orme, but South Stack on Anglesey is another possibility. If anyone recognises the rings, I’d be very interested to hear from them.
I considered the possibility that the birds may return, so to while away a few minutes I walked down the sloping path into the valley created by past removal of limestone rock. It was sunnier there and almost immediately a small bird perched on a gorse bush caught my eye. Its general size, shape and familiar behaviour immediately brought stonechat to mind, but this is another bird I’d yet to see here, so I was pleased to confirm that as I focussed the camera lens on it.
As I was leaving the site I had another glimpse of the Stonechat where it was perched in a small ash tree. It was joined there by another bird which I initially thought may have been a female, but was actually a Dunnock.