January 20th – Little Orme, lower level
When the first sound I hear on my approach to the Little Orme is that of a Raven gronking, I take it as an omen that this is going to be a good walk! And so it was today – the old Raven perched high on the edge of the cliff, proclaiming his territorial rights, his distinctive call echoing off the surrounding rock. As yet there were no signs of Fulmars having returned to begin claiming nesting spots on the cliff below him. Notoriously noisy, they too would have been heard before being seen for sure.
Ears being more effective than eyes on this bright winter afternoon, I heard birdsong emanating from a small nearby tree. I didn’t recognise the song at first and with sun shining directly into my eyes, it took a couple of minutes for me to recognise that the singer was a Great tit. I edged slowly towards him, circling to try to reach a point where the sun was less blinding, expecting him to spot me and take off any second, but he was confident and intent on his purpose and chose to ignore me. I was delighted, I don’t recall ever being this close to a singing Great tit before and was impressed by his tuneful renderings.
He was indeed handsome and as the test of a male Great tit’s virility is displayed in the strength of the black markings that run from his throat to his nether regions, this one looks like he’d be quite a catch.
The ground here was frosted and in shaded places the grass was crunchy underfoot, but a pair of blackbirds, feathers fluffed out against the cold had found a more insulated mossy spot and were out hunting worms. I wasn’t sure if the female was deliberately collecting nesting material or if I’d disturbed her whilst probing and the grass had stuck to her bill.
Close by a Robin was singing quietly, almost to itself as it perched low and spied, head cocked, for insect movements on the ground below.
Reaching the cliff edge which overlooks Penrhyn Bay, all I spied was a distant single cormorant. (Well, I assumed it was a cormorant, but a sharp-eyed friend pointed out it was actually a Shag – so really happy about that as I see far fewer of them.)
A closer look shows the Shag has a narrow bill and a steeper forehead than a Cormorant and also lacks the white cheeks patches of the latter. A lesson learned, I will look closer in the future and not make assumptions!
Sitting atop the rocky mound that forms one edge of Angel Bay were a pair of large black birds. One had his back to me, looking out to sea – Ravens, surely? As I approached they flew down almost to the base of the rock.
Feathers gleaming with shades of purple and green they are magnificent birds, but you wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of that enormous dagger-like bill.
As well as local folk, people come here from miles around in the hope of a sighting of the Grey Seals that have claimed Angel Bay as their own. Today I was one of a small crowd of spectators that were given a real treat; there must have been at least 40 of them ranged along the tide-line the whole length of the little cove.
Perfectly camouflaged to blend with the rocks and pebbles here, it takes a few minutes to get your eye in and work out which shapes are animal and which mineral. I make a total of 20 in the image below.
At first glance there didn’t seem to be much activity other than sleeping going on, but sounds arising and a closer look reveals that here and there things were not entirely tranquil.
Some see rocks as a sun-warmed resting place
while to others they are just obstacles to be overcome; going over the top must be easier than getting someone to move.
These two took to the water, they could be a male and a female as one appears smaller than the other.
They started off peacefully enough,
but things soon started to get a bit rough
and developed into what appeared to be a serious display of aggression or power assertion of some kind. ( I wasn’t entirely off-track here, but it has been pointed out that this was quite likely mating behaviour. I thought that mating happened sooner after the birth of the pups.)
Their interaction was quickly dissipated though when several more seals lumbered from the shore, showing a surprising turn of speed, and entered the water with much deliberate splashing.
Then sped off with purpose, keeping their heads above the water
to check out two kayakers that had paddled into the bay. The guys in the boats must have been thrilled to have had a close encounter with at least eight curious seals.
Back on the shore another pair having a bit of argy-bargy
this time more vocal than physical.
And that is where I left them to get on with their day while I got moving to warm up, with one quick last look over the edge of the cliff from the other side of the bay.
On the far side of the bay I scanned the cliff for any signs that the Ravens may be re-using the nest site that has been occupied for years. There was nothing I could see, but there were plenty of pairs of Jackdaws that seem to have already claimed or reclaimed holes and ledges on the cliff wall. Jackdaws are so numerous here that a black bird of a certain size usually registers subconsciously as such, but again it was hearing different sounds called by a small group of four black birds flying up that alerted me to the presence of the far less common Chough.
More wary than the resident Jackdaws, the presence of Chough, probably visiting from the Great Orme that forms the other side of Llandudno Bay, always takes me by surprise and that is my excuse for failing to get a decent photograph! That and the fact they soon spotted me standing out in the open pointing a long lens at them, so they took off and disappeared over the cliff edge. I have seen and photographed the pair below feeding here before, quite distinctive with all their leg bling, but the one above has none yet. Is that because it’s a young one I wonder? Please tell me if you know.
I couldn’t leave this lower level of the reserve without a nod to a Jackdaw, whose home this really is, so snatched this just before a dog followed by its owner sent him off too.