Updated: Feb 2, 2022
I’ve started off 2022 by doing a few trips out, yearlisting a bit more than in recent years, and this has included three visits to North Wales to pick up some of the special birds on offer there. This blog is a combination of those trips and is intended to be a mini-guide to anyone wanting to see any of the birds therein.
The first call of my combined day out, as always, was a trip onto the moors at World's End. Timing here is key, more to avoid missing a parking spot than missing the birds, this can be very popular, especially with photographers who can stay for the full duration! So setting off before dawn I arrived on site before first light and pulled up in the small gravel ‘lay-by’ next to a known site not too far down the moorland road accessed from Minera. As I pulled up I could see blurred, black shapes in the gloom and the telltale bubbling and hissing of my target species : the Black Grouse. As the dawn rays broke through the full scene opened up before me, at least 11 Black Grouse were counted with the bonus of one of them being a female bird,a Greyhen, the rest being Blackcocks, the females being rarer at the lek site, especially this early in the year. The birds were in lekking mode, strutting and posturing, squaring up to each other and even leaping in the air as they fought to establish dominance. All the time their wonderful calls filling the air, making this a magical scene. After having this spectacle to myself another car then arrived so I decided to leave in search of other species. A drive further across the moorland gave me views of 10 Red Grouse, both in flight and sitting, neck craned upwards, in the heather. A pair of Ravens flew low over the road and provided me with my third new species for 2022 so far, not bad considering it was the first hour after dawn.
I then headed to another moorland location, the area around Llyn Brenig. Here on a couple of visits I was rewarded with stunning views of Crossbills, including a male bird courtship feeding a female. Meadow Pipit was a more mundane addition to my list, but they all count as one, as they say! More Ravens were seen, a common species in these parts and becoming commoner all over the place too! A drive up the Conwy Valley saw me arrive at the town of Llanrwst where I parked up by the river opposite the church of St Grwst. A long wait and patient scanning eventually produced a brief view of a Hawfinch in the Yew trees in the churchyard, a new bird but a long time spent for such a fleeting view.
Onwards and upwards, well further north that is as I headed up the Conwy Valley and onto the Little Orme. Here I had two goals, one was to twitch a scarce gull and the other was to do a small seawatch. Initially the gull was not present so I settled for the latter course of action and settled down to look out eastwards over the sea. A few close Red-throated Divers were nice to see as well as a large group of Red-breasted Mergansers and several Shags both on the sea and flying past. A lone Guillemot was more of a surprise but added another bird to the trip and year lists. Another nice addition was a distant Kittiwake but the expected Fulmars weren’t seen at all. A return to the sheltered Angel Bay, where a small colony of Grey Seals and their pups were hauled out on the shingle, produced the hoped for scarce gull in the shape of a juvenile Iceland Gull which flew back in to feed in the bay and show extremely well. This became my 100th bird species of 2022 and was seen on January 3rd so not a bad tally so quickly. On the way back across the Little Orme a telltale call had me looking up at the cliffs and there was a Chough, always a fantastic bird to see and a speciality of these parts.
My next port of call was a favourite seawatching location, with the account for here being the amalgamation of three visits in total in 2022. That many were needed to see the species that I wanted to see! On my first visit I only managed to add a single species for the year, Common Scoter, which were offshore in huge numbers as always in winter. On my next visit conditions were better, sunshine, a high tide and a flat calm sea. Despite this my main target still eluded me, but more of that later! Still it’s an ill wind that blows no good and I did see three new species for the year. The first of these was easy, pairs of Fulmars sitting on nesting ledges on the cliffs behind me. Next a Rock Pipit was seen flitting about on the rocks below the seawatching point. Finally the best bird of the seawatch was a drake Velvet Scoter in flight out amongst the Common Scoters, its white wing panels flashing as it headed east to land further out and merge back into the scoter flock. With one main species still not seen I made a third, foreshortened, visit two day later. Still on a high tide conditions were much worse, a chop on the sea and overcast skies. But amazingly within 5 minutes of setting up my scope I had found the bird that I wanted, a superb drake Surf Scoter, a real rarity. The supporting cast of species previously seen over my visits included Guillemot, Red-throated Diver, Red-breasted Merganser and Shag.
After my seawatches on two separate days I was Rhyl bound! First I headed to a little oasis tucked away in the town called Rhyl Brickfields Pond. A walk around the pond allowed me to add my next new species for 2022 as a female Scaup was in with the Tufted Ducks but surprisingly elusive in a sheltered bay near the island. Another destination close by which I wanted to visit was the meadows and fields alongside the River Clwyd between Rhyl and Rhuddlan. This had to wait until my second trip out due to time restraints and short winter days. I parked up at Rhuddlan and walked the east side of the river northwards up the cycle path. A long trek was needed before I spotted my first flock of geese. But on scoping these there was nothing unusual in with the Canada and Greylag Geese. So, on I pressed and then came across huge flocks in some sheep fields. A couple of scans of the flocks eventually revealed a Russian White-fronted Goose in with its commoner cousins. A number of this species had been present all winter but with the light fading fast I was happy to find just one and headed back to my car.
As usual North Wales had provided some cracking birding and I had added species to my list that would have been hard to see easily elsewhere. This area is on my doorstep and I feel really lucky that I can daytrip it very easily or even just pop over for a few hours. Whichever I decide I know that I will never be disappointed, Cymru am byth as they say!!