I guess we’ve all had them – near perfect stress free birding days when you see most of what you go for (but it doesn’t matter if you don’t) and get one or two surprises along the way. As usual with this part of the blog, stuff is lifted ‘as writ at the time’ from diaries, notebooks etc except for [comments]. Guess the year...
Mid-February - Good news is that the same stuff is still around today as yesterday! Why? Coz I’m off out to North Wales with my long time birding chum, Matt. First off, current plan is to go for Great Grey Shrike at Clocaenog, followed by Hawfinch at Caerhun and Little Bunting at Newborough Warren. If I get them [those] three I’ll be a happy bunny – anything else is a bonus! By 12th Feb last year I had 107 species – so what could I get today in addition to the ‘big three’ above? Common Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Slavonina Grebe, Fulmar, Kittiwake, Great Northern Diver, Chough, Hooded Crow, Crossbill, Siskin, Lesser Redpoll etc.
SO... today’s the day! Arranged to meet Matt at Runcorn Station at 07:30 [note the almost military precision in those days]. Come 07:40 gave him a ring. He was lost [shame on him!] and stuck by the river, so had to direct him for a pick up. About 5 minutes later we were finally. First stop, Clocaenog Forest for Great Grey Shrike. At least two have been recorded this winter and birds have used the site near the mast at Craig Bron-banog for the past 2-3 years. Found the track we needed to climb easily from maps downloaded from t’interweb and parked Matt’s Landrover as far up as we could. Climb was quite steep through surprisingly quiet plantation – just Robins, Wrens and Dunnocks – no finches. Through thelast get the ground opened up into heather moorland and we could see the mast a little way off. Suddenly, a large[ish] black bird flew out low over the heather, flashing white on the wings – male Black Grouse. What a bonus! Totally unexpected too [we didn’t know they were found there at the time]. Got to the top of the climb and worked right, around the fenced-off mast to keep out of the heather and to be able to look due north – where the shrike had been reported yesterday. Set up scope and began scanning the pines and scrubby leafless trees scattered across the moor. There were loads (!), any one of which could potentially have been a shrike lookout post. Still, at least the vantage point was great. Only bird on our first [binocular] sweep was the Fieldfare we’d flushed from the mast fence on arrival and which, momentarily, we had thought was the shrike! Second sweep used scope [very wise!].
Great Grey Shrike
Picked it [shrike] up in a tree to the north-west, on the horizon, by an outcrop and put Matt onto it. Zoomed in and followed it flying from tree to tree – perching at the top of each as it did so. Excellent! Said to Matt that it would be worth keeping our eyes peeled on the way down, coz there was ‘supposed’ to be another one. No sooner has we rounded the mast to head back to the Land Rover when Matt said “Is that it, there on the wire?” Fuck me! [Yes, I actually said “Fuck me!”] It was – close too! Got scope on it before it flew to the top of a bush further way. Managed a few pix – none very good, but at least you can see what it is! [judge for yourself dear reader... evidence below]. Grinning from ear to ear we headed off down the track – plan was to try the Picnic Spot down the road for Crossbill and Siskin. Dead certs... we thought. No such luck! It was as quiet as the grave; just a few Tits, Robins, Wrens and Mallards and lots of Muscovy hybrids on the pond. So, no luck.
Great Grey Shrike
Next stop, Llanbedr-y-cennin for Hawfinch. Found churchyard without much problem [this was pre-SatNav btw peeps, hence my implied surprise...] and pulled up as a man and woman emerged from it. Right place apparently, but no birds showing. Decided to check trees at back of churchyard from road [either I had an aversion to the word ‘THE’ in those days or I was writing in Yorkshire]. No luck. Thought I saw two chunky, orange-ish birds at the back of the field behind the church. Decided to take a closer look IN the field, but got called out by the farmer who’s field it was [or, to whom the field belonged, should we wish now to be grammatically correct - miserable git anyway: the farmer...]. Had a couple of dodgy views of Chaffinch but nothing else and walking the graveyard and other road to scan the trees similarly yielded nothing.
Local guy said that they sometimes went to the old church at Caerhun! we had assumed the two sites were the same. Not so. Matt recalled getting Hawfinch at a small church down a track right by the River Conwy and this was clearly not it! Without much ado, we found the place pretty easily from the directions given to us, but there were loads of people there repointing the walls and strimming (!) so needless to say there were no Hawfinches showing. Ah well…
Llanfairfechan sea watch
Getting peckish now (12:30) so stopped off at Llanfairfechan as tide was right in and it looked like a mill pond (good for scoping) and who she we meet there but the same couple we’d earlier bumped into Hawfinching. Scopes up and we quickly got on to loads of Great Crested Grebes [c30] and Red-throated Divers [c20]. Also cracking view of two Great Northern Divers – one which had caught something. Got a Black-throated Diver around more into the bay to the west where we also had a small grebe drop in – Slavonian. A solitary Shag on the water and 2 Fulmar at the ‘cliffs’ to the east completed a great lunch break. Matt had fired up the Trangia and cooked us both beef and vegetable BIG soup which we slurped from wooden bowls – Chinese stylee (no spoons). Beautifully calm. A few Common Scoter about too, but no Velvets and no sign today of the regular Black Scoter.
Finished lunch, showed the couple the way to the ‘biggy’ on our maps and headed off for Little Bunting. Arrived at Newborough Warren about 14:00 to find the car park nearly full and all eyes trained on the bushes to where the bird had just flown before we arrived. HAD been showing well. We shifted position to view the bushes side on and picked up the bird in the middle. Beckoned other over but lost it – then something flew to the bushes by the car park with loads of Chaffinches. It finally flipped over a slate ‘fence’ into the car park, where, behind the picnic tables was a lot of seed on the ground. The bird started feeding there and I managed to reel off a few pix before it disappeared only to reappear 10 minutes later in the same spot. Problem was, it kept ‘hiding’ behind a bloody leaf so no shots are clear (see below).
Little Bunting - Newborough Warren
One old bloke appeared to be so frustrated that he decided to get a closer look… in his car! He managed to bump into the short wooden edging posts around the car park at least twice during hos 30-point reverse into postion much to the bemusement and slight annoyance of the assembled onlookers. Finally he was happy with his position it seemed and set up a long-lens on a beanie out of the dricver’s window. Neeedless to say, his antics has scared everything away and so we left with only the ‘pronks’ and ‘cruuks’ of the local Ravens to signal the end of a great day. 10 year ticks including all the divers, 1 lifer and as many Great Grey Shrikes in 10 minutes as I’d previously had in 10 years. Fucking A!!! [Yes, I was a trifle excited…].