Sunday, 13 July 2014

Puff and Chuffs; the day we went to Anglesey

RSPB South Stack

Yns mon or the Isle of Anglesey as its known is a wonderful landscape of rolling welsh countryside, mountains and stunning bays. This was our destination for the day, lots of seabirds and anything else that crossed our path.
Despite a rogue shower as we sped down the A55, the day turned out beautiful, stunning blue skies and lovely warm sunshine.

One of the things that perplexed me on route as we passed through housing estates was the absence of what I call common garden birds, (despite Anglesey’s results in the big garden birdwatch) hardly a blackbird seen, a splattering of sparrows and starlings, and not a tit or finch in sight! Mmh, indeed the local residents were predominantly jackdaws, perched on numerous chimneys.

We arrived at RSPB South Stack by 10am; around a dozen of us had resisted the televised Wimbledon men’s final and made it to the island.
This is a spectacular reserve for seabirds. The cliff ledges packed with nesters, down 300 metres, far below the sea crashed against the rocks, yet more birds, feeding, gathering...the noise, the calls, the cries…the smell, guano, well what do you expect, this is a seabird colony of thousands.

The reserve footpaths meander through large areas of pretty heath land along the cliff tops,
Silver studded blue
home to all kinds of wildflowers such as pink thrift, sea campion, gorse, wild thyme, birds foot trefoil and horseshoe vetch.
From the lower car park we headed straight for the cliff tops, we were treated to flights of  butterflies  along the way, painted ladies danced with silver-studded blues , the latter being a  speciality of the reserve. A stonechat couple perched obligingly on the topmost branches of spiky gorse, comely to the eye and always a pleasure to see. This habitat is perfect for smaller birds, rock and meadow pipits, wrens, linnets and skylark’s conspicuous by their calls and manners. 

Approaching the cliffs we observed gannets, wings folded back, plummeting into the sea, guillemots, razorbills and puffins incoming, silvery sand eels grasped tightly in beaks.
We sat near Ellin’s tower. Observing the squabbling, jostling auks. Up to 4,000 breeding guillemots and 700 razorbills, squashed together on narrow ledges. Rock pipits flitted around the rocks below before flying up to the grassier areas and headland where they nested.

A loud ringing 'che-oww' call, alerted us to 3 choughs (9 breeding pairs on site) on the grassy headland, splendid bright red, slightly curved bill and red legs - complete with `ringers’ colour bands.
They sat awhile before swooping and diving in a game of chase, out of sight.
(Did you know, in Cornish legend and it is said that King Arthur was transformed into a chough when he died, the red feet and beak representing his violent, bloody end)

We moved on, towards the steps leading down to the South Stack Island and the Lighthouse. We didn't need to go all the way down, just far enough to see the other side of the cliffs, and here are quarry was found; puffins, Comical parrot-like, waddling around their burrows on bright orange legs. We counted at least 7, were told there are about 20.
Puffins and Razorbill
Looking towards the lighthouse grounds, snug amid the daisies we could see lots of nesting gulls, herring, lesser and greater black backed and black headed.

On the way back  to the cafĂ© for our obligatory cake and coffee , some of us were delighted to see a rock pipit  family, close to the path,  vigilant yet un- perturbed by the mesmerized watchers, as we observed the parents, beaks crammed full of insects and grubs return to their hidden nestlings in the heath.
Rock pipit

Sadly we dipped on the recently reported peregrines with their newly fledged chick

Next stop Cemlyn lagoon for terns, shearwaters and tysties.

Cemlyn shingle spit

Cemlyn run by the wildlife trust is a safe haven for breeding terns. The shallow lagoons of Cemlyn are separated from the sea by a curving shingle spit protected by wire and wardens

An astonishing place, on first impression, visually captivating, vocally clamorous   and then you realise how incredibly close you can get to the birds without disturbing them. This is one to the largest sandwich tern colonies in the UK with 2567 pairs breeding this year –warden survey 2014. Here the elegant sandwich terns  return from  wintering in the warmer climes of West Africa to nest each summer on a series of islands on Cemlyn lagoon; they are joined by  73  Common Tern, 36 Arctic Tern  and 370 Black headed Gull nests, and a single rare Roseate Tern. 
Sandwich Tern
So many babies a joy to see, fluffy tern babies begging adults for fishy dinners. Parent birds swooping over the heads of the watchers on the shingle spit, beaks full of sand eels yet still able to call and announce their arrival to their awaiting mates and chicks! 

On a sunny afternoon this truly was a place to tarry a while, to rest up and sit amongst the multi coloured stones, close your eyes and listen, and glory in the cacophony. For others came a chance to re-discover a long lost childhood skills of skimming pebbles across the waters!
Incoming sand eel dinner

Away from the spit a footpath from the car park takes you to the beach, here you can look out to sea towards the Skerries and the isle of West mouse. 
Towards west mouse

Meadow Pipit

Along the path a bold meadow pipit flew back and forth around the gate, a nest nearby perhaps?


Scanning the waters we located some grey seals, basking on a rocky outcrop or bobbing about as is their nature. 

A female red breasted merganser splashed near to the beach, whilst oystercatchers piped as they scurried over the rocky shore. 

But we were here for a purpose, we were looking for Manx shearwaters, and they obliged, far out to sea, skimming across the waters. Id insight -  a flying cross - wings at right angles to the body, changing from black to white as the black upperparts and white undersides are alternately exposed.(Did you know - It is the longest lived bird in Britain, with one living at least 55 years.)  
Other sought birds for the day, were tysties or black guillemots, again these were found out to sea their pure white patches on their black wings giving them away.

Time for home, mission accomplished, another grand day out. 

Pics: N Prendergast/L Bimson

1 comment:

Ann Tomo said...

Well done Laura, another lovely report of a wonderful day.

Ann Tomo x