Birds Not To Be Sniffed At In North Wales

Bangor Pier 1

Bangor Pier makes a great place to see birds in Bangor Harbour and the Menai Straits.

Feeling under the weather with a cold didn’t stop us heading out to try and see a Red-necked Grebe. Our friend Toby Carter had found this North Wales rarity the previous day at his new local patch, Bangor Harbour.

Feeling rough it was not the earliest start so we were only just on the road from Llandudno towards Bangor when Toby let us know the bird was still present, great. But as we neared Bangor Toby was back in touch but not good news this time, the Red-necked Grebe had been lost to view, bad. We arrived at Bangor Pier and were glad the water was pretty calm in the Menai Straits and adjacent harbour, surely we had a chance? Luckily it is only a short walk out onto the pier, not in the mood for walking far or standing about in the cold. Scanning the sea we saw Goldeneye, Great crested Grebes but not the bird we wanted. Should have stayed in bed!

Then we saw Toby further along the pier pointing into Bangor Harbour. We quickly joined him and there was the Red-necked Grebe! Distant on the far side of the harbour but the Leica scopes allowed good views of this stocky, dusky-necked grebe. Whew, smiles all round, and a great year tick for us. Other local birders were here too and it was great to catch up with Derek, Martin and Tony, especially after being out of the UK so much recently.

We watched the Red-necked Grebe diving in the harbour and it quickly moved out into the Menai Straits, the strip of seawater that separated Anglesey from the mainland. At one point the grebe flew and headed east, away from us, we watched as it became more and more distant. The Red-necked Grebe finally splashed down not far from Beaumaris Pier, very distant, but luckily almost at once took off again. Luckily this time the grebe flew towards us and we willed it to keep flying. It did and this time dropped onto the sea pretty close, and we were thrilled to enjoy really wonderful views of this scarce bird. Huge thanks to Toby for finding this great bird and keeping us all informed about it!

Back to the car to re-supply with tissues and warm up! So, where else might we see a few birds not far from the car? We headed south to Black Rock beach, Morfa Bychan on the north side of Cardigan Bay. Here it is possible to drive along the beach and watch the birds from in or by the car. Luckily it was mild and calm, unluckily there was quite a surf running making spotting birds on the sea tricky. We set up the scopes and gave it a go; plenty of Common Scoter were playing now you see me now you don’t in the waves. A few Great crested Grebes and a Red-throated Diver were amongst the duck. A gang of Sanderling rushed along the water’s edge always funny to watch. We were just thinking maybe we should move on when a flash of dazzling white amongst a gang of Common Scoter, a drake Surf Scoter! Wow! Really lucky to pick out this rarity given the conditions, lucky the sun was catching the birds making the white on the head stand out like a beacon. A female Scaup flew in landed in front of the Surf Scoter, what were the chances of that? Miles of beach and two good birds happened to be in the same spot. The Surf Scoter drifted west and became tricky to see in the larger waves so we headed back north very happy indeed.

Brent Geese Beddmanarch

Pale-bellied Brent Geese showed off in the winter sunshine today.

We drove alongside Foryd Bay, west of Caernarfon, another great “from the car” birding location. Lots of birds here and from the warmth of the car we watched beautiful Pintail, Wigeon and Teal massed on the shore of the shallow bay. We picked out five Shoveler, a fairly uncommon bird here, perhaps a result of lakes being frozen elsewhere? In the low-water channel Goldeneye dived and waders fed on the edge, big flocks of Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew and Oystercatcher. In fields alongside the road we enjoyed super views of Golden Plover and Lapwing in the winter sun.

At the north end of Foryd Bay we turned east alongside the Menai Straits, more car birding, and followed the road to Caernarfon. We had great looks at flocks of Pale-bellied Brent Geese, Shags in channel, Turnstones on the beach and a nice surprise of eleven Eider showing well close to the road. Time to head for home and some much needed drugs and sleep! But very glad we made the effort to get out and see some birds despite feeling grim.

We have some brilliant tours coming up this year; please take a look at our tours page. To book your place or if you have any questions at all please fire away here…

We look forward to sharing great birds and wildlife with you soon!

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