Early Memories Of Birdwatching On Conwy Mountain North Wales

I went for a walk this morning, nothing unusual in that, but this was a different walk. It was walk into the past, a past I had not really thought about for a long time. I grew up on the outskirts of the small coastal town of Conwy, here in North Wales and at that time had a very close friend, Paul Foulkes; we spent a huge amount of time together. It was hard to take in the news that Paul had passed away, after a short battle with cancer, I was really shocked. Paul had always been a really strong boy and man, a year younger than me; I never imagined that he would die before he was sixty. Paul’s sister, Ruth, and his daughter, Jade, contacted me to tell me the very sad news. They also suggested I might like to join them on a walk on Conwy Mountain to remember Paul. Paul and I were on that mountain every moment we could be as kids, in all weathers all year round. Neither of us had particularly happy home lives and the mountain was our escape, we could be free and happy there. Conwy Mountain was also the place that I got really hooked on looking at birds. We would spend our time exploring every inch of the hill searching for birds, making dens and dams, camping out in the summer, so we didn’t have to go home! Paul was also interested in birds and wildlife, though perhaps not as obsessed I was, but always game on for an out-door adventure.

Curlew May 2015

This a Curlew a once common bird in North Wales.

Black tailed Godwit Sept Cley

This is a Black-tailed Godwit, once a rare bird in North Wales.

I remember one day we saw a flock of waders in field, on the south side of the mountain; it was early Spring when we made the exciting discovery. Back home we got out the AA Guide to British Birds, one of the few reference books available to ten year old birders at the time and decided the birds were Black-tailed Godwits! I think we based our ID on the habitat, a wet field, rather than field marks of the birds. The tiny distribution map in the book showed these birds only bred in a tiny area somewhere in England, The Ouse Washes we now know, so what were they doing on our patch in North Wales? We were very excited and made plans to return the next day. We did, but we were now armed with spades, our plan was to divert a nearby stream into the field and create an ideal breeding habitat for Black-tailed Godwits! We were ambitious for sure! We worked long and hard but our digging was not enough to flood the field, if only we had, had a JCB! Can you imagine the farmers face? His field flooded by two ten year olds! Of course the birds were not Black-tailed Godwits but almost certainly Curlew, though how time have changed, Curlew now so rare as breeding birds compared to the 1970’s.

AA bird book cover

Our go to bird reference work when we were ten year old birdwatchers.

Another memory from those early days on Conwy Mountain with Paul was of a bird of prey. We had climbed over a wall into a private woodland, as you do as a ten year old birders, and set up our tent in a clearing, to spend the night there. Hard to imagine in modern times that two young lads were allowed to head off with their tent, parents not really knowing where they were going! Anyway, there we were camp all set and looking around for birds, above towered some tall pines and out them shot a bird of prey, not far above our heads, wow! This was obviously a falcon; even with our limited experience knew that shape, but which one? It was blue-grey, with black markings on its white chest and amazingly to us red under its tail! Now we had no idea what it was at the time, so when we returned home after our latest adventure we consulted the AA Guide to British Birds. This time, for some reason we only looked at the birds of prey that could actually occur in North Wales, being guided by the tiny maps alongside the text. Well, only one bird possible we reckoned – Peregrine Falcon. But what about the red under-tail? Somehow we decided it was a Peregrine carrying a red squirrel! We did have great imaginations in those far off days. In hindsight of course we now know we had seen a Hobby, a rare bird in North Wales then and of course the map showed they did not occur in North Wales. Don't think the record will ever be accepted now though.

Today's view from Conwy Mountain looking down to Conwy Estuary.

Paul and I enjoyed so many adventures on Conwy Mountain and on the nearby Conwy Estuary where we would row up river and camp on the riverbanks finding more birds and wildlife, great days with a great friend. So sad that we didn’t spend more time together recently.

So if you haven’t seen that friend for some time pick up the phone and make arrangements to meet up, now, not later. I wish I had. Alan.

Paul's daughter Jade, centre, and Paul's sister Ruth on the right. A lovely idea to remember Paul with this walk on one of his favourite places, Conwy Mountain.

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