Gauntlet Thrown Down Challenge Accepted 13 March 2018

Graham and Sarah

Graham and Sarah scanning the mass flocks of Common Scoter.

We recently wrote a bird blog about an exceptional Birdwatching Trip here in North Wales when we recorded an amazing 87 species of birds, and had a lot of fun! Graham and Sarah were booked to join us for a custom day trip on Tuesday 13th March and Graham threw down the gauntlet and challenged us to beat 87 species on their day, all be it very much tongue in cheek! But a challenge is a challenge so it was accepted.

We picked up Graham and Sarah from their home in Llanfairfechan, North Wales at 8.30am and had a quick look for Dipper in the stream opposite their house, sadly no sign. Driving east we chatted about the challenge and Graham told us it was said just for a laugh, but if we could manage it he would be impressed. Just at that moment Ruth spotted a flock of Pale-bellied Brent Geese on the millpond like sea not far from the busy A55 road. Unfortunately Graham and Sarah were unable to see them from the back of the car, cruel luck, scarce birds on this part of the North Wales coast.

Our first stop was at the Great Orme at Llandudno in lovely sunshine and with a calm sea, perfect conditions. A wonderful Peregrine Falcon, high on the cliffs, we quickly in the telescope – wow! Birds came thick and fast as we enjoyed amazing close views of Turnstones, Shags next to Cormorants, three species of auk – Common Guillemots, Razorbill and handsome Black Guillemots. Rock Pipits showed off for us and Stonechats sat up in the sun. A red-billed Chough swooped past us and Ravens soared above against the blue sky. Add to this the breath-taking scenery and it was a perfect start to the day.

Just a few miles further east we watched the amazing spectacle of thousands and thousands of Common Scoter offshore, mind-blowing numbers. The light was perfect and sea flat calm, with the amazing Leica telescopes we could see the colours of the bills on the male Common Scoters! A small flock of Scaup were on the near edge of the vast flocks of scoter. Alan picked out a cracking drake Surf Scoter glowing in the sunshine! The white patches and bright orange bill of this rare American duck really stood out in the perfect conditions so lucky to see this bird so well.

Further east again, near the mouth of the Dee Estuary we stopped to scan a wonderful area of flooded fields. We quickly found our target species, Greenland White fronted Geese, rare birds sadly, showing well in the sunshine. These geese are in steep decline and in real trouble so it was great to see this small group feeding undisturbed area. Two Pink-footed Geese were also feeding close to their rare cousins. Lots and lots of birds here and we struggled to keep a note of so many new species for our fast growing day total, maybe that 88 birds might just be possible? Waders included Black-tailed Godwits, Lapwings and Curlew, wildfowl included Pintail, Shoveler and Wigeon. A female Sparrowhawk soared over the fields in the sun. We were having a brilliant day.

A quick stop at Flint Castle was to see the castle as Sarah had not visited it before, but, we still added Dunlin to our day list. Lunch next and we headed for Ness Gardens on the Wirral which has a great café. We timed our arrival badly as the café was packed, we did luckily find a table but the service was understandably slower than usual. The chance of that score of 88 species was now looking very unlikely indeed.

The food was good and we set off again, Burton Marsh on the Dee Estuary next stop. Here we saw three Great white Egrets, one of which was surprisingly close. The marshes here are vast so to have one of these giraffe-necked-herons close up was a real treat for us all.

At nearby RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands we immediately saw a lovely Merlin in a bare tree above the entrance to the visitor centre! Fantastic frame filling views in the Leica telescopes and we shared the views with other visitors to the reserve. A flurry of new birds here, flocks of Avocets waded through the shallow lagoons, our first Gadwall of the day dozed in the afternoon sun, a handsome male Reed Bunting hopped about under a feeder, a pair of Nuthatch called loudly from the trees by the car-park. So much to enjoy! Sarah picked out a Great spotted Woodpecker on a telegraph pole, yet another new bird. A flock of Golden Plover zoomed over too quick for all of us to see them, frustrating miss!

With the afternoon rapidly running away from us, how does that always happen? The morning seems to be really relaxed, plenty of time, then after lunch time seems to speed up! We headed for one last location, Neston Marsh further north along the Dee Estuary. A Kestrel showed as we stepped from the car, finally we all had Kestrel for the day! Skylarks were singing, always a thrill to hear, and after some scanning, we all got to see at least one. But the stars of the show here were the Short-eared Owls, at least four of these beautiful birds really gave us a superb show. They hunted over the rough grassland right in front of us, landing in the afternoon sun allowing us to study their amazing plumage through the telescopes. These were truly wonderful birds and what a fantastic end to our Birdwatching Trip. We had not quite made that 88 species but we had all really enjoyed a super day with amazing birds and great company.

We were almost back at the car when a Marsh Harrier appeared over the marsh, new bird, and as we watched a Hen Harrier floated past the Marsh Harrier, also a new bird for the day! Crazy. We were now just two short of that 88 species, but it was late and we headed for home.

Short eared Owl Dee Jan 1

A Short-eared Owl hunting over the marshes of the Dee Estuary.

Driving back west Ruth spotted a Mistle Thrush flying over the A55, amazingly a species we had not seen, but the rest of the team missed it! At Abergele a large flock of Redwing flew low over the car and this time we all added the species to the day list – 87 species of bird!

We arrived back in Llanfairfechan to drop Graham and Sarah back at their home and guess what? There in the stream just a few yards from their gate, a Dipper! Wow that made 88 species on the day, just fantastic! What a wonderful bird filled day. Huge thanks to Graham and Sarah for their great company hope we can have more great birding adventures together soon.

To arrange your special Birdwatching Trip please email us here…

We would love to arrange a great day out, or longer tour, for you!

Dipper April 2013

Don't think the Dipper was aware of the excitment it caused.

Here is Graham's comments on the day...

We had a wonderful day birding with Ruth Miller and Alan Davies along the North Wales coast and the Dee Estuary. We set a target of 88 different species, just to beat the 87 that they achieved on their last North Wales outing. The weather was perfect, and from the off, the total climbed rapidly. We saw some wonderful sights, including rare birds, and more familiar ones in unfamiliar or unexpected circumstances.

Did we hit our target? Yes! Exactly 88 species, with the last being our Dipper, in the river outside my house, just as we returned home.

Thanks, Alan and Ruth, for a brilliant day, with four new lifetime-firsts, and great sightings of some wonderful, spectacular birds. Perfect!

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