St. David's Day Wales 1 March 2021 And A Bird Race With A Difference

A stunning adult Mediterranean Gull was a lovely St. David's Day surprise.

The first of March is St. David’s Day and we Welsh like to celebrate by wearing daffodils, eating leeks, reciting poetry and gazing at sheep! A few of us Welsh folk like to think of some different ways to celebrate and this year we hit on the idea of “a lockdown walking bird race from home”, catchy title for the event eh? About a week before 1st March we had this lightbulb moment and it was exciting planning a route for a whole day of birding on foot and trying to work out the best strategy to see the maximum number of birds on our saint’s day.

Well that idea lasted less than twenty-four hours when a letter arrived from the local hospital with an appointment date of yes you guessed it 1st March. How is that possible? For literally months we had nothing, I mean nothing, in the diary thanks to the pandemic. The the one day we plan anything that is date specific a hospital appointment lands on the same day. So, a plan “B” was called for and we decided to go ahead with our “Saint Bird Race” and just have it interrupted by a visit to a hospital; we have had stranger things happen on bird races but that is another blog.

Turnstone Bangor 2

We eventually spotted the "nailed on" Turnstone at Llandudno Pier.

1st March 2021 dawned dry, clear and calm, just the conditions we would pray for on a bird race day and we did curse our wonderful NHS very briefly, sorry! With the appointment at 9.30am we decided to hit the Great Orme beforehand and walked down to the pier and of course as on any bird race day there was no sign of the “nailed on” Ruddy Turnstones and Common Redshank we had expected to tick off in an instant at the pier. Luckily with a lot more scanning than usual we found both these species of wader and a fly-by Oystercatcher. Turning to Llandudno Bay hopes were high for four additions at least – Great Crested Grebe, both Great Northern and Red-throated Diver and at least one species of three possible auks. Well a lot of scanning later and we had Great Crested Grebe on the St. David Bird List, not the start we had hoped for at all.

So nice to see a bird where we expected it to be, "our" Peregrine Falcon.

Walking along the Marine Drive, looking at the towering cliffs, we were slack-jawed: no Northern Fulmars not one, only yesterday we had remarked how great to see so many of these stiff-winged seabirds on the cliffs. Luckily our local Red-billed Chough did appear on cue and swooped above calling loudly though it did cross my mind there was certain echo of laughter in those calls today! Above the red-legged corvids sat “our” male Peregrine unmoved by crows, lack of Fulmars or bird racers, just magnificent in the morning sun, another addition to our snail-paced bird race.

We scanned the sea for the hoped-for pair of Black Guillemots that had been so close in the previous day, but three Mallard bobbed about where the piebald auks had been. Normally Mallard would be exciting to see here but we knew we should see more later, bit like the Fulmars we knew we would see those! We did add Shag and Rock Pipit before the ticking clock had us hurrying back to the car and heading to the hospital.

Huge thank you to all the NHS staff for making the experience so smooth and incredibly efficient, only a chest x-ray but it was all done and dusted in twenty minutes! Amazing; well-organised and all done with a cheery smile. If you want heroes, then forget your multi-million pound paid rock stars and footballers, just look to your nearest hospital. They are right there!

Now you might think that popping into a local hospital is no big deal but I have history with these places and not just this one. I have no idea why but I am “allergic” to hospitals, never had any surgery or major illness in my life so why is that? My “allergy” manifests itself by me passing out after about twenty minutes in a hospital, I know it's weird, and this is as a visitor to family or friends! I now know it’s going to happen so I am on the lookout for the symptoms. First up is me feeling clammy, then the nurse or doctor starts to speak in a very slow slurred way “Arrreee yyyooouuu alllrrrightttt?” By now the colour has obviously completely drained from my face and being medical folk they spot it! I have about two minutes to get out into the fresh air before hitting the deck! Most odd and it makes hospital appointments very worrying. Thankfully and very unusually on this occasion, not the slightest hint of an allergic reaction. Maybe I should only ever go to the x-ray department from now on!

So back to the St. David’s Day bird race unexpectedly quickly and we were now out in the car, Tesco supermarket was not far away and we did need some supplies so while we were out in the car, very rare indeed in lockdown, we took advantage and picked up some heavy items, we always walk to the shops, some bird race eh?!

Pochard drake Welney

Common Pochard are such smart looking ducks here a beautiful drake.

But, there was method in our shopping stop which might seem like a waste of perfectly good birding time, especially after a hospital visit! Tesco is only a very short walk from RSPB Conwy and we strolled over to look over the lagoons. However, the reserve remains closed due to the pandemic, the estuary boosted our list nicely but the tide was still low and the birds on the mudflats distant. We needed a plan, so we called in at our VW garage in Llandudno Junction to book the car in for its much needed service and a shortish walk from here is another viewpoint overlooking the RSPB reserve. This one also overlooks the mudflats and now the tide was rushing in – perfect timing! The sun was shining and sky so blue, not a breath of wind here and we set up the scopes and scanned the lagoons and adjacent Conwy Estuary. New birds came thick and fast and at last it was more like a “real” bird race! The lagoons held plenty of ducks including beautiful Common Pochard, smart Tufted Duck, big fat Northern Shoveler, and gorgeous Gadwall. As we racked up the new birds we saw a pale looking gull flying slowly over the pools: an adult Mediterranean Gull, a very unexpected bonus bird and what is more it was in stunning breeding plumage with full black hood and scarlet bill, wow!

Spotted Redshank Sept Titchwell 1

Not one but two Spotted Redshank on our Bird Race with a difference - wonderful.

Turning back to the estuary, the rising tide was pushing the birds closer and closer to our wonderful viewpoint and we added new birds apace with Bar-tailed Godwits and Dunlin picked out amongst the more expected Eurasian Curlew and Common Redshank. Then Ruth picked out an “odd man out” amongst the Common Redshank. It was still distant but it caught the trained eye: a Spotted Redshank, a wonderful bird race bird especially in February! Then the whole flock was flying but luckily towards us and they landed much closer and we were amazed to see not one but two of these lovely pale, long-billed Spotted Redshank amongst their common cousins.

Next we stopped at a nearby hilltop where we often scan for birds of prey and we thought the beautiful weather might tempt them up to show off. Well we scanned and scanned but not one. Our attention span drifted and we watched a Redwing feeding under some nearby trees and that seemed to signal a change in our luck at this location. First one Common Buzzard soared against the cobalt blue sky followed by another and more soon followed by a stunningly beautiful Red Kite, always a thrill to see these most beautiful raptors. With minutes we had nine Common Buzzards and three Red Kites all in view, what a difference a Redwing makes! Then I spotted another raptor, Goshawk just as Ruth called Sparrowhawk, my bird was flying left as Ruth’s was circling close to us, amazing to have two species of hawk spotted simultaneously, how wonderful. Sorry Sparrowhawk, but we both switched to concentrating on the big muscular female Goshawk and so glad we did as it was joined by a second bird, a male, and they began to display with slow deliberate wing-beats and “fluffed” out under-tail coverts which were easily visible even at a fair distance,this was hairs up on the back of the neck and adrenalin pumping birdwatching!

Heading for home back in Llandudno we stopped at the woodland near Penrhyn Bay but it was surprisingly windy here and few birds but we did add Long-tailed and Coal Tits, a lovely Treecreeper and two tiny but so cute Goldcrests completed our new additions here. Back home we enjoyed a very late lunch indeed and prepared to head back to the Great Orme for round two of our Saint’s Bird Race with the day total standing a very impressive 73 species, given the tiny distance from home we had travelled. We dreamed of hitting a nice round 80 and thought with a good slice of luck it might be possible. Sadly the weather was not on our side after enjoying a mostly glorious day so far, an east wind had picked up and the Great Orme is not a place for windy conditions. Undaunted, ok a little bit daunted, we battled right around the limestone pavement area but only added three new species – Meadow Pipit, Stonechat and a wonderful finale species, the four “resident” Snow Buntings where we enjoyed a wonderful close encounter, a great end to a very unusual St. David’s Day Bird Race. You know I think this will become an annual event from now on and perhaps other Welsh birders wherever they find themselves might join us?

Male Snow Bunting Penrhyn

Snow Bunting, a fantastic way to finish any birding day and species number 76 for St.David's Day!

Of course a wonderful way to see more birds is to join one of our Birdwatching Trips and learn a lot about the birds you are enjoying too. We have tours suitable for all from beginners to experienced birders that are seeking particular species. Just drop us a line here and we can arrange a perfect custom tour for you!

We look forward to enjoying wonderful birds with you as soon as it is safe to do so.

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