The History Of Northern Fulmars On The Great Orme At Llandudno Wales

Northern Fulmars are a common sight around the Great Orme but not always.

Living right next to the Great Orme, the limstone pavement to the north of the seaside town of Llandudno, we are used to seeing Fulmars. Even as we do the washing up we can watch these stiff-winged seabirds to and froing at the cliffs above the town. They have always been here, haven't they? Well, no, a great friend of our Barry from Bedfordshire was rereading some of his back issues of British Birds magazines and stumbled across an interesting article. Barry being the jolly chap he is sent us a copy of the article that summariesed the Fulmar colonisation of the Great Orme.

Fulmar Great Orme

Northern Fulmars can be seen from our windows here in Llandudno, we are so lucky.

To quote from the January 1946 edition of British Birds magazine “A Fulmar (Fulmarus g. glacialis) laid an egg on the Great Orme’s Head, Caernarvonshire in 1945. This was the first time one has been proved to breed in North Wales.

The history of the Fulmar prospecting of North Wales cliffs in the breeding season is as follow.. Great Orme’s Head, Caernarvonshire – R.W. Jones saw two birds gliding to and fro right up against the cliffs on April 17th, 1937 and one on May 28th, 1937, one on April 20th, 1938, and one on April 22nd, 1939.

P.J. Dyne tells us that he saw odd birds in 1941, but Fisher saw none on several days in August 1941.

In 1942 up to three birds were seen around the cliffs in April and May with one bird seen trying to land on a ledge on 31st May. A single Fulmar was seen in June and there were records in July but none after that year. The only records in 1943 were singles on April 25th and April 26th despite a number of visits to the Great Orme, in particular by Dyne.

In 1944 single birds were recorded on April 9th and 11th, June 18th and 25th, but none were seen on a visit on August 26th. Sadly we do not know just how many visits were made that recorded no Fulmars, naturally observers recorded observations! This shows the importance of recording nil returns on species surveys, very important data.

Finally in 1945 following a number of sightings of up to three birds in May at the Great Orme an egg was sighted on a ledge on May 28th, the first confirmed breeding of Fulmar in North Wales. The bird sat on this egg into July but had gone by July 28th so sadly an unsuccessful breeding attempt.

Other sites in North Wales held prospecting Fulmars in the mid 1940’s including South Stack, Anglesey, Abersoch, St. Tudwal’s Islands and the Little Orme all in the then county of Caernarvonshire but no breeding was suspected at these times.

In the very early 1970’s I was a kid exploring my local “patch” of Conwy Mountain and even then looking at and for birds. As an eleven year old I was still very much learning but had found such wonderful birds as Yellowhammers and Green Woodpeckers, thin on the ground now.

One day with my great friend Paul Foulkes we were on Conwy Mountain, probably making our way to Paul’s Nain’s house, that’s grandmother in English, who lived the other side of the mountain on Conwy Morfa, drinks and cake were pretty much guaranteed! But as we reach the ridge ready for the steep downhill to cakes I noticed a bird flying close to a cliff off to our right. That gull looks weird I thought and we moved closer to the cliff. Paul was always much less risk adverse than me and he said we should climb down a bit for even better looks. I didn’t think this was a good idea at all and imagined us both splattered on the old A55 directly below the cliff. But when you are eleven you do stupid things, some things don’t change, and we climbed down a bit. We nearly did fall off when we heard a mad laughing sound from the cliff face! What the?! We soon realised that it was our odd gull that made the sound, how weird, we could now see the bird and it looked very different from the Herring Gulls we often fed chips to on Conwy Quay. This bird had a big glossy black eye and weird nostrils on top of its beak, Fulmar I told Paul. I had seen pictures of this bird in books but had never set eyes on one before. Paul was not impressed, he had enjoyed terrifying me with the climb but a funny gull? Well it was a funny gull and his Nain had cake for us, we slid down the slope very fast and ate cake.

AA bird book cover

Back home I rushed to grab the AA Book of British Birds, a large volume with beautiful paintings of birds and thumbed through the pages to look for the Fulmar, index has never been something for eleven year old boys, another thing that hasn’t changed I still spend ages thumbing books! At last, there was my funny gull, Fulmar Petrel as it was called, no doubt, large black eye and those nostrils, yes! But, no. Looking at the tiny map on the Fulmar page it didn’t look like they bred on our coast, but it was on a cliff ledge in Spring? This did not make sense to an eleven year birdwatcher that relied on bird books for all his information. Parents were summand, my mother and father were interested in nature and birds more than other fields but were not really birdwatchers, yet anyway, and they listened to my tale and of course I was chastised for climbing dangerous cliffs! They read the text, why would anyone do that, I had seen the picture and the map, and their view was that it was most likely a Herring Gull. No, I was not having that, I had seen a big black eye, nostrils and heard that crazy call and living in Conwy knew Herring Gulls better than I knew my parents, true story!

AA bird book page

So, the next morning my father and I set off back up Conwy Mountain and sat on a safe grassy slope near the cliff and waited. We could not see the ledge where the bird was from this safe place and of course just Herring Gulls flying back and forth. I could fell the disapproval without words, my father wanted to get out on his bike, watching Herring Gulls was not what he wanted to do on a precious day off. Then we heard it, the mad laughing call, “hahahanana” or something like that. My heart beat faster and I looked at my father his face said it all, no Herring Gull that! Then the Fulmar was there flying so close we could see the black eye and the tube nostrils on its beak, yes! Even my father looked thrilled as he followed the bird in his 8x32 Carl Zeiss Jenoptem binoculars.

Fulmar orme

How times have changed we can now watch Fulmars from our kitchen window here in Llandudno as they fly stiff-winged back and forth to the cliffs of the Great Orme. Wonderful birds that still give a thrill every time we see them. Funny seagulls are really cool birds have a look next time you get a chance.

Last November we were lucky enough to watch Southern Fulmars in Antarctica, impossible dream for an 11 year old birdwatcher.

We are so lucky to have so many species and habitats within easy reach here in North Wales, and once the world returns to normal, we would love you to join us for one of our Best of North Wales Birdwatching Trips days out. We expect to enjoy a lot of birds during these relaxed pace tours and we can tailor make the day to suit you. We would love you to join us on our Birdwatching Trips in the future just drop us a line to arrange a custom tour and please see our tours pages for set departure trips. If you have any questions at all please fire away here….

We look forward to enjoying wonderful birds in beautiful places with you soon!

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