Best Of North Wales Custom Four Day Tour A Guest Blog By Peter And Margaret Our Lovely Guests

Fulmar Great Orme

Northern Fulmars we enjoyed these wonderful seabirds with minutes of meeting Peter and Margaret.

Peter and Margaret have joined us for many wonderful birdwatching adventures, here in the UK and overseas, we love their company and postive attitude and sheer joy at sharing birds. That enthusiasum for birds is infectious, hopefully you will agree after reading their account of their four day custom Tour for Two with us here in North Wales....

“Fulmars, fulmars…here up to the left…and a raven up to the right further up”. Yes, this was the classic “Alan-and-Ruth-greeting” as we emerged from our hotel on the first morning of our first birding trip in a long time. No time for genteel good mornings in hotel foyers. We couldn’t see the two of them at first, but there they were, perfectly placed just at the side of the hotel for a clear view up at the cliff behind the building. And then that first magic moment of any trip with these two wonderful guides and friends, as the binoculars are raised, and I enter the magnified world with that unique mix of excited anticipation and complete peace that birdwatching brings when there are no other things to think about. Magic was going to be the theme of this particular North Wales trip. And the first bit of magic was that the weather forecast kept getting things wrong in our favour. Despite clouds and rain being predicted for the whole of our 4-day jaunt, this first morning was bright and sunny, and so plans focused on tracking down our first target bird for the holiday, the goshawk, and it was off up the Conwy valley to the hills and forests. As we drove, Alan asked Margaret if she had any other birds she especially wanted to see on this trip. “Well, a crossbill would be nice”. We had never seen a crossbill, despite visiting many nature reserves where the people in charge of advertising place alluring pictures of crossbills on the big welcome signboards as if to say “you’re sure to see one of these here” - which of course we never had. “Well,” said Alan “maybe”. A few turns in the road later and we drew up for one of the periodic checks of the landscape. “There’s a bird on the top of that tree there” said Alan “Wow, it’s a crossbill”. No, it can’t be, we thought, no longer feeling peaceful at all. But yes it was, and by the time the two of us were out of the car and joining Ruth and Alan by the telescopes, which in standard Birdwatching Trips team fashion were already up and running, the single crossbill had multiplied to seven. You wait years for a crossbill to come into your life, and then seven of them appear.

Common Crossbill a new bird for Peter and Margaret - photographs taken by Margaret on the tour.

Why was this moment so full of magic? Perhaps it was all those years of admiring crossbill pictures in bird books, thinking of how recognisable they will be when seen because of that unique beak of theirs, reading about them, dreaming of seeing one. And there they were, a whole flock of them, on a sunny Monday morning. Magic, or what?

We climbed along ever narrower lanes to a viewpoint on to the forest. The tops of the trees formed an almost unbroken horizontal line across our field of vision, a long sharp-edged panorama. The significance of this soon became apparent as Ruth called out she had a raptor in view, the goshawk had appeared for its mid-morning performance. And how it performed! Once again, our guides had not just provided us with a first-ever sighting, but one that was extra-special birdwatching theatre and long-play nature-gazing. Much as we love the lists, it is this that makes an Alan-and-Ruth trip so special. We experienced 20 uninterrupted minutes of aerobatic ballet, as this extraordinary bird warped and wefted its way through the clouds and the tree-tops in a gripping display of weaving-in-the-sky. What could possibly follow that? Well lunch of course, and a quick trip down to the coast to add the elegant red-throated diver, among other sea birds, to our growing list of the day.

On day 2 we knew where to find Alan and Ruth – in the same position as day one, just like the fulmars – and then we were off to Anglesey, a place I sense might be our guides’ favourite place if they were forced to choose. The island did us proud today as we stopped to gaze at old favourites of whom Alan and Ruth never tire, and to learn so much about the birds and their lives, and the changing landscape of Anglesey’s reserves, as well as basking in the sheer pleasure of watching. Some facts learned stay in the mind because they seem so remarkable - eiders the fastest bird in flight we have, the migration distances that some species achieve. And the still-rare events for us mounted up – choughs heard and seen, purple sandpipers teasing the incoming tide into trying to dislodge them from their rock, a little owl popping up its head in the barn roof so we could just make it out from camouflaging tiles around it. The rare sight of a surprised Alan as the road to the little bridge ahead was sunk beneath the extra-large tides of recent days meant we had to turn round and take a diversion – but, as always, the surprise was worked into better surprises with the revelation of a huge colony of golden plover on the fields beside our diversionary route – we see one or two a year on the Buxton moors above our home in the summer if we are lucky, here they seemed to have been herded together into a mass landing by the big tides. In between the birding stops, Ruth had engineered our arrival into four seats at a table in a café so busy the people who had not booked were queuing, and in that unobtrusive but persuasive way in which she makes things happen for us, the lunch appeared within minutes or our ordering.

We had an example of just why the Alan-and-Ruth partnership works so well when we stopped along a coastal road and looked towards a farmhouse set aside from a small hamlet. “What are we looking for?” I whispered. “A hooded crow”. “There it is, flying, oh no it’s gone across the field and over that hedge”. But there is to be no giving up, turning round, and leaving, like Margaret and I might do if on our own. We are with ornithological bush trackers. Alan is in full sniffer dog mode and leads us down the farm lane, way beyond where the bird flew out of view. We stop and look. Needle-in-a-haystack-stuff to us. Time ticks on. “There it is” cries Ruth. And before she completes her sentence with “and it’s flying over there”, Alan has predicted where it will land, put down the telescope, got it in the sights, and is shouting “Peter quick, qui-i-i-i-i-ck”. And we are looking at this pristine bird, noble and serene and mysterious, perched on top of a twig.

We enjoyed wonderful views of this smart Hooded Crow - photgraph taken by Margaret on the tour.

By day 3 our list was now so long we were not sure where new entertainment was going to come from. The answer of course was from the cliffs and fields right behind us as we set off right on our guides’ home territory of the Great Orme. The peregrine was the raptor star of the morning, watching us from his perch. But more surprises came from an unlikely source - the ravens. We watched the amazing relationship that Alan and Ruth have built up with these neighbours of theirs – they all seem to know each other and chat away like old friends, affection so obvious on both sides (plus a bit of food contributing to Alan’s attraction!). The hunt for the hawfinch was the only disappointment of the week - and the thing about this was that Margaret and I could not feel disappointed as we stood in the sun in a beautiful secluded corner of Conwy valley, contemplating and enjoying the tranquillity and gentle pace of the birding life. It was our guides who felt disappointed in not being able to share the hawfinch with us on this occasion. If this is failure in the midst of so much spotting success and such contentment, then I can live with it.

We enjoyed a magical encounter with a pair of Ravens, such wonderful birds - photograph by Margaret.

After completing the full range of breakfast possibilities at the wonderful Empire hotel over the course of the four mornings (from kippers to bacon via scrambled eggs and smoked salmon), we said goodbye to the fulmars and set off without Alan and Ruth on this final day of our trip to meet up with them again half-way to our home at RSPB Burton Mere on the Dee Estuary. They were of course already there, looking through telescopes over the mere from the visitor centre.

And why shouldn’t the final day go off with a bang? Or, as it happened, with a boom, when soon after starting off on our walk, we watched and waited and finally caught clear glimpses of a bittern among the reeds. Up on to the top of the hill above the reserve and there below us was a vast canopy of flooded fields – but not, as in so many places in the UK recently, from rainfall, but from the exceptionally high tides. Swathes of birds were down on the estuary and we spent happy times sharpening up our identification of the varieties of godwits and geese, waders and ….wait a minute, what’s that behind us wanting some attention paid to the land birds and not just all of our time being given to the tidal population….a green woodpecker, perfectly pitched on a tree for full examination from all angles. What a glorious solo performance, enjoyed for many minutes, spiced with Alan’s satisfaction at getting a year first from this week’s tour.

We find another great place for lunch on a strange haunting quayside further long the estuary and then for our first twitching of the week as we wait patiently for a sighting of an American wigeon. Margaret and I miss it, but in spectacular “we can’t leave you on a downbeat note” fashion, we are led towards our car via one last viewing site over the estuary and there, in another huge first for us, we are delivered the sight of a hen harrier streaking across the skyline, beautifully visible in the telescope because it goes at a speed that we can track and stay with. So we have this extended view, with accompanying chat about the habits and the delights of this bird, long enough as it flies back and forth for us to feel sated and full of the hen harrier experience. How do Alan and Ruth do this? As we drive home, tired and happy and full to the brim with birding joys, we know it is their deep knowledge of birds and the locality and the long hard-won years of experience and expertise. But this evening, in the weather-forecast-defying evening sunshine, it seems to us there must be some extra ingredient. Because it really has been magic.

Huge thanks to Peter and Margaret for another wonderful time together and so lovely we more adventures to look forward to together! The four days just flew by as they always do when spending time with such lovely people sharing amazing birds.

We would love to arrange a custom Birdwatching Trips Tour for you, anything for one to six people. Just drop us a line and we can make all the arrangements. Please email us about about any of our tours...

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

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