Iolo Williams Best Of North Wales Five Day Tour 14 to 18 July 2021

Our lovely group - Andy and Sally, Linda, Bill with Iolo Williams and Alan.

We always look forward to our Birdwatching Trips tours with Spring Watch presenter Iolo Williams as he is such a knowledgeable naturalist and we always have a lot of laughs. We run several of our Best of North Wales tours with Iolo each year and this one took place 14th – 18th July based at the lovely Princes Arms Hotel, Trefriw in the Conwy Valley. With the Welsh government still operating the rule of six we were restricted to just four guests instead of the usual six but luckily under the guidelines a driver of a minibus does not count as one of the six!

Our four guests – Andy and Sally, Linda and Bill – arrived at the hotel at mid-day on the 14th and we enjoyed the lovely sunshine and views from the front of the hotel as we chatted before lunch. We were treated to wonderful views of Red Kites and Common Buzzards from our sunny viewpoint as these raptors circled over a recently cut hay meadow.

We had great views of Whimbrel on our visit to RSPB Conwy.

Lunch enjoyed we set off on our first outing, a short drive took us to RSPB Conwy where we enjoyed a lovely circular walk around this reserve that lies alongside the Conwy Estuary. The views along the walk were wonderful looking across to the mountains of the Snowdonia National Park, Conwy Castle and the estuary itself. The tide was high so plenty of birds were on the reserve pushed off the estuary by the rising waters. We enjoyed superb views of two Great Egrets towering over their Little cousins. Amongst a flock of roosting Common Redshank we picked out a Spotted Redshank a scarce bird in North Wales and also enjoyed great looks at Common Sandpipers and Whimbrel the later amongst some 140 Eurasian Curlew. Both Eurasian Teal and Wigeon were great to see in July and we managed to see and hear both Reed and Sedge Warblers all in glorious sunshine then back to the hotel for a delicious dinner and lots of laughs what a wonderful start.

Enjoying our picnic lunch in the sunshine at Cemlyn after seeing the Elegant Tern.

On the 15th July, after a wonderful breakfast, we headed over to Anglesey and Cemlyn Bay on the north coast where we hoped to see a very special indeed. Cemlyn is host to a huge Sandwich Tern colony and the noise from all the birds was amazing. Also breeding here are smaller numbers of both Common and Arctic Terns and it was great to compare all three species of tern at very close range. After a wait, long enough to getting us a little worried, the star bird appeared amongst the Sandwich Terns – an Elegant Tern. This mega rare bird that is usually found on the west coast of North America had somehow found its way to Cemlyn in North Wales and birdwatchers from all over the UK were traveling to see this wonderful bird and we had always planned to go to Cemlyn on this second day of the trip – so lucky! The yellow-billed rarity really showed off for us and we were all thrilled to see such a great looking rarity. We then looked hard for our fifth tern of the morning and after some careful scanning spotted one. A Roseate Tern was tucked around the corner of the main island and we needed to move left to see it but once spotted we had great views in the telescopes of this pale black-billed tern with the brightest red legs another wonderful bird to enjoy.

The Elegant Tern amongst Sandwich Terns a mega rare bird and a real thrill to see.

We then had a walk out to the open beach and down a lane on the west side of the lagoon and enjoyed good views of Sedge Warbler, Reed Bunting and Sand Martins before enjoying our picnic lunch overlooking the lagoon and the tern colony.

First stop after lunch was Holyhead Harbour where we watched three Black Guillemots though they were rather shy keeping in the deep shade under a bridge. Then a short drive took to RSPB South Stack reserve where we found Red-billed Chough even before we reached the reserve, with six of these lovely corvids feeding in a roadside horse paddock.

As we walked the cliff top path towards the sea bird city we were thrilled to watch a flock of 21 Chough swooping and soaring against the blue sky and then landing on the cliffs – wow! We were also lucky to see a Hooded Crow on the cliffs here a scarce visitor to North Wales. At the cliff top viewpoint we looked down on a marvellous scene with the lighthouse towering above thousands of seabirds. Still a good number of Common Guillemots here on the cliffs with many more on the calm sea below us and a scatter of Razorbills were amongst them. Careful scanning soon produced Atlantic Puffins bobbing about below us and we enjoyed super frame filling views in the telescopes. Black-legged Kittiwakes were on the cliffs though sadly very few pairs now nest here. Offshore we could see Gannets and Manx Shearwaters feeding though a long way out. More Chough showed off and we watched Stonechats and Linnets – another fantastic place to enjoy amazing birds.

Another complete change of habitat as we next visited a freshwater lake – Llyn Penrhyn – where we watched Great Crested Grebes, Pochard, Tufted Duck and Gadwall with a lone Eurasian Wigeon amongst them. All too soon it was time to head back to the hotel for another superb dinner and lots of laughter around the table perfect end to a wonderful day.

On the 16th of July the day got off to a wonderful start with an otter watched hunting in the Conwy River close to the hotel early morning what a treat! Just after the otter slipped downstream a female Mandarin Duck swam across the river a very scarce bird here.

We then drove east to the Dee Estuary and RSPB Burton Mere; it was another very hot day indeed with temperatures in the high 20C’s. But we were soon enjoying great birds one of the very first was a Green Sandpiper feeding in the lagoon in front of the visitor centre and this soon followed by a Wood Sandpiper! Wonderful to see these migrant waders back already from their breeding grounds in Scandinavia. Two Avocets were resting on one of the islands and a few Black-tailed Godwits fed nearby. We walked down to the Marsh Covert hide and enjoyed wonderful close views of a flock of Northern Lapwing accompanied by a lone Black-tailed Godwit. A big flock of waders was put up by a passing Sparrowhawk some 150 Black-tailed Godwits and amongst them a Spotted Redshank. Back in the reserve car park we had a wonderful view of a Hobby right overhead a real wow moment.

Spotted Redshank Titchwell

We enjoyed three Spotted Redshank amongst a big flock of Black-tailed Godwit - library photo.

Back at the visitor centre the godwit flock had landed on the pool and we had super views and we picked out three Spotted Redshank roosting amongst them. Purple hairstreak butterflies were in the top of any oak tree by the centre but tricky to see so high up.

We then headed back to the west shore of the Dee Estuary and enjoyed our picnic lunch at Flint Castle in glorious sunshine. Next stop was the mouth of the Dee Estuary at the Point of Ayr. Here we walked out through the ice-cream and kiss-me-quick hat shops surrounded by tattooed bodies and out to the dunes. The walk was worth it as we were able to watch Little Terns over and on the beach such tiny birds. This was tern species number six for the trip and a rare breeding bird in the UK. As we watched the tiny terns an Osprey flew down the Dee Estuary a most unexpected bird here in July.

On the way back we called in at Caerhun 13th century church and admired the views of the Conwy Valley it was very hot indeed so very little bird activity but we did see Kestrel, Stonechat and Little Egret. Back to the hotel for more delicious food and to go over all the days amazing sightings and what a memorable day it had been.

Something different - a dragonfly and moth safari on a very hot day indeed.

On the 17th of July, another very hot day indeed, we had a change and headed into the nearby Gwydyr Forest to meet two friends of ours, Marc and Ian. The guys had slept in the forest overnight and had set up three moth traps and we met them to see them open them. It was amazing to see the number and variety of moths they had attracted to the various types of trap. Two species of hawkmoth were amongst the catch – elephant and poplar – both amazing creatures and there were so many others with some amazing names! Moths done we moved on to dragonflies and damselflies seeing an amazing thirteen species of the spectacular insects! We enjoyed wonderful views in the hot sunshine and were even able to enjoy a number of them in the telescopes where they looked scary! Huge thanks to Marc and Ian for giving up there time to share their knowledge and passion for wildlife. Birds were pretty scarce in the intense heat but we did see a Spotted Flycatcher briefly, Siskins and several Buzzards and Ravens enjoying the warm air. We enjoyed our picnic lunch in a shady spot for heading for the hills but again the high temperatures were keeping birds inactive, we did see Lesser Redpoll and some beautiful Red Kites before heading for ice-cream. We then took a scenic drive back to hotel allowing stunning views across the whole of Snowdonia just beautiful.

Buff tip moth one of so many in the traps - photo by Iolo Williams.

A huge poplar hawk moth - photo by Iolo Williams.

What an amazing moth the elephant hawk moth - photo by Iolo Williams.

One of the thirteen species of dragonfly and damselfly we enjoyed - Emerald Damselfly photo by Marc Hughes.

Our last morning, the 18th July, was spent on the Great Orme at Llandudno and it was another incredibly hot day with temperatures close to 30C! But we still enjoyed wonderful birds – Fulmars flew right above, a pair of Peregrines really showed off both in flight and on the cliffs. Further along we watched Black and Common Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes, Cormorants and Shags at their nest sites. Offshore we were surprised to see Manx Shearwaters passing the headland even though the sea was like a millpond. Harbour porpoises fed offshore and Atlantic grey seals were hauled out on the rocks below us. Up on the limestone pavement area it was exciting to see the first returning Northern Wheatear of the autumn – return migration has begun.

Wheatear Great Orme August 1

Very exciting to see the first Northern Wheatear of the autumn on the Great Orme.

Back to the hotel for a lovely lunch before everyone headed off for home after a wonderful trip with amazing wildlife and so many laughs. Huge thanks to Bill, Andy and Sally and Linda for their wonderful company and to Iolo for sharing his wealth of knowledge and so many laughs with us all, a top trip.

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.

Happy band of moth and dragonfly watchers in the Gwydyr Forest including Marc and Ian.

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