Wonderful Best Of North Wales Birdwatching Tour 23 To 27 October 2023

Hawfinch Roy de Hass

We were very lucky to see a male Hawfinch on day one of the special custom tour - library.

We met up with our lovely custom group of family and friends – Sue and Jon, Jeremy and Lindsey, and Sherry – at the Princes Arms Hotel in the Conwy Valley on the 23rd of October. After a lovely lunch we headed north to RSPB Conwy where we visited the Benarth and Carneddau Hides which overlook the lagoons here. A lovely mild autumn afternoon and lots to see, a juvenile Garganey was dozing amongst a flock of Teal, a beautiful Greenshank was on the deep lagoon along with a Great Egret – all three wonderful species to see here.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped off at a scenic viewpoint overlooking the Conwy Valley. Lots of birds to enjoy here and we watched Redwings, Mistle and Song Thrushes in the trees. Then great excitement as a Hawfinch flew over, circled around and then landed in a dead tree – wow! We then watched three Red Kites in some small oak trees and while enjoying these beautiful birds Ruth spotted a Hen Harrier! Another fantastic bird, this juvenile raptor was low over a reedbed and as we watched it came closer and closer. What a thrill to see this rare and magnificent Hen Harrier and have such prolonged views. A perfect start to our five-day tour. We returned to the hotel to enjoy a superb dinner.

On the 24th we enjoyed a wonderful, cooked breakfast, overlooking the Conwy River. While getting ready to head out an otter was seen in the river right opposite the hotel – amazing. We headed up to the coast and stopped at Llanfairfechan where the tide was pretty high so birds were close. Just off the beach were three Common Eider allowing us frame filling views. On the beach we watched Curlew, Oystercatchers, Redshank, Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Turnstones. Offshore Gannets dived for fish and Great Crested Grebe floated past. Then we spotted a Dipper in the stream right behind us! Luckily the fantastic little bird was in the mood to show off and all enjoyed super views.

We then crossed over the Menai Strait, seeing a Peregrine Falcon, onto the Isle of Anglesey. First stop was at Valley where plenty of Black-tailed Godwits fed around the flood water pool. Great views of Shoveler, Wigeon and Teal here too and as we enjoyed these a Cattle Egret flew in and landed – great timing!

Just along the road we scanned Beddmanarch Bay and so many birds here. Lots of Pale-bellied Brent Geese were feeding very close to the shore and we could hear their delightful soft calls. Waders included a lone Grey Plover, Bar-tailed Godwits, Knot and Dunlin. We picked out a smart winter plumaged Slavonian Grebe in the bay, first we have seen locally this autumn.

At nearby Holyhead Harbour we enjoyed hot drinks and watched Shags and Razorbill. Then we headed up to RSPB South Stack where the place was overrun with people! The scenery was as beautiful as ever but not so many birds as usual due to the disturbance. We did see a pair of Red-billed Chough in flight over the cliffs, Ravens and wonderful views of a Kestrel before leaving the crowds to it. We had a lovely lunch at Trearddur Bay before making a stop overlooking the Inland Sea. We timed our visit here very well as a Merlin shot across the marsh scattering birds ahead of it. We also watched a first-winter Mediterranean Gull here.

Next stop was at Llyn Maelog where we had heard a Long-tailed Duck was present. Walking down to the east side of the lake we met another birder who pointed out the dapper, and rare, duck, what a lovely bird. We were also amazed to hear there was an otter about and sure enough it popped up in the lake. The otter was very happy, and we watched it fishing, with great success, for ages! We also heard Cetti’s Warbler and Water Rail here. At nearby Aberffraw we marvelled at a huge flock of Golden Plover and watched Skylarks in a stubble field, a really wonderful day.

On the 25th we awoke to thick mist but the weather forecast said it would clear so we stuck with plan A of heading inland. At the first stop the mist was still thick but we still enjoyed wonderful closed views of a Goosander, lovely Redwings, Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Grey Wagtail. We headed further inland and up in altitude but sadly the mist stayed put. Hot chocolates and coffee went down well but still the mist hung on. Bravely sticking to the plan we headed up into the forest and suddenly we broke out of the mist into glorious sunshine! What a fantastic and instant change, we enjoyed the sunshine for the rest of the day. We reached a favourite spot and scanned the vast blue sky. First up was a lovely Fieldfare that posed on top of a pine tree. Then we spotted a large raptor soaring on flat wings, panic to get it in the scopes. Yes! A female Goshawk! What an awesome bird and luckily it stayed in view a long time soaring over the forest and even displaying, never seen that before in October! What a thrilling sighting, we do love Goshawks. We also enjoyed more Fieldfares, Redwings, flighty Siskins, several flocks of Crossbill and luckily one bird perched on a treetop.

After lunch we headed north to the coast at Llanddulas where the sea was calm and light perfect. Lots of Common Scoter offshore here along with Red-throated Divers, Razorbills, Common Guillemot, and a fine drake Eider. Then we spotted a scoter with a lot of white on its head, zoom in with the top of the range telescopes and we had a wonderful drake Surf Scoter a rare visitor from North America! A superb bird to find and things quickly got better as we saw the six ducks with the Surf Scoter were all Velvets Scoters! Good light, clam seas and superb telescopes are a winning combination.

We stopped at a viewpoint overlooking RSPB Conwy and boosted our very impressive day list with ducks and waders. A super dinner that evening went down very well indeed!

On the 26th we took a scenic route through the heart of the Snowdonia National Park and stopped to admire the views of the mountains. Here we unexpectedly added another bird to the trip list – a pair of Bullfinch. Then on to Bangor Harbour where the water was flat calm, ideal. A female Goldeneye was another new bird as was a fly past Kingfisher, and then an Arctic Tern perched on a buoy, wonderful three new birds in quick succession. We also enjoyed watching a close Eider, a Slavonian Grebe – great record here – and a Common Guillemot.

Next, we west to Caernarfon and stopped to admire the wonderful castle, while we were here we picked out a fine adult Mediterranean Gull on the Menai Straits. Following the coast road, we reached the mouth of Foryd Bay and scanned the sea and beach. Lots of birds here including lots of Pale-bellied Brent Geese, Pintail, Wigeon, Oystercatchers, Curlew, Dunlin, Turnstones, Razorbill, Shags, and Skylarks. We then headed further west to Dinas Dinlle where we scanned the fields and had distant views of a large flock of Golden Plover along with Lapwings and Curlew. Next, we scanned the sea and picked out several Red-throated Divers and the Jon spotted a Great Northern Diver! This spectacular bird was still in full breeding plumage, and we soaked up the views through the scopes. We could see rain was coming so headed for an earlier than planned lunch. By the time we reached to restaurant the heavens had opened and it was torrential rain. A lovely lunch, accompanied by an excellent bottle of local Welsh white wine went down very well. With perfect timing the rain had stopped by the time we finished our meal.

We returned to nearby Foryd Bay this time visiting the southern end of the estuary. Here we enjoyed huge numbers of birds, the majority of which were Wigeon, amazing to see so many of these newly-arrived winter visitors. Amongst the Wigeon were beautiful Pintail, two Greenshank, a Common Snipe, and most surprising of all a Green Woodpecker flew up from the roadside verge, a very unusual sighting in North Wales these days.

On our way back to the hotel, we called in at Aber Ogwen where we visited the hide overlooking the estuary on one side and a brackish pool on the other. No doubting the highlight here: a stunning male Kingfisher that posed on a dead log allowing frame-filling views for everyone. This gorgeous bird returned to the same spot on three occasions wowing us all. But there was more: a Water Rail showed off on the edge of a small reedbed again allowing frame-filling views through the telescopes and, unusually for this species, staying in view for a prolonged spell. Other highlights here included a second Kingfisher out on the estuary, Greenshanks, a flock of 13 pale-bellied Brent Geese which were accompanied by a single dark-bellied Brent Goose, unusual to see this race here in North Wales. Back at the hotel we enjoyed a wonderful evening with superb food and lots of laughs.

On 27th October we headed north to the Great Orme at Llandudno. Again we were very lucky with the weather: dry and calm conditions throughout the morning. We began with watching a flock of roosting Ruddy Turnstones at very close range and these birds were accompanied by 19 Common Redshanks, a high count of this species here. A little further around the headland, we were very fortunate to find three winter-plumaged Black Guillemots on the calm sea, a species that we had missed on our day on Anglesey. Soon after enjoying these wonderful birds a Peregrine Falcon hurtled across the sky chasing a Jackdaw and dived out of sight below the cliffs. We thought that was that but moments later two Peregrine Falcons, a male and a female, appeared right beside us both chasing the same Jackdaw. By some miracle the nimble crow managed to avoid these ace predators and escaped from the falcons. One of the Peregrine Falcons landed high on the cliffs above us and we enjoyed fantastic views through the telescopes. As we watched the falcon, two Red-billed Choughs came swooping along the cliffs and soared against the blue sky: wonderful!

Further around the headland we visited the cemetery where we watched tiny Goldcrests at close range, an elusive Blackcap, and a beautiful flock of Goldfinches. We then enjoyed very welcome hot drinks at the Rest and Be Thankful café before returning to the Princes Arms Hotel in the Conwy Valley for lunch and the end of our special custom Best of North Wales tour. Huge thanks to Sue and Jon, Lindsey and Jeremy, and Sherry for their wonderful enthusiastic company, and we look forward to more adventures with them all in the future. Also a big thank you to everyone at the Princes Arms for making everyone’s stay so enjoyable and so much fun.

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