Llŷn Peninsula: A Welsh Delight

What’s a summer without a weekend to Wales ? For as long as I can remember each and every summer the Montieth family would endure the same routine of being in a blind panic to pack the car up, all trying to fit in with hordes of cloths, shopping and optics having to be pushed aside before the painful 2hr drive in a car that made every road like a teenagers face. The process of getting to and from our ever alternating camping and caravanning sites was always the most painful part (apart from the arguments over who cheated whilst playing cards), however when you got there, wherever it was weather it was the isle of Anglesey, the heartland of Ceredigion or in the uplands of Snowdonia it was heaven on earth with the bountiful Welsh wildlife supply unforgettable experiences on each and every visit.

Now we come to 2017 the Montieth family have relocated to exquisite Llŷn Peninsula in the north of this truly wild country. Being just a moments walk away from Porth Colmon and being half and hour or so from Porthmadog, Pwllheil, Criccieth & Aberdaron its by far and least the most ideal setting to exercise my birding lifestyle, which if you include Bardsey Island then the Llŷn Peninsula is my favourite location in Wales: The history, the wildlife, the culture & scenery is next to nothing sort of epic.

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With views such as this taken at Porthmadog, how could you not be blown away by the sheer beauty of the Llŷn Peninsular

Due to revision and personal projects I’d been unable to make any visits so far this spring, but with the passing of my beloved grandad it was best to put everything on hold, take a break & have some quality time spent in the most embracing and stress expelling environment there is out their, the Welsh Country.

Setting off on the Friday we made off to our site which despite being passenger in the car resulted in a fairly impressive Drive-by list: Peregrine Falcon, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard (43!), Northern Goshawk, European Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Northern Fulmar, Black-legged Kittiwake, Northern Raven & Common Redstart. Arriving on site we got everything in order before hitting the hay (not gay as my auto-correct often “corrects” to), and casted off to the harrowing of Tawny Owls for the night.

The following day I was awoken to the dawn chorus which never fails to put the mind at rest and with the melody’s of Hedge Accentor, European Robin, Lesser Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Common Chiffchaff, Meadow Pipit, Common Skylark, European Blackbird & Song Thrush I couldn’t of asked for more beautiful awakening to start the day. For those who aren’t familiar with the Montieth familiar then excluding me were probs the laziest family alive, so with hours of time to kill before the lot woke from the dead I headed off for a stroll down the country lanes for a mornings session sea watching at Porth Colmon.

On arrival I soon found my spot wedged between to slumps of outcropped rock (Schist from the looks of it?), before setting up the gear that included my camera, scope and the latest addition a mono-scope. I’ve been criticised for god knows how long for being a “Birder”, that doesn’t have a pair of bins on hand: they take up room in my bag and when you’ve a camera holding a whooping big lens the last thing you want is something bashing against or to whack into it when your pulling up after a split second decision to grab a record shot. But anyway arriving 6:46am I set for my first proper sea watch of the year whilst being battered by the winds and drenched by the rains before it was time to call it a day at 9:22am. By the end I’d count I’d combined a total of 1 Arctic Skua (E), 6 Whimbrel (4 on rocks, 2 flew S inland), 1 Eurasian Curlew (E), 4 Ruddy Turnstone (E), 6 Eurasian Oystercatcher (on rocks, mobile), 8 Sandwich Tern (in bay), 1380c Auk sp (majority Common Guillemot W), 140c Manx Shearwater (all bar 10c W), 57 Northern Fulmar (W&E, some very close and 1 headed inland), 67 Black-legged Kittiwake (majority W), 8 Great Cormorant (in bay & off shore), 13 European Shag (in bay & off shore), 33 Northern Gannet (off shore, majority W), 1 Little Gull (summer adult E), 1 Black Guillemot (W) and to round it all off a single immature Peregrine Falcon flew south inland after coming in off the sea and being persuaded by a European Herring Gull and that was it in terms of birding.

Northern Gannet passing Porth Colmon
Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus) – Unlike that of the Common Guillemot, Sandwich Tern, Northern Fulmar & Razorbill, the Northern Gannet’s were further out with not a single Black-legged Kittiwake coming within photographable range.
Auks passing Porth Colmon_edited-1
Common Guillemot (Uria aalge) & Razorbill (Alca torda) – Can you pick out the single Razorbill amongst the Common Guillemot ?

The following day it was once again an early wake up call and the dawn adventure down to Porth Colmon for a spot of Sea Watching which was probably the worse decision I could of made. Not realising the wind direction once I’d got there, the southerly winds was pushing everything right out into the Irish sea rendering my scope & mom-scope useless so unfortunately I was forced back to camp to think of a plan two.

As it always with there comes and time and place when mother doesn’t exactly know what to do and goes around asking us where we’d like go; after getting a sarcastic “no…” from my request to pay a visit to the Forest of Bowland for the magnificent adult male Pallid Harrier which has taken up residency and observed mobbing a White-tailed Sea Eagle, nesting building and sky dancing. Thinking of somewhere else that was appropriate to get to was fairly easy as you can imagine being situated in one of the Wale’s finest districts and for those well enough then there could only be one spot to head to, Porthmadog.

A small, wildlife filled, historic Welsh town on the coast…who doesn’t love that ? The small intertidal zone just behind the Aldi at the mouth of the harbour that backs onto the salt marsh is my preferred haunt to visit when visiting Porthmadog. Not only does it have a breath taking back drop of the Snowdonia National Park to boost about, but it also has one of the highest concentrations of avian life in terms of variety across the entire Llŷn Peninsula. Once dropping off came around and was given a period of just under 2hrs to be let loose the first bird I caught sight of was of a large bird of prey sp hovering over the marsh…could it be an Osprey ? Closer inspection with a camera confirmed my of thoughts of a stonking Osprey actively hunting before it quickly departed heading out towards the coast. Bit of adrenalin rush as you can imagine which was then reloaded when I turned away only a matter of seconds later to see yet another Osprey fly inland towards Snowdonia with a trail of gulls & corvid sp in hot pursuit.

Osprey over Porthmadog_edited-1
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) – 1 of 2 birds observed in the area

Continuing the walk round the mud flat I party of 13 Black-tailed Godwits (Limosa l. islandica),  flew in and in hidden amongst them was a single still in winter plumaged Bar-tailed Godwit, which when your in with a flock of near summer plumaged Blackwits fairly easy to pick out even to the inexperienced such as mother. Blackwits, Barwit, Eurasian Oystercatchers & a lone Grey Heron where the best this area could throw up so after a brief scan of the site I moved onto site 2 of the trip, the Afon Glaslyn. Well oh my…birdlife could be found here there and everywhere: Little Egret, Common Sandpiper, European Stonechat, Northern Raven, Red-breasted Merganser, Eurasian Teal, Dunlin, Common Greenshank, Northern Wheatear & a superb Great Cormorant that seemed to be a hybrid of P.c.carbo & P.c.sinensis showed brilliantly, just a taster of what birds were about.

Red-breasted Merganser at Porthmadog_edited-1
Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator) – A lone drake was first noted roosting close to that of the Great Cormorant before departing south towards the sea.

Enjoying myself as you could imagine with such a variety of birdlife something had to give and that came in the rather irritating form of a missing phone, having covered at least 100-200m of the marsh with no distinctive track panic was more or less and understatement of what I was enduring for the next half hour: Could it have been when I was trying to stalk the Common Greenshanks but instead flushed when sat on a gorse bush, could it have been when I was running back up to the mud flat to photograph the Red-breasted Merganser taking off, or could it of been whilst I was “squat walking” along the edge of one of the pools attempting to get behind some cover before the Great Cormorant noticed it was being watched ? Well in fact it was none of them, instead the missing phone was infact somehow ended up half submerged underwater below the footbridge which I walked over to get onto the marsh, strange. Shortly after being rewarded with the unscathed IPhone 4 the time soon came to depart from this peaceful welsh setting and back to camp for an evenings BBQ, surly the best thing about camping. After dinner it was meant to be everyone round the table for a game of Irish Snap, but with a certain someone (sister), having a reputation as the family cheater when it comes to any game, it was thankfully soon over and in doing so I thought I’d fit in one last sea watch down at Porth Ty-mawr.

The horizon was on fire, the air was cool with sweet breeze, the sea was alive whilst the ears were blessed to the story of waves battering the coastline as birds of all kind drifted by, it was certainly a setting which captivated the mind and considering I came with the intent to sea watch, my mid was somewhat changed and now laid down with eyes shut and allowing myself to be at one with the natural world.

Sandwich Tern pass Tudweiliog_edited-1
Sandwich Tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis) – 1 of 7c that passed close to my viewing point on the cliff top

Occasionally waking up to check the time I fitted in the odd moment to gaze over the open sea to see that a feeding frenzy was taking place several hundred meters down the coast in a small secluded bay in which Sandwich Tern, Razorbill, Black-legged Kittiwake, European Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Common Guillemot and a pair of Northern Gannet coated the waters surface gorging themselves for a good half hour before scattering when a pair of Peregrine Flacon shot through and appeared to take clam to one of 7 or so Terns too busy fishing instead of keeping an eye out for danger.

After that it was soon time to call it a day and return to base before getting everything together and heading home to Wirral were it turns out I’d missed out on a MEGA passage of Black Terns as well as good views of Cattle & Great White Egret along with an elusive Spotted Crake. All good birds but nothing compares to finding your own stuff.

Thanks for reading,

Elliot.

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