Following trips to Spain and Brazil (posts to come) earlier in the year, the British Year List was somewhat neglected and behind compared others in which I am having a year listing competition with. The latest additions to the 2019 list consist of a worthwhile trip up to Warrington, Cheshire for Iceland Gull and Bohemian Waxwing, whilst an afternoon a Parkgate proved more than productive with Water Pipit, Jack Snipe, Hen Harrier and the over-wintering Eurasian Bittern.
I am very fortunate to live on the Wirral peninsula given the countless high quality birding destinations on my door-step with the transport links making them all easy access. One of such areas on my door-step is North Wales with iconic locations such as RSPB Conwy, Point of Ayr, Gronant, Prestatyn, Rhos-on-Sea, Great Orme and Holyhead scattered along its coastline, all accessible via train. During the winter period the coastline of North Wales is a magnet for birders given its beautiful scenery and the quantity, as well as quality of birds on offer. At time of writing this post there are currently Short-eared Owl, Black Redstart, Greater White-Fronted Goose, Long-tailed Duck, Great Northern Diver, Hawfinch, Slavonian Grebe and Hooded Crow in the area along with lingering rarities such as Red-necked Grebe and Rosy Starling. In addition to the list given above, North Wales also a few resident species such as the Red-billed Chough of Snowdonian, Black Grouse of World’s End and of course the seabird colonies of RSPB South Stack and Cemlyn Bay; which draw birders in throughout the year. So, given how I felt like a day dawn till dusk birding, something I haven’t done since my arrival back in Britain, somewhere off the peninsula, a bit wild and where I could up my year list to catch up to Tommy Saunders and Tate Lloyd, where-else better than a day touring the glorious coast of North Wales.
After starting the day with a 04:34 wake-up call (as you do), it wasn’t long till the train arrived at my first port of call for the day and just in time for the sun to light up another day on planet earth – Rhyl, the Liverpool of Wales. On a sub-zero arrival into the seaside town a quick search for the wintering Black Redstarts round the seafront proved fruitless, however down stream on the River Clwyd the story was very different. A total of 52 species (eBird list) including the wintering female Long-tailed Duck and a handful of Great Cormorant (ssp. sinensis), were of note. The latter according to eBird is a rarity to the area, though as it is with most cases of the taxa across Britain and Ireland, it would not surprise me if it was simply under recorded. Now Rhyl was done and dusted the choice simply remained between which to choose first, the Rosy Starling of Llandudno or the Red-necked Grebe at Bangor. The initial plan as most people would, Rosy Starling, though given the tide times and Toby Carter‘s urge for me to connect with his find, couldn’t say no – Red-necked Grebe.
After meeting Mr. Carter at the station who’s studying Environmental Conservation at Bangor University, we walked to the Pier to start the tour of Toby’s new patch having moved last September from his home county of Leicestershire. Shortly after arriving on site it took a short while to relocate the bird which haven showed well in the morning, proceeded to drift down the Menai Strait following construction work on the pier before Toby and I caught it bombing it up the channel once the workers had finished. I’d heard the bird was showing well and had seen Toby’s digi-scoped images, but nothing could have prepared me for the views Toby and I were treated to, utterly bonkers! One those experiences were no matter your age, your head turns back the clock and you get all giddy like a toddler at Christmas.
Statistics gathered by British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) show that roughly 55 Red-necked Grebe winter in British waters each year, the majority of which are scattered along the east coast. Elsewhere, the species is an scarce or rare winter visitor with a handful of the winter population over-summering and on occasion breeding as was the case in Scotland and Cambridge in 1988. Having seen Red-necked Grebe on several occasions in Lothian, Aberdeenshire and now Gwynedd, in Cheshire remains it’s a species I have yet to encounter. Records show that since the peak of their occurrence in Cheshire during the late 1970’s where 28 individuals were documented between 1975-1979, the species has since been on a steady decline across the county which is mirrored across its European range, both in wintering and breeding.
If your a bit of a subspecies enthusiasts like myself, then the North American race of Red-necked Grebe P.g. holboelii has been recorded once in Britain and Ireland. This record relates to an individual shot dead at Gruinard Bay, Ross & Cromarty in September 1925.
Now with both Long-tailed Duck and Red-necked Grebe under the belt it was time to hitch the train down to Llandudo, to end the day on a Rosy Starling and finish with a hat-trick. Something that after an hour walking round the back alleys of this seaside town soon came about, as myself and two other observers eventually connected with the bird in the gardens along Victoria Street. If as the starling wasn’t enough, then a scan of the waters in Llandudno Bay produced several new birds for the year with Great Northern Diver and Black Guillemot. Whilst overhead a flock Red-billed Chough calling was something to put a smile on any birders face despite the grim weather and after that, it was time to pack the Viking gear away and call it a day.
In all, the day featured 70 species, an overdue catch-up with an old friend and brought the year list up to 124 species.
Thanks for reading,