Sunday, 18 July 2010
Day 2 we did a morning cruise from Beaumaris around Puffin Island. Not only did we see puffins, but also shags, cormorants, guillemots, razorbills, black guillemots, numerous gulls, shore waders, porpoises and seals lazing in the shallows and on the rocks. After all that excitement, we spent the afternoon walking in the sunshine on the cliff top heathland at Fedw Fawr (Llangoed) seeing both hedgerow birds and auks offshore as well as plenty of wild flowers, including some early orchids.
Day 3 we ventured across the Britannia Bridge to mainland Wales, starting with a stroll along the Nant Ffrancom Valley, where most of us saw a dipper, and identified many warblers and songbirds by their song as well as seeing them, but ring ouzels eluded us. On we went to Coed Hafod, a woodland nature reserve, where we wandered trails up and down hill, and found several star species including pied flycatcher and wood warblers. We forewent exploring Betws-y-Coed to have more time at RSPB Conwy, which has extensive reed beds and pools created from the waste from making the road tunnel for the Conwy by-pass. The energetic amongst us walked round the reserve and along the estuary, but others enjoyed the café and nearby viewpoints over the pools in the sunshine. Everyone saw a wide range of species, including egrets and herons nesting across the estuary.
Day 4 we stayed on Anglesey again, and had a rewarding walk on the causeway along the Cefni estuary where the tide was quite low and into the Newborough Forest. Among the birds seen and heard, a whimbrel and a curlew helpfully stood close together so that we could sort out the differences between them. Then disaster struck! We made our way to RSPB South Stack for one of the holiday's highlights, to find the South Stack mountain in sea mist so that the rows of nesting auks on the cliff face were faint blobs, chances of seeing chough were low, and the cafe was closed! However, after consoling ourselves in the fish and chip shops and cafés of Holyhead, we were amply compensated by our visit to Cemlyn Lagoon where the good views of the nesting colonies of sandwich, common and arctic terns enabled everyone to sort out which were which, including learning how to tell the difference between the common and arctic terns (no more comic terns for us!). We also discovered those with hidden skills in skimming pebbles across the water from the shingle beach. We decided to finish off the day back at the Cefni estuary having heard the osprey fished there at high tide. However, there was the same amount of sand exposed as in the morning, more or less the same birds, and no osprey.
Day 5, our last day and the programme had been left quite flexible depending on the weather during the week. We started with a drive to Pont Croesor near Porthmadog in the Glaslyn Valley where by luck or good judgement we arrived just before the male osprey returned to the nest with a fish, which the female then fed pieces of to the chicks that had just hatched. The RSPB had excellent facilities with a camera at the nest relaying images to a large screen at the viewpoint. A merganser, ducks, geese, swans and other birds were seen on the river during a relaxed morning that included coffee and ice creams. Phone calls ascertained that South Stack was bathed in sunshine, so we travelled back to Anglesey and across to South Stack with sandwiches from Tesco's to see our last set of star species of the holiday. We were not disappointed. Choughs were seen flying in and out of their sea cave nesting sites, on the grass near the lighthouse and in fields nearby. There was also a large colony of nesting guillemots and razorbills, as well as gulls. Manx shearwaters were skimming the waves far out at sea. We had time to explore much of the reserve, including inland pools, hut circles and a wealth of wild flowers including large patches of thrift, squill, sea campion and gorse. Then we headed back to the hotel for a final dinner of the standard of excellence we had had all week.
Day 6 and, with the sun shining yet again, we left the hotel preparing for a wedding reception, sped past the queues waiting to go into the Radio 1 Big Weekend at Bangor and had a fast trip back to Guildford. The highlight of the journey was the 31 red kites seen near Oxford.
To sum up:
This really was a trouble-free, relaxed holiday thanks to all the preparation and hard work during the trip of Roger and Anna Beck (including the decision that we would travel by coach), and Andrew's patient and competent coach driving on both motorways and narrow lanes. He even did a photographers' special run to the rail station at Llanfair PG so that we could get good pictures of the full name of the place. The hotel with its young, good-natured staff provided us with copious amounts of good, freshly-cooked food, and the weather couldn't have been better. (Why did we bother to take thermal underwear, warm hats and waterproofs?).
Our sightings list included 120 bird species, 9 mammals and other animals, butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies, many wild flowers, several Tescos and Morrisons, a Netto, and at least one Lidl. The top sighting of the trip? I doubt it will have been the same one for everyone, but I think each person's will have been one of: choughs at South Stack, puffins at Puffin Island, black guillemots at Puffin Island and Cemlyn, porpoises near Puffin Island, gannets around the coast, Manx shearwaters off South Stack, the ospreys, the dipper, wood warblers, pied flycatchers, the close view of a singing goldcrest, the wild flowers, or the views of Mount Snowdon in the sunshine. The full sightings list can be obtained from Roger Beck.