Archive for Wales
I illustrated my rant about the shortsightedness of modern “science” with a photo of a Common Raven. The bird in the recent experiment was actually a Rook, of course, and I’ve managed to dig up a photo of that species taken in Wales last summer.
It’s a pretty poor photo even by my standards, but you can see the weird, angular head, and the disproportionately long and sharp bill, features that always make me think of a heron when I see Rooks.
I’ve lived among Rooks on a couple of different occasions, but my fondest memories are from a place the species did not breed. Evening flocks passing over Westphalia, with Jackdaws and Carrion and Hooded Crows mixed in, were a sure sign that winter was near, and we knew to stay out until after dark to listen as the hisses of Redwings took over from the barking and croaking of the corvids.
We’d hoped for lots of migrant waders in Pembrokeshire, but found only Fishguard and Newport–the mouths of the Gwain and the Nevern, respectively–anything like productive.
All told, we saw more individual European Oystercatchers than all the other species combined. At Fishguard Harbor, Alison found a few dozen roosting on the rocks; they came down to feed as the tide withdrew, mixing with smaller numbers of Ruddy Turnstone, Common Redshank, and Eurasian Curlew.
Newport was better, in spite of the sailing race being held the morning we were there.
The mouth of the Nevern attracted yet more oystercatchers, plus small numbers of Common Ringed Plover, Common Redshank, Dunlin, Ruddy Turnstone, and a few delicately scalloped Red Knot juveniles.
The prize here, though, was a lone Bar-tailed Godwit, feeding close to shore among the European Herring and Black-headed Gulls.
From the Arctic to the coast of Wales–a traveler farther-flung even than we were!
I saw my very first Northern Fulmars a decade and a half ago on the cliffs of Norfolk, and I was looking forward to seeing them on their breeding grounds again on our visit this summer to Wales. The cliffs of Pembrokeshire came through nicely, with several birds seen gliding stiffly over the waves as we walked the coastal path above.
Once again I had to think of James Fisher, whose love for this charismatic petrel resulted in one of the great classics of twentieth-century bird writing, The Fulmar. And who could fault his taste, watching these lovely creatures skim the waves, then tower high in front of the cliffs?
In a teasing mood, I’ve been known to admit that I moved to Arizona just to get away from the gulls. It’s worked, too: I can go for weeks, even months, without seeing a larid in this state, and when I do run across one–even just a Ring-billed Gull–it’s a red-letter birding day.
Every morning in Wales felt like a red-letter day, with the whistles and screams of European Herring Gulls out the window as we woke up. Right on the rocky coast, this was the most abundant gull, always in sight, wheeling on the wind or feeding on the fields.
At any distance from the sea, they were joined by massive Great Black-backed and handsome Lesser Black-backed Gulls, often in mixed flocks with Rooks and Jackdaws.
Only in the harbors did we see significant numbers of Black-headed Gulls, mostly adults entering their lovely basic plumage.
We did see a few birds molting from juvenile to first-winter plumage, heavily marked mixtures of gray and brown that almost recall a phalarope; this is a plumage I have not seen often.
Not that many years ago, Mediterranean Gull was a moderate rarity in Wales; over the past decade or so, the species has increased so much that certain sites, like Fishguard Harbor, regularly host multiple individuals. And so we were pleased but not necessarily surprised to discover a single bird among the Black-headed Gulls on the seawall at Goodwick.
This is a beautiful bird, the second-most beautiful larid in the world (guess!). In the field, I identified this as a second-year bird, but haven’t had a chance yet to compare the pattern of the outer primary to spread-wing specimens.
Anybody out there less lazy than I am?
Late summer is notoriously one of the most challenging times to see passerines in the northern hemisphere: adults, the rigors of the breeding season behind them and the challenge of migration ahead, retire to the darkness of the hedges and sulk, renewing their feathers and their spirit for the cold season coming up.
European Robin, that bird so familiar even to us North Americans from Christmas cards and children’s books, is a prime example. We heard dozens of them on our visit to the United Kingdom, their sharp Passerina-like chip issuing from every hedge and thicket and the occasional song trickling up the scale. But see ‘em? We could count on one hand the number of good sightings we had of this abundant and normally so confiding species. The adults were in molt, nervous and secretive, and few were the individuals who dared emerge from their hiding places with us in the neighborhood.
This scruffy little guy (they can’t be sexed in the field, so far as I know) was lured from his leafy bunker only by the abundance of small caterpillars under the fence; as the top rail bears witness, the bird had evidently been feeding here for a while.
Even skulkier were the spotted and scaled juveniles, giving just the odd glimpse from inside the dense vegetation. But this bird, newly molted into the freshest and snazziest of first-winter plumages, was proud enough to sit in the tree just above our heads for as long as we chose to admire:
Of course, the robins aren’t alone in getting their new coats. Adult House Sparrows too were looking a little rough around the edges.
And Lesser Black-backed Gulls were showing those odd white covert bars so typical of molting larids.
A bird in the open, said Ogden Nash, never looks / like its picture in the birdy-books. I think he must have been birding in August.