Thursday, 31 March 2022

Shropshire and Wales, 13th-17th July 2021

     Following the Dorset Trip to Sam's in mid-May, birding took a bit of a backseat as much of my spare time was spent coaching/playing cricket for both school and club (which all in all wasn't too bad, I even found a bit of form!) The odd bit of birding here and there at Beddington did result in patch ticking Redshank (at last, after Spotted Red and Greenshank) whilst warblers and LRPs always livened things up. There were two main days of note - the first being a young birders walk myself and Zach led at Beddington, the second a trip up to Hampstead Heath to see Keir Chauhan and Jamie Cedar (Keir even kindly hosted me for a cracking lunch and mangoes.) In terms of my next big trip however, a day after the depressing night of the Euros Final, I got the train up to Shropshire to visit Sian Mercer, another close friend of mine. One thing that's always frustrating about being friends with people from the nature community is that we all live miles apart, so the prospect of spending time outside/in pubs and catching up in person properly for the first time in 8 months was as exciting as the thought of birding a pretty underrated part of the country.

adult Arctic Tern spam - no apologies, my first time seeing the species so well and so made the most of it!

   The first day was more or less very relaxed, and bar a pub lunch where Joy (Sian's twin sister) was working, we mostly did very little bar laze around in the garden. On Day2, I was lucky enough to tag along on a Mercer Family trip to Anglesey, a place we'd both always wanted to visit. The first site we were going to was Cemlyn NWWT, on the very tip of NW Wales. The reserve was well known for its tern colony, which at the time held - in addition to Arctic, Common and Sandwich - a few Roseate Tern and Britain's 4th Elegant Tern. Terns are some of my favourite birds for some reason - I guess they give solid summer vibes, whilst also being so charismatic that they're just enjoyable to step back and watch. So even without the rarer species, I thrived on the Cemlyn beac, soaking in the sounds of hundreds of terns flying within arms reach of us. It took us a while to pick out our first Roseates, though Sian saw her first Red-breasted Merganser & we both lifered Black Guillemots too, as 2 were loafing around a little offshore. After around an hours wait for the carrot-billed Tern (we'd been told it had disappeared a little before our arrival,) it was found hidden within the colony, before showing well for all waiting. We were even treated to a little flight, where it stood out among the creaking Sandwich terns it was associating with at times. Cemlyn had far exceeded expectations I had of the site, with its pristine landscape and density of birds making it arguably one of my favourite British nature reserves I've yet visited.

Elegant Tern - a proper beast of a tern and one of my favourite rarities to date

    Before going to South Stack RSPB, we did what all birders should do after a successful session in the field, and that's follow it up with a pint and pub meal. The fish and chips set me up nicely for watching seabirds in the afternoon, and there were plenty of highlights from the 3 or 4 miles covered at South Stack. I was choughed to get quality views of two corvid lifers, the first being 2 Chough, the second being a Hooded Crow. Guillemots blanketed the cliffs in black and white, with Puffins and the odd Kittiwake dotted in amongst them. It was my first time seeing a *proper* Auk colony and seeing so many birds in such a tightly dense, steep environment was as cool as expected . As usual, Stonechats and Rock Pipit were absolutely everywhere, and so our walk - mostly spent sound recording by me - was another successful one, meaning we both ended the day very happy with our efforts.


Hooded Crow


The Auk Colony



    Day3 was much less adventurous than Day2 - after a little lie-in, we headed down to Sian's patch Whixall Moss, a site nationally important for dragonflies and regionally important for birds such as Curlew and Hobby. Though we only saw the former, Stonechats and Meadow Pipits were seen almost everywhere we walked. Butterflies and dragonflies definitely stole the show, as Black Darters were present almost everywhere, and were a new species of dragonfly for me - unfortunately it was too late in the season for White-faced Darters, so there was only one addition to the odonata list. Large Skipper were one of the most common butterflies seen, in addition to small heaths though we didn't come across any Large Heaths. 

Black Darter (male)

m Stonechat

Large Skipper

Hobby - recordshot, never showed too well


Meadow Pipit

Though much of the rest of the day was spent chilling in the garden again and playing cricket before a classic barbecue, we went back out in the evening to meet Ellie Micklewright (another close friend) at a nearby woodland site. It was again really nice to catch up and spend time out and about, Ellie guiding us around with the target being Nightjar. Before dusk, we managed to come across a few Garden Warbler, juvenile Tree Pipit and plenty of Raven - we eventually had some quality Nightjar action as the light went down, including a churring bird which was kind enough to fly over our heads at one point too - always exciting to hear!

[More Cemlyn photos] subadult type Arctic Tern? Not a plumage I'm too good with

juvenile Common Tern - my juvenile Tern ID is one of my weakest birding points, so correct me if wrong!

juvenile Arctic Tern

     My last day in the area was spent visiting the Lake Vyrnwy area with the mercer family, a place they held a close personal connection to. Before lunch, we spent a bit of time walking around the waterfall there, where Golden-ringed Dragonflies were my first ever. Birds of note included Spotted Flycatcher as well as House Martins and Swift. The scenery at Vyrnwy was easily the highlight of the visit - dense woodlands; crisp, cold streams; flowing valleys etc all surrounded the lake, and it was just pretty enjoyable walking around somewhere I'd never visited before. Another place to hopefully revisit during spring, where I can imagine it being even better.

Roseate Tern from Cemlyn

Black Guillemots also from Cemlyn

    On the Friday, as the mercers were staying in Kent for a few weeks, I was helpfully given a lift back home, bringing to an end another thoroughly enjoyable trip. A huge thanks to Sian and her legendary family for hosting me for a week and letting me tag along with them - keeping my fingers crossed I'll be able to revisit North Wales and Shropshire again in the near future. [all landscape photos I've had I've lost temporarily due to a broken phone, Sian's are all below!]

Sian's Elegant tern phonescope - she still talks about this


Nightjarring with Ellie - not sure what I was doing

Lake Vyrnwy


South Stack

Sian's photo of Chough

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