Saturday, 4 February 2012

Underwatched sites in North Wales?

The wind is cold, the rain is horizontal and I'm stuck indoors wondering, where are the hidden gems in the area, the overlooked, underwatched new hotspots and 'Birding Frontier' sites? My reply to the Traeth Harlech thread has really got me thinking about this subject.

Maybe it would be easier to list the small number of sites that are regularly watched and discuss the gaps!? Number one of course has to be Ynys Enlli/Bardsey Island with it's saturation coverage of very sharp resident and visiting birders, ringers and visitors weighed down by optics, radios and cameras. Then maybe Conwy RSPB, Holyhead area, Great Orme, Cemlyn, Malltraeth/Valley wetlands (?), the Traeth Lafan reserves (Aber Ogwen-Llanfairfechan) Porthmadog, Aberdaron etc...

Lleyn sites that I think have big potential are Pwllheli harbour (grossly under-watched but I'm trying to redress the balance), Cors Geirch (beautiful wild fen with small open water area but difficult access), Cilan (juts out well south with ponds on the top that look great for Buff-breasted Sandpiper etc) and of course, my local patch - the Aberdaron/Uwchmynydd area. There's so much habitat here that it's impossible to cover it all in a day (or even several), while I neglect my home village of Rhiw too often these days and prefer to head west! 

Further afield Ystumllyn looks nice and Pontllyfni must get something other than rare gulls around the reedbed... and how often is Y Foryd scrutinised?

Obviously, the whole of Eryri is an ornithological black hole (although some dedicated survey workers are active over the region) and I won't even mention Meirionydd! One of my favourite winter birding memories was watching a Snow Bunting digging for food in the deep snow on YrWyddfa/Snowdon one January day - awesome views of tough little birds. How many winter on the tops? Have Dotterel ever tried breeding there again? Living in Llanrug for a few years saw me patching the usually birdless Llyn Padarn (and occasionally Llyn Peris) and turning up Black-throated' & Red-throated Divers and Red-necked Grebe, wintering Firecrests etc amongst other scarcities.

My knowledge of the Ynys Mon/Anglesey birding scene is dated but sites which I visited years ago (and are calling me back for another look) that seemed to be bursting with potential included Traeth Dulas/Lligwy Bay, Newborough and Penmon to name a few. Further east (here I'm even less familiar) the River Clywd looks superb - does it get regular coverage?

This blog seems to be read by many but the number of contributors seems to fluctuate widely! Don't be shy - I'd love to hear any comments/suggestions - who knows what's out there?

Good Birding!



  1. It's an interesting one this Andrew. Apart from some of the places you've mentioned I think most of North and Mid Wales is underwatched. One outstanding area for me is Point of Ayr which gets very little coverage nowadays and yet I've seen the likes of Forsters tern and broad billed sandpiper there in the 70s and 80s to name a couple. To me it's simply that while there are seemingly plenty of casual birdwatchers in the region few of them seem to take it any further than that and get into serious and active birding hence coverage is pretty sketchy. Why this should be compared to other places I don't really know and any theories would be welcomed.

  2. Hi JW

    PoA underwatched? That's interesting news - thought it was the opposite. Even I saw the Forster's Tern there years ago!

    Personally I'm delighted that I'm not surrounded by large numbers of other birders when I hit the patch - quite the opposite - and can't imagine living somewhere like Scilly or Norfolk although they're great places to visit. The only time I really like to be around crowds of fellow birders is when seawatching where as many eyes as possible are needed.

    All the best


  3. Andrew I think its just a case of lots of good habbo and not a high enough concentration of keen birders to keep finding local rarities. The birds are out there. I would never mind birding the likes of Scilly, Shetland, Spurn or the likes because any of the regulars there will tell you a 100 people might walk before you but you might be lucky enough to be passing when a vireo or tanager pops up out the bush. Just have to in the right place at the right time and have a bit of luck.

  4. Would have to agree with Julian that Point of Ayr is very unwatched. I only occasionally visit and rarely see another birder. With the marsh, the warren, fields and the sea the area is excellent. You only have to see how many good birds are found on the other side to imagine what goes through unseen. Ages since a rarity has been found there !

  5. Interesting stuff. To be honest, I think everywhere is very underwatched. Even Conwy RSPB has very few 'birders' working it during a day, while I very rarely see another birder up the Orme apart from early morning during October. Today, I walked the River Clwyd, spent a few hours around Rhyl Brickwork Pool, the Snow Bunts site, Kinmel Bay, Llanddulas etc and only bumped into Alan and Ruth at the Snow Bunts. Gronant is very underwatched and has potential such as Point of Air. I always think that Shell Island and the Meirionydd coastline must have loads of birds missed.

  6. We were out all day in N Wales today and saw Marc and just two guys looking, in vain, for Surf Scoters at Llandulas, it is an under watched place! Point Lynas should attract more passerines than records suggest but then the Gt Orme has more to offer so easier to spend time here regularly than driving to sites further away. Cefni Estuary? How many yank waders in recent years? Not many for a west coast site with large numbers of "common" waders passing through. Lots of potential so few birders!

    Picking up on another point of Andy's can never understand why so few people contribute news but so many want the latest news - it should be a two way street! In over twenty years of running Birdline a tiny number of people provide the info for a huge number of takers. Take the plunge and post your sightings if you use this or other sites to optain news, put something back. We all benifit and with so many websites now on line should be easy!

    Alan and Ruth - new India pics posted

    1. Many thanks everyone for the input.

      Coverage is obviously an issue for even the most well-watched sites. Talking to Steve Stansfield (Enlli warden)the other day was interesting - we were discussing how birds can disappear and lurk even in the tiny bits of cover there so what hope's there for the rest of us ;-)

      Be good to hear of really obscure new sites - remember backpacking part of the Anglesey coastal path a while ago and finding a lovely little reedbed on the north coast west of Amlwch.

      Great points there from Al and Ruth. When I started birding I'd hear bird news from a tiny circle of friends, then subscribed to British Birds and found out what had been seen countrywide, albeit 3 months ago... discovered the local bird club and annual reports, started ringing the Sheffield recorder each Sunday eve, then got the Nancy's number for national rares... twitched... dipped.. phased out and came back to discover Birdline was operating... and now enjoy the benefits of instant free news from multiple sources on the web, via Twitter and by text.

      I've witnessed incredible changes in the dissemination of bird news - never mind the sensory overload of other ornithological web resources from trip reports to the mighty xeno-canto library of sounds!

      Personally, I love to hear what people are seeing - from falls of common migrants to the appearance of the odd mega. Very little news from Anglesey on here lately for example - anyone out there?

      The sharing of news all enhances and puts into context my own bird and wildlife encounters. So to echo the comments above - contribute people!

      Right, I must pop into Pt of Ayr next time I'm passing - never mind the vast Cefni estuary... as for Shell Island, I've only been there once :-)