Friday, 12 October 2012

The Best Garden in Wales…

A couple of weeks ago, at the evening log-call, one of our guests began talking about the RSPB’s Garden Birdwatch ( The conversation, as you would expect, moved onto the Observatory Garden and the birds that have been seen at or from Cristin. A little more digression and we were talking about the number of species I had seen in or from the garden at Cristin and whether it was the best garden for birds in Wales.

Cristin, the home of Bardsey Bird Observatory and the best spot in Wales!
Out with the iphone, a few numbers punched into the calculator app and hey presto…..we have a figure. So what’s the figure?

Well, the Island list now stands at 326 (after yesterday’s Citrine Wagtail). Since 1998 I have seen 259 species on Bardsey (I have also missed a few, Shoveler and Great-white Egret being the ones that stand out). This means I personally have seen 79.44% of all the species recorded on Bardsey. Now the interesting bit is how many of these have been seen at or from the garden at Cristin. 

The Observatory (center) nestling into the bottom of Mynydd Enlli
Of the 259 I have seen, a staggering 226 have been seen from or at Cristin! This is 87.25% of my own Bardsey total and 69.32% of the entire Bardsey List. I have also missed some species that were seen from the obs garden, most notably 12 Glossy Ibises which my wife saw from the garden and I eventually saw from the south end of the island. Whilst some other notable species like American Robin, White-throated Sparrow and Bluetail were at other parts of the island not visible from the Obs!
Looking west from the front of the Observatory
The view from my bedroom window!
So what species are there on my ‘garden list’? Well if we take just the birds in the bushes, then it would be quite small. But taking into account that many birds can be seen from the Observatory as they either fly past, over or are grounded near the garden, and the view from Cristin is fantastic, then the list gets better, and if we include the seabirds that ‘fly-by’ well we are on a winner!So the species: Well we have a good selection of wildfowl, including two species of Swan,  White-fronted, Bean, Pink-footed, Brent and Barnacle Geese, Long-tailed Duck, Common and Velvet Scoters, Eider and Goldeneye, Pintail and Gadwall. There are three species of Diver and Little Grebe. Seabirds are good, with Great Shearwater, Sooty, Balearic and Manx, also Leach’s and Storm Petrel. Little Egret and Spoonbill are the best of the herons (having been away when the Bittern flew past!). Raptors are well covered with, Osprey, Hobby, Merlin, Goshawk, Honey, Common and Rough-legged Buzzard, both Black and Red Kites, Marsh and Hen Harriers (my Monties over the obs was ‘not proven’ by WRP!). 
Red Kite

Last year’s calling Corncrake was the third I had heard from the Bedroom along with several Quails! For a garden we have a good wader list too, with Baird’s Sandpiper, Avocet, Grey Phalarope and Dotterel being among the more notable, but the likes of Jack Snipe, (Great Snipe was only 30 metres away and I was not in the garden at the time, so that does not count!), Greenshank, Green, Purple and Wood Sandpipers .

Typical views of Pom Skua from the obs
Onto Skuas and Gulls…all four species of Skua have been seen from the 'seawatching deck' in front of the Obs, has have Sabine’s, Little and Med Gull, Glaucous and Iceland Gulls and Little, Black and Caspian Terns among the commoner fair of this genus. Little Auk is the only regular auk that I have NOT seen from the obs. 
And a Sab's Gull

Short-eared Owl
Polly, the Ring-necked Parakeet was a colourful addition a year or two back, then we have Owls. Quite impressively Little, Barn, Long-eared, Short-eared and Snowy have all been seen form within the boundary of Cristin. Two Nightjars have been seen from the Obs, one bouncing out of a mist net in the obs garden early one morning! 

Happy author, ringing a Hoopoe 
Polly the parrot
The best of the rest near passerines include Wryneck and Greater spotted Woodpecker, Hoopoe and Turtle Dove. 

The only Welsh Record of Blyth's Pipit
Now the garden comes into its own with the passerines. Some are seen just flying over, like pipits and larks, but we have some stunners, with Woodlark being found from the back lawn and Both Richard’s and Blyth's Pipits have been seen within the bounds of the obs and Red-throated on the wall just across the road! All the common wagtails are seen regularly, and if I had thought about it and tried yesterday I could have scoped Citrine from here! 

Woodlark flying over the obs
And when it eventually landed!
Two Waxwings have ‘set foot’ in the garden, and Common nightingale has been trapped having spent time skulking here.
Stunning adult male Waxwing


No rare Wheatears have been seen, but there have been, as well as the regular thrushes, Wales’s only Eyebrowed Thrush. 

A The only Welsh Record of Eye-browed Thrush
Warblers are ‘at home’ in a garden, so with a staggering 23 species on my garden list, this includes some crackers…like Paddyfield, Marsh, Booted, Icterine and Melodious, Barred and Subalpine Warblers (ten!), Wood, Greenish, Yellow-browed, Pallas’s, Radde’s and Bonelli’s!! Top this off with Firecrest and it’s warbler some list....Feast your eyes on this little lot!
and in the hand
Sylvias next
Big bad Barred!
Western Subalp
and another

And an Eastern
and Marsh
Bardsey and the obs is THE site for groppers in Wales
 and Phylloscopi
Last year's Bonelli's
and another!
a not very Greenish!

Sprites! Pallas's...found this whilst on the phone sat at my desk in December last year!!
Yellow-Browed Warbler
Mixed bag of warblers and Redstart
always nice to see - Firecrest

Three species of flycatchers are seen regularly, and then with Treecreeper, Nuthatch, four species of Tit, Golden Oriole, Red-backed and Woodchat Shrikes, it’s looking like a good garden. We get lots of corvids and their allies, with six species of ‘crow’, two each of Starlings and sparrows.
Stunning male RBF
Golden 'O' - a trip 'out back to the little boys room!'
A major garden and island Rare - Nuthatch
Male Red-Back
and a Baby!
The commonest Shrike on the island -Woodchat
a fine male - i found this on my way back home after a coffee with guests in the morning
and drab (!) female
A good feeding station will always drag in finches too, so it is no surprise that 13 species of finch have made their way onto my garden list, the best being Hawfinch, Rosefinch and Crossbill. 
Stunning Hawfinch - this I found whilst turning on the generator!
A less so stunning Rosefinch (grotfinch!)
As we near the end of the list, we have just seven species left; all buntings, including Lapland and Snow, Little, Pine, Cirl and Black-headed!
Male Black-headed Bunting (after relocating to Nant)
Little Bunting - the day after the Eyebrowed Thrush!
Well, what can you say. Cristin Garden must be the best garden in the whole of Wales. This is based on just what I have seen here over the last decade and a half, but add on some of the older stuff too like Peter Roberts’ Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Reg Arthur’s Grey-cheeked Thrush, Icky Steve’s Red-rumped Swallow this spring (that went over my head!), it is a fantastic site and must possibly be the best single site in Wales…not only the best garden (??).

And it doesn't stop there, the non-avian life is fantastic too, with over 300 species of moth on the garden list
Dolphins as photographed from the obs
Closer shot of Risso's Dolphin - these are seen almost daily in July and August
And an honorary bird...
Hummingbird Hawkmoth
And what better way to end a fantastic days birding in the best garden in Wales than this.....

So if any of that takes your fancy, and you would like an exceptionally good value holiday on Bardsey we are taking bookings for 2013. We are full for the latter half of May and the whole of June, and are beginning to fill in October. The best time for numbers of birds is always in the new moon period. See for details on when to come). 

The cost for next year is

Adults £140
Students oap etc £125
Children to 14 £87

On top of that is the boat fair at £35 per person and then car parking at Cwrt (currently £12.50p per car/week).

So a full paying adult who comes alone in their car will be looking at £187.50p. If you share cars or are a concession it's much cheaper.

Visit or email or cal Alicia Normand on 01626 773 908 for further details.

Now i'm off into the garden to see what I can find!!!!!


  1. Great post Steve. Putting it like that, I suppose you've not done too badly :-p

    Just wondered what % of the rares turned up first in the heligoland or mist nets?

    The challenge has been set. I will shortly be visiting Conwy RSPB to restock and my feeding station will be born again!!

  2. Amazing Steve! Need to get there for a week next year! What's the % of species ringed? Any predictions for the next additions? Any common mainland stuff looking most likely?

  3. Hi Andy,

    Of the rares found in traps and nets, there has been the odd subalpine, this years Woodchat, a little bunt, the eye-browed thrush and that is about it. Not much these days turns up just in the traps

  4. Thanks for the clarification. Thought a few more species might have gone in 'under the radar' so to speak.

    Bet the Eye-browed' was a nice surprise for whoever was doing the trap rounds that day!

  5. Just like my garden! Sadly not. I get chuffed with brambling and lesser spotted woodpecker !

  6. Nice post Steve (very jealous)! Kev, you get Lesser peckers in your garden, that's pretty special too!