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Saturday, 4 April 2015

Conwy RSPB reserve, Rockcliffe Raptors and Black Grouse. March 30th to April 1st.

Monday 30th March.

Up early, tent packed and a couple of hours birding around the RSPB reserve before being found by a couple of local birders. Sand martins, the first of the year, four of them. There'll be more summer migrants soon. Two minutes later a swallow. Did I lie?
Around a corner and into the warden, Sarah, She was riding a bike going to open the hides. After an hour or so's more birding she found me and together we went to the cafe where, joy of joys, I was given a bacon sandwich and a hot chocolate. The staff at the cafe were fantastically friendly (Thanks Dave, Margaret and the fishnet lady, Jayne!)
A RSPB volunteer, Jo came and sat with me and she nearly jumped out of her skin when I leapt up and shouted sparrowhawk. I was munching my sandwich and saw what I took to be a sparrowhawk on a caged bird feeder out through the window. In the past I have seen sparrowhawks hang on to the squirrel-proofing cage around a peanut feeder and reach inside to grab a blue tit. That's what I thought I was looking at. It was a pigeon! Sorry Jo.
A family from Bourneville sat next to me and had a chat for a while. Hi John and Becky and of course hello to Gladys & Ethel (not their real names), their two young children. Lovely people John said he was a publisher with some books on how to make hats.
More swallows from the cafe windows and after a long walk around the reserve I had seen 36 bird species. Not bad for a pre-migration morning.
I met some of the RSPB staff at the visitor's centre and we took a couple of photographs for prosterity.
Leaving the reserve I cycled along and remembered that I needed to get the gears properly adjusted. As if by magic a large cycle shop appeared and half an hour later the bike was fixed and advice was given to give it a good clean.
A cycle path along narrow country lanes to Rhos on Sea and in some moderate rain I cycle around the bay to Old Colwyn. Leaving the great cycle path here, I found a pub that did accommodation and leaving everything there, including the bike, I walked in the rain down to the seashore and along to a headland with a concrete shed-like building there. I was there to look for the surf scoter reported there. Instead I found a young man sheltering in the filthy concrete shed tucked in a not too substantial sleeping bag. The inside of the shelter was mud, discarded cans and rubbish and . . .   well not a good place to be.
For the next hour I searched for the scoter in impossible rainy conditions and listened to Pete, for that was his name as he told me why he was there. Homeless, moneyless and lacking in family, Pete was walking to Chester having been told it was only a few miles along the coast.
By the time the seawatch session was over I had decided that Pete deserved a bed and a meal. He had both and breakfast at the pub/hotel and a train ticket to get to Chester.

Tuesday 31st March

What a fabulous gale! It blew me to the point of Ayr. Who needs pedals? So after another attempt at seeing the surf scoter at the Old Colwyn viewpoint and after seeing thanks to the scopes of two birders from Mold, Chris and Gary, a couple of velvet scoters amongst the hundreds of common (bird number 174 for the year), it was a quick transit of the North Wales coastline.
After failing to see the surf scoter, it was off to Abergele to see the very easy to find Iceland gull. It was sitting on the pebbles. It was good to see, not just because it is a beautiful rare bird but also because I had only seen the sub=species Kumlein's so far this year. This made it a full species year tick and made up for the one that didn't turn up on the last evening of 2010.
The occasional heavy shower came along and to shelter from one I was given a seat in a van of a group of fence fixers; six great lads who had a good level of banter, some coffee and my biscuits. They even had a whip round for the charity box.

Shower over it was out and along a concrete sea wall before reaching eventually the golf course just east of Prestatyn. At the eastern end I realised I'd slightly gone past a sea wall that leads to a sand dune area belonging to the RSPB. Turning back into the wind was phenomenal and no way could you cycle into it. Leaving the bike, I walked back and did a video diary to record the moment.
Lunchtime and an admission, I love egg and chips ( never chips and egg as Shirley Valentine says!) and a superb café provided the best of both with proper frozen garden peas. Real chips, not the frozen variety and lovely people serving it up. A perfect seaside café. Thanks.

Next to the point of Ayr and the bird hide overlooking the area as yet another heavy shower fled past. They may have been heavy but they only lasted a few minutes as the wind blew them over the Dee.
Birds were a bit sporadic as it was low tide but a few little egrets braved the gale and some teal.

Back onto the main road towards Flint I cycled to Connor's Quay and found the library to find Steve and Margaret Dewsnap address. I had met them both when I had got lost trying to find the way over the new bridge over the Dee north of Connor's Quay. I had stopped at a small row of cottages and knocked on a door. Steve ran out as soon as he saw me blurting out, “You're the man with a robin on your bike!” Indeed I was and am. Steve had only just seen about my travels on te internet the night before when he was looking at the osprey site at Glaswyn and here I was on his doorstep. A fabulous, amazingly coincidental meeting. Steve and Margaret run Rockcliffe raptors, a bird of prey rescue place and have a collection of 13 birds they look after in large aviaries in their garden. We've been friends ever since that day and they had invited me to stay the next time I was passing.
Well I was passing now and with heavy rain falling I found out that I had practically cycled past their house 2 miles before.
Cycling back, house found, the evening was spent with them both and their superb grandson Lucas, named after George Lucas as his Dad is a Star Wars fan, First thing was to see the birds again' the daft barn owl, the ever hooting eagle owl, the female kestrel and others.
Such fabulous people. Life is a privilege.

Wednesday 1st April

Off with Steve for some birding at the Connor's Quay nature reserve, I cycled, he drove a van. I had to stay Green in case I saw a new bird for the year. Good job I did for there was a twite on view straight away from the tower hide.

A long chat between Steve and myself and a twite fanatic named Richard I think for the next hour as the tide came in and left. Then it was down to each of the superb hides on this great reserve. At £15 a year membership of the Deeside Ornithological Club is a snip. What a patch to study. Brilliant.
Back at Steve and Margaret's I was allowed to hold a tawny owl, my favourite owl.

Then it was off to Llandanog Forest to look for Black Grouse at the RSPB viewpoint there.
Let's just say it took 4 and a half hours to get there and only an hour and a half to get back. Imagine the long, mile after mile climb and the knuckle whitening rapid descent in the dark.
Great fun and I saw 4 black grouse males feeding too as well as 3 flying red grouse. Brilliant, 2 year ticks taking me up to 175.

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