Seabirds at Traeth Lafan

The great crested grebe, an el­e­gant crea­ture once hunted al­most to ex­tinc­tion for its dis­tinc­tive plum­mage, is just one of the spec­tac­u­lar birds in­hab­it­ing this wilder­ness on the east­ern edge of the Me­nai Strait, says Julie Bro­minicks

Countryfile Magazine - - Contents -

Snow­do­nia

Be­tween An­gle­sey and main­land Wales, sea wa­ter is fun­nelled and sucked by tides twice a day, east to west and west to east.

As a re­sult, the Me­nai Strait is con­stantly churned and oxy­genated, cre­at­ing a nu­tri­ent-rich soup. The mud too is calorific and at Traeth Lafan sands, 2,600 hectares (around ten square miles) of mud and sand are ex­posed at low tide. It’s a haven for waders and other wa­ter birds.

In win­ter, tens of thou­sands of th­ese gather here, in­clud­ing red-breasted mer­gansers, gold­eneyes, red­shanks, curlews, wid­geons, mal­lards, teals, dun­lins, knots, lesser spot­ted grebes, great north­ern divers, oys­ter­catcher and great crested grebes.

The lat­ter were hunted al­most to ex­tinc­tion by Vic­to­ri­ans for their or­nate head plumage and ‘grebe fur’ – their dense wa­ter­proof chest feath­ers were used as a fur sub­sti­tute. Their num­bers have in­creased steadily since then and now the birds are plen­ti­ful. In the 1960s and 1970s when their pop­u­la­tions were still re­cov­er­ing, Traeth Lafan was the most im­por­tant over-win­ter­ing spot in Bri­tain for great crested grebes.

Hap­pily, in re­cent years, con­ser­va­tion ef­forts have pro­vided the birds with a range of shal­low-wa­tered es­tu­ar­ine and wet­land habi­tats to choose from, and over-win­ter­ing great crested grebes can now be seen in es­tu­ar­ies around Bri­tain.

PEACE­FUL ISO­LA­TION

Traeth Lafan, com­pris­ing sev­eral na­ture re­serves – Glan y Môr Elias, Morfa Madryn, Morfa Aber and the Spin­nies – is one of the best places to see them. Be­gin in Llan­fair­fechan at high tide and travel west as the tide re­cedes. Great crested grebes gather in hun­dreds on mud flats and creeks, marshy fields and shal­low la­goons fed by fresh­wa­ter streams from Snow­do­nia’s moun­tains.

Traeth Lafan pro­vides them with food, peace­ful iso­la­tion and se­cu­rity. Like other wa­ter birds, grebes re­new their flight feath­ers ev­ery win­ter with a si­mul­ta­ne­ous wing-moult. Flight­less for three or four weeks, they group to­gether for pro­tec­tion. In sum­mer they are seen on rivers and lakes, court­ing, div­ing, proudly car­ry­ing their stripey-faced young and dis­play­ing their elab­o­rate head-crests.

In win­ter they be­come more pale and se­cre­tive, and lose their chest­nut and black head frills – less punk, more vul­ner­a­ble grebe.

Mud, glo­ri­ous mud: the Wales Coast Path runs along Traeth Lafan re­serve, a par­adise for wa­ter birds

Great crested grebes are drawn here by the shal­low es­tu­ar­ine wa­ters and wet­land habi­tats

Julie Bro­minicks lives in Wales and writes about the coun­try­side.

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