Bird Watching (UK)
The Global Birding Big Day
The race is on for Ruth to see as many bird species as possible in one day
The race is on for Ruth Miller to see as many bird species as possible
These days, most of my birdwatching is at a leisurely pace, as I love simply taking time to watch birds going about their daily business. However, when the call to arms came to join the Global Birding Big Day (Saturday 8 May) to raise funds for Birdlife International, I couldn’t resist. The bird race was on!
Our aim was to see as many bird species as possible in North Wales on the day, and the more birds we recorded, the more money we would raise. We were excited about the event until we saw the appalling weather forecast. But, with people all around the world taking part on the same day, staying at home wasn’t an option.
A 3.45am alarm saw us stumbling to get dressed while the rain lashed against the windows, not an ideal start. Running to the car in the dark, we recorded the inevitable Llandudno Herring Gull as bird number one for our bird race, quickly followed by a singing Blackbird as we reached the car.
We drove east towards the Dee Estuary, where we could overlook Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB reserve, while remaining on Welsh soil. By now we were not only dealing with torrential rain, but strong gusts of wind, too. Holding an umbrella over the telescope to keep it dry took both hands to hang onto it, with thoughts of Mary Poppins going through my mind.
Seeing or hearing birds was a struggle in the low light and tumultuous rain, but we weren’t going to admit defeat. Peering through the rain-soaked scope we picked out Avocets on the flooded fields along with soggy-looking ducks, geese, and Lapwings. A distant Little Owl was hunched on a ledge out of the rain, and a fly-over Cattle Egret was a real bonus. We trudged back to the car, soaked through, and feeling dispirited with our disappointingly low bird count, when suddenly a wader rose from the reserve, flying low over our heads: Wood Sandpiper, a scarce migrant and what an unexpected treat. Such is the power of birds that we squelched back to the car with smiles on our faces.
With the heater on full blast in the car, we headed for the hills. Now low cloud was added to the torrential rain and gusty wind,
reducing visibility to just a few feet. But faint heart never won fair lady, so we persevered, though by now we were reduced to birding from the car. From within our mobile hide we managed to add both Red and Black Grouse and a smart male Whinchat to our slowly growing list.
By water and in woodland
Dropping in altitude, we escaped the low cloud and – in a narrow valley sheltered from the worst winds – we found Dippers on a stream swollen by rainfall and a Kestrel hunched in a tree at the edge of a wood. A quick stop for takeaway hot food and drinks gave us the opportunity to check a river, where we added Grey Wagtail and Mandarin to our list, both providing a welcome splash of colour on this dreary day.
Next, we headed north to a picturesque area of deciduous woodland dotted with clearings. Among the trees, we escaped the worst of the rain and were delighted that ‘our’ classic Welsh woodland species of Pied Flycatcher, Wood Warbler, Redstart and Tree Pipit didn’t let us down.
It was time for a change of scene, so we headed to the coast. At an estuary we encountered Curlew and Whimbrel on the mudflats, a great opportunity to compare these similar species side-by-side. Eider were hauled up on the rocks, and a flock of Sandwich Terns huddled together on the shoreline. These birds were unusual here, but perhaps – like us – they were trying to find somewhere away from the worst of the weather.
Next stop was South Stack RSPB reserve on the north-west corner of Anglesey. Now the rain stopped, but a gale force wind made it hard to stand upright, never mind use the telescope. However, we had a great spell of luck picking up Puffin, Razorbill, Guillemot, Manx Shearwater, Fulmar, Gannet, Kittiwake and Rock Pipit in a few hectic minutes of exhilarating birding. Even as we thought ‘Chough’, we heard their distinctive ‘ cheeow’ calls as a pair of Choughs swooped over the cliffs riding the rollercoaster of air currents.
Setting new records
Never underestimate the restorative power of a Marmite sandwich – was it lunchtime or teatime, wondered our confused body clocks – and we powered on through a temporary slump in energy with a visit to Cemlyn Lagoon. This is tern central, and we quickly added Common and Arctic Terns plus a handsome adult Mediterranean Gull. The headland is normally good for seawatching, but today’s offshore winds buffeted us without bringing the benefit of passing seabirds; though we were delighted to see two Sanderling on the beach, including one in smart breeding plumage.
Time flew, and all too soon it was early evening. We visited our last site of the day, Cors Ddyga RSPB reserve, a wetland providing new species even after 13 hours of soggy birdwatching. A pair of Little Ringed Plover chased one another around the wet fields and a stunning male Marsh Harrier hunted over the reedbeds.
This was our final bird, number 114 on the Global Birding Big Day, all recorded in North Wales, and a respectable total given the atrocious weather we had experienced. It just goes to show what a superb area North Wales is for enjoying birds.
The Global Birding Big Day set four new World Records on that day. A total of 7,234 species were recorded in 192 countries by over 51,000 participants who, like us, logged all their bird sightings on eBird. The event raised funds to help Birdlife International to fight the slaughter of our migrant birds and if anyone wishes to donate to this important cause, the link is: justgiving.com/campaign/IKB2021
● Thank you for your support to help the birds we all enjoy.