Sunday, 30 May 2010


A brisk North westerly wind put pay to any migration today but a single Spotted Flycatcher was still to be found in the churchyard. Two Great Spotted Woodpeckers were around the Copper Mines while the highlight wasa single Puffin sat amongst the Razorbill and Guillemots below the lighthouse. 6 Shellduck, 2 Swifts and a Sand Martin were also seen.
Next weeks Radio Cymru programme 'Galwad Cynnar' was recorded on the Orme this morning and has a bit about the local birdlife, plants and history. Programme is next Saturday between 6.30 and 7.30am.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Reed Warbler - Orme tick!

I got vey wet on the Orme this morning but it was worth it. A long awaited Orme first for me came in the form of a singing Reed Warbler. I'm sure they pass through fairly regularly but this is the first one I've set eyes on here as on migration they are skulking birds. This bird chose to sing in the hawthorns behind Ffynon Powell along the track to Pink Farm.

2 Spotted Flycatcher, 3 Wheatear and a singing Tree Pipit was the best of the rest. The Tree Pipit may well be a breeding bird as a pair have nested here for the past two years. The male Bullfinch was still present and it is good to see that the Coal Tits have reared two young in the churchyard.

It's a funny time of year as most bushes are deadly quiet, but the end of May and beginning of June can be the month for that one rare bird to appear. As they say....the big one always travels alone....!

Friday, 28 May 2010

Little Terns

Little Terns are always great birds to see and two were just east of the Little Orme this evening. The birds were in the bay and seemed to be eyeing up the fish near the breakwater. Chough, Raven, Whitethraot and Garden Warbler were all on the headland too.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Resident Kestrel and Mystery bird

Paul Manchester sent me this great picture of the resident female Kestrel on the Great Orme. He also sent me a picture of a bird he thought may be a female Redstart which he saw distantly by the cemetery on Saturday. The bill and head shape don't seem right for Redstart to me, but I'm not 100% sure what it is. A Wren with its tail held downwards was one thought, while the possibility of it being a female Rock Thrush seems thoroughly ridiculous. I'm off to find the branch tomorrow so that I can measure it's size and nail the i.d. inthe process. Any one got any opinions?

Bullfinch brightens up the day

A fairly queit day on the Orme with plenty fo breeding activity but very little in the way of migrants. A couple of Wheatears on the limestone pavements, 3 Chiff chaff by the reservoir and a Blackcap in the cemetery. A fine male Bullfinch was very vocal around the cemetery area, the first I've seen here this year. Also present was a fine male Sparrowhawk by the Old Cafe.

Weekend Birds

I was away this weekend on a school vist to France. A few reports from the Great Orme this weekend with saturday certainly being the most productive day. At least ten Spotted Flycatchers were dotted around the place as well as two Whinchat. Paul Manchester had a female Redstart and a male was also reported.
On Friday Julian Wheldrake had the follwoing on the Little Orme - Blackcap 2, Whitethroat, Willow warbler 2, chiffchaff, Rock pipit 2, Sparrowhawk, Fem kestrel, Buzzard 2, Raven 9, Chough, Sandwich tern 7
He also reported the following but in his own words was probably underestimating:-
Fulmar nests 7, Kittiwake nests (Angel Bay) 29, Cormorant nests 63.
Also had a fox (vixen) which froze when it saw me instead of running off so I assume it had young around. Butterflies seen were common blue, orange tip, meadow brown, green veined white, large white and common tortoiseshell. A good number of early purple orchids also on show along winding track down from top quarry.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Whinchats and Spot Flys as migrants continue to arrive.

Rob Sandham has been out this evening and seen 2 Whinchats and 2 Spotted Flycatchers on the limestone pavement wall. The north and west edges are shrouded in mist- it could be good in the morning!

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Plenty of Migrants

There were plenty of birds on the move this morning following the warmer southerly winds and scattering if rain in the early hours. Four Spotted Flycatchers had made landfall, two in the cemetery, one at Pink Farm and one by Piwell's Well. A singing Lesser Whitethroat was doing it's best to outsing everthing from deep within the brambles behind the cemetery. Two Sedge Warblers, a Garden Warbler, 5 Willow Warbler, 6 Chiff Chaff, 9+ Whitethroat and a single Wheatear were also dotted around the place. A fine Whinchat was on the limestone pavements while ar least 3 Tree Pipits and 5 Redpoll flew overhead. There was also a steady passage of hirundines and Swifts during the early morning period and many young birds- Coal Tit, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Chaffinch and Mistle Thrush were being fed by their busy parents.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Melodious Warbler report + first Spot Flys.

Pete Alderson has found a singing Melodious Warbler in the hawthorns behind the cemetery. Although not seen it sung well at around 8.30am. More updates will appear later if the bird shows. I am kicking myself as I heard a strange song about half an hour earlier that I put down to the sub song of a Whitethroat! Three Spotted Flycatchers were new in, with two in the hawthorns at the back of the cemetery and the other by the reservoir. There was also a singing Garden Warbler showing well in the hawthorns as was a dapper female Redstart. 10+ Lesser Redpoll were in the area as was a fine male 'Greenland' Wheatear. Greenfinches and Linnet have fledged young that are making a real racket.

afternoon update - no sign of the Melodious warbler for the rest of the day. Julian Wheldrake saw 11 Whitethroat, Garden warbler, Redstart, Goldcrest, a steady flow of Swallows and House Martins, 3 Mistle Thrushes, 3 Kestrel, Peregrine and 2 Willow Warblers while searching for the Hippo.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Saturday news

Julian Wheldrake was out yesterday and reports 2 Whitethroat, 3 Willow Warbler, 7 Swallow and a Wheatear in the cemetery. Local highlight yesterday was a fine male Black Redstart on the roof of Conwy RSPB visitor centre. I am in Ceredigion this weekend, taking part in a birdrace so any orme news would be much appreciated.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Change in weather brings a few birds.

A light South westerly wind and some light drizzle grounded a few birds in the night. 10+ Willow Warblers were new in on the limestones with each gorse bush or hawthorns holding at least one. Highlight was a Yellow Wagtail that bounded over the north end uttering it's distinctive call. Four Redpoll low over were frustratingly noted as sp. as the had a hint of frostyness about them. 3 Wheatear, 10 Swallow and2 House Martin were the best of the rest in a quick hour before work.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

A couple of videos from last few days.

Here are a few videos for you to watch from the last few mornings on the Orme. The first is of the mini tornado and the second is of a male Whinchat on the wall on the limestone pavements.

Water Spout off the Great Orme

Male Whinchat on the limestone wall - May 2010

Whinchat, Tree Pipit and Cuckoo

A single female Whinchat was on the limestone pavements this morning on what was a beautiful morning weatherwise. Two Tree Pipits included one in the Hawthorns. Tw Chiff-chaff and a Willow Warbler entertained in the bushes while the limestones could only muster up 3 Wheatears. Highlight of the morning was a Cuckoo seen by Julian Hughes in the hawthorns above the cemetery. The Cuckoo opposite was taken in Cross Inn Forest on April 8th, my earliest ever daye for this species. Todays Cuckoo was the second up there this year, a good showing of what is a less than annual species up here.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Tree Pipit and Tornados!

An amazing weather spectacle off the Orme this morning where at least three water spouts appeared offshore. These mini tornadoes lasted for a few minutes before disappearing as quikly as they formed (I will hopefully upload some video footage soon). A quiet morning birdwise but a Tree Pipit was the first I've seen or heard in a week or so. 2 Chiff chaff and a few Swallows were the only other migrants while a group of 4 Chough were notable.
Picture was taken with my phone so don't quite produce the full spectacular effect!

A Willow Warbler was found at the end of the pier by a school pupil from Ysgol San-Sior. After recovering it flew off into Heulfre Gardens none the worse for its ordeal while trying to escape the weather. Hail stones, tornados and bright sunshine all mixed into a few minutes!

Tuesday, 11 May 2010


The only birds of note today wre a Willow Warbler, 8 Wheatear, two Redpoll and a Siskin. The male Linnets are looking really dapper at the moment with their pink / red outfits. They must have had a real hormone spurt over the past week as they were much duller this time last week.

Tom Gravett had a male Whinchat by the limestone car park a little later.

Monday, 10 May 2010


Two fine Whinchat were on the Great Orme this morning, one on the limestones and one above Millionnaire's row. A scattering of 10+ Wheatears were also here, mostly Greenlabnd with a couple of nominate birds thrown in. No sign of any warblers today but a handfull of Redpoll on the move. One bird looked particullarly heavy, pale below and I'm sure its call was slightly different on the ear than the usual Lesser Redpolls - the Common Redpoll that got
away I think. Eight Swallows flew west.
Offshore were 20+ Sandwhich Tern and a numer of Gannets.
Later during the morning julian Hughes RSPB warden at Conwy called to say he was watching a fine Wood Sanpiper on the reserve. Wood Sand is rare in North wales, being less than annual, so I was tempted away from the patch for once. Great views were had of the Sandpiper as it fed sometimes alongside a Common Sand. It even started calling on one occassion.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Dotterel Delight!

At last, a decent morning. There was virtually no wind at all this morning, just a cool easterly gentle breeze. The sunrise at 5.25am was magnificent and a few birds were on the move. 20+ Wheatears had arrived overnight, nearly all Greenland birds, while Siskin numbers were on the up with10+ and a few Redpoll. Three Willow Warbler and a Chiff-Chaff in the limestone hawthorns also gave hope that a few birds might be about. Around the cemetery a fine Garden warbler sang and showed well, while the Mistle Thrushes now have two fully fledged young. It was good to find breeding Coal Tit here too, the first time I have known this species breed on the top part of the Orme.
Nothing prepared me for the five minutes of madness by the Pink Farm though. A single Crossbill was the first for the year up here, calling its sharp notes as it flew over head. Asd I was trying to locate it in the sky, I became aware of a soft pipping rolling call coming from my right - Dotterel! I scanned the sky trying o locate the birds without success, then another call. This time two birds flew from the ridge some 50 yards away from my and passed at eye level over the ields and over the cemetery towarsd the limestones. At last - a bird I'd been hoping for since the middle of April. I'm sure there were more than wo birds, as the first calls I heard certainly came from birds fling north and the other two that I saw followed in that direction. Just as I was feeling smug with myself, a Yellow Wagtail started calling overhead and flew pretty close over the fields. A fine male again and making it one of the best years up here for this species.
The walk back was fairly quiet, but it was great to meet up with big John Roberts, a true gentleman of the birding world and always ready to stop and have a chat. I left the headland at 9.30am, feeling as though I'd done a good days work on the patch.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Continious Northerlies but Stonechats raise the spirits

Nothing much in the way of migrants early morning - a single intrepid Willow Warbler had made it to the hawthorns on the limestones and was being battered by a very brisk cold north easterly wind. Two Wheatears, both Greenland birds were still present while six Swallows flew west. Offshore, seven Gannets, 30+ Sandwhich Terns and hundreds of Guillemots and Razorbills on the sea below the cliffs, while several pairs of Fulmars are chattering away on the limestone cliffs above Marine Drive.
I have been extremely worried about the population crash of Stonechats this spring. Last year saw a healthy population of at least 8-9 pairs. Until this week, I haven't seen a Stonechat up here since mid-March. These birds were presumably migrants moving through as no birds set up territory in the limestone pavement area, the first time this has happened since I've been birding up here. A search further afield revealed a few pairs though, two pairs by the summit and a couple on the gun site. This is a great relief to me and is hopefully enough of a basis to re-populate the Orme over the next few years.

Friday, 7 May 2010


Today was one of those days that I wish I'd stayed in bed. After foolishly staying up most of the night watching the election results come in, I dragged myself out of bed to get up the Orme soon after six. I soon wish I hadn't. The northerly wind was very blustery, the rain was lashing down and the temperature was more like that of mid-March! Two lone Wheatears were the only grounded birds, while three Swallows flew through along with a group of 10 Goldfinch. Luckily a fine male Peregrine saved the morning by putting on a good show. All the way round, I kept saying to myself "It's got to pick up soon". Unfortunately the weekend forecast is no better. Where have the southerly winds gone?

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Bits and Pieces

Peter Alderson had Whinchat, Grasshopper Warbler and a trickle of Phylloscs this morning on the limestone pavements and cemetery area. A little later Julian Hughes recorded a Golden Plover and a Wheatear near the Cairn. This evening a wander around the limestones produced 6 Wheatear including two superb male Greenland birds, a Whitethroat and 4 Willow warblers in the Hawthorns by the wall. Photo left - looking along the limestone wall towards the summit; often used by Wheatear to perch on and occassionaly Ring Ouzel or a tired migrant (but not today!)

More mist, rain and northerlies

I'm a bit worried this May will pass us by with no letup in these northerlies. Didn't manage to get up there this morning due to an early morning work appointment.
I forgot to mention a couple of birds seen earlier in the spring and I apologise to the finders.
A cracking 1st winter Iceland Gull was found in Llandudno Bay at the base of the Little Orme on March 31st by Julian Wheldrake. Thankfully I was close by and managed to connect with the bird before it flew over the Little Orme to the Penrhyn Bay side. It was then relocated here for a few minutes before again moving on west. I wonder if it was the one that turned up on the Wirral a few days later?

A Red throated Pipit was reported by Peter Alderson on March 19th. This bird quickly moved on but a bird was photographed on the same day that could have been a trap for the unwary. Below is an article I have written for Birding North West about the bird.

An Orange-breasted Meadow Pipit on the Great Orme, March 2010 – a possible trap for the unwary.

A Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus was reported on the Great Orme on March 19th 2010. The bird had been seen briefly by Orme regular, Pete Alderson above the cemetery and he had put the record out via Rare Bird Alert and Birdguides.

Unfortunately, due to the time of day, most locals were at work or were birding elsewhere so the bird did not receive the attention it deserved. Luckily a visiting birder was on site and managed to secure a picture of a pipit showing an extremely orange breast which was presumed to be the bird that Pete had seen earlier. The bird was not heard to call and moved on through quickly, disappearing before others arrived.

The pictures taken of the Great Orme bird certainly shows a distinct bird, one that would warrant close scrutiny by any birder. However, apart from the rich, orange tone to the breast, all other characteristics point to it being a Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis.

Although the original finder is quite sure that the bird photographed was not the original bird reported, it does serve as a reminder that these orange breasted Meadow Pipits can be a trap for the unwary.

In March 2004, I stumbled across a similar bird at Morfa Madryn NR which at got my pulse racing and the fuzzy photos I took were certainly a talking point at the time amongst the local birders. I tried hard to turn the bird into a Red-throated Pipit without success. It was then, as I researched the identification of this bird that I first came across the so-called race whistleri, a form that I had never heard of before and that could apparently be found in the western parts of Ireland and Scotland.

It was extremely timely then, that the following year, Richard Porter wrote an article in Birding World about an ‘Orange-breasted’ Meadow Pipit he had seen on Blakeney Point, Norfolk in March and discussed several other birds seen in the British Isles that showed similar features.

In the article it noted that Cramp et al. (1988) gives the range of whistleri as Ireland and western Scotland. It describes it as
on average deeper and redder olive-brown above [than nominate pratensis], and with slightly heavier black streaks; streaks on underparts similar to typical nominate pratensis from Scandinavia, but ground colours on chest sides of breast, and flanks markedly deeper, cinnamon-buff. East from western Scotland, populations gradually paler, and birds from USSR on average paler and greyer than Scandinavian ones, but difference very slight. Birds from Iceland and Greenland similar to Scandinavian birds, not to whistleri. Population from western Ireland an average slightly darker than those from western Scotland and hence sometimes separated as theresae, but differences slight and variation within Britain and Ireland gradual, thus theresae does not warrant recognition.

Cramp et al. also states ‘In fresh plumage from August to mid-winter, noticeably more richly coloured than nominate pratensis, being more rufous above and much less white below, with pink-buff (not yellow-buff) suffusion. Such birds can look startlingly different from more olive or paler brown individuals of nominate pratensis and may resemble A.travialis [Tree pipit] and A.cervinus [Red-throated Pipit]’.

His conclusion was that these distinctive birds were difficult to assign and could possibly be richly coloured whistleri race birds at the extreme end of the form, or that they were individuals of Meadow Pipits showing erythrism (excess red pigmentation). As I was convinced that it was a bird of this type that I had seen at Madryn, I began to take particular note of Meadow Pipits as they passed through each spring as well as having a good look at Meadow pipits while visiting the west of Ireland and have come across birds showing a buffy orange tone on a few occasions, especially in March or early April. However, I have not seen a bird as extreme as the 2010 Orme bird. In Porters article, he notes that McGeehan or Mullarney had never come across such an extreme bird as the Blakeney Point bird in their native Ireland, strengthening the thought that these birds have a pigmentation irregularity.

When I received the photographs of the March 2010 Orme bird, I was annoyed that I hadn’t seen the bird and had a chance to study it. I put the photographs on, Surfbirds forum and the North Wales Bird forum in the hope of generating some interest. There was a rather muted response, the vast majority being in favour of whistleri Meadow Pipit. Some readers had also posted references of similar birds such as one seen in Cambridgeshire during the same month. One photo was posted by Steve Fletcher from Spain showing an even more distinctive bird than the Orme individual; one that would send most birders pulses into overdrive.

Wherever these Meadow Pipits come from, they are certainly very interesting and remain a huge trap for the unwary. It is interesting that most birds are seen in March and early April, several weeks before the first Red-throated Pipit is seen in the United Kingdom. As for the original bird seen by Pete Alderson, we will never know, but as a Red throated Pipit was seen into December at Ballycotton, Ireland last year there is always a chance that an over-wintering bird may pass through early with Meadow pipits. However a brightly coloured throat and chest is not enough to clinch one and a full suite of features would have to be noted in a claim. The heavily streaked rump, the black and white mantle stripes, the yellowish base to the bill and of course the unique drawn out ‘psssiihh’ call would all have to be included in a notebook description, or even better a photograph to quash any doubts.

Porter R. 2005 Birding World Volume 18 number 4
Alstrom P and Mild, K. 2003. Pipits and Wagtails of Europe, Asia and North America
Cramp S. et al 1988 The Birds of the western Palearctic Vol. 5

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Misty morning produces very little

A terrible morning weather wise with rain and thick mist making visibility almost impossible in places. The only migrants noted were a single Whitethroat, a Willow Warbler, six Wheatears and a very lost Tree Pipit calling in the dense mist above the limestones. It was good to see that the Mistle Thrushes have bred successfully near the old cafe; a single fledged large chick was present today.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Yellow Wagtail and Lesser Whitethroat

A Yellow Wagtail was the highlight this morning, flying west over the sheep fields. The bird was a bright male and called several times. A fine Lesser Whitethroat also had made landfall during the night and made a welcome change from the last few birdless mornings. The dapper Sylvia was in the very last gorse bush at the northern end and was joined by 2 Willow Warblers that flew in from the sea. There were at least eight Willow Warblers in the various Hawthorns today while at least 20 Wheatear were also dotted around the limstones (nearly all Greenland birds). Overhead were two Tree Pipit and 5 Redpoll making their west along with two Sand Martin and 7 Swallows. A light westerly wind made a welcome change from the brisk northerlies seen over Bank Holiday weekend, unfortunately it had swung back NW by the time I left for work. Some birds are now breeding with Meadow pipits, Skylarks and Linnets all showing signs of nesting activity. The Linnets are starting to look very dapper and the Skylarks are in full song. Picture by Rob Sandham.

Monday, 3 May 2010

The spring so far - March and April.

Welcome to my Orme blog - detailing birds seen on the Great Orme and the surrounding area. Please feel free to contribute any sightings to make it as complete as possible.

The spring has been a mixed bag with a couple of decent birds, a steady trickly of migrants and some very quiet days!

Below are a list of first dates and highlights so far this spring:-

Corncrake - one on April 22nd (the first seen in the UK this year!)
Blue headed Wagtail (below) - one on April 24th
Common Redpoll - one on April 24th
Firecrest - one on April 29th

Wheatear - March 17th with 7 birds. Steady passage with maximum of 40 on April 24th
Ring Ouzel - male on March 27th follwoed by 14 birds (ringed bird left (Rob Sandham)
Willow warbler - 7 on April 10th with steady passage until now - max of 25+ on April 25th
Tree Pipit - 2 on April 11th, max of 15 on April 24th
Redstart - 3 males - April 11th, 24th and 25th.
Yellow wagtail - four birds so far - April 11th, 24th and 2 on 28th
Grasshopper Warbler - first on April 11th with 12 records so far
Swift - 2 on April 23rd
Swallow - first on April 10th
House Martin - first 2 on April 24th
Sand Martin - 2 on April 10th
Whinchat - one on April 25th and 2 on May 2nd
Garden Warbler - first 2 on April 25th
Whitethroat - first 2 on April 25th
Black cap - first 12 on April 25th
Cuckoo - one on April 29th
Sedge Warbler - first on April 29th

Six Golden Plover have been seen over the past few weeks, while many hundreds of Lesser Redpolls have been on the move with a maximum count of 65 on April 10th.
Offshore highlights include 10 Eider on May 3rd and 52 Sandwhicj Tern on May 2nd.

This Sparrowhawk has been terrorizing the migrants on the limestones! Chough, Peregrines, Stonechats, Skylark and Auks can all be seen with ease at the moment.