Saturday, May 2, 2015

South Stack and Hoopoe Head

An unusual title for a blog post you might say; well South Stack is the well-know and truly amazing RSPB reserve on Holy Island, Anglesey, and a Hoopoe head is exactly that, the amazing head of an exotic rare visitor to our shores, but more of that later.
I had driven to North Wales originally with the intention of visiting the Great Orme in Llandudno to try and see a Ring Ouzel. The males of this close-relative of our Blackbird sport a white collar that contrasts markedly with the rest of their black plumage and these are always a joy to see if you are lucky enough to catch up with one. A few of these migrant thrushes had been frequenting kale fields on the Orme and I was keen to try and photograph one. But as I travelled along the North Wales coast my thoughts turned to seabirds and I decided to visit South Stack RSPB instead; after all on a visit a few years earlier I had found my own Ring Ouzel.
It was a beautiful sunny day so I shouldn't have been surprised by the number of people at South Stack, but the carpark by the café was full and there were a number of coach parties visiting this beautiful area. I decided to walk the less-frequented heath that extends towards North Stack in the hope of finding some Adders. My luck wasn't in, and I had even put a shorter lens on my camera in the hope of photographing our only venomous snake, which was a bit unfortunate when a Stonechat perched close by and a Kestrel flew overhead. But I did see some gorgeous male Wheatears and a few Swallows moving through.
I then walked down the steps towards South Stack lighthouse where I had excellent views of the Guillemots and Razorbills perched precariously on the precipitous cliffs. The geology of the area is fascinating and the auks make the most of the giant folds in the rocks, using the ledges as nest sites.
I also scanned the rafts of auks bobbing on the sea and was pleased to find a number of Puffins, these are quite scarce breeders in this part of Wales.
The heady coconut scent of gorse flowers filled the air as I walked to Ellin's Tower. I once read that the famous Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus visited Britain just to see and appreciate our amazing gorse bushes; they are indeed an underrated plant.
I returned to the café just as ace local birder Ken Croft was writing the word HOOPOE in large letters on the sightings board. A quick chat and I was soon on my way to the Range, an area of maritime heathland that is managed by the RSPB. Ken had only just found this exotic Mediterranean visitor so our chances of finding it again were good. A group of half a dozen birders gathered at the site of Ken's sighting but there was no sign of our target bird. So we split up and set off in different directions along the myriad of footpaths. After about half an hour of fruitless searching we regrouped at the original site just as Ken spotted the bird in  the distance. I raised my binoculars and was pleased to see the bird feeding distantly in a depression in the heather. But I could only see its exotically coloured head; its long down-curved bill was the perfect counterbalance for the tightly-packed black-barred crest. It is no wonder that the great naturalist Gerald Durrell named his pet Hoopoe Hiawatha.
But I was unable to study the beautiful plumage of the whole bird as it took off suddenly; I didn't even see it fly, which is a shame as such is its beauty it is sometimes known as the avian equivalent of a butterfly.
Despite extensive searching for most of the afternoon by an increasing number of birdwatchers, the Hoopoe wasn't seen again that day. But I did take the time to pause at the west end of the Range and watch a raft of about two hundred Manx Shearwaters lift off from the surface of the sea and fly effortlessly South.
The Hoopoe was seen again briefly later in the week and I returned to North Wales a few days later and caught up with a male Ring Ouzel on the Great Orme.

Guillemots on South Stack Cliffs.

Gorse by Ellin's Tower.

Record shot of Puffins on the sea.

Raft of Razorbills.

Male Stonechat.



Meadow Pipit on Gorse, Great Orme.

The first Hoopoe that I saw in Wales was way back in 1990, and I saw another near Rhyl in October 2013, where I took the following photos:

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