Friday, June 12, 2015

Llandegla Forest (part 2)

I visited Llandegla Forest in North Wales at the end of April with my girlfriend Jane (see previous post), and although we saw some fantastic birds there were a number of species that we missed so a return visit was definitely on the cards. An early start at the beginning of May saw us walking up the Offa's Dyke path and into the forest not long after sunrise.
It was a great place for a dawn chorus. Common woodland birds including Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush, Robin, Wren and Dunnock provided a rich musical symphony as we made our way through the ranks of conifers and up onto the open ground adjacent to the Denbighshire moorland. As on our previous visit the arias of Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs were very much in evidence, along with the fruity songs of Blackcaps. On the open ground Tree Pipits twittered in parachuting display as Siskins and Redpolls flew overhead.

Willow Warbler

We made our way to the hide overlooking the moorland, it was here a few years ago that we were priveledged to see a male Hen Harrier quartering the heather, like some long forgotten spirit of the hills. It's remarkable how once you have seen a special bird in a certain place that you always expect to see that bird in the same place again; but that rarely happens, and today was no exception as far as the harrier was concerned. A Raven cronked in the distance and flapped lazily over a dip in the heather. We were too late in the year for the lekking of the Black Grouse but I did manage to scope two beautiful males feeding on the heather. Another good find was a male Whinchat perched sentinel-like on a small tree among the heather his peachy breast and pale supercilium clearly visible through the telescope, but he didn't come within range of my camera.
A couple of Whitethroats were singing their scratchy songs close by but remained camera-shy. Not so a Redpoll which paused briefly near the hide and allowed a few record shots to be taken.


A very obliging Willow Warbler fed and sang in willows and young conifers near the hide and allowed me to take some photos that illustrate the subtle beauty of this exquisite migrant.

But, best of all, the distinctive disyllabic panpipe call of a Cuckoo had us hastily gathering our gear and marching smartly towards a nearby copse. Through my scope we could see the bird calling in the distance, but if flew into the forest and we could not relocate it. Nevertheless this enigmatic Spring icon was a very welcome addition to our dawn chorus list.
We strolled down to the reservoir were a pair of Canada Geese were busy defending their area of water from another pair.


A large shoal of Minnows was milling in the shallow bankside water, but there was no sign of the expected tadpoles. On the far side of the reservoir a bare patch of rock was hosting some sunning butterflies including Small Tortoiseshell and a few Peacocks.
We continued our journey back to the visitor centre when the unmistakable call of a Crossbill was heard. Scanning the tops of the trees we located a beautiful green female Crossbill perched on the very top a the tallest conifer. A great bird and one that we had failed to see on our previous visit. And there was one last surprise as we made our way back to the car, I heard the fluty song of a Redstart and located this gorgeous bird in an oak by the road. With its red breast, quivering orange-red tail and black face crowned and mantled with a luscious silvery-grey, this is surely our most attractive songbird.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Llandegla Forest (part 1)

At the end of April I booked a day off work with the intention of visiting Bempton Cliffs RSPB in Yorkshire. Unfortunately I was a bit unwell in the morning so I didn't fancy the long drive from the Wirral, but I didn't want to waste my day and decided to go for a walk around Llandegla Forest in North Wales.
Coed Llandegla is a commercial forest that opened to the public in 2005 as a mountain biking venue. But alongside the great biking trails are some fantastic wildlife habitats, indeed 50% of the Welsh Black Grouse population can be found within one mile of the forest, and in the summer the clearfell areas are home to Nightjars. Jane and I were too late in the day to witness the lekking of the grouse but we were happy to stroll around the forest in search of other wildlife.
Warblers were much in evidence as we wandered the trails through the conifers. The cascading song of the Willow Warbler is definitely one of my favourite sounds of Spring and they were probably the commonest songster on our walk.

We walked to the hide that overlooks the moorland where the Black Grouse lek in the early morning knowing we wouldn't see any but Ravens and Buzzards provided some consolation. It was quite a warm day and the willow flowers were a welcome source of nectar for foraging bees.

 Chiffchaffs, Chaffinches, Blackbirds and Song Thrushes added to the mid-morning chorus, and the twittering calls of Siskin and Redpoll reminded us that the forest is a great habitat for these species.
A very obliging Wren perched and sang on some conifer logs and provided me with some memorable images.

Walking up a broad forest track near an area of clearfell we saw a largish brown bird disappearing behind a stand of conifers. "Cuckoo" we both said, more in hope than anything else. We quickly walked to the other side of the conifers only to find that our 'Cuckoo' was in fact a Mistle Thrush! It was a lovely bird but Llandegla is one of our favourite sites for Cuckoo, but maybe we were too early in the season for this African migrant.
We picnicked on a seat that overlooks Moel Famau, the highest hill in the Clwydian range. The hill is crowned with a tower which was built to commemorate the golden jubilee of George III in 1810. The tower gives the hill a unique profile that makes it easily recognised from some distance.
I shared my lunch with an unusually shy Robin and then we set off back to the visitor centre. As we neared the carpark I thought I heard the call of a Crossbill as two finch-sized birds disappeared over the forest canopy. I could not be sure though, so it didn't make it on to the day list. Crossbills used to be a guaranteed sighting a Llandegla, to the point that one area of the forest was nicknamed "Crossbill Corner". But after a cold winter a couple of years ago they have become more infrequent. They are a mobile species anyway so an irruption might boost the numbers here in the future.