My encounter with a hoopoe

I read with excitement yesterday that a hoopoe had been spotted at Conwy nature reserve and my fingers and toes were crossed hoping that it would still be there today.

What is a hoopoe? I hear some of you ask.

A hoopoe is normally seen in the warmer climate of Europe but the lone one can be spotted along our coast from time to time during its migration in Spring and Autumn.  It is a stunning and exotic looking bird about the size of a mistle thrush.  It has a brown body with black and white bars on its back and wings, a long downcurved bill and a fantastic black and white tipped crest.  It is difficult to see on the ground as it forages for insects by probing the earth and leaf litter with its brilliantly designed bill.  The hoopoe mostly loves to eat various insects but will eat worms and grubs too.

I have never seen one before so I couldn’t miss the opportunity to drive down there and hopefully see this stunning bird.  I got to Conwy, North Wales at 9am and there were already quite a few there waiting to see this mysterious bird.  There had apparently been a glimpse of it first thing so it was hopefully a matter of waiting till it popped out into the open again.  There were people (including myself) busily scurrying from the coffee shop to the next hide and back like a yoyo in hope of spotting it. This went on for an hour until I got lucky.  Suddenly one of the hides was alive with excitement and whispering….it had been spotted at last.

It was still a fair distance away but I could just see it through my 10×50 binoculars but better still through a spotting scope. What struck me about the bird, apart from how beautiful and exotic it is, was how well it was camouflaged on the ground amongst the rocks.  One minute you saw it, then the next it seemed to disappear, merging into the background like a ghost.

It was fantastic to see such a stunning bird, especially in such a beautiful reserve as RSPB Conwy.  Even though it was too far away for my little camera to take any photos, at least I can say that I have seen my first hoopoe.

Spot the hoopoe 😀

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Can you see it yet 😀

 

RSPB Conwy is such a lovely place surrounded by wildlife, history and stunning views.  As well as the hoopoe I got to see various waders, herons and robins,

and gaze out at Conwy castle, the lovely estuary and Mount Snowdon.

(Check out the Birds of Britain website here to see photo of a hoopoe and read more about them.)

 

Unfortunately as I finish writing my blog, word comes in that a peregrine has taken the hoopoe.   RIP hoopoe, I’m glad I got to see you 😦

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Surveying amphibians and reptiles

On Friday the weather forecast had given sun so the North Wales Amphibian and reptile officer and myself headed for the North Wales coast in the hope of surveying sand lizards.

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Annoyingly as we arrived at the coastal sand dunes the sun disappeared behind a blanket of cloud.  We needed the sun to come out for a bit so as to warm the basking areas so we could hopefully spot a sand lizard coming out of one of its holes in the sand to get warm in the sun.

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It looked however, like there could be a small break in the clouds coming up shortly so we walked to the beach while we waited. It’s amazing how much gets washed up on shore.  There seemed to be a lot of sea urchins and razor shells along the tide line.

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Suddenly we saw the sun about to poke out from behind the clouds and we walked back towards the dunes.  As we walked through the dune system we suddenly started to notice tiny little paw prints in the bare sand.  A stoat maybe??

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To my amazement, I also saw quite a few fungi in the sand dunes.  I never realised before that fungi would grow in such an environment.

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We found a good spot for watching sand lizards and we waited with our binoculars ready.  Using binoculars is a great way to observe the sand lizards from a distance without disturbing.  Unfortunately the clouds once again hid the sun so no sand lizards to be seen.

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When we realised that the sun wasn’t coming out we decided to visit the special natterjack toad areas to check the refugia there for signs of wildlife.

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Although I never saw any natterjack toads I did see a number of frogs and I especially liked an unusual dark honey coloured one we found.

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We found a number of beautiful smooth newts,

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and I even spotted a slug laying eggs in a hole.

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Even better still, I found and got to hold my first common lizard.  He was stunning and quick moving.  He had dug himself a little area to rest in under the refugia so after I had said hello to him, I placed him back safely.

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Even though I didn’t find the sand lizards I had originally wanted to see, I still had the most fantastic day surrounded by nature.

(For more photos of my amphibian and reptile survey head over to my Facebook page here )

Worlds End in Llangollen

It was a dull rainy day when I left Chester but as I arrived at Llangollen, the Autumnal sun was shining.

Today was going to be a mini adventure as my friend and I decided to go in search of a place called Worlds End. We drove up and down twisty narrow country lanes admiring the stunning  Eglwyseg Escarpment as we passed. (This escarpment is great for geology)20160901_103313

Worlds End is indicated on the map but on the ground there are no signposts near by for the gorge. We drove over a ford on a tight bend and caught a glimpse of this magical place before driving past upwards onto the moors.2016-10-17-17.54.21.jpg.jpeg

The heather moors is a bleak yet beautiful place but on this cold crisp Autumnal day we saw no sign of wildlife unfortunately. We managed to park up on the roadside on Eglwyseg mountain and as we stepped out of the car, the stillness hit me. It was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop and it felt quite a spooky place. (These moors are steeped in history and have many prehistoric cairns)

We knew which direction we wanted to be in so armed with a map we set off over the moor in search of Worlds End gorge. At first we found a well worn wide path but then we veered off onto what I can only describe as a sheep track as it was very narrow.

As the path came to an end we noticed a wire fence and our hearts sank a little as we wondered if you could even get to this mysterious place. Undeterred we walked on determined to at least see what was round the corner, and I’m glad we did as round the corner poking out of the fence was a little stile.  At last we would be able to find our way into the magical gorge.20161012_114707.jpg

As we climbed over the stile we then began to hear birds tweeting amongst the trees and see fungi and ferns. We carefully climbed down a steep rocky path through a wood, being careful not to slip on the moss covered boulders. Suddenly the trees gave way to reveal a most magical view. 20161012_115139.jpg

It was like a long forgotten magical landscape. I was almost expecting pixies to pop up from behind the ferns, Merlin to appear from behind a tree or a dragon to pop its head out from one of the caves. All the rocky outcrops were laden with moss and I could hear the sound of running water from one of the caves. 20161012_114631.jpg 20161012_115003.jpgAs we walked further on we saw tall white cliffs appear in front of us with trees growing from its limestone crevices. We were enclosed by the cliffs of Craig y Forwyn, Craig y Cythraul, and Craig yr Adar, and they were stunning.

We saw water coming up from the earth which then became a babbling brook cascading downwards to a Ford below and beyond. (The River Eglwyseg)

We stopped for a while to soak up the atmosphere, before heading towards the bottom stile where it meets the Ford.  From here we walked back up the lane once more to the moors where the car was parked.20161012_121011.jpg

This place really is a hidden gem and with landscapes such as this, no wonder Wales is steeped in rich myths and legends. I was almost disappointed I didn’t see a dragon  😉

 

 

Wirral Wader Fest

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It was a lovely warm day and the sky was a beautiful azure blue so I decided to see what was going on at the Wirral Wader Festival. The festival takes place in a number of location in Wirral so I decided I would go to Thurstaston.

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There were stalls from Wader Quest, RSPB and Cheshire Wildlife Trust, as well as some talks on waders. There was an interesting display of taxidermy birds such as plover and curlew. It was amazing to see them close up. I’m so use to seeing them through binoculars so it was fascinating to see their actual size. It was also interesting to see where these birds have been spotted on the Wirral shore and where they migrate from.

The volunteers and staff on the stalls at the visitors centre were so helpful and friendly. I listened about the conservation efforts to help wading birds, and even listened to interesting facts and stories about RSPB badges. Everyone was so super friendly, welcoming and knowledgeable. It was a joy to listen and learn from them. Of course, I left with some more lovely badges to add to my collection.

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As I walked onto the beach I got my binoculars out and looked around for signs of wildlife, but it was high tide so I only saw 2 flocks of birds who were bobbing gently out on the water having a snooze. I decided to sit down on the sand for a while listening to the waves rolling in on the shore and enjoying the view of Wales across the water. (See video)

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I love walking along looking at the geology on Thurstaston beach as well as seeing what the tide has washed up on the shore. The cliffs are formed from what is known as glacial till.

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This boulder clay sediment is full of different pebbles and rock which a glacier brought down from the Southern Uplands of Scotland and from the Lake District during the Ice Age.

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You can even find salt pseudomorphs here. These are crystal structures that formed when salt water dried out which were then covered with sediment preserving their shape. I think geology is so fascinating.

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On my way back up to the visitors centre I saw comma butterflies, and bees enjoying the ivy hedges, and the shrubs were alive with the sound of tweeting birds. (see video)

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I even saw a magpie sat on a bench enjoying the view of Wales and the warm sun on its feathers.

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Just before I left I stopped to have a look in one of the ponds and saw red darters skimming the waters surface.

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The Wader Festival is only in its 2nd year so I look forward to seeing how its grows and evolves with time.

It was a beautiful day to be out in nature surrounded by friendly people, amazing geology and great wildlife.

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