“Why have you put red-throated diver on there?” I asked Ken when he showed me through the species we should expect to see in our patch. We’d volunteered to take part in a birding initiative just for January; the Foot It challenge, bird watching on foot from your home. Ken had devised our species list of a mere 70 birds that we could clock up from our door, down to Holyhead Harbour and over to Penrhos Coastal Park (an area 2.5 x 1 mile). There were many birds I hoped we’d see and those that I thought much more unlikely like ‘exhibit A’ above.
We’ve been out on but a handful of occasions (six actually) and we had a real sense of excitement as we searched what was now ‘our patch’. Our challenge has been limited by the fact that we decided to do it together and that I am a pain to pin down. We’ve probably spent a total of around twelve hours getting to know our area better (the housing estate, the fish quay, the beach, the forest and the bays) and we’ve loved every second of biting wind, drenching rain, crunching snow and scorching sunshine (well, something like that).
Two weekends ago I was supposed to visit Aberystwyth but ended up being snowed in for the weekend. I embraced the fact that I wasn’t going anywhere and we had a successful snowy jaunt around our patch which brought us up to the grand total of 68 species and gave me, ill-equipped in my wellies, some extremely cold feet!
There were some glaring omissions from our list so far, no birds of prey whatsoever, the usually present goldeneye, Ken’s optimistic red-throated diver and a fairly regular bullfinch. As you may have noticed the list of missing species is greater than the two species by which were behind, meaning we’d picked up some unexpected corkers too! A chough was a welcome surprise feeding down on the beach, fieldfare and redwing brought in during the cold snap and a common guillemot was a very unusual sight for this patch. I dragged Ken out on a night walk so we could get to grips with our local tawny owl – a tad scary, but it paid off! A goldcrest and woodcock made an appearance on our first walk, but was a while later until Ken caught up with them. A second visit to a boggy area in the woods of Penrhos found us a chiffchaff (I just asked Ken whether this was my find and he gave me a cheeky smile as he said “yes”). A flock of Siskin flew overhead and we searched for that elusive bullfinch, not a rarity but something which could easily have been missed.
Yesterday we headed straight over to Penrhos to try to add Goldeneye to our list. For a moment we fancied we saw one from the nearest beach, in fact it was a razorbill taking our running total to 69! We paced on through the woods and sure enough, from the hide over-looking Beddmanarch Bay, we saw two Goldeneye bobbing up and down in the distant waves. High five! Our 70th bird and 100% of our predicted total!
Just as we were watching those ducks disappearing and reappearing a Kittiwake zoomed past in the strong winds, another ‘bonus’ bird not on our list and our 71st!
Ken and I love a good high five when we see a bird, but we took a tip from one of the founders of Foot It, Martin Garner, and adopted the Norwegian ‘X’ position for this occasion.
We were now very happy that we’d achieved our goal of 70 species, but we couldn’t leave the last day of January without ‘footing it’ and leaving rock pipit off our list. It was obviously playing hard to get so we thought we’d give it one last shot and headed down to the shore line. We saw birds feeding on the beaches, but none that added to our species list and then the rain came. We sheltered under an arch that separates the playing fields from the beach and searched for our desired rock pipit, no joy. Ken spotted a bird 200m out to sea but I couldn’t get on it. As we waited for it to resurface we saw a common guillemot in fabulous summer plumage as well as great-crested grebes bobbing around. A gust of wind brought it some unexpected visitors, two little gull fluttering above the waves like butterflies as they caught in the wind, a shimmering addition to our haul! As my gaze cast down towards the shore again I exclaimed “Ken, what’s this?” as his previously spotted red-throated diver came up out of the bay in front of us and showed us a nice side profile before flying out towards the skerries in the distance. Another high five moment. “That’s why I put red-throated diver on the list Kathy” – Ken always knows best.
Maybe there’s a moral to this tale, that when you go looking for a rock pipit who’s playing hard to get you get to date two stunning little gulls and have a dalliance with a red-throated diver? Perhaps not, but it’s always worth seeing what’s out there 😉
P.s- I had hoped to show you lots of pictures of us working our patch but wordpress is not playing ball tonight for some reason. Will update when I can!