A few days of birdwatching in North Wales can offer a wealth of great bird sightings and some beautiful and varied habitats if you plan your trip well. Bird guide Ruth Miller of Birdwatching Trips organised a North Wales tour for her group that ticked all the boxes. She shares the plan that led to four days of glorious May birdwatching.
Our birdwatching in North Wales began at Llandudno Junction railway station, just three hours by train from central London. We were only minutes away from RSPB Conwy Nature Reserve where we started enjoying the first birds of the trip. In May this is where to savour Whimbrel and Curlew feeding on the estuary, along with Little Egrets and Shelduck. So while Swifts glided above the lagoons we built up an impressive list of birds.
Next, we headed south, down the Conwy Valley, to where there is a lovely viewpoint overlooking water-meadows. Beyond the meadows, there is a range of hills. Buzzards and Red Kites fly there and we were lucky to witness an impressive female Goshawk sparring with Ravens. Our day ended at our accommodation in the village of Trefriw.
Day Two Birdwatching In North Wales
The second day called for an early start to look for a very special bird: Black Grouse. These spectacular birds put on an amazing dawn display, or lek, so we had to leave our hotel at 4.30 am. It can be difficult to predict the weather in May, so you have to be prepared for everything. For us, the weather that day was not good. Despite a reasonable forecast, the rain was pouring down and then it started to snow! Nevertheless, we decided birding was what we were here to enjoy so we would press on.
Daylight increased and we could see our hilltop destination was already covered in snow. We just had to hope the birds would still show. As we climbed in altitude the landscape became a winter wonderland although, thankfully, the road was clear. Amazingly, Black Grouse were busy at their lek despite the unexpected return to mid-winter and we enjoyed superb views. It just shows, if you’re planning a birdwatching holiday in North Wales there are good birds whatever the weather.
Photo credit: Ruth Miller, Birdwatching Trips – Black Grouse
The male Black Grouse looked even more spectacular than usual against the snow. As a bonus, the sky cleared and we could enjoy those special birds in the sunshine. To add to the scene, a beautiful male Hen Harrier floated over the newly fallen snow. It was a magical sighting but it was far from a one-off. In this part of the country, there are amazing avian experiences to be had year-round.
Despite the sun, it was cold on the moors, so we dropped down into a sheltered valley below the snow line. There we enjoyed more exciting birds, including a pair of Mandarins, Dippers, Redstarts, Pied Flycatchers, Tree Pipits and Blackcaps. There was even a very showy Garden Warbler.
Photo credit: Ruth Miller, Birdwatching Trips – Common Redstart
Next up was RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands Reserve on the Flintshire/Cheshire border. This is a place that can guarantee a good bird spectacle. Waders are a theme in the reserve and we soaked up views of Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits. There were Common Redshank, Little Ringed Plover and a stunning Spotted Redshank in breeding plumage. There were plenty of Little Egrets and also four Great White Egrets.
Just as we were thinking of heading back to Trefriw we heard there was a Cattle Egret! We followed our informant down a path. Sure enough, there was a Cattle Egret in breeding finery feeding amongst a herd of cows. Well, where else would it be? The bird list that evening totalled 93 species and included some exceptional birds.
Day Three And A Visit To Anglesey
After a lovely pre-breakfast walk by the Conwy River in the sun, we headed to the Isle of Anglesey. We spent the whole day exploring and birding this beautiful part of North Wales. The first stop was at a shallow bay where we watched Sandwich and Arctic Terns fishing. There was also a lovely pair of Great Crested Grebes.
Photo Credit: Ruth Miller, Birdwatching Trips – Anglesey South Stack
We then went on to RSPB South Stack where we walked across the heath to the cliff tops. This is where you can enjoy a spectacular view of a seabird colony. On the water, there were hundreds of Common Guillemots and Razorbills and we quickly picked out Puffins amongst them. The cliff ledges were crammed with more Common Guillemots, Razorbills and Fulmars. Chough flew overhead and we had good telescope views of one perched on the clifftop. Just as we were leaving, a Chough landed on the grass right next to us. A thrillingly close view of this red-legged, red-billed crow.
A short drive took us to Holyhead Harbour where we immediately found our target birds: Black Guillemots. Nine of these smart black-and-white auks put on a show on the calm water of the harbour.
It may seem strange, but after that, we took the group to McDonald’s in the centre of Holyhead. We weren’t planning a burger and fries lunch, though. We were after two Hooded Crows that had been seen loitering for scraps in the car park. Luckily, they were just where we hoped to find them!
At Cemlyn Lagoon on the north coast of Anglesey, we stopped for a picnic lunch overlooking the water. There is always plenty to see and hear at this nature reserve managed by the North Wales Wildlife Trust. Hundreds of Sandwich Terns were on the lagoon islands and amongst them many Arctic Terns and a few Common Terns. Careful checking amongst the many Black-headed Gulls produced two Mediterranean Gulls.
Meanwhile, two Golden Plover roosted on one of the islands. And a small flock of Dunlin played hide-and-seek amongst the rocks. Red-breasted Mergansers dived in the lagoon and Common Sandpiper and Common Redshank fed at the edge.
We walked out to the headland for some sea-watching. Along the way, we stopped to enjoy incredibly close views of a Golden Plover and a breeding-plumaged Dunlin. A late Red-throated Diver flew past, along with a Gannet and a few Shags. A small flock of Ringed Plover and Dunlin dropped down on the shore right in front of us. Atlantic Grey Seals loafed on the rocks just offshore where several Whimbrel and Oystercatchers also roosted.
Photo Credit: Ruth Miller, Birdwatching Trips – Pied Flycatcher
There was just time to take in another site that day, before heading back to the hotel. So we called in at RSPB Cors Ddyga, a wonderful wetland reserve. There, we walked along a track to the Cefni River amidst a great selection of birds. It was exciting to see so many Lapwings breeding on the wet meadows. And a Little Ringed Plover caused excitement because it’s a rare bird on Anglesey. A male Marsh Harrier floated over, another rarity in North Wales, and made a perfect end to a sunny day. Day three had been packed with 94 species of exciting birds!
Day Four In Snowdonia
The last day of this birdwatching tour of North Wales was spent exploring Snowdonia National Park. Wood Warbler was our target. At first, we only heard about three birds and got several glimpses. But at last one of those gorgeous warblers showed off for us. Pied Flycatchers also showed well in the same wood, while Goldcrest and Treecreeper were new additions to our list.
Higher into the mountains, we found Common Redstart and even six Twite, very rare birds in North Wales. These delightful streaky finches posed on a slate fence for us, accompanied by two Lesser Redpoll in the same spot.
All-in-all we recorded 125 species on this four-day birdwatching trip in North Wales! So, you can see how possible it is to plan a custom tour that will show you some amazing sights in just a few days. North Wales has a lot of interesting birds to offer whenever you choose to visit, as well as beautiful scenery, good food and friendly people!
Are You Interested In Planning A Birdwatching Trip In North Wales?
The local wildlife specialists on Blue Sky Wildlife will help you plan your next birding holiday in North Wales, whether you are looking for a day trip or longer, a group tour or something custom-made.
Professional bird guides, Ruth Miller and her partner Alan Davies run Birdwatching Trips. They can custom-make tours in North Wales of any duration and for every level of a birdwatcher. They also lead tours to other parts of the UK, as well as a variety of overseas locations.
Original Date of Publish: 12 March 2021