Many years ago I was amused to learn that the Italian navy's equivalent command for Action stations! was Panica generale! So, Panica generale! The birds are here. At last.
On Monday 8th April I left for a week in Wales where I would take my mother-in-law and friend to Llandudno for a couple of days, stay at her house and 'bird' North Wales before taking her home again and then returning to York on the Friday.
I started by going up the Great Orme by 8am on the Monday having left home before dawn. I soon saw wheatears and choughs and hundreds of meadow pipits. They were everywhere, almost under your feet. I had hoped for ring ouzel, but no sign. There was still quite a lot of snow on the summit. Where it had drifted aginst the stone walls it looked like wedding cake icing - it was so clean.
Heading west along the North Wales coast I took a favourite detour along the narrow Foryd Bay estuary road. I was thrilled to come upon a flock of over 30 sandwich terns.
The Glaslyn Osprey Project was my next stop. The birds are not easy to see, even with a scope, from the RSPB site but, if you are lucky as I was, if one of the pair flies off south you can get good views. The next photo shows the nest site: the right hand flat topped pine in the centre. I've started carrying my old Nikon 4500 for general views.
Next stop on day one was Pwllheli marina. If the tide is low there are always some good birds to see.
A pair of shelduck were displaying: the female briefly feigned indifference.
A heron let me get close as I looked down on him from the promenade.
A little egret was around too. This was the first time I've seen hostility between a grey heron and an egret. The heron chased the egret off but it only went to the other side of the stream that flows into the marina. I took this nice sequence.
Always have a cod liver oil capsule for tea!
Oh no, sorry, it's a tiny fish!
Porth Meudwy was the last port of call on the Monday: this secluded valley from where the boats go to Bardsey Island is a migrant hotspot so I walked in hope down to the cove. I saw a few warblers - all chiffchaff as far as I could tell. None was singing. This one was by the stream.
On a bank beside the path these primroses told me that spring had truly arrived and the sun was shining.
Tuesday was to be Anglesey day but in spite of my efforts I only picked up one year tick but it was my main target: black guillemots in Holyhead fish dock.
On Wednesday I decided to go up onto the Great Orme again and with much less wind I hoped for some photos. Good decision!
Within its own fenced off area I saw lots of dead carline or alpine thistle carlina acaulis. They dry beautifully.
The birds were showing better too...
Wheatears began to pop up everywhere.
Stonechats too. Everywhere the grass was winter-brown.
Always indcate before flying off left! But it was the female stonechat that proved most enchanting.
I also saw 2 ring ouzels but they wouldn't stop for a photo. Twice I raised my camera to focus to find the bird had already slipped away!
RSPB Conwy is nearby so I dropped in for a walk round. A heron popped his head up from the reeds and stared at me. I'm not sure who was most surprised! Seconds later he screeched and flew.
In a shady spot I spotted some flowering blackthorn prunus spinosus or sloe. Called blackthorn because of the very dark stems. Whitethorn is often applied to hawthorn but some, understandably, call blackthorn whitethorn! A group of jackdaws were on the grass outside one of the hides.
An oystercatcher was bathing. It obviously helps to keep your bill out of the water when you are almost completely submerged!
As I walked on towards the estuary I saw a large bird in a tree. As I raised my bins a buzzard flew off low past me. I had trouble with the focus lock but these are passable.
A lesser black-backed gull was standing in the shallows with three other lessers. Sand martins also seen.
I walked back to Tiggy along the Afon Conwy estuary. A curlew was backlit by the sun.
Thursday 11th April was a little embarrassing: battery failure on both cameras! I was happily photographing the morning's first train up the Welsh Highland Railway out of Caernarfon. So as a diversion, here are all I managed that day.
Beyer-Garrett 2-6-2 + 2-6-2: what a loco!
Imagine my surprise when I got back to my mother-in-law's house when I saw a blackcap on a suet cube in the adjoining garden. I had heard that a strange bird had been seen and I had been watching for it. I was up early next morning, recharged camera on my lap as I sat in the conservatory. These photos taken through glass show my 8th tick of the week.
Last day of my visit. I called at Conwy again in the rain. First swallows of the year - quite a lot of them. I practised that most difficult of skills: tracking hirundines. Alas, the light was poor but the shapes are still fabulous. Look at how the tail shape changes...
Since posting the above photo on Bird Guides yesterday [17/4] it has become the most voted for photo I have put on their site with 38 votes. Skim drinking!
Sand martins too.
A merganser cruised around.
A marsh harrier [which I never saw but others did] put up all the waders. First the redshanks.
The little egret.
The lapwing was, unusually, the last to go.
After a couple of days' enforced break I went up to Fence Houses near Houghton-le-Spring for a top quality bird: a little bunting. This bird was very hard to photograph as it skulked in the undergrowth by a stream but here are my best efforts. At least you can see what a little stripey thing it is!
Later I called at Saltholme and saw one house martin, one green sandpiper and a white wagtail. This reed bunting was quite confiding.
Ubiquitous redshank was much closer than the greensand.
The Shetland sheep had little lambs.
And a fox wanders the reserve. Better keep an eye on your lambs, mum!
Monday 15th April: dashed to Flamborough North Marsh to see the mega Baikal Teal. Distant and so many people in tiny hide couldn't get a photo but it was, nonetheless, lifer 390.
2013: 185 and counting.