Thursday, 18 June 2015

30 Days Wild | Day 17 - Little Tern fun at Gronant

For day 17 of 30 Days Wild I had planned a special trip to somewhere i'd wanted to go for a while. I figured I deserved a treat after my exam last week! The place in question was the Little Tern colony at Gronant on the North Wales coast. It's easy to get to by train (my driving test is booked for next month, eek!) so in the morning I headed off from Birmingham New Street station to Prestatyn. When I had first booked this day off work the weather forecast had been very good, however it had deteriorated somewhat since then so I was hoping the predicted rain wouldn't come to much! I always enjoy a long train journey and on this occasion I started reading a book Chris gave me for Christmas, Hare by Simon Carnell - last year I read the Owl book in this series too so was looking forward to learning about hares, their natural history and their place in human history and mythology.

Train reading.
From Prestatyn the tern colony was very easy to get to - I walked to the coast, then walked east parallel with the sea until I reached the colony. The route I followed was part of the well-signposted coast path and took me through the dunes which were marvellous! I took my time along the way and enjoyed the birds and plants. There were Skylarks aplenty, and several times I startled them up from the path ahead. I also saw Linnets and Meadow Pipits, and heard a Whitethroat. The weather was very warm and still with only occasional drizzle, and I even saw a Small Heath butterfly. Plant-wise, I have never seen so many Pyramidal Orchids in my life, they were everywhere! I also found 2 Bee Orchids as well.

Information board in Prestatyn, including a Little Tern illustration.
The start of my walk along the sea to Gronant.
Think I'll take the high road....
Boardwalk along the top of the dunes.
The coast path through the dunes.

Pyramidal Orchids (Anacamptis pyramidalis) everywhere!

Dune flora, loads of Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor) and Pyramidal Orchids (Anacamptis pyramidalis).

First Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera).

Second Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera).

As I arrived at the boardwalk leading up to the Little Tern colony viewpoint I spotted a female Stonechat atop a bush with some food in her beak.... I waited to see where she would take it. She jumped down into the long grass below where one of her fledglings was waiting, and gave the food to the hungry young'un! She was then joined back at the top of her perch by a smart male Reed Bunting. I headed along the boardwalk and set up my scope at the viewpoint. The Little Tern colony is fenced off every year to protect it from disturbance and predators, so its location was immediately clear and I was soon enjoying smashing views of the terns. Parts of the colony were obscured by the dunes in front, but there was one area that I had a clear view of, and I watched the terns sitting on their eggs snuggled down in the shingle, and coming and going on feeding trips. There were plenty feeding out at sea too, and a few resting on the sand as the tide went out.

View from the boardwalk, nice clumps of Sea-purslane (Atriplex portulacoides).

The sightings board.

Little Tern info!

View out towards the tern colony, it is just about visible - the shingle area on the left with fencing.
As well as the terns there were quite a few Oystercatchers and Ringed Plovers around, the odd Swallow flying over, a large group of Cormorants roosting on the sand and a couple of Curlews which flew by; I also heard a Redshank a few times but didn't see any. Up until this point I had been doing just about OK with the weather - it was very muggy and overcast with occasional small drizzly outbreaks. However after I'd been at the viewpoint for a while the wind started to pick up and the rain became slightly more insistent. It was time to head back! At the top of the boardwalk I saw the Stonechat family again, this time the male fed a fledgling. I walked back the way I came and although the weather wasn't getting any better I still wanted to look at plants!

I think this is Sea Sandwort (Honckenya peploides).
Another Pyramidal Orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis), this time with a shieldbug!
Not 100% sure but I think this might be Lesser Trefoil (Trifolium dubium)?
Sea Bindweed (Convolvulus soldanella).
The warm wet conditions were also perfect for these snails, which were everywhere. I always like seeing them as they are close relations of the species I studied for my Open University evolution module last year, White-lipped Snail (Cepaea hortensis). Both species show an interesting polymorphism - their shell colours and numbers of stripes vary within species.

Many-banded morph of Brown-lipped Snail (Cepaea nemoralis).
Single-banded morph of Brown-lipped Snail (Cepaea nemoralis).
I arrived back in Prestatyn rather soggy, but the rain didn't last long and I soon dried off again once it had stopped! Not only had the tern colony been a great birding destination that had lived up to my expectations, the journey to and from it via the dunes had been equally enjoyable for their botanical interest. There is some good info here about the Little Tern colony, I think I might visit again in winter for some more wader action and maybe some Snow Buntings or even Shorelarks.....

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