Day 1: Sat 27 Sep - Arrival in North Wales and afternoon birding
We meet rail travellers at Bangor Station at 1pm before driving to our comfortable hotel, where those arriving by car join the tour. Once organised and settled, we head out for a few hours birding along the North Wales coastline at sites local to Bangor, or venturing slightly further to Conwy RSPB. Opening in 1996 after the construction of the nearby A55 tunnel, Conwy is a great place to begin with a nice mix of tidal estuary, scrapes, freshwater lagoons and scrub. Building flocks of Oystercatcher, Curlew, Redshank and Dunlin often harbour scarcer species such as Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Curlew Sandpiper or Little Stint on autumn. Great and Little Egret may both be seen on the wetlands, Kingfisher favour quiet water filled channels and we may encounter passage warblers like Common and Lesser Whitethroat in the bushes as we walk between the hides. Flexibility is key on a migration tour such as this, and if on the day conditions are favourable for a passerine arrival we may explore the limestone headland of the Great Orme instead. We stay overnight in Bangor for four nights.
Day 2: Sun 28 Sep – Anglesey
The large island of Anglesey (Ynys Môn) and its smaller neighbour Holyhead (Caergybi) boast a mixture of habitats from rugged rocky coastlines, tidal floodplains and freshwater pools. Its position at the northern tip of Wales only enhances its migrant-attracting potential, the scrubby cover around Breakwater Country Park and South Stack worth checking for passerines. Walking around the headland, our first Chough, plus Peregrine, Raven and Hooded Crow may also be encountered. If conditions have grounded migrant pipits, chats, warblers, thrushes and finches, other possibilities include Ring Ouzel, Snow Bunting or perhaps something scarcer like Yellow-browed Warbler. Offshore we look for Black Guillemot, and tidal estuaries such as the Braint or Malltraeth and its Cob Pool host passage waders including Black-tailed Godwit and Greenshank. Wildfowl numbers will be starting to grow at sites such as at the flooded former colliery at Cors Ddyga, and perhaps we will get lucky and glimpse a Bittern skulking in the reedbed or Marsh Harrier floating overhead. Water Rail and Cetti’s Warbler will likely be heard calling too, though can be notoriously hard to see!
Day 3: Mon 29 Sep – Bardsey Island
Lying 2 miles off the tip of the Llŷn Peninsular, Bardsey (Ynys Enlli) is home to a Bird Observatory, established and studying migration since 1953. With a nice range of sheltered habitats and the influence of a lighthouse, this island is firmly placed in the Welsh ornithological history books with a reputation for attracting migrants and especially rarities. We drive early down the Llŷn, walking through the valley at Porth Meudwy (itself an excellent migrant haven) to catch our crossing to the island. With plenty of time to comfortably cover the main birding areas, we focus on finding migrants in the vegetated gardens, fertile farmland, withy beds and sandy beaches. Regular scarcities include Wryneck, Red-backed and Woodchat Shrike, Melodious and Barred Warbler and we work closely with the Observatory team, perhaps with the opportunity to witness some bird ringing too. The east side is dominated by the 167m high Mynydd Enlli, the rewards for those who scale it being commanding views over the Irish Sea and Cardigan Bay. Chough may be seen anywhere on Bardsey and at this time of year, Grey Seal pups will also be visible on secluded beaches and coves. With the prevailing winds dictating which species may be on the move, who knows what might turn up!
Day 4: Tue 30 Sep – Llŷn Peninsula
Without the time pressure of a ferry to catch, we return to the gentle arc of the Llŷn to explore its birding delights. With numerous exposed headlands such as Mynydd Mawr and vegetated coves around Aberdaron at our beck and call, the peninsula is a real hidden gem offering vast potential to find our own birds! Out on the cliffs, Raven and Chough will be ever present and there is always a chance of migrating Dotterel, Golden Plover or Lapland Bunting in amongst the Wheatear, Meadow and Rock Pipit. In the sheltered valleys, migrant passerines may include a range of warblers, Redstart, Whinchat, Pied and Spotted Flycatcher with chances of a rarity. Meanwhile, near the head of the peninsula at the mouth of the Menai Straits is Foryd Bay, an excellent place to see wading birds at a high-tide roost. The site is renowned for its wintering Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Jack Snipe and (Pale-bellied) Brent Geese – perhaps the first of these arriving at this time. Gull flocks often contain increasing numbers of Mediterranean or Yellow-legged Gull, with Sandwich and Common Tern also likely among them.
Day 5: Wed 1 Oct – Transfer to South Wales
Today marks our shift to the south, traveling down the curve of Cardigan Bay, breaking up the journey with birding stops along the way. At roughly halfway, the Dyfi Estuary at Ynyslas should give us a range of passage waders such as Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Curlew, Black and Bar-tailed Godwit and perhaps Whimbrel or Curlew Sandpiper too. Migrant wildfowl on the pools can include Pintail and Garganey, and a locally bred Osprey might still be hanging around. Deviating away from the coast to explore new habitats inland is another option, and perhaps we can try Cors Caron NNR, a part of Tragaron Bog which still supports a (very small) residual population of Willow Tit. Scanning the moorland and forest edges, raptors including Red Kite, Goshawk, Hen Harrier and Merlin may also be seen, before we return coastwards and to our accommodation in Pembroke where we stay for three nights.
Day 6: Thur 2 Oct – North Pembroke
Strumble Head is renowned for its sea-watching status in autumn and following strong north-westerly blows, the brave can certainly reap the rewards! Good views of auks, Gannet, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Manx and Sooty Shearwater, Storm Petrel are possible, as are Leach’s Petrel, Sabine’s Gull, Grey Phalarope and multiple skua species. And with numerous other headlands spanning St. David’s, Dinas & Cemaes, we are truly spoilt for choice, keeping an eye on the bird news and reacting accordingly should anything turn up. Tefi Marshes near Cardigan is another site we will likely visit during our tour, the hides there offering good viewing opportunities. Autumn waders dropping in can include Ruff, Wood and Green Sandpiper, the feeders attract Nuthatch and waiting patiently a Water Rail or Cetti’s Warbler might actually reveal themselves!? Red and Sika Deer both reside here, and we do our fair share of exploring other lesser-travelled sites in North Pembroke in search of our own birds.
Day 7: Fri 3 Oct – South Pembroke
Paying close attention to what has been recorded locally, we head out and birdwatch in a variety of exciting venues around the headlands to the south of St Brides Bay. Locations such as Marloes Mere, Dale Gann and St Ann’s Head may warrant our attention, before moving around the coast to the other side of Milford Haven and exploring sites across the MOD Castlemartin Range. Likely species include Chough, Raven, Stonechat, Wheatear while dispersing Dartford Warbler can sometimes find thy’re way here. On the southern coast, St Govan’s really proved its worth in autumn 2023 during an epic influx of north American rarities to Pembrokeshire, with a Magnolia Warbler AND a Canada Warbler barely a mile apart for several days! Visiting an outlying island such as Ramsey may also be possible, be it to explore and search for migrants ourselves, or if an exciting vagrant may be on offer!
Day 8: Sat 4 Oct – Departure
Our exact plan will be dictated by travel arrangements, with the choice to depart the tour from Milford Haven train station. As part of our plans, we will need to drive back north to Bangor for clients to collect cars, and it is there where our tour officially concludes at around 1pm.