A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Monday, 23 March 2015

Surf Scoters in North Wales

After failing to catch up with the regular Surf Scoters that can be found off the North Wales coast each year for an incredible 4 winters (despite numerous visits probably nudging in to the 20s!!) I finally saw them for the first time last January off Pensarn.

This weekend as the weather was gloriously sunny (perfect for scoter searching) I made a return trip – this time to Old Colwyn where the reports suggested the birds had been spotted earlier that morning.

Ranging across Llandulas, Pensarn and Old Colwyn, it is always useful to know beforehand where the birds are favouring. Whereas last year they were mostly spotted off Pensarn near to the café, this year the birds seemed to have switched preferences to nearby Old Colwyn, where the majority of the reports have come from this winter.

Used to spending several cold hours staring out to sea in search of them, after around 5 or 10 minutes I couldn’t believe it when I actually picked one out! In one of the more distant flocks, the perfect spring sun made the distinctive white patch on the back of the head and brightly coloured bill literally stand out a mile away. Alex later spotted the second drake a little closer in, and eventually the two came together – a pair of white blobs clearly visible amongst a sea of thousands of all-black Common Scoters.
Surf Scoter, Old Colwyn
My phone scoped scoter!
Finding 2 Surf Scoters amongst a flock of thousands upon thousands of Common Scoters may seem daunting, but it is the large white patch on the back of the head and a second white patch where the bill is (sometimes they are too distant to make out the yellow and orange colouration) that gives them away.
Surf Scoter, Old Colwyn
The white on the back of the head is clearly visible even at a distance
The light was absolutely perfect for seawatching and by timing it with an exceptionally high tide at midday with a flat calm sea and no wind, I couldn’t have asked for more ideal conditions. Several Velvet Scoters were also in some of the closer rafts – the yellow lower bill and even the white around the eye of the drakes visible through the scope! One in particular seemed very active – flying from raft to raft and proudly displaying the gorgeous bold white squares on the wings as he flew.
Velvet Scoter, Old Colwyn
The white eye and yellow bill of the velvet (third from the right) can just be made out in Alex's picture
Velvet Scoter, Old Colwyn
The structural differences between the Velvet and Commons is also obvious
It’s definitely worth waiting for the ideal day to come along, as this makes it so much easier to spot the Surfs in the good light as opposed to fruitlessly scanning a choppy sea in gloomy weather. When all the birds are constantly bobbing behind the waves it can soon turn in to an absolute nightmare!

The birds will soon be leaving the wintering grounds along the North Wales coast to head to their breeding grounds, and with up to 7 drakes spotted this year, they must surely be breeding somewhere in Europe along with the many thousands of Commons. Fingers crossed they all return next year – who knows, they may even reach double figures!

To view from the Rainbow Bridge at Old Colwyn, park next to the small playground on Glan-Y-Mor Road (LL29 9AY) and follow the path to the right towards the sea and past the cliffs. Go over the large bridge that crosses the A55 road and find a good vantage point on the rocks near the small stone hut. 

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