Natural History

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Birds around Llanberis

Although covering a relatively small area the Llanberis valley offers a wide range of habitats, and so a wide range of bird species. I shall divide this section into The Lake, The Quarries, Woodland and Country Park and the Open Mountains.

THE LAKE Apart from the ubiquitous Mallard Ducks and a couple of pairs of Mute Swans (which nest on the lakeshore) the lake does not harbour a wide variety of species. There is usually a couple of pairs of Gosander to be seen year round, and up to twenty pairs of Tufted Duck over winter on the lake.
Red Breasted Merganser and Great Crested Grebe are seen occasionally. Little Grebes are ever present, as are large numbers of Coot and Moorhen. Cormorants are often to be seen fishing out in the lake or hanging their wings out to dry on the rocky outcrops on the far shore. Down at the sea end of the lake the old bridge is a fairly good place to spot Grey Wagtails, the occasional Dipper, and early in the morning, or late evening, a Heron fishing in the river shallows. The bridge also offers a glimpse of the mature salmon in late December and early January.

While THE QUARRIES don't offer a vast range of species, they make up for it in the occurrence of relatively rare species and some of the most dramatic species to observe. Rare and dramatic species in a dramatic environment - my favourite place. Some areas of the quarries are the wildest parts of the valley and, as such, are probably totally undervalued wildlife havens. I'm not encouraging you to go scrambling all over the quarries - they are dangerous places and that would be totally irresponsible of me!! So, to the birds.
One of the most dramatic and exciting birds of the area is the Peregrine. The quarries offer an unrivalled source of safe, inaccessible roosting and nesting sites for them, as well as strong thermal sources for gaining height for hunting sorties. If you look long enough at the sky overhead, anywhere in the valley you'll see a Peregrine. One of the most amazing experiences I've had is, when climbing the crags of Cloggy on Snowdon, having a Peregrine whoosh by a couple of yards away in near terminal velocity stoop.

Choughs are regarded as a bit of a rarity in the UK, and have been the subject of protective efforts from the RSPB in the last few years. The quarries again offer superb roosting sites for them. They spend much of the day feeding for insects on the grasslands - you can sometimes see them feeding on the meadows as you go up the Llanberis pass - and at dusk you can see them returning to roosting sites in the quarries. They are also to be seen in fantastic aerial displays during the day. Look for a bird like a fat-winged jackdaw, all black apart from a dazzling red bill and legs. If you see a couple of them playing in the air together, well it's just spellbinding.

Another quarry bird that appears to fly just for fun is the Raven. Listen for a deep guttural croak echoing around the quarry holes. It's like a crow but the size of a buzzard.

Crows frequent the quarries (not rooks) and often nest on the ledges.
An infrequently seen migrant, but yet another dramatic bird that lays claim to the slate holes, is the Ringed Ouzel. I've only seen them three of four times in ten years but early in the spring they let out a piercing, but somehow melodious, call which I bet you could hear from a couple of miles on a still evening. I've certainly heard them more than I have seen them. They look like a blackbird with a dramatic white band across the chest.
The other common quarry migrant is the Redstart. This bird simply loves a building site - there was a pair nesting on the Millennium Dome site - and the quarries must seem like the mother of all building sites to them.

The MOUNTAINS are basically very disappointing. The mountains of Snowdonia rank alongside anywhere else in the world as a degraded and eroded desert. This one happens to be a green desert, but only because we have such an easy-going climate.

If we had the 'drought and downpour' climate of some regions then our ridiculously overgrazed hills would no longer have any soil left on them.

There is a widespread misconception that Snowdonia is some sort of wilderness. It is quite possible to gain a great feeling of remoteness at certain times, and in certain places. It is also a fine place to practice adventurous pursuits such as climbing and paragliding. If, however, you are a passionate nature sniffer, you will be sorely disappointed by this incredibly species poor wasteland.

The pity of it. And the potential. Maybe, one day…….Sorry, the birds.

The most obvious mountain bird is the Buzzard. It is fairly unmistakable, as the only large raptor of the area. It can sometimes be mistaken at distance, in silhouette, or a raven. It can sometimes be seen flapping those broad wings in order to gain a thermal, but then it soars majestically upwards with an innate sense of where the air is most pronounced.

While flying paragliders in the mountains we often look for guidance from buzzards when searching for rising columns of air. They have also been known to put tears in the canopy when we get too close to a nesting crag. I've been in the air with another pilot and have been chased away by a pair of buzzards!
There have been one or two sightings of Red Kite in the valley.


While they are rarely seen here, they are a fairly common sight further south. From Harlech down into mid Wales they are often to be seen. As for the quarries, Peregrines, Ravens, and Choughs are likely to be seen in the hills. Wheatear are a common sight on the open lower flanks of the hills, and the wonderful Dipper can be seen on the lower reaches of tumbling rivers and streams.
On the far side of Lyn Padarn is the COUNTRY PARK, a large area of native oak WOODLAND, as well as more open heathy scrubland to the northwest. The more open area is land that has now been fenced from grazing and so natural regeneration of native tree species as well as Scots Pine. Most common woodland bird species can be seen in this area, including a variety of Tits, Warblers and Finches, Goldcrest, Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Green Woodpecker, Fieldfare and Yellowhammer can be seen on the more scrubby areas, along with the occasional Woodcock where there is good ground cover.

Other common woodland birds abound, such as the Treecreeper and Nuthatch. Outside the immediate area are some great places for sighting birds. Foremost among these is South Stack near Holyhead on the far side of Anglesey.

This is the nesting site for thousands of seabirds on the towering cliffs. There is a RSPB observatory on the cliffs, but much better is to arrive at dawn on a May or June day and walk down the steps to South Stack lighthouse. Halfway down you can look over the walls to the fantastic sight of thousands of nesting birds.

The main occupants of the ledges are Guillimots and Razorbills, which, at first sight are difficult to tell apart. The best way to tell them apart is by the bill. Look for a slightly fatter bill with a thin white vertical line on it and you've got a razorbill. Both guard their eggs and chicks closely and it's surprisingly difficult to get a glimpse of them.

There will also be a few Puffins about on the more vegetated ledges, as well as the star of the show, the Kittiwakes.

These also nest on the ledges, though in smaller numbers, but their party trick is their ability to soar along the vertical cliffs on up draughts of air, just a few feet from the cliff face. They are such graceful creatures, and will soar right by, a few feet from your face, turning nonchalantly to look at you through the most gentle knowing eyes. Quite beautiful. Also present will be the odd Peregrine and a handful of Choughs. Lesser and Greater Black Backed are amongst the gull species on the cliffs.

While binoculars are more than adequate to view the cliffs, there are also rafts of birds out to sea for which a telescope would be a major boon.