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The Ivory Coast; COUNTRYSIDE.

Byline: Alan Davies

THERE'S no doubting the big story this week - an adult ivory gull on Black Rock Sands beach, Morfa Bychan near Porthmadog.

This beautiful arctic vagrant, found feeding on the carcase of a harbour porpoise, is an inhabitant of the Arctic Ocean, where they are rarely seen by man, and more likely to encounter a polar bear.

Pure white plumage, black legs and eyes, and a yellow tip to its greenish bill make the ivory gull a most striking bird and the last time it was seen in our region was 100 years ago. Even then it was not well documented.

Given its classy looks and extreme rarity, the gull attracted hundreds of birdwatchers from far and wide, all enjoying fantastic, close up views. As is often the case when a large number of birdwatchers descend on the area, other good birds were found.

The stretch of coast between Porthmadog and Criccieth has produced a superb supporting cast for the ivory hunters. A drake surf scoter bobbed among the masses of common scoter, this North American bird picked out by bold white patches on its black head. Up to 10 velvet scoter, 12 long-tailed duck and 42 scaup were among the waves just off shore.

The gale force south westerly winds swept more exciting birds into the area.

Dozens of little gulls picked items from the raging surf, a glaucous gull patrolled the tideline, a Leach's petrel battled the winds and a great skua preyed on smaller birds weakened by the storm.

More little gulls arrived off the Wirral coast with 42 past Hoylake and up to 60 lingered in the mouth of the Mersey, smaller numbers were also found in Holyhead Harbour and at the Octell outfall near Amlwch. An adult Iceland gull visited Crosby Marine Park where sadly a Leach's petrel was found dead.

Meanwhile, the beach between Ainsdale and Southport attracted a huge number of gulls to feed on starfish washed up by the storms. Amongst the masses of herring gulls up to seven Mediterranean gulls and an Iceland gull were discovered. The same stretch of beach also held seven little stints.

Inner Marsh Farm RSPB reserve saw a great selection of birds with two smew on the border pool, a drake green-winged teal could also be found, with careful searching, and waders included spotted redshanks, ruff and black tailed godwits.

Two beautiful firecrests were showing well at Bodlondeb Park, Conwy in the Holm oaks and holly trees behind the Butterfly Jungle. These striking birds are best located by their zit, zit calls and are often in company of goldcrests and tits.

Signs of spring are increasing by the day with more and more birds joining the dawn chorus. Skylarks are in full song above Conwy RSPB reserve, a magical experience!

A pair of mistle thrushes have already laid eggs in a Liverpool city centre site, which is exceptionally early, and a pair of ravens have been seen near to the city's cathedral and will soon be nesting. A tortoise shell on the wing and willows in bud are other signs of the end of winter.

But winter visitors are still with us.

The snow buntings remain on Towyn beach, the black redstart has been seen again on the Little Orme, Penrhyn Bay and a flock of brambling remain at Parkgate marsh. A fine drake red breasted merganser showed well at Hoylake and black caps have been reported widely in Liverpool and Cheshire, but few in North Wales.

It is National Nestbox Week this week so get yours cleaned out ready for spring. If you haven't got one, now is the time to put one up! Find out more at Conwy RSPB nestbox demonstrations today and tomorrow. With free gifts and lots of advice.

For all the latest news contact Birdline on 09068-700249, or www. ukbirding. co. uk or report sightings to 0151-336 6188

CAPTION(S):

NESTING PLACE: Mistle thrushes have laid eggs in Liverpool City Centre
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Feb 16, 2002
Words:662
Previous Article:weekend walk; COUNTRYSIDE.
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