Looking for wildlife? Pitch up along the North Wales coast

Find yourself a comfy vantage point on the coast and look out to sea. Keep watching. Is that a fin? A seal’s head? And that fast-swooping bird, could it be the fastest animal on the planet, a Peregrine falcon?

In North Wales it could be all these things. All you need is to do is find the best place to look, and keep looking. In this blog post we’ll share some of our favourite spots for watching wildlife.

Seabirds from the Great Orme

Ideally you need a bird-spotters book to be able to identify all the different birds you can see around the Great Orme’s limestone cliffs and out to sea. The most northerly mainland place in Wales teems with our feathered friends.

You’ll likely see Choughs with their black plumage and distinctive red bill. For what most of us “non-birders” would call seagulls, the more eagle-eyed among you (excuse the pun) will identify as Common Guillemots, Razorbills, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Fulmars and Kittiwakes.

Look out to sea for diving Gannets. Look fast for the rarer Black Guillemots with their bright red legs.

Down on the rocks you will often see Shags and Cormorants, often with their wings stretched out. Scientists are still divided over why Cormorants do this. The more popular theory is that they’re drying out their wings, though others believe it’s to aid digestion.

Sea-life all around the Isle of Anglesey

In our experience it’s the north-western and north-eastern coasts of Anglesey that provide the best places for seeing sea life. With higher cliffs and the sun at your back, birds and sea mammals are easier to spot.

For example, you can find Peregrine falcons in the coves west of Amlwch with Porth Wen and its brickworks a favourite spot. For grey seals, dolphins and porpoises, the coast from Amlwch down to Puffin Island at the entrance of the Menai Strait provide the best vantage spots.

Of course, seabirds are present in large numbers at South Stack (look out for Puffins in May and June), while waders and wildfowl are common in estuaries, such as Malltraeth. Despite its name, Puffin Island is home to 750 pairs of Cormorants.

The island is also home to three tern species including the Sandwich Tern (used in the Isle of Anglesey Coastal Path logo). Head for Cemlyn Bay in the summer months to see these special birds.

Best places for sea fishing

For sea fishing you’re spoilt for choice! There are plenty of easy-access beaches including Llandudno, Morfa Conwy, Penmaenmawr and Llanfairfechan along the North Wales coast.

You’ll catch plaice here and bass around the Great Orme in summer, while Anglesey fish include Wrasse, Huss, Bass, Pollack, Whiting, Conger Eel and Mackerel. Add Rays to your potential catch on the western and northern coasts of the Llyn Peninsula.

In October this year the World Shore Angling Championships comes to North Wales having selected our coastline as the perfect spot for this illustrious international fishing competition. If that’s not an endorsement of the quality of our waters, we don’t know what is! Find out more here.

A wildlife oasis on the edge of Snowdonia…

…says the RSPB of its Conwy Estuary reserve. We’d have to agree! Year-round winged visitors include the Water Rail, Black-Tailed Godwit, Lapwing, Sedge Warbler and Shelduck amongst other feathered delights.

The reserve boasts such a beautiful backdrop that you really don’t need to be a twitcher to enjoy a visit. The western slopes of Snowdonia from an impressive vista beyond the river’s tranquil waters, so sitting on a bench and breathing in the clean air is a pleasure in itself.

There are pushchair-friendly paths around the lagoon and if the weather turns there’s a great shop and cafe to take shelter in.

RSPB Conwy reserve is within walking distance of Llandudno Junction station (under a mile, 10 minutes, or a slightly longer off-road route, 20 minutes). The RSPB website has all the details.

North Wales’ special ponies

In the foothills of the Carneddau, the ridge of mountains that run along the coast from Conwy to Bangor, a very special and rare species of wild pony make their home. These are the Carneddau Ponies, an ancient breed that dates back more than five centuries.

But this beautiful little animal almost didn’t make it when in the sixteenth century, Henry VIII ordered them culled as they were deemed unfit to carry a knight in full armour. Standing at around ten hands high (101cm) and resembling a classic Thelwell-type pony (complete with long, unruly mane and inquisitive features), they could not be further from a fearsome warhorse!

Stubborn Welsh that we are, local farmers ignored the king’s decree and protected the herd from extermination. The custom continues to this day with members of the Carneddau Mountain Pony Society rounding up the herd each year in late autumn to check on their health and wellbeing.

In 2013, the ponies were declared a unique breed by scientists from Aberystwyth University. Previously though to be a variation of the Section A Welsh Pony, it was found that the Carneddau Ponies’ isolated home had allowed them to develop their own breed characteristics.

They are also extremely rare, with no more than around 200 roaming wild, so be sure to count yourself very lucky if you catch a glimpse of these captivating creatures in their natural habitat.

Pic: Cormorants dying their wings on rocks off the Great Orme by Phil Thomas.

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