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A South West Wales Bird Calendar:
The Tywi Valley
After 2 days of heavy snow the sun is shining on the Brecon Beacons. The red kite are busy displaying over the woodland. Buzzards and ravens are very active over a nearby heronry. Every field has hundreds of fieldfare, redwing and starlings. A flock of 20 lapwing overfly, the colours showing well in the sunlight.
Down to the river the usual mallard and mute swans. The view of Dinefwr Castle with snowy mountains as backdrop is truly amazing. 4 goosander in their usual place. The number of Scandinavian thrushes is remarkable. 15 curlew are to be found on the Tywi nervously flying upwards only to return with a few plaintive calls. 3 roe deer seem unconcerned, grazing happily. The thrushy field also contain 30 golden plover. The constant chuckling of fieldfare is annoyingly incessant. Possible goshawk come out to challenge the displaying red kite in the far distance.
A small green bird in the dense hedgerow, a stunning goldcrest in the winter sunshine, confiding, as ever, its crest is dazzling. Spikey our cocker spaniel disturbs a few snipe from a ditch.
A great spotted woodpecker drums and feeds happily on a rotten bankside alder. I get the impression he would be happy when the 'Vikings' return to their breeding grounds. 2 little grebes shimmer in the river. A green sandpiper feed busily from the gravely beach, which will soon provide breeding areas for little ring plover and common sandpiper. 5 winter waders already!
As I drive up the lane I am halted by the sight of a stunning male bullfinch sitting prominently in an overhanging branch. A tree creeper is feeding in a mossy hedgerow right next to the car, quite unperturbed.
Suddenly a very large brown raptor flies from the larch woods - this is my target for the day - a female goshawk! She circles around very rapid wing beats for her size, longer tail than a peregrine.
Time for a rest. After a pint of 'Thomas Watkin' whilst I read my newspaper I stop at a favourite spot with a packet of chips. Close views of coal, blue and great tit. Also chaffinch. After10 minutes my secondary target appears in strength.. a single male house sparrow is accompanied by a squabbling gang of 10 tree sparrows - and very dapper they look as well! They hungrily rummage in the leaves. Lovely way to finish - a wonderful couple of hours.
The last day of February brought unexpected fun. Whilst sitting in a lay by Llandeilo drinking a cup of tea next to a mobile café I was watching ravens and buzzards flying overhead. Suddenly, I heard the unmistaken call of the lesser spotted woodpecker. The sun was shining and a great spotted woodpecker was drumming constantly. Within a hundred yards I tracked down the male lesser spotted woodpecker feeding in the upper branches of an oak. Incredibly hard to see. Another calling nearby. Very still whilst feeding on oak apples but calling whilst flying.
March / April:
A female black redstart was discovered by us in a Tywi Valley farmyard. Already by the 22nd March little ringed plovers and sandpipers had returned! Although I had to wait until the 9th April for the first swallow.
By the 3rd April I found my first pair of kingfisher displaying and excavating a nest hole. Whilst watching their behavior an otter stood on an underlying root system.
On 12th April I was surprised to see 30 fieldfare and only 2 days later I saw my first cuckoo being attacked by crows.
A day in Brechfa Forest
Our next trip took us to the Brechfa Forest. What a lot of activity!: a family of siskins on a nutfeeder in Abergollech; both female and male pied flycatcher flitting through the trees; spotted flycatcher; a wren’s nest with chicks; three great spotted woodpeckers on a ‘perforated’ tree; a young goldcrest picking insects from a spider’s web and grey wagtails and dipper on the River Cothi – we even saw its white eyelid!!
Tadpoles were spotted already in some puddles a sure sign that at long last summer is really on its way. Lots of flowering honeysuckle in the hedgerows and tree pipits ‘parachuting’ close to some meadow pipits. A cuckoo ‘hawked’ from a perch in the forest. Finally, four nuthatches were spotted sitting on a branch just like the book cover - ‘Edwardian Lady’s Country Diary’.
A really nice and easy weekends birding without even having to travel far.
Day out on Skomer Island.
What a glorious day! The flowers looked superb and the colours of the puffin literally shone in the sunlight. A rare sighting of a wandering golden oriole excited everyone and we all held our breath as a male sparrowhawk haunted near by. A shoveler was spotted in the pond and we watched for a while as kittiwakes collected nesting vegetation close by. Magical!
We started our weekend with a customary meander up the Tywi Valley. Under the shadows of the imposing folly of Paxton Tower there is a reliable spot for tree sparrow. Close views were had with direct comparisons with house sparrow possible. Goosander were in family groups on the river and both little ringed plover and common sandpiper were active on the gravel. An otter swam across the river and splashed into the willows.
As we headed into the hills we had great views of a pair of bullfinch in the honeysuckle hedgerow. There was a pair of brown hare 'boxing' in the middle of the road. We stopped to watch them and were further rewarded by redstart (male and female). The male redstart must surely be my favourite passerine (small percher).
Beneath the magnificent castle we saw dipper and grey wagtail (family group) in the stream. The woods were teaming with juveniles being fed by hard-working adults (sounds familiar!) spotted flycatcher, nuthatch, treecreeper, willow warbler, chiff chaff, song thrush, pied flycatcher and great spotted woodpecker. A male redstart was seen feeding young on the patch. The spotty juveniles looking like miniature young robins. Red kite, merlin, buzzard, kestrel, peregrine falcon, sparrowhawk and tawny owl have all been seen here in the past but not on this occasion.
We stopped for lunch on the mountain. A lone redpoll flew overhead (both directions). Wheatear family groups fed all around. Meadow pipits and skylark competed for song. Stonechat and winchat sat obligingly on high vegetation allowing direct comparison. Red kite and buzzard were seen overhead. A very civilised luncheon!
The hedgerows were very active with finches. We stopped at a reliable red kite spot (saw two!) and also happened upon some willow tit calling harshly.
A kestrel watched us viewing grey and pied wagtail on a mountain stream. A peregrine flypast of male and female protected its three fully grown youngsters. Allowed a nice comparison of size difference between male and female. As we descended a farmer was busy cutting silage. A red kite posed beautifully within our telescope. A barn owl was seen hunting in the hedgerow.
We had surprisingly failed to see pied flycatcher so we stopped at a local wood to watch male and female feeding at a nest box containing five young.
Some birds may have been missed but quite one action packed day and we only drove forty miles between 9am and home for 6pm. Our customers are continuously amazed by the hospitality they receive every evening - best food.
We have never seen so many puffins. They seem to have increased greatly in numbers. Razorbill, guillemot (one bridled), kittiwake, peregrine falcon, chough and 30 or so grey seals basking on the rocks as we ate our packed lunches.
We had spent our morning on coastal heathland. A cuckoo was viewed through the telescope. Yet another male golden oriole (becoming a habit!) was being terrorised by the lesser black-backed gulls. The short eared owls were very active. We enjoyed seeing the male hunting close by and taking a vole. He stared at us with his yellow eyes with his hapless prey in his beak. Unforgettable. He then flew about 200 metres before the female came to meet him and took the prey off him in mid air. An incredible day's birding.
A stray osprey!
September on the Carmarthen Bay can be a very special time. There seems to be plenty of calm, cloudless days. The school holidays are over but the weather stays sunny. The only sign of impending autumn is the heavy dew soaking your socks as you walk the fields and the heavy purple fruit on the sloe trees and brambles.
For me the excitement is caused by the very large numbers of waders returning from their arctic breeding grounds and using our estuaries as refuelling stations on their long journey to Africa.
One such morning saw me 'scoping' at Kidwelly Quayside. With its magnificent castle as a backdrop I was happily watching some grey wagtails, whinchat, wheatear and stonechat. I was chatting with a local dog walker - one of the pleasant 'problems' with birding; there's always someone to chat to. I was pointing out 200 redshank, a couple of greenshank, curlew, oystercatcher and a handful of common sandpiper. Suddenly, there was an unprecedented commotion in the area. Every conceivable bird took to the air. 35 black tailed godwit took off from their hiding spot. Gulls, shelduck, heron all mingled with crows and swallows overhead. I had only recently witnessed a fair old rumpus caused by a peregrine falcon chasing waders. I have also seen a sparrowhawk and kestrel causing havoc.
This was different. After a couple of minutes I noticed a crow tentatively make a half-hearted dip at a very large incoming bird. Broad wings, pale underside and a 'desperado's' facial pattern - an osprey!
Did the 2000 or so panicking birds know they were desperately fleeing from a fish-eater? Someone should tell them!
The first day of autumn proved to be inspirational. West Wales had been battered by strong winds from the south-west for a couple of days. The front had passed over and the wind was now from the north-west with sunshine. The coastguard lookout was full of eager birders. Not to be disappointed, the first leach's storm petrel passed 600m off-shore heading south. There were scores of kittiwakes and gannets. A few skuas pestered the kittiwakes and some passing terns.
Two baby seals gave great views and a juvenile red-backed shrike was found on the cliff-tops. A beautiful spot in dramatic weather. New Quay head yielded tumbling chough, peregrine falcon and raven. The falcon was particularly confiding - tracking us along the cliff path.
Tregaron raised peat-bog is truly a remarkable habitat. So many rare birds have turned up - particularly raptors. We had a quiet start singing siskin, overflying redpoll, willow tit, long tailed tit and great-spotted woodpecker. Lots of teal on the marsh.
Suddenly there was a flash of diving white amongst the ravens - probable goshawk - a sparrowhawk flew over, red kite and buzzard abounded. Then to top it all a falcon came low over our heads calling loudly, it was being pursued by a similar bird - more beige and slightly smaller. The juvenile hobby was following the adult. The 'red-trousered' adult kept scolding the youngster until it returned to its conifer wood. Unexpected and dramatic!
Autumn in Carmarthen Bay
Our last weekend of the year is now due. I have been researching hard and loving every second. Carmarthen Bay is packed with common scoter and a few red-throated diver. There seems a lot of peregrine falcon, but I never tire of seeing them. Always a show stopper. One teasel plant on the coast had goldfinch, bullfinch (male), blue tit together. It would have been quite a shot if I could master digiscoping. Blackcap, redwing, goldcrest and marsh tit also seen at the same time. It looked like an advert for a wild bird food company! Goshawks seem quite visible at the moment. Already establishing territories, it seems!
The same day I was on an estuary, a merlin flew low and hard, causing snipe to steeple. A stunning position involving woodland and two old churches on the 'pilgrim route'. Three green sandpipers were very skittish but the most aesthetic moment was seven greenshank with a little egret flying downstream following the receding tide.
Another wonderful Autumn expedition on the Loughour estuary
The sun was shining on bullfinch, willow tit, greenfinch, marsh tit and hundreds of redwing. Male and female blackcap seemed very at home on some strawberry coloured berries. On the marsh the kestrel didn't seem to trouble the cettis warbler - still performing a sub-song.
In the salt marsh I was amazed to observe a sparrowhawk using a lumbering buzzard as a shield to hide itself from the starlings, redwings and fieldfares in the bushes.
I was also delighted to see whinchat with the inevitable stonechat. I saw a group of ten goldcrest and apparently missed a firecrest (twice in one day- there was one at Penclacwydd also). A long walk along the Gower was truly spectacular. The incoming tide was crashing over the sandbars. The oystercatchers, turnstones and redshank were vying for sand position. V-shaped formations of eider, brent geese, wigeon, pintail and teal distracted me. Just off the sandbar the sounds of the pounding waves drew my attention to a group of 'divers'.
Six slavonian grebe were accompanied by single black-necked and great crested grebe. Better still there were two GREAT NORTHERN DIVER preeening imperiously close to where I was sitting. Hopefully, pictures are being sent to me (there was a very knowledgeable fellow helpfully digiscoping). Goldeneye kept flying into picture, revealing how big the divers were.
To cap it all on the beach amongst the debris sat a female merlin. I haven't even mentioned the peregrine, egrets, curlews, stock doves roosting, thousands of golden plover, hundreds of lapwing, fifty cormorant on the disused lighthouse!!