Cefn Sidan Portuguese man-of-war

We were back on the hunt for a Portuguese man-of-war come Sunday, our efforts refocussed on Cefn Sidan. The thinking went, rightly or wrongly, that with these creatures moving in from the south-west perhaps a beach facing in that general direction might prove more productive than we'd found Whiteford the day before. Warning signs at the car park hinted strongly that we might be in luck and it only took a few minutes of walking the high tide line to turn up our first ever man-of-war on British shores.

P1120529 - Portuguese man-of-war, Cefn Sidan

Cwm Ivy Osprey and a Jellyfish Stranding

My plan for today was a simple one. After last weekend's rain blighted forty eight hours I wanted nothing more than to get outside and escape, to forget the day job and immerse myself completely in whatever delights mother nature had to offer. Destination wise I didn't really care but living where we do it was almost inevitable that we'd gravitate towards Gower and mid-morning found us gazing over the new marsh at Cwm Ivy, dawn drizzle thankfully dispersed and in its place warm autumnal light.

P1120452 - Cwm Ivy Marsh, Gower

Autumn Colours

Unless you wish to hear tales of my exploits with a pressure washer then the weekend just gone was pretty much a bust. Two days of at times torrential, occasionally biblical, rainfall meant plenty of time spent indoors with any brief break in the weather being used to tackle garden jobs. Needless to say this proved immensely annoying with even the enticing news of a Booted Warbler on Gower not sufficient to drag me further afield. A decent wader or raptor perhaps but skulking warblers just don’t really do it for me I’m afraid. In hindsight that makes my decision to venture out for a long walk on Thursday evening all the more valuable as without it I fear my mood would have been at an even lower ebb than it is currently. It’s not even as if I travelled particularly far. Just along our valley beneath Cefn Drum where the autumn colours are already in full flow.

P1120436 - Autumn Colours

P1120444 - Autumn Colours

P1120440 - Autumn Colours

If there’s anything good to be said about Bracken, and there usually isn’t, it has to be that when the sun is low at this time of year those dying fronds really do help the hills take on a lovely bronze hue. Add in a trio of calling Buzzards over the hills, battling Pheasants and a couple of Jays and you pretty much had the perfect evening. If there was one tiny negative however it was only at the sight of twenty or more Swallows streaming south, almost certainly starting their migration away from these lands and a precursor to our skies falling silent for another year.

Not wishing to dwell on what we were losing however I chose to focus on what we still have which around here is some pretty impressive scenery and, when the weather allows at least, a seemingly endless parade of dramatic sunsets. This night’s would be no different and I made my up to the fallen trig point atop Mynydd Pysgodlyn to take it all in.

P1120445 - Fallen Trig Point

Up here I was completely alone, the distant sight of Swansea obscured and in its place more calling Skylarks than I’ve seen since early summer. I suspect that they too will soon start their move to lower altitudes so for now I took the time to take in every detail, every sound, conscious that there won’t be many more opportunities to enjoy these birds this year.

Llanrhidian - Marsh Harrier, Plovers and a Rainbow

Don’t you just love those cold, crisp autumnal days when the air is so clear that everything in the landscape seems that much more alive? If only Sunday had been such a day. Instead we were faced with mild and humid conditions, probably my least favourite of all the weathers, to which we were soon able to add light drizzle for good measure. Were we deterred? Of course not. After our success with the Red-necked Phalarope we were eager to find one of its grey compatriots and with an individual being reported from Weobley on the previous high tide, that was exactly where we were headed next.

Now this walk is traditionally one for the drier months thanks to the ground between Landimore and Weobley tending to get waterlogged, so we were already a tad damp before the heavens opened for real. Having come so far already it seemed a waste to head back however and thus we pushed on, a screeching Kestrel overhead and the nearby sound of yaffling Green Woodpeckers our reward. Then the rain suddenly passed leaving behind a misty vista split by one of the shallowest rainbows I think I’ve ever seen. Stretching a good way along the Burry Inlet it made for an impressive sight but lasted only a few moments before vanishing as conditions continued to clear.

P1120397 - Causeway, Llanrhidian Marsh

That seemed to signal the starting gun as suddenly everything came alive. Off to our left a juvenile Marsh Harrier lifted above the reeds before gliding silently a short distance and vanishing back to ground. I presume this to be the same bird that was reported over the Millennium Wetlands yesterday and is our first for quite some time. On a slightly smaller scale there were at least three Wheatears out on the marsh proper as well as a flock of eight Skylarks which were noisily feeding along the old track, continually fluttering ahead of us at the last possible moment. From one of the old gunnery mounds we got distant views of a Peregrine Falcon heading upriver as well as several Little Egrets scattered about but as for the Phalarope? No sign I’m afraid. I suspect our chances were dealt a blow by the tide being well out but that didn’t stop us picking up a pair of Golden Plovers and flock of twenty or so Ringed Plovers, both seemingly in a rush to get somewhere else.

P1120400 - Watchtower, Llanrhidian Marsh

And that was as good as things got before the next downpour arrived lasting well into the evening. Odd really considering the forecast had promised cloudy but dry all day ………………

Autumn Feeder Preparation

Now that autumn has officially started I thought it a good time to give our garden bird feeders a bit of TLC. They've all been cleaned and topped up as well as having a few minor repairs carried out pending the inevitable onslaught of winter. It won't be long now before we're inundated with birds once more (fingers crossed) after the comparatively quiet summer months which got me thinking about what feed to serve. Traditionally our offerings have been almost exclusively sunflower hearts, fatballs and occasionally peanuts, the first increasingly expensive but devoured at a rapid pace. Fatballs are considerably cheaper but don't last long either thanks to our resident population of Jackdaws and Magpies whilst whole peanuts just don't seem very popular at all. The less said about our experiment with Niger seed the better. I had planned to continue in a similar vein, that is until Haith's got in touch asking if I'd like to trial some of their award-winning SuperClean bird food. You bet I would.

A couple of days later and an exciting package arrived containing a new X1 Robin Feeder and two kilos of the fantastically named Beggars Banquet™ Softfood. The feeder went together in a couple of seconds, three components comprising a bowl, canopy and threaded metal rod. All are made from high quality components and it's clear from the extra little details that a good deal of thought has gone into the design of something which on the face of it at least appears quite simple. Take for example the brass receptacle embedded in the seed tray into which the connecting metal rod is screwed. I've seen other products use a plastic thread here and let me assure you that though it may work fine initially, you only need dismantle the feeder for cleaning a few times before that thread is gone. This bodes well for longevity and with drainage holes and smooth wipe clean surfaces any cleaning required should be an absolute breeze. One aspect I wasn't sure on initially was the canopy and that's more down to personal preference than anything else. In the past I've always thought birds unwilling to feed under cover but let me assure you that our residents have had no such issues with this one, plus it should keep those Jackdaws out leaving more food for our smaller visitors.

On to the seed itself next which is a soft feed blended with ground peanuts which have been milled to a size suitable for ground and table feeding birds. This is a species set which has been sorely neglected with out current feeding regime thanks to the usual garden centre seed mixes being mostly full of dross. Not so with Haith's offerings. Their SuperClean brand is free from dust, debris and waste husk, byproducts which are both bad for a birds health and also the cleanliness of our gardens. Putting these claims to the test I delved into the bag and my hand came out clean so a thumbs up from me. It's also noticeable that this mix is very moist thanks to its high oil content, good for nutritional value and also for keeping seed where it should be. Bonus points for recyclable packaging as well.

This is all well and good of course but there's only one true test of seed and feeder. I popped both out late one evening and whilst getting ready for work the next morning there was already a Robin getting stuck in. Blue Tits followed, much to the Robin's chagrin it has to be said, and it's been uphill from there. My initial serving only lasted a few days before requiring a top up so I think we can safely say that these offerings from Haith's are a hit. In fact I'll be putting another order in soon as I can only imagine this mix becoming more popular as temperatures continue to drop.

In summary I can highly recommend both the X1 Robin Feeder and Beggars Banquet™ Softfood seed mix. Thanks to Haith's for sending me their products to review and if you fancy getting hold of them yourself then head on over to their website for all your bird food and bird feeder needs.

Disclaimer: Haith's provided me with these products free of charge in return for my honest opinion and review. 

Red-necked Phalarope - WWT Llanelli

P1120351 - Waders, WWT Llanelli
It was an anxious wait for the gates to open at WWT's Penclacwydd reserve on Saturday morning. Why? Blame our latest star arrival, a juvenile Red-necked Phalarope which dropped in on Thursday carrying the distinct air of yet another rarity which wouldn't be hanging around for the weekend. Having made it through the night without fleeing however the first tendrils of hope began to develop and I kept myself glued to Twitter throughout Friday, monitoring the Phalarope's movements whilst expecting every new tweet to deliver negative news. To be honest I was more than pleasantly surprised that the situation remained unchanged by sundown and with the weather worsening hopes rose further that finally our luck might be in. By morning all looked good. Twitter spoke no ills, any overnight rain had just about cleared and with the tide high temptations for a jaunt out to the estuary would be limited. Then we almost managed to scupper the whole venture ourselves! In our rush to leave the house we'd both rather foolishly left behind our wallets within which sat membership cards to a certain local wildlife charity. Thankfully modern technology has moved beyond the need to carry small pieces of plastic to identify oneself and in no time we were rushing into the British Steel Hide, Phalarope in view moments later.

And what a cracking bird it was too. Avidly feeding on the NRA scrapes it exhibited the by now familiar Phalarope combination of frenetic activity teamed with continuous spinning. Noticeably darker and with more heavily patterned plumage on the back it was clearly different from the commoner Grey Phalaropes which we've seen previously. In fact such was the scarcity factor involved here that this was only my second ever record (the first being at Ogmore back in 2008) and a lifer for Emma, as I suspect it will be for quite a number of visiting birders over the next few days. Of course the icing on the cake at this point would be a frame filling photo to preserve the moment for posterity but alas, no. The Phalarope remained simply too distant for the couple of hours we spent in its company so how about a classic record shot instead complete with passing Black Headed Gull for contrast.

P1120336 - Red-necked Phalarope, WWT Llanelli

I've also got a couple of video clips which I may share later if for nothing other than the fact that they show a little more of the setting involved. You see the Red-necked Phalarope had a roosting flock of 42 Greenshank for company and they provided two important points of note. The first was to simply highlight just how small a Phalarope is in comparison and the second to provide us watching birders with endless amusement. It seems that no matter who you are or what your size, if a Phalarope wants to come through it's damn well coming through. A bolshie approach certainly and one which startled at least one Greenshank, woken from its slumbers as our wayward visitor bumbled straight into its legs.

Not a bad start to the day I'm sure you'll agree but as it turned out this was just the beginning. Turning our attention to the main scrapes we found a wealth of waders, the bulk of which were made up by somewhere in the region of a thousand Black-tailed Godwits. Mixed in were at least eleven Dunlin, six Knot, two hundred plus Redshank, a similar number of Curlew and at least two locally uncommon Bar-tailed Godwits. Pretty impressive and with an equally notable supporting cast which included a pair of snoozing Spoonbills (aren't they always?), four Brent Geese flying up the Burry, three Little Egrets, two Grey Herons, a flock of Linnets, Wigeon, fleeting glimpses of a Sparrowhawk and even a gronking low level Raven for good measure.

P1120351 - Waders, WWT Llanelli

Elsewhere on the reserve we managed to spot a family of five Bullfinches, two Blackcaps, seven Shoveller, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Great-spotted Woodpecker, singing Chiffchaff and a whole host of commoner species besides. There was also the impressive sight and sound of well over a hundred Greylag Geese coming in to land, not to mention this Fox which was brazenly walking about in the open.

P1120364 - Fox, WWT Llanelli

Another unusual record was this family of young Mallard ducklings, an incredibly late brood more suited to spring than autumn. Here's hoping they make it before the weather properly turns.

P1120369 - Late Ducklings, WWT Llanelli

Our next stop was Kidwelly Quay where with the tide now retreated we were hoping for more wader action. And it didn't disappoint. A couple of hundred Redshank and thirty plus Greenshank were most notable but there was also a smattering of Dunlin as well as the usual Curlew plus an impressive single gathering of thirty five Little Egrets. I had hoped to add Curlew Sandpiper too but despite three being reported here the same day we didn't manage to connect. Not to worry as compensation came in the shape of a magnificent Great White Egret, visible from miles away stood as it was in plain sight on the marsh at Banc y Lord. In fact so large was it that on my initial scan I'd actually counted it in with the thirty Mute Swans also present so I'm very glad that I went through for a second time. Along the canal a calling Kestrel and very vocal Cetti's Warbler were best of the rest.

P1120376 - Kidwelly Quay

From Kidwelly we headed over to Pembrey Burrows where I hoped to finish the day with a nice relaxing sea watch. What I'd not factored in however was just how far out the water retreats here meaning that this was our view on arrival. That's a heck of a lot of sand.

P1120389 - Cefn Sidan

P1120391 - Cefn Sidan

Not put off we headed out to see what we could find and in the end counted a couple of Gannets fishing close in as well as a passing flock of ten Sanderling. Not a bad note on which to finish and with the Red-necked Phalarope still present at close of play Sunday I highly recommend popping in to pay your respects as it may be another decade before our next.
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