The Last Days of Mynydd y Gwair

This year will see big changes coming to my little corner of the world. Not the slow creep of urbanisation which continues to erode our countryside but full on, landscape wide transformation. And all apparently in the name of green energy and saving the planet. I'm surely not the first person to spot the irony in that and to think this was all announced through the most innocuous of deliveries by our postman.

P1070028 - Mynydd y Gwair Wind Farm

After numerous years of debate, appeals, inquiries and protests the Mynydd y Gwair wind farm has finally been given approval to proceed. This will see the erection of sixteen 127 metre tall turbines on one of the last areas of extensive common land bordering Swansea. Having already lost neighbouring Mynydd y Betws to a similar scheme several years back locals already know what sort of habitat damage to expect and its safe to say that the place will never be the same again. Some will probably wonder at the fuss being raised over what to all intents and purposes is a large area of unimproved grassland, but that fails to recognise the impact and significance of having a location so close to where people live that one can genuinely escape to and see not a single man-made structure. This sense of freedom was one of the very things which drew me to Mynydd y Gwair many years ago and its loss will be felt deeply. Perhaps even more unfortunate is that the impacted landscape stretches far beyond the main wind farm site itself as in order to gain access a 14 km long track will be required. This will stretch from the A48 near Pontarddulais right through the heart of my local birding patch before cutting across Mynydd Garn-Fach and beyond. The full scale of these works is yet to be realised but its safe to say that the character of the place will be changed for ever. It was with that knowledge that we decided to head out a couple of weekends ago to document the proposed route as it is now, before the diggers move in and we lose a landscape which I have fallen in love with over the years. Soppy perhaps but when you've spent so many hours and days walking a place as I have it's hard not to form an emotional bond.

At this point I should probably discuss the inevitable counter-argument to my negative slant on the above, the one that states that we must reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and help tackle global warming. Believe me when I say that on both those scores you won't find any grumbles from this blogger. However, I do take issue with those who push onshore wind farms as part of that solution. They've definitely had their part to play as we investigated alternative means of energy production but I genuinely believe that they have run their course. For the energy they generate they are far too intrusive on our landscape when alternatives such as tidal, solar and offshore present a much better compromise. Solar in particular has proliferated locally over the past couple of years yet the sites are almost invisible unless you're directly upon one and have such a light touch (pun intended) that they can be erected and removed leaving virtually no trace. Small scale tidal schemes such as the one being proposed for Swansea also offer great potential as well as providing fantastic new facilities for locals yet seem impossible to get off the ground. Meanwhile we are happy to grant permission for more of our precious open areas such as Mynydd y Gwair to be sacrificed when recent news reports reveal that similar schemes are being paid by the government not to operate. Yes that's right, tax payers money is being spent to not generate electricity. You couldn't make it up. 

There are some who will inevitably throw the nimby label in my direction and it's true that I have not written of other such developments across Wales but my views are long held. In this case I am merely being presented with a unique opportunity to document and share the full process from start to finish, kicking off with things as they are today. Ideally we'd have had a clear blue sky and sunshine to show off this landscape at its best but what we in fact got was freezing cold, grey and misty, blizzard like conditions. For much of our walk it was snowing fairly heavily, though never enough to settle, and with cloud barely scraping the hilltops it was a miracle we could see anything at all. Still, the following images achieve their purpose admirably and I've annotated each with how things will change over the following two years.

P1060820 - Route of the proposed Mynydd y Gwair wind farm access track

This notice greets walkers near the top of Gopa Hill. It states that the footpath ahead will be closed for the next six months, opened to the public only when safe to do so. As the main access point to my local patch this could prove very inconvenient but hopefully the contractors will open it up during the evenings and weekends.


P1060823 - Route of the proposed Mynydd y Gwair wind farm access track

The centre of this image shows the point on Gopa Hill where the new track will arrive having cut across private farmland from the A48. To reach this point will involve a steep gradient and I can't deny that seeing the large transporters traversing this will make for an impressive sight. I'd still rather leave the place looking like this though as it's great for breeding Whitethroats.


P1060824 - Route of the proposed Mynydd y Gwair wind farm access track

P1060826 - Route of the proposed Mynydd y Gwair wind farm access track

These two images show the existing farm track running from Gopa Hill to Cwm Dulais which will be 'improved' to accommodate wind farm traffic. It's safe to say that its character will be forever changed once widened, regraded and a more permanent surface laid.


P1060832 - Route of the proposed Mynydd y Gwair wind farm access track

At Bryn-bach-Common the new track joins an existing minor road which will also need widening, strengthening and regrading. Regular readers may recognise this as part of the area I bird for the Patchwork Challenge but thankfully most of the important habitat will be unaffected by these works.


P1060835 - Route of the proposed Mynydd y Gwair wind farm access track

P1060838 - Route of the proposed Mynydd y Gwair wind farm access track

For locals five ways is legendary. To find such a complex junction out here in the countryside is quite unusual and part of that is down to its importance when the Graig Merthyr colliery was in operation nearby. This section is going to require major remodelling as the descent and rise is simply too severe for a large transporter to negotiate as it stands. I only hope that the character of this place wont be completely lost.


P1060840 - Route of the proposed Mynydd y Gwair wind farm access track

P1060842 - Route of the proposed Mynydd y Gwair wind farm access track

Climbing up to Cwrt-mawr reveals a further stretch of minor road which will need improvement.


P1060851 - Route of the proposed Mynydd y Gwair wind farm access track

Thankfully Mynydd Pysgodlyn (above) will be spared as the road skirts this area and the fallen trig point which resides there should be safe for many years to come.


P1060853 - Route of the proposed Mynydd y Gwair wind farm access track

Losing altitude once more the road descends to Blaennant Ddu at which point ......


P1060855 - Route of the proposed Mynydd y Gwair wind farm access track

.....we leave it behind to follow a muddy track which will be significantly upgraded.


P1060859 - Route of the proposed Mynydd y Gwair wind farm access track

P1060862 - Route of the proposed Mynydd y Gwair wind farm access track

The access track then follows the contours until Mynydd Garn-Fach, the first significant area of common land which needs to be crossed. Originally there were proposals to site turbines here as well but thankfully those have now been dropped. Even so, having a permanent and substantial track driven through this open landscape will have a major impact.


P1060866 - Route of the proposed Mynydd y Gwair wind farm access track

P1060869 - Route of the proposed Mynydd y Gwair wind farm access track

And then we reach Mynydd y Gwair itself. The top image looks down from Mynydd Garn-Fach whilst the second is taken from near the plantation above the Upper Lliw reservoir. The new wind farm covers this area in its entirety and I probably don't need to spell out the changes likely to be wrought here in the next couple of years.


P1060873 - Upper Lliw

Finally we finish at the Upper Lliw reservoir, looking back across the water with Mynydd y Gwair in the background. By 2018 this will be a view held only in memories and photographs.

As you can see the area of impact is extensive and it's going to be interesting to see how well the access track in particular blends in with its surroundings. For Mynydd y Gwair though there really is no hope now but I'll be keeping you up to date as the project continues.

Birding London - Parakeets and Egyptian Geese

Procrastination. We're all guilty of it. Even me. You'd think that self acknowledgement would improve things but if my expired passport is anything to go by, apparently not. That was the main reason for publicly acknowledging in my new year resolutions that this year things are going to have to change, not only for my own sanity but also to hopefully aid my ascent from the rut which life seems to have settled in to. Take London as a prime example. We first discussed making a weekend trip a couple of years back to see either We Will Rock You or Rock of Ages in the West End. Leaving our musical tastes aside this seemed like a great idea yet somehow we never quite managed it. Both shows have since closed, another missed experience, so weekend before last we decided that enough was enough. A quick internet search later and we had hotel and train tickets booked and, less than half an hour after leaving work, we were being whisked towards the capital aboard that stalwart of BR, the Intercity 125. Bang on time we arrived at Paddington and following a brief navigational error we were soon standing mid span on Tower Bridge taking in the lights, sights and sounds of central London. Why had we taken so long. This was fantastic!

P1060734 - London

Across two days we walked over twenty miles covering all the main tourist landmarks including the British and Natural History museums, Tate Modern (I don't understand modern art it's safe to say) and even managed to squeeze in purchasing a sausage roll from Harrods. Fear not though, this post is not going to be a rundown of London's famous vistas but will instead focus on the surprising array of bird species which call the city home. Even during that first evening we could hear the calls of Black Headed Gulls from the river to which we were soon to add Herring, Common, Lesser Black-backed and Great Black-backed. Who needs the seaside eh. They didn't have the Thames to themselves however as apart from the ubiquitous Feral Pigeons there were also several Cormorants including a couple in full breeding plumage. This individual in particular stood out, perched atop one of the old mooring points opposite Hay's Wharf.

P1060797 - Cormorant, London

Their quiet demeanour was in strong contrast to our next sighting, a trio of Egyptian Geese who were either wildly enthusiastic at each others presence or ready to start world war three. It was hard to tell which. After circling around for a bit two eventually settled on a barge moored mid-channel and embarked in what appeared to be courtship. Having only really come across these birds in Norfolk previously, finding them in central London came as something of a surprise. They've clearly taken the place to heart however as there were several more in St James park, all equally as bad tempered as the first. At least they seemed happy to pose for photographs and I got my best shots to date of these curiously plumaged birds. Some would say ugly, I prefer unique.

P1060619 - Egyptian Goose, London

P1060680 - Egyptian Goose, London

P1060686 - Egyptian Goose, London

P1060699 - Egyptian Goose, London

They weren't our last surprise either as St James park also held a decent collection of waterfowl. Picking the wild birds from captive was tricky but we ended up spotting Gadwall, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Coot, Moorhen, Mallard, Canada Goose, Pochard, Little Grebe and even a male Goldeneye (which delighted in giving me the run around), all within touching distance of Downing Street and an anti-Trump march. Then of course there were the famous Pelicans though these are anything but wild. First introduced in 1664 as a gift from the Russian Ambassador they certainly made for an impressive sight and look very good for their age.

P1060668 - Goldeneye, London

P1060708 - Pelican, London

Of course we couldn't visit London without at least one sighting of Ring-necked Parakeets and on that score St James' once again delivered. Their calls belied their presence long before we spotted one and from that point on they were a constant companion until we were well past Buckingham Palace. In poor light and always quite distant photography proved difficult but fortunately we hit pay dirt on a grey and foggy Sunday morning in Greenwich. There a flock of at least eight birds were chilling out in trees near the old navy buildings allowing some great views and a close approach. Once again these are my best shots of this species to date, but oh for a little sunshine.

P1060771 - Ring-necked Parakeet, London

P1060777 - Ring-necked Parakeet, London

Probably the only thing missing from our collection was a bird of prey, something which would once have been common in the days when Red Kites were considered vermin such were their numbers scavenging in the streets. We'll probably never get back to that state now that sanitation and cleanliness are all the rage but nevertheless, if you've ever thought that urban areas offer little in the way of bird life then think again. All that's left for me to do really is to finish off with the species that started it all, a Black Headed Gull outside the Houses of Parliament.

P1060653 - Black Headed Gull, London

I wonder what its views are on a Trump state visit!

Big Garden Birdwatch 2017


The RSPB rather nicely sent me a reminder email last week that I'd yet to submit this year's Big Garden Birdwatch results. Given that the count took place over a fortnight ago this seemed entirely reasonable and has prompted me into action, with this evenings ramblings the result. For those who don't know (and surely everyone must by now), the Big Garden Birdwatch is the world's largest wildlife survey and last year saw submissions from over half a million people. In a world increasingly detached from nature that's a hugely impressive number and added a significant amount of data to that already collected over the last thirty five years. I'm proud to say that I've been taking part for probably the last twenty years at least in various properties across England and Wales, and have blogged my results here from 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016. Over that time we've observed several changes such as a downward trend in Chaffinch numbers to the complete loss of Starlings altogether. On the flip side our Goldfinch population has absolutely rocketed from nothing in 2011 to a peak of thirty five birds earlier this year. There's also been the steady growth in sightings of Bullfinches, but who would turn up in 2017?

As has typified survey weekends in recent years, weather conditions were definitely at the dull and moist end of the spectrum. This once again ruled out my dream of photographing each species that visited but having topped up the feeders a couple of days earlier we were still hopeful of a good showing. Indeed things got off to a cracking start with four Bullfinch (two pairs) and a trio of Robins adding a little splash of colour to proceedings. It was particularly pleasing to record the former as they really have been getting more and more common in our area. Just look back at my early Patchwork Challenge postings to discover how difficult it used to be to track down just one, let alone a whole group. These were quickly joined by the rest of our regulars including Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit and Long-tailed Tit, plus up to six Goldfinch. If we could have counted fly-over birds as well then we'd have been laughing as Magpie, Crow, Red Kite, Buzzard, Raven, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull all featured, but alas none touched down. Not to worry as a couple of minutes from the end of our hour we had an absolute star moment as two Siskins dropped in. Not only are these my first of the year for the garden, they are also my first of the year full stop and both stuck around for a good while gorging on Sunflower hearts. This does of course raise the question as to if this was a sheer stroke of good fortune or if they've been popping by on and off and we've just not noticed. Personally I favour the latter and shall be keeping a close eye out now that we're not going to and returning from work in the dark.

By the end of our allotted hour we'd recorded thirty two individuals across thirteen species with the full breakdown as follows:


Bullfinch (4)
Robin (3)
Goldfinch (6)
Blue Tit (4)
Long-tailed Tit (1)
Great Tit (1)
Coal Tit (2)
Wren (1)
Dunnock (2)
Jackdaw (2)
Siskin (2)
Blackbird (2)
House Sparrow (2)
This equals our record from 2016 where we also recorded thirteen species, though not the same thirteen interestingly, and it's quite noticeable that House Sparrows have slipped from being our most numerous visitor to one of our least. That fits with a general country wide decline but I'm happy to say that a few more have turned up recently, including one particular male which seems to delight in calling from right next to our bedroom window. Not what you want early on a Sunday morning I can tell you.

Common Scoters at Rhossili

P1060576 - Rhossili
Sunday 22nd found us down at Rhossili on another cold and dull winters day. Feeling a little less energetic after our exploits at Kenfig and not too keen on being exposed to a strong Northerly more than absolutely necessary, we chose to forgo the Downs and instead headed out along lower levels. The going underfoot was a tad damp in places but we made brisk progress, stopping periodically to scan the sea for anything of note. It didn't take long to pick up the first small group of Common Scoters, remarkably close to shore drifting just beyond the breaking waves. Scanning further out towards Burry Holms revealed several more flocks, each increasing in size until the main raft numbering several hundred birds hove into view. All were similarly distant and in superbly clear light afforded some cracking views. There seemed a good mix of males, females and juveniles present though without the aid of a scope (which was rather usefully still at home) we couldn't pick out anything more unusual. This lapse in judgement was to prove doubly frustrating when I read later that others had also recorded two Surf Scoter and four Long-tailed Ducks, but you can't have it all I guess. Anyway, we were quite happy lapping up our Common Scoter and with views like this, well, no one has any right to complain really.

P1060571 - Rhossili

At Llangennith we walked through the dunes a little before joining the beach at Diles Lake and turning back for home. The hope was that we'd get even closer views of the Scoter but we'd failed to take into account a large swell which meant that glimpses as the birds rose and then disappeared once more was about as good as it got. Not to worry as there was plenty of interest closer to hand with a pair of Chough, our first of the year, which bickered in the air before alighting on the muddy cliffs to feed. Further out along Worms Head it was very pleasing to see four or five Fulmars making the most of these brisk conditions which were also doing a good job of filling the air with spray. Good for dramatic photos, less good for camera lenses.

P1060576 - Rhossili

As usual these days there were several large Barrel Jellyfish washed up along the strandline as well as a very large seed. My immediate thoughts went to Coconut but on closer inspection, I'm not so sure. My internet searches have to date drawn a blank so answers on a postcode please.

P1060584 - Seed, Rhossili

With the sun threatening to break through, though not quite managing it, we enjoyed a few moments of tranquillity with the haunting remains of the Helvetia. I really can't wait for summer when we can get out on the water and explore this bay from a whole new vantage point.

P1060585 - Helvetia, Rhossili

Waxwings At Last!

P1060504 - Waxwings, Swansea
There are a few things which have come to symbolise winter for me in recent years. The Daily Express forecasting deep freezes and unsurpassed levels of snowfall, muttered comments bemoaning the never ending creep of Christmas decorations into months where they have no rightly remit, shared emails of people trying to offload last year’s ‘must have’ tyre snow socks and perhaps even the John Lewis advert. As a birder I can also add Waxwing irruptions to that list, an annual natural event which sees varying numbers of these truly spectacular Nordic birds invade our shores. Living all the way down here in south Wales means we need a really stellar year to get our fix, something which has been achingly rare of late. In fact my last Waxwing sightings came care of Cardiff back in 2012, a pretty epic encounter that elevated a standard residential street to legendary status, at least in my eyes anyway. Between then and now my withdrawal symptoms have been growing ever stronger, enhanced no end by several failed attempts during our return from Leeds over the New Year. Kirkstall, Welshpool, Newtown, all promised so much yet somehow we were always just a couple of hours too late. It was with some relish therefore that I read the news of a flock being sighted outside The Range in Llansamlet a couple of weeks ago, the closest birds to home that I can recall in just about forever. Of course being a weekday we had everything crossed that they’d still be present on Saturday, a day which dawned crisp and clear. Perfect conditions in which to observe Waxwings, but what of the birds?

P1060494 - Waxwings, Swansea

P1060504 - Waxwings, Swansea

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and in this case, I couldn’t agree more. It took no more than a quick scan of the car park to locate our quarry, a loose flock of some 14 Waxwings perched high above us. Against a clear blue sky they looked amazing but what struck me most was their sound. I don’t recall any such audio delights from our Cardiff encounter but here there was a constant background noise of high pitched tweets, whistles and trilling. Yes a terrible description but it’s really one of those sounds that has to be heard first hand in order to be fully appreciated and one that will live long in my memory. As shoppers went about their business behind us, oblivious to the presence of one of the bird world’s most celebrated residents, we were treated to fantastic views as the birds began to fan out making regular trips to a nearby hedgerow dripping with berries, tantalisingly just out of camera reach behind a fence. Fortunately a nearby road afforded much better viewing opportunities and here I was finally able to get that classic berry in beak shot that had thus far eluded me my entire birding life.

P1060543 - Waxwings, Swansea

P1060545_2 - Waxwings, Swansea

P1060538 - Waxwings, Swansea

Ironically the sun posed my biggest challenge from this vantage point as getting closer resulted in silhouetted views at best so my images aren’t quite as large in the frame as I’d have liked. Even so it was a very special way to kick start our weekend, even if I did leave with fingers feeling like blocks of ice.

Our main target of the day was Kenfig and after taking out Waxwing fill, that was where we ended up next. After recent cost cutting here it was good to see the visitor centre open once more complete with large new murals painted along its exterior wall and a full car park to boot. Of course this popularity meant that the main hide was pretty packed resulting in us taking the inspired decision to head straight to the lake shore instead. I say inspired because no sooner had we arrived than we were enjoying the sight of a majestic Marsh Harrier quartering the reeds opposite. If memory serves this is my first encounter with the species at Kenfig and we went on to enjoy great views as the bird slowly climbed before heading off across the dunes. This was turning into a spectacular days birding and things continued to improve as we encountered a flock of thirty Common Snipe winging their way across the water. Waterfowl numbers were also very impressive with Great Crested Grebe (9), Pochard (60+), Tufted Duck (lots), Goldeneye (2), Wigeon (2) and an impressive count of at least fifty Shoveller all being recorded. Commoner species included hundreds of Coots, a couple of Common Gulls, Cormorant, Grey Heron and several Gadwall of which one male gave some superb views as it briefly alighted nearby.

At North Hide we were also able to add a couple of Goldcrests along with Blue Tits and Long-tailed Tits, plus the sound of a calling Cetti’s Warbler. Seeing such small birds on the wing at this time of year is always something of a marvel, particularly on days such as this where temperatures were absolutely freezing. Although the main lake was clear the hide inlet and nearby pools were frozen over giving a perfect excuse for me to get a little bit arty.

P1060567 - Frozen Kenfig

P1060565 - Frozen Kenfig

Another upside was that conditions were much firmer underfoot than usual meaning our walk through the dunes and on to the coast was much easier than it could have benn although bird life was almost non-existent. It was only after reaching the beach that we started to pick up the occasional Oystercatcher, Curlew, Turnstone and Stonechat around Sker Point. The Turnstones were particularly worthy of note as we found them feeding on grassland behind the main beach, perhaps in an attempt to shelter from that strong onshore wind.

P1060570- Kenfig Beach

We had no such luck and faced the brunt of conditions as we walked out to Porthcawl and back before returning to the car, adding a lone Skylark in the process. A quick glance down to the lake revealed no further sign of that mornings Marsh Harrier so it was time to head for home, contented and in need of a significant thaw.

Aberaeron Mandarin

Back to our Aberystwyth trip for this one after a couple of weeks enforced break away from blogging. The culprit? A massive model of the Millennium Falcon which has prevented me from accessing my desk let alone the computer which used to reside upon it. The upshot though is that a project creeping over two years duration is finally complete (and mighty fine it looks too) leaving plenty more free time to crack on with those New Year resolutions. In the meantime we need to catch up with a couple of pretty epic days birding starting with our aforementioned weekend away where, following a Purple Sandpiper and Red Kite extravaganza, Sunday dawned dull and dreary. With a light drizzle descending it was clear that altitude would once more be out of the question so instead we decided to head down the coast in search of slightly better conditions. First stop was Aberaeron, a delightfully colourful village which was brightened considerably further by an unusual visitor down on the river. Trying to fit in with a small group of Mallards, with varying degrees of success it has to be said, was this stunning male Mandarin.

P1060470 - Mandarin, Aberaeron

P1060468 - Mandarin, Aberaeron

P1060475 - Mandarin, Aberaeron

Even a cursory glance will tell you that this is not a native species to these shores, though a sustainable breeding population has developed in various localities following their introduction from China. I’m not aware of any such birds locally however so perhaps this is a more recent escapee. Regardless of its origins we spent an enjoyable quarter of an hour or so together, me with camera and increasingly frozen fingers and he in search of acceptance from birds who were clearly determined on reluctant tolerance and nothing more.

The wider harbour held some very vocal Starlings as well as a smattering of Turnstones, Redshanks and a rather tame Rock Pipit. It was so dull that I didn’t attempt any more photography however before heading further down the coast to Teifi Marshes. As the flagship reserve of our local Wildlife Trust I’ve always found it somehow a little disappointing. Don’t get me wrong we’ve seen some great birds there over the years but the general feeling of the place seems to let it down. A lot of this has to do with extensive vandalism of the public hides and a general state of dilapidation, all rather at odds with the very attractive visitor centre and cafe. To be fair it was good to see two of the hides being replaced, until you learn that the previous incarnations were destroyed in arson attacks. Really sets you up for a nice day out learning that the locals seem hell bent on destroying the efforts of a charity and its volunteers.

Thankfully the sight of five Goldeneye (two male, three female) and stunning views of a hunting Peregrine Falcon down by the river helped lift my spirits and we were soon back into the swing of things. Also present here were a couple of Little Grebes and a pair of calling Buzzards which spent a while circling around each other before drifting off into the surrounding countryside. Moving into the reserve proper we kept an eager eye out for any signs of the Bittern which had been frequenting this area in the past few weeks, but sadly ended up drawing a blank. That was despite some dramatic tales from a fellow walker who reported coming across the bird in question sat in the middle of a path early one morning which then proceeded to allow an approach to within touching distance. Some people have all the luck!

Mind you the sight of a Kingfisher perched up near the aptly named Kingfisher Hide was pretty good going, its dazzling blue plumage a perfect counterbalance to the dreary conditions which appeared intent on sticking around. By this point the tide was retreating rapidly revealing acres of glorious mud to which Teal were flocking in their hundreds. Most were way too distant for photography but a couple of female birds were feeding in a channel just off the path allowing me to take the following image. Not quite as colourful as a Kingfisher but sometimes you just have to take what you can get.

P1060483 - Teal, Teifi Marsh

Keeping them company were a couple of Curlew whilst the tantalising call of an elusive Water Rail hinted at what else might be hiding in the extensive reedbeds. That pretty much rounded things up for us though as apart from a small flock of twelve Wigeon we didn't see anything else of note. All in all iIt had been an excellent and varied weekend away taking in storm battered coasts, snowy mountains, wandering Asian birds and not an insignificant amount of rain. All par for the course really when you call Wales home.
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