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 however without fleeing 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, the overnight rain had just about cleared and with the tide high any temptations for a jaunt out to the estuary would be limited. Then we almost managed to scupper the whole venture ourselves! In our eagerness to get there early we'd both somehow left the house without wallets within which lay 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 out 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.

Curlew Sunset

P1120327 - Burry Inlet Sunset
After a few days of fairly terrible weather it was good to get back out yesterday evening in frankly glorious conditions. Of course things would have been even better had a certain Phalarope been there to greet me but alas all I could do was look in its vague general direction and cross everything that it stays put until the weekend.

As in recent weeks I was once more on the stretch of coast path between Penclacwydd and Loughor bridge and once more had a fine selection of waders on show. Somewhere in the region of a hundred Dunlin were feeding just beyond the sea wall along with a smattering of Oystercatchers and the usual mix of Gulls. No Terns this time out however but it was good to see the flock of Lapwings still about as well as a lone Black-tailed Godwit heading downstream, followed shortly after by a Whimbrel. Always a nice species to see but it was the Curlews which proved my star birds once again. Foraging amongst the marshy vegetation, their distinctive calls splitting the air at regular intervals, it was more a case of when rather than if I'd find one close enough for photographs. In the end this was the individual which came up trumps, happy to pose and feed despite my relatively close proximity.

Dinorwic Quarry Explored

P1110999 - Dinorwic Quarry
Since my earliest days I’ve had a passion for exploring abandoned places. To begin with it was family holidays spent in our caravan which provided me with ample opportunity to visit castles, monasteries and all sorts of industrial fare but it was our time staying in north Wales which perhaps had the biggest impact. Surrounded by towering spoil tips formed through generations of slate mining I was left in awe, uncomprehending at how man could change a landscape so fundamentally and completely. Of course back then the constraints of caring parents meant that forays to the most enticing workings were banned, something about the risk of plunging to my doom or disappearing under a collapsing pile of slate. That left only sanitised museums such as Llechwedd to quench my curiosity which although enjoyable only really served to whet my appetite for the “real thing” further. Fast forward a couple of decades and now with risk assessment in my own hands I’ve been trying to get out to a few of those sites which had me enraptured all those years ago. Top of that list sits Dinorwic, the second largest slate quarry in the world whose prominent position dominates nearby Llanberis. Even from a distance its multitude of inclines, winding drums and tramways are clear to see, each acting as a beacon calling me to venture closer.

Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr

P1110643 - Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr Walk
August bank holiday weekend isn’t exactly renowned for great weather but with opportunities running out it was exactly the right time for us to crack out our tent for the first, and probably last, trip this year. As for destination we ran through a whole host of possibilities before settling on Beddgelert in Snowdonia. Just down the road from Snowdon itself this is the ideal base camp from which to launch an ascent of the country’s most walked mountain with the added bonus of being surrounded by some truly dramatic scenery.

Ringed Plover Consolation

P1120239 - Ringed Plover
Still with Black Terns in mind we headed over to the Pwll area on Saturday morning, parking up near Burry Port and walking out to the jetty at Tywyn Bach. With a distinctly wet weekend forecast it came as a pleasant surprise to be met with sunshine but in the distance dark clouds were already gathering.

P1120180 - Burry Port

Taking inspiration from the old adage that out of sight means out of mind we turned our backs on any impending doom and set off. With the tide only just starting to drop there wasn’t a whole lot of beach on which to walk but we made it over to the mound easily enough, area of choice for visiting Black Terns. Three or four Sandwich Terns and a pair of Great Crested Grebes were soon in the bag as was a nice quartet of Common Sandpipers plus six Mediterranean Gulls roosting amongst a flock of twenty Redshank and a hundred or so Black Headed Gulls. Lone Cormorants passed down channel at sporadic intervals with Oystercatchers also on the move but of our target species? Not a sign. As consolation prizes go though stumbling upon this incredibly tame Ringed Plover must rank pretty highly. It didn’t seem concerned by our presence at all and these are easily my best photos of this species to date.

P1120239 - Ringed Plover

P1120204 - Ringed Plover

P1120238 - Ringed Plover

Of course our luck with the weather had to run out at some time and with the beach exit in sight we were hit with an absolutely torrential downpour. Shelter was limited to put it mildly but we did manage to cower beneath a section of concrete jutting from the sandy cliffs. Not recommended but at least it saved us from a drenching.

It was only a few minutes before the sun broke through once more but with another bank of thick cloud approaching we thought better of extending our stay. Before we go though I should mention an interesting Seal sighting which at the time we thought might have been a Common Seal. This would be an unusual record for the Burry but as the animal was only bottling I couldn’t quite see enough to be sure.

Moving on we headed over to WWT Llanelli where inevitably one of the Black Terns had been spotted an hour or so earlier. Another case of wrong place wrong time, something which is becoming my own personal mantra of late. Most of the roosting waders had also moved on but we were left to enjoy a pair of Greenshank and a small flock of ten or so Wigeon. With the latter in eclipse plumage they were causing a bit of confusion for some visiting birders so it was nice to be able to confirm their identity and also point out two pairs of Gadwall. The less said about the increasingly heavy and regular showers the better.

P1120245 - WWT Llanelli

We called it a day not long after and have probably missed our chance now with this latest influx of Black Terns.

Burry Inlet - Birds and Sunsets

P1120166 - Curlew, Burry Inlet
Last week saw a mini influx of Black Terns to our local area with sightings being reported from Pwll, Penclacwydd and Kenfig. In order to save any suspense I’ll tell you now that we failed to connect with all of them, though certainly not for want of trying. Our main problem you see has been that opportunities for local birdwatching of late have been limited to after work jaunts which somewhat restricts the locations that we’re able to get out to. The last thing I want to do for instance is spend another hour in the car having endured an entire day bashing my head against metaphoric brick walls. To that end the prime Black Tern hotspot of Pwll was out but the stretch of coast path from the WWT reserve along Morfa Bacas was most definitely in. The fact that I’d never quite got around to walking this particular route was just a happy bonus.
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