Penwyllt in Monochrome

P1220906 - Penwyllt
I’ve long held a fascination for anything abandoned be it disused railway lines, industrial sites or mines. I’ve shared my exploration of these often little known locations from across the country on a number of occasions, but when it comes to exploring closer to home then Penwyllt is hard to beat.

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Spooning at Penclacwydd

My parents came down to visit last weekend which may or may not explain the rapid deterioration in weather across south Wales. The forecast for Saturday in particular looked dreadful so it was a pleasant surprise waking to find only persistent showers. Clearly however our original plan of heading up into the Brecon Beacons was off but thanks to the ever reliable WWT reserve at Llanelli, we had a backup ready to go.

First stop was the Michael Powell hide where a flock of Redwing were busy in the trees outside. Over on the marsh there were already good numbers of Lapwing and Redshank gathered whilst a lone Common Snipe blended in so as to be almost invisible. Our good run of Kingfisher sightings continued with an individual perched outside the British Steel hide before a Water Rail scampered across an open area then vanished once more. More wader action came in the shape of several Dunlin and Black-tailed Godwits plus a single Grey Plover. The latter is a rare tick for me here and thanks to its intricate plumage something of a personal favourite.

P1220848 - WWT Llanelli

Over on the remodelled NRA scrapes we found the Wigeon flock busy feeding along with the rest of the Black-tailed Godwits. All were spooked at one point and shot into the air but whatever it was they saw didn’t make itself visible to us.

By now the tide was rapidly rising and all attention returned to the marsh. As wader numbers continued to build steadily at least six Greenshank arrived closely followed by two, five and finally seven Spoonbill! I remember when we first started getting the odd individual on the Burry Inlet so to have this number is pretty special. All bar one did the usual Spoonbill trick of immediately going to sleep but the rebel spent a good while feeding directly outside the hide. If only the light had been better for some photographs.

P1220850 - Spoonbills, WWT Llanelli

With the lagoon steadily filling with birds the sense of something more unusual turning up was high. I picked out a nice Spotted Redshank roosting with the Greenshanks but it was only after we left that an Avocet dropped in. Still, I guess you can’t have everything but nice to know that there’s at least one about.

Lyme Regis and Seaton Wetlands

P1220595 - Turnstone
The second half of our Dorset break began with yet more unseasonably warm, sunny weather. So warm in fact that as we strolled along the seafront in Lyme Regis strange and long forgotten thoughts began to surface in my mind. Admittedly they had a job to push through the overriding mental image of the pasty I'd be devouring for lunch later on but nevertheless, there they were - it's almost warm enough to remove my coat ..........

Black Redstarts, Cirl Buntings and a few Trains

P1220394 - Black Redstart, Seaton
We’ve had a busy old summer this year exploring Scotland in our self-built campervan and as brilliant as it's been, when it came to our winter break we fancied something a whole lot less complicated. Waking up in a different place each morning was an amazing experience but with the weather turning colder and night’s drawing in a warm shower and comfy sofa definitely held an attraction. If it hadn’t been for Brexit then a break somewhere hot and sunny in Europe would have been ideal but the possibility of being stranded in an airport whilst everyone figures out “what next” didn’t appeal. Instead we went for the polar opposite, a stormy week on the Dorset coast in old favourite Lyme Regis.

Kenfig - Red-backed and Long-tailed

P1220815 - Long-tailed Duck
November is rapidly turning into a stellar month on the Glamorgan birding scene with rarities popping up all over the shop. From Snow Buntings perched on car mirrors to worm eating Long-tailed Ducks, there's been enough about to tempt even those most ardent of patch workers to stray. Having spent the best part of this year exploring the length and breadth of the country rather than tramping across our own local hills I had even less holding me back than normal. Inevitable then that with much of the action focusing on Kenfig we would find ourselves amongst it's dunes come Sunday.

P1220729 - Sker Farm

Eschewing our usual circuit of the main pool we instead made a beeline for Sker Farm where seasonal flooding has formed a large lake just inland of the beach. It was no surprise to find plenty of raucous Herring Gulls making the most of these new feeding opportunities (heard long before they were seen) but we were here for something a little more unusual. That a Long-tailed Duck turned up during recent storms is unexpected though not especially so, but having then decided to stick around for over a week? Those aforementioned worms must be really tasty. Whatever the motives I'm a sucker for sea ducks of any form and it was a delight to spend time with this juvenile, albeit in pretty appalling light.

P1220815 - Long-tailed Duck

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As with most water going subjects the Long-tailed Duck managed to find the exact middle of the pool and was determined not to stray even a metre closer to either bank. As a result I couldn't capture the frame filling shot I was after but we did get great views including plenty of preening action and some brief vocalisations.

A supporting cast of Curlew and Lapwing were milling about whilst overhead eighty or so Golden Plover piped their way in off the coast. There was also a male Sparrowhawk present which I gather has been here across the weekend but I doubt anyone has had quite as close an encounter as mine. Peering over a low stone wall I found myself pinned by a pair of piercing yellow eyes, strong wing-beats closing the gap between us rapidly until only at the last moment did the Sparrowhawk veer away, perching up on a distant post with the sound of wind rustled feathers still flowing through my consciousness. Was this a territorial warning or simply a case of not being spotted until it was almost too late? There's no way of knowing for sure but it certainly felt like a threat at the time.

Sker had one last treat in store before we moved on and for anyone who's read this previous entry, you might have an inkling as to which species I'm referring. Yes, for only the second time in almost a decade we actually managed to get great views of one of the resident Little Owls, on this occasion perched along the barn roof. We'd clearly been spotted however and after some rapid head swivelling it was bon voyage Owl and that was the last we saw of it.

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P1220838 - Sker Farm

So two new year ticks in the bag but could we go one better? You know I think we can. On Friday a Red-backed Shrike was reported along the Royal Porthcawl golf course boundary (good walk spoiled etc) but with no reports on Sunday I wasn't sure if the bird had moved on or people just hadn't been able to connect. With no-one obviously looking we made a slow pass of the whole area and had pretty much given up hope when a distant House Sparrow caught my attention. By now the light really was failing, despite being only mid-afternoon, and with some distance to the subject that's my excuse for an almost catastrophic misidentification - and I'm sticking to it. Only by reviewing a terrible record shot on the camera did I spot my error but of course by then the Shrike had done a bunk. Thankfully it hadn't gone far and perched up for some more dubious photography a couple of minutes later.

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P1220836 - Red-backed Shrike

Now Red-backed Shrike is a new life tick for both of us and coming within sight of where we'd seen both the Little Owl and Long-tailed Duck that makes for a mighty impressive few hours in the field. All credit to the initial finders for getting the news out, particularly in the case of the Shrike which is elusive and tricky to find even when you know it should be there!

Walking back to the car a Brown Hare was a first for me at Kenfig whilst most bushes had at least something hopping about. I'd have loved to have had more time to search them all as at the moment it feels like just about anything could turn up there.

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Northumbrian Sea Dogs

After the frankly ludicrous heatwave over Easter it was back to reality with a bump come May, a week of which we spent camping along the Northumberland coast at Seahouses. Our main objective for this trip was to get across to the Farne Islands where breeding birds promised to wow us in their thousands. To that end we made two sailings, the first in glorious sunshine but sadly with a sea swell too large to even consider landing. Attempt number two didn't prove much better but we did at least manage to grab forty minutes ashore Inner Farne where, as expected, the avian residents put on a fabulous show.

Our feathered friends can wait for another day however as this entry is all about the mammals which also call these windswept islands home. I am of course referring to Grey Seals, hundreds of which are resident here and, when conditions are right, like nothing more than to haul themselves out on the rocks to enjoy a siesta. It's a spectacle I've witnessed on numerous occasions but during our second voyage their numbers were greater than anything I'd ever seen. One particular island seemed especially popular and was covered from front to back with dozing, grumbling bodies. Honestly, who can resist faces like these.

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Of course, there's always someone who decides to play up for the camera!

2019_05_0090 - Farne island Seals
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