Elan Valley - An Extraordinary Day Out

Thursday, June 04, 2009 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


For those of you that have been watching Springwatch on the BBC this year, you will no doubt have seen Simon King located up at Lake Vyrnwy. The wildlife up there has been fairly spectacular, including a few species such as Redstart and Wood Warbler that I have never seen. As Saturday dawned clear and hot, the plan was to head on up and see if I could locate some of these rarities for myself. Google maps soon put paid to that idea with an estimated journey time of three hours. Factor in the half term traffic and the presence of the Springwatch team and you can just imagine what the trip up would have been like. Fortunately, located just an hour closer is the Elan Valley. Essentially this is the same habitat as Lake Vyrnwy with several reservoirs surrounded by managed woodland and moorland.

We arrived at the car park at about 9am and were greeted by three House Martin nests under the eaves of the visitor centre. It was great to be able to see the young lined up at the entrance to the nests awaiting their next feed. Indeed many of them looked almost ready to fledge. I attempted to get a few photos but due to the lack of light under the roof and me not wanting to use the flash for fear of scaring the birds, the results are not that impressive. They will however serve perfectly well as some record shots to be improved upon. Also flying around the visitor area were several Pied Wagtails, Red Kites and Buzzards.

Our original intention had been to walk alongside the reservoir but signposted from the car park was a wildlife walk heading up a nearby hillside into mixed woodland. We headed in as this looked like the best place for our 'target' species. Before we had even properly begun we stumbled upon our first Redstart of the day. This one had built a nest in a crack in the wall of one of the nearby buildings and was observed returning to feed its young. The thing that hit us as we moved further into the trees was that we were completely surrounded by the sound of Wood Warblers singing. It was absolutely fantastic and the identification was mainly due to Simon Kings excellent song comparison on Springwatch a few days earlier. Some frantic searching took place until we finally managed to locate one amongst the dense foliage. After seeing a Garden Warbler last weekend at the Lliw Reservoirs near my house this finally meant that I had seen my full complement of warblers. Also singing well were numerous Willow Warblers but strangely no Chiffchaffs. A little further on and we were treated to a Spotted Flycatcher feeding alongside the river banks.

The next highlight took place higher up the hillside, where we located two pairs of Pied Flycatchers. These were the first male birds I have seen for at least four years. Both pairs had nests, one in a tree and one in a nest box next to the path. I was able to basically stand just outside the box whilst both the male and female returned at regular intervals with food. The results are some photos that I am very happy with. Just below the Flycatcher nests was a large owl box slung from the bow of a tree. I have seen several of these in various locations but have always assumed that they would never be used. How wrong I was. Staring back at us from the back of the box were two fluffy Tawny Owl chicks that we estimated were probably about four weeks old. To be honest I was gob-smacked, especially considering their close location to the footpath. We spent a few minutes searching the trees for the adult birds but to no avail.

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The rest of the walk was just as impressive, with examples of Blackcap, Nuthatch, Jay, Great Spotted Woodpecker and even a Peregrine Falcon joining in on the fun. Also a pleasant surprise given their declining population was a calling male Cuckoo.

After returning back to the car park we took a brief walk up to the bottom of the dam and were lucky enough to see a Common Sandpiper feeding along the top of the weir. It turns out that these sort of locations are a bit of a stronghold for this species. Also of interest was a single male White Wagtail on the surrounding slopes.

Before heading back to glorious Swansea we headed further north to the Dyfi Osprey Project near Machynlleth. We popped in a couple of weeks ago but the pair of Ospreys that had been in the area had sadly vacated it a few days previously. That was of course until a few hours after we had left when they decided to return. This time however we were very lucky, as the female bird returned to the artificial nest that has been built for them at the reserve with a huge Trout in her talons. We were able to clearly see her ripping the fish to pieces through the binoculars and had even better views from the remote cameras. This was certainly the best Osprey sighting that I have had in this country and rounded off nicely what had been a rather extraordinary day of birding.

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