Whiteford Wonders - Birds, Insects and Military Helicopters

Friday, September 05, 2014 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Last Sunday saw us enjoy a typically varied day around Whiteford on Gower involving everything from migrant butterfly species to a military helicopter on manoeuvres from the nearby NATO summit. Even for this typically unpredictable stretch of coast that surely forms some sort of record yet it all kicked off with the humble Common Darter. Hoards of these large dragonflies were on the wing with most concentrated on the semi-vegetated area of sand dunes just as you enter the reserve. There the ground was absolutely baking having been subjected to sunshine all morning and conditions were evidently perfect for a spot of mating. After several minutes watching for a pair to land I was lucky to find this couple who were more than happy to pose for the camera.

P1080679 - Common Darters, Whiteford

Just a little further down the track Emma spotted a bright yellow butterfly which at the time had us completely stumped as to its identity. With dark borders to its upper wings and the look of a Brimstone beneath, it wasn't until we checked our reference guides back at home that we came up with the name Clouded Yellow. Needless to say this was a completely new species for both of us and a locally rare one at that. Sadly both individuals present spent almost their entire time patrolling a fenced off area so no photos to record the event. A rather showy female Wheatear on the other hand was much more cooperative, right up until a dog scared her and her partner away. Grrrrrrrr.

P1080686_2 - Wheatear, Whiteford

P1080683 - Whiteford

A flock of twenty Linnets and two Reed Buntings welcomed us onto the beach proper where there were still several Swallows reeling overhead. What with Willow Warblers and a recently fledged House Sparrow on our way through Cwm Ivy the day had taken on a distinctly springlike feel. Down on the beach thousands of Oystercatchers were in their usual place along the tideline accompanied by an immature Grey Heron but not a lot else. It wasn't until a flock of five Whimbrels passed by that my notebook was once more forced into action for another new year tick.

P1080688 - Oystercatchers, Whiteford

It was at this point that things took an unexpected turn with the appearance of a Merlin helicopter approaching from across the estuary. After clearing the water its altitude reduced significantly to the point where we could see the crew inside as it passed directly overhead. I saw the same type of aircraft a couple of days later taking dignitaries from the NATO summit along a similar route so can only presume that this was some sort of reconnaissance flight. Whatever their intentions we got some cracking views that easily rivalled those of an airshow.

P1080693 - Merlin Helicopter

Back down at ground level the rapidly retreating tide was starting to reveal its secrets including these rather attractive Jellyfish. Unlike the more usual Moon and Barrel species this one was unfamiliar to me and I've yet to key it out, so if anyone has any suggestions please leave a comment below.

P1080690 - Unidentified Jellyfish,

Also on show was another section of prehistoric forest which I presume has been exposed as a result of sand loss during the winter storms. As at Broughton a few miles further west from here there were several substantial tree trunks visible plus numerous other small branches and stumps. I must confess to having also searched the surrounding peat beds for any preserved footprints but on this occasion we sadly drew a blank.

P1080697 - Prehistroic Forest, Whiteford Point

At Whiteford Point itself the tide had not sufficiently dropped to pay a visit to the old lighthouse so we instead enjoyed watching a group of eight Eider loafing just offshore. So engrossed was I in fact that a flock of roosting waders much closer to hand very nearly went unnoticed. Amongst them were a trio of Sanderling, at least four Knot plus numerous Dunlin in various stages of plumage growth. I was just getting ready to try and hunt out something a little more unusual when the whole lot took flight and relocated closer to the water. Given that we hadn't moved I'd like to think this had more to do with their feeding grounds being uncovered than any disturbance on our part.

P1080706_2 - Dunlin, Whiteford Point

A spot of lunch was taken looking towards the new hide which I must admit on this occasion we chose not to enter. The noise emanating from within and lack of a high tide probably meant we would have been out of luck anyway but another Wheatear nearby was a nice find.

Whiteford Point, Gower

Dunnock, Nuthatch and Coal Tit accompanied us back through Whiteford Burrows where we discovered the old sea wall has been breached and a stretch of coastal footpath closed. The resulting damage has exposed an area of freshwater marsh to the sea resulting in some fairly horrific destruction. The full story however can wait until my next post while I gather some further information.

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