Praa Sands to Porthleven

Sunday, March 30, 2014 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


We arrived in Cornwall on a wave of hail the likes of which I've never seen. Driving across Bodmin Moor there were times where the future straightness of my cars body panels was brought into question and I had to raise my voice to a shout in order to be heard above the racket outside. Thankfully these downpours were brief meaning that a passing flock of Golden Plovers was not completely obscured. A rare ray of light amongst bleak horizons and our first sighting of the species this year. When we did finally make it to Praa Sands, our home for the next week, it was to a set of unfamiliar phrases such as "complimentary upgrade" and "double booked". Needless to say this sort of luck never normally associates itself with us but I certainly wasn't complaining as we explored our accommodation. Never before has a static caravan been so well equipped, had so much space or such expansive views down towards the sea. Sadly the weather seemed to have missed our upgrade and we were soaked by another hailstorm during a brief outing to the beach. Even for this seasoned Brit the sight of hail covering every surface was a strange one, especially considering we'd been walking around in t-shirts the weekend before. Imagine our surprise therefore when Sunday dawned clear and sunny. Forget ice we were in for a scorcher.

P1070130 - Pillbox on Hendra Beach

P1070132 - Pillbox on Hendra Beach

Following the coast path from Praa Sands in an easterly direction soon brought us to Hendra Beach and the fallen pillbox seen above. Once a vital part of our military defences this bastion of WW2 has outlasted the land upon which it originally stood and now finds itself marooned. Indeed that coastal erosion is still occurring apace as exemplified by the fact that this was the first path down to the beach in over a mile that hadn't succumbed to winter storms. Here we also got the days birding off to a good start with a couple of playful Rock Pipits along the high tide line and a pair of Stonechats in vegetation beyond. A little further on and the first of many Linnets were found along Lesceave Cliffs before a singing Skylark necessitated a gaze skywards as we approached Rinsey Head. This particular stretch of coastline is also home to one of the most impressive residential properties I think I've ever seen. Grand Designs eat your heart out.

P1070143 - House with a view

Rinsey Head brought us our first taste of Cornwall's once vibrant Tin mining industry in the shape of this preserved engine house below. These iconic structures once housed steam powered beam engines whose task it was to pump mines clear of water and transport both men and materials down shafts several hundred feet deep. Today they are often the only evidence of this once industrialised area and offer the merest hint of a labyrinth hidden underground. Being more familiar with the slate quarries of North Wales I found the architecture particularly extravagant with arched windows, dressed stonework and even brick embellishments on the chimney.

P1070150 - Wheal Prosper

P1070147 - Wheal Prosper

P1070136 - Wheal Prosper

Rounding the head brought us alongside Trewavas Cliffs where Ravens, Meadow Pipits and a pair of courting Fulmars were order of the day. Even better though were a pair of Choughs flying stealthily beneath us, my first ever sighting of this species in Cornwall. When I last visited the area in my teens Choughs were very sadly extinct and remained that way until 2001 when an influx of birds along the south coast heralded their return. Since then the species has gone from strength to strength though its population still remains fragile with only a couple of pairs breeding in Cornwall each year. You can probably understand our excitement then as this was one of our target birds for the trip. Equally miraculous were a pair of copulating Peregrine Falcons whose sensitivity necessitated a distant record shot once their exertions were complete.

P1070172 - Pergrine Falcon Pair, Trewavas Cliff

A nearby distracted Kestrel allowed me to approach within a couple of meters though its gaze meant that all I got on camera was the back of its head. Presumably it was perplexed as to the reasons for a stone Camel in this sort of environment.

P1070206 - Camel Rock

Another couple of miles and a chance peek over the cliff revealed a rotting whale corpse on the beach below. Far from being repulsed this was a must see opportunity as for many years I've been on the hunt for a whale bone to add to my collection. Sadly this one was a little too fresh for my liking though the stench had brought in other courtiers. At least two Buzzards and a Raven were in the area but it was one huge beast of a Gull that really took top billing. Once again spotted by Emma it was immediately obvious that we had a Glaucous Gull on our hands, my first ever self found white-winger. Even better was that this bird was in no rush to leave its dinner and we were treated to superb views as it chased off intruders, often flying directly overhead. Photographing a completely white bird at distance and in full sunshine was certainly a new challenge, one which left me ruing a noisy leap onto the beach before we'd been aware of the birds presence. Without that less than elegant arrival we ourselves could have gone unnoticed and I'm sure we'd have been able to approach much closer. The one that got away.

Glaucous Gull, Tremearne Cliff

P1070188 - Dead Whale, Tremearne Cliff

Eventually we had to drag ourselves away for Porthleven and lunch were most definitely calling. The stench of rotting meat prevailed for at least the next mile though even that couldn't squash an appetite born of our longest walk for several months. Fortunately Porthleven turned out to be a typically picturesque Cornish port and an ideal place to while away some time.

Porthleven

Retracing our steps it came as no surprise that the Glaucous Gull was still present and will probably be so until its ready supply of food is exhausted. Another attempt at a stealthy approach got me within a similar range but it was clear that I would get no closer. Still what a stunning bird and one which dominated the surrounding landscape like no Gull I've yet seen. Also the view wasn't half bad.

P1070189 - Tremearne Cliff

Back at the caravan we watched the sun go down leaving us with just one question. How on earth had a Herring Gull gotten muddy footprints across both my windscreen wipers and why had it taken such offence to each side window? The mind boggles.

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Kumlien's Gull at Fendrod and Black-throated Diver at Cosmeston

Saturday, March 29, 2014 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


This past week has seen us enjoying a well-earned break down in Cornwall exploring locations around Lands End and Lizard Point. From our first ever self-found Glaucous Gull to Turnstones close enough to touch the birding certainly exceeded all expectations and that's not forgetting of course the miles of stunning scenery and fascinating industrial remnants. Needless to say I've got a mountain of photos and video to sort through during the next few days but that's not to say we can't dive in right away. After all I've been back for at least a couple of hours now and unpacking just doesn't appeal.

Boring journey? Add a White-winger

Normally travelling to and from a holiday destination involves miles and miles of boring motorway driving so for this trip we thought we'd spice things up a bit by stopping off at a couple of locations along the way. The first of these was just a few miles down the road at Fendrod Lake in Swansea where last week a Kumlien's Gull had been visiting fairly regularly. Given my increased interest in rarer Gull species of late this was too good an opportunity to miss so with a gentle rain falling we jumped out of the car full of expectation. However a quick scan of the water told us that luck may not be our side as other than a few Herring Gulls the lake was pretty much deserted. Not wanting to leave empty handed I decided that a quick walk around its perimeter was just what we needed (to stretch the legs of course) but even this failed to locate any white-wingers. What we did find however was perhaps even better with a single Swallow and at least four Sand Martins zipping low across the waters surface, our first proper spring migrants of the year. Against a backdrop of several calling Chiffchaffs it really did feel much later than March, an illusion only broken by another heavy rain shower making its presence felt. Pace considerably quickened we made it back to the car just as a couple of larger Gulls appeared seemingly attracted by a child feeding bread to the ducks (I'm assuming they were interested in the bread not the child). Initially these looked to be more of the same but Emma was quickly onto a paler individual which turned out to be the sought after Kumlien's! Through tree branches I managed decent if not stunning views though they were plenty good enough to be sure of the ID. Sadly any chance of studying the plumage in more detail was soon last as the Kumlien's drifted off over nearby industrial units and was lost to sight. Lifer number one of the day and we were up and running.

Diving at Cosmeston

Back on the road and a short detour into Cardiff found us at Cosmeston Lakes hoping to catch up with a Black-throated Diver. Of the three main Diver species this is the only one I've never seen at close quarters and indeed my only previous 'tickable' bird I now consider dubious at best given distances involved and my inexperience at the time. As a result this bird, if found, would in reality equate to another life tick. Fortunately our luck held and it didn't take long to locate it out on East lake.

P1070121 - Black-throated Diver, Cosmeston Lakes

P1070124 - Black-throated Diver, Cosmeston Lakes

Initially distant I managed to find a slightly closer vantage point to take the record shots above though given the bright sunlight and my limited equipment they're not going to win any awards. This really wasn't a concern however as on this occasion any pictures were very much secondary to the simple enjoyment of watching the bird go about what turned into a very rigorous preening session. On its back, standing up or even running across the water all kinds of behaviour were on offer and I resorted to video to try and capture some of the action. As always ensure you turn the quality up to maximum when watching.


After about twenty minutes I had to tear myself away, conscious of the miles ahead of us still to cover. As you can imagine this was with some reluctance as how often do you get a chance to observe one of these birds at such close quarters? After this the M5 unsurprisingly seemed even more boring than usual.

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Cefn Sidan Shipwrecks

Wednesday, March 26, 2014 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


I've always been intrigued by shipwrecks and Cefn Sidan beach, just over the county border in Carmarthenshire, has more than its fair share. Over the years there have been 182 recorded wrecks along its seven mile stretch of flat sand and even now discoveries are still being made. Another five previously unknown vessels emerged from their sandy graves after this winters storms removed vast quantities of material, though it didn't take long for the beach to reclaim the majority. Clearly this was an aspect of our local history that I couldn't ignore any longer so a couple of weeks ago we went to explore this ship graveyard for ourselves.

P1070014 - Shipwreck, Cefn Sidan

Walking west from the main entrance it's hard to miss a huge skeletal framework on the horizon as shown above. Partly submerged at high tide this collection of timbers and steelwork take on a whole new aura when fully exposed as its entire length is laid bare for all to see. I spent a good long while closely examining the methods used in its construction but the sad thing is that her name, as with almost every other wreck here, is unknown. As a result we can only imagine where in the world her home port may have been, who served upon her and perhaps most importantly what became of them.

P1070017 - Shipwreck, Cefn Sidan

P1070024 - Shipwreck, Cefn Sidan

P1070026 - Shipwreck, Cefn Sidan

A short distance away sits another slightly smaller wreck though one perhaps in even better condition than the first. Sitting slightly higher up the beach its timbers are better preserved suggesting a younger age but in these conditions such things are hard to judge. Again her name is unknown but the large steel bracing that presumably once supported a deck may be characteristic.

P1070038 - Shipwreck, Cefn Sidan

P1070037 - Shipwreck, Cefn Sidan

P1070039 - Shipwreck, Cefn Sidan

Further west again and a curving line of vertical posts marks the third of our wrecks. Although still sizeable its thinner timbers suggest a vessel of lighter construction though once more age, origin and purpose are purely speculative. The only identifying feature is a small plaque screwed to two uprights which reads "Tony Bone - Rest in Peace". Clearly a more modern addition my internet research has so far failed to find any further information. Another mystery wrapped in the enigma that is Cefn Sidan.

P1070042 - Shipwreck, Cefn Sidan

P1070044 - Shipwreck, Cefn Sidan

By this point we were several miles from where we'd set off and as a storm rolled in from across the water we were served a timely reminder that this can still be a dangerous place. Retracing our steps there was just time to check out one of the newly exposed wrecks that sits parallel to the sand dunes. At present only its upper deck is visible along with several large pieces of ironwork that seem to be attracting discarded fishing nets from far and wide. I don't expect this one to be visible for much longer as the dunes are already starting to reform following their winter retreat.

P1070046 - Shipwreck, Cefn Sidan

It's not just shipwrecks that have been turning up along this beach of late with a huge one tonne anchor having also been exposed. Even human skulls have appeared on occasion though as with the ships above their identities remain a mystery. It makes you wonder what else is down there just waiting to be discovered.

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Sunset Over a Welsh Village

Sunday, March 23, 2014 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


We really were spoilt last week with night after night delivering stunning sunsets. Sadly this week has seen nothing of the sort with cloud and mist once more returning. Fortunately I actually remembered a long ago pledge to start taking more video before conditions worsened and it is that which I wish to share with you today. Taken from Gopa Hill it records the final moments as the sun slips out of sight complete with a typically Welsh soundtrack. From birdsong to the distant rumble of the M4 it's all here to relive on those days when the weather is just not playing ball. Enjoy.

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Great Spotted Cuckoo Dipped

Wednesday, March 19, 2014 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


Those of you who know me will by now realise that I'm not much of a twitcher. That desire to rush around the country chasing every lost soul has just never existed and why is that so surprising when I can watch Red Kites from where I'm typing these very words. Saying that there is an exception to every rule and it's not unheard of for something a little more local to peak my interest. Such a bird arrived on our shores around the 11th March when a Great Spotted Cuckoo was found on Giltar Point in Pembrokeshire, only the fourth ever record for Wales. Needless to say pagers around the country soon heated up as birders far and wide started to descend on the quiet village of Penally. Of course for most of us work meant that all we could do was keep abreast of developments via the usual channels and hope above all else that this typically short staying vagrant was particularly fond of a game of golf. In the end that's exactly what happened and come Saturday we joined many others on the pilgrimage west.

The journey was superb with little traffic and clear skies so it was with good spirits that we arrived in Penally a little after ten in the morning. It didn't take long to spot a large group with telescopes atop a sand dune bordering the golf course and they seemed as good a destination as any to head for. Shortening the distance however soon revealed that everybody was looking in different directions as it transpired that we'd missed the Cuckoo by about thirty minutes. Last observed flying over Giltar Point it hadn't been seen since and rumours were rife that Caldey Island may have been the lucky recipient. Even so it was worth waiting around a while but there's only so many pairs of funny trousers that can keep one from getting restless. Fortunately our plan for the day did not stop here as all along we'd the intention of walking a stretch of the Pembrokeshire coast path which for us was hitherto unknown. Given that there was a chance the Cuckoo hadn't crossed the water this seemed like a smart move and so off we set, eyes peeled.

P1070067 - Pembrokeshire Coast Path

A short while later we'd left everyone behind and found ourselves alone along a stunning stretch of coastline. Off to our left Caldey island stood out magnificently with its lighthouse and beaches catching the sun while ahead of us stood nothing but rolling hills and a military firing range. Perhaps I should clarify that last remark by saying that on this occasion there was no firing taking place and that we were actually on a public footpath. Even so the constant warnings made for a slightly unusual setting. Over the cliffs the local Fulmars clearly didn't mind their explosive neighbours (perhaps they've all gone deaf by now?) as at least six birds were watched gliding elegantly along beneath us. The sea cave below was particularly popular and I suspect an ideal nesting location.

P1070066 - Pembrokeshire Coast Path

Further along and a distinctive call alerted us to the presence of two Choughs, later joined by a third, whilst all around the song of Skylarks filled the air. Stonechats too were present in good numbers and it was nice to get good close views of a Shag fishing just offshore. Sadly however no amount of searching had located the Cuckoo and back at the golf course it seemed that everybody else had drawn a blank as well. Still there's always positives to be taken from every situation and after a lovely walk we were treated to what has to be one of the tamest Kestrels in existence. I say one of as nothing will ever beat the Gower bird from 2011 but it certainly comes in a close second.

P1070085_2 - Kestrel, Penally

P1070079 - Kestrel, Penally

P1070082 - Kestrel, Penally

Crouched down in the grass I watched the bird survey its surroundings from what was clearly an ideal hunting perch. That proved to be just the case after a few minutes when the Kestrel dived down to ground though unfortunately it returned empty handed (taloned). As you can tell from the photos above it gave me great eye contact on a couple of occasions in what would have been an intimate situation had it not been for about thirty others with telescopes and cameras covering our every move.

With no Cuckoo there seemed little point in hanging around so instead we headed back to the car for a short drive to Tenby. On the way a loud call alerted us to the presence of a Cetti's Watbler in some reeds, shortly followed by great flight views. Having not actually seen one for a couple of years, though heard plenty, the missing Cuckoo suddenly no longer seemed that important. The next couple of hours were spent wondering around Tenby. With its medieval town walls and street plan, dual lifeboat houses and interesting architecture the place completely won me over and has easily made it into my top five seaside settlements. Well worth a visit if you are in the area.

Tenby Panorama

P1070097 - Tenby Old Lifeboat House

P1070094 - Herring Gull, Tenby

Suitably sunburnt, even though it's only March, there was just time for one last attempt at the Great Spotted Cuckoo. Back at the golf course news was rife that the bird was back though as with earlier in the day we'd just missed it. I was reliably informed however that it was just behind a distant hump, out of bounds for those of us without golf bats naturally, so we settled in for a wait. After an hour of frustration the likes of which I funnily experienced last time I actually tried to play golf, we called the whole thing off and headed for home. A rather fine male Pheasant waved us off and you know what? I'm not that disappointed. To be honest I was more pleased with the Cetti's Warbler and Sundays garden Greenfinches than what would have admittedly been a life tick. I'm not sure what that says about me as a birder but I guess it takes all sorts to keep this great hobby alive.

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Garden Pairs - Patchwork Challenge 2014

Monday, March 17, 2014 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


Last weekends wall to wall sunshine capped off a perfect week weather wise and it wont come as any surprise to hear that we were out and about making the most of things. As ever options were numerous but a certain Cuckoo out west seemed like the ideal excuse to head over to Pembrokeshire for the first time in several months. What followed was certainly a very enjoyable day but judging from twitter I must be one of the few people out of hundreds who managed to dip. Stupid golf course. Inevitably a full trip report is on its way, once I've finished cursing the birding gods of course, but in this post I'd like to focus on activity closer to home where Sunday saw us completing major construction on our new wildlife pond. The added bonus of this was that we got to spend a lot of time enjoying the comings and goings of our resident birds and it's clear that they've wasted no time in pairing up for this years breeding season. Both of the Dunnocks are sticking closely together suggesting a nest nearby and our usually boisterous Robin seems to have been tamed by the fairer sex. Meanwhile a couple of Blue Tits are investigating one of the nest boxes (fingers crossed for our first success this year), the Chaffinches have rediscovered their voices and best of all we've got a couple of these little beauties popping in and out of the garden at regular intervals.

P1070105_2 - Long-tailed Tit, Garden

Remarkably this Long-tailed Tit turned up on the fatball feeder barely a meter away from me and was happy to pose. However my camera was not readily at hand and despite some impressive ninja skills to retrieve it this single frame was all I managed to capture. Hopefully though the coming weeks are going to present ample opportunities when perhaps I'll be slightly better prepared. Again I'm presuming that this pair are nesting in the scrub behind our house as to see them in this manner is very unusual. Typically we get a large flock passing through in the early morning or late evening but never at such regular intervals as this.

Perhaps even better though was the brief appearance of two male Greenfinches. Now I agree that probably doesn't sound a particularly interesting occurrence but around here they are as rare as hens teeth. I mentioned back in January that our local flock seemed to have disappeared and fearing they had fallen victim to Trichomonas instigated a full clean of all our feeders. Hopefully this sighting is a sign that Greenfinches are once again moving back into our area and I couldn't have hoped for a better species to move my Patchwork Challenge total on another notch.

40 Species / 41 Points 

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Spring Arrives on Patch - Patchwork Challenge 2014

Wednesday, March 12, 2014 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


After my success photographing last nights sunset I was back out again this evening. Conditions were notably hazier, as they have been all day, but that didn't stop the sun putting on a great show from my position atop Gopa Hill. There a wealth of isolated trees provide numerous framing opportunities and I'm a real sucker for skeletal structures against an orange sky.

P1070058 - Sunset, Gopa Hill

P1070055 - Sunset, Gopa Hill

Moving away from sunsets it's probably not escaped your notice that this is a Patchwork Challenge entry and as such we should move onto some birds. The first big news is that I have my first new patch tick of the month in the shape of a Grey Heron heading west across the village. Although we see what I presume is the same bird on a fairly regular basis, this evening was the first time I've spotted it in the correct location to count towards my list. A second new species came tantalisingly close with what I think were a couple of calling Pied Wagtails but I really want to see one before I add them to my tally just to make sure. On the subject of sound I was delighted to hear two calling Chiffchaffs on the lower flanks of Gopa Hill, my first this year, as well as a parachuting Meadow Pipit over at Bryn-bach-Common. Combined with the evening chorus they turned what has been a barren hillside into an entire orchestra, something I'd like to have recorded if it hadn't been for a tractor working the farm nearby. Something to plan for another day I think. Elsewhere most of the usual suspects were present with an upsurge in Dunnock numbers resulting in at least three pairs being counted, not to mention a wealth of Robins with one seemingly in song from each bush I passed. At least one Green Woodpecker could be heard yaffling, the Woodpigeons were cooing and if only it was included on the British list I'd be adding Peacock to my Pachwork Challenge list right about now as well.

39 Species / 40 Points

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A Spring In Our Step

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 Adam Tilt 9 Comments


I've been wrong before, just once in 1995, but last nights declaration that we were clear of frosts proved short lived. Who'd have thought that after eighteen degree heat on Sunday I'd be scraping ice off the car this morning. Despite this blip however I feel confident in declaring spring officially upon us if the hive of activity witnessed across the weekend is anything to go by. We spent both days in the garden building a new pond (details to follow in a future post) but were anything but alone. At least six Small Tortoiseshell butterflies were spotted on the wing, a pair of Blue Tits were investigating one of our nest boxes, there's a Frog for the first time ever in our current small pond, Jackdaws are re-establishing their territories amongst the chimney pots of our neighbours and the volume of bird song seemed almost deafening after the quietness of winter. You couldn't help but feel reinvigorated by it all though I'm certainly suffering now from having exercised muscles that had been lying dormant for the best part of five months.

P1070052 - Sunset from Gopa Hill
 This evenings sunset as seen from Gopa Hill
 
It may just be me but it feels as if spring has arrived all at once this year though in truth that's probably just a warped perception born of the extreme weather across recent weeks. There were however early signs of approaching change last Saturday during an afternoon visit to Cosmeston Lakes where we eschewed our normal route and ended up in Cogan Wood. Away from the masses we paused to watch a couple of Great Tits feeding avidly along ivy clad branches and it wasn't long before other species started turning up as well. Pick of the bunch has to be this very tame Coal Tit, always a personal favourite, who allowed for some rather nice photographs to be taken.

P1060986 - Coal Tit, Cosmeston Lakes

P1060984 - Coal Tit, Cosmeston Lakes

The Great Tits themselves proved slightly more difficult to capture as they kept popping in and out of deep shadow, though this was soon resolved through the offering of some bread.

P1060987 - Great Tit, Cosmeston Lakes

Higher up in the canopy an unusual call alerted me just in time to witness a Nuthatch and Blue Tit emerging from a hole in the tree locked in combat. Each had the other firmly clasped by the feet and like that they fell quickly to the ground. Fortunately the impact was not severe but for several moments it seemed that neither was willing to let go as the scuffle continued. This went on for at least a minute until eventually the Nuthatch looked to have gained an advantage and sent the Blue Tit packing. Bruised but certainly not beaten it (and at least one companion) continued to try their luck at what must be a prime piece of real estate, but each time they were aggressively rebuked by either the original Nuthatch or its mate. Mission accomplished there was nothing for it but to strike a victory pose.

P1060985 - Nuthatch, Cosmeston Lakes

Nearby a trio of Squirrels were providing comic relief. They may not be to everyone's taste but I've always been a fan ever since my school days where I got to enjoy their cavorting each afternoon on the walk home. Considering this it's surprising that I've got very few photos of the species so an opportunity to spend time with this very tame individual was not to be missed.

P1060996 - Squirrel, Cosmeston Lakes

A few meters away and another couple of Squirrels were engaged in an energetic game of chase rendering them seemingly oblivious to our presence. As we stood still they very nearly ran right across our feet which couldn't fail to raise a smile. Another few loops around a tree and it was time for some food which appeared to be hidden under a ground covering of ivy. Such was its depth that the only way for the Squirrel to move forward was by a series of hops. Smiles quickly turned into laughs.

P1070006 - Squirrel, Cosmeston Lakes

Out on the water birds are starting to pair up with the Coots behaviour in particular noticeably changed. Certain individuals, probably the males, have become increasingly testy whilst this pair were involved in some intimate grooming.

P1060981 - Coot, Cosmeston Lakes

Spring is also seeing the return of summer plumaged Black-headed Gulls. Having spent the last few months with almost plain white heads it's a nice change.

P1060980 - Bkack Headed Gull, Cosmeston Lakes

All of these observations mean that our first migrants can't be far away with other parts of the UK already reporting sightings of Wheatear. Our little corner of the world is always a bit behind the curve but it means that my currently stalled Patchwork Challenge list will be on the move again soon. I can't wait.

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Long-tailed Duck at the Knap, Barry

Monday, March 03, 2014 Adam Tilt 10 Comments


If you're anything like me then it's usually easy to recall that first encounter with a new species of wildlife whether it be bird, mammal or anything in between. An afternoon spent tracking Brown Bear amongst the giant Redwoods of California, my first encounter with an Albatross in Monterey Bay or even that crazy evening where the great and the good of our local birding scene descended on Eglwys Nunydd to catch brief glimpses of a Bobolink are remembered just as fondly as the first time I ever saw an Avocet or an Otter or even a Red Kite. Most recently though it was the turn of a Long-tailed Duck to make its indelible mark on my memory when a juvenile stopped over at Burry Port early last year. This was a species I'd been longing to see almost since the day I got back into birding and it didn't disappoint even though conditions were pretty awful. Fast forward to the present day and I've been hankering after a second chance at the Long-tailed Duck ever since.

Fortunately an opportunity finally presented itself back at the start of February when an immature/juvenile type bird was reported on the Knap boating lake in Barry. Having never been to Barry I initially read this news with nothing more than idle interest and a sense of admiration for the finder. Over the following weeks however it kept being reported and without fail, almost as if I was being punished, I couldn't find the time to get down there and see it for myself. Going on past experience I figured that meant I was probably out of luck but with sightings still coming in we finally made it East on Saturday morning. I'm not sure what we'd been expecting but it certainly wasn't this.

P1060950 - Long-Tailed Duck at the Knap, Barry

P1060956 - Long-Tailed Duck at the Knap, Barry

To my surprise the boating lake turned out to be a delightful pool set in sunken gardens just behind the sea wall. Protected from any breeze and with sun shining it felt almost tropical, certainly not the kind of place you'd expect to watch a Long-tailed Duck preening, diving and feeding while a few meters away dogs are being walked and ice creams consumed. And boy could this bird preen. Throughout our stay it was almost constantly attending to its feathers culminating in the extraordinary sight of it standing upright in the water so as to reach those pesky underside areas. This seemed to be achieved through a combination of treading water and sheer dexterity though its backwards motion whilst doing so was nothing short of comical. Indeed such was the extent of this activity that I wouldn't be surprised to see the duck move on in the near future.

P1060953 - Long-Tailed Duck at the Knap, Barry

As always you hope for more and if it wasn't for the horde of Mute Swans following our every move I really think we could have got even closer views. Offerings of bread seemed to attract the Long-tailed Duck but every time it dived to approach the swans would arrive first and the bird would retreat back towards the centre of the lake. There it was closely associating with a small flock of Tufted Ducks who were equally keen to keep away from the melee.

Cold Knap, Barry

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away with plans elsewhere but not before a short walk along Cold Knap (the shingle beach after which the lake is named) where my first singing Skylark of the spring was in fine voice. Not far away a couple of Dunnocks were also belting out their song with this individual posing well.

P1060970 - Dunnock at the Knap, Barry

Sadly the millpond smoothness of the sea could only deliver a couple of Oystercatchers and a passing Cormorant, but really nothing else was required. This area of Wales has already done more than enough and it'll probably be a long time again before I get such great views of a Long-tailed Duck.

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