2015 In Review - Part 2
July kicked off in spectacular fashion with a Great White Egret at Kenfig which, although remaining distant, gave great flight views before alighting in a tree. Butterflies including Small Skipper and Ringlet were on the wing in good numbers before we spent a blustery evening at Rhossili in the company of Seals and some gorgeous weather. Out on patch I was pleased to report a good year locally for Blackcaps and was even then starting to ponder the coming of Autumn with singing Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs all reduced in number. A long weekend around the middle of the month saw me making a lone return trip to Craig Cerrig-Gleisiad where I had brilliant encounters with Redstarts, Whinchats and Spotted Flycatcher. Then came Llangorse Lake with excellent views of Reed Warblers and numerous butterfly species before I rounded things off with a second visit to the Kenfig Great White Egret. This time around the bird couldn’t have been more accommodating and spent a couple of hours parading up and down right outside the hide. July also marked the start of our farewell to Vulcan XH558 in its final year of flying as we attended a very grey Swansea air show. After a short interlude to enjoy this seasons Cinnabar Moth caterpillars it was off to Castle Combe where I was very happy indeed to find numerous Marbled Whites. More insect joy came from a visit to Lower Moor Farm before the main event, RAF Fairford for the Royal International Air Tattoo. Here XH558 once again wowed audiences with the highlight being a flypast which included the Red Arrows. For a nice bit of contrast we finished off the weekend with a young Ringed Plover at Burry Port, the first time I‘ve seen evidence of successful breeding at this site. As if that hadn’t been enough we then went to Skomer for the second time this year and enjoyed some great encounters with the Puffins. Talk about a busy month.
The pace didn’t quieten down in August either as we headed up to Leeds for a week away. The definite highlight was finding both Marsh Harrier and Short Eared Owl on Ilkley Moor before a damp visit to Ingleton waterfalls. Then came easily the highlight of 2015, watching an adult and juvenile Montagu’s Harrier strutting their stuff at Blacktoft Sands. Prior to this trip I’d never seen a Montagu’s before nor visited the reserve, two omissions which I was very happy to tick off. Red Grouse were my main target on a walk from Hebden to Grassington Moor but in the end it was a Red-legged Partridge which stole the show. The grouse were probably hunkered down out of sight given the amount of shooting going on, a practice which I despise especially when the guns are pointed directly at you and fired across public footpaths. Thankfully there was no such unpleasantness at RSPB Old Moor, another new reserve for me and one which came up trumps with Marsh Harrier, Common Tern and Brown Hawkers all being recorded. Towards the end of the month we got a reminder that good fortune has its limits as we dipped both Spoonbill and Rose-coloured Starling in the local area, although a very confiding Common Sandpiper at WWT Llanelli did provide some modicum of compensation. We then hit pay dirt with a Black Tern at Fendrod Lake where, having failed to get even a poor record shot, my very shaky drawing skills were called into action. Finally a trip to Bosherston rounded off proceedings with Chough, a family of Wrens and mating Little Blues being the most memorable moments.
The first official day of Autumn brought a stunning sunset at Machynys before we got reacquainted with our Hedgehogs and did a mini bug safari in the garden. Here I pondered the notion of garden pan-species listing which is something I will definitely be picking up again in 2016. Out on patch my visits were becoming increasingly irregular as pressures on my time increased but that didn’t stop us from confirming breeding Grey Partridges up on Cefn Drum. More sunsets came from the upper Loughor, an area you should be hearing much more about over the next twelve months, before it was off to Strumble Head. Here we rescued a tiny Mouse from the middle of the path, saw Seal pups hauled out on the beach and watched Manx Shearwaters scooting by far out at sea. A very enjoyable day. We then made our first ever single night camping trip up to Tywyn, taking in first the spectacular Castell y Bere and then Broad Water. Definitely something we’ll be trying more often next year. Things then went very quiet on the blogging front as I got stuck into some DIY, hardly my favourite activity especially when it keeps me away from the great outdoors.
At the start of October we were bidding our final final farewell to Vulcan XH558, this time from Barry as part of her countrywide tour. Such a shame that we will never see her flying again. Migrants including Wheatear and Swallow were still present along the Gower coast early on whilst a walk at Rhossili came complete with sunshine, cabbages and a Raven making very strange noises indeed. Then it all went quiet again as life once more took over.
We finally made it back to the Isle of Mull at the beginning of November where the Autumn colours were spectacular, Golden Eagles and White-tailed Eagles abounded and despite the cloud we got to enjoy some truly memorable sunsets. Mull is still my favourite place to be and fingers crossed we get to spend a little bit more time there next year. Back at home Llanrhidian Marsh was again delivering as only it can with one evening watch producing three Great White Egrets, two Hen Harriers and four Short Eared Owls. Beat that if you can! Over on the Burry there was an impressive gathering of Brent Geese whilst a spot of sun meant that Red Admirals and Common Darters were still on the wing at WWT Llanelli. What we couldn’t have predicted next was a family tragedy that had us heading to Edinburgh towards the end of the month, somewhere I’d never visited before but ended up being out of this world. We had new lifers in the shape of Long-Eared Owl and Surf Scoter, not to mention truly unbelievable views of Velvet Scoter, Common Scoter and Eider in their thousands. There was even a spot of snow as temperatures dropped to freezing for the one and only time this winter. Then came great walks up Arthur’s Seat as well as a trip to see the Forth Bridges and Whooper Swans at Loch Leven before December was suddenly upon us.
Although we didn’t know it at the time, December 2015 was going to prove to be one of the wettest on record. It rained nearly every day causing severe flooding across the country though thankfully South Wales has avoided the worst. The weather did though play havoc with our plans although Storm Desmond did at least provide the sight of a Great Northern Diver at Mumbles before we completed the last stretch of Gower coastline which we had yet to walk. It was still wet and windy when we headed to Port Eynon a few days later before a visit by my parents saw us going to check out the new salt marsh creation project down at Cwm Ivy. I was blown away by the habitat there which was probably helped no end by the sight of an Otter. A return trip couldn’t quite replicate that success but did deliver Goose Barnacles on Whiteford sands which we dutifully returned to the sea as they were still alive. In the garden we had Starlings return for the first time in at least a couple of years before more stormy weather delivered Goldeneye and a series of Blowholes along the Glamorgan Heritage Coast between Ogmore and Dunraven. This was followed up with a, yes you guessed it, wet and windy walk along the hills above Aberdare before two different Grey Phalaropes in two days rounded off not only December but also 2015.
Looking back I can scarcely believe that we managed to squeeze so much in and I think I now understand why I’m feeling a little bit worn out. Saying that I wouldn’t change a thing and hope that we can do even more during 2016. I hope you’ll come along for the journey.