Strumble Head - Mice, Seal Pups and Choughs

Friday, September 11, 2015 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Strumble Head is probably my favourite part of Pembrokeshire yet with so much going on I'd somehow managed to let over a year slip by since our last visit. We made amends last Saturday by walking the now familiar route from Strumble Head itself all the way along the coast to Porth Maenmelyn. The forecast on Friday night had promised wall to wall sunshine so I was a bit miffed to wake up to low cloud which then decided to precipitate, rather heavily in fact, for our entire journey west. It was only as we dropped down into Fishguard that the sun finally put in an appearance and thankfully that was where it stayed for the rest of the day. If it hadn't been for a strong northerly wind we'd have likely roasted but as it was conditions were perfect for a day's good walking.

P1150596 - Strumble Head

The lighthouse at Strumble is probably famous around the world as one of those structures which epitomise the rugged Welsh coastline. With early morning mist only just cleared its light was still flashing out warnings as we watched the Irish ferry approaching from Rosslare, its huge bulk barely moved by the white topped waves which filled our view. For those not in the know Strumble is something of a sea-watching mecca and even just a cursory glance through the binoculars soon revealed why. Gannets seemed to be everywhere, either gliding, diving or loafing about, whilst further out small flocks of Manx Shearwater (our first of the year) were fulfilling their reputation as Swallows of the sea. Kittiwakes, Fulmars and Great Black-backed Gulls were also present and I'm sure we'd have added even more species had we decided to settle down and watch for longer. Instead we set off and after only a few paces spotted a pair of Chough feeding noisily on the grassy slope ahead of us. Unlike our local birds on Gower they were in no mood to stick around however and moved off almost immediately. The same couldn't be said for individuals of both Grey and Harbour Seal which were resting in the relatively sheltered water between Ynys Meicel and the mainland. I say relatively as although there were no waves breaking in the narrow channel it is home to a ferocious current which swept the smaller Harbour Seal away in the blink of an eye. We were actually a little worried about its well being for a while as we'd hardly seen it move for ten minutes or so, raising the question of whether it was merely sleeping or was in fact in some sort of difficulty. Thankfully we soon had our answer as it swam back up the channel and resumed its slumbers, presumably with a slightly closer eye on where it was drifting.

P1150609 - Small Copper, Strumble Head

Surprisingly given the strength of the wind there were good numbers of butterflies on the wing with Common Blue, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell and the Small Copper seen above. What I hadn't been expecting to see were many moths yet there were a couple of Silver Y showing very well.

P1150607

Further surprises awaited us less than half a mile later when Emma suddenly proclaimed that there was a Mouse on the path. Fearing the worst given that I'd just stomped my way across the very same ground I turned to find a tiny Field Mouse looking slightly bemused. Judging from its half open eyes and the way in which it was struggling to walk I took this to be a young individual, possibly disturbed from its shelter by recent strimming work along the path. As I bent to look closer it started to clean itself and I instantly fell in love. There's a reason I used to keep pet Rats you know. After taking a couple of photos I picked the poor thing up and popped it into deep cover, hopefully well away from the prying eyes of a Kestrel which was hunting nearby. How anything so small can survive in such a harsh environment will always be a minor miracle.

P1150615 - Mouse, Strumble Head

P1150620 - Mouse, Strumble Head

P1150632 - Mouse, Strumble Head

At Pwll Ffyliaid I spotted my second Golden-ringed Dragonfly of the year but unlike my first in Brecon, this one was well settled. All I needed to do was descend a steep pile of boulders with a deep gully at their base to get a photo, but what would life be without these minor challenges.

P1150642 - Yellow-ringed Dragonfly

P1150645 - Yellow-ringed Dragonfly

A spot of lunch overlooking the bay at Pwll Arian allowed us to watch more Gannet and Shearwater action with the added bonus of at least five Stonechats and a lone Wheatear. All were quite flighty so no pics but nice to see all the same. For those with a good memory this was also the same area in which I saw a Dartford Warbler face off against a Wryneck several years ago but no amount of searching this time out could turn up either species. Instead we enjoyed the imposing shape of two Ravens before it was time to explore the WW2 ruins above Porth Maenmelyn. Once the site of an important radar station its brick structures are slowly being reclaimed by nature with one holding a now abandoned Swallow nest and another providing the perfect sunning spot for a Wall Brown.

P1150657 - WW2 Remains, Porth Maenmelyn

P1150652 - Pembrokeshire

P1150653 - Wall Brown, Porth Maenmelyn

Again butterfly numbers were very impressive here amongst the flowering Heather, as were Grasshoppers which leapt this way and that as we walked by. Such an abundance of insect life must be helping the local bird population and it was no surprise to find another pair of Chough perched atop the steep cliffs. Unlike the first though these were more than happy to pose.

P1150666 - Chough, Porth Maenmelyn

A long way beneath them five white boulders along a pristine beach turned out to be young Grey Seal pups and a scan of the nearby water revealed their parents weren't too far away. As we watched several of the huge adults hauled themselves out and began to suckle, one of those magical sights which we just had to share with a couple of fellow walkers. Easily missed but well worth the perilous look over the cliffs.

P1150672 - Grey Seals, Porth Maenmelyn

P1150674 - Grey Seals, Porth Maenmelyn

P1150675 - Porth Maenmelyn

After all that you'd think there wasn't much left to share, but you'd be wrong. Our final destination was the youth hostel where a small wooded area turned up a couple of very fresh Willow Warblers and a surprise Spotted Flycatcher. I presumed this to be a bird on migration given the lack of decent habitat but what a year we're having for the species.

P1150678 - Spotted Flycatcher, Porth Maenmelyn

Our return route was back the way we'd come which unsurprisingly involved seeing many of the same species for a second time. Never a bad thing. Walking into the wind and spray though was much more tiring than our outward leg had been but certainly made for an exhilarating feeling. It definitely wont be another year before we're back.

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