Purple Sandpipers, Black Redstarts and Murmurings

Saturday, January 23, 2016 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


P1000115 - Crow, Aberystwyth
Last Sunday started with another fruitless search for the Old College Black Redstart but when that failed to materialise we could at least fall back on those ever reliable Purple Sandpipers. Or so we thought. With the tide lower than on the previous morning they were nowhere to be seen, presumably off feeding somewhere though in a location that eluded us, at least for now. The same couldn’t be said for the Turnstones which were still busily turning over North beach but with conditions even duller than on Saturday I decided to leave them to it. Our focus instead turned to the coastline South of Aberystwyth where we planned to retrace our footsteps along a route not covered for several years. Starting from the harbour we’d head along the Ystwyth before climbing steeply up to Sunny-Hill from where we’d join the coast path and head back into town. At around six miles in length it’s the perfect distance for this time of year and you’d never guess who was there to greet us as we set off. Only a Black Redstart! I’m presuming this to be the same bird as seen yesterday given that it was another un-ringed female type but there’s always the possibility that the Aber population may be bigger than the two individuals I’d assumed. Either way it was great to see and seemed to be focussing much of its attention on an area of cliff just upstream from the bridge. That is of course until a Robin turned up and chased it away along with any hope of my gaining a decent photo.

P1000085 - Black Redstart, Aberystwyth

The record shot above does at least confirm that even with a new camera there is still scope for pretty awful record shots on this blog, something to which I’m sure we can all breathe a huge sigh of relief at. I do draw the line at including anything of a female Goosander which was also present however as it really did remain too distant. Its feeding strategy seemed to involve fishing whilst being carried with the current before reaching a certain point and flying back the way it had come. I’ve observed this behaviour here previously so it’s clearly effective.

Other than that the Ystwyth was pretty quiet though with river levels still high that’s perhaps not too surprising. Judging from the muddy state of the footpath they’d clearly been even higher in recent days with the fields beyond also saturated and flooded in places. Perhaps not the ideal conditions for newborn lambs but that’s exactly what we found, a set of twins who were clearly very recently born and an older singleton. All were sticking close to their mothers and who can blame them. January seems like a very early date for lambs yet this is the second time I’ve recorded them here at this time in recent years. As a comparison our own local population won’t start giving birth until March.

P1000093 - First 2016 Lambs, Aberystwyth

Perhaps sensing an easy meal many of the fields we walked alongside were full of corvids, the majority Jackdaws and Rooks. A pair of Buzzards and at least one Red Kite were also doing the rounds, presumably for the same reason, meaning that although the first half of the walk provided little in the way of photographic interest it was at least lively. A flock of eight Mistle Thrushes was an unexpected surprise high in the trees above us whilst it was also good to see a trio of Ravens, surprisingly our first of the year.

P1000109- Aberystwyth

Back on the coast and we got our first proper view back to Aberystwyth (above) before another Red Kite popped up patrolling yet another field of sheep. With light levels still exceedingly dull this seemed like an ideal opportunity to test my new kits ability on in-flight birds, an area where the FZ150 was sometimes lacking. I’m pleased to say that the results were pleasingly good with better detail and colour than I’m usually able to achieve. Given some sunshine and a slightly closer target this bodes very well indeed for working with my local Red Kites.

P1000104 - Red Kite, Aberystwyth

After the steep descent back down to Tanybwlch beach we paused for lunch and a rest. What I hadn’t expected to find was a Cormorant fishing in the surf, at one point popping up just a couple of metres from our feet. It looked to be having some success as well with at least one large fish caught while we watched. The Cormorant wasn’t hanging around either and had soon cleared the stretch of accessible beach we were on showing no signs of stopping.

P1000111 - Cormorant, Aberystwyth

Other inhabitants of Tanybwlch included a couple of rather smart Crows before it was back to Aberystwyth harbour where a flock of Rooks were foraging for food. I’m pretty sure that a diet of fast food leftovers and tomato ketchup isn’t doing them any good but both provide an environment in which it’s possible to get up close and personal with otherwise quite flighty birds.

P1000115 - Crow, Aberystwyth

P1000130 - Rook, Aberystwyth

Even better was that from the wooden jetty we managed to relocate one of the Purple Sandpipers with another pair roosting in their traditional location along the seawall. Also having a snooze were at least eight Ringed Plover by the pier yet despite another positive tip-off we once again dipped on the Old College Black Redstart. Just the way it should be.

P1000142 - Purple Sandpiper, Aberystwyth

P1000147 - Purple Sandpiper, Aberystwyth

P1000121 - Purpple Sandpiper, Aberystwyth

All this was a mere precursor though to the main event. Aberystwyth pier has become famous over the years for its Starling murmurations and about half an hour before sunset the first birds began to appear over town. Their numbers swell rapidly and dramatically until, weather permitting, one of the natural world’s greatest shows is put on for all to see. We’ve found that if the weather has been poor the day before then the birds usually head straight underneath the pier with little display and this was one of those occasions. However, just as most of the birds were looking settled a group of, shall we say, twats, decided that it would be a good idea to start throwing rocks at the steelwork in order to scare the Starlings back into flight. What a wonderful world we live in. Unsurprisingly the whole roost shot out across the sea and produced the most amazing display with a small murmuration just a metre or so off the deck.

P1000172 - Starlings, Aberystwyth

P1000177 - Starlings, Aberystwyth

Thankfully their disturbance was short lived and the Starlings soon settled down once more. A spectacular, if chilly, way to round off what had been a great weekend.

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