Strumble Cetaceans in the Sun

Tuesday, May 30, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


P1070928 - Strumble Head
A couple of weeks ago having spent an entire weekend painting doors (it’s not all fun and games around here you know) we were itching for another adventure. Rather conveniently my sister and her husband happened to be holidaying in Pembrokeshire just west of here and, following a very kind offer to join them, we had our plans pretty much sorted for us. Travelling over early on Saturday morning we were aiming for a trip out to Ramsey Island, somewhere which had strangely slipped my radar until now. Overshadowed by its somewhat more illustrious neighbour Skomer that is perhaps understandable, but from my limited research it looked to have a unique character all of its own. Needless to say we were pretty excited to explore it for ourselves so it came as a blow to get the call that boats couldn’t land and our trip was going to have to be postponed. Having already seen the weather forecast which included such delights as developing gale force winds I didn’t blame them, particularly when you take into account the dramatic currents which make Ramsey Sound one of the most treacherous stretches of water in the country.

P1070861 - Strumble Lighthouse

Not to worry as I cunningly had a backup plan ready to go thanks to the presence of a Red Footed Falcon nearby at Strumble Head. First spotted a couple of days earlier this was our first opportunity to try for it ourselves but as soon as we arrived I got that sinking feeling. Plenty of birders for sure but all either looking in different directions or wondering up and down the narrow lanes. Sure signs both that the bird had done a bunk, as it turned out less than half an hour before we’d arrived. A rare dip on our part then but not to worry as with the sun blazing and Strumble looking as gorgeous as ever we certainly weren’t going to be short of ways to entertain ourselves.

P1070892 - Strumble Coast

P1070924 - Strumble Coast

With the sea already looking a little rough we observed a good passage of Gannets, the majority heading south, along with small groups of very distant Manx Shearwaters and Guillemots. Several Kittiwakes were also in the mix but there were no feeding groups with almost everything seemingly in a hurry to get somewhere else. That also went for the Swallows, of which there must have been hundreds along the stretch of coastline heading towards Fishguard, as well as a couple of House Martins and one lone Swift. The latter was our hosts first of the year and me, well, I never tire of watching their antics. They always look to be having so much fun (apologies for anyone reading who despises anthropomorphism).  In fact the only bird apparently content with where it found itself was this female Wheatear which posed perfectly just after we’d set off.

P1070881 - Wheatear, Strumble

Alas the missing falcon remained just that as we continued walking but there were plenty of Linnets, Whitethroats and even an occasional Chough to remind us just how good our native fauna is. Inevitably though my attention kept being drawn back to the sea, and with very good reason. Apart from numerous Grey Seals either bottling or lazily swimming in and out of each bay we were also enjoying surprisingly regular cetacean sightings. My first was off Strumble itself and I was pretty confident to call Common Dolphin thanks to its distinctive white flanks though I must stress that I am far from an expert in this field. In the end no one else was able to get onto that individual before it vanished but we picked up another/the same animal off Pen Caer. This time everyone got some great views and agreed on my earlier identification. Whether that makes us any more correct however is anyone’s guess! It wasn’t until we were back at Strumble later in the afternoon that we got out next sighting, this time thanks to some simply fantastic viewing conditions. With a strong westerly barrelling waves towards us I could easily watch what I’m pretty sure was a Bottlenose Dolphin effectively surfing just beneath the surface. This amazing spectacle continued for about five minutes before the animal reached an area of rougher water and our views became more sporadic. My lasting impression was of a large cetacean, dark grey all over with a pointed nose and curved dorsal fin. All good diagnostic tells and having seen many over the years I’m happy to call it. The fact that the Whales in Wales blog reported their first Bottlenose sightings of the year just up the coast on Sunday only adds to my confidence. There was however a much smaller animal in the vicinity on which we were not so sure. I personally didn’t get a great view but it sounded like a Porpoise, the commonest species observed from this coastline. Three species in one day and all seen from land. I’d say that’s pretty good going.

Given the distances involved I don’t even have a record shot to share but a break to sit and enjoy our surroundings at Porthsychan provided a few more photographic opportunities. My first Common Sandpiper of the year arrived first but quickly did a runner followed soon after by this superb White Wagtail. Happy to strike a pose it’s a bird I’ve been trying to get a decent image of for ages. I think I’ve now succeeded.

P1070921 - White Wagtail

P1070910 - White Wagtail

They weren’t to be the end of our avian highlights either with a raucous outburst alerting us to the presence of a Raven nest perched high up the cliffs. Balanced precariously within were three almost fully grown chicks, surely only a few days from fledging. Even so both parents were doing an admirable job at providing regular feeds though I must say their diet looked particularly unappetising. Unfortunately my photos of the event were so marred by heat haze (yes actual heat haze!) that they aren't worth sharing so instead here's out first Small Copper and Fox Moth caterpillar of the year, both found in nearby vegetation.

P1070890 - Small Copper

P1070900

There had been no new sightings of the Red Footed Falcon by the time our walk was complete and so, with a few hours of sunshine left, we headed first to the trig point at Garn Fawr and then Fishguard itself. The latter delivered a rather nice Barwit plus several Oystercatchers, not to mention a few recently stranded Barrel Jellyfish. The previous week had seen hundreds of these curious creatures wash up along beaches in Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire and we’d seen several perilously close to the cliffs earlier in the day.

P1070945 - Barrel Jellyfish, Fishguard

P1070946 - Barrel Jellyfish, Fishguard

At Garn Fawr it wasn’t jellyfish that we had to be wary of so much as the wind. Gusts nearly strong enough to sweep you off your feet hampered progress somewhat but the views from the summit were more than worth the effort. Off in the distance Strumble lighthouse looked almost like a model and with wider Pembrokeshire spread out before us we really were at the top of the world (or at least this little bit of it).

P1070928 - Strumble Head

P1070931 - Strumble Head

After that it was time to retreat to more sheltered surroundings before the promised evening storm arrived proper. Eurovision was our entertainment of choice though the less said about the winner the better.

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