Bracelet Meds and Mumbles Kittiwakes

The triple figure flock of Mediterranean Gulls spotted off Pwll in my last post were indicative of not only a larger seasonal increase across our area, but also a year on year population boom that shows no signs of slowing. Back in 2009 the annual Carmarthenshire bird report gives a max count at any one site of “only” thirty nine individuals which, if my maths serves, means an incredible growth since then of over 400%. A frankly astonishing success story backed up by similar and on occasion even higher numbers being reported this summer from nearby Burry Port and Pembrey. Where me and Meds are concerned though, Bracelet Bay has always been destination of choice. Admittedly at the height of school holidays it’s not exactly the place to go if you’re after a spot of solitude but mingle with the tourists a while and you’re likely to experience some of the best Med Gull encounters this country has to offer. Also expect a few funny looks. 

A couple of weeks ago we did just that and despite the whole area positively heaving with post-lockdown escapees, there were still jewels to be found. From the beach we could see a small roost numbering some fifteen individuals on the rocks below Castellamare, apparently oblivious to the child playing mere metres away. You try that with a camera and see if you can get anywhere near as close! Others were flying regularly overhead but as usual the best views were to be had from the old coastguard station car park. There I was treated to birds exhibiting a whole range of plumages (though no 2020 juveniles it seemed) and by and large was ignored and left to snap away as I pleased. Only an occasional, presumably blind, member of the public came between us but the birds soon resettled allowing me to continue.

P1240495 - Mediterranean Gull, Bracelet Bay

P1240483 - Mediterranean Gull, Bracelet Bay

P1240475 - Mediterranean Gull, Bracelet Bay

P1240474 - Mediterranean Gull, Bracelet Bay

P1240488 - Mediterranean Gull, Bracelet Bay

Out of Lockdown with a Rose-coloured Starling

The past four months have been an utterly bizarre period in which everything has changed yet also stayed strangely familiar. For instance I’ve been fortunate in that my job has allowed me to continue working full time, albeit from home, yet any preconceptions I had about getting things done around the house and catching up on my TV viewing have proved massively wide of the mark. Instead overtime and huge pressure have been the name of the game as I and the rest of my team have worked our socks off to help our employer through these unprecedented circumstances. A side effect of this has been that my once carefully cultivated separation between work and home life has broken down almost completely, particularly when lockdown was at its height. For weeks on end my daily highlight was sitting in a different room and any impetus to switch from one laptop to another for blogging purposes was sorely lacking.

The only thing that really kept me going were our once a day permitted outings which felt at times more like mandatory exercise sessions during a prison sentence than something to be relished. Nevertheless we made the most of them and took on the challenge of seeing as many of our normal seasonal species as possible. Clearly some such as Puffins were going to be extremely unlikely but we had remarkable success elsewhere. Particular highlights included a flock of Golden Plover on the hills behind our house as well as the discovery that we can view a Little Egret roost from the bedroom window. Then there was the family of Spotted Flycatchers and at least two reeling Grasshopper Warblers back on their traditional territories for another year. Best of all though were the number of Swifts which arrived this summer, far in excess of the solitary individuals recorded last year. Sitting in the garden we were regularly treated to small groups screaming their way overhead and strongly suspect that a house down the road from us had at least a couple of active nests. Do I detect a spot of Swift next box building in my near future?

I still couldn’t help myself feeling jealous however as I followed those on Twitter fortunate enough to enjoy coastal patches. Having lived near or next to the sea for the last twenty years not having ready access proved a real struggle despite being able to see the distant Gower coastline from home. Those views were no substitute for walking its beaches in person.

Was it really any surprise therefore that as soon as lockdown restrictions began to ease here in Wales, the first destination I had in mind was the coast. But suddenly I found myself hesitating. Month after month of soaring death tolls (including someone I knew personally) had left me in a state of anxiety helped not inconsiderably by the apparent perception in the general populace that the danger had passed. Even walking locally what attempt at social distancing had existed when passing on paths had already largely disappeared. I needed a push to get me back out there and to regain confidence.

Step forward a Rose-coloured Starling.

It’s been an excellent year for the species with individuals popping up across much of the country and finally, on the 15th July, it was our turn. The initial discovery was made earlier that morning but with a day of online meetings stretching out before me I was housebound until gone five. A quick dash down to Burry Port followed and after a thorough search of the area things were not looking good. Memories of my last abortive attempt at seeing one along Aberavon seafront began to resurface, that dip coming courtesy of gale force winds and a Starling cast numbering in the thousands. With by now a decent crowd of observers assembled we continued the hunt, everyone pleasingly observing the social distancing protocols. 

P1240195 - Rose-coloured Starling, Burry Port

Emma, showing no signs of her skills having faded since our last proper birding trip, drew first blood spotting the pink waist-coated visitor atop a nearby telegraph pole. From there it flew down to join its brothers from another tailor on the lawn area in front of Parsons Pickles where it fed giving great views to all. Presumably we also provided equally ample entertainment to the bemused member of staff beavering away at their desk inside.

Spring, is that you?

P1240117 - Lambs at sunset
After one of the wettest and as a result longest winters for many years it's heartening to find spring finally putting in an appearance. The past few days in particular have seen glorious sunshine and actual warmth in the air whilst migrants have begun to arrive in decent numbers. Most notable have been the Chiffchaffs whose calls now ring out across our valley from dawn to dusk. Wheatears too are trickling through and we were fortunate to spot five down at Rhossili just before the situation in this country took a rather dramatic turn. The resultant lockdown means that we're now limited to a single outing each day but with the hills literally on our doorstep that's no real hardship. Longer daylight hours have also opened up the option for that most important of daily rituals, the post work (from home now of course) walk, and we've been making full use of every opportunity to do just that. As is tradition that has included a sunset photography session at my favourite tree.

Polish Black Headed Gull

Two gull related posts in almost as many weeks is worrying news indeed but I'm finding it hard not to get dragged into their world. I of course blame fellow blogger Gavin over at Not Quite Scilly (an excellent read by the way) for my increasing inability to pass gull flocks without giving them at least a cursory once over, even though juvenile plumage still baffles me. This new found interest is however starting to bear fruit as while waiting for the pub to open last Sunday my attention was drawn to a lone Black Headed Gull. Nothing out of the ordinary there you might assume but this particular individual was carrying with it a little extra bling.

P1230483 - Black Headed Gull, Mumbles

P1230478 - Black Headed Gull, Mumbles

I'm well used to finding ringed Mediterranean Gulls around the corner in Bracelet Bay but this is the first such Black Headed Gull I've come across. A quick bit of research indicates that the bird originates from Poland and has been spending its winter in the Swansea area since at least 2014. I've been in touch with the relevant ringing scheme and hope to hear of its full history soon.

Ultimate Adventure Bucket List

Way back at the beginning of the year I breathed new life into this blog with a reflective look at my current motivations and attempted to set a course for the new decade which would see me focussing on what I enjoyed and discarding that which I didn't. Since penning those words I've been doing my best to live up to the commitments I made including plenty of photography, writing and walking, plus a daunting dive into the world of nocmigging for which a series of dedicated blogs will be heading your way soon. That being said perhaps the section which excited me most from that rambling entry was where I listed a few of my long held dreams, experiences rooted in the natural world which one day I hope to fulfil.

Inevitably the idea of putting together a more thorough list began to form (I am a birdwatcher at heart after all) so when Alikat's got in touch asking if I'd like to take part in their Bucket List Challenge, now seemed like the perfect opportunity to do just that. Before we proceed however I want to make it clear that this list is not simply there to allow items to be ticked off. I mean obviously that's part of it but not my sole motivation. Instead my bucket list represents a set of experiences and memories yet to be made, things which I hope will enrich me as a person and push me to live life to its fullest.

Walk Offa's Dyke

Back in 2013 I completed my first long(ish) distance walk with a two day assault on the Gower Way. At thirty five miles this was by far my greatest walking challenge to date and despite a few aches and pains it well and truly whetted my appetite. So much so that I went straight to the bookshop and purchased a guide covering the Offa's Dyke Path which stretches 177 miles along the Welsh/English border. Unfortunately that's as far as things went and after seven years without any long distance walks, this one is right up there on the 'to-do' list.

Climb Ireland's highest mountain

Last summer we successfully climbed Ben Nevis rounding off the three highest peaks in Britain having summited Snowdon and Scafell Pike previously. Next in our sights is Carrauntoohil, Ireland's highest mountain standing at 3,407ft.

P1050975 - Climbing Ben More, Isle of Mull

Watch the Northern Lights dance

Honeycomb Worms at Bracelet Bay

Contrary to expectations we actually enjoyed a break in our recent appalling run of bad weather last Sunday, brief respite from the rain and wind which has become an almost constant presence this winter. To take advantage we headed down to Mumbles for a mooch around Bracelet Bay and spent a happy couple of hours doing nothing more than simply watching the tide come in. It might be my advancing years (what do you mean mid-thirties isn’t old!) but I find that where once the idea of simply sitting filled me with dread I now find myself increasingly looking for opportunities to do just that. This was to be no exception but before the foreshore had chance to disappear beneath the waves once more I couldn’t help but notice an impressive colony of Honeycomb Worms and went in for a closer look.

P1230519 - Honeycomb Worms, Bracelet Bay

Easily spotted at low tide these are, as the photo above suggests, a reef-building worm which constructs for itself a protective tube from sand and shell fragments. These interlocking tubes create the distinctive ‘honeycomb’ structures from which the species takes its name and can house tens if not hundreds of thousands of individuals. Found where there is hard substrate upon which to build and a ready supply of sand, our local coastline makes for almost perfect habitat and it’s no surprise that they are relatively widespread here.