Storm Dennis Batters Porthcawl

For the second weekend in a row Wales has been battered by gales and persistent heavy rainfall, last nights deluge resulting in severe flooding across communities both local and further afield. With the ground already sodden and rivers filled to capacity there was simply nowhere else for the water to go other than straight through the increasingly fragile illusion that we are masters of our environment. Thankfully we've escaped relatively unscathed here and spent yesterday locked inside watching sheets of water being blasted up the valley whilst willing our internet and electricity not to cut out (they didn't). We woke to slightly improved conditions this morning and in need of some fresh air headed down the coast to Porthcawl. Even if you've never visited the town yourself you'll have probably seen images of waves crashing over its breakwater and lighthouse, iconic symbols of extreme weather which of late has become ever more common.

As soon as we arrived a huge wave sent almost unfathomable amounts of raging white water skywards, mother nature flexing her muscles as if it was nothing. The gathered crowds stood in awe as barrage after barrage was thrown landwards, the sea a boiling cauldron with waves breaking in any number of directions and the wind whipping up foam to be thrown like projectiles. I've seldom experienced such raw power and hopefully a little of that comes across in the following images.

P1230356 - Storm Dennis, Porthcawl

Bracelet Bay Med Gulls

Last Sunday we popped down to Bracelet Bay on Gower to get reacquainted with the Mediterranean Gulls. Fortunately for us a combination of high tide and stormy seas meant that there were at least twenty dotted around the car park including one ringed individual which originally hails from Poland. Unfortunately the combination of high tide and stormy seas also attracted plenty of people meaning any kind of approach was all but impossible thanks to constant disturbance. Nevertheless I persevered and ended up coming away with a pleasing set of images.

2020_02_0014 - Mediterranean Gull

2020_02_0015 - Mediterranean Gull

2020_02_0016 - Mediterranean Gull

Down at Mumbles Pier it was rather nice to see a few early returning Kittiwakes back on the scene whilst the wader roost on the old lifeboat slipway held very good numbers. Dunlin, Turnstone and Redshank all featured along with a solitary Oystercatcher which had presumably shunned its own species in favour of ruling over the lesser beings.

2020_02_0018 - Mumbles Waders

Other than that things were fairly quiet so there was nothing for it but to head to the pub for a Sunday roast. Now that's definitely my definition of a decent couple of hours spent birding. 

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2020

It may be a new decade but some things will always remain the same including our participation in the world's largest wildlife survey. Each January over half a million people across the country come together to take part in the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch, counting the birds that appear in their gardens during a single hour and in doing so helping track the fortunes of our commonest feathered friends. As examples of citizen science projects go it's hard to think of any other that has so captivated the public and become such an integral part of our national psyche, or indeed that has run for quite so many years (forty plus and counting).

This year marked our tenth taking part at our current property and probably delivered the best results we've had since those early days. That has I'm sure something to do with the fact that for once we hadn't chosen an hour beset by torrential rain and gale force winds, conditions that favour neither man nor beast. In the end we managed to record twelve species and forty one individuals but for me the real interest lies in drilling down into the detail.

House Sparrow (8)
Goldfinch (8)
Blue Tit (3)
Dunnock (3)
Greenfinch (2)
Chaffinch (6)
Coal Tit (2)
Magpie (2)
Jackdaw (2)
Blackbird (2)
Collared Dove (2)
Robin (1)

Looking back at our first count in 2011 one thing that immediately jumps out is that our once common flock of Starlings is simply no more. I wish I could say that this was a local anomaly but sadly Starling numbers have been crashing nationally for some time leading to them being red listed as a bird of high conservation concern. The Greenfinch population has similarly been decimated, largely thanks to the rampant spread of trichomonosis, but here at least we have good news. A pair have once more become regular visitors this winter and both showed up during our survey window. House Sparrow numbers have similarly bounced back from just two in 2017 to a mighty eight, as have Chaffinches which once appeared lost but are now heading back towards double figures. I hope these species' resurgence has at least something to do with the work we've being putting into our garden including nest boxes, high quality food and plenty of natural cover. Certainly food has been one of the big draws for our Goldfinches whose numbers continue to build year on year, as does the cost of keeping them fed. 

The only really glaring omission from this years count was that of Great Tit which, given the regularity with which we see them, struck us as a bit odd. Perhaps unsurprisingly one popped up just after our hour had finished and they've been here ever since.

The rules of the Big Garden Birdwatch state that you can only record birds actually grounded in your garden which meant we saw several species which couldn't be submitted. Chief amongst these was a Redwing perched just beyond our boundary plus a pair of Red Kite overhead. Three Herring Gulls and a couple of Crows also passed through before, just as the final minutes ticked away, a flock of four Starlings swept across a nearby field. Perhaps then all is not lost for these charismatic birds and if conservation efforts can help them recover we might yet see them return to our feeders.

Mermaids and Barnacles at Ginst Point

P1230253 - Goose Barnacles
Finding ourselves at a loose end one recent Sunday afternoon we went in search of somewhere coastal that hitherto had escaped our notice. That's no easy task when you've lived in the same area for over a decade but find one we did.

Ginst Point lies over the county border in Carmarthenshire and sits where Pendine Sands, of speed record fame, begins its long stretch west from Aber Taf. You could walk for miles and still have an endless stretch of sand before you yet this is very much a spot that only those "in the know" visit. I only found out about it thanks to a chance message on social media and even then, access is not for the feint hearted. You see Ginst Point sits at the heart of an MoD firing range which means frequent closures and, even when open, a far from welcoming arrival. Faced with steel gates, security cameras and plenty of warning signs threatening no unauthorised access I was very tempted to turn back right there and then. In the end though I decided that if the internet said it was ok to visit then it must be, and if not I'm sure the worst that could happen is we'd be asked to politely leave.

Introducing the Birdsy Cam

Even just a few years ago the idea of streaming and sharing live video from your garden feeders was both prohibitively complex and expensive, especially for the mass market. It was though a concept that appealed greatly and after seeing such technology on various TV series and via early pioneers including WildlifeKate, I researched the topic at some length. However, the prospect of hosting the resultant feeds seemed like more hassle than it was worth so my fledgling plans for a home-grown wildlife reality show never really got off the ground. Now though, thanks largely to advances in cloud computing and innovative companies like Birdsy, we finally have a product that is not only simple to use but also far more powerful than I could ever have imagined.

January Birding

P1230147 - Purple Sandpiper, Aberystwyth
For most birders that first outing of the new year is always extra special. It doesn't matter what one might see from Robins and House Sparrows through to Golden Eagles or Firecrests, all species carry with them an additional excitement factor of being "first for the year". When else for instance can you find even the most ardent of twitcher clamouring after a Pied Wagtail or, dare I say it, the humble Feral Pigeon. It's a brilliant time to be out in the field, no expectations for what lies ahead and a complete reset from the highs and lows that may have come before.