This weekend was my four year and ten month anniversary of meeting Emma and it seemed like an ideal excuse to head away for the weekend to our old university haunt of Aberystwyth. We set off nice and early on Saturday and arrived at our first stop, Cilsan bridge in Carmarthenshire, just as the sun was peeping over the hilltops. The view from the bridge down the river was superb with the last of the autumn colours still on show and nothing to hear but birdsong all around.
I visited here last year to have a look at the large overwintering Whooper Swan flock that had taken up residence in the fields that border the river. It looks like they are on their way back again as we counted nine individuals split across both banks. Also mixed in were several small groups of Mute Swan which were extremely active. As soon as they had settled in one location they were back up in the air looking for somewhere else to land giving us some great views in the progress. Also on the river were a pair of Little Grebes and a single Cormorant. Some movement in a small coppice to one side of the bridge alerted us to the presence of our first Fieldfare of the year. I suspect that there was also a Redwing in the same bush but as I was trying to get a better view of it a female Sparrowhawk swooped in sending everything scattering. It briefly alighted on a gate post before heading off after the Starling flock that it had just sent packing. Our final treat from Cilsan was a pair of Jays. We had been able to hear them calling since we had first arrived so it was nice to confirm that our audio identification had been correct.
As we headed further into mid Wales we picked up a Red Kite and several Buzzards. Also of note were the large number of Collared Doves that we spotted, mostly in areas of human habitation. I’d be very interested to see the population statistics for this species as I am sure they are becoming more and more abundant. We arrived at the RSPB Dinas reserve mid-morning and were treated to another three Fieldfares next to the car park, as well as another Red Kite and the usual pair of vocal Ravens. The Blackbirds were also out in force feeding on the heavy berry crop that this years weather has produced. The woodland was alive with birds as we spotted Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Great Spotted Woodpecker and various Tit species in quick succession. The Nuthatches were fascinating as apart from being the first time that I have heard them calling it was also the first time that I have seen one preening! With food at a premium we were able to observe two different methods of foraging. One of the Great Spotted Woodpeckers was busy lifting moss off tree trunks to search for insects hiding beneath, while a Nuthatch was hammering away at a damaged area of tree branch, presumably to get at something inside.
We were fortunate to spot a single Dipper on the river as the water levels were very high. It emerged from underneath some large boulders on the far bank before flying towards us. Somehow it then managed to completely disappear before I could get my camera out. Typical.
We took the scenic route from the reserve past Llyn Brianne and over the mountains before arriving at Aberystwyth. We didn’t stop just yet however as there were reports of both Snow Bunting and Surf Scoter at Ynyslas. Amazingly for that stretch of coast the wind wasn’t blowing a gale but the sea still had a pretty big swell on. I scanned the water and picked up a couple of rafts of Common Scoter but conditions were just not good enough to try and identify their rarer cousins. While I had been watching the sea Emma had moved along the shingle to where another birder had trained his telescope back into the car park and was now madly waving at me. I headed over and there on the ground were no less than five Snow Buntings barely feet away. I couldn’t believe it. I quickly got a few record shots as the weather had started to close in and a light rain was falling. The lighting was terrible but I am very happy with the results.
Just like the Lapland Bunting I saw at Kenfig these birds were very tame. They were however much more colourful and a real pleasure to watch. I have only ever seen this species at Cley in Norfolk about fifteen years ago so this was a real treat for me and a life tick for Emma.
With the day drawing to a close we headed to Aberystwyth where we would be staying overnight. As the sun set the huge Starling roost started to gather over the pier giving their usual spectacular display.
There were several professional cameramen dotted around the front filming proceedings for a future BBC Autumnwatch episode (more on that in the next post). More unusually was the presence of a Kingfisher sat on the rocks in front of Old College. On the same rocks were several Turnstone as well as a decent Gull roost containing twenty Black Headed Gulls and upwards of thirty Common Gulls.