Happy New Year.
As has become our yearly tradition, January 1st 2011 found us at the WWT Llanelli site taking part in their “twitch and tick event”. The premise is simple in that you walk around trying to spot as many bird species as possible before submitting your score to be entered into a prize draw. It’s a great way to get the year listers off to a flying start and also an opportunity to walk off those extra mince pies.
This year wasn’t as cold as it has been on previous occasions although several of the smaller pools were still completely frozen over. Unfortunately low tide coincided with the bulk of the day which meant that a lot of birds had migrated on to the Burry Inlet and so out of view but we still managed a very respectable 56 species. Some of the highlights were two Spotted Redshank in front of the British Steel hide amongst the Redshank and Greenshank as well as a single Common Snipe. All of the usual waterfowl species were duly ticked off including some very fine looking Pintail, Shoveller, Wigeon, Teal and Shellduck. We also managed to find some of the less common smaller birds such as Treecreeper, Siskin, Reed Bunting and Great Spotted Woodpecker.
The Welsh raptors put on a magnificent display starting with two battling Buzzards above the center car park. Next time we saw one it was being mobbed by a Peregrine Falcon right in front of the Michael Powell Hide where we were sat. It looked like the Peregrine eventually won that battle as the Buzzard bid a hasty retreat whilst the falcon took up watch on a fence post out on the marsh, sending the assembled Lapwing into an absolute frenzy. Next on the menu was a Sparrowhawk sat just outside the British Steel Hide for a good quarter of an hour at least. It eventually left after being harassed by two Magpies only to turn up later sat in a tree by the center feeders. That probably explained the lack of birds there but it did give the people in the cafe some spectacular views. The final bird of prey was a Kestrel out hunting over the Millennium Wetlands.
Being very satisfied with that as a start to the year we headed to the headquarters of the WWT at Slimbridge on Sunday to see if we could build on our total. We had been saying all last year that we really should visit as it had been years since I had last been and for Emma it would be a first. There was also the added attraction of the In-Focus shop where I was able to finally get some new binoculars after some fifteen years. Although my old ones have served me well the new ones are so much brighter and crisper that it makes me wish I had made the switch years ago. If anyone is interested I went for the Opticron Discovery 8×32’s and I highly recommend them. They are fully waterproof as well which should prove very handy living in Wales.
Where do I start with the birds of Slimbridge then? This is harder than it seems as there were literally hundreds of thousands of individuals out there ranging from Wrens right up to the mighty Bewick’s Swans. Some of the things which stick in my mind were the huge flocks of Wigeon that were out feeding in the fields. I think my conservative estimates came to around five thousand but there were likely many more. There were also good numbers of waders with a large flock of Dunlin, four Golden Plover, two Redshank and five Ruff all seen from the Kingfisher hide. Geese were well represented with Greylag, White Fronted, Barnacle and Canada all being seen from various points. The Rushy Hide offered superb closeup views of wild Pintail and the aforementioned Bewick’s Swans. Though the swans are probably what most people focus on the sheer intricacy and detail of the Pintail’s plumage win out for me every time.
A couple of nice rarities were also on offer which really put the icing on the cake of an excellent days birding. Out on the South Lake right at the very back was a superb female Smew. This is only the second time I have seen this species and a great one to start off 2011 with. The Peng Observatory (a nice heated building with huge glass windows) allowed us to watch two Greater Scaup with the added advantage of not freezing our hands off. Both of the birds were first winter males, one of which was just starting to moult into its more typical grey backed plumage. I managed to get a photo of this bird which even though taken through the glass in poor lighting came out rather well (photography excuses will not be a thing of the past in the new year it seems!).
If you do fancy paying a visit yourself then the next month or two really are the best times to do it in my opinion. Do wrap up warm though as I swear its always freezing at that place. I don’t think I have ever been and not had hands like blocks of ice come the end of the day.