Today was the very first day of annual leave that I have taken since Christmas, and boy did I need the break. The weather was forecast to be very changeable so we decided to head up to the Lliw Reservoirs above Swansea, once a fairly regular haunt but somewhere that we have not visited in well over a year. With the majority of people at work we pretty much had the place and its wildlife to ourselves. Within a few minutes we had already had excellent sightings of Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and a pair of Blackcaps, as well as hearing a Cuckoo calling from further up the valley. The forested areas around the lower reservoir were packed with groups of fledgling Blue Tits and Great Tits, while a very confiding Garden Warbler was an excellent surprise.
As we moved on up into the valley a Mistle Thrush shot across the path in front of us before landing off to our right. While watching it feed we spotted a Nuthatch fly into a hole in a nearby tree and were soon being regaled by the sound of a hungry brood hidden away in its depths. A second Nuthatch quickly arrived with a beakful of insects to continue the relay race that has new life as its prize.
A gorse bush a few meters further along the path held a family of Coal Tits that had recently fledged and were still being tended by their parents. The yellow gape, although fading, was still clearly visible on the individual that I photographed.
While taking these pictures Emma called from behind me to say that a Jay was harassing a pair of Stonechats. I turned around to see exactly that. The Jay was hopping along the ground in pursuit of the Stonechats that looked to be trying to lead it away from where they had first encountered each other. I imagine that the Jay was hoping to predate the pairs nest but it looked to be unsuccessful. All this was happening to the by now much louder sound of calling Cuckoos, one of which was sat on a telephone line further up the valley side above us. They were a constant feature throughout the day, both as an audio soundtrack and visibly as they flew up and down the valley. We can say for sure that there were definitely two different individuals, but believe there there may have been three or four.
If all this sounds pretty hectic then believe me it was. We literally went from one great find to the next, and its about to get even better. We had literally taken only a few steps from the Coal Tits when a couple of small birds flew into a nearby bush, flashing red rumps at us in the process. There is only one bird that I know of that has those markings, and a short search with the binoculars soon had us looking at a fantastic female Redstart. In the process of moving to get a better view I stepped near the edge of the stream that runs between the two reservoirs and sent a Dipper flying up the river. I could have kicked myself for not spotting it sooner but often the first view you get of them is as they shoot away.
Our next encounter was with a relatively tatty looking Blue Tit that was in a food gathering frenzy amongst the flowers of several Gorse bushes. It barely gave us a look as it hurriedly went about its business.
We guessed that its nest must be nearby and weren’t at all surprised to hear tiny high pitched calls as we walked past an old stone wall. Thinking that the nest must be on the opposite side we leant over to have a look but couldn’t see anything. It was only as we stepped back that we spotted the opening on our side and saw that a very young chick was well and truly wedged in a crack beneath it.
Why the chick had decided to make a break for freedom I can only guess but whatever its reason it was in a precarious position. Its efforts had already pretty much exhausted it and even if it had managed to free itself the likely outcome would have been a long fall and a slow death. We couldn’t leave it like that so I got a stick behind the birds body and slowly eased it out of the crack and into my hand. Once there it was clear how far away from fledging age it was. Its eyes were barely open and the feathers still had a long way to go before they were fully developed.
We quickly popped the chick back into the nest where we could see at least two more hungry mouths calling out to us and then took a few steps back. Almost immediately the adult bird from the photographs above flew in with a juicy caterpillar as if nothing had happened. What with the Blackbird last weekend and now this we seem to be turning into some sort of bird rescue team!
The final walk up to the upper reservoir delivered a few more quality birds including a couple of Wheatears, a male White Wagtail, four Raven and a cracking pair of Redpoll.
Bordering the water at the top is an area of forestry known as the Brynllefrith Plantation. A short walk around this before turning back was very productive. Our first success was with a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers that were nesting near the top of an old dead tree and were very vocal in letting us know that we should move on. We duly did and were soon looking at a stunning Tree Pipit sat calling atop another dead tree, shortly followed by a Spotted Flycatcher. In the canopy above us we could hear and see a flock of Siskin as well as another Redpoll.
With that it was time to head for home, not forgetting of course to check in on the Blue Tit family that were thankfully still in their nest having had no more adventurous urges. In all we saw 41 species including some real local rarities and several new year ticks. Somehow I don’t think I will be able to leave it so long between visits here again.