Last Sunday brought with it a huge swing in temperature from around minus seven to plus ten, all in less than twenty four hours. The snow of the previous day seemed a lifetime away as we once again drove towards Rhossili on Gower, catching sight of a Buzzard on its favourite perch in the process. After taking in the bulk of Worms Head we set off around St Mary’s church and almost immediately stumbled across a pair of Choughs feeding on the cropped grass just inside the first gate. In contrast to the usual individuals we see these two were both clearly ringed with a white over green ring on the left leg of one, whilst the other had a green ring on its left leg and a smaller metal ring on its right. Despite my best efforts I couldn’t read any numbers on the rings which is a shame as I’d have liked to establish a bit of history about each. We tried to squeeze past without disturbing them but they were too wary for that and soon took to the air amid a flurry of calls.
As we climbed up to the top of Rhossili Down the Choughs were soon back in view, soaring along the cliffs on updrafts which I wished we could have exploited to the same extent (it’s a steep climb!). I attempted a few photographs but increasing cloud cover and a corresponding drop in light levels rendered them as little more than black blurs. They soon put me out of my misery by dropping out of view, allowing us to carry on across what turned out to be an almost entirely birdless landscape. It may have been the cold weather of the previous day or just bad luck, but in the time it took us to traverse the highest land on the peninsula we saw little more than an admittedly welcome flock of Meadow Pipits near the old radar station. Even the two geocaches we were after put up a bit of a fight when it came to hunting them out. It wasn’t until we were entering the dunes on the other side of Hill End that we got our next big bird fix in the form of another pair of Choughs. The lack of leg rings marked these individuals out as being different from those that had started our day in such emphatic style, but with dull conditions I was forced to use video to save this entry from being entirely text based.
A female Stonechat, three Song Thrushes and a pair of falconers carrying Harris Hawks were spotted at various points throughout the dunes, but the real highlight was to be found on the cliffs near Burry Holms. Three Fulmars, our first of the year, were alternately sitting on ledges or flying through the air beneath us whilst waves crashed against rocks stoically standing firm against the incoming tide. For me Fulmars bring back memories of our visits to Mull like no other, which probably explains the reason I have repeatedly been browsing the islands property pages this past week. When we did manage to tear our eyes away from them and look behind us I was amused to see that over a hundred Oystercatchers had gathered on the rapidly diminishing beach behind us. As ever they were completely unwilling to get their feet wet and were engaged in a gradual retreat with each incoming wave.
Eventually it was time to head back along three miles of sandy beach that we had literally to ourselves. It was only when we got back home that I realised the opening game of the Welsh Six Nations campaign had been on TV, which probably explains where everyone was. So instead of dogs and people we found ourselves surrounded by Sanderling, groups of which were running around us for much of the return leg. I will never cease to be amazed at the speed with which they can move, so fast that it almost looks as if they are on wheels. Mixed in amongst them was the occasional Ringed Plover, a great way to round off the days exploits.
This great coastline had one last surprise to throw at us however. For the last couple of miles the clouds finally broke apart revealing the blue sky behind and a surprisingly warm summer sun. Before long I was walking along in just a t-shirt with my various fleeces tucked away in my rucksack. Winter may not have completely left us just yet but there are definite signs that spring is just around the corner.