With so many outstanding wildlife locations locally it’s always a difficult balancing act to try and visit them all each year. Often certain priorities have to me made to ensure that we catch up with particular breeding species for instance, but usually we just about manage to fit everything in. On Saturday however I came to the slow realisation that I hadn’t been out to Whitford Point on Gower since the last day of 2010. That particular trip was immensely successful with huge numbers of Brent Geese, Eider, Knot and my first ever Slavonian Grebe. With the day to myself the oversight could be easily rectified and I was soon walking on the vast expanse of sand that typifies the coastline here at low tide. The walk through Cwm Ivy woods had already delivered an excellent variety of birds including Treecreeper and Bullfinch, a tally to which Whitford beach rapidly started adding. Huge flocks of Oystercatcher, Knot and Dunlin were in constant motion along the waters edge, accompanied by smaller groups of Sanderling, Redshank and Turnstone. Common Gulls were also surprisingly numerous but it was out at the point itself that I hit gold. A few meters off shore a group of at least 47 Eider were engrossed in a series of noisy and often quite active breeding displays.
The males in particular were stunning, resplendent as they were in full breeding plumage and equipped with one of the most distinctive calls in the bird world. I crept over the rocks and down to the water as stealthily as I could which is no mean feat in an almost entirely flat landscape. Fortunately the birds were so engrossed in their own activities that I was soon within range and carefully secreted behind the largest rock I could find. From my vantage point I had a prime view of proceedings as the gathering slowly drifted west on the outgoing tide.
Trying to portray a scene of such vibrancy with my limited camera equipment was proving very difficult indeed. I’d have loved to have got some full frame shots of a male in the throws of display with head thrust backwards almost so as to rest on his back, but I daren’t have moved for fear of showing myself and ruining an almost perfect moment. Instead I switched to the trusty video mode, balanced the camera on top of a few barnacles and let it roll.
Eventually the Eiders floated out of range so I bid them farewell and made my retreat further along the beach. Thousands upon thousands of waders were still following the tide out onto newly exposed areas, amongst which some seventy plus Brent Geese were also feeding. Out in the Burry Inlet itself I spotted two male and two female Red Breasted Mergansers along with a pair of Wigeon who seemed happy to let the flow take them where it wished. Not wanting to move on quite yet I walked further out into the tidal range and propped myself up against the last remaining steel lighthouse in Europe to take in the view.
Back in amongst the dunes I kept an ear cocked for any tell-tale signs that Crossbills were in the area. The huge conifers that hold the central part of the dune system together can often be a fruitful location for the species, but on this occasion I was out of luck with just Coal Tits keeping me company. There was no such trouble in locating Lapwings and Shellducks however as several large flocks were feeding out on the marshland, with the former species also invading several fields behind Weobley castle. The feeding must be good up there as I saw a flock of Golden Plover in roughly the same place on the drive in amongst grass that looked surprisingly lush for February.