It’s been a while since I’ve felt the call of a rarity but last Sunday I couldn’t resist. As a rule I tend to avoid the whole ‘twitching’ culture as for me it holds little attraction, but I have been known to pop out to a local site on the odd occasion that something particularly interesting turns up. When I do its as much about getting to see a bird I really like as notching up another tick on a list. The bird in question this time round was a male Smew that had been reported moving between pools at Llanelli WWT. Due to an American Pie film marathon the night before we were somewhat late rising and arrived at the observation pool well after midday. A scan of the gathered waterfowl revealed the usual Gadwall, Shellduck, Tufted Duck, Pochard and Greylag Geese, but as for the Smew there was no sign. This drunk looking Wood Pigeon on the other hand was hard to miss as it lumbered towards us.
Thinking that the Smew had probably moved on (it appears that it had already travelled from Gwent the previous evening to get there) we headed over to the British Steel Hide. It was much quieter on the wader front than our last visit due to spring tides having raised the water levels considerably, but there were still 67 Black Tailed Godwits feeding on the NRA scrapes. They had a lovely mixture of summer and winter plumage which quickly got closer as a passing Crow spooked the flock into flight. As they returned to ground one individual that had previously been hidden came and landed on the bank closest to us. From the flight views I couldn’t work out what it was, thinking perhaps that it was some form of mutated Redshank. When it popped its head up though all became clear. It was a cracking male Ruff, complete with partial breeding plumage.
I grabbed the record shot above as it moved along the bank feeding, but due to distance and heat haze (see we are never happy with the weather in this country) the quality is a bit lacking. Even so it is my first Ruff on camera and more importantly the best plumaged individual I have yet seen. On the other side of the hide the long staying Pink Footed Goose was still visible with its Greylag companions but that was about all we could see as we were looking directly into the sun (there I go again!).
We continued to make our way around the reserve picking up a singing male Blackcap as we went until we came to the East Hide, a location from which I have seen absolutely nothing in all my years of visiting. Such is its record, or lack of one I should say, we very nearly passed it by without stopping. In the end habit forced me in and boy was I glad it had, for swimming across the opposite side of the pool was the Smew! Even better it was right in front of the Observation Hide where we had originally started off. A quick dash ensured we made it there in record time and quickly had the Smew relocated, now sleeping amongst the overhanging trees.
Despite the compromised views it was a joy to watch. As a child visiting Slimbridge Smew was one of those birds that really grabbed my attention and got me interested in birds in the first place, but to date my only sightings in the wild had been a female at Slimbridge itself and a distant mixed group at Tally Lakes in Carmarthenshire. This beat both of those hands down. As the Smew snoozed we noticed that it was slowly drifting out into open water, thus initiating an anxious wait. Would it get free of the trees before waking up and swimming back into cover? Fortunately the eventual answer was yes and we got even better views as it had a quick preen before moving back.
Elsewhere there were excellent numbers of Chiffchaff and it was nice to see a few more Swallows passing over, though still only in single figures. With increased temperatures it was not surprising to see so much butterfly action with male Orange-tips patrolling their territory and a couple of Peacocks sunning themselves. This Green-Veined White brought back memories of Mull.
Breeding is in full flow with the Black Headed Gulls finally starting to settle down and a well grown Coot fledgling on the main pool. In addition several much younger Moorhen chicks were hidden amongst the undergrowth and the first of this years Greylag Geese also looks to have hatched. All were being uncooperative though so I had to make do with a very obliging adult Moorhen instead.
Over in the Millennium Wetlands we heard our first Sedge Warblers of the year singing, but despite our best efforts we just couldn’t pick one out amongst the reeds. Plenty of time left for that though before the season is finished.