I’m fully aware that this is a day late but I’m sure no one has begrudged seeing that wonderful Wryneck sitting at the top here for an extra twenty four hours or so. The fact is that making promises concerning deadlines on the internet is definitely something I ought to avoid, but I guess that should have been obvious after the long running saga that is my on off home built moth trap (it’ll be done this year I promise!). Anyway, I digress.
We arrived at Strumble Head just before eleven on Saturday and were pleasantly surprised to see that we had the place pretty much to ourselves. I’d thought that a rare blue sky day would have brought people out in their droves, but I guess Strumble just isn’t as hip in other peoples eyes as it is in mine. Thankfully at least the Gannets were on my wavelength with upwards of thirty fishing in the turbulent currents. A short stroll down to the lighthouse gate delivered a couple of Wheatears over on the island as well as a single Guillemot swimming through the channel. Having not had any trips to breeding colonies this year it was good to see one up close again, but alas not quite close enough for my camera. The shaded rocks below did however house a few mammals who certainly offered no such proximity issues. I am of course speaking of Grey Seals who have evidently been quite successful this year in their breeding. There were at least three pups secreted away in various crevices amongst the rocks, one to such an extent that I doubt it could have moved even if it had wanted to before the return of high tide. It was a still downy individual right beneath us though that provided the real entertainment and presumably a headache to its anxiously watching mother. It simply would not sit still as it dove into the water, investigated seemingly everything and then climbed back out again. I swear it even contemplated a spot of cliff climbing before its lack of fingers finally became an issue.
Other adult Seals were also in the vicinity with at least one paying a visit to another of the pups. A frosty reception was quickly on hand for the large individual who happened to stray too close to our friend above however. A steely stare and a loud grunt seemed to get the message across and the intruder was sent packing. Further Grey Seals were seen all along the coast until we turned back at Pwll Deri, with the rocky beach at Porth Maenmelyn being a particular favourite. There we saw at least another six pups with as many adults dozing away the afternoon sunshine. If I’d thought about it at the time I would have recorded a few of their vocalisations as they really are an extraordinary sound.
On the bird front a steady trickle of the common species including Stonechat, Wren and Meadow Pipit kept things ticking along, but I think we can all guess what happened next. The northern slopes of Porth Maenmelyn was the location and a family group of Stonechats the trigger. We’d understandably stopped to watch them go about their business when Emma piped up that there was a Dartford Warbler in amongst them. I obviously kept a cool exterior as my eyes darted frantically across the vegetation seeing nothing other than Stonechats. After what seemed like an age I finally spotted the immature Dartford in a Gorse bush. It was quick moving but I fired off a few distant shots from the footpath to at least get a record having never photographed the species previously.
At this point the inevitably large group of walkers talking at the tops of their voices emerged around the corner from a landscape that we’d had to ourselves for much of the last hour. Even standing with camera to eye offered no hint that a degree of discretion may have been in order, and of course the Dartford did one of their famous vanishing acts. Once the coast was clear I retraced my steps back the way we’d come a little and somehow managed to flush what I initially thought was a large Thrush. My general impression was of something with much more barred plumage however as I turned to Emma and said “I don’t think you’re going to believe this”. The irony is that only a few minutes ago I’d joked that a Wryneck was definitely on the cards for the day, and here we were with one at our fingertips. But what if we couldn’t find it for that conclusive id? I needn’t have worried as I relocated it straight away on a nearby fence post.
As my previous entry has shown, the alarm calls of a Dartford Warbler indicated that the Wryneck was not a welcome visitor. It was with some surprise however that a male bird popped up to defend itself, taking our Dartford count to two. And no, I still can’t believe our good fortune. That was not the end of our encounter with the Wryneck however as almost an hour later on the opposite side of the cove we were astounded to see it flying straight for us. It briefly alighted on the ground, decided that it had clearly made an error of judgement and headed straight back in the direction that it had come. Even a pair of Ravens dive bombing us and a quartet of Choughs couldn’t better that. In fact the only thing that could was finding the Wryneck again on our return route in almost exactly the same place and this time even closer.
Simply outstanding and a day that will live long in my memory.