It’s become something of a tradition recently for wildlife and photography bloggers to revisit their favourite moments from the past year during December. Never one to miss a trend this will be my contribution and I promise to avoid mentioning the endless rain that seems to have been a permanent fixture here in Wales.
A new year and with it new objectives that sadly didn’t take long to fall by the wayside. The much promised moth trap remained just that (stay tuned for big news on the mothing front), my planned bio-blitz of the garden was quashed by a lack of time and yes, it rained a lot (I really wont mention it again, honest). The annual tick and twitch event at our local WWT reserve delivered a respectable 58 species on the first including a cracking Slavonian Grebe out on the estuary. A Hawthorn Shield Bug was an interesting find in the kitchen before a lovely day at Slimbridge delivered such quality sightings as Lesser Scaup, White Fronted Geese and of course the Bewick’s Swans. It is however a more common species that has the honour of being the first photo included here in the shape of this Pochard.
A week later and it was my local patch that really delivered the goods with Buzzards, Ravens and Red Kites all putting in an appearance. Those three have been a regular presence ever since but I have still yet to beat the flock of six Red Kites that turned up on the seventh. They were soaring above Bryn-bach-Common and I just had chance to grab a record shot before they drifted over the hill and out of sight. The result is never going to win any awards but it is special to me because of the moment it represents and that is why it is included here.
Later in the month we walked what was to be one of many new routes in the local area, this time taking in Dunraven and the Ogmore estuary. Despite the fog we had a great time exploring what remains of the old country house and also scored four Goosander, thirty two Goldeneye and three Grey Wagtails on the river. We also visited the waterfalls at Ystradfellte for the first time and they are definitely due a return in 2013.
February started in the best way possible with what was to be our only real snowfall of the year. Down here at the
coast we were treated to nothing better than slush so we hopped into the car and headed for Pen y Fan. There we found near blizzard conditions and I was in my element. The temptation to climb to the top was large but we were ill-equipped for the conditions and instead spent time marvelling at icicles along the river.
The next couple of weeks were spent on Gower where we enjoyed great views of Chough around Rhossili and Hill End as well as the ever popular Mediterranean Gulls at Bracelet Bay. It is from a walk along Whitford though that my first photo comes and it shows the flock of Eider that are often found in that area.
Apart from being my best Eider photo to date it is also the closest I have ever managed to get to these particular birds. I used natural cover to creep down to the waters edge and was privileged to observe display behaviour over a prolonged period. They either didn’t notice me or simply didn’t care and I was only able to move again once they’d gently drifted off along the coast.
February is also the month that sees Toads migrating to their traditional spawning grounds. Our nearest spot to observe this behaviour is at Burry Port and as in previous years we were there to provide a helping hand. Across two nights we rescued upwards of forty Toad’s from the road and hopefully went a little way to helping secure this populations future. As ever all I asked was that one or two posed for me, and that they did exceptionally well.
We kicked March off with a sunny visit to Cosmeston that probably produced my single best photographic day of the year. As a result picking a favourite image is almost an impossible task, especially when considering that Whooper Swan, Lesser Scaup and a very confiding male Reed Bunting all posed beautifully for me. Instead I’ve travelled a couple of miles down the road to Forest Farm where we were treated to an impressive arrival by this Bittern.
It flew in from our left and landed right at the top of these reeds which somehow managed to hold its weight. From there it had a good look around before finally dropping down out of sight. Seeing any Bittern is always a special experience but to have such great views of this one made it especially memorable.
March also saw the arrival of a new camera to my life in the shape of a Panasonic Lumix FZ150. My old FZ28 had served me admirably but its lack of low light ability and short (by todays standards) zoom was starting to limit my creativity. Having used the FZ150 ever since I am happy to report that it has more than lived up to expectations as demonstrated by this Stonechat shot in appalling weather towards the end of the month.
Easter bank holiday saw us returning to Lyme Regis for our first, and as it turned out only, camping trip of the year. Needless to say our fossil collection grew impressively once more and we started to see the arrival of spring migrants. Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Sand Martins all put on a show but its from the rock pools near Seatown that my first selection comes. Peering into the crystal clear water we were amazed at the colour and variety of Anemone’s present including Beadlet and two Snake-locks varieties. Also present was a Velvet Swimming Crab which for sheer aggression towards us wins its coveted place here.
Back home and the flood of migrants continued with Willow Warbler, Swallow and Wheatear all making landfall. There was also the unusual arrival of a Pink Footed Goose at WWT Llanelli which I believe stayed for at least a
couple of weeks. It is to Gower that we must head for my second photo though and a walk that I took out to Worms Head. Crossing the causeway I was delighted to see a trio of Sandwich Terns fishing close to shore and managed to get my first in-flight shot of one in action.
Our annual trip to Mull took place in May and was as spectacular as ever. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of watching Golden Eagles soaring over the house while we eat breakfast or having Snipe walking just outside. This year though the highlight was undoubtedly the Short Eared Owls which each night patrolled the valley where we stay. The views were simply out of this world and I had a couple of attempts at getting photographs which was tricky in the near total darkness. I did get lucky with one bird that landed nearby and showed off its ‘ears’ to full effect.
I should also mention again the incredible encounter we witnessed between a male Hen Harrier and one of the Short Eared Owls. We could see them heading towards each other along the hillside until eventually they met talon to talon. After a brief skirmish they went their separate ways but what a special moment to witness.
Back at home the month was packed with great sightings including breeding Dippers on my local patch as well as the appearance of two Grey Partridge. The latter stuck around in roughly the same place for several weeks before Bracken growth meant they became impossible to track. On the walking front we took a spectacular route into the Brecons to see Llyn y Fan Fawr and Llyn y Fan Fach on what turned out to be a gorgeous day. The views were
spectacular but they were just pipped for inclusion here by the superb male Smew that dropped into the local WWT reserve. Despite snoozing beneath the overhanging vegetation for much of our visit it did eventually drift into the open for my camera.
A wet Saturday at the beginning of the month found us at the RSPB’s Dinas reserve for our yearly pilgrimage. It’s still the best location I know of to see woodland migrants and once again it delivered in spades. Pied Flycatchers, Spotted Flycatchers, Wood Warblers and Redstarts all showed very well but nothing could beat this Tree Pipit singing its heart out.
A couple of weeks later and the sun had returned allowing us to take an extended walk around the Marloes peninsula in Pembrokeshire. The birdlife was stunning and included Sedge Warblers, five Chough, Linnets, breeding Swallows, Whitethroats, Razorbills and this stunning Raven. It was part of a family group and was much more obliging than our local birds.
Special mention should also go to the Gull-billed Tern that turned up below Loughor bridge on the twenty fourth. I missed it that day after wrongly deciding to watch England get knocked out of Euro 2012, but thankfully it stuck around long enough for me to connect the next day. Although distant its beak was unmistakeable and we did eventually get some great flight views. Thinking back that was the only real rarity I saw all year which is a sharp decline over recent times. Let’s hope that’s something that can be corrected in 2013.
The mid-point of the year saw new life in full flow with breeding Rock Pipits on Mumbles Head, young Blackbirds and Blue Tits in our garden and huge numbers of Black Headed Gull chicks at WWT Llanelli. The first Cinnabar Moths also appeared around the house while we took visits to the Barnes reserve in London and I decided to
photograph slugs in the garden (yes I was quite bored that night). One evening stands out above all others though and that is the time I spent at Tears Point on Gower. I was fortunate to arrive on a perfect summers evening to find Gannets fishing not far off the coast. Settling down to watch I was aware of them getting closer and closer until they were circling right overhead. Never in my life have I been so close to these magnificent birds and I was fortunate to capture a couple of brilliant photos. Of those this one is my favourite and it still makes me smile
every time I see it.
There was also a notable first this month when a Great Spotted Woodpecker decided to drop into the garden. It showed on a couple of different occasions during which I was able to creep closer with my camera. The following photo is the result and is another of my personal favourites.
Check back in a couple of days to read all about August – December.