The recent discovery of Stock Dove and Kestrel on my local patch got me wandering about what else I’d potentially missed by keeping to regular routes and routines. As a result I’ve spent the last couple of weeks poking into every nook and cranny I can find to make sure that nothing else has slipped under the radar. The results have been surprising to say the least, with one dusk visit on 27th April proving to be something of a revelation where the bird life of Cefn Drum is concerned. Owls were our original target and although we saw plenty of pellets dotted around we had no sightings other than hearing the distant calls of a Tawny Owl. That was good enough for me however as, after all, it’s the first time that I’ve ever found proof that they frequent the area. It was another sound that really got the blood pumping though when, just after the sun had set, a faint reeling call reached my ears from the grasslands north of the mound. Straight away I knew that it had to be a Grasshopper Warbler, a personal lifer not just for the patch but for the whole country. We spent the next ten minutes or so listening with strained ears as it continued to call, not an easy task with strong winds gusting into our faces. The approaching dark eventually forced us back down to the car where unbelievably we were greeted with another reeling Gropper! I could scarcely believe it and took a short video clip that just about manages to pick up a couple of the calls. I suggest turning your speakers up to eleven and listening very carefully around the twenty one second mark. Next time I wont try filming quiet sounds next to a stream.
Thinking back I can’t imagine that the appearance of these two birds represents a new species for the area, rather it shows an increased awareness on my part. I’ve probably heard the calls many times before but for some reason just never picked up on their significance. Further weight was added to this hypothesis last weekend while camping in north Wales. Walking into Beddgelert it was hard to miss another Grasshopper Warbler reeling from undergrowth just outside our campsite. How many have I unwittingly passed in the last few years I wonder?
It probably comes as no surprise that on the 30th I headed straight out after work and onto the northern slopes of Cefn Drum. My aim was to actually see one of the aforementioned Grasshopper Warblers as although hearing one is good enough to be included in the Patchwork Challenge, they don’t get on my personal life list without a confirmed visual. Sadly prolonged searching didn’t reveal a single call let alone a sighting, so for now they remain a half tick (yes I’ve introduced a new category to my lists). That’s not to say that it was a wasted trip however as in the week since my last daytime visit Willow Warblers had descended in their hundreds. I spotted my first along the old railway track but from then on every bush from Gopa Hill onwards seemed to hold at least one. Even better was that this individual seemed particularly approachable, perhaps because the next nearest tree was a good few hundred meters away.
Another new arrival came in the shape of two Cuckoos, one to the north and one to the south of Cefn Drum, both heard but not seen. It’s great to have them back for another year and hopefully I’ll get closer before they move on. A rather fine male and female pair of Reed Buntings rounded off the new finds for April whilst a supporting cast of regulars also performed well. Although the Skylarks seem to have toned their noise down a bit they were still present in good numbers along with three Stonechats, two Buzzards, three Wheatears, a Red Kite, numerous Meadow Pipits and a single Swallow. I was also treated to my first sightings of the male Pheasant (I’m assuming it’s always the same one) skulking through the undergrowth above Cwmdulais cottages. Sadly it never came fully into the open as I’m a real sucker for their plumage. A pair of Yellowhammers and overflying Goldfinches rounded things off.
On an unrelated note I got to indulge in one of my other pastimes whilst I was out there; exploring old mine workings. Due to Cefn Drum’s industrial past its flanks are pockmarked with numerous old workings, many of which have long since been filled in and closed. I was therefore pretty chuffed to find two addits which were still very much open along with the remnants of another old tramway.
I shall definitely be revisiting them in the near future, especially given their close proximity to my Grasshopper Warbler location.