The woodlands of mid Wales are very special places at this time of year, none more so than an area north of Llandovery composing the RSPB’s Dinas nature reserve. Nestled between two fast flowing rivers its stunning views continually vie for attention with some of our most colourful and vocal spring migrants, and for that it has become a firm favourite on my calendar. The cold start to 2013 delayed this seasons visit slightly but good weather on Sunday meant that I could resist no more. Within minutes of stepping from the car I was already watching a trio of Spotted Flycatchers to an audio bombardment from the gathered Willow Warblers. Despite limited leaf growth there was still enough cover to make the latter elusive, but it was hard to miss this individual singing from right above the board walk.
A few footsteps took me into more mature woodland and I immediately picked up a Garden Warbler skulking through the vegetation. Notable for its plainness it was soon into more open terrain and singing at full volume. As I raised the camera my attention was immediately taken by a flash of colour and another song from above. Squinting into the glare a male Redstart was simply unmistakeable and I fired off a few frames even though the lighting was far from ideal. Having never managed to get one of these stunner’s on camera before I was not going to miss this opportunity.
Such is the abundance of bird life at Dinas that as soon as I looked up again my eye was caught by the first of many Pied Flycatchers. Both the black and white males and their duller opposite numbers were present although they didn’t as yet seem to be using the numerous nest boxes provided for them. Where else can your attention be taken simultaneously by such fantastic birds?
I was still barely into the reserve and having seen several key species already, I knew it was going to be a good day. Indeed that proved to be the case with continued excellent views of the above across the reserve, interspersed with some great encounters with our more common birds. A Dipper on the river is always a nice sight, if however briefly, but this tame Nuthatch was really taking the biscuit.
It was feeding rapidly from both the ground and lower sections of tree trunks, always on the move but never more than a couple of meters from my position. Having never encountered one quite so accommodating before it was a real treat to watch even though its refusal to sit still was slightly frustrating from a photographic point of view. Fortunately the equally tame and colourful Chaffinches were more than willing to pose for as long as it took.
Roughly half way around the reserve I finally heard the one call that epitomises this habitat for me as two Wood Warblers started a sing-off high up in the trees. Following their sound up the steeply sloped woodland floor soon found me enjoying some of my best, and certainly longest, views of this species. Each outburst from the individual below was challenged by a rival not more than a couple of trees across, interspersed with occasional bouts of fly catching.
Another few hundred meters and this time it was the turn of two Tree Pipits to add their voices to the rich tapestry already being woven. I spotted one feeding on the ground and moved in to try and better the decent shots I got here last year. The pipit had different ideas though and after being led a merry dance beneath the increasingly warm sun I conceded defeat and left them to it. If I remember correctly this is the fourth year in a row that the Tree Pipits have been back on exactly the same territory.
Other highlights of the day included a solitary Mistle Thrush, singles of Red Kite and Buzzard plus an impressive count of Wrens. As usual there was not a single Chiffchaff to be heard there which I always find quite strange, but I did enjoy watching a Blue Tit feed a well developed fledgling. Further breeding behaviour was exhibited by a Long Tailed Tit with its beak stuffed full of insects and one of the aforementioned Wrens carrying away several small sticks. It was left to this Grey Wagtail to finish off the day though, sitting on a small bridge right next to where I’d parked the car.
My final tally for the day stands at twelve Wood Warblers, seven Redstarts, two Tree Pipits, thirteen Pied Flycatchers and three Spotted Flycatchers. The true populations are undoubtedly higher.What a place.