Christmas Eve Eve was, to put it mildly, a little on the windy side. Throughout the night a constant barrage of hail, sleet, rain and god knows what else found itself hurled against our bedroom window making me wonder what the morning would bring. Fortunately drawing back the curtains on Tuesday revealed a clear blue sky with damage being restricted to just a single tree down in the next village. Keen to make the most of things we headed over to Parc Slip, a new reserve for us near Bridgend. Parc Slip first popped onto my radar earlier this week with reports and excellent photos of a Bittern which has taken up residence there, though to be honest I should have visited long before now. For some reason it’s just never made it onto my list of regular haunts which, as you are about to find out, is something that has most definitely changed for next year.
Walking down to the first pond delivered a wealth of commoner species including a male Bullfinch which as usual allowed me to get just within camera range before scarpering, a trick also repeated by two females later in the day. Reed Buntings were particularly abundant with individuals or small flocks being sighted regularly but they were easily out done by great views of two Green Woodpeckers in the canal field. Overhead a pair of Buzzards were noisily soaring on the still brisk wind before our attention was taken by a colourful flock of Goldfinches. Moving ahead of us at a similar pace I eventually managed to get a couple of decent shots of them through dense vegetation. Despite a few errant twigs I’m particularly pleased with them.
At the wader scrape we started to get down to business as this was where the Bittern had previously been seen. Those of you who have stuck with me through the years will know that I’m not averse to a long wait for these elusive birds and today was certainly no exception. Keeping us occupied were yet more Reed Buntings and the occasional squally gust that rattled the door on what was a very nice, but fatally flawed, new hide. As is almost always the case the viewing slits were too low for the seats meaning that we were both forced to adopt a hunchbacked posture that is not to be recommended if comfort is your thing. After about an hour we finally decided that lady luck was not on our side and valuing our spines, headed for the door. A couple of minutes later though and we were back having spotted an ominous black cloud speeding towards us over the horizon. Barely had we chance to refold ourselves into position before the most tremendous storm hit. In the space of a few seconds the wind strengthened to gale force, bending the reeds over almost double before our eyes. Seconds later the heavens opened dumping hailstones the size of peas (I’d have loved to have said golf balls there but that’s probably an expression I’m unlikely to ever use here in the UK).
A couple of minutes later and just as suddenly as it had started, it stopped. Now we really were in a quandary. Would the storm have driven the Bittern into hiding or would it have been encouraged into more open habitat? Idly scanning from side to side I strongly suspected the latter until I was forced to do a double take the likes of which Disney would have been proud. There, standing out in the open, was the Bitterm. And what a fantastic specimen it was too. With head held high I had the distinct impression it was watching us despite our covert position and it was soon wandering back out of sight. A couple of moments later though and it returned but what looked to have been a possibility of better views soon turned into another walk back into hiding. Even so what a result and having been Bitternless for the entire year, a nice way to round off my birding in 2013.
But there was still more to come. A single Lesser Redpoll back near the canal was a nice find as was a bird of prey above the visitor centre. At first we thought Sparrowhawk but with the appearance of two Crows mobbing it we finally had something against which to gauge size and hence quickly upgraded our ID to Goshawk! Being only my second ever sighting of the species and my first in Wales I was suitably ecstatic. Two cracking birds on what is likely to be my final birding day of the year.