A couple of weeks ago it was time for our annual trip to Aberystwyth which for once coincided with a gloriously sunny day. First stop, as usual, was the Castle for a brief walk along the promenade before moving onto Tanybwlch beach. From my five years spent at university here my greatest, and possibly only, regret is that I did not walk this area more often. The views in every direction are simply stunning.
Several small gatherings of Rock Pipit accompanied us along the beach where large quantities of storm tossed seaweed were providing ample feeding opportunities. On the other side of the shingle ridge I was pleased to see at least two Grey Wagtails moving noisily along the banks of the Ystwyth, plus a single Little Grebe which managed an inspired disappearing act before our very eyes. This is of course to be expected on a lake where reeds and other vegetation can provide ample cover, but on a shallow stream with no overhanging cover of any sort? Black magic indeed. Thankfully a family of Stonechats were much more accommodating with this individual posing perfectly in the low winter sun. Looking at how the photo turned out I don’t think I could have chosen a better perch for it if I’d tried.
Other birding highlights included a flock of calling Curlew on the Tanybwlch flats and two Red Kites involved in what I can only presume was an act of aerial combat high above our heads. Their lofty position reminded me that it’s been several years since I last visited the Iron Age hill fort of Pen Dinas, so that was our next stop. The climb up delivered a stunning Starling which served as a nice taster of what was yet to come.
At the summit we had the place pretty much to ourselves which allowed ample time to take in the vista spread out beneath us for miles in every direction. The tall, chimney shaped monument that stands here is the first sight that many get of Aberystwyth when approaching from the south and only seems to grow in stature up close. Built sometime around 1852 in memory of the Duke of Wellington, local rumour has it that the original plan was for something even grander featuring a statue of a man on horseback at its top.
By the time we’d made it back into town the sun was sinking rapidly towards the horizon and we only had a few minutes to take up position at the pier. The cooling air seemed to have brought with it increased cloud cover but the optimist in me still hoped for a decent sunset, and that’s just what we got.
Oranges and reds deepened in hue until the first small flock of Starlings appeared high in the sky, joined moments later by a second and then third. As these early arrivals merged into a single entity the sense of anticipation grew amongst us gathered observers. Before long a steady flow of birds could be seen streaming in from across town until once more the sky above Aberystwyth pier was filled with a swirling mass of natural wonder. After just a few minutes of murmuration the Starlings dropped like a stone to take up their positions on the crumbling steelwork that even now manages to stand strong against all that the cruel sea can throw at it.
Barely half an hour later and unless you’d just witnessed one of the greatest wildlife spectacles this country has to offer, you’d have no clue as to the seething mass of life hidden just a few foot from passing holidaymakers. Those with keen senses might pick up on the odour of bird droppings or hear a cacophony of high pitched calls, but as to their origins? That’s a little secret between just you and me.