On Saturday we got our birding year off to a flying start with the traditional visit to our local WWT reserve near Llanelli. These first few weeks are always a doubly exciting time as when else can you go hunting for and ‘tick’ our commoner species such as Robin and Blackbird. Each new find takes on just as much significance as those new lifers which I’m sure (fingers crossed) will start to filter through over the next few months.
First stop was the Michael Powell hide where once again it was hard to escape the extreme tides we are still experiencing. Debris was pushed far higher than I have seen it previously and unsurprisingly water levels in the main lagoon were such that feeding opportunities were at a premium. As a result wader numbers were almost non-existent with just fourteen Black-tailed Godwits squeezed onto an area of grass to the right of the British Steel hide. Far more numerous were Lapwing with at least eight hundred birds lined up around virtually the entire perimeter. They made for an excellent sight especially when spooked into the air.
These spectacles became more frequent during our stay which usually signifies some sort of aerial predator in the vicinity, but our initial checks drew a blank. Perhaps we should have been looking closer to home as out of nowhere a stunning male Sparrowhawk popped up on top of one of the fence posts just to our left. There it sat for a good five minutes before finally taking flight and heading low over the lagoon and out of sight. A stunning bird for sure and only just bettered by a Peregrine Falcon perched out on the marsh a short while later. Although more distant it soon put on a good show as it crossed our field of vision heading in the same direction as the Sprawk. Returning our gaze to the water we picked up Shelduck, Little Egret, Greylag Goose, Wigeon (numbers a lot lower than I was expecting for the time of year), Oystercatcher, Curlew and a whole host of accompanying species including a surprise Meadow Pipit. Although not rare I’ve only recorded one at this location on a couple of previous occasions. Star bird though goes to a Kingfisher which flew in from the far side of the lagoon before alighting on its traditional perch. Even in such dull conditions the light shone from its back beautifully adding a splash of blue to an otherwise grey scene.
Over at the NRA scrape things were almost entirely deserted apart from a solitary Tufted Duck (still a 2014 tick) and one Black-tailed Godwit who soon fled in the face of a charging Shetland pony. Better luck was had at the Boardwalk hide with a couple of stunning Teal plus our first Shoveler and Gadwall. Goldcrest, Jay, Redwing and a calling Great Spotted Woodpecker were added in quick succession though to my shock we didn’t see a single Dunnock. Where were they all hiding?
Moving on to the Millennium Wetlands another Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen before a surprise Treecreeper gave us a great display. Feeding near a couple of new bird feeders it was our first sighting of the species on this reserve for a good long while. From the Heron Wing Hide more of the same was in order with added bonuses of Little Grebe and two fly-over Mute Swans. An optimistic hunt for any Water Rail drew a blank but our second Kingfisher of the day behind the Peter Scott hide was absolutely superb. From there things took a turn for the worse with a brief but very heavy hail shower that did at least grace us with a double rainbow (I refrained from making an emotion laden video for YouTube – so 2010). Even better was our first Dunnock of the day which finally turned up as we damply squelched back towards the centre.
Totting up the days results brings my 2014 bird total to 51 species, not a bad haul considering we are less than a week into the new year and conditions have been far from ideal. My target for the coming twelve months is to finally break the 200 species barrier which although I’ve come close to beating once before in 2010, still stands strong. I’ll need a bit of luck not to mention some favourable vagrants though I’m happy to see that the arrival of a juvenile Thayers Gull on Gower yesterday didn’t spark me into action. Somehow I just couldn’t force myself into the driving rain for a bird which I stood virtually no chance of identifying in the field. Perhaps if it sticks around however ………..
P.S. For those of you interested in all things listy I’ve added a new page containing my life and last few year lists here.