We set the alarms ready for a pre-dawn start on Saturday as a show of just how seriously I will be taking the Patchwork Challenge this year. Never before have I been out on the patch at such an early hour and I was hoping that this novel (for me at least) approach might reveal a few new species that go to ground later in the day. Owls were definitely top of the agenda but initially any identification work had to rely on hearing alone as in the near darkness we were almost totally blind. All around us the dawn chorus was in fine voice with Blackbirds, Robins, Blue Tits and the occasional Wren chief protagonists at this early hour. It wasn’t until we started along the old railway line that the first hint of light began to filter down into the wooded valley allowing us to catch brief glimpses of our companions. Every step taken seemed to reveal another Blackbird skulking through the vegetation or small gatherings of Robins feeding on the ground. This latter observation was unusual as typically we see Robins being very territorial. Perhaps their resolve softens during the night when company for both warmth and security trumps all else.
By the time we emerged onto the lower slopes of Cefn Drum it was lighter still but for us sunrise was still a little way off. A series of loud calls from above heralded the passing of two resident Ravens, quickly followed by a couple of Buzzards further away. Emma thought that she’d also seen a Sparrowhawk patrolling the hillside but in the gloom I was unable to pick it out before the moment had passed. Fortunately it wasn’t long before I found a superb male Sparrowhawk of my own giving excellent views as it perched on the ground a little way beneath the summit cairn. Perhaps it was scoping out the possibility of a meal as Meadow Pipits were certainly mobile in the near surroundings.
A single Green Woodpecker call soon had another species added to the year list before it was time to put the binoculars to one side and watch the sun rise. I’m ashamed to say that this is the first time I have ever made a deliberate effort to witness the start of a new day in this fashion and boy did nature not disappoint.
From the summit cairn even Port Talbot managed to look attractive in the orange glow whilst the view down towards the Loughor estuary was as stunning as ever.
With warming rays now penetrating the morning chill it was time to drop down the northern slopes of Cefn Drum facing Graig-Fawr. Last year the marshy areas here delivered Reed Buntings and a couple of outstanding reeling Grasshopper Warblers, but for those we’ll have to wait until the spring for a repeat performance. Today we had to make do with a roosting Raven and the completely unexpected, but nonetheless hoped for, Woodcock that really put a spring in our steps. I’ve not seen Woodcock anywhere during the past two years so to get great flight views at close range and a stone’s throw from home was just brilliant. Sadly its long beak remained hidden but there’s really no mistaking that back end!
Other than a few Magpies the birds remained elusive as we continued along the still shaded track though there was plenty of interest to be found in the numerous abandoned drift mines that litter this hillside. Small and worked by hand they hark back to a more brutal time in the areas history though I’d like to think that those miners still had chance to glance out across the scenery every now and again.
Satisfied that we’d seen everything where we were we mounted Cefn Drum once more before heading over to an area of steep rock faces that mark the very edge of my patch. Last year Barry Stewart tipped me off to a pair of Stock Doves here and almost immediately we spotted one flying overhead. To my surprise however another five followed soon after meaning the population here has increased at least three fold in the last seven months or so. I’d like to think that these new arrivals are a sign of successful breeding last year and but can’t rule out the possibility that more have simply made this place their home.
Following the high level path back towards Cwm Dulais we managed to pick out a Kestrel despite having to look directly into the suns glare, quickly followed by a flock of at least twenty Rooks. Meadow Pipits were becoming increasingly vocal before a real surprise turned up in the shape of a Chiffchaff. During the summer months these are a regular sight but this is my first wintering individual here. Another interesting piece of information to slot into my understanding of this area and a perfect demonstration of why the Patchwork Challenge is so valuable.
29 Species / 29 Points