Those of you who know me will by now realise that I’m not much of a twitcher. That desire to rush around the country chasing every lost soul has just never existed and why is that so surprising when I can watch Red Kites from where I’m typing these very words. Saying that there is an exception to every rule and it’s not unheard of for something a little more local to peak my interest. Such a bird arrived on our shores around the 11th March when a Great Spotted Cuckoo was found on Giltar Point in Pembrokeshire, only the fourth ever record for Wales. Needless to say pagers around the country soon heated up as birders far and wide started to descend on the quiet village of Penally. Of course for most of us work meant that all we could do was keep abreast of developments via the usual channels and hope above all else that this typically short staying vagrant was particularly fond of a game of golf. In the end that’s exactly what happened and come Saturday we joined many others on the pilgrimage west.
The journey was superb with little traffic and clear skies so it was with good spirits that we arrived in Penally a little after ten in the morning. It didn’t take long to spot a large group with telescopes atop a sand dune bordering the golf course and they seemed as good a destination as any to head for. Shortening the distance however soon revealed that everybody was looking in different directions as it transpired that we’d missed the Cuckoo by about thirty minutes. Last observed flying over Giltar Point it hadn’t been seen since and rumours were rife that Caldey Island may have been the lucky recipient. Even so it was worth waiting around a while but there’s only so many pairs of funny trousers that can keep one from getting restless. Fortunately our plan for the day did not stop here as all along we’d the intention of walking a stretch of the Pembrokeshire coast path which for us was hitherto unknown. Given that there was a chance the Cuckoo hadn’t crossed the water this seemed like a smart move and so off we set, eyes peeled.
A short while later we’d left everyone behind and found ourselves alone along a stunning stretch of coastline. Off to our left Caldey island stood out magnificently with its lighthouse and beaches catching the sun while ahead of us stood nothing but rolling hills and a military firing range. Perhaps I should clarify that last remark by saying that on this occasion there was no firing taking place and that we were actually on a public footpath. Even so the constant warnings made for a slightly unusual setting. Over the cliffs the local Fulmars clearly didn’t mind their explosive neighbours (perhaps they’ve all gone deaf by now?) as at least six birds were watched gliding elegantly along beneath us. The sea cave below was particularly popular and I suspect an ideal nesting location.
Further along and a distinctive call alerted us to the presence of two Choughs, later joined by a third, whilst all around the song of Skylarks filled the air. Stonechats too were present in good numbers and it was nice to get good close views of a Shag fishing just offshore. Sadly however no amount of searching had located the Cuckoo and back at the golf course it seemed that everybody else had drawn a blank as well. Still there’s always positives to be taken from every situation and after a lovely walk we were treated to what has to be one of the tamest Kestrels in existence. I say one of as nothing will ever beat the Gower bird from 2011 but it certainly comes in a close second.
Crouched down in the grass I watched the bird survey its surroundings from what was clearly an ideal hunting perch. That proved to be just the case after a few minutes when the Kestrel dived down to ground though unfortunately it returned empty handed (taloned). As you can tell from the photos above it gave me great eye contact on a couple of occasions in what would have been an intimate situation had it not been for about thirty others with telescopes and cameras covering our every move.
With no Cuckoo there seemed little point in hanging around so instead we headed back to the car for a short drive to Tenby. On the way a loud call alerted us to the presence of a Cetti’s Watbler in some reeds, shortly followed by great flight views. Having not actually seen one for a couple of years, though heard plenty, the missing Cuckoo suddenly no longer seemed that important.
The next couple of hours were spent wondering around Tenby. With its medieval town walls and street plan, dual lifeboat houses and interesting architecture the place completely won me over and has easily made it into my top five seaside settlements. Well worth a visit if you are in the area.
Suitably sunburnt, even though it’s only March, there was just time for one last attempt at the Great Spotted Cuckoo. Back at the golf course news was rife that the bird was back though as with earlier in the day we’d just missed it. I was reliably informed however that it was just behind a distant hump, out of bounds for those of us without golf bats naturally, so we settled in for a wait. After an hour of frustration the likes of which I funnily experienced last time I actually tried to play golf, we called the whole thing off and headed for home. A rather fine male Pheasant waved us off and you know what? I’m not that disappointed. To be honest I was more pleased with the Cetti’s Warbler and Sundays garden Greenfinches than what would have admittedly been a life tick. I’m not sure what that says about me as a birder but I guess it takes all sorts to keep this great hobby alive.