A quick glance at this years Patchwork Challenge comparative league table shows me sitting in a rather respectable fourth place amongst the Welsh contingent. Now that’s doubly impressive considering I’ve failed to submit my scores for the last two months and just goes to show what a stellar start to the year I had. April in comparison was something of a let down with nothing much turning up but that all seems to have changed over the bank holiday weekend. I’ll be honest and say that my original plan hadn’t been to do any birding at all as I flung myself at numerous outstanding DIY jobs, but being literally in my patch meant that I couldn’t help glancing up to the hills to see just what was about. The answer most of the time seemed to be Ravens with at least three individuals present though likely several more, plus our local Grey Heron flying down the neighbouring street before landing in a conifer. That was certainly something new and is possibly a good incentive for stocking our pond with a few cheap fish. Best of all though were the trio of Canada Geese who came honking noisily down our valley at sunset, a very rare patch bird and new tick number one for the weekend. If only the male House Sparrow which spent most of each day deafening me had been similarly brief in its passing as opposed to calling incessantly from the top of our roof. I guess that means they’re nesting again which is certainly a good thing even if I’m not sure exactly where.

P1070660 - House Sparrow

Eventually I could take it no longer and decided that these sightings were a sign to put the paintbrush down and head out for a proper circuit of the patch. Starting on Gopa Hill I was immediately surrounded by the call of several Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs but it was a chance scan of some distant trees which gave me my second new tick in the shape of a singing male Blackcap. Remarkably I’ve not seen one here for at least two years and it would have been nice to savour the moment a little longer had a Jackdaw not chased the poor thing off. Pushing onwards and five Swallows marked a significant increase over last years numbers before a familiar call stopped me in my tracks. Somewhere in the scrub hid a Whitethroat and despite an audio identification being sufficient to count I was determined to get a visual. Several minutes of judicious creeping later found me locked onto a stunning male, tick number three and a welcome return after not seeing one at all last year following the burning of their traditional haunt. While there I also gave the hole that I muted as a possible Woodpecker nest the once over, only to spot a Great Tit making regular visits. Looks like I was definitely on the right tracks then but not quite with the expected species.

P1070663 - Bryn-bach-Common

Moving on to Bryn-bach-Common I left the lush greens behind as here Bracken has yet to return in force. New shoots are starting to peek their heads above ground however so it won’t be long before I’m forced back to using sheep tracks to traverse this area. For now though I can walk unhindered and in doing so spotted a male Wheatear way down towards Pontlliw (tick number four). Sadly it didn’t let me get anywhere near but while watching it a surprise White Wagtail arrived, not only tick number five but also a brand new species altogether. Annoyingly the Patchwork Challenge doesn’t count them as separate (they are after all only a race of Pied Wagtail) but not having managed to confirm a sighting of them either it still moves my tally forward. Over at the crossroads I stopped for a spot of lunch where four Woodpigeons and a single Stock Dove were joined by a fantastically colourful male Yellowhammer. Lighting conditions were absolutely dire but I couldn’t help myself from attempting a couple of shots.

P1070667_2 - Yellowhammer, Gopa Hill

Down the hill and Welsh Water seem to have finished work for a while on their flood relief scheme, leaving the site in something of a mess. When I originally read the plans they seemed to suggest planting and proper fencing would be installed so I’m just hoping that this is the end of phase one and further work will be undertaken in the coming months. I’ll keep you posted.

P1070669 - Flood relief scheme, Pontarddulais

Proving that nature can make the most of any situation however was a Willow Warbler which I found in full song just a few meters further along from where the photo above was taken. Remarkably it was completely unconcerned by my presence allowing me to get up nice and close. If I recall that means I now have decent photographs of both Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler this year, a marked improvement over previous seasons.

P1070682_2 - Willow Warbler, Cefn Drum
P1070681_2 - Willow Warbler, Cefn Drum

Up on Cefn Drum things were relatively quiet with a strengthening wind keeping most birds at lower altitudes except for the Skylarks which were in fine voice. It wasn’t until I’d descended once more that I started to encounter more variety with a couple of Stonechats and a superb male Sparrowhawk. Clearly one of the Meadow Pipits wasn’t quite so pleased with the latter’s presence and quickly chased it away. I wonder what it’s like to be pursued by your own food? Philosophical musings aside it marked an excellent end to one of my best patch outings in some time, but even then there was still time for one last find. I’ve noted previously that there are signs of Dipper activity once more along the stream and right at my patch boundary I finally caught sight of one disappearing behind a rock (tick number five). Seeing them back again is fantastic news and I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that breeding success is just around the corner.

51 Species / 52 Points