Despite a forecast of doom and gloom Saturday dawned clear, sunny and, if not warm, then certainly above the freezing conditions I’d been expecting. To top it all the strong winds of recent days had been banished to leave an unexpectedly peaceful and tranquil landscape. With a light mist still hanging over the Loughor and wood smoke from a nearby bonfire twisting its way between the trees there really could not have been a better time to get my 2015 Patchwork Challenge up and running.
I’ve already mentioned here how busy our garden feeders have been of late and today was no exception with the added bonus of a Pied Wagtail which dropped in briefly just before we set off. I however managed to miss this surprisingly rare patch species though did hear a couple sometime later so that’s at least one tricky tick already in the bag. Up on Gopa Hill an unusually large flock of nine Magpie were making their presence heard, a good count for my first BirdTrack list of the year (yes I am keeping up with that particular resolution). Not far away the local Collared Dove pair were also to be found which begs the question as to why they have been absent from our garden these past few weeks. Perhaps continued disturbance from numerous stray cats has finally forced them into safer territory? Whatever the reason it’s good to see they are still around. Much more unexpected was the appearance of this Red Admiral flying strongly near the summit. I know I said it was warmer than expected but this might be pushing things a little too far.
Moving on to Bryn-bach-Common and Redwings were definitely high on my agenda, a species which thus far I have failed to ever record here after December. Having seen a couple of sizeable flocks only a couple of weeks previous hopes were high and it didn’t take long to pick out a couple of individuals feeding beneath the hedgerows. Even so it was clear that the vast majority had left though Mistle Thrushes and plenty of Song Thrushes (at least seven) still remain. The nearby farm buildings provided a flock of House Sparrows before a Green Woodpecker completely stole the show as it flew up from ground level and into a nearby tree. There it continued to look for food and gave us excellent views of a species which is much reduced on patch compared to even a couple of years ago. There was a time when I could almost guarantee seeing them whenever I came out here but more recently have had to make do with just the sound of their distinctive yaffling call. The situation has got so bad that Green Woodpeckers are now virtually extinct in Pembrokeshire and nobody seems to know why. A sad state of affairs indeed and one of the reasons why even a very poor record shot such as the one below is now worthy of being included.
On a happier note there were two Red Kites and at least two Buzzards doing the rounds though I do get nervous whenever my eyes settle on the new wind turbine which has recently sprouted up. I like to think that I’m normally pretty good at staying on top of local planning applications so to see this appear over a couple of days was certainly surprising. Saying that a single turbine should provide little threat of collision so I’ll reserve judgement for now.
Dropping down into the valley to look for Yellowhammers drew a blank but the diversion soon proved worthwhile as I spotted a rapidly approaching and curiously unidentifiable bird. What distance there was closed in no time resolving our mystery visitor into a Woodcock, one of the patches hardest to find species and one which I’ve only ever managed to record here during January. What a result. Even better was the length of this sighting as the Woodcock first hugged the valley sides before disappearing over the top of Cefn Drum. Certainly one to remember.
I was very tempted to follow but instead pressed on to finally dedicate some decent time to my ‘northern spur’. This narrow strip of land stretches out from my main patch following the line of an old mining tramway and passes an area of woodland which has just been crying out for a patch rarity (I’m looking at you Treecreeper). Sadly despite much searching that particular scratch remains to be itched but singles of Goldcrest, Jay and Nuthatch were very welcome indeed.
With more than half of last years comparative total already in the bag I could have happily left things at that but a Dipper feeding on the river above Cwmdulais really put the icing on a rather nice cake. The only concern now is have I peaked too early? Let’s hope not as this year I really want to beat that 100% marker.
2015: 35 / 2014: 64