As you can probably guess from the title of this post, Saturday before last found us walking the Gower coast from Rhossili to Mewslade stumbling across a series of top quality birds in the process. In fact I might go as far as saying that it’s probably the best days birding I’ve had on Gower for several years, and that’s in the face of some stiff competition. It all kicked off as soon as we’d left the car with a trio of Fulmars circling the cliffs below Old Castle fort. If ever there was a sign that we’re starting to drag ourselves out of winter then this is it and I couldn’t help but crack a smile as we watched their seemingly carefree antics. Scanning the wider bay picked up a lone Great Crested Grebe before several scattered flocks of Common Scoter popped into view. The largest probably numbered only forty or so individuals but all were far closer than normal. Usually to catch a sight we’re straining off towards Cefn Sidan so something had clearly brought them in. Perhaps they were after the same thing that had attracted Gulls in huge numbers, several thousand of which were concentrated on the beach below. Most were Herring with sadly no white-wingers amongst them but it’s the biggest gathering I can recall at this particular location.
With Spring definitely in the air, despite a chill breeze, our attention turned to seeking out an early Wheatear following a couple of sporadic reports across the country in recent weeks. Sadly we were out of luck but once again any disappointment was tempered this time by a Great Northern Diver out towards Worm’s Head. In fine winter plumage it was a real brute of a bird and stood out clearly to the naked eye despite the distances involved.
Still on the hunt for potential Spring migrants we dropped down to the shoreline for a wander around to Tears Point and were rewarded first with a couple of Stonechats before something unusual hopped up on a nearby boulder. The red rump was conclusive as we were treated to superb views of a female type Black Redstart which then proceeded to give me a proper run-around. It was feeding avidly amongst the rocks but refused to sit still for any longer than the briefest of moments so I was happy to come away with this effort in the end. Despite being small in the frame it gives a great sense of the habitat we were in and my new F2.8 lens really helped to set the scene with a remarkably shallow depth of field considering I’m using ‘just’ a bridge camera.
A hell of a start to the day I’m sure you’ll agree and that’s before we get onto the supporting cast of Cormorant, Shag, Song Thrush and even a single Chough feeding in nearby fields. Choughs seem to have been a little scarce of late with this being our first sighting of the year but I’m sure that has more to do with us than any concerns over their population. Presumably this mild and damp winter should have provided a real boost so lets hope for a cracking breeding season over the coming months.
The end point for our walk was Mewslade valley and sheltered from the breeze it felt positively warm. Wandering into the valleys wooded upper reaches I chose a random point to pause for a while and simply wait to see what turned up. What a decision that turned out to be! Initially we were treated to a Treecreeper feeding on the ground of all places whilst all around the calling of Tits and Chaffinches brought the place alive. Then Emma spotted a Goldcrest which I glimpsed hopping through a thicket of ivy but, hang on, was that a flash of white I saw? A few moments of anxious waiting soon had the bird in sight once more and yep, that’s a very prominent supercilium right there. Firecrest was immediately top of my list but only having ever seen one once before I wanted to make doubly sure. Anxiously following it through the canopy it was almost as if the bird was deliberately keeping the top of its head out of sight but eventually we got the views that clinched our initial ID. YES! Even better I managed to get a couple of record images to boot.
That Firecrest is going to take some beating. What a stunner of a bird with plumage to match. Even a showy pair of Mistle Thrush at Great Pitton Farm couldn’t come close.
Birds weren’t the only wildlife out and about either as Mewslade also delivered our first butterfly sighting of 2016. The insect in question was a rather faded Peacock which we found sunning itself on a rock. Sadly too far for a photo but another sign that Spring is now starting to gather pace. Good times ahead.