The Easter weekend is traditionally our first opportunity of the year to fetch the tent out of storage and enjoy a couple of nights under canvas. Still being relatively cool that usually means a trip down to the south coast with Lyme Regis current destination of choice, though that may have to change soon as I’m pretty sure we’re just about out of places to store any more fossils. Indeed that was the plan for this year too but a certain storm Katie soon put paid to that. I’ve cut enough camping trips short in recent years due to bent poles and sprung guy-ropes to last a lifetime, trust me. Instead we ended up staying at home with the plan being to travel wherever the weather looked best on the day, a strategy which ended up paying off big time. Kicking things off on Good Friday (and yes I know these entries are horribly late) was a trip to Bosherston and the Stackpole Estate in Pembrokeshire, coincidentally the filming location for a special episode of Springwatch which was to be aired that very same day. OK, perhaps not that much of a coincidence as finding that out was in fact our inspiration but please, allow me a little writers license. Unfortunately it seemed that a lot of other people had also had the same idea meaning that our car park of choice was full (no money for the National Trust this time) forcing us to hunt around for an alternative. As it turned out this was a great piece of fortune as we ended up finding somewhere for free within touching distance of eight arch bridge. If we’d known that a couple of years back it would have saved several forced marches around the lakes having stayed late to watch Otters. But I digress. The important thing was that we were here, the weather was rapidly turning into a gloriously sunny day and there was a flock of fifteen Chough here to greet us. Wait, what?
Yes that’s right, fifteen, all in one flock and on the wing having been harried by a passing Peregrine Falcon. Whether the aggressor had any serious intentions or not we can’t be sure but it slowly drifted off into the distance leaving the Chough to mill around before they too settled back down and were lost from sight. Now I’ve seen some pretty sizeable Chough gatherings in my time but this was right up there with the very best and definitely my largest here at Stackpole. After that great start a pair of Goosanders and passing Buzzard were always going to struggle but it was great to hear a couple of Chiffchaffs calling, my first of the year. Then something popped up that did manage to steal the show, a female Wigeon feeding very close in along the western arm. Normally I’m used to seeing these birds at some distance so couldn’t pass on this opportunity to soak up that intricately detailed plumage.
While we played cat and mouse amongst the shadows another pair of females and one lone male joined the party though none could be enticed in as close as the original bird. Even our offer of seed was rejected. More for the Robins I suppose. Also present here was a Grey Wagtail which was busy working the bank but other than a small roost of Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, the pools were relatively quiet. Also surprising was the complete lack of any lilly leaves, the flower for which these lakes are famous, hopefully just as a result of high water levels and time of year rather than a continuing decline due to increasing salinity levels. I mention this as with an increased frequency of storms and rising sea levels the dam that created and maintains this unique habitat is coming under ever greater threat. Instances of over-topping by the sea are becoming more common and with salt seeping through the limestone the days of mass lilly displays may be drawing to an end.
The photo above probably displays this delicate balancing act best with the open expanse of Broad Haven lying just behind my position. It’s not hard to imagine winter storms driving their way up through that narrow gap though when the weather’s like this those days can seem very far away indeed. Soaking up some sun with the tourists was a lovely male Stonechat whilst overhead Skylarks sang and a Kestrel hovered looking for prey. A pair of Chough gave a distant showing and just for a moment I though I’d heard the sound of a calling Willow Warbler, only to discover instead this male Chaffinch. Years of experience and still I get caught out every now and again.
Our route from here followed the cliffs around to Stackpole Head and if cliffs are your thing, I think these have to rate as some of the very best in the country. Full of caves, arches and character, you could spend a lifetime studying them and still not have absorbed every little nuance and feature, but for me it was two inhabitants in particular that really drew my attention. We’d already seen a lone Fulmar soaring beneath us but were very happy indeed to find a pair sat on a likely looking nesting ledge, bonding and doing their best to chase off the competition. Today that included another apparent pair which briefly joined them for a chat but they soon left leaving the home-makers to squabble amongst themselves.
Despite the distance I’m pretty pleased with these shots for what seems to be the best spot locally to see these birds. Anyone remember my mega close encounter a few years ago? Of course what we really wanted to see though were a few migrants but it looked as if we were to draw a blank until Emma spotted a hirundine shooting across the cliff top. I only saw it briefly but it looked like an excellent candidate for Sand Martin, another first for the year. We had hoped to pick it up again down at Stackpole Quay but it appeared to have continued on its way. Instead Emma got to enjoy an ice cream for her efforts whilst I soaked in the atmosphere of what I still regard as one of the most ridiculous harbours I’ve ever visited. Along a stretch of coast mostly bereft of natural harbours I can see why it was needed but don’t envy those who have ever attempted an entrance.
From there it was back across farmland to eight arch bridge where a brief watch failed to locate any Otters. I think our almost consistent sightings of a few years back must have been beginners luck! Instead we headed up to the site of now demolished Stackpole Court for a gentle wander through the grounds before finishing up with a very friendly pair of Mute Swans. With the light fading I tried to get all arty but in the end was left most satisfied with this close-up effort.
Being the end of March insects were still a little thin on the ground but I did spot another Small Tortoiseshell and Bees were noticeable for the first time in months. Learning a few more species by name however is definitely one of my targets for the year.