Thankfully Easter Monday saw the return of good weather so we took the opportunity to spend some more time over in Pembrokeshire, exploring the Marloes Peninsula and walking a few new sections of the coast path. Bank Holidays are fairly well renowned for appalling weather so the views that greeted us upon arrival at Martin’s Haven had the dual impact of being both unexpected and utterly stunning. If there is a heaven then surely it must look something like this.
First stop was the old Deer Park which, although still missing its hirundines, was overrun with singing Skylarks, battling Meadow Pipits and displaying Stonechats. Out at sea three or four Gannets were stretching their wings as they soared on the light breeze whilst down below a lone Shag flew along the cliffs and a Grey Seal was busy doing what they do best i.e. not a lot. Singles of Fulmar, Rock Pipit and Raven were also about before we kicked off what was to turn into a day overrun with birds of prey. Starting simply we picked up a Kestrel above Martin’s Haven itself before what I first took to be a Sparrowhawk flew in from the direction of Skomer. However, having consulted further and following other similar sightings from the day I now believe it may in fact have been a Merlin. This is another species I see very rarely so am not all that familiar with its features but in retrospect it probably fits the bill much better for what we saw than a Sprawk. I just wish that I’d taken a closer look at the time!
Across the water Skomer looked incredibly inviting and rest assured that we will be making at least one visit there again this year. From this distance it was clear that the Gulls are already setting up shop and although we couldn’t see them the first hundred or so Puffins had already arrived a couple of days previously. Closer to home and a movement down at the base of the cliffs caught my eye. Initially I thought it was another Rock Pipit but a flash of the tail soon had me corrected. Instead we’d found a female type Black Redstart, our third or fourth individual in as many months. It was busy feeding on rocks recently vacated by the falling tide and represented another first for me at this location. More expected were the Choughs of which there was a single pair working its way around the Deer Park despite regular disturbance from passing walkers. We ended up being very lucky when both landed a couple of meters from where we were stood allowing me to take this effort complete with insect in beak.
Of course this final Easter blog wouldn’t be complete without mention of Wheatears, our target species across the entire weekend and one that up until this point had managed to completely elude us. I say had because just as we were about to leave the park Emma spotted a pristine male sat on the boundary wall, right next to the exit! Almost as if it had been waiting for us I fired off a couple of record shots but couldn’t get any closer before it darted off and disappeared over the cliff edge. The reason soon became clear as a second Wheatear appeared nearby, another male but clearly distinguishable from the first due to plumage variations. It too was only stationary for the briefest of periods before the pair shot off inland, never to be seen again.
With that little lot knocked off in what is after all a relatively small area, there was a sense that this could turn out to be a very good day indeed. That feeling was only enhanced by the scenery which, as I’ve already mentioned, was simply stunning. There was a clarity to the light which just seemed to make the cliffs and water shine revealing a breadth and depth of colour whose memory had almost been wiped from my mind following one of the longest and most depressing winters I can remember. As a result I may have gone a little snap happy but these are just a couple of my favourites including a Fulmar whose front room view must rival any in the country. Somehow though I don’t think it built that nest which looks more like a Raven construction to me.
Stretching our legs along the coast we soon arrived at Marloes Mere where I must admit that first impressions were a bit disappointing. I’d been hoping for Swallows and Sand Martins but there were neither with just a couple of Mallards and Teal plus a Buzzard perched up in their place. A few moments later though and the unmistakeable sound of a calling Water Rail erupted from somewhere nearby, quickly followed by the bird itself as it darted across a short stretch of open water before disappearing back into cover. With no further sign or sound I instead idly turned my attentions to the Buzzard which was now flying across the far side of the Mere. Or so I thought. Training my bins on the bird I quickly realised that it was in fact a Marsh Harrier and we proceeded to enjoy superb if distant views as it quartered the far reedbeds. This sent the gathered Teal absolutely wild and wherever it flew small flocks were continually erupting out of cover, followed by four Canada Geese which managed the same feat though with a lot less finesse and a whole lot more splashing. I think it was to everyone’s relief when the Marsh Harrier finally dropped out of sight, presumably to devour whatever prey it had caught. Scanning the reeds for its reappearance I again picked up the Buzzard but hang on, is that a white base to the tail? Yes it was as quite unbelievably we now had a female Hen Harrier in our sights! It followed the example set by its larger predecessor and started quartering the reeds, once again sending the Teal into a mad panic. It was interesting to have seen both species in such close proximity to each other as it allowed me to compare and contrast their differing hunting styles. Whereas the Marsh Harrier was rapid and on average twenty to thirty meters off the deck, the Hen Harrier remained much lower and flew with a lightness including numerous loops over the same area. That comparison improved no end when both birds appeared in flight at the same time, albeit briefly, an amazing and completely unexpected encounter.
Making our way into the hide we lost the Marsh Harrier but continued to enjoy great views of the female Hen Harrier getting everyone who passed by onto the bird. No one should ever pass a Hen Harrier without paying their due respects.
I mentioned that this was going to turn into something of a raptorfest and indeed that proved to be the case. After the Harrier pair I finally did see an actual Buzzard over the Mere and whilst sat in the hide we had a great close encounter with a male Sparrowhawk which for one tense moment looked for all the world as if it was about to join us. Thankfully it diverted at the last moment passing just behind our position but what a great view. With so much activity in the skies you might have expected everything else to remain in hiding but that was far from the case. We spotted at least four Common Snipe on the move with waterfowl counts including three Wigeon, eight Shoveller and three Little Grebes. Also present was a distant Pheasant, calling Chiffchaff and male Reed Bunting. Not a bad haul at all.
Back on the coast we entered uncharted territory with our first visit to Marloes Sands. Here we encountered a flock of Linnets and tame Raven but the real star was that beach!
If we’d had time I wouldn’t have minded a wonder along it myself but instead we carried on to Dale Airfield, an unusual remnant of the second world war. Virtually invisible until you’re upon it runways, service roads and even a couple of hangars are all still visible. The land between has long since been surrendered to farming and in a field of turnips we turned up another three Wheatears. Safe to say that they have definitely arrived.
Hard to believe after all that but this was only the halfway point of our walk. From Dale we crossed the peninsula and returned to Martin’s Haven along its northern shore. Although I took no more photos the views continued to impress with a distant Great Northern Diver being the only significant birding addition. What a day and the perfect end to our Easter break.