Loughor Gull-billed Tern and a Garganey

Saturday, May 21, 2016 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

It's been a wet old day down here in South Wales, more reminiscent of last winter than our recent run of warm weather. Even the prospect of gathering quotes for building work couldn't tempt me out into the murk but I did make a compromise and pop to the garden centre where a few more purchases will help make our natural boundaries that much more inviting. By mid afternoon it was a little drier and with the Gull-billed Tern still being reported from Loughor Bridge, well, it would have been rude not to. Parking up near the sailing club I walked down onto the sand, then promptly came straight back. A quick change into more appropriate footwear later and the ridiculously soft conditions underfoot no longer presented a problem as I passed under the railway line and emerged onto the estuary proper. Somehow this access point had, up until now, escaped my knowledge and I'm kicking myself as the views proved pretty decent with a good selection of birds on show. Oystercatchers were by far the most numerous but a smattering of Little Egrets was nice to see before I began scanning the Black Headed Gulls for our newest local celebrity. It didn't take long. Clearly visible on a distant area of exposed mud was the Gull-billed Tern, well settled other than an occasional short flight but constantly on the move, at least for the brief time that I was present. It was horribly murky but a record shot had to be attempted.

P1010450 - Gull-billed Tern, Loughor

If you're getting a sense of deja-vu then fear not, you're not alone. I felt the very same thing when the original reports started coming through as this is the exact spot where I popped my Gull-billed Tern cherry back in 2012. The report from that day can be found here and I'm glad to report that two camera upgrades later and I still can't do much when the birds decide to keep their distance. At least with the power of modern image manipulation I can at least give a hint as to which couple of pixels are the bird in question.

P1010450 - Gull-billed Tern, Loughor

With one success under my belt I was on a roll and nipped a couple of miles down the road to Llanelli WWT. I spent most of last Saturday here (report still to come) and saw plenty, only to return home and find that I'd somehow missed a male Garganey from the boardwalk hide. This was an oversight that needed urgent correction but initially things didn't look all that promising. The Black Headed Gull colony was as boisterous as ever but other than a couple of Tufted Ducks waterfowl numbers were very low. Not unsurprising given the time of year and I'd begun to daydream a little when out of the blue the Garganey turned up. Not having been paying that much attention I can't be sure of where it had appeared from but it proceeded to give great views by swimming right across the front of the hide. Needless to say lighting conditions were appalling but I managed to get something halfway decent before it swam around the back of an island and out of sight. Relocating to west hide I was soon eyes on again but the Garganey seemed content rooting around beneath overhanging vegetation and showed no signs of coming any closer. Still, a Gull-billed Tern and Garganey within the space of half an hour? Can't argue with that.

P1010465 - Garganey, Llanelli WWT

I still had one hopeless dream to follow though and that meant heading upstream to my Upper Loughor patch this evening as high tide approached. With the Gull-billed Tern a mere mile or so downriver there was always a chance that it could come my way and give my 2016 Patchwork Challenge its crowning moment of glory but alas, it was not to be. All was not lost however as I did manage to add Sedge Warbler, Reed Bunting, Greenfinch, Gadwall and House Martin as new for the year.


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#pwc2016 Cuckoo Addendum

Monday, May 16, 2016 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

I really wasn't expecting to be writing any more on the subject of our local Cuckoo but once again mother nature has managed to surprise me. In years past sightings, or more accurately heard calls, have been limited to a single day with my presumption being that birds were either passing through or were only using my patch at the very edge of their territories. Not so this time it seems. Instead we've been hearing at least one male belting out his song each day since last Sunday's first discovery, and I for one am pretty chuffed. With continuing population decline I'd begun to fear for our local visitors but on the strength of these sightings perhaps I was being a little pessimistic. The words "at least one" were chosen carefully as yesterday evening we're pretty certain there were two males present. The first was calling from a grove of trees towards the southern end of Cefn Drum yet whilst exploring Bryn-bach-Common a second bird blasted out a brief snippet from somewhere near Bryn-Bach farm. Now the possibility that the first could have flown across can't be completely ruled out but given that it still seemed to be calling from the original location a short while later, I think we can be pretty certain that there were two distinct birds present.

It of course goes without saying that we couldn't actually see either, despite much searching, a situation which was doubly frustrating given that Emma had stumbled across an approachable female early on Saturday morning. Whilst I was down at Llanelli WWT, failing to find a Bonaparte's Gull I might add, Emma was busy getting the views I've been craving for several years now and in the process confirming that we could be in for a successful Cuckoo breeding season. I wonder which of the Meadow Pipits will succumb? Needless to say she, the Cuckoo not Emma, was long gone by the time I returned later in the day though with yet more illegal dirt bikers present, who can blame her. So three birds then, a record total according to my notes, and I was determined to see at least one of them before it was too late. If only they'd call a little more regularly to allow us to home in on one! As it was we were left wondering aimlessly as dusk approached until, just as we were heading back home, another brief call cut through the still air sounding very close indeed. Scanning the lower banks of Cefn Drum revealed only a few possible perches until there, sat atop the largest tree, was a stonking male Cuckoo. Finally. I can only blame a sense of euphoria at the sudden burst of energy which sent me scampering up the hillside for a record shot though, as it turned out, I probably shouldn't have bothered. With this side of the valley in heavy shade it was far too dark and far too distant to produce anything usable but for me the sighting itself was reward enough. Now if only I could work out where an egg might have been laid..............

P1010442 - Stonechat

Of course it wouldn't have been a proper patch outing without recording some of the regulars which on this occasion included great views of a male Sparrowhawk lazily patrolling the valley sides. Its flight was considerably more 'floaty' than I've come to expect and this is the first time I've seen one of our local pair actually being pursued by various smaller birds. Also about were the Stonechats with several males now clearly defending territories. The one above was seen in an area which last year saw two families raised so fingers crossed for a repeat success. Down in the valley Yellowhammers were again present though flighty and I also recorded my very first White Wagtail of the year. Less successful have been the Grasshopper Warblers which I fear may have already finished reeling whilst I was otherwise engaged. I'll keep trying though because, as the Cuckoos have shown, there's often no alternative to putting in the hours if you want to squeeze the most out of your local patch.

Cefn Drum - 2015: 69 / 2016: 58
Upper Loughor - 2015: 0 / 2016: 59


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#pwc2016 Bluebells, Stonechat Fledglings and a Cuckoo

Friday, May 13, 2016 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

If only days contained twice as many hours I might actually have a sporting chance at keeping up with all my various activities plus the mundane intrusions of everyday life. As it is the three weeks since our return from Cornwall have flown by with barely a peep appearing on my various social channels or on this blog. That leaves me with another burgeoning backlog to conquer including the aforementioned Cornish trip which included such delights as watching Dolphins whilst under sail on a Catamaran, shipwrecks and scenery from the coast around Land’s End plus far too many pasties to count. It’ll be nice to relive those precious few days away having spent the intervening weeks up to my eyeballs in work and the every present call of DIY jobs, a list which sadly appears never to diminish.

The upside to all this work is that the garden looks as good as it ever has and is now nearing the vision we were originally aiming for. Admittedly this was always pretty vague but had at its heart the desire to create a wildlife haven increasing both the abundance and variety of species seen. To my surprise we seem to have managed that in spades with insects everywhere and a corresponding increase in birds (which let’s face it is what we’re really interested in). I mentioned the same topic on my last update but since then we've been treated to regular sightings of Siskins. With previous records here amounting to an occasional lone bird in the midst of winter our current trio (two males and a female) have been a real eye-opener in terms of what we might expect. They've been an almost constant presence over the last three weeks and, although prior to this I would scarcely have believed it, even manage to eclipse our Goldfinches for sheer volume. Having the Siskins often singing at barely arms length probably hasn’t helped on that score but such close proximity has offered some fantastic views. My favourite of these has been watching the males extending and then retracting their small crests when in full display mode, an aspect of their behaviour that up until now I had not been aware of. Photos of course would have been even better but all too often I found myself with arms in the pond or covered in paint at that crucial moment. My camera may be splash proof but I still err on the side of caution.

I had planned to continue a similar workload for the rest of this week and beyond but my resolve finally broke yesterday evening as I was reminded where my true passions lie. The result was a return to the Patchwork Challenge with my Cefn Drum patch the main target having managed to add the aforementioned Siskins, House Martins and a pair of fly-over Canada Geese in recent days. They were all knocked out of the ballpark though by a calling Cuckoo last Sunday evening, my first of the year and first ever from the house. Leaning on my back gate to try and locate its position another gentlemen walked past complete with binoculars, a real rarity around here. Turns out we were both after the same thing and walked up to Gopa Hill in the hope of getting a view. Sadly it was not to be with the Cuckoos calls dying away though we did get to enjoy a farting Horse and the early evening chorus.

Fast forward to last night and with a little more light left we were back up on Gopa Hill and once again listening to what I presume to be the same Cuckoo. For some reason I find their calls incredibly hard to place but we felt confident that it was somewhere down in the valley beneath us. Thick Rhododendron obscures much of the view there but a tantalising glimpse of a largish grey bird with pointed wings pretty much confirmed my suspicions. I’m almost confident that it wasn’t just one of the numerous Woodpigeons I’d glimpsed. Honest. We kept our eyes and ears peeled on the way up to Bryn-bach-Common but although the Cuckoo continued calling we never did manage another view. The same can be said of a Whitethroat which called briefly up near the farm, another new species for the year.

P1010305 - Bluebells

There’s a really nice Bluebell display up here this year, later than surrounding areas due to a higher altitude and more exposed surroundings. In fact they’ve just about coincided with the far less welcome Bracken which is now also on the march and will make walking in the not too distant future significantly trickier. For now though darting this way and that to look at bushes which at times seemed to be dripping with Willow Warblers is a relatively easy affair and led to us stumbling across my first fledged Stonechats of the year. There seems to be at least two pairs on the common at present, one of which had a pair of large fledglings with them. In surprisingly dull light given a heavy haze I managed a couple of photos of these highly photogenic birds.

P1010307 - Stonechat

It would have been nice to have had another go at the Wheatears as well but the four birds which were present for a week or two seem to have moved on. The large Linnet flock also seems to have dispersed although there was still one male in full breeding plumage present. Other regulars included a lone Mistle Thrush hopping away from us, singing Skylarks, perched Buzzards and a bump in Swallow numbers from one to five. That’s about full strength for my patch. Down in the valley Willow Warblers again appeared to be present in every bush but it was also nice to pick out the calls of a couple of Yellowhammers. It was another yellow bird, the Grey Wagtail, which finished off our evening nicely with a stunning male calling and feeding just beneath the old railway bridge. A real pleasure to behold.

Cefn Drum - 2015: 69 / 2016: 58
Upper Loughor 2015: 0 / 2016: 59


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