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.
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.
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.
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.