Bracelet Meds and Mumbles Kittiwakes

Tuesday, August 11, 2020 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


The triple figure flock of Mediterranean Gulls spotted off Pwll in my last post were indicative of not only a larger seasonal increase across our area, but also a year on year population boom that shows no signs of slowing. Back in 2009 the annual Carmarthenshire bird report gives a max count at any one site of “only” thirty nine individuals which, if my maths serves, means an incredible growth since then of over 400%. A frankly astonishing success story backed up by similar and on occasion even higher numbers being reported this summer from nearby Burry Port and Pembrey. Where me and Meds are concerned though, Bracelet Bay has always been destination of choice. Admittedly at the height of school holidays it’s not exactly the place to go if you’re after a spot of solitude but mingle with the tourists a while and you’re likely to experience some of the best Med Gull encounters this country has to offer. Also expect a few funny looks. 

A couple of weeks ago we did just that and despite the whole area positively heaving with post-lockdown escapees, there were still jewels to be found. From the beach we could see a small roost numbering some fifteen individuals on the rocks below Castellamare, apparently oblivious to the child playing mere metres away. You try that with a camera and see if you can get anywhere near as close! Others were flying regularly overhead but as usual the best views were to be had from the old coastguard station car park. There I was treated to birds exhibiting a whole range of plumages (though no 2020 juveniles it seemed) and by and large was ignored and left to snap away as I pleased. Only an occasional, presumably blind, member of the public came between us but the birds soon resettled allowing me to continue.

P1240495 - Mediterranean Gull, Bracelet Bay

P1240483 - Mediterranean Gull, Bracelet Bay

P1240475 - Mediterranean Gull, Bracelet Bay

P1240474 - Mediterranean Gull, Bracelet Bay

P1240488 - Mediterranean Gull, Bracelet Bay

I kept my eyes peeled for any ringed individuals but spotted none this time out. 

Of course being so near to Mumbles Pier at this time of year it would have been rude not to pop in to see the Kittiwake colony, so that was where we headed next. As with most species I’ve missed the bulk of the breeding season so it was no surprise to find most of this year’s young already fledged or very close to. The mitigation shelves put up as part of the piers never-ending restoration project held the greatest density but I do wonder how long those ledges will last without some degree of maintenance. Even in the slight breeze one whole section was visibly moving which doesn’t bode well for the coming winter storms.
 
P1240396 - Kittiwakes, Mumbles Pier

P1240409 - Kittiwakes, Mumbles Pier

P1240412 - Kittiwakes, Mumbles Pier

P1240403 - Kittiwakes, Mumbles Pier

Perhaps more promising were those birds which have once more begun to nest on the refreshed steelwork, a prospect deliberately designed out by the architects through curved sections according to the original planning application. Once again nature has found a way to succeed and these enterprising pairs gave me my best photographic opportunities of the day.
 
P1240417 - Kittiwakes, Mumbles Pier

P1240423 - Kittiwakes, Mumbles Pier

P1240427 - Kittiwakes, Mumbles Pier

P1240433 - Kittiwakes, Mumbles Pier

P1240450 - Kittiwakes, Mumbles Pier

P1240462 - Kittiwakes, Mumbles Pier

I’ve written before on how the Kittiwake colony here should be celebrated and encouraged but it bears repeating once more. Why? Well you only have to watch the steady stream of visitors peering over the pier balustrades to investigate the commotion below decks and, for those willing to watch a while longer, they would have been treated to intimate behaviour that at any other time of year would be almost impossible to observe. Two such moments stood out for me. The first was a returning adult bonding with its mate through a raucous series of calls and head movements (keep an eye out for that blood red mouth) and the second a fight between two birds which saw both spiralling down to a watery crash, neither competitor willing to relinquish dominance until the lesson had been learnt. Even now I couldn’t tell you who the victor was but the encounter had me enthralled. If we have any hope of re-establishing our connection with nature then places and experiences such as this have a vital part to play. Without them what hope do we have in explaining the plight of the Kittiwake to a public who have no concept of what one even is………. 

Over on the old lifeboat slipway a roost of some thirty or so Turnstones also held a couple of Dunlin but there was no sign of the lone Oystercatcher which had been hanging out there earlier in the year. Back in Bracelet Bay one of the regular Grey Seals was leisurely bottling the afternoon away which to us seemed like an excellent plan so we duly followed suit.

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