Bank holiday weekend was a busy one for us with Saturday spent exploring the Preseli Hills (trip report to follow) and Sunday afternoon taken up with something called a social gathering. An odd concept I admit but one which I think could really take off, maybe even as early as next year. That only left a couple of hours free in the morning so we decided to head for a walk around Garreg Lwyd above Brynamman. The weather was glorious with a cool breeze hinting at autumn just around the corner and visibility stretching for miles in all directions.
As we made our way up to the imposing summit cairn and associated trig point there were Swallows and House Martins zipping everywhere, clearly making good use of the breezy conditions to fuel up before their long journeys ahead. Sad to think that in a couple of weeks our sky will fall silent once more. On the positive side they’ve not gone yet and it was good also to see a few Wheatear including one individual which allowed sufficiently close approach for photos. Believe it or not but these are the first Wheatear shots to appear on the blog this year. Unprecedented and one of the best examples of how crazy 2020 has been so far.
Following south from their breeding grounds in Scotland will soon be Dotterel who use this hill as a regular stopover. We’ve tried on numerous occasions to catch up with them during previous autumns but have never quite managed to get the stars to align. This time we didn’t even try looking as it seemed far too early. Oh how little I know.
From the summit we chose to loop north back to the car resulting in grandstand views deeper into the Brecon Beacons including across to its most famous landmark, Pen y Fan. Although too distant to see detail on the summit I can guarantee you that it and the route up would have been teeming with people. Weird when you consider that we had the whole of Garreg Lwyd and these stunning views to ourselves.
One of the perhaps most unexpected features of this area is Herbert’s Quarry, an extensive area of limestone extraction including numerous pits and kilns. Unmissable from the road thanks to a huge slash in the hillside they are some of the best preserved workings in Wales with the kilns in particular being worthy of a closer look. Worked for centuries production ceased in the 1950’s which probably explains how so much remains to this day.
Back at home I got to experience one of those strange coincidences which convince me that our technology is listening in more than you’d like to believe. Opening Twitter I was presented immediately with reports of Dotterel sightings from both Cornwall and Skomer. What was that I was saying about it being too early? Somehow I didn’t think calling off the first chance I’d had in six months to meet someone other than my partner in order to go searching for a plump wader was really the done thing, so if a Dotterel was out there it was going to have to wait.
Monday rolled around and after a sufficiently lazy start (I’d forgotten how tiring “going out” could be) we were back on Garreg Lwyd but this time combing its southern flanks with intense concentration. There’s so much suitable habitat out there that a single wader, or even two, is incredibly tricky to spot so we were going to need a bit of luck on our side. Initially luck seemed to be in short supply however with the fruits of our labour being a Raven and several Skylark. Even the Swallows and Wheatears from the day before had done a bunk. There was nothing more to be seen from the summit either so we dropped down towards Foel Fraith with the intention of picking up the Beacons Way. The birding gods it seemed had other ideas. Across the rolling hills we caught on the air an unfamiliar call. Heard a second time it definitely sounded like a wader but not one we could place. A quick flick through clips on the phone ruled out Golden Plover with Dotterel appearing to be a very good match. Could it be? Clearly views were going to be necessary as I wasn’t about to confirm a species based on a call I’d never previously heard and would you believe it, that was exactly what we got. The bird in question flew high over us before looping back towards the area of Garreg Lwyd we’d just been searching. Lighting was abysmal but there were definite hints of a white eye stripe along with wings which were plain above and whiter underneath. We waited a few minutes but with no further sightings forthcoming there was nothing for it but to retrace our steps and continue the search.
Along the way we put up a trio of Common Snipe before once again what we were now convinced was a Dotterel gave us one last flyby. Much better prepared I had chance to fire off a couple of record shots of which this is probably the most conclusive.
That rounded tail in particular seems quite diagnostic and we were able to celebrate our first self-found Dotterel with a delicious home-made pasty.
Mission complete then but with the rest of the day still ahead we embarked on an eight mile circuit taking in the aforementioned Foel Fraith as well as Cefn y Cylchau and Cefn y Truman. Again we had this vast landscape virtually to ourselves but didn’t manage to turn up any more Dotterel. Still, at least the views weren’t bad.
All in all then a very successful weekend which finally saw one of our bogey birds fall. For Emma this was a lifer and for me only my second encounter. The first came on a memorable day over at Cefn Cadlan which resulted in some slightly better photos that can be found here. Let’s hope we get a similar opportunity in the not too distant future as another ten years is a long time to wait.