Thursday afternoon at Rhossili was very much a zip up, secure hat state of affairs thanks to a brisk breeze keeping things refreshingly cool. Out in the bay a continuous procession of white horses scampered landwards giving the gathered surfers some welcome action, whilst up on the clifftops things were unsurprisingly quiet, at least where wildlife was concerned. The best I could manage as I walked down to the lookout were a few very windswept Meadow Browns and the occasional tantalising squeak from deep within some Gorse. On reflection the latter may indeed have been the Gorse itself but why limit an overactive imagination. What was sad to see were the lack of House Martins around their traditional nesting sites or indeed hirundines of any sort, a sign that the seasons are indeed on the turn once more.
Parking myself at Kitchen Corner I scanned the wider bay area for any action, dreaming of perhaps a Skua or decent movement of Shearwaters. No luck there but it was interesting to note the multiple family gatherings of Great Black-backed Gulls on the lower rocks beneath me. Presumably these birds have bred out on the Worm itself and the youngsters now brought across to the mainland to continue their education. They certainly seemed to be finding plenty to eat amongst the varied flotsam being pushed up against the cliffs.
Moving on and now heading towards Tears Point I found a modicum of shelter and several large flocks of roving Linnets. Amongst them were numerous juveniles, all already wise to the art of fleeing as soon as someone turns up with a camera. No such concerns with my first juvenile Wheatear of the year however which happily fed just a few meters from me.
A second Wheatear family with two more youngsters was nearby and a real treat to watch before I stumbled upon a pair of Stonechats still feeding a couple of recent fledglings. Ducking down amongst the Gorse I was able to observe the group for quite some time ending up with a series of very pleasing images.
Having taken my fill it was on to Tears Point itself where another brief sea watch yielded a lone Gannet quite some distance out as well as a pair of Chough scooting their way along the coast. More of them later. For now my attention was taken by three Grey Seals all bottling together in Fall Bay, not far from shore. Having recently seen a fellow photographer take an image of just such an occurrence from sea level I thought I’d give it a go myself and ended up with this. Definitely better than any of my previous attempts.
At the other end of the size spectrum one of the nearby limestone walls gave up a Red Admiral, a species which I’ve seen on only a handful of occasions so far this year.
With storm clouds gathering a final, rather hopeful, search for lingering Swifts drew a blank but not before the previous Chough pair dropped in below my position to feed. Making my own way down to the same level I was just considering creeping closer when a second pair of birds noisily announced their arrival. From the off you could tell that this was most definitely to be an aggressive encounter with constant calling on the part of the newbies and a rapid exit “stage-left” by one of the incumbents. The second of the original birds however adopted a very submissive stance, hunkering down close to the ground with what I can only describe as a look of abject pity. The aggressors took this as an invitation for a bout of sustained pecking, on occasion pinning their victim down thanks to judicious use of those bright red feet. This continued for a good couple of minutes before the encounter ended and all went their separate ways.
I’ve pondered the meaning of this incident a great deal and have come up with two theories. Firstly, and most likely, this was a territorial dispute with one pair making it very clear whose land this was. However, given that all four birds were seen in relatively close proximity later on could this be a case of parents starting to encourage their offspring to leave and find territories of their own? Answers on a postcode please.
Fast forwards a couple of days and we were back at Rhossili, as too it seemed was much of the country. The main paths were absolutely heaving, in particular out along the headland, so in the search for a degree of solitude we instead opted to head out beneath Rhossili Down. Sandwiched between beach and hill we were very grateful for overcast conditions keeping the temperature down and after spotting more family groups of Stonechat found ourselves increasingly hunting for butterflies. Of these there were plenty, if a bit lacking in variety, with Gatekeepers being the dominant species.
It wasn’t until entering the dunes at Hill End that we found our first of what proved to be numerous Common Blue, the majority making full use of an abundance of Sea Holly. I’ve not seen quite so many pristine plants in such a concentrated area before so this proved to be a real treat. The fact that the holly also made for very attractive photos? Icing on the cake.
Other sightings included a passing Cinnabar moth which proved too quick for me as well as a brief glimpse of what I thought might be a Grayling. Being a species I only see perhaps once a year I was keen to investigate further and eventually managed to track it down deep in vegetation. Getting a clear view proved difficult, and that’s putting it mildly, but I was able to confirm my initial identification and get a record shot to boot. Only then did the Grayling pop out into the open, albeit for the briefest of moments, before vanishing away into the deeper dunes.
Our return route took us back along the beach, very much a case of dodging sandcastles, surfing schools and rather predictably very few birds. In fact there was not a single wader to be found with only a few Gulls present making the most of anything left behind by the retreating tide. This included a smattering of Barrel Jellyfish and mostly legless Spider Crabs, fare that didn’t appeal to us nearly as much as the promise of an ice cream and some peace and quiet.