With autumn migration now in full flow we headed to Rhossili yesterday in the hope of hoovering up a rare warbler or two. Spirits were high after some initial success the previous morning where a circuit of Usk Reservoir delivered the expected Redwing hoards plus a trio of Brambling and at least two calling Willow Tits. As usual the Redwing proved incredibly flighty so despite having numbers on my side I still managed to come away without the shot that I know was there to be had. It was a similar story with the Brambling which posed beautifully in surprisingly strong sunlight, only to vanish as soon as I reached for my camera. That one however is on me, too slow and out of practice after a couple of weeks engaged in other activities. Photography failings aside though it really was a fantastic trip out, warm and bright with birds galore and dramatic views out to Carmarthen Fan and beyond.
Back to Rhossili and again there was a feeling in the air that something good could be waiting just around the corner, even if the sun had decided to have a lie in. A Chough in fine voice swooped down onto the cliffs almost immediately after our arrival, followed a short distance later by one of the resident Kestrels making full use of the breezy conditions to eke out extra speed. Above the sacrificial Sunflower fields a huge murmuration of Goldfinch twisted and turned in one seething mass of life, very nearly matched for numbers if not grace by a Corvid flock nearby. All were watched over by two Ravens, each trying to outdo the other in a “what’s the oddest noise you can make” competition.
And then everything exploded.
Dramatic perhaps but not far from the truth. It all started innocuously enough with a Grey Seal close in at Fall Bay. This seems to be a regular hang out for the local population and we regularly find a couple bottling there. What wasn’t so usual however were the pair of Coastguard personnel in high-vis stalking the beach itself.
Curious we decided to take a closer look, just as another two gentlemen in full camo started to descend the footpath. Between them they carried what looked to be a large roll of wire and a spade. Immediately my thoughts turned to bomb disposal, not as unusual a leap as you might suspect given the history of such incidents on Gower. Thanks to its role as an artillery range during the second world war unexploded ordinance regularly washes up on local beaches, not to mention the occasional mine or barrel of poisoned gas! I couldn’t see anything quite so obvious this time around but that didn’t mean it wasn’t there.
It only took a few moments for our suspicions to be confirmed as both headed over to a white cylinder. Clearly of modern origin I believe it to be a Marine Marker, essentially a large flare which produces smoke and flames and is used as a sea-surface reference point. Under proper storage these devices are perfectly safe, or as safe as anything containing large quantities of phosphorous can be, but after floating around in the ocean with origins unknown – not so much.
As a result a controlled explosion is the safest method of disposal, and that’s exactly what was about to unfold. We watched with avid interest as the device was carefully moved further down the beach before a small charge and detonation wire were attached and then the whole lot buried.
With the personnel having retreated to a safe distance I almost expected a countdown so when the detonation came a couple of minutes later I was caught completely off-guard. For such a small device it was incredibly loud, the bang reverberating off the surrounding cliffs whilst a huge plume of smoke blew up and out of the bay. Having nearly jumped out of my skin in surprise it’s a miracle that I managed to get a shot away that wasn’t pointing somewhere else entirely.
Part of the debris continued to burn for a good while until that too was eventually extinguished. Amusingly the method of checking for a successful disposal seemed to involve poking the debris with a spade, more specialist than that I’m sure but reassuringly low tech.
Once cleared away the only sign of what had unfolded was a depression in the beach and presumably some startled wildlife. I wonder what the Seals thought?
Diversion over it was back to the migrants which unfortunately proved elusive if not entirely absent. The best we could turn up was a male Blackcap in Mewslade valley but we did get great views of both Red Kite and Buzzard overhead, not to mention a couple more Chough.