Time’s a funny old thing. Watched and it will slow to a crawl yet left to its own devices and in the blink of an eye years simply melt away. That’s certainly been the case here in my little corner of Wales where the feelings of optimism and excitement that accompanied the dawning of a new decade now not only seem to belong to an entirely different era but also to a different person. Much of the associated blame can undoubtedly be laid at the feet of world events; pandemics, war, bird flu and the cost of living to name just a few. Some however is very firmly on me where fear has come to dominate almost everything. Fear of change, fear of failure, fear of success and fear of what other people may think. The result has been a closing of ranks, a retreat into a safe place dominated by routine and where exposure to anything new has been avoided at all costs. Some of that has inevitably crept into my online presence where my last update here dates back well over a year with only intermittent content for a significant period prior. Despite taking thousands of photographs they languish unedited on memory cards and that promised shop signposted so prominently on my landing page? Still a pipe dream.
The good news is that this year feels different. Despite the appalling weather I’ve been out walking and exploring every daylight hour that can be spared, and even some that couldn’t. I’ve finally carried out some long overdue background maintenance on this site, updated Lightroom and cracked out the BirdTrack app after several years of good intentions. And it’s been brilliant. That sense of joy and wonder which once drove me finally seems to be back, perhaps not at full force yet but it’s definitely there. The very fact that you are reading this is no surer proof and long may it continue.
Nothing has signified this returned vigour more than our time spent at WWT Llanelli. Once an almost weekly pilgrimage we realised with a degree of horror that we hadn’t visited for over eighteen months. This at least could be easily rectified and during the final days of December we made numerous late afternoon trips to see what was about. Quite a bit as it turned out with double digit Snipe being the main highlight, especially when one turned out to be a bobbing Jack. Elsewhere the lack of cold weather had probably kept waterfowl numbers on the low side but it was still nice to see Shoveler and Teal at close quarters, though the regular flock of six Spoonbill still feel like something of an anachronism. We also caught up with a couple of celebrity visitors in the form of Avocet and Long-tailed Duck, bright spots both.
These brief visits were of course just an appetiser, a testing of the waters before the main event come January 1st.
Every birder will tell you that the start of a new year, even for those who consider themselves casual listers, brings with it an extra level of excitement. Common fare such as Robin and Woodpigeon carry equal weight as any rarity or wind-blown waif and stray and hence most take the opportunity to see just how many species they can spot. To cater for this the WWT run so-called “tick and twitch” events, and we are regular attendees. This year the weather continued its pre-festive funk with yet more grey dampness but that didn’t stop us racking up an impressive 61 species. Particular highlights included the aforementioned Long-tailed Duck which did the decent thing and stuck around, even if the Avocet didn’t, but nothing could beat the afternoon raptor show. First up was a female Hen Harrier being harried by Crows close in to the Michael Powell hide, probably the best views I’ve ever had of our local winter residents. That was followed soon after by a distant Marsh Harrier way over towards Llanelli, expertly picked out initially by Emma and confirmed by a fellow visitor with far better optics than ours. Similarly exotic for here were a pair of Barnacle Geese out on the marsh, a species whose presence pretty much guarantees a hide based discussion on their origins and hence tickability. Sure enough this encounter was to be no different and for the avoidance of doubt they fly, they breed, they count.
A couple of days later and feeling distinctly below par I took myself down to Penclawdd for the high tide roost. At the risk of becoming repetitious this was again the first time in a while and I was pleasantly pleased by the variety and numbers on offer. Penclawdd Pill itself held a snoozing flock of nine Snipe along with one lone Greenshank, twenty Black-tailed Godwits plus a smattering of Curlew and Redshank. These were added to at Dalton’s Point by well over fifty Pintail, a duck with more style than most.
Another break in the weather actually saw the sun put in an appearance for a trip down to Porthcawl where a quartet of Grey Plover quite simply stole the show.
The above shots were taken off Newton Point and with the birds seemingly well settled I had no trouble creeping in closer. The same could not be said of the lone Golden Plover also present, the following taken at some distance looking back through the spray.
Walking the coast path towards Sker I had hoped to luck in on the local Purple Sandpipers but drew a blank, compensation coming in the form of a Chough pair off Lock’s Common and a trio of Mediterranean Gull nearby. It wasn’t until a subsequent visit the next weekend that I finally connected with the Sandpipers, hunkered down against towering seas and crashing waves. Even with a supposedly weatherproof camera I didn’t fancy my chances on the slippery rocks instead choosing to concentrate my attention on a feeding group of Turnstones with a much more reasonable risk appetite.
Thanks to some expert fieldwork (if one can’t blow one’s own trumpet on one’s own blog, when can one) I managed to get within a couple of meters which makes it all the more mind boggling that an approaching walker decided that after watching what I was doing the best course of action in continuing their progress was to walk between me and the birds, whilst I was still photographing! Shouting “I bet you’re getting some great shots” as they passed only added insult to injury and I still can’t be sure if this was a deliberate act of disturbance or just pure ignorance, nor which I’d consider worse. Thankfully the Turnstones remained unperturbed (denting my fieldwork ego ever so slightly) and I was able to continue my exploits with the minimum of seething anger.
General public aside and against all expectations this had proved to be a brilliant start to 2023. Lots of outings, sone great birds and even a few photographs to show for it. Given we’re now nearing the end of February I can confirm that thus far things have only got better and there should be much more coming your way soon.