Friday, 30 March 2012

Walk by the River

I took a short walk behind Llandeilo station along the Tywi just to check for migrants.  Two Sand Martins were present and a Chiffchaff singing away.  My attention though was drawn to a North American Mink swimming down river.  It was quite tame and began fishing in a rather haphazard way and finally emerged with a fish or maybe a crayfish.  I would be happy if anyone knew what the prey is.

North American Mink on the Tywi

Mink are numerous on the river and also highly efficient predators of ground nesting birds.  I reckon that is why there are so few Moorhens on the river.  They are of course and introduced species mostly from unwise releases from Mink Farms.  This is another species which is having an adverse effect on our native biodiversity and we could do without.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

A Visit to the North

I went up to North Wales yesterday wearing my Welsh Ornithological Society hat to have a meeting with staff of the BTO.  Not much time for birding but I did scan an enormous Common Scoter gathering off Colwyn but alas they were too distant to make out Velvets or indeed the Surf Scoters which had been seen recently.

Red Grouse - photo by Brian Brown
 This morning I did spend a couple of enjoyable hours (except for hearing England lose the Test Match against Sri Lanka) at Worlds End high up on the Denbigh moors.  This is a splendid place for grouse species and I was not to be disappointed.  A male Black Grouse flew across the road and three Red Grouse performed admirably.  I also found my first Wheatear, Lesser Redpoll, Yellowhammer and Sand Martin of the year and most surprisingly a rather distant Great Grey Shrike.

Monday, 26 March 2012

An evening walk

Tywi Valley

I took a walk along a quiet stretch of the Tywi this evening with local ornithologist Julian Friese.  Our target was Little Ringed Plovers.  These beautiful little waders nest on shingle banks in the river and are arriving from Africa just now.  We were not to be disappointed and soon hearing the birds call located  a pair on one small island and another single bird nearby.  Indeed there may have been four making up two pairs.

Little Ringed Plover

There were a wonderful sight in the evening sunshine and the appearance of 6 Goosanders and a single male Goldeneye completed the picture.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

A Twitch to Pembrokeshire

Marloes Mere in the sunshine

I finally gave in and in wonderful weather we set off west ending up at Marloes Mere.  We did not have to wait long and the three Glossy Ibises put on a brief show.  They flew up from cover and fed along the shore of the Mere for a while before going back out of sight.  We also noted a Willow Warbler singing, 2 Black-tailed Godwits, 2 Gadwall, 3 Shoveler and 9 Teal.

Glossy Ibis photographed in France

We continued down to the coast and took a walk on the Deer Park.  It was blustery on the exposed cliffs and with great difficulty holding the scope we identified rafts of Guillemots and a few Razorbills plus 2 Shags and a Kittiwake.  Much easier was a splendid Chough which after announcing its arrival fed on the short turf nearby.  A fine male Stonechat perched on a gorse bush but no Wheatears which was disappointing.

Pale-bellied Brent Geese at Dale beach

Next the Gann where the tide was way out.  I could just see 8 Brent Geese in the distance but decided to head on for Dale.  It was a good decision because 46 superb Pale-bellied Brent Geese were feeding on the beach.  I walked down to the tide edge and the birds were very accommodating allowing me as many pictures as I wanted.

A Chough photographed at Dale Airfield on a previous visit

We finished off with a walk on Dale Airfield.  Most exhilarating but no migrants but a nice group of 7 Choughs.  A great day in fantastic spring weather.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Phew! It was warm today

I got out into the sunshine as soon as possible and made my way down to Penclacwydd.  My enthusiasm was soon dampened as March lived up to what I have always thought.  Winter has petered out and Spring is still a way off even if wild flowers and sunshine are a little seductive.   Most of the winter birds had gone except for a few Pintail, Shoveler and Wigeon.  A single Pink-footed Goose (a rarity in these parts) looked weird feeding with the local Greylags.  I did hear a couple of Chiffchaffs singing which at least had me anxious to find other migrants.

Male Pintail

I moved on to Burry Port and Cefn Sidan but these areas were also lacking many birds and certainly no sign of Spring.  Eventually I reached Kidwelly Quay always a good bet.  No such luck - workman were everywhere replacing paving slabs and the tide was way out.  I moved around to Glyn yr Afon to look for the long staying Long-billed Dowitcher and was successful after only a few minutes.  It was with its faithful Redshank companion but extremely jumpy so no new photos.  Five Greenshank also caught my eye and of course more Chiffchaffs singing.

The Long-billed Dowitcher still at Kidwelly

I decided to head for home and stopped off to try and get some photographs of Tree Sparrows at Dryslwyn car park.  I managed one or two and reflected how fortunate we are to have a healthy population of this declining species in the Tywi Valley.  We have local ornithologists John Lloyd and Julian Frieze together with local landowners to thank for the success of this perky bird.

Tree Sparrow at Dryslwyn

Before I left I decided to try and see an early Little Ringed Plover.  This is another speciality of the valley with over 65 pairs of this scarce wader nesting annually on exposed shingle in the river.  I had no luck because of a tractor/digger excavating large amounts of shingle to a pile which was obviously going to be used for road repairs/building on one of the local farms.  Now as I understand it this is seen as a damaging activity for the Site of Special Scientific Interest which the Tywi is and so what is the Countryside Council for Wales doing to stop this practise.  Not a lot I suspect.  It is a particularly sensitive time anyway as these dainty plovers are just arriving from Africa to set up territories along the river.

Little Ringed Plover

Removing shingle from the Tywi river

I stopped off at Cilsan Bridge long enough to see our Whooper Swan  flock of 25 has reduced to 14. So Spring is coming and the proof was in the temperature of 18 degrees today.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Common sense for Badgers at last.

What a victory for all the Badger campaigners and common sense now that the Welsh Assembly have decided not to cull one of our most iconic animals but is investing in a vaccination programme instead.  This action is what all the science tells us and sensibly the decision has been taken following the science rather than seeking political gain. 

Badger sett

What was very disappointing was the sight of the vitriolic former Plaid Cymru minister Elin Jones publicly encouraging farmers to break the law to protect their interests.  A digraceful performance and one hopes her new leader will make sure there is no repeat of such behaviour.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Looking around

Whooper Sswans

Having picked up the Saturday newspapers I first stopped at Cilsan Bridge and counted the 25 Whooper Swans grazing with Mute Swans and Greylag geese.  I have been struggling to see a Dipper since Christmas so I decided to head up the Cothi Valley.  Raptors were on every skyline with Buzzards the most numerous but also quite a few Red Kites.  I stopped at the two bridges and in total found 3 Dippers one of which was collecting nest material.  A superb Grey Wagtail was also feeding from a solitary rock.

Dipper - photo by Roger Tidman

I drove around Brechfa forest but by now the rain was teaming down so I headed for home.  On the way over Mynydd Figyn 80 Golden Plovers flew overhead.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Misty March by the Sea

Black Guillemot in Fishguard Harbour - photo Richard Crossen

Believing the weather forecast that sunshine would arrive in the afternoon we made for the Pembrokeshire coast and Fishguard Harbour in particular.  There were two immediate negatives - firstly the weather was still very misty with poor visibility and secondly there was a notice telling us that a parking charge for one of our favourite stops would be imposed by April 1st.  Walking out on the harbour wall things improved immensely with excellent views of one of the local Black Guillemots.  The pair which nests here is the only one in South Wales and I look forward when numbers start to increase.


We moved on to St.Davids and walked a small section of the coastal footpath at St.Justinians.  I had hoped for Choughs at least but all we saw was 2 Oystercatchers, 3 Shags and 3 Gannets.  Heading back into Carmarthenshire the sun appeared at 4.30pm and was still shining brightly when we arrived home.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Badger update

A leaked letter yesterday shows the dishonesty that exists with politicians of all persuasions.  The letter was advice from Natural England to the Government pointing out that if they pressed ahead with the proposed cull of Badgers in England then thousands of these iconic animals would be killed, TB in cattle would still increase and what is more the Government would be in default of an international wildlife treaty.  How embarrassing for those adamant that this cull will go ahead.  No wonder that in recent years Natural England has had its budgets drastically slashed and indeed its powers negated.   It is there to give responsible scientific advice to the Government but it seems they are only interested when it suits their biased policies.  Let us hope Wales notes this letter as well and does not press on with the slaughter of our precious wildlife.

Birdsong signals Spring is around the corner

Marsh Tit

Each day during this period of mild sunny weather the intensity of singing birds has increased.  All the usual suspects; Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Mistle Thrushes, Great Tits and Chaffinches are all now in full song around my garden.  Even our local Siskin males are increasing the volume and will soon going flat out.  What has struck me is that I am hearing more Marsh Tits singing than usual in this area.

Tree Sparrow

Stopping off at Dryslwyn Car Park today I watched the couple who regularly replenish the bird food here.  They have been doing it for some years.  They spread fat on to a tree and sprinkle seed and bread at its base.  It is a great place to get close to common species because of their efforts and today 2 Tree Sparrows were amongst the throng of mainly Chaffinches.  Over the hedge down river 25 Whooper Swans were feeding no doubt thinking about their imminent long flight to Iceland.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

The sky is full of raptors


The last two spring like mornings have seen plenty of raptors soaring in display.  Going to Llandovery this morning there were at least a dozen Buzzards mostly in pairs planing along together. A smaller number of Red Kites were taking advantage of the weather to soar over skylines as well.


Later in the day we had superb views of a Treecreeper hunting on a tree and our garden fence from the kitchen window.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Back in Wales

Male Goosander

Awoke to a glorious spring like morning and dashed off to talley lakes on the off chance that the Smew might still be there.  No sign I am afraid but the sight of 10 glorious Goodanders and a couple of Goldeneye brightened the scene.  There are some good birds in Wales right now so I must get out and add a few of them to my year list still on 150.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Clearing up

Alpine Accentor at Minerve

We are heading back to Wales tomorrow lunch time but I did get down to Minerve again this morning in warm sunshine.  I will not mention the target species again but 8 Crag Martins were very active and I had an excellent but brief view of an Alpine Accentor.  I moved on to the Bois Bas area and sat and enjoyed multiple songs of Woodlarks.  The latter is surely one of the most beautiful sounds of the European countryside.

Female Blackcap

Back home whilst packing up my attention was constantly drawn to a female Blackcap feeding on fatballs.  She constantly defended her prize against Great Tit, Robin and House Sparrows.  Once she even dropped down to pick up some seed.  Apparently Blackcaps and even Sardinian Warblers will feed on fatballs which is surely quite a new habit.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Not much today


Not much time for birding today.  Made a brief visit to Minerve but still no Wallcreeper there for me.  A male Blue Rock Thrush, 3 Crag Martins and a pair of Ravens performing their impressive aerial display.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Going south

Greater Flamingos feeding

Having shopping to do in Narbonne we first drove south down the coast beginning our day at Franqui.  Searching the large flocks of gulls we were delighted to find 2 Sandwich Terns sitting on a sand bar.  There was nothing else of note so we moved on to La Palme.  Here we were very pleased to count about 400 Greater Flamingos all looking very healthy and already beginning their display walk.  Seven Great White Egrets were also feeding in there midst.

Greater Flamingos in the throes of display

We drove up Port La Nouvelle beach but only 2 Oystercatchers were of note.  We checked out the harbour and watched several Cormorants feeding together catching fish.  Most were already sporting whitish head as they assumed breeding plumage.


Successful Cormorant

Our next stop was at Peyriac sur Mer where there were even more Greater Flamingos - c500 between there and Bages. A couple of Great White Egrets, 11 White Storks and 7 Avocets were also noted.

Great White Egret

After shopping we did a rapid check of the Gruissan area.  Plenty more Greater Flamingos and at the Mandirac area 6 White Storks, 2 Great White Egrets, c30 Teal, 14 Avocets, 2 Marsh Harriers, 2 Spotted Redshanks and a Greenshank.