What a treat – three balmy days in West Wales with an accompaniment of glorious soaring Red Kites for the latter part of the outward journey, in an elegant new minibus driven in turn by three cautious drivers over what was often truly exhilarating terrain. Our first luncheon stop alongside Tregaron Bog (Cors Caron) produced the only rainfall of the weekend but also the explosive flight of three nearby Snipe. The first sea watch began just south of Aberystwyth where two Goosanders could be observed, in the breaking waves, with a Great Crested Grebe. Behind our group, three more drifted down the rushing River Ystwyth, with Stonechat, Song Thrush and Meadow Pipit busy nearby. Below the main town sea front a successful search for Purple Sandpiper, accompanied by Turnstone, was the prelude to a truly spectacular evening build up of Starlings un-numbered. This, together with their eventual descent to roost beneath the pier was absolutely spectacular.
We were now thirteen in number. After a superb supper followed by a most comfortable night in our remote but idyllic Brynarth Country Guest House setting, one member claimed to have added 25 species to his list in just ten minutes before breakfast. Even the later risers ticked one of the many Nuthatches and a Great Spotted Woodpecker from the dining room window during the meal. We travelled back to Cors Caron where two of our target species were soon to cause delight. Firstly a drifting male Hen Harrier, where, with good optics, even his white upper tail coverts could be identified, followed later by a ring-tailed female or juvenile. Next, at least four busy Willow Tits, in nearby leafless bushes and against last year’s dried marsh grasses, were a sight to behold. Lunch was taken on the beach at Clarach Bay before walking along the cliff path until close enough to count at least 25 Red-throated Divers wondrously spread and feeding along the Sarn Gynfelyn (a submerged shingle bank). Further north, at Borth, a minor twitch was suggested and behind a café, only yards from the sea front, on an uninviting looking horse paddock, was a very hungry Glossy Ibis. It fed constantly whilst being close enough for everyone to record its ring numbers. Eventually it flew away southwards, presumably to roost. Scanning the Dyfi Estuary revealed Ringed Plover, accompanied by Sanderling, plus Curlew, Wigeon and Shelduck. The final stop of the day was inland alongside the Ystwyth, in full torrent flow, making it both impressive and very noisy. A Grey Wagtail crossed into thick Rhododendron and then an active pair of puffed up Dipper became the final treat of the day.
Sunday morning started with a walk up the hillside to ‘greet the sunrise’ and be greeted by the end of the dawn chorus. Our ‘resident’ Mycologist had trained us to identify the aptly named Yellow Brain fungus on Gorse, with many other enquiries kindly satisfied as necessary. The group arrived to spend four wonderful hours at RSPB Ynys-hir Reserve, which mixes Oak woodland with wet grassland and marshes and where a surprisingly obliging Treecreeper allowed for close scrutiny and many photos to be taken. Despite much checking for its territory, reputed to be ‘near nest box 39’, the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker eluded us. However, not so the Greenland White-fronted Geese, which were eventually spied by our leader at a distance of three extensive fields away with much sedge in the foreground! Then across the Rheidol railway and over the mountains where yet another attempt to find Chough failed but the spectacular range of habitat was fully appreciated. We next passed through the area of Cwmystwyth, which was the last stronghold of the Red Kite, prior to the successful re-introductions in England and the Welsh population happily recovering in parallel. Whilst distracted and hugely impressed by the industrial archaeology of the 18th century Cwmystwyth lead, zinc and silver mine, our youngest, eagle-eyed member called a Peregrine Falcon at the very top of the ridge, hundreds of metres above. Our last stop was at the breathtaking cascade over the dam at Penygarreg Reservoir in the Elan valley. No further birds to be seen and with fading light, the journey back to Bristol was successfully completed. It had been a terrific weekend with 85 species, a variety of good memories and many new experiences to contemplate. We are tremendously grateful to Robin for leading and sharing, to Ken, Sue and Nigel for the safe transport and to Judy for all of the perfect arrangements.
N.B. We have learnt more about the Glossy Ibis seen at Borth, which was carrying a colour ring. Apparently it was ringed as a chick on 7th May 2007 at the Coto Doñana, southern Spain.
Drizzle has accompanied us several times when we’ve done the February urban walk and this year was no exception. However, it was very light and intermittent and 18 members set off from Millennium Square without any opened umbrellas. Several Cormorants were soon spotted with breeding patches showing. Searching the buddleia and brambles past the new M-Shed museum was at first unrewarding – quite a bit of cutting back had been done and the houses above seemed to be devoid of any feeders. However, patience paid off as we eventually saw Blue and Long-tailed Tits, Robin, Blackbird, Goldfinch and Collared Dove – and the bacon sandwiches at the Buttery did smell good! Leaving the water to cross Cumberland Road, a high altitude Wren was singing on the roof of an abandoned warehouse. We scanned the mud in the New Cut for Redshank and Common Sandpiper and everybody eventually managed to see both as well as plenty of Black-headed Gulls – heads in various stages of colour – and Herring and Lesser Black- backed Gulls. There were more signs of spring with both Greenfinch and Song Thrush heard. Margaret led us on a new bit of path with views across to Rownham Hill and down river before we turned back towards the Centre, adding Pied and Grey Wagtail to our list. Some of the group left us before the climb up Brandon Hill, where we were rewarded with good views of both Redwing and Mistle Thrush, bringing our total to 31 species. Many thanks to Margaret for leading.
Ten members met at 0930 hrs at Monkton Combe car park for the walk to Midford and back. We had a brief stop to see the grave of Harry Patch in the churchyard, where Goldcrest were seen and we also saw five species of Tits at bird feeders nearby. We went on to Tucking Mill and to the fishing lake, viewing stretches of the river on the way and then on to Midford where we stopped by the Mill and looked down from the old viaduct. The return walk gave views of Midford Castle, and we were back at the car park by 12.30 hrs. Birds seen included two Kingfishers and two Dippers, Marsh Tit, Raven, Siskin and Buzzard and birds heard were Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker and Song Thrush, making a total of 27 species altogether. We also saw evidence of occupied Badger setts with fresh earth scattered about. We were led by local resident birder Terry Doman who gave us a most interesting informative talk on the history and geology of the area as we went along. Our grateful thanks to him for making the walk so enjoyable.
On a bright winter’s morning 17 members met at the RSPB Greylake reserve in Somerset to view the mixed flock of wintering wildfowl – Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Mallard, Tufted Duck plus Mute Swan, Little Egret, Snipe, Buzzard, Kestrel, Lapwing and a very close view from the hide of a Water Rail. Following a picnic lunch we headed for the nearby village of Stathe to find 31 Common Cranes picking in the fields adjacent to the feeding-station – a first view of this species for most of the party. Spring must be in the air as one of the Cranes was jumping up and down as in displaying. The final part of this trip was spent in the RSPB Swell Wood hide inspecting the heronry but only two Herons put in appearance. A good day with a total count of 38 species.
The forecast encouraged 27 walkers this overcast morning; the light levels rendered LBJs virtually colourless! Before we left the Rose and Crown car park, the Thrushes decorating the tall trees had been identified as both Fieldfare and Redwing, the tail-flicking Sparrow as a Dunnock and the flocks of others as House Sparrow. We headed right towards Parkfield where the grass below the hedge was alive with moving Skylark; one obliged us with a brief lift off and cascade of song. Meadow Pipits were also found within the flock. Turning towards the M4, we had brief views and sounds of a lone Siskin before it got fed up with being stared at and departed westward. As we joined the disused railway track, heading away from the M4, the overhang was lively with various Tit species, Chaffinches, Goldcrest, and a fully flushed male Bullfinch. The fields,obviously heavy with mud, had attracted a mix of gulls-Herring, Lesser Black-backed, Black-headed, and Common, which again were not disposed to stay and be stared at. A pair of Stock Doves flew over the clearing as we approached the remains of the pit-head buildings and the landfill of the abandoned brick clay quarry. Ducking under the road at the Dramway roundabout we headed East and collected a croaking Raven and a dozen cawing Rooks – looking set to nest in the trees on the ridge. Finally, walking past the Tumulus and across more muddy fields we arrived back to the sounds and sights of Jay, Goldfinch and a splendidly bright Greenfinch. A total of 35 species. Special thanks to Duncan for leading.
Nick and Annie Hawkridge