Trip report: Mid-Wales (24th – 26th February 2012)

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.

Phyl Dykes

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.