Recent trips & Looking forward to Spring!
Now we're well on our way to Spring & hopefully some better weather, we're getting set for an exciting year of Courses and Tours, starting next week with Wading Birds in Cardiff! In this issue we're reporting our sightings from our quick get away to Pembrokeshire, Goldcliff & Usk, plus our garden winter birds....
West Angle Bay, Pembrokeshire: now is a great time of year to get out rocky pooling. You’re never too old! During a recent short break in Pembrokeshire, we visited West Angle Bay and braved the strong winds to look in the pools at this superb site. The Cushion Stars here include both the common Asterina gibbosa as well as the much rarer Asterina phylactica, which has blunter arms and is more well-patterned with a secondary, often orange star on its top. We found quite a few of both, but look closely as they are very small at this time of year, maybe a cm across! Lots of Common Shore Crabs and a single Broad-clawed Porcelain Crab. I love these tiny crabs with over-sized claws. A rocky Goby was found under one rock, and it hung around long enough for a quick photo. So many types of seaweed as well, providing reds, pinks, greens and browns of all shades in the pools so it looked like a tropical garden!
Pembrokeshire birding: during our stay we had to “twitch” the long-staying Firecrests in Carew Cheriton. There are three present along the stream just west of the church. We had fabulous views, but wow these turbo-charged little gems are a challenge for the camera! Two of them liked the laurel hedgerow whilst a third seemed to wander further along the stream. If you have seen the commoner Goldcrest (also a stunning bird!), the Firecrest differ in being a brighter green on the back, have an orangey patch on the “shoulder” and the head pattern has black and white stripes. These stripes are the eye-stripe (black across the lores and ear-covets), supercilium (white above the eye-stripe) and lateral crown stripe (black) with the top of the head bearing the golden yellow median crown stripe. Both Goldcrests and Firecrests fan their median crown stripes to show a lovely orangey-red colour in the males. Plenty of other birds to see, about 400 Golden Plover at Gupton Farm, near Freshwater West, Chough at West Angle Bay, a couple of Red Kite (do we take them for granted these days?!) and a Woodcock flew over at Bosherston Lilly Ponds, where a very confiding Grey Wagtail was fun to watch.
Boshertson Lilly Ponds: Up early to look for Otters, and we weren’t to be disappointed. I have fond memories of watching a female Otter only 20 feet away catching and eating fish for 20 minutes one morning at this beautiful location. This visit was as good in a different way. After walking to the beach and half-way back, we saw the head of an Otter swimming in the middle arm of the ponds. Then another head popped up and then two otters play-fought and jumped around at the surface simply having fun. Great to watch, but then amazingly as they swam away, porpoising out of the water and showing their long sleek tails, a third Otter joined them. Then all three played together before finally disappearing round a bend in the pond. A wonderful site that was the highlight of our visit to Pembrokeshire this half term holiday.
Goldcliff and the River Usk: closer to home for us and the pools at Goldcliff have been providing some great birdwatching. The ever-present Glossy Ibis, nicknamed Flossie, has been showing each visit, as well as Marsh Harriers and a female Peregrine hunting over the reserve. Best of all was a Black-necked Grebe showing closely from the Marsh Platform. This lovely little grebe (not a Little Grebe though!) seemed at home in the choppy waters during one very windy visit, and dived successfully to feed alongside a female Goldeneye. Waders here have been thin on the ground, only the Black-tailed Godwits, Dunlin, Curlew and Redshank have been present on most visits. On the River Usk, the wintering drake Smew was a delight to watch. Such a stunning duck with its black markings on the white background, although close views show the flank to be covered in vermiculation. We haven’t been back since the awful flooding closed the road at this site, but maybe it’s still around.
In the garden: the mild weather has kept bird numbers down, but plenty of Siskin and Goldfinch are coming to the sunflower feeders. Nuthatch and three Great-spotted Woodpeckersalso coming in, the woodpeckers loving the fat ball feeders. Our favourites are the stunning Long-tailed Tits, about 12 coming in to feed and push the Coal, Blue and even the Great Tits off the fat balls. Our long-staying Marsh Tit has been singing in the garden recently. It seems to fly around with two Coal Tits a lot and we suspect they nay have hybrid young as there is one very brown “coal tit”-like bird with a neat small black bib and larger build with a stocky looking neck and head. If anyone knows if they do interbreed, please get in touch. Also singing in the garden, a gorgeous Goldcrest. Firecrests are icing on the cake, but the regulars we see are what makes local wildlife so wonderful.
And lastly a quick reminder of up and coming courses....
Wading Birds: starts Thursday 5thMarch, Insole Court, Cardiff. Still just time to sign up! Six indoor sessions with two field days to put in to practice what you’ve learnt about identification and the ecology of this fantastic group of birds. Anything can turn up at this time of year, and we will search out the more unusual species as well as the more usual godwits, dunlin and shanks.
Woodland Birds: starts Monday 4th May, Three Salmons Hotel, Usk. Open now for booking! A combination of six indoor sessions and two days of field trips to learn about ecology and identification. Planned trips will hopefully visit habitats with Pied Flycatcher, Wood Warbler and even Nightingale.
Spring Wonders, Weekend course running 22ndto 24th May (Fri PM to Sun PM), Usk. We will hopefully see Marsh Fritillary, Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Wood White butterflies amongst the commoner spring species, as well as Club-tailed Dragonfly and spring migrant birds. If weather isn’t friendly we’ll focus on spring birds.
Late Spring Wonders, Weekend course running 19thto 21st June (Fri PM to Sun PM), Cardiff. More special species might be seen including a range or Orchids (Fen, Early Marsh etc.), butterflies such as Dark Green and Small Pearl-bordered fritillary, Small Blue. If weather fails us, we’ll focus on the orchids and spring birds.