Friday, January 14, 2011

A Year on the 'Patch'

Back in late 2009, Geth took on his new 'patch'. Somewhere he could occasionally go birding without his Dad - can you really blame him? Unfortunately for him, he couldn't get rid of his Dad that easily, because I took a liking to his patch too, and often accompanied him - well, I did if he wasn't getting up at the crack of dawn.
This patch is a pretty hefty one. It consists of all of the Forest Farm / Glamorgan Canal Nature Reserve and the land bordering it; the River Taff all the way up from Whitchurch to Tongwynlais and, on the other side of the river, the Taff's 'flood plain' to the east of Radyr. To cover the whole lot thoroughly takes about 5 hours. Geth has visited the patch almost once a week since he began - and many of those visits have been for the full 5hrs!

The Glamorgan Canal

There's a nice variety of habitats within the area we cover so we also see a nice variety of birds but, to add a little spice to each visit, Geth - ever the lister - likes to daylist every visit. His current record is 52, set during the cold weather last December. And apparently he missed a few easy birds that day so he's confident he can better that total! As a natural progression from daylisting, we decided that during 2010 we'd yearlist the patch. I have to confess that Geth put in a lot more effort than I did - but this is how we got on.

The undoubted highlight of the first winter period was the Bittern that turned up at Forest Farm. It turned up late in 2009 and hung around for a couple of months. A 1st for the site I think? Photographers came from all over Glamorgan to photograph it, spending many hours in the hides waiting for it to show. Amongst them a certain Andy Rouse, to whom Geth nonchanatly asked "How much does your camera cost?" "Oh, about £15 thousand", he cooly replied. If only Birders in Boxers own 2010 Glamorgan Photographer of the Year - Jeff 'Randy Grouse' Slocombe - had bought his camera and big lens by then. His would have given Mr Rouse a run for his money! The photo below is by Richard G Smith:

A Little Egret hung around for a few days but the only other highlight during this period was a pair of Teal - a female on the canal and a male in front of one of the hides. A very scarce bird on the reserve, these had undoubtedly appeared here as a result of cold weather displacement. Up to 6 Teal were again seen at the end of the year during the very cold December - but these were all seen on the R Taff.

The rest of winter was pretty quiet - all the woodland birds you'd expect really - as well as up to 6 Common Snipe, up to 6 Water Rail and several Reed Buntings from the hides. There were as many as 14 Goosander on the river and fly-over Lapwings and Skylarks were nice additions to the list. But we were disappointed not to find a Brambling, which are almost annual at Forest Farm.

But things soon picked up again in early spring when Geth 'discovered' the Radyr Flood Plain - on the other side of the Taff. I'd always fancied the look of this area but didn't know how to get there! But the Boy Birder wasn't going to let that stop him and found a way in! It's a nice piece of habitat - rough grassland, plenty of scrubby bits, loads of brambles, two cricket pitches, a nice long hedge and a mature tree-lined river bank.

A nice scrubby bit of the 'Radyr Flood Plain'

For the local bird recording purposes I call this area the 'Radyr Flood Plain', but Geth soon christened it 'The Scrub', and it was to prove a cracking area for birds throughout the year.

With summer migrants piling in we soon found Garden Warblers, Common Whitethroats, Willow Warblers and Chifchaffs. Reed Warblers bred in Forest Farm and Geth gripped me off by finding (surprisingly) the only Sedge Warbler of the year. Passage Common Sandpipers joined the Dipper, Kingfishers and Grey Wagtails on the river, while overhead there were good numbers of hirundines and Swifts. We were delighted when a female Kestrel hung around The Scrub for a few weeks but, even though a male Kestrel put in the odd appearance, they didn't breed.

The cricket pitch - good for Pied Wags, Mistle Thrushes and passage Wheatears.

We then had to wait until the autumn to get our list moving again - and it was The Scrub that turned up trumps. Several passage Wheatears hung around the closely cropped cricket pitch and in the bushes nearby we dug out a couple of Common Redstarts. Meadow Pipits and Linnets began to arrive but the best was yet to come. On one of his solo visits, Geth found a Pied Flycatcher in trees along the riverbank below Tongwynlais - and he hasn't let me forget it!

Radyr Weir - good for Dipper, Common Sand, Grey Heron and migrating Salmon.

November came and we were beginning to run out of species we thought we might get. A late night visit, creeping around the houses near the Canal, finally added Tawny Owl to our list. And then December and it's freezing weather arrived. Geth went down to the patch more regularly, leaving seed and fruit out for the birds. His good deeds were rewarded when he finally found a male Brambling at Forest Farm and a Stonechat at The Scrub.

Desperate birds allowed close approach during the cold weather

We were well aware that such awful weather could bring in a few unexpected birds so between Christmas and the New Year we were down there almost every day. And on the 27th we got lucky. In one 5 minute spell we added Wigeon, Tufted Duck and Coot to our list - all undoubtedly brought in by the weather and all seen on the R Taff above Radyr Weir. The Wigeon and Tuftie were new for our patch life list too.

No amount of snow was going to stop Geth from birding!

And those were our last three patch ticks of 2010. We ended the year on 84. Our patch life list is now 86 (in addition to the 84 we saw in 2010, I've seen Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Lesser Redpoll there in the past - and I'm not counting the Wood Duck!).

What did we miss/what might we see in the future? Well, as I write there have been records of Marsh Tit and Shag (!) from the Glamorgan Canal during 2011. The Marsh Tit record is a welcome return. Historically the bird was recorded occasionally at the site but one hasn't been seen there for many years. (Yes, we have been looking for it but we've dipped so far). The Shag would be an incredible record to say the least. But, it comes from a credible source who has submitted a description to the County Recorder. Watch this space! But, if it's accepted it could only ever be considered a 'one off' record.

More realistically we were disappointed not to see Lesser Whitethroat or Spotted Flycatcher in 2010. Surely we should see one of these come the spring/summer? The Scrub should provide us with one or two other migrants too: a Grasshopper Warbler, a passage Whinchat, Tree Pipit or Cuckoo perhaps? Even a Yellow-browed Warbler! (God know I tried hard enough to find one there last year). Historically there have been records of both Firecrest and Jack Snipe at the Canal.

And of course, there's the Taff. A Green Sandpiper was recorded a mile or two up river last autumn, and I've heard that a Goldeneye has been seen on the Taff at Llandaff this winter. We could get lucky with some other wildfowl. We've had Canada Goose on the river so what about a Greylag Goose next? I can't believe we're getting excited over possibly seeing a dodgy Greylag! And talking of dodgy, I'll finish off with . . . .

One bird on the Canal that we didn't tick in 2010!!


Jeff said...

Really good blog Dan and a few nice "images" as well !!
The "Twitchmeister" has got himself a great local patch with some really nice varied habitat.
(About time though that somebody else posted something !!)

Sid said...

Nice piece Dan. Regular local patches are great, keep looking and that rarity will turn up. I'm sure there was a YBWarbler reported along the canal a few years ago.

Dan said...

I always post good images Jeff ;-) By the way, I looked back to see when I last posted a blog - it was February 2010!!!!

Cheers Sid. You've proven over the years the value of regularly visiting your patch. I'm glad to hear that a YBW has been recorded at the canal in the past. Gives us hope. Can you pass on the one at Llangynwyd to me and Geth please - you've had it long enough by now!