Sunday, December 30, 2007

Jack the Lad

Happiness is . . . The Twitchmeister adding to his life list, and on a family visit to Whiteford today (Dec 30th) he added not one, but three lifers to his list.

Who needs a dog when you've got Geth? I sent him in to the first spruce plantation on the way out to Whiteford Point to try and locate a calling Great Spotted Woodpecker and the jammy so and so flushed a Woodcock! Lifer number 1 for the boy twitcher - chuffed isn't the word. No Crossbill in the woods today. Haven't seen any there now for a few years.

A delighted Geth and Gwenni after flushing the Woodcock.

A little further on we spent a few minutes splashing around the wet area to the right of the path when a Jack Snipe shot out from under my feet. Lifer number 2 on a plate for Gripper Geth. "How old were you Dad when you first saw a Jack Snipe?" "Shurrup or I won't show you any more birds!" Strangely, no Common Snipe in this wet area today.

On to the Point where we had a picnic next to the hide as the high tide receded. Most of the usual suspects were present: Slavonian Grebe (8), R-b Merg (2-3), a few Brent Geese, Common Eider and Teal, good numbers of Pintail, Knot, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew and Oycs, a big flock of at least 300 Lapwing and shedloads of Shelduck. Drew a blank on Godwits.

After lunch we headed round the headland towards the 'lighthouse'. Turnstone was added to the wader list and we had closer views of the waders we'd already seen near the hide. We also saw a flock of about 20 Common Eider, a couple of Shags, another 3 R-B Mergs and 20 or so Brent Geese. While scanning the sea for divers I also got a distant view of 2 Common Scoter.

We turned for home and as we approached the sea wall I finally found a large flock of Wigeon - the first I'd seen all day. Also flying along the far end of the sea wall I saw a distant bird which, at first, I thought was a gull. I nearly didn't bother looking at it through the 'bins, but I'm glad I did 'cos it was a male Hen Harrier! Lifer number 3 for the little lister who left Whiteford with a beaming smile on his face.

Even though we'd already seen a Hen Harrier we stopped off at Llanrhidian Marsh for twenty minutes to look for some more - and hopefully an owl or two. We were probably too early for any owls but Soph did manage to draw my attention to a large bird which had just put up a flock of Lapwing. Another (or the same) male Hen Harrier - sadly too distant for the others to get on to.

Day list of 61 species and a very, very happy son.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Brambling Fest

On Sat 29.Dec with the promise of an hour's shopping at Festival Park on the outskirts of Ebbw Vale I conned Teresa into accompanying me to have a look at the large Brambling flocks which are currently feeding on the beech mast from the proliferance of beech trees which surround the village of Manmoel only a further 5 mins down the A4046.
Setting off from Maesteg the weather was indeed promising with dry conditions and broken sunshine but an hour or so later as we climbed the hill from Cwm to Manmoel the weather had taken a distinct turn for the worse with a gusty cold wind and heavy squally rain.

As we approched the village we both spotted several Brambling in the hedgerow and grass verge picking over the leaf litter and as we watched a dashing Wood Pigeon spooked them,the birds took flight only to quickly settle again,there must have been at least 100 birds and the few Chaffinches we spotted were well outnumbered.

I'd packed my 'scope and had hoped to have done a bit of digi-scoping but the awful weather soon put paid to that idea,I'd also taken my new Xmas pressie one of those new fangled 18x zoom "bridge" cameras (Fuji Finepix S8000fd) and could only manage a few snaps from the car.

It was not difficult to see why there are so many Brambling in the area as all the roadsides approaching the village and hedgerows between the surrounding fields are interspersed with mature beech trees on a scale far larger than any I've come across in Glamorgan.

We drove to the other side of the village and had a few sandwiches (got to use up that turkey!!) and a cup of coffee hoping for the weather to improve which it didn't !!...

We met up with another birder who had parked a little further on than ourselves who told us that he had seen another flock of 200+ birds but they had moved on by the time that we had met him.

The rain wasn't letting up so we decided to call it a day and with Teresa getting a little bit impatient and needing the "loo" (why do women go so much more than men?) we beat a hastie retreat to the shops.

I'd only seen Brambling in small numbers ie singles,two's or maybe as many as six up until today so to see so many at one time was something of a thrill although because of the awful weather I came away feeling that I hadn't done the visit justice as there is so much suitable habitat in the area that can be explored on foot.
I'd probably only "scratched the surface" so if anyone fancies another trip up there especially early in 2008 for a "year tick" count me in !!!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas TTV

No, I haven't developed a stutter and this isn't a summary of what was on the box over the festive period (was 'To the Manor Born' really that awful back in the late 70s/early 80s?) - I'm talking Timed Tetrad Visit. I dragged myself off the sofa on Boxing Day to complete my first timed survey for the BTO Atlas 2007-11 project - and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I surveyed tetrad ST18K (Whitchurch/Rhiwbina) counting every bird I saw for two hours, which wasn't as onerous as its sounds. Starting in Parc Caedelyn near Rhiwbina Station I picked up the obvious common birds - Dunnocks, Blackbirds, Starlings, B-h Gulls, House Sparrows etc, but a nice surprise was the discovery of 3 Blackcaps (1m + 2f). They may have been there on Christmas Day too when we went to the park on our post lunch family ramble, but to be honest I don't remember much of that walk! On to Whitchurch Golf Course where the highlights were a pair of Bullfinches, and a Moorhen on one of the small ponds on the course. At Whitchurch Cemetry I finally managed to find a Song Thrush and a small group of Redwings. On entering the northern part of Forest Farm I was most surprised to tick Welsh/Hollywood actor Matthew Rhys (who will shortly be appearing as Dylan Thomas in the film 'The Edge of Love' - the Dylan Thomas biopic, alongside Keira Knightley and Sienna Miller - lucky bugger). Green and Great Spot Woodpecker were added here, but sadly no sign of Lesser Spot. This tetrad splits Forest Farm/Glamorgan Canal in two and sadly doesn't include the areas around the two hides and the western side of the reserve, otherwise it would have been easy to have added some more species - birds like Little Grebe, Snipe, Reed Bunting, Water Rail, Grey Heron, Siskin and Kingfisher. But, I did manage a two hour survey list of 34 species which, considering this tetrad is in the middle of Cardiff, I'm more than happy with.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

"Crossbill City"

On Sunday 23rd Dec 2007 with Dan visiting rellies down west,Wayne not going out and Tim fog bound in Cardiff I ventured up to the top of Mynydd Margam overlooking Port Talbot in search of a wintering Great Grey Shrike,the forestry between Maesteg and Port Talbot has held a GGS for something like 6 of the last 10 years.

The steep walk up saw me connect with Blue,Great and Coal Tits,Robins,a couple of Dunnocks,plenty of Chaffinches but alas no Bramblings.

As I approached the cut down area at the top of the mountain I was greeted by the metallic "chip" call of Crossbills and a large party of 20 or so landed in the tall conifers adjacent the track,they fed for a few minutes before moving on giving a good photo opportunity.

The cut down areas haven't changed an awful lot since the last GGS was on the mountain about 3 years ago although where one section has been replanted the conifers are now up to about 4ft high,probably great habitat come the summer for Nightjars.

I walked a further half a mile or so along the montain top scanning for a shrike but was out of luck on this occasion,with so much forestration and with so many areas having been cleared in the last 5 years or so there are many areas of excellent habitat available which could hold a shrike.
The only birds of note on the mountain were a perched Kestrel,a couple of Common Buzzards and a distant Reed Bunting.
Looking down towards the coast I could see why Tim had said that Cardiff was fog bound as from the M4 to the sea the land between was shrouded in a low lying mist,it was weird standing on the moutain in glorious sunshine looking down on a white blanket.
The mist was starting to edge it's way towards the mountain and I decided to make my way back down the track,when passing the conifers where the large party of Crossbills had fed another smaller but equally noisy party of 8 flew in to the same trees and started to feed,I watched them for a couple of minutes and then set off back to the Jeep.

I encountered mostly the same common species on the way down although a nice surprise was a small group of 4 Jays,I've always only ever seen Jays in singles or pairs previously so a group of 4 was an unusual sighting for me,I'm not sure if they congregate in larger numbers in winter to look for food.
The walk back down was very pleasant in quite warm sunshine and a good view of the River Afan outfalling into the sea on the edge of Port Talbot docks was pleasing.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Wipe Out!

Manmoel, South Wales. Brambling HQ, Winter 2007.

Alec and I went to see the huge finch flock at Manmoel this morning. In ‘difficult conditions’, we saw two chaffinches and a blackbird.

Beech trees laden with brambling. Possibly!

An attempt to save the day, by bagging water pipit at Llwyn-Onn Reservoir ended in a damp squib as the spill area was frozen, so no wapit or even an ice pipit in sight. As Dan says, ****it!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A heron sort of a day

Another free Wednesday, as the youth of Cardiff chose to squander their cash on parties and presents, rather than driving lessons, saw me heading to Gloucestershire again. Gill and Rosie were having a party at home with seven other babies and their mothers, so I decided cowardice was a good option. On arriving at Frampton, I was greeted with the news that the Cattle Egret had just been flushed by the farmer, but would return soon. A few of us decided that we'd try to find it nearby. We failed, and eventually returned to scan the original field, where the bird was now showing with Little Egrets and cattle! Slimbridge beckoned again, and from the Holden Tower, the Whitefront flock was much closer than last week, and the Tundra Bean Goose showed well briefly before resting in a dip with its back to us, so no photos. On to the Zeiss hide, where much rustling of reeds pointed to where the Bittern was. After a while, it showed well on and off , but always deep in the reedbed, and at an angle which made photos impossible with an angled scope (unless I had a box to stand on, which I didn't). After over an hour of watching it tiptoe through the reeds, I headed off, pausing only to admire the sunset from the bridge over the canal. PS I also saw a Grey Heron!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Getting the Hump

Another tale of disgruntled twitchers chasing a reported Stella's in Cardiff Bay?

No, this is a report of the family and assorted Glamorgan birders dipping the 'long-staying' humpback whale at the Mumbles.

After news on Friday and continued reports yesterday, it seemed there was every chance of getting up close to a large whale today. The kids were exited (so was I), so we set off for the Mumbles full of hope, and plenty of warm clothing and waterproofs. We arrived around 2:15pm and joined what seemed like a Glamorgan Bird Club field trip at Mumbles Pier.

With plenty of light and a rising tide, our prospects looked good. After an hour and a half freezing and soaking, things didn't look good. Talk of it being around since last weekend, and showing down to 20m this time yesterday, did nothing to cheer up an increasingly despondent crowd. Indeed we later learned it had been last seen at 8:00am swimming strongly out past the Pier.

Mumbles Head: a cetacean free-zone.

And so we left in the gloom, without our whale and just a peregrine and a Mediterranean gull to show for our efforts.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Panic at Lisvane Reservoir

There was panic at Lisvane Reservoir this morning following a report of a "Forster's" there on Friday afternoon. Twitchers arrived from all over the country but their journeys were all in vain.
Twitchers at Lisvane Reservoir
The info was completely duff and resulted from a bad case of Chinese whispers. We're sad to announce that the origin of this sighting was a member of 'Birders in Boxers' - Tim Hall. A lynch mob is cruising Roath Park looking for him at this very moment.
Tim's regrettable decision to use a can of Australian lager to gauge size comparison between the wintering Spotted Sandpiper and a Grey Wagtail, (which he subsequently posted on the Glamorgan Bird Club sightings webpage), kicked everything off.
The can of lager that caused all the confusion

The other members of 'Birders in Boxers' would like to disassociate themselves from Tim's unfortunate clanger. But, we would like to point out that Tim was actually correct in his original posting on the GBC Sightings page . . .

. . . a Grey Wagtail is, without doubt, smaller than a can of lager

Friday, December 07, 2007

Mission Impossible

On Wednesday, I was lured to Slimbridge by reports of an American Golden Plover amongst the 2000+ Golden Plover flock. On arrival in the Holden Tower, I was dismayed to find the plovers at least 300 yards away, and mostly facing away from the hide. Lapwings were also numerous. Whitefronts were amongst the distant feral Barnacle flock.
I decided to wander off and return later. There were plenty of other birds to watch, and in between torrential showers I got excellent views from the Zeiss Hide of a lot of Wigeon, Teal, Pintail, Bewicks.
A Spotted Redshank showed well, bizarrely my first for the year.
A pair of Peregrines sat on the sea wall.
The plover flock flew restlessly around in the distance (a Merlin was amongst them at times).
Eventually I returned to the Holden Tower, where birders were claiming not one, but possibly two Yanks in the GP flock. As soon as I started scanning the flock, now much closer, they were up again, this time flushed by horseriders with hounds, and a Fox was seen running in the distance. I thought that was illegal.
When the flock eventually landed, the female Peregrine buzzed it, and up they went again, and showed no sign of landing. The light was fading, so I left, and decided that a lot of luck or patience would be needed to see the Transatlantic tinker!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Heritage Coast Visit

Back on 17th November I made a brief Saturday morning visit to our "Heritage Coast" to try and get a few decent photos starting with the obliging Snow Bunting which had been resident at Nash Point for a couple of weeks previous.
On arrival I immediately bumped into a couple of the "big lense" boys Alex Bevan from Cardiff and Steve Hinton from nearby Aberthaw who I'd got to know quite well on the Ultimate Pelagic back in August,the bunting was showing very well and I managed to "digiscope" a few half tidy snaps.
The bird was extremely confiding and was not even spooked by Lily my wee West Highland Terrier,a couple of the "Port Talbot " lads Dave Sharp and George Morgan turned up and we watched the bird before setting off on a short walk past the lighthouse to see what else may have been about.
The only other birds of note were a Peregrine,a Common Buzzard and a Kestrel which I almost got to photograph but annoyingly it "stooped"after some prey as I was about to click the shutter !!
A welcome cup of tea and a welsh cake at the cafe was enjoyed and as we were leaving Steve Moon turned up for a look at the bird.
A brief stop at Tyn-Y-Caeau farm failed to turn up any Tree Sparrows and I headed for my next port of call Ogmore-By-Sea to catch up with the Purple Sandpipers which had recently arrived from their northern breeding grounds.
Despite a high tide and the presence of several fishermen the birds were quite obliging and I managed a few tidy pics without getting too close as has been reported on our GBC website forum.
The light was excellent and there were about 9 birds present with the usual Turnstones one of which was being photographed at very close quarters by an enthusiast on the pebble beach.
There was also a nice group of Black Headed Gulls present and with them a single Common Gull which perched well on the rocks just asking to be photographed.
I had hoped that our resident group of Choughs would have been present but they weren't on this occasion and so after a brief stop at a rather waterless Watermill flood I headed for home and an afternoon out with Teresa to win a few more valuable "brownie points".