31 December 2011

Seabirds in Oxwich Bay

Gannets, Kittiwakes and gulls on 29th December (M. Hipkin)
Alan and Shirley Osbourne informed me that since moving to Oxwich in 1963 they have never seen a concentration of birds in the bay like that witnessed over the last two weeks. Alan said that birds first started gathering in the bay around the 15th December, with numbers peaking a couple of days before Christmas day. He also said that there were around five times as many birds then than during the last few days with well in excess of 10,000 birds in the bay.
Oxwich Church in very gloomy conditions on 30th December
Herring Gulls and Common Gulls have been the most abundant species, with around 4,000 of each. I counted 530 Kittiwakes on the 29th and counts on the 27th included 154 Razorbills, 170 Cormorants, 109 Shags and 38 Gannets, though I know Mark Hipkin saw over 80 on the 29th. Other miscellaneous species have included 80+ Black-headed Gulls, 43 Wigeon, 30+ Common Scoter, 30 Great Black-backed Gulls, 20+ Guillemots, 5 Teal, 3 Great Crested Grebes, 2 Eiders and the odd Great Northern and Red-throated Divers, Mediterranean and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Scarcer species noted have included 2 Yellow-legged Gulls and 2 Iceland Gulls. Mammals have been represented by 10+ Grey Seals and 3+ Harbour Porpoise.
Kittiwakes, Shags & Herring Gulls off Oxwich Church
Iceland Gull by Oxwich Church

27 December 2011

Llynfi Valley Blog launched

Check out this new blog to find out what wildlife can be found in a typical South Wales Valley
 http://llynfivalleynature.blogspot.com/. The site is run by Paul Parsons and Martyn Hnatiuk, two very active and experienced recorders with a wide range of wildlife interests.

Tree Sparrow at Newton

Alun John sent me this photo of a Tree Sparrow at one of the Newton Farm feeders today, which is excellent news. Time will tell if this will be like last year's lonesome bird; but hopefully not and that others appear at the feeders over the winter. Great work Alun, I know Andrew and Barry (Weston) will be very pleased with your observation.
(c) A. John

24 December 2011

Sometimes it pays to do the dishes!

View of the sparrow hedge from the kitchen sink.
This Tree Sparrow was a new bird for Uncle Doug's garden in Tycroes today, spotted along with 15 House Sparrows, 5 Bullfinches and a few Reed Buntings. A nice reward for doing the dishes!
Tree Sparrow top bird, note the chestnut cap and black cheekspot on a clean white background. Note that unlike the House Sparrow male and female Tree Sparrows look similar.
With no camera at hand other than on my phone, this was my first ever attempt at 'phone-binning', i.e. holding the phone's camera to the eyepiece of a pair of binoculars. It's not as easy as it sounds believe me!
This bird is about 10km south of the Tywi Valley, the nearest known breeding area for Tree Sparrows, so it's possible others have wandered further south. Check your bird table tomorrow and you may have an unexpected Christmas present :)

Pomarine still present.

 And what a present!! Merry Christmas.

23 December 2011

Pomarine Skua at Whiteford

This Pomarine Skua was seen at Whiteford by Rob Colley and Dai Roberts today. It looks very similar to a bird that was photographed at Gileston on 16th December by Steve Hinton, although difficult to say for definite. Rob and Dai also report finding a rancid carcass of a Leatherback Turtle on the beach there. All photos (c) D. Roberts.

22 December 2011

Mid-winter Hoverfly

An Episyrphus balteatus landed on my hand while out and about near Glynneath today. This hoverfly can be found on the wing in any month of the year and it's "friendly" nature is something that I've often found quite endearing about this species.

21 December 2011

Gower Birds annual report for 2010

The latest Gower Birds is now available from Jeremy Douglas-Jones at 14 Alder Way, West Cross, Swansea SA3 5PD. Price is £5 plus £1 p&p. gowerbirds@gmail.com

Great White Egrets hanging around

Little Egret , Great White Egret and Grey Heron off Loughor Boatclub on 9th Dec (c) Phil Holden
2011 has been the best year on record for Great White Egrets in the Burry Inlet. Since the first sighting of the year on 15th July at WWT Llanelli, there's been a continuous presence in the estuary. The first bird was joined by a second that appeared on 30th August and these  long-stayers have regularly been seen together at WWT and Llanrhidian saltmarsh, with occasional forays elsewhere around the Burry Inlet and Upper Loughor. A third bird appeared on 28th November, but this was highly mobile and may have been responsible for sightings further afield, such as at Neath, Brynaman and the Twyi Valley in early December. But the faithful two look set to stay the winter, so next time you see a big white egret, try and note the large yellow bill, which will confirm it as a Great White rather than Little. The latter can often appear deceptively large,especially in flight and there are approximately 100 of these scattered around the estuary.

19 December 2011

Gower Bird Hospital Lesser Black-backed Gulls

(Pin 1) Release site for all birds in Swansea Bay
The above map shows the emerging pattern of sightings of colour-ringed Lesser Black-backed Gulls rehabilitated at the Gower Bird Hospital in recent years. It clearly demonstrates that the migratory behaviour of birds treated at the hospital fits neatly within the normal pattern expected for this species, with winter distribution along the Atlantic coast of the Iberian peninsula and north-west Africa. The majority of birds treated at the hospital are local breeders from West Glamorgan, a proprotion of which have been fitted with a dark blue ring bearing a white 'Y'. From 2012 birds will be marked with unique rings rather a standard scheme marker, so it will be possible to produce life histories of individuals of these long-lived birds. If you see any colour-ringed gulls, you can report your sighting via the European Colour-ring Birding website at http://www.cr-birding.org/.

For more information about the excellent work carried out by the Gower Bird Hospital visit http://www.gowerbirdhospital.org.uk

17 December 2011


Not such a nice scene or experience was reported by Mark Newton and another couple visiting the bird hide at Oxwich today. Mark told me that he took provisions enough to stay in the hide all day in the hope of photographing Otters and other wildlife. His visit was soon interrupted however, by a gang of shooters who were loitering in the reeds right next to the hide and actually shot over it. Putting the fact that Oxwich is supposed to be a bird reserve aside, shooting this close to a site where the public are encouraged to visit and are effectively hidden by vegetation just seems wrong!
I will make a few enquiries, but until information is available stating when shooters are in the marsh and where they will be shooting I would suggest that it is unsafe for people to visit the bird hide. This activity is especially disappointing after all the hard work that has been put in to recreating the wetland habitats on site by CCW staff.

Pink-footed Goose at Neath saltmarsh

Neath saltmarsh
Quite a nice scene at the Neath Abbey saltmarsh today about an hour after high tide. This Pink-footed Goose was again present having been seen earlier this month on the 4th. Rob Taylor had reported this bird  in the morning on the 4th with Canada Geese at Fendrod lake before I saw it that day. It is quite possible that this individual is the same bird recorded at Ogmore for a while from the 16th October found by Paul Roberts. Whatever the case it's nice to have a "wild" Goose spend a bit of time on a local patch.
Pink-footed Goose at Neath saltmarsh
Also today a Water Pipit (first this winter) around the slurry run-off from the Cow feeding area next to the Neath Abbey roundabout. Canada Geese (52), Teal(4), Little Grebe(5), Little Egret(2), Lapwing(16), Curlew(5) and Redshank(15) complete the best of the rest. Also reasonable numbers of Gulls including at least 3 Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

Video taken during my first sighting of this bird (4.12.11) can be found on the link below

Pink-footed Goose video

09 December 2011

Gower Tree Sparrow Project update

Andrew Lucas wrote: "This winter, the Gower Tree Sparrow Project has restarted some feeding at two locations where tree sparrows have been seen in the not-too-distant past: Newton Farm and Kimley Moor. Local birders have been busy in recent years with Atlas work, but now that is more or less finished, thoughts have returned to finding one of Gower's most elusive passerines! Incidentally, don't take any notice of 'Gower Birds'; reports of the project's death have been greatly exaggerated.
feeders at Newton feeding station
Kimley Moor feeding station
This year, we will try single feeders at two locations - Newton Farm and Kimley Moor - with possibly more when we get them renovated. After four years, they are looking a bit tired, and several need spare parts!. Both locations are on public footpaths, and anyone is welcome to visit them. If you do visit, please report back what you see to me at a.lucas@ccw.gov.uk, even if you see nothing! If the feeders are empty, please feel free to refill them. At Kimley Moor, the seed is in a dustbin near the feeder. At Newton, the food is in a dustbin inside the barn on the left as you approach the derelict farm from the south.
The story of tree sparrow on western Gower is a perplexing one. Birds have been known to breed at Newton Farm for several years, but have disappeared recently. Nestboxes have been provided at several locations, without success (though we have boosted Gower's blue tit population!!).

This winter,we hope to relocate the birds, but to do that, we need birdwatchers out there looking. The two locations would make a very nice circular walk on western Gower. The area is well worth a look, as over the years a number of other nice birds have been seen in the area, including Merlin, Woodlark, Hen Harrier and Barn Owl. Oh yes, and Gyr Falcon!!! If you see a possible Tree Sparrow, remember the differences with house sparrow. In Tree Sparrow, the sexes are similar, the crown is chocolate brown, and the birds have characteristic dark cheek spots or 'ear muffs'.

The project has produced a newsletter for participating farms each year at Christmas, which can be found by clicking on the links below.

Don't forget that the project relies on landowner goodwill, so if you visit, please keep to the public footpaths and follow the country code. In particular, make sure that all gates are shut properly.

Finally, the project is always looking for help, so if you'd like to get involved, please let me know.

Thanks to Sean Hathaway and Mark Winder of the City and County of Swansea for their help."


To view the GTSP newsletters click on the following links:
     2007     2008     2009     2010       

04 December 2011

Whiteford Sands

During the GBC gield trip today we discovered a dead Seal pup on the beach at Whiteford Sands revealed by falling tide.

Veteran Juniper at Southgate

This specimen east of Fox Hole must rank amongst the older Juniper bushes in Gower. There are another 16 plants on the ridge in the distance, but these are all much younger.
Looking west towards West Cliff
Beautiful twisted trunk of the same bush
 For another veteran specimen at Foxhole Slade, Paviland see: http://goweros.blogspot.com/2010/07/mothing-at-foxhole-and-overton.html

Invasive Cotoneasters at Fox Hole, Southgate

Wall Cotoneaster (reddish patches) and Entire-leaved Cotoneaster (green patches) smothering limestone grassland at West Cliff
Sections of the slopes below Fox Hole at Southgate have swathes of non-native Cotoneasters clothing the rockier parts of the cliffs. These are primarily Wall Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horizontalis) and Entire-leaved Cotoneaster (C. integrifolius), with a few plants of Late Cotoneaster (C. lacteus) and Himalayan Cotoneaster (C. simonsii). The low growing species are particularly well suited to the south Gower limestone cliffs and are clearly reducing available niches for native wildlife.
Wall Cotoneaster (left) and Entire-leaved Cotoneaster (right).
Compare pointed vs shiny blunt leaves and small-shiny vs large-dull berries of the two species 
One obvious example of competition for space is on exposed cliff habitat where native prostrate form of Juniper (Juniperus communis) grows, this being a very scarce plant, thinly distributed along the South Gower coast. Several young plants appear to be in the process of having their space being taken over by plants of Wall Cotoneaster. The availability of suitable germination sites is also likely to reduce over time adding pressure on this vulnerable species.
Wall Cotoneaster spreading through Juniper
What can be done? The cost of clearing these invasive plants is likely to be prohibitive, especially in today’s economic climate. You can also question how effective such action would be in the long-term as recolonisation is likely to rapid given the abundance of plants in other part of Gower. So it looks like we might just have to accept this is a very successful group of alien species which look set to stay. Trying to look on the positive side at least the birds and the bees will have a feast, although this will be meagre compensation for what could be lost!
Largely unaffected cliff grassland at West Cliff, just west of Fox Hole. A Juniper bush (brightest green) can be seen in the foreground with darker patches of Wall Cotoneaster bottom right. It could be that the spread onto this more exposed aspect is constrained by climatic conditions, or that it is only starting to spread around the corner remains to be seen!

02 December 2011

Pontrhydyfen Fungi.

 This violet fungi was growing at the base of a Spruce tree.
This large fungi was growing on trees and open ground.
Any ID help appreciated.

Great Northern Diver in Bracelet Bay

Great Northern Diver from Bracelet Bay car park
An adult Great Northern Diver was showing at pretty close range in Bracelet Bay yesterday. It  flew into the bay from the Port Talbot Docks direction just after first light and was constantly on the move flying off west and east, flying back and diving in the bay, on occasions not far from the shore and rocks. Later on, while at Crymlyn Burrows, a Great Northern Diver was watched flying from the Mumble direction and landed on the sea in the shipping channel beyond the Neath river mouth and it was assume to be this same, mobile bird. Aged as an adult due to the white spots found on its back which are the remnants of adult summer plumage. Hard to make out in this photo but also the black tip to the bill and black cutting edges towards the end of the bill also indicate an adult bird.

30 November 2011

Some late autumn fungi

This year’s long autumn, free of any significant cold weather, has benefited a number of fungi. Our local sand dunes have been quite productive and several people have commented to me about the abundance of fruiting bodies on Whiteford Dunes. Clitocybe barbularum (Omphalina barbularum in some books) is a common species on all our local dune systems. This small, brown toadstool is one of a number of sand dune-specific species and is usually found growing in a bed of Sand-hill Screw-moss (Syntrichia ruralis subsp. ruraliformis) along with other species like the rather poisonous Ivory Funnel (Clitocybe rivulosa). Both of these species are Basidiomycetes that produce spores on gills that are formed on the underside of the cap. The photos below were taken on Baglan Dunes.

Clitocybe barbularum

Clitocybe rivulosa (Ivory Funnel)

Conifer plantations in the Neath Valley have been relatively poor this year but these fruiting bodies of Elastic Saddle (Helvella elastica) in the photo below were found at the edge of a Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) stand above Resolven.

Helvella elastica (Elastic Saddle)

Although the fruiting body of Elastic Saddle looks superficially like that of a typical gill-bearing toadstool, it is in fact an Ascomycete, not a Basidiomycete. It produces spores all over the surface of the saddle-like cap and does not have gills or pores (see fruiting body on right).

27 November 2011

Cormorants on Whiteford Lighthouse

There were 63 Cormorants roosting on the lighthouse this evening. Although the Cormorants at Whiteford are counted monthly, it seems that the actual evening roost on the lighthouse itself is not counted very often. The daytime November average from the point from 1996-2010 (taken from Gower Birds) is 77, but some of these may also be using the nearby roost at  Blue Pool which frequently hosts >60 birds. The highest daytime count at Whiteford during this period was 199 recorded in November 2003.

Beautiful light from the point back towards Burry Holms at dusk, around which time the Eider flock (64) and Brent Geese (234) plus Black Brant flew with the tide into the estuary. Also of note there were two Firecrests in the dunes on the way out.

24 November 2011

Starling roost at WWT Llanelli

Numbers of Starlings have been building up at WWT Llanelli over the last couple of weeks. There was no mega flock as such, just a constant arrival of flocks like these. Once in the reeds they didn't come out again. It will be an interesting challenge for anyone attempting a count!

23 November 2011

The changing face of Baglan Burrows

Bing Maps (left), Google Maps (right)
I was comparing Bing and Google aerials this morning and was very surprised to see how much the impact of motorcycles on Baglan Burrows has increased in recent years. Other obvious changes also include the development of a large blowout in the foredunes, but all is not bad as the dunes do appear to be accreting at the western point. If anyone can work out how old each image is this would be interesting to know, my very rough guess would be 1999 & 2009?

20 November 2011

WWT Llanelli sunset

saltmarsh scrapes at WWT Llanelli
The Starling roost is probably as large as it's ever been at Penclacwydd at the moment, with a conservative estimate of ~100,000 birds roosting in the reeds in the Millennium Wetlands. There was also an added bonus of seeing two Great White Egrets going into roost after being chased around the saltmarsh scrape by a Grey Heron just before this attractive sunset.

Garden moths in Gorseinon

The garden trap produced a late Dark Sword-grass and more seasonal Feathered Thorn and Chestnuts.
Feathered Thorn with its feathered antenna folded under the wing
Dark Sword-grass
The periodicity plot in the map the below shows Dark Sword-grass has been recorded in all months except Januray, with peak numbers of this relatively common migrant occurring during the autumn period.
Distribution and flight period of Dark Sword-grass

19 November 2011

Black Brant on Whiteford Beach

Black Brant with Dark-bellied Brents
I took an early morning stroll with Mark Hipkin out to Whiteford first thing to look for the Black Brant Branta bernicla nigricans, found last week by Phil Hill, Mike Hogan, Rob Gaze & Martin Bell. This is a North American subspecies that has only been recorded in Wales on two previous occasions. This bird has joined forces with the wintering flock of Dark-bellied Brents B.b. bernicla, which are of Russian origin with ca.1000 spending each winter in the Burry Inlet.

In good light the American subspecies is very distinctive and stands out well in the crowd, as can be seen above. Note the general lack of grey tones, strong white flash on the flank and bolder neck collar which meets in the middle at the front (broken in D-b Brent). Also in the flock was a Pale-bellied Brent B.b. hrota which has a much whiter belly and flanks. A few more shots can be seen at

The best shots of the goose however are probably in the video taken by Mark 'Spielberg' below, which you can view here...  
 Black Brant Video

Spielberg in action!

18 November 2011

Common Darter last dates

Mike Piercey told me that there were 5 or more Common Darters sunning themselves in his yard yesterday. Just checked and the average last date for this species over the last 10 years is the 14th November, with the latest date on the database being 26th November 2006 when Tony Messinger saw a singleton at Kenfig. So definitely worth keeping an eye open during any sunny spells in sheltered spots over the next week or so as the mild weather looks set to continue a little bit longer at least and we may see a new record being set...
Common Darter in Glamorgan

14 November 2011

Clouded Funnel

These Clouded Funnel (Clitocybe nebularis) fruiting bodies were found in the forests on Mynydd Resolven this weekend. This medium to large sized toadstool often grows in large groups and clusters under deciduous broad-leaved trees and conifers, so it usually attracts attention. Clouded Funnel contains a number of interesting toxic purine derivatives such as nebularine, a compound which has been well-studied and is known to poison mammalian cells. The pharmacological effects of these toxins have attracted a lot of attention both as antibiotics and anti-tumour agents. Other species of Clitocybe contain significant amounts of a toxin called muscarine, notably Ivory Funnel (Clitocybe dealbata), which is a smaller, white species that occurs locally in grassland and on sand dunes. Muscarine poisoning is very unpleasant and potentially very serious for children and adults. A single cap of Ivory Funnel contains enough toxin to elicit toxicity symptoms in most people.

13 November 2011

Lots of Yellowhammers

Yellowhammer at Common Cliff
 It was a real treat to have so many Yellowhammers whilst walking a loop from Overton around Paviland Farm and back again today. The biggest group were sheltering out of the wind in the bushes at Foxhole Slade. There were 21 here and elsewhere along the walk three, twos and a few singles.
Chiffchaff at Paviland Farm
Nothing too out of the ordinary throughout the walk but nice stuff popping up here and there. The Chiffchaff shown above was in the bushes near Paviland farm and struggled for some time with a beetle that I thought was more suited to a shrike's diet than a Chiffchaff's! Other notable stuff included 11 Golden Plover, 2 Lapwing, 1Snipe, 200+ Skylark, 1 Goldcrest, 1 Dartford Warbler, 3 Chough, 50+ Chaffinch and 9 Reed Bunting