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.