The Big Update – vi-vii/16

After a self-imposed five month  break from birding it felt very good to be in the field again on the morning of the 8th June, when I visited the Newport Wetlands for a few hours. It was relatively quiet on the birding front, though there were some decent highlights. Those included a pair of Turnstone on Goldcliff Lagoons amongst the more regular waders. Later, a good selection of warblers were seen at the western end of the reserve, including singing Grasshopper Warbler and Lesser Whitethroats, plus numbers of Common Whitethroat, Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler. Bearded Tits were heard from the hide, and a Whimbrel was seen on the mudflats.

My appetite not yet sated I headed out on my old patch, the Gwyddon valley, for a few hours. More decent birds were seen including a young female GoshawkWood Warblers and Tree Pipits.

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During my break, I had missed several scarce and rare birds in south Wales, the most unpleasant of these being a Broad-Billed Sandpiper which spent two days at Goldcliff on the Newport Wetlands reserve at the end of April. I was therefore very pleased to see that another had been found there only a few months later. This time, I arrived on site within a few hours of the birds’ discovery, but was disappointed to hear that it had flown, presumably out onto the estuary. Several hours ensued, as I waited for the tide to cover the mud in the hope that the bird would return to the lagoons. A summer plumage Wood Sandpiper provided excellent interval entertainment, showing well on the first lagoon in its summer plumage. Greenshank, Little Ringed Plover, Turnstone, Black-Tailed Godwit and Marsh Harrier were all also present amongst the usual mix.

Eventually, a small group of Dunlin were picked out on the third lagoon, and amongst them was a smaller plainer wader which appeared to be my target! Following a quick run around to the third hide, the flock was once again picked out on the lagoon shore, this time much closer and a smart adult Broad-Billed Sandpiper was seen very well amongst the Dunlins. I watched it for some time as it performed as well as possible at this site. The bird was clearly more compact and had a faster feeding action than the attendant Dunlins, and plumage features such as the bold split supercillium, and thick bill with orange at the base and a kink at the tip.

Fortunately I managed a few record shots of the bird:

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A smart bird, and one which I was very pleased to catch up with!

Things continued on tickover for a few weeks, when, during a work position at Brechfa Forest near Carmarthen on the 22nd and 23rd of the month, good numbers of Nightjar were heard and seen well. The birds were again seen well there on the 19th and 20th July.

A non-birding trip to Scotland with friends yielded a pleasing amount of good wildlife. The highlights were; Golden Eagle and six White-Tailed Eagle at Loch Portree, Osprey, Black Guillemot, Hooded Crow, Rock Dove, Harbour Porpoise, Red Deer, Roe Deer and American Mink. The boat trip to see the eagles on Skye was a particularly memorable one!

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I returned to the Swansea area for a short spell for my graduation, and a visit to the south Gower on 22nd produced some interesting wildlife; several Mediterranean Gulls and a Grayling butterfly.

A butterfly survey at Newport Wetlands on the 25th produced some good counts including 30 Gatekeeper, 2 Comma and an Essex Skipper, a new species for me. Three Ruddy Darter and two Southern Hawkers were also highlights.

I was back in Scotland at the end of the month, this time with family, and I couldn’t resist the draw of a days birding on the Aberdeenshire coast. I began at Meikle Loch, where a White-Winged Black Tern had been seen. Unfortunately there was no sign of the bird, or of much else for that matter. I moved on to Forvie nature reserve where, again, there was little about other than a Redpoll and a few Yellowhammers. I moved on again, and arrived at the top end of the Ythan Estuary. Scanning ‘the snub’ from the roadside I could see several hundred Lapwing, and similar numbers of Redshank and Curlew were present, plus a winter plumage Bar-Tailed Godwit and two Greenshank also.

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Further along, at Newburgh, more waders were seen, primarily Lapwing, Redshank, Curlew, Ringed Plover and Dunlin, but amongst them were four summer plumaged Knot and a Green Sandpiper. Good numbers of terns were present at the site also, with Common Tern, Arctic Tern and Sandwich Tern all around the nesting colony. Some 50 Eider were also present at the estuary mouth.

My final site of the day was Murcar golf course, where large numbers of moulting sea duck are offshore annually in late summer. On arrival at the site the flock was easily located, and I began to scan, noting that the flock consisted mainly of Common Scoter, approximately 2000 were present, though mixed in were some 250 Velvet Scoter. The Scoter flocks were flanked by  several thousand Eider, Terns were constantly flying over and moderate numbers of Common Guillemot were on the water. A summer plumage Red-Throated Diver was seen briefly, and a few Red-Breasted Merganser were around also. After approximately an hour of scanning, and having sat through several heavy showers, I picked out a more interesting species. A 2nd-summer drake Surf Scoter. The bird was mostly black, though the white nape patch was restricted, and there was no white on the forehead at all, betraying its age

Pleasant as this was, it was not the Scoter I was after. I spent another fruitless hour scanning the flock, before I moved south to a better vantage point. Here I could see more ducks, and after only a few minutes I was able to locate my quarry, the drake WHITE-WINGED SCOTER which had been present in the flock for several weeks. It showed fairly well through the scope, mainly associating with the drake Velvet Scoters, the birds larger size, more prominent white ‘eye-liner’ mark, and broken-nosed profile aided in the identification. It was, however, difficult to see any brown coloration in the flanks, but this was presumably due to the poor light conditions. I did have a few attempts at record shots but catastrophically failed to  anything worth keeping. It was a great bird to see though, and useful to make the comparison with the nearby drake Velvets.

This post brings my blog back up to date. Now that I’m birding regularly once again, I’ll endeavor to keep it that way!


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