Llanelli Naturalists Newsletter - No. 74 - July 2008
Ian Morgan

Geese, gulls and a juvenile rose-coloured starling comprise the main highlights of January 2007. The latter turned up in a garden in Kidwelly, but was visible from near the War Memorial; it stayed until early February. The geese were represented by 5 pink-footed geese at Coedbach Marsh, Kidwelly on 1/1 and 4 white-fronts in the same area on 10/1. There was an Iceland gull at Sandy Water Park (SWP) on 21/1 and a little gull in the Tywi Valley at Dryslwyn on the same date; an unseasonal common sandpiper was located in a saltmarsh pill by the main railway line SW of Pwll on 1/1 – normally this is a migrant that arrives in March. Raptors of note in January were a male hen harrier at WWT Penclacwydd on 2/1 and also near Coedbach marsh on 6/1. An avocet turned up near Ferryside on 4/1 – perhaps in the future, the estuaries of SW Wales will harbour regular winterers of this wader, as in SW England. Sea-watching off Pendine on 28/1 yielded a male surf scoter and 6 velvets amongst the common scoter flock.

Glaucous-winged Gull. Photo: Barry StewartOver 100 little egrets were using the Bynea roost site (trees around the old sewage works) 0n 2nd February, showing how common this once rare Mediterranean heron has become; of course, even larger numbers occur locally in late summer/autumn roosts. It is now breeding at two sites in Carmarthenshire and also on Gower. Another taste of southern climes was offered in the form of an adult Mediterranean gull at SWP on 20/2, whilst, a different gull –the glaucous-winged gull- at Ferryside on 2nd March was perhaps the star rarity of 2007. This bird had been previously seen (and ringed) in Gloucestershire and was the 1st British record, making the Ferryside bird the first seen in Wales. Back in February, there were 2 bitterns at the Millennium Wetland, WWT on 12/2, an early male garganey there on 28/2, whilst not far away, at Machynys, there was an immature female goshawk on ½.  A male marsh harrier was seen flying over the Tywi near Carmarthen on the same date.

The mouth of the same river (near Ferryside-Llansteffan), had a hooded crow on 7/3 (only the 4th county record), whilst inland at Talley, 16 goldeneye showed –as the observer remarked- `how important this site was for this species`. A wheatear, well inland at Cynnant, (near Cynghordy) on 10/3, a blackcap at Brynllinos (Carmel) on 14/3, a sand martin over Llandeilo on 7/3 (with another 4 at WWT Penclacwydd on 11/3) and a singing chiff chaff at Pentre-Dafis, Dryslwyn on 12/3 heralded the first of the spring passerine migrants. Always a pleasure to see – as it is easily overlooked, and scarce – was the lesser spotted woodpecker, seen in woodland alongside the footpath to Cwtta Farm, N of Furnace Pond, Llanelli.

April was announced by another rarity – the lesser scaup that turned up at WWT Penclacwydd on 3/4. A pair of gadwall on Penrhyngwyn Pond, Machynys (with a Cetti`s warbler singing in surrounding wet willow carr) was not quite in the same league as the lesser scaup but, nevertheless, it is good that gadwall are now established, as a nesting species, in SE Carmarthenshire. There was a pair of great crested grebes and 3 Canada geese at Upper Lliedi Reservoir (`Swiss Valley`) on 13/4. A lesser spotted woodpecker was at the deadwood-rich Dinefwr Park, Llandeilo on 13/4 whilst, earlier, crossbills were seen in conifer plantations around Llyn Brianne in NE Carms. Still in that area, one observer witnessed a `fall` of migrants on 17/4, commenting that `the parish was full of redstarts following an influx last night`.

An osprey passed over Ffarmers on 16/4 and the year`s first migrating dotterel were on the bare hill of Carreg Lwyd, Mynydd Du on 14/4, when 2 were found. By 18/4, 18 were at Bannau Sir Gar and 11 at Carreg Lwyd. 7 were at the latter site on 29/4 and the lucky observers had an added bonus of a magnificent crane flying past. Checking of the mid-Tywi Valley tree sparrow nestboxes revealed some 35 pairs on 30/4.

The very beginning of May saw a kite flying over Stradey Woods, again invoking hopes of future colonisation, whilst a hoopoe provided a colourful surprise on a lawn at Cilycwm on 2/5. The exotic theme continued with a spoonbill at the Witchett Pool, Pendine on 5/5. Yet another lesser spotted woodpecker was noted, this time at Troserch Woods, N of Llangennech on 7/5, with Cetti`s warblers singing on the same date in wet scrub alongside the Afon Morlais near the old colliery site, again near Llangennech. An Arctic skua, plus Manx shearwaters were the prize for sea watching off Burry Port on 8/5, when 2 little gulls turned up near Bynea.

A kite was near Trostre Works, Llanelli on 14/5 and also in the Cross Hands/Llannon area on 15/5 (and 27/5). Two kites were over the aptly-named `Cwm Barcud` or Cwm Capel (as it was known locally), Burry Port on 20/5 and a pair frequented the Llansteffan-Ferryside-Llandyfaelog-Kidwelly area all summer. As well as slowly moving southwards on a broad front from the Tywi Valley area, kites penetrate the Llanelli from the Lower Loughor area of Glamorgan. I wonder when they will breed around Llanelli?

A late dotterel was at Carreg Lwyd on 20/5, where an escapee lanner falcon (replete with jesses) was also spotted. Greenland wheatears, bigger and later than their commoner cousin, were at this upland site on 26/5. A green-winged teal turned up at `Pond y Pelican`, Banc y Lord, Kidwelly on 24/5. (As an aside, I once had visions of this artificial cattle pond holding a past pelican, hence its name. However, there was both a pub and a boat of this name at Kidwelly, which provide a more creditable explanation).

An urban dipper, on the Afon Lliedi, Llanelli, below the erstwhile Buckleys Brewery on 6th June is not actually that unusual, as both dippers and grey wagtails are periodically seen there. Just upstream, at Llanerch, an overhead kite was an exciting `garden tick` for a well-known Llanelli birdwatcher on 10/6. A few days earlier, one was over Mynydd Penbre and a hobby was near Llandovery on 28/6 – one of several records from the Tywi Valley. A kingfisher on the Gwendraeth Fawr at Pontnewydd and pairs of great crested grebes at the Upper Lliedi Reservoir and Ashpits Pond, Burry Port provided useful wetland records. No less that 18 Mediterranean gulls were on the scrapes in front of the British Steel hide at WWT Penclacwydd on 18/6, where numbers typically build up at this time of year.

The irregulary-flooded grazings near Commissioners` Bridge, Kidwelly, known as Coedbach Marsh (or Kidwelly Marsh) came into their own in July. This really is an important local birding site, with a buff-breasted sandpiper on 11/7, a spoonbill on 30/7, a wood sandpiper on 15/8 and 11 curlew sandpipers on 11/9, as well as good numbers of commoner waders.

Roller. Photo:  Barry StewartA resplendent roller – a rarity from the Mediterranean – turned up in perhaps an unlikely location at the upland Usk Reservoir on 29-31/7, drawing many to this beautiful part of the Carmarthenshire border. Two red grouse, near Carreg Lwyd, Mynydd Du on 28th August demonstrated that this game bird is just holding on the heathery slopes nearby. At Pentre Dafis, in the Tywi Valley, 2 passage yellow wagtails on 1st September (as well as a juvenile hobby and a kite) provided interest. The patience of a sea-gazing birdwatcher at Cefn Sidan on 14/9 was rewarded by a pomarine skua among some 40 gannets.

A great white egret was reported from the lower Gwendraeth Valley on 30/9, whilst a wryneck turned up in a Ferryside garden on 2nd October. The next day saw the first of the winter`s redwings at Llangadog, whilst a departing summer visitor –the ring ouzel- turned up behind the Talbot PH, Pwll on 8/10. The latter species has also been noted at such sites in the past, well away from their upland breeding sites (a past sighting in a hedge near Penclacwydd comes to mind). A black-necked grebe was at SWP on 6/10.

When going to examine the contents of a moth trap, placed the previous evening 12/10 on rough ground near Morfa Roundabout, a Cetti`s warbler burst into song from the adjacent canalised stretch of the Afon Dafen (the `Dafen New Cut`), showing that this resident warbler is now using sub-optimal habitat in the county, as it does on the Continent. I estimate after a rough count of known `pairs` (the species is polygamous) a population of 50+ `pairs` in the county.

By 21/10, the winter whooper swans had returned to the Tywi Valley meadows near Cilsan Bridge and chattering fieldfares were at Llyn Llech Owain the next morning. Crossbills were a noticeable feature of the latter site in autumn-winter 2007-8, with bright crimson singing males sporting themselves on tree-tops. Two choughs visited Telpyn Point, just E of Amroth, presumably wanderers from the Pembrokeshire cliffs.

The 14 red-legged partridges on 1st November at Parc, Llanfynydd were doubtless releases for game purposes; its relative the `common` partridge seems to be extinct in Carmarthenshire. A firecrest near Llandyfaelog was the first of several seen this winter, and reward for a local naturalist on BTO Atlas fieldwork. Another turned up at Pembrey Country Park on 11/12 and another near Ashpits Pond, Burry Port from 22/12 onwards. An additional `classy` bird was the great grey shrike in the Crychan forest area of NE Carms. on 12/11 and another sighting near the Usk Reservoir on 13/12, where crossbills and siskins were also present.

A big female goshawk, pursued by noisy crows, offered close views at Llyn Llech Owain on 16/11, with another sighting a week or so earlier. There were additional goshawk records by others at this site. Coincidentally, another goshawk was seen near Cynghordy on the same date. At Taliaris on 12/11, 15 crossbills were noted and a few were seen in the plantations near Gelli Aur about the same time. At the end of November, bramblings were reported feeding on beech mast in the north of the county. A dead little auk was found washed up near Burry Port, again in late November, whilst a blackcap visited a garden at Maesyrhaf, Pwll and nearby School Road had great spotted woodpeckers regular on food baskets. A pristine male hen harrier quartered the peripheral bog and nearby heath around Llyn Llech Owain in November.

Twite. Photo:  Barry StewartA short-eared owl was seen over the saltings of the Gwendraeth Estuary on 15th December, whilst a bird fitting the description of a twite was noted at the nearby new Glan yr Afon `Local Nature Reserve`, Kidwelly on the next day. The same date saw a great northern diver off the Burry Port- Pembrey coast; it was still around on 31/12 –forming a convenient end to the year`s bird recording.

Please note that only a selection of the records listed in the excellent `Bird Sightings` section of the Carmarthenshire Bird Club website have been included in this summary. Readers are recommended to visit the website at www.carmarthenshirebirds.co.uk and I am sure that many would also enjoy membership of the bird club. Help is wanted too, to ensure good coverage in Carmarthenshire for the ongoing BTO Breeding/Winter Atlas 2007-11 – please see the bird club website for details, or go on the BTO site at www.birdatlas.net. This latter site also presents maps to show ongoing coverage.

Other News: Finally -and out of Carmarthenshire- readers will be pleased to know that the introduced population of sea eagles in NW Scotland is doing well, with 42 territorial pairs (24 successful broods with 34 young in 2007). There are plans to continue the introduction programme in NE Scotland as well as plans for Eire. The Irish Red Kite Project is also underway, with young birds released in Wicklow. The Welsh Kite Trust (see www.welshkitetrust.org) is assisting and the very first kite destined for Ireland came from a nest near Llandovery! In Wales, there were some 471 occupied kite territories, with nesting birds now spilling over into Shropshire and Herefordshire. In Carmarthenshire, there were 74 known pairs but there is plenty of unoccupied territory to allow far greater numbers to breed. With the English and Scottish reintroductions, the latter (total c 90 pairs) are experiencing unacceptable levels of persecution but the various English populations seem to be thriving (c 350 pairs in the Chilterns; 68 pairs in the East Midlands; 47 pairs in Yorkshire and 10 pairs in the newly-established population in NE England).

Talking of Yorkshire, readers may be interested that eagle owls have been breeding there successfully for several years and that it is estimated that there may be as many as 50 birds free-flying in the UK. Like the goshawk, (whose population is also doing well, including in Carmarthenshire), these owls are thought to have (at least mostly) originated from escapees or released birds. They were once resident in the British Isles and they nest as close as the Netherlands.