Llanelli Naturalists Newsletter - September 2007 - No 73
Ian Morgan

Only highlights of the year and some of the more localised Llanelli sightings are now offered in Bird Notes, as readers are now able to access the excellent website of the Carmarthenshire Bird Club (just type in the latter name into Google or whatever search facility you have, click `search` and then go into `sightings`). There is also the annual Carmarthenshire Bird Report produced by the bird club.

The Laughing Gull (a North American vagrant), that was a feature of late 2005, lingered around Sandy Water Park, Llanelli, into January, with the last sighting reported on the 19th, whilst an Avocet, on the Tywi at Llansteffan on 15/1, was the first of a couple of sightings made during the year.  Later on in January, Rob Hunt had both a male and a female Blackcap in his garden at Waun Road, Llanerch, whilst at the end of the month, good views were had of a soaring female Goshawk in the Cothi Valley near Ynys Brechfa.  Sunny weather in late winter or very early spring offers, perhaps, the easiest way (bar chance sightings) to locate this overlooked, but still scarce, raptor.

The female Long-tailed Duck (right) at the Pwll Fishing Lake with a Tufted Duck for comparison. Photo: Barry Stewart.Amongst several coastal records, a female Long-tailed Duck allowed a very close approach at Pwll Fishing Lake from February 2nd, and the next day a Great Northern Diver was off Tywyn Point, together with 8 Red-breasted Mergansers.  An Avocet on the Gwendraeth on 5/2 may well have been the earlier Llansteffan bird and a visit about this time to Kidwelly Sewage Treatment Works yielded plenty of wintering warblers, including 21 Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap and 10 Goldcrests.

Inland, bird feeders at `Towy View`, Ffairfach had 27 Tree Sparrows in mid Feb. and about the same time a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was observed in Stradey Woods behind the Graig College.  A strange February record was the Bittern seen walking along the lane to Pinged off the A474 Kidwelly road, by Jeff Williams and Huw John on 18/2.  After walking for quite a few yards, it only left the road to enter a ditch when a perplexed driver left her car and asked why the traffic had stopped!  Late Feb. saw 2 Goldeneyes on one of the Machynys golf course ponds and a Brambling at WWT Penclacwydd.

Late March and April witnessed the usual arrival of spring migrants, full details of which are not included in this report. At the end of March, Richard Griffith had an amazing sight when he saw a Goshawk fly past with a Jackdaw in its talons at Taliaris.

A Little Gull was spotted at Sandy Water Park/Nevill`s Dock on April 1st and a female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was watched by Jon Baker at Nantgwyn, (near Bwlchnewydd, north of Carmarthen) on 4/4 and approximately a hundred Crossbills were estimated by the same observer in Pembrey Forest on 12/4.

The first of the April Dotterel turned up on Garreg Lwyd, Mynydd Du on 15/4 and two days later, a Hoopoe was near Llangadog. A Hoopoe was also seen at St Clears on 27/4.

The first of the Tywi Valley Hobby sightings was made by Julian Friese on 28/4; they were regulary seen later in the spring and summer. JF was also the lucky finder of a pair of breeding Oystercatchers on the Tywi, on shingle at Pentre Dafis: they are a very rare breeder in Carmarthenshire.  Two Lesser Whitethroats at Commissioners` Bridge, Kidwelly on 30/4 were the first of the year`s records and a Red Kite near Penclacwydd on the same date was a nice record.  Readers are asked, incidentally, to keep their eyes open for Kites in the Gwendraeth Valley – or, indeed, elsewhere in the Llanelli area – as this species is slowly spreading our way. Barry Stewart and Richard and Kath Pryce sighted a displaying pair over Pwll in the spring, but they frustratingly moved on. Richard also reported that a Kite was regularly to be seen in the spring in the vicinity of the abatoir in Felinfoel.

Eurasain Spoonbill. Photo: Barry StewartAt WWT Penclacwydd, 3 Spoonbills turned up on May 5th and a male Gargarney a week or so later. A nocturnal, `churring` Nightjar was heard by Jon Baker in the western part of Pembrey Forest when moth trapping on 10/5. Another Lesser Whitethroat was singing its usual `rattle` in a thick hawthorn hedge outside the writer`s front door at Tyrwaun, Pwll on 17/5, whilst a Turtle Dove put in an appearance in Colin Jones` garden at Troserch Farm near Llangennech on 25/5. A singing Cetti`s Warbler in the wet scrub at the N side of Penrhyngwyn Pond, Machynys on 26/5 represented a new territory for this species; likewise the 2 possible breeding pairs of Tufted Ducks on `Furnace Pond` [also known as ‘Upper Trebeddod Reservoir`] on 30/5.  Still on the duck theme, a female Pochard escorted 7 ducklings at Ashpits Pond near Burry Port on June 7th (Gary Harper et al) and Richard Davie had a variety of wildfowl here on 11/6, but also a bonus Water Vole.

A Cetti`s Warbler was singing at Pontnewydd on 17/6 (there are least 2 `pairs` in the wet willow carr along the old mineral line in this area).

At Llanegwad on 24/6, a Little Owl, seen by Julian Friese, was the first in the Tywi Valley for some years (it seemed to increase here and along the coast in the 1980s and early 1990s, but has since declined).

Late summer usually witnesses accumulating numbers of Mediterranean Gulls and there were up to 6 adults and 2 juveniles at Sandy Water Park in late July.  The first of many notable records from the common land grazing at Coedbach Marsh to the south of Kidwelly was a Pectoral Sandpiper on September 8th.  This area used to be an arm of the Gwendraeth Estuary until the Commissioners` Bridge and the associated main road cut it off.  It is now administered by Kidwelly Town Council, who let the grazing.

Not too far away, whoever first saw the escaped vulture (species not determined) at Upland Arms near Llandyfaelog on the main road to Carmarthen on 19/9 must have had a shock!  It moved on when some carrion was removed. Apparently, there have been sightings of an escapee elsewhere in Britain, though there is the perhaps unlikely speculation that the bird is a wild wanderer from further south in Europe.

A Hoopoe adorned a garden at Carmarthen on 23/9 and another exotic bird, a Black-winged Stilt, was discovered by David Poulter on the Tywi at Ferryside the next day. The stilt then moved to Coedbach Marsh, where it accompanied a distinguished assemblage of other waders such as a Wood Sandpiper, 13 Little Stints, 2 Curlew Sandpipers and 2 Ruff on 25/9. A month later (on 10/10), Barry Stewart counted 265 Greylags and 792 Golden Plovers there; and he also saw the Pectoral Sandpiper!  On 17th Oct, an American Golden Plover was spotted at this star-performing site.  Indeed, Kidwelly seemed to be at the centre of the bird watching universe during the autumn, as a young Rose-coloured Starling frequented a private garden in the town during late October until at least the middle of December.

Snow Buntings. Photo: Barry StewartAway from this hot-spot, a Snow Bunting was recorded at Garreg Lwyd (Mynydd Du) on 8/10, a Firecrest at Saron on 22/10, and 10 Crossbills were in Crychan Forest on 7/11.  Burry Port had a late Sandwich Tern in fine weather on November 1st and a Little Auk and a Razorbill were offshore there on 5/11.  A Black Redstart at Salmon Scar, St Ishmael on 10/11 was one of several records and a Mediterranean Gull put in an appearance at Sandy Water Park on 12/11.  A Spoonbill on the Gwendraeth Estuary near Kidwelly railway bridge was a nice surprise for Jeff Williams on 2/12.  It was accompanied by a few Little Egrets, how times have changed!

The strong gales at the start of December blew in some interesting birds. The first indication came on 3/12, when Brian Thomas had one Long-tailed Skua and 3 or 4 Leach`s Petrels seen from the `British Steel Hide` at WWT Penclacwydd, where he also saw a Great Northern Diver. To cap it all, he then saw a Bittern and an Otter from the `Heron`s-wing Hide`, overlooking the `Millennium Wetland`. Other Leach`s Petrels were seen subsequently by Clive Jones off Burry Port and there was the bizarre record of one seen by Derek Moore flying over the roundabout on the A48 near Morrison`s supermarket, Carmarthen!  On 5/12, Owen Harris spotted 4 Storm Petrels off St Ishmaels.

The `petrel wreck` continued during the very strong winds of 6-7 Dec., with birds being seen at many localities along the Burry Port – Llanelli - Loughor coastline.  DM`s monopoly of roadside Leach`s Petrels was taken away by Barry Stewart`s sightings of birds seen (on 7/12) from his car on the B4304 near Albert Street, Llanelli and other birds at Loughor Bridge.  An excellent photo of one of the latter was shown by him at the Llanelli Naturalists Christmas Social Meeting that very evening (reproduced here).

Many years ago, I became aware of a particularly apt Welsh proverb: “Nid wrth ei big mae nabod y Cyffylog” (not by its beak the Woodcock is known).  One that almost exploded upwards, land-mine style, at my feet in Troserch Woods on 21st December, once again reminded me of the truth in that proverb – in other words, it is by its behaviour that you recognise this woodland wader.  It also started me thinking about its Welsh name, `Cyffylog`, which seemed to be similar to Welsh for `horse` - ceffyl.  When I returned home, I looked it up in the monumental Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru which suggested an etymology: `i`w cysylltu o bosibl a`r gair ceffyl am fod swn yr aderyn yn debyg I chwyrnad ceffyl`[connected perhaps with the word `ceffyl` (horse) because of the sound of the bird being similar to the snort of a horse`].  This latter sound is one of the calls of the bird when engaged on its crepuscular `roding` (display) flights.