The Arctic weather continued into January 2011 and it was noticeable that there had been an influx of red kites to the coast, with 3 kites seen with the resident buzzards, ravens and a sparrowhawk, all in the air at the same time on 4/1 behind Brook (east of Pendine). It was in this same freezing period that what was believed to be a rough‐legged buzzard was present at nearby Salthouse. A goldeneye could also often be seen on the Tywi during this time.
Up to four of the latter species could be seen at Burry Port harbour at the start of January, when they were joined by a slavonian grebe, 19 red‐breasted mergansers and 15 great crested grebes. (all 2/1). 42 brent geese were also offshore. This same date had a goosander and an overwintering Mediterranean gull on Sandy Water Park and a wintering blackcap was spotted in a garden at James St., Llanelli. Presumably, the 16 goosanders at the Witchett Pool in early January were weather‐driven birds. No less than 1500 common scoters and a single red‐throated diver were counted off Pendine and good numbers of goldeneyes (11), a spotted redshank and two greenshanks were seen at Kidwelly Quay on 9/1. A few days earlier, a green sandpiper and a water rail were at this locality and a hen harrier was at nearby Pembrey Airfield.
Demonstrating that it is always worth checking gulls, a Mediterranean gull was discovered by Rob Hunt at Llanerch fields, Llanelli on 17/1, and another slightly surprising event was a goshawk being closely chased by an irate raven (allowing size comparison) down the Gwendraeth Valley near Pontnewydd on 20/1. A green woodpecker – a species that feeds a lot on the ground (predating ants' nests) was at Mynydd Mawr Woodland Park three days later, showing that this individual, at least, had survived the severe weather.
The end of January saw a bittern turn up at Sandy Water Park, found by Bernie Beck. This bird remained for a few days, allowing several observers (including myself) to view it, but it was remarkably difficult to see unless it moved due to its cryptic camouflage merging with the water‐edge vegetation. Another rare bird, an avocet, was seen off St Ishmael in this same late month period.
Llanelli's James St blackcap turned up again in early February and other records of interest in this month include the huge flock of starlings which roosted at the Llangennech reedbeds and the truly exceptional numbers, that descended like a Biblical plague of locusts on Trinity College, Carmarthen and the adjacent St David's area, to roost in ornamental conifers and other vegetation. Thick layers of guano (droppings) created a marked stench and necessitated cleaning of paths, pavements and even the road to prevent pedestrian or vehicular accidents! A shag and a great northern diver were noted at Burry Port harbour on 19/2, and Kidwelly Quay continued to live up to its easy‐to‐visit and easy‐to‐watch reputation, with a hen harrier and a merlin there the following day.
March had a spoonbill at WWT Penclacwydd (9/3) and there was a garganey there later in the month. Sandy Water Park attracted some interesting birds in the latter part of March, with a little gull (17‐23/3) and, best of all, a blue‐winged teal from the 20th that, in turn, brought the birdwatchers in. The presence of this rare duck and its consequent human admirers probably was a contributory factor in other scarce birds being found, with a glaucous gull (22/3) and a yellow‐legged gull recorded the next day.
The first of the spring migrants was a chiff chaff at Sandy Water Park, some sand martins on 16/3, and swallows on 17/3. Other migrants included a willow warbler at the nearby Old Castle Pond on 26/3 and singing blackcaps in the Tywi Valley on 25/3. A pink‐ footed goose was at Cilsan on 16/3 and the last of the Bewick's swans lingered to 17/3.
April had additional spring migrants with an early redstart at Cynghordy on 3/4 and a pied flycatcher, swallows and tree pipits there three days later. A now‐rare bird in the county is the little owl, which has declined severely after a period of relative prosperity in the 1980s‐90s. One was seen, by a RSPB staff member, near Kidwelly Quay on 2nd April. At Palycwrt, Mynydd Du (7/4), the presence of a pair of stonechats showed that some inland sites still supported this species – presumably these birds had left this upland area to avoid the excesses of the freezing winter? Other birds of interest in this early April period were an Egyptian goose and a little ringed plover at WWT Penclacwydd, a Cetti's warbler at Four Wheels (south of Lower St Clears) and a goshawk at Dinefwr Castle Woods, Llandeilo. Other goshawks were at Pentrefelin, again in the Tywi Valley, and also Llanmiloe on the coast. Later in the month, ravens nested near Laugharne and an unexpected pair of herons was at a disproportionately small nest in Sir John's Wood – perhaps a pioneering pair from which a new heronry may start. It was a good year for lesser whitethroats, with birds at many localities in coastal and south‐east Carmarthenshire. Dave Powell alone had them at six sites in the Lower Gwendraeth‐Burry Port area, mostly in April. They were also at Laugharne, Penclacwydd and Kidwelly Quay. April saw some fine, warm weather with SE winds that probably partially accounted for the influx of this species.
A fulmar was seen offshore by the dredger jetty just east of Burry Port on 16/4, whilst Banc y Lord had a spoonbill and a ruff on 19/4. The Sandy Water Park blue‐winged teal was at Penclacwydd on 29/4, when a Mediterranean gull was also present. The same site had a female ring‐necked duck on 22/4. Up on Mynydd Du, 3 dotterels were at Garreg Lwyd on 23/4 and three red grouse were noted at the same locality. Perhaps the most bizarre April record was the singing fieldfare at 'Gweunydd Cochion' (the wet heath south of Tumble, opposite the hospital) on 18/4. This normally winter‐visitor thrush has actually bred sporadically in Britain, especially in Scotland and quite widely on the Continent.
In May, the resurgence in the fortunes of the lesser whitethroat in 2011 was also evident in the Tywi Valley, where Julian Friese remarked that one at Pentrefelin on 27/5 'was the first in the Tywi Valley for three years'. This species was also noted at Ty'r Nant (next to Trostre Retail Park, Llanelli), Heol Nant y Ci (Saron), Mynydd Mawr Woodland Park (Tumble), the hedgerow/lane next to Coedbach marsh, Black Scar (at the mouth of the Taf), Whitemill, Marros and Bronyn (north of Ferryside). The ring ouzel on the rocky ramparts of the Iron Age hillfort at Garn Goch, Bethlehem was probably a passing bird. Back in the Tywi Valley again, there was a wood sandpiper at Pentre Dafis, a family party of kingfishers at Llyshendy and a pair of Canada geese and 7 young at the Dinefwr Oxbows (where a pair of lapwings were also present). A goosander pair, with ducklings, was also seen here in May. As is now usual, hobbies were regularly seen in the Tywi Valley area, including one being mobbed by swallows near Bethlehem. Hirundines (perhaps especially sand martins in the Tywi Valley) form, together with dragonflies, the main prey of this agile raptor.
On the coast, a male garganey was at the 'NRA Scrape', Penclacwydd on 11/5, rock pipits with young were along the boulder breakwater seaward of the railway line at Pwll, and 4 passage pied flycatchers turned up near Kymer's Canal, Kidwelly. At this latter site, a cuckoo was calling on 12/5 and cuckoos were also heard at WWT Penclacwydd, Pembrey Forest and several upland edge sites (such as Palycwrt on Mynydd Du) this May. Four stonechats were also at Palycwrt on 11/5. At the start of the month, a juvenile dipper was on the R Lliedi at Llanerch fields, Llanelli, evidence of successful breeding on this part‐urban river.
Colin Richards put some time into the uplands, focussing on the Mynydd Du upland block and, as usual, furnished some good records that included a pair of territorial golden plovers, 4 dotterels at the headwaters of the Aman Fach, evidence of grouse at Cefn Carn Fadog and two 'chipping' snipe (agitated calling suggesting the presence of a nest or young) on a bog near the dismantled tramway to the gritstone quarries. Martin Elliot Lewis additionally saw two red grouse at Carn Pen y Clogau.
Miscellaneous records for the month include a nesting pair of little grebes on Llyn Taliaris, a 'second calendar year' Iceland Gull at the mouth of the Gwendraeth and a spotted flycatcher at Five Roads, the latter species being 'thin on the ground' in south‐east Carms. Siskins were noted carrying nest material at Derwen Fawr, Llandybie and, early in June, another pair with young was at a garden at Drefach in the Gwendraeth Valley. An enigmatic record was the unconfirmed sighting of a pair of yellowhammers at Y Graig, Burry Port a record that, a couple of decades ago would not have elicited interest but this species has declined dramatically in the county (as elsewhere). It bred, however, in 'ffridd' habitat in extreme north‐east Carms in 2011. Another species that has also declined is the yellow wagtail, though it was always a scarce nester in the county (mostly confined to coastal sites in the south‐east), dying out as a breeder in the early 1980s. One bird was seen on passage at WWT Penclacwydd on 8/5. The last of a trio of much‐declined birds is the curlew, which was a reasonably widespread nester in damp meadows and the like until the 1970s (I vividly remember them calling noisily and displaying on fields just north of Gelli Fawr farm, on the Cwmbach to Rehoboth/Five Roads lane at the start of the 1970s). It was encouraging then, to hear that a pair raised young, in spite of the ravages attempted by a kite, on 'hills above Peniel'.
We await the monitoring results from the Welsh Kite Trust regarding kites, but it is possible that the harsh 2010‐11 winter had a disruptive impact on breeding distribution (as it did last year) ‐ I am still awaiting the colonisation of Llanelli's woodland and farmland. They reached Kidwelly and the Gwendraeth Valley a few years back but then withdrew somewhat: we'll have to wait a little longer! At least they are generally increasing, as is the little egret, four pairs of which raised young at a coastal site in 2011.
In early June, two pairs of stock doves and also some tree sparrows were nesting in a ruined farmhouse at Whitemill/Capel Dewi (a typical nest site) and another pair of stock doves was around a tree hole at Cwm Pant, Pwll. A quail was calling at Llangadog on 5/6. Julian Friese and Colin Jones did some BTO Atlas survey work on two mid‐Carms uplands – at Mynydd Ystyfflau Carn (an isolated heath on the watershed between Peniel and Brechfa) and Mynydd Llanllwni. At the former site they noted a pair of stonechats, with another pair (with young) at the latter locality. Interestingly, there was also a pair of whinchats on Mynydd Llanllwni. The rank bog and wet carr habitat at Cors Farlais (near Llansadwrn) had a 'reeling' grasshopper warbler, whilst Mynydd Figyn common (above Talley) had a pair of curlews on 26/6. Young wheatears were noted at Palycwrt (Mynydd Du) in late June. Still on an upland theme, a ring ouzel's nest with eggs was, by chance, found at Llyn y Fan Fach on 4/6 and what was almost certainly this species was heard singing at Cwm Clydach (above the Sawdde Valley) on Mynydd Du the same day. This is another species that has declined very substantially, possibly due to changes in its North African wintering grounds or other factors. A pair of common sandpipers was at the corrie lake at Llyn y Fan Fach, and nearby discarded wheatear egg shells showed that breeding had taken place. Cwm Clydach also yielded a territorial redstart, dipper and a spotted flycatcher. The next day, Cwm Pedol (a classic coalfield‐edge 'cwm'), had pied flycatchers, wood warblers, redstarts, kestrel, stock dove, garden warbler, tree pipits, grey wagtails, dipper and cuckoo – a pretty comprehensive upland oak‐birch wood/ffridd bird assemblage!
A surprise find, in view of the species' current status in Carmarthenshire, was the pair of little owls and young at Talog (north‐west of Carmarthen).
At WWT Penclacwydd, a spoonbill was present on 15/6, stonechats had young at the Ashburnham Golf Course (Pembrey) and herring gulls were nesting at Burry Port Industrial Estate (they also nested in Llanelli Town Centre and nested together with lesser black‐backed gulls on the old WAM buildings at Machynys). Little egrets were present in the breeding season near Llangennech and gadwall had young at Sandy Water Park. Nearby, rock pipits had a brood of young at Festival Fields, Pwll and similarly with reed warblers at the adjacent fishing lakes.
July kicked off to a great start with a cattle egret turning up at Penclacwydd and there were already signs of the start of autumn bird movement, with 13 Mediterranean gulls at Pembrey Harbour and a green sandpiper at Dinefwr Ponds. Hobbies were still in evidence in the Tywi Valley and a bird was also seen over Llandybie. Offshore, some 350 Manx shearwaters were seen near St Ishmaels and a Balearic shearwater was seen in the Burry Inlet off the landscaped mound at Cefn Padrig, E of Burry Port. Proof of breeding of stonechats, reed buntings, redstarts, spotted flycatchers, whitethroats and wheatears came from Palycwrt, showing what a single observer can achieve with careful watching. Stonechats also raised young at Llyn Llech Owain and, similarly, so did rock pipits near Salmon Scar, St Ishmael. Gary Harper made some good breeding records near Llyn Brianne, Rhandirmwyn, with yellowhammers, redstarts, whinchats, all with young and a male stonechat was also seen (14/7). Young, noisy buzzards became evident, county‐wide in this general period.
A great white egret was seen at Penclacwydd on 16/7, and presumably the same bird was seen on the Carmarthenshire side of the Loughor Estuary, north of Llangennech on 24/7. It was also seen on the Gwendraeth Estuary in August and in early September at Penclacwydd. Numbers of little egrets started to build up with 19 at Kidwelly Quay, and the end of July also saw a build up of passage terns, with some good tern watching to be had off the Pwll ‐ Burry Port ‐ Pembrey coastline. These included good numbers of Sandwich terns but also records of common, arctic (30/7), little (31/7) and roseate (1/8). No less than 231 Sandwich terns were at Pembrey harbour on 14/8, Burry Port had 33 Mediterranean gulls on 30/7 and an unusual record was the single immature common scoter on Pwll Fishing Lake! (31/7). Ringed plovers bred just east of Burry Port, with a pair with downy, flightless chicks trying to evade dog walkers on 29/7.
The start of August saw a pair each of spotted flycatchers and treecreepers, both with young, amongst the poplars that edge the playing fields at Llanmiloe near Pendine and, at the other end of the county, water rails with young were evident at the brackish Glynea Pond, Bynea. Stonechats also bred at Fedw Fawr, south‐west of the Usk Reservoir and a pair of kestrels were present whilst spotted flycatchers had young at the nearby Craig Ddu. As well as the regular mid‐Tywi sightings, hobbies were noted in August at Bryn Llinos, Carmel (a nice 'garden tick' for Mat Ridley!), and a similar garden tick was had by John Lloyd at Cynghordy Hall, when one 'just missed his head' whilst chasing a swallow. Another August hobby was recorded along the Teifi at Newcastle Emlyn. The present writer also saw a hobby flying swiftly in a direction out of the county near the Hendy motorway junction on 11/8. At Dryslwyn on 17/8, Gary Harper saw a goshawk, 2 kites, 6 buzzards, 6 ravens and a sparrowhawk, all in flight overhead. Two autumn‐passage dotterel were at Garreg Lwyd on 19/8 and distinctive grouse droppings were observed.
Good records continued into September with an osprey seen after strong winds at Machynys on 6/9, and a hoopoe at Forest Farm, Whitland two days later. A juvenile grey phalarope was spotted near the mouth of the Afon Lliedi near the 'Copperworks Roundabout' on 11/9 (with two there on 14/9) and a black tern was at Sandy Water Park (13/9). A whinchat was with 3 stonechats at Gweunydd Cochion, Tumble on 18/9 and curlew sandpipers peaked at 7 birds at Kidwelly Quay the next day. A rather early red‐throated diver was close offshore at Marros Mill in grey, overcast weather on 22/9; it still retained much of its summer plumage. A kite soaring low over Allt Cunedda/Llwyn y Barcud on the high ground overlooking Kidwelly on 26/9 was a nice touch, as Llwyn y Barcud is one of the few place names in the county to have the 'barcud' (kite) element.
If we may wander briefly outside our county, Barry Stewart and others had a remarkable trio of North American vagrants at Penclawdd, on north Gower, late in September, with a buff‐breasted sandpiper, a pectoral sandpiper and a white‐rumped sandpiper‐ a really amazing hat trick!
Seawatching off Cefn Sidan produced an arctic skua, 34 razorbills, 2 red‐throated divers and a guillemot on 28/9 and, the next day, a solitary glossy ibis appeared at Kidwelly Quay, but even that species was eclipsed by the long‐billed dowitcher that was found there the day after, discovered by Dominic Davidson who had gone to see the ibis!
October started with the dowitcher remaining at Kidwelly Quay (at least until the 10th). A slavonian grebe was viewed in the estuary from the slipway at Pwll on 12/10 and the same date saw the discovery of a wryneck at WWT Penclacwydd, where it stayed for a few days, allowing sightings by several observers. No less than two great white egrets were at Penclacwydd at the same time. Redwings and fieldfares both arrived in this mid‐month period, with records from various sites, especially of the former species and their arrival coincided with a southward passage of wheatears and the final departure of swallows. Some wheatears were also on Carn Pen y Glogau on 13/10 where a red grouse was seen. An urbanised kite flew very low over the main street in Tumble three days later. As I have said before, I'm looking forward to them eventually doing the same in Llanelli!
The first whooper swans arrived at Dryslwyn on 16/10 and three early bramblings were at Derek Moore's garden bird feeders at Salem near Llandeilo on 22/10. Another rather distinguished garden visitor was a lesser spotted woodpecker at Pentrefelin (Tywi Valley) on 23/10.
On the coast, Burry Port harbour was productive, with a long‐tailed duck there on 19/10 and 32 eiders and a slavonian grebe the next day. There were two late migrant records in the latter part of this month – a swallow over Glascoed, Pwll (26/10) and a wheatear on Pembrey Airfield on 28/10. On the latter date, Cetti's warblers were singing at Morfa Berwig, Bynea and at Ffrwd, Pembrey – this species continues singing into the autumn to maintain its wintertime feeding territories. A short‐eared owl was spotted over Machynys golf course at the end of the month (30/10).
Fifteen little grebes at the pond below Middleton Hall (National Botanic Garden of Wales) on 1st November was a good number, especially away from the coast. The beginning of November also saw sightings of crossbills, at Llansteffan, Gweunydd Cochion and Mynydd Mawr Woodland Park.
Coastal records of note in this same period were 2 Mediterranean gulls and a black redstart at Burry Port Harbour, a great northern diver offshore between that site and Cefn Padrig, Pwll and a great white egret (together with 2 little egrets for size comparison) at Kidwelly Quay on 6/11. The next day also had a low‐ flying male hen harrier over the quay. The brent geese (80) arrived at Pwll on 11/11 and the next day some 42 great crested grebes were offshore nearby at Burry Port. The numbers of brents increased to 200 on 18/11. Two long‐tailed ducks were spotted flying along the shore near Pwll on 13/11. Away from this area, a blackcap turned up in a Johnstown garden on 12/11 and a merlin was seen at Pentrefelin in the Tywi Valley. Two white‐fronted geese were reported from Dryslwyn on 13/11 – a goose that was once frequent in large flocks there in the 1970s but which is now rare (they have since changed their wintering pattern to sites on the Continent) (see short note on page 21). Two days later, 325 Canada geese and one greylag were noted at Dryslwyn. A surprise bittern turned up at WWT Penclacwydd on 16/11: this species is normally a cold weather visitor in our area, whereas November 2011 was particularly benign. A chiffchaff at Dryslwyn on 19/11 was a surprise, as wintering birds are more typically found at the coast. On the same date, 3 bramblings were noted at Coch y Barlys farm on the west side of the Tywi Estuary; here the owners maintain a small wildlife‐rich holding amongst intensively farmed land that is mostly devoid of wildlife. A merlin was also seen at the farm on the next day. A grey phalarope frequented the small pond near the end of Pembrey Burrows at about the same period.
Good numbers of gadwall (80) were at Ashpits Pond, Burry Port on 23/11, where a Cetti's warbler was in song and c50 siskins were in alders nearby. An estimated 100,000 starlings roosting at WWT Penclacwydd entertained all with their aerobatics in late November and the same period saw crossbills recorded at several locations such as Pembrey Forest, Mynydd Mawr Woodland Park, Llyn Llech Owain and Gweunydd Cochion, Tumble. The very end of the month had two short‐eared owls at Penclacwydd.
The start of December witnessed a great white egret inland at Dryslwyn, a report of a wheatear at Pwll (1/12) and a chiffchaff at Ffordd y Wagen, Pwll. By the 4th, what was presumably the same great white egret turned up at a pond at Brynaman (4/12) and another surprise pond visitor was the female goosander at the main pond at Pembrey Country Park (5/12). An avocet was at the mouth of the Gwendraeth on the 7th, when the now‐regular kites were flying low over the hamlet of Croesyceiliog, south of Carmarthen. At about the same time, a male blackcap at garden feeders at Coch y Barlys farm and 5 chiffchaffs at Kidwelly sewage works were of interest whilst the unseasonal Pwll wheatear was still present on 12/12.
A great white egret was at Penclacwydd on 16/12 ‐ this species, like the little egret before it, is on the verge of colonising Britain. Off 'Tywyn Bach' (ie Burry Port), a slavonian grebe was noted amongst a few great crested and little grebes on the same day. At nearby, Pwll, a male over‐wintering blackcap was seen at the eastern end of Ffordd y Wagen two days later. Three kites were over Croesyceiliog on 20/12, one of which may have been one of the birds seen around Kidwelly (a kite was also over Ferryside the next day). Amongst a nice batch of records at the mouth of the Gwendraeth on the 20th were two jack snipe and a female merlin. On 21/12, the writer saw another merlin (this time a male) over the inner part of the Gwendraeth, together with fantastic (and close) views of a male hen harrier, a female sparrowhawk 'working the saltmarsh creeks' (really merlins ought to be doing that, not sparrowhawks!), a kestrel hovering in the distance, and a peregrine that disturbed an enormous flock of golden plover which must have aggregated to some 1,100 birds. It was entertaining to watch the 'goldies' then fly away presumably towards the flat, wet fields at Ginst, forming loose, shimmering 'v‐formations'. There were some 750 lapwings also around, all the above were seen from the very outer footpath that skirts the very saltmarsh edge and leads to the main railway line, seawards of the two parallel canal‐side paths. I missed the long‐billed dowitcher that was discovered the same day at the nearby Kidwelly Quay! However, the dowitcher remained until at least the end of the month, when there were sightings of a firecrest at the adjacent sewage works.
Late December remained very mild (and damp) and robins, song thrushes and great tits were singing regularly at Tyrwaun, Pwll – a sign of the spring to come. Christmas Eve had a tree sparrow accompanying house sparrows in a garden at Tycroes and an avocet at Llansteffan.
Other Bird News Briefly, red‐backed shrikes bred again this year on Dartmoor (two pairs this time, raising seven young) and likewise, spoonbills nested for the second year running at Holkham in Norfolk – here there were no less than eight breeding pairs raising 14 young– all encouraging news. It was a 'landmark year' too, for the red kites of Wales, as it is now estimated that the Welsh kite population exceeds 1000 breeding pairs! The feeding stations certainly helped birds survive last winter's Arctic conditions and, whilst there was some disruption caused by the weather to the subsequent exact breeding distribution, the population did not fare too badly. A pair nested on the Gower peninsula for the first (recorded) time. Introduced populations continue to (mostly) do well elsewhere in Britain and the species has now also been introduced to Eire and Northern Ireland. Sea eagles had their best year yet in NW Scotland (57 pairs raising 43 young) and they are being re‐introduced to south‐west Ireland, in addition to the project to introduce them to the east coast of Scotland. Also, three pairs of golden eagles are now nesting in Co Donegal (north‐west Ireland) – some 58 young Scottish birds have been released there since 2001. A pair of ospreys nested successfully in the Dyfi Estuary area in N. Ceredigion, (in addition to the pair further north near Porthmadog) and three pairs of honey buzzards successfully fledged young in South Wales.
(The above records and information from the Carmarthenshire Bird Club website, 'Boda Wennol' the newsletter of the Welsh Kite Trust and other sources).