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Spooks South Wales Birding Blog

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S/Wales Birds by J.M.B.

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S/Wales Animals by J.M.B.

2nd March 2018 - The Snow Report
Tirfounder - Abercwmboi - Cefnpennar - Cwmbach

With an endless blizzard of snow, but tolerable temperatures I set out to discover what had been blown in by the icy weather. A congregation of mixed gulls was met at Tirfounder ; Herring, Lesser, Black Headed, with Coots and Grebes with the two now resident Mute Swans that had kept the pond ice free. Turns out, both are male, judging by the equal size in nose blackberry and territorial wing displays, but seem to be exhibiting mating displays to each other. They are in their 2nd year now, so maybe with the new brood of 5 down at Abercwmboi, there may be a chance they could breed in maybe another 2 years. While gazing at the shivering menagerie a striking Fieldfare landed above me for a few seconds, I caught up with him later at Abercwmboi feeding on the last of the Cotoneaster berries. Nothing more on the route along the river path, but noticed the Cynon was starting to freeze over. Haven't seen that before, but I have not long been on this earth. The hardy Dipper was still in full song whilst dipping and diving. Was hoping to spot mammal tracks in the snow, but nothing apart from moggie footsteps all the way round. With at least 10 cats on the new Persimmon estate, I see grim fortunes ahead. Did spot a tiny Weasel though last week. Two closeup Redwing along the canal, feasting on the last resort ivy berries.

Down to Abercwmboi lakes, and that full to the brim with every species imaginable c.100 birds with 2 Jacksnipe cutting accross and a gaggle of Wigeon most notable. Pwll Cynon empty as always. Up then to Cefnpennar, Redwing and Thrushes reduced to scavenging in the still flowing roadside ditches, and further up Redwing, Mistle, Song Thrush and Blackbird fighting aggresively over the right to the last holly with berries in the district. 6 foot snow drifts blown into the shape of a snow wave on the cefn pass. Large vocal Raven at Lletyshenkin, then another congregation of c.100 chattering Siskin, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Sparrow at the top of Cwmbach, enjoying the advantages of free fast food.

Had to follow up investigation the next day by heading to Cwmdare Country Park via the Town Park. Noted at least x7 Fieldfare at Tirfounder, plus a Sparrowhawk spooking the colony of gulls, with at least x3 Water-rail openly foraging on the ice near the pond edge, visible and not at all timid. Newcomer at the town park, a Mallard-Indian Runner looking like a cartoon stretched duck. Close ups of Green Woodpecker at Cwmdare. Then stumbled accross a bloody crime scene. The remains of a Blackbird prominent in the snow with a flurry of tracks with an end and a beginning. The carcass had been dragged to a small moss tussock and consumed from head to toe, leaving nothing but a beak and a few feathers. The tracks were indistinct, but as they lead and came from nowhere, and for the fact it was consumed on a mound, in amongst a scrub copse, that a Sparrowhawk was the culprit. Closeup of Raven at Craig-Yr-Ysgol plus a Peregrine diving into roost with a dangling prey item.

Abercwmboi Phurnacite - Llanwonno - Pontypridd 27th May 2017

Having confirmed reports of Nightjar above Llanwonno, prepared for some nightstalking (but not well enough) in a post-storm miasma. Starting through the Phurnie lakes, Mute Swans were absent, despite seeing them nesting, indeed the whole lake was decidedly empty. It would be easy to point blame at riotous fun loving and bored teens, and with 3 recent burnt out car-shells nearby, I would be pretty close to the truth. Still I see this as positive, they make great art sculptures. Up the 'Ceiber pass, 'usual' Cuckoo singing with 'usual' mix of migrants, and greeted with a drizzling mist and gales making a refreshing atmosphere. Linnets, Siskins, Stonechat, Skylark, Wood Warbler etc in song near Gelliwrgan, including a drenched Pheasent, no doubt approachable in the hope of free crumbs. With game comes its players, and chortled with delight to see the local foxhounds surrounding me on mass, out on a training excerise. The pups were collared closely to the adults which ensures they dont get lost and is not S&M! (so I was assuredly told by the huntmaster). The name Gelliwrgan is a magically sounding name, and is composed of 3 elements Gelli, a clearing in a wood, and the transmuted Gwr Gan, man of song. To give such a name to a farm, the original owner, no doubt 500 years ago must have filled the air with sonorous tones worthy and as frequently as a blackbird.

The Beech woods lining the road here are a natural architectural wonder. The russet leaf cover, the straight trunks and light green dappled leaves (with mist) giving a majestic avenue, fit for a king to parade along. Pit stop to sip the sweet water at St Gwynnos well and the closed church, then tasty chips at the Brynfynnon inn, one of the few remaining commercially viable rural pubs. Though not 400 years ago it would be the church making the money and St Gwynno providing the healthy sustenance, now it is "St Guto" and beer they worship. Nothing notable down to Pontypridd and with another pitstop here, headed back to an aesthetically pleasing barn, left open for the drenched pilgrims, built into the rock, it must be at least 18th century. As I settled down into the hay-racks to rest a crippled back I heard a faint snoring. Unable to pinpoint its source, I thought I might have company on the second floor, but then looked under the hayrack to find a very fat farm cat dozing. As she dashed out growling I thought she might have kittens, but none present and she eager to get back in, so appears she was making a nest to lay.

Finding suitable habitat a little further on for Nightjar, open heath with young conifers I was dismayed to see most of it burnt to a crisp, no doubt from a carelesly disgarded fag end. So settled down in the turf to wait. At exactly 19:50 I heard a churring, promising! but alas, monotone so obviously a Grasshopper Warbler, 3 surrounded me so still nice. Then again exactly at 20:30 a deep, rich, loud almost disorientating churl came from behind me, lasting 10 seconds. I was promised aeriel displays and wing clapping! But was a great achivement to have located one, so I ticked the box and headed home. Going through the burnt remnants of the forest however I was surprised to hear (probably) the same Nightjar in full song, giving a sort of exotic feel to the forest. With the now stabled foxhunt baying in the distance, gunshots and a strong gale, it wasn't recordable but for in my memory banks. Orienteering then to Aberdare in pitch darkness was a fun challenge, could not see hand in front of face, and could only guide myself by hearing the new gravel on the road crunching, me now lamenting my praise of the Beech woods earlier. Did not expect to hear 3 Tawny owl chicks calling, worth coming back for sometime soon. Sad end to see Squirrel gore on the road down, but was not as painfull end for him as it was for I as I slumped into bed at 2am.

3rd June 2017 - Penderyn - Brecon - Merthyr Cynog

A 20 hour bike ride in the National Park was bound to turn up some passing song. But alas swiftness brought no treasures. Plenty of Redstarts all the way there and back hearing them every 100m or so in wooded areas with a couple of Lesser Whitethroats. Few Tree Pipits along the Afon Tarell footpath. Upon arriving at Brecon was intention to go back via Heol Senni and down to Ystradfellte, but ended by impulse biking on to Merthyr Cynog. Few Red Kites near Battle, with an excellent spring of fresh drinking water. I had high hopes for the church of Cynog where this saint was supposedly beheaded, either by jealous apprentices or invading Irish. The church is completely bare, no stained glass or plaques, a plain font. It was obviously a victim of one of the reformations, but I suppose it is how Cynog would have likely worshipped. Mind you I would have at least liked a mention of him here. Slept in the hedge with Hedge Sparrows and voice cracking juvenile crows. As I partook of morning coffee approx 5:30am, Pontfaen, tickled to see a Water Shrew crossing the road. To-wit, only to cross back again, acting erraticaly. A Magpie seized the initiative and grabbed him by the head and took off. Possible he may have had a parasite in his head to act so strangely. Drenched on the way back so nothing else to report, apart from sharing picnic time with at least 3 sets of Swallows, feeding their young not inches above my head in the rafters at the National Trust centre near Libanus. Usual 'crazy' army types and 'masochists' climbing Penyfan in sheet rain, demanding vegan pasta from the burger vans.

Mynydd Y Gethin - Twyn Sych - Brynbychan 6th May 2017

Started through Tirfounder with the "usual" set of 45 species including Little Egret returning again, and a Grass-snake near a Sedge Warbler nest, looks like he was sunbathing. The Canada Geese appear to be sitting on eggs. Up then to Mynydd y Gethin, startled a young Buzzard. Flocks of 6 or so Linnets with Siskin. Crossbill appeared as I sat on the stone bench here for lunch, bright orange primeval parrot looking. Unexpected Red Kite flew behind me, hoping for one at Tirfounder one day. Through Twyn Sych only 5 or so each of Skylark and Meadow Pipit, with billberry beds looking very abundant. A complete change at Perthygleision woods with abundance of Mistle, Song Thrush, Blackbird and Robin. The 'storm-cock' with his melancholy singing above the swaying conifers sounding like a tempetuous sea, and with the scent of sheep and new nettles was theraputic and otherwordly. Decided to camp at Twyn Brynbychan, views of 4 valleys, found cleft of a warm rock, heard 1st Cuckoo this year, heading north. After a double helping of homemade mushroom curry with handpicked wild garlic, nettles, spring greens was so full of beans decided to head back to Twyn Sych, sad sight on way back a dead fledgling Song Thrush, didnt see it on way here, made me think I may have stepped on him, I am sure I would have noticed, he was very cold. Camped at the leeward side of the stonewall, which as a barrier excellent, but stupendous as an outside giant radiator. I heard a strange call like a bark at 20:30 me thinking grouse, I have no doubts was a Rabbit, then saw a Bat fly over head moments later. Nothing unusual in the night but a 3/4 Moon with Jupiter and planets visible to its left. Kestrel in the morning as I took breakfast at the mountain bike center. Not a soul did I see on this trip, not 50 years ago there would be a shepherd, guardian, hunter, stone mason or passing drover, but now animals replace them in relief no doubt.

5th May 2017 - Aberdare Town Park

A leisurely jaunt today to check on the usual suspects at the park. 6 Rooks were visible at the rookery, making a commotion as I was near a fledgling that had presumably taken its first dive and dazed itself on the turf. I checked it over for broken bones and seemed fine. Reluctantly I left it in a tree, should be safe as houses in the park. The Chinese or African Geese present as always, large, fat and raucous, I suspect they never lay, but where do they come from? Recent introductions or decendants of those from the Victorian age foundation of the park? The library image archive notes nothing more than Swans and Mallards in the early days. Indeed 90% of the photos of what was then a boating lake feature 0 birds, suggesting they employed a bird scarer to keep it clean, and thus the 100 or so pigeons, gulls and geese are in fact recent colonisers. That conundrum also applies to the Egyptian Geese, one of the pair was very territorial in display thus I assume the other must be sitting on eggs on the island. Noted M. Bevan states the chicks never survive due to gull predation, which is why perhaps one was seen at Tirfounder last week, searching for new territory. A plucky little pair of Swallows nesting in the low beam gallery of the pond cafe, the father chattering with pride atop the light over the door gave a warm welcome. 4 Grey Wagtails a Dipper & a Kingfisher within 5 min of each other on the Cynon opposite the Glancynon Inn gave a refreshing feel to contrast with all the industrial activity around me, notably the start of revamping the old Aberdare Railway Station.

26th April 2017 - Phurnacite-Pwll Waun Cynon-Craig Y Dyffryn-Coed Tir Estyll

Always worth checking the lower ponds, and was not dissapointed to find a Sandpiper at the Phurnacite. As it was in the same place as the one found in Feb, assume it was a Green Sandpiper. The Swan pair are nesting here again, despite the obvious disturbance, fires, hunting/fishing etc. Plenty of Willow Warblers & Blackcaps, few Swallows, House Martins but no other migrants. Pwll Cynon was empty as usual with only 3 Lesser Gulls, as was Craig, the only thing in song here was the Cwmbach male voice choir giving an impromptu cooncert in the hospital. Coed Estyll along the old tram line was fruitfull with close ups of two young Buzzards and a Redstart at the golf course. Finding a fresh 2 litre pint of milk in the middle of those woods had me puzzling for the rest of the trip. Surely you would notice something that big dropping from your shopping bag.

10th April 2017 - Mynydd Y Glog

Ventured to stay overnight on this open plain maybe to hear some Grouse, but was as quiet as the giant iron age cairns here with only a full Moon and a visible Jupiter beneath as company. Awoken at 4am by a displaying Curlew, funny time to do it with no light to show him off. Plenty of Skylarks around at sunrise, with the clear crescent of Saturn visible. Down to Cwm Cadlan, with Wheatears in full song, and a solitary Buzzard. Down to Bodwigiad farm, where there was a good mix of early migrants, Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Redstart, Linnet and to my surprise a solitary Swallow, which was a good roundup to an inspiring adventure.

7th April 2017 - Cefn Y Gyngon

In search of the Great Grey Shrike before summer sets in, I was sure to be disappointed if I did not camp out for six hours, but was rewarded with a Red Kite swooping over the Country Park and a ditch swarming with 100's of tadpoles, a sorry sight to behold that they will be desiccated in a few weeks. You'd think the upland conifers to be dead spaces, but it is filled with songbirds, in larger flocks here than the valleys (Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Greenfinch). The reason they chose conifers for upland planting can be seen in the experimental Eucalyptus groves at Mynydd Ystradffernol. These, the remnants of a 100 or so species planted here, I presume in the 50's, poles with brass plaques tell of those they tried and failed. Rowan, Haw, Betula, Querc etc. No notable migrants, but a Canada Goose and Cormorant on Lluest Wen Reservoir brings some colour to that dead stretch of water. A pair of Kestrels have taken over the Peregrine roost duty at Craig yr Ysgol, possibly due to the domination of wind turbines.

Text & Pictures Copyright J.M.B. Spooksprings 2017