Friday, 24 March 2017

Summer stars

On the cliffs the light turns from dark and threatening to light grey, the rain stops, clouds pass and, like throwing a switch, the sun bursts out.  Within minutes blue sky is painted with thin wisps of racing clouds, bumblebees become airborne, robins, dunnocks and blackbirds respond with song, and long-tailed tits as if from nowhere, search the tips of an isolated willow for insects.  At this time of year, I always hope in vain for a ring ouzel on the coast, but can’t recall the last time I was lucky.  I remember ringing my first and only one on the Pembrokeshire island of Skokholm in the early 1970’s.  Caught on spring migration in one of the Heligoland traps, they are regular visitors to the island during March and April. I read on the Internet of their arrival in ones and twos, but finding real ones is much more difficult.

It will soon be time to take to the hills north of Gower in search of three summer stars; wheatear, whinchat and ring ouzel, but there has been worrying news about all three in recent years.  With wheatears well down, the range of whinchats contracting and the number of ring ouzels causing real concern, the chance of finding them all on the same day in the mountains is looking slim once more.  However it’s not all doom and gloom in the uplands.  The first results from the BTO’s Upland Breeding Bird Survey provided some better news; although its early days, after a long period of decline there are signs that ring ouzels may be holding their own and meadow pipits, red grouse, buzzards and merlins have all increased.  Who knows we may have turned a corner, but it will take a real optimist to hope that all of these would breed on Gower.

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