Thursday, 4 May 2017

Three Gower Icons

Apart from choughs and Dartford warblers, both of which are becoming reasonably common, we don’t have any rare breeding birds on the cliffs. It’s always the common things that are precious to me, and three birds stand out as Gower icons. It’s best to sit on the tightly packed turf on one of the higher paths to watch stonechats. Rarely still, they don’t sing much, and their song can sometimes be confused with dunnocks, but it’s the rattling scratchy stone-like calls that give them away. Probably the most iconic of our coastal birds, they sum up what it is to live by this most beautiful coastline. Males are astonishingly smart, but can vary so much; the degree of black on the head, and the extent of white on the collar distinguish individuals, but the jet-black bill, legs and eyes are constant. The pair below has a nest; it’s near, almost certainly low in thick gorse a little way down the cliff. Both parents quickly decide I’m no real threat and more or less ignore me as they feed their hungry young.

Rock pipits are Gower icons too, and I’ve long promised I will one day count the number of breeding pairs we have along the south coast. Smokey-grey and slightly larger than their meadow pipit cousins, they go mostly unnoticed by walkers on the cliff paths. Beginning just above the height of the path, a singing male parachutes down to the rocky shore, but I see no appreciative female.

Yellowhammers are the last of my three small icons, but alas they’re scarce now.   Most sing later in the summer, but to hear ‘a little bit of bread and no cheese’ from the tops of gorse, or hedgerow is becoming a rare event. A generation ago we were blessed with dozens along the cliffs, but there are none here today. Grain has been put out at various locations in winter in an attempt to increase numbers, but even so their demise continues. The thought of Gower without yellowhammers singing in summer is hard to imagine, but is now a real possibility.

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