Saturday, 7 October 2017

Greenland Race

Before the industrial revolution Swansea Bay must have been an absolutely wonderful place for wildlife.  Two significant rivers flow into the bay and between them great areas of wetland have gradually been ‘improved’ for man’s use.  A still expanding sand dune system connects the two rivers; it’s been growing since Victorian times and contains many high and stable dunes.  Although a great deal of the original wetland has been lost to development, there’s lots left, and the sand dunes contain much treasure.

The dunes fizz with small flocks of goldfinches, linnets, chaffinches and greenfinches, and smaller parties of skylarks and meadow pipits, but it’s the merlin on a fence post that gets my adrenaline going.  This tiniest of British falcons sits patiently watching the flocks before darting off, low to the ground, and at great speed to attack the finches.  I watch several attempts, none of which succeed, and am torn between the fortunes of the hunter and hunted.  A full fifteen minutes elapses before she gives up and disappears from view, most of her potential victims by then having made a sensible exit.

Hares are uncommon in these parts, and one in the dunes is a real bonus as I head for the beach.  It's  high water and the shore is alive with waders.  Oystercatchers, sanderlings and ringed plovers in hundreds, together with lesser numbers of curlews, bar-tailed godwits and dunlins, suggests that this relatively undisturbed side of the Swansea Bay is now the most important place for waders. Decades ago, most congregated at Blackpill, but over the years, human disturbance and natural changes in the sediments have changed this.

Offshore, a dozen or so great-crested grebes hint of winter to come, and a few late swallows hurry off around the bay towards their jumping off point for the Devon coast at Mumbled Head.  Back in the dunes a wheatear looks large, and I wonder if it’s from the Greenland race.  They’re easy to tell in spring with rich orange breasts, but this one is a juvenile, and I’m not sure.

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