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Purple on the rocks

  I have the real pleasure of writing my first blog post of 2022 about a trip to Battery Point, Portishead, Bristol to photograph Purple Sandpipers (Calidris Maritima). As many of my readers will know I love waders probably above all bird species and so when I had the opportunity to get some pictures with my good friend Paul Joy of this rare, specially protected and very confiding wader species that winters in the UK coastland I was really excited. Up until this point I had never seen a Purple Sandpiper. They are small waders, bigger than a Dunlin but slightly smaller and less robust than a Turnstone.  They migrate to the UK in the winter from as far away places as Canada, Greenland, Svalbard, Fennoscandia and Russia. They then spend their time along the coasts roosting and feeding on various rocky outcrops. They have a preference for rocks covered with seaweeds where they forage for insects, molluscs and crustaceans. They get their names because of a Purple sheen that can be seen in t

The joy of birdwatching at Dinas


Wood Warbler singing at Dinas

I got invited by my good friend and fellow birder Paul Joy on a trip to RSPB Gwenffrwd-Dinas. It would be a trip out for a change to somewhere different than my usual Goldcliff Lagoons Saturday morning haunt. For the benefit of those readers that have never been to "Dinas"its a nature reserve located about ten miles outside Llandovery Carmarthernshire in mid-wales.

I first visited the reserve two years ago and was blown away by the place. The reserve is situated around a steeply sided hill and partly runs alongside the Towy River. The hill is dominated completely by an ancient woodland most of which comprises of Atlantic Oak Trees. I imagine that at one time the whole of the British Isles mainland would have had this kind of habitat. It really makes me feel like I am walking into some kind of British version of Jurassic Park when I visit as its like taking a walk back in time. 

The hill is completely covered by Oak Woodland

Panoramic view

In the woods

At this time of year the reserve is so lush and green. Billions of Oak Leaves form a silvan canopy of green and the woodland floor is carpeted in vivid purple blue bells.

The habitat is alive with wildlife. The reserve is well known to birders for being home to a range of great species such as Pied Flycatchers, Common Redstarts, Tree Pippits, and Wood Warblers. If you look up to the skies you have a good chance of seeing Red Kites, Ravens and Buzzards. The river Towy that runs alongside the reserve flows down through a rocky gorge that attracts Dippers, Grey Wagtails and Common Sandpipers. Walking through the reserve you feel a sense of the ancient and the magical.

Paul picked me just after stupid o'clock and we arrived at the reserve's small car park at about 6.30 am. On arrival a bank of clouds had moved in but it did not look like it was going to spoil the fun with any rain.

There is a "picnic area" adjacent to the car park that has a small feeding station that is full of surprises for the quiet and patient visitor. We sat and ate our breakfast and were treated to sights of Yellowhammers, Chaffinch, a family of Nuthatches, Blue Tits, Dunnock and Paul saw a Spotted Flycatcher close by on a dead tree. At one point even a Marsh Tit showed up.

Yellowhammer (male)

Yellowhammer (female)

Marsh Tit

A Nuthatch family turned up at the feeding station

One thing I could not quite fathom was why a gigantic information sign had been placed right next to the log that is used as a feeding station. Later in the day it would attract visitors to read it but in doing so  they disturbed the birds. I was disappointed to see that one lot of visitors had also decided to put a barbecue on one of the picnic tables and damaged it. People sometimes drive me nuts.

Aside from the little annoyances, seeing a Yellowhammer and Marsh Tit close up was fabulous.

The sun then broke through the clouds and it was time to explore the reserve proper. Paul led the way , he was as excited and "Joyous" as ever, his enthusiasm being very infectious. His company is guaranteed to give anyone a lift - especially when he is out with the camera.

The "Joyous On" Happy Paul.

The first part of the reserve has a lovely boardwalk through a beautiful Oak woodland that grows in a marshy area along side the river. Many of the trees are truly ancient . Big gnarled Oaks stand tall, each unique looking in its own right.

The boardwalk

Paul soon spotted a male Pied Flycatcher that was repeatedly visiting a nest box and we watched it from a respectful distance. We suspected it was feeding the female who was most likely sitting on eggs.

Pied Flycatcher (Male)

I think Paul got hypnotised by the Pied so I left him entranced for a short while and went a wandering.

As I walked further along the boardwalk a I heard lots of bird calls in a big branch of an Oak Tree that hung low just above my head. I looked up and there was a pair of Marsh Tits marshalling a brood of fledglings through the canopy. A real marvel to watch these little birds that are quite a rarity these days to see anywhere in Wales.

Marsh Tit (fledgling)

The carpet of bluebells was very impressive and there was a huge spread of Bluebells along the river which drew my attention and became the focus of my attention for about twenty minutes.

Beautiful carpets of  Bluebells

I then met up again with my enthusuastic companion and headed down the river. We caught site of a Dipper and pair of GreyWagtails but they were quite skittish. We had the reserve still effectively to ourselves before what Paul calls the "11 am crowd" turns up. I decided to put my drone up quickly over the river valley. Up it went and I think it afforded some truly unique views of the reserve. Click here to view my Skypixel Webpage.

The River Towy flows into quite a deep rocky gorge

The view from above 

Moving on, we set off along the beaten track that runs down through the gorge and into the depths of the woodland.

This part of the circular walk can be quite a challenge as you have to be careful with your footing. There are some lovely spots to stop as you walk around with the occasional bench to sit on.

Paul and I were eager to find some Wood Warblers and Common Redstarts. We hear plenty singing but saw nothing.

In one location we sat up on a nest box that we thought belonged to a Common Redstart with chicks. Paul had more patience than me and decided to lie in wait as he wanted to discover what actual bird species was using it. I went a wandering again down the path only to see some kind of little "brown job"flittering between trees. I followed it and then the little bird stopped and then started singing. Now I knew this bird in fact was not all all brown, but instead a very nice shade of green and its song was so distinctive - it was a Wood Warbler.

Singing Wood Warbler

Lovely green plumage

Now it was my turn to be totally entranced and focussed on bird I wanted to photograph . I was was fortunate to get some nice views and soon the rattle of my Nikon D500 shutter attracted Pauls attention. Within minutes Pauls was woo-ping with "Joy| and had a huge smile on his face and so was I.

Venturing on along the trail I saw two friendly faces approaching me and for a moment suddenly wondered whether I was in fact in Goldcliff and all this was an illusion as the two birders ( Scott and Martin) I normally see at my local reserve. It was good to see they were enjoying the reserve as much as we were.

Shortly afterwards we spotted two photographers camped up on an old dead tree trunk. They had found a pair of Common Redstarts. After chatting we soon discovered they were also from South Wales and knew of us through the South Wales Birder Facebook page. What a small world it is.

Common Redstart (male)

Things would get even more surreal . Suddenly out of the green forest gloom came another friendly face  - my mate Wayne who I normally share a hide with at Goldcliff appeared with his sister with a big beaming smile saying what I was thinking - "fancy seeing you here". It was getting like a South Wales birding convention. On about coincidences or what?

I must admit it was great to catch up with like minded and very happy people in wonderful scenery.

Big Thanks to the "Joyous One" for a great day out.

The canopy

The Bird List

  1. Yellowhammer
  2. Chaffinch
  3. Dunnock
  4. Nuthatch
  5. House Sparrow
  6. Starling
  7. Spotted Flycatcher
  8. Blue Tit
  9. Great Tit
  10. Marsh Tit
  11. Jackdaw
  12. Cuckoo (Heard)
  13. Carrion Crow
  14. Raven
  15. Buzzard
  16. Willow Warbler
  17. Chiff Chaff
  18. Wood Warbler
  19. Jay
  20. Dipper
  21. Grey Wagtail
  22. Woodpigeon
  23. Common Redstart
  24. Pied Flycatcher
  25. Red Kite
  26. Great Spotted Woodpecker
  27. Swallow
  28. House Martin
  29. Canada Goose
  30. Blackbird
  31. Song Thrush
  32. Pied Wagtail
  33. Treecreeper
  34. Robin


  1. It was a pleasure to have you as company in a great venue. I ticked of all my target birds with an extra of Spotted Flycatcher. Looking forward to going out again for a recharge of the body's batteries. Thanks for the banter. Thanks also to your Mum for my nickname.

  2. It was a pleasure to have you as company in a great venue. I ticked of all my target birds with an extra of Spotted Flycatcher. Looking forward to going out again for a recharge of the body's batteries. Thanks for the banter. Thanks also to your Mum for my nickname.

    1. Thanks Paul. Agreed on all points it was a grand day out.


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