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Forest Bathing in the Woods of Gwent

  A beautiful Bluebell Wood. This spring I have focused my photography on new areas beyond my usual haunt of Goldcliff Lagoons and have been exploring several wonderful local woods. Life for me is busy at the moment and at times the stresses and strains of life have left me in a real need of opportunities to get outdoors with nature. I am fortunate to have some great woods on my doorstep where I can spend some time "Forest Bathing" to detox and destress from all the hustle and bustle. Spring is one of the best times of the year to visit the woods of Gwent. The woods are full of life. It's like a botanic explosion has occurred with flora and fauna of all kinds coming into life and making an appearance. Walking through the woods is a real sensory experience. The eyes are dazzled with an array of different colours, lots of fresh greens, the whole spectrum of coloured flowers, Yellow celandine, the white of the Anemones, Pinks of the Red Campions, and more yellows from Wild D

Sker Point

 

Golden Plovers have amazing camouflage.

I recently visited Sker Point, near Kenfig Nature Reserve, Porthcawl. It's an amazing place to go birdwatching. Sker consists of a large outcrop of rocks that lies at the edge of the Kenfig Sands beach. The point is relatively easy to walk to if you park in the Kenfig nature reserve car park. I took the footpath that leads down from the car park through Kenfig golf course. 

Sker House

I had to cross about three fairways and then follow the path past Sker House ( the big yellow building) near where the Hoopoe was sighted in recent weeks. The path leads down past the dunes and a small pond to the coast and the point. It took me about a 25-minute walk carrying all my camera equipment until I reached Sker Point.

Sker Point

The rock can be seen just to the right of the middle of this photograph.

Apparently, Sker is a Nordic name and is derived from the Scottish word Skerry which means small rocky island. An apt name I think as its suits the large relatively flat rocky outcrop that forms the point. For the most part, the rocks can be negotiated with care by foot. A significant part of it will be underwater at high tide so you need to be careful when you visit that you keep an eye on the tide times.

My target species for this visit was going to be Golden Plovers. I had seen recent reports that a large flock has been sighted on the point and I wanted to get some good pictures and video of them. Golden Plovers are not the easiest birds to get close to at high tide roosts so I would have to use some fieldcraft to get into a position where I could watch them without disturbing them too much.

High tide was due at mid-day so I arrived early at Sker at about 8.30 am. My plan was to locate the Golden Plover flock and then try and sneak up them using larger rocks as cover and to then sit up and wait for the incoming hide to push them in closer to me.

On arrival at the point, I scanned the rocks with my binoculars. I saw nothing of interest. I walked about twenty meters into the central area of the point near an inlet called Pwll Dafan and decided to scan ahead with my Nikon P1000 camera instead as it has far greater magnification with its super zoom lens. As I did so I spotted movement on the rocks and to my surprise there in front of me was a flock of about one hundred Golden Plovers. Their camouflage was incredible against the rocks and to be honest if a few of the birds had not moved like they did, I would never have seen them.

Can you see them?

The plovers have now molted into their winter plumage which has a disruptive golden pattern to it that makes them very difficult to spot against the rocks at Sker.

I had found the plovers which was an excellent start to my day but now I had a big problem. They were gathered on a flat area of the point which was going to make things very challenging to get close to them.

I looked for some cover that I could use. Fortunately, between me and the plovers, there was some terrain I could use to my advantage - a big rock that was about 1.5 meters square and high enough for me to kneel behind. Just enough for me to hide from the plovers.

So I pulled up my hood and cameras in hand crept up to the rock using a combination of scuttling across crab-like over the rocks and shimee-ing along on my knees. I got wet as there were a lot of rock pools between me and the rock but eventually, I made it. Throughout the plovers kept a close eye on me but just like on the occasions I have visited Newton Point if you keep low and slow and outside the bird's inbuilt "danger zone area" they will tolerate your approach.

It took me about fifteen minutes to get behind that rock. I took it slowly and moved in little bursts. Now kneeling behind the rock all the plovers could see was my upper body and the cameras. I was now about twenty meters away from the nearest birds.

Hiding behind the rock

Just a matter of patience

My patience and stealthy approach were paying off as the Golden Plovers were not in the slightest bothered and were doing their own thing. Preening, squabbling between themselves, and moving closer to me every now and again as the tide was starting to turn more quickly.

The sun was shining, it was getting quite warm, the wind was easing and I was now in my element.

From the direction of Kenfig Sands came another flock of about 150 plovers arrived at the point. This flock circled around me and then landed in with the main flock. They must have seen me but it was good to see them settle down and join the roost.

The sunshine really brings our the gold coloured plumage

Close up the plumage is beautiful

Heads up

On several occasions, half the flock decided to explode into the air and put on quite an aerobatic display formation flying all around the Sker before eventually settling again. 

The noise of the birds flapping their wings was incredible and several times they made low passes overhead and settled twenty meters or less away from me. That was fantastic. I love taking pictures of waders in flight and Golden Plovers look fabulous when the sun catches their Golden Plumage.

The flock takes flight

Nice views wee had of them in flight.

Aerial acrobatic formation flying.

As time went by I sat there eating my breakfast surrounded by plovers. The tide had pushed them in around me and I was surrounded by a semi-circle of these fantastic waders. They have huge black eyes. probably the largest of any of the waders that grace our shores.

I have made a video of my Golden Plover observations that can be watched on YouTube.



Suddenly one of the birds really caught my attention as I watched them. There was Golden Plover with colored rings. Now, this bird really had my attention and I focused closely on it. My view was only a brief one before it disappeared behind the rocks but I had enough to video and photograph it.

The ring was marked XZ6 on the right tibia and it had a red and silver ring on the right leg tarsus.

The ringed plover

X76


I later reported this sighting to  Peter Leafe who confirmed ringing the bird in Montgomeryshire on 20/11/2020 and that the bird had been aged then as being three years old ( see the below screenshot from the reporting app I used).

Information provided by the reporting tool


I was really pleased with seeing that bird as I love finding these ringed birds and learning a little history about them and it's always good to contribute to the research work that ringing groups do.

As high tide approached after about three hours of kneeling on the rocks rising waters forced me to move. It had risen so much the rock I was using for cover was now having waves lapping up against it.

I retreated to the pebble shoreline and decided to scan the rocks from there. The rising tide seemed to have unsettled the plover flock and up they went circling above the point for quite some time. During the aerobatics, I picked out a Grey Plover by its hairy armpits and it was piping off alarm calls throughout like a car alarm going off.

Grey Plover and its hairy armpits.


More Golden Plovers in flight



They fly off to find another spot to roost as the waters cover the rocks at high tide.

Eventually, some of the flock dropped back down near to where some Oystercatchers had gathered at the shoreline whilst the rest of the flock disappeared towards Kenfig sands.

There were other waders also on the point. A large flock of Turnstones had been taking in the air regularly. They whizzed about in tight formation always staying close to the shoreline and when they did settle on the rocks the views were distant only.

I decided to stretch my legs and walk over to where I could take a look at the beach. Their tide was in now and there were few birds apart from gulls on Kenfig Sands. There was a rather intrepid-looking surfer braving the waves, however. The view I must admit was tremendous and I enjoyed it for a time whilst finishing off my sandwiches. As I did so I had a Wheatear and a Rock Pipit to keep me company.

Rock Pippit

Wheatear

My next part of the point to explore was the eastwards side that is closer to Porthcawl. I walked down the coastal path and whilst doing so came across a friendly fellow birdwatcher. I showed him where I had seen the plovers and he pointed out to a Peregrine Falcon that was perched up on some rocks near the shoreline. Perhaps this was the protagonist earlier that had been causing the plovers to take flight.

Peregrine Falcon


I zeroed in on the falcon and using a similar technique to what I had used with the plovers crept up as close as I could. I don't normally have much luck with falcons as they usually just don't tolerate anyone getting that close to them. This bird however was quite comfortable with me and I was able to sit on a rock and photograph it. The Nikon P1000 came in very handy as I could get a nice view of the Peregrine with that extra reach it affords.

I watched the Peregrine for about twenty minutes before it decided it was time to stop posing for photographs and it flew off further down the coast.

I have been spotted.


Sker Point is a fabulous place. I really loved the wildness of the place. It had been a fabulous day out and I felt so refreshed from all the many lungfuls of sea air and the Golden Plovers and the Peregrine had given me a huge birding fix.


Bird Sighting List

  1. Golden Plover
  2. Curlew
  3. Turnstones
  4. Dunlin
  5. Rock Pipit
  6. Wheatear
  7. Herring Gull
  8. Lesser Black-Backed Gull
  9. Oystercatcher
  10. Linnet
  11. Stonechat
  12. Jackdaw
  13. Carrion Crow
  14. Starling
  15. House Sparrow
  16. Grey Plover
  17. Robin
  18. Dunnock
  19. Blackbird



Comments

  1. Wonderful, Blair, so good to report ringed birds. And the GP flock at Sker is special. The first time Janet and I were there, many years ago and with no prior knowledge that GP were there, , we were so entranced by them that we didn't notice until we turned round that there was some 30m of rapidly deepening water between us and the sands. We made it, carrying our scope over my head..... Another 5 mins and it could have been a serious problem. When you say "ringing the bird in Montgomeryshire on 20/11/2021 " I think you mean 2020?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Paul, Thanks for the comments and reading the blog. You are quite correct I did mean 2020 - a typo. I will edit that mistake.Cheers

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