Watching the Whinchats

There is one bird species that I look forward to seeing in the Gwent Uplands its the Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra).

For several years I have been returning to the same area and keeping an eye on them. Whinchats are summer migrants to Wales. They are red listed and in decline, not being such a common site these days. I occasionally see them at Goldcliff Lagoons during the spring time in April or May when they are passing through the reserve to move on to their breeding grounds. 

In Gwent this tends to be in the Gwent Uplands. The name "Whin" is an old word meaning "Gorse". Their Welsh name is Crec yr Eithin which also mean Gorse or Furze. In my experience I find this a little misleading as when I see them they are almost always perched up on the top of ferns ( bracken).

This year the Whinchats have returned to their usual patch that I monitor regularly with my friend Paul Joy. They have been very difficult to find early on in the season and they show better when the ferns have started to grow tall.

When I am searching for the birds I often pick their calls up long before I see them and I then use this to zero in on where they are perched.

Male Whinchat

The males have strikingly marked plumage and their orange/white coloured chests really stand out against the green.

I found a nice spot to watch a pair of Whinchat's from a respectful distance. They are quite inquisitive birds and will move in to a closer perch to keep a close eye on their observers.

Female Whinchat

The females have duller plumage than the male birds but they do remain some of the wonderful markings , especially on their heads.

Whinchats spend the winter months in faraway places such as central and southern Africa. Its incredible to think that they then fly monster distances , many crossing the Sahara desert to make it to Southern Europe and then fly further north to a Welsh Hill in order to breed. I marvel at how such a small bird perched up on a fern in the uplands of Wales can travel such immense distances under its own power. Nature really is wondrous.

The Whinchats feed on invertebrates and the fern beds offer an area that is  rich in all kinds of food and the dense foliage and undergrowth make great places for building and hiding a nest.

I hope the Whinchats have plenty of luck and have a successful summer ahead.

Male Whinchat

This year I have been using my Olympus OM-1 with the Zuiko 100-400 F5-6.3 IS lens. Whilst this lens is not part of the pro range I have found it to be a very capable and sharp lens for a relatively low cost. Its also small and very light to carry. The combination of the OM-1 4/3rds sensor and zoom lens has given me significant reach - almost equivalent of 800mm. In addition to this the camera has an inbuilt digital teleconverter which has been very effective at giving a little more reach and in good light has resulted in nice sharp colourful images.

I have been using this combination of lens and camera since the turn of the year and I have been very impressed by the OM-1 system. The reduction in weight compared to my previous Nikon kit has also been of huge benefit reducing back and neck pain caused by carrying huge lumps of metal around my neck after a day out in the field photographing birds.

Paul and I will not be disclosing the exact location of the Whinchats.


  1. Very nice. We saw a couple on one of our BBS squares which is close to Gwent/Glam border. I know another reliable spot not too far from that one, but haven't had a chance to go there this year and doubt that I will as we are going way for around a month soon. but as a couple of weeks of that will be on the west coast of Scotland and the Uists, Lewis and Harris, and a day trip from Mull round and on Staffa and the Treshnish isles, there will be compensations.

    1. Thanks for the comment Paul. Hope you are well. Enjoy Scotland.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Within 300m of getting off the ferry in Lochboisdale, South Uist today, we stopped at a roadside pool. Heron, Oystercatcher, Greylag... Nice enough.

      Then a SEO rose from the ground of a nearby garden and flew right at us, too close for bins!

      15 minutes later, we stopped again. While I was watching a Redshank on a post, Janet looked round to see a White-tailed Sea Eagle flying low about 100m away. Good start? I think so.


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