March came in like the proverbial lion, but whether it will go out like a lamb remains to be seen. The weather has certainly been on a roller-coaster ride – starting with ‘the beast from the east‘ clashing with storm Ella, dumping a load of snow, and then alternating gales and calm, sun and rain, and anything else it can find, in any order or combination possible. This afternoon, at least, was dry and sunny, though still with a stiff breeze.
We headed for Angle Bay, first for a look at the birds, and then to walk to West Angle Bay and back to the village.
The tide was on its way out, so birds were quite distant at the eastern end of the bay. Bar-tailed godwits, curlew, redshank, wigeon, twenty or so pintail (double the usual number) and 15 light-bellied brent geese feeding along the shore. Gulls were abundant – mostly immatures now that the adults are making their way back to the breeding grounds. Young common gulls in particular were zipping around, screaming, and actually making more noise than the other species put together.
At the western – Angle Village – end of the bay, we were greeted by the sight of thirty or knot feeding along the water’s edge. That’s a pretty good number for the whole of the Cleddau Estuary, and they were close enough for some group shots. All still in winter plumage. One had colour-bands on its legs, so we may be able to find out more about its movements.
A bit further away, twenty shelduck preening and feeding. In the 1980s, we’d have 1200 or more on the estuary, but numbers have been declining, with an average of only 400 over the past four years. Why? Winter numbers seem to be steady or declining across Britain, so it’s not just here. We have fewer birds breeding these days, too.
Black-tailed godwits are becoming more common. Changes in their breeding sites in Iceland, and in their wintering areas in general mean that more birds are wintering in Britain. No colour-rings seen today, but from previous sightings, we know that birds often come back to the same place winter after winter. They’ll be on their way back to Iceland now, though only one was showing signs of moulting into breeding plumage.
From the bay, we walked along the Pembrokeshire Coast Trail, detouring to the life-boat station.
Near the life-boat station, this beautiful winter-plumaged black-throated diver suddenly popped up to the surface. It dived, and after what seemed like an age, popped up again in more or less the same place. It preened for a minute or so – in the photo it still has be bit of feather in its beak – then dived again. After nearly a minute under-water, it reappeared some distance upstream. This was the closest I’ve been to one, and certainly my best chance at photographs.
For the rest of the walk, it was a bit of a struggle against the brisk wind, the footpaths still muddy and slippery from all the rain, and the low afternoon sun. There weren’t many birds in the fields, though we did find a few corpses of lapwings, golden plovers and redwings that hadn’t made it through the cold spell.
At West Angle Bay, a few score of immature gulls lounged on the rocks. The sun and the wind were getting worse, so even seeing this Iceland gull among the herring gulls was difficult. The photo provides little more than proof that the bird was there. Was it the same individual that we saw on Pembroke Millpond last Saturday? One or two birds in some winters is the best we can expect here, but there does seem to have been a lot around the country this year.
I’d hoped for some early flowers, but they were few and far between, and very bedraggled from the rain. Primrose, lesser celandine just about showed their faces, while Alexanders still appeared to be suffering from the frost – this species is really from the Mediterranean, introduced during the Middle Ages, and grows best near the sea in mild sheltered areas.
You’d think that with a mild climate in the south-west of Wales, we’d have a head start on spring flowers, but it seems that the soil remains cold and damp for longer, and I hear reports of plants in flower across the rest of the country long before I see them here.
There is a new cycle route/footpath installed alongside the road between West Angle Bay and Angle village. Traffic wasn’t a problem today, but that path will make life a lot easier in the summer when the narrow road is full of people on holiday.