#LocalBigYear Diary: July 2022 – BirdGuides

I live at the gateway to the Gower, on the South Wales coast just west of Swansea, and I am blessed with many excellent habitats a short distance from home. Much of my local birdwatching is, unsurprisingly, concentrated in and around the national park, particularly the extensive sand and salt marshes of the Loughor Estuary and the fields and scrub of Rhossili, a headland at the southwestern tip of the Gower.

Mumbles, a small seaside town home to Swansea’s rich and famous (Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones own a property here), may not be a prime birding destination right away, but a thriving population of kittiwakes on the pier makes it one of my favorite local places to visit during the summer. From the tip of the pier it is possible to see my favorite British gull species up close, which nest on the struts supporting the lifeboat station, as well as on specially designed platforms on the adjacent old pier.

Kittiwakes share the Mumbles with Hollywood royalty (Tate Lloyd).

On the Laridae front, Swansea Bay – and Black Pill in particular – has a storied history, with rare visitors including royal tern and Ross’s Gull. For a number of years the site was known for regular sightings of Ring-billed Gulls, having played host to Britain’s first in March 1973. Although the species has not been reliably recorded since 2014, it is not viewed as well as it was in the past and frequent checks of the site’s gull roost will no doubt prove to be a regular fixture for the rest of my birding year.

The wider area is home to a number of Mediterranean gulls outside the breeding season, and in July the first returnees can be seen in the remains of their breeding plumage. A few hours of rock pooling in neighboring Bracelet Bay yielded my first examples since spring, with two black-haired adults accompanying a fresh juvenile on the rocky beach.

When I got home, in the middle of the month I saw a particularly prolific flying swarm of ants leaping from my desk and running into the garden – an adult Mediterranean Gull circled vocally above the crowd amid throngs of Black-headed Gulls and European Herring Gulls!

Another site that cannot possibly be overlooked in my #LocalBigYear area is Rhossili. July was prolific in all seasons, serving a platter of juvenile Jackdaw and Wheatear along the cliff tops, while Dark Green Fritillaries danced across the moor. Colonies of Fulmar, Guillemot and Razorbill on Worms Head were in full swing and luckily managed to prevent the avian flu epidemic from ravaging so many others in Britain.

Jackdaw is an important part of the skyline of Rhossili (Sam Viles).

Lundy Island, Devon, lies almost due south of the headland and is visible even on a wet and gloomy day. Combined with the mega-colonies of Pembrokeshire, the region is home to over 50% of the world’s breeding population of Manx Shearwater. Seeing them far from Rhossili can largely depend on a nearby food supply, but on a good day this can prove to be excellent. Fortunately, a few visits over the course of the month paid off – more than 3,000 birds were able to enjoy their pursuits just a short distance offshore.

The popular sunflower fields at The Vile, an old farm just inland from the peninsula, will soon be in full swing, attracting visitors from all over Wales and providing an abundant bounty for migrating songbirds. Could a rare squeaker or bunting be lurking for the next few weeks and months?

Unsurprisingly, July is one of the quietest months at the mouth of the Loughor. At the end of the month, however, the first waders returned to their winter home, with Oystercatchers, Black-tailed Godwits and Curlews most evident. Last fall, the estuary spawned a possible Half Palmated Sandpiper alongside Curlew Sandpipers and Little Stints. Fingers crossed that this year proves to be just as lucrative!

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