Pembrokeshire Bird Report 1880

Bob Haycock came across this report when researching historical information about chough in the county. We’ve reproduced it in its entirety here, breaking it into sections and paragraphs to make it easier to read. In the original, each section was a single paragraph. The scientific names are as given in the original – many somewhat different to those used today.

The Rev. Clennell Wilkinson, Rector of Castlemartin, and for some time President of the Pembrokeshire Field Naturalists’ Club, provided much information in respect of the birds of the Castlemartin district for Mathew’s 1894 Birds of Pembrokeshire

You could scroll straight down to the bird section, and ignore the rest.

South Pembrokeshire Naturalists’ Field Club

Evening meeting, January 29, 1880

Vice-President’s address, and, Paper on the Flora of South Pembrokeshire, by the Hon Secretary

The first evening meeting of this Society was held in Pembroke, in St. Michael’s Schoolroom, on Thursday, January 29th. There was a fair attendance of members, and a small but interesting exhibition of microscopes and objects of natural history. Among the latter a portion of Mr. Barrett’s splendid collection of moths, was much and deservedly admired. Mr. Wilkinson exhibited some cases of eggs, and Mr. Wratislaw a small case of beetles, containing types of the different families. Mr. Cherrill showed specimens of some of the rarer plants of the district, and microscopes were exhibited by Dr. Clunn of Tenby, Dr. Saer of Pembroke, and the Honorary Secretary.

Weather

In the course of the evening the Vice-President (the Rev. C. Wilkinson) said—It is an old saying that English people meet, the first thing they talk about is the weather, and the next is about their neighbours. You will not, therefore, be surprised if, in addressing you for the first time:, I also begin with the former topic, though I do not mean to proceed to the latter, more doubtful subject. 

In speaking to you as members of a “Field Club.” I apprehend that the weather must be a subject worthy of our consideration, especially when it has been such as we have experienced during the past summer, the very period when the chief operations of our Club were taking place. And when we remember that the past season has been as unpropitious to naturalists as to farmers, it may well be supposed that the very existence of the infant club has been imperiled. It has, however, survived, and I hope will survive, increase, and flourish for many years to come.

In a climate like this, when a fine day can never be predicted, the uncertainty of the weather must always be a great drawback to-any operations out of doors ; yet when people are in earnest the very uncertainty of their work may add zest to its pursuit. I hope that such may be the case with us under these and similar trials that we may meet with.

The past summer we have been given to understand, has been perhaps the coldest and wettest on record, and therefore we may consider ourselves rather fortunate than otherwise, that only two out of four days of meeting have been spoilt by rain; and damp, so that many of our members, anticipating rain, did not put in an appearance. One day, however—that on which the meeting was held, by the kind permission of the Earl of Cawdor, at Stack-pole Court—was all that could be wished. We will hope for the time to come that we enjoy a fuller share of sunshine than we have during the past season. 

I mention these circumstances as sufficient to account for any deficiency of work done, and for a rather meagre list of captures and discoveries made by members of the Club during the year. Yet we have results to record and some of them valuable. I shall endeavour to sum up some of the most interesting facts and captures made and observed by members of the S. P. N. F. C.

Birds

There have been no attempts made to collect birds, though their visits and habits have not escaped notice.  I will make a few remarks upon some rare, or at any rate not common, birds which have been observed in this part of Pembrokeshire, though not all within the past year.

There was a very fine specimen of the Gyr Falcon shot in the neighbourhood of the Haven not many years ago, and now in the possession of Dr. Morison.  I mention this in consequence of the rarity of the bird in this country, and therefore worthy of a place in our records. The common Buzzard Falco Buteo, which is now becoming very uncommon in most places, still continues to haunt our burrows near the sea. It is one of the largest of our hawks, and I have observed it near Freshwater West within the last few weeks. The Peregrine Falcon Falco Peregrinus, the chief of our falcons, still, I am glad to say,  flourishes and rears its young both at Stackpole and Stack Rocks every year.

The Raven also builds there, and the beautiful little Red-legged Chough Corvus craculus is to be found all along the South Cliffs. After severe frosts which have prevailed during these two last winters, I regret to say that I have found many of these interesting and rare birds lying dead upon the Burrows, killed, as I believe, by the Severity of the weather. And, indeed, there do not appear to be so many about our shores now as there were three or four years ago. I trust, however, that they may soon again become numerous. They still are to be seen at Stackpole, Stack Rocks, Linney, Freshwater West, and Angle.

The Rev. C. M. Phelps, of Tenby, has twice seen what he believes to-be the Rose-coloured Pastor Turdus roseus between Pembroke and Tenby.  It is a very rare bird in this country, and is about the size of a starling. I myself also observed at Freshwater West, about this time last year, a bird flying low across the Burrows, which, far as I could judge, must have been this same species. The day was very dull, and it was towards night, so that I had not a very good view of it, and it seemed useless trying to follow up the bird. I would not, therefore, say for certain that it was the Rose-coloured Pastor, but I do not know any other bird that it could have been. With these three recent instances of the occurrence, or supposed occurrence, of so rare a bird in this part of the country, I think it worthy of the attention of the members of our Club, that they may investigate the matter further, and try to place it beyond dispute, that we have such visitors within our district.

The Cirl Bunting Emberiza Cirlus has been occasionally shot, and I have seen two skins of this bird, obtained on the Ridgeway, between Pembroke and Tenby. The Black Redstart Phoenicura Tithys I observed a few years ago, on the 29th of March, in my own garden. It frequently came close under the windows, and remained about the house the whole day. It was a male bird.

Lepidoptera

I will now pass on to Lepidoptera. In this branch of natural history we have some experienced collectors in the Club. One would have supposed that of all branches of natural history, the one which would have suffered most from a season like the past would have been that which embraces the lepidopterous insects. This has no doubt been in part the case, yet there have been some remarkable exceptions. The chief of these has been the unusual abundance of the Painted Lady Butterfly Pyrameis Cardui. As the year 1877 was remarkable for the abundance of Colias Edusa, not only here but in most other places, so the year 1879 has been for an extraordinary abundance of Pyrameis Cardui.

That this should have happened in so cold and wet a season is strange, though not unprecedented; for I have met with a passage from an old record, called the “Journal of a Naturalist,” which mentions a parallel case. Speaking of the uncertainty of the appearance of this butterfly, the author says that its abundance appears to require a succession and variety of seasons and then it springs into life we know not how. This was particularly obvious in the summer of 1815, and the two following, which were almost unceasingly cold and rainy : scarcely a moth or butterfly appeared. And in the early part of 1818 the season was not less ungenial:  a few half animated creatures alone struggled into being; yet this painted lady was fostered into life and became the commonest butterfly of the year; it has, however, but very partially visited us since that period. The keenest entomologist, perhaps, would not much lament the absence of the beauty,’ if such cheerless seasons were always requisite to bring it to perfection.”

This a very remarkable parallel to the phenomenon which has been witnessed, during the same sort of weather, in the past year, when Cardui appeared in countless thousands and with it a great abundance of the Gamma Moth Plusia Gamma. In this neighbourhood the numbers of P. Cardui were very great. On the 14th of August, in the course of a drive from Castlemartin into Pembroke, the morning being warm and sunny, and this insect at that time emerging from the pupa state in greatest quantities, I must have seen at least three hundred of them; whereas in an ordinary season not half a dozen would have been visible.

But in other countries they were abundant in a still more extraordinary degree. In Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Upper Austria, Switzerland, and Belgium, they were the subject of general remark among naturalists.

Some suppose that they passed over from the continent into this country, but this I am inclined to doubt. I do not think that the numbers of hybernated specimens seen in the spring were in excess of most other years. Yet the quantities of the larvæ observed on the thistles in July were ,much greater than usual, from these came the multitude observed in the following month. It would therefore appear that the season was propitious chiefly in the hatching of the eggs and the rearing of the larvæ. I believe that in the past year, this species was double brooded, though the theory is not generally accepted.

The larvæ which were collected in July seem for the most part to have been feeding near the, flower of the thistle, or at any rate well up the stalk, and these went through their changes and became perfect Imagines in August. But later in the season, about the second week in October, small larvæ were observed feeding on the seedling thistles, under the leaves, close upon the ground; and from these I succeeded in obtaining perfect specimens of P. Cardui as late as the 20th of November.

But to return to what has been ,said about the abundance of this insect during the past year in other countries. The flights seem to have been in a northerly direction. At Angers the number seen passing along one street was computed at 50,000 in one hour. At Geneva a cloud of them is said to have darkened the sun for several minutes. These were observed in some places as early as May, but the beginning of June seems to have been the time of the special migration in France and Germany. In Austria a swarm was so dense that it was computed to amount to at least 1,000,000.

There were, besides this species, which has attracted so much attention, in this neighbourhood, about the usual number of Argynnis Aglaia, Lycæna Ægon, and some others of our local kinds. The larvæ of many moths, also, seemed to be in unusual abundance—such as Bombyx Rubi, Hadena Pisa, Dicranura Vinula, and Smerinthus Populi.

The most important discoveries which have been made in this branch of natural history are due, however, to our most accomplished lepidopterist, Mr. Barrett. He, having heard of the discovery in Devonshire of new Clearwing, which is bred in the thrift, and that the same had also been discovered in the Isle of Man, and in each case in such situations as exactly corresponded with our rocky sea-coasts, searched diligently and found it not unfrequent in this locality. And during the past year many of the larvæ of this new and rare insect have been obtained. The name of it is Sesia Philanthiformis, or the Thrift Clearwing.

There is, moreover, another still more important discovery which he has made, and that is of a new Pyralite, which had not previously been recorded as found in this country. This was Ebulea Stachydalis, and has been found at Stackpole and at several places in Castlemartin, although it does not at present appear to have been found elsewhere.

Conchology

I will now turn to the subject of conchology. There are many places where some of our rarer shells are found,. and yet the localities are little known. Scaphander Lignarius and Trochus Granulatus, as well as Aporrhais Pes-peleicani, are found finer in the Haven than in any other locality that I have heard of. Cerithium Adversum, Cerithopsis Tuberculare, and Mangelia Teres, are rare shells, and are to be found at Freshwater West. Lyonsiå Norvegica and Scalaria Communis are obtained from the Haven of unusual size. . Janthina Communis is washed up also at certain seasons, especially about the autumn equinox, if the wind has been blowing for some days from the S. W.

Natica Sordida is to be obtained from St. Bride’s bay by dredging, where it is unusually fine. This is a very rare shell.

Besides these I would wish to mention the following list of shells, all, more or less abundant in certain localities in South Pembrokeshire: Pholas Dactylus (Amroth), Venerupus Irus, Tellina Incarnata, Lutraria Elliptica (very fine at Tenby), Tapes Decussatä, and T. Virginea, Venus Casina and V. Fasciata, Artemis Exoleta and A. Lincta, Circe Minima, Lucina Borealis, Diplodonta Rotundata, Arca Tetragona, Pinna Pectinata (fine from Haven), Pecten Maximus, Chiton Fascicularis, Emarginula Reticulata, Trochus Zizyphinus, v. Lyonsii, T. Lineatus, Scalaria Turtoni, S. Clathratula, Trophon Muricatus, T. Clathratts, Mangelia Gracilis, M. Purpurea, M. Striolata, M. Septangularis, Ovula Patula, and Marginella Lævis.

Botany

The list of plants observed has been carefully registered by our Secretary, and he has prepared a paper on the subject.

Note – this was presented as a separate paper, not included in the main report.

The Future

There are still several subjects which it was proposed that this Club should take up, and in which, as yet, little or nothing has been done.

We want some of our members to take an interest in coleopterous insects; and I believe that there is some good ground for the pursuit of this branch of natural history in our immediate neighbourhood.

Another subject we should like to hear more about is Geology, and considering that Pembrokeshire, with its great extent of sea coast, where the various strata are exposed to view, is so well adapted to the pursuit of this science, it is a great pity that none of our members have taken up this subject. I do hope that in the course of the present year something may be done to advance this portion of the work of the Club.

Archaeology was also mentioned in our rules, and with the number of interesting ruins by which we are surrounded, it is strange that we have not yet found anyone who will undertake to qualify himself to speak with authority respecting them.

I am glad to be able to announce that prizes are now offered for the best collections made within the year in several branches of natural history. A circular has been sent to each member specifying the collections for which prizes will be given. I hope that this will stimulate many of our number to be more diligent in observing the .natural history of our district.

Let me in conclusion request you all to join in wishing success to our Club, and I hope that it is now in a fair way of answering the purposes for which it was called into being.

Sources of Information

Pembrokeshire Bird Report 1880

Bob Haycock came across this report when researching historical information about chough in the county. We’ve reproduced it in its entirety here, breaking it into sections and paragraphs to make it easier to read. In the original, each section was a single paragraph. The scientific names are as given in the original – many somewhat […]

Pembrokeshire Breeding Bird Atlas 2003-07

The Pembrokeshire Breeding Bird Atlas 2003-07 provided an update to the 1994 Birds of Pembrokeshire, covering the breeding species only. THE MAKING OF THE ATLAS Introduction The county of Pembrokeshire is some 158,000 hectares (613 square miles) in extent, with its southern, western and northern boundaries all coastal. The climate is maritime, with strong oceanic influences […]

Birds of Pembrokeshire 1994

DONOVAN. J. and REES. G. 1994, Birds of Pembrokeshire (Status and Atlas of Pembrokeshire Birds), Dyfed Wildlife Trust. The species accounts from this book are reproduced on this website with permission of the authors and the Wildlife Trust. Background to the 1984-88 breeding distribution maps (adapted from Donovan & Rees, 1994) Maps of breeding distribution were […]

1980s BTO Winter Atlas

The Winter Atlas maps 200 species occurring in Britain and Ireland in winter.  The maps are derived from surveys of birds present in Britain and Ireland during the three winters, 1981/82, 1982/83 and 1983/84.  The surveys were organised by the British Trust for Ornithology and the Irish Wildbird Counsevancy, as were the earlier breeding birds […]

1968-72 BTO breeding bird atlas

The first national breeding bird survey was organised by the British Trust for Ornithology and the Irish Wildbird Counsevancy. The Atlas presented the results of five summers of fieldwork (1968-72) carried out by volunteers and covering the whole of Britain and Ireland. The maps reproduced here for species occurring in Pembrokeshire use the same categories of […]

The Birds of Pembrokeshire – 1949

Species accounts reproduced by kind permission of the Wildlife Trust for South and West Wales (direct descendents of the West Wales Field Society). The species accounts take up the second half of the original book – the first half is devoted to a description of the county and it’s birding sites, with an overview of […]

1894 “The Birds of Pembrokeshire and its islands”

This book by the Rev Murray Mathew was the first comprehensive review of birds in Pembrokeshire.  It relies heavily on the Reverend’s own observations and interpretations, those of a few acquaintances of his, and those from some local taxidermists. The whole text is available to read online or download as a PDF Only the species accounts are reproduced […]

Pembrokeshire Breeding Bird Atlas 2003-07

The Pembrokeshire Breeding Bird Atlas 2003-07 provided an update to the 1994 Birds of Pembrokeshire, covering the breeding species only.

THE MAKING OF THE ATLAS

Introduction

The county of Pembrokeshire is some 158,000 hectares (613 square miles) in extent, with its southern, western and northern boundaries all coastal. The climate is maritime, with strong oceanic influences found also in the type and distribution of fauna and flora.

A review of all the species of birds recorded in the county in all seasons is to be found in the “Birds of Pembrokeshire” by Jack Donovan and Graham Rees, published in 1994 and including a breeding bird atlas based on fieldwork done in 1984-88. This important publication provided a baseline on which to compare mapped distributions and population estimates of different species within the county.

The populations of any animals that can walk, fly, swim or crawl will change in numbers and distribution over a period of time, so that any atlas will become out of date over a period of years, decades or centuries. 

Biodiversity is the buzzword, and the need to know what species are where has become important, indeed a requirement, for planning and conservation purposes.

Trends towards milder and windier winters, and towards cloudier, wetter summers, may herald longer term climate change.  But there is already anecdotal evidence, as well as indications from country-wide surveys, that there are other changes happening in the natural world.

At a local level, it was decided that the “Birds of Pembrokeshire” should be updated.  This breeding birds atlas is first stage in that process.  It does, indeed, show that there have been changes, both losses and gains, within the 15 to 20 years between the two fieldwork periods

Methodology

On the 2nd September 2002 the Pembrokeshire Bird Group convened a meeting at “The Patch”, Furzey Park, Haverfordwest, to discuss the desirability of producing a new avifauna for Pembrokeshire.  All interested parties were invited to attend and those interested but unable to attend were encouraged to communicate their views.

The meeting agreed to go ahead with such a project and that it should encompass a breeding birds survey using a tetrad (2km x 2km) grid. To this end an Avifauna Committee was elected, comprised of Graham Rees (chair), Annie and Bob Haycock, Jane Hodges, Trevor Price, and Mike Young-Powell.

At their first meeting, the committee decided that the breeding survey should be the first aspect to be addressed. It was to run from 2003 to 2007 and to take the same form as the 1984-88 survey so that the two would be directly comparable.  The 1984-88 survey was the first in the county to use as fine a scale as the tetrad grid.  It was also the first attempt made to estimate the size of the breeding population of each species in the county.

Recording forms and accompanying instructions were printed and distributed in time for field work to begin in 2003. 

Data from completed recording forms, representing some 30,000 records from 490 tetrads, were entered on computer by a small team comprising John and Marion Best, Annie and Bob Haycock, Fiona and Trevor Price, using the computer software package MapMate. A summary of the records from the 1984-88 survey was similarly entered, so that comparable maps could be generated.

The methods used for atlas fieldwork followed those of The Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland (Sharrock 1976) but recorded at the tetrad level rather than hectad (10km x 10km) level. For our local atlas however, adjustments have been made in as much as the islands of Grassholm, Caldey, Skokholm and Ramsey have been regarded as occupying one tetrad each, while Skomer and Middleholm have been treated as a composite tetrad. As in that first national atlas, the final maps are populated with small dots to indicate that a species was present during the breeding season, medium-sized dots to show that it probably bred, and large dots to show that breeding was confirmed, as shown in figure 1:

The example map above shows the data entry record card in MapMate that helps generate distribution maps. Records entered this way gradually build up a growing series of distribution dots on a map, Each record entered represents a breeding registration for a particular species in a particular tetrad. The species in this case is House Martin and the tetrad is SN04L (SN0442 Trwyn y Bwa).

The more visits that are made to a particular tetrad, the more information there is behind each dot providing an eventual final outcome – in this case the largest dot showing confirmed breeding.  In other tetrads medium dots represent probable breeding (e.g. bird showing territorial behaviour or visiting potential nest site, and probably went on to breed successfully) while the small dots show that the species was present in a tetrad at some time during the survey, but no evidence was found to indicate that it was doing more than feeding or resting there.

Another team of volunteers, comprising Graham Rees, Bob Haycock, Jane Hodges, Steve Sutcliffe, Paddy Jenks and Richard Dobbins wrote the individual species accounts.  Annie Haycock then assembled the maps and texts into this volume.

The map below shows the tetrads covered in the 1984-88 atlas (in yellow) and 12 extra tetrads (blue dots) covered during the 2003-07 period.  These were all peripheral tetrads, either coastal or along the county boundary, and including only a small amount of land.

Population estimates

The 2003-07 Pembrokeshire breeding survey was deliberately undertaken using the same methodology as the previous 1984-88 survey, so that the two were directly comparable. It should, therefore prove useful in assessing biodiversity, species distribution changes and perhaps in evaluating the effects of changes in weather patterns over the period.

However, there are limitations to the information gathered by this kind of survey.  It is basically a presence or absence survey, with some additional value in terms of proving whether or not species was breeding throughout the area.  Nonetheless, it does give a reasonable indication of the spatial distribution of each species, and whether a species is localised, is widespread occurring in most tetrads, or is widespread but scattered.

The results take no account of time spent in the field in each tetrad, or of observer bias or competence. Figure 2 shows the number of species recorded in each tetrad in each atlas period (all species are included, whether or not they showed signs of breeding).  In the later period there appears to have been a shift away from the north, with more species recorded in the south-east and on the St. David’s peninsula.  While some of this shift may be genuine, some of it is likely to be observer bias as people inevitably record closer to their home areas unless directed to do otherwise.

People were not asked to count birds whilst recording in tetrads during the main 2003-07 survey.  The limited population data collected as part of the BAP breeding survey applied to nature reserves and other special areas, and so was not directly applicable to the county as a whole. 

For the 1984-88 atlas, population estimates were compiled from survey results combined with extensive personal experience (of the authors) within the county (Donovan & Rees 1994). These estimates provided a baseline used to inform population estimates for the 2003-07 atlas. For example, an increase in the number of tetrads recorded for a species was assumed to have the same proportional increase in population. For a few species, e.g. Yellowhammer, anecdotal evidence indicated that has there has been a thinning out of the population, while for others, such as Chough, long term surveillance of nest sites showed there has been an increase in the breeding density, at least in some areas.  This approach therefore has limitations.

It will be noticed in the accounts for many species, that the results of the 1988-91 National Atlas  (Gibbons et al) have been used in testing the original estimates made following the pioneering 1984-88 local atlas.  For a few species, this has resulted in a revision of the original local population estimate and is explained in the individual species text.

The BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), which came into being in 1994, also provides a useful tool for estimating populations. This survey is carried out nationally, and provides indices of the populations of birds in Britain in summer.  These indices are based on both the changes in numbers of each species counted along two parallel 1km transects in a 1km square, and on changes in the percentage of squares in which they occur. 

For most species in this atlas, a new population size has been estimated, based on a combination of data from the 1984-88 fieldwork, the 2003-07 distribution maps, the results from the 1988-91 National Atlas, and the BBS indices for Wales.  The current National Atlas (fieldwork in progress at the time of this publication), backed by extensive information from other bird research and survey, will undoubtedly become useful in further refining these population estimates in due course. This new information will be considered in the more comprehensive Pembrokeshire Avifauna.

For other species, notably seabirds, chough and peregrine, more specific data are collected annually and this allows a more detailed assessment of population size to be made. Seabirds on the Islands and the Castlemartin coast are counted annually for the Seabird Monitoring Programme administered by the JNCC (www.jncc.gov.uk/page-1550).  For all these species, there is more discussion about the population changes in the species accounts.

Density of recorded species in each atlas period

1984-88 density map. The smallest dots represent 2 species, the largest represent 86 species.  The counts include non-breeding species.

2003-07 density map. The smallest dots represent 2 species, the largest represent 81 species. The counts include non-breeding species.

The average number of species per tetrad is 35.

INTERPRETING THE SPECIES ACCOUNTS

For those species of particular conservation concern, the designation of red or amber-listing, or UK BAP or LBAP is given in the title line.  Further information about these designations is given in appendix III.

A brief introduction is given for each species, followed by comments about changes in distribution and population, and a discussion of problems with calculating such changes.

Maps are not reproduced for all species, where the breeding distribution is so limited that it can readily be expressed in the text, e.g. Gannet. For some scarcer and legally protected (Schedule I of the Wildlife and Countryside Act) species, maps are provided at a 10 kilometre square level.

For the majority of species, a table shows the total number of tetrads in which the species was found, plus the numbers of tetrads that registered “confirmed”, “probable” or “possible” breeding during each atlas period.  Note that for some species, for example rooks and other colonial nesting species, birds foraging in fields or in flight do not give any indication of the location of their nest sites, which may be some distance away, and therefore such “possible” breeding records have been excluded.  For other species, for example skylark, the distribution was based largely on birds singing on more than one date in the same place to show they are holding territory. In these instances the maps show mostly probable breeding.

GIBBONS. D. W, REID. J. B, CHAPMAN. R. A. 1993. The New Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland, 1988 – 1991, T & A. D. Poyser

SHARROCK, J.T.R. (1976) The Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland. T. & A.D. Poyser

Birds of Pembrokeshire 1994

DONOVAN. J. and REES. G. 1994, Birds of Pembrokeshire (Status and Atlas of Pembrokeshire Birds), Dyfed Wildlife Trust.

This book is the first authoritative and comprehensive guide to the birds and bird habitats of Pembrokeshire to be published for nearly 50 years.  The opening chapters set the ornithological scene in this [county in] the far south-west of Wales.  The species accounts review the older records, the numerous changes which have taken place, and the massive amount of new information gleaned by increasing numbers of enthusiasts in recent decades.  New discoveries are conitnually being made, and a better understanding of our birds achieved, as a results of these efforts.  The scene is set after a glorious century of ornithological endeavour since the first Birds of Pembrokeshire. On to the next with this book as your guide.  What new discoveries will be made, what new species will occur, what changes, both gains and losses, can only be properly measured by recourse to this new avifauna.

Whether ardent watcher, back garden enthusiast, or just someone who loves the wild places of Pembrokeshire and the birds they support, this book will be essential reading.

Jack Donovan and Graham Rees

The species accounts from this book are reproduced on this website with permission of the authors and the Wildlife Trust.

Background to the 1984-88 breeding distribution maps (adapted from Donovan & Rees, 1994)

Maps of breeding distribution were compiled as a result of the Breeding Birds Survey conducted by the Dyfed Wildlife Trust from 1984-1988. The methods used for gathering and classifying this information followed those of the British Trust for Ornithology Atlas of breeding birds of the British Isles (Sharrock, 1976).

Distribution is plotted by tetrads (2km x 2km squares). Adjustments were made in as much as the islands of Grassholm, Caldey, Skokholm and Ramsey were regarded as occupying one square each and Skomer and Middleholm were regarded as a composite tetrad. This gave a maximum of 478 tetrads. 

The original maps in the 1994 publication show:

  • Presence in the breeding season (=possible breeding): small dots
  • Probable breeding evidence: medium-sized dots
  • Confirmed breeding evidence: large-sized dots

Colours are used in the on-line version of these species breeding distribution maps:

  • Yellow = possible breeding evidence
  • Orange = probable breeding evidence
  • Red = confirmed breeding evidence

Digitisation of the 1984-88 mapped records discovered, for a few species, some small differences in the total numbers and the proportions found in tetrads. The on-line maps have amended figures for these species to take these differences into account.   

1980s BTO Winter Atlas

The Winter Atlas maps 200 species occurring in Britain and Ireland in winter.  The maps are derived from surveys of birds present in Britain and Ireland during the three winters, 1981/82, 1982/83 and 1983/84.  The surveys were organised by the British Trust for Ornithology and the Irish Wildbird Counsevancy, as were the earlier breeding birds surveys.

The maps reproduced here for species occurring in Pembrokeshire use the same “assessment of relative abundance” as the original maps, but are shown as light, mid and dark blue instead of different sized dots.  For example, a map with light blue squares only indicates that the species is more abundant elsewhere in Britain. All maps presented for this survey are at 10-km square (Hectad resolution). A maximum of 32 10-km squares cover the Vice County. This includes partial ones along boundaries with neighbouring counties Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion and along the coast, but excludes Grassholm.

Detail of the methodology, and the results for the whole country, are to be found in: Lack, P.C. (1986) The atlas of wintering birds in Britain and Ireland. T. & A.D. Poyser and national maps for individual species can also be accessed from the drop-down list at the bottom of the BTO Atlas page.

All the Pembrokeshire maps can be accessed by clicking here or on the “1980s BTO winter atlas” tag below. 

1968-72 BTO breeding bird atlas

The first national breeding bird survey was organised by the British Trust for Ornithology and the Irish Wildbird Counsevancy. The Atlas presented the results of five summers of fieldwork (1968-72) carried out by volunteers and covering the whole of Britain and Ireland.

The maps reproduced here for species occurring in Pembrokeshire use the same categories of possible, probable and confirmed breeding as the original maps, but are shown as yellow, orange and red instead of different sized dots. All maps presented for this survey are at 10-km square (Hectad resolution). A maximum of 32 10-km squares cover the Vice County. This includes partial ones along boundaries with neighbouring counties Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion and along the coast. 

Detail of the methodology, and the results for the whole country, are to be found in: Sharrock J.T.R. (1976) The atlas of breeding birds in Britain and Ireland. BTO/IWC and national maps for individual species can also be accessed from the BTO mapstore

The Birds of Pembrokeshire – 1949

Species accounts reproduced by kind permission of the Wildlife Trust for South and West Wales (direct descendents of the West Wales Field Society).

The species accounts take up the second half of the original book – the first half is devoted to a description of the county and it’s birding sites, with an overview of some of the bird groups, particularly the seabirds, and some historical references.

R.M.Lockley, G.C.S.Ingram, H.M.Salmon, 1949, The Birds of Pembrokeshire, The West Wales Field Society

1894 “The Birds of Pembrokeshire and its islands”

This book by the Rev Murray Mathew was the first comprehensive review of birds in Pembrokeshire.  It relies heavily on the Reverend’s own observations and interpretations, those of a few acquaintances of his, and those from some local taxidermists.

The whole text is available to read online or download as a PDF

Only the species accounts are reproduced in this avifauna. There is more information in the book itself, particularly about places in the county.

Note that species names are given as Mathew used them, and therefore are not always the same as in current use. However, all the species accounts here are categorised by the current species name.

The grammar and other idiosyncrasies of the text are as they were in the original book. The term mallard is used to mean male – mallard smew, for example. St Davids has an apostrophe in Mathew’s book, while Caldey is spelt Caldy. The Cleddy is the Western Cleddau River which passed within 500m of Stone Hall.

While the text has been kept as far as possible the same as the book, the passages have been divided into paragraphs to make reading easier on-line.

The preface, reproduced below, explains why he was in Pembrokeshire and indicates his general attitude (probably quite normal for the time) to natural history.

Section 1 of the introduction is also reproduced below, as it explains where he gathered his information from and who the key contributors were.

PREFACE.

HAVING been compelled to resign the living of Bishop’s Lydeard, in West Somerset, in consequence of long continued ill health, we were induced to settle in North Pembrokeshire on account of the healthiness of the climate; and were further led to select this remote part of the kingdom through anticipations of the sport to be enjoyed by its trout streams and on its moors. A time entirely given over to open-air pursuits was recommended as the best course to be adopted for the recovery of health, and we are thankful to state that this pleasant prescription met with entire success. Much of our eight years’ residence in the county, which was not without its clerical duties, as we became curate of our small parish, was devoted to a study of its birds. All the noted bird resorts were visited, as well as the various collections of stuffed birds we could hear of within the county; while from numerous sporting friends, and from others with a taste for natural history, whatever information they were able to impart was sought after and noted down. We now present the result; although meagre, it may serve as the foundation upon which an ampler account of the birds of the county may some day be based. Buckland Dinham, 1894.

I. — Materials.

Materials for compiling a book on the “Birds of Pembrokeshire” are scanty. The inhabitants of the county, and of the Principality in general, are open to the charge, at least in bye-gone years, that they were incuriosi suorum, indifferent to the Fauna by which they were surrounded.

There are no Welsh ornithologists, so far as we are aware, who lived earlier than the present century. It remained for a stranger like Drayton, in his “Polyolbion,” to describe the noble race of Falcons that were to be found upon the rocky Pembrokeshire coasts. In an old map of the last century hanging up in one of the rooms of the county club in Haverfordwest there are some quaint marginal notes descriptive of the local curiosities, and among these the salmon leap below Kilgerran Castle, and the Falcons to be found on St. David’s Head are specified.

In his gossiping history of the county, Fenton does not wander into the fields of Natural History beyond expressing his wonder at the vast multitudes of ” Eligoogs ” (common Guillemots) and other sea-fowl to be met with in the St. David’s district.

Coming to later years, we have in the Zoologist for 1850 and 1851, “A Catalogue of Birds taken in Pembrokeshire; with Observations on their Habits, Manners, &c” by Mr. James Tracy. These consist of notes, some of them excellent, that were supplied to Lord Emlyn, and by him communicated to the Zoologist for 1850 and 1851. Mr. Tracy was for many years (c. 1840 — 1860) a bird-stuffer at Pembroke, whose father was one of Lord Cawdor’s keepers at Stackpole. He was able to record one or two birds that may be considered classical, as they afforded subjects for the beautiful illustrations in Mr. Yarrell’s “British Birds.” Such are the young Greenland Falcon, shot on a warren of Lord Cawdor’s at Stackpole; the Yellow-billed American Cuckoo, also from Stackpole, both illustrated in Mr. Yarrell’s well- known work; and the Red-Crested Pochard; all three were presented by Lord Cawdor to the Zoological Society of London, and may still be seen in the Gallery of British Birds, at the Natural History Museum at South Kensington. Unfortunately, Mr. Tracy’s notes are incomplete, and do not extend beyond the Sandpipers and Plovers.  (But he supplied much information subsequently to Mr. Dix, respecting the omitted Gulls and Divers).

In the Zoologist for 1866 and 1869 are contained the valuable notes on the birds observed by Mr. Thomas Dix in the north-eastern corner of the county, on the Cardiganshire borders, which serve to illustrate the influence exercised by the Precelly Mountains on the distribution of birds in Pembrokeshire. Mr. Thomas Dix was born in 1830, at Dicklebury, near Harleston, in Norfolk, and was a friend of such well-known naturalists as Mr. Henry Doubleday, of Epping, of Mr. Edward Newman, the founder and editor for many years until his death, of the Zoologist, and was also a friend and correspondent of Mr. H. Stevenson, of Norwich, the author of the “Birds of Norfolk.” He was himself an accomplished and observant naturalist, and an excellent taxidermist. He was appointed agent to the Kilwendeage estate, in North Pembrokeshire, and this brought him into the county, and enabled him to interest himself in its natural history. His notes are full of value, and evince close and accurate observation. His death, at the early age of 42, can only be considered as a serious loss to the naturalists of the county. There is a memoir of him in the Zoologist for 1873, from the pen of his friend, Mr. H. Stevenson, of Norwich.

We know of only one other published account of Pembrokeshire birds, and this is a most able paper on the rarer birds of the county, from the pen of our friend, the Rev. C. M. Phelps, Vicar of St. Martin’s, Haverfordwest. Mr. Phelps was, for many years, Curate of Tenby, and while he was residing at that beautiful watering-place, wrote a paper for one of the meetings of the Pembrokeshire Field Naturalists’ Club, which he subsequently allowed to be printed in the seventh edition of Mason’s “Guide to Tenby,” an excellent and most useful volume, full of information. Mr. Phelps is an enthusiastic oologist; and his experiences are chiefly connected with the various nests he had himself detected. We have made free use of his valuable paper in our work.

We must now mention those friends, sportsmen and naturalists within the county, from whom we have been privileged to receive assistance and information. First and foremost of these we rank the late Mr. William Fortune, of Leweston. To quote Mr. Phelp’s words: “At a period when natural history was all but unknown in this remote part of Wales, he worked away single-handed at ornithology, oology, entomology, our wild mammalia and reptiles, together with ferns and sea-weeds.” When we took up our abode at Stone Hall, which was within a walk of Leweston, we soon formed Mr. Fortune’s acquaintance. This was only two years before his lamented death, and he was then a very old man, very deaf, and rather infirm, but still a keen and successful salmon fisher. We paid him many visits, and had the pleasure of examining his beautiful collections, the birds all shot and mounted by himself in life-like attitudes. At his death the greater part of his birds was presented to the Literary Institute in Haverfordwest, and some of the rarities were purchased for the Tenby Museum. Among these was a beautiful group of a pair of Montagu’s Harriers with their young in down, that had been secured on Leweston Mountain.

The late Mr. John Stokes, of Cuffern, a near neighbour and great friend of Mr. Fortune’s, was another excellent sportsman and field naturalist, from whom we received much information respecting the rare birds that had been observed by him on his picturesque estate. From Sir Hugh Owen, Bt, we have received a list of all the rarer birds he has met with during his long career as a sportsman, most of them having fallen to his unerring gun, chiefly in the neighbourhood of Fishguard and Goodwick.

Mr. Henry Mathias, of Haverfordwest, also furnished us with a list of county birds, adding his experiences as a collector for many years. We are indebted to him for much information supplied both viva voce and in correspondence. His collection of birds was presented by him to the Museum at Tenby.

For the district around St. David’s we have to thank our friend and correspondent, Mr. Mortimer Propert, for supplying us with many valuable notes. Mr. Propert, together with his father, Dr. Propert, and his brother, the Rev. Sydney Propert, has formed a very beautiful collection of birds’ eggs, all obtained around St. David’s, and on the islands of Ramsey and Grasholm, the Bishop’s Rock, &c. These are chiefly sea-birds’ eggs. The series of Guillemots’ eggs is hardly to be surpassed in any private collection; and there are some very fine and handsome specimens of the eggs of the Chough, Raven, Common Buzzard, Peregrine, &c, &c.

There are no very important collections of birds in the county. We have already mentioned those of Mr. Fortune, and Mr. Mathias, and we have only one other to describe, and this, perhaps, the most interesting of the three, is that in the possession of Lord Cawdor, at Stackpole. Although several of the rarest of the birds were long ago presented, as we have already related, to the National Collection, yet there are many scarce and valuable birds still preserved in it. Most of the birds were shot on the Stackpole estate, and were set up by Mr. James Tracy, of Pembroke. We were allowed the privilege of inspecting this interesting collection, and were at the time furnished by Lord Cawdor with particulars respecting the capture of some of the rarest of the birds. We have been informed that there is also a collection of birds at Slebech, the seat of Baron de Rutzen, but we have not seen it, and consequently are unable to state what it contains.

The Rev. Clennell Wilkinson, Rector of Castle Martin, and for some time President of the Pembrokeshire Field Naturalists’ Club, gave us much information respecting the birds of the Castle Martin district, and we had the pleasure of visiting the celebrated Stack Rocks in his company.

We are indebted to many friends, too numerous to mention, for delightful days of sport over the romantic covers of North Pembrokeshire; thus giving us the opportunity of rambling, gun in hand, over some of the wildest portions of the county, and of observing the birds that frequented them, and we must, while thus recording our thanks, pay a tribute of gratitude to our old friend, the late Colonel John Owen, of Rosebush, through whose kindness we participated in many a good Woodcock shoot at beautiful Trecwn, and in the wild covers adjoining the Tufton Arms.

We must not forget to record our indebtedness to Mr. Frederick Jeffreys, the bird-stuffer in Bridge Street, Haverfordwest, who has now for several years sent us information of every rare bird that has come into his hands.

Mr. Charles Jefferys, naturalist, of Tenby, has supplied us with many valuable and interesting notes respecting the birds to be found in his neighbourhood, and also on Caldy Island, almost the only one of the beautiful Pembrokeshire islands we have not ourselves visited.

In the National Collection of British Birds at South Kensington there are many labelled as having been the gift of the Rev. A. Morgan. This was the late Chancellor Morgan, of Machen, Monmouthshire, uncle to Sir Hugh Owen, to whose gun most, if not all, of these specimens were due.

Our thanks must be given also to Dr. Propert, of St. Davids, who has kindly assisted us in compiling our account of the various Pembrokeshire islands, correcting what we had written, and adding some interesting matter from his own extended experience.

The rest of the introduction

The rest of the introduction includes a description of Pembrokeshire – or at least, the places the Mathew thought relevant. And then an explanation for the inclusion and categorisation of various species. This can all be read on-line. It does include more information about some species, as is inevitable in his rather chatty, personal style.

More about the people mentioned in the book:

Rev C M Phelps, an oologist who wrote a paper for the Pembrokeshire Field Naturalists’ Club (an organisation which flourished for a short time during Mathew’s sojourn in the county)

William Fortune of Leweston, an amateur naturalist and taxidermist

Sir Hugh Owen of Goodwick

 J Worthington occupied the Glyn-y-mel estate at Fishguard from 1866 to 1906 and attempted to introduce red-legged partridge to the county.