Graham Rees 1936-2021

A tribute from the Pembrokeshire Bird Group Committee

It is with considerable sadness that the Pembrokeshire Bird Group learned that Graham Rees “Mr Strumble” had passed away. Graham’s name will always be synonymous with “Strumble Head” having spent many years, days and hours patiently observing and recording the remarkable avian passage that occurs there.  His observations of common scoter passing Strumble, for example, provided useful pointers to the timing and numbers of these birds likely to be present in Carmarthen Bay. In a separate account (see below this one), Cliff Benson of Sea Trust Wales, and for many years a close friend of Graham’s, has paid his own personal tribute. Many other Strumblers have also made their own tributes.  

Graham was, among many things, a founder member of the Welsh Ornithological Society (WOS), the Welsh Rarities Advisory Group and a past Chairman of WOS.  He was a recipient of a WOS Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012 in recognition of his outstanding contributions to ornithology in Wales. Between 1981 and 2007 Graham was County Bird Recorder for Pembrokeshire (VC 45) and editor of the Pembrokeshire Bird Report, positions he shared for many years with the late Jack Donovan. Graham was also a long-serving member of the Skomer and Skokholm Islands management committee and was a former British Trust for Ornithology representative for Pembrokeshire.  

Graham receiving his Lifetime Achievement Award from Iolo Williams, WOS President.

Amongst Graham’s other important achievements was the establishment, in 1993, of the Pembrokeshire Bird Group (a section of the Wildlife Trust) and the organisation of two county-wide breeding bird surveys. The first (1984-88) was published in Birds of Pembrokeshire (1994) for which Graham was joint author with Jack Donovan. The second atlas, about 20 years later (2003-07), was published by the Pembrokeshire Bird Group in 2009. For the first atlas Graham produced all the species distribution maps by hand – no digital mapping in those days! During his long stint as Chairman of the Bird Group committee, Graham was actively involved with the organisation and management of the popular annual Pembrokeshire birdwatchers’ conferences and other ornithologically-related events in the county; tasks that he undertook with considerable relish and dexterity.

Graham may not have been an exponent of the dawning digital photography era, but he produced many fine sketches and paintings, illustrating the details of birds he had observed in various parts of the world. Although retiring as County Recorder in 2007, Graham was keen to embrace the computer age and wanted to make sure that county records were accessible for others to see and to use. He was incredibly supportive in the production of an on-line “Pembrokeshire Avifauna” and made major contributions to it – delving into his notebooks and diaries etc to update accounts about species migration patterns and so on. These included analyses of seabird passage records for a number of species observed from his beloved “Strumble”. He also wrote an excellent article about the Strumble story, based on a presentation that he gave at the 2005 Pembrokeshire Bird Conference. For further details here is the link to it.

Graham’s legacy – a lifetime of diligently recording and translating what he saw – will hopefully enthuse and inspire others to do the same.  

Bob Haycock

Chairman, Pembrokeshire Bird Group committee


Graham at Stumble – photo Cliff Benson

A personal Tribute from Cliff Benson

Oh yes, he was Mr Strumble, but he was so much more…

In the several thousands of hours I spent at his side at the lookout I learned something of his past. I think the family moved to Southampton during the war his father working in the Naval Shipyards. As a boy he learned his birding trade cycling around the New Forest, in those days a birders paradise where birds like Red Backed Shrike and Wryneck were then common.

National Service sent him to Catterick where he was soon out and about getting acquainted with the birds of north Yorkshire and then North Africa with the Army, which he seemed to consider to be something of an inconvenience taking him away from the New Forest.

He and other like-minded birders gelled together into what was known as the Portsmouth Group in the 1950’s, true innovators bonded with the desire to thoroughly explore their area and to properly record what they found. And as well as recording the commoner species, they had some great finds  https://britishbirds.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/article_files/V102/V102_N03/V102_N3_24_28.pdf (Thanks to Adrian Rogers for reminding me of this paper!)

Nor did he confine himself to the South Coast, pioneering places such as distant extremes, the Scillies and Shetland with the likes of the legendary Ian (DIM) Wallace. All on public transport.

Graham returned to Pembrokeshire in the early 1970’s bringing a wealth of knowledge and experience with him. I met him first at Strumble back in 1979 when I was guiding with Cambrian Bird Holidays. and we introduced him to our newly acquired Optolyth 75×30 draw scope. He spent a little while looking through it, “Nice bit of kit” was his verdict. I think I saw his eyes sparkle!

It was a revelation to us all! Skua Sp. became a thing of the past, the clear bright image obtained through the Optolyth allowed us to see the finer details that helped us to make positive identifications of the different Skuas and other less easy to nail seabirds, massively pushing forwards the esoteric art of sea- watching. And boy did he! Seeing the yellow webbed dangly feet of a Wilson’s Petrel put its identity beyond doubt! Graham’s dedication and robust ID skills (“Let it come round a bit, I am not going to try and put a name to it until I can see it properly”) helped us to add massively to the Strumble list.

By the 1990’s the right conditions would bring birders from all over Wales to our little lookout at Strumble. I used to have to get there before dawn to ensure a space in the shelter for him. By then I had become his main companion on an epic ten-year seven-day week, migrating seabird survey, from late July into October and sometimes beyond 

It was then Graham really upped the ante. He went and got himself a Questar mirror lens scope. Not only that but he mounted it next to his spotting scope on a plate which allowed him to use both on his tripod, locating a bird with the spotting scope and then moving on to the “The big Burner”. I was struggling to keep up with my 60mm Nikon with a 20x to 60x eyepiece.

No way I could afford a Questar at the time but our local camera shop then imported a Russian made version we dubbed the Questarski! I could afford that and even better it had a Barlow-tube that converted everything from a mirror image to normal, unlike the Questar.  With clear and excellent magnification up to and beyond 100 x we were really getting results. Large flocks of highflying black terns at a mile distant were suddenly visible. The little blue-grey protruding feet of a Little Shearwater feeding around a pot buoy…

There was also a camaraderie amongst the “Strumbler’s” that became regulars. Jack Donovan who often cheered up a quiet watch with a snatch of Gilbert and Sullivan, Stuart “Count” Devonald, Peter Tithecott, Trevor Price, Rod Hadfield, Andrew Sinclair, and latterly, Ray Wilkinson and Chris Grayell who illustrated the Pemb’s Bird Report for Graham.  From further afield, Richard, “Ricardo” Davies who seemed capable of spotting birds not far off the Irish Coast! Rich Stonier, man and boy who also picks birds out of the ether, father and son, Pete and Simon Murray. Red and Peggy Liford, Dave, Sid and Mart, the Port Talbot connection, Wendell and the Llanelli gang, Others were before my time such as Nick Lethaby. Last but not least, the man who has picked up the baton and continues to run with it, Adrian Rogers.

So many, too many to name all, such a tribute to the influence of one man and his ability to pull people together in a common goal.

But Graham was not just fixated on Strumble he plodded around surveying the greater majority of the tetrads in preparation for the 1994 book “Birds of Pembrokeshire”, he and the late Jack Donovan being joint authors. Jack and Graham were a great mix as County Recorders, Jack ebullient, massive bird knowledge with a sightly quixotic side. Graham steady, dependable getting the job done. There was hardly an inch of the county he did not know quite intimately. Same for Jack, how many of us could say that?

The internet, blogs and the whole new information highway in some ways relegated the position of County Bird Recorders. Information was out there almost instantly. Like many of us Graham at first found computers intimidating and never really got beyond the basics. It was time for others to take over as recorders, younger more internet savvy types. His health was suffering and his ability to get down to the lookout lessened until in the end he gave up trying, but still wandered around the county enjoying its birds. We shared some amazing times, I would pop round and see him at home, getting kippered by both his and his wife Linda’s smoke! He never gave up the ciggies, “Too late now” he would croak. We would talk of Strumble highlights. The birds, the friends and company, listening to test match special on calm unproductive days… frustration and elation.

So Graham made 84 at close of play, not quite a century but what an amazing innings! He was my Guru and my inspiration… and I could write a book so had better stop now!


Personal Tributes from some other regular Strumblers

From the Strumble Head Seawatching Facebook page

Adrian Rogers: My own first contact with Graham was in1998, a massively inexperienced sea watcher from Bedfordshire at that time (not much sea in Beds.!). So, after some homework, Strumble with its shelter sounded like the place to go. On making a call to the Wildlife Trust I was told to contact Graham Rees, which I did. Basic but important helpful info., chair, scope if you have one (I did of sorts); if you intend to stay long, packed lunch & flask. On arrival, completely overwhelmed, & during my week lifers a-plenty & completely in awe of the regulars led by GHR. First rule, shout out & it doesn’t matter if it’s common or you misidentify it, because they all need checking. After that I was hooked &, as many know, relocated as near as I could get to Strumble in 2001. Without doubt though the moment myself & Graham shared together (& is my abiding memory) is on 23rd August 2005 when an adult Sooty Tern that had been flitting around Anglesey & further north decided to pay us two a visit at Strumble for 4 minutes on its way back south; registering a first for the county & a “lifer” for us both. I am sure Graham would be delighted that, given last year’s showing, Strumble is well supported from far & wide by ” Strumblers ” old & new. Long may it continue & keep his legacy to Pembrokeshire & Welsh sea watching still at the forefront of Welsh ornithology.

Anthony Swann: Very sad news about a wonderful man and vastly knowledgeable birder.

Clive Hurford:  Sad news indeed, he made a significant contribution and passed on his considerable knowledge to a lot of people.

John O’Sullivan: For me one of the joys at Strumble is how people have always “shouted it out”, for years Graham to the Fore.

Lyndon Lomax: When I eventually made my final move to Pembrokeshire, I spent many hours at Strumble Head with Graham.  I learned a great deal from him and not just about ‘The Birds of Pembrokeshire’ either. Those of us who spent time with Graham will never forget him, nor his contributions to those around him and to ornithology particularly in Pembrokeshire. A remarkable man who left his mark.

Mervyn Jones: Very sad news indeed Adrian. A fine tribute to a very fine ornithologist and man. When I arrived in 2002, he gave me a warm welcome and taught me so much over the years I watched there. Always the boss and respected among the fellow Strumblers and an original member of the well-known Portsmouth Group before arriving in Pembs. Rip Graham you will be sorely missed but never forgotten.

Red and Peggy Liford: We first met Graham in September 1984 while we were house-hunting further north and decided to visit Strumble on the way as it had such a good reputation for sea-watching.

Graham was extremely interested that we had wanted to start up a wildlife holiday business and that we hoped to find a property in North Pembrokeshire but alas we had to search in “the wastelands of Ceredigion” (Grahams words, not ours!).

Over the years we visited Strumble nearly every year – and not only when there were strong winds or gales.  We always hoped that Graham would be there to share his knowledge and that we would learn a lot from him. 

Calm weather was good too because we would sometimes have Graham to ourselves and we found out that he knew some of the birdwatching haunts we used to visit on the south coast of England, such as Farlington Marshes.

During a really strong blow the lookout would attract lots of sea-watchers and sometimes there was very little room left.  But there was always a place for Graham.  Someone would call that there was a bird on its way and people would speculate as to what it was.  Then everyone went quiet until Graham had seen it well enough to identify it.

After Graham stopped going to Strumble we would send him a postcard from whenever we were on holiday, letting him know where we were and what we’d seen.  We would then receive a letter back from him telling us that he had been to those places many years before.

Strumble will never seem the same again without him.  We will miss him very much.

Richard Davies: Very sad news a great birdwatcher always willing to share his knowledge with anyone willing to listen. I will surely miss him I owe him a great debt. Will think of him this year at stumble and say a little prayer. God bless.

Richard Dobbins: I arrived in North Pembs in the summer of 1984, Graham was my introduction to Seabirds, Strumble and a birding life in Pembs and beyond. Not only was his knowledge the main influence on my birding in Pembs at the time. His birding trips which pre-dated many of us, to Scillies, Israel, South Africa etc. were inspirational to me and have led to my birding work overseas. Graham – you will be missed ….

Stephen Roberts: Very sad, while I only met him a few times in the lookout at Strumble and we spoke on the phone several occasions he was always pleasant and very informative and his work for ornithology in Pembrokeshire and I’m sure further afield was immense, something his family can be immensely proud and the rest of us very grateful.

Wendell Thomas: As a Carms. birder I always considered Graham a true Gentleman and friend. Whenever visiting Strumble or attending the Bird Conference there was always a very warm welcome from Graham. He will be missed by so many people. RIP Mr Rees.

Leach’s Petrel – 2012

Oceanodroma leucorhoaPedryn-Drycin Gynffon FforchogProbably a regular visitor in variable numbers. Not recorded in January, March, April or August.

Breeds around the North Atlantic and North Pacific, migrating south to winter in regions of tropical convergences.

Summer

Leach’s Petrels have been noted visiting Storm Petrel breeding colonies at Skokholm, occasionally singing, as follows: 15th July 1966, 22nd – 23rd June 1976, 1st June 1978, 21st May, 9th and 12th June 1980, 22 June 1989 and two birds were seen and heard regularly between the 1st June and 2nd July 1977.

Autumn

“Not very rare as a visitor in stormy weather” wrote Mathew (1894), this based on his visiting various collections of stuffed birds and noting down information imparted by numerous sporting friends and taxidermists. This method evidently worked but with the demise of collecting specimens Lockley et al (1949) had no such network available to them, noting only one occurrence “in the last fifty years”, picked up at Pembroke Dock on the 12th November 1931.

A large scale “wreck” of Leach’s Petrels took place on the western seaboard of Britain and Ireland between the 21st October and the 8th November 1952. It was thought to have been caused by widespread gales and persistent strong winds over the North Atlantic during October. It is probable that the whole North Atlantic population of Leach’s Petrels was affected, not just the European component. Hence Canadian birds might well have been among the 88 dead and five alive found along a quarter of a mile stretch of Newgale beach on the 27th October, two dead at Dale before the 2nd November, three dead at Marloes before the 2nd November and “several” others there before the 4th November. (Boyd,1954).

Just six birds were recorded over the following 30 years, namely: one picked up in an exhausted condition at Broad Haven (N) on the 1st November 1954, which recovered and flew off; one at the Gann on the 19th October 1959; three seen from the Fishguard to Rosslare ferry on the 15th September 1966; one off Strumble Head on the 22nd September 1974.

There was an upsurge in the number of active observers from the early 1980’s. There was also a growing interest in seawatching and an improvement in the quality of optical equipment, which resulted in a better understanding of the status of the Leach’s Petrel in Pembrokeshire.

The main observer effort was made at Strumble Head, which proved to be well placed for witnessing autumn seabird movements. Leach’s Petrels were recorded in variable numbers in most autumns from 1983 onwards, the majority passing in September and October but also a few in August, one as early as the 3rd, and into November up to the 20th. Peak numbers were recorded when there were strong winds from the north-west or north. None were seen when there were winds with an easterly component. 

Day maxima counts were: 79 on the 13th September 1997, 85 on the 7th September 1990, 109 on the 13th September 1988, 81 on the 15th September 2001 followed by 122 the following day, and 120 on the 16th September 2010. 

Few have been recorded in autumn away from Strumble Head, they were singles at the Smalls on the 24th September 1983 and 20th September 2005, Fishguard Harbour on the 19th November 1990, from the Fishguard to Rosslare ferry on the 30th August 1995, Newport Bay on the 17th October 1998 and 23rd September 2004, Ramsey 11th September 1997 and Grassholm on the 18th September 2005, with three off St David’s Head on the 16th September 2001.

Winter

BWP notes that stragglers remain in the North Atlantic during winter which may explain December sightings of singles at Strumble Head on the 26th 1997, Newgale on the 24th 1989, Wiseman’s Bridge on the 24th and 25th 1989 and six in Angle Bay during December 1989. Additionally, in December 2006 a total of at least 240 were reported from Strumble Head, Newgale, Druidston and Freshwater West, 150 of them at the latter locality, and singles were found stranded in car parks at Cwm yr Eglwys and Haverfordwest.

There have been no January sightings but one was at Fowborough (Daugleddau) on the 6th February 1983, 14 at Goultrop Roads on the 3rd February 2002 and six at Strumble Head on the 6th February 2002, the 2002 records part of a larger incursion when 314 were noted off Aberaeron, in neighbouring Ceredigion on the 6th February. None have been recorded in March but three were seen off St Govan’s Head on the 4th April 1998.

Graham Rees. Pembrokeshire County Bird Recorder 1981-2007

BOYD. H. 1954. The “wreck” of Leach’s Petrels in the autumn of 1952, British Birds, Vol 47 : 137-163.

CRAMP. S. (Editor), 1977 – 1994. Handbook of the Birds of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa : the birds of the Western Palearctic, Oxford University Press, 9 Vols.

LOCKLEY. R. M, INGRAM. C. S. and SALMON. H. M.1949. The birds of Pembrokeshire, West Wales Field Society.

MATHEW. M. 1894. The birds of Pembrokeshire and its islands, R. H. Porter.

More about the Leach’s Petrel in Pembrokeshire

Dotterel – 2012

Charadrius morinellus – HUTAN Y MYNYDDScarce visitor. Not recorded from November to March or in June and July

The Dotterel breeds on extensive open flat uplands, mountain ridges and plateaux, with sparse vegetation of moss, short grass or lichens and bare patches of rock, in tundra and alpine zones across the northern Palearctic, as far south as the highest mountains in Scotland. Winter quarters are in the semi-arid belt of the Middle East and North Africa, with a few in Spain.

Mathew (1894) recorded one Dotterel, Lockley et al (1949) none and Donovan and Rees (1994) noted occurrences on seven occasions in spring and on 21 in autumn.

In Pembrokeshire, Dotterels have been found in open treeless areas with bare ground interspersed with short heavily grazed or saline vegetation, or heathland, or on fallow or newly ploughed agricultural land. Localities were on the islands of Skokholm, Skomer and Ramsey, in coastal areas at St Govan’s Head, Castle Martin ranges, Dale, St Ann’s Head, Kete, Dale airfield and St David’s airfield and inland at Plumstone Mountain, “Preseli Top” (Foel Eryr), Foel Cwmcerwyn and Dinas Mountain (Bedd Morris).  

Autumn Passage

Dotterels were recorded between the 19th August and the 27th October on 47 occasions from 1984 to 2012. The majority were seen in September.

Most records involved single birds but two together were seen on seven occasions, three were at Ramsey on the 21st August 1981 and 21st – 23rd September 1993, with four at the Castlemartin ranges on the 23rd September 1999. The majority were specified by the observers as being juvenile birds.

A very late Dotterel was seen associating with Golden Plovers at the Castlemartin ranges on the 13th December 1998.

Spring Passage

Spring records span from the 18th April and the 4th June. Apart from the Dotterel shot at Castlemartin in the spring of 1888 recorded by Mathew (1894), single birds were noted in a further six years up until 2012. However “trips” of four were recorded at Foel Eryr (Preseli Top) on the 8th May 1981, five at Skokholm on the 7th May 1960, seven at St Ann’s Head on the 7th May 1995 (two remaining until the 8th), seven at St Davids airfield on the 7th May 2000, 11 at Skomer on the 15th May 1991 and 15 at Dinas Mountain (Bedd Morris) on the 16th May 1991 (four remaining until the 20th). At least two of these “trips” occurred during periods of low cloud and poor visibility.   

Graham Rees. Pembrokeshire County Bird Recorder 1981-2007

More about the Dotterel in Pembrokeshire

Ruff – 2012

Philomachus pugnax – PIBYDD TORCHOG – Passage migrant

The Ruff breeds in temperate to arctic regions of the Palearctic, those in the west wintering in southern Europe and Africa.

Mathew 1894 classed the Ruff as an occasional autumn visitor; rare. He based this on a single specimen seen at Cuffern. Lockley et al (1949) listed three occurrences plus the statement “recorded on several occasions at Skokholm”. Donovan and Rees (1994) classed it as a passage migrant, principally seen in autumn, less regularly in spring and occasionally in winter. There has been little apparent change since.

Ringing – A  bird ringed in the Netherlands in July 1967 was found dead at Haverfordwest in November the same year.

Winter

Ruffs have become more frequent in Pembrokeshire during the winter, December to February. Donovan and Rees (1994) noted three records up to 1993 but they have been reported 17 times since, all single birds apart from 2 twice and 3 twice, also 9 together at the Castle Martin ranges on the 17th January 2011.  

Spring passage

One to six birds per year have been noted in the spring between the 3rd March and the 30th June (though late June birds could be males returning from their breeding grounds) but not in every year. However there were only five years between 1982 and 2012 when they were not recorded.

During an exceptionally heavy passage through south-west Britain in April 1987 several waves passed through Pembrokeshire, resulting in records of three at Dowrog, up to six at Skomer and Dale airfield, 12 at Skokholm, 17 at the Gann and up to 46 at Marloes Mere.

Autumn passage

Using records from 1983 onwards as representing the period with countywide observer cover, one to 18 birds per autumn were recorded, with an average of about nine but there were 23 at Skomer on the 15 September 1969.

Records span 6th July to 18th November, peak numbers occurring in September.

Ruffs were seen in coastal areas, on or near the estuaries, by ponds on the islands and mainland and in coastal fields. One seen accompanying Lapwings inland at Pentre Goch, near Felindre Farchog, from the 22nd to the 24th of August 1998 suggests that others were probably missed because of the coastal bias of observer activity.

Graham Rees. Pembrokeshire County Bird Recorder 1981-2007

More about the Ruff in Pembrokeshire

Little Stint – 2012

Calidris minuta – PIBYDD BACH – Scarce passage migrant and rare winter visitor. Not recorded in March and June

Little Stints breed on the tundra from northern Scandinavia to eastern Siberia. Those in the western sector migrate on a broad front to winter in southern Europe and Africa and it is birds from this population which occur on passage in the UK. The number involved varies. In summers when the Lemming population on the tundra is high wader productivity tends to be high as predators like Arctic Foxes concentrate on the easily obtained rodents, to the benefit of the birds. However weather with predominantly easterly winds that drifts migrant Little Stints west of their normal course is required to displace them as far as the UK in any number. The infrequency of the combination of these factors occurring at the appropriate time results in high totals being erratically recorded in Pembrokeshire.

Both Mathew (1894) and Lockley et al. (1949) described the Little Stint as an occasional autumn visitor to Pembrokeshire. Donovan and Rees (1994) assessed it as principally a scarce autumn visitor the majority seen in September but also as infrequently recorded in the spring and rare in winter.

A total of 40 birds were recorded in Pembrokeshire between 1911 and 1982 being noted in 16 of those years. This was likely to have been an under representation due to the paucity of observers over that period. This is perhaps emphasized by only 5 being recorded in 1960 when at least 3,000 were noted in the UK, over 300 of them in Wales. However, observer cover was sufficiently widespread in the county to present representative autumn returns for the years 1983 – 2012:

Mostly autumn totals lay between one and 14 but there were notable influxes in 1993 when 220 were recorded in Wales, 36 of them in Pembrokeshire, and in 1996 at least 172 were noted in the county, over 600 being accounted for in Wales as a whole. They have been noted in autumn from the 14th July to the 21st November but the bulk of occurrences have been in September, when juveniles have predominated.

Small numbers of Little Stints over winter in southern Britain as may have singles at Milford on the 20th January 1963, at the Gann from the 11th November to the 13th December 1969 and Lawrenny on the 30th January 1993, 2 at the Gann on the 6th February 1977 and 10 at Fishguard Harbour on the 14th January 1929.

Single Little Stints have been recorded in spring in nine years, between the 27th April and the 27th May, with two together at the Nevern Estuary on the 5th June 2005.

Little Stints have been seen in most coastal districts including the main offshore islands, with just one inland record at Llys y fran Reservoir on the 20th August 1996. The largest concentrations have been on the estuaries of the Teifi, Nevern and Cleddau, the maximum at one site being 34 at Angle Bay on the 22nd September 1996. They have also been seen on pools on the islands, by puddles at Dale airfield and on beaches at Newgale, Broad Haven (N) and Broad Haven (S).

Graham Rees. Pembrokeshire County Bird Recorder 1981-2007

More about the Little Stint in Pembrokeshire

Little Grebe – 2011

Tachybaptus ruficollis – GWYACH FACH – Breeding resident and winter visitor

Breeding

The Little Grebe breeds throughout the temperate and tropical Old World and is resident, dispersive and migratory.

In Pembrokeshire it inhabits still fresh waters in the breeding season so is absent from the fast flowing rivers and streams. It requires waters to be vegetated around the fringes and beneath the surface. It is secretive and inconspicuous around the breeding area and can easily be overlooked, its far carrying, distinctive, whinnying call often being the first indication of its presence.

The breeding status of this species in the county in the past is difficult to evaluate. To Mathew (1894) it was a breeding species but by 1949 Lockley et al stated “apparently does not breed”.

Saunders (1976) commented “Strangely it does not remain to breed, for at least to human eyes, there are several suitable waters.”

However, Bertram Lloyd’s diaries contain records of breeding at Llambed in 1936 and suspected breeding at Slebech in 1937 and Sharrock (1976) indicated possible breeding between 1968 and 1972 in the south west of the county.

Donovan and Rees (1994) quoted breeding at Thornton Reservoir (now defunct) in 1965, at Pembroke Mill Pond in 1975 and at Trefloyne in 1981, with suspected breeding at Bosherston during the 1970’s and 1980’s.

The lack of breeding during the review periods of Lockley et al and Saunders might well have been the result of severe winters in 1939-40, 1947-48 and 1962-63 eliminating a small population which was previously present.

Comparison of the results of the two breeding bird surveys of 1984-88 and 2003-07 indicates an almost fourfold increase in the number of occupied tetrads during the elapsed period. Most birds were on well vegetated farm ponds used for irrigation. Many of the ponds used in 2003–07 had only recently been constructed in the 1980s and only subsequently became vegetated and thus suitable for Little Grebes.

Although most small waters were used by just one breeding pair, some tetrads encompassed more than one such body of water and on some larger waters there was more than one pair, for instance there were four pairs at Marloes Mere. Allowing for these variables, the county total was estimated to be about 70 pairs by 2007, compared to 12 pairs in 1988.

Migration

The Migration Atlas (2002) suggests that most Little Grebes disperse from their breeding area to winter elsewhere. It also states that there are still many unknowns about their migration, citing very few examples of immigration based on ring recoveries. BWP considered autumn and spring records on or near the British east coasts, especially at lighthouses, indicated immigration from the Continent.

There are no records of Little Grebes visibly migrating in Pembrokeshire, possibly meaning they pass at night but there have been none noted at local lighthouses. Diurnal records of birds on the sea at Strumble Head and Skomer and visiting ponds on Skokholm, Ramsey and most frequently Skomer, indicate dispersal at least and possibly longer distance migration as well.

Winter

Outside of the breeding season Little Grebes have been recorded on all of the estuaries and main freshwaters, as well as on many small ponds.

The Little Grebe was originally classified as a winter visitor by Lockley et al (1949) and Saunders (1976) when there were no known breeding birds in the county and they noted them on small ponds, lakes, reservoirs and estuarine arms. Only Saunders put any numbers to these occurrences, citing up to 20 on the Gann lagoon and 32 in Hook Reach.

Largest concentrations recorded between 1983 and 2005 were: Cleddau Estuary 69, Nevern Estuary 9, Teifi Estuary 8, Freshwaters 97.

Donovan and Rees (1994) estimated the average county winter population to be about 150 birds. Within the cover achieved by the Wetland Birds Survey team over 100 are on record for most recent winters, the maximum being 162 in the winter of 1996/97. However the survey could not cover all the small waters on which Little Grebes have been seen but seldom reported, so the 150 estimate on average is probably realistic or possibly a slight under estimate.

Haycock (2008) noted a decline in Cleddau Estuary numbers from about the 1990’s and suggested this could be due to Westfield Pill becoming less suitable for this species. She also pointed out that the mid- winter population for the whole county was reasonably steady overall.

Normally they have started to appear on the estuaries in August and September and reached peak numbers by November to January, thereafter numbers diminished with most having departed by April.

Sea Empress Oil Spill 1996

When the oil – spill caused by the grounding of the Sea Empress occurred, 15th – 21st February 1996, the Milford Haven waterway was badly contaminated, most heavily as far upstream as the Cleddau Bridge. Little Grebes quickly left this area, moving to safer places, notably to Westfield Pill where their presence rose from 39 to 52 birds. None were recorded dead or visibly oiled, so their rapid evasive action was evidently effective.

Graham Rees. Pembrokeshire County Bird Recorder 1981-2007

DONOVAN. J and REES. G. 1994. Birds of Pembrokeshire, Dyfed Wildlife Trust.

HAYCOCK. A. 2008. A review of the status of wetland birds in the Milford Haven Waterway and Daugleddau Estuary, A report to the Milford Haven Waterway Environmental Surveillance Group. Unpublished.

LLOYD. B. 1929-1939 Diaries, National Museum of Wales.

LOCKLEY. R. M, INGRAM. C. S. and SALMON. H. M.1949. The birds of Pembrokeshire, West Wales Field Society.

MATHEW. M. 1894. The birds of Pembrokeshire and its islands, R. H. Porter.

SAUNDERS. D. R. 1976. A brief guide to the birds of Pembrokeshire, Five Arches Press.

SHARROCK. J.T. R. 1976. The atlas of breeding birds in Britain and Ireland, Berkhamsted, T. & A. D. Poyser.

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Little Egret – 2011 expansion

 Egretta garzetta – CREYR BACHWinter visitor and passage migrant which has bred.

Little Egrets have a widespread breeding range encompassing southern and central Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. They began extending their wintering range in western France from 1974/75, reaching the northern coast during the course of 25 years, where nesting followed from 1988 and it is likely that dispersing birds from this population resulted in a flow into southern Britain.

The first recorded in Pembrokeshire was at Goodwick Moor as long ago as November 1909, when the species was a vagrant to Britain. The first for Britain was in Yorkshire in 1826 and very few were noted in the country during the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. Singles at Dale in May 1938 and May 1949 were among those few.

The modern ingress to Britain showed an understandable concentration on the south coast of England nearest area to France between Sussex and Cornwall. Commencing with a few birds in the 1950’s and 1960’s, it slowly gathered numerical momentum through the 1970’s and 1980’s.

In Pembrokeshire during this period, singles were seen at Goodwick in April 1955, at Little Milford in June 1962 and at the Gann in August 1962. One which commuted between the Gann and Sandy Haven Pill from October 1969 until April 1971 was joined by another on the 9th November 1969 which disappeared in mid December, believed to have been shot. It was thought that this was the same bird as seen at Fishguard in mid October 1969 and at Solva on the 29th and 30th October 1969.

Two others were at the Gann on the 15th May 1970, one was at Martin’s Haven from the 20th November 1972 to the 14th January 1973, one at Skokholm on the 18th May 1983, one at the Teifi Estuary from the 30th April 1984 which was presumed to have moved to the Nevern Estuary on the 2nd and 3rd June 1984 and one was at Sandy Haven Pill on the 19th and 20th May 1987.

There was a marked arrival in Britain in 1989, with peaks in May, August and December, probably totalling 120 birds. Pembrokeshire’s share was two at the Nevern Estuary on the 10th December, one remaining until the 19th.

From that year onwards the species occurred annually in the county in increasing numbers. These were exciting times for local observers, for the Little Egret was classified as a national rarity until the BBRC removed it from their list after 1990. Nonetheless this attractive and usually conspicuous bird continued to capture observers’ attention and up to about 1996 was well reported locally. Thereafter people became more blasé about seeing them and did not register their sightings so assiduously.

Graham Rees. Pembrokeshire County Bird Recorder 1981-2007

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Spoonbill – 2011

Platalea leucorodia – LLWYBIG – Near annual visitor in small numbers.

The Spoonbill has a wide breeding range in the Palearctic, those from northern Europe tending to winter in the west of Africa.

George Owen (1603) noted that the Spoonbill bred in Pembrokeshire during the Elizabethan era, but by Mathew’s (1894) time it was “an occasional visitor in the winter; not very rare, sometimes arriving in flocks”, of up to seven at a time. Lockley et al (1949) added four additional records of up to three birds. Donovan and Rees (1994) noted occurrences of one or two birds at a time in 12 years between 1949 and 1993.

Plotting the number of dated individuals present each month seems to indicate passage from March to June and from September to December, but some birds staying through the winter and to a lesser degree through the summer results in no sharp seasonal divisions.

Occurrences post Donovan and Rees (1994) have involved either single birds or two together, except in 2005, when a group of 11 juvenile birds were seen resting on the salt marsh at Uzmaston on the morning of the 18th September. They departed northwards half an hour later and presumably the same birds were involved when 12 settled in the Nevern Estuary that afternoon. This group included two which had been colour ringed as nestlings in Holland, were seen in Gwent prior to arrival in Pembrokeshire and by October had moved on to County Mayo in Ireland.

Spoonbill – habitat

The Spoonbill frequents wet areas such as flooded lands, marshes and water bodies. In Pembrokeshire this has included ponds at Skokholm, Skomer, Marloes Mere, Mullock Marsh and Dowrog,

In the winter it also occurs in sheltered coastal habitats, tidal creeks, estuaries and coastal lagoons, locally at Fishguard Harbour, the Teifi and Nevern estuaries and within the extensive Cleddau Estuary at the Gann, Sandy Haven, Angle Bay, Pembroke River, Castle Pill, Llanstadwell, Pembroke Dock, Carew/Cresswell, Uzmaston, Picton Ferry and Slebech.

Spoonbill – origins

A total of seven nestlings colour ringed in Holland were recorded in Pembrokeshire during their first autumn, between the years 1974 and 2007. A Dutch colour ringed bird in adult plumage was seen at Skomer on the 11th May 1992.

Over 2,000 pairs were breeding in Holland by 2011 and this population might well account for all modern Pembrokeshire records.

Graham Rees. Pembrokeshire County Bird Recorder 1981-2007

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Smew – 2011

Mergellus albellusLleian WenScarce winter visitor. Not recorded from April to September

Scarce winter visitor.

The Smew breeds from Fenno–Scandia eastwards to central Siberia, a proportion of these wintering in the Baltic and North Sea countries, particularly Holland. The Smew has long been a regular winter visitor to southern England, with further influxes when winter conditions have frozen birds out of nearby mainland Europe.

It has occurred less regularly in Wales and in Pembrokeshire a total of 52 birds have been recorded in 25 years between 1904 and 2008. All records refer to single birds apart from two at Dale in 1904, two at Fernhill on the 23rd February 1985, two at Carew Mill Pond on the 1st January 1997, three at Dale on the 16th January 1963, up to four at Pembroke Mill Ponds between the 12th and 26th January 1997 and six at Orielton in January and February 1939, the latter referred to as eight in Donovan and Rees (1994) due to a typographical error.

The majority of Pembrokeshire records do not correlate with influxes to the UK caused by cold continental weather. Smews are restless and mobile birds and it is this characteristic which has probably resulted in most Pembrokeshire records. Such restlessness was demonstrated on a local scale in January to March of 1966, when one was frequently seen at both Bicton Reservoir and Marloes Mere but never at both localities during simultaneous observations.

Apart from the localities already mentioned, Smews were recorded at St Dogmael’s, the Teifi Marshes, near Newport, Fishguard Harbour/Goodwick, Heathfield Gravel Pit, near St David’s, Solva Harbour, Castle Pill, Landshipping, Llangwm, Hook, Little Milford, Bosherston, Llys y fran Reservoir and Rosebush Reservoir.

The earliest recorded in the county was near St David’s on the 10th October 1914, the latest at Llys y fran Reservoir on the 29th March 1992. 

Presence by month, 1904 – 2011.

Most records refer to one date only but Smews have stayed from up to ten days to three months. Only seven adult males were involved in the Pembrokeshire record.

Graham Rees. Pembrokeshire County Bird Recorder 1981-2007

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Yellow Wagtail – 2011

Motacilla flava – SIGLEN FELEN – Passage migrant, has bred. Not recorded from December to February

The Yellow Wagtail has a breeding range spread throughout most of the temperate regions of Europe and Asia, extending into Alaska. The western European population winters in Africa. There are at least 15 subspecies, most of which are recognisable in the field. The subspecies which breeds in Britain is M. f. flavissima.

The following account refers to M.f. flavissima unless stated otherwise.

From the time of the first Pembrokeshire avifauna, written in 1894, to the present day, the Yellow Wagtail has principally been a passage migrant recorded in both spring and autumn. The exceptions were when a pair bred successfully at Lower Broadmoor, Talbenny, in 1997 and a pair behaved as if nesting in a potato field at Treginnis in 1983, which disappeared when the crop was harvested. In both cases the male was of the Blue – headed form M.f.flava.

The first record traced of Yellow Wagtails in Pembrokeshire which gave the number involved, the location and the date, was of five at Cilwendeg on the 24th August 1867 noted by Thomas Dix. It was 1930 before the next such record was forthcoming, followed by records in 1931, 1948 and 1949, in four years in the 1950’s, in eight years in the 1960’s, four years in the 1970’s and in every year from 1981 to 2008.

Analysis

Yellow Wagtails have been recorded all around the coast, flying past or feeding on open ground, particularly pasture land with cattle. They have been seen on all of the offshore islands, even Grassholm, a large percentage of the county records being from Skokholm where there has been daily observation continuously since 1946. A few records were from the Teifi Marshes but very few from further inland, the only ones traced being five at Cilwendeg on the 24th August 1867, one at Crymych on the 7th June 1984, one Pen Gawse on the 6th May 1989, one Brynberian on the 2nd September 2001 and one Canaston Oaks on the 7th August 2008.

Yellow Wagtails have drastically declined in the UK since the 1980’s, by 70% between 1981 and 2006. This decline is reflected in the Pembrokeshire records as illustrated in the accompanying graph covering the years 1983 to 2007.

Pembrokeshire: trend in the number of birds per annum.

Spring passage

Spring passage has been recorded from the 3rd April to the 29th June, with early birds at Skokholm on the 17th March 1948 and on the 10th March 1956.

All dated records available 1867 – 2008, in six day periods.

The bulk of the passage has taken place between about mid April and the end of May involving small numbers as shown in the above graph, the maximum recorded in a day being ten.

Autumn passage

Autumn passage has been recorded from the 1st July to the 30th October, with two November records.

There have been very few recorded in July and early August.  Peak passage took place from mid August to September.  The end of August has clearly been the time of maximum presence, when the largest concentrations of up to 50 birds were noted at Skokholm and Talbenny during the 1960’s. Betts (1992) notes “up to 150 in August 1952” at Skokholm but is not date specific, so these could not be fitted into the histogram.  Passage has tailed off rapidly during October. There have been two November occurrences, on the 2nd at Mullock in 1981 and on the 18th at Skokholm in 1967.

Yellow Wagtail: pattern of occurrence

Graham Rees. Pembrokeshire County Bird Recorder 1981-2007

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