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 (County bird recorder 1981 to 2007)

More about the Smew in Pembrokeshire

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.


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 (County bird recorder 1981 to 2007)

More about the Yellow Wagtail in Pembrokeshire

Marsh Harrier – 2011

Circus cyaneus – BOD TINWENScarce passage migrant, winter visitor and former breeder.

The Marsh Harrier breeds throughout the Western Palearctic, wintering southwards as far as Africa but it is resident in some areas.

Said to be formerly a common resident in Pembrokeshire, it had become a rare visitor by the time of Mathew (1894). How rare can be judged by there being only eight recorded occurrences between 1880 and 1941. Eighteen individuals were noted between 1942 and 1980, an increase that cannot be entirely due to a growth in the number of active observers.

From a single pair in 1971, the British breeding population increased by about 20 % per year to reach a minimum of 363 pairs by 2005. Although Pembrokeshire is peripheral to the main breeding area in eastern England and the species remained scarce in the county, its frequency of occurrence increased during the British population expansion.

A pair summered in both 2010 and 2011 but breeding was not proven.

Cumulative monthly totals up to 2011.

Peak passage periods were April and May in spring and August and September in autumn. Apart from one seen near St David’s on the 2nd January 1955, there have been two over wintering birds, at the Dowrog in 1982/83, Marloes Mere in 1994/95 and at Castle Martin in 2009/10.

The only adult males recorded were: at Stone Hall in 1880, Ramsey on 20th May 1953, Skomer on the 3rd April 1984 and 24th – 25th April 1997, Trefeiddan on the 8th April 1984, the Gann on the 2nd March 1994 and 29th March 1995, Skokholm on the 3rd May 2001, Hendre, St David’s, on the 4th May 2001, the Dowrog on the 13th November 2003 and one half of the possible breeding pair in 2010 and 2011.

Most Marsh Harriers recorded were at or near the coast, from the Ceredigion border to Tenby, most frequently at the Teifi Marshes, St David’s area, Skomer and Marloes Mere.

Records from further inland were: Stone Hall in 1880, shot at Loveston in c.1884, Jordanston Moor prior to 1894, Mynydd Preseli on the 14th August 1929, Thornton on the 12th May 1971, Treffgarne on the 29th September 1996, Clarydale on the 15th April 1997 and Haverfordwest Race Course on the 10th October 2002. It should be noted that the bulk of observer attention has been focussed on the coastal strip.

Marsh Harriers seen migrating through the county have often hunted on the way, particularly pausing at wetlands, heath and moor but have also been seen quartering barley fields. Many followed the line of the coast but one was seen flying northwards out to sea at Strumble Head on the 6th May 2001 and another coming in off the sea from the north on the 3rd November 1996. A female was seen to depart eastwards from Marloes Mere on the 26th April 1987 steadily gaining height and was at an estimated altitude of 500 feet when finally lost to sight.    

Graham Rees (County bird recorder 1981 to 2007)

More about the Marsh Harrier in Pembrokeshire

Garganey – 2011

Anas querquedula – HWYADEN ASSFAINPassage migrant. Not recorded in November or December

The Garganey is a summer visitor to north and west Europe, which largely winters in southern Africa. Migration to winter quarters occurs late July to October, peaking through Europe in August and early September, with stragglers from November to February. Return movement begins in February, with the main passage through Europe from March to April. It is a scarse breeder in the UK.

Mathew (1894) described the Garganey as an annual summer visitor, while Lockley et al.(1949 ) provided four additional records of 10 birds.

Donovan and Rees (1994) stated the Garganey was almost annual in occurrence, usually occurring on fresh waters near the coast, such as Trefeiddan and Marloes Mere, between March and June, less regularly from July to October.

So far there has been no evidence of breeding in Pembrokeshire.

Spring passage has been recorded from the 8th March to the 11th June. One to four birds at a time have been noted but six together were at Newgale on the 16th March 1959. Eight birds in two years were recorded in spring during the 1950’s. Subsequent records are shown in graph form.

Single birds have been recorded in 17 years during autumn, up to 2011, between the 23rd July and the 26th September, plus one at Orielton on the 24th October 1939 and one at Skomer on the 28th November 2005.  

In winter Mathew (1894) recorded three shot at Pen y cwm on the 28th February 1888, Lockley et al noted captures at the Orielton Decoy on the 14th February and 22nd February 1889 and four were seen from a boat in Dale Roads on the 10th January 1968.

Garganey – Habitat

Frequents shallow fresh water with extensive cover, using salt water areas temporarily while on passage.

Pembrokeshire records relate to occurrences at fresh water sites at Marloes Mere, Trefeiddan, Treleddyn, Dowrog, Newgale Marsh, Orielton, Bosherston, Skokholm, Skomer, Thornton  Reservoir (now defunct), Pembroke Mill Pond, Teifi Marsh, Westfield Pill, “Esso” (Herbranston), Orielton, Goodwick Moor, Rosemoor, Nine Wells and Ivor’s Pond.

Birds in transit have been noted on or over saline and salt water at Hook Reach, Nevern Estuary, Dale Roads, Gann, off Skomer and at Strumble Head.

Garganey – Discussion

Several factors make it likely that the Garganey has probably been under recorded. It tends to keep within cover at its favoured fresh water sites, such unobtrusiveness suggesting it is easily overlooked.

Good views are necessary to separate females from the similarly plumaged Teal at all seasons, this also applying to juveniles in the autumn and even to males in moult that are not seen in flight. 

Graham Rees (County bird recorder 1981 to 2007)

More about the Garganey in Pembrokeshire

Corncrake – 2011

Formerly bred, now a scarce passage migrant. Not recorded in November, January or February


Formerly a common and widespread breeding summer visitor to Pembrokeshire, as noted by George Owen in 1603 and Murray Mathew in 1894, the Corncrake has subsequently decreased and then disappeared as a nesting species.

The decline in the breeding population was underway by the beginning of the 20th century, accelerating after World War II when the introduction of mechanical mowers and the application of drainage and fertilisers permitted early cropping of hay, all of which resulted in low chick survival. The later widespread conversion from hay to silage further made farmland no longer suitable habitat for nesting Corncrakes.

Lockley et al. (1949) noted a decline in numbers from about 1916. B. Lloyd still found them in widespread localities in 1927, noting that at that time they were commoner in Pembrokeshire than they were in south-east England where the decline had set in earlier. By 1930 he noted that they were decreasing, only one or two being recorded each year, usually in September, with about equal frequency from the islands of Skokholm and Skomer and mainland sites such as Carreg Wasted, Llangloffan Fen and Pwllcrochan.

The decline continued, though K. J. S. Devonald could still encounter them around St Ishmaels in the late 1940’s and early 1950s, hearing them calling in the fields and becoming exposed at hay making time.

Nesting became increasingly sporadic: four or five clutches were revealed during silage cutting at Thomas Chapel in May 1962, from which the farmers reared three young that were released at Dale airfield. They were present in the breeding season at Uzmaston in 1965 and 1966 and at Pembroke in 1973. The BTO breeding bird atlas for 1968-72 noted confirmed breeding in 10Km squares SS19 and SN10, probable breeding in SN11 and SN04, with possible breeding in SN03 and SM72. No subsequent records have suggested breeding.


From the early 1980s onwards the Corncrake in Pembrokeshire had become a less and less frequent migrant visitor, briefly stopping off en route from African wintering grounds to northern breeding localities. The graph indicates how few have been recorded and indicates a trend towards less frequent occurrence. Notably none were reported from farmland.

Historic records show that Corncrakes have appeared as early as the 14th of March and stayed on as late as the 10th of December. Passage times since the cessation of breeding have been from the 24th of April to the 3rd of June and from the 27th of July to the 1st of November.

Stuart Devonald & Graham Rees

More about the Corncrake in Pembrokeshire

White-tailed Eagle – 2010

Haliaeetus albicillaEryr y MôrVagrant

The White-tailed Eagle breeds in SW Greenland, W Iceland; N & C Eurasia S to Greece and Turkey, S Caspian Sea, L Balkash and Manchuria, wintering S to N Mediterranean, Persian Gulf, Pakistan, N India and SE China.  

35-44 pairs were nesting in Scotland by 2008 following introduction schemes started in 1975.

An immature was shot on the 2nd of February 1908 by B.Edwards near Whitchurch in Mynydd Preseli. It was reported as a Golden Eagle in “The Cardigan and Tivy-side Advertiser”. However on the 13th June 1928 B. Lloyd and C. Oldham were able to inspect the specimen and identify it as a White-tailed Eagle.

A 2nd or 3rd winter bird was seen at Skomer on the 10th and 11th November 1993 which departed along the line of the southern shore of St Bride’s Bay but was not seen again.

The 1908 bird must have been an immigrant as none were then breeding in the UK. The 1993 bird may also have been an immigrant but could have come from the Scottish population.

Graham Rees (County bird recorder 1981 to 2007)

Rare breeding birds in the UK in 2008, British Birds Vol. 103, 507.

White-tailed Eagle in Pembrokeshire, British Birds, Vol. 35, 230.

More about the White-tailed Eagle in Pembrokeshire

Corn Bunting – 2009

Former breeding resident. Now a scarce visitor

The Corn Bunting breeds across the middle latitudes of the south west Palearctic. Changing agricultural practices resulted in an 87 % decrease in the UK population between 1967 and 2006 and a 61% decrease across Europe between 1980 and 2005.

The Corn Bunting was a common breeding resident in coastal areas of Pembrokeshire up to the late 19th century. Writing in 1894 Murray Mathew considered them to be local inasmuch as he had never seen one more than five miles from the coast and his correspondants considered them to be plentiful at Pembroke and very abundant in the neighbourhood of Tenby. Their distribution coincided with the main barley growing area of that time. Bertram Lloyd (1939) found a similar coastal distribution in the 1920’s, his diary entries giving some idea of density by noting “all along the cliff hinterland from St Govan’s to Linney , I heard about 10 singing here on the 26th July 1927”. By the 1930’s Lloyd thought they might be decreasing, particularly in the north of the county, and by 1957 Ronald Lockley noted that they had become local and were rapidly decreasing. At this time he also noted that many farms had turned from tillage for cereal production to pasture for milk production. This conversion continued, resulting in the predominant dairy farming of today, with the resultant creation of habitat unsuitable for Corn Buntings.        

Breeding Corn Buntings probably disappeared after 1963 when there was still enough activity to produce winter flocks of up to 30 birds in the Gelliswick to South Hook area. Thereafter the species became so rare that individual occurrences were considered worthy of putting on record, viz: singles in 1967, 1968, 1975, 1978, 1981, 1982, 1987, 1991, 1993, two in 1965, 1977, 1979, 1992, three in 1980 and four in 1985. The last Corn Bunting to be recorded in Pembrokeshire was at Ramsey on the 26th August 1993.

It is interesting that a lone bird that frequented the Marloes peninsula from 1977 to 1981 regularly sang like a Yellowhammer. This seems to have been an individual development for single birds at Gilfach Cross in May 1987 and at Llanycefn in May 1992 sang normally.

Graham Rees (County bird recorder 1981 to 2007)

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

LOCKLEY. R. M. (1957). Pembrokeshire, Robert Hale, London.

More about the Corn Bunting in Pembrokeshire

Common and Arctic Terns – 2009

Passage migrant. Not recorded from December to February

It is not always possible to separate Common from Arctic Terns in the field unless they are close and seen well. However, most observers still wish to record what they see and log these birds as either “Common or Arctic”, usually expressed as “Commic Terns”. The following is a review of such records.

There has been a marked difference in the nature of spring and autumn passages. There are many breeding colonies of both species to the north and west of Pembrokeshire along the coastlines of both western Britain and eastern Ireland, which are probably the origin of most passing the county. Whereas there has usually been a strong passage of birds migrating southwards from these colonies in the post breeding season, comparatively few have been seen passing northwards on their way to the breeding grounds. Although there are juveniles as well as adults swelling the population in the autumn, this alone does not fully explain the discrepancy in the volume seen.

It seems more likely that having spent a pelagic winter season, most spring birds pass Pembrokeshire out of sight of land. This would explain why the majority that are detected are to seaward of the islands beyond the west coast, and why increasing numbers are seen from land further up the narrowing Irish Sea. It is interesting to note in this context that in the spring of 1984, when direct comparison was possible, twice as many were seen passing The Smalls compared to Skokholm. As with other species of migrant birds, spring passage is performed with a sense of urgency to reach the breeding grounds at an optimal time, so is a rapid event. By comparison autumn migrants do not need to travel to their wintering areas according to such a strict schedule, being able to pause and accumulate at rich feeding sources en route.

Many more Common than Arctic Terns are identified in the county, so probably make up the majority of reported “Commics”.

Autumn passage

Many more pass through on autumn passage, July to October, than in spring, with occasional accumulations of 100 to 800 birds having been noted off St Ann’s Head, Skokholm, Broad Haven (north) and sea area between Point St John, St David’s Head and the Bishops and Clerks as far out as Bais Bank. However, the majority have been recorded passing along the north coast at Strumble Head. Normally up to 30 per day were seen but periodically larger passages occurred, the largest on record being 190 on the 11th September 1984, 458 on 2nd September 1988, 459 on 27th August 1990, 256 on 11th September 1992, 363 on 4th September 1997, 375 on 1st September 1998, 199 on 17th August 2002, 726 on 31st August 2005 (an additional 151 Common Terns identified as well) and 501 on 8th September 2009.

These large movements have occurred with moderate to strong south or south-east winds, usually accompanied by poor visibility due to rain or drizzle. The terns have arrived on a north-west to south-east track, suggesting they had come from the Wicklow coastal area. The exception was on the 27/8/90 when they arrived from a north-easterly direction, presumably caused by a previous accumulation in Cardigan Bay moving on en masse, there being a moderate south-west wind and good visibility at the time.

Spring migration

Spring passage has been recorded from the 29th March to mid June, with stragglers to the end of June, the majority of birds being seen in late April and the first three weeks of May. Most were seen to the west of Skokholm, Skomer and Ramsey, with very few along the north coast but small numbers off the south coast. Most sightings were of one to five birds but up to 18 together have been seen. Those seen moving along the south coast could conceivably have continued their migration up the Bristol Channel and through the Severn valley.

Graham Rees (County bird recorder 1981 to 2007)

More about Commic Terns in Pembrokeshire

Arctic Tern – 2009

Sterna paradisaea – MOR-WENNOL Y GOGLEDD – Passage migrant. Not recorded from December to March

The Arctic Tern has a continuous circumpolar Arctic and sub Arctic breeding range, the nearest nesting in Wales being at Anglesey and in Ireland in county Wexford. The species winters as far south as the edge of the Antarctic ice and there are ring recoveries of Anglesey birds off South Africa and Australia.

Mathew (1894) stated that the Arctic Tern was “seen commonly on passage in spring and autumn”, but Lockley et al (1949) later noted that they were “no longer seen commonly on passage” and noted just three occurrences, singles at Goodwick on the 13th August 1935 and at Skokholm on the 8th June 1938, with 20 at Dale at the end of April 1947. Donovan and Rees (1994) considered the Arctic Tern to be sparsely recorded in spring when up to eight at a time were seen passing, mainly off the west coast and offshore islands, between the 13th April and the 23rd June, but more numerous in autumn, when up to 30 in a day passed between the 21st July and the 22nd November, principally seen off the north coast.

Any detailed assessment of the Arctic Tern’s status is limited by the fact that only a proportion of Common or Arctic Terns are identified to species, most being logged as “Common or Arctic” , usually expressed as “Commic Tern” . What can be gleaned is that 130 were recorded at Skokholm on the 1st September 1997 and that single birds were recorded away from the coast at Heathfield Gravel Pit on the 23rd September 1999, at Bosherston on the 8-9th May 2000 and at Llawhaden on the 11th May 2000. 

See also the account for Common or Arctic Tern.

Graham Rees (County bird recorder 1981 to 2007)

(Covers records up to and including 2009).

More about the Arctic Tern in Pembrokeshire

Yellow Wagtail – races

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

As well as the breeding and probable breeding birds noted before, male Blue–headed WagtailsM. f. flava, which breed in Europe from southern Scandinavia to France,have been recorded in the spring on several occasions: at Skokholm on the 15th May 1958, on the 12th – 14th May 1959, two on the 18th May 1961, on the 29th & 30th May 1963, on the 29th June 1964, on the 27th May 1967, on the 17th May 1982, on the 16th May 1983, on the 12th June 1984, on the 15th – 18th June 1987, on the 11th – 17th June 1988, on the 4th, 8th, 11th and 13th – 14th May 1989, on the 11th May and 27th May 1991, on the 6th May, 22nd and 29th May 1992, on the 27th May 1993, on the 20th April 1996, and on the 26th May 1997, at Skomer on the 21st May 1997, on the 29th April 2000, on the 18th – 23rd  May 1996, on the 14th May 1992, on the 21st May 1993, and at Ramsey on 18th May 1985.

There are also autumn sightings on record, which should perhaps be treated with caution until any recorded details of their appearance can be scrutinised. Plumage becomes abraded and bleached during the summer and moult to winter plumage occurs in August and September. The records are included for future evaluation: two Skomer on the 18th September 1961, two there on the 27th August 1990, one Dale airfield on the 20th September 1986, one Skokholm on the 23rd August 1988, one there on the 4th September 2000, with two on the 24th September 2000, one on the 1st October 2001 and one on the 9th – 12th September 2003.   

Grey – headed Wagtails M. f. thunbergi breed from central and north Scandinavia to north – west Siberia. Males of this race were recorded on passage through Pembrokeshire as follows: at Skokholm on the 31st May 1978, on the 13th – 15th April 1979, on the 13th May 1979, on the 17th May 1982, on the 10th – 12th May 1987, on the 3rd – 5th May 1989, on the 31st May – 5th June 1990, and on the 25th June 1992, at Strumble Head on the 29th May 1983 and Flimston on the 30th May 1998.

A male Spanish Blue – headed Wagtail M. f. iberiae, which breeds in Iberia and Tunisia, was recorded at Skokholm on the 19th April 1989.

A male Ashy – headed Wagtail M. f. cinereocapilla, which breeds in Sicily, Sardinia, Italy and Slovenia, was recorded at Skokholm from the 17th to the 20th May 1992.

A male Black – headed Wagtail M. f. feldegg, which breeds in the Balkans, Turkey, Caspian, Iran and Afghanistan, was recorded at Skomer on the 7th May 1986.

Graham Rees (County bird recorder 1981 to 2007)

More about the Yellow Wagtail in Pembrokeshire