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.


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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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. Pembrokeshire County Bird Recorder 1981-2007

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Long-tailed Duck – 2011

Clangula hyemalisHwyaden Gynffon-hirErratic winter visitor and passage migrant.

Long–tailed Ducks have a circumpolar arctic and sub arctic breeding distribution, normally the nearest nesting to the UK being in Norway and Iceland. They winter out to sea but to a lesser extent along coasts, entering estuaries and sometimes visiting fresh waters.

The first to be recorded in Pembrokeshire was a male in summer plumage shot near Haverfordwest on the 15th June 1843, chronicled by Mathew (1894) who also noted that two immature birds were shot on the Stackpole Estate but quotes no dates.

Coincidentally the next to be recorded was also in June, shot within the Milford Haven waterway on the 7th in 1906. There followed recordings in three years during the 1950’s, four in the 1960’s, five in the 1970’s and in every year from 1980 to 2006.

Most long-tailed ducks were found within St Bride’s Bay and in the Pembrokeshire corner of Carmarthen Bay. Others around the coast at Pwllgwaelod, Fishguard Harbour, Strumble Head, St David’s Head, Ramsey, Skomer and Skokholm.

Also in the Teifi Estuary (once three and a half miles upstream), within the Cleddau Estuary at Landshipping/Picton Point, Carew, Westfield Pill, Llanstadwell, Sandy Haven and the Gann, and on fresh water at Heathfield Gravel Pits, a pond close to St Bride’s Haven, Bosherston and Llys y fran Reservoir.

Most sightings were of one or two birds at a time but four were at Llys y fran Reservoir on the 18th November 1973, five at Strumble Head 6th January 1973, three there 20th December 1981 and on 21st October 1984, three Broad Haven (north) 3rd – 21st January 1969, three Amroth/Saundersfoot 9th March 1991, 14th – 24th December 1994, 2nd January – 4th March 1995 and 6th January 1999, with four there 20th April 1984, 7 from 29th December 1990 to 10th January 1991 and up to 12 from 29th January to 9th April 1989.      

Monthly distribution: 1843 – 2008.

Some were seen on one date only but many remained in the same area throughout the winter, sometimes until March or April. One remained at the Gann from the 2nd January to the 23rd July in 1983. A male which was first seen at Pembroke Mill Ponds on the 24th December 2001 stayed until the 11th August 2004. This well watched bird frequently took bread offered to the local Mute Swans and Mallards, duly went through moults between winter and summer plumages and was thought to have taken brief sabbaticals at Westfield Pill on 7th and 8th August 2002 and 2nd September 2003.

The number noted each year has varied, illustrated by the longest unbroken sequence of years being depicted graphically:

Just one bird recorded in the years 2005 and 2006 was the first time this occurred sequentially in this 27 year series, which if coupled with none being recorded in 2007 and 2008, may be an early indication that fewer Long – tailed Ducks are coming as far south as they did formerly.

The majority winter within the Arctic region, often in close proximity to the pack ice and climate change is causing the ice to recede, so it is possible less may travel as far south as they did in the past as more open water becomes accessible at higher latitudes.

More about the long-tailed duck in Pembrokeshire

Little Tern – 2006

Sternula albifronsMôr-wennol FechanScarce passage migrant. Not recorded from December to March or July

Little Terns breed from Britain eastwards into Europe and central Asia and south as far as North Africa and India. They nest on both sides of the Irish Sea and along the west coast of Scotland with just one colony in Wales, post 1989, in Flintshire. Those seen in Pembrokeshire probably originate from these Irish and west coast colonies.

The Little Tern was considered to be an occasional passage migrant by Mathew (1894) and Lockley et al (1949), whereas Donovan and Rees (1994), with the benefit of increased observer cover, concluded it was a scarce passage migrant seen in most years.

Little Terns have been recorded around the coast at Fishguard, Strumble Head, Abermawr, St David’s Head, Solva, Newgale, Broad Haven (North), Skomer, Skokholm, St Govan’s Head, Tenby and Caldey, further out to sea at Grassholm and The Smalls, inside the Teifi and Nevern Estuaries and within the extensive Cleddau Estuary  at the Gann, West Williamston and Picton Point. All were seen over salt water except for singles at Bosherston on the 31st August 1937 and on the 8th September 1993

Spring – There have been only 15 records in the spring, between 14th April and 24th June, having been seen eight times in April, three times in May and four times in June. All were occurrences of one or two birds at a time except for six in Solva Harbour on the 8th May 1916.

Autumn – The Little Tern has predominantly been seen in the autumn, between 30th July and 6th November. There has been about an equal volume of records for August and September, with fewer in October and just one July occurrence, at The Smalls on the 30th, and singles were seen Tenby on 6th November 1961 and Skokholm on 1st and 6th November 1980. Most records were of one to three birds at a time but larger groups have been seen on 17 occasions, the largest being 23 at Skomer on the 17th September 1992.

Graham Rees. Pembrokeshire County Bird Recorder 1981-2007

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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. Pembrokeshire County Bird Recorder 1981-2007

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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

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Little Auk – 2010

Alle alleCarfil BachOccasional visitor.

The Little Auk is a high Arctic bird breeding westward from the Bering Sea to Baffin Island. Wintering areas include the Norwegian Sea, northern North Sea, Iceland and Greenland waters. Migratory and dispersive Little Auks have occurred as far south as France, the Mediterranean, Madeira and the Azores.

Recorded occurrences in Pembrokeshire have increased over time, from 30 occasions between 1880 and 1981 to 137 times between 1982 and 2006. This is most likely a reflection of observer activity rather than a change in status. Most have involved birds being pushed near to shore by strong winds.

The largest incursion may well have been in February 1950, when the West Wales Field Society reported “many washed up dead on the coast”, one was picked up near Haverfordwest on the 11th February and the remains of at least 13 were found on Skokholm when the island was re-occupied in April. These were part of a “wreck” affecting the south west of Britain and Ireland between the 8th and 11th February, following powerful south west winds. 

Subsequent records have related to very small numbers, 75% involving sightings of single birds but eight were noted on the 1st October 1995, 13 on 24th September 1995 and 21 on 20th November 1983. Mostly live birds, but some dead or moribund, have been recorded at many places around the coast from Amroth in the south to Newport Bay in the north. They have also been recorded from the offshore islands of Ramsey, Skomer and Skokholm and further out to sea around The Smalls. Singles have been found beyond the outer coast at Fishguard Harbour, the Gann/Dale, Angle Bay, Pembroke, Haverfordwest , Keeston, Walwyn’s Castle, Clarbeston and Trecwn.

Cumulative totals by month of occurrence.

The earliest date recorded was of one passing Strumble Head on the 10th September 1987, the latest one at St Govans’s Head on the 30th May 1983. The majority (79 %) recorded between 1983 and 2006 were from Strumble Head, reflecting the intensity of seawatching at that locality. 

Occurrences on the west coast of Britain seem to bear no relationship to the not infrequent “wrecks” of large numbers along English North Sea shores. The Norwegian Sea into the North Sea, almost south to the Dogger Bank, is a major wintering area and prolonged strong winds from the north could be expected to push Little Auks further south into the funnel shaped southern North Sea. Such winds would be unlikely to result in a westerly displacement of these birds into the Atlantic but might well affect birds wintering in the Iceland and Greenland sea-area. These would find themselves pushed into the wide Atlantic where they could conceivably become dispersed, or if still concentrated to any degree be a long way from land. Subsequent strong westerlies could push some of these into Irish and western British waters but events documented so far suggests that, with no known concentrations in adjacent areas, would result in small numbers being involved. The largest numbers involved, as in 1950, were small compared to southern North Sea incursions. It also seems relevant that birds reaching the south western area would have travelled over four times the distance from known wintering areas than those in the southern North Sea would.

Graham Rees. Pembrokeshire County Bird Recorder 1981-2007

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