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. Pembrokeshire County Bird Recorder 1981-2007

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. Pembrokeshire County Bird Recorder 1981-2007

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. Pembrokeshire County Bird Recorder 1981-2007

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. Pembrokeshire County Bird Recorder 1981-2007

(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 (1979 records no longer acceptable to BBRC), 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 (record no longer acceptable to BBRC), 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. (record no longer acceptable by BBRC – moved to ‘not proven’)

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. (record no longer acceptable to BBRC)

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. Pembrokeshire County Bird Recorder 1981-2007

NB – Records reviewed by BBRC in 2020, and those no longer acceptable have been marked as such.

More about the Yellow Wagtail in Pembrokeshire

Black-winged Stilt – 2008

Himantopus himantopusHirgoes AdeindduVagrant.

The Black-winged Stilt is a breeding summer visitor to mainland Europe from wintering grounds in Africa.

The Black-winged Stilt was first recorded in Pembrokeshire on the 24th July 1967, when G. T. McTaggart , a postman delivering mail, came across one on a small pond near Narberth.

The second was at West Dale, also visiting the Gann, between the 3rd and 6th April 1987.

On the 19th March 1990 a Black-winged Stilt was noticed wading in flood water at Penally by an alert observer travelling on a passing train, it remained until the 30th March.

Another was at Skokholm on the 7th and 8th May 1990, where it was frequently harassed by breeding Lapwings.

Graham Rees. Pembrokeshire County Bird Recorder 1981-2007


Black-winged Stilt head-bobbing

I had a long look at the Dale Black-winged Stilt on 6 April 1987 and was much impressed by the extent to which head bobbing was a prominent feature of its behaviour. The tempo of bobbing was neither fast or slow but it was rhythmic. It was accompanied by a somewhat bulbous inflation of the neck and a minimal flexing of the legs in time with the bobs. A bout of bobbing might continue for quite half a minute, the bird remaining silent- I was inclined to think that any movement by me, when I was already within 30 yards, would trigger off another bout of bobbing.

I have now checked through the literature on my shelves from Coward onwards. I find that only in BWP, Vol. lll, p .41, is this bobbing mentioned and that too is in the context of anxiety. Yet it is so obvious that others must have noticed it but nobody cites it as a specific characteristic.

J .H .Barrett (Pembrokeshire Bird Report for 1986)

More about the Black-winged Stilt in Pembrokeshire

Chaffinch – 2008 migration

Fringilla coelebs – JI-BINC Breeding resident and passage migrant.

Many Chaffinches from northern Europe, particularly Scandinavia, migrate in the autumn down the Continental west coast, crossing either over the southern North Sea or the English Channel to winter in Britain. Some continue through Britain to Ireland.

Lockley et al (1949) described Chaffinch migration of tens of thousands coming down over Cardigan Bay to strike the northern and western coasts of the county during October.

Betts (1992) noted large movements through Skokholm in October and November, including 3,200 passing on the 22nd October 1966 and 2,000 grounded in fog on the 26th October 1988.

A total of 11,600 were logged passing Strumble Head during 12 days of observation between the 16th October and the 22nd November 1981. Peak passage involved 2,160 on the 24th October and 2,590 on the 1st November.

The Pembrokeshire Bird Report for 1986 recorded many thousands passing Strumble Head between the 4 October and the 12 December. It added it would have taken an army of observers to count the visible birds but many more were heard that were too high to see.

The volume of passage during October to November diminished thereafter. Peak autumn totals at Strumble were 2,405 in 1999 and 2,711 in 2007. Peaks at Skomer were 3,500 in 1993 and 4,850 in 2008.

At least 1,000 passed over the St David’s peninsula on the 24th October 2002. 1,000 coasted at Pen Anglas on the 15th November 2007. 1,350 passed Pencarnan in half an hour on the morning of the 23rd October 2009.

Flocks have sometimes temporarily accumulated in coastal regions during autumn passage time e.g. 400 at Marloes on the 24th November 1991 which soon moved on.

Fragmentary as the available records are, they evidently indicate that considerably fewer migratory Chaffinches have been reaching Pembrokeshire since the massed movements of the1940s to 1980s period.

Lockley (1957) described a strong return passage during March and April but this has not been detected since, other than a few Chaffinches appearing on the offshore islands at this season.

© 2010 Graham Rees. Pembrokeshire Bird Recorder 1981-2007

BETTS. M. 1992. Birds of Skokholm, BioLine, Cardiff.
LOCKLEY. R. M, INGRAM. C. S. and SALMON. H. M.1949. The birds of Pembrokeshire, West Wales Field Society.
LOCKLEY. R. M. (1957). Pembrokeshire, Robert Hale, London.
REES. G. H. (Ed). Pembrokeshire Bird Reports, 1981 – 1986, West Wales Naturalists Trust.

More about the Chaffinch in Pembrokeshire

Roseate Tern – 2008

Sterna dougallii Môr-wennol WridogScarce passage migrant; former breeder.

The Roseate Tern breeds in colonies dotted along the shores of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans, stretching from Europe in the north to Australia in the south. The European population migrates to winter off the coast of West Africa.

E. Lort-Phillips visited Grassholm in 1883 to inspect the nesting place of a small colony of Roseate Terns which then frequented the island. Lockley et al (1949) referred to recorded breeding at Grassholm in c.1885. Mathew (1894) stated that the Roseate Tern formerly nested on Skokholm stack. No other breeding records have been traced.

There were three further recorded occurrences in the 19th century, one at Caldey in April 1875, one obtained at Pembroke in May 1887 and housed in the collection of a Dr Mills and one picked up dead near Pembroke in 1885. First recorded in the 20th century on the 10th September 1958 when three were seen off St Ann’s Head. Thereafter an average of four birds per annum were recorded in 32 years between 1963 and 2008, with nine in 2004, 11 in 1989 and 17 in 1990.These were presumed to be mostly coming or going to Ireland where the bulk of the European population nests.

Autumn passage

The majority of Roseate Terns have been noted between the 1st July and the 28th September.

Distribution of total birds 1963-2008, July – September in six day periods.

The graph was compiled from records of two at Amroth on the 14th August 1973, two at Penally on the 16th August 1973, two at Ramsey on the 19th September 1973, one in the Cleddau Estuary at Llangwm on the 13th September 1976, one in the Nevern Estuary on the 17th July 1980, one at Cwm yr Eglwys on the 5th July 1990, a total of 17 at Skokholm and a total of 77 at Strumble Head. Most have involved sightings of one or two birds per occasion but there were four at Skokholm on the 31st July 1990 and again on the 24th August 1992, one to five per occasion were involved in the Strumble Head series but eight on the 9th July 1988 and again on the 25th August 2004, with 11 on the 29th July 1990.

Additionally one was noted at Strumble Head on the 2nd October 2000 and one at Cwm yr Eglwys in mid October 1971.

All records involved adult birds save for two juveniles at Skokholm on the 31st July and the 5th August 1990.

Spring passage

Very few were recorded in spring. They were: one at Caldey in April 1975, two at Poppit on the 20th April 1998, one at Fishguard Harbour on the 24th April 2007, one at Skomer on the 23rd May 1995 and one at Strumble Head on the 27th May 1985.

June records were: two at the Gann on the 30th 1995, one at Strumble Head on the 12th 1998 with two there on the 19th in 1983 and the 23rd in 1984.

Graham Rees. Pembrokeshire County Bird Recorder 1981-2007

More about the Roseate Tern in Pembrokeshire

Avocet – 2008

Recurvirostra avosetta – CAMBIG – Rare visitor

The breeding range of the Avocet is from Africa to the south west of Asia and Europe north to Holland, with an increasing population in eastern England.

The Avocet was first put on record for Pembrokeshire by Mathew (1894), who noted one taken near Tenby about 1883 and mentioned two specimens from near Pembroke but gave no further information. A total of 28 birds have been recorded in the county since then, with occurrences in four springs, three autumns and 10 winters.

Spring records were: four at the Nevern Estuary from the 10th to the 12th May 1993, one there on the 10th and 11th May 1996, singles at the Gann on the 26 April 1999 and the 4th to the 14th May 2004.

Autumn records were: two at the Nevern Estuary on the 17th to the 19th September 1976, singles at Picton Point on the 21st September 1999 and Nevern Estuary on the 13th October 2005.

Winter records were: two near Pembroke in the winter of 1900, Three “off Milford Haven in winter” 1927, one Carew on the 1st to the 3rd February 1923, two Little Milford on the 29th January 1954 and four there on the 29th January 1955, one Hook Reach from the 10th November to the 15th December 1974, one Angle Bay on the 15th November 1992, another there on the 15th January 2000, one at the Nevern Estuary on the 22nd December 2000 and one at Little Milford from the 12th January to the 4th March 2002.

The record so far suggests that the tidal Western Cleddau has been the only place that Avocets have favoured for any length of time. It seems worth noting that in this context, the dates published for Little Milford in 1954 and 1955 were arrival dates, contemporary verbal communication was that the birds concerned were in that area through the winter.   

Graham Rees. Pembrokeshire County Bird Recorder 1981-2007

More about the Avocet in Pembrokeshire

Snow Bunting – 2007 migration

Plectrophenax nivalis – BRAS YR EIRA – Passage migrant and winter visitor

The Snow Bunting has a circumpolar breeding distribution, inhabiting the treeless expanses of the Arctic, extending south to areas of Norway and Scotland. Partially migratory, many winter far south of the breeding range. Most occurring in Britain have been of the Icelandic race P. n. insulae but the nominate race P. n. nivalis has been recorded in lesser numbers.

Six single Snow Buntings are on record for Pembrokeshire between the years 1859 and 1914, indicating that the species did not loom large during the specimen collecting era, which is perhaps significant considering their striking appearance. Lockley et al (1949) noted that the Snow Bunting was “a regular visitor to Skokholm in October and November but only once seen in spring”.

For the whole county there followed records in 17 years between 1953 and 1969, in 14 years between 1970 and 1989 and in every year bar one between 1990 and 2007.The majority, 86 %, were recorded in the autumn, between mid September and December, the earliest being on the 11th September. Of these 50 % were recorded in October.

Mostly single birds were involved but parties of up to 10 were sometimes encountered, with up to 15 seen at Ramsey, up to 17 at Skokholm and up to 38 at Strumble Head. The mean county autumn total was 9 per annum, excluding exceptional numbers recorded in 1996 and 1999.

 A total of 172 was recorded in 1999, of which a passage total of 115 on 16 dates was logged at Strumble Head. A total of 209 was recorded in the autumn of 1996, 160 of them spread over 10 dates passing Strumble Head.

 Snow Buntings have been recorded in the autumn at Pen Morfa, Dinas Island, Strumble Head, Garn Fawr (Pen Caer), Pen Brush, Trefin, Abereiddi, Trwyn Llwyd, St David’s airfield, Treleddyn, St David’s Head, Porth Clais, Ramsey, South Bishop, Solva, Newgale, Nolton Haven, St Bride’s, Martin’s Haven, Wooltack Point, Skomer, Grassholm, The Smalls, Marloes Beach, Skokholm, Gann,  Dale airfield, Kete, St Ann’s Head, Freshwater West, Castle Martin ranges, St Govan’s Head, Stackpole, Greenala and Garron.

 It seems that Snow Buntings can be encountered anywhere in coastal areas during autumn passage. Single birds at Carn Ingli on the 24th October 2005 and at Foel Eryr on the 28th November 1985 are the only inland records at this time of the year, perhaps reflecting the paucity of observers away from the coast at passage time.

A small and erratic spring passage has been detected in coastal areas, with variously one to three birds at a time noted during March and April, in 14 years between 1958 and 2006. Single birds were also recorded at Manorbier on the 26th May 1991 and at Strumble Head on the 5th June 1959 and 19th August 2002, the latter “captured” on video.

Graham Rees. Pembrokeshire County Bird Recorder 1981-2007

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

More about the Snow Bunting in Pembrokeshire