The estuary is now very sparse: white & black Shelduck scattered in pairs over the flats, sweeping the mud with lowered heads or standing to rest and preen; a drift of predominantly coffee-mottled young Herring Gulls sit at rest on dry sand, head to wind; the odd Cormorant stands upright, tidying up sodden, black plumage, most with silvered head, chalky throat and bright white roundel on the thigh.
This morning, a frantic, ringing ‘pee, pee, pee’ call gives two agitated Whimbrel, previously unseen, now overhead as a dark, slate-grey, powerful scimitar skims the salting, alighting to stand upright by stiff rushes: a black-hooded and white-cheeked Peregrine. Whimbrel are have been present on estuary and shore for several days now, resting and feeding on their way to northern breeding grounds.
Mute Swans nest in rushy pools in drained land beyond the dykes, bringing downy young out onto the estuary as they hatch. This spring, numbers are unusually high, at about twenty: several pairs plus a loose flock, sometimes as one, often broken into smaller family groups. It can take up to the second winter for juvenile Mute Swans to turn pure white, and they may not start to breed until the third or fourth year. Over this period, they are generally found in family groups or winter flocks, during which time courting may start, laying the foundations for a permanent pair bond. In pure white plumage, they are given no quarter by territorial breeding adults, so it will be interesting to see how a flock of non-breeding birds interacts with breeding pairs as the year progresses. It is possible that this is an overflow flock, split off from a larger colony on the adjacent, much larger estuary. Certainly, Mute Swans flying across the bay have been a fine sight over winter.
Wildlife Wales Short Breaks: Autumn, Winter & Early Summer
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