Having done my fair share of survey work, Birdtracking and local birding for a fair proportion of the year, it was with great 'reluctance' that I found myself at some stupid hour in the morning standing listening to Skylarks singing with local photographer Vern Wright as we waited for our fellow twitchers to arrive.
A golf course in Pembrokeshire, one which I know very well having holidayed in the area for many years was currently playing host to a Cuckoo from far south in Europe, Iberia to be precise. As well as being a very rare bird, the last having been a few years back, it is also a very unpredictable visitor, and visits tend to be very brief, single day, and very often, single observer birds!
In summery, it is a real pain in the arse to see this far north.
So with a rather stunning 1st year bird strutting its stuff at close range for a few days, it only felt right to take a day off from the local scene and make use of some spare time!
Obviously, the worst feeling when long distance birds is those first few hours in the car as you drive in the dark. What will light bring?
Will it still be there?
Has it gone?
Luckily however, the popularity of this bird was obvious, and being a Saturday, the bird was certain to draw a crowd, so not long after first light, the first few tweets started to creep out as we headed south down the A40. "Great Spotted Cuckoo is still there!". However, we still had a distance to go! And it was time to share some banter with the full car, and much was shared between the 5 birders/togs as we cruised towards our destination!
It didn't seem long before familiar landscape appeared, and once past Carmarthern it really wasn't too much longer before pulling up in a rather crowded Penally Train station car park!
Instantly, the scrum was visible, and we we soon were walking out onto the dunes!
A few birders were talking of the brief views they had had that morning, up on the cliff slopes on Giltar, but it seemed to have disappeared. A few minutes after, I noticed a birder up on top of the cliff pointing out too sea. What did that mean!
A few minutes after that, the unthinkable had happened as a tweet popped up on my phone! It had flown off out to sea!
A sudden sinking of the heart followed, and the look of disbelief on my companions faces is still visible in my memory. Ouch! The only thing that kept us going (despite the fact that we had driven so far) was that the report mentioned that the bird 'possibly' could had landed on one of the offshore islands. 10 Minutes turned to half an hour, half an hour to an hour. Still nothing...
(Insert appropriate word of choice here)
Scanning across towards Caldey Island revealed a single Great-northern Diver out on the sea, and also a Shelduck and a Razorbill. But no spotted Cuckoo.
Luckily, a knowledge of the area meant that we were soon heading off further up the coastline to St Govans Head. A large expanse of rock strewn grasslands atop steep cliffs leading to dense stands of gorse slightly further inland! It took only a few minutes to locate one of the targets, and 2 CHOUGH were easily located as they called and flew around, before dropping into an open sandy area in front of me. With their blood red bill and legs, they really are smart birds!
It amazes me when people complain about Corvids, if you look at them, they really are sublime birds, shimmering purple, green, blue and silver as they move!
After having worked our way across the headland, I scanned Broad Haven beach distantly from atop the cliffs. A large flock of Gulls had drawn my attention (naturally!) and right in the centre of the flock, standing out like a beacon stood a humongous slab of white! Distance prevented a conclusive ID, but on size alone I was already knowing what this was. After informing the group, we moved quickly to a closer viewpoint, losing sight of the beach for a matter of seconds.
Scope down, viewing the beach. Errm. Where is it?
All that were present were Herring and GBBG...
Surely I hadn't cocked it up that much?
Our photographic companions went back to the Fulmars gliding along the clifftops and I moved closer to the edge of the Cliff and peered down!
Another view of white!!
This time very close as it pelted past us just below the height of the cliff, and at an angle where its huge pink and black tipped bill stood out a mile!! 1st winter GLAUCOUS GULL!
BOOM! Mike and Phil got onto it quickly as it circled above the beach with a few Herring Gulls, shining in the bright sunshine. Despite still being distant, I still tried to digi-scope it, and i managed one shot showing its white wing tips! (You will have to trust me though!)
Moving back across the Headland, we were informed of a BLACK REDSTART showing on the cliff slope below the coastguard watchpoint building. A short time after and we were watching a rather stunning 1st winter male as it fed on a steep rock covered hillside, flitting and flycatching off the prominent rocks far below us.
It was actually rather a surprise just how much it blended into the rather similarly coloured rocks, and it was often lost from views as it made its way up and down the cliffface.
It was just as the bird flicked up onto the grass in front of me (great view!) and was just as quickly blown back down the cliff by a gust of wind that I heard my phone. It was a fellow young midlands birder.
The wind muffled out most of the sound but I picked up the occasional word.
"ugrfs kdvids CUCKOO kjbfs BACK!!"
That was enough to make me power walk behind the building
"THE CUCKOO IS BACK" He was watching it right now!
A very quick exit of the headland, and a pleasant 'jaunter' of a car journey back through the county lanes of Pembrokeshire soon saw us pulling into the car park for the 2nd time! This time I really was in a rush to get out there! I really didn't want to miss it again! (I still didn't run!)
I spied Espen atop one of the dunes on the edge of the crowd, and as I approached out flew the GREAT-SPOTTED CUCKOO from the vegetation just in front of the crowd! Having dropped in behind one of the dunes, I scrambled up to the crowd!
And there it was!
Ok, not the crippling views the crowd had been having since it reappeared, but still, great scope views of what can only be described as a stunning looking bird! Just look at that pale silver hood, that lemon yellow throat, the spotting on the wing coverts, and that stunning, ridiculously long, pied tail!
Every negative thought earlier was forgotten!
It had a good taste for the nations caterpillars, and it scoffed many while we were watching, jumping about in the long dune grass near the top of a dune.
It must be said, once we heard the bird had flown out to sea earlier in the day, I did honestly think that it wouldn't appear again. And that was only made worse by it still not having shown for 4-5 hours after it flew off!
After about 20 minutes showing on the sand dune, the bird flew off distantly and perched on a hedgeline towards the Tenby end of the golf course, where it then promptly disappeared!
While the crowd stayed stationary in the dunes, me and Mike walked up the beach to find another viewpoint, and in doing so found 2 Ringed Plover and 9 Sanderling foraging along the tideline!
Our change of position though didn't help, and we couldn't pick up the Cuckoo, so we headed back, at which point we decided to head back to the midlands, each one of us happy with finally seeing the mega Cuckoo, a beast of a Glauc and a Black Redstart!