Squelching around Kenfig

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I hope you're all still enjoying the sunshine and aren't finding it too hard being back in work...

I've had a great eleven days off and the weather has been outstanding in South and West Wales and we even had some surf thrown in over the Easter bank holiday. Other than that I've been keeping myself busy in the garden.

I recently undertook a mammoth 'ground force' style makeover of my back garden and as a result have been tied to my hose pipe everyday - giving the new turf a good drink each night.

It's amazing how quickly grass takes root and grows especially in sunny weather but we're in need of a good downpour now and it looks like we might have some rain later this week.

So, one evening last week (having completed my gardening duties) I decided to explore my local reserve - Kenfig Nature Reserve. I often wander through it on my way to the beach but rarely take time to visit the rest of the 70 acre site, so I grabbed my binoculars, put on an old pair of trainers and headed off.

Old trainers and a pair of shorts was my first mistake. The first leg of the reserve is boardwalk and there's a great little bird hide on the edge of the lake but as you walk further in, you quickly encounter marshy areas and bog - ideal habitat for swarms of hungry mosquitoes and midges.

Wearing shorts, I was an easy target and try as I might to avoid the swarms, they still managed to have their feed. After a quick detour through a wooded area (gnat dodging), I came out onto the dunes skirting the large pool here and caught my first glimpse of a reed bunting perched high in a nearby tree.

The next section was squelchy under foot. I could see glimpses of water but dry land either side, so took a run up and jumped across onto what I thought was solid ground....it wasn't and my old trainers quickly sank into the quagmire.

On the plus side, I landed near a rather unusual pale, looking spider on the reeds which turned out to be a grass spider. I don't think I've ever seen one before and have a photo of it which I'll post up tomorrow.

As I trudged on, access to the lake became a problem as impenetrable overgrown wooded areas, reeds and brambles blocked my path but the birds kept coming.

I decided to sit still for 20 minutes (remembering my training!) and see what flew my way. In a low lying marshy area I spotted something moving, so trained my binoculars towards the bright green iris jungle below me.

There in amongst the yellow flowers sat a lone female gadwall. I'm not sure if she was nesting or just having a nap but she remained almost motionless - aware of me watching her but completely unperturbed. Not unlike a female mallard but larger with a prettier plumage and more exotic looking bill.

A singing whitethroat at Kenfig Reserve by Mike McCarthy in April 2011.

I then heard a bird call I was unfamiliar with. I'm quite good at the more common species but this shy little bird was definitely playing mind games with me, as it skulked about in the trees about six feet away. Try as I might, I just couldn't catch a proper glimpse of it, so eventually gave up as the mosquitoes were getting hungrier.

As I walked away it began to follow me, making a low almost 'duck like' sound but always staying out of sight. Eventually it ran out of cover and darted across open ground to another bush which is when I finally got to ID it as a whitethroat!

A female wheatear was also close by and skylarks flitted up into the air. I was hoping to see some owls out hunting in the early evening light but was rewarded instead by a kestrel hovering overhead and an amazing carpet of orchids below, in one of the few open areas in the reserve.

A field of orchids

Whilst crouching down trying to get a nice shot of the orchids I noticed an aerial battle taking place to my right. One was undoubtedly a crow but I was surprised to see the other bird was a lapwing.

Aerial combat went on for a good 20 minutes with the lapwing soaring high up into the sky before plummeting down like a bird of prey, straight into the crow, which seemed fearless.

There must have been a nest with either eggs or chicks in the vicinity as the lapwing was determined to see off this would be predator at all costs. Eventually the crow lost interest and gingerly flapped its way off in an alternative direction.

Walking back to the car park, I encountered a variety of warblers in the reed beds but again, found them difficult to spot and ID. The only two obvious ones (to me) were chiffchaff and a family of sedge warblers which were busily feeding and making a racket.

I also saw a perching cormorant, swans, coots, swallows, various tits and gulls, a mistle thrush and plenty of common garden bird species - and all in the space of an hour and a half. Amazing really, when you consider how close it is to suburbia and the nearby steel industry of Port Talbot.

I didn't manage to walk around the whole lake, uncover the old buried castle keep of Kenfig or spot the rare fen orchid which grows here but will definitely keep trying and might ask a warden for some pointers next time.

I did however come away feeling incredibly relaxed and can definitely recommend a quiet walk, somewhere wild on your own to recharge the batteries.


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