Its a flippin’ long way to south west Wales and Pembrokeshire, indeed I suspect its the furthest place from anywhere. I know this for certain as we drove it on the 3rd December… We set off from a chilly Derbyshire at 7am as we had finally made a decision half an hour earlier to twitch the Masked Wagtail that had turned up at some point in the last week or so and had caused a small stir on the ‘net when a local chap took a picture of it and inquired what it was as it didn’t look like any of his other Wagtails. This particular Asian sub species of White Wagtail, (and a relative of our own subspecies of White, the familiar Pied Wagtail) has not been recorded in the UK before but has straggled to the Scandinavian countries a couple of times before. It was perhaps not surprising that the autumn that gave so much in the shape of eastern gems had kept giving into December. The drive was long and tedious. And we didn’t get news on the pager as we drove as we had expected to do just after dawn. Was it still there? By Strensham services on the M5 and the turn for the M50 towards the west and border country I was worried and appealed on twitter for anyone who knew if the bird was there, as we would turn back on negative news (we were not driving 5 hours for a dip unnecessarily), happily I got an answer to the affirmative so we kept going. After the first three hours we crossed the border through Monmouth and on into coal and steel country around Cardiff, and soon the industrial landscape of Port Talbot was looming alongside the M4. Onward and onward towards the end of Wales we drove, passing Swansea, Carmarthen and St Clears. We have not really been to this area much and then it was usually as a gateway to the Irish Ferries at Pembroke Dock or Fishguard. Around 5 hours after starting out we pulled into a grassy field near the tiny village of Camrose just north of Haverford West. The field had been opened by a kind local to provide parking to avoid any issues with the narrow roads, however there were only half a dozen cars there.
I have to say the obsession with just traveling to tick a box has gathered less importance for me as the total has climbed, although I have got over 500 plus fair few species for the UK, for me it is not about the numbers, its about seeing new birds I have not seen before, or indeed seeing birds I have seen before and want tot see again. This bird in the purest sense cannot be ticked being only a sub species but I find that rather sad as a reason not to go for it. This subspecies thing anyway is an artificial construct to attempt to pigeonhole the natural world in a typically human attempt to bring an imaginary order to the state of affairs as we see it. Nature however tends not to subscribe to this approach, favoring the messy and indistinct way of things and refuses to oblige by stopping still and not evolving anymore. The more we attempt to put everything in its slots the more we find out that just messes everything up even more.
Anyway we parked the car in the field, stretched our rather stiff limbs and took the short five minute walk into the village. We didn’t really know where we were going so simply followed our noses and the road through the village, and sure enough we soon spotted a few birdwatchers lined up along the side of the sunken narrow lane. Just as we walked up there was the distinctive commotion of the gathering up of tripods and grabbing of cameras that indicate the quarry is showing. Walking up to the spot, the bird flew onto the side road above the lane in front of some cottages. A stunning little monochrome chap he was too. We had a couple of minutes watching before he flicked off and down into the middle of the lane, where he began strutting around picking food from the tarmac. This of course caused the birders to return to the lane. This naturally coincided with what appeared to be rush hour on this sleepy road. The locals where however wonderful, and often patiently waited in their cars to pass whilst the bird fed and the crowd snapped away. As a car went through, the bird relocated to the adjoining lawn and drive of Sycamore Croft where he strutted around on the lawn, in between flying up onto the houses and seeing off the other local Pied Wagtails who dared to encroach on his roofs and lawn. He gave us a guided tour of his little patch of Wales, showing us his lawn, road, roofs and guttering as he fed and preened, and he even seemed to head off for a bath somewhere, as he returned a little damp and ruffled at one point after a short excursion out of view and down the road.
“This is my gutter…
this is my lawn…..
this is my road….
A typical Pied Wagtail type bird with the usual pallette of grey, black and white but rather smartly put together to give a completely different appearance to our usual types. A beautiful black hood with a white eye mask and forehead and thin mustachios above the winter small white throat area. The hood was neatly and sharply separated from white underparts at the front and a lovely paynes grey mantle and rump. His wings showed a huge amount of white with the median and greater covers almost pure white and with broad white tertial fringes. The primaries and secondaries plus his tail and one inner greater covert looked browner and therefore he must be a 1st winter I think.
Although the call was very similar to our own birds I felt it could be distinguished by ear at times.
this is my roof…
and this is my wall”.
He was a very self confident little chap, marching around on the road and, towards the end of our visit, even refusing until the very last second to move for the traffic, indeed at one point I thought he had been reckless for the last time as we all let out a collective gasp as he flew right in front of a passing landrover, only for us all to to breath a sigh of relief as he re-appeared, flashing white wings, back into view beyond the vehicle and flying back towards the lawn. Often approaching the small crowd (at one point 4 people) to within feet, we enjoyed crippling views.
After around 2.5 hours in his company we set off home. On the way we stopped somewhere in Pembrokes near St Clears for a sandwich and looking out of the car window at the beautiful blue sky we espied a pair of Red Kites hanging above a small wood up on the hill.
They played in the air for the whole half hour we sat there, but never quite came close enough for a proper photograph. The journey home took hours and was full of people in cars being silly, but we got home before 9pm and slept the sleep of the satisfied twitcher.