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1999: Great Northern Diver, Pembrokes

Common Loon

From October 28 near Moylgrove on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path:

“A beautiful day. A clear, blue sky over Cardigan Bay. Cliffs with their strata of rocks thrown into crazy angles. Marvellous springy turf at the start of my walk.

“But not much in the way of birds.

“I didn’t mind. Walking coastlines like that is addictive. You always want to see what’s just round the next headland and what the next inlet is hiding. A couple of ravens had flown over and there was the odd great black-backed gull in with the herring gulls.

“I had to decide to turn back at some stage though. I wanted to drive on to Llanelli. Eventually a steeper, muddier incline persuaded me to retrace my steps.

“I had been checking the coastal waters but not very methodically, so I was not surprised to see a black shape out there just after I had turned around. Through the binoculars the shape looked initially like a guillemot, which I would have expected. But something was not quite right. For a start it had a pale area extending back from the bill and, though size is notoriously difficult to judge, the bird did seem large.

“Closer inspection revealed white spangles on the back and another pale area at the base of the neck. I now knew that I had to be looking at a great northern diver somewhere between breeding and winter plumages. How often does a cracking bird like that turn up out of the blue while nothing else is around? Often enough to keep me hoping every time things seem quiet.

WWT Llanelli turned out to be excellent too. I managed to identify spotted redshank against some unhelpful backlight. Little egret and a male sparrowhawk glowing fiery red in the low sun completed the picture from the first hide. The second provided two greenshanks and a kingfisher perching quietly until, with a whistle, a second flew in to upset it.

“A walk round the grounds found more whooper swans and a pair of blackcaps. The WWT may be duck zoos to some folk but I find their sites superb for almost everything. No self-respecting birder should be without a membership.”

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