The Birds of Cwm-y- Rhaeadr
There is an interesting community of bird species to be found in and around the valley of Cwm-y-Rhaeadr is due to the mosaic of different habitat types. Cwm-y-Rhaeadr valley cuts into the upland moors of Mynydd Mallaen and opens into the fertile farmland of the upper Towy valley. Cwm-y-Rhaeadr valley is mainly conifer plantations but also has patches of hanging oak woods on its upper aspects and along the stream there are some patches of marsh.
The upper Towy valley is famous for its populations of several bird species that declined to low numbers during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when many were persecuted. The most famous species is the Red Kite that had declined to just a handful of birds by the 1920’s and one of the last breeding pairs was in the region of Cilycwm. Thankfully this species has now made a spectacular recovery and there about xx pairs in Wales, but the upper Towy valley is still a stronghold and kites are commonly seen in and around Cwm-y-Rhaeadr. The region was also a refuge for Ravens and Buzzards that declined over most of their range. Both these species are now abundant and can be seen on most visits to Cwm-y-Rhaeadr where there are breeding pairs. The Ravens have bred in the cliffs at the head of the valley and they forage over the uplands feeding a mainly on sheep carrion. The Raven is the largest passerine and is one of the most intelligent of birds probably with the problem solving ability of a four or five year old child!
The native oak woodland of which there are still some tiny patches in the upper reaches of Cwm-y-Rhaeadr are important habitat for a whole community of birds. The specialities of this woodland for which Carmarthenshire is well known are Redstart, Pied Flycatcher, Tree Pipit, Wood Warbler, Nuthatch, Tree Creeper and the Greater-spotted Woodpeckers. Although the commonest birds of this type of habitat are the familiar, Chaffinch, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Great Tit and Blue Tit. Keep a look out for the elusive Lesser-spotted Woodpecker and the declining Tree Sparrow both of which may occur. The Towy valley is an important area for these species.
The coniferous forests provide nesting habitat of the Goshawks and some of the other raptors. These woodlands are preferred by Goldcrest (Britains smallest bird), Coal Tit and Siskin. Goldcrests are usually heard giving their weak, thin call before they are seen, and they are most often high in the canopy and not easy to find. Siskins are largely dependent upon conifer (Spruce) woodland and their increase over the last twenty years is due to the spread of coniferous forest. The Siskin is a charming and naturally very confiding bird that can be approached to within a few feet.
Where there are patches of broad-leaved trees and open areas the diversity of species increases with Spotted and Pied Flycatchers, Chiffchaffs and Wood Warblers. The flycatchers like open patches so they can make their fly-catching sallies.
In areas of scrub and recently planted conifers there is the possibility of finding Linnets, Redpolls and Whinchats and if you are very lucky Nightjars. Redpolls are usually associated with areas of birch. Nightjars have shown to favour areas of cleared plantation or young plantations. It occurs elsewhere in north Carmarthenshire so it could turn up in the valley.
The farmland next to Cwm-y-Rhaeadr attracts a range of birds including Rooks and Jackdaws and when the fields are being ploughed Lesser Black-backed Gulls forage over the freshly ploughed fields as do Mistle Thrushes. In late summer flocks of up to fifty of these thrushes are commonly seen moving around the area, although these groups break up by winter.
The region has an interesting raptor community and in addition to the Buzzard and kite, there is in most years a breeding pair of Sparrowhawks and Goshawks are to be found in the valley. The Sparrowhawk and Goshawk are both very shy but they often reveal their presence by the remains of their kills. Both species typically hunt along rides, paths and openings in the forest and mostly catch their prey with an element of surprise. Sparrowhawks like to carry their prey to a tree stump where they pluck it. There are several of these plucking posts next to paths and they are littered with the feathers of the thrushes, finches, tits and other passerines that they usually feed on. The Goshawk is a much bigger and more powerful predator. The British population is derived from escaped and released falconers’ birds and is still increasing. There are scattered populations over Britain but the population in north Carmarthenshire and mid-Wales is one of the healthiest. This species favours mature conifer forests and has benefited from the plantations. These formidable predators feed on a range of medium-sized birds and mammals and the ones in our region have been recorded catching crows, jays, magpies, woodpigeons, thrushes and squirrels. The remains of their kills, a scattering of feathers and sometimes body-parts and bones, can be found on the ground where they were caught, plucked and eaten or on a plucking post. The best times to see these hawks are on fine days in early spring when they soar above their breeding territories in display. The Goshawks spread their obvious white under-tail feathers while displaying.
Tawny Owls are common in the valley and occasionally there may also be Barn Owls. The Barn Owl is a nationally declining species although there are several pairs locally and if you are lucky to see one it will be probably be quartering over open areas at dusk. Barn Owls may hunt over young plantations as does the Short-eared Owl that may occur in winter.
A pair of Peregrine Falcons has frequently bred on the cliffs near the waterfall at the head of the valley. These birds can be seen flying above the cliffs or sitting prominently on the cliffs or rock out-crops. These rocky outcrops are where the Peregrines take their prey to feed on them. These falcons are mainly feeding on feral and racing pigeons, crows and thrushes and in the winter they catch many Redwings and starlings. They also feed on Golden Plover and Woodcock, but also on a range of other small and medium sized birds. The occurrence of Golden Plover remains in the summer suggests that there is likely to be a breeding group of these birds on the moors of Mynydd Mallaen. The Peregrine Falcon is the fastest of all birds and a trained bird has been recorded stooping at over 200 mph!!
Small falcons are occasionally seen in the region and the most common is the Common Kestrel but always keep your eyes open for Merlins and the occasional Hobby which could occur.
The stream that runs through the valley may provide habitat for Dipper, Grey Wagtail and Common Sandpiper. These are the three characteristic species of the upland streams and are common in the upper reaches of the Towy valley.
There are many summer visiting birds including the familiar Swallow house martin and Swift as well as the more elusive Cuckoo and warblers. There are several species of warblers in Cwm-y-Rhaeadr, the commonest is the Willow Warbler but also Chiffchaff, Garden Warbler, Wood Warbler, White-throat and Blackcap. Visitors need to look out for Lesser White-throats that have become increasingly common in and around the Towy valley in recent years.
In the winter months there are Redwings and Fieldfares that are common and in some years there may be small numbers of Bramblings. A small number of Woodcock breed in Wales, but in the winter large numbers visit from Scandinavian countries. The Woodcock is a species that prefers wooded areas and is common in Cwm-y- Rhaeadr in some winters. There are also winter flocks of Golden Plover but these are most likely to be seen flying over the valley but may be common on open land surrounding the area.
The valley of Cwm-y-Rhaeadr offers many opportunities for some exciting bird-watching during all seasons of the year. The list of species found here is growing and we invite visiting bird-watchers to help us by recording all the species that they see. Even by recording the common species we will be able build up a detailed picture of the bird communities through the year. We are interested in when the summer and winter visitors are present and which species breed in the valley.
CWM RHAIADR BIRD SURVEY
Purpose of the Survey
We are interested in compiling a list of birds that occur in the valley. You can help by recording your observations on the form provided. Since the bird community is dynamic and varies from season to season and from year to year we are hoping to build up a comprehensive picture of what species can be seen and on which ones breed here.
The list provided includes all of those species which have already been seen and those which are likely to be seen, although there are many more species which could occur.
It is important not to disturb breeding birds so we are not asking for evidence of the nest itself, but behaviour which indicates a nest nearby.
We would be particularly interested in observations of interesting behaviour, and have left a box for your comments.
There is also a box for you to leave your contact details if you wish. This will enable us to follow up any important observations.
Nm – carrying nesting material
Fd – carrying food
Fl – fledglings seen
Cf – coniferous woodland
Dw – deciduous woodland
Rv – river valley
Gb – open country
Rk – rocks and scree