BLACKPILL, SWANSEA BAY, GLAMORGAN, WALES, UK. 51.36N, 3.59W. by R.J.Howells
LOCATION DETAILS : Leave M4 at Junction 42, Briton Ferry. Follow A483 to the approaches of Swansea.. At New Cut Bridge, over the River Tawe, ( with SAINSBURYS on left ), carry straight on following A4067 to Blackpill. This road continues from Blackpill to West Cross and Mumbles.
CAR PARKING. [P] :Available at:
(a) Park and Pay, at entrance to Clyne Country Park;
(b) Free, at Mill Lane;
(c) Free, at Woodman Inn ( but weekend and seasonal restrictions apply);
(d) Free, at West Cross, Alderwood Road, opposite West Cross Hotel.
N.B. All Four on right of A4067, travelling from Swansea.
DESCRIPTION :The foreshore at Blackpill lies at the heart of the Swansea Bay SSSI - established as a Site of Special Scientific Interest for birds in 1986 ( wildfowl, waders and gulls ) - extending from Brynmill in the NE to Norton in the S. As the tide rises, the birds roost at the water's edge after feeding on the exposed sands between High and Low Tide. Blackpill is at the apex of the Bay and is the last area of shore to be flooded. The marine invertebrate life in the mixture of mud and sand on the beach provides a rich source of food for birds.
MEDITERRANEAN GULL ( Larus melanocephalus )Birds of this species have been recorded at Blackpill since April 1970 and are now a regular feature of the area's birdlife. They have been seen in every month of the year. Largest numbers occur in March/April and July/August on Spring and Autumn Migration as shown in the Table for 1998:-
BLACKPILL/SWANSEA BAY Total Nos. at all Dates Total No. of Individuals
Maximum numbers of Adult birds have been noted between July and September; Second year birds from July to August, with First year birds in September. However, breeding success at the nesting sites together with weather conditions during Spring/Autumn Migration may cause annual variations in occurrences as shown in the Table for 1999:
COLOUR-RINGED BIRDS :The first colour-ringed bird was noted by the late Peter James - a keen member of the Gower Ornithological Society - on 1st September, 1990. Subsequently, a total of 18 colour-ringed birds have been recorded, of which 8 are "Regulars" (ringed in Holland), 2 were of Belgian origin, with singles from Hungary and England.
LOCAL CONDITIONS FOR OBSERVATIONS :The Tidal Range at Blackpill is between 9.7 m and 12.9 m., one of the highest in the world.
Observations are best made on rising afternoon tides ( at about 11.3m. ), when the sun is directly behind the observer and all species of gulls present are sharply and clearly illuminated. Med. gulls usually gather and peak almost immediately before High Water. Until then, some like to wash and preen amomgst the pebbles, where the Clyne Stream flows out across the sands, while others laze in the flocks to the N and S of Blackpill. As the tide advances, the birds usually move onto the foreshore directly in front of the Lido. When finally disturbed and "washed-off" at High Water, they tend to fly off to roost, either to the Ashleigh Road Playing Fields or onto the sea off Llwynderw/Lilliput and West Cross.
On Low Neap Tides, Med. gulls may be spotted in the large flocks of several thousand Black-headed Gulls that roost on the sands of the Bay to the N and S of Blackpill. During the early winter momths, huge roosts often occur in the same localities, their numbers swelled by wind-blown birds in periods of severe gales.
On overcast days, especially in Spring and Autumn, when the gulls roost at the ebbing tide, observations prove most profitable for spotting and reading colour-ringed Meds.
N.B. In general, to ensure good and undisturbed views of gulls, aim to arrive at Blackpill, 2 to 2 1/2 hours before High Spring Tides and 1 to 1 1/2 hours before High Neap Tides.
THE BEST OBSERVATION POINTS FOR MED. GULLS are :(1) The Ashleigh Road Playing Fields;
(2) The Embankment of the Former Railway Line to the N of the Clyne River;
(3) Near the Blockhouse on the Seaward Side of the New Blackpill Lido;
1. The Foreshore Track opposite Llwynderw Drive;
(5) The Sands in front of the West Cross Hotel where a stream issues onto the Beach. ( This spot is also favoured by Ring-billed Gulls [Larus delewarensis ).
TIPS FOR OBSERVERS :Due to the exposed nature of the site, when trying to approach within "good" telescope range of colour-ringed birds, observers should wear inconspicuous clothing, avoid sudden movements along the Foreshore Track and "swinging" of tripods.Special care should be exercised in reading colour-rings, which may be inscribed with letters and figures, reading upwards or downwards. Half-discerned rings may well lead to errors, especially when there is tripod shake due to strong winds. Tripods, in such conditions, should be lowered to achieve greater stability. The position of both colour and metal rings should be noted precisely. All readings, if possible, should be checked by a fellow- birder, depending on the person's experience.
N.B. Avoid roaming the Beach, at any state of tide, in search of colour-ringed birds, since there already exists the problem of beach-walkers and of dogs being allowed to roam freely by their owners and disturb the birds.
CONCLUSION :For the Med.gull enthusiast Blackpill always presents a challenge, since , besides excellent views of this attractive species, there are other interesting gulls to be seen.
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