Oxwich Marsh mid autumn: a GOS field trip, passage waders and a wandering dragon

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Late September saw a period of unsettled weather that continued into early October. As a result we only managed a swallow roost session and a couple of daytime ringing sessions at Oxwich, with the most productive of these being on 09 October. We also completed a wader dazzling session at Whiteford on 10 October.

The results were as follows:

The wader dazzling session, jointly-led by Wayne Morris and Ed O’Connor, was very successful. Birds were captured on Berges Island, a long sandy bar that runs along the southern edge of the Burry Inlet. The catch was dominated by dunlin (53), all but two of which were first winter birds, with one showing the uniform grey of a winter-plumaged adult and the other still in main moult and retaining a substantial black belly patch. These were supplemented by small numbers of turnstone and a sanderling, all of which were first winter birds.

Highlights from the Oxwich sessions over the period have been:

  • A young jay. An influx of this species has been apparent this autumn in South Wales, with birds noted at many coastal watchpoints and record counts returned from some of the Welsh islands. The bird was caught in a fairly unpromising location in the middle of the reedbed.
  • Good numbers of goldfinch. Most of the 81 birds ringed were captured during the session on 09 October.
  • Probably our last grey wagtail of the year. Passage of the species is now much reduced from the levels we were seeing in early September. The marsh was very dry during the peak passage period and there were few windless days; as a result the annual total was low (birds appear to come to ground more readily if there is flash pooling present).
  • A reasonably productive swallow session, taking us to 797 swallows ringed during the year. These included a control. The bird was ringed at Durlston Country Park, Dorset, in September 2020.
  • A little dribble of reedbed warblers. Many of the reed and sedge warblers we record at this time of year appear unlikely to be in a condition to make their long southerly migration, but occasionally we encounter one with significant accumulated fat reserves.
  • A couple of new stonechats, plus some recaptures of birds ringed in early September. Stonechats use the edges of the reedbed in autumn, with numbers increasing when the hay is cut in the adjacent field and they no longer have bracken to perch on. This year the hay had only been part cut by early October, but bracken growth appeared a little suppressed, and birds started favouring the edge of the marsh anyway, with at least one bird roosting close to one of the rides.
  • A male golden-ringed dragonfly, a wanderer from higher moorland habitat.

The 9 October session at Oxwich had a distinctively late autumn feel to it, with chiffchaff, blackcap and goldcrest well represented. Also present in relative abundance were visitors on a Gower Ornithological Society (GOS) field trip. A record attendance of almost 30 people were talked through the identification, ageing and (where relevant) sexing of species that included marsh tit, chiffchaff, stonechat and Cetti’s warbler, and several were able to release great spotted woodpeckers (one of the most robust species captured) following processing.

Thanks to all who were able to make it out: Heather Coates, Keith Vaughton, Wayne Morris, Ed O’Connor, Colin Baker, Val Wilson, Jo Conway, Alex McCubbin, Bethan Dalton, Richard Dann, Dionne Jenkins, Miguel Lurgi, Tom Wright, Andrew Bevan and Becky Gibbs for company and assistance.

Thanks also to Nick Edwards of Natural Resources Wales for access to Whiteford and to Mark Hipkin for allowing us to park on National Trust land.

Photos (from Tom, Bethan and Richard) are below.

Owain Gabb


Cetti’s warbler. The species is commonest in autumn, when there is an influx of dispersing birds. Territories are thinly distributed around the marsh.
A male goldcrest (there is orange under the yellow)
Golden-ringed dragonfly (male): a wanderer from the moorlands
Robin – one of our commonest, but most attractive small passerines
Stonechats have lingered on the marsh this autumn. Of the five captured on 9 October, three were retraps
The first winter sanderling
Only the third jay to be captured at Oxwich since 2013
One of 51 first winter dunlin captured at Whiteford on 10 October


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