When I heard of a sighting of a great grey shirke on my local patch at Blaenserchan I was keen to get out at the earliest opportunity. But it took two attempts to connect with the bird.
Visit 1 - Sunday 22nd March
This first excursion failed to locate the target bird but a leisurely meander through the valley on a mild spring afternoon had plenty more to offer. A singing chiffchaff was my first of the year and a male stonechat near to where the shrike had been sighted was a bonus. Here too was a peacock butterfly taking advantage of the sun traps provided by the remains of the pit head bath house. On to the head of the valley where ancient beech woodland dovetails with an industrial terrain. A clatter of wings and branches preceded a flush of around 250 wood pigeon; a raven called loudly.
When the wildlife thins out I drift on to the many remnants of cultural heritage that this open mosaic habitat on previously developed land provides. A few mature beech trees that survived the ravages of decades of coal excavation within the core of the site reveal some interesting penknife graffiti.
Who Billy Chapman was is any ones guess but the Blaenserchan valley has a long history of mining toil. The most notable event was the Llanerch pit disaster the resulted in the death of over 170 men and boys. The local history society are fund raising for a more fitting memorial to those who died
Visit 2 - Wednesday 25th March
Having failed on Sunday to track down the target predator a days leave (use 'um or lose 'um) on Wednesday gave me just enough time for a further visit. I had purpose in my stride as I made my way at pace to the area where the bird had last been seen by other birders. This time I located the bird quickly by its song. It was eventually picked on top of a hawthorn tree then alternating between these smaller trees and the tops of nearby mature beech.