Blowholes along the Glamorgan Heritage Coast

A stormy day delivers a series of unexpected blowholes.

Edinburgh Bound!

The start of a week birding and walking the Firth of Forth.

Isle of Mull Sunsets

Stunning sunsets from a stunning island. Isle of Mull at its best.

Castell y Bere from Abergynolwyn

A moddy walk to Castell y Bere with added Choughs!.

Llanrhidian Evening Roost

Short Eared Owls, Hen Harriers and Great White Egrets.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Fan Bay Deep Shelter

P1040561 - Fan Bay Deep Shelter
If I’m truly honest with myself the claim that our trip to Dover was all about the Adonis Blue may have been ever so slightly exaggerated. Yes it was my primary draw but one bolstered no end by the presence of so much history along that particular stretch of coastline. Being our closest point to France the White Cliffs formed an integral part of the country’s defences during both world wars and still carries scars from that period to this day. Gun emplacements, barracks and even a nineteenth century prison are all clearly visible at various points and represent exactly the way I like my history displayed. Museums and restored properties all have their place but for me nothing beats exploring an abandoned site that has been left to decay naturally over time. Instead of being presented with all the information up front you’re left to piece things together from what remains, something I’ve been enjoying since my very earliest days. The second world war is often the best period for this despite much work in the 1970’s to erase many structures as part of Project Eyesore, Fan Bay Deep Shelter being one of them.

P1040501 - Fan Bay Deep Shelter

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Chasing Blues Along The White Cliffs of Dover

P1040473 - Chalk-hill Blue, Dover
A day after seeing the efforts our ancestors expended keeping the French at bay we found ourselves at a place whose whole existence is geared towards entirely the opposite goal. Dover. Surely one of the most depressing towns ever to greet a weary traveller (although I'm pretty sure Calais runs it a close second) yet also the access point for one of this countries most famous landmarks. Through the centuries the White Cliffs have seen despair, sorrow and war and today stand testament to Britain's resilience and will to carry on. The contrast between their instantly recognisable chalk profile and the modern port mere meters away couldn't be more stark.

P1040396 - Dover

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Birding The Royal Military Canal, Kent

Slightly later than planned due to a couple of days under canvas sans technology in Pembrokeshire, it's time to head to Kent. As a little background this is not an area of the country I know well and thanks to a busy couple of days at work leading up to our trip I'd had scant time for any serious planning. As a result we were very much in the hands of our hosts, my sister and her husband (still sounds strange saying that even after three years), so when they suggested a walk along the Royal Military Canal last Saturday we were all for it. Completed in 1809 its twenty eight mile length had but one purpose - to fend off any attack from the French across Romney Marsh. A noble ambition for sure but one never tested in anger before the canal was eventually decommissioned in 1877. Since then nature has been allowed to take her course, softening once stark edges and slowly eroding defensive banks and other structures. Today a footpath stretches its entire length and we picked up the trail from Appledore before heading East. Even after two hundred years the original design philosophy is clear to see with kinks every five hundred yards, each marking the position of an artillery battery allowing a clear shot down its defended stretch of water. The result is that you walk through a constantly changing vista, each twist and turn opening up a new window on the surrounding landscape.

P1040394 - Royal Military Canal

The contrast between lush vegetation on the landward side and dry grassland and drained marsh on the other was stark, a boundary marked by the canal itself. This presented an intriguing mix of habitats which one moment had us watching a family of Spotted Flycatchers and the next Sand Martins and Stock Doves. Darting between the two like a bolt of lightning were Kingfishers, at least two but probably more. They were an almost constant presence along the three or four mile stretch we walked, occasionally perched up but more often than not seen disappearing around the next corner or over towards a parallel drainage ditch. I tried to keep a tally in my notebook but in the end settled on the slightly vaguer "several". If anyone is aware of just how large the local population is then I'd love to know.

Of course, being a canal there were the almost ubiquitous Mute Swans and Mallards but other than that the waterway itself was strangely devoid of bird life. The long-ago drained marsh was much more productive with a yaffling Green Woodpecker giving us more than the usual run-around as it perched alternately on ground, fence and then dead tree before settling on mocking us from positions unknown. All par for the course really. Slightly easier to track down were a pair of passing Grey Herons, one of which came close enough for another attempt at in flight photography. Definitely getting there I think.

P1040372 - Grey Heron, Royal Military Canal

All the time these events were unfolding we were never far from a Dragonfly or Butterfly with species seen including Common Darter, Brown Hawker, Migrant Hawker, Red Admiral, Small White and Speckled Wood. Of these my best photo came of a Common Darter and boy does he look pleased with his berry!

P1040387 - Common Darter, Royal Military Canal

There were also plenty of signs of unseen visitors as well for those taking the time to look. The most obvious were at least two large Badger setts and the most unusual these Woodpecker 'drillings'. I'm sure there's a technical term but for now it escapes me so instead I'll let the photo do the talking.

P1040376 - Woodpecker action, Royal Military Canal

Heading back into Appledore's well tended lawns and expensive housing I couldn't help wandering how often the locals use what's on their very doorsteps. We met not a soul heading out and only one single couple on the way back. According to my sister this is not unusual which was great for us but a shame to not see the canal being more widely enjoyed. Perhaps I'm being overly pessimistic so come on Appledore, next time we're down your way I expect to see far more people pondering the fruits of our long-standing feud with them over the channel.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Weeting Heath and Wicken Fen

P1030575 - Small Skipper, Wicken Fen
We’re just back from a long weekend in Kent where there was sun, sea and rather more wind than proved ideal. Our reason for travelling so far East and braving the M25? My Dad’s 60th birthday present which was to have taken the form of a Tiger Moth flying experience. Unfortunately this bi-plane veteran of the second world war doesn’t take too kindly to gale force winds so it, and we, were grounded. A bit of a pain but with so many attractions within easy reach we weren’t exactly left kicking our heels. Far from it in fact as we managed to squeeze in early nineteenth century defences against French invasion, WW2 tunnels used in defence against Nazi invasion, nuclear power stations and a series of abandoned narrow gauge railways once used by fishermen. A varied selection even by our own somewhat random standards.

With appetites hopefully whetted let’s instead concentrate on something entirely different for now. Sorry about that. I’ve been wanting to fill in a few trips from my missing months of blogging and first up is a short break we took at the beginning of July to Cambridgeshire. Flying machines were once again a big draw, this time in the form of Duxford’s Flying Legends air display. No doubt a few photos from the day will make their way onto here at some point too but this post is all about the nearby reserves of Weeting Heath and Wicken Fen. Happy coincidence you might suggest? Nothing of the sort. Military like planning meant that after several years of failed attempts we were finally in the right place at the right time (just) to try and find Stone Curlews. This bird is one of the last UK species I really want to see and there is no better place than Weeting Heath if the internet is to be believed. In truth we didn’t know what to expect so were pleasantly surprised to find walking routes of several miles in length, a couple of decent hides and a promise that there were indeed Stone Curlews to be found. In fact the reserve warden couldn’t have done more to aid us in our quest, drawing up a map and pointing out the best viewing locations. Hopes were high but ultimately we came up short. A combination of tall vegetation and the wrong time of day meant zero sightings despite several hours of watching. We even made a last ditch attempt on our final evening to address the latter but still drew a blank. Probably the closest we came was the sound of a calling Curlew somewhere out on the grassland, a dead ringer for Stone Curlew but to untrained ears impossible to distinguish from its native counterpart. Frustrating but more than enough incentive to make a return trip early next Spring.

Thankfully the other residents at Weeting Heath were proving more than accommodating with two more target species, Hobby and Turtle Dove, both turning up exactly where the warden had said they would. The latter only gave brief flight views as it shot across a clearing in the woodland but its distinctive upper wing colouring was unmistakeable and represented a new life tick for my Dad. The Hobby on the other hand couldn’t have been more accommodating with several flight views near its nesting site. Also present were a good number of Yellowhammers whilst the raptors were added to by Buzzard, Kestrel and a trio of local F-15’s. Rather amusingly we were for a while convinced that the Kestrel was in fact a Stone Curlew, a statement that’s not as daft as it may first appear. For some reason the bird was running through the long grass and when virtually completely obscured it’s surprising how similar the two can look. Fortunately we were on our own in the hide when that particular misstep took place so we were saved our blushes, unlike the gentleman who was convinced he had one in his scope. Hurried shouts and barked directions later (all in a hushed tone of course) we all had the same cracking views. Of a Rabbits ears that is. Oh well.

If the birds were impressive then the number and variety of butterfly species proved even more so. Pretty much all the species we know were present including excellent numbers of Small and Large Skippers plus Small Heath, Small Copper and my very first Essex Skipper. Even a lifer couldn't outshine the discovery of this Pine Hawk-moth however, found atop a fence post whilst looking for those ever elusive Stone Curlews.

P1030534 - Pine Hawk-moth, Weeting Heath

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Carreg Cennen Castle - Cows and Clouds

Back to last Sunday for this one where my parents luck with the weather continued to prevail. Remember all that sun and blue sky of late? Gone. Instead we had low, thick cloud casting a gloom more reminiscent of winter than the heights of summer. The only thing spoiling that illusion was our dual friends heat and humidity. It proved sweaty in the extreme each time we tackled one of the numerous ascents on our circumnavigation of Carreg Cennen. At least the castle itself looked suitably moody and menacing perched atop its limestone outcrop.

P1040207 - Carreg Cennen Castle

The plan had been to spend some time finding and photographing butterflies which have proved previously numerous along this walk. The dull light pretty much put paid to that idea though with only a solitary Speckled Wood and a couple of Green-veined Whites on the wing. Fortunately birds aren’t as picky about their outings and just above the source of the Loughor we stumbled across an absolute gold mine. Here woodland gives way to open hillsides and, as on previous occasions this summer, we found this to be ideal habitat for Redstarts. There were at least three individuals present, one adult and two juveniles, although we found many more further along our route. Keeping them company was a very active family of Spotted Flycatchers, my first for several months and a new species for me in this locality. They were doing exactly what they do best high in the treetops and proved impossible to get a decent photograph of that didn’t consist of a distant and slightly obscured silhouette. The same could be said of the juvenile Green Woodpecker which was lurking deep in one of the stunted Rowan trees, its plumage an intriguing mix of half speckled grey and half green. It issued a brief yaffle as it skulked off further into cover but a great find nonetheless. Also about were commoner species including Great Tit, Blue Tit and Chaffinch plus a constant presence of Swallows overhead. Talking of Swallows there were huge numbers around the farm beneath Carreg Cennen, many if not all as a result of the numerous nests within nearby barns. Birds were continuously passing in and out, several still showing their gape which marked them out as this year’s offspring.

And now, some Cows.

P1040203 - Carreg Cennen Cow

P1040198 - Carreg Cennen Cow

The photogenic calf and pregnant female above were in a field with other similarly pregnant animals, one of which was in the early throws of labour. As a ‘townie’ this proved terribly exciting and I whipped out the camera to capture whatever happened next. Mistake. Turns out giving birth is not beautiful or photogenic in any way and in the end we were saved from the full gruesome spectacle as her contractions seemed to pass and she settled back down. What was interesting to observe however was that all the pregnant females were frequently bending their heads back as in my photo above. Could they perhaps have been listening for sounds of their calf’s within? Whatever the reason it was clear that there was still a long way to go so we left the herd to some privacy and continued on our way. Certainly an interesting diversion though and excuse enough for one of the best alliteration post titles ever to grace this blog.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Goldfinch Drama

High drama graced our garden last night following the discovery of a grounded juvenile Goldfinch. This is not a wise move in an area plagued by feral cats and our concerns were rightly raised that were it to stay there it would not be long for this world. Physically it looked in good health but simply refused to move or fly off at any approach. Keeping a careful watch our suspicions were raised that it was perhaps stunned, another casualty of our garage window which no amount of reflective devices seems to prevent.

P1040327 - Stunned Goldfinch

P1040334 - Stunned Goldfinch

I’ve dealt with these circumstances a number of times before and moving the bird to a quiet area and keeping an eye out for predators usually gives the unfortunate victim time to recover. Emma was our designated carer this time around and picked the Goldfinch up easily enough but it quickly became obvious that it was in no fit state to stay in the garden. It was continuously nodding off apart from a few brief flight attempts that proved rather less than successful. The first saw it landing on Emma’s chest with the next taking it over to a tree where it singularly failed to make a landing and tumbled to the ground. Worrying to say the least and a little sad as whenever the local Goldfinch flock flew over our juvenile would look skywards but was clearly unable to join them.

P1040346 - Stunned Goldfinch

P1040355 - Stunned Goldfinch

P1040359 - Stunned Goldfinch

Picking it up for a second time we transferred the bird to an old shoebox lined with towels, supplied some water and covered with another towel. Placed in a quiet corner of the house we left our new guest to recover, peaking in every now and again to ensure that all was well. I’m happy to report that initial checks looked promising with the Goldfinch firmly asleep, head tucked under wing. The only problem was that it was now dark outside so although the recommended recovery time is a couple of hours we decided to leave things as they were overnight. Nerves were definitely jangling this morning but everything turned out brilliantly. Our Goldfinch was already flapping about so we quickly took the box outside and released it. First stop was our neighbours tree and a few moments later it was gone, presumably joined with the rest of its flock as they once more passed through. A perfect result that improved my mood today no end.

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