Welcome to 'My Life Outside', the personal blog of Adam Tilt through which I aim to share with you the places that I visit and the wildlife that I see on my travels around the UK. My primary interest is in birds and bird photography, but when they aren't playing ball I turn my attention to pretty much everything else.

I am based in a village on the outskirts of Swansea, South Wales. My regular haunts include the Gower Peninsula, the Burry Inlet, Pembrokeshire and the Isle of Mull - all locations with stunning scenery and a vast array of wildlife. Many of the posts on this blog serve as a diary through which I detail my adventures and show the photographs that I have taken. I aim to impart some of my local knowledge along the way and encourage others to get out exploring for themselves. If you want to get involved then please leave comments and follow the blog.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Royal International Air Tattoo - Up, up, up in the air!

So one day has turned into almost a week but that hasn't changed the level of enjoyment I've had looking through more photos from our weekend in the Cotswold's. As promised it's time for my second and final instalment focussing on the Royal International Air Tattoo 2014.

P1080330 - Royal International Air Tattoo, Fairford
An acrobatic display from a Chinook helicopter is something that has to be seen to be believed. They are another aircraft that we see fairly regularly from home but those mundane flights do nothing to prepare you for the sheer manoeuvrability of these things. Vertical descents straight towards the ground are nerve wracking at the best of times, let alone in a helicopter.

P1080378 - Royal International Air Tattoo, Fairford
Another aircraft doing things it really shouldn't was this transport plane from Italy. Loops and steep turns were order of the day in one of the most surprising displays of the weekend.

P1080388 - Royal International Air Tattoo, Fairford

P1080396 - Royal International Air Tattoo, Fairford
The crazy award, as always, goes to the Breitling wing walkers, and yes there really are acrobats up on those wings. I must admit I've never really seen the point as they are overshadowed almost completely by the aircraft themselves, but who doesn't love a dose of good old eccentricity.

P1080414 - Royal International Air Tattoo, Fairford
The A400M put in a brief flight appearance as it departed for another show. I got the distinct impression that the word Farnborough had been banned from the commentators vocabulary.

P1080419 - Royal International Air Tattoo, Fairford

P1080433 - Royal International Air Tattoo, Fairford
Another impressive helicopter performance came from this Merlin, the last from 78 Squadron whose aircraft will shortly transfer to the Royal Navy's Commando Helicopter Force.

P1080441_2 - Royal International Air Tattoo, Fairford
Last word though must go to the Italian display team and their eccentric commentator. As a proud Britain it would be remiss of me to even contemplate a rival to the Red Arrows, but somehow this crazy bunch came within a hairs breadth of doing just that. Precision flying and incredibly close formations, all accompanied to the voice of someone who clearly loved what he was doing. I'm still not sure what the hell he was going on about most of the time but that only added to the sense of fun. So, in his own immortal words for one last time, "up, up, up in the air!"

P1080443 - Royal International Air Tattoo, Fairford

P1080452 - Royal International Air Tattoo, Fairford

P1080458 - Royal International Air Tattoo, Fairford

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Royal International Air Tattoo - Part 1

Anyone in the vicinity of RAF Fairford last Sunday can't have failed to notice the abnormally large volume of fighter aircraft overhead, and we were slap bang in the middle of it all. I am of course talking about the Royal International Air Tattoo, the worlds largest military airshow and the real reason for our trip across to the Cotswold's. I've attended several times previously and having witnessed such spectacles as Concord touching down a few meters away, the last ever flight (prior to its resurrection at least) of Vulcan XH558 and the unforgettable arrival of an American B-2 stealth bomber, expectations were high. As it turned out I wasn't to be disappointed and if you think these next couple of posts may be straying somewhat from my normally nature focussed content, rest assured that throughout every display we were accompanied by singing Skylarks and dashing Hares.

P1080201 - Royal International Air Tattoo, Fairford
Being one of the first through the gates meant that we were able to get up close and personal with those aircraft on static display. Aerial acrobatics are all well and good but I love being able to see the small details on these aircraft, in particular the unique logos and paint jobs which are applied either as a whole unit or to individual planes.

P1080205 - Royal International Air Tattoo, Fairford
Amongst the more modern jets it was nice to see a few turboprops about including what we judged to be the happiest aircraft in show. That small red smile really leant a sense of personality.

P1080217 - Royal International Air Tattoo, Fairford
One of the highlights was Airbus's new A400M, the replacement for our venerable Hercules fleet. Although not much larger overall that huge tail makes for a much more imposing outline and I can't wait to see one of these flying over our house. Given how the Hercules make it shake I can only imagine what one of these beasts will do!

P1080218 - Royal International Air Tattoo, Fairford
The main American offering was their new P8-Poseidon, an anti-submarine warfare plane whose operators clearly have a sense of humour.

P1080249 - Royal International Air Tattoo, Fairford
Of course the Red Arrows, undoubtedly everyone's favourite, were in attendance and as they are celebrating their fiftieth display season it was a nice touch to see them all lined up at the end of the runway.

P1080265 - Royal International Air Tattoo, Fairford
The shot above is probably my favourite from the whole weekend, a classic nose-on lesson in symmetry.

P1080268 - Royal International Air Tattoo, Fairford
Another livery which caught my eye was this shark based effort. Sadly I can't recall the country of origin or type of plane, so answers on a postcode please.

P1080284 - Royal International Air Tattoo, Fairford

P1080290 - Royal International Air Tattoo, Fairford
Amongst several acrobatic teams it was the Swiss (Patrouille Suisse) who put on perhaps the most poignant of displays After years wowing crowds across the world budget cuts mean that the team is likely to be disbanded in 2016. Having watched them perform both here and above the lakes of Interlaken, I for one will be sad to see them go.
P.S. There really are two planes in the photo above.

P1080293 - Royal International Air Tattoo, Fairford
My favourite aircraft of the day, without a doubt, is this relic of Cold War history the Sukhoi SU-22. Dating back to 1966 Norway is now the sole operator of the type and for me it embodies what a true fighter jet should be. Variable-geometry, noise and speed.

P1080301 - Royal International Air Tattoo, Fairford

P1080302 - Royal International Air Tattoo, Fairford

P1080318_2 - Royal International Air Tattoo, Fairford
Of course we shouldn't forget the true purpose of these machines or the courage of those that fly them, something which the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight perfectly embodies. This year all it's aircraft carry black and white stripes in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of D-Day, including a specially prepared Eurofighter which proved to be an excellent addition. It's remarkable to think that only 60 years separate the Spitfire and Typhoon seen above.
With two miles of static displays and eight hours of flights it's perhaps easy to imagine how difficult it's been to select just a small proportion of my photos to display here. So much so in fact that I've got another entry lined up ready for tomorrow where the crazy Italians will come out to play.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

A Walk Along the Thames and Severn Canal

Saturday dawned hot and clear and it was to the sound of distant jet engines (a hint of approaching activities) that we set off to walk a section of the abandoned Thames and Severn Canal. Completed in 1789 it was conceived as part of the route from Bristol to London though it was never much of a success and was finally killed off by rail in 1927. It was perhaps ironic therefore that our approach took us along the trackbed of the similarly abandoned Midland and South Western Junction railway. Lasting until 1978 it now serves as a wildlife corridor whose proximity to the fledgling Thames provided a wealth of dragonflies and damselflies. I'll confess to not being much of an authority in this area but it was impossible to miss the stunning Beautiful Demoiselles, though only a considerably dampened shoe would have gained me a photo. Instead I concentrated on those species over drier land including this Common Blue Damselfly and Small Tortoiseshell.

P1080130 - Common Blue Damselfly

P1080135 - Small Tortoiseshell

The insect life only increased as we arrived at Crickdale North Meadow, an internationally important habitat as one of the finest lowland hay meadows in Europe. Sadly we were a little too late to enjoy the vast array of Orchids that grow here but there were still a few good examples of Great Burnet in bloom. I'm reliably informed by my Dad that these are rather special so had to include one here.

P1080140 - Great Burnet

P1080138 - Crickdale North Meadow

The photo above shows just a small corner of this vast meadow and it was clear that more than flowers were benefiting from its protection. Overhead a Red Kite showed off incredibly well, even swooping down to ground level at one point presumably in search of prey. Not far away two Buzzards were soaring on thermals and even a Kestrel chose to grace us with its presence. With so many large predators in the air it would have perhaps been easy to miss those dramas being played out on a smaller scale, though the constant sound of Grasshoppers made that almost impossible. Peering closer revealed a seething mass of life and I was lucky to find two individuals attempting to get a little closer than most. The lower Grasshopper was clearly displaying to the higher (presumably female), though it all came to a crashing stop with one huge leap through the air. Certainly makes escaping those dodgy dates a little easier.

P1080148 - Grasshoppers

Back to our route and it was only a few more minutes before we found ourselves walking the tow path along the Thames and Severn Canal. It's clear that time has not been particularly kind to what remains but there was still a beauty that I often find associated with abandoned places. Perhaps it's that sense of what little regard nature has for our brave endeavours and how ready she is to reclaim them once we step away. Whatever, they offered a fascinating few miles with locks, workers cottages and even a few very large Pike thrown in for good measure.

P1080152 -  - Thames and Severn Canal

P1080156 -  Pike,  - Thames and Severn Canal

P1080161 - Thames and Severn Canal

P1080162 - Thames and Severn Canal

At Wildmoorway it was time to leave the canal once more and head back into the Cotswold Water Park proper. There was still one surprise in store however with my first Cinnabar Moth caterpillars of the year. Regulars will no doubt have seen me feature this species a few times on the blog and having seen adults on the wing recently I'd been keeping my eyes open for these. Lets hope our local colony does well again this year.

P1080170 - Cinnabar Moth Caterpillars, Cotswold Water Park

The next stage proved to be very overgrown but despite a few nettle stings I certainly wasn't complaining. The abundance of native wild flowers meant that once more we were in an entomologists paradise. Speckled Wood, Large Skipper, Red Admiral, Peacock, Ringlet, Gatekeeper and these mating Green-veined Whites were just the tip of a considerable iceberg.

P1080174 - Green-veined Whites, Cotswold Water Park

Even better was to come though with what must rank as one of the most distinctive moths out there. Known as a Scarlet Tiger it looked more like something from a tropical habitat than the English countryside.

P1080175 - Scarlet Tiger, Cotswold Water Park

To finish we rejoined the old railway to complete a loop of somewhere in the vicinity of six miles. By no means our longest walk but in the unrelenting heat it had felt much longer and managed to pack in such a variety of habitats and history. Definitely one to check out if you find yourself in the area.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Reed Watching at Newport Wetlands

Less than a week after returning from North Wales it was time to head off once more on Friday for a long weekend in the Cotswolds. Regular readers will no doubt note that this is a location that neither has a coastline nor mountains, an unusual departure from our destinations of recent years. All will become clear I promise but first let us deal with Friday which found us driving west along what must be a contender for most boring road in the world, the M4. Needless to say an excuse to break the monotony was required and it just so happened that the RSPB Newport Wetlands reserve came up trumps. The fact that it's currently home to a young family of Bearded Tits was pure coincidence of course and had absolutely no bearing on my route planning or subsequent disappointment at their complete no show. Fortunately however one of my bogey birds, Reed Warbler, turned out to be the complete polar opposite with a couple showing down to less than a meter right outside the visitor centre.

P1080098_2 - Reed Warbler, Newport Wetlands

The shot above was easily my best after an increasingly frustrating twenty minutes or so of cursing the wind, birds and even mother nature for creating such a diabolical habitat as the reed bed. No matter the position of a photographers quarry reeds will always find a way to suddenly leap into shot at the last possible moment. Even on a calm day stiff breezes develop at the merest hint of autofocus with an uncanny ability to perfectly align reed stem with birds eye. These phenomena only increase with the subjects rarity and proximity, though by now I probably sound like some madman who has a vendetta against reeds and atmospheric pressure differences. I digress.

This particular Reed Warbler is an adult and judging from persistent calls heard nearby it had young somewhere in the vicinity. This was backed up further by several sightings of it with a beak full of insects though the reeds blocked every opportunity to grab a photo. Have you ever noticed how the wind always picks up ..........

P1080102 - Newport Wetlands

Walking out to the main reserve delivered a chorus of Cetti's Warbler, Whitethroat, Chiffchaff and the pleasing and ever more common sound of Goldfinches overhead. I'm not sure if it's just me but it seems these days as if no walk is without the delightful sight of these colourful little birds. It was good to see Swallows still in abundance though they were nowhere near the volume of Sand Martins which seemed to be on the move. Several large flocks numbering hundreds of individuals passed through while we were present, perhaps an early sign of autumn migration. It seems far too early to talk of such things right now though with so much new life on show including this noisy young Coot who was busy feeding near the pontoon.

P1080107 - Coot, Newport Wetlands

Given that this was the location where the Bearded Tits have typically been seen (though admittedly much earlier in the day) we spent a good while scanning the area for any signs of movement. As it turned out there was plenty of that with Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers popping into view at regular intervals before once more slipping out of sight. A couple of Little Egrets and begging Mallards were about as varied as things got however before it was time to admit defeat and head on beyond the lighthouse.

P1080110 - Lighthouse, Newport Wetlands

By now temperatures were really climbing which only seemed to enhance the activity levels of those butterflies and dragonflies on the wing. The latter led me a happy chase but I was fortunate to capture both a Gatekeeper and stunning Marbled White on camera. The Marbled White was a particularly fine find as its my first sighting since getting back into nature several years ago.

P1080115 - Gatekeeper, Newport Wetlands

P1080116_2 - Marbled White, Newport Wetlands

A few Pochard and Teal rounded things off before it was once more time to take to the car and complete our journey. As luck would have it traffic was kind and we arrived in good time to enjoy this sunset across a tranquil Cotswold Water Park.

P1080119 - Sunset, Cotswold Country Park

P1080122 - Sunset, Cotswold Country Park

P1080126 - Sunset, Cotswold Country Park

Friday, 11 July 2014

Wildlife of Bluebell Cottage, Conwy Valley

Last time we camped in North Wales our tent was obliterated by near hurricane force winds, and that was the middle of summer! Needless to say we were slightly wary about pitching up this time around so instead chose to stay in a small cottage roughly halfway down the Conwy Valley. As always with online bookings you're never entirely sure what will greet you on arrival so we were more than pleasantly surprised to find a small wooden cabin nestled at the edge of large, mature woodland. The views out front from an extensive deck were spectacular and a half hours walk along the neighbouring public footpath delivered an even more breathtaking vista.

P1070874 - Conwy Valley

P1070782 - Conwy Valley

The real highlight though was the abundance of wildlife present including Great-spotted Woodpeckers, Jays, Buzzards, passing Little Egrets and of course Squirrels. The latter may not not be to everyone's taste but I love their cheeky antics and spent many a happy hour watching them go about their business.

P1070955 - Squirrel, Conwy Valley

P1070956 - Squirrel, Conwy Valley

P1070959 - Squirrel, Conwy Valley

Squirrels weren't the only mammals present with Rabbits grazing the nearby lawns day and night. Unsurprisingly they were much more difficult to approach which provided a perfect opportunity to put our trailcam through its paces. I've had this particular Bushnell model for the last eighteen months but had so far managed to capture nothing more exciting than a plethora of feral cats. A few nights out amongst the trees however and it managed to record a couple of Rabbits feeding in the early hours.

Overall I'm pretty impressed with the image quality but will be experimenting over the coming weeks with various settings whilst attempting to record our local Foxes. All that's left is for me to sign off from Snowdonia and leave you with one of my favourite images from our time at Bluebell Cottage. Enjoy.

P1070969 - Sunset, Conwy Valley


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