Welcome

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.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Carreg Cennen Castle - Mink and Ashy Mining Bees

If Saturday served to remind us that winter is not yet clear of the rear view mirror then Sunday was definitely a sign that it's days are severely numbered. Overnight the clouds had cleared leaving us to enjoy sunshine and blue skies on the drive north towards Carreg Cennen castle, somewhere we've not visited since March 2012. Not much has changed in the intervening years but turning up a month later has clearly had an impact on the local wildlife.  Where previously spring migrants had still been several weeks away this time we were greeted by numerous calling Chiffchaffs and two Swallows swooping overhead.  It was interesting to note however the impact of being further inland with Daffodils still in flower and fewer Willow Warblers compared to our coastal home.

P1070431 - Carreg Cennen Castle

Our plan for the day was to take in a circular route encompassing both sides of the neighbouring valley starting in the vicinity of Pantyffynnont. Here two Red Kites and two Buzzards were being harried by the local Crow population, choosing perhaps easier targets than a pair of Ravens which look to be nesting beneath the castle ramparts. Dropping down towards the valley bottom a small stream created something of an idyllic microclimate with temperatures at least a couple of degrees warmer than the surrounding environs. This had clearly encouraged Peacock butterflies onto the wing with several flitting their way between small clumps of early flowering Bluebells.

P1070437 - Peacock Butterfly, Carreg Cennen

It was interesting to note the presence of at least two Dark-edged Bee-flies here as well, especially after having found one at home a couple of days earlier. I'm presuming this surge in sightings is just as a result of me looking more closely for the species rather than an increase in numbers generally, though after such a mild winter who can say. Sadly they were far too quick on the wing for me to get any photos, as was a Mink who gave superb views as it ran along the opposite bank. Distinctly darker than an Otter with a significantly stubbier appearance it was not a welcome sight given their destructive impact on native species such as the threatened Water Vole. The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales is currently gathering records and carrying out focused trapping of these elusive creatures so I have reported my sighting here.

P1070428 - Carreg Cennen

Climbing steeply once more we were soon onto open moorland above Cwrtbrynbeirdd where a single male Orange-tip butterfly was patrolling its territory before an unidentified Pipit stopped me in my tracks. Seen alighting at the top of a tree my initial thoughts went straight to Tree Pipit, but without its characteristic call identification was going to be difficult. Conscious that even the poorest of record shots can be of use in these situations I took the following photograph moments before it took flight and headed strongly away towards the north-east.

Meadow Pipit with identifying features

Close inspection of this less than brilliant image reveals an extremely long back claw and heavy markings along each flank, both distinguishing features of Meadow Pipit and not the rarer Tree Pipit. Less a case of the one that got away and more like better prepared for next time.

Another interesting sighting came along a farm track beneath Beddau'r Derwyddon where exposed earth banks had attracted several almost entirely black bees. Closer inspection revealed a series of small burrows into the ground identifying these as solitary bees but it took the internet to produce an actual name of Ashy/Grey Mining Bee. As we watched it became evident that both sexes were present and engaged in frenzied mating with several of the smaller males mobbing each female. When the latter managed to break free she would burrow into the ground where ultimately eggs will be stored in individual chambers along with a small amount of pollen and nectar for when the young hatch. What did surprise me was the discovery that after mating the males die, a sad end for my fellow man and the probable reason why they were much easier to photograph than the always mobile females.

P1070448_2 - Ashy Mining Bee
(male)
 
P1070451_2 - Ashy Mining Bee
(male)
 
P1070445_2 - Ashy Mining Bee
(female)
 
From here views of Carreg Cennen again opened up to us and it would have been rude not to take a few more photos of this imposing structure.

P1070441 - Carreg Cennen Castle

Dropping once more into the valley before climbing back to our starting point our final sighting was a pair of Grey Wagtails. One can only hope that if they nest the nearby Mink will not be their undoing.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Dune Bashing at Kenfig NNR

Past experience has taught me well that hot, sunny days are definitely not the best conditions for several miles of walking through Kenfig's extensive dune system. Overcast and breezy weather however is ideal so Saturday's drab and chilly start was just the ticket for my first visit to the reserve this year. Right from the offset it was clear that Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers had arrived in good numbers with at least six of each seen and heard on the short walk down to the main hide. Keeping with tradition most avoided my camera's gaze until this shady chap was caught unawares.

P1070417_2 - Chiffchaff, Kenfig NNR

Out on the pool things were, as warned by a couple of departing birders, extremely quiet with nothing more than a Coot, Moorhen and distant Great Crested Grebe. To be honest that came as something of a disappointment but a couple of foraging Chiffchaffs kept me amused until six overflying Lapwings provided some excitement, quickly followed by a Kingfisher. The latter was as resplendent as always and put on a good show as it dived for food a couple of times along the cutting furthest to the left.

Moving on and my trip around the pools perimeter confirmed that the solitary Greylag Goose is still present amongst its adopted Canadian family who were making good use of new grass growth. A Mute Swan and Pied Wagtail were the only other birds present (it really was that quiet, not even a Swallow) until a calling Cetti's Warbler and Reed Bunting quickened the pace. Singing Skylarks and territorial Meadow Pipits kept me company through the dunes but here the real interest was to be found at ground level where hundreds of Orchids are just coming into flower. Initially this took me by surprise but considering the amount of colour springing up in my own garden they're probably bang on time. My amateur observations seemed to pick out two different species, both of which have completely baffled me this evening while looking for an exact ID.  Any ideas?

Update: Many thanks to David Carrington, reserve warden at Kenfig, who has identified both these specimens as Early Purple Orchids. Apparently the species is highly variable when it comes to the amount of spotting seen on the leaves, hence my confusing these as two different varieties.

Kenfig Orchids

Down at the old haul road it was decision time. Should I turn right and check out the marsh or left towards Sker Point. Given that the alternative was fielding revision questions from Emma, taking a little longer to do both seemed like the ideal option. A couple of miles later and I was looking over the rivermouth and marsh beyond where finally we had some hirundine action. I counted at least eight Swallows and a single Sand Martin hawking for insects while along the fence line a flock of Linnets were accompanied by three White Wagtails, my first of the year. Though my views were only brief their pale backs stood out a mile and served as yet another step along the spring migration ladder.

P1070425 - Kenfig Rivermouth

Turning south I enjoyed walking along the beach in complete solitude with just a small flock of Ringed Plover and Sanderling for company. Who needs anything more? Sadly that isolation continued at Sker where despite a rising tide there was literally nothing on show, not even a passing Oystercatcher. A couple of displaying Lapwings 'nintendoing' over a flooded slack however proved a lovely sight and sound. In the same area two pairs of Stonechats did their best to brighten proceedings along with another couple of Swallows, but you couldn't help feeling that Kenfig is still in waiting. Another few days and hopefully things will pick up. I'll be back.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Worm's Head Sunset

After work on Thursday we managed to squeeze in a trip down to Rhossili, the perfect antidote for a busy day in the office. For once the promise of a clear sky held and we watched events unfold from our position overlooking the causeway across to Worm's Head.

P1070400 - Worm's Head Sunset, Gower

P1070410 - Worm's Head Sunset, Gower

P1070407 - Worm's Head Sunset, Gower

P1070409 - Worm's Head Sunset, Gower

Clearly we aren't the only living things to appreciate this view if the choice of nesting site for a pair of Carrion Crows is anything to go by. Perched on a rocky outcrop just beneath the cliff edge their nest is both exposed yet also beautifully made. With a lining of sheeps wool and a deep cup it's certainly one of the more impressive constructions I've come across, though with increased footfall as the season progresses I can't help wandering if disturbance may become an issue.

P1070403 - Crow nest at Rhossili, Gower

Disturbance is certainly something the Fulmars won't have to contend with, positioned as they are well down the cliffs at Kitchen Corner. Currently there only appear to be two pairs in residence though I gather more are nesting a little further East along the coast. Other than that things were rather quiet with a stiff breeze keeping anything that may have been present deep down in the Gorse. As a result I'm still yet to see my first Welsh Wheatear of the year, a situation surely not likely to continue for very much longer.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Frogs, Ponds, Bee-flies and Spring Arrivals

Over two weeks have passed since my last patch update but there's certainly been plenty going on. As you may have guessed from the title above I saw my first spring migrant of the year on Monday evening with very brief views of a Swallow disappearing into the valley from Bryn-bach-Common. Given that it didn't reappear it's likely that this individual was just passing through as opposed to the usual pair which remain resident throughout the summer. Not far away and a flock of Linnets overhead represented another new patch tick for the year and I'm sure that I heard a Dipper flying upriver out of sight. As with the previously muted Pied Wagtails visual confirmation will be needed before I count it as a definite tick. More easily detected was a Grey Heron flapping its way slowly across the front of our house yesterday evening, my second sighting this year of what I'm almost certain is the same bird. Rumour has it that a nearby garden pond is destination of choice. Speaking of ponds I'm delighted to say that our first, and so far only, Frog was finally good enough to pose for photos upon our return from Cornwall.

P1070389 - Frog

The exact origins of this chap are unclear as frog spawn we introduced a couple of years ago was seemingly unsuccessful though there is a small stream not too far away. Either way it's very nice to have around and finally kick-started our ambitions to build a much larger pond. The present structure is simply an old bin sunk into the soil so although it has substantial depth the surface area is severely limited. Our new construction on the other hand was to be entirely above ground on an old concrete slab that up until now had been nothing more than an eyesore and some vague plans stored in my head. Several trips to B&Q later and we had a wooden frame into which normally a butyl liner would be placed. We however had a cunning plan that involved recycling a large buoy that we'd found washed up on a beach several years earlier. Cut in half it had already provided a raised planting bed and the other section was perfect to form the new pond. Watertight and sturdy it cut our time and costs dramatically with this being the end result.

P1070392 - Garden Pond

Of course one problem of building a raised pond is access so in the far corner a pile of rubble and wood provides ingress from the surrounding garden. Thus far it's doing a fantastic job of attracting mosquitoes but hopefully friendlier fare is not too far away. On the garden bird front I'm delighted to report that we now have a regular pair of Greenfinches visiting along with two Goldfinches. Together they add a real sense of dynamism to proceedings with the Goldfinches in particular being very vocal. This was exemplified last week when we moved a Niger seed feeder from one side of the garden to the other, only to be met by a barrage of abuse from one of the birds who kept landing where the feeder used to be. Then, as if in protest, it flew onto a Sunflower seed feeder and proceeded to throw its contents to the ground. In the end we returned things to their status quo and peace was once again restored. Thankfully the other regulars are not so demanding and have been getting ever tamer.

P1070390_2 - Blue Tit, Garden

P1070393 - Greenfinch, Garden

P1070398 - Greenfinch, Garden

Back to the patch and calling Chiffchaffs have now more than doubled with Meadow Pipit numbers steadily rising along with the associated territorial displays. There still appears to be just a single Stonechat pair present but I was very pleased to find three calling Yellowhammers up near the old colliery. In poor light they didn't allow much of an approach but I shall endeavour to get some better photographs in the coming months. Even better perhaps was the appearance of two Swallows this evening and an influx of Willow Warblers. At least eight were singing along the wooded valley with one individual in particular giving superb views. Back over at Gopa Hill and this Robin proved unusually approachable while a few meters away a Dark-edged Bee-fly came as something of a surprise.

P1070411 - Robin, Gopa Hill

P1070412_2 - Dark-edged Bee-fly

I've never seen this species of Bee-fly before so to find one on patch was a real bonus. Sadly I lost sight of it before I could get a better angle but where there's one there's likely to be more.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

RNLI Sennen Cove Lifeboat Launch

I'm sure we've all got a bucketlist whether it be acknowledged or buried deep in the subconscious mind, and equally I'd guess that between us they're likely to be as diverse as they are long. Sure swimming with Dolphins, visiting NYC and doing a bungee jump are going to feature more than I'd care to count but it's those more personal activities that really mark us out as individuals. For me one such goal has been brewing ever since I first laid eyes on an RNLI lifeboat as a child and that is to simply watch a slipway launch in the flesh. If you asked me why I probably couldn't give a definitive answer other than to say it was something born from the curiosity of childhood which has lived with me to this day. During our holiday in Cornwall an opportunity finally arose to satisfy that decades long intrigue as the Sennen Cove lifeboat launched on a scheduled training mission. All I can say is that it easily lived up to expectations.


Of course a lifeboat is only part of the story at Sennen Cove as even a cursory glance at the RNLI station itself will attest to. Rebuilt in 2001 to accommodate the largest Tamar class of vessel it occupies a commanding position along this stretch of coast and for me at least was of real architectural interest. In particular the double slipways are unique to Sennen Cove allowing the lifeboat to be recovered in the shelter of the breakwater at high tide or up the launch slipway (seen in the video above) when tides are low. Needless to say I got busy with the camera and these are a few compositions that I was particularly pleased with.

P1070247 - RNLI Lifeboat Station, Sennen Cove

P1070252 - RNLI Lifeboat Station, Sennen Cove

P1070250 - RNLI Lifeboat Station, Sennen Cove

Despite my enjoyment of these vessels and their homes it's important to remember that the RNLI serves a vital function in keeping our seas safe. Established in 1824 they now offer twenty four hour cover from 236 lifeboat stations and a fleet of over 340 lifeboats. In 2012 alone there were 8,321 launches rescuing on average 22 people per day. All this is even more remarkable when you consider that the RNLI is a charity and almost entirely funded by public donations and legacies. The fact that they are able to raise those necessary funds year after year is testament to how valued the RNLI is by all who use our coasts and seas.

Monday, 7 April 2014

St Ives, RSPB Marazion and The Loe

We started Thursday (27th) with an optimistic trip to the RSPB reserve at Marazion but it was clear that the incessant rain that had been falling all night showed no signs of abating. Instead a short drive north brought us to St Ives where contrary to popular culture I did not meet a man with seven wives. Unperturbed we parked up and made our way into town to see if anything was sheltering in the harbour and of course to sample yet more Cornish delicacies. We quickly found success on both fronts with jumbo sausage rolls from a local bakery and at least one, possibly two, Great Northern Divers feeding a couple of hundred meters off shore. Keeping them company was a quartet of Guillemots (nice to see some alive after the recent wreck) and plenty of Shags. The real action though turned out to be literally underfoot where Turnstones were running every which way in their search for food. Normally these birds are seen on rocky coasts so to see them walking along the promenade, crossing roads and walking right up to people was certainly novel. With the rain still falling heavily however it looked as though photos were out of the question until a handy shelter on the harbour wall did exactly as advertised.

P1070327 - Turnstone, St Ives

P1070330_2 - Turnstone, St Ives

Of the shots I got these are probably the best with both low light levels and the fact that the Turnstones never stopped moving making things difficult. Still at least I provided entertainment to those around me with Emma capturing just how ludicrous the situation was.

DSC_0414 - Turnstone, St Ives

A couple of hours later the weather started to improve, comparatively at least, allowing us another attempt on Marazion marshes. It turned out to be worth the wait as our arrival was greeted by six Sand Martins and a Swallow over the main pool with at least three Chiffchaffs and a couple of Cetti's Warblers calling from nearby. Waterfowl came in the shape of a couple of Mute Swans and a trio of Canada Geese with singles of Little Egret and Grey Heron not far away. It wasn't until we reached the further pool however that things really picked up when I spotted a Bittern stood right out in the open! I could scarcely believe it but there it was and there it sat unmoving for the next quarter of an hour at least. By no means our closest Bittern it was certainly one of the showiest and posed well for a photo. The only problem now though is trying to decide exactly which pixel it is.

P1070333 - RSPB Marazion Marsh

Stranger was to come as a largish raptor was spotted heading towards a line of distant Conifers. Initial thoughts were that it was too large for a Sparrowhawk with a general jizz hinting towards Goshawk. Everything looked good including flight with the only fly in the ointment being that I can find no record of one ever being seen at Marazion previously. Now given that we are pretty confident with the identification this means that we have either found a new species for the area or that this was a bird on passage. Answers on a postcode.

Next day and another morning visit failed to find either the Bittern or Goshawk though Sand Martin numbers had increased to well over thirty and at lest five Cetti's Warblers were now now calling. Next stop was Porthleven where another couple of Great Northern Divers bolstered the years sightings for this species to record levels. From there it was another couple of miles to The Loe, a huge freshwater lake formed behind a large sand and shingle bar and supposed one time resting place of King Arthur's sword Excalibur. Mythology aside it was the Geography student inside me which made this place a must visit as it's not often that you get to explore a natural feature such as this. There were even fields of Daffodils in bloom to lend a little foreground interest.

P1070350 - The Loe

P1070356 - The Loe

Out on the Loe Pool  four Great Crested Grebes and several small flocks of Tufted Ducks was about as good as it got though there was the interesting sight of four Grey Herons and five Cormorants roosting in one group. Not something I've seen before. There were also another three Wheaters about the place again being frustratingly flighty so it was left to this female Stonechat to do the necessary honours.

P1070354_2 - Stonechat, The Loe

And that would have been the end of our Cornish holiday had it not been for Emma spotting the name Cadgwith on our map. British readers may have seen a TV documentary called The Fisherman's Apprentice back in 2012, a fascinating insight into the lives of our small-boat fisherman based almost entirely on the hard working men of Cadgwith. In practices barely changed for hundreds of years they continue to fish from a shore launched fleet using sustainable methods which protect the vibrant ecosystems along this coast. That alone makes the village worthy of a visit and with its thatched cottages and winding streets a worthy place on which to bid our farewells.

P1070363 - Cadgwith

P1070379 - Cadgwith

Well not quite. This trip also saw me ticking off one of my bucket list items but more on that in the next post.

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