Ringlets Before Drizzle - #30DaysWild

The irony of commenting that it was a little chilly last night did not escape me. But cool it was and with gusty conditions blasting through our valley I really wasn't expecting to find my first Ringlet of the year up on Gopa Hill. It only landed briefly before being carried away so sadly no photo, but if past summers are anything to go by there should be a whole lot more along very soon. Just a few meters further up the hill and it was the turn of another butterfly to stop me in my tracks, this one a superb Red Admiral. It did give me the run around but ultimately I emerged victorious.

P1080956 - Red Admiral, Gopa Hill

P1080969 - Home

A nice start but as this is my local birding patch I was really looking for a few feathered treats. Thanks to their powerful song Skylarks were easily picked out before I watched a Buzzard hovering with barely any movement of its wings along the valley rim. Other regulars including a lone Raven and umpteen Meadow Pipits were spotted before being joined by a large flock of Linnets whose numbers are particularly high here at this time of year. My personal favourites though were the Swallows of which we seem to have two pairs resident around the Bryn-bach-Common area. Both were sticking close to the ground passing me with barely a meter to spare on more than one occasion before swerving away back across the Bracken. And of that there is a lot right now making exploration a little tricky unless it's a path previously brokered by the sheep. One such route allowed me to creep up on this female Stonechat who almost certainly has young nearby.

P1080960 - Stonechat, Bryn-bach-Common

Further signs of successful breeding came in the form of a young Jay complete with stubby tale near the house as well as a Jackdaw still showing signs of its yellow gape. The latter nest in neighbours chimney pots but we seldom see the young before they're too old to distinguish from the adults so this was a rather nice sighting.

Other than that it was all rather quiet but I did manage to find another 7-spot Ladybird after our recent run of Harlequins. Three cheers for our native species!

P1080961 - 7-Spot Ladybird

Bringing us bang up to date it's Friday and what better way to prepare for the weekend than with cold, miserable drizzle. Yes in just a few days we've somehow managed to go from unbearable heatwave to autumn but that's why we Brits love talking about the weather so much. The result however is that after a brief venture to the shops my wild activities this evening will be confined to a comfy chair and a good book. This is still #30DaysWild though so my reading of choice at present is Chris Packham's memoir, Fingers in the Sparkle Jar. I'll admit that Chris's writing style is a little 'flowery' for my normal tastes but so far I'm finding it thoroughly absorbing and a full review may well find its way onto here in a few weeks time.

If that all sounds a little bit tame for your liking fear not as tomorrow we have something hopefully a lot more exciting planned. No spoilers for now except to say that I've been brushing up on my sea mammal identification skills........

Choughs in the Mist - #30DaysWild

Being a creature of habit it’s good to break the mould every now and again so last night saw me heading down to Gower for an evening wander. But wait I hear you cry, there’s nothing unusual in that. True but this time around instead of trundling off to Rhossili I cut straight across the peninsula ending up at Southgate. Surprisingly this actually turned out to be a much quicker journey than expected and after donning boots I was walking the cliffs a little before eight. With sunset rapidly approaching light levels were already low and the air thick with a salty haze blowing in on the stiff breeze. If anything this only helped to enhance the dramatic nature of Gower's coastline and I worked quickly to try and make the most of the remaining light.

P1080943 - Three Cliffs

P1080933 - West Cliff

I wasn’t alone up there either. Periodic bursts of Whitethroat call erupted from those areas containing thicker vegetation whilst a pair of Stonechats and trio of Choughs were also milling about. With temperatures still high it was nice to be reminded of cooler times by the song of a Chiffchaff, the first arrival of which we spotted back when mid-summer seemed a long ways off indeed. All remained quite distant but I did stumble across a family of Crows feeding and generally messing about roughly half a mile from West Cliff.

P1080939 - Crow

My birding highlight though was undoubtedly the Peregrine Falcon which, having shaken off its pack of Gull pursuers, glided past me with a great sense of purpose and mystery. On stiff wings it looked every bit the master of its surroundings and I’m sure it’s no coincidence that moments after having disappeared over Three Cliffs a bank of sea fog rolled in. In a matter of minutes I lost sight of the bay completely and soon after the sea itself. Almost completely enveloped by swirling clouds of water vapour temperatures plunged by at least ten degrees bringing long awaited welcome relief from the insufferable heat of the last few days. That pretty much put an end to me photographing any sunset but it did allow for a little experimentation with the time lapse setting on my phone. Now there’s a phrase I never thought I’d be using.

P1080950 - Peregrine Falcon, Three Cliffs

P1080948 - Three Cliffs

The fog arrives.....

With no signs of the fog clearing it was pointless sticking around so I enjoyed a somewhat isolated walk back to the car with visibility frequently down to twenty meters or so. Somewhere off to my right I could still hear waves lapping against the cliffs but the overriding sound was of Choughs. Presumably grounded by the early onset of evening they’d taken refuge down a steep slope but despite peering through the murk I couldn't make visual contact.

Although thinning slightly as I drove inland the fog was still all prevailing but it didn’t stop me witnessing a Blackbird chasing off an intruding Tawny Owl near Gowerton. Now that’s definitely not something you get to see every day!

Summer Solstice Sunset - #30DaysWild

If you were one of the dedicated up early this morning for the summer solstice then hats off to the lot of you. I was briefly tempted myself but in the midst of this heatwave sleep is already hard enough to come by. Instead I headed out last night for the summer solstice eve sunset (that's a mouthful) which from my vantage point atop Gopa Hill proved to be rather spectacular. Humidity levels precluded much walking so I tried out a few alternative angles in an attempt to create some unique images from this oft photographed spot. Keeping me company was a lone screaming Swift, skulking Jay and some of the noisiest chewing Sheep I think I've ever heard. Seriously, they were a good forty to fifty meters away but the grinding of their teeth was clearly audible. Anyway, enough about mastication and on with the photos.

P1080924 - Sunset

P1080918 - Sunset

P1080922 - Sunset

P1080928 - Sunset

I'm very pleased with this little lot and it's been nice to get back into photographing sunsets, my favourite subject for hopefully obvious reasons. I had hoped to celebrate the longest day of the year by heading back out tonight but throughout the day clouds have been building and I don't hold out much hope for a repeat performance The plus side though is that temperatures are finally starting to dip back down to a tolerable level so something a little more adventurous could be on the cards.

Oh and no, I haven't forgotten day 19 but my wild activity on Monday was running around playing football for ninety minutes and I really don't think anyone wants to see my sweaty face anywhere near this blog!

Scorcher in the Peaks - #30DaysWild

If we thought the heat of Saturday oppressive then Sunday took things to a whole new level. By nine that morning there wasn't a cloud in the sky and not a breath of wind ruffled the feathers of our resident Swallows as the mercury crept towards thirty. Despite this another hearty breakfast instilled us with an ill-founded confidence that we could tackle a walk so, with nothing more than a photograph of a 1:50,000 OS map to guide us, we set off into the surrounding fields. Passing the scene of my Barn Owl encounter we dipped down into a narrow stretch of woodland before bursting once more into the blazing sunshine. We almost faltered here upon finding a steep hill ahead but somehow our group continued, making the summit to fantastic views back towards our accommodation and a realisation that we'd lost the path completely.

P1080897 - Peak District

In reality we were always chancing it by expecting to pick up a little used footpath without proper maps but we had at least made a stab of things before admitting defeat. Our intended goal had been a stream at the bottom of the valley so once back on the quiet lane we followed it down between two mature hedges which were positively bursting with life. Thick and full they were a far cry from the scraggly often neglected things we get at home and the wildlife was taking full advantage. As with yesterday bees and hoverflies abounded but my best find was a Hummingbird Hawk-moth. It was moving rapidly along the lane with periodic flights into nearby fields and I virtually cooked in my attempts to keep track just on the off chance that it would pause for breath. Alas it was not to be and my sweaty exertions came to naught.

I had a little more success upon spying this Brown Hare sheltering in the shade of a hay bale. They say hares are mad but when I compare his actions to ours in the midday heat I think I might have to re-evaluate that sentiment.

P1080900 - Brown Hare

Stream reached we returned to the cottage for some shade of our own and a delicious Sunday roast. I managed almost an hour of rest this time before once more being tempted out by the call of that elusive male Yellowhammer. This time at least he had the good grace to stay put but no matter how hard I searched I just couldn't spot him through thick foliage. This Pied Wagtail on the other hand couldn't do enough to attract my attention and turned out to be a real poser.

P1080907 - Pied Wagtail

All good things though must come to an end and by mid afternoon we were well fed and saying our goodbyes. It had been a truly enjoyable few days and I have a sneaking suspicion that this may not be the last time that we find ourselves here.

Peak District: Carsington, Owl, New Life - #30DaysWild

Being awoken by Mother Nature’s alarm clock really is the best way to start a day. From the harsh calls of corvids to gently babbling brooks to roaring stags. We’ve heard a wide variety over the years and whatever wakes you on that first morning somewhere new can tell you a lot about a place. Think of it as an early scene setter, a little taster of what’s to come. On Saturday it was the turn of a familiar call to rustle me from my slumbers though initially its owner's name escaped me. Rolling over I decided that the mystery could wait but by the third repetition of this struggle between curiosity and duvet I just had to get up and see. Peeling back the curtains revealed a pair of Red-legged Partridges enjoying an early morning dust bath, our first daylight views of our weekend base in the Peak District.

P1080802 - Peak District

P1080799_3 - Red-legged Partridge, Peak District

After our slightly morbid escapades for Project Splatter the previous evening it was nice to know that our quarry today would be a whole lot more alive. The Partridges were a prime example as they annoyingly wondered off before I’d even contemplated heading down for a better angle, such attractive birds to start what would be an absolute scorcher of a day. As our party gathered and chatted over a platter of bacon rolls a plan was formed to attempt a circumnavigation of nearby Carsington Water. That probably sounds more dramatic than intended but with plenty of cyclists sharing the paths it did feel at times like taking your life in your hands. I’m happy to report therefore that we made it around in one piece, completing the seven mile loop with all members of our group accounted for.

P1080861 - Carsington Water

Along the way there were birds galore including a rather snazzy drake Red Crested Pochard, Spotted Flycatcher, Barnacle Goose, Reed Bunting and Reed Warbler. The latter was our first of the year and shared a marshy area with several Lapwing, Oystercatchers and an extremely agitated Redshank. Constantly calling and glancing in all directions the source of its worry soon became clear as we spotted a juvenile cautiously walking along the shore. Still a little unstable on its feet we got some great views before leaving the pair to it.

P1080845 - Redshank, Carsington Water

P1080848 - Jubenile Redshank, Carsington Water

This wasn’t a birding focused day so we gave the hides a skip (they’d likely have been like ovens anyway) which may be the reason why I didn’t study a large bird flying over the reservoir quite as closely as I should have. A half thought popped in to my mind that it looked good for Osprey but then I got distracted, probably by the thought of lunch which was well overdue. It was only upon arriving at the visitor centre and finding out that an Osprey had indeed been seen half an hour earlier that I realised my error. Perhaps my consolation prize would be Tree Sparrows of which a colony exists at Carsington but, with temperatures reaching astronomical levels, we drew a blank. To be honest I don’t blame them for hiding away although a little food in the feeders (hint, hint) might have helped a bit. All were empty with the bird tables taken over by roosting Mallards, one of which was idly rolling an un-hatched egg about. Unperturbed we soldiered on and were rewarded with three juvenile Swallows perched along the dam. If anything they looked even hotter than us and were being steadfastly ignored by their parents despite hopeful looks and open gapes.

P1080871 - Swallows, Carsington Water

Given the high temperatures (have I mentioned that it was very hot?) there were a good number of butterflies and insects on the wing including Small White, Red Admiral, Speckled Wood, Peacock, Small Skipper, Brimstone, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Cinnabar Moth and even a Cardinal Beetle. This was by far our biggest single haul of the summer with most species new for the year. Some even posed for the camera but we were way outside my comfort zone for chasing anything around the meadows.

P1080826 - Small Skipper, Carsington Water

P1080829 - Small Skipper, Carsington Water

P1080839 - Cardinal Beetle

P1080856 - Cinnabar Moth, Carsington Water

Back at our cottage is was time for a well-earned rest which, for me at least, lasted approximately half an hour. With such great views spread out before me (see the top of this post) I couldn’t not go exploring, especially given that a male Yellowhammer had been taunting me with his call ever since our return. Before I’d even got to him however I was taken by this Pied Wagtail perched on our roof, one of several living around the cottage along with numerous Swallows.

P1080883 - Pied Wagtail, Peak District

Just down the road I found a track leading off between two magnificently plump hedgerows which were just bursting with life. Bees and Hoverflies abounded whilst butterflies whizzed through with only the briefest of rest stops. There were ladybirds too, though sadly yet more Harlequins, not forgetting of course the Yellowhammer which had cause to drag me back into the sun in the first place. Of him I managed only flight views as he flew back towards the cottage at almost the exact moment I arrived at his preferred tree. You probably don’t need me to tell you what happened when I went back in the opposite direction.

P1080810 - Bee, Peak District

P1080813 - Bee, Peak District

What I was really interested in here though was the small barn which you can see in the first photo on this post. Emma thought that she’d heard a Barn Owl calling the previous night and this was the best bet for a roost. With screaming Swifts overhead and a Chiffchaff calling from nearby woodland I settled down to wait. Barely ten minutes later and a flash of movement found me virtually face to face with my target as a superb Barn Owl flew out of a hole in the wall, paralleled the hedge and landed in a tree some thirty meters of so down the track. Gob-smacked I just had time to fire off a single frame before the owl caught sight of me, decided that I was definitely too big an item of prey to take and took flight once more. Barrelling over the next field it was lost to sight in no time but what a fabulous encounter. Easily highlight of my day. By the way, if you know what my camera actually focussed on in the Owl image below then I'd love to know as it certainly wasn't the bird or the tree!

P1080889 - Peak District

P1080893 - Barn Owl, Peak District

But this corner of Derbyshire still had one or two little surprises up its sleeve before we called it a night. As we enjoyed our BBQ two hot air balloons drifted into view, the first climbing higher with each roar of its burners. With little wind they weren’t going anywhere fast which may be why the second balloon dropped into the valley below. At least I assumed it was a planned landing and not crashing with style. That was followed by a glorious sunset which though lacking in colour thanks to a cloudless sky was no less impressive.

P1080891 - Peak District

In complete contrast to what we expect from British summertime we were still sitting outside in t-shirts gone 11:30pm at which point the sky continued to hold a little light. A sticky and warm night lay ahead that was for sure.

Project Splatter - #30DaysWild

We had another long drive ahead of us after work on Friday, this time up to the Peak District for a weekend of good company, even better weather and cake. Lots and lots of cake. If you've been keeping track of our adventures these last few months then you'll know that we've been criss crossing the country like nobodies business. This has undoubtedly enabled us to have some great experiences but I can officially declare myself sick to the back teeth of motorways, road closures and my fellow drivers. Desperately searching for something to break the monotony of another four hours behind the wheel I suggested that we return to our citizen science objective for #30DaysWild and conduct a detailed survey for Project Splatter. Behind that great name is a serious piece of research being undertaken by Cardiff University to map wildlife roadkill, identify hotspots and ultimately work towards keeping more of our critters safe. With our planned route travelling through a wide variety of habitats from city to countryside I was sure there was something we could add, though truthfully I wasn't expecting to see much beyond an occasional unfortunate Badger or Fox.

The reality proved quite horrifying. Before darkness brought a premature end to proceedings we'd recorded no fewer than thirty seven individual casualties, but the true total was likely much higher. Several were unidentifiable but those that were covered a broad cross section of our natural fauna from a variety of birds through to small and medium sized mammals. Most surprising? That has to be the anatomical model of a human skeleton currently hanging out on the central reservation of the M5.

Here then is our full list of sightings, all of which will be winging their way to Project Splatter very shortly. It's interesting to note that from even this small set of data there are two clear hotspots emerging, Abergavenny and Monmouth. Both are major transport intersections surrounded by countryside and I would suggest best avoided if you're an animal or bird.

Unidentified small mammal - Junction 43 M4
Rabbit - A465 Neath
Hedgehog - A465 Merthyr Tydfil
Magpie - A465 Abergavenny
Unidentified small mammal - A465 Abergavenny
Squirrel - A40 Abergavenny
Unidentified small mammal - A40 Abergavenny
Squirrel - A40 Abergavenny
Badger - A40 Raglan
Unidentified medium sized bird - A40 Raglan services
Woodpigeon - A40 Cwmcarvan
Rabbit - A40 Wonastow
Unidentified small mammal - A40 Monmouth
Rabbit - A40 Monmouth
Woodpigeon - A40 Monmouth
Rabbit - A40 Monmouth
Pheasant - A40 Marstow
Badger - A40 Goodrich
Rabbit - A40 Hom Green
Woodpidgeon - A40 Hom Green
Unidentified small mammal - A40 Ross on Wye
Rabbit - A40 Ross on Wye
Unidentified small mammal - M50 Linton
Fox - M50 Gorsley
Pheasant - M50 Four Oaks
Carrion Crow - M50 Four Oaks
Unidentified bird - M50 Ketford
Woodpigeon (x3) - M50 Redmarley
Rabbit - M50 Pendock
Hedgehog - M50 Birtsmorton
Pheasant - M50 Birtsmorton
Carrion Crow - M5 Rashwood
Badger - M42 Blackwell
Rabbit - M42 Newton Regis

If you fancy taking part in this valuable study then head on over to the Project Splatter homepage where there are links to a variety of apps and more traditional reporting methods through which to submit your sightings. As with all citizen science research, the more of us who take part the bigger the dataset and the more accurate and reliable the conclusions.
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