Dinefwr Badger Watch

An evening in the company of Badgers at Dinefwr.

Weeting Heath and Wicken Fen

Butterflies abound during our trip to Cambridgeshire.


Black Terns and abandoned railways from Dungeness.

Pen y Fan Sunset

An evebing walk to watch the sunset from atop Pen y Fan.

Blowholes along the Glamorgan Heritage Coast

A stormy day delivers a series of unexpected blowholes.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Book Review - Britain's Birds (WILDGuides)

Like many other birders I seem to be acquiring an increasingly vast array of books on the subject of bird identification, bird behaviour and birds in general (in case this blog wasn't evidence enough, I quite like our feathered friends). It is a collection spawned from my very earliest days in the hobby and one that is likely to continue growing until I leave. However, since the release of Collins' seminal publication my purchases have been restricted to older, out of print works which have been offering a fascinating insight into how our wildlife and the people who watch it has changed over the years. After all, when perfection already exists why look for anything else?

It was exactly that line of thinking which very nearly had me discounting Britain's Birds with barely a second glance. Not helped by the slightly fuzzy cover image of a Robin (a poor choice in my honest opinion both in terms of species and quality) I was further put off upon hearing that it was to be a photographic guide. Let me elaborate on that last point a little. Bird guides typically fall into two categories, illustrations a la Collins or photos. I've always found the latter to be very hit or miss, a few good images here and there amidst a mess of blurry, poorly composed dross. Combine that with inconsistent lighting, angles and conditions and you have a guide which, particularly for unfamiliar or difficult to separate species, is virtually useless. Thank god I spotted this book in the flesh then and had a quick flick through otherwise I would have missed out on an absolute classic.

Forget all your preconceptions about photographic identification guides as Britain's Birds has thrown them, the bathwater and the baby straight out of the hide. What we are left with is a thing of beauty consisting of over two thousand, yes two thousand superb photos covering every British bird species ever recorded here. Almost without exception each and every one is crisp, sharp and well lit covering all of the key poses you'd expect along with some useful habitat to set the scene. The real masterstroke though has been to combine several images allowing direct comparisons to be made between similar species or plumage variations. This only proves possible thanks to carefully controlled lighting and weather conditions meaning that you really are comparing like for like, a remarkable feat requiring many species to be re-photographed specifically for this publication. The end result is a triumph with natural looking pages that are not only highly browsable but should prove invaluable in the field. My recent Little Stint identification for instance? All thanks to this book. Then there are the more specialist pages on Gull moulting patterns and raptors in flight, both of which I'm hoping will prove invaluable in taking my skills to the next level.

When (if?) you can drag yourself away from the images there are the usual distribution maps and descriptions to be found, all beautifully presented and well organised though not without a couple of niggles. Firstly the descriptions are brief, necessarily so in order to fit in all that fantastic photography, but personally that doesn't really concern as what is there proves useful and if in doubt there are plenty of other sources available these days if clutch sizes and average weights are your thing. The inaccuracy of the maps is however a bigger failing as this can often prove invaluable when debating the likelihood of your latest Honey Buzzard sighting or for beginners just getting into the hobby. I looked up a couple of species I know well and was surprised to find that apparently there are no Great White Egrets on Gower (they have been an almost constant presence in recent years) nor Redstarts on the Isle of Mull. Such omissions are a surprise but can be easily fixed in a second edition and in no way detract from the overall quality of the publication.

In summary then Britain's Birds must now rank right up there with Collins as a must have for any birder be that beginner, amateur or professional. A hefty tome, excellent organisation and layout, very well priced and with some of the best bird photography you're likely to see this year or the next. In short a must buy. Trust me, I've got two.

Disclaimer: all views are my own based on a personal purchase, of my own volition, that I think others may enjoy.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

#pwc2016 Autumn Migration and Canada Geese

When I look back on 2016 in a few months from now one thing will become abundantly clear – I was way too ambitious in what I planned to take on. There simply hasn’t been the time or quantity of free weekends available, particularly over the summer, to do everything I wanted to. Of those aspirations to have fallen by the wayside none hurts quite so much as the Patchwork Challenge. I’ve been an ardent supporter of this local patch birding initiative since its inception yet to my shame have not submitted a single score since early spring. I’d like to say that doesn’t mean I haven’t been out in the field racking up my tally but that would be a lie. Recent visits to my Cefn Drum patch can be counted on the fingers of one hand and as for the newly added Upper Loughor patch? The fact that I just had to refer back to old posts to see what it was called speaks volumes.

Still, all is not lost and with autumn migration picking up there is still chance for a late surge into year’s end. Indeed with that in mind I’ve decided to drop the Upper Loughor and concentrate instead on my home turf of Cefn Drum. To that end this week has already seen two after work trips, both revealing quite how rapidly day length is decreasing. Given this restriction there hasn’t yet been chance for a detailed picture to emerge but I’m happy to report that several scarce residents such as Bullfinch and Jay have both been recorded. Linnet numbers are also pretty healthy at present with a flock of at least twenty recorded last night on Bryn-bach-Common where we also found a newly arrived Wheatear. With the sun low any colours had taken on a lovely warm hue which when combined with a shallow depth of field resulted in a very pleasing image indeed.

P1050031_2 - Wheatear

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Kidwelly Quay - Waders, Crabs and Linnets

P1040975 - Linnet, Kidwelly Quay
I had a real yearning for some ‘proper’ birding weekend before last. Not a walk with some birds thrown in for good measure but a full on, telescope out, find as much as we possibly can expedition. Ideally that would have involved a trip to my favourite reserve on the planet, Titchwell, but given that Norfolk and Wales are about as far apart as you can get without travelling abroad there simply wasn’t the time available. Instead we headed over county lines to Kidwelly Quay where a falling tide meant raised hopes for a decent wader or two. Even a few drops of rain couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm as we clapped eyes on our first birds of the day, a flock of 33 Greenshank in their seemingly favourite haunt just beyond the railway bridge. That seemed to open the floodgates with a good couple of hundred Redshank noisily scurrying over the rapidly expanding mud, up to 40 Dunlin and another lone Ruff (they must prefer their own company) quickly in the bag. Dotted throughout was the occasional Curlew whose calls brought a comforting air of familiarity to proceedings before we spotted the first of at least three Whimbrel creeping through the marsh, another sure sign of autumn being almost upon us. Scanning further out over the estuary added Oystercatcher and a small roost of 9 Little Egrets before good fortune found me focussed on a distant channel just as a streak of blue shot through the scene. There was barely time to shout Kingfisher before the bird was gone, not to be seen again. Further wader action came in the shape of two Common Snipe flying high above the car park, possibly disturbed by the local Sparrowhawk which we’d spotted upon arrival. Rather surprisingly there wasn’t a single duck to be found, no Shelduck, Teal or even a Mallard. There were however a couple of skeins of Geese flying overhead, the first consisting of twenty Brent Geese and the second eighteen Canada Geese. The first was definitely best.

P1040966 - Kidwelly Quay

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

#FindYourEpic Rhossili Edition

P1040946 - Gower
We joined the annual mass pilgrimage to Rhossili on August bank holiday along with what seemed like the entire population of south Wales. And who can blame them really. In a complete break from centuries of bank holiday tradition conditions were simply glorious with sunshine, blue sky and just enough breeze to stop this Brit from wilting. We’re just not used to such hot weather! In fact I initially thought things were getting the better of me when off in the distance I spotted what appeared to be four giant letters sited along the cliff edge. Spelling out the word EPIC four meters high I couldn’t help but agree with the sentiment, though what on earth was going on.

P1040926 - #findyourepic

Turns out the sign forms part of an innovative campaign by Visit Wales to encourage people to visit and share their favourite ‘epic’ locations from around the country. It certainly seemed to be having the desired effect as there were hoards of people taking selfies, all of them getting in the way of the clear shot I was after. After waiting for a good twenty minutes the steady stream of visitors showed no signs of abating so I instead walked on towards Kitchen Corner for a panorama that is unlikely to be repeatable any time soon.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Curlew Sandpiper Half Dozen at Llanelli WWT

Well I had planned to finish blogging August's fun and games today but it seems that autumn has arrived instead and boy did mother nature want us to sit up and take note. In terms of weather you'd be forgiven from thinking that it was still mid summer but down at Llanelli WWT this afternoon the birds begged to differ. Although there were still a few Swallows darting about plus the odd Willow Warbler here and there out on the saline lagoons was a flock of at least fifty Wigeon. These are my first returning birds and are a sure sign that things are in motion once more as we wave goodbye to our spring migrants and welcome back the waders and waterfowl which overwinter on the Burry.

Talking of waders there was a sizeable gathering outside the British Steel Hide which included no less than 24 Greenshank, 60 Lapwing, at least 170 Black-tailed Godwits, 6 Dunlin and well over 200 Redshank. A sizeable haul for sure but there was much, much better to come. Picking through the birds carefully revealed first a lone Ruff, then 70 Knot before, best of all, a group of 6 Curlew Sandpipers wandered into view! Yes, six! I've spent the last couple of weeks searching for just one and have agonised over a couple of Dunlin here and there but when you see the real deal there can be no mistake. That long, drooping bill and pale white eye stripe are highly distinctive in the field and this little gathering represented not only my highest one day count for the species but also my best ever views. The various wader species even had the good grace to pose next to each other periodically allowing some excellent comparison views and notes to be taken. I was pretty made up to be honest but alas didn't quite have the reach to record this remarkable moment for posterity. Instead we'll have to make do with a somewhat chromatic overview of the entire scene which includes the Curlew Sandpipers back and centre.

P1050001 - Waders, Llanelli WWT

That little lot had already made this one of my most memorable trips to the reserve so when a juvenile Marsh Harrier glided into view it was both unexpected and unsurprising in equal measure. I presume this to be the same bird which has been recorded on both sides of the Burry in recent weeks but this was the first time I've managed to catch up with it and also the first individual I've recorded from Penclacwydd. With the sun breaking through we had almost perfect conditions in which to watch, the birds golden brown plumage shining beautifully and changing colour with each swoop and bend of wings. Given its unusual status here I was happy to help others in the hide get onto the Harrier, not as easy a feat as it may at first sound given the birds insistence on staying about as far away as possible whilst still remaining in view. My job wasn't helped any by a Buzzard also doing the rounds, the pair of them upsetting Lapwings and Curlew alike. They weren't the only raptors about either with a stunning Sparrowhawk perched up on a fence out on the marsh before darting off in pursuit.

Further signs of autumn were to be found on the NRA scrapes where seven Pochard had dropped in, my largest count here for quite some time. Keeping them company was a Little Grebe and several Teal. Over at the Boardwalk Hide we found yet more Teal but also a trio of female Shoveller though we had to wait until the Millennium Wetlands to finally record our first Gadwall of the day. In all we saw forty eight species in just a couple of hours, a fine total for this time of year.

P1050011 - Southern Hawker, Llanelli WWT

I should also mention the number of butterflies and dragonflies on the wing which today included a Southern Hawker (seen above), tens if not hundreds of Common Darters as well as Comma, Red Admiral and Speckled Wood. In terms of the dragonfly I'm also happy to report that my recent purchase of a new field guide (Britain's Dragonflies by Dave Smallshire and Andy Swash) proved its worth immediately, allowing me to confirm my identification within a matter of seconds. Now if only I'd picked it up before the dragonfly season was nearly over. Hindsight's a wonderful thing.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Cefn Sidan Waderfest

Bank holiday Sunday dawned wet and wild, justification if any were needed for ending our camping trip when we had. If there's one thing I could do without ever having to experience again it's taking down a tent in the rain. We took the opportunity for a leisurely start and when conditions looked to be improving by early afternoon headed over to Cefn Sidan. On the way we encountered a storm of biblical proportions that came, dumped its load and went within the space of just a few minutes. The roads were awash yet we arrived to almost full sunshine with only the crashing waves left as any sign of what had just occurred.

P1040870 - Cefn Sidan

Related Posts with Thumbnails