The UK Tour

Wednesday, December 31, 2008 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Given that it has been Christmas it was time time for the all too necessary tour of the country to visit those parents and relatives that need to be kept primed for gift giving. Me a skeptic, surely not?! As my other half is from Leeds and I am originally from the Midlands this did at least offer the chance to check out a few sites away from my normal birding area.

In Leeds we visited a small Wildlife Trust reserve at Golden Acre park, and enjoyed a very nice walk around Fewston Reservoir. The reservoir offered up the expected waterfowl including Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Teal, Canada and Greylag Geese. A nice surprise was a huge flock of several hundred Lapwings feeding in a field nearby. The reserve at Golden Acre park was much more varied including my first Marsh Tit of the year. Also present were a good number of Teal and a couple of Whooper Swans out on the main lake. The biggest surprise of the day however went to the Red Kite that drifted over the site as we were preparing to leave. These birds really can be seen just about anywhere these days. On the mammal front it was nice to see a group of three foxes enjoying a lazy afternoon down by the waterside. I don't think the birds could say the same thing though.

Back in the Midlands we spent a very cold few hours at the Upton Warren nature reserve. The temperature completely failed to get above freezing all day with all the vegetation covered in a layer of frost and ice. This did however seem to bring the birds very close to the hides. Our first stop showed up approximately fifteen Great Crested Grebes and a hundred or so Coots on the grass in front of the hide. A Sparrowhawk briefly put everything up into the air and a single Snipe was sat very still no doubt wondering why he couldn't get his beak into the ground anymore. Further round the reserve a very active Goldcrest was observed at incredibly short distances hovering in an attempt to reach the underside of vegetation. I can't help but think that the energy it was expending in search could not possibly be made up for by the presumably meager findings. The next hide provided the highlight of the day with no fewer than three separate Water Rails seen running across open ground before entering the reeds and disappearing. The feeders here also brought out a couple of Reed Buntings and an extraordinary fight between a Dunnock and a Robin. I have seen birds have disagreements before but this one was full on with feet locked together and beaks going for eyes. At one point I seriously thought that one bird would be seriously injured but the Robin eventually broke free and quickly retreated. Over in the second part of the reserve a single Redwing was visible along with several more Snipe at the main feeding station.

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Christmas In South Wales

Saturday, December 20, 2008 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


And in rest of the world as well I would imagine. Despite my best efforts in the week leading up to Christmas I am still battling to get my digital photography collection properly organised and input into Google Picasa (see my other blog for details on this). As a result I am afraid to say that this will be another post that sadly has no photographs to go with it. However it will hopefully be my last.

On Christmas Eve I went down to Rhosili to walk over the moors in the direction of Llangennith before heading back to Rhosili along the lower coastal path. The highlight was my second pair of Choughs in as many weeks. Whilst this pair were no where near as obliging in terms of getting close enough to take pictures, they put on a wonderful display feeding and calling to each other as they moved along the ground. The Chough really does have a very distinctive call that I had not really heard before. Unfortunately the birds legs were completely obscured so I had no chance to see any rings to help identify any particular individuals. Whilst watching the Choughs a first for me on the Gower popped up; a Red Kite. I know that these birds have been doing better and better in terms of their population over recent years but this is the first bird that I have seen this far down on the Gower. I believe the closest beforehand had been in the proximity of Loughour bridge. Unfortunately the viewing was cut short by a Crow mobbing the Kite until it retreated out of the area. The other notable sightings on the walk were a Buzzard and a Kestrel sat on adjacent fence posts. Despite the Kestrels best efforts it could not chase away the Buzzard much to its annoyance if the calls were anything to go by.

A couple of days earlier I paid a visit to the Cardiff bay area in the hope of seeing the Slavonian Grebe that has decided to overwinter in the area. We parked at the barrage and walked the entire length of the Penarth side of the bay. A few Little Grebes gave cause for excitement but were not to be. Surprisingly there were several Turnstones along the bank which surely can't have been having much luck given that all of the stones were concreted in! As it turned out the Slav has been spending the last few days on the other side of the bay by the ice rink so another visit may be on the cards in the new year. Other species seen included Rock and Meadow Pipits and Pied and Grey Wagtails. There was also a very large number of Cormorants in the area.

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Birds In My Garden

Monday, December 15, 2008 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


I haven't posted much about my back garden here before so I thought that now was as good an opportunity as any. Given that I currently rent a very modern house the garden is very small with a single large shrub as a token gesture towards planting. I have done my best to attract birds in with a large frame that holds three feeders for black sunflower seeds and a single peanut feeder. Elsewhere in the garden there are a couple of other feeders and a large birdbath.

The normal species that I get are as follows: Chaffinch (10+), Greenfinch (10+), Coal Tit (2), Great Tit (3), Blue Tit (4), Blackbird (1+), Dunnock (2+), Robin (1), Wren (1), Collared Dove (3+), House Sparrow (2+) along with assorted Wood Pigeons, Jackdaws and Bullfinches with odd visits from Goldfinches, Bullfinches, Siskins, Nuthatches, Long Tailed Tits and a suspected Sparrowhawk.

This week has seen a few notable new entries to that list. At least two different Bramblings have paid a visit to the garden, feeding in the hedges behind my back fence and on the feeders themselves. It appeared that they had associated themselves with the flock of Chaffinches as they were moving around with them. Also paying a visit was a single Redwing feasting on the berry crop again in the hedges. Hopefully these birds will stick around for the rest of the winter but it just goes to show what variety can be accomplished with a little bit of encouragement.

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Cosmeston Lakes

Friday, December 05, 2008 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


I have seen a lot of people talk about how good Cosmeston lakes are so I decided to take the trip over on what turned out to be one of the coldest days of the year so far. It took twenty minutes to get into the car after freezing rain had completely encased the car in ice. I couldnt even move the door handle let alone try and prize the door open! Cosmeston lakes used to be a limestone quarry before closing and being used as a land fill site for the surrounding area. However, you wouldn't believe it these days after seeing how well the site has been regenerated into a lush and green landscape.

The main point of interest at the site over the last week or so has been a single male Bearded Tit who has taken up residence in the reeds just beyond the visitor centre. The bird has been very obliging allowing some excellent photography opportunities. Unfortunately he was not showing at all when I was around, being kept low down in the reeds by the very cold conditions. Not to worry though as a Cettis Warbler was in the same area offering excellent views sometimes as close as a meter.

Elsewhere on the lakes the usual assortment of waterfowl were present including three Great Crested and four Little Grebes. There were also a large number of Mute Swans and a couple of Canada Geese clearly waiting to be fed. The highlight though was the large number of Redwings that were present in numerous locations affording outstanding views. Only when you see these birds close up can you really appreciate quite how elegant they are. Over on the east lake a single Fieldfare was also seen. The thrush trilogy was finished off nicely by three or four Song Thrushes out on the old landfill site.

Sunday was mostly used up for more mundane tasks but I did manage a quick trip down to the Gower. I was rather surprised to park up next to a first winter Mediterranean Gull in a Mumbles car park where I had headed to have lunch. Over the summer I saw several adult birds in the general area so does this mean that they have bred? I'm not too sure but if you do know then please let me know. Further along the coast at Port Eynon a good number of Ringed Plovers were feeding along the beach along with a few Oystercatchers and Curlews.

This weekend also saw me purchase my new camera after much musing and browsing of reviews online. I have gone for a Panasonic Lumix FZ28 with an 18x optical zoom. The result is that I should hopefully be able to start posting many more photos up on this blog and the main part of the site.

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The Gower Comes Up Trumps Again

Tuesday, December 02, 2008 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


What a weekend for birding this one has turned out to be. On Saturday we headed down to Mewslade bay to have a walk in slightly less windy conditions than last time. The usual tits and finches were flying around the farm at the car park and a very bedraggled looking Kestral was perched atop the cliffs half way down the valley. That is until it took a dislike to a Magpie and decided to chase it off. All was proceeding as expected until we had walked about a mile along the cliffs. What should pop up but a Dartford Warbler! The bird proceeded to flit around the gorse regularly perching out in the open affording superb views. Unlike my previous possible sighting at Worms Head there was absolutely no doubt about this one. It's great to see such a rare bird so close to home. But that was not the end. On the walk back we bumped into two Choughs just off the main cliff top footpath. According to records there is a single pair in this area so I suspect that these birds were most likely the same ones that we saw a few months ago in roughly the same place. This time however they were much tamer and allowed us to approach quite close to take photographs. Both birds were ringed so I will try and track down the history of them if I can. Other species of highlight include a male Peregrine Falcon perched high up on the cliffs surveying the surroundings, and a male Stonechat.

On Sunday we visited the WWT site at Llanelli and finally managed to break my previous single day species record for here and recorded a total of 50 different species within the site boundaries. Things kicked off well with a solitary Redwing on the grass outside the Micheal Powell Hide, as well as four Coal Tits and a male Bullfinch at the feeders there. Also nearby was a flock of eight Dunnocks feeding next to a small pool. I don't know if it is unusual for flocks to be seen this large but it is certainly a first for me. Out on the scrapes the large number of Lapwings and Widgeon remained (200+ of each species) and were joined by six Snipe and a couple of Dunlin. Redshank numbers were way down from a few weeks ago with a single bird present but the rest could well have been feeding out on the estuary. Outside the British Steel Hide a Water Pipit was showing well with a Buzzard going in for a kill in the long grass at the back of the hide. The feeders at the entrance bought out a Great Spotted Woodpecker with the usual Long Tailed Tits and Goldcrests seen at various points. It was also good to see a Little Grebe at the Heron Wing Hide. The Bittern has been sighted from this hide last week but there was no sign when we were present. I spent most of last winter looking out for it to no avail but you never know.

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Goldeneyes and Goosanders

Saturday, November 22, 2008 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


This weekend I travelled over to the Ogmore estuary again to see what was about. I was mainly hoping to see Purple Sandpipers for only the second time ever but had no luck. What was there though was fairly spectacular. The lower estuary saw my first ever Water Pipit on the north side of the river. Ironically we had just been talking about one being seen up at the WWT site when we spotted this example. The main differences that I could see were the colour of the legs that are far lighter than that of the Rock Pipit, but no where near as bright as the orange legs of the Meadow Pipit. The Water Pipit also has a much paler underside which is very visible. There were also a couple of Turnstones mixed in with numerous Redshanks. Up at Portobello island was a very pleasent surprise; four female and a magnificent male Goldeneye. Other than sightings on Mull and the immature at Ynys Hir a few months ago this is a very unusual bird to see. The diving birds were further well catered for with a male and female Goosander and at least four Little Grebes up by the bridge. I had begun to think that the Grebes had all vanished from the area but it seems that they have just moved house.

Up at the castle the Kingfisher was again in fine form and thirty or so Curlews were feeding out on the flooded fields. Further upriver at the Watermill was the very unusual sight, in this country at least, of three different swan species together. The Whooper was still present and has obviously decided to see out the winter here, along with twenty or so Mute Swans and a single Black Swan. I know some people don't count the Black Swan as a 'wild' species but in my books if it can survive and fly then its wild.

On Sunday we headed to the WWT at LLanelli in some very cold weather. The scrapes were well populated with several hundred Lapwing and fifteen or so Dunlin. Right opposite the hide a single Grey Plover was showing extremely well. I missed the Spoonbill for another week as it had gone before I got there. Better look next time. Elsewhere on the site were five Bullfinch and a Kestral worrying the birds at the feeders. In all 45 species were seen. I'm wondering if it would be worth posting a full list each week so I am going to give it some thought in order to make it not quite so time consuming.

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Coal Tit Variations

Wednesday, November 12, 2008 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Something that I didn't realise until very recently is that there are several different variations of the Coal Tit depending upon where the bird originates from. This year has seen a massive influx of birds from the continent which exhibit a blue grey back as opposed to the native olive brown of the British birds. My garden has been regularly visited for the last four months or so by two individuals that are of British origin. It has been quite interesting to watch them gain in confidence when visiting the garden from flitting in and out to lengthy visits in the presence of the larger finches. Whilst out at the WWT last week I had the chance to compare my birds with one of the continental variety. The colour difference on the back is quite pronounced, and it actually took me a few seconds to realise what I was looking at. In my opinion it was also bigger, but that could just be down to individual variation. Either way its worth keeping your eye out for more of these "immigrants".

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WWT Llanelli

Sunday, November 09, 2008 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


By the time I had woken up on Saturday the bad weather that had been forecast seemed to have passed so we decided to head over to the Llanelli site of the WWT. The recent sightings board at the centre reported a Yellow Browed Warbler having being seen the previous two days. There have been numerous examples of this bird seen around the area and indeed the whole country over recent weeks, but I have so far proved unsuccessful in my normal haunts. Today was to be no different despite a briefly exciting episode with a brightly coloured Goldcrest.

Elsewhere the Long Tailed Tits were showing extremely well, with certain individuals approaching to within touching distance. It was also very nice to see a male and female Bullfinch together near the Michael Powell Hide. I don't know if these birds are particularly renowned for pairing up, but I cannot remember ever having seen a Bullfinch not in a pair. It was also good to see the House Sparrows a bit more visible than they have been. This is a species that I see so rarely now it really highlights their population decline over recent years.

Out on the various pools I managed to identify successfully for the first time a Bar Tailed Godwit. One example very obligingly sat on the grass to the rear of the British Steel Hide with its tail clear for all to see. There were also a couple of hundred Lapwings and good numbers of Greylag Geese and Widgeon. Strangely the number of Little Egrets was relativley low and I only saw one Grey Heron all day (ironically standing beneath the bird feeders at the entrance).

On Sunday we braved the showers for a look along the South side of the Burry Inlet. Penclawdd gave good showings of Curlews and Shellducks, with the waders being covered by a couple of Redshank and a Common Sandpiper flying up the channel. Elsewhere 15 Pintails were braving the rough seas and approximately 2,000 Oystercatchers were feeding along the shore of the estuary. A male Pheasant finished off the day and added a splash of colour to the torrential rain.

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Redwings and Fieldfares

Saturday, November 01, 2008 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Well the weekend didn't go entirely to plan with varied weather and the small matter of a rather important motor race and the return of Top Gear to our TV screens. As a result I didn't get to visit the places that I had originally intended to. Instead I spent Saturday walking around the two Lliw reservoirs that are up in the hills just north of my house. The highlight of the trip has to be the two Red Kites that were seen soaring throughout the entire valley during the day. On several occasions one bird even spent several minutes hovering not far above my head against the blue sky giving excellent views of the birds colours. I tend to forget how big these birds actually are, but the arrival of a Buzzard on the scene really helped to show the size difference. The buzzard looked small!

Further up the valley a Merlin came past quartering the hillside completing the trio of raptors. Also in the valley on what seemed to be the only berry bearing tree in the valley, a flock or around twenty Redwings and Fieldfares were observed at some distance. This is my first sighting of these birds this year, and I believe my first ever sighting of a Fieldfare with its rather distinctive call. Unfortunately given the terrible lighting and strong winds I did not get very good view through the scope. There have been numerous sightings across the area though this week so hopefully it is only a matter of time before I get better views.

Elsewhere on the Burry Inlet this weekend, a Spoonbill has apparently made a welcome return, and the Brent Geese are still around in the area of Salthouse Point. If only the clocks hadn't changed I might have been able to go and have a look after work. Oh well.

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Peregrine Falcons At Work

Saturday, November 01, 2008 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Yesterday afternoon I finally managed to see the bird that has been swooping past my office window most days for the past few months. It turned out to be a male Peregrine Falcon and we were treated to excellent views. The bird was flying slowly back and forth outside our floors windows at eye level, something that you don't see every day. The face mask was clearly visible as were the other markings. There are a number of pigeons that call the office home and we are regularly treated to blooded feathers drifting down past the windows as the birds devour their kills up on the roof. I believe that in addition to the male there may very well be a female or immature bird present around the building as well, as on at least one occasion I have seen a much browner bird fly past. It really is remarkable how these birds are able to utilise these man made structures in our cities and thrive.

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A Weekend Of Welsh Weather

Saturday, October 25, 2008 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


This weekend it wasn't only the Lake District that was taking a battering. Thursday night was absolutely horrendous, with horizontal rain and very high winds. Friday brightened up but Saturday was very grey and very windy.

We decided to head down to Mewslade Bay in the morning as it was an area of the coast we hadn't yet been to. The car park is basically a farmers field with an honesty box to pay. Being the good citizens that we are we dropped a pound in. Things got off to a good start with an adult male Peregrine Falcon drifting over the car park close enough to see its face mask with the naked eye.

The valley leading down to Mewslade Bay is a lovely walk through part wooded and part open ground. Ring Ouzel have been spotted here in the past but if there were any around when we were there the wind was certainly keeping them close to the ground. Down at the cliffs however we did see two Choughs that were very obliging and sat nearby in clear view for a few moments. These birds are so rare in this area that it is always a privilege. On the walk back we also had excellent view of a Kestral hunting and a Buzzard being hounded by a couple of crows.

Sunday turned out to be a pretty decent day weather wise with plenty of sun and blue sky. We headed over to the WWT site at Llanelli, one of my regular haunts. All in we saw about 40 species. Particular interests were a Knot in front of the Heron Wing hide, as well as several flocks of Long Tailed Tits interspersed with Goldcrest's. A notable absence was the usual flock of 300+ Black Tailed Godwits. I can only presume that they were off feeding elsewhere, possibly due to the large amounts of rainfall and as a result the higher water levels in the lagoons.

This weekend also saw the first ever sighting of a Little Blue Heron in the UK. The bird was first spotted on Friday evening in the Kidwelly area of Camarthenshire. Saturday saw upwards of 500 people from all over the UK turn up to try and spot it. Alas to no avail. I shall certainly be keeping my eye open next time I am in the area though that's for sure.

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RSPB Ynys Hir

Saturday, October 18, 2008 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


This weekend I took a visit up to the RSPB reserve at Ynys-Hir for the first time in at least 18 months. The reserve is located about 10 miles inland from Aberystwyth and incorporates a range of habitats including mature woodland, estuary and peat bogs. I have never visited before whilst seriously looking, so I did not know what to expect in terms of species present.

Things got off to a good start with a Great Spotted Woodpecker flying along in front of the car on the access road. From the car park itself I could see around 15 species, including the usual tits and finches, two Jays, a hundred or so Teal and a Nuthatch. I sensed this was going to be a good day.

Heading to the first hide overlooking the estuary it became apparent that it was high tide. A very happy coincidence as the birds were as a result much closer and more concentrated. A twenty minute watch produced 20 or so Grey Plovers (a lifer for me), Dunlin, 30 Barnacle Geese, Redshank, 3 Pintail as well as both Merganser and Goosander. I can't remember visiting a hide before and seeing such a wide variety. The only thing missing was the Great White Egret that had been seen the day before.

Elsewhere on the reserve we came across a Mistle Thrush (a bird I very rarely see) as well as a juvenile Goldeneye (I had only previously seen this on the Isle of Mull) and several Common Snipe. Living down in South Wales it was also a nice treat to see 3 Red Kites soaring over the hillsides. I can remember the days when the Kite was so rare that I had never seen one. Now they are almost a daily occurrence and their range is ever expanding. I have seen two around Swansea in recent months and I only hope that their success continues.

Sunday was a wash out, but I hope this week to get out and try and locate one of the Yellow Browed Warblers that have been spotted in the area. Here's hoping.

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Red Necked Phalarope

Wednesday, October 15, 2008 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


After finishing work last night I decided to head over to Ogmore as there had been reports over the last couple of days of a Red Necked Phalarope feeding in the flooded fields bordering the river. I arrived at the last known sighting location opposite Ogmore Castle, but due to the high tide could not cross into the field where the bird supposedly was. This led to a somewhat restricted view due to the various lumps and bumps in the field. Fortunately another birder arrived and rang for further details. We were instructed to go further up the road where there was a small bridge that would enable access to the other side of the river. At this location there was already another birder who motioned for us to join him.

Further into the field the RNP was clearly visible, feeding and swimming in one of the larger flooded pools. We were able to watch the bird for at least 10 minutes before the arrival of a dog walker (and a very ignorant one at that), neccessitated a move slightly closer. Shortly after this move the RNP flew directly towards us, veering to the right just on front of our scopes. It landed barely 3-4 foot away from where we were standing, and proceeded to spend the next 40 minutes or so until dusk feeding around us on all sides. Bearing in mind that this is an extremely rare bird and a new life tick for me, I simply couldn't believe it. It has to rank as one of my most memorable experiences out in the field. I would also like to thank those birders who helped me with the location. I am much obliged.

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A Weekend Of Firsts

Sunday, October 12, 2008 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Due to the glorious weather this weekend I succeeded in getting out and covering most of the Burry Inlet as well as parts of the Gower, Ogmore estuary and Kenfig NNR.

Saturday was spent navigating the Burry Inlet as well as taking in Port Eynon. In all we saw 52 species. The highlights included Treecreeper, Whimbrel and a Sandwich Tern at Kidwelly Quay, along with Goldcrest and a Grey Wagtail at the nearby sewage works. Port Eynon was equally productive producing the first sightings of Turnstone's this winter (19 in total) as well as a group of 5 juvenile Ringed Plovers. On the drive back we were fortunate to see a flock of 6 Brent Geese at Wernfrwdd. This is a lifetime first for me. Definitely an area to check out at high tide in the future.

On Sunday we headed over to Ogmore-on-Sea. It is an absolutely beautiful area providing an excellent walk up the estuary and along the river. I would definitely recommend a visit if you ever get the chance. An added bonus here was a Whooper Swan which has been on the river for about a week or so with a group of Mute Swans. This is my first official Whooper in Wales and we got some excellent views. From Ogmore we moved onto Kenfig. The original intention had been to look for the Black Necked Grebe which had been seen on the Saturday, but this had unfortunately departed. After a tip off though we headed down to Sker beach to look for a recently arrived flock of Golden Plovers. Due to the number of surfers on the beach though there were no birds present. Fortunately on the way back to the car a flock of about 300 came swooping in and spent a good five minutes flocking through the sky before finally settling out of view further along the coast. Another lifetime first for me and an excellent way to round off a tiring but very rewarding weekend.

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