WWT Llanelli - Report

Sunday, December 13, 2009 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


As promised last week I have finally gotten around to writing up the report on the rest of the WWT visit that produced my fantastic Jay pictures last weekend. The bulk of my birdwatching actually took place on the day before the Jay photos were taken, and the difference in the weather was marked. Instead of the blue skies and sunshine I was faced with a grey vista with regular bouts of drizzle thrown in for good measure. Despite these inauspicious conditions the bird life was fantastic with 51 species being seen within a couple of hours. That really goes to show what a fantastic site WWT Llanelli is.

Having missed much of Autumn due to moving house it was soon apparent that Winter was beginning to take a grip. The car park played host to a couple of Redwings, my first sighting this season since a flock of thirty or so streamed past my house. As ever though they were very skittish and soon disappeared off into the undergrowth with numerous Blackbirds. The feeders at the center entrance were relatively quiet, but the appearance of a Coal Tit and solitary Goldfinch added a dash of colour. It was very noticeable that there were no Greenfinch present, despite this being a favourite haunt in the past. On the walk down to the Michael Powell Hide a small flock of House Sparrows were being very inquisitive and kept flitting about a nearby bush whilst I stood and watched. Light levels were so low that photography was very difficult. The only picture worth sharing was actually taken with flash (once I had remembered that my camera actually had one), and shows just how wet and drab conditions really were.

11780 - Lapwings over WWT Llanelli 11778 - House Sparrow at WWT Llanelli

The most notable sighting from the Michael Powell Hide was the pair of Spoonbills (one adult, one juvenile) who have been present on site for the last couple of weeks. The overwintering population of Widgeon were also in good voice, numbering a couple of hundred in total. Widgeon are one of my favourite waterfowl species and it is always a pleasure to see them arrive and moult into their full plumage. I was also treated to a superb sighting of what I presume is the resident Sparrowhawk. I happened to glance up from my binoculars to see the bird swoop just beneath the hide windows before flying around the side and off along the marsh. Not soon after a Kingfisher erupted from the pool bank and shot off out of sight.

The British Steel Hide produced the goods as always with a male and female pair of Pintails out on the main lagoon, along with a single Greenshank, several Shoveller, Redshank, Teal and several very noisy Greylag Geese. Out of the back of the hide a couple of Black Tailed Godwits were busy feeding along the grassy banks, whilst a Little Grebe explored the depths and eight Gadwall happily dabbled away.

Whilst I was walking around the back of the site a flock of Long Tailed Tits were busy racing up the path in the opposite direction. This species often seems to feed on set paths and it is possible to bump into the same flock a couple of times in one visit. The best aspect of this behavior is that the birds seem almost oblivious to your presence. The result is that you are able to stand and watch at relatively close quarters whilst they go about their business. As you may have gathered this is another of my favourite species.

Other species seen on my visit included good numbers of Bullfinch particularly around the collection pools, as well as several Song Thrushes and Wrens. The lack of vegetation at this time of the year certainly helps in picking out Wrens when compared to the Summer when their shrill call is often the only sign of their presence. One surprising discovery was a Chiffchaff in the Millennium Wetlands. Here in South Wales we are at the Northern most edge of their Winter range so there aren't many around to be seen. Equally surprising was the lack of Pochards. I counted seven in total which is way down on what I would usually expect. Kenfig NNR further down the coast has much healthier numbers so I presume that this site has fallen out of favour for the time being.

Thats enough from me for now as this has been by far the wordiest entry that I have written for a while. I know this sort of information probably isn't as interesting as the photographs, but without it there wouldn't be any photographs to enjoy. As an aside there are also only a couple of weeks left now until the end of the year. This year has seen my life list reach over 200 species which I never thought I would see. The year list isn't looking too bad either but I would like to add to it as much as possible. As a result I will be out and about as often as I can before 2009 takes its final bow, so look out for more regular updates from now on.

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More Visitors To The Feeders At WWT Llanelli

Saturday, December 05, 2009 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


As a follow on from yesterdays post, I thought I would share some photographs of some of the other visitors that were frequenting the feeders along with the Jays. All of the Tit species were present, as well as Greenfinches much to my delight. Over the last couple of years the Greenfinch population has been decimated by disease caused by a Trichomonad parasite. This parasite effectively blocks a birds throat causing it to starve to death. Other garden bird species are also susceptible, but it appears that the Greenfinches are being hit the worse. I personally haven't had any on the garden feeders for the best part of eight months now. Fortunately the WWT site seems to have a healthy population still, even though they were being a bit camera shy on my visit. I'll follow this post up tomorrow with a full round up of the rest of the site.

11806 - Blue Tit at WWT Llanelli 11823 - Blue Tit at WWT Llanelli
11817 - Female Blackbird at WWT Llanelli 11824 - Male Blackbird at WWT Llanelli
11821 - Chaffinch at WWT Llanelli 11812 - Female Blackbird at WWT Llanelli

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Jays, Jays, Jays

Friday, December 04, 2009 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


Yesterday I had a chance encounter that led to me taking some of my favourite wildlife pictures so far, and of one of the shiest birds to boot. I had parked my car up next to some feeders in the WWT Llanelli car park in the hope of photographing some of the visitors, when immediately a Jay turned up and promptly sat on the ground and started to feed on the surrounding peanuts. At first I was mystified as to why it appeared to be so tame as normally Jay's are such fleeting visitors. It turned out that one of its legs was badly damaged, meaning that it could not stand or grab branches particularly easily. As a result it chose to sit on the ground, although was quick to fly away again when disturbed. Before long another couple of fully mobile Jays appeared, quickly filling their beaks with peanuts before flying off again to no doubt bury their latest haul. The whole experience was amazing and it was great to see these cheeky birds up so close and personal. I hope that you enjoy the pictures as much as I did taking them.

11827 - Jay at WWT Llanelli
11819 - Jay at WWT Llanelli 11809 - Jay at WWT Llanelli
11831 - Jay at WWT Llanelli 11826 - Jay at WWT Llanelli

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Worms Head from Burry Holms

Wednesday, December 02, 2009 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Given that Gower is such a well photographed location, it is often a challenge to try and find a viewpoint or angle that hasn't been done to death. A recent low tide presented such an opportunity to me as I was exploring Burry Holms at the north end of Rhossili bay. The inlet between the island and the mainland provided a perfect frame for Worms Head in the distance. I was trying to decide a favourite from the following two photos but I couldn't so here they both are. Let me know what you think.

11758 - Worms Head from Burry Holms, Gower
11759 - Worms Head from Burry Holms, Gower

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Mumbles to Langland, Gower With Extra Turnstones

Wednesday, December 02, 2009 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Last weekend the great weather gods blessed us with some sun so we headed down to Mumbles with the aim of walking a bit of the coastal path that we hadn't so far managed to do. Upon arrival at the Mumbles we were greeted with what appeared to be large snow drifts at the sides of the road and in sheltered hollows on the hills, but which later turned out to be piles of hailstones left over from a storm the night before. Quite impressive nonetheless. We began by exploring the pier and as it was low tide were able to go down on to the beach at the back of the ice-rink. I was very pleased to find a flock of over fifty Turnstones and a lone Redshank avidly feeding amongst the rocks and small pools of water that made up the foreshore. The Turnstones were so wrapped up in their feeding and the occasional raucous quarrel that I was able to sit on the beach whilst they fed all around. The light was very harsh but I managed to capture some good pictures which unlike the ones I took in Fishguard earlier this year hadn't involved me crawling across the beach like a fool.

11772 - Turnstone at Mumbles, Gower
11776 - Turnstone at Mumbles, Gower 11775 - Turnstone at Mumbles, Gower

After watching the Turnstones for a while we moved around to Bracelet Bay on the look out for the Mediterranean Gulls that now seem to be permanent residents there. We were not to be disappointed. A personal best of twenty three individuals could be found down on the rocks. They were too far away to read any of the rings on their legs but other birders have identified a few regular returnees that have obviously taken a liking to the bay. Much more unusual was the sighting of four Common Scoter out on the water. This was only my second sighting of this species and to have it so close to home made it doubly rewarding.

The rest of the walk around to Langland was very enjoyable but the weather soon closed in and the light levels dropped dramatically making photography impossible. There were however good numbers of Stonechats present as well as the odd Rock Pipit and Cormorant flying past. After returning to the car we sat and watched the Scoters for a while in the hope of finding the Surf Scoter that had been seen there the day before (we didn't). After observing the Gulls constantly flying into the air to avoid a breaking wave, we began to wonder if birds ever misjudge the waves or just don't see them sometimes. We soon had our answer as a Cormorant that had been sat on a rock drying its wings was swiftly washed off and under the water as a wave came up from behind. The Cormorant popped up a bit further down the beach and waddled quickly back up the beach through the surf before the next wave had chance to catch it again. It looked decidedly sheepish to me!

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Rock Doves at Culver Hole, Gower

Wednesday, December 02, 2009 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


11624 - Rock Doves at Culver Hole, Gower 11623 - Rock Doves at Culver Hole, Gower

We are all familiar with the feral pigeons which often plague our city centres, but what of their origins? After all they didn't always have cities to inhabit. The ancestor of todays Feral Pigeon is the Rock Dove, which also has direct links to some 228 varieties of domesticated pigeons. Due to interbreeding finding 'pure' Rock Doves these days is becoming increasingly difficult. According to the RSPB it is likely that the last populations now only live along the North and West coasts of Scotland where they breed along steep sea cliffs. However, the pictures that accompany this post show what I believe to be very close to 'pure' Rock Doves, photographed along the Gower coast at Culver Hole. The only clue to the sullying of their lineage are the extra black markings found on the wings. The habitat certainly matches that of the Rock Dove, being a sheer wall of stone within which they nest. This is by no means a natural feature however.

11626 - Culver Hole, Gower 11627 - Culver Hole, Gower

The origins of Culver Hole are shrouded in mystery with some claiming the feature was built to hide smuggling activities for which this coast used to be famous for. The most likely explanation though is that it was built to house pigeons which were then harvested for food. From inside it can be seen that there are clear ledges upon which birds could roost and the remains of staircases reaching up to the upper levels. Either way it is now home to what may be the purest Rock Doves along this coast.

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Bonfire Night In Swansea

Friday, November 06, 2009 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


Another year and another bonfire night was upon me. Finding all of the local firework displays a bit overcrowded I headed up to the top of the hills at the back of the house. Fortunately I had my camera with me as the nearby electricity pylons and the orange glow from Swansea provided a dramatic landscape. There is something very satisfying about capturing a scene that takes some thought and is beyond the normal point and shoot landscapes that we all usually take. I hope you enjoy the pictures. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

11616 - Swansea after dark

11611 - Swansea after dark 11617 - Swansea after dark

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Buzzard over Pontarddulais

Sunday, November 01, 2009 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


This weekend has pretty much been a blow out due to work commitments leaving me stuck in front of my computer. I did however manage to escape for a few hours this afternoon and walk up Gopa Hill at the back of my house. I was pleased to see a flock of Long Tailed Tits flitting through the trees but didn't spot any of this autumns Redwings. I hope to find and photograph some in the next week or so as by all accounts their numbers are increasing rapidly in the area. However I did see a Buzzard just in time to catch a picture as it soared overhead. It isn't the greatest image ever taken of a Buzzard but it is the first and only one that I have managed to capture. Something about the composition also appeals to me as you get a feeling of the motion and behavior of these birds as they scour the landscape for prey.

11606 - Buzzard over Gopa Hill, Pontarddulais

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Last of The Grasshoppers on Gower

Tuesday, October 27, 2009 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


With October comes the end of the Grasshopper season for another year and probably the last photograph that I will be able to take of one until next May. This Common Green Grasshopper was taken near the Blue Pool on Gowers north coast. There were several battles going on between individuals making the best of what turned out to be the last good weather of the year before autumn struck.

11548 - Common Green Grasshopper

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Stonechat and Autumnal Colours on Gower

Monday, October 26, 2009 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


I took this picture recently whilst exploring near the Blue Pool on the North coast of Gower. It shows a female Stonechat beautifully back lit against the first autumnal colours of the year. At the time I hadn't realised just how well the scene was lit but I am very pleased with the final results.

11542 - Stonechat on Autumnal Gower

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Exploring the Tideline of Gower Beaches

Sunday, October 25, 2009 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Whilst walking along Gower beaches I frequently come across various items that have been washed up by the previous high tide.

These are usually the normal shells and bits of drift wood, but recently things got a bit more interesting and I suppose a tad morbid. Rhossili Beach offered the first surprise with a couple of dead Gannets. judging by their size I would say that these were youngsters but their cause of death is unclear. I have read that Gannets can break their necks when diving incorrectly so maybe that is what happened to these two individuals.

11574 - Gannet corpse on Rhossili Beach, Gower

Further around the coast Whiteford Sands played host to several dead Dogfish. There appeared to be no visible damage to any of them, so I presume that these were once again natural occurrences. In the past fishing nets have been washed up along this beach with Dogfish found inside. As it is illegal to catch this species in UK waters the suspicion is that they are being caught and simply thrown overboard. I hope this isn't the case but I will keep my eyes out for any further occurrences.

11534 - Dogfish on Whiteford Sands, Gower 11535 - Dogfish on Whiteford Sands

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Cows on Rhossili Beach

Sunday, October 25, 2009 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


Whilst out for a walk during September at Rhossili beach on Gower, I came across a herd of cows enjoying an afternoon on the beach. The cows were paddling around in the shallows as well as lapping up water from small pools. An excellent source of additional salt I'm sure!

11577 - Cows on Rhossili Beach 11575 - Cows on Rhossili Beach
11581 - Cows on Rhossili Beach 11578 - Cows on Rhossili Beach

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I'm Back - And With An Awesome New Garden in Tow

Sunday, October 25, 2009 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


After a months enforced absence I am back and able to blog regularly once more. Over the last five weeks I have bought a house in Pontarddulais near Swansea and have moved in. There is a lot of work still to do but things are at a point where I have the time to update here and also get out and about and catch up with the rest of the Autumn migration.

The best thing about the new house is its location and garden with mature planting. The back of the house backs onto open hillsides whilst the front looks out over the Loughour estuary and the Gower beyond. We put the bird feeders out barely a week ago but the number of birds visiting already is very encouraging. We currently have regular visits from three Coal Tits, up to seven House Sparrows, four Chaffinch, a couple of Blue Tits and Great Tits, a Dunnock and a Robin as well as a sizable flock of Jackdaws who have already mastered the knack of flying off with whole fat balls. The best thing though so far has been the raptors. We have a Red Kite that hunts over the garden and surrounding hillsides, as well as a couple of Buzzards and a Kestral. Other random visits have included two Ravens and fly overs from a Cormorant as well as a Grey Heron. In just a week that it is an impressive list and variety like I would never have imagined. The plan is to develop the garden into a wildlife haven so hopefully things will only get better over time. It is certainly a step up from the grass square that I had at my previous house.

The Coal Tits in particular are proving to be quite tame, so over the coming weeks I am slowly introducing myself in the hope of getting some good photographs. I have already spent hours watching the Jackdaws and some of the characters and behaviors that I have seen have been fascinating. I may try and record the species in more detail to see if I get the same individuals and can spot patterns in their interactions. For now here are a couple of pictures that I have taken so far.

11595 - Coal Tit in garden

11594 - Coal Tit in garden 11596 - Jackdaw in garden

The rest of this week will be taken up with some of the pictures from the last month or so that I didn't get chance to post at the time. It's certainly nice to look back at the sun after the weekend of weather that we have just had!"

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Strumble Head Sunset

Saturday, September 19, 2009 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


I'll let the pictures do the talking, but needless to say this was one of the most impressive sunsets that I have ever witnessed.

11494 - Strumble Head Sunset

11490 - Strumble Head Sunset 11491 - Strumble Head Sunset
11489 - Strumble Head Sunset 11496 - Strumble Head Sunset

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Strumble Head - Lizards, Spiders and Seals

Thursday, September 17, 2009 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Whilst exploring Strumble Head I saw a vast array of wildlife other than the birds detailed in the previous post. The highlight was a group of seven or so Common Dolphins swimming and feeding just off the head itself. This was my first Dolphin sighting for at least a year and was as exciting as ever. I find that there is still something almost child like about seeing Dolphins or Whales in the wild. I find myself shouting out to anyone nearby and getting quite animated much to some peoples amusement. I completely agree with Mark Carwardine on the BBC's "Last Chance To See" when he says that he needs his regular Dolphin fix to keep him going.

Also enjoying the rich waters around the coast were numerous Grey Seals. A couple were regularly exploring the bay just inshore from the lighthouse offering great views. Another individual was always sitting just around the corner from a couple of fisherman which I found amusing. Unsurprisingly I didn't see the fishermen catch anything. There were also several well grown pups around the area with a couple pulled up on the rocks at Porth Maenmelyn.

11451 - Grey Seal at Strumble Head 11514 - Grey Seal at Strumble Head

At one point during a walk to the north of the head I had to hop over a fence and look over the cliff edge as we could hear what appeared to be a human screaming and moaning. It turned out to be an adult seal with quite a severe wound on its neck. I have no idea what caused this but it was certainly a slightly unsettling moment.

The wildlife certainly wasn't limited to the sea as we came across the following Common Lizard out on a rock enjoying the sun.

11456 - Common Lizard at Strumble Head 11460 - Common Lizard at Strumble Head

The final and most unusual wildlife encounter was an ambitious Garden Spider which had managed to bag itself a grasshopper in its web.

11502 - Garden Spider Eating Grasshopper 11503 - Garden Spider Eating Grasshopper

At the time of photographing the spider was taking a break from the process of wrapping the grasshopper up. I'm not surprised really as the size difference between the two is quite impressive. Has anyone ever seen anything bigger in a spiders web before?

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Strumble Head - The Birds

Wednesday, September 16, 2009 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Well I'm back from my couple of days at Strumble Head in Pembrokeshire and I have finally got the energy back to go through my photos and get a post up on here. The first thing to say is that the weather was absolutely gorgeous. We had clear blue sky each day with just the right amount of wind to keep the temperatures perfect for walking.

11444 - Strumble Head Lighthouse 11445 - Strumble Head Bird Observatory

Friday saw us up early and in place at the Strumble Head bird observatory (converted from an old WW2 listening station), hopeful of adding a few lifers to my list. Unfortunately I had made a bit of a schoolboy error in that the almost perfect weather was just about the worst possible conditions to see birds from Strumble Head in. What is needed is a storm or strong wind to drive the birds closer into shore and so within viewing distance. Determined not to leave empty handed we watched for a couple of hours and were ultimately rewarded with a sighting of one of my all time bogey birds, the Common Scoter. In all we saw twenty nine individuals in a couple of flocks which was simply superb. Also present were the usual Razorbills and Guillemots, as well as twelve Manx Shearwater and fifteen or so Gannet fishing in front of the observatory. Numerous Shag and Kittiwake were also giving regular fly pasts, and a female Peregrine Falcon even put in a brief appearance.

Outside of the observatory I was very pleased to finally locate the missing Wheatear's that I mentioned in my previous post. It turns out that they aren't scarce this year, they just all seem to have decided to stay on the Pembrokeshire coast instead. There were numerous individuals all along the coast path and their calls filled in a void that had been missing from my outings these last few months.

11455 - Wheatear at Strumble Head 11448 - Wheatear at Strumble Head

Our walk along the coast delivered five Chough both feeding in a field and flying overhead calling noisily. They really do have a very distinctive call and it was great to see these birds doing so well. We even had a couple fly over our campsite while we were cooking at the end of the day. You can't really get a better ending to a day than that!

For the first time we also had a walk along Fishguard harbor near to where the ferries dock. Whilst stalking some Oystercatchers I became aware of a small wader running right past my feet. I quickly switched my attention and was able to get some superb close shots of a Dunlin. The bird seemed oblivious to my presence and gave me a wonderful sequence of shots that really made my day. I was also able to get up close and personal with some Turnstones after crawling along the beach hidden from their view by a groyne. A slightly unorthodox method but one that certainly delivered the results.

11467 - Dunlin at Fishguard Harbour 11472 - Turnstone at Fishguard Harbour
Dunlin (above left and below) and Turnstone (above right)
11471 - Dunlin at Fishguard Harbour 11470 - Dunlin at Fishguard Harbour

One bird that did give me the runaround all holiday was the Stonechat. No matter how hard I tried I could never get close enough to get a decent photograph before they took flight. I did eventually manage to get a decent shot but it was right at the end of our final day. It was also great to see a family of House Sparrows feeding near to our tent.

11499 - Stonechat at Strumble Head 11477 - House Sparrow at Strumble Head
Male Stonechat (left) and Male House Sparrow (right)

All in all it was an excellent couple of days and a great break away from the stresses of buying a house. The next couple of posts will focus on the other wildlife that we encountered, as well as one of the most stunning sunsets that I have ever witnessed.

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