Another glorious day in the Brecon Beacons, this time with a dusting of snow.
A walk to MacCulloch's fossil tree at Burg on the magnificent Isle of Mull.
We find a very rare Crystal Jellyfish washed up on Whiteford beach, Gower..
Wednesday, 27 May 2009
Tuesday, 26 May 2009
My main target species for the day was believe it or not a Parrot, or a Ring-necked Parakeet to be precise. This is the UK's only naturalised Parrot, and is heavily confined to the south-east of England. As such I had never seen one. Much to my surprise my first sighting came as I drove into the car park with a further three individuals sighted as I got out of the car, squawking loudly as they flew overhead. In fact it turned out that the car park was the best place to see these birds as I only heard them inside the reserve and never saw them. My best pictures were taken whilst I was stood next to a coach of school children, shortening my life considerably in the process due to the exhaust fumes.
Inside the entrance a very friendly and noisy male House Sparrow stood obligingly, whilst two juvenile Coots were prowling the restaurant tables. These young birds have clearly realised that they are on to a good thing, and were incredibly tame. What a diet of cake crumbs and dropped chips will do for their health though I can only imagine. I was also fortunate to get very close and personal with a Grey Heron, who had not yet fled the board walk area due to the early hour and lack of disturbance. For a good few minutes I stood almost eye to eye with this magnificently elegant creature before moving on to allow it to find a more secluded place for the day.
The highlight of the day was the aforementioned Blue Tit fledglings who all left the nest whilst I was stood beneath. My attention was drawn to the spot by the noisy chatter of the adult birds, who at this time were still bringing food back to the nest. Within minutes the feeding had ceased and the adults moved to a nearby bush and began to issue a continual high squeak which I presume to be a calling cry. The first juvenile popped his head out and spent the next few moments gradually edging further and further out of the nest hole. Eventually he almost dropped out of the nest and became instantly hidden from view in the undergrowth. Over the next ten minutes the entire brood left, leaving behind a strangely empty feeling given how much life had been present so recently.
The main lagoons at the reserve were full of the signs of spring, with Lapwings, Coots and Moorhens all having young hatchlings in tow. My first terns of the year came in the form of ten or so Common Terns who are presumably nesting at the site. Overhead were good numbers of Swift, House Martin and Sand Martin, though strangely no Swallows. I'm not sure if this is a species that is properly absent or if I was just unlucky not to see any. If other visitors could let me know I'd be interested to hear from you.
Photography wise I managed to get some excellent shots of a Little Grebe which was fishing just in front of one of the hides. The lighting was absolutely perfect and I am chuffed with the results. Elsewhere on the reserve were Ringed Plover, Redshank, Pochard, Tufted Duck and Reed Bunting as well as large numbers of singing Reed, Sedge and Willow Warblers. Also making a good racket were the Starlings who issued a loud shriek each time they flew overhead, beaks stuffed with insects for their offspring. Overall it was a very enjoyable visit and I recommend it be added it to your list of things to do when visiting London.
Monday, 25 May 2009
Sunday, 17 May 2009
On the face of it this seems like a massive undertaking, but via the use of thousands of volunteers the task has been cut down into easily manageable chunks. The whole of Britain and Ireland have been split up into 2km x 2km squares known as tetrads. Individuals can pick one or more of these tetrads to survey through the Bird Atlas website. All that is required are four visits of one hour in length each to the tetrad. Two of these visits should be during the winter and two during the breeding season. When all of the individual tetrad results are gathered together a highly detailed and accurate picture of this country's bird population will have been produced.
To me this sounded like a brilliant idea as for very little effort I could be contributing to a worthwhile conservation project. I tend to keep detailed records anyway of the wildlife that I see when out and about, so in many ways this would just be putting those skills to good use. The tetrad that I chose was SS49R, an area roughly encompassing the woods and marshland to the west of Weobley Castle on Gower. I chose this tetrad due to the variety of habitat on offer, and for the fact that it isn't an area that I have watched particularly over the years. Last weekend was my first visit and despite the weather I managed to bag a good number of species. Given that this was during the breeding season, it was surprising to note how many signs of new life can be discerned when you really start to look. Below are the results from this first survey. I will be paying another visit sometime next month to hopefully pick up a bit more breeding evidence.
|Species||Count||Breeding Code||Species||Count||Breeding Code|
|Blue Tit||2||H||Little Egret||10||H|
|Lesser Black Backed Gull||4||H||Pheasant||1||S|
|Herring Gull||3||H||Song Thrush||2||H|
ON - Adults entering or leaving nest-site in circumstances indicating Occupied Nest (including high nests or nest holes, the contents of which can not be seen) or adults seen incubating
P - Pair observed in suitable nesting habitat in breeding season
S - Singing male present (or breeding calls heard) in breeding season in suitable breeding habitat
H - Species observed in breeding season in suitable nesting Habitat
FL - Recently FLedged young (nidicolous species) or downy young (nidifugous species)
FF - Adult carrying Faecal sac or Food for young
Saturday, 16 May 2009
Things were off to a good start at the car park with decent numbers of Swift and Swallows flying over towards the lake. Shortly afterwards I found my first ever Lesser Whitethroat in the shrubs just behind the visitor center, along with several singing Common Whitethroats. Having the two species in close proximity certainly aided the identifications. I am also fairly certain that these birds are breeding in the area so its worth keeping your eyes open for fledglings over the coming weeks. Also in this area were several Goldfinch, Bullfinch, Chiffchaffs and my first Spotted Flycatcher of the year. The Flycatcher was very obliging, sitting on a branch in full view of the footpath. Unfortunately it was just a bit too far away for me to get a decent picture on my camera. The prospect of an SLR with a massive lens is getting more and more appealing with each trip out.
The other main highlight of the trip though was a single Spoonbill that we observed flying over the lake towards the Sker Point area. The bird was first recorded at the site during an introduction to bird watching walk the day before, and spent all day at the reserve. Not a bad bird to find if you are trying to get people interested in the subject. Elsewhere around the lake were several Linnets, House Martins, Skylark and even a White Wagtail. As per usual on my visits there were no waders present. I think this has something to do with the number of people that visit the site. I'll have to get up much earlier next time I think. Spring was also in evidence with four young each for a pair of Mute Swans and Canada Geese.
And what about those warblers? Well apart from the Whitethroats and Chiffchaffs, my only other success came in the form of a couple of Willow Warblers before rain forced the end of play. Better luck next time.
Friday, 15 May 2009
Behind my house, as I have mentioned before on this blog, are the Penllergare valley woods. These woods used to form the gardens of the stately home of John Dillwyn Llewelyn. Over the years they have become overgrown and suffered from vandalism, but a team of dedicated individuals is slowly bringing the area back to its former glory. Towards the bottom of the valley is a large lake where last night I found myself privileged to witness a true wildlife spectacle. We were stood at the edge of the lake, watching the sun slowly sinking down behind the trees. As we surveyed our surroundings, a few small black birds popped out above the tree line before quickly disappearing. Then a few moments later they were back and in greater numbers, swooping around the lake feeding on the masses of insects that the warm, damp air had brought out. Slowly but surely the flock moved closer across the water until the air around us was filled with swooping birds, passing by our heads at quite fantastic speeds. The vast majority of these aerial gymnasts were Swallows, feeding up after there arduous journey from Africa. Mixed in though were a couple of Swifts which were frankly even more impressive. Their agility and speed in the air is breathtaking, and to be able to watch these creatures at such close quarters was fantastic. All I could do was stand and watch as they went about their business, truly lost for a few moments in one of the wonders of the natural world.
Wednesday, 13 May 2009
Tuesday, 12 May 2009
We arrived at Martin's Haven at 8:40, well in time for the first scheduled boat at ten. Much to my surprise there were already a few people present in the queue. By 9:00 there were already enough people in the queue to fill the boat twice over, and as a result the operator decided to start the journeys early. In order to protect the fragile nature of the island, Skomer can only accommodate up to 250 people a day. If we had not arrived so early I doubt we would have managed to get on. The situation must only get worse as the Puffins begin bringing fish back to their burrows later in the year, so plan your day accordingly if you are thinking of visiting.
The trip to the island boded well for the rest of the day, with my first Whitethroat's of the year in Martin's Haven. Once on the boat we passed numerous Guillemots and Razorbills, and saw a couple of Gannets out at sea. The final approach to Skomer itself was simply breathtaking. A raft of Puffins numbering over one hundred were happily floating to the left of the landing, whilst the cliffs to the right of the stairs onto the island played host to several rather noisy Razorbills and Guillemots.
Once landed we were given an introductory talk telling us what we could see on the island. I love these sort of things as you can pretty much guarantee that whatever you are told you can see you wont! Not today though. First on the list we could see were Choughs (two flew just behind the rangers head as he was telling us), the normal auks that were just behind us in the sea, Short Eared Owls hunting and displaying for territory (we saw one not more than five minutes later), and a Little Owl that had taken up residence in some old stone walling (we saw it about a minute after the Short Eared Owl, sitting in a field next to the wall). There is no other word for it other than gob smacking. The sights were not to end there though. The island was covered in nesting gulls (predominantly Lesser Black Backed), Oystercatchers and Swallows, interspersed with more Whitethroats as well as Canada Geese, Pheasants, Ravens, Buzzards and Wheatear to name but a few.
The highlight for me though, as for many people no doubt, were the Puffins. Sitting by the path these amazing little creatures were leaving and entering burrows mere feet away. Photo opportunities were certainly not lacking. I love the way that these birds seemingly have not yet mastered the art of the graceful landing. A seemingly perfect approach invariably ends in a clumsy crash landing, often with the bird ending up beak first on the floor. To compound the comic image, the Puffins then stand up in such a prim and proper manner as if nothing untoward has just happened. Absolute magic.
But what about the Shearwaters I hear you say. I had one sighting that frankly I still can't quite believe. Literally at my feet two Puffins emerged from a burrow, dragging behind them an adult Manx Shearwater. In my shock I completely forgot that I had the camera so didn't get a picture before the bird flew off. I can only presume that the Manxy had chosen the wrong burrow to sleep in. Either that or the Puffins were just plain lost. Whatever the reason, it was one of those magic moments that I shall remember for a long time to come.
I will be posting up a collage of images from the day later on this evening, with individual images available for viewing in the main bird photography section of the site.
Tuesday, 5 May 2009