Welcome

Welcome to 'My Life Outside', the personal blog of Adam Tilt through which I aim to share with you the places that I visit and the wildlife that I see on my travels around the UK. My primary interest is in birds and bird photography, but when they aren't playing ball I turn my attention to pretty much everything else.

I am based in a village on the outskirts of Swansea, South Wales. My regular haunts include the Gower Peninsula, the Burry Inlet, Pembrokeshire and the Isle of Mull - all locations with stunning scenery and a vast array of wildlife. Many of the posts on this blog serve as a diary through which I detail my adventures and show the photographs that I have taken. I aim to impart some of my local knowledge along the way and encourage others to get out exploring for themselves. If you want to get involved then please leave comments and follow the blog.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Marsh Frog at WWT London

My final post concerning the WWT London Wetland Centre is all to do with one of the noisiest amphibians I think I have ever come across. Whilst walking around the site I kept hearing very peculiar, and very deep, croaking noises. Initially I put these down to over amorous Coots but the sound just wasn't right. After a bit of investigation I found the culprits in the reeds to the side of one of the board walks. Happily displaying and mating were around ten Marsh Frogs. I was lucky enough to get a short video of the display.


The Marsh Frog is not a native species and was originally introduced in 1935 to Walland Marsh in Kent. Since then its population has spread to other areas of Kent and East Sussex, and they clearly have a good foothold at the London Wetland Centre. Currently the species is not thought to be causing any harm to the native amphibians, mainly due to its niche habitat of dyke's and ditches that the other species tend to shy away from. More information can be found here.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Day Out At WWT London

As mentioned in my last post, a business meeting down in Windsor presented me with the perfect opportunity to visit the WWT London Wetland Centre. The site covers 42 hectares and used to be an old water treatment works. After years of landscaping and regeneration the centre is now designated as an SSSI and is one of the best urban sites in Europe from which to view wildlife. I highly recommend becoming a member of the WWT to support sites such as these. The cost involved is not large and I personally have made my money back at least ten fold in terms of the free visits that I have made to the various sites around the country.

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

Blue Tit Fledglings, WWT London

Towards the end of last week I had to take a business trip down to Windsor, and used the opportunity to visit the WWT London Wetland Center. I last visited this site not long after it had opened, and since then the lagoons and vegetation have matured nicely creating a unique green oasis in the middle of London. One of the highlights of my visit was seeing a brood of Blue Tits fledge from their nest box. I have only ever seen this happen on TV before, so I felt privileged to be so close with my camera at the ready. The following is a set of images showing the first of the fledglings making the leap for freedom. A more in depth report of the days sightings will follow.

BlueTit2

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Bird Atlas TTV

The Bird Atlas is a project that is running, as the name suggests, from 2007 until 2011. Its main aim it to produce maps of distribution and relative abundance for all bird species breeding and wintering in Britain and Ireland. The last Bird Atlas was completed almost twenty years ago and much has changed over the intervening years. Hopefully this new atlas will identify areas of success as well as areas of concern, and in time prove to be a valuable asset to future conservation projects.

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
Carrion Crow 82 ON Goldfinch 4 H
Robin 4 P Magpie 2 H
Blackbird 18 S Greenfinch 3 H
Swallow 17 H Grey Heron 4 H
Chiffchaff 6 S Rook 1 H
House Martin 60 H Swift 8
Shellduck 11 H Wood Pigeon 4 H
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
Chaffinch 4 FL Reed Bunting 1 H
Pied Wagtail 4 FF Whitethroat 1 S
Wren 2 S House Sparrow 3 H
Starling 3 FF Great Tit 4 H

The breeding codes are as follows:
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

Warblers at Kenfig NNR

Kenfig NNR is a pretty special place, occupying a huge area of sand dunes right next to the massive steel works of Port Talbot. It has also been the best place to see Warblers over the last couple of weeks, so I decided to head on down to see what I could see. It is worth saying at this point that I do not have a great history with warblers. Until last year I simply referred to them by that age old birders saying 'LBJ' (Little Brown Job'). Not this time though. I had armed myself with the necessary knowledge to pick out key differences and hopefully bag myself a few new lifers.

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

Swifts In Penllergare Valley Woods

Last night I had one of those magic moments where all the worries of the world manage to slip away and you can finally feel free from the trappings of being an adult in the modern day world. These moments occur all to rarely but when they do they manage to transport you back to a simpler age when you had all the time in the world to sit and stare in wonder at the world around you.

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

Skomer Island Collages

As promised yesterday I have sorted out my photos from Skomer. Instead of just posting up a few of my favourites in the usual manner I thought I would try something a bit different with a couple of collages. I couldn't decide which one looked the best so I have uploaded both. I will put individual pictures up in the bird photography section of the main site as soon as possible. Let me know what you think.

Collage1 Collage2

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire

With a bank holiday weekend to play with and good weather forecast, last weekend looked like the perfect opportunity to take in the sights of one of the numerous islands off the Pembrokeshire coast. There are a number to choose from offering different specialities in terms of the wildlife to be found, but in the end we plumped for Skomer given its large population of breeding Manx Shearwaters. These birds are not normally seen during daylight hours as they are either sitting in their burrows on nests all day or out feeding at sea until they return at dusk. However, given a population of some 250,000 individuals, I was hoping that someone wouldn't have read the literature and would be out on show.

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

Spring Tides At Penclawdd

One of my favourite places to sit and watch the Burry Inlet is from the large car park located in the center of Penclawdd. What makes the view even better is when spring tides coincide with a nice sunset. Normally the area immediately in front of the car park consists of a largish channel containing a few moored boats, whilst much of the remaining area is covered in salt marsh. However, when the spring tides arrive the whole lot is completely engulfed in water. Not a single sign of land is visible from the very edge of the car park and the retaining walls of the nearby houses to the shore at the other side near Loughor Bridge. It certainly pays to be careful as on one occasion someones washing line complete with a load of washing became engulfed, whilst on two further occasions I have seen boats go under as they were left anchored on too short a rope. The visit a couple of weeks ago promised to be a belter with high tide perfectly correlating with the sunset. Unfortunately at the key time a large weather front blew in obscuring the sun as is always the way. Never mind though as I managed to capture a few worthwhile images before the clouds won the battle. Enjoy.

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