Upton Warren Reserve

Monday, June 29, 2009 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


A trip back to see my parents on Sunday handily allowed me to pay a visit to Upton Warren nature reserve which is owned and maintained by the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust. This reserve is a real haven for waders and waterfowl and during cold spells has given me by far the best sightings of Water Rail that I have ever had. If you cast your mind back,I last visited in January when it was so cold that every inch of water was frozen and a layer of ice coated almost every surface. This time however the weather was the exact opposite with glorious sunshine and oppressive humidity.

The hide next to the car park delivered the goods with numerous Reed Warblers darting in and out of the reeds at close quarters. Unfortunately they always managed to land just out of sight, or if they did happen to perch out in the open it was only for the briefest of time. As a result I came away photoless. Also showing well was a group of Reed Buntings. Heading over to the main lakes we were treated to a family group of Long Tailed Tits flitting through the trees as well as a pair of Blackcaps. Spring was very much in full flow out on the water, with juvenile Oystercathers, Great Crested Grebes, Canada Geese, Mute Swans, Common Terns, Black Headed Gulls, Mallards, Coots and Moorhens.
It was a nice to surprise to see the Oystercatchers particular considering they are about as far away from the sea as its possible to get in the UK. It's also worth noting the colour variation in the Mallards that were present at this site. Mallards frequently interbreed with escaped domestic ducks often resulting in mutated plumage, and it would appear that every variation decided to turn up here for a bit of a show. There were white ones, black ones and everything inbetween leading to a degree of confusion for some birders who momentarily thought they were looking at something much rarer.

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Next we headed over to the flashes for what turned out to be the highlight of the day. If there is one bird I would never have expected to see in the Midlands a few years ago, it would be the Avocet. But blow me if I didn't find myself looking at eight Avocet feeding away happily. I can still remember having to travel over to Norfolk to see these magnificent birds, and now here they are in the heart of the country. But that was not the end of the delights to be found. Mixed in with the Avocets were around seven Green Sandpiper, another lifer for me, as well as five Little Ringed Plovers with two very recent hatchlings. It was great fun watching the adults fight off gulls and even a Canada Goose at one point, and reminded me a lot of Springwatch. This time however it seemed that everyone was being good and I am happy to report that were no fatalities.

Away from the birds we found a couple of Woodland Ringlet butterflies, another first for me.

If you do get a chance to visit this site I highly recommend it as the variety and quality of the birds on show is amazing. As well as some of the species that I mentioned here, there are frequent sightings of Bittern and vagrant waders crop up all the time.

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Woodchat Shrike on Gower

Wednesday, June 24, 2009 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


This past weekend we were treated to the arrival of a true rarity on Gower in the shape of a female Woodchat Shrike. The call first went up on Tuesday after a sighting along the fences near Sluxton farm on the Rhossili downs. By the time I had heard about it night had fallen so it was not until Wednesday evening that I had time to get out to have a look for myself. Things got off to a great start with a couple of Yellowhammers along the nearby telegraph wires and a lovely family of recently fledged Swallows sitting on a nearby house. The number of Meadow Pipits was also impressive, with seemingly every individual either defending territory or carrying beak fulls of insects back to their well concealed nests. Unfortunately, after an hour or so search I could not locate the Shrike. Fearing that the bird had moved on I left at least satisfied with the Yellowhammer given that this is a species I see all to rarely.

But no. Thursday saw further reports so Friday evening I was back. This time I had a definite location to search so I staked out a vigil for the next hour or so in the hope that I would be rewarded. I was briefly joined by a few birders from the 'Birders in Boxers' blog who were having no better luck and continued further on across the downs. I was now caught in one of those awkward situations. I needed to get back home but I could almost guarantee that the moment I left the Shrike would be out and the others would get to see it. Despite my fears I left and as predicted the Shrike put in an appearance not long after.

Determined not to be beaten I was back by Saturday lunchtime and as fate would have it almost immediately caught a sighting on the telegraph wires at the exact same location that I had been staking out the night before. The Shrike sat in full view for a good ten minutes allowing a couple of distant photographs before flying off into some nearby gorse and being lost from view. Over the next half an hour I got just the occasional glimpse which probably explains the difficulty that people have been having in their searches. The day was topped off nicely with a male Siberian Stonechat, another first for me.

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Don't Underestimate What's On Your Doorstep

Tuesday, June 16, 2009 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


This weekend I had a very pleasant reminder of the wealth of wildlife that can often be found right under our noses. As I have mentioned before on this blog my current house backs onto Penllergare woods, the remains of the stately grounds that used to accompany the family home of John Dillwyn Llewelyn. After having been left to its own devices for the last few decades the place is alive with wildlife. A short walk through the bottom of the valley produced numerous bird species including Shellduck, Whitethroat, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler amongst others. The highlight though was a pair of Tree Pipits that were happily singing from the top of the trees out on the heathland. This is a brand new species for me which is always exciting, but to find one so close to home only made the moment even sweeter.

Away from the birds the area was absolutely packed with dragonflies and damselflies. I'll freely admit at this point that insects and flowers have never really caught my attention or interest previously, but as time goes on I am finding myself being drawn more and more towards nature in general. This interest is only heightened when I get the chance to photograph a beauty such as the Golden-Ringed Dragonfly above. This is not only my first dragonfly photo but also my first identification of a dragonfly full stop. Measuring over 7cm in length it was certainly a sight to behold. Over the next few months I hope to take advantage of my privileged surroundings and see what other wildlife can be found out there.

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Auks At Worms Head, Gower

Friday, June 05, 2009 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Following our trip into mid Wales, Sunday was spent much closer to home on Gower though in no less spectacular surroundings. For the first time in a few months we visited Rhossili and Worms Head. The number of people there when we arrived was amazing with both overspill fields full and wardens directing traffic around. I guess it must be true that people are staying in the UK this year due to the recession. Fortunately the surrounding countryside absorbed the masses well so it never felt too busy.

Walking out along the headland our attention was drawn to a recently fledged family of Song Thrushes sitting inside a gorse bush. They posed very obligingly for photographs, showing off their quickly receding yellow gape in the process. Other inhabitants of the gorse included several Linnets as well as a Kestrel who kept landing on the ground in full view of the masses. There were also good numbers of Skylarks filling the sky with their tuneful calls.

The sea was an absolute mill pond, offering the perfect opportunity to see Shags and Cormorants fishing. The clear visibility also meant that a few distant Gannets could be picked out. Also making good use of the nice weather were several Fulmars which were making regular patrols of the cliffs.

As the tide fell away we were able to walk across the tidal causeway and over to Worms Head itself. The rock pools in-between were teeming with life. The shrimp were out in force, as were a couple of Hermit Crabs no doubt trying to escape what must have been a rapidly heating small pool. Strangely for this area we didn't see a single Oystercatcher. Over the winter months there is usually a large colony here, so hopefully they have just moved on elsewhere to feed. I am slightly concerned however as there have been a few issues with the muscle beds in the area so I hope that this is not as a result of those problems.

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Once on Worms Head both Rock and Meadow Pipits had young either being fed in nests or rather noisily out in the open. The highlight though were the vast numbers of Guillemot, and to a lesser extent Razorbill, that were roosting and feeding around the large vertical cliff on the north face of the furthest promontory. We spent a happy half an hour or so watching the birds coming and going but couldn't work out if there were any young present. My biggest annoyance of the day was the attitude exhibited by many of the boat owners in the area. On more than one occasion we observed numerous boats driven deliberately and at speed directly into a raft of birds on the water. I am sorry but this is completely unacceptable. I'd like to think that even if a person were not that interested in the birds they would not intentionally try to harm them when a small adjustment of the steering wheel could avoid them completely. Clearly this isn't the case and is just another sign of the problem we face in society today with its overly selfish attitude.

On a happier note a colony of Kittiwakes on the same cliffs do appear to have some young with them. Whether these have bred at the site or have moved around from the colony that occupies the pier at Mumbles I can't be sure. If you haven't visited this area I highly recommend it as the views are some of the best in Gower and the wildlife is more than capable of matching them. Do be careful when crossing to Worms Head however as people have been killed in the past when caught by the incoming tide. Safe crossing times are clearly displayed at both ends of the causeway so please do check them.

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Elan Valley - An Extraordinary Day Out

Thursday, June 04, 2009 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


For those of you that have been watching Springwatch on the BBC this year, you will no doubt have seen Simon King located up at Lake Vyrnwy. The wildlife up there has been fairly spectacular, including a few species such as Redstart and Wood Warbler that I have never seen. As Saturday dawned clear and hot, the plan was to head on up and see if I could locate some of these rarities for myself. Google maps soon put paid to that idea with an estimated journey time of three hours. Factor in the half term traffic and the presence of the Springwatch team and you can just imagine what the trip up would have been like. Fortunately, located just an hour closer is the Elan Valley. Essentially this is the same habitat as Lake Vyrnwy with several reservoirs surrounded by managed woodland and moorland.

We arrived at the car park at about 9am and were greeted by three House Martin nests under the eaves of the visitor centre. It was great to be able to see the young lined up at the entrance to the nests awaiting their next feed. Indeed many of them looked almost ready to fledge. I attempted to get a few photos but due to the lack of light under the roof and me not wanting to use the flash for fear of scaring the birds, the results are not that impressive. They will however serve perfectly well as some record shots to be improved upon. Also flying around the visitor area were several Pied Wagtails, Red Kites and Buzzards.

Our original intention had been to walk alongside the reservoir but signposted from the car park was a wildlife walk heading up a nearby hillside into mixed woodland. We headed in as this looked like the best place for our 'target' species. Before we had even properly begun we stumbled upon our first Redstart of the day. This one had built a nest in a crack in the wall of one of the nearby buildings and was observed returning to feed its young. The thing that hit us as we moved further into the trees was that we were completely surrounded by the sound of Wood Warblers singing. It was absolutely fantastic and the identification was mainly due to Simon Kings excellent song comparison on Springwatch a few days earlier. Some frantic searching took place until we finally managed to locate one amongst the dense foliage. After seeing a Garden Warbler last weekend at the Lliw Reservoirs near my house this finally meant that I had seen my full complement of warblers. Also singing well were numerous Willow Warblers but strangely no Chiffchaffs. A little further on and we were treated to a Spotted Flycatcher feeding alongside the river banks.

The next highlight took place higher up the hillside, where we located two pairs of Pied Flycatchers. These were the first male birds I have seen for at least four years. Both pairs had nests, one in a tree and one in a nest box next to the path. I was able to basically stand just outside the box whilst both the male and female returned at regular intervals with food. The results are some photos that I am very happy with. Just below the Flycatcher nests was a large owl box slung from the bow of a tree. I have seen several of these in various locations but have always assumed that they would never be used. How wrong I was. Staring back at us from the back of the box were two fluffy Tawny Owl chicks that we estimated were probably about four weeks old. To be honest I was gob-smacked, especially considering their close location to the footpath. We spent a few minutes searching the trees for the adult birds but to no avail.

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The rest of the walk was just as impressive, with examples of Blackcap, Nuthatch, Jay, Great Spotted Woodpecker and even a Peregrine Falcon joining in on the fun. Also a pleasant surprise given their declining population was a calling male Cuckoo.

After returning back to the car park we took a brief walk up to the bottom of the dam and were lucky enough to see a Common Sandpiper feeding along the top of the weir. It turns out that these sort of locations are a bit of a stronghold for this species. Also of interest was a single male White Wagtail on the surrounding slopes.

Before heading back to glorious Swansea we headed further north to the Dyfi Osprey Project near Machynlleth. We popped in a couple of weeks ago but the pair of Ospreys that had been in the area had sadly vacated it a few days previously. That was of course until a few hours after we had left when they decided to return. This time however we were very lucky, as the female bird returned to the artificial nest that has been built for them at the reserve with a huge Trout in her talons. We were able to clearly see her ripping the fish to pieces through the binoculars and had even better views from the remote cameras. This was certainly the best Osprey sighting that I have had in this country and rounded off nicely what had been a rather extraordinary day of birding.

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