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.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

WWT Llanelli - Report

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.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

More Visitors To The Feeders At WWT Llanelli

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

Friday, 4 December 2009

Jays, Jays, Jays

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

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Worms Head from Burry Holms

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

Mumbles to Langland, Gower With Extra Turnstones

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!

Rock Doves at Culver Hole, Gower

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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