Wildlife Recording Techniques and Schmap

Friday, April 30, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


I was mulling over different ways of recording wildlife sightings yesterday whilst the rain kept me cooped up inside, and wrote a little piece on some of my thoughts and the way that I like to go about things. If you fancy a read then head on over here. I will put a permanent link in the sidebar as well to this article as I know it is certainly something that interests me and may I hope be of interest to others.

I also wanted to let you know that for the very first time one of my photographs has been published. It has been used in a Schmap travel guide for Cardiff. Admittedly it is only in an online capacity and it is a site that is well renowned for using lots of photos from Flickr, but for me it is hopefully the first step of many.


I would love to work with wildlife and photography in some sort of professional capacity but I realise this may never happen. For now I keep increasing my knowledge and improving my skills in the hope that one day I will get the opportunity that I crave. If anyone wants to see my inclusion on the Schmap guide then go here. Mine is the picture of the Canada Goose. Of all the pictures that I have taken over the last year or so I really didn't think it would be that one that was ultimately used.

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Cefn Drum and a Mining Bee

Wednesday, April 28, 2010 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


If you have ever spent a day stuck in a sealed office with no opening windows and broken air conditioning you can probably imagine why I felt like getting out into the countryside even more keenly than usual this evening. A quick scan of the local OS map showed that I had woefully under explored my local area with miles and miles of paths to walk and hillsides that I hadn't even stepped foot upon. I narrowed the candidates down to Cefn Drum, a 230m high hill behind Pontarddulais which had added interest in the form of the remains of a couple of medieval settlements to explore.

The walk to the top of the hill was energetic and very sweaty given the high levels of humidity that we are currently experiencing. It was all worth it though as I heard a couple of calling Cuckoos from the trees at the bottom of the valley. This is absolutely superb news as it gives me a real chance of actually tracking them down and attempting some photographs. Heres hoping that they stay in the area for the rest of the season. Also showing well on the ascent was a Raven and a couple of Stonechats. It was particularly pleasing to see the Stonechats after reports locally that the cold winter seems to have heavily dented their population. Saying that I did only see three over an extensive area so maybe things aren't that rosy after all. What was certainly doing well were the Skylarks and Meadow Pipits. The whole hillside was alive with their calls and every step was typically greeted by a flurry of activity as birds erupted from the ground. Unsurprisingly I had to choose my steps carefully when not on the tracks to avoid trampling any nests. Touch wood I think everyone escaped unscathed.

At the top of Cefn Drum sits a large and very well built cairn known locally as Peter's Cairn. Who Peter is I don't know but I certainly admire his building techniques. The views stretch across the length of the Loughor estuary with the Gower peninsular beyond that. Or at least they would have if the weather had not once again been so hazy. Is this being caused by the volcanic ash in the atmosphere as I can't recall anything like it last year? Either way I hope it clears up soon as I would love to go back up and see just how far the vista stretches.

12407 - Peters Cairn, Cefn Drum 12410 - Peters Cairn, Cefn Drum
(Left) Looking towards Gower with the Loughor estuary in the foreground (Right) Looking towards the Brecon Beacons

On the walk back down I spotted a bee land on the ground and disappear into a small burrow. It took a couple of seconds to click before I realised that it must be a mining bee though of what species I do not know. The last time that I saw one of these was a good ten years ago at my parents house where they used to burrow into the back gardens lawn. I took a picture of the hole as a record shot just as the bee started to block the hole off from the inside as the sequence of pictures below shows.

12411 - Mining Bee closing its burrow

It wasn't just plain dirt that it was pushing up as it seemed to have been mixed with some sort of liquid. I have done a bit of research and have found that the female bees are able to excrete a substance that can be used to solidify the walls of their tunnels so I presume this is what I saw. Each burrow is a nursery for a single larva which is stocked with pollen and nectar to feed it until it emerges next spring. I would guess that this particular bee temporarily blocked the tunnel so that it could safely spend the night as at the time of these pictures being taken the temperature was dropping as were the light levels. If I get a chance I will try and see the bee again and identify it. This may however prove difficult as there are apparently sixty species of mining bee in the UK alone!

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Sandwich Terns are back at Burry Port

Wednesday, April 28, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Last night I spent a couple of hours back at Burry Port walking a section of the millennium coastal path. The tide was very much on its way in, rising noticeably as I stood and watched. These are often the best conditions for spotting birds on the Burry Inlet as any waders are pushed closer to shore and onto the sand banks near the ends of the various breakwaters. This time however there weren't any waders to be found but I was very pleased to see that the Sandwich Terns have returned. There were eleven birds resting on the sand amongst a mixed flock of gulls until one particularly large wave put them all up into the air. After heading upstream they returned a few minutes later and began to fish in the area where I had originally spotted them. Although I didn't see any successful catches it was great to be able to watch Terns fishing again. Apart from Gannets it is hard to imagine another bird that feeds in quite such a dramatic style.

12398 - Sandwich Terns at Burry Port

Along the path there were plenty of Swallows, including the first that I have seen actually sitting on telegraph wires so far this year. There were also numerous Linnets and a superb Cormorant in breeding plumage feeding in the harbour itself. The highlight though has to be a couple of Skylarks who were having a sing-off a couple of meters apart high up in the air.

My favourite pictures of the day go to a Crow which was sat on a lamppost just as I was driving out of the car park.

12401 - Carrion Crow at Burry Port 12402 - Carrion Crow at Burry Port
12403 - Carrion Crow at Burry Port 12404 - Carrion Crow at Burry Port

For such a common bird I have precious few photographs of this species and this one proved to be a real gem. It went through a process of thorough cleaning before putting on a territorial calling display. The lighting was absolutely perfect and allowed me to capture the birds eye quite well. This is something that is remarkably hard on a bird that is so completely black.

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RSPB Gwenffrwd-Dinas

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


After the sun and heat of Saturday we woke to find Sunday somewhat of a disappointment. For the first time since the Easter bank holidays rain was falling and the other side of the valley was obscured from view by cloud and mist. Never ones to be beaten by a bit of bad weather we decided to head north and check out the RSPB Gwenffrwd-Dinas reserve for the first time. We didn't know what to expect but what we found was an idyllic location with some absolutely superb birds.

12393 - RSPB Dinas

As soon as we stepped out of the car we heard our first calling Cuckoo of the year, one of two that we heard there that day. This is great news as last year was somewhat of a failure on the Cuckoo front. If I remember correctly we only heard a couple and definitely didn't see any. This time we have at least heard them much earlier so I am hopeful for some actual sightings very soon. We followed the board walk into the forest and were immediately greeted by my first Nuthatch of the year which appeared to be nesting in one of the tit boxes. It popped back and forth a few times while we watched although we never saw any sign of young inside. Whilst there I glanced upwards and saw a male and female pair of Pied Flycatchers! I absolutely adore these birds but due to the bad lighting I couldn't get any usable photographs. Also hopping around the same few trees was a male Blackcap, a Goldcrest and several Willow Warblers. Very strangely we couldn't hear any Ciffchaffs, and indeed didn't for the whole of our visit. What have they got against this locality?

12392 - The river at RSPB Dinas 12391 - Dipper at RSPB Dina

As the pictures above show the reserve opens up onto a river that begins to plunge rapidly downwards just out of sight. A Dipper put in a very brief appearance (another 2010 first) before flying back upstream, but the highlight for me was a female and two male Redstarts sat in a nearby bush. These birds look so alien with their striking colours that they couldn't fail to brighten up the drab day.

After leaving the river we headed back into the woodland for the return leg where the migrants just kept getting better and better. First blood went to a couple of Wood Warblers who were hard to miss with their very distinctive call. Once found with the binoculars their bright yellow throats confirmed the ID. We briefly thought that we could hear a Grasshopper Warbler before a couple of calling Mistle Thrushes flew overhead. I think that their calls sound rather similar but it does confirm that the Thrushes I saw at the back of the house a few weeks ago were of the Mistle variety. A few meters further on and we stumbled across a small party of Tree Pipits feeding on the floor, only my second sighting ever of this species. Again the lighting was too bad for any photographs much to my annoyance. After all that I was more than satisfied but the icing was placed firmly on the cake when I spotted a couple of Yellowhammers down on some local farmland. If we had wanted some of the most colourful birds to see on a grey day I don't think we could have done much better.

Not wanting to head home just yet we continued north to the Dyfi Osprey project, unsurprisingly located on the River Dyfi. One of the Ospreys could be seen a long way away sat on top of a telegraph pole eating a fish. Not the greatest of views but as always a very special one. In the surrounding reedbeds we could hear a couple of Sedge Warblers but none popped out to say hello. A couple of Sikins were feeding near the hide.

To round the day off we moved on to Aberystwyth for some food before the long trip back. The burger I had was very nice while a juvenile Herring Gull and a Rock Pipit provided a couple of photo opportunities now that the sun had finally decided to come out.

12394 - Herring Gull at Abersystwyth 12395 - Herring Gull at Abersystwyth
12396 - Rock Pipit at Aberystwyth 12397 - Rock Pipit at Aberystwyth

Considering such an inauspicious start to the day I couldn't believe the luck that we'd had, both in terms of keeping dry and the wildlife that we had seen. We have also gained another location that is definitely worth repeat visits. You can't really ask for much more than that.

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Amazing Dunlin on Whitford Beach

Saturday, April 24, 2010 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


Today was spent walking from Cwm Ivy to Whitford Point, heading out via the beach and back along Whitford Burrows. My overriding memory of the trip, apart from the incredible haze that we are experiencing at the moment, will be of a simply amazing encounter that I had with two summer plumaged Dunlin. I had spotted them feeding along the shoreline so approached closer to see if I could get any pictures. What I didn't expect was to be able to get within touching distance of them with seemingly no concern from the birds themselves. My close encounter went on for nearly half an hour as I was constantly pushed back by a rising tide only to have the Dunlin fly towards me and land even closer. At times they tucked their heads away and had a doze, whilst at others they continued to feed or enjoyed a good clean. It was as if I was invisible and I feel privileged to have been able to have such an intimate encounter with these two marvelous birds. Choosing which pictures to post up here has never been so difficult as I literally took hundreds. What follows are just a few of my favourites.

12356 - Dunlin on Whitford Beach
12353 - Dunlin on Whitford Beach 12345 - Dunlin on Whitford Beach
12361 - Dunlin on Whitford Beach 12369 - Dunlin on Whitford Beach
12365 - Dunlin on Whitford Beach 12364 - Dunlin on Whitford Beach

And if any proof was needed of just how tame these birds were then my other half took the following pictures whilst I was taking mine.

12390 - Me Photographing Dunlin 12389 - Me Photographing Dunlin

The Dunlin were by no means the only birds present. 41 Whimbrels were also feeding nearby and a roost of over 400 Oystercatchers was also present. Scanning the Burry Inlet I got to see my first Sandwich Tern of 2010, and was amazed to see five Gannets heading upstream towards Penclawdd. I have read that Gannets can be seen on the estuary but up until today I had never witnessed them for myself. After reaching Whitford Point we took a long hard slog across the sand to do a spot of sea watching as the tide continued to rise. We were treated to a Little Egret and fifty or so Shellduck before the big hitters arrived in the form of two Dark-Bellied Brent Geese and a raft of eight male and eleven female Eider. Again this is the first time that I have seen Eider on the Burry Inlet and to say I was suitably pleased would be an understatement. Below are a couple of distant pictures.

12383 - Brent Geese on the Burry Inlet 12385 - Eider on the Burry Inlet

To round things off nicely a female Common Scoter flew past to complete a rather nice haul of sea birds. The walk back along Whitford Burrows was relatively uneventful apart from a couple of Coal Tits, Goldfinches and Buzzards. The Lapwings were also displaying very well over the various marshes making what I can only describe as their 'Nintendo' call. To me it sounds just like they are emulating the sounds from old 8-bit Nintendo games. Of course I could just be mad!

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Hunting for Chiffchaffs

Friday, April 23, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Ever since the arrival of Spring my morning sleep has been rudely interrupted by the incredibly loud calls of a couple of Chiffchaffs. I say a couple but it could be a whole army of them given the volume that they seem to be able to generate. Now don't get me wrong I have no objection to them at all as every day they remind me why I wanted a house in the countryside in the first place. What I do have an issue with is the fact that I can never find any when I am out and about with my camera. I had an hour to kill after work waiting for my other half to get back (she wanted to go and try for the Garganey from yesterday but it seems to have sadly moved on), so I ventured out the back of the house to what I suppose I should start calling my local patch. As usual the array of birds for such a small area was frankly amazing. I saw three Jays, a couple of Goldfinch, Magpies, numerous Blue and Great Tits, Chaffinches, a couple of Buzzards being mobbed by the local Jackdaws, a Song Thrush, some very aggressive Chaffinches as well as my target; the Chiffchaffs. I even managed to find one that was just in range of my camera and rattled off a couple of pictures before it noticed me and flew off.

12312 - Chiffchaff
12310 - Chiffchaff 12311 - Chiffchaff

Also flitting through the trees were a couple of Collared Doves that are probably the dimmest examples I have ever encountered. Pretty much every morning I have to stop the car while they decide to get out of the road so that I can carry on. I also saw my second butterfly of the year (that I could identify anyway) in the form of a Speckled Wood.

12309 - Collared Dove 12314 - Speckled Wood

As I mentioned above we couldn't relocate the Garganey at Sandy Water Park later in the evening but the male Wood Duck was still putting on a fine display. What was noticeable was that the number of Sand Martins was even more impressive than yesterday with upwards of sixty individuals flying through the air. They must presumably have been getting a very good feed if the number of flies at ground level was anything to go by!

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Garganey and Wood Duck at Sandy Water Park

Thursday, April 22, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Every birder has a few of those species that no matter how hard they try they just never seem to be able to catch up with. I have had a fair bit of success over the last twelve months on this front but one bird has been continually alluding me; the Garganey. Despite a few individuals arriving in my local area I have always been unlucky. Until today that is. I arrived at work and checked the local sightings pages to find that a drake Garganey had been seen at the nearby Sandy Water Park earlier in the morning. Unsurprisingly I headed straight their as soon as I had finished in the hope that this time the bird would hang around long enough for me to see it. Initially I thought I was going to have another near miss as after walking around the entire lake I had still not seen it. Literally seconds after speaking on the phone to my partner to confirm another failure I had a final glance across the water and there it was, sitting slap bang in the middle of the water. Unbelievable. I spent half an hour or so trying to get as close as I could but the bird was very wary of people and always stayed a good distance away from the edges. Even so I got a couple of decent pictures and another life tick as well.

12302 - Garganey at Sandy Water Park 12301 - Garganey at Sandy Water Park

The other highlight of my visit were three Common Sandpipers feeding on the far shore of the lake from the car park. These are my first of 2010 and were putting on a good show when they weren't busy chasing each other off. Unfortunately they were just too small for my camera. I really need that SLR now! On a slightly more colourful note I was very surprised to see a male Wood Duck following a couple of male Mallards around. The Wood Duck is not a native species having a tiny population made up almost exclusively from captive escapees. Nevertheless it was a first for me in the wild and a very attractive bird to photograph.

12294 - Wood Duck at Sandy Water Park 12296 - Wood Duck at Sandy Water Park

The lake held a good assortment of other waterfowl with several Gadwall pairs, numerous Tufted Duck and Pochard as well as a single Great Crested Grebe and a male Shoveller. The first of the Mute Swans are also sitting on a nest although it is very accessible so I am not sure how well they are going to last.

12300 - Male Gadwall at Sandy Water Park 12305 - Pochard
(Left) Male Gadwall (Right) Male Pochard

As the light began to fade the hirundines arrived in the shape of approximately thirty Sand Martins and three Swallows. The noise they were making as they filled the sky was very impressive and reminded me how much I have missed their presence over the winter. There were still no House Martins or Swifts in the mix though but surely it is only a matter of time.

I will leave you with the following couple of pictures taken as I stood next to my car preparing to leave.

12306 - Balckbird 12308 - Blackbird with stuffed beak

This male Blackbird seemed particularly aggressive and really didn't want to leave despite my close proximity. As you can see he even attempted staring me down presumably in the hope that I would give in and back off. The reason for this behavior became apparent as he picked up a huge juicy worm and attempted to stuff it into his beak. To be fair he actually managed it allowing me to get my first ever 'Blackbird with stuffed beak' shot. It just goes to show that you should always have your camera with you as you never know when a good opportunity will present itself.

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Devils Coach Horse Larvae (Ocypus olens)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Tonight I have a slightly more unusual (well for me anyway) piece of wildlife for the blog. I spent a couple of hours down at Burry Port earlier this evening and noticed the following insect walking across one of the pavements.

12291 - Devils Coach Horse Larvae (Ocypus olens) 12289 - Devils Coach Horse Larvae (Ocypus olens)

After much googling I have come to the conclusion that this is one of the larval stages of the Devils Coach Horse Beetle (Ocypus olens). Being in its larval stage it has been difficult to find any similar photos but the one I found here looks pretty damn close to me. These beetles apparently go through three different larval stages before they finally reach their adult form. When fully developed they show little resemblance to the form I saw, taking on a shape that seems to fit their ominous sounding name far better. I have never seen either the larval or the adult stage before so this is definitely a first for me.

Elsewhere Burry Port was very quiet, especially in comparison to the migrant fest of the weekend. The weather was however noticeably colder with temperatures plummeting towards single figures and a strong breeze blowing, so this may have had some effect. A couple of Pied Wagtails and Rock Pipits were the most vocal birds, whilst a flock of Starlings were gathering nesting material from the surrounding grass. Other than a fly over Mallard and a Magpie the following Herring Gull was the only other thing on offer. It just goes to show that you can't get lucky every time that you go out exploring.

12292 - Herring Gull

On an interesting side note it is worth looking at the following couple of pictures to see if you can spot what isn't quite right.

12287 - Burry Port 12288 - Burry Port

If you haven't worked it out the oddities are the very large piles of sand that are slap bang in the middle of the main channel in and out of the port. Their size in comparison to the boats shows just how high they are. I had heard that the authorities were having a hard time of keeping a channel open but this looks a tad ridiculous. A nearby sign reveals that the sand has actually been piled up there after being dredged from the left due to a lack of a license to move the sand away from the site. I imagine this is proving to be a fairly futile approach as when the tide comes back in much of the sand must be being redistributed. This whole issue has arisen after the port was essentially dammed to keep a constant level of water within, thus enabling the creation of a large area to be used for boat storage. At high tide there is sufficient clearance for the boats to sail over the dam and out into the Burry Inlet. The waterways used to be kept clear by the river which runs through the port, but now that its flow has essentially been blocked there is a very real problem of sediment accumulation. This is presumably an issue that is only going to get worse and one which has no easy or cheap solution.

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Penclawdd Sunset, Gower

Monday, April 19, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


As promised in my last post here are a couple of photographs of last nights sunset taken from Penclawdd on the north Gower coast. The sun was obscured by clouds as it reached the horizon which dampened the colours somewhat. Nevertheless it was another enjoyable display from this brilliant coast.

12283 - Sunset at Penclawdd, Gower
12286 - Sunset at Penclawdd, Gower

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Kittiwake, Whimbrel, Wheatear.....and some fog!

Sunday, April 18, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


This morning was bright and clear so a plan was hatched to go and visit some of the local sites that we tend not to get to that often. First things first we had to negotiate the garden and a very vocal male House Sparrow which appears to have taken up residence on the corner of our house. He has spent the last couple of days sitting on the guttering and has called loudly for the majority of that time. I am pretty sure that he hasn't got a nest up there as the tiles are too well sealed so it is possibly just a territorial display. Either way he certainly has good volume and can be heard throughout the house.

12249 - House Sparrow 12248 - House Sparrow

First port of call was Mumbles on Gower. We arrived relatively early (well 10am is pretty early for a Sunday) in the hope that we would avoid the last of the Easter holiday makers. We did manage that but hadn't banked on the sea fog that was enveloping Swansea Bay like a duvet. Mumbles Pier was almost lost to view as was the lighthouse. The only sign of its existence was the sound of the fog horn warning local shipping of the treacherous rocks ahead.

12252 - Mumbles in the fog 12269 - Mumbles in the fog

The reason for our visit to Mumbles was to check out the Kittiwakes which have recently arrived back in the country at their breeding site at the end of Mumbles Pier. We were in luck with approximately forty individuals clinging to the various ledges and fences. There were signs of the first attempts at nest building but nothing substantial was in place and any egg laying looked a fair way off. Unfortunately the Kittiwakes have to share their home with the local fishermen which does have its hazards. Whilst we were there one unlucky individual got itself caught in a line. Fortunately the person whose rod it was pulled the bird in and set it free. I just hope that the rest are as lucky as the season progresses.

12255 - Kittiwake on Mumbles Pier 12266 - Kittiwake on Mumbles Pier
12264 - Kittiwake on Mumbles Pier 12259 - Kittiwake on Mumbles Pier

Apart from the Kittiwakes the launch ramp from the lifeboat station held twenty or so Turnstones. More unusual was the fact that nearby Bracelet Bay didn't have a single Mediterranean Gull on offer. This is usually a sure fire location to find this species. Maybe they have moved around the coast a bit to find a quieter area until the tourists go home again.

Next stop after Mumbles was Burry Port on the other side of the Burry Inlet. A couple of Linnets greeted our arrival but the real gems were to be found just around the corner. A family pointed out a Curlew feeding in close to the harbor wall which was nice. What was even nicer was the realisation that it was in fact a Whimbrel, and that it had a companion! These are the first Whimbrel's of the year for me and certainly the first photographs that I have ever managed to get of this species.

12273 - Whimbrel at Burry Port 12272 - Whimbrel at Burry Port

On the other side of the harbor wall a male White Wagtail was trying and succeeding to make it as difficult as possible for me to get a photograph of it. Never mind as a moment later a female Wheatear popped onto the wall and posed for a while before flying on.

12281 - Wheatear at Burry Port 12277 - Wheatear at Burry Port

Whilst at Burry Port we also saw a couple of Swallows, as well as several Ringed Plovers and a couple of summer plumaged Dunlin. The day was finished off with another very nice sunset, pictures of which will follow in the next post. All in all a classic day on this wonderful coast.

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