Isle of Mull - Here I come

Friday, May 21, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Just in time for the arrival of the good weather I am heading off to the Isle of Mull on the west coast of Scotland. My parents are coming down from the Midlands to stay in my house so that they can have a holiday in Wales, while we are off to my partners parents' holiday home on the island. We try to go twice a year but haven't been for well over twelve months due to the hassle of buying and doing up the house. For those that don't know the island I recommend looking it up on Google as it is a very special place that is absolutely crammed with wildlife. The holiday house we are staying at has no internet connection so I have set my laptop up to use dial up (it was very nostalgic hearing the old modem noises again after all these years). If all goes to plan I will be able to update my blog every couple of days but you will have to wait for pictures until I return due to the speed of the connection.

For now I am off to catch one of these:

8192 - The Isle of Mull Ferry

To hopefully go and see some more of these:

Golden Eagle, Isle of Mull
Golden Eagle being mobbed by a Raven

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Mating House Sparrows and Labyrinth Spiders

Thursday, May 20, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


If you are a House Sparrow it would appear that damp, drizzly weather is the best time to be getting on with the business of mating. The bushes to the rear of the house were packed with activity and I managed to grab a picture of one of the amorous pairs. The male took three attempts before the female decided that she'd had enough and flew off, the male in close pursuit. Hopefully we will have some young House Sparrows visiting the garden soon.

12471 - House Sparrows Mating

Goppa Hill was noticeably quieter last night, although the Chiffchaffs were still in full song and the usual pair of Collared Doves seem to have gained a new companion. A single Song Thrush was perched up high on the power cables while a screeching call alerted me to a Jay flying along the Dulais. Highlight of the day mainly because they bought some colour to proceedings was a flock of five or six Linnets. They happily sat in a line along one of the field fences but alas were out of reach for my camera.

As I was exploring my eye was caught by several spider webs that were retaining water droplets and so reflecting what little light was available. Unusually these webs were flat to the ground forming a sheet approximately three or four inches in diameter. On closer inspection you could see that the centre of each web formed a funnel, at the bottom of which could just be glimpsed the legs of the sheltering resident.

12476 - Web of the Labyrinth Spider
12477 - Web of the Labyrinth Spider 12474 - Web of the Labyrinth Spider

Some googling today has revealed that these are in fact the construction of the Labyrinth Spider. Apparently the funnel leads to a series of tunnels hence the labyrinth part of the name. The spiders lie in wait until they feel a tremor in their web, at which point they emerge to make the kill. Despite my best 'fly caught in web' imitations I couldn't entice any of the residents out. I fear that they were wise to my game and decided that a warm, dry web tunnel was a much more appealing proposition. Outwitted by an arachnid. Whatever next.

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Urban Foxes

Wednesday, May 19, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


If you are a fan of Foxes as I am then it seems that Llanelli and Pontarddulais are the places to be. The second time that I ever visited my house was after dark whilst deciding if we should put an offer in or not, and I was greeted not by an estate agent but three Foxes instead. A great improvement I'm sure you would agree and certainly an added incentive to buy. One particularly large fox was patrolling the road at the front and the other two were seen crossing the small lane at the rear before disappearing into a mass of undergrowth. At the end of last year we watched and listened as a pair had a very vocal exchange of views on the nearby school fields, and if my ripped bin bags and car alarm are anything to go by then they are regular visitors to the back garden as well. Despite the signs I only manage very irregular sightings which is a great shame as I think that any sighting of a British mammal is something that should be celebrated. It's not as if seeing them is a regular occurrence at the best of times.

If you want pretty much guaranteed views of Foxes however, my best advice is to take a drive around the Llanelli ring road after dark, particularly the stretch that joins the WWT Llanelli site with the visitor centre on the Millennium coastal footpath. I went out for a little jaunt in the car last night and got superb views of three individuals. There is usually one around the entrance to the golf club, whilst I also got new sightings just outside the visitor centre car park and another further along at Pwll. All three were of varying sizes but I have no idea of their sex or ages. I have tried in the past to get some video using the girlfriend’s phone on 'night-vision' mode. The results were not surprisingly unimpressive. I think a new tactic may be needed to try and get some decent results. I feel a stake out of the back garden coming on!

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Goppa Hill and Cwm Dulais Valley - My local patch

Monday, May 17, 2010 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


I have often wondered what it must be like to have a local patch that you can explore on an almost daily basis. In the past I have never lived anywhere that really offered that opportunity, being either stuck in a housing estate or hemmed in by dual carriageways. For me a local patch is somewhere that I can walk to from the house without the need for a car and preferably somewhere that is relatively devoid of other human life. As a few of my recent posts have shown I think I now have somewhere that fits that bill perfectly and I have decided to officially delegate it my local patch. As a result you can expect many more posts from this locality as the joy of walking from home straight into the wild is something that you can only really appreciate if you have sat in front of a PC all day working for 'the man'.

The Cwm Dulais valley may look wild and natural today but its recent past could not have been much different and indeed you don't have to look very far to see the scars on the landscape. The valley floor used to carry a standard gauge railway that traveled its length to serve the various mines that used to work the area.

12465 - Cwm Dulais valley 12464 - Cwm Dulais valley
(Left) The old track bed looking up the valley (Right) A detail shot of the railway bridge over the Dulais

Where this railway ended a short but steep incline continues up to a level track-way that extends for the rest of the valleys length. I am finding it hard to locate any more detailed information than this at the moment but I will persevere as there must be so much history to discover here.

12466 - Cwm Dulais valley 12468 - Cwm Dulais valley
(Left) Looking down the incline towards Pontarddulais (Right) The track bed after the incline

As a result of its industrial heritage and traditional farming the Cwm Dulais valley offers a wide range of habitats. From mature woodland along the banks of the River Dulais and up onto the open and exposed hillsides it is not hard to see why am I excited about the opportunities that this place offers. I walked its entire length this evening and was not disappointed. I hadn't even left the garden before the first opportunities presented themselves with this magnificent male Bullfinch and male House Sparrow.

12456 - Bullfinch
12462 - House Sparrow 12463 - House Sparrow

I was greeted in Cwm Dulais with the familiar sound of Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler once more, while the Blackbirds and Blue Tits added their own unique vocals. I was pleased to see a couple of Stonechats as the valley began to open but was quickly distracted by a Grey Wagtail flying past down the river. This was not to be the only river dweller as not much further on I spotted a Dipper heading upstream. This is fantastic as I was hoping that Dippers would be present but to actually find one is quite remarkable. It was very mobile so I couldn't relocate it but there is plenty of time left for that. Overhead I was joined by several Swallows and numerous flocks of Linnet that once landed allowed me to get fantastic views of their full breeding plumage.

By now I had reached the incline and pushed on to explore further. A few steps later the familiar call of 'a-little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheeeeese' signaled the presence of a male Yellowhammer. The bird soon put in an appearance, no doubt helped by the Red Kite that drifted overhead briefly. A couple of Jays took to the air as a pair of Song Thrushes sang to one side of me and a Mistle Thrush called loudly from the trees on the other. A tiny Wren topped things off as my stomach began to tell me that it was time to head back. I think the stomach was on to something as it was at this point I realised that I had actually walked quite far and after a days work my energy levels were getting rather low. Still, I wouldn't have missed it for the world. The sounds, smells and location all added up to make a quite simply perfect evening.

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Week Summary

Monday, May 17, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Much to my annoyance this week has been very bitty as due to work commitments I couldn't travel very far from the house. Nevertheless I still managed to get some birding in and was very happy with the results. I visited the recently discovered path along the River Loughor on a couple of occasions in an attempt to relocate and photograph the Whimbrel that I had spotted there on my first visit. Initially things didn't look good given the number of dogs that were out and about, but I was not to be disappointed as a couple landed on the shore very close-by. The sun even came out allowing me to get a couple of pics before they realised I was there and took flight again.

12451 - Whimbrel at Loughor Bridge 12450 - Whimbrel at Loughor Bridge

The mudflats also held a couple of Grey Herons and Little Egrets again, of which the Egrets were being particularly territorial towards each other. Back at home one of my resident Blackbirds was enjoying the sun on the telegraph wires.

12449 - Grey Heron at Loughor Bridge 12447 - Blackbird at Pontarddulais

Sunday afternoon was spent exploring the valley at the back of the house and once more I was amazed at the number of species that I can see so close to home. First on the list was a family of five Mistle Thrushes who were loudly calling as they moved through the treetops. One landed on the overhead power cables allowing a photo opportunity. I was surprised how pale this particular individual was which when combined with the bright sun made it appear almost white. The pair of Green Woodpeckers that I originally found three or four weeks ago are still present and being as noisy as ever. I tried my best to sneak up on one of them but it was having none of it. He superbly hid just out of sight before deciding that he had toyed with me enough and flying up to an out of reach tree.

12452 - Mistle Thrush, Pontarddulais 12453 - Green Woodpecker, Pontarddulais

The warblers were out in force with numerous Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler calling from every direction. My partner also found a male Blackcap but I missed it as I was further down into the valley. I'll also throw in a picture of one of my garden Jackdaws that continue to ravage the feeders every day.

12454 - Chiffchaff at Pontarddulais 12446 - Jackdaw at Pontarddulais

As we ascended back out of the valley we were treated to a female Sparrowhawk gliding past at eye level, whilst three Rooks were also flying nearby. Rooks are relatively scarce around the house so this was a good sighting. Shortly after I was stopped in my tracks by a Slow Worm sunbathing in the middle of the path. I can tell you that they are anything but slow as it was gone long before I managed to turn the camera on. All in all a very nice walk that was finished off brilliantly by a couple of soaring Buzzards and a Red Kite that flew just over the rooftops. Magic.

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Late Evening Sun at Loughor Bridge

Wednesday, May 12, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Looking back through some of my previous posts, particularly those from the last week in April, really highlights what terrible weather we are having at the moment. Temperatures are steadfastly refusing to get anywhere near double figures and don't get me started on the last time we had clear skies. This evening however a break in the cloud developed promising the potential for some sort of decent sunset. I couldn't go far due to being on-call from work so decided to go to Loughor bridge. Surprisingly this was the first time that I has ever actually stopped at the bridge as usually it is just something that I drive over on the way to Gower or Llanelli. The tide was well in and the sun did manage to put on a show, lighting up the bridge and the clouds very nicely.

12443 - Sunset at Loughor bridge 12444 - Sunset at Loughor bridge

Even better than the sunset though was the path and park that I found along the banks of the river Loughor here. Despite living within sight of the estuary for the last six months I never knew of their existence. We spent a very enjoyable half hour walking whilst the sun finished its descent. A single Whimbrel was feeding in the freshly exposed mud with a Ringed Plover nearby for company. Other waders included a couple of Oystercatchers, four Little Egrets and a Grey Heron. The Gulls were represented by seven Lesser Black Backs, a single Great Black Backed and several Black Headed. There also appears to be a fairly massive Rookery in the vicinity with forty or so noisily taking to the air at one point. This is definitely a location that I will be visiting more regularly, particularly when the tide is lower as it looks like a very promising location for catching up with a few more wader species.

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Dotterel at Cefn Cadlan

Monday, May 10, 2010 Adam Tilt 3 Comments


Apologies for the lack of updates over the last week or so but I have been busy working on the house again so time out in the field has been limited. After a very late night watching the rather disappointing general election results come in (how did the Lib Dems do worse than last time with such high opinion poll ratings?) I really needed to get out of the house on Friday. I was tempted to head to Gower but instead decided to go and try for a new life tick on the unfamiliar slopes of Cefn Cadlan on the edges of the Brecon Beacons. I found the location with ease and was soon atop the wind swept peak searching the limestone paving for what I hoped would be an encounter on par with the Dunlins from a few weeks ago given the tame and approachable nature of this species. Initially all I got for my efforts was a rather scrappy looking Red Kite and a couple of Ravens before I turned around to find myself being eyed up by the male Dotterel. Result. A few meters further back the much more colourful female bird was also present, busy feeding in the short grass. Unfortunately for me it was cloudy, drizzly and windy; certainly not the conditions that my Lumix Super-zoom camera likes. Not be defeated I lay down on the ground and these are the results.

12421 - Dotterel at Cefn Cadlan
12422 - Dotterel at Cefn Cadlan 12425 - Dotterel at Cefn Cadlan
12430 - Dotterel at Cefn Cadlan 12433 - Dotterel at Cefn Cadlan
12434 - Dotterel at Cefn Cadlan 12420 - Dotterel at Cefn Cadlan

To say it was one of my more memorable encounters would be an understatement. I was able to lie there for well over an hour as the birds continued to feed, stretch and groom seemingly without a care in the world. For most of the time I just watched, feeling so privileged to be able to share that time with such wild and little seen birds. In the end I had to drag myself away as the weather was closing in and I didn't want to get caught out in the open.

My thanks must go to Barry Stewart and his blog for the initial heads up and also to Graham Smith who I believe originally located the birds. How he managed that I would love to know as to me it seemed like the middle of almost nowhere. Top find sir and once again many thanks.

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