MacCulloch's Fossil Tree, Isle of Mull

A walk to MacCulloch's fossil tree at Burg on the magnificent Isle of Mull.

Climbing Ben More

We finally bag our first munro in the shape of Ben More on the Isle of Mull.

Isle of Mull - A walk to Treshnish

Classic walk in NW Mull to Treshnish Headland.

Rare Crystal Jellyfish on Gower

We find a very rare Crystal Jellyfish washed up on Whiteford beach, Gower..

Snowdon - 30 Years in the making

After almost thirty years of trying we finally get perfect conditions for an ascent of Snowdon.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Dicranopalpus Ramosus - Harvestman Spider

It's funny how something stands out like a sore thumb when it disrupts your daily routines. This evening I returned home from work and went up to the bedroom to open the windows as usual. My eye was immediately drawn to a spider on the outside wall which had possibly the longest legs that I have ever seen. A post over on the Wild About Britain forum quickly had it identified as Dicranopalpus Ramosus, a species of Harvestman.

22376 - Dicranopalpus ramosus, Pontarddulais

This spider is usually visible from August to November, mostly in gardens and on outer walls. Looking at the distribution maps for the UK on the National Biodiversity Network Gateway this is not a particularly wide spread species but it does appear to like South Wales.


I'd better not tell the girlfriend as she is not a fan of spiders at the best of times, let alone one with with such huge legs.

Common Lizard, Whooper Swan at Porthmadog and more from North Wales

I spent this past weekend up in North Wales on the Llyn Peninsular making a long overdue visit to a family friend who is also the current custodian of my 1962 Reliant Regal. On the journey up from Swansea we stopped off at the Dyfi Osprey project to catch up on the Ospreys progress. As usual we were very lucky and had an excellent view of one of the pair sat on the pole at the nest, with the other bird just out of view in the nest itself. This year was another non-breeding one as far as I am aware but surely it can only be a matter of time. The nearby feeders were packed with Chaffinches as well as a couple of juvenile Siskin, one of which was being fed by an adult. With the exception of a couple of Coal Tits and a Greenfinch things were relatively quiet. We walked out onto the board walk that comprises the rest of the reserve and were quickly greeted by a very fresh juvenile Chiffchaff. It unfortunately looks like we were too late to catch the masses of warblers that breed here as the reeds were silent. Typical really when you consider that our first visit earlier in the year was too early for the warblers! I must try harder next year as it looks like a cracking location to get some good photographs. I can't be too disappointed though as there were lots of Common Lizards out sunning themselves on the path allowing some good macro shots. Interestingly if you look at the pictures below you will see that both individuals have lost their tails. In fact I didn't see a single complete lizard anywhere.

22347 - Common Lizard

22344 - Common Lizard

There were plenty of butterflies flitting around including this Speckled Wood.

22343 - Speckled Wood butterfly

The next day we were in North Wales proper and it was great to be back in the big country. A walk around Beddgelert was the plan of action for the day which despite the ever present risk of rain turned out to be mainly dry. We saw a good number of Buzzards and Ravens as well as a couple of Dipper on the river through the village. Birds were very much secondary though to the stunning scenery.

22350 - Bedgellert

Sunday came all too quickly and it was once again time to head back South. Before going our separate ways we spent an hour walking along the cob in Porthmadog. The estuary held numerous Redshank and Curlew as well as a couple of Black Tailed Godwits and Oystercatcher. At the far end though we stumbled upon the unexpected in the form of a couple of Whooper Swans.

22359 - Whooper Swan, Porthmadog

22360 - Whooper Swan, Porthmadog

The swans were clearly a pair and stayed close together at all times. These birds seem quite early for winter visitors so I wonder if they have spent the whole summer in the area. I did notice that one had a pretty seriously damaged wing which could add weight to this theory. Despite the injury the bird looked well and was feeding and behaving normally. Even if it is stuck in Porthmadog I doubt there is any risk to its survival. If anyone can shed any light on their presence I would love to hear from you.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Wernfrwdd Osprey and Blackpill waders

I have managed a couple of evening outings during the course of this week, and it would appear that autumn is definitely on the way. The nights are drawing in earlier than they have been by a good half an hour if not more, and the birds on offer also seem to be changing.

On Tuesday we headed down to Blackpill on the Swansea seafront to check out the high tide roost. We slightly misjudged the timings and instead got to watch the aftermath as the waters began to recede. The wader numbers were down as a result but we did get to see thirty or so Ringed Plovers (they seem to be doing well around Gower this year), fifty plus Dunlin, a single Turnstone and at least two Sanderlings. These are the first Sanderlings of the year for me and as a winter visitor represent another sign of the changing of the seasons. We were also treated to a superb sunset/moonrise over Swansea Bay that turned everything a pale pink.

22336 -  Moonrise at Blackpill, Swansea

Wednesday was another stunning evening and after a report on the Glamorgan Bird Club sightings page we were off to Wernfrwdd on Gower to look for the first autumn Osprey of the year. These regularly pop up at this time of the year along the Burry Inlet and seem to favour the wooden posts in front of Whiteford Point. A quick scan with the bins and I was quickly onto the bird. It was at some distance but its bulk, shape and behaviour were unmistakeable. I still find it amazing to see these birds in the UK. The sunset wasn't too bad either.

22340 - Sunset over Whiteford Point, Gower

There have been several reports locally of other autumn migrations starting so I think it''s time to get out and do some more serious bird watching for a change.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Masked Crab and Hermit Crab on Rhossili Beach

The day after returning from Newquay I found myself back on familiar ground at Rhossili beach on the Gower Peninsular. My girlfriends parents were down for the weekend which actually coincided with a rare bit of good weather. Not going to the beach would have been plain rude and I wanted to remind myself that a beach did not have to be full of holiday makers as had seemed the case in Cornwall. I was wrong on the people front as the beach was by far the busiest I have ever seen it. Despite this a large flock of thirty or so Ringed Plovers were feeding on the sand towards Burry Holms along with a solitary Oystercatcher. I was very surprised to first hear and then see three Black Tailed Godwits flying overhead. This is the first time that I have seen this species at Rhossili but it makes sense given their prosperity along the Burry Inlet.

The purpose of this post though is to focus on two species of crabs that we pretty much tripped over while walking the sands. The first is a Hermit Crab that we spotted in a small rock pool in the gap between Burry Holms and the mainland. Ever since I was a child this has always been the most fascinating crab to me purely due to the way that it lives in the discarded shells of other sea creatures. I don't get to see them half as often as I would like so this one was a real privilege.

Is that just a shell?

22316 - Hermit Crab, Rhossili, Gower

Hello who is this peeking out?

22317 - Hermit Crab, Rhossili, Gower

A little bit more on show.

22319 - Hermit Crab, Rhossili, Gower

My what big claws you have!

22326 - Hermit Crab, Rhossili, Gower

The second crab represents the first time that I have ever found this species alive after seeing a couple of individuals washed up on this beach in the past. The crab in question is a Masked Crab which normally hides itself by burrowing backwards into the sand. Its antennae have been specially adapted to form a tube which allows the crab to breath when underground. This one had just emerged from the sand and is still coated in tiny sand particles.

22330 - Masked Crab, Rhossili, Gower

PS: I have just found out that there are at least fifteen different types of Hermit Crab around the UK. Why can't things ever be simple? Still variety is what makes the natural world so fascinating.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Newquay wildlife - Dark Bush Cricket and Butterflies

Rather fortuitously the campsite that we were staying at in Newquay had a nature walk that ran past a couple of small landscaped ponds and across a large meadow. Normally these sorts of nature walks translate into somewhere for dog owners to walk their pets without fear of needing to clear up after them, and unfortunately this one was no different. What was different however was the presence of lots of wildlife. Apart from many of the bird species mentioned in the previous post there were also several types of butterfly feeding on what remained of various flowering plants. Butterflies are not really my strong point when it comes to identification or taking photos of them, but with a bit of luck I was able to capture three different species within an area of only a couple of square meters. Not photographed but also seen were Common Blue and Small White.

22284 - Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly
Small Tortoiseshell

22280 - Red Admiral Butterfly
Red Admiral

22281 - Peacock Butterfly
Peacock

Butterflies were not the only other type of wildlife on offer at the campsite as we found out throughout our stay. As darkness fell we were literally inundated with Rabbits as they emerged from the hedgerows and on more than one occasion we lost food to some unknown intruder. Things got even better when we took the tents down to find a large frog nestled under the groundsheet before an enormous Cricket gave me the fright of my life. I have never seen a Cricket in the UK before but quickly realised that this was something different. Apart from the long antennae that set it apart from normal grasshoppers this individual had a bright yellow underneath! It seemed rather dazed by events which meant that I could get a couple of pictures before it hopped off for freedom. A quick bit of internet research had it identified as a Dark Bush Cricket.

22314 - Dark Bush Cricket

22313 - Dark Bush Cricket

It's a bit worrying to think that I had been sharing my sleeping area for the past week with these creatures but I imagine that they were more concerned at my presence than I was at theirs.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Newquay birds - and my first Kestrel pictures

As you can probably gather from the fact that there is a new post up on this blog, I am now back from a thoroughly enjoyable week away in sunny Cornwall. I say sunny but what I mean is wet and windy bar one gorgeous blue sky afternoon. The weather failed to put a dampener on proceedings as good company and a shared but warped sense of humor meant that the week just flew past. This holiday was not intended to be a wildlife watching one but that didn't stop me from taking a few photographs as I usually had my camera with me. Despite it making me look like the typical tourist around town I do not regret it one little bit as while most of the group were playing in the sea I managed to get my first ever pictures of a Kestrel. This is a species that I have come so close to capturing on numerous occasions but usually during late evening when there hasn't been enough light for my camera to cope. This time however I found that I had all of the light in the world and with a Kestrel hovering directly overhead I was going to find it hard to fail!

22299 - Kestrel, Newquay

22298 - Kestrel, Newquay

Don't let that blue sky fool you as I can assure you the rest of the pictures on this post were taken under much darker conditions. The cafe on Fistral Beach provided an ideal opportunity to capture this juvenile Starling...

22264 - Starling, Newquay

..... while Newquay Beach itself held a good number and variety of gulls. I took the opportunity to capture a Great Black Backed Gull as I usually only see these at some distance, as well as a juvenile gull that I have not yet managed to ID. Juvenile gulls are not really my strong point so if you have any idea what it is then please let me know in the comments below.

22273 - Great Black Backed Gull, Newquay

22274 - Immature Gull, Newquay Beach

Another of my favourite species (they have to be really given how many of them invade my back garden) was this Jackdaw at Newquay Zoo. Being so used to seeing people this particular individual was very tame allowing me to get a very nice head shot.

22289 - Jackdaw, Newquay

Other birds seen over the week included numerous fat Wood Pigeons at the campsite as well as Goldfinch, Magpie, Rook and Carrion Crow. A few small flocks of Starlings were making a very good living as scavengers around the towns streets, often darting around your feet as you walked. The sea cliffs offered several Fulmars and a single juvenile Wheatear. The best sighting though (apart from the Kestrel above obviously) was a group of Gannets that were fishing in Newquay bay. From my elevated position I was able to watch them soaring and gliding before diving into the water at ridiculous speed. You can not fail to be impressed by their agility and size especially when combined with what must be one of the most exciting feeding methods in the bird world. I certainly wasn't.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Penclawdd Sunset - a fitting farewell

After writing the last post I looked out of the window to see that a slight mist was beginning to form over the Burry Inlet and realised that a decent sunset was on the cards. A quick dash over to Penclawdd and we were in a prime position to watch the sun go down on another glorious weekend. The mist unfortunately cleared before the sun had got low enough in the sky to make use of it, but the view was just as impressive.

22258 - Sunset at Penclawdd

22260 - Sunset at Penclawdd

I hope to get some more sunset pictures whilst down in Cornwall if the weather plays ball. The rest of Wales is rather getting in the way at the moment when it comes to catching the sun setting over the sea!

Burry Port - Terntastic!

During the last week I have made a couple of visits to Burry Port to see how the Terns that roost there are fairing. My first trip was on Wednesday after work and happened to coincide with an outing by the Carmarthenshire Bird Club to the same location. They were a very nice bunch indeed and didn't seem to mind that I had tagged onto their group in the hope of spotting something unusual. I spent most of the evening talking to David and recommend checking out his site at wildlifewales.co.uk.

22254 - Late evening at Burry Port

The tide was exceptionally high which helped in pushing the birds as close to us as possible. The Sandwich Terns were out in force with eighty or so individuals while the regular flock of Oystercatchers numbered well over a thousand. Two of the Sandwich Terns appeared to be exceptionally young, still having large swathes of brown in their plumage. Even more exciting was the presence of four Common Terns, a first for me at this location and one of the few times that I have been able to positively identify this species from the very similar Arctic Tern. It does help when they are sat still on the ground as opposed to swooping through the air. Other waders included five Dunlin and four Ringed Plovers. All of the usual gulls were present and I was able to spot at least four Mediterranean Gulls in amongst the masses. I should also mention the male Peregrine Falcon that put all of the birds into the air before flying overhead giving us superb views.

I popped back again this morning to find that the numbers of Terns had grown to even more impressive levels. The group of Sandwich Terns now runs to over two hundred individuals, with at least twenty Common Terns also present. Unusual for this area was a single Shag sat on the sand bank. A short drive further along the coast put us at Kidwelly Quay, another prime marsh area particularly when water levels are high. On the near bank of the River were two Common Sandpipers, twenty or so Redshank and a couple of Little Egrets. A scan upriver found two Greenshank hiding under the railway bridge. As the tide retreated the birds began to move downstream and onto the newly uncovered mud. A very impressive group of eighty or so Curlew managed to disrupt the peace while six Black Tailed Godwits still in summer plumage were a very pleasant surprise. I was also pleased to find that after a break of a couple of months I was still able to identify a few Whimbrel.

From tomorrow I will be down in the sunny (hopefully) county of Cornwall for a week camping with some very good friends. I hope to get some photography and walking in and will post anything interesting that I see up here on my return. In the mean time feel free to follow my twitter feed if you want to stalk me further.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

More to Mumbles Head than meets the eye!

It's time for a rather belated update covering our afternoon activities following the visit to the Kittiwake colony in the last post. For the first time ever I found myself at Mumbles just as the tide was starting to get low enough to uncover the rocks between the mainland and the furthest island where the lighthouse sits. I have always wanted to get over there to explore the WW2 remnants as they look fascinating and quite extensive from my somewhat distant views. As it turns out they were even better than I had expected with a sunken railway, a new shipwreck and plenty of structures to walk around. I shall leave that for another post however and focus on the wildlife here instead. I am not afraid to admit that the very first time I visited Mumbles I was less than impressed and very nearly wrote it off as somewhere I would not return to. Regular readers will realise that this has been far from the case recently with the area proving to be one of the best for pretty much guaranteed bird photography. This visit was to be no different.

Being out on the rocks allowed me to get a slightly different view of the Kittiwakes showing how extensive the colony is. The photograph below is a panorama made from three shots and shows the opposite side to the one I usually view. These birds are usually out of sight as the wooden decking on the pier has completely rotted away making access impossible.

22192

As we headed further out to the lighthouse there were several Herring Gulls which proved to be unusually tame. Unless in a car park these birds are often in the air as soon as you approach so getting a couple of behavioural shots in a natural setting was very nice indeed.

22206

Also on the rocks was a group of twenty or so Turnstones. These are another regular fixture in the area and I have spent many hours being given the run around by them as I try to approach within range.

22243 - Turnstone, Mumbles Head

On the outer head, despite the relatively strong wind that had picked up, there were several species of butterfly on the wing. One that particularly caught my eye was this pristine Common Blue. It was very obliging and allowed me to get shots of both its upper and under wings.

22236 - Common Blue butterfly 22234 - Common Blue butterfly

I have saved the best for last though as on our return trip from the island we noticed that the Herring Gulls were being more argumentative than usual. The reason quickly became clear as an adult bird flew overhead with a huge Starfish in its beak! A quick scan across the water revealed that the gulls were sticking their heads beneath the surface and coming back up with masses of starfish. I have never seen this behaviour before and prior to today hadn't even seen a Starfish in the area. I spotted a juvenile bird close by and got the following series of shots as it devoured its latest catch. I have no idea what they taste like but the birds certainly weren't bothering with any chewing. It was very much a case of down the hatch in one gulp, despite the Starfish's best efforts to keep themselves rigid with legs outstretched.

22246 - Herring Gull eating Starfish

22247 - Herring Gull eating Starfish

22248 - Herring Gull eating Starfish

Inevitably this abundance of food caused several disputes to break out. Each bird that came up from under the water with a fresh catch found itself very quickly mobbed by the rest of the group. The two below were so engrossed in their tug of war that they were oblivious to the goings on around them. I think the third bird is just waiting until the others tire themselves out so that it can nip in and take the prize.

22252 - Herring Gull eating Starfish

Also in the area were three Ravens soaring over Bracelet Bay.

Monday, 2 August 2010

It's those Mumbles Kitttiwakes again....

And I'm going to make no apology for featuring them once again on this blog as I think they are absolutely fantastic. To be able to get so close and observe their natural behaviour throughout the breeding season is a very rare thing indeed. It has been about three weeks since my last visit and the chicks are now well advanced with many able to fly. This doesn't mean that their parents are having an easier time of it as the chicks also seem to have found their vocal chords and are getting plenty of practice in while they can.

22181 - Mumbles pier Kittiwakes

I am happy to report that the original pair of chicks from my first visit have both survived as can be seen below.

22178 - Mumbles pier Kittiwakes

One of them at least can also fly, which left his friend looking rather lost.

22182 - Mumbles pier Kittiwakes

In all gull colonies the relationships between neighboring birds always seem to be on a knife edge and the birds on Mumbles pier are no different. Every time an adult bird landed a chorus of shrieks went up. Interestingly there was also a bit of bullying going on among a set of three siblings. The middle bird was regularly pecking in a vicious manner at the neck of the front bird who exhibited little to no reaction. I presume this was an attempt to assert dominance to get first dibs on any food but I would have thought that they had moved past this sort of behaviour by now.

22156 - Mumbles pier Kittiwakes

Many of the chicks were still begging for food from their parents who seemed much more reluctant to provide than on previous occasions. I imagine that we must be getting very close to the period where they have to fend for themselves so that is understandable. I did manage to catch one incidence of feeding absolutely perfectly. Zoom in on the picture below if you want to see a Kittiwake regurgitating food in far too much detail.

22162 - Mumbles pier Kittiwakes

I had great difficulty choosing pictures for this entry as I have so many that I would love to share. For your sanity (and mine - uploading is not the best on my internet connection) I shall leave you with just a couple more of my favourites. I hope you like them.

22165 - Mumbles pier Kittiwakes
22187 - Mumbles pier Kittiwakes
22160 - Mumbles pier Kittiwakes 22169 - Mumbles pier Kittiwakes

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Pen Y Fan - I've got your number!

Yesterday was one of those days where I ticked off something that should be on the to do list of every South Wales resident. I am of course talking about conquering the peak of Pen y Fan in the Brecon Beacons, the highest point south of the Snowdonia mountain range. Mind you thats like saying my car is the most expensive car in its parking space. A rather pointless statistic but not something that should take away from the sheer beauty of the landscape at Pen y Fan. There are several routes to choose when ascending the mountain and we plumped for the most used path from a car park on the A470. I must admit that when I first read the words 'most used' it hadn't really fully prepared for me for just how popular this area is. The car park was absolutely packed with upwards of a hundred cars and a constant stream of people could be seen snaking their way up the steep slope. The path itself was wide and often stone paved in an attempt to reduce the massive amounts of soil erosion that is inflicted upon the environment every year by the thousands of visitors. The walk up was relatively easy with a few brief pauses to catch our breath. The landscape was typical welsh moor and absolutely packed with singing Meadow Pipits and the odd Raven. It wasn't until we reached an area just below Corn Du (the last peak before Pen y Fan) that the vista changed dramatically with a near vertical drop of several hundred meters and precipices all around. It is the first time in a while that I have been genuinely taken aback by a piece of scenery. The view before me was completely different to anything I have seen before and will stick with me for a good while.

22142 - Pen y Fan, Brecon Beacons

The views from Pen y Fan were equally impressive. We could see all the way back to Swansea and the Gower peninsular and what surely must have been the majority of mid Wales.

22147 - Pen y Fan, Brecon Beacons
22148 - Pen y Fan, Brecon Beacons 22146 - Pen y Fan, Brecon Beacons

We were relatively fortunate that the cloud base stayed above us as at one point it was almost upon our heads. Despite the well trodden path it should be remembered that a lack of preparation and a change in the weather can really put your life at risk. This is dangerous country as the local mountain rescue teams will surely testify. I therefore found it amazing to see people climbing in flip-flops and jeans with no visible sign of carrying any drink, food or waterproof protection. Still they had their hand bag and their i-pod blaring out so they obviously weren't concerned!

I highly recommend making the trip up yourself if you get the chance as it is well worth it.

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