Foggy Glamorgan Heritage Coast

Friday, January 13, 2012 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


Last Sunday a thick sea fog was just starting to creep its way into our valley as we got up and ready for the day. By the time we'd set off from the mouth of the River Ogmore, on what was to be a brand new walk for us, the fog had been joined by a fine drizzle and visibility was poor at best. Following the coastal footpath the occasional Oystercatcher could be glimpsed down on the beach whilst out on the mill pond like waters of the sea Herring and Black Headed Gulls were about the only inhabitants. Through the murk it was just about possible to make out the impressive shape of the towering cliffs that make up this part of the Heritage Coast. Though they may look stable they are anything but, a fact that one static caravan park a couple of miles further south found out to its cost recently. Fortunately no one was hurt during that collapse but the owners have found their real estate significantly reduced.

25494 - Glamorgan Heritage Coast

After three miles or so we arrived at Dunraven, once the location of a palatial stately home that was, like many such properties locally, blown up in the 1960's due to a lack of funds to maintain them. I find it a crying shame that all that is left to see of that history and architecture are a few courses of bricks and the walled gardens, even those having lost their once grand majesty. In my mind even leaving the building to fall into ruin would have been a more fitting end, no doubt eventually allowing it to become as integral a part of our landscape as the numerous Welsh castles now are. The feel of the place is captured perfectly in a poem originally written by two visiting solicitors in 1875 and now displayed in the walled gardens.

25495 - Dunraven Poem
Dearly I love Dunraven Bay,
Under its cliffs by night or by day,
Near me the waves on the golden sand,
Roll widely in foam as they dash to the land.
At times it's so still, I fancy I hear,
Voices of lost ones, melodious and dear.
Even the drift wood seems to say,
Never forget life is ebbing away.

From Dunraven we headed inland and crossed the extensive common lands behind the village of Southerndown before dropping back into the Ogmore valley.

25496 - River Ogmore

The stretch of river from here to the coast contains a curious blend of traditional river and coastal birds, and can almost be guaranteed to throw up the odd surprise or two. This visit was no exception with a tame Dunlin on the near bank as well as four female Goosanders. Three Grey Wagtails were a very nice find after a pretty barren 2011 for the species which totalled just two birds, one of which was seen half way up Cadair Idris of all places. The highlight as always at this time of year though were the Goldeneye, with thirty two birds seen split between two separate flocks. As I have come to expect they were very wary of people walking past but we still got to witness some classic courtship behaviour including the ever impressive act whereby the males violently throw their heads backwards. I tried to take a few photos and video clips but it was way too dark to get anything usable. The fog that had once hinted at lifting had descended like a heavy quilt and the wind was starting to pick up, so we took our cue and headed back to the car. Despite the weather it had been a very enjoyable walk and we shall have to return one sunny day to fully appreciate the cliffs in all their glory, and to photograph those Goldeneye of course.

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Let's Go Fly a (Red) Kite

Saturday, January 07, 2012 Adam Tilt 4 Comments


I was stuck running errands this morning (yay haircut) but managed to get some good birding in with a Raven flying over the back lane as soon as I got up accompanied by the haunting calls of an unseen Buzzard. Even just driving through Pontlliw I spotted a trio of Red Kites circling above their usual fields on the village outskirts. Eventually though I was free and headed up to my local patch for the first time this year. Unsurprisingly conditions were somewhat muddy given our recent run of weather but between picking my footings I looked up to see one of the local Jays flitting through the trees. Interestingly this area used to be a real stronghold for Green Woodpeckers with Jays being something of a scarcity, but over the last twelve months or so their roles have been completely reversed to such an extent that I can't remember the last time I saw a Green Woodpecker on patch. Whether it's just a coincidence or there is some sort of competition going on I have no idea.

25490 - Yellow Brain Fungus

Up on Bryn-bach-Common much of the old bracken has now been mown flat to help improve grazing conditions but I was still able to find a few colonies of Yellow Brain Fungus (above) dotted around. On the bird front things were pretty quiet apart from a solitary Meadow Pipit and a large flock of Starlings until three Ravens turned up harassing a Red Kite. They were only in the area for a few minutes before going their separate ways and once more I was alone. It was only as I was nearing home that the Red Kite reappeared, this time accompanied by five of its nearest and dearest! We've been treated to four Kites in the same place previously but this was something really extra special as I watched them soaring upwards on the thermals.

25493 - Red Kites

Late afternoon we headed over to Kidwelly Quay where we hoped to connect with a Firecrest that has been hanging about near the sewage works for the last week or so. After much peering into bushes we had to admit defeat but the hunt did turn up a Green Sandpiper in the nearby flooded field as well as a male and female Reed Bunting. It was also great fun watching the Magpies leap the rotating arms of the sewage tanks each time they passed by, never taking their eyes of the flies that were to be their dinner. On the tidal river itself a few more species made it onto the year list including Greenshank and Common Gull, but the real treat was simply watching the large flocks of Lapwing, Teal, Curlew and Redshank move past on the rising tide.

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Sunny Slimbridge

Friday, January 06, 2012 Adam Tilt 7 Comments


On Tuesday we made the trip across the border to the WWT's flagship Slimbridge reserve. After driving through biblical hail storms it was a welcome relief to arrive in glorious sunshine, accompanied of course by the usual drop in temperature that seems to plague every one of our visits there. We clearly weren't the only ones hoping to make the most of the last days holiday as despite arriving well before opening time there was already a queue forming at the entrance doors. We kitted ourselves out and joined what turned into a short but productive wait, picking out a couple of Redpoll in nearby shrubs and a trio of overflying Bewicks Swans as we did so.

25457 - Slimbridge

Once inside we had an hour or so to spend exploring before my parents arrived to join us for the day. For me there was only one clear target that I had in mind; a female Lesser Scaup who had given us the slip on the same date last year and which had recently returned to the exact same pool. To the delight of my chilled fingers the hide overlooking said pool is heated and had already attracted quite a few birders, a couple of which clearly had the same quarry in mind as ourselves. After a few minutes of scanning through the very similar looking Tufted Ducks we both spotted a likely looking candidate at the same time, though a turn of the head quickly revealed a prominent head tuft that emphatically ruled it out of the reckoning. Fortunately a warden chose that moment to pop his head in and mention that the Lesser Scaup had been seen a little further into the reserve, so off we went before it had chance to relocate. The view that greeted us was the one above; green grass, crystal clear blue skies and thousands upon thousands of feeding birds. In the foreground more Tufted Ducks as well as several Pochards were busy feeding around a sleeping bird that after a great deal of interrogation turned out to be the Lesser Scaup herself (I freely admit to being a bit of a novice when it comes to the identification of female Scaup). Although her beak was hidden under her wing there was just enough on show to allow the white patch around it to be seen, which when combined with the lack of tuft and brown colouration sealed the deal for us. It may have taken exactly twelve months but we finally had our bird.

25477 - Moorhen, Slimbridge
Moorhen
By now my parents had arrived and during the brief time that we stepped out of the hide to meet them the Scaup did another of its great disappearing acts. Equally annoying was the fact that the White Fronted Geese which had been feeding on the grass had also debunked. Fortunately we relocated them from the Holden Tower along with a hundred of so Barnacle Geese and the resident Greylags. Of all the Geese species White Fronted have always tried to evade me with only sporadic sightings across the years I've been in the hobby, which is such a shame as they are cracking birds. To my surprise it turned out to be a new life tick for my Dad, and we almost manged to add a Greenland White Fronted Goose as well but I just couldn't decide after looking at one particularly streaky individual for a while. From the same vantage point we had commanding views over the huge gatherings of Golden Plover, Dunlin and Lapwing which were being particularly mobile during the morning hours. Each time the massive flocks took to the air we scanned around for a predator but drew a blank, the only candidate being a Peregrine Falcon who seemed happy to watch the day go by from its perch on a sand bank in the middle of the River Severn.

25469 - Greylag Goose, Slimbridge
Greylag Goose

25468- Greylag Goose, Slimbridge
Greylag Goose
Away from the grazing fields the formal pools that hold the reserves captive collection of world wildfowl were also brimming with wild birds that were taking advantage of the easy supply of food. Shelducks in particular were present in large numbers and were filling the air with their distinctive whistling call.

25483 - Shellduck, Slimbridge
Shelduck

25464 - Pochard, Slimbridge
Pochard
Black Headed Gulls were similarly making the most of visitors generosity, with each handful of thrown seed resulting in a riot of noise and flapping wings. Whilst awaiting their next free meal the gulls have become so tame that it's hard not to get in close for some nice portraits.

25485 - Black Headed Gull, Slimbridge

25474 - Black Headed Gull, Slimbridge

Similarly tame are the Wood Pigeons which I'm sure look plumper than those we get locally. Perhaps the symptoms of an easy life? Whatever the cause of their expanding waistlines it seemed like every post or tree had at least one perched upon it, but a few couldn't even be bothered with that and were just sat at random on the ground. Believe me when I say the onus is definitely on the humans to walk around them, not the other way around.

25461 - Wood Pigeon, Slimbridge

25472 - Wood Pigeon, Slimbridge

The day delivered several other quality birds throughout including a distant Ruff, male and female Reed Buntings and an always welcome male Pheasant. We did spend twenty minutes or so waiting for the appearance of a Bittern but decided not to wait any longer due to the limited number of daylight hours we had available but mainly because of the bitingly cold wind that was blasting through the hide. Our effort was not in vain however as we were treated to a Water Rail running in and out of cover along a flooded ditch. All in all a very good start to 2012.

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A Buggy Start to the New Year

Sunday, January 01, 2012 Adam Tilt 5 Comments


2012 got off to a bug filled start this morning. First my iPhone alarm clock failed to wake us due to yet another software issue, then we discovered an unexpected visitor in the kitchen. I shall leave the failings of Apple's development team aside and instead concentrate on our new companion which after a bit of research turned out to be a Hawthorn Shield Bug (Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale).

25451 - Hawthorn Shield Bug

The Hawthorn Shield Bug is the largest of the UK shield bugs and can grow up to 17mm long. As its name and colouration suggests it is particularly fond of Hawthorn but can also be found widely on other shrubs such as Rowan and Cotoneaster. As we have planted examples of all three species in our garden over the last couple of years I'd like to think that our actions have helped to attract this little beauty in. Interestingly all of the literature that I have read suggests that from late autumn onwards the Hawthorn Shield Bug should be in hibernation to help it survive the winter. Now quite clearly we are well past autumn at this point in time which makes me wonder if this individuals appearance is just another example of how the mild winter is effecting our wildlife. After seeing a Crow carrying nesting material today it certainly wouldn't be the first.

***** 

It has become something of a tradition for us in recent years to spend new years day at the local WWT reserve taking part in their annual tick and twitch event. Put simply it is a great way to kick start a new birding year whilst throwing in a bit of friendly competition as to who can spot the highest number of species. In the past cold conditions have generally produced the best results but the entrance feeders were still packed upon our arrival despite double digit temperatures. Blue Tits, Great Tits, Bullfinches, Chaffinches and even the occasional Moorhen were taking their fill whilst out towards the estuary there seemed to be an almost constant movement of Cormorants downstream. With it being high tide the lagoon in front of the British Steel Hide was packed with birds including 180 Wigeon and 750 Lapwing along with a smattering of Redshank, Little Egret, Teal, Gadwall, yet more Cormorants and the four common Gull species. In the background the Burry Inlet delivered my personal bird of the day in the shape of a Slavonian Grebe, a species that I'd normally expect to have to work a lot harder to see.

Behind the hide a Sparrowhawk was showing very well as it first alighted on a fence post and then set about disturbing the assembled flocks. We saw what I assume was the same bird later in the day causing yet more havoc as it shot through the feeder area though on that occasion its efforts were unsuccessful. Black Tailed Godwit and Curlew were added in quick succession before we embarked on a run of good fortune with birds that you may not necessarily associate with a wetland reserve. Goldcrest, Long Tailed Tit, Treecreeper, Wood Pigeon, Redwing, Song Thrush, Wren, Dunnock and Collared Dove were all found around the ornamental pools before it was time to move over to the Millennium Wetlands.

25454 - Wood Pigeon, Llanelli WWT

From the Heron Wing Hide I was very pleased to see that a couple of Pintail were back after their complete absence during my last visit, as was a Little Grebe that had been proving elusive across the rest of the reserve. The arrival of a particularly noisy party signalled that we should take our leave so we headed round to the Peter Scott Hide from which you get great views over several small islands that come the summer will be packed with breeding Black Headed Gulls. Today they were altogether quieter which probably explained the presence of seven Common Snipe amongst the roosting Mallards. I would have attempted a few photographs but the heavens chose that moment to deliver a prolonged and heavy downpour that made us glad to be undercover. Ironically the rain seemed to perk the Snipe up as they first started to preen and then hunt for food. One of the birds even swam across a section of open water which is the first time I have seen a Snipe exhibit such behaviour.

25455 - Yet more rain!!

After the storm had passed we were back out in the open and looking for Redpoll amongst the willows. Unfortunately we drew a blank but did find a small group of Goldfinch closely followed by a much larger group of Siskins, a bird I seemed to see very little of during the latter half of 2011. After that triumph it seemed that we really were exhausting what the reserve had to offer with only the calls of Water Rail and Cetti's Warbler creeping onto our list due to a relaxation in my strict must be seen to be counted rule. The day still had one last treat in store though with a single Chiffchaff bringing our final total up to a very respectable 58. With that good start in the bag let's see what the rest of the year can deliver.

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