Llanelli WWT - Ducklings, Gulls and Shanks

Wednesday, April 18, 2012 Adam Tilt 6 Comments


Remember our rather barren walk around the local WWT reserve at Llanelli recently? Well last Sunday couldn't have been more different. There are still a few winter residents around the place including four Wigeon on the NRA scrapes, but the vast majority of departed birds have more than been made up for by the influx of new arrivals. Nowhere was this more evident than in front of the Michael Powell Hide where we were treated to the best collection of waders that I've seen there for some time. Seventeen Redshank were quietly roosting on one of the two small islands but it was the lone Spotted Redshank that really caught our eye. I haven't found one of these for absolutely ages so it was a real treat. Alas it was feeding a fair distance from the hide so no photos, but one of the six Greenshank also present was very obliging and came as close as feasibly possible without actually leaving the water.

26932 - Greenshank, Llanelli WWT

Over at the British Steel Hide we dedicated more time than usual to the flock of Greylag Geese after reading that a couple of rarities had popped up amongst them in the last few weeks. Initially all looked normal but just as we were giving up hope a darker head appeared above a grassy bank. It took a while for the rest of the bird to follow but eventually we were rewarded with a cracking Pink Footed Goose. It was definitely a new site tick for me and probably my first pink footer outside of Norfolk. The quality birds continued to flow on the main pool where two Mediterranean Gulls were sat in the midst of one of the Black Headed Gull breeding colonies. These are now in full flow and their volume has reached an all new level. Although its hard to judge from the photo below, the small island shown is absolutely covered in nesting birds.

26934 - Gull Colony, Llanelli WWT

We had great fun watching the gulls squabble amongst themselves, particularly when an individuals amorous advances were being completely ignored by their chosen subject. I think we can all relate to that situation.

26933 - Black Headed Gulls, Llanelli WWT

It was not just the gulls that were feeling the love however with two broods of Mallards already wandering around the reserve. It never ceases to amaze me just how rapidly these little bundles of feathers are able to move across the water, though sometimes even that is not quick enough. From the Heron Wing Hide we witnessed a Crow pick up and devour one unfortunate duckling. The mother bravely led the rest of her family to the relatively safe confines of some reeds, but with another Crow perched atop them I don't think the outlook was particularly good. What with the Slow Worm in the last post and now this, my blog seems to have taken a rather sinister turn. To make up for it here's a whole bundle of cuteness.

26935 - Mallard Duckling, Llanelli WWT

With the weather being on the chilly side we weren't expecting to see many butterflies on the wing, so a couple of Orange-tips were rather nice. A Willow Warbler, two Blackcaps and a couple of Swallows summed up pretty well the spring migrants we've seen so far this year, but I'm quite surprised that I've not yet caught up with a House Martin. Judging by what I've been reading across twitter and the interwebs I'm not the only one to have noticed the somewhat tardy arrival of our hirundines. Fortunately our resident birds are as reliable as ever, with this Robin and Blackbird being particularly approachable.

26930 - Robin, Llanelli WWT

26937 - Blackbird, Llanelli WWT

Other notable sightings across the day included a gathering of 350 Black Tailed Godwits and 80 Knot in the Millennium Wetlands, as well as an overflying Peregrine Falcon that panicked almost every bird in sight up into the air. We also had another possible sighting of the Great White Egret but much like last time we just couldn't get a good enough view to be absolutely sure. Third time lucky?

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Jackdaw vs Slow Worm

Monday, April 16, 2012 Adam Tilt 7 Comments


Last week birding on patch was dominated by the continued arrival of spring migrants, as well as some very interesting behaviour from a few of our resident birds. After seeing my first Swallow of the year at Rhossili on Tuesday it was very nice to find one over Bryn-bach-Common the following day and again on Thursday, with presumably the same bird right over our house on Friday in the company of what looked to be a group of four females. My first Willow Warbler also turned up on Thursday along the slopes beneath Gopa Hill, announcing its presence with a lovely burst of song that was answered by another individual further up the valley. Chiffchaff numbers also continue to swell with one actually making it into our apple tree for a new garden tick.

26924 - Jackdaw

That unusual behaviour I spoke of came courtesy of the Jackdaw above. It has been a regular visitor to our garden for the last year or so and I believe may actually have been one of last seasons young. It is easily recognised by the distinctive white feather that shows prominently on one of its wings, but until Wednesday I had failed to catch it on camera. It only posed for a few moments before taking flight but our paths were to cross mere minutes later. This time it was sat high up in a tree with what looked to be a stick in its feet. However the stick was moving which I'm pretty sure isn't behaviour typically exhibited by a dead piece of wood. My first instinct was that it must be a Slow Worm, something which was proved without a shadow of a doubt when 'the stick' managed to wrestle itself free and drop to the ground, very nearly landing on our heads in the process.

26926 - Slow Worm

At this point we found ourselves in one of those conundrums that the natural world often presents. Do we try and rescue the Slow Worm or let the Jackdaw feed? In the end we let nature take its course, took a few steps back and watched as the Jackdaw immediately dropped down to the ground and continued its battle. There was only ever going to be one victor in this mismatched pair and it didn't take long for the Slow Worm to fall limp and be carried off to its ultimate fate.

26927 - Jackdaw eating Slow Worm

On a slightly less gruesome note it appears that our occasional visiting Grey Heron is back in the area although I have yet to locate where it is feeding and roosting, although I have a suspicion that a few peoples ponds may be being plundered. Usually of an evening we have seen it slowly flapping over the house at very low altitudes, a position that really shows the huge size of these birds. The Red Kites and Buzzards have also been regular visitors while the noisy Lesser Black Backed Gulls that I've mentioned previously are still very much present. Its been most impressive to watch how high they can soar on the thermals over these past few days. Before I go I should also mention the superb singing male Siskin we discovered on patch. Despite its volume it was remarkably hard to locate, but what a stunner when we finally did. I only wish I'd managed to get the camera onto him in time.

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Rhossili Spring

Sunday, April 15, 2012 Adam Tilt 3 Comments


After the torrential downpour that was bank holiday Monday I was very happy to wake up the following morning to glorious sunshine. Fortunately for me I'd booked the day off work so headed down to Gower with the aim of walking the coast from Port Eynon to Oxwich. What I hadn't anticipated were the frankly extortionate car parking charges that are in place now that the tourist season has begun, so a quick change of plan found me instead at Rhossili. As a backup it's hard to fault.

26898 - Rhossili Beach, Gower

On my walk down the headland I was assaulted on all sides by bird calls, first from a Pied Wagtail atop the pub, then by singing Dunnocks and finally by the aggressive croaks of a territorial Raven. From past experience I've found that if you want to see the local residents of these cliff tops then its best to arrive early. Once the masses descend everything quickly goes into hiding, only emerging again in the early evening.

26897 - Pied Wagtail, Rhossili

26900 - Dunnock, Rhossili

26901 - Raven, Rhossili

Looking over to Worms Head it was clear that I was going to have to wait a while for the tide to drop sufficiently to expose the causeway and let me cross.

26903 - Worms Head, gower

While the forces of nature went through their cycles I spent my time exploring the gorse bushes above Fall Bay. A Stonechat carrying what looked to be a caterpillar in its beak was a sure sign that there is at least one hatched brood nearby, but there are likely to be several more with at least three pairs seemingly on territory.

26911 - Stonechat, Rhossili

A pair of Linnets were also in the vicinity and looked to be collecting nesting material. They seemed to be roaming widely across the whole slope so I have no idea where they may have actually been building but it was a very nice sight indeed. Remarkably they were also the first Linnets I have seen this year.

26905 - Linnet, Rhossili

A couple of other 2012 ticks were about to fall as my first Swallow of the year came racing in off the sea and promptly disappeared over the cliffs above me, soon followed by a brief glimpse of two white rumps dropping out of sight. At this time of year white rumps on small birds typically only mean one thing; Wheatears.

26907 - First Wheatear of 2012, Rhossili

Sure enough I rounded the corner to find the fantastic male Wheatear above. I just had chance for a quick record shot before it shot off up the cliffs. Eager as I was to get another view I climbed up after it, confident in the fact that the chances of me relocating it were pretty slim. Sometimes I hate being right but the expended energy was worth it for the sight of these two mating Black Oil Beetles.

26910 - Black Oil Beetles, Rhossili

By now the tide had dropped sufficiently to allow a first tentative crossing of the rocky causeway over to Worms Head, a trip that I was eager to be the first to complete. I had some competition from a couple of children on the way but after a daring leap across a water filled chasm that they could not traverse, victory was mine. I was swiftly rewarded by the sight of three Sandwich Terns flying in off the bay which then started to fish a few meters from where I stood. Of all our UK Tern species this is my favourite, so it was a real treat to get such great views.

26914 - Sandwich Tern, Rhossili

The main reason for my eagerness to be the first across was the hope that I could reach the basking Grey Seals before they'd had chance to be disturbed. In this I was successful and I got to spend a peaceful quarter of an hour with just them and me.

26916 - Grey Seal, Worms Head

The view looking out along the length of the Worm was as stunning as ever, and after a quick refuel I was back on my way.

26922 - Worms Head, Gower

At the very end, or as far as you can go during breeding season anyway, I plopped myself down on the ground and spent half an hour or so watching the sea. The air was absolutely crystal clear and the sea a dead calm meaning that I had clear views right out to the horizon. Gannets were passing by at the rate of one or two every five minutes whilst auks were far more regular. Given their small size I was only able to identify a couple as Guillemots. A trio of Fulmars on the other hand were much easier to pin down, but it looks like it is still a bit early for most of the birds to have arrived on the outer head. In a way that's great news as I have a perfect excuse for a return visit in the not too distant future.

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Lyme Regis - Fossil Ammonites and Belemnites

Saturday, April 14, 2012 Adam Tilt 3 Comments


I couldn't finish off my Dorset series of posts without the promised look at the numerous in situ fossils that can be found along the Jurassic coast. Walking west from Lyme Regis you soon arrive at several large expanses of flat rock that are absolutely rammed full of fossil Ammonites. It is an area rather aptly known as the Ammonite Graveyard and is one of the best places in the country to see these 250 million year old marine invertebrates. Sizes vary from only a few millimetres all the way up to a couple of foot across, so in some photos a rather handy pair of feet should give a good sense of scale.

24279 - Fossil Ammonite, Lyme Regis

24255 - Fossil Ammonite, Lyme Regis

24271 - Fossil Ammonite, Lyme Regis

24263 - Fossil Ammonite, Lyme Regis

24273 - Fossil Ammonite, Lyme Regis

Further along the coast at Seatown it is fossil Belemnites that are the most obvious with a hugely abundant layer being exposed on every retreating tide. Resembling bullets they were in fact squid-like animals, although all we see preserved today are their hard outer shells.

25872 - Fossil Belemnites, Seatown

26883 - Fossil Belemnite, Seatown

26884 - Fossil Belemnite, Seatown

Ammonites and Belemnites are only the very tip of the iceberg when it comes to the variety of fossils that can be found along the Jurassic coast. If you'd like to read up on what else is present then I highly recommend following this link. Be warned though, once you start hunting its not long before you become completely addicted.

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Lyme Regis - River Coly, Shield Bugs and Orange-tips

Friday, April 13, 2012 Adam Tilt 7 Comments


For our third and final day in Dorset we actually hopped over the border to Devon for a walk along the River Coly. We did the same thing during our visit last year and were rewarded with sightings of nesting Kingfishers and Sand Martins. With Easter being a few weeks earlier this time around we weren't expecting to see quite so much activity, so four Sand Martins back over their colony was a very welcome sight. As with everywhere else Chiffchaff numbers were very buoyant although they always seemed to find a way of hopping out of range just as I got the camera out. Another couple of male Blackcaps, two Treecreepers, several Goldfinch and a Grey Wagtail were all very nice finds, whilst a Little Egret and a Cormorant were on the unusual side given the small size of the river.

26894 - River Coly

One of the highlights of this walk is always the large number of butterflies that can be seen in the fields that border the river. Again numbers were lower than last year because of the earlier timing of our visit, but there were still plenty of Orange-tips and Speckled Woods on the wing. Orange Tips are a particular favourite of mine although they do have a habit of landing only occasionally. In the end I had to follow this one around the field for a good few minutes before it finally succumbed to the temptations of a Dandelion, a task made all the more difficult by the field being full of cows who seemed intent on charging around the place. Fortunately only one dash for safety was necessary.

26890 - Orange-tip, River Coly

26889 - Speckled Wood, River Coly

The only bird photos I managed to get during the day were of this Wren who was skulking through the undergrowth. Once again the low light performance of my new camera really came to the fore in a situation where previously I wouldn't have been able to take anything usable.

26893 - Wren, River Coly

On an even smaller scale we spotted a Green Shield Bug sat on a tree branch not far from the Wren above. It took a lot of research before I finally had it correctly identified mainly, as you can probably tell, because it isn't in fact green. Apparently this species turns brown when it goes into hibernation and once spring arrives its a couple of weeks before the green colour has been completely restored. Given this I presume the individual below had only recently emerged from its slumbers.

26895 - Green Shield Bug, River Coly

26896 - Green Shield Bug, River Coly

Although not something I normally photograph I couldn't help noticing some of the wild flowers that are now starting to come into bloom. Several fields were full of Cuckoo Flower while groups of wild Primroses seemed to be doing even better than the cultivated varieties in our garden back home.

26888 - Cuckoo Flower, River Coly

26892 - Primroses, River Coly

Bluebells were also just starting to flower as was the wild garlic which smelt absolutely fantastic. If you are in the area I highly recommend taking the walk yourself as it's only going to get better as the season progresses.

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Lyme Regis - Keep your friends close and your anemones closer

Thursday, April 12, 2012 Adam Tilt 8 Comments


On Saturday we woke early and by nine were already parked up in the small coastal village of Seatown in preparation for the days walk. Our destination was to be the top of Golden Cap, the tallest point on the south coast of England at 191 metres and a landmark that can be seen from miles around. Its name derives from the golden Greensand rock present at the very top of the cliffs which 'cap' the vegetation covered lower slopes. Unfortunately for us the weather was somewhat overcast but the steep climb up was brightened by two male Yellowhammers and a couple of calling Pheasants defending their territory. Much like at home the yaffling of Green Woodpeckers filled the air but it wasn't until we started to descend on the opposite side of the summit that we finally saw one. At the summit itself the views in every direction were spectacular with uninterrupted sight lines along much of the Jurassic coast. The panorama below is taken looking towards Weymouth with Portland stretching out to the right.

25851 - View from Golden Cap

From the top we continued to head west past the ruins of St Gabriels church and out onto the beach below, via what turned out to be a very steep set of steps. I have some great photos of Emma descending them but I fear my life would not be worth living if I were to put them up on here! The trees and scrub along the way were jammed full of Chiffchaffs, while out over the cliffs a Kestrel and two Ravens were patrolling the sky.

Our intention for the return leg was to walk back along the beach to Seatown in order to take in another of the areas fantastic fossil giving zones. The tide was still too high to reveal much of what we were after however so we took the opportunity for a spot of lunch. Despite the tidal range being relatively small in comparison to that which we experience at home, we could still visibly see the waters recede and it wasn't long before we were on our way again. This is the view looking east and shows Golden Cap on the far left.

26878 - Golden Cap

I'll cover the fossils in another post because what really captivated us on that return leg was the sheer variety of life in the recently exposed rock pools. Seaweeds of every shape and colour provided the backdrop against which tiny crabs were scuttling for safety and an unidentified army of worms could be seen sporadically ejecting salty water from their burrows into the air. One much larger crab made a dash for cover but after some hunting I found an angle from which it was visible.

25871 - Velvet Swimming Crab, Seatown

It is a Velvet Swimming Crab, so-called because of the fine velvety texture of its shell and its swimming prowess. Measuring up to 8cm across this is probably the largest crab I have ever seen in the UK and is definitely one of the most distinctive with those bright red eyes. It is also apparently quite an aggressive species and will attack almost anything that moves, something which we can certainly vouch for having placed a stick in the crabs vicinity and watched it being swiftly rebuked.

The next group of inhabitants we encountered were even more colourful and should be familiar to anyone who has ever explored rock pools. Sea Anemones were absolutely everywhere and resembled lumps of jelly where they had been left fully exposed by the retreating tide. Every now and then though we came across one still submerged such as this Beadlet Anemone.

25861 - Beadlet Anemone, Seatown

This species can come in either green, red or brown forms, but all display a distinctive ring of bright blue spots once the tentacles have been extended.

The second species we came across could be a contender for the most spectacular thing I have ever found in a rock pool. They are called Snake-locks Anemones and feature green tentacles with purple tips. Unlike the Beadlet Anemone these cannot retract their tentacles and so are not usually found out of water. On top of that they are also one of the few anemones whose stings have been known to effect humans.

26877 - Snake-locks Anemone, Seatown

25867 - Snake-locks Anemone, Seatown

25865 - Snake-locks Anemone, Seatown

There is also a brown variety of the Snake-locks Anemone which we found to be equally numerous along the beach. The reason for this colour difference is currently unclear but it is believed to be as a result of a lack of algae with which the green form has established a mutual symbiotic relationship. The algae living within the protection of the stinging tentacles produces sugars as a by product of its photosynthesis which the anemone digests, whilst the algae in turn uses the carbon dioxide produced as a waste product of the anemone in its photosynthesis. This relationship has developed to such an extent that the anemone actively seeks out bright places to help increase the algaes rate of photosynthesis and hence its own food supply.

25873 - Snake-locks Anemone, Seatown

Our final beach find was a Green Leaf Worm, a species I've not seen since finding one at Sker Point a couple of years ago. It wasn't in view for long before disappearing into a burrow.

25875 - Green Leaf Worm, Seatown

The cliffs above provided good entertainment throughout the day with a Peregrine Falcon screaming at us from its high perch being a particular highlight. We also relocated the pair of Ravens from earlier in the day along with the nest they were building. I certainly hope that it lasts the season as if the numerous small rock falls we witnessed are anything to go by that section of cliff is anything but stable.

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Lyme Regis - Birds, Dinosaurs and Banksy

Wednesday, April 11, 2012 Adam Tilt 6 Comments


Plummeting temperatures and the end of a fortnights glorious sunshine coincided perfectly last week with our first camping trip of the year. Our destination for the long Easter weekend was to be Lyme Regis on the Dorset coast, a location famed worldwide for its fossil giving cliffs and spectacular scenery. An entire room in our house stuffed with fossils is testament to just how productive the area can be, but on this occasion we were really after quality over quantity. Having found Ammonites, Belemnites and assorted shells in the past we were really hoping for a genuine piece of dinosaur this time, a feat that we remarkably achieved only a few hours after arrival.

25829 - Camping, Lyme Regis

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The first challenge of the holiday was to erect the tent which after almost a year since our last camping trip I was not particularly looking forward to. As it turned out we hit upon the perfect sequence of moves and it was up in no time, though the presence of rocks a few inches below the surface means that some new tent pegs are definitely in order. After getting settled we walked the couple of miles into Lyme Regis and quickly got the impression that spring is definitely more advanced down south than here in Wales. Singing Chiffchaffs were absolutely everywhere and bravely competing with them was my first Blackcap of the year, a splendid male in full voice. We also spotted a pair of Nuthatches visiting a nest box and watched a superb aerial display from a Sparrowhawk, but it was the butterflies that really grabbed our attention. Having only seen a single Small Tortoiseshell so far this year it was great to see a Peacock, Comma and this Speckled Wood all on the wing.

25830 - Speckled Wood, Lyme Regis

In the middle of Lyme Regis itself we stumbled across something rather unexpected in the shape of a new piece of Banksy artwork (or graffiti depending on your stance). Although it's not the normal subject matter for this blog I really liked it and it does feature a bird at its heart after all.

25831 - Banksy, Lyme Regis

Down on the seafront hoards of holiday makers were soaking up the sun, accompanied as always by the ever present Herring Gulls. As a result of their constant contact with people they have become incredibly tame which is great news for a photographer such as myself after some head shots. The first photo below is particularly pleasing as the gulls third transparent eyelid, also known as the nictitating membrane, is visible. This membrane has the dual purpose of both lubricating the eye and providing some extra protection whilst still retaining vision.

25839 - Herring Gull, Lyme Regis

25840 - Herring Gull, Lyme Regis

Nearby were several Feral Pigeons which although not the prettiest of birds I always find myself photographing. Part of this is down to the sheer variety in plumages that exist, but its mostly down to a sense of pity. They are almost universally unloved as a species, probably as a result of their urban residence and ability to produce copious quantities of droppings, and yet they seem to live very hard lives. For instance if you look closely this individual is missing at least one toe.

25836 - Feral Pigeon, Lyme Regis

Having traversed the crowds we made our way out under the cliffs and began searching for fossils. With so many people hunting during busy periods it's always unlikely that anything large will be found but there are often some very nice smaller finds lurking. That was indeed the case on this occasion with a very nice fossil oyster shell and a couple of well preserved Ammonites making it into our collection. It was on our way back though that I made my prize find. Sitting on top of the shale was what I believe is an Ichthyosaur vertebrae. To say that I am over the moon with it would be an understatement.

25850 - Ichthyosaur Vertebrae, Lyme Regis

The landscape below shows the beach to the west of Lyme Regis from roughly the point at which the vertebrae was found. The large sections of flat rock are known as an Ammonite graveyard and, as the name suggests, are full of fossil Ammonites that are either too large or too impractical to move. I will share some photos of them in a later post.

25842 - Lyme Regis

By now the day was drawing to a close so we made our way back towards town. With the crowds much reduced I took the opportunity to photograph the famous sloping harbour wall, star of at least one Hollywood film (French Lieutenant's Woman if you are interested).

25844 - Lyme Regis

It was along this very wall that we had our final treat of the day. A very tame Rock Pipit was hopping along the floor and benches looking for food, completely ignoring my presence in the process. Unfortunately for me it refused to remain still which in very dull conditions was proving challenging from a shutter speed perspective. In the end though I got a couple of shots that I am happy with.

25847 - Rock Pipit, Lyme Regis

25849 - Rock Pipit, Lyme Regis

While taking these I seemed to attract a little crowd of onlookers who seemed fascinated in what I was doing. Either that or they were laughing at me as I desperately tried to follow the Pipit along!

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