Ducks, Hammers and Longer Days

Friday, February 28, 2014 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


It seems wrong to start the weekend with this blog headed by two articles on creatures which have sadly passed, so how about a male Pochard to remind us that there is still plenty of the living out there to see.

P1060905 - Pochard, Llanelli WWT

This accommodating individual kept us company during an hours watch from the Peter Scott hide at Llanelli WWT along with another six of his compatriots, and while a total of seven Pochard may not sound that impressive it represents a very decent count for the species locally. Indeed the whole pool seemed to be packed with ducks, something I've been longing for all winter and which was topped off with a mighty count of fourteen Shoveller. Also present were Tufted Duck (15), Gadwall (6), Shelduck (6), Cormorant (11), Little Egret (4), Little Grebe (2), Black Tailed Godwit (1), Lapwing (2) and a small flock of Teal including one male with a perfectly white back of the head. I only managed a brief view as it landed before quickly swimming out of sight but that strange colouring stood out a mile and was certainly a new one on me. The most likely cause is partial leucism as with the Chaffinch we saw a couple of years ago at Langorse lake so keep an eye out if you happen to visit. I should also mention that the main reason for popping over on Sunday was in the hope of seeing a Bittern which has been putting in occasional appearances of late. Ever since moving here I've been trying to spot one of these elusive birds there but once again we were to leave empty handed. In a way that's probably for the best as what's life without a challenge anyway?

Bringing things bang up to date and today marked something of a significant moment in my nature calendar. For the first time this year I was able to leave work at a normal time and get out onto the patch before the sun had set. Words can't describe the benefit being able to do this has on ones soul and tonight's brief excursion came with the added bonus of four Yellowhammers beneath Cefn Drum. I first picked up the group by their calls as they flew overhead before alighting in a tree which I presume was to be their roost for the evening. Not only are these my first Yellowhammers of the year they also represent my largest single grouping for quite some while. Hopefully this signals a good year ahead for them, no doubt helped by having had such a mild winter.

P1060937 - Yellowhammers, Cefn Drum

On such an auspicious evening it was perhaps appropriate that the weather gods should finally have put down their battle axes and presented us with an evening of glorious sunshine. Even though there was a chill to the air the evocative pinkish glow cast by a setting sun reminded me that spring is just around the corner and with it comes another endless array of possibilities. Even the birds seemed attuned to the approaching change with a Buzzard climbing into the air only to dive steeply back down to earth time after time and at least three Pheasants calling noisily to each other across the valley. Let's hope for many more evenings such as this in the months ahead.

P1060940 - Sunset from Cefn Drum

38 Species / 39 Points

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Goose Barnacles, Cefn Sidan

Thursday, February 27, 2014 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


I was first made aware of Goose Barnacles back in 2009 through this somewhat alarmist article published in the Daily Mail: "The Revolting Dr Who monster that terrified tourists". As a headline it's hard to beat but the creature that washed ashore in Oxwich Bay that day was even curiouser still. What people had in fact stumbled across was a colony of Goose Barnacles, more typically associated with deep water though occasionally washed ashore following stormy weather. We've certainly had plenty of that lately and it's perhaps no surprise that our walk along Cefn Sidan at the weekend found two separate clumps of these natural wonders clinging to flotsam.

P1060917 - Goose Barnacle, Cefn Sidan

The buoy above represented the largest grouping though sadly we were too late to see the writhing mass reported in the press. These were most definitely ex-barnacles. Even so their fascinating structure was clear to see with long stalks topped by a structure remarkably similar to that of a Puffins beak. Out in open water the Barnacles feed by by moving those 'tentacles' around in an effort to catch plankton brought towards them on ocean currents, and as a result are often found on exposed coastlines. Unfortunately that choice of habitat was probably the downfall of these individuals though at least it gave us an excellent opportunity to study a rare visitor to our shores.

P1060919 - Goose Barnacle, Cefn Sidan

P1060928 - Goose Barnacle, Cefn Sidan

P1060932 - Goose Barnacle, Cefn Sidan

P1060925 - Goose Barnacle, Cefn Sidan

Those birders among you may be familiar with a certain legend which surrounds Goose Barnacles and their namesake the Barnacle Goose. The story goes that before migration was understood people struggled to explain the disappearance of Barnacle Geese from Europe each year and assumed that they had gone only to spontaneously reproduce several months later. Owing to the similarity in colour and shape to the Goose Barnacle it was deduced that one must come from the other and so a legend was born. There's a nice local connection here as well as it was Welsh monk Giraldus Cambrensis, born just along the coast in Manorbier, who first published and popularised this theory sometime around the end of the twelfth century. He wrote:
 “these birds are not flesh nor being born of the flesh for they are born at first like pieces of gum on logs of timber washed by the waves. Then enclosed in shells of a free form they hang by their beaks as if from the moss clinging to the wood and so at length in process of time obtaining a sure covering of feathers, they either dive off into the waters or fly away into free air. . . I have myself seen many times with my own eyes more than a thousand minute corpuscles of this kind of bird hanging to one log on the shore of the sea, enclosed in shells and already formed”.

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Seabird Wreck, Cefn Sidan

Monday, February 24, 2014 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


The loss of a single Guillemot on Saturday was saddening but it in no way prepared us for events on Cefn Sidan beach yesterday afternoon. What had started out as an isolated walk to enjoy the crashing waves turned into a research and rescue mission as we discovered hundreds of dead auks spread out over two miles of beach. Every ten to twenty meters seemed to uncover a new body, many of them clearly recent and with no visible signs of oiling or other injuries.

P1060909 - Dead Guillemot, Cefn Sidan

The cause of this tragedy is once again the fierce winter storms that have been at the centre of our regions life for the past couple of months. Out at sea rough conditions have made feeding nigh on impossible for these birds leaving them exhausted to the point where even if it was to calm down, the energy to hunt is simply not there. Sadly reports have been coming in from far and wide but it seems that this weekend has seen a peak in casualties being washed ashore locally. Though morbid there is research value in recording these events and with that in mind we diligently counted everything along a two mile stretch. The numbers were simply shocking.

Seabird Wreck, Cefn Sidan

Puffin (top left): 1
Razorbill (top right): 39
Kittiwake (bottom left): 5
Guillemot (bottom right): 36
Herring Gull: 2
Unidentified: 3

Trying to escape back to some normality it was pleasing to see that life was still continuing to hang on with flocks of Kittiwakes at the waters edge accompanied by several hundred Sanderling. As birds go it's hard to find another species that can bring a smile to the face quite as readily as these little bundles of energy rushing back and forth in the surf.

Unfortunately it wasn't long however before my eyes alighted on a Guillemot still alive but clearly in trouble. As we approached there was a feeble attempt to stand before the bird sat down and looked at us pitifully. Mindful of our failed efforts yesterday we put in a call to the RSPCA who promised to pass on our concerns to the local inspector. In truth I didn't expect anyone to come and we had to walk on feeling completely helpless, but a couple of hours later we received a call. The inspector had arrived and was asking for directions. Now those of you familiar with Cefn Sidan will know that it is a vast, flat expanse of sand but we did our best and left them to search. Another call shortly after wasn't the update we'd been hoping for however. It turned out that although they'd found the exhausted Guillemot it was too emaciated to save and had to be put down. Hearing that news felt, as silly as this may sound, very much like a personal bereavement as all afternoon we'd been thinking about the bird and hoping for its survival. All we have now is the slightly hollow consolation that we at least were able to end its suffering in as comfortable a manner as possible.

Beached Bird Survey 2014
As I touched on above this wreck is turning into a much larger event and is certainly the worst I've ever seen in the last decade or so of birding. It's got so bad the local sightings pages are starting to resemble more of an obituaries column than the usual stories of success and discovery. Collating these reports is the job of the Beached Bird Survey which runs every year coincidentally during the last weekend of February. Full details can be found here on the RSPB website and I strongly encourage you to to report your own findings to them. In the meantime all we can do is hope that the populations of these birds can recover and that conditions improve in time for the coming breeding season.

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Guillemot Trauma

Saturday, February 22, 2014 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


With just the morning free today there was only time for a short walk along the Llanelli foreshore before work once more beckoned. Luckily our visit had coincided with the high tide however allowing excellent views of the varied waterfowl still present along this stretch of coast. First up was a rather nice female Pintail on the Afon Lliedi with a Little Grebe and female Red-breasted Merganser further upstream. Prize find though was a female Goldeneye diving beneath the surface at rapid intervals, a species Emma had been eager to catch up with since my sighting of one last week. Around the corner and two small beaches bordering the Machnys development delivered two Curlew and a male and female pair of Red-breasted Mergansers out in the Burry. Closer to home I can't deny a brief moment of excitement at the sight of several small birds along the strand-line, though my hopes for Snow Buntings were quickly dashed. Instead we found at least five Reed Buntings feeding presumably on sand flies or something similar. Even stranger was to come however with the arrival of several Greenfinch (my first of the year) and a single Robin. Definitely not the sort of birds you'd typically associate with this type of habitat.

Towards the end of the second beach a large lump out on the rapidly expanding sands caught my attention. A quick check through the binoculars seemed to show a Guillemot sat down but surely that couldn't be right. Closer inspection confirmed that it was indeed a Guillemot and given its lethargic state it was clear that all was not well.

P1060894 - Guillemot, Llanelli

P1060888 - Guillemot, Llanelli

There have been numerous reports from across the south-west in recent days of seabirds being washed ashore due to the winters violent storms and it seemed that this poor individual was just the latest victim. Not entirely sure of what to do for the best (we couldn't catch it as the bird had already scarpered away on initial approach and we were a good distance from the car) Emma began to search for the RSPCA's phone number. While she did that I kept an eye on several dogs in the near vicinity but couldn't react quickly enough to stop one darting in and snatching up the Guillemot. Some encouragement with my foot managed to get the dog to drop its catch but sadly the damage had already been done and the bird died in front of us.

This sad spectacle was made all the worse by the response from the dogs owner. Despite Emma calling across he refused to quicken his pace or call back his dog and still did not move it away from us after several times of asking. Even worse was his reaction upon seeing our obvious displeasure at what had just unfolded. Instead of perhaps apologising or just moving on he stated that it was only a bird, and an injured one at that, so what did it matter? That kind of attitude is just typical of society these days and one that seems to be spreading at an alarming rate.  Another of the "If there's nothing in it for me then why should I bother" brigade. My only consolation is that when he did finally leave it was considerably more briskly than his approach so perhaps a degree of guilt had been stirred.

Since then I've been playing events back over in my mind and wondering if we took the correct course of action. Should we have just left nature to its own devices? Should I not have photographed the bird or approached at all? Should we have tried again to pick the bird up and take it to safety despite the stress this would have caused? In truth there's no way of knowing but I have now added the RSPCA number to my phone and will be better prepared in the future. A sad end to one of my favourite bird species but hopefully lessons have been learned for all involved.

Attempting to regain some of the lost joy from our day we continued along to the large pond at Careg-fach where we found a pleasing array of waterfowl comprising two Pochard, six Tufted Duck, two Gadwall and a smattering of Coot. Meanwhile the rocky shore opposite held a sizeable roost of at least 160 Ringed Plovers, a decent count for this stretch. Turning for home another couple of small Reed Bunting flocks were seen feeding on the beach, perhaps confirming that this is a regular activity for these birds, before we finished off with a final scan of the Afon Lliedi. One Little Egret and two more Gadwall had arrived along with a good count of Lesser-black Backed Gulls but sadly nothing out of the ordinary. All in all a pleasant walk though tarnished by the irresponsible actions of another.

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Fungi, Poo and Some Beauty - Patchwork Challenge 2014

Wednesday, February 19, 2014 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Despite a valiant effort this month I have so far failed to add to my Patchwork Challenge tally. Inclement weather has undoubtedly played its part with patch observations limited to the garden alone. One upside to this has been an increase in sightings for our sporadic flock of Long Tailed Tits with a maximum count of five being recorded early on Sunday. As usual they didn't stay around for long but were seen again on Monday at a similar time. We've also been observing more Lesser Black-backed Gulls, no doubt being blown up from the Loughor, and the Ravens have become a regular fixture as they patrol across neighbouring farmland. Fortunately these meagre offerings were finally subsidised with a good few hours of patch bashing on Saturday afternoon though the results were nothing to write home about. Strong winds have typically been the death knell for birds on the exposed hills around Cefn Drum and this outing was certainly to be no different. Gopa Hill only managed to deliver the usual woodland species with a pair of flyover Mistle Thrushes being a nice addition whilst one Meadow Pipit also passed overhead. Probably a resident rather than the start of any spring migration however.  Up on the Common last months surprise Snipe was nowhere to be seen despite even more suitable habitat having been created as a by-product of waterlogged fields. There was however plenty of Turkeytail fungi with this example showing a colour range I've not previously observed.

P1060851 - Turkeytail Fungi

Looking down into the valley finally kick-started our day with a Buzzard quartering the ground beneath us. Viewing these birds from above really does add an extra dimension and a brief spell of sun showed it off to great effect. A few minutes later and it was the turn of a trio of Red Kites to add some excitement, by far our highest count locally this year. I can't be sure if they were actually associating with each other or just happened to arrive at the same time but they quickly dispersed and went their separate ways. One bird did stay around the valley though offering me a good opportunity to finally photograph a patch bird (my Patchwork Challenge blogs were starting to feature more fungi than actual birds!). As the camera shutter closed I'd been vaguely aware that the Red Kite had lifted its feet though it wasn't until I viewed this image later that the reason became clear. All I can say is that I'm glad the bird wasn't right overhead!

P1060852 - Red Kite doing its business

The high level road allowed good views of the local Rook flock feeding in fields before it was time to drop down to the valley floor. Welsh Water have been making excellent progress here on the flood relief scheme for Pontarddulais though the new wetland has so far failed to attract anything. I still have hopes for this area though they may not be realised until final landscaping has been completed. In addition it's good to see that the Dipper habitat has been left intact so lets hope that they breed here again in the coming months. Saying that I haven't seen the adults for several months though they do seem to move further downstream during winter.

And now, as the saying goes, it's time for something completely different. Working in my office one night last week I heard rustling sounds coming from behind a bookcase. Fearing that some sort of rodent had managed to gain access I moved a couple of things to see what was there. To my surprise out popped a slightly groggy Small Tortoiseshell butterfly looking completely alien against the setting it now found itself in.

P1060848 - Small Tortoiseshell Hibernating

Undoubtedly this individual entered the house late last year in search of a suitable place to hibernate and has been here ever since. Presumably the heating and warmer ambient temperature finally woke it from its slumbers, perhaps a little earlier than would have been preferred. Clearly I couldn't leave it where it was so instead have taken it to a sheltered wood pile in the garden. After a few hours of resting it has since vanished so hopefully it has either crawled further into shelter or gone off in search of food. Whatever the outcome I shall officially class this as my first sign of spring, a season that has never before been quite so anticipated after such a dreadful winter.

37 Species / 38 Points 

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Ross's Gull, Aberavon

Sunday, February 16, 2014 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


The long staying Ross's Gull at Aberavon finally proved an irresistible pull yesterday afternoon resulting in our appearance at the Afan just after three. In blustery conditions the bulk of activity seemed to be concentrated around the river mouth itself with a selection of thirty or forty gulls in flight with as many again settled on the water. We set about scanning them all and quickly identified a significantly smaller individual which initially looked to be a prime candidate for our target. Unfortunately my experience with this species is nil and knowing that Little Gulls (superficially similar) have been numerous in the area I was wary of jumping to any premature conclusions. Lady luck was with us however as the bird in question proved very showy allowing ample opportunity for observation and a few record photos to be taken. Analysis of these showed a darker head and longer beak than I was expecting, both features more reminiscent of Little Gull than Ross's.

P1060872 - Little Gull, Aberavon

As our deliberations continued another birder arrived who helpfully gave us a few pointers as to what we were looking for. A white tail with small pointed centre appeared to be the most distinct characteristic and finally nailed the fate of our mystery bird above. As suspected it was a first winter Little Gull. A few minutes later and three more Little Gulls had joined the show in the shape of another first winter and two adults. All were feeding avidly across the length and breadth of the river mouth giving superb views, if a little distant. And that was was how things stayed for the next twenty minutes or so before Emma spotted something a little offshore. I was quickly onto it and thought I'd been able to pick out a pointed tail but could not be sure. However before better views could be obtained the bird flew strongly upstream and out of sight behind the dunes. A brisk relocation later and Emma again picked it up loafing about in the middle of the channel and we quickly had a positive identification, confirmed yet further by timely flight views.

Ross's Gull, Aberavon

The arrival of two more birders confirmed that Emma's initial suspicions had been correct as they'd also been able to pick up the Ross's Gull as it disappeared upstream. Plaudits were duly dispensed as we enjoyed further prolonged views of the Ross's before its next spell on the wing took it over a breakwater and out of sight.  Left in its wake were four very happy people who, if they were anything like me, were on a real high. The bird itself was not only very handsome but a personal lifer and another huge step forwards for our birding skills. The days of dismissing gull flocks out of hand are well behind us now and I look forward to the next rarity to grace our area. Even the weather must have felt the positive vibes as it treated us to some glorious late evening sunshine as we headed for home.

P1060878 - Watching the Ross's Gull

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Burry Port - Divers and Destruction

Friday, February 14, 2014 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


The astonishing and unprecedented series of Atlantic storms which have been battering Britain since January show no sign of abating with Wednesday seeing the most damaging weather system to date. Wind speeds were recorded at over ninety miles per hour at nearby Mumbles Head causing structural damage and yet more flooding across Wales and the south west of England. Fortunately we seem to have escaped the worst of it once again but at work I watched in a state of morbid fascination as the wind began to tear the roof off our neighbouring office building. In the end it managed to hold on but just across the road a large conifer fell crushing beneath it some unfortunate residents car. Needless to say opportunities to get outside have been limited with last weekend a total washout, so the appearance of some sun yesterday came as welcome relief. Unfortunately I was at work, as is often the case, but aren't these sort of situations exactly what annual leave was made for?

P1060805 - Burry Port

An hour later and I was walking towards a very windswept Burry Port and feeling all the better for it. Cool as conditions were it felt wonderful to be back out in the fresh air as I set about examining what is a substantially changed landscape from my last visit. As at Port Eynon relentless wave action has stripped the beach of much of its sand leaving clay substrate exposed over large areas. Meanwhile the main channel has been deepened yet further and the breakwater east of Pembrey harbour (seen above) has suffered several large areas of damage. As these structures are a legacy of more prosperous times for the port it's debatable if they will ever be repaired making their documentation all the more important. Further along the local council is being forced into action, however temporary, where successive storm surges have broken through the sand dunes threatening the village and caravan park beyond. Looking to the east all appeared peaceful as they worked but behind me another storm was barrelling up the Burry.

P1060807 - Burry Port

P1060811 - Burry Port

To my relief the worst of that particular system passed me by and I was treated to a brief volley of hailstones as I surveyed yet more destruction out towards the lighthouse. Here what used to be an area of grassland is now strewn with large rocks and debris, much of which used to form a protective barrier against the sea. I'm not sure anyone will be having a picnic here in the near future.

P1060812 - Burry Port

Of course through all of this our wildlife has had to find a way to survive and it was a relief to find good bird numbers still present. There were no Brent Geese this time around (the tide was probably too far out anyway) but at least ten Ringed Plover, three Redshank and a smattering of Oystercatchers had taken their place. Even better though were a noisy flock of Linnets, my first of the year. In Burry Port harbour itself I had been hoping for a wayward duck or two but found only a couple of Mute Swans and a rather smart Common Gull. Better luck was to be had along the east beach where a male Red-breasted Merganser flew in catching the sunlight beautifully as it did so. A Great Crested Grebe was spotted not far away before I just had to capture the passing of another storm. Talk about mixed weather.

P1060826 - Burry Port

Moving further along the beach I realised that this was the first time I have ever walked this particular stretch as usually I take the coastal footpath which routes much further inland. And what had I been missing! Other than a few dog walkers and several hundred Oystercatchers I had the place to myself with excellent views across the water to Gower and whatever goodies may have been taking shelter. Obviously Divers sprang to mind as I know a couple have been seen here in recent weeks but even so I was completely taken aback when a stonking Great Northern Diver popped up just offshore. We shared a disbelieving glance for a few seconds before it dived and I regained my senses and whipped out the camera. It resurfaced at an inevitably greater distance but even so the resulting photograph is one of the my best of this brutish bird.

P1060830 - Great Northern Diver, Burry Port

It continued to feed while I watched, catching small fish on a couple of occasions, but I just couldn't take my eyes off that beak. On Mull these are almost two a penny at times but are often seen at distance and in very bright conditions (it's always glorious on Mull for us) so these exceptional views really were a treat. Eventually I moved on and upon arrival at the dredging pier was amazed to spot another Great Northern Diver heading straight for me. Given its position I'm almost sure this was a different bird which tripled my previous count for the species in these waters. If anything these second views were even better due to calmer water though it didn't stay around for long.

P1060832 - Great Northern Diver, Burry Port

Another two male Red-breasted Mergansers and a Great Crested Grebe were also present here but they were easily outshone by a lone female Goldeneye. She looked to be on a mission and swam strongly from the direction of Llanelli, past me and out into more open water. A long overdue Burry tick. Having had such success I continued scanning but other than a startled Curlew that was about it. Or so I thought. Cutting back along the main path with the rising tide having prevented any more beach walking I spotted a Sparrowhawk flying through the trees and a single Little Grebe. Not a bad way to finish off what had been a most productive few hours.

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Stickle Tarn and Langdale Pikes

Wednesday, February 12, 2014 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


Back in October of last year we spent a glorious week walking around Langdale in the Lake District and just generally enjoying the great outdoors. Having lived in Wales for several years we are well used to mountains and hills but the landscape we found there was on another scale completely. From the flat river valley floor of Great Langdale speared almost vertical walls of rock whilst to the west we knew that Scafell Pike, the highest peak in England, was lurking somewhere just out of sight. That enigmatic mountain was our main target for the week but with low cloud blanketing the surrounding hills we needed to find somewhere at slightly lower altitudes while we waited for a day with perfect climbing conditions. Fortunately alternatives were plentiful as every one of the numerous footpaths leading out of that valley delivered the walker to one spectacular location after the other. On recommendation from Emma's dad however we had to give Stickle Tarn a look which had the added bonus of being within walking distance of our accommodation at Green Howe. 

Setting off under a clearing sky it wasn't long before the warming sun had banished a slight morning chill and cleared what little cloud had been present over the hilltops. An old barn proved to be particularly photogenic before our arrival at the intriguingly named New Dungeon Ghyll. Dating back to to the early 1800's it was to be the real start of our walk as from here we began to climb towards the tarn alongside Stickle Ghyll. This was also the first of several times where our OS map was to prove inaccurate, a surprise considering the popularity of this area and the usually infallible nature of what must be some of the best mapping in the world. Where our map indicated that we should climb to the west of the river we instead found our route blocked and a very well defined path winding its way along the eastern bank. Not a major difference but this change had clearly caused difficulty for one group of children on their Duke of Edinburgh expedition whose leader had decided to follow the map religiously. Even at a distance I could see that his compatriots pleas to detour across to where everyone else was walking were falling on deaf ears as they continued to scramble over scree slopes and landslips. They do say that power corrupts.

P1060583 - Stickle Tarn and Langdale Pikes

P1060587 - Stickle Tarn and Langdale Pikes

Near the top of that initial climb we had to negotiate a large group of youngsters on a field trip who I have to say made me quite jealous. I certainly never got to visit such dramatic locations whilst at school but I guess that's what you get for growing up in the Midlands! Fortunately their slow progress didn't hold us up for long and within a few minutes we'd arrived at the dam behind which sits the dark and dramatic waters of Stickle Tarn. I can certainly see why Emma's dad had been so eager to extol its virtues.

P1060598 - Stickle Tarn and Langdale Pikes

Stickle Tarn

Lunch was taken overlooking the tarn with entertainment provided by a few crazy climbers ascending the vertical cliffs beneath Harrison Stickle. Our own adventures from here were unclear as in truth we hadn't planned anything much beyond the tarn itself. Pulling out the map a circular route was quickly decided upon that would take us up to High Raise and back down via the Langdale Pikes. Not long after setting off though we once again came upon a problem with which I am all too familiar. What looked to be a well defined path on the map was completely invisible on the ground necessitating one of the only times I have ever used a compass. To say that I was chuffed when it led us to exactly the right spot would be an understatement and from hereon the route to Sergeant Man was marked by a series of small cairns. Below us the ground tumbled away revealing large swathes of English countryside in all directions with Codale and Easdale Tarns glinting to our east and the rising mass of High Raise ahead.

P1060600 - Stickle Tarn and Langdale Pikes

P1060604 - Stickle Tarn and Langdale Pikes

P1060613 - Stickle Tarn and Langdale Pikes

P1060615 - Stickle Tarn and Langdale Pikes

After a short breather at the outcrop known as Sergeant Man it was a gentle walk across the moorland up to a prominent summit cairn at High Raise. Despite studying the map I hadn't been prepared for the way in which the ground simply dropped away to the north revealing a series of deep, narrow valleys that reminded me more of our trip to Switzerland than Britain. Sadly we only had a few minutes to enjoy them before a layer of cloud which had been slowly but inextricably creeping forwards plunged us into a misty darkness. In no time visibility dropped dramatically but having had the foresight to take a bearing towards our next destination we had no trouble in dropping height and clearing the cloud base.

P1060621 - Stickle Tarn and Langdale Pikes

P1060624 - Stickle Tarn and Langdale Pikes

Moving across the grassland several more cairns were passed before a short but steep climb found us at the top of Harrison Stickle and then finally Loft Crag. If the drops mentioned above had been impressive these were even more dramatic with a virtually uninterrupted chasm back down to Great Langdale. Even better was that the sun had once again returned.

P1060638 - Stickle Tarn and Langdale Pikes

P1060640 - Stickle Tarn and Langdale Pikes

P1060642 - Stickle Tarn and Langdale Pikes

P1060653 - Stickle Tarn and Langdale Pikes

With time ticking on it was with a lingering look that we decided that the third of the Langdale pikes, Pike of Stickle, was a little out of reach if we were to happily make it back home with time to spare. Instead we turned south-east to take the steeply descending path across to Raven Crag and our original starting point. Out of the slight breeze that had been keeping us cool all day we warmed up rapidly to the point where it felt more like the height of summer than a last hurrah before the wettest winter for over forty years. What a walk and what a location, easily making it into my top ten destinations. If you ever get chance to pay a visit yourself I highly recommend it, just not if you're afraid of heights.

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Feed the Meds, Bracelet Bay

Wednesday, February 05, 2014 Adam Tilt 3 Comments


Life has a funny way of balancing itself out. For instance, who'd have imagined that the purchase of a particularly revolting sandwich on Friday would lead to excellent views of Mediterranean Gulls come Saturday. I probably don't need to mention that events occurred at Bracelet Bay, perhaps one of the best locations in the country to see these birds, but that sandwich is worthy of further explanation.

But first a weather update. You'll not be surprised to hear that February has taken up the batten from last month in delivering wave after wave of low pressure systems from across the Atlantic. Each one arrives in the south west to an accompaniment of gales and heavy rain resulting in what has been the wettest January here for over forty years. We've been making the best of things as much as possible but on Saturday conditions were just a little too extreme for walking any significant distance. Instead we headed down to Bracelet Bay in the hope of a couple of hours decent seawatching that in the end delivered virtually nothing. A few passing Kittiwakes, Turnstones and what looked to have been an auk of some sort was as good as it got. The Mediterranean Gull flock however numbered a fairly decent twenty birds strong and was split fifty fifty between the car park puddle and foreshore rocks. All were suffering in the immense winds whipping through from Limeslade Bay with many struggling to even stand. They were only enticed into action by the arrival of the same blue car observed last month whose occupants very kindly feed the local birds. As soon as those first morsels dropped the sky filled with whirling gulls, none of which could quite muster a graceful flight in such adverse conditions. Unsurprisingly it didn't take long for this welcome banquet to be exhausted and the birds began to return to their previous locations.

Tucking into our own lunch it was round two for the aforementioned sandwich but alas even Emma could only manage a few bites. Seriously, who in their right mind can stomach Horseradish? Not wanting to waste it completely we decided that perhaps the birds would like the bread instead and in no time at all we had a horde of hungry gulls swarming outside our own car windows.

P1060757 - Mediterranean Gull, Bracelet Bay

P1060776 - Mediterranean Gull, Bracelet Bay

P1060779 - Mediterranean Gull, Bracelet Bay

P1060783 - Mediterranean Gull, Bracelet Bay

P1060799 - Mediterranean Gull, Bracelet Bay

P1060803 - Mediterranean Gull, Bracelet Bay

As you can see there was a nice variety of ages present including a couple of opportunities for valuable comparison shots between the Meds and the similar looking, but far more common, Black Headed Gulls.

P1060773 - Mediterranean Gull and Black Headed Gull, Bracelet Bay

P1060786 - Black Headed Gull, Bracelet Bay

A couple of Crows and Magpies also joined the party along with this immature Herring Gull.

P1060790 - Herring Gull, Bracelet Bay

On another day the presence of so many birds would have given an excellent opportunity to practise some flight shots but alas the wind meant that the birds were simply being blown about too much. Combined with low light levels I didn't manage anything worth sharing but I shall now be ensuring that all trips to Bracelet Bay will include some bread.

The forecast for Sunday looked a little better but with heavy showers forecast it again meant that a long walk was out of the question. Instead we decided to catch the train into Cardiff to walk around the entire bay. This is something I've been wanting to do for a while and now seemed like the ideal opportunity with both Black-necked Grebe and Lesser Scaup having been seen there in recent weeks. Sadly we managed to dip both but did add Grey Wagtail (of which there were several) and Canada Goose to my year list. Little Grebes were also numerous with at least six individuals spotted between the wetlands and barrage. My highlight though has to be the Cormorants in full breeding plumage, something I've not had the pleasure to see in recent years at such close quarters. They really were stunning and I just wish that conditions had been better for photography. I sense that a return visit will be on the cards in the not too distant future.

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