Patchwork Challenge - Birding Smorgasbord

Thursday, May 08, 2014 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


A quick glance at this years Patchwork Challenge comparative league table shows me sitting in a rather respectable fourth place amongst the Welsh contingent. Now that's doubly impressive considering I've failed to submit my scores for the last two months and just goes to show what a stellar start to the year I had. April in comparison was something of a let down with nothing much turning up but that all seems to have changed over the bank holiday weekend. I'll be honest and say that my original plan hadn't been to do any birding at all as I flung myself at numerous outstanding DIY jobs, but being literally in my patch meant that I couldn't help glancing up to the hills to see just what was about. The answer most of the time seemed to be Ravens with at least three individuals present though likely several more, plus our local Grey Heron flying down the neighbouring street before landing in a conifer. That was certainly something new and is possibly a good incentive for stocking our pond with a few cheap fish. Best of all though were the trio of Canada Geese who came honking noisily down our valley at sunset, a very rare patch bird and new tick number one for the weekend. If only the male House Sparrow which spent most of each day deafening me had been similarly brief in its passing as opposed to calling incessantly from the top of our roof. I guess that means they're nesting again which is certainly a good thing even if I'm not sure exactly where.

P1070660 - House Sparrow

Eventually I could take it no longer and decided that these sightings were a sign to put the paintbrush down and head out for a proper circuit of the patch. Starting on Gopa Hill I was immediately surrounded by the call of several Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs but it was a chance scan of some distant trees which gave me my second new tick in the shape of a singing male Blackcap. Remarkably I've not seen one here for at least two years and it would have been nice to savour the moment a little longer had a Jackdaw not chased the poor thing off. Pushing onwards and five Swallows marked a significant increase over last years numbers before a familiar call stopped me in my tracks. Somewhere in the scrub hid a Whitethroat and despite an audio identification being sufficient to count I was determined to get a visual. Several minutes of judicious creeping later found me locked onto a stunning male, tick number three and a welcome return after not seeing one at all last year following the burning of their traditional haunt. While there I also gave the hole that I muted as a possible Woodpecker nest the once over, only to spot a Great Tit making regular visits. Looks like I was definitely on the right tracks then but not quite with the expected species.

P1070663 - Bryn-bach-Common

Moving on to Bryn-bach-Common I left the lush greens behind as here Bracken has yet to return in force. New shoots are starting to peek their heads above ground however so it won't be long before I'm forced back to using sheep tracks to traverse this area. For now though I can walk unhindered and in doing so spotted a male Wheatear way down towards Pontlliw (tick number four). Sadly it didn't let me get anywhere near but while watching it a surprise White Wagtail arrived, not only tick number five but also a brand new species altogether. Annoyingly the Patchwork Challenge doesn't count them as separate (they are after all only a race of Pied Wagtail) but not having managed to confirm a sighting of them either it still moves my tally forward. Over at the crossroads I stopped for a spot of lunch where four Woodpigeons and a single Stock Dove were joined by a fantastically colourful male Yellowhammer. Lighting conditions were absolutely dire but I couldn't help myself from attempting a couple of shots.

P1070667_2 - Yellowhammer, Gopa Hill

Down the hill and Welsh Water seem to have finished work for a while on their flood relief scheme, leaving the site in something of a mess. When I originally read the plans they seemed to suggest planting and proper fencing would be installed so I'm just hoping that this is the end of phase one and further work will be undertaken in the coming months. I'll keep you posted.

P1070669 - Flood relief scheme, Pontarddulais

Proving that nature can make the most of any situation however was a Willow Warbler which I found in full song just a few meters further along from where the photo above was taken. Remarkably it was completely unconcerned by my presence allowing me to get up nice and close. If I recall that means I now have decent photographs of both Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler this year, a marked improvement over previous seasons.

P1070682_2 - Willow Warbler, Cefn Drum

P1070681_2 - Willow Warbler, Cefn Drum

Up on Cefn Drum things were relatively quiet with a strengthening wind keeping most birds at lower altitudes except for the Skylarks which were in fine voice. It wasn't until I'd descended once more that I started to encounter more variety with a couple of Stonechats and a superb male Sparrowhawk. Clearly one of the Meadow Pipits wasn't quite so pleased with the latter's presence and quickly chased it away. I wonder what it's like to be pursued by your own food? Philosophical musings aside it marked an excellent end to one of my best patch outings in some time, but even then there was still time for one last find. I've noted previously that there are signs of Dipper activity once more along the stream and right at my patch boundary I finally caught sight of one disappearing behind a rock (tick number five). Seeing them back again is fantastic news and I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that breeding success is just around the corner.

51 Species / 52 Points

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Wren to Osprey - Variety at Rutland Water

Tuesday, May 06, 2014 Adam Tilt 5 Comments


The final part of our Easter odyssey came on the drive home from Leeds where my plotted route somehow passed through Rutland. What's that you say? Rutland's on the opposite side of the country from Wales? Pure coincidence my friend.

Given the season there was only ever going to be one must see species and that, of course, was the Osprey. Despite encountering them on numerous occasions and in some ridiculously intimate situations (the Florida Everglades are one of the most fantastic wildlife locations on the planet) they never get boring and I still dream of finally spotting one over the Loughor from our house. This year at Rutland the main public nest is in Manton Bay whereas we were at Egleton but with so many birds passing through optimism was high. Things took a knock however on lagoon 4 where the previously reliable perches were unexpectedly bare. Not to worry as moments later an Osprey appeared on the scene complete with Carrion Crow escort. Evasive tactics seemed to principally involve landing in the shallow water where I assume the mobbing birds did not want to venture for fear of getting their feet wet. Whatever the reasoning it clearly worked and we got some great views until a Ringed Plover provided enough distraction for the Osprey to slip away unnoticed.

P1070640 - Osprey perches, Rutland Water
Empty Osprey perches at Lagoon 4
 
Throughout the day we kept hoping for another Osprey sighting but alas it was not to be. That's not to say things were quiet however. Far from it. Literally every hide we entered offered a pleasant surprise whether it be feeding Avocets, a lone Barnacle Goose, our first House Martin of the year, a very wayward Little Gull, Stock Doves, singing Sedge Warblers, lingering Goldeneye and Wigeon, Whitethroats, gazillions of Sand Martins, Egyptian Geese (how someone could call them hideous is beyond me), White Wagtail, Cetti's Warbler or our old favourite the Oystercatcher. The list simply goes on and on resulting in one of our best days birding in terms of both quantity and quality for quite some time. Of course the nature of reserves such as Rutland means that quality bird photographs are often left to the big lens brigade so nothing much on that front from myself. At least that was the case until a tip-off led us to a Wren nest located just inside one of the hide doors. We sat watching the perfectly formed nest for only a couple of minutes before a scrabbling sound at the door was soon followed by the Wren itself. A quick scan for threats was all that was needed before it flew straight into the nest, only to emerge a short while later and exit the hide this time through an open window. It's not often you get to observe a nest at such close quarters so this was a real privilege which through the power of the internet you too can now enjoy.

P1070641 - Wren nest, Rutland Water


Back at the entrance several feeders were attracting the usual array of woodland species along with a male Pheasant and his harem. While the former was busy charging around the place fending off invisible intruders it was left to one of the females to show off a fairly unusual talent. There can't be many Pheasants out there to have mastered the art of using a hanging bird feeder!

P1070653 - Pheasant, Rutland Water

P1070646 - Pheasant, Rutland Water

Away from the birds I should perhaps also mention butterflies with Small Tortoiseshell, Speckled Wood and Orange-tip being just a few of the species seen. The latter in particular is a personal favourite of mine so it was nice to get something on camera despite my exposure being a little off.

P1070637 - Orange-tip, Rutland Water

If there could be just one criticism of the day it would be the current state of the M1. Mile after mile of speed limits controlled by average speed cameras resulted in an agonising journey that seemed to stretch on for ever. Worse of all though were those drivers who sped by well above the posted limits. What do they know that I don't or are there really that many people getting caught on a daily basis? Answers on a postcode please.

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Malham Cove - Scrambling, Scenery and Birds

Monday, May 05, 2014 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


Holy Saturday found us 'up north' with Leeds as our base and the world famous limestone landscape of Malham Cove just a short distance away. Having not walked the Yorkshire Dales for several years it would have been rude not to make the most of some lovely weather, an idea seemingly shared by pretty much everybody in the surrounding area. At least the busy roads gave us an opportunity to laugh at some peoples complete ineptitude behind the wheel (if a bus driver has to disembark to tell you to reverse it's time to surrender you're licence) before we set off west along the well marked path towards Wedber Wood. This early stretch offers rolling grassy fields and drystone walls amongst which nestles the occasional traditional barn. In such a landscape these structures look right at home and I couldn't help snapping a photo and partaking in the obligatory fruitless search for roosting Owls inside.

P1070547 - Malham

Continuing onwards a Red Grouse came as something of a surprise, shooting across our path accompanied by its barking call. Oh how I wish we had these birds a little closer to home. The numerous Pheasants that could be heard from all directions were more familiar before we entered the tranquil lushness of Wedber Wood itself. Here early growth Garlic had coated the ground in a sea of green whilst lending the atmosphere that scent of summer which will forever remind me of Parkmill on Gower. Sadly smell-o-vision is still a distant fantasy for the blogging community but hopefully this photo has captured a little of the atmosphere.

P1070551 - Wedber Wood

Of course the big attraction within these trees is Janet's Foss, a small but perfectly formed waterfall. On a quieter day there might have been time for something a little more artistic but to be honest I was happy just to get a shot without any people in. Special mention must go to the group of Japanese tourists to my right who have taken the selfie to a whole new level. With the camera on an outstretched pole and remote shutter release they were almost worthy of a photo in itself but my British sense of restraint got the better of me.

P1070553 - Janet's Foss

Emerging back into the open revealed the start of Gordale Scar and a mere hint of what lay ahead. Winding your way forwards the babbling waters and calls from circling Gulls above do nothing to prepare you for the dramatic rise in cliff height to over 100 meters before a final turn brings you face to face with what at first glance seems like an impenetrable limestone wall. Formed by glacial melt water during the last ice age this dramatic gorge is one of my favourite geological formations.

P1070555 - Gordale Scar

P1070559 - Gordale Scar

Fortunately for us a right of way exists up the waterfall though the ascent is by no means easy and does involve a certain amount of scrambling. Having been forbidden from going any further as a child I positively bounded up though did have to return to assist Emma with route spotting. Failure was most definitely not an option especially as so many less adventurous sorts were watching from down below. In the end there was little drama allowing plenty of time to marvel at the stunning scenery stretching both beneath and above.

P1070563 - Gordale Scar

P1070565 - Gordale Scar

P1070568 - Gordale Scar

P1070571 - Gordale Scar

This rough terrain may seem an unlikely place to find a Dipper but that's exactly what flew right past me during the climb. It returned a few moments later but instead of staying close to the water headed up towards an open cave where it appeared to start feeding. My only guess is that the damp opening offered a good supply of insects but it was certainly an alien place to see such a bird. A couple of Wheaters however were par for the course with this female allowing something of an approach in the vicinity of New Close.

P1070574 - Wheatear, Malham

P1070573 - Malham

At this point it was time to strike north where a seemingly barren pool called Great Close Mire turned into something of an oasis. Two calling Curlew weren't hard to ignore but the discovery of a male Teal, calling Snipe, pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and three Redshank came as a real surprise. Best of all though was some fantastic mating behaviour between two of the latter with a male bird continually flapping its wings and calling before finally being allowed to copulate with the female. Not something I've ever seen before and certainly not in a place I'd have expected! Perhaps a few of these birds could be explained by the nearby presence of Malham Tarn where at least eighteen Tufted Ducks and more Curlew were joined at the shore by yet more Wheatears, a pair of Reed Buntings and even a running Hare!

P1070577 - Malham Tarn

Now following the route of the Pennine Way we started to pick up fellow walkers for the gentle descent that eventually opens up onto the top of Malham Cove and its limestone pavement. Formed through years of erosion by rainwater it offers a unique habitat that is home to many rare plants and animals. More recently that has included a pair of Peregrine Falcons which have nested successfully on the cliffs and which gave good views while we were there.

P1070596 - Limestone Pavement, Malham Cove

P1070593 - Limestone Pavement, Malham Cove

A series of steps drops you down quickly to where the classic view of Malham Cove finally opens up. From here it's not hard to imagine the waterfall which once cascaded over its edge, the river now sunk underground only to emerge through an intricate cave system at the very bottom of the cliff.

P1070613 - Malham Cove

Before we turned to leave the Dales had one last treat to share with a Grey Wagtail on the river joined by a colourful male Redstart just overhead. Considering the number of people present I was amazed that it hadn't chosen somewhere a little quieter though certainly wasn't going to complain.

P1070611 - Redstart, Malham Cove

Even our journey back to Leeds was accompanied by Lapwings and Oystercatchers in roadside fields, a fitting end to what had been an excellent walk.

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