Royal International Air Tattoo - Up, up, up in the air!

Thursday, July 24, 2014 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


So one day has turned into almost a week but that hasn't changed the level of enjoyment I've had looking through more photos from our weekend in the Cotswold's. As promised it's time for my second and final instalment focussing on the Royal International Air Tattoo 2014.

P1080330 - Royal International Air Tattoo, Fairford
An acrobatic display from a Chinook helicopter is something that has to be seen to be believed. They are another aircraft that we see fairly regularly from home but those mundane flights do nothing to prepare you for the sheer manoeuvrability of these things. Vertical descents straight towards the ground are nerve wracking at the best of times, let alone in a helicopter.

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Royal International Air Tattoo - Part 1

Saturday, July 19, 2014 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Anyone in the vicinity of RAF Fairford last Sunday can't have failed to notice the abnormally large volume of fighter aircraft overhead, and we were slap bang in the middle of it all. I am of course talking about the Royal International Air Tattoo, the worlds largest military airshow and the real reason for our trip across to the Cotswold's. I've attended several times previously and having witnessed such spectacles as Concord touching down a few meters away, the last ever flight (prior to its resurrection at least) of Vulcan XH558 and the unforgettable arrival of an American B-2 stealth bomber, expectations were high. As it turned out I wasn't to be disappointed and if you think these next couple of posts may be straying somewhat from my normally nature focussed content, rest assured that throughout every display we were accompanied by singing Skylarks and dashing Hares.

P1080201 - Royal International Air Tattoo, Fairford
Being one of the first through the gates meant that we were able to get up close and personal with those aircraft on static display. Aerial acrobatics are all well and good but I love being able to see the small details on these aircraft, in particular the unique logos and paint jobs which are applied either as a whole unit or to individual planes.

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A Walk Along the Thames and Severn Canal

Thursday, July 17, 2014 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


Saturday dawned hot and clear and it was to the sound of distant jet engines (a hint of approaching activities) that we set off to walk a section of the abandoned Thames and Severn Canal. Completed in 1789 it was conceived as part of the route from Bristol to London though it was never much of a success and was finally killed off by rail in 1927. It was perhaps ironic therefore that our approach took us along the trackbed of the similarly abandoned Midland and South Western Junction railway. Lasting until 1978 it now serves as a wildlife corridor whose proximity to the fledgling Thames provided a wealth of dragonflies and damselflies. I'll confess to not being much of an authority in this area but it was impossible to miss the stunning Beautiful Demoiselles, though only a considerably dampened shoe would have gained me a photo. Instead I concentrated on those species over drier land including this Common Blue Damselfly and Small Tortoiseshell.

P1080130 - Common Blue Damselfly

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Reed Watching at Newport Wetlands

Wednesday, July 16, 2014 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


Less than a week after returning from North Wales it was time to head off once more on Friday for a long weekend in the Cotswolds. Regular readers will no doubt note that this is a location that neither has a coastline nor mountains, an unusual departure from our destinations of recent years. All will become clear I promise but first let us deal with Friday which found us driving west along what must be a contender for most boring road in the world, the M4. Needless to say an excuse to break the monotony was required and it just so happened that the RSPB Newport Wetlands reserve came up trumps. The fact that it's currently home to a young family of Bearded Tits was pure coincidence of course and had absolutely no bearing on my route planning or subsequent disappointment at their complete no show. Fortunately however one of my bogey birds, Reed Warbler, turned out to be the complete polar opposite with a couple showing down to less than a meter right outside the visitor centre.

P1080098_2 - Reed Warbler, Newport Wetlands

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Wildlife of Bluebell Cottage, Conwy Valley

Friday, July 11, 2014 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


Last time we camped in North Wales our tent was obliterated by near hurricane force winds, and that was the middle of summer! Needless to say we were slightly wary about pitching up this time around so instead chose to stay in a small cottage roughly halfway down the Conwy Valley. As always with online bookings you're never entirely sure what will greet you on arrival so we were more than pleasantly surprised to find a small wooden cabin nestled at the edge of large, mature woodland. The views out front from an extensive deck were spectacular and a half hours walk along the neighbouring public footpath delivered an even more breathtaking vista.

P1070874 - Conwy Valley

P1070782 - Conwy Valley

The real highlight though was the abundance of wildlife present including Great-spotted Woodpeckers, Jays, Buzzards, passing Little Egrets and of course Squirrels. The latter may not not be to everyone's taste but I love their cheeky antics and spent many a happy hour watching them go about their business.

P1070955 - Squirrel, Conwy Valley

P1070956 - Squirrel, Conwy Valley

P1070959 - Squirrel, Conwy Valley

Squirrels weren't the only mammals present with Rabbits grazing the nearby lawns day and night. Unsurprisingly they were much more difficult to approach which provided a perfect opportunity to put our trailcam through its paces. I've had this particular Bushnell model for the last eighteen months but had so far managed to capture nothing more exciting than a plethora of feral cats. A few nights out amongst the trees however and it managed to record a couple of Rabbits feeding in the early hours.


Overall I'm pretty impressed with the image quality but will be experimenting over the coming weeks with various settings whilst attempting to record our local Foxes. All that's left is for me to sign off from Snowdonia and leave you with one of my favourite images from our time at Bluebell Cottage. Enjoy.

P1070969 - Sunset, Conwy Valley

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RSPB Conwy - Oystercatchers, Bee Orchid and Weather

Wednesday, July 09, 2014 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


When the weather in North Wales turns it really turns, hence Friday dawned drab, damp and extremely windy. Given the conditions it was clear that there would be no last hurrah for us amongst Snowdonia's peaks so instead we headed north to the RSPB reserve at Conwy. I first came here not long after its opening when vegetation had yet to take hold and everything was very open, a complete contrast to the lush setting of today. Along with new hides and walkways I had high hopes for a decent haul of birds and was only encouraged when told of an Oystercatcher family showing well from the first viewpoint. Being both mine and Emma's favourite species we headed straight over just in time to witness one of the parents bringing in a mussel. Out of the undergrowth emerged two perfect chicks and with a couple of swift stabs of that impressive bill their cheeping calls were soon rewarded.

P1080045 - Oystercatcher Family, RSPB Conwy


With so many large Gulls in attendance both adults were in a constant state of agitation even resorting to chasing off those who strayed a little too close. Having seen how large a bird Lesser Black-backed Gulls in particular can take I understood their concerns and was not surprised to see the chicks scurry back into cover at the earliest opportunity.

Sharing this lagoon were the usual gaggle of Canada Geese but also a decent selection of waders including Common Sandpiper, summer plumaged Dunlin (always a nice find), numerous Redshanks and my first Green Sandpiper of the year. I'll be honest here and say that the latter originally had us stumped as we see them so rarely around our local haunts. Fortunately the centre's sightings book put us right and also alerted us to the presence of a Bee Orchid near the cafe. Having never seen the species before I was intrigued and am pleased to report that they are every bit as good as I'd expected.

P1080066 - Bee Orchid, RSPB Conwy

P1080068 - Bee Orchid, RSPB Conwy

This was just one of two plants we spotted before it was back out to the reserve to see what else was about. The answer was pretty varied with Curlew, Lapwing, Shelduck, Tufted Duck (with young), Great Crested Grebe, Sedge Warbler, Song Thrush, Red-breasted Merganser and an impressive display of at least 15 Little Egrets roosting in trees across the estuary. The views are also worthy of a mention even though we mostly experienced them through rain spattered windows.

View From the Hide, RSPB Conwy

On a sunnier day we'd likely have seen much more but with the blustery conditions keeping a lot of smaller birds deep in cover I think we did pretty well. Even so it was a pleasing few hours and definitely a place to revisit next time we're up this way.

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Aberglaslyn Pass

Monday, July 07, 2014 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


The Aberglaslyn Pass has always offered walkers a dramatic mix of scenery and wildlife and even though the recent revival of the Welsh Highland Railway has rendered the old tunnels off limits, an alternative riverside path more than compensates. Back on Wednesday we set off from Beddgelert to tackle a circular route out along the river before returning across higher ground to the north. I'd been this way a couple of years previous but in damp conditions the views had been somewhat disappointing. We may not have had any rain this time around but the clear skies from earlier in the week had sadly departed leaving a grey and hazy scene. What hadn't left us however were high temperatures resulting in hundreds of Ringlet butterflies on the wing. The highest density was focused around the riverside meadows where Meadow Browns and Large Skippers were also showing exceptionally well.

P1070979 - Ringlet
Ringlet

P1070990 - Ringlet
Ringlet

P1080006 - Meadow Brown
Meadow Brown

P1080009 - Large Skipper
Large Skipper
Birds were not to be outdone with several family groups of Grey Wagtail making the most of an abundant supply of insects, as was a solitary young Dipper. Surprisingly this was to be our only sighting of the latter, a marked decrease in numbers from eighteen moths ago. Stopping for lunch delivered great views of a Common Sandpiper in flight followed by it feeding a way off to our right. Searching for a better view revealed two Goosanders before we went all soppy for a female Mallard attempting to take her ducklings through an area of rough water.

P1070986 - Bridge, Aberglaslyn Pass

The local Swallows were also feeding on the abundant insects with one pair in particular focusing their efforts around the bridge above. A quick peak beneath confirmed my suspicions with a large nest tucked up against one of the beams. Its construction however was far from typical with an almost spherical shape and more use of moss than mud. To my knowledge this is hardly usual for Swallows and suggest perhaps the work of those aforementioned Grey Wagtails or Dippers.

P1070983 - Nest

Pushing on a huge Horse Fly was spotted while photographing this rather nice group of Orchids. I know I've always stated that I'm not a flower person but I fear that persona may be slipping as time passes. I'll blame my advancing years.

P1070995 - Orchids

A little further and it was time to leave the river and push on upwards through forestry plantations. I can only describe that climb as something akin to swimming to the surface from a great depth. Between closely packed trunks there was not a breath of wind and with insects beginning to treat us as a walking buffet the break into open country was such a welcome relief.

P1080017 - Lookout Tower, Bryn Duhas

The stone structure (above) at Bryn Duhas has origins unknown although it is believed that much of the current remains originate from a second world war lookout tower. The views would certainly have been extensive though I can't help thinking that something a little more spacious would have increased comfort levels considerably. That aside I wonder if whoever once dwelt here also got to share this hillside as we did with a stunning male Hen Harrier. Out of nowhere it soared across the valley beneath us before disappearing into the forestry from which we'd just disentangled ourselves. What a stunning bird and due to their sadly increasing rarity a moment to be cherished. Despite the many hours I've spent walking Welsh countryside this is the first time I've ever seen the species in summer or over upland terrain. Surely a damming indictment of the conditions this species is forced to endure and another reason why we should all support the protection of Hen Harriers across the UK. I recommend checking out the Birders Against website for more details on how you can fight to stop the extinction of these magnificent birds.

P1080018 - View from Bryn Duhas

With that in the bag anything else was going to have to work very hard indeed to compete but a noisy family of Spotted Flycatchers did their best. For Emma these were her first sightings of the species this year following our failure to get over to the Dinas reserve, though we couldn't luck into any of their pied relatives. Never mind as we'd certainly enjoyed the outing. I even won a game of Poohsticks!

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Snowdon - 30 years in the making

Sunday, July 06, 2014 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


In the next week I reach the grand old age of thirty and for almost that entire span I had never seen the view from Snowdon's summit. It's not far want of trying either as whether it be by train or on foot I've made the pilgrimage skywards on numerous occasions. Each and every time, even when the sun was shining at lower altitudes, those pesky clouds would roll in to envelop that most elusive of peaks. Recent history has failed to change this run of misfortune with our three peaks attempt last year not allowing access onto Snowdon at all due to thunder and lightning. This time however things would be different. The sun was shining, clouds were absent and to my relief the weather held all the way to the top. Here's my photographic journey up via the Miners track and back down the Pyg.

P1070789 - Climbing Snowdon
Looking back towards Pen y Pass as we set off along the Miners track. This path is so called as it was originally built to serve the Britannia copper mine of which we will see more a little later.
P1070783 - Climbing Snowdon

P1070788 - Climbing Snowdon
These goats formed a surprise welcome committee and reminded me a lot of their wild relatives around Carsaig on Mull.
P1070793 - Climbing Snowdon
The first significant milestone - Llyn Teyrn. On the right sits a row of abandoned miners cottages with our route stretching away into the distance. At this point the going is easy but that wont last for long.
P1070797 - Climbing Snowdon
Llyn Llydaw soon hove into view and with it a first glimpse of Snowdon. With little breeze here and rising temperatures those still waters looked very inviting indeed.
P1070799 - Climbing Snowdon
This small metal hut marks the start of a pipeline carrying water down to the Cwm Dyli hydro-electric power station. Though not exactly a natural looking structure it does continue the attempts by man to benefit from the abundant natural resources of this area.
P1070801 - Climbing Snowdon
A causeway transports you across the lake to its northern shore where a large ruined building represents the most significant remnants of the Britannia copper mine.
P1070808 - Climbing Snowdon

P1070810 - Climbing Snowdon
These impressive ruins were once a crushing mill to where copper ore mined higher up the mountain was once brought via aerial ropeway. The stone bases for this innovative transport mechanism can still be seen dotted around.
P1070817 - Climbing Snowdon

P1070820 - Climbing Snowdon

P1070824 - Climbing Snowdon
Now the climbing starts in earnest with the ever present peak of Snowdon a constant motivator and reminder of just how far there is yet to go.
P1070830 - Climbing Snowdon
At Llyn Glaslyn the Britannia mine comes into view for the first time.
P1070833 - Climbing Snowdon
More miners cottages hint at a human story that is easily overlooked. Walking these hills is tough so I can only imagine what working here throughout the year would have been like.
P1070840 - Climbing Snowdon
This Herring Gull posed rather nicely and was just one of many that followed us up the mountain. It would seem that they now associate people with food and will follow each and every group awaiting that inevitable snack break.
P1070844 - Climbing Snowdon
By far the steepest part of the route is this climb to join the Pyg track, a higher and rockier route that we'll travel back along on our return.
P1070847 - Climbing Snowdon
At the Bwlch Glas standing stone the view back the way we've come is simply stunning with both the Pyg and Miners track showing well.
P1070851 - Climbing Snowdon

P1070854 - Climbing Snowdon
The view westwards is similarly spectacular with the Snowdon Mountain Railway adding another level of interest.
P1070862 - Climbing Snowdon
The summit cairn! In the sun! With no people!
P1070869 - Climbing Snowdon
Nearing the end of our descent along the Pyg track with Pen y Pass visible in the distance. On tired legs this seemed to go on forever but what a day.
Such perfect conditions allowed us to scope out the route across Crib Goch, a notorious knife-edge route which is famous as much for its stunning views as it is for stomach churning drops. As much as I'd have liked to attempt it this time around it just wasn't sensible but will definitely be on my agenda for our next time in Snowdonia.

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Conwy - Castles, Gulls and Motivation

Saturday, July 05, 2014 Adam Tilt 6 Comments


So, May and June then. Quiet on this blog - undoubtedly. Nothing much worth writing about - quite the contrary. In fact I've been out and about as much as ever but simply haven't been able to find the time to sit down, sort through my huge backlog of images and commit pen to paper (metaphorically speaking of course). I wont bore you with the details (work) suffice to say that this last week has seen us ensconced amongst nature in the Conwy valley for a well earned break. Being literally on Snowdonia's doorstep meant walking was top priority despite Emma's attempts to divert us into every local ice-cream selling establishment, and in truth I'd even considered leaving the camera at home. Experience advised otherwise however, even if it was just to take the 'touristy' shots, so let's cue those castles, flags and, as this entry is focused on Conwy, the impressive trio of bridges across which many make their approach to this walled town.

P1070895 - Wales Flag, Conwy

P1070928 - The Conwy Bridges

P1070881 - Conwy

All very nice I hear you say but hardly what we've been waiting the last two months for. Indeed I'd be tempted to agree and these never would have made the blog had it not been for a visit to Conwy castle where two feathery dinosaurs (Emma insists they're juvenile Herring Gulls) simply stole the show. I knew straight away that this was my return to writing and photography, all courtesy of one of our most ubiquitous birds and a discarded KFC chicken wing.

P1070902 - Juvenile Herring Gulls, Conwy

P1070905 - Juvenile Herring Gulls, Conwy

P1070909 - Juvenile Herring Gulls, Conwy

P1070913 - Juvenile Herring Gulls, Conwy

P1070914 - Juvenile Herring Gulls, Conwy

P1070915 - Juvenile Herring Gulls, Conwy

This pair kept me enthralled but sadly another nest nearby was not proving quite so successful. While one of the chicks was ruling the roost another had somehow dropped down from the parapets and was now scurrying between visitors feet. This seemed to be of little concern until the adult bird seen above set about the sorry individual, forcing it ever closer to a sickening drop. While we awaited the inevitable all its parents could muster were loud calls and wing flapping, not exactly helping my impression of the Herring Gull as being all mouth and no trousers. In the end it was down to the juveniles strength and not an insignificant amount of luck that found it shelter in a drain as the attacker lost interest in both it and that chicken bone. Peering into the shadows we were concerned that some degree of injury had been inflicted but a few morsels of biscuit soon has the chap back on its feet, if looking slightly downbeat. Let's hope he makes it through.

P1070918 - Juvenile Herring Gulls, Conwy

As we continued our tour of the castle it soon became clear that this was prime real estate for Herring Gulls as every corner delivered a new nest. Many had young almost ready to fledge while some still had adults sitting on eggs. I'm sorry to say that the finest stone masonry of Medieval times was rather lost on me after that.

P1070924 - Juvenile Herring Gulls, Conwy

P1070935 - Herring Gull, Conwy

Even Robert Stephenson's famous tubular bridge had been taken over with nests and young birds littering its upper surfaces.

P1070948 - Herring Gulls, Conwy

Remarkably these encounters are the first time I can remember seeing young Herring Gulls at such close quarters and it really was a pleasure. I bet those residents of Conwy who have the (mis)pleasure of these brutes nesting in their chimneys however may beg to differ.

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