Barrel Jellyfish Strandings on Gower

Tuesday, September 30, 2014 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


It would seem that this summer Gower has seen another series of mass Barrel Jellyfish strandings along its beaches. Previously our most recent encounter with these ocean giants had been at Rhossili back in June where almost the entire three mile stretch of sand was littered with corpses. Every fifty meters or so another would lie revealed by the retreating tide, a definite distraction to Emma who at the time was trying to enjoy a paddle through the shallows. Fast forward a few months and it seems that it's now Whiteford's turn to experience the phenomenon.

P1080826 - Barrel Jellyfish, Gower

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Beach Finds - Shark Fin Cartilage, or not?

Saturday, September 27, 2014 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


Correction - 05/10/2014
Much to my disappointment, and I'm sure your own, I have to put my hands up to having made a bit of a blooper here. Thank god it wasn't on the internet for all to see. The bone fragment below is in fact part of a birds sternum, species still unknown, not as first suspected shark fin cartilage. In my defence the shape is damned close but alas my inner child will have to accept reality though it's still a fascinating specimen to add to my burgeoning collection. I'll keep the blurb below as at the very least I learned something new about shark physiology and hopefully I can help prevent anyone else from making the same glaring error.

***************

Another of my prized finds from many hours spent beachcombing is this Shark Fin bird sternum discovered on Gower just a couple of weeks ago.

P1080977 - Shark Fin Cartilage

P1080983 - Shark Fin Cartilage

Unlike you or I the skeleton of a shark is made up almost entirely from cartilage. This has the principle advantage of being lighter than bone meaning that the shark need exert far less energy to propel itself through the water. The animal loses no structural strength however as its skin is so thick that it acts almost like an external skeleton to which all the muscles are attached. This direct connection between muscle and skin is more efficient than typical physiology and is no doubt just another reason for the groups success.

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Beach Finds - Gannet Skull

Wednesday, September 24, 2014 Adam Tilt 4 Comments


Beachcombing is an activity that consists of an individual "combing" (or searching) the beach and the intertidal zone, looking for things of value, interest or utility. A beachcomber is a person who participates in the activity of beachcombing. Source: Wikipedia
With my love of the coast it is perhaps inevitable, even predictable, that the beachcombing bug would eventually have taken me under its wing. From a very young age we are encouraged to bring back a nice shell or interesting rock from family holidays so it only seems natural to continue that attraction for collecting into adulthood. Of course many of the most fascinating discoveries have to be left in place such as jellyfish or even the WW2 artillery shell I once found on Gower, but there are plenty of other things that worm their way back into our homes. Sitting behind me right now for instance is a bookcase containing everything from an old buoy and pieces of driftwood to my prized Oystercatcher skull which I still can't believe we found completely intact. Last years trip to Mull resulted in another fantastic addition to this collection with the discovery of a Gannet skull at Port Uisken.

P1080992 - Gannet Skull

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Autumn Spring Tides

Sunday, September 21, 2014 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Spring tides, contrary to their name, do not coincide with the season but instead occur roughly twice a month whenever the moon and sun align. Living alongside the second largest tidal range in the world elevates these natural phenomena beyond mere trivia and into something far more spectacular. Last weeks for instance exceeded ten meters and I, along with most of Swansea from what I can gather, headed to Penclawdd to watch the waters rise. More accurately that should perhaps be 'finish rising' as by the time I arrived almost the entire saltmarsh had been consumed. What little islands of land still existed were packed with waders and gulls while all around scores of Curlew could be heard calling out to their comrades.

P1080883 - Penclawdd High Tide

Eventually even these small refuges were no more forcing the birds further upriver with me not far behind. As it turned out I couldn't actually get much beyond the old piles of slag behind Penclawdd where at least thirty Pied Wagtails were roosting when not squabbling amongst themselves. In the middle of the chaos sat a single Common Sandpiper, my first for quite a while, with at least nine Little Egrets and four Grey Herons also in attendance. Best of all though was a Kingfisher which shot across the waters surface, an uncommon sight here outside of winter.

Next day we kept things a little more local and headed down to the upper Loughor. Upon arrival the riverside path was already impassable so we instead sat and watched the waters rise from just beyond Coed Bach woods. What was immediately apparent was the speed with which the river was running (in reverse) carrying everything from small branches to whole tree trunks with ease. As the light was failing video seemed best to capture proceedings and hopefully it will give a sense of just how rapid the tides here can be.


Of course we shouldn't forget that these natural occurrences cause untold damage to those whose homes and businesses border such tidal areas. Penclawdd itself is particularly vulnerable and I have mentioned recently that work is currently under way to build a new seawall there. Even so that didn't stop the building site from being completely inundated with water, a hazard of working in these environments I guess.

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E is for Lizard?

Thursday, September 18, 2014 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


P1080961 - Lizard, Kenfig NNR

Apparently so! I spotted this little chap sunning itself on an orienteering post along the haul road at Kenfig NNR, not a bad find if I do say so myself. Given the truncated length of its tail I would hazard a guess that life thus far has not been without at least some degree of mild peril and probably explains its incredibly wary nature.

The day (last Sunday) had started off on a much quieter note with Kenfig pool sitting almost entirely deserted with not even a single Coot on show. Even my long staying Greylag Goose had done a bunk leaving just a few Canada Geese, Mute Swans, Mallards and one very distant Great Crested Grebe. The small flock of Wigeon reported on Saturday had clearly moved on elsewhere and it was left to a hundred or more House Martins and Swallows to bring some levity to proceedings. As they swooped low over the water and around our heads a solitary Lapwing climbed noisily into the air whilst two Cetti's Warblers could be heard calling from somewhere in the vicinity of the north hide. As per usual the latter remained steadfastly hidden though peering through the reeds did deliver this rather fine Comma. Whether or not they've had a poor year I can't be sure but this individual probably represents only my third or fourth sighting of the species since spring.

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Garden Minibeast Safari

Tuesday, September 16, 2014 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


The dry summer has really helped keep garden growth under control this year but on Saturday I could finally put off the inevitable no longer. It was time to cut the grass. I can hear your shrieks of despair from here but fear not for I had a cunning plan. And that, blog friends, was to take on this venture not alone but instead stood shoulder to strap with my trusty Lumix. Together we would find any opportunity for distraction or diversion and by the grace of the gods, on this of all days, we were not left wanting for targets. First to fall beneath my mighty Leica sword (I think this metaphor may have run its course) was a stunning Grey Dagger caterpillar. I've never seen the species as a moth before let alone in this colourful form and it easily has to rank up there with some of the very best. Does anyone else think there's a little bit of Scotty dog in that face?

P1080956 - Grey Dagger Moth Caterpillar

Next up were a couple of Harvestmen which, contrary to what you might expect, are not spiders at all. They do not spin webs, posses no venom with which to attack and have only a single body segment. I've featured a couple of these previously on the blog here and here but this form was a completely new one to me. A cursory glance through the literature however suggests that I'd be entering a potential minefield if I was to try and tie it down to a specific species so for now at least will keep things at a family level.

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Rare Crystal Jellyfish at Whiteford

Sunday, September 14, 2014 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


A couple of weeks ago we made the first of two very successful visits to Whiteford on Gower where an unusual jellyfish species had me somewhat stumped. We are used to seeing the more common Barrel and Moon species washed up there but this individual was clearly something completely different.

P1080690 - Crystal Jellyfish,

Tonight I finally got chance to sit down and do some proper research which has led me to the surprising identification of the above as a Crystal Jellyfish. Usually found in the North West Pacific they are extremely uncommon anywhere in British waters let alone off the coast of Gower. The first recorded sighting in Scotland came in 2009 with Cornwall getting in on the act just a couple of months ago. Beyond these scant sightings it seems that the Crystal Jellyfish is a relative unknown so it's worth keeping an eye out on the off-chance that there may be more of these rare creatures out there.

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Chasing the Aurora Borealis

Saturday, September 13, 2014 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Last night all the signs were looking good for an exceptional display by the Northern Lights meaning that even those of us towards the south of Britain stood a chance at getting in on an act normally reserved for our Nordic neighbours. This flurry of excitement and expectation had been sparked by a large coronal mass ejection which hit our atmosphere early on Friday morning. A second wave arrived later that afternoon so come darkness, and with one eye on Twitter for the latest updates, we headed into the Brecon Beacons ready for whatever lay ahead. As it turned out our chosen destination couldn't have been more perfect with wide, open views stretching to the north with virtually no light pollution whatsoever. What little there was came almost entirely from the near full moon which once your eyes became adjusted lit up the landscape beautifully. To my surprise we weren't the only mad ones to have had the same idea and as midnight approached the small car park we were in steadily began to fill. From serious observers with tripods and telescopes to families wearing onesies we certainly made for a mixed bunch as the long waiting game began.

P1080919_2 - The Brecon Beacons at night

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Whiteford - Clouded Yellows and Whinchats

Thursday, September 11, 2014 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


After a week spent ruing the missed opportunity to photograph Clouded Yellow butterflies there really was only one destination for us on Sunday and that, of course, was back to Whiteford. Walking down from Cwm Ivy conditions initially seemed ideal raising hopes that luck might once more be on our side, right up until we entered the dune system and encountered a surprisingly stiff breeze. There were still good numbers of Common Darter about but even a cursory glance across the fenced off area revealed a stark decrease in the volume of insects on the wing. Never ones to give in we spent a good forty minutes or so scouring the perimeter for any sign but in the end drew a blank and had to face up to the prospect that our chance may have gone. With miles of dunes heading back to Broughton however there was always the possibility that the Clouded Yellows may have simply relocated so the rest of the day was spent exploring that stretch of coastline. It wasn't until the return trip though that a flash of colour outside the Whiteford Bay caravan park finally signalled that our efforts had not been in vain. Initially ranging widely over the meadow there it soon became more settled allowing me to get in close for views that I couldn't ever have wished for. Somewhere right now my Dad will be extremely jealous.

P1080867 - Clouded Yellow, Whiteford

P1080864 - Clouded Yellow, Whiteford

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Slow Worm along the Loughor

Wednesday, September 10, 2014 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Walking along the upper Loughor last week we stumbled across this rather excellent Slow Worm soaking up some late evening rays. Judging from its slovenly nature I presume it had become chilled earlier in the day and was taking the opportunity to warm back up.

P1080736 - Slow Worm

P1080741 - Slow Worm

P1080743 - Slow Worm

Having posed perfectly we encouraged it back into slightly safer territory as sitting in the middle of a track is never going to benefit your life expectancy. Just ask the individual I ran over on my bike a couple of years ago, though somehow that one escaped completely unharmed!

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Patchwork Challenge - Return of the Partridge

Tuesday, September 09, 2014 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


A surge in motivation saw me make two evening visits out onto patch last week, both delivering my first new species there for at least a couple of months. Heading out on Monday conditions were very hazy but with the sun still managing to break through and humidity levels high it felt more like the middle of summer than the first day in September. Walking up the old railway line I was pleased to find a Golden-ringed Dragonfly avidly laying eggs in the small drainage ditch which runs alongside, a repeat of similar scenes from this time last year. Such was her determination to reach the water that she would barge through the often thick vegetation creating a surprisingly loud racket when wings connected with reeds. Overhead there were still a few House Martins and Swallows about but numbers were much reduced compared to the large influx of a week before.

Pushing on the plan was to climb the old incline and follow an ancient tramway along what I have dubbed the 'western spur'. At its end sits an area of mature woodland which I hope one day will turn up a few common but thus far patch elusive species. A good scan this time around revealed a promising mixed flock of Blue Tit, Great Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Coal Tit and calling Chiffchaff, but not a lot else. It was in fact the bracken covered hillside behind which delivered the goods when a persistent alarm call put me onto a Spotted Flycatcher. Views were brief to say the least but I was left in no doubt that for the third year running this delightful bird has graced the patch. One of my goals for 2014 had been to try and determine if Spotted Flycatchers were summer residents here or merely passing through, and although not conclusive I'm leaning more and more towards the latter.

P1080717 - An Evening on Cefn Drum

With the sun slipping rapidly behind Cefn Drum I headed back down the valley where I encountered what can only be described as a very camp Fox. It walked out of the bushes ahead of me and was clearly oblivious to my presence until it glanced backwards and finally realised the error. Quick as a flash it turned and ran straight into a deep puddle which, judging from the large leap which followed, was not a particularly pleasant experience. Ground regained it tumbled back into cover, pride severely dented but no long term harm done. I was still chuckling to myself when movement on the river caught my eye. Through the by now very deep shadows I picked out a Grey Wagtail, another new patch year tick and a long overdue one at that. I've seen these birds further down in the village on numerous occasions and have been willing one up into my recording area ever since.

Tuesday turned out to be similarly hazy but against my better judgement I decided to make the climb up onto Cefn Drum where a sheltered hollow delivered numerous Willow Warblers and a pair of Blackcaps. The latter are something of a patch rarity so I soaked up the unexpected close encounter though they never performed well enough for the camera. Moving on a flock of at least thirty Mistle Thrushes feeding on the ground represented a new record for the species here. Their numbers seem to have been increasing steadily since I first walked these hillsides and with plenty of juveniles present it looks as though they've had a very successful season.

P1080719 - An Evening on Cefn Drum
Mistle Thrushes
Also showing in horrifically good numbers where hoards of biting flies who seemed determined to drain my right arm of blood. Only the right arm notice so I've no idea what's so unappetising about its opposite number. Such were my levels of discomfort (and this coming from someone who normally seems immune to insect bites) that a female Pheasant taking flight near the summit barely caused me to bat an eyelid. I only stirred slightly more when a flock of four birds followed soon after, then quickly wished I'd been paying better attention as I realised they were in fact Grey Partridges! Regular readers may recall my excitement at finding a pair up here a couple of years ago and it really is excellent to see them still going strong and their population potentially on the increase. Sure their lineage undoubtedly traces back to birds bred for shooting as opposed to a true wild population, but then again where is that not the case these days?

P1080724 - An Evening on Cefn Drum

55 Species / 56 Points

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Cwm Ivy Marsh Seawall Breached

Sunday, September 07, 2014 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


I mentioned at the end of my last post that the Gower coastal footpath is currently closed at Cwm Ivy Marsh with a lengthy diversion taking walkers further inland. This change in route has been made necessary as a result of recent high tides which have breached the medieval seawall leaving a large hole and unsupported footbridge.

P1080714 - Cwm Ivy Marsh seawall breach

Move inland though and it quickly becomes apparent that of far more immediate concern is the ingress of huge quantities of salt water into what had been an area of freshwater marsh and grazing pasture. Virtually everything that has been contaminated with salt now sits dead including numerous mature trees and extensive areas of low lying vegetation. Clearly those animals which relied on this habitat have had to move on and any potential restoration will likely take years to achieve with each successive high tide only making matters worse.

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Whiteford Wonders - Birds, Insects and Military Helicopters

Friday, September 05, 2014 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Last Sunday saw us enjoy a typically varied day around Whiteford on Gower involving everything from migrant butterfly species to a military helicopter on manoeuvres from the nearby NATO summit. Even for this typically unpredictable stretch of coast that surely forms some sort of record yet it all kicked off with the humble Common Darter. Hoards of these large dragonflies were on the wing with most concentrated on the semi-vegetated area of sand dunes just as you enter the reserve. There the ground was absolutely baking having been subjected to sunshine all morning and conditions were evidently perfect for a spot of mating. After several minutes watching for a pair to land I was lucky to find this couple who were more than happy to pose for the camera.

P1080679 - Common Darters, Whiteford

Just a little further down the track Emma spotted a bright yellow butterfly which at the time had us completely stumped as to its identity. With dark borders to its upper wings and the look of a Brimstone beneath, it wasn't until we checked our reference guides back at home that we came up with the name Clouded Yellow. Needless to say this was a completely new species for both of us and a locally rare one at that. Sadly both individuals present spent almost their entire time patrolling a fenced off area so no photos to record the event. A rather showy female Wheatear on the other hand was much more cooperative, right up until a dog scared her and her partner away. Grrrrrrrr.

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Lake Vyrnwy and Rhiwargor Waterfall

Thursday, September 04, 2014 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


Lake Vyrnwy gives the impression of a place that is widely known but far less frequently visited. There can't be many for instance who aren't familiar with its classic landscape of thickly wooded hillsides and extravagant Victorian architecture, though I imagine most have never made the trek to witness that beauty for themselves. Rather shamefully I counted myself amongst that group (even worse considering Vyrnwy is home to an RSPB reserve) so a trip across from our base in Welshpool was nothing short of a necessity. As it turned out our choice of day coincided perfectly with some typical Welsh weather i.e. clouds obscuring even the lowest of hilltops and a drizzly rain leaving Cows everywhere in a state of indecisiveness. Even the roadside Buzzards looked bedraggled but thankfully conditions had improved sufficiently by the time we arrived to allow good views across from the dam.

P1080646 - Lake Vyrnwy

P1080651 - Lake Vyrnwy

Built in the 1880's this immense stone structure was the first of its kind in the world due to the manner in which excess water is allowed to flow over the top of the dam instead of down a channel at its side. The resulting reservoir covers an area of around 600 football pitches and is large enough to be seen from space. More usefully perhaps it also supplies Liverpool with much of its water and today is a designated nature reserve with around ninety species of breeding bird having been recorded within its boundaries.

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Castell Dinas Bran - Crow Castle

Wednesday, September 03, 2014 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Drive into Llangollen from the English border and it's hard to miss the imposing ruins of Castell Dinas Bran. Sitting atop an outcrop of rock high above the Dee valley it's widely regarded as one of the most spectacular sites in Britain and is a place that has always fascinated me. As a child passing through on family holidays its distinctive arches reminded me more of a church than anything else and for many years I've harboured a desire to climb up and investigate further. Over the August bank holiday that opportunity finally arrived and after making the steep ascent we got to experience "Crow Castle" first hand.

P1080634 - Castell Dinas Bran

Initial impressions, after obligatory exclamations over the expansive views of course, were surprise at just how large an area the remains actually cover. From way down in the valley you expect a couple of walls and not much else but the reality couldn't be further removed. A large plateau is bordered on all sides with sections of curtain wall while elsewhere a keep and gatehouse are still vaguely recognisable. Nearby sits a trio of enlarged windows leading into the Great Hall which are only surpassed for scale by the 20ft deep defensive ditch along the castles southern border. Cut through rock the effort involved in its construction would have been immense and seems perhaps a little unnecessary given the castles highly defensible position.

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Trig Hunting on St David's Head

Monday, September 01, 2014 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


A couple of weeks ago we dragged our tent out of hibernation and headed over to Pembrokeshire for a weekend of relaxation. Of course the word relaxation means different things to different people but for us it involved two days of walking and exploration. From our base on a small farm near Brandy Brook we were well positioned for the coastal path and spent Saturday along a new section (for us) between Solva and Pointz Castle. The scenery was its usual stunning and varied self but dull and overcast conditions meant the camera remained largely unused. That's not to say there wasn't plenty of wildlife about however with a couple of Choughs and a family of four Peregrine Falcons both putting on superb flight displays along the cliffs. Come Sunday it was all change again with blazing sunshine and warm winds returning. Having checked the map we decided on a visit to St David's Head where a previously un-bagged trig point atop Carn Llidi seemed a worthy target for the day. Last time we were out this way we somehow managed to circumnavigate the entire hillside but never actually made it to the top. Definitely an omission in need of correction.

P1080531 - St Davids Head

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