Patchwork Challenge 2014 Draws to a Close

Wednesday, December 31, 2014 Adam Tilt 11 Comments


It’s hard to believe but yesterday was my last opportunity of 2014 to get out onto the patch in an attempt to push my current Patchwork Challenge score a little higher. Despite a less than attentive year I had still somehow managed to draw level with my previous comparative species count, though not score (lack of Grasshopper Warbler this time out really hurt me), but 63 species is never the less still something to be proud of. Yes it may pale into insignificance against some of the big hitters but for my little area of Wales it’s a hard earned result and one which represents many enjoyable hours spent out in the field. Along the way there have been some notable highlights including a strengthening in the Grey Partridge population to at least six individuals (still the only birds recorded anywhere in the Gower area as far as I am aware) as well as several new finds including Common Gull and White Wagtail. Even better were a continued increase in Raven and Red Kite numbers though the shocking decline in Green Woodpeckers continues unabated. In complete contrast the local Tawny Owls seem to have gone from strength to strength with one particularly noisy individual keeping us awake on numerous occasions, often early in the morning. Certainly beats being woken by an alarm.

Out in the garden our feeders felt relatively quiet for much of summer and autumn but the recent cold snap has changed all that. I’ve no idea where all our Chaffinches and House Sparrows have been hiding but they are back now and have been devouring the sunflower seed as quickly as we can supply it. Arriving alongside them have been other welcome returnees in the shape of a single Greenfinch and Starling so it seemed a suitable place to start this final outing.

P1100578 - House Sparrow, Garden

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Pen y Fan Dusting

Sunday, December 28, 2014 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


Presents unwrapped, enough food eaten to keep me going until March and far too many hours of television watched. Yes Christmas is over for another year and I hope it's been a good one for you all and that Santa was as generous as he was for me (I must have been a good boy after all). Unfortunately the festivities have coincided with me being laid up for the best part of a week with what I can only assume was some new super strain of bubonic plague. Due to my ridiculous work ethic I didn't have to take a sick day but the resultant extra strain on body and mind meant that today is pretty much the first time that I've felt anywhere near like being back to my best (somewhere I can hear the worlds smallest violin being played). That's not to say that we haven't attempted a couple of outings though with a walk from Port Eynon on Christmas Eve delivering five Mediterranean Gulls and two Chiffchaffs whilst yesterdays jaunt up into the hills above Afon Argoed put us at eye level with a passing Goshawk. Definitely a case of quality over quantity then.

Of course all that is very well and good but what I really had planned for this break were several days walking amidst the snow capped peaks of the Brecon Beacons. Initially it looked like conditions weren't going to play ball but temperatures have plummeted over the last couple of nights and with it the white fluffy stuff has finally arrived. If I'm honest I would have liked a little more but our walk up Pen y Fan today was absolutely sublime with clear skies and just enough snow to keep the photographer within me satisfied.

P1100530 - Climbing Pen y Fan

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Cardiff Bay - Black Redstarts and Reed Buntings

Wednesday, December 24, 2014 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


Cardiff may not immediately strike you as a prime birding location but recent years have seen numerous highlights including a regular wintering Lesser Scaup and my first Waxwings for over a decade. Much of this interest has been focused on Cardiff Bay, a huge 500 hectare freshwater lake formed in the 1990's by the construction of a barrage across the tidal estuaries of the River's Taff and Ely. Its main aim was to kick start development of an industrial wasteland but also resulted in the loss of a habitat used by over 8,000 wintering waders and wildfowl. This was once the highest density of birds found anywhere on the Severn Estuary and despite various compensation schemes has never come close to being replaced. Saying that the result is undeniably attractive on the eye and as I've already said does have a habit of drawing in star birds. Such is the conundrum of man's impact on our environment.

P1100421 - Cardiff Bay

A couple of weeks ago we caught the train to Cardiff and after a short walk from the city centre found ourselves once more on a five mile circuit of its bay. Conditions were perfect with a clear sky and nothing more than a slight breeze that didn't drop temperatures any lower than comfortable. First port of call was Cardiff Bay Wetlands Reserve, one of the schemes constructed to help compensate for lost saltmarsh and tidal mudflat habitat. Clearly however it was never going to be a direct replacement and today provides a valuable home to Reed Buntings, Sedge Warblers and other reed dwelling species instead of the Redshanks and Shelducks which have long since moved away. In fact it was a pair of those aforementioned Reed Buntings which got the day off to an excellent start as we watched them avidly feeding on seeds.

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Hatton - Locks and Redwings

Tuesday, December 16, 2014 Adam Tilt 6 Comments


Sunday 7th saw us making a long overdue return visit to Hatton Locks, a flight of twenty one locks (not lochs as I originally spelt the title of this entry and which would have made for something entirely different) on the Grand Union Canal. Opened in 1799 they have a total rise of 45 meters over less than two miles, impressive numbers if you're in the canal business I'm sure you'll agree. Originally built for the transport of coal, sugar, spices and tea they today provide a very enjoyable walk along well maintained towpaths. Though a couple of modern concrete bridges jar slightly with the older architecture everything else is pretty much as it once was following a widening scheme in the 1930's designed to combat increased competition from rail. One need only look across to the neighbouring mainline however to see how that particular battle turned out.

P1100406 - Hatton Locks

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An Unkindness of Ravens

Sunday, December 14, 2014 Adam Tilt 7 Comments


We've been treated to something of a spectacle this morning with at least eighteen Ravens circling over our back garden and neighbouring countryside. I've never seen so many here before with our resident pair usually only being accompanied on rare occasions. This therefore was highly unusual and they stayed around for the entire morning, alternating between the fields, trees and sky.

P1100501 - Local Ravens

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Lower Brockhampton - Siskins and Soup

Saturday, December 13, 2014 Adam Tilt 4 Comments


Last weekend we popped backed to the Midlands to visit my parents and collect those all important Christmas presents, payment for which was taken in full by having to endure hours upon hours of reality television. Thankfully the full impact of such an assault was lessened somewhat having spent Saturday walking at Brockhampton estate, a National Trust owned property with a Medieval manor house at its heart. Conditions couldn't have been more perfect with a clear blue sky, frost on the ground and plenty of wildlife waiting to be discovered.

P1100360 - Lower Brockhampton

Arriving early allowed us an almost uninterrupted walk down from the top gate through mixed woodland to the view you see above. This imposing Georgian residence is now in private hands but still makes one hell of a statement amongst the rolling Hertfordshire hills. I just wish they hadn't built a huge conservatory on the side as it does rather spoil the spectacle. Aesthetics aside I was pleasantly surprised to see just how many birds were about with a Grey Wagtail feeding along the banks of the pond above, three Stock Doves overhead, numerous Nuthatches, Song Thrushes and Blackbirds and perhaps best of all my first Siskins for what seems like an absolute age. I don't know what the cause has been but they've remained incredibly elusive this year with even our most reliable spot on Mull having drawn a blank. I'm not aware of any national population crisis so can only presume that we've been unlucky making this small group even more special than usual.

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Creation of New Saltmarsh at Cwm Ivy

Friday, December 12, 2014 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Earlier this week the long running saga concerning a breach in the seawall at Cwm Ivy Marsh finally reached its conclusion (read my original post on the subject here). For those locals who were lobbying the National Trust to make immediate repairs the announcement that the area is to be turned into a new tidal saltmarsh will no doubt come as a bitter disappointment. Not only will the seawall be permanently lost (a structure dating from the Middle Ages) but along with it what was once a popular walking route (I guess the Wales coast path just got a little longer as well!). I share this feeling of loss but as I've previously stated this controlled retreat was really the only sensible option available. With sea levels on the rise and an increase in both ferocity and frequency of winter storms any repairs to the old defenses would likely only ever have been a temporary measure. The costs involved in such upkeep are simply not justified by the grazing pasture they protect and with pressures elsewhere on saltmarsh habitat this seems a highly sensible option.

P1080716 - Cwm Ivy Marsh seawall breach

The new project is to be undertaken by both Natural Resources Wales and the National Trust and will ultimately result in the creation of almost 100 acres of new saltmarsh. When I last visited fresh water vegetation was already dying off, a process that has only accelerated as the breach worsens with each high tide bringing in silt and potential new colonisers. The hope is that this new habitat will become an important feeding and nesting site for birds and other wildlife, a tantalising proposition given the areas good accessibility and clear views. The one problem with the North Gower marshes is that they are often difficult to watch so I look forward to enjoying many evening roosts at Cwm Ivy as the transformation advances. My main hope is that Hen Harriers, a regular winter visitor here, take advantage of this new landscape and allow even more people to enjoy these spectacular birds.

If you want to read more on this story there are several news items about though I'm looking forward to reading a more detailed plan and timeline. In the meantime all we can do is watch and see how this exciting new initiative develops.

BBC News: North Gower farmland to return to saltmarsh habitat
Natural Resources Wales: New project to create compensatory saltmarsh habitat

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More From Penwyllt Quarry

Wednesday, December 10, 2014 Adam Tilt 5 Comments


As promised I've put together this follow up entry for those who enjoyed our visit to Penwyllt quarry a couple of weeks ago and wanted to see a little more of what remains today. The site is, not unsurprisingly, rather large and we only managed a brief look around some of the structures still present. I'm sure a more thorough investigation would likely reveal yet more of the history surrounding this place but for now here are a couple of my favourite shots from the day along with a little of their story.

P1100292 - Penwyllt Quarry
Penwyllt is located in the hills behind Craig-y-Nos and as such enjoys spectacular views over the surrounding Brecon Beacons national park. Not a lot remains today of the village itself which at its peak was once home to over five hundred people. Following serious decline the quarry finally closed in 1977 with most of the remaining buildings demolished in the 1980's. One survivor however is the Penwyllt Inn, known locally as "Stump Inn", which is seen here with the dramatic Carmarthen Fan in the distance.

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Penwyllt Quarry and Ogof Ffynnon Ddu

Monday, December 08, 2014 Adam Tilt 6 Comments


Time, or lack of it, has always been the chief protagonist in every bloggers failed attempt at regular posting and alas I too have fallen victim over the past couple of weeks. Posts have remained unwritten, photos unprocessed and comments unanswered but hopefully that will change given that, somehow, we find ourselves already deep into December. After all, one new years hangover will be plenty thank you very much.

Back to the action then starting with a highly enjoyable walk in the Brecon Beacons. I'm sure you'll all be expecting sweeping vistas and rolling hills (and they will of course feature) but this outing was instead to focus on the national parks' industrial past. It's perhaps easy to forget that this protected and treasured landscape was once the beating heart of a vibrant mining and manufacturing empire employing thousands of men, women and children. Some of these activities date back centuries with a few sites, particularly where quarrying took place, remaining active even today. One such location is Penwyllt which began life producing quicklime in 1819 but ended up encompassing silica brick manufacture and aggregate extraction. Served by its own station on the Neath and Brecon railway this small settlement grew rapidly and peaked at five hundred individuals living within a stones throw of the numerous quarries and limekiln's at which they worked. Looking at a modern OS map however you'd be forgiven for thinking this all a fiction as today only a few buildings remain together with the abandoned quarry and long lifted railway. Be not deceived however as in person the area has so much still left to offer, particularly for those with an interest in industrial archaeology.

There is a road that leads directly up to Penwyllt itself but we fancied a longer walk so instead parked up opposite the Tafarn-y-Garreg pub (also long since closed). Regular readers may recall this as the starting point for our walks on the Carmarthen Fan but today it proved ideally situated for the Brecon Way which threads itself behind Craig-y-Nos country park before climbing steeply up to our destination. Initially conditions were mixed with half the valley bathed in sunshine whilst we were left to toil in the shadows.

P1100247 - View from Craig-y-Nos

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