Big Garden Birdwatch 2015

Friday, January 30, 2015 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


On Sunday we took part in the RSPB's annual Big Garden Birdwatch, the largest citizen science project of its kind and one which has been reporting on the state of our nations birds since 1979. You only need look at the number of people who have already submitted their records this year (currently 303,895) to see just how popular the count has become. For those new to the event it essentially involves watching and counting the birds which appear in your garden across a single hour. Sounds simple, and it is, though you can pretty much guarantee that your more unusual visitors wont turn up during the allotted time. Frustrating for those of us who like to boast of their avian friends but perhaps a fairer representation of which species really do rely on our garden feeders.

P1100657 - Robin

This year our chosen hour was between twelve and one, not usually the gardens busiest time but with bad weather approaching we wanted to get our count in as early as possible (and before anyway says anything twelve is early for a Sunday!). Initially things were disappointingly quiet with the recent substantial flocks of Chaffinches and House Sparrows much reduced or in the case of the latter absent entirely. Instead we had to rely on our regulars, the Blue Tits, Great Tits, Dunnocks, Robin and Blackbird. As the hour ticked by however numbers began to steadily increase until with just ten minutes to go we were almost back up to full strength. Even the recently elusive Coal Tit had popped in for a couple of Sunflower seeds before hiding itself away back in the hedge. What we really had our fingers crossed for though were the Long-tailed Tits, a flock of which are now pretty regular visitors here but only for very brief spells. You can imagine our excitement therefore when all eight of them arrived with barely a couple of minutes to go, a rush of action to bring our watch to an end.

Totting up afterwards we recorded a very respectable 37 individuals across 10 species. The only significant miss was Collared Doves and it was with regret that for another year in succession we failed to see any Starlings at all. Back in 2011 we had an impressive twelve present, but alas no more.

12:40 - 13:40
Jackdaw (2)
Blackbird (1)
Robin (1)
Chaffinch (7)
Blue Tit (5)
House Sparrow (8)
Great Tit (2)
Coal Tit (1)
Long-tailed Tit (8)
Dunnock (2)

With those results submitted I wanted to test out a theory. I've long suspected that the hour before dusk is far busier in the garden than at any other time so from three until four we repeated the count. For the first half hour activity around the feeders was absolutely frenetic despite bird numbers being relatively similar to earlier in the day. There was a constant movement between our property and each neighbour which made counting far more difficult though as time progressed a steady increase in both Chaffinches and House Sparrows was observed. I'm particularly pleased at this as each used to be a mainstay here but seem to have decreased in number over the last couple of years. Now that they're back let's hope it's for good and I shall be putting up a few new nest boxes at the weekend to try and encourage breeding this spring.

15:05 - 16:05
Pied Wagtail (1)
Robin (1)
House Sparrow (12)
Chaffinch (11)
Dunnock (2)
Great Tit (2)
Blue Tit (5)
Blackbird (1)

As you can see from the numbers above we finished a couple of birds down on the earlier count due to a complete no show from the Long-tailed Tits but did pick up a very confiding male Pied Wagtail. Though not conclusive I think my theory holds water and at the very least it was a thoroughly enjoyable way to while away a couple of hours.

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Starling Murmuration over Aberystwyth Pier

Thursday, January 29, 2015 Adam Tilt 5 Comments


Aberystwyth pier and Starling murmurations have become synonymous with each other over the years to such an extent that each evening now sees a sizeable group of residents, students and tourists gathered along the seafront. I'm happy to say that over the last decade or so I have been in attendance on a number of occasions, most of them from my favoured vantage point on the wooden jetty along north beach. Not only do you get great views of the setting sun from there but perhaps more importantly it's also well outside the poo zone!

P1100853 - Starling Murmuration, Aberystwyth

By half four on Saturday afternoon the sun was already well on its way to the horizon when the first couple of Starlings began to appear. Another few minutes passed before a slightly larger flock swooped in across the rooftops, a real relief as for a moment there we'd feared that the display might not happen at all. As always with nature nothing is ever guaranteed and with the Starling population continuing to suffer you do start to wander if this year might be the last. Fortunately I can confirm that in Aber at least such doom-mongering is misplaced as tens of thousands of birds soon joined the melee overhead.

P1100860 - Starling Murmuration, Aberystwyth

P1100866 - Starling Murmuration, Aberystwyth

P1100875 - Starling Murmuration, Aberystwyth

Though sunny days are great for sunsets they're not so good when it comes to Starling murmurations. We've tended to find that the birds stay out later on fine days to maximise their feeding opportunities leaving little time for display once they return to the pier. Instead we get a couple of minutes flying around before the flock heads straight in to roost.

P1100887 - Starling Murmuration, Aberystwyth

P1100889 - Starling Murmuration, Aberystwyth

Events looked to be following a similar pattern this time out so once the last large flock had descended we headed off back to the car. However something, or more likely someone, had clearly disturbed the birds putting the whole lot back up as one. With the last light of day rapidly fading the massed thousands at last started to murmurate fully, a stunning display above Old College and St Michael's Church and one of the best I've ever seen.

P1100894 - Starling Murmuration, Aberystwyth

P1100896 - Starling Murmuration, Aberystwyth

With each change in direction another strange shape would form often resembling something familiar whether that be a bird, Octopus or snake. All coincidence of cause but who doesn't like to think that there's some kind of plan being played out amongst the chaos.


It wasn't just Starlings who were making the most of dusk however with a small flock of Oystercatchers and Turnstones down on the beach. In such nice light it would have been rude of me not to take a couple of photos.

P1100850 - Oystercatchers, Aberystwyth

P1100891 - Oystercatchers, Aberystwyth

What a fantastic way to end our Aberystwyth trip. If you ever get the chance to go and see the murmuration for yourself I highly recommend it. Just look at some of the previous displays we've witnessed here, here and here.

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Aberystwyth to Wallog - Purple Sandpipers, Choughs and more

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 Adam Tilt 20 Comments


Whenever I happen to mention that we've just spent a day in Aberystwyth, the response received is almost universally one of puzzlement. Why bother travelling into the depths of mid-Wales they ask? My answer is always simple. A stunning coastline, one of the countries best preserved seaside towns and of course my home from home after spending five years there at university. Inevitably many others share these views meaning that to avoid the crowds we tend to take our trips out of season, the most recent being just last Saturday. All the forecasts promised a fine day but upon our arrival there was still a bank of cloud present and with it an absolutely freezing wind blasting in from the sea. Combined with a high tide these conditions were perfect for a little wave over wall action, an occurrence which seems to be developing into a fairly regular event.

P1100776 - Aberystwyth waves

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Snow Prints - Ravens and Rabbits

Sunday, January 25, 2015 Adam Tilt 10 Comments


If you watched this weeks Winterwatch then Chris Packham's film on the joys of looking for animal and bird prints in snow may have roused your interest. It certainly did mine as this is already something we do on a regular basis, or at least as regular as can be given this countries inability to deposit much of the white stuff. Just last week our walk along the Cribarth ridge provided a perfect opportunity for a little tracking with numerous Rabbit trails criss-crossing the landscape.

P1100686 - Rabbit prints, Cribarth

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Cribarth Ridge Walk from Craig-y-Nos

Friday, January 23, 2015 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


P1100689 - Cribarth Ridge, Brecon Beacons Start: SN 84136 15182

End: SN 84019 15337

Distance: 4miles

Overall Altitude Gain: 854ft

Terrain: Relatively steep, dangerous drops, open countryside with no signposts once on the hill

Difficulty: Medium - navigation difficult in bad weather
Introduction
More snow last week meant that we just had to get back out into the Brecon Beacons on Sunday. Our original plan had been to make a return trip up Pen y Fan but with wind speeds forecast at forty miles per hour and temperatures well into double negatives, conditions were just a little too extreme. Instead we decided to stick to lower altitudes and hunting around the OS maps came across Cribath ridge. Better known as the sleeping giant due to an uncanny and self explanatory outline it sits above Craig-y-Nos and has been a visible presence in many of our recent walks. With a trig point at its top, numerous quarries and tramways dating from the nineteenth century and commanding views across the surrounding landscape, there really was only one question left to ask. Why hadn't we climbed it already?

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I'm all 'bout the patch, 'bout the patch

Tuesday, January 20, 2015 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


Despite a forecast of doom and gloom Saturday dawned clear, sunny and, if not warm, then certainly above the freezing conditions I'd been expecting. To top it all the strong winds of recent days had been banished to leave an unexpectedly peaceful and tranquil landscape. With a light mist still hanging over the Loughor and wood smoke from a nearby bonfire twisting its way between the trees there really could not have been a better time to get my 2015 Patchwork Challenge up and running.

I've already mentioned here how busy our garden feeders have been of late and today was no exception with the added bonus of a Pied Wagtail which dropped in briefly just before we set off. I however managed to miss this surprisingly rare patch species though did hear a couple sometime later so that's at least one tricky tick already in the bag. Up on Gopa Hill an unusually large flock of nine Magpie were making their presence heard, a good count for my first BirdTrack list of the year (yes I am keeping up with that particular resolution). Not far away the local Collared Dove pair were also to be found which begs the question as to why they have been absent from our garden these past few weeks. Perhaps continued disturbance from numerous stray cats has finally forced them into safer territory? Whatever the reason it's good to see they are still around. Much more unexpected was the appearance of this Red Admiral flying strongly near the summit. I know I said it was warmer than expected but this might be pushing things a little too far.

P1100646 - An early Red Admiral

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Hen Harrier and Great White Egret at Llanrhidian Marsh

Sunday, January 18, 2015 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


I'm sat here on a Sunday evening after what has been a very enjoyable weekend indeed. We kicked off with the first proper days birding on patch in 2015, a session which delivered some really top notch species including the always hard to find Woodcock, followed up today with a brand new walk along the Cribarth ridge in gorgeous snowy conditions. Full accounts will of course follow in due course but for now I thought I'd focus on my personal highlight in a weekend of special moments.

P1100772 - Llanrhidian Marsh, Gower
Big skies down on Llanrhidian Marsh

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Little Egret at WWT Llanelli

Saturday, January 17, 2015 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


The Little Egret I photographed during our last visit to WWT Llanelli really did put on an exceptional display as it successfully fished just a few meters from our position in the hide. We had grandstand seats as it disturbed the mud with those bright yellow feet before snapping up any unfortunate creatures making a dash for freedom. Definitely a situation where video beats stills every time.

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Start of a New Birding Year

Friday, January 16, 2015 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


January thus far has definitely been a little quieter on the birding front than I'd have liked with both terrible weather and the day job principally to blame. Working every day for the last two weeks is definitely not to be recommended at the best of times, least of all when there's a new years list to get off the ground. Thankfully I did manage to squeeze in some early quality whilst still in Leeds with a Red Kite over the house and two Goosanders on a nearby river. Back home in Wales the feeders have been going absolutely crazy, by far the busiest I've seen them for several years, with both House Sparrow and Chaffinch numbers way up on normal. Each morning I've been treated to the delightful sight of our skeletal apple tree holding upwards of twenty birds, each waiting patiently for their turn on the sunflower seeds. Come evening and it's the Long-tailed Tits turn for a feed with up to nine birds seen at any one time. As usual they don't tend to stick around for long but are a very welcome visitor nonetheless. Other regulars have included our Ravens, Dunnocks, Great Tits, Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Robins, Blackbirds and Jackdaws not to mention fly-over Red Kites, Buzzards and our very first Jay. Despite such readily available birds however any chance of getting 2015 off to a decent start was going to necessitate a trip away from the house and, as tradition dictates, that meant a visit to the WWT reserve at Llanelli way back on the 4th.

In keeping with the previous two weeks worth of weather Sunday morning, and the whole day in fact, was dull, drab and particularly cold given a season of otherwise mild temperatures. In fact conditions were so dark that I doubted there would be any opportunity for photographs but who can resist the flash of colour that is a Moorhen beak, particularly when it's your first of the year.

P1100624 - Moorhen, Llanelli WWT

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Brimham Rocks in the Snow

Tuesday, January 06, 2015 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Following our outing to Pen Y Fan we headed off to Leeds for the final few days of December where, as hoped for, there were still significant amounts of snow. Much of it however was patchy with one hillside completely barren only for its neighbour to be under a good couple of inches. Clearly I wanted to walk one of the latter and fortunately a trip out to Brimham Rocks provided just such an opportunity. From a frozen car park to plenty of the white stuff it was a real winter wonderland with the contrasting blue sky lending an extra edge to an already stunning set of rock formations.  Formed through centuries of weathering the unique landscape really is something best experienced in person but I hope that a few of my images have captured at least some of its character.

P1100593 - Brimham Rocks

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New Year New Goals

Sunday, January 04, 2015 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


A new year calls for new goals as once again I shall be eschewing the traditional resolutions in favour of an undoubtedly more achievable set of plans and ambitions. I did the same thing last year, though in a far less formal way, and ended up having one of my most productive twelve months to date. In 2015 I shall be building on this good start with added focus on the conservation effort some of my regular activities can include. At it's simplest this will include finally submitting records to my local recording authorities, something which I have been promising and failing to do for far too long now, as well as increasing my use of the BTO's excellent BirdTrack application. Both should make for an easy fit with my own slimmed down use of lists and recording techniques, but more on that a little later. Perhaps most importantly however is the overriding desire to experience new locations and wildlife, both home and abroad, which should see some exciting plans coming to fruition later in the year. Nothing has been set in stone just yet but rest assured this blog will be fully updated throughout. For now though let's deal with those things I do know and which will be keeping me busy (and hopefully you entertained) across the coming months.

23773 - Swansea beach under snow

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