Monsal Trail, Miller's Dale, Monsal Dale

Sunday, May 31, 2015 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


Monday saw us bidding farewell to Emma's parents but with no particular desire to leave the Peak District ourselves we headed North to Monsal Head. A world renowned beauty spot, and with good reason, its elevated position gives sweeping views across the River Wye at a point where the peculiarities of geology force a sharp change in course. The resultant limestone valleys have attracted artists and writers for centuries and it was John Ruskin, a famous cultural commentator, who in 1863 led public outrage at the Midland Railway's plans to drive a new route through its very heart. Progress however stops for no man and the resultant viaduct, though clearly unpopular at the time, is today heralded for its architectural and historical significance.

P1120973 - Monsal Trail

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Lathkill Dale including Mandale Mine and Bateman's House

Friday, May 29, 2015 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


Day two of our Peak District trip saw us exploring one of the dales for which this area is so well known. Narrow, steep sided valleys cut deep through limestone by water erosion, they feel upon first entry very much like stepping back into some forgotten world. Cut off from their surroundings means that here the micro-climate is king and I've known this particular dale to be cool and misty whilst outside temperatures were nudging well above twenty. Even better is that as Lathkill Dale is still relatively unknown compared to the tourist hotspot of Dovedale, you're far less likely to run into crowds at a weekend and stand a much greater chance of seeing the speciality species which call these places home. Of course Lathkill Dale has not always been left to nature's own devices and has seen heavy human habitation throughout the years including extensive lead mining, milling and fishing. Though all activities have long since ceased the river remains significantly altered with numerous weirs and side channels along its length.

P1120909 - Lathkill Dale

P1120912 - Lathkill Dale

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Carsington Water - Tree Sparrows, Barnacle Geese and Reed Warblers

Wednesday, May 27, 2015 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


Say what you like about bankers but their penchant for taking the occasional long weekend means that we've just returned from three very enjoyable days in the Peak District. Our base of operations was a cottage on the outskirts of Wirksworth (currently on the market for £1.25 million if you're interested) and it goes without saying that we spent most of that time doing plenty of walking and birding. In fact things got off to a great start before we'd even arrived having spotted two Cuckoos whilst driving along the M50. The first bird was only seen in flight but the second sat on an overhead cable as we powered beneath. Not a bad way to spice up a long drive and probably my best views of this species for at least the last couple of years. As an added bonus there was also an incredible clarity of light throughout the evening resulting in visibility the likes of which I've rarely experienced. Views across the surrounding landscape spread for miles and even those landmarks at close quarters looked more vibrant and real than usual. A strange sensation that can really only be understood once experienced first hand.

With this being a Bank Holiday weekend the chances of such remarkable weather continuing were always unlikely and it was with no real surprise that we woke on Saturday to a resolutely overcast sky. It was nevertheless still bright and with the inviting shimmer of Carsington Water just a couple of fields away we set off to walk its nine mile perimeter. For those history buffs amongst you this was the last major reservoir constructed in the twentieth century, finally opening in 1992 after lengthy planning and construction delays. The most significant of these came in 1984 when the newly constructed dam partially collapsed leading to its complete removal and reconstruction from 1989 onwards! Thankfully it looks like it was a case of second time lucky and the intervening years have seen this inland sea become something of a wildlife hotspot. Indeed we'd only been alongside for a couple of minutes when we spotted this Reed Warbler singing, unusually, out in the open.

P1120835 - Reed Warbler, Carsington Water

Keeping it company was at least one Sedge Warbler and a similarly vocal Whitethroat whilst the surrounding trees were full of singing Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers. Out on the water Tufted Ducks and plenty of Great Crested Grebes were about as varied as the waterfowl got but it was nice to see a couple of Oystercatchers and a Lapwing on one of several islands which dot the northern reaches. A couple of large hides were a nice surprise and if Ospreys decide to nest on one of the numerous posts supplied for that very purpose they will provide spectacular views indeed. Today though it was all about the commoner species with Reed Buntings, nesting Coots and even a pair of Barnacle Geese providing the main attractions. In fact it wasn't until we'd reached the visitor centre (an impressive and well appointed complex) that things really took off following an unusual call. Stopping to listen we soon picked up a male Tree Sparrow which then proceeded to lead us straight to the nest box in which its hungry young family were waiting. At least three tiny little mouths emerged to be fed and we got to enjoy both parents comings and goings at close range despite the number of cyclists speeding past.

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Garden Birds - An Audience With

Tuesday, May 26, 2015 Adam Tilt 6 Comments


Of all the aspects of our house the garden is perhaps the one element that I find most pleasing. Its development from a few shrubs to wildlife hotspot has been unplanned and, to a certain extent, beginners luck, but it seems that this year we are really starting to reap the rewards of all that hard work. Yes my Sparrow terrace remains unused but I'm delighted to report that a pair of Blue Tits have youngsters in one of our boxes and I was treated to great views of a recently fledged Robin being fed there last weekend. The sound it made as the food arrived was something really quite special. Meanwhile our feeders have continued to be extremely busy and, having not used the camera for a couple of weeks, I enjoyed half an hour watching them on Thursday evening. Unlike normal I didn't concern myself too much with getting the perfect composition or pose, instead simply snapping away and checking the results at a later date. It came as a pleasant surprise therefore when it turned out that I'd probably had my most productive garden photography session to date.

P1120774 - House Sparrow

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#pwc2015 Fledgling Stonechats

Saturday, May 23, 2015 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


Another two weeks on patch and, despite only managing a couple of visits, my recent run of success has continued unabated. Before we get to that though a few updates including the fact that Emma saw no less than four Shelducks flying over the valley early one morning. Quite what that means for our suspected nesting pair I have no idea but I will certainly be endeavouring to find out. Something I did manage to see, and on several occasions no less, is the Grey Heron which from complete obscurity has arrived back on the scene in a big way to no doubt terrorise the neighbourhood ponds. Barely an evening has gone by that I haven't seen it dropping down into the village, a sight only rivalled for sheer theatre by our resident Red Kite. Quite what has caused the latter to become such an urban dweller I don't know but it can now be seen regularly hunting the back gardens along our street, often just a few metres off the deck. Now let me assure you that is one hell of an impressive sight and whilst standing out in the garden today it came past screeching, no doubt unimpressed at what it perceived as an intruder in its territory. Not your typical garden bird I'm sure you'll agree.

P1120764 - Spring

As for new species I'm pleased to announce that House Martins have once again returned to our little corner of Wales with a pair circling Goppa Hill on the 13th. Sadly they didn't stay overhead long enough for a photo so I turned my attention to the blossom instead which on such a sunny evening was looking absolutely delightful (above). In fact conditions were so nice that I stood for a little while simply soaking up the view across the valley and was evidently camouflaged to such an extent that two Sparrowhawks landed in a tree barely a few foot away. Surprised would be an understatement and I had a superb vantage point from which to hear them making an unfamiliar mewing sound before my cover was, alas, broken. As both birds headed out into open territory I was treated to more great views of what I presume is the same pair that we first started seeing here during the winter months.

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Llanelli WWT - Catching Up

Thursday, May 21, 2015 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


The past few months have been an almost non-stop whirlwind of great walks and excellent birds with some fantastic scenery thrown in for good measure. Alas such freedom was never likely to last and commitments over the last fortnight and coming month are likely to mean that my outings and subsequent bloggings are going to become somewhat more irregular. Frustrating for sure but that's not going to stop me from squeezing in as much as I possibly can and keeping you, my loyal readers, entertained.

P1120737 - Tufted Duck

Before that though let's get right up to date, kicking off with a visit to WWT Llanelli back on the 10th. In contrast to the previous days exploits on Gower there was to be no sun, but that certainly didn't seem to effect the number or variety of birds on offer. Starting proceedings at the Michael Powell hide were a selection of the usual suspects including a few Gadwall and Shelduck, plus a snoozing Grey Heron which seemed to be attracting its fair share of admirers. Swallows and the sound of singing Whitethroats reminded us that despite conditions we weren't still enduring winter, as did the sight of a solitary Lapwing and Whimbrel out in front of the British Steel hide. Keeping them company were at least another forty eight Shelduck as well as the resident Greylags which had unusually been joined by a party of five Canada Geese. Not something likely to impress the purists I'm sure.

With the tide still high I attempted to pick out a few species on the estuary but to my surprise found viewing conditions hampered significantly by heat haze. I certainly didn't think that was going to be a problem when I'd pulled back the curtains a few hours earlier! Nevertheless I persevered and managed to spot several hundred-strong flocks of Dunlin chasing the retreating water. Turning our attention to the NRA scrapes I was surprised to find three Wigeon still present, either very late stayers or individuals which have simply decided not to move on this year. The same couldn't be said for the Shovellers which have completely disappeared but it was nice to see at least ninety Black-tailed Godwits still present, most resplendent in their colourful breeding plumage. We had a good look through for anything rarer though the appearance of a Pectoral Sandpiper the next morning makes me wonder if we shouldn't have searched that little bit harder.....

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Landimore, Weobley and Cheriton

Thursday, May 14, 2015 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


We headed off to Gower last Saturday to walk one of the less well trodden routes that the peninsula has to offer. Concentrated on the quieter, though no less impressive, northern coast I first explored this area while surveying for the recent Bird Atlas and found it so rewarding that it's become a regular haunt ever since. Parking up at Landimore and looking out across the expansive marsh it's difficult to understand why more people don't choose to spend a little more of their time here. You may not get sandy beaches the likes of which Rhossili and Port Eynon can offer but that's more than made up for by big skies, plenty of birds and, er, lots of sheep.

P1120677 - Landimore Marsh

Even better was that after a couple of weeks of dull and cool weather we finally had the sun back and for the first time in a long time it actually felt like Spring. Gone were the coats and as we made our way up towards the village we were surrounded by calling Chiffchaffs and Goldfinches. Even better was that hirundine numbers looked to be on the increase with good numbers of Swallows mixed in with only our second sighting of House Martins this year. Hearing them calling as they swooped overhead was a really nice way to start the day and things only got better when we found a couple of Swallows perched on roadside cables. Through a heat haze and hoards of insects (or food if you're one of these fellows) I couldn't resist taking this photo, a smile on my face throughout.

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Searching for Dotterel on Garreg Lwyd

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


Some would call it dedication, others sheer madness, but having stayed awake all night to watch the general election drama unfold I was out on Garreg Lwyd later that afternoon after just a few hours sleep. Conditions were far from ideal with strong winds, heavy rain and poor visibility making the search almost impossible.

P1120674 - Garreg Lwyd

Nevertheless we persevered but despite much optimism only managed to turn up a couple of Wheatears and Skylarks for our efforts. Even so the outing was worth it if for nothing other than the opportunity to test out our wet weather gear and navigation skills. We really should try and get up there in better conditions one of these days.

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22 Degree Halo, Upper Tangent Arc and Sundogs

Monday, May 11, 2015 Adam Tilt 4 Comments


P1120673 - 22 degree halo, Upper tangent arc and Parahelion (sundogs)

While out walking last week we noticed what at first glance appeared to be a rainbow forming just before dusk. However there was no rain anywhere near us and having studied the image above a little closer it has become apparent that there was more going on than first met the eye. Some intense googling later has led me to a series of similar images which identified the features as a twenty two degree halo, upper tangent arc and the hint of at least one sundog. I've labelled them up below for clarity.

P1120673 - 22 degree halo, Upper tangent arc and Parahelion (sundogs)

The main feature is obviously the halo and is formed as a result of the sun shining through ice crystals contained within the thin clouds which were prevalent at the time. Apparently it is always the same size no matter its position in the sky and by stretching out your hand and holding it at arms length your thumb should sit over the sun with your little finger against the halo. Interesting stuff I'm sure you'll agree.

The upper tangent arc is formed in a similar way but this time relies on the presence of hexagonal rod-shaped ice crystals drifting with their long axes orientated horizontally. Its overall shape varies depending on the height of the sun and we caught it at just about its most distinctive here.

Finally we come to the sundog which, unsurprisingly, is again caused by light shining through ice crystals. I've seen these before but on those occasions they were isolated features in the sky. If only we'd known we could have climbed the hill and got an even better view of it and its partner on the opposite side of the sun.

If you fancy reading a little more on the subject there is plenty of material out there so delve in and remember to keep your eye's to the sky. These features are fairly common apparently but are easily overlooked.

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#pwc2015 Nesting Shelducks and Targets Beaten

Sunday, May 10, 2015 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


The big news from patch this week has been that, quite remarkably, I've just blasted my way through last year's score despite it still being early May! One of my main goals for the Patchwork Challenge this time out was to make more regular visits and to gain a fuller understanding of which species call Cefn Drum and its environs home. This increased dedication has been paying dividends of late with both new breeders and completely new species all being discovered in the last few days.

Before I get ahead of myself however let me take you back to last weekend where conditions were, to put it mildly, a little mixed. With a wind and rain swept hillside not particularly appealing I instead set myself up in the living room for a spot of birding in comfort (I am getting older you know). In no time at all I'd already tripled my count of patch Mallards for the year as well as enjoying some stunning views of a Red Kite. There can't be many places in the country where such a magnificent bird of prey can be watched at eye level from your couch! Even better was to come however as a Grey Heron lifted itself into the air from what I presume was a garden pond somewhere down in the village, a new tick and one which until that moment I hadn't even realised was missing from this year's tally. The next day I repeated the exercise in even worse conditions and managed to turn up our very first Swift of the year. It was battling against the wind and was only seen for a few minutes before shooting back towards the coast. Fast forward to Monday and a late afternoon visit to the far reaches of the valley turned up a reeling Grasshopper Warbler. Found in almost exactly the same place as one back in 2013 it finally confirms that this species is a regular visitor to these parts.

P1120669_2 - Shelduck

The Shelduck above gives a good hint as to our star find this week but the full story behind it is quite incredible. Baring in mind we are a good couple of miles inland here the sight of one of these flying over the patch is always cause for celebration. Their appearance has been almost annual ever since we moved in but until now I had no idea what they were up to. At long last that mystery has been solved having watched the individual above first circle around us before dropping down into an area of thick vegetation. From then on there was no further sign and with no possible way that the bird could have escaped unnoticed we were left with only one conclusion; we have nesting Shelducks on patch! There are a number of Rabbit burrows in the area and with Shelducks favouring these as a nesting site that probably explains the birds vanishing act. A fascinating discovery and, as I've already said, exactly the kind of knowledge I wanted to gather this year.

From new information on a regular visitor to a brand new species altogether, the same outing also delivered a pair of singing Garden Warblers. Both were found in scrubland along the valley bottom and have taken me into uncharted territory where the Patchwork Challenge is concerned. Sixty five points and counting.

Sadly in today's society not all of us seem to derive the same enjoyment from our natural world and I was saddened to find another stretch of the valley has gone up in smoke.

P1120665 - More destruction

Looking at the debris this seems to be the work of arsonists once again. Depressing but that's not going to stop me doing my best to document and protect this area as best I can.

2015: 65 / 2014: 64

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Garden Hedgehogs

Saturday, May 09, 2015 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


This week is Hedgehog Awareness Week and reading the various related tweets and blogs across the internet got me thinking about our own nocturnal visitors. We've been noticing an increasing quantity of Hedgehog droppings in the garden over the past month or so but thus far have had no sightings of the animals themselves. Not surprising perhaps given the almost total darkness we experience here at night so out went the Bushnell trail camera to act as our eyes and ears. In truth I didn't expect to capture anything more than the local collection of feral cats so was over the moon to film the following footage during the first two nights.


With the weather turning very nasty on Wednesday we kept the camera inside but it was back out on Thursday for what we hoped would be another eventful evening. Checking the recordings I don't think either of us expected to find what we did. Not only was our Hedgehog back (puzzling a cat along the way) but it had also brought a friend.


Judging from the size difference between the two individuals I presume we have both a male and female present meaning there's a great potential for breeding in the near future. We'll be doing all we can to encourage them to continue their visits with plans for a Hedgehog feeding station and shelter in the pipeline. Meanwhile the camera will continue its nightly vigil and hopefully we'll get some more great footage to share soon.

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Gwenffrwd-Dinas Delivers

Friday, May 08, 2015 Adam Tilt 10 Comments


Bank holiday Monday saw an improvement in the weather so we headed off into mid-Wales for our (almost) annual visit to RSPB Dinas. Ever since we discovered the reserve several years ago it has consistently delivered the full spectrum of woodland migrants whilst simultaneously providing a thoroughly enjoyable walk through classic Welsh scenery. Whether more people are slowly becoming aware of this hidden gem or not I can't be sure but I have never seen the place quite so busy as on this occasion. Perhaps the pair of Marsh Tits which were showing spectacularly well on the feeders had something to do with it as they'd certainly attracted a substantial line of photographers with equally impressive pieces of glass. I felt somewhat inadequate turning up with my small bridge camera and in the end didn't get anything worth keeping, instead settling for the simple pleasure of watching the birds going about their business. Keeping the Marsh Tits company were a male Yellowhammer, Blackcap and several Nuthatches, not forgetting of course the commoner species which are never far away.

P1120623 - Blue Tit, Gwenffrwd-Dinas

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Lliw Reservoirs - An Eely Good Time

Wednesday, May 06, 2015 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


Thick fog greeted us on Sunday morning and with visibility restricted to such an extent that even the opposite side of our road was hard to make out, it was clear that we wouldn't be going anywhere for quite some time. Fortunately conditions slowly improved and by midday it was possible to not only see a little bit of our surroundings but also pick out our very first Swift of the year soaring above the village. If that's not motivation enough to get out there I don't know what is so we set off for the Lliw Reservoirs to see what else the bad weather may have brought in. As it turned out the answer was not much with the airspace above the lower reservoir devoid of any movement. All hail therefore this Grey Heron which was fishing just behind the dam and had caught for itself a most impressive Eel which it proceeded to wolf down in a matter of moments.

P1120603_2 - Grey Heron, Lliw Reservoirs

P1120608 - Grey Heron, Lliw Reservoirs

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Southgate to Pwlldu

Monday, May 04, 2015 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


A bank holiday weekend means bank holiday weather and that's certainly what we've had over the last three days. From rain to sun, gales to, well, even more wind, it certainly put the brakes on what was supposed to be a camping trip to Pembrokeshire. On reflection I think we made the right call choosing bricks and mortar over canvas and by keeping a careful eye on the forecasts managed to get several decent walks in. First up on Saturday was a route we've covered several times previously, starting at Southgate on Gower before taking in Pwlldu Bay and Bishopston valley. On a clear day the views are stunning but with low level cloud and those aforementioned gales blowing it took a lot of effort simply to keep the camera steady.

P1120586 - Gower Coast

As with other areas this year the Gorse on Gower is full of flower creating a yellow blanket across the landscape which on days like this certainly helps to lift the spirits. Any sense of warmth however was only in the mind as the strong Easterly wrought a nasty chill that necessitated the reappearance of hats and gloves that I'd thought banished several weeks ago. In such conditions it was perhaps not surprising that birds were restricted to the big stuff with a lone Gannet loafing about on the sea, Ravens overhead and a Peregrine Falcon patrolling the cliffs below. Migrants were almost non-existent with just the calls of Willow Warblers emanating from deep within protective cover providing any hint that this was in fact still Spring and that we'd not somehow slipped straight back into Winter. Helping them along were a couple of singing Whitethroats but the hoped for Swifts? Not a sign.

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Dark Arches Caterpillar

Sunday, May 03, 2015 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


P1120497 - Dark Arches Caterpillar

Looking through my photos again from last week I realised that I'd forgotten to include the rather impressive Dark Arches caterpillar seen above. Of course I didn't know its name at the time but thanks to the power of the internet I now have another hole in my knowledge well and truly plugged. We found this lively chap crawling across the ground just inches from where we'd parked at Tywyn Bach near Burry Port. A lucky escape for him and a great find for us.

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Early Bluebells at Coed Bach Park

Friday, May 01, 2015 Adam Tilt 5 Comments


Sunday was another phone/work/house balancing act but with the sun blazing I couldn't resist slipping down to Coed Bach Park for a couple of hours late morning. The hope was that Bluebells would be starting to put in an appearance and, though far from the full display which should appear over the next couple of weeks, there were plenty to keep this wandering soul happy. Dappled sunlight leant the early display an extra quality and I was taken just as much by the architectural sculpture-like quality of the surrounding trees as I was by the Bluebells which had initially drawn me here.

P1120544 - Coed Bach Woods

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