2015 In Review - Part 2

Thursday, December 31, 2015 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


For part one of my 2015 review from January through to June head here, otherwise let's pick things up again with July.

-- July--
 
07 July 2015

July kicked off in spectacular fashion with a Great White Egret at Kenfig which, although remaining distant, gave great flight views before alighting in a tree. Butterflies including Small Skipper and Ringlet were on the wing in good numbers before we spent a blustery evening at Rhossili in the company of Seals and some gorgeous weather. Out on patch I was pleased to report a good year locally for Blackcaps and was even then starting to ponder the coming of Autumn with singing Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs all reduced in number. A long weekend around the middle of the month saw me making a lone return trip to Craig Cerrig-Gleisiad where I had brilliant encounters with Redstarts, Whinchats and Spotted Flycatcher. Then came Llangorse Lake with excellent views of Reed Warblers and numerous butterfly species before I rounded things off with a second visit to the Kenfig Great White Egret. This time around the bird couldn’t have been more accommodating and spent a couple of hours parading up and down right outside the hide. July also marked the start of our farewell to Vulcan XH558 in its final year of flying as we attended a very grey Swansea air show. After a short interlude to enjoy this seasons Cinnabar Moth caterpillars it was off to Castle Combe where I was very happy indeed to find numerous Marbled Whites. More insect joy came from a visit to Lower Moor Farm before the main event, RAF Fairford for the Royal International Air Tattoo. Here XH558 once again wowed audiences with the highlight being a flypast which included the Red Arrows. For a nice bit of contrast we finished off the weekend with a young Ringed Plover at Burry Port, the first time I‘ve seen evidence of successful breeding at this site. As if that hadn’t been enough we then went to Skomer for the second time this year and enjoyed some great encounters with the Puffins. Talk about a busy month.

-- August --
 
08 August 2015

The pace didn’t quieten down in August either as we headed up to Leeds for a week away. The definite highlight was finding both Marsh Harrier and Short Eared Owl on Ilkley Moor before a damp visit to Ingleton waterfalls. Then came easily the highlight of 2015, watching an adult and juvenile Montagu’s Harrier strutting their stuff at Blacktoft Sands. Prior to this trip I’d never seen a Montagu’s before nor visited the reserve, two omissions which I was very happy to tick off. Red Grouse were my main target on a walk from Hebden to Grassington Moor but in the end it was a Red-legged Partridge which stole the show. The grouse were probably hunkered down out of sight given the amount of shooting going on, a practice which I despise especially when the guns are pointed directly at you and fired across public footpaths. Thankfully there was no such unpleasantness at RSPB Old Moor, another new reserve for me and one which came up trumps with Marsh Harrier, Common Tern and Brown Hawkers all being recorded. Towards the end of the month we got a reminder that good fortune has its limits as we dipped both Spoonbill and Rose-coloured Starling in the local area, although a very confiding Common Sandpiper at WWT Llanelli did provide some modicum of compensation. We then hit pay dirt with a Black Tern at Fendrod Lake where, having failed to get even a poor record shot, my very shaky drawing skills were called into action. Finally a trip to Bosherston rounded off proceedings with Chough, a family of Wrens and mating Little Blues being the most memorable moments.

-- September --
 
09 September 2015

The first official day of Autumn brought a stunning sunset at Machynys before we got reacquainted with our Hedgehogs and did a mini bug safari in the garden. Here I pondered the notion of garden pan-species listing which is something I will definitely be picking up again in 2016. Out on patch my visits were becoming increasingly irregular as pressures on my time increased but that didn’t stop us from confirming breeding Grey Partridges up on Cefn Drum. More sunsets came from the upper Loughor, an area you should be hearing much more about over the next twelve months, before it was off to Strumble Head. Here we rescued a tiny Mouse from the middle of the path, saw Seal pups hauled out on the beach and watched Manx Shearwaters scooting by far out at sea. A very enjoyable day. We then made our first ever single night camping trip up to Tywyn, taking in first the spectacular Castell y Bere and then Broad Water. Definitely something we’ll be trying more often next year. Things then went very quiet on the blogging front as I got stuck into some DIY, hardly my favourite activity especially when it keeps me away from the great outdoors.

-- October --
 
10 October 2015

At the start of October we were bidding our final final farewell to Vulcan XH558, this time from Barry as part of her countrywide tour. Such a shame that we will never see her flying again. Migrants including Wheatear and Swallow were still present along the Gower coast early on whilst a walk at Rhossili came complete with sunshine, cabbages and a Raven making very strange noises indeed. Then it all went quiet again as life once more took over.

-- November --
 
11 November 2015

We finally made it back to the Isle of Mull at the beginning of November where the Autumn colours were spectacular, Golden Eagles and White-tailed Eagles abounded and despite the cloud we got to enjoy some truly memorable sunsets. Mull is still my favourite place to be and fingers crossed we get to spend a little bit more time there next year. Back at home Llanrhidian Marsh was again delivering as only it can with one evening watch producing three Great White Egrets, two Hen Harriers and four Short Eared Owls. Beat that if you can! Over on the Burry there was an impressive gathering of Brent Geese whilst a spot of sun meant that Red Admirals and Common Darters were still on the wing at WWT Llanelli. What we couldn’t have predicted next was a family tragedy that had us heading to Edinburgh towards the end of the month, somewhere I’d never visited before but ended up being out of this world. We had new lifers in the shape of Long-Eared Owl and Surf Scoter, not to mention truly unbelievable views of Velvet Scoter, Common Scoter and Eider in their thousands. There was even a spot of snow as temperatures dropped to freezing for the one and only time this winter. Then came great walks up Arthur’s Seat as well as a trip to see the Forth Bridges and Whooper Swans at Loch Leven before December was suddenly upon us.

-- December --
 
12 December 2015

Although we didn’t know it at the time, December 2015 was going to prove to be one of the wettest on record. It rained nearly every day causing severe flooding across the country though thankfully South Wales has avoided the worst. The weather did though play havoc with our plans although Storm Desmond did at least provide the sight of a Great Northern Diver at Mumbles before we completed the last stretch of Gower coastline which we had yet to walk. It was still wet and windy when we headed to Port Eynon a few days later before a visit by my parents saw us going to check out the new salt marsh creation project down at Cwm Ivy. I was blown away by the habitat there which was probably helped no end by the sight of an Otter. A return trip couldn’t quite replicate that success but did deliver Goose Barnacles on Whiteford sands which we dutifully returned to the sea as they were still alive. In the garden we had Starlings return for the first time in at least a couple of years before more stormy weather delivered Goldeneye and a series of Blowholes along the Glamorgan Heritage Coast between Ogmore and Dunraven. This was followed up with a, yes you guessed it, wet and windy walk along the hills above Aberdare before two different Grey Phalaropes in two days rounded off not only December but also 2015.

Looking back I can scarcely believe that we managed to squeeze so much in and I think I now understand why I’m feeling a little bit worn out. Saying that I wouldn’t change a thing and hope that we can do even more during 2016. I hope you’ll come along for the journey.

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2015 In Review - Part 1

Wednesday, December 30, 2015 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


It wouldn’t be December without a ubiquitous year in review and here, loyal readers, is the My Life Outside contribution. If you’d asked me outright what we’d been up to before I'd written this then my initial reply would probably have been, not as much as I’d have liked. And that’s true in some sense as several of my plans for 2015 never quite came to fruition, partly down to my own lack of planning (and dare I say it laziness on occasion) but also due to those unforeseen life events which no one can ever predict. However, scanning back through a remarkable 153 entries (eek) I’m reminded just how active we have managed to be, visiting new areas of the country, seeing new species and having a whale of a time in the process. So here, for your reading pleasure, is my 2015 year in review, just in case you’ve been as forgetful as I have.

-- January--
 
01 January 2015

January kicked off with the setting of my goals for 2015, some of which I’ve met, others I’ve not. We spent our first few days in Leeds exploring Brimham Rocks in the snow (remember when we used to have cold winters?) before a successful visit to WWT Llanelli delivered great views of both Water Rail and Little Egret. Llanrhidian Marsh was producing the goods again with Hen Harriers and Great White Egrets and my 2015 Patchwork Challenge kicked off in spectacular fashion with thirty five species seen including an always hard to find Woodcock. More snow towards the latter half of the month drew us into the Brecon Beacons where a walk along the Cribarth Ridge delivered a series of spectacular views. By the time we made our trip to Aberystwyth for Purple Sandpipers conditions had warmed considerably and a walk to Wallog resulted in a huge flock of fifteen Choughs plus a couple of Dolphins out in Cardigan Bay. The Starling murmuration over Aberystwyth’s pier was spectacular as ever. We finished off with the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch and across an hour recorded thirty seven species. Even then I was commentating on our lack of Starlings which have finally returned in recent weeks.

-- February --
 
02 February 2015

I kicked off the month with a review of the impressive “Moths of Glamorgan” book, a precursor to my planned increase in garden mothing which unfortunately never quite materialised. In the garden we were putting up new nest boxes whilst a Sparrowhawk was devouring one of our Long-tailed Tits. Out on patch the good times continued to roll with Bullfinch, Goldfinch, Jay and Green Woodpecker being new additions and there was still a little snow visible on distant hilltops. We discovered Dinefwr Park for the very first time along with its herd of Fallow Deer and even managed to squeeze in a Great White Egret for good measure. Then it was on to the Iron Mountain for a walk with friends which included clouds so low that visibility was almost down to zero. The sight of a flock of hungry and quite demanding Sheep emerging from out of the murk will live long in my memory and I won’t take it personally that one of our companions tore their Achilles soon after and thus prevented any repeat meeting. Down on the Burry there were plenty of Brent Geese and Reed Buntings before the coming of the Super Tide led to some great photographic opportunities. Back on patch and it was Yellowhammers grabbing the headlines whilst I wondered just how long it really needs to take to complete some flood alleviation works (they’ve still not finished now).

-- March --
 
03 March 2015

March saw me declaring the arrival of Spring, perhaps a little prematurely, but the first Lambs were about and there was a feeling of positivity in the air. I also heard my first Skylarks of the year singing and just about managed to squeeze in an encounter with the overwintering population of Whooper Swans at Cilsan Bridge before they headed off. Soon after we took our own leave of absence and headed off to Cornwall, stopping in along the way to see a Little Bunting at Forest Farm. It was ridiculously tame and provided endless opportunities for photography, at times coming too close to even focus on. In Cornwall proper there were ridiculously impressive waves along the coast to Porthleven and excellent birds around Penzance including Great Northern Diver, Purple Sandpiper and Eider. I also learnt the painful lesson that falling over onto concrete and taking the impact on your elbow alone is not to be recommended. The Lizard then delivered our first Wheatears in 2015 as well as a stray Whooper Swan, followed by stunning sunsets from Porthleven. The industrial remains at Botallack completely blew me away and we finished our Cornwall adventure by watching the solar eclipse. Back in South Wales a remarkable day saw us seeing Scaup, Lesser Scaup, Bonaparte’s and Iceland Gulls, a collection of birds that I have still yet to beat.

-- April --
 
04 April 2015

Easter meant our by now almost traditional camping trip to Lyme Regis which left our shelves bulging with even more fossils than ever. Another Bonaparte’s Gull at Radipole was unexpected before we finally found Spring migration in full flow at Seaton with Willow Warbler, Little Ringed Plover and Swallows all being spotted. Similar movement came to my patch a few days later with the first Wheatear and Willow Warblers also being recorded there. Sadly the warm, dry weather also brought on an outbreak of arson which plagued our hillsides for weeks. A visit from my parents saw us venturing to Cardiff where a long held ambition to see Great Crested Grebe chicks on their mothers back was finally realised. Back on patch Swallows had now joined the party and I got way too excited when a Mallard dropped in late one afternoon. With longer days comes more walking opportunities and we took full advantage by heading out to Fan Fawr and Fan Frynych in the Brecon Beacons. The weather was perfect and I highly recommend it as a route if you ever get the chance. Spring migration continued unabated as I got my best ever photos of a Whitethroat down on the Millennium coastal path, a species which then did the decent thing and popped up on patch as well. Finally we finished off with the discovery of calling Grasshopper Warblers at Tywyn Bach, a species which I then managed to see in the flesh for the first time ever after several years of trying. April was a very good month indeed.

-- May --
 
05 May 2015

Some early May sunshine really brought out the Bluebells in Coed Bach Woods, as well as an angry Wren, as it had the Wild Garlic a few days later as we walked from Southgate to Pwlldu. Fog marred an otherwise enjoyable trip to the Lliw reservoirs where we watched a Grey Heron devour its eely dinner, followed by a typically epic days birding on Bank Holiday Monday around the RSPB reserve at Gwenffrwd-Dinas. All of the speciality species which call this place home were seen including Wood Warblers, Garden Warblers, Redstarts and Pied Flycatchers, not forgetting of course a very showy Marsh Tit right next to the car park. May also saw us breaking out the trailcam in our garden which revealed we had at least two Hedgehogs regularly visiting. This was to be the first of several such recordings made throughout the rest of the year. There were also two key moments in my Patchwork challenge this month. The first saw me equal my previous highest score and the second saw us confirm the presence of breeding Shelducks. Both came as something of a surprise. Further good weather saw the first Greylag ducklings at Llanelli WWT followed by two families of freshly fledged Stonechats up on Bryn-bach-Common. To finish the month off we headed to the Peak District for a long weekend of walking and birding which included the surprise discovery of Tree Sparrows and Barnacle Geese at Carsington Water, a wet walk up Lathkill Dale in the company of breeding Dippers and Mandarin, all rounded off with a stunning walk along the Monsal Trail. Next came our first of two visits to Skomer. We managed to catch the Bluebell display at its very best and I can honestly say that I have never seen the island looking quite so beautiful.

-- June --
 
06 June 2015

Quite a pace I'm sure you'd agree and one that was going to be tricky to maintain. June began with a series of stunning sunsets but alas work was starting to eat into my time a little more than I'd have liked. That didn't stop me from watching the emergence of large Bats over our garden on a couple of evenings as well as spending plenty of time admiring the birds visiting our seed feeders. Masses of Painted Lady butterflies were just the tip of a significant insect iceberg at Rhossili before we whisked our way off to Norfolk for a weekend break at Titchwell. The car breaking down was a rather unpleasant surprise but that didn't stop us seeing Bittern, Red Crested Pochard and Barn Owl, not to mention Avocets, Bearded Tits and even some superb Little Terns. Not a bad way to round off the first six months of 2015.

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Grey Phalarope Double

Tuesday, December 29, 2015 Adam Tilt 6 Comments


Rain, cloud and wind. Sadly a familiar story by now which at least added thick mist for a bit of variety on Sunday. I feel at risk of repeating myself here but we truly have had an exceptionally bad run of weather and with no sign of improvement forecast it looked like we in for a day stuck indoors. Browsing the Pembrokeshire sightings pages though revealed that a Grey Phalarope had been found the previous evening and with nothing else on the cards we thought, why the hell not. Driving through a wall of unrelenting greyness did little to promote any feeling of optimism, nor did the horizontal rain that greeted us at St Brides. Still, nothing ventured nothing gained so we donned waterproofs once more and headed down to the beach. With the tide right out things initially looked quiet, too quiet, with just a couple of Black Headed Gulls loafing about amongst the waves. Fearing the worst I did another scan of the sea and finally, approaching from our right, spotted our quarry. Although distant at first the Grey Phalarope was soon within easy viewing distance, regularly making short flights but always staying just out of camera range. After about half an hour though it began to make forays directly into St Brides itself, flying within a couple of meters of our position on more than one occasion. It always appeared wary however, probably due to the numerous waves washing in, and as a result would return to open water shortly after. Despite having had some excellent views of what is easily one of my favourite birds it looked like anything beyond some truly terrible record shots was going to be out of the question. In fact we were just about to head off when it made another flight inland, this time landing on the beach a short distance away. Creeping carefully forwards to close the gap I ended up getting a couple of decent shots, the first time I’ve ever seen a Grey Phalarope out of water.

P1160966 - Grey Phalarope, St Brides

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Windy Christmas

Monday, December 28, 2015 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


It's been a windy Christmas this year and no, sprouts weren't to blame. Instead we have yet another Atlantic low pressure system to thank for turning our traditional post Christmas meal walk into more of a challenge than normal. Battling our way down the path from Rhossili saw us buffeted from pillar to post which did at least provide plenty of fresh air. Although I'd taken my binoculars it was almost impossible to keep them steady but that didn't stop us from picking out a pair of Great Crested Grebes just off Kitchen Corner.

P1160931 - Garden Goldfinch

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#pwc2015 The Conclusion

Sunday, December 27, 2015 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


With but a few days left in 2015 thoughts predictably turn to those things coming to an end as plans start to form for the coming year. For me this means winding up the latest Patchwork Challenge which has proved to be a record breaker in more ways than one. First, and perhaps most importantly, I managed to smash my previous record of 64 points by coming in with an impressive 69. OK, I admit this looks pretty paltry compared to those who are fortunate enough to call birding meccas such as Titchwell their local patch but for an area of old industrial Welsh valley, I'm pretty chuffed. Of course numbers don't tell the whole story and hidden within mine sit a few juicy morsels which without regular visits I doubt would ever have come to light. My favourites include confirmed breeding records for Grey Partridge, Green Woodpecker and Shelduck, plus new knowledge including the annual return of Grasshopper Warblers. Then there were the never before recorded species including Garden Warbler, Treecreeper and Great Black-backed Gull, not forgetting of course that evening when the sight of a Mallard got me far more excited than it really had any right to do. Funny how even the commonest of species can take on a new emphasis when it comes to birding your local patch. For a full review I recommend reading back through this years ramblings on the subject here, just please ignore the absence of postings since September. I fully admit that my dedication waned somewhat in the second half of this year but for 2016 I have set new goals which should keep me going right to the bitter end. More on that in January.

Back to the present and on Christmas Eve we headed out onto the patch for what would be our final visit of the year. We didn't need to go far to see one of the real success stories though which has been the long awaited return of Starlings to our garden. I first blogged about this resurgence last week and am happy to report that not only have those initial three birds been back every single day since, they've even brought some friends. We've had up to six individuals at any one time and their noisy calls as they squabble has been music to my ears. I just hope the neighbours agree.

P1160899 - Garden Starlings

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Aberdare Loop

Saturday, December 26, 2015 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Aberdare. Not necessarily top of my list when it comes to walking destinations but, with Wednesday forecast to offer the best weather of the week, we fancied giving somewhere new a try. Our chosen route came from one of the numerous walking books we've accumulated over the years and kicked off from Dare Valley Country Park. My one and only previous visit here was a couple of years back when in heavy rain I decided to try and look for Ring Ouzels. That particular trip progressed no further than a few forlorn looks out of my car window but hopes were high that foot would at least make contact with ground this time around. And to start with all looked very promising indeed. Blue sky and fluffy white clouds were order of the day as we headed up the Neath valley but all too soon a familiar wall of low, grey cloud emerged from across the hills. By the time we pulled up there were already a few drops of rain in the air, something which didn't change until darkness had fallen. Determined not to be beaten a second time however we donned waterproofs and headed off along the course of an old railway line which now forms the Dare Valley cycle path. The going was easy which left us plenty of time to nose at the various styles of housing which lined the valley sides both above and below our route. Interesting but not really photographically suitable for this blog so it wasn't until we reached Cwmaman that my camera was called into action. Here we struck off Northwards and after a short section of residential street were suddenly deposited onto open moorland. Looking back the way we had come showed your typical Welsh valley community whereas ahead sat open hillsides and a steep climb.

P1160889 - Above Aberdare

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More Blowhole Action from Ogmore

Thursday, December 24, 2015 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


P1160870 - Blowhole, Glamorgan Heritage Coast
As promised I've pulled together a couple of clips from our walk along the Glamorgan Heritage Coast earlier this week. The first captures probably the largest 'blow' we witnessed which included at least three separate blowholes doing what they do best. The second shows what I count as the classic blowhole, a small opening positioned way up on the cliffs. Despite the wind I've just about managed to capture its sheer volume as air is forced out from an underground cavern below. Turn your speakers up high! Finally we have a longer wide shot which hopefully captures more of the general atmosphere and will serve as a good reminder to myself of an excellent day out.





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Blowholes and Goldeneye on the Glamorgan Heritage Coast

Tuesday, December 22, 2015 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


Sun! No I could scarcely believe it either but we finally got a break in the weather on Sunday and headed straight for the coast at Ogmore. There were still several heavy showers moving up the Bristol Channel but by and large they avoided us leaving just gale force winds to contend with. More on that later though as we start this trip at Portobello where the sight of blue sky for the first time in what seems like weeks was definitely cause for lifted spirits and optimism.

P1160830 - Ogmore

Straight away we picked up a male Goosander fishing mid channel, the first of at least four individuals along this stretch of river. Small groups of Teal were roosting along the far bank where a couple of ever restless Redshank advertised their presence before I'd even caught sight of those luminous legs. A lone Curlew was similarly vocal before taking flight and disappearing over the dunes, just as an Oystercatcher flew upstream presumably on its way to find fresh feeding grounds as the high tide rapidly approached. Its passage sent a brief ripple of nervousness through the multitude of gathered Gulls which, on this occasion at least, held nothing out of the ordinary. The vast majority were Herring Gulls and Black Headed Gulls with a couple of Great Black-Backed and one Lesser Black-backed thrown in for good measure. Each time they were spooked the air became a swirling, thronging mass of birds, a spectacle with which I will forever associate Ogmore. Equally familiar were the Canada Geese of which two flocks were present on this occasion. The first numbered just fourteen birds but the second was much larger at ninety plus. I was more interested in the company they were keeping however which today included three farmyard birds (nothing too unusual in that) as well as a rather attractive Bar-headed Goose. Before anyone gets too excited the birds lineage is likely to belong to the UK's feral population and hence not really tickable, but a nice find nonetheless. Interestingly a similar assortment of species was reported from Cosmeston lakes on Monday and given the relative proximity it's probably fair to assume that they are one and the same.

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Return of the Starlings

Sunday, December 20, 2015 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Yesterday marked the start of our Christmas break (bah humbug) and, having tried to make the most of it, we're left with three main points to discuss. The first of these, and probably the most obvious if you've been a regular reader or resident of the UK lately, is the weather. Once again South Wales was swathed in a band of heavy and persistent rain which at least attempted to add a little variety by blowing from every conceivable direction during the course of a single day. This resulted in not only the destruction of one golf umbrella but also made attempting to predict conditions from one moment to the next pretty much impossible. Then there's the temperature which hit a giddying fourteen Celsius by midday, heat which we'd be more than happy with in the middle of summer let alone a few days before 2015 calls it quits. Quite what our wildlife thinks of all this is anyone's guess but there have been reports of both Swallows and Sand Martins in recent days, plus early flowering Daffodils. My own garden has started to bloom again this week and, judging from its length, I have my doubts that the lawn has even contemplated going into hibernation quite yet. Cutting grass in the middle of winter once seemed a crazy idea but now, I'm not so sure.

12013 - Starling in my garden

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Cwm Ivy Part Deux – Fungi, Goose Barnacles and a Sunset

Saturday, December 19, 2015 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


We were back at Cwm Ivy on Sunday, a fair reflection of just how much I'd enjoyed exploring the new salt marsh habitat there a few days earlier. Before heading down however I wanted to walk the WTSWW reserve which borders its Eastern flank in the hope of gaining another viewpoint and also seeing what progress was being made on the second hide. I had this vague recollection that we’d be able to walk a circular route through the woodland but it appears I may have been mistaken. Taking the first gate led us to a muddy dead end and we ended up having to retrace our footsteps to take a second, lower path. This one was clearly the route we should have taken all along and it wasn’t long before we arrived at the hide, a very well built and substantial structure in a prime location. Being slightly elevated and literally sitting in the new marsh should allow great views to be had of whatever species decide to make this place their home, and with direct line of sight to the newly erected Osprey nest, well, the possibilities are superb.

P1160804 - Cwm Ivy Marsh

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Saturday Washout

Thursday, December 17, 2015 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


If Saturday’s sunshine had lit any flickering flames of hope for a dry weekend they were well and truly dashed the following morning. All evening I’d been following the forecasts intently but they resolutely refused to lift a thick veil of rain from across South Wales. My only hope was that strong winds would move the front above our coastline, a phenomena which has more than once rescued days from near total washout. In the end we got just such a break but it only allowed a couple of hours at Burry Port before torrential downpours set in. Still, I’ll take any silver lining I can get at the moment and despite the gales blowing we did have an enjoyable time. Along West beach four Oystercatchers, one with a bad limp, had a lone Redshank for company along with at least six Ringed Plovers which we spotted scurrying across the sand. More surprising were several Skylarks which erupted from the dunes at Pembrey harbour, calling as they went. A nice reminder that there is light at the end of the tunnel from what has been one of the dreariest winters I can remember. With windblown sand whipping around our ankles I chose to keep my camera safely ensconced in its bag but couldn’t resist risking a couple of snaps once we reached Burry Port itself.

P1160784 - Burry Port

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Cwm Ivy Marsh – New Habitat With Added Otter

Tuesday, December 15, 2015 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Back in September 2014 I unexpectedly walked into the middle of what, for Gower at least, registered as a pretty major dispute. Successive high tides and storm surges had finally broken through a weak point in the mediaeval seawall at Cwm Ivy, flooding freshwater marsh and grazing pasture behind. In the process a public footpath had been washed away and various management bodies (National Trust, Swansea Council and Natural Resources Wales) were forced into a series of decisions which are likely to face large swathes of the country over the next few years if sea levels continue to rise. Should money and resources be poured into strengthening existing defences in an effort to hold the current line, or more controversially perhaps should we admit defeat, surrender land and defend from a new retreated position. That surrendered land not only then acts as its own natural defence but in the process creates brand new wildlife rich habitat which we can all enjoy. Of course if it’s your land or property being surrendered than your viewpoint will undoubtedly be different but with limited resources there is only so much that can, or indeed is practical, to be done. Titchwell in Norfolk is a prime example where moving the defended line inland has worked wonders both for nature and the longevity of defences, and now it’s the turn of Cwm Ivy. In a first for Wales the original breach has been allowed to widen forming a brand new area of salt marsh behind it. Successive high tides have brought in huge quantities of silt, killing off existing vegetation and beginning the transformation process that will see Cwm Ivy return to a state not witnessed for hundreds of years. Having born witness to the very early stages of this process I was eager to revisit this weekend to see what just fourteen months of Mother Nature being left to her own devices could achieve. The results were startling.

P1160764 - Cwm Ivy Marsh

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Port Eynon to Overton Mere

Monday, December 14, 2015 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


We must be glutens for punishment. With South Wales still being battered by the remnants of Storm Desmond last Sunday we were to be found wandering the coast between Port Eynon and Overton. Wave heights were again bordering on the impressive and it was no surprise to hear the banging of a bell buoy somewhere offshore. Surprisingly conditions at Port Eynon itself were rather nice with a splash of sunshine being the first bit of brightness we’d seen all week. There was even a Grey Seal bottling out in the bay which looked to be fast asleep, right up until it realised quite how close it was getting to shore and decided to beat a hasty retreat.

P1160755 - Port Eynon

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Storm Desmond and a Great Northern Diver

Saturday, December 12, 2015 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


Since returning from Edinburgh we have seen a recurrence of the dismal conditions that plagued much of November and made it one of the wettest months on record. It has rained almost every day, heavily, and where once I used to joke about the fact that we are now naming our storms, I laugh no longer. Storm Desmond was our fourth such winter weather system and one needs only look at the devastation wrought across Cumbria to witness the power it unleashed. One day rainfall totals were smashed, flood defences over-topped and thousands of homes inundated with water. Familiar locations such as Keswick appear changed forever and historic bridges have been simply washed away. Here in South Wales we thankfully missed the worst with just gale force winds to contend with as the main bands of rain passed a few miles to our North. Wanting to make the most of conditions a good coast walk seemed the best option so we headed down to Mumbles. The stretch of coast path from there to Pwlldu remains the last section of a complete Gower circumnavigation that I’d yet to complete and now seemed as good a day as any to finally tick it off.  Being the middle of winter parking was plentiful in Mumbles for a change and within a few steps of the car I spotted a familiar looking shape diving beneath the waves. Hurrying over (never running of course) revealed a blank canvas of murky grey water which stayed that way for what seemed like an age. Then the bird reappeared, a little further out, and my original suspicions were confirmed. There in front of us was a cracking Great Northern Diver, winter plumaged and giving great views as it continued to fish.

P1160728 - Great Northern Diver, Mumbles

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The Demise of Cockenzie Power Station

Thursday, December 10, 2015 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


I wouldn’t normally feature a power station on this blog but in the case of Cockenzie, I’ll make an exception. Its towering structure was such a prominent and regular fixture on the landscape during our time in Edinburgh that to exclude it would be to omit a key part of our time away. I first spotted its modernist outline as we drove past Edinburgh on the way to our accommodation and got my first proper view from the top of North Berwick Law. Despite being several miles distant it was still clearly visible on the banks of the Forth of Firth yet even from this distance it was clear that all was not as it seemed. The main building was slim, too slim, and it appeared almost as if one could look right through it in places to the other side.

P1160347 - Cockenzie Power Station

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Long-eared Owl and Surf Scoter

Wednesday, December 09, 2015 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


It’s just over a week since our return from Edinburgh and already it feels like a lifetime ago. The pace of modern life seems to leave no time to dwell on those rare moments of enjoyment before it’s back to the carousel that is my nine to five. Add in the impending doom of Christmas and the morning of Friday 27th is something I look back on with fondness and a renewed resolve to increase the regularity of those special moments next year (can I hear a New Year resolution on the horizon?). The weather forecast for the day was pretty dire with a heavy weather front moving in from the East so it was a pleasant surprise that after saying farewell to our cottage the sky still showed a little promise. Occasional breaks amongst fast moving cloud allowed glimpses of blue sky and as we pulled into the car park at Aberlady the light had a most pleasing quality indeed. With the tide out there were plenty of feeding opportunities for the gathered flocks of Teal, each bird picked out in such clarity that they positively shone. Redshanks busied themselves along the river channel and even our cautious early morning footsteps couldn’t help but disturb a wary Curlew, its angry calls cutting through the still morning air like a knife.

P1160687 - Aberlady

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Queensferry, Loch Leven and That Bridge

Monday, December 07, 2015 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


Words and images from 26/11/2015
Our last full day in Edinburgh and it was time to get my geek on. Where better to combine my love of history, engineering and railways than at the Forth rail bridge, one of the most iconic structures ever to be conceived and built. Opened in 1890 and designated as a UNESCO world heritage site just a couple of months ago it proved every bit as good as I’d hoped. And if you ever wondered where the phrase “like painting the Forth Bridge” came from, now you know. The lighting was pretty much perfect for the duration of our stay and somehow I managed to exceed even my own expectations of just how many photos it’s possible to take of a stationary object. Thank yourselves lucky that I'm just sharing a few of my favourites here.

P1160603 - Forth Rail Bridge

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Climbing Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh

Friday, December 04, 2015 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


Words and images from 24/11/2015
The sun returned this morning and we kicked off the day with yet more quality birding along the Firth of Forth. First stop was Prestonpans where singles of Red-throated Diver, Goldeneye and Long-tailed Duck were all picked up in quick succession. Also present were at least two Velvet Scoters relatively close in allowing great views once again. If anyone knows of a better place to see this species I’d be very surprised indeed. Another mile towards Edinburgh brought us to Musselburgh where a Surf Scoter has been regularly reported for much of the previous week. Despite scanning the choppy water thoroughly however we drew a blank, although there was a relatively large mixed flock of Velvet and Common Scoter way off in the distance so it could very easily have been hiding amongst them. Much easier to spot were forty or so Eider plus four Black-tailed Godwits, our first of the trip and a nice change from endless Curlews and Oystercatchers (not that I’d ever tire of seeing either you understand). We also got our first proper look across to Arthur’s Seat, our main goal for today and somewhere that I’ve always wanted to visit and climb. Today was going to be that day.

P1160426 - Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh

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Dunbar, Skateraw, Eiders and Red-necked Grebe

Wednesday, December 02, 2015 Adam Tilt 3 Comments


Words and images from 23/11/2015
After two days of glorious, albeit chilly, sunshine it was back to reality with a bump today as the cloud and rain which has so typified November returned. Getting wet when wind-chill is below freezing is not my idea of fun so instead we decided to head along the coast to see what we could find. First stop was Dunbar whose combination of ruined castle and intricate ancient harbours immediately endeared themselves to me. I’m sure with a bit of blue sky a little of the ambience could have been captured in these photos but I fear all that comes across is how dismal the North Sea can be during winter.

P1160359 - Dunbar

P1160361 - Dunbar

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