Looking Forward to 2017

Saturday, December 31, 2016 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


It's genuinely hard to believe that twelve months has already slipped by since I last sat in this chair and put pen to paper (cursor to screen?) in an effort to try and lay out what I wanted to achieve during the year ahead. I made no promises that all would be completed and in the end that's proved to be a very good thing as life often has a way of stepping in and showing just what it thinks of your carefully crafted goals. Not to worry as it's safe to say that 2016 turned out to be a bumper year packed with great days out, superb wildlife encounters and plenty of time spent with friends and family. It all seems to have passed in a blink of an eye however and there are definitely things that I'd like to have done differently. One massive personal lesson has been to just get on with it instead of worrying and over analysing the various choices available as doing so often means that you get nothing done at all! When I think back to how many mornings I've spent procrastinating over whether or not to do some decorating or go for a walk and ultimately ended up doing neither, I simply cringe. If I'd spent that time doing a little patch birding then I'd probably have a much better end of term report to hand in and who knows what I might have found in the process. As a result I shall be adopting a new personal mantra in 2017 which I can best summarise by stealing from a certain sportswear brand - "Just do it". And believe me I shall including, but not limited to, a few of the following items (and yes there will be a couple of repeats from this time last year that for one reason or another I just haven't been able to fit in).

P1070857 - Climbing Snowdon
View from Snowdon - Will we make it along Crib Goch this year?

Walk the Gower Coast
A complete circumnavigation of the Gower coast has been on my list of things to do ever since we moved down here and sat at the top of my 2016 targets last January. At 46 miles it's a relatively serious undertaking but is one that I eagerly relish, not just because of the great scenery through which I'll be travelling but also because I'm well up for a challenge since my first long distance walk in 2014. At a modest 35 miles that involved walking the Gower Way across two days and, based on that experience, this one is likely to need three days to complete it comfortably. As before I'm targeting a possible Easter window but failing that either before or after the main summer heat. In terms of blogging the event I'm yet to decide if a photographic timeline will be best or possibly even something filmed on the GoPro. Maybe both. Either way I'm really looking forward to it and can't wait to get going.

Patchwork Challenge 2017
After the highs of 2015 where I smashed my previous record for the Patchwork Challenge including recording new species and breeding records, 2016 has turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. I think my biggest downfall was including a second patch for the first time covering the upper Loughor estuary. This seemed to make perfect sense at the time as I hoped that the prospect of covering a completely different set of habitats would both invigorate and stretch my birding. In the end it did just that but not in the way I'd quite imagined, instead stretching time so thinly that I could cover neither patch as effectively as needed. As a result I shall be returning to my traditional haunt of Cefn Drum for 2017 at a time when it is likely to be undergoing great change. Planning permission is in place for a large track straight through the middle of the common in order to provide access to a nearby wind farm so it will be very interesting to see what impact that will have. The new flood alleviation scheme should also hopefully be entering its final stages after several years of torturous development so, all being well, there should also be a few new habitats created which I'm hoping will end up being a complete migrant goldmine. We can all dream, can't we?

Kayaking
One of our biggest adventures this year was finally purchasing two sit on top kayaks and what a revelation they have been. Despite only managing to get out on the water a couple of times before winter arrived they provided a completely new viewpoint on areas that we thought we knew like the back of our hands and allowed for some truly intimate wildlife encounters. I'm hoping for more of the same in 2017 and with plans to take the kayaks to Mull this summer I can't wait to see what we get up to.

#walk1000miles
The walk 1000 miles challenge was something we began in earnest last year but which sadly faded as we stopped recording regularly and then fizzled out altogether. In reality we probably did cover the distance but it would be great to be able to say for certain so this year we will be attempting the challenge once more. Better still with E having finished another shed load of exams we should have even more time available to squeeze in those extra miles and I look forward to reporting back on our progress.



Climbing Snowdon via Crib Goch
This is another one that's been on my bucket list for just about forever. We've climbed Snowdon itself a couple of times now but the lure of Crib Goch is simply too strong for me to ignore any longer. For those unfamiliar with its challenge the words "knife-edged arete" should conjure up some suitable imagery along with the fact that it's classed as a scramble with plenty of exposure and steep drops on either side. When combined with probably the most popular peak in Wales queues are not uncommon so we'll need not only a perfect forecast but also an early morning start to get the most out of it. This one genuinely excites me and I can already feel tingles of anticipation as I write this so god knows what actually being there is going to be like.

Have fun
Sounds simple but this is probably the most important of all my goals for 2017. It doesn't really matter what we get up to as long as we have fun along the way. Less stressing, less worrying and more doing is definitely the way forward. Part of that includes making time for a little more blogging as I really have missed it these last few months.

Here's to 2017 then. I can't wait to get stuck in.

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Pen y Fan - Final Peak of 2016

Friday, December 30, 2016 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


P1060150 - Pen y Fan, Boxing Day 2016
Bagged peaks have been a little slim on the ground this year but that hasn't stopped us racking up several ascents of Pen y Fan. Being the highest mountain in South Wales and within easy reach makes for an irresistible combination and many a spare half day has been spent on its flanks. The last twelve months have seen us up there in all conditions from thick snow and blizzards through to late summer sunsets, each walk unique in both character and weather. In fact I'm pretty sure that I could climb it every day for a year (now that would make for an interesting challenge!) and never find any two days alike. With this being Christmas and all it would have been great to round off our festivities with a final climb in the snow but alas, the days of white Christmases are I fear a distant memory. Instead we awoke to a forecast of clear skies and sunshine which seemed a good second best so we set off to burn a few of those calories consumed the day before. So too did most of South Wales.

P1060081 - Pen y Fan, Boxing Day 2016

I've commented before on the ever growing popularity of Pen y Fan but this is the first time that we've not been able to park in the main car park and instead were forced to pull up a short distance away. This did at least provide a new vantage point from which to photograph the hills (above) but just look at how many people were already on the main path. So much for solitude and isolation! Fortunately my favoured route across country from Storey Arms was completely deserted and we didn't see a single soul from start until we joined the main drag just beneath Corn Du. It was just us, the Ravens and a wandering Red Kite, plus those views of course. Although the day wasn't quite as clear as had been initially forecast clouds scudding across the sky provided an ever changing vista of light and shadow. I'll let my photos do the talking from here on.

P1060084 - Pen y Fan, Boxing Day 2016

P1060092 - Pen y Fan, Boxing Day 2016

P1060098 - Pen y Fan, Boxing Day 2016

P1060099 - Pen y Fan, Boxing Day 2016

P1060107 - Pen y Fan, Boxing Day 2016

P1060114 - Pen y Fan, Boxing Day 2016

P1060118 - Pen y Fan, Boxing Day 2016

P1060127 - Pen y Fan, Boxing Day 2016

P1060135 - Pen y Fan, Boxing Day 2016

P1060138 - Pen y Fan, Boxing Day 2016

P1060150 - Pen y Fan, Boxing Day 2016

You can see from my later shots just how large the shadows being cast were thanks to a low winter sun, an effect which somehow made the range look more dramatic than ever. The neighbouring peaks of Cribyn and Fan y Big were just begging to be climbed but with daylight hours already drawing to a close that's something which we will just have to save for next year. One thing that these images don't show is just how windy and cold it was at the top with windchill sending ambient temperatures well below freezing. Even so this was far from an arduous winter climb which we have so enjoyed in the past so my fingers are firmly crossed for decent snowfall in February or March. Maybe then I can shout those immortal words in my best Alan Partridge voice "Lynn, Lynn, where's my crampons?".

P1060143 - Pen y Fan, Boxing Day 2016

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Christmas Birding - Black-throated and Long-tailed

Thursday, December 29, 2016 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


As we enter those magic few days before 2016 throws in the towel, where no one really knows the day let alone the date, Christmas already feels like a lifetime ago. I hope dear reader that yours was an enjoyable one, surrounded by those you love in a celebration that gave a firm middle finger to all the negativity and heartache that the last twelve months has wrought across the world. We certainly did just that spending the big day itself at home along with enough food to open the next convenience store in Tesco's relentless march towards world domination (other faceless corporations are available). As is tradition that also meant squeezing in a quick trip to Rhossili between another perfect meal (thanks E) and the perpetually disappointing seasonal episode of Dr Who. Despite the weather doing its best to remind us of winters presence i.e mild and wet, we managed a brisk but largely dry walk out to Worm's Head and back. There really is nothing better for clearing the head and preparing ones second stomach for pudding and if there's the chance of a decent bird or two? Even better. With conditions as blustery as they were we didn't fancy searching for a lingering Lapland Bunting on the Vile so instead stuck to the cliffs where I surprised even myself such was my enthusiasm at seeing a pair of Fulmars soaring off Kitchen Corner. They are one of our favourite coastal birds and it's always a joy to see them, though whether these are individuals that have stuck around since the summer or are early returnees checking out their nesting sites for next year I can't be sure. Even better was to come though with an eagle eyed shout from my better half getting us both on to a Black-throated Diver out in the bay. Actively fishing about forty to fifty meters offshore it was easily identifiable thanks to its dark winter plumage and dagger like bill, our first Gower record completing what has proven to be a successful year for us both where sightings have been concerned.

P1060076 - Rhossili, Gower

P1060079 - Rhossili, Gower

Fleeting breaks in the cloud led to the Gower's winter patchwork of browns and yellows coming alive, but alas they were all too brief and before long we were hot footing it back to the car as another menacing weather front barrelled towards us from out at sea. There was just time for a scan along the surf to see if we could spot the two Long-tailed Ducks reported a week or so ago but in the end drew a blank.

But not for long. A couple of days later, the 27th in fact, found us walking the millennium coastal path around to Machynys. This is a regular haunt of ours during summer evenings but on the evidence of this outing perhaps we should expand that to cover winter as well! The evening before news had filtered through that another Long-tailed Duck had been found on the golf course there, not playing a round of eighteen but taking its fill from the presumably well stocked pond. Following a clear night my presumption was that the bird would have moved on but no, there it was still avidly feeding away. What a result! After the Barry bird last year this is my second Welsh record in what, judging from the various sightings pages, seems to have been a bumper season for them locally. Alas our golf loving individual seemed to want to stick closer to the sixth than my camera so here's a traditionally distant record shot on what was a very grey day indeed.

P1060173 - Long-tailed Duck, Machynys

Keeping our wayward visitor company was a nice selection of wintering duck species including a superb male Shoveller, lone female Goldeneye, at least six Pochard, a similar number of Gadwall as well as Tufted Duck, Mallard, Mute Swan and Little Grebe. A passing dog also managed to disturb this rather lovely male Teal from its slumbers allowing me to get what appears to be only my second ever photograph of one. Not quite sure how I've managed to take so few over the years.

P1060162 - Teal, Machynys

P1060169 - Tufted Duck, Machynys

Back at home and even the garden birds are doing their best to ring out 2016 in style with a rare visit from a male Blackcap plus the return of our Long-tailed Tit flock. The latter seem noisier than ever but are a very welcome sight and add a bit of variety to a seemingly never ending procession of Goldfinches which continue to eat us out of home. Still, bodes well for my next attempt at the Patchwork Challenge starting in just a few days time, and with Bullfinch and Nuthatch also turning up fairly regularly my hopes are high for a good start to 2017.

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Ogmore Goldeneye

Thursday, December 22, 2016 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Goldeneye and Ogmore. Two words which go hand in hand at this time of year and with my parents down weekend before last we had the perfect excuse to go and see how numbers were building. The plan was to do a circular walk along the coast from Ogmore to Dunraven before cutting inland and following the river back to the car. It’s a route we’ve done several times previously and somehow it always manages to throw up a surprise or two whether that be truly spectacular blowholes or my very first Red-necked Phalarope. In the end we could produce nothing quite so dramatic this time out but the river did hold a small group of Goldeneye consisting of two males and two females. The former were clearly feeling a little frisky with occasional bursts of display behaviour witnessed. Sadly with the tide high and birds suitably wary they never came quite close enough for killer photos but even at distance made for a nice grouping as the sun sank behind the hills.

P1060055 - Goldeneye, Ogmore

Also present was a stunning male Goosander, my first for some time, as well as the usual assortment of bickering Redshanks, Teal, Pied Wagtails and an occasional Cormorant fishing up from the coast. It was nice to see several Gadwall here as well, a vastly underrated species whose intricate plumage is too often dismissed as just another dull duck. At Portobello gull numbers reached well into the hundreds but only a lone Great Black-backed stood out from the hoards of Herring and Black Headed though all made for a dramatic sight as they periodically took to the air as one. With temperatures reaching double figures I fear this is as close to a blizzard as I’m likely to get this winter! The first of these displays was caused by a passing Sparrowhawk with the second resulting from a horse at full gallop along the opposite bank. Looks fun but I’m afraid memories of nursing a bruised bum from my last time in the saddle preclude me from extolling the virtues of horse riding further.

P1060037 - Dunraven

Along the coast between Ogmore and Dunraven we were treated to all the regulars including a small group of Oystercatchers which seem to have made the car park their home and, more unusually, a pair of Great Crested Grebes fishing close in to shore. With the sea an almost flat calm we enjoyed fantastic views so it was unfortunate that passage was rather sparse.

If I was to name a ‘bird of the day’ though it would have to be this Turnstone which we spotted on the path initially before hopping down to the rocks to continue its feeding. I just love the character of these birds as whenever you’re photographing one there’s always that sense that you’re being toyed with.

P1060025 - Turnstone, Ogmore

P1060028 - Turnstone, Ogmore

I’ve written before about the sad loss to history of Dunraven House but its foundations proved an ideal location for a spot of lunch in the company of two Ravens and another distant Sparrowhawk. Slightly closer was a calling Buzzard which passed overhead on its way to see off an intruding rival whilst the odd Stonechat or two was never far away. One thing I definitely hadn’t been expecting to see was a Red Admiral on the wing yet down in the woods that was exactly what we got. A pristine example fluttering through the lower canopy in the middle of December? The new norm I think.

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My Life Outside 4.0

Wednesday, December 21, 2016 Adam Tilt 0 Comments



Well, things certainly look a bit different around here since we last spoke way back in September. That’s what happens when you fall a little out of love with the medium and decide that a complete revamp is just what the doctor ordered. Several weeks and umpteen hours later and I can finally present version 4.0 of ‘My Life Outside’. Leaner, cleaner and a whole lot more responsive, just the thing for a viewing public whose devices have become as varied as their interests. It’s hard to believe now but when I set off on this journey in 2008 my phone was still a Nokia 3310 (yes, really), tablets were something you took for a headache and the thought that mobile views would overtake the traditional desktop seemed quite preposterous. Yet today, in December 2016, that is exactly the world in which we live and I was finding my previous blog design increasingly out of touch.

So what exactly have I done? Hopefully the biggest change should be that on whatever screen size you are reading this there will be no clipped content, no images breaking free of their confines and easy navigation for all. If that’s not the case then please let me know though I can’t promise I won’t end up as a gibbering wreck rocking back and forth in the corner. A web developer I am definitely not! For those of you using screens that require a conscious head movement to view each extremity my content may appear a tad narrower than before but that should mean that text is easier to read without inducing whiplash and photos, necessarily reduced in size for speed and to prevent theft, no longer turn into a game of count the pixels. My old method of expanding content to meet the available real estate just doesn’t work any more now that large monitors have proliferated.

Elsewhere I’ve cleaned and simplified the overall layout, removing additions that seemed like a good idea at the time but in reality brought little benefit. Instead content is now king with large images and clearer text blocks hopefully encouraging a few more clicks and longer stays. Only time will tell and I’m sure there will be plenty of tinkering over the next few months. As with DIY which has been consuming much of my time since late summer, it seems that you’re never truly finished.

Of course all this effort will be rendered rather pointless if I don’t get back to blogging on a regular basis. And that is exactly what I intend to do. It may be a few weeks early for new year resolutions but mine will be to drag myself out of this mostly self-inflicted malaise to return once more to the hills, mountains, rivers and beaches that I now consider my natural habitat. I’ve already signed up for the Patchwork Challenge again after this year’s dismal effort and have plenty of walks in mind including some which should prove truly spectacular. With a full summer available there will also be numerous opportunities to get out on the water in our kayaks and I still have an ambition to complete another long distance route. Having fallen foul of broken promises on here before though let’s take one step at a time. For now please have a look around, let me know what you think and here’s to the next eight years of ‘My Life Outside’.

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Book Review - Britain's Birds (WILDGuides)

Friday, September 23, 2016 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


Like many other birders I seem to be acquiring an increasingly vast array of books on the subject of bird identification, bird behaviour and birds in general (in case this blog wasn't evidence enough, I quite like our feathered friends). It is a collection spawned from my very earliest days in the hobby and one that is likely to continue growing until I leave. However, since the release of Collins' seminal publication my purchases have been restricted to older, out of print works which have been offering a fascinating insight into how our wildlife and the people who watch it has changed over the years. After all, when perfection already exists why look for anything else?

It was exactly that line of thinking which very nearly had me discounting Britain's Birds with barely a second glance. Not helped by the slightly fuzzy cover image of a Robin (a poor choice in my honest opinion both in terms of species and quality) I was further put off upon hearing that it was to be a photographic guide. Let me elaborate on that last point a little. Bird guides typically fall into two categories, illustrations a la Collins or photos. I've always found the latter to be very hit or miss, a few good images here and there amidst a mess of blurry, poorly composed dross. Combine that with inconsistent lighting, angles and conditions and you have a guide which, particularly for unfamiliar or difficult to separate species, is virtually useless. Thank god I spotted this book in the flesh then and had a quick flick through otherwise I would have missed out on an absolute classic.

Forget all your preconceptions about photographic identification guides as Britain's Birds has thrown them, the bathwater and the baby straight out of the hide. What we are left with is a thing of beauty consisting of over two thousand, yes two thousand superb photos covering every British bird species ever recorded here. Almost without exception each and every one is crisp, sharp and well lit covering all of the key poses you'd expect along with some useful habitat to set the scene. The real masterstroke though has been to combine several images allowing direct comparisons to be made between similar species or plumage variations. This only proves possible thanks to carefully controlled lighting and weather conditions meaning that you really are comparing like for like, a remarkable feat requiring many species to be re-photographed specifically for this publication. The end result is a triumph with natural looking pages that are not only highly browsable but should prove invaluable in the field. My recent Little Stint identification for instance? All thanks to this book. Then there are the more specialist pages on Gull moulting patterns and raptors in flight, both of which I'm hoping will prove invaluable in taking my skills to the next level.


When (if?) you can drag yourself away from the images there are the usual distribution maps and descriptions to be found, all beautifully presented and well organised though not without a couple of niggles. Firstly the descriptions are brief, necessarily so in order to fit in all that fantastic photography, but personally that doesn't really concern as what is there proves useful and if in doubt there are plenty of other sources available these days if clutch sizes and average weights are your thing. The inaccuracy of the maps is however a bigger failing as this can often prove invaluable when debating the likelihood of your latest Honey Buzzard sighting or for beginners just getting into the hobby. I looked up a couple of species I know well and was surprised to find that apparently there are no Great White Egrets on Gower (they have been an almost constant presence in recent years) nor Redstarts on the Isle of Mull. Such omissions are a surprise but can be easily fixed in a second edition and in no way detract from the overall quality of the publication.

In summary then Britain's Birds must now rank right up there with Collins as a must have for any birder be that beginner, amateur or professional. A hefty tome, excellent organisation and layout, very well priced and with some of the best bird photography you're likely to see this year or the next. In short a must buy. Trust me, I've got two.

Disclaimer: all views are my own based on a personal purchase, of my own volition, that I think others may enjoy.

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#pwc2016 Autumn Migration and Canada Geese

Sunday, September 18, 2016 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


When I look back on 2016 in a few months from now one thing will become abundantly clear – I was way too ambitious in what I planned to take on. There simply hasn’t been the time or quantity of free weekends available, particularly over the summer, to do everything I wanted to. Of those aspirations to have fallen by the wayside none hurts quite so much as the Patchwork Challenge. I’ve been an ardent supporter of this local patch birding initiative since its inception yet to my shame have not submitted a single score since early spring. I’d like to say that doesn’t mean I haven’t been out in the field racking up my tally but that would be a lie. Recent visits to my Cefn Drum patch can be counted on the fingers of one hand and as for the newly added Upper Loughor patch? The fact that I just had to refer back to old posts to see what it was called speaks volumes.

Still, all is not lost and with autumn migration picking up there is still chance for a late surge into year’s end. Indeed with that in mind I’ve decided to drop the Upper Loughor and concentrate instead on my home turf of Cefn Drum. To that end this week has already seen two after work trips, both revealing quite how rapidly day length is decreasing. Given this restriction there hasn’t yet been chance for a detailed picture to emerge but I’m happy to report that several scarce residents such as Bullfinch and Jay have both been recorded. Linnet numbers are also pretty healthy at present with a flock of at least twenty recorded last night on Bryn-bach-Common where we also found a newly arrived Wheatear. With the sun low any colours had taken on a lovely warm hue which when combined with a shallow depth of field resulted in a very pleasing image indeed.

P1050031_2 - Wheatear

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Kidwelly Quay - Waders, Crabs and Linnets

Thursday, September 15, 2016 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


P1040975 - Linnet, Kidwelly Quay
I had a real yearning for some ‘proper’ birding weekend before last. Not a walk with some birds thrown in for good measure but a full on, telescope out, find as much as we possibly can expedition. Ideally that would have involved a trip to my favourite reserve on the planet, Titchwell, but given that Norfolk and Wales are about as far apart as you can get without travelling abroad there simply wasn’t the time available. Instead we headed over county lines to Kidwelly Quay where a falling tide meant raised hopes for a decent wader or two. Even a few drops of rain couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm as we clapped eyes on our first birds of the day, a flock of 33 Greenshank in their seemingly favourite haunt just beyond the railway bridge. That seemed to open the floodgates with a good couple of hundred Redshank noisily scurrying over the rapidly expanding mud, up to 40 Dunlin and another lone Ruff (they must prefer their own company) quickly in the bag. Dotted throughout was the occasional Curlew whose calls brought a comforting air of familiarity to proceedings before we spotted the first of at least three Whimbrel creeping through the marsh, another sure sign of autumn being almost upon us. Scanning further out over the estuary added Oystercatcher and a small roost of 9 Little Egrets before good fortune found me focussed on a distant channel just as a streak of blue shot through the scene. There was barely time to shout Kingfisher before the bird was gone, not to be seen again. Further wader action came in the shape of two Common Snipe flying high above the car park, possibly disturbed by the local Sparrowhawk which we’d spotted upon arrival. Rather surprisingly there wasn’t a single duck to be found, no Shelduck, Teal or even a Mallard. There were however a couple of skeins of Geese flying overhead, the first consisting of twenty Brent Geese and the second eighteen Canada Geese. The first was definitely best.

P1040966 - Kidwelly Quay

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#FindYourEpic Rhossili Edition

Tuesday, September 13, 2016 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


P1040946 - Gower
We joined the annual mass pilgrimage to Rhossili on August bank holiday along with what seemed like the entire population of south Wales. And who can blame them really. In a complete break from centuries of bank holiday tradition conditions were simply glorious with sunshine, blue sky and just enough breeze to stop this Brit from wilting. We’re just not used to such hot weather! In fact I initially thought things were getting the better of me when off in the distance I spotted what appeared to be four giant letters sited along the cliff edge. Spelling out the word EPIC four meters high I couldn’t help but agree with the sentiment, though what on earth was going on.

P1040926 - #findyourepic

Turns out the sign forms part of an innovative campaign by Visit Wales to encourage people to visit and share their favourite ‘epic’ locations from around the country. It certainly seemed to be having the desired effect as there were hoards of people taking selfies, all of them getting in the way of the clear shot I was after. After waiting for a good twenty minutes the steady stream of visitors showed no signs of abating so I instead walked on towards Kitchen Corner for a panorama that is unlikely to be repeatable any time soon.

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Curlew Sandpiper Half Dozen at Llanelli WWT

Saturday, September 10, 2016 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Well I had planned to finish blogging August's fun and games today but it seems that autumn has arrived instead and boy did mother nature want us to sit up and take note. In terms of weather you'd be forgiven from thinking that it was still mid summer but down at Llanelli WWT this afternoon the birds begged to differ. Although there were still a few Swallows darting about plus the odd Willow Warbler here and there out on the saline lagoons was a flock of at least fifty Wigeon. These are my first returning birds and are a sure sign that things are in motion once more as we wave goodbye to our spring migrants and welcome back the waders and waterfowl which overwinter on the Burry.

Talking of waders there was a sizeable gathering outside the British Steel Hide which included no less than 24 Greenshank, 60 Lapwing, at least 170 Black-tailed Godwits, 6 Dunlin and well over 200 Redshank. A sizeable haul for sure but there was much, much better to come. Picking through the birds carefully revealed first a lone Ruff, then 70 Knot before, best of all, a group of 6 Curlew Sandpipers wandered into view! Yes, six! I've spent the last couple of weeks searching for just one and have agonised over a couple of Dunlin here and there but when you see the real deal there can be no mistake. That long, drooping bill and pale white eye stripe are highly distinctive in the field and this little gathering represented not only my highest one day count for the species but also my best ever views. The various wader species even had the good grace to pose next to each other periodically allowing some excellent comparison views and notes to be taken. I was pretty made up to be honest but alas didn't quite have the reach to record this remarkable moment for posterity. Instead we'll have to make do with a somewhat chromatic overview of the entire scene which includes the Curlew Sandpipers back and centre.

P1050001 - Waders, Llanelli WWT

That little lot had already made this one of my most memorable trips to the reserve so when a juvenile Marsh Harrier glided into view it was both unexpected and unsurprising in equal measure. I presume this to be the same bird which has been recorded on both sides of the Burry in recent weeks but this was the first time I've managed to catch up with it and also the first individual I've recorded from Penclacwydd. With the sun breaking through we had almost perfect conditions in which to watch, the birds golden brown plumage shining beautifully and changing colour with each swoop and bend of wings. Given its unusual status here I was happy to help others in the hide get onto the Harrier, not as easy a feat as it may at first sound given the birds insistence on staying about as far away as possible whilst still remaining in view. My job wasn't helped any by a Buzzard also doing the rounds, the pair of them upsetting Lapwings and Curlew alike. They weren't the only raptors about either with a stunning Sparrowhawk perched up on a fence out on the marsh before darting off in pursuit.

Further signs of autumn were to be found on the NRA scrapes where seven Pochard had dropped in, my largest count here for quite some time. Keeping them company was a Little Grebe and several Teal. Over at the Boardwalk Hide we found yet more Teal but also a trio of female Shoveller though we had to wait until the Millennium Wetlands to finally record our first Gadwall of the day. In all we saw forty eight species in just a couple of hours, a fine total for this time of year.

P1050011 - Southern Hawker, Llanelli WWT

I should also mention the number of butterflies and dragonflies on the wing which today included a Southern Hawker (seen above), tens if not hundreds of Common Darters as well as Comma, Red Admiral and Speckled Wood. In terms of the dragonfly I'm also happy to report that my recent purchase of a new field guide (Britain's Dragonflies by Dave Smallshire and Andy Swash) proved its worth immediately, allowing me to confirm my identification within a matter of seconds. Now if only I'd picked it up before the dragonfly season was nearly over. Hindsight's a wonderful thing.

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Cefn Sidan Waderfest

Thursday, September 08, 2016 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Bank holiday Sunday dawned wet and wild, justification if any were needed for ending our camping trip when we had. If there's one thing I could do without ever having to experience again it's taking down a tent in the rain. We took the opportunity for a leisurely start and when conditions looked to be improving by early afternoon headed over to Cefn Sidan. On the way we encountered a storm of biblical proportions that came, dumped its load and went within the space of just a few minutes. The roads were awash yet we arrived to almost full sunshine with only the crashing waves left as any sign of what had just occurred.

P1040870 - Cefn Sidan

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Porthgain Quarry - Little Owl, Wheatear and Painted Ladies

Tuesday, September 06, 2016 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


Despite our small tent being a little worse for wear thanks to many years of use we enjoyed two well rested nights under a spectacular Pembrokeshire sky. Being so far from light pollution meant that the Milky Way shone brilliantly and we were also treated to a couple of shooting stars and the passage of at least one satellite. Can't beat experiences like that for showing just how small and insignificant we really are. Once tucked up in our sleeping bags the screeches of a nearby Tawny Owl replaced the more usual sounds of human habitation back home while moths and other creepy crawlies could be heard fluttering against the canvas. Yes there may have been a few more midges than I'd ideally have liked but is it any wonder that I woke feeling more refreshed than I had for many months.

If Friday hadn't been quite so active then I'd probably have leapt from my sleeping bag the following morning but in the end had to make do with a more gentle emergence. Unzipping the front of the tent revealed another glorious day and after packing up it was time to hit the road and head north to Abereiddy. Home to the British leg of Red Bull's cliff diving championship this old quarry has clearly been rising in popularity as we arrived to find the car park absolutely rammed. With people parking in ever more unlikely positions we chose the safer option and moved on to Porthgain instead. The plan had always been to walk a section of coast path between the two anyway so where we started from was rather mute. Secretly I was keener to get to Porthgain as the quarry there has been home to a Little Owl family for at least the last four years. We saw one there in 2013 and I was eager to get reacquainted. With so many handy holes to hide in it's very much a case of scanning the cliffs with fingers crossed until you get lucky. This time around it was Emma who hit the jackpot with a single bird sat out in the open enjoying some sun. Creeping along the top I got as close as I dared, conscious throughout that the owl was watching my every move.

P1040855 - Little Owl, Porthgain

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Camping and Kayaking in Pembrokeshire

Sunday, September 04, 2016 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Back at work Tuesday before last then on the road again just two days later. Bags still unpacked but simply restocked with clean underwear and loaded into the car. Tent? Check. More importantly perhaps, tent poles? Check (never going to make that mistake again!). And then something new compared to any other trip we've ever taken before. Kayaks, paddles and floatation vests? Check. This was going to be a good one.

Continuing this summer's frankly insane schedule no sooner had we bid my family farewell in Kent than we were welcoming Emma's parents down here in South Wales. Plans for the weekend were loose but with August bank holiday fast approaching we were looking forward to five days of relaxation. No work, no office and best of all, barely any mobile phone signal either. We kicked off with an amble along the Burry from Machynys on Thursday morning coinciding nicely with a high tide and warming sunshine. A couple of Wheatear's were good early finds amongst the breakwaters before we got to enjoy an Oystercatcher roost numbering several hundred in size. At peak dog walking times i.e. morning and evening, they wouldn't have stood a chance but with footfall light appeared well settled. Keeping them company was a small flock of Ringed Plovers, a smattering of Mediterranean Gulls and at least two Common Gulls, their equally chilled persona's conflicting somewhat with my own. Ahead of us lay two days under canvas at what is fast becoming a regular haunt of ours just outside Solva and I was eager to hit the road. Don't get me wrong I had no desire to cut short our time locally but there was an inescapable sense of trepidation building at what lay ahead, largely thanks to our recent purchase of two sit-on-top sea going Kayaks. Technically that should really be a sense of trepidation at securing said kayaks to car roof as thus far things in that area had gone far from smoothly.

On our first practice trip to Oxwich all went well but on the second both kayaks attempted a break for freedom. Thankfully they didn't succeed but that experience certainly served as a wake up call to us both. With this trip being much further and on faster roads we spent far longer ensuring everything was secured as we'd been instructed and set off with confidence high. That lasted all of five minutes as after pulling onto the M4 we got a text from Emma's parents (who were following behind) telling us to slow down and pull over. It soon became clear why. Despite our best efforts as soon as we'd hit cruising speed both kayaks had attempted to split from their respective restraints and were now dangerously close to working themselves free. Not good. A couple of minutes head scratching later and we had a new plan of attack with a tying approach that filled me with much greater confidence compared to what we'd been previously using. The acid test was still to come though and after spending an hour at national speed limits I can happily report that we and the boats arrived in one piece. Success! I also realise that I've just spent far too long wittering on about something which probably interests literally no-one so here's a moody photo of Newgale beach instead.

P1040711 - Newgale

P1040712 - Newgale

Hard to believe this was taken just a few hours after leaving sunny Swansea but the further West we headed the more the clouds built until we were pitching tents in a light drizzle. At least it wasn't cold as my family saying goes. There was a degree of brightness on the horizon out towards St Davids though so we headed down to the beach to stretch our legs and scope the area out as a potential launch point for the following mornings activities. It quickly became apparent that with the tides as they were that was going to involve a very long walk so back at base-camp it was out with the OS maps for a rethink. Initially Solva itself looked promising with a very interesting inlet and coastline to explore but similar issues of tide meant that water, or lack thereof, would probably be a major hindrance. I briefly considered Whitesands but thought that likely to be rammed with holidaymakers before finally settling on Porthclais. With a deep, natural harbour it was the ideal location to stretch our limits a little, starting sheltered but with easy access out to open water and with a rugged coastline to explore. Oh yeah, it looks pretty stunning as well.

P1040782 - Pothclais

Paddling out between moored yachts before breaking into the slight swell of St Bride's Bay I was reminded of what set us down this path in the first place. From an outsiders perspective our sudden divergence into water sport's may seem a little unexpected but it's been on the cards for a long while now and is very much focussed on gaining new insights into areas of the country which, from land at least, we already know like the backs of our hands. Fingers crossed there'll also be the chance to get up close and personal with some of our marine wildlife and if this voyage was anything to go by we can look forward to great things ahead. Right from the off we were joined by a couple of Gannets soaring off to our left but as we approached the island of Carreg Fran a juvenile Guillemot popped up ahead. Anyone who's been on a boar trip will know that you can only usually approach so far before the birds either dive or take off but as we drifted closer this individual showed no such concerns. After eyeing us up we were clearly marked as no threat, just another sea voyager passing through. In the end we came within a couple of meters and had grandstand seats as the Guillemot continually dipped its head underwater looking for prey before diving down to give chase. Simply magical. Our second wildlife encounter was on an entirely different scale as a By-the-Wind Sailor drifted through. Now I have never seen one of these outside of Scotland and even there never alive so this was absolutely fantastic and made my whole weekend.

Of course it would have been even better to have been able to include a couple of photos or maybe some video footage at this point but, as I'm sure you can appreciate, cameras and salt water rarely mix. Instead I'd been mulling over picking up a GoPro prior to this weekend and these encounters plus the stunning scenery have convinced me that it's definitely the way to go. Next time we're out on the water I should have one with me but for now here are a couple of shots from shore showing us in action.

P1040753 - Kayaking from Porthclais

P1040760 - Kayaking from Porthclais

From Porthclais it was on to Newgale where, with the sea state considerably rougher and tide higher than it had been yesterday evening, we took to the waves for a spot of kayak surfing. This proved to be much harder than it looked but was great fun if a little exhausting. Punching out through the waves was easy enough but running back in proved distinctly trickier. The trouble with a sit-on-top is that as soon as the waves break over the top of one you're on a hiding to nothing. Combine that with paddles which are in hindsight a little undersized and there were plenty of rolls to be had. I'll do a separate post at some point soon covering exactly the kit we're currently running with and I hope to be sharing plenty more from our coast before the year is out.

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Dungeness - Birding the Wild West

Friday, September 02, 2016 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


P1040693 - Dungeness
It was back to the birds for our final day in Kent. With Dungeness just down the road it would have been rude not to really and after hearing of the various successes my sister has had there over the years I was expecting great things. Her parting advice before we went our separate ways was to look carefully just inside the entrance gates as Tree Sparrows are often present, easily photographed from the car without causing a disturbance. Duly noted it was all eyes peeled as we pulled in yet there was not a single Sparrow to be seen. The reason soon became clear. Sat on a nearby fence post was this stunning Kestrel, seemingly happy to split its time equally between eyeing up potential prey and soaking up some glorious mid-morning sunshine. Using the car as a mobile hide we were able to creep as close as I dared giving fantastic views. What an encounter.

P1040624 - Kestrel, Dungeness

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Fan Bay Deep Shelter

Tuesday, August 30, 2016 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


P1040561 - Fan Bay Deep Shelter
If I’m truly honest with myself the claim that our trip to Dover was all about the Adonis Blue may have been ever so slightly exaggerated. Yes it was my primary draw but one bolstered no end by the presence of so much history along that particular stretch of coastline. Being our closest point to France the White Cliffs formed an integral part of the country’s defences during both world wars and still carries scars from that period to this day. Gun emplacements, barracks and even a nineteenth century prison are all clearly visible at various points and represent exactly the way I like my history displayed. Museums and restored properties all have their place but for me nothing beats exploring an abandoned site that has been left to decay naturally over time. Instead of being presented with all the information up front you’re left to piece things together from what remains, something I’ve been enjoying since my very earliest days. The second world war is often the best period for this despite much work in the 1970’s to erase many structures as part of Project Eyesore, Fan Bay Deep Shelter being one of them.

P1040501 - Fan Bay Deep Shelter

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Chasing Blues Along The White Cliffs of Dover

Sunday, August 28, 2016 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


P1040473 - Chalk-hill Blue, Dover
A day after seeing the efforts our ancestors expended keeping the French at bay we found ourselves at a place whose whole existence is geared towards entirely the opposite goal. Dover. Surely one of the most depressing towns ever to greet a weary traveller (although I'm pretty sure Calais runs it a close second) yet also the access point for one of this countries most famous landmarks. Through the centuries the White Cliffs have seen despair, sorrow and war and today stand testament to Britain's resilience and will to carry on. The contrast between their instantly recognisable chalk profile and the modern port mere meters away couldn't be more stark.

P1040396 - Dover

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