Purple Sandpipers, Black Redstarts and Murmurings

Saturday, January 23, 2016 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


P1000115 - Crow, Aberystwyth
Last Sunday started with another fruitless search for the Old College Black Redstart but when that failed to materialise we could at least fall back on those ever reliable Purple Sandpipers. Or so we thought. With the tide lower than on the previous morning they were nowhere to be seen, presumably off feeding somewhere though in a location that eluded us, at least for now. The same couldn’t be said for the Turnstones which were still busily turning over North beach but with conditions even duller than on Saturday I decided to leave them to it. Our focus instead turned to the coastline South of Aberystwyth where we planned to retrace our footsteps along a route not covered for several years. Starting from the harbour we’d head along the Ystwyth before climbing steeply up to Sunny-Hill from where we’d join the coast path and head back into town. At around six miles in length it’s the perfect distance for this time of year and you’d never guess who was there to greet us as we set off. Only a Black Redstart! I’m presuming this to be the same bird as seen yesterday given that it was another un-ringed female type but there’s always the possibility that the Aber population may be bigger than the two individuals I’d assumed. Either way it was great to see and seemed to be focussing much of its attention on an area of cliff just upstream from the bridge. That is of course until a Robin turned up and chased it away along with any hope of my gaining a decent photo.

P1000085 - Black Redstart, Aberystwyth

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Aberystwyth and Ynys-Hir

Monday, January 18, 2016 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


It seems that we may be in for a spot of winter weather after all if the last week is anything to go by. Both Thursday and Friday saw good levels of snowfall across the Brecon Beacons and let me assure you that there’s nothing quite so frustrating as sitting at work with the white peak of Pen y Fan visible off in the distance. If we’d been around over the weekend I’d have been up there in a flash but due to some relationship anniversary or other it was off to Aberystwyth instead, my home from home and a place I’ll never tire of visiting. The drive up on Friday night was interesting to put it mildly with heavy rain turning to snow across the hills resulting in a road surface that was not only slippery but also rapidly disappearing from view. Fearing a night stuck in Lampeter (the horror) we pushed on and thankfully made it without incident. Checking in to the Belle Vue Royal Hotel was everything I wanted it to be; friendly staff, dodgy décor and a cracking breakfast following a good night’s sleep. Anything else just wouldn’t have felt like a proper British seaside break. That early morning feed was just the start we needed as, following a brief pinkish glow as the sun rose, we were in for another day dominated by cloud, rain and all pervading dullness. This was supposed to be a test weekend for my new camera (more details to come providing this post is suitably adorned with photographic masterpieces and thus it hasn’t been returned) and with little promise of change ahead it was certainly going to be pushed to the max.

As is traditional with our winter visits here we began the morning with a search for Purple Sandpipers along the seawall by Old College. With the tide out chances were high that they’d be off feeding elsewhere and so harder to locate but we struck lucky with a lone individual on rocks in front of the castle. It was only present for a moment of two, just long enough for me to find a route down to the beach in fact, before taking flight and disappearing around the corner. Giving chase we soon had it relocated on the aforementioned wall where light was almost non-existent and as a result photography difficult. Hanging over railings whilst trying to keep steady against the wind is always a fun challenge but I persevered and for a first attempt with the new camera the results weren’t half bad.

P1000029 - Purple Sandpiper, Aberystwyth

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#pwc2016 Up and Running

Thursday, January 14, 2016 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


My plan for Sunday was to have a full on, dawn to dusk patch bashing extravaganza in which records would fall leaving my competitors quaking in their boots. The previous night I'd dreamt of six pointers, a premonition perhaps of the Glossy Ibis seen a few hours later though alas sadly twenty miles or so outside my recording area. If you've read the account of that sighting then you'll already know that the day was beset with difficult weather ranging from light rain through heavy downpours with a dash of hail thrown in for good measure. Such a regular occurrence now that it's almost not worth mentioning. Nevertheless I had to at least try and during a short break in proceedings mid-morning made it out onto Gopa Hill. Things had already got off to a good start with our freshly filled garden feeders attracting the usual suspects including flocks of both Long-tailed Tits and Goldfinches plus the long staying Starlings. Out the back a Green Woodpecker was yaffling away and it was nice to see a Wren hopping through the apple tree, not a regular garden visitor by any stretch of the imagination. On Gopa Hill proper a high pitched call soon had its owner located (Goldcrest) before a pair of Carrion Crows crossed overhead. All this time the sky had been steadily darkening and I just about made it to the old ruin as the heavens opened. Sheltering beneath a skeletal Beech things looked grim, right up until a passing raptor had me dashing back into the open. Angled wings, face mask, Peregrine Falcon. Not only a true patch rarity but also my second ever sighting here, a great start to this years challenge.

P1170228 - Grey

With the surrounding landscape steadily being absorbed into the murk I headed for home with still much of my Cefn Drum patch left unexplored. That didn't stop me picking up a few extra species from the comfort of my own sofa though including one of the local Red Kites, a Lesser Black-backed Gull and Woodpigeons. They all count you know.

A few hours later and despite there being virtually no light left i just had to give my new patch a go. First stop was Coed Bach Park where, as expected, I quickly drew level with the commoner species seen earlier in the day with a few nice additions including Nuthatch and Jay. What I hadn't expected to find was such a good selection of Thrushes out on the show field totalling eight Redwing, six Mistle Thrush and a pair of Song Thrush. Not bad at all. Probably the same Red Kite from earlier in the day came through just above the trees soon after before it was on to an area of the Upper Loughor I'll be calling Church Marsh. This link should explain why. On reflection a marsh may not have been the best choice of walks with mud several inches thick covering much of the path. Thankfully I was glancing skywards just at the right moment to spot, unbelievably, another Peregrine Falcon flying overhead. In reality this was probably the same bird as earlier though now further down the valley, a first for me at this site and presumably straying out of its normal territory in search of food. I'd love to know if it's one of the birds which hunt from my office.

Being so close to dusk there were a series of large gull flocks heading downstream, the majority Herring with a few Black Headed Gulls at lower altitudes. Other birds on the move included one Cormorant coming in to land and a very distant Shelduck high over town. As for waders that particular joy will have to wait as by the time we'd made it to Castell ddu Farm the rain was back and it was almost dark. Definitely enough to have whetted my appetite though and confirmed that my choice to cover both these patches this year was a good one.

Cefn Drum - 2015: 69 / 2016: 23
Upper Loughor 2015: 0 / 2016: 30

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Slimbridge - Geese, Cranes and Ducks

Tuesday, January 12, 2016 Adam Tilt 3 Comments


Having endured yet another week of downpours we thought what the hell, why not go and enjoy some English rain for a change. Actually our reasons for crossing the border on Saturday were slightly better thought through than that with reports of thousands upon thousands of wintering wildfowl coming out of Slimbridge. In fact the words 'perfect conditions' had been heard more than once and with our fledgling year list yet to make it to triple figures, that was an offer just too good to resist. So it was I found myself rising earlier than I have done all year (admittedly only nine days worth) to ensure that we were at the entrance come opening time. Despite torrential rain for much of the drive we did just that and arrived not only in the dry but also with a hint of brightness in the sky. Of course this is coming from someone who can barely remember what a clear sky looks like so in reality that hint was nothing more than a slightly less dark section of cloud. But I digress. Passing through the entrance gates at WWT's flagship reserve is always a moment I savour, both in terms of expectation at what lies ahead and from memories formed over the past thirty years worth of visits. Though facilities and buildings may have changed the board walk stretching out across Swan Lake remains virtually unaltered and it is always the first place to which I head. Mute Swans, Tufted Ducks, Greylag Geese and other common species are all but guaranteed, not forgetting of course Black Headed Gulls and Feral Pigeons after an easy meal. Despite having numerous photos of them all the lure always proves too great to resist, particularly on this occasion when there was a very real fear that these would be my only pictures of the day with conditions forecast to deteriorate later on.

P1170157 - Black Headed Gull, WWT Slimbridge

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Glossy Ibis, Ferryside

Sunday, January 10, 2016 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Between torrential downpours this afternoon we took a short drive across to Ferryside which for the past week has been playing host to a Glossy Ibis. Apparently the waterlogged rugby pitch there is just too good to resist! In such changeable conditions I had wondered if the bird would still be about but in the end our luck held and, having arrived during a rare moment of brightness, it didn't take long to spot the Ibis off at the far end. A brisk walk around the perimeter soon had us at closer range but in those few precious moments the light had gone and it was starting to drizzle once more. Optimistically I fired off a couple of record shots and this one turned out pretty well.

P1170231 - Glossy Ibis, Ferryside

As can be seen above the Glossy Ibis is feeding quite comfortably in the company of  various Jackdaws and Rooks. This does though have a couple of downsides. Firstly it means that keeping track of the bird can prove tricky at times as it blends in remarkably well, especially with head down, and secondly any attempt at an approach is almost impossible. Even when sticking to the footpath as we were the gathered birds would always try and keep the maximum possible distance between themselves and us, a side effect of regularly being chased by the local dogs I suspect. Despite this the Ibis appears very well settled and we could be in for a long stayer, especially if the weather stays as wet as it has been.

Remarkably this is my third Glossy Ibis sighting in Carmarthenshire since moving down here, the first being the stupendous flock at Burry Port in 2009 and the second a much briefer sighting at Kidwelly Quay. Closer to home and on the Glamorgan side of the border there was a flyover at Kenfig and I'm sure that my new patch is just crying out for the next. Now there's something I never expected to be writing.

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#pwc2016 Doubling Up

Friday, January 08, 2016 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


I’ll be getting my 2016 Patchwork Challenge off to a proper start this weekend so now seems as good a time as any to introduce you all to my patches. And yes I did say patches because this year I have taken the inspired (daft) decision to double up, combining my traditional haunts of Cefn Drum and Bryn-bach-Common with a new patch covering the Upper Loughor estuary. The reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, for all the good times I’ve had exploring the grasslands of Cefn Drum it can, for want of a better word, be a bit limited in terms of variety. Recording its changing biodiversity across the years has been fascinating but that hasn’t stopped me yearning for a wader or two, exactly the kind of birding I can expect along the Upper Loughor. Secondly I wanted to be able to spice up my evening walks a little and by having two patches bordering our village I will be able to alternate between both, one evening walking the hills whilst the next ambling alongside a tidal river. On top of that I see this new patch very much as an extension of the one I currently monitor as both sit along the same valley and can clearly be seen from one another. I feel an illustrative photograph coming on.

P1160905 - Cefn Drum

I captured this landscape a couple of months ago and it will hopefully give a better overview of how my two patches fit together. It was taken from near the top of Cefn Drum, Bryn-bach-Common on the hill opposite with the Dulais valley hidden in the steep crevasse between. Out of shot to the left sits my so-called northern spur and snaking away towards the Burry Inlet in the far distance is the Loughor. My new patch roughly encompasses the low, flat green area towards the bottom right of the image where the railway viaduct can just about be seen. Within it sits the wooded delights of Coed Bach Park, not to mention acres of marsh and tidal mudflats. Definitely an area with promise.


The OS map extract above has the area marked out in more detail and falls within the three square kilometre restriction imposed by the Patchwork Challenge. However, much of it is inaccessible other than through optics with just a single footpath snaking its way along the rivers eastern bank. With the land so flat visibility across the majority should be good though so I’m not expecting that to be too much of a hindrance. Sporadic visits in the past have already delivered such delights as hunting Short-eared Owl but beyond that this will definitely be a learning curve in terms of discovering just what’s out there. It should also put my slightly suspect wader and gull identification skills to the test, an area where I am definitely keen to learn more.

Beyond my own personal enjoyment taken from working these two patches I will also be recording all my sightings on BirdTrack. I promised to do this last year but sadly fell well short of expectations so will be making a renewed attempt this time out. Doing so will mean that they are made available to our local recorder and the yearly bird reports and, let’s face it, we all like to see our name in print.

All that’s left now is to actually get out there and see what’s about. A task easier said than done with the weather as it has been but, come rain or shine, I’ll be covering hopefully both patches this weekend.

Cefn Drum - 2015: 69 / 2016: 0
Upper Loughor 2015: 0 / 2016:0

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January Starts With A Splash - Literally

Wednesday, January 06, 2016 Adam Tilt 4 Comments


It might be the start of a new year, I may have all the enthusiasm in the world but, without some decent weather, there's only ever going to be so much that can be done. Alas it seems that the rain that officially made December the wettest month on record is still with us, soaking already saturated ground and dampening even the most optimistic of dispositions. Leeds has suffered more than most recently and there was plenty of evidence to attest to the vast increase in river levels seen there when we paid a visit over the New Year period. Banks were strewn with debris, vegetation had been swept away and we passed more than one property that had clearly been flooded out. Having consumed more food than was strictly necessary welcoming 2016 it was to one of these previously swollen rivers, the Wharfe, that we headed on New Year's day. Birds were our target but if we ticked some miles off our walk 1000 miles challenge in the process, well, even better.

At this point it would have been lovely to include a bright, uplifting photo of a snowy landscape bathed in that crystal clear light that only comes with winter. Unfortunately what we actually got was a day so dull that it barely felt as if the sun had bothered to drag itself above the horizon. Conditions underfoot ranged from muddy to very muddy but at least there were some decent birds about to make the whole thing worthwhile. Crow, Woodpigeon and Red Kite were the first to make it onto my year list before the River Wharfe added Dipper, Mallard and then Goosander in quick succession. The latter had a lovely pinkish wash across its breast, a plumage feature which we've only just started to notice. Another couple of Goosanders were swimming further upstream before Treecreeper, Goldcrest, Starling and Great-spotted Woodpecker came courtesy of woodland near Pickles Gill. An eclectic selection for sure which was rounded off rather nicely by a superb male Mandarin proving that there is still a little colour to be found out there.

Fast forward to Sunday and, now back in Wales, a similarly dull day seemed like an ideal opportunity to move things along a little further by giving WWT Llanelli a good thrashing. I think our previous record there for this time of year is 64 species but that was on a bitterly cold day with the ground frozen solid. To finish with a total of 51 species this time around therefore was, if I do say so myself, rather good especially given that we saw the lot in about three hours and didn't even get to explore the Millennium Wetlands before torrential rain stopped play. And when I say torrential I really do mean torrential. We're talking sheets of water being blasted up the Burry at a ferocious speed that at once both blanketed and then obscured the surrounding landscape. What made this more surprising than it otherwise would have been was the fact that just a few minutes earlier we'd been enjoying blue sky as this Song Thrush blasted out its song.

P1170143 - Song Thrush, Llanelli WWT

And that's a little strange don't you think. I'm more used to hearing Song Thrushes call in this way on summer evenings but on the 3rd January? Not so much. It wasn't the only one either as the reserve was alive with birdsong whilst we saw both Jackdaws and Crows carrying sticks for nest building purposes. What on earth is going on. At least the gathered Lapwings and Wigeons brought a bit of normality to proceedings from the British Steel Hide where other regulars including Little Egret, Curlew and Shelduck were also present. The Lapwings in particular were very flighty with the whole flock regularly taking to the sky and, following a scan of the estuary, we soon found out why. Perched off in the distance was a Peregrine Falcon, presumably digesting a meal given its settled nature. A fairly regular species here but one which we've not connected with for some time.

P1170136 - Blue Tit, Llanelli WWT

Elsewhere there were plenty of smaller species including Blue Tit, Great Tit, Bullfinch, Stonechat and a record count of fourteen Collared Doves which went a long way towards building our total before we finished off with six Common Snipe roosting outside the Peter Scott Hide. If we'd found them a little earlier a photograph might have been on the cards but it was by now so dark that we had to call it a day. That didn't stop us from admiring their intricate plumage before we left though, a great way to round out our first couple of days in 2016. Nothing too spectacular I'll admit but a solid start on which to build.

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New Year Plans v2016

Sunday, January 03, 2016 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


Climbing Pen y Fan
If you've read my year in review from 2015 then you'll already have seen a couple of hints as to what we've got planned over the next twelve months. There'll be plenty of walking, not an insignificant amount of birding and, just for old times sake, yet another attempt at finally getting down to some serious mothing. Camping will definitely be on the cards, as will a trip abroad at some point, with plenty of focus on local interests including another attempt at the Patchwork Challenge. Before I give everything away though let's get stuck into some details and forgive me for repeating a couple of items which I also wrote about twelve months ago. There really weren't enough days last year to fit everything in!

Climbing Pen y Fan

Long Distance Walk - Gower Coast
This one sits right at the top of my list for a very good reason. It's my main goal for 2016 and will hopefully involve a walk along the entire Gower coastline in a single sitting, something which I've had my eye on ever since we moved down here all those years ago. Having walked the Gower Way long distance footpath in 2014 this circumnavigation seems the next logical step and at 46 miles should represent a good challenge without presenting too much risk of failure. Given that the scenery in this part of the world is likely to provide more than a little distraction along the way my plan is to allow three days for the route, possibly wild camping on at least one of the overnight stops. We'll start from Loughor before heading anti-clockwise to Mumbles and honestly, I can't wait. Our first realistic opportunity for this, our first joint long distance walk, is likely to be the Easter break but failing that sometime either before or after the main summer heat (if we get any) seems most likely.

Patchwork Challenge 2016
The inclusion of the Patchwork Challenge here almost goes without saying these days with 2015 proving to be a very successful year indeed. Not only did I blast through my previous highest score but we also confirmed both new species and new breeding records. As a result I will once again be tramping up and down Cefn Drum and Bryn-bach-Common (do I have the hilliest patch in this competition I wonder) aiming to go at least one better this time out. To be honest just finding a Fieldfare would be reward enough with another winter almost gone having not seen any. However, not wanting to make life too easy for myself I have also entered a second patch this year, Upper Loughor. Regular readers will have seen this area feature a number of times previously as it roughly takes in an area from Coed Bach Park out onto the upper Loughor estuary as far as Morfa Mawr. I'll introduce you all more fully in a coming post but my main motivation for birding here regularly is that it has the chance to offer a whole lot more variety than that which I'm currently used to. Don't get me wrong, the thrill of eking out every hard to find point on the exposed grasslands of Cefn Drum is highly rewarding, but that hasn't stopped me yearning for the waders and gulls that I could see off in the distance. On top of that these are two families of birds where my knowledge still sits a little thinly so a chance to regularly observe both should be of great benefit. Now how do you identify a Caspian Gull again?

Garden Pan-Species Listing
You don't have to be much of a naturalist to notice the sheer abundance of insects and birds which visit our garden on a regular basis. Whether it be Bees which seem to love the flowers on our rampantly spreading Mint or Spiders whose main goal seems to be the advancement of scare tactics against my other half, there's no shortage of life out there and that raises the obvious question. Exactly how much? In 2016 I aim to go a little way towards answering that question with the start of a garden pan-species list. That means recording and identifying every bird (easy), insect (tricky) and plant (ugh, if I have to) within our modest boundaries. Along the way I hope to learn a lot, maybe find a new species or two for this area and hopefully, if all goes well, have an answer to that all important question this time next year.

Camping
Of the tent variety I should add. Yes, weather permitting 2016 will see us once again breaking out the canvas for a series of trips across the country. Most will be short weekender's, one or two slightly longer, and is there even the possibility of our very first wild camp? Only time will tell. What I am sure of if past experience is anything to go by is that there will be plenty of wind, not an insignificant amount of rain and perhaps even sun.

Trail Magazine Seven Summit Challenge
My second walking challenge this year comes courtesy of Trail magazine. Their seven summit challenge sees, as the name suggests, each participant setting themselves a personal goal of climbing seven summits over the next twelve months. Mine will be a mixture of new and old including a couple of Snowdonian legends which have been on my to-do list for a very long time now. The full list and my reasons behind each choice will be coming in a future post.

#walk1000miles
So another long distance walk, seven summits and then this, the walk 1000 miles challenge. Its premise is simple, walk 1000 miles in 2016. There's no prize, just a sense of satisfaction at having achieved a significant milestone and hopefully gained a little fitness along the way. At just 2.74 miles a day it should be achievable, especially given what we've just been discussing above.


Stone Curlews, Great Bustard and Ptarmigan
Getting very specific now and it's time to talk about three bird species which I really want to see this year. The first, Stone Curlew, has always fascinated me with their bulging eyes and lanky legs and as far as I know the best place to see one is over in Norfolk. We came close to connecting last year before plans fell apart but come Spring, we'll be there. Next on the list are two tricky species from my I-Spy Birds book which are currently preventing us from getting a full set. Great Bustard will require a trip out to Wiltshire and the second, Ptarmigan, should be taken care of thanks to our friends who live up near the Cairngorms. Both are likely to be highlights come my next review in twelve months time.

Badger Watching and Leaping Salmon
Finally we have two wildlife experiences which again I've been wanting to do for a number of years. Watching Badgers and leaping Salmon can both be achieved in my local area so all it should take to see both is a little organisation and planning on my part. Sometimes easier said than done.

And that's it. Not too much really considering I have a full time job, lose a quarter of my weekends to being on-call from work and will no doubt have to deal with whatever nasty surprises life will undoubtedly throw up. Still, I'm motivated, committed and raring to go so here's looking forward to a very successful and enjoyable 2016.

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