30 Days Wild This June

Wednesday, May 31, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments



Tomorrow marks the start of June (I know!) and with it the Wildlife Trust’s 30 Days Wild challenge. Its premise is a simple one. Can you do something wild every single day in June? Sounds easy and as a nature lover I’d like to say that I already do, but my reality is a little ways off. And that’s a real shame. Having a desk job in a stuffy office means that I spend eight hours a day sat down and despite knowing how revitalising and energising time spent outdoors can be, far too often I find myself slouched in front of the TV or concentrating intently on my smartphone. Then of course there’s the burden of home ownership. Decorating, cleaning and what seems like constant repairs to our garden gate which much like Trigger’s broom is entirely original except that every part has been replaced. At least twice. Something needs to change.

It’s a widely accepted fact that spending time amongst nature is not only beneficial to your physical health but also your mental wellbeing. Personally I’m never happier than when out exploring whether that be a wander through my local birding patch for the patchwork challenge or racking up the distance in an attempt to walk 1000 miles this year. It’s a sense of freedom, a connection with our origins and our place within the world that gives me the biggest thrill. A reawakening that our digital, connected lives, despite many of the advantages they undoubtedly bring, fails to offer.

And this is where the 30 Days Wild challenge comes in. By dedicating oneself to seeking out those wild connections each and every day it’s a chance to break bad habits, experience new things and realise a better way of living. And don’t go thinking that these acts of wildness have to be large and involved. Far from it in fact. It can be as simple as feeding the birds in your garden, taking lunch out in a local park away from your desk or even splashing in a puddle. Don’t get me wrong the option of larger adventures is always there, and we do have a couple of pretty epic things planned, but it’s important not to forget the smaller acts that not only benefit ourselves but also nature around us. Think how much of an impact we as a population could have if everyone took just five minutes each day to do something good for wildlife, be that picking up litter, planting wildflowers or deciding to walk to the shops instead of hopping in the car. Not only would we feel better and more fulfilled but our world would be a far better place for all who live there.

If this all sounds like a darn good idea (and if you’re read this far then I really hope it does) then please consider signing up to 30 Days Wild here. The Wildlife Trusts will send an excellent pack through with a wall chart and list of ideas to get you started as well as a sheet of stickers. Everyone loves stickers.

As for our 30 Days Wild challenge we’ve got a few ideas up our sleeves, some of which I’ll keep as a surprise for now but here’s a small selection to hopefully provide some inspiration.

·       Build a bee house
·       Do an insect garden count
·       Plant wildflower seeds
·       Go walking
·       Do a sea watch
·       Watch the stars
·       Go camping
·       Make some driftwood art
·       Have lunch outside
·       Go kayaking
·       Watch the sun rise and the sun set in a single day

And of course it goes without saying that I shall be daily(ish) blogging along, sharing our experiences, the impact they have on our lives and hopefully inspiring a few others along the way to get out there and be a little bit wilder themselves.

So come on, let’s go wild this June.

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Strumble Cetaceans in the Sun

Tuesday, May 30, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


P1070928 - Strumble Head
A couple of weeks ago having spent an entire weekend painting doors (it’s not all fun and games around here you know) we were itching for another adventure. Rather conveniently my sister and her husband happened to be holidaying in Pembrokeshire just west of here and, following a very kind offer to join them, we had our plans pretty much sorted for us. Travelling over early on Saturday morning we were aiming for a trip out to Ramsey Island, somewhere which had strangely slipped my radar until now. Overshadowed by its somewhat more illustrious neighbour Skomer that is perhaps understandable, but from my limited research it looked to have a unique character all of its own. Needless to say we were pretty excited to explore it for ourselves so it came as a blow to get the call that boats couldn’t land and our trip was going to have to be postponed. Having already seen the weather forecast which included such delights as developing gale force winds I didn’t blame them, particularly when you take into account the dramatic currents which make Ramsey Sound one of the most treacherous stretches of water in the country.

P1070861 - Strumble Lighthouse

Not to worry as I cunningly had a backup plan ready to go thanks to the presence of a Red Footed Falcon nearby at Strumble Head. First spotted a couple of days earlier this was our first opportunity to try for it ourselves but as soon as we arrived I got that sinking feeling. Plenty of birders for sure but all either looking in different directions or wondering up and down the narrow lanes. Sure signs both that the bird had done a bunk, as it turned out less than half an hour before we’d arrived. A rare dip on our part then but not to worry as with the sun blazing and Strumble looking as gorgeous as ever we certainly weren’t going to be short of ways to entertain ourselves.

P1070892 - Strumble Coast

P1070924 - Strumble Coast

With the sea already looking a little rough we observed a good passage of Gannets, the majority heading south, along with small groups of very distant Manx Shearwaters and Guillemots. Several Kittiwakes were also in the mix but there were no feeding groups with almost everything seemingly in a hurry to get somewhere else. That also went for the Swallows, of which there must have been hundreds along the stretch of coastline heading towards Fishguard, as well as a couple of House Martins and one lone Swift. The latter was our hosts first of the year and me, well, I never tire of watching their antics. They always look to be having so much fun (apologies for anyone reading who despises anthropomorphism).  In fact the only bird apparently content with where it found itself was this female Wheatear which posed perfectly just after we’d set off.

P1070881 - Wheatear, Strumble

Alas the missing falcon remained just that as we continued walking but there were plenty of Linnets, Whitethroats and even an occasional Chough to remind us just how good our native fauna is. Inevitably though my attention kept being drawn back to the sea, and with very good reason. Apart from numerous Grey Seals either bottling or lazily swimming in and out of each bay we were also enjoying surprisingly regular cetacean sightings. My first was off Strumble itself and I was pretty confident to call Common Dolphin thanks to its distinctive white flanks though I must stress that I am far from an expert in this field. In the end no one else was able to get onto that individual before it vanished but we picked up another/the same animal off Pen Caer. This time everyone got some great views and agreed on my earlier identification. Whether that makes us any more correct however is anyone’s guess! It wasn’t until we were back at Strumble later in the afternoon that we got out next sighting, this time thanks to some simply fantastic viewing conditions. With a strong westerly barrelling waves towards us I could easily watch what I’m pretty sure was a Bottlenose Dolphin effectively surfing just beneath the surface. This amazing spectacle continued for about five minutes before the animal reached an area of rougher water and our views became more sporadic. My lasting impression was of a large cetacean, dark grey all over with a pointed nose and curved dorsal fin. All good diagnostic tells and having seen many over the years I’m happy to call it. The fact that the Whales in Wales blog reported their first Bottlenose sightings of the year just up the coast on Sunday only adds to my confidence. There was however a much smaller animal in the vicinity on which we were not so sure. I personally didn’t get a great view but it sounded like a Porpoise, the commonest species observed from this coastline. Three species in one day and all seen from land. I’d say that’s pretty good going.

Given the distances involved I don’t even have a record shot to share but a break to sit and enjoy our surroundings at Porthsychan provided a few more photographic opportunities. My first Common Sandpiper of the year arrived first but quickly did a runner followed soon after by this superb White Wagtail. Happy to strike a pose it’s a bird I’ve been trying to get a decent image of for ages. I think I’ve now succeeded.

P1070921 - White Wagtail

P1070910 - White Wagtail

They weren’t to be the end of our avian highlights either with a raucous outburst alerting us to the presence of a Raven nest perched high up the cliffs. Balanced precariously within were three almost fully grown chicks, surely only a few days from fledging. Even so both parents were doing an admirable job at providing regular feeds though I must say their diet looked particularly unappetising. Unfortunately my photos of the event were so marred by heat haze (yes actual heat haze!) that they aren't worth sharing so instead here's out first Small Copper and Fox Moth caterpillar of the year, both found in nearby vegetation.

P1070890 - Small Copper

P1070900

There had been no new sightings of the Red Footed Falcon by the time our walk was complete and so, with a few hours of sunshine left, we headed first to the trig point at Garn Fawr and then Fishguard itself. The latter delivered a rather nice Barwit plus several Oystercatchers, not to mention a few recently stranded Barrel Jellyfish. The previous week had seen hundreds of these curious creatures wash up along beaches in Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire and we’d seen several perilously close to the cliffs earlier in the day.

P1070945 - Barrel Jellyfish, Fishguard

P1070946 - Barrel Jellyfish, Fishguard

At Garn Fawr it wasn’t jellyfish that we had to be wary of so much as the wind. Gusts nearly strong enough to sweep you off your feet hampered progress somewhat but the views from the summit were more than worth the effort. Off in the distance Strumble lighthouse looked almost like a model and with wider Pembrokeshire spread out before us we really were at the top of the world (or at least this little bit of it).

P1070928 - Strumble Head

P1070931 - Strumble Head

After that it was time to retreat to more sheltered surroundings before the promised evening storm arrived proper. Eurovision was our entertainment of choice though the less said about the winner the better.

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Llangollen Canal, Railway and Castle Dinas Bran

Monday, May 29, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


It's finally time to finish off the blogs from our Llangollen trip which, contrary to what you may have read thus far, wasn’t all about the birds. Between Black Grouse leks and Tree Pipit encounters we also managed to squeeze in over twenty miles of walking. Our exploration of Llandegla forest was seven miles alone, and that’s not including the short trip out earlier that morning to enjoy panoramic views across the Llangollen valley.

P1070562 - Llangollen Valley

This vista was just up the road from our base of operations in Trevor and you can’t fail to notice nor be impressed by the huge limestone escarpment that dominates its surroundings. In the past I’ve found a good selection of fossils here but on Sunday it was Castle Dinas Bran which drew our attention. The plan was to conquer its slopes before dropping down into Llangollen, follow the canal to Horseshoe Falls then pick up the Clwydian Way past Valle Crucis Abbey before returning along a short section of Offa’s Dyke. It’s a route we’ve walked before and thoroughly enjoyed though last time conditions were decidedly warmer and sunnier. That didn’t seem to deter this Wheatear however which must have been wondering why on earth it hadn’t stayed in Africa.

P1070639 - Wheatear, Castle Dinas Bran

Conditions being as dull as they were leant a suitably gloomy atmosphere to the ruins. I’ve loved this place since I was a kid, my first sight of its walls high above the A5 a sure sign that we were officially on holiday. I still get that sense of excitement and anticipation now some twenty odd years later, though I must admit a tang of disappointment at discovering that it’s not an abandoned church as I’d always imagined. Something about a ruined church out in the middle of nowhere really appealed to younger me.

P1070644 - Castle Dinas Bran

P1070650 - Castle Dinas Bran

Having dropped steeply back down into Llangollen the level canal path came as welcome respite as we followed its course up to the falls. Along the way we passed Chainbridge Hotel, notable for its completely inappropriate architecture in such a beautiful area and also for the suspension bridge whose name it borrows. Only recently reopened having been closed for almost thirty years it was fantastic to be able to walk across once more, though I’m sure we may have bent the rules a little back in the day.

P1070670 - Chainbridge Hotel

P1070666 - Chainbridge Hotel

From here the Horseshoe falls are just a short walk away. Built in 1808 to a Thomas Telford design the weir diverts some 13.7 million gallons of water a day from the River Dee into the canal system and all the way down to Wolverhampton. Indeed it was this supply of water which saved the canal system here from closure in 1944 and preserved the aqueducts at Chirk and Pontcysyllte until they could be declared a World Heritage Site in 2009.

P1070659 - Horseshoe Falls

Retracing our steps a little we then cut north, passing by the ruins of Valle Crucis Abbey and spotting a nice White Wagtail in the process. The local Pheasants were also putting on a good show of strength but I was more taken with this Magpie. It was hopping on top of a herd of resting Cows, to various degrees of hostility it has to be said, presumably in search of insects. I’ve seen similar behaviour involving Sheep in the past, that’s Magpies on Sheep of course not Sheep on Cows, but this bird was being incredibly cheeky, even riding atop one particular animals head.

P1070679 - Magpie on Cow

The remainder of the walk took us back along the bottom of the limestone escarpment but lighting was by now so dull that it wasn’t worth photographing. Instead we spent our time searching the numerous patches of scrubby vegetation and groves of trees which line its lower slopes, turning up numerous Redstarts in the process. None were being particularly cooperative but it was great to see a pair going into a hollowed out tree trunk, sure signs that nesting is under way.

Bank Holiday Monday dawned as you’d expect, that is to say dull and damp. My first calling Wood Warbler of the year was however a great start and as we set  off along the canal once more we had the place almost entirely to ourselves. A slight mist hung in the valley and with clouds obscuring the nearest peaks it all felt distinctly Welsh. I loved it. A few early morning boaters were already underway causing a Grey Heron fishing from the tow path to take flight and land in a nearby field. He wasn’t our only avian companion either with Willow Warblers already in fine voice and a nice pair of Grey Wagtails collecting nesting material near Llangollen. The banks of wild Garlic were pretty impressive as well.

P1070734 - Llangollen Canal

P1070741 - Wild Garlic, Llangollen Canal

P1070743 -Grey Heron, Llangollen Canal

P1070766Grey Wagtail, Llangollen Canal

Our walk today was to be the four miles from Trevor to Llangollen itself where we planned to enjoy a train ride on the railway of the same name. It’s been years since I last rode the rails here and I’m pleased to say that it was as enjoyable as I remembered. Walking briskly from one end of the platform to the other to take photos as the loco ran around I couldn’t help but see my father in me. It appears that I have been taught well.

P1070770 - Llangollen

P1070816 - LLangollen Railway

By the time it came to walk back to the car conditions had brightened considerably with the sun blazing and temperatures bordering on hot. When was the last time I could genuinely say that? Of course the nice weather had also brought out the masses meaning a continuous stream of boats heading towards Llangollen and walkers and cyclists using the tow-path in their droves. Even so there were still moments of tranquillity to be found such as this preening Nuthatch perched high above our heads.

P1070854 - Nuthatch, Llangollen Canal

P1070856 - Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

Alas all good things must come to an end and our arrival in Trevor concluded our time away. All that faced us now was three hours of bank holiday traffic. Plenty of time to start plotting our next adventure.

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Llandegla Forest – Tree Pipits, Cuckoo and Redpolls

Sunday, May 14, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


P1070595 - Tree Pipit, Llandegla Forest
The reason we arrived at that first Black Grouse lek so late was that we’d spent the majority of Saturday exploring Llandegla forest. This is a superbly managed, privately owned plantation which borders the main Grouse moors and is home to the RSPB hide which kick started this whole adventure. Although we wouldn’t be taking advantage of its facilities I thought it only fair that we stop by and drop a little cash in recognition of the enterprises efforts. The chance that we might still stumble across a few Grouse didn’t hurt either.

Things got off to an exciting start as Emma decided that we should ignore the sat-nav and instead follow our OS map. Revolutionary I know in this day and age but we quickly discovered that we may have ever so slightly misjudged things. Perhaps it was the sign stating “unsuitable for motor vehicles” or maybe the huge ruts which faced us but were we deterred? Of course not. This was our first opportunity to do some proper off-roading and the car came through admirably. Apologies for the smug looks as we joined the main road again to some curious glances. Having picked up a trail guide we were soon enjoying the forestry proper, an interesting mix of tree ages, species and spacing, all managed to help increase the attractiveness of this area for wildlife. And boy was it working. Whereas plantations can be dark places devoid of birdsong, Llanedegla was positively bursting with life. Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs led the charge with a backing choir of Goldcrests and Coal Tits plus the occasional Blackcap. That still didn’t stop us diverting out onto the moor at our first opportunity however, just in case there were a few lingering Black Grouse still around.

P1070564 - Llandegla Forest

It was a pretty dull morning but the landscape spread out before us was unlike anything I’ve seen before. For as far as the eye could see there was a patchwork of colours, a direct result of the heather cutting which takes place here to encourage new growth and provide lovely fresh, juicy shoots for the Grouse. Sadly their main beneficiary was keeping a low profile though we did turn up a curiously plumaged Reed Bunting as well as plenty of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits plus a hunting Kestrel. All good signs of a healthy moor. Pushing back into the forest we were soon walking alongside a large recently felled area when two interesting calls reached our ears. The first was clearly a distant male Cuckoo, result, followed by something which I couldn’t immediately place. A few moments later the culprits arrived in the shape of a flock of small birds which despite their penchant for landing out of sight we managed to pin down to Lesser Redpolls. Now this is a species we hardly ever seem to see so it was an excellent surprise to find at least twenty flitting about. Of course the next challenge was to try and get one on camera which was no easy task. I definitely could have done better.

P1070569 - Lesser Redpoll, Llandegla Forest

It was while being led on a merry chase that another small bird caught my attention, this one clearly a Tree Pipit parachuting and calling from one of the few trunks still standing. Although initially distant I was able to creep in until only a few meters away, eventually getting my best shots of this species to date. There were at least another couple present in the same area and if we’d stopped to look more closely at each pipit we passed that number would almost certainly have climbed a whole lot higher.

P1070586 - Tree Pipit, Llandegla Forest

P1070595 - Tree Pipit, Llandegla Forest

This was turning into an unexpectedly excellent trip, and things were about to get even better. Back amongst more thickly wooded areas we picked up the unmistakeable calls of a Crossbill somewhere nearby. Straining our necks to peer up at the canopy revealed a male and female pair, both in brightly coloured plumage which still comes as a shock in a country where small and brown is often the norm. This seemed to open the floodgates as for the next couple of miles we were either seeing or hearing Crossbills with numerous flocks roaming the trees. Most were incredibly tricky to photograph being both high up and silhouetted but I’m pretty pleased with what I managed to get.

P1070598 - Crossbill, Llandegla Forest

Llandegla still had one more surprise up its sleeve however. Remember that Cuckoo we’d heard earlier? Having fallen silent since we’d assumed it had moved on until I spotted a suspicious looking shape atop another lone tree. Our first Cuckoo of the year and great views as it called a few times before flying on to a more distant perch. Nice light though so a record shot had to be attempted.

P1070602 - Cuckoo, Llandegla Forest

Yet more Crossbills accompanied our final few miles until we were once more back at the car. Forget what you think you may know about conifer plantations as Llandegla perfectly demonstrates what a little bit of good management can do for both wildlife and visitors. More of the same please.

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Black Grouse at World's End - The Videos

Thursday, May 04, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Conscious that still images can only ever tell part of a story, I attempted to take a few video clips during our Black Grouse encounters at World's End. Strong wind, passing cars and a very persistent Skylark all did their best to make this as difficult as possible but the results are definitely worth sharing, even if just to hear that fantastic bubbling call once more.




For the full story on our Black Grouse encounter head here where images and words can be found in abundance.

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Black Grouse at World's End

Thursday, May 04, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


P1070718_2 - Black Grouse, World's End
It’s amazing where a little idle chatter can take you. For us that turned out to be World’s End, probably one of the best place names I think I’ve ever had the good fortune to visit. It all began just over a week ago when, whilst visiting family down in Kent, talk somehow turned to Black Grouse and the fact that my sister had stumbled across a few whilst walking the Dark Peak. Fantastic for her but somewhat irksome for my father and I who both have these moorland battlers on our “to be seen” list. It did however serve as a timely reminder that for the past couple of years I’d been musing on a potential trip to north Wales to try and see the leks there. Only a couple of minor points had been holding me back. Firstly I wasn’t entirely sure where to go, secondly there was the underlying worry that we’d come away empty handed following the long trip, and finally I really didn’t fancy those pre-dawn starts which seem to be par for the course if you want a quality encounter. That being said a fire had indeed been lit and a bit of internet research later had me in contact with the RSPB who run early morning tours near Llangollen. Sadly they were all full but fair play to Vera in returning my email who was more than willing to point us in the right direction. A few hours later we had a cottage booked and Saturday found us watching our very first Black Grouse lek.

P1070607 - Black Grouse, World's End

P1070615_2 - Black Grouse, World's End

Awesome doesn’t come close to describing the experience. Although distant we were able to enjoy the sights and sounds of up to seventeen male Black Grouse battling for dominance on a moor that literally felt like another world compared to what we lovingly refer to as ‘civilisation’ just a few miles away. The air was filled with an almost continuous bubbling call, interspersed with sharp shouts every now and again when things really started to heat up. I always find it strange finally seeing something in the flesh having been so familiar with it over the years through TV and the like and just couldn’t help thinking that it didn’t feel quite real. But real it was and we remained enthralled by the ebb and flow of the lek for at least the next twenty minutes before as one the flock took flight and left. One bird even flew directly overhead and let me assure you that they are neither quiet nor small when up close.

It’s worth noting as well that we had not arrived pre-dawn for this lek. Far from it in fact. Having spent the majority of the day walking we rocked up at World’s End around half five in the evening. A whole lot more appealing for this hater of early starts. The whole thing was viewed from the car, as recommended to avoid any kind of disturbance to the birds, and I still can’t believe that we finally managed to see a Black Grouse lek after all these years.

Of course there’s always the chance that we’d just been incredibly lucky so we returned around the same time on Sunday. Once again we found the lek, though this time in a more subdued mood, with most of the male birds seemingly happy to sit and tolerate each other’s presence. We wanted drama however so carried on along the road with eyes peeled for something a little more lively. We thought we’d found it when a head popped up from the heather but that turned out to be a Red Grouse instead. Nice to see but not what we were after. Less than a mile later though and Emma spotted a few black dots ahead and blow me if it wasn’t a lek happening right next to the road! Having pulled up I made a rather impressive dive for the back seats (so as not to exit the car and potentially disrupt proceedings) and started snapping away.

P1070694 - Black Grouse, World's End

P1070708 - Black Grouse, World's End

P1070712 - Black Grouse, World's End

P1070718_2 - Black Grouse, World's End

P1070721_2 - Black Grouse, World's End

If we’d thought our first lek impressive, this one was on a whole other level. Contests were breaking out in all directions as pumped up males first fanned their tales then began to charge their rivals. Most of these confrontations involved two individuals but as things continued to heat up brawls would often involve three, four or even more birds. Despite my best efforts I must confess to being at a total loss as to who, if anyone, was coming out on top but suffice to say we were probably the happiest living things out on the moor.

In the end a heavy rain shower limited any further photography but I was more than happy to simply sit back and watch events unfold. If you’d seen me I’m sure I would have had a massive smile plastered across my face. After almost an hour we left the Grouse to battle on into the gathering darkness, drawing to a close our time at World’s End.

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More Spring Migrants

Tuesday, May 02, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


P1070488 - Whitethroat
I've not really been out with the camera a great deal this last month or so but when I have my run of luck with spring migrants has been pretty darn good. Back on the 8th April we enjoyed a nine mile walk around the heart of Gower, kicking off from near King Arthur's stone before taking in Mill Woods, Oxwich, Three Cliffs and Cefn Bryn. It's a route that shows off many of Gower's best features and on this occasion also delivered my first Willow Warbler of the year. It was singing its heart out above Reynoldston and hopped off the wires just long enough to pose in a patch of flowering Gorse.

P1070058 - Willow Warbler

Of course, where you've got Willow Warblers you've almost certainly got Chiffchaffs and again we found another showy individual less than a mile down the road. The angle definitely wasn't so great this time but I've learned not to pass up an opportunity where this species is concerned as once the trees leaf up they're a whole lot harder to find.

P1070065 - Chiffchaff

Fast forward to last weekend and we lucked in with a Whitethroat which seemed happy to pose and stare us down. In truth I think it had a nest somewhere in the vicinity so we only stayed for a minute or so before leaving the bird in peace.

P1070488 - Whitethroat

P1070500 - Whitethroat

By the time you're reading this we'll have had another long weekend with ours being spent up in North Wales around the Llangollen area. I won't tempt fate having not actually left to travel there yet (aren't scheduled posts a wonderful thing) but I'm feeling energised and eager to see what we can turn up next.

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