Bonxie - #30DaysWild

Friday, June 30, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


If you blinked then you may have missed it but that was June and this is the end of #30DaysWild. I'll gather my thoughts on the experience over the weekend but as a fitting tribute to what's been a fantastic month we thought we'd end where it all began, with a picnic overlooking Rhossili. Much like on that first day conditions were rather grey but this time we also had the added bonus of gale force winds to contend with! Even we thought that might make for a slightly challenging meal so it was a case of wolf down our snacks in the car before donning coats and fleeces and heading out into the wilds.

P1090139 - Rhossili Bay

P1090140 - Worms Head

Rhossili Bay stretched out before us as a seething mass of white horses whilst on the cliffs below any birds were having a tricky job of staying grounded let alone attempting flight. This led to some great views of a male Linnet in full breeding plumage as well as a noisy Chough just about managing to hover before being whisked away. This was starting to feel promising so we headed out to the headland, found a modicum of shelter and settled down to sea watch. Almost immediately we picked up the first of what would turn out to be hundreds of Manx Shearwaters, part of a constant stream heading west. Barely skimming the waves their distinct flight and alternating flashes of dark upper and white undersides was unmistakable and a joy to observe. Hunting from slightly higher altitudes were at least eight Gannets, a mixture of adults and juveniles, not forgetting of course one lone auk at such distance that it was impossible to call as either Razorbill or Guillemot. Then came a trio of Common Scoter, again heading west, before every single Gull roosting before us took flight as one. This clearly hinted at some sort of predator having been spotted and it didn't take long for me to zero in on the culprit. Through the thronging masses a bulky dark shape appeared, menacing and clearly not at all welcome. My instincts screamed Skua and as the light shifted I could confidently call Bonxie (Great Skua) thanks to its characteristic white wing patches. Conditions were hardly conducive to photography but I just had to try, probably my best bird of the month by far.

P1090144 - Bonxie - Rhossili, Gower

The Bonxie stuck around for another five minutes, circling the area and taking the occasional dive at a still panicked flock of Gulls. Eventually though it seemed to tire of such games and slowly drifted off back up the channel leaving two very happy people in its wake. What a way to sign off on June.

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The Burnet Motherload - #30DaysWild

Thursday, June 29, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


South Wales seems to be having a good run of rare birds at present though, with the exception of last weekends trio of Spoonbills, we've been unable to see most thanks to work and other commitments. The latest arrival in this mini-influx was reported late on Monday in the shape of a Red-backed Shrike. Now not only is this a rather nice bird but it's also a species I've yet to see so hopes were high that it might stick around. I'm sure you can appreciate therefore the slight pang of disappointment which hit me come Tuesday morning when, thanks to a couple of intrepid early risers, news filtered through that the Shrike looked to have done a bunk. Bum. Nevertheless my mind began to imagine all kinds of possibilities for areas where the bird might have gone that may not necessarily have been searched. Quite why I thought these places unique to my own imagination is beyond me but a sense of blind optimism found us down at Cwm Ivy after work. Conditions were already incredibly dull thanks to the late hour and threatening rain clouds and after a thorough search we had to admit that, perhaps unsurprisingly, the absence of new sightings was not for want of trying.

So were we to leave empty handed? Far from it. Walking the dunes we couldn't help but marvel at the sheer number of Six-spot Burnet moths and caterpillars literally covering the ground. What at first seemed like a few isolated caterpillars turned into hundreds if not thousands of individuals spanning the entire species life cycle. We had caterpillars feeding, caterpillars spinning cocoons, fully formed cocoons atop blades of grass, emerging moths, moths drying their wings and, to complete the set, mating moths too. To say this was remarkable would be an understatement and it's certainly something I've never been fortunate enough to witness before. Hell, I've never even seen this many Burnet moths before!

P1090070 - Six-spot Burnet, Whiteford

P1090084 - Six-spot Burnet, Whiteford

P1090091 - Six-spot Burnet, Whiteford

P1090097 - Six-spot Burnet, Whiteford

P1090083 - Six-spot Burnet, Whiteford

P1090108 - Six-spot Burnet, Whiteford

P1090112 - Six-spot Burnet, Whiteford

And that wasn't all. Cutting across the dunes we were putting up various small moths until a much larger white butterfly briefly popped into view. Tracking it down revealed, to my astonishment, our first of at least eight Marbled Whites. Now I say astonished as this is a species I've only ever seen a couple of times previously in England, so to find some virtually on our doorstep was pretty awesome. Just goes to show that there's always something new to find even in those places that you've probably visited hundreds of times.

P1090129 - Whiteford Dunes

P1090132 - MArbled White, Whiteford

No Shrike then but some great insect action and also a couple of decent birds. Top billing has to go to a single Tree Pipit calling from the plantation but there were also plenty of Skylark, Whitethroats, Stonechats and even a Great-spotted Woodpecker about. Not bad for a couple of hours before sunset.

That was Tuesday then but it can't have escaped your notice that it's now Thursday meaning that tomorrow is officially the end of #30DaysWild. It's perhaps unfortunate therefore that the weather has taken a turn for the worse this week meaning that, with the exception of Whiteford, our after work jaunts have been a tad restricted. On Wednesday we even came as close to not managing to squeeze our daily dose of wild in as we have all month but I think enjoying drinks on a colleagues eighth floor balcony overlooking Swansea bay just about counts.

Which brings us to today and the long overdue cleaning of various bird skulls collected during the last couple of years. They've been soaking for several months now so this was a chance to rinse them off, disinfect and hope that they don't disintegrate in the process. Fingers are crossed but the results are hardly photogenic right now so I'll have to leave you in suspense until the job is done. In the meantime please put your collective thoughts towards sunshine for tomorrow as we want #30DaysWild to conclude in style, not with a typically damp British summer's day.

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Spoonbill Trinity - #30DaysWild

Tuesday, June 27, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


After our Dolphin Day exploits it’s fair to say that energy levels were a little lacking on Sunday. It’s been an incredibly busy couple of months here and what I really wanted to do was just crash in front of the TV and chill. At least that’s what I thought I wanted but me being me I simply couldn't sit still for that long nor indeed forego my daily dose of wild. So it was that after lunch we paid a brief visit to WWT Llanelli. This was a trip long overdue having not been since earlier in the year despite the reserve playing host to a trio of Spoonbills in recent weeks. These increasingly common birds are still an impressive spectacle and it was they which we hoped to see above all else.

Of course if you’re hoping for wading birds here then low tide is probably not the best time to visit. Arriving at the British Steel Hide we were greeted by largely empty pools with the exception of some two hundred plus Black-tailed Godwits over on the NRA scrapes. This wasn’t looking promising. A couple of Little Egrets briefly got the heart racing until finally, way out on the estuary, three large birds lifted into the sky. Their flight was brief but, despite the heat haze, scope views were just about clear enough to be able to pick out those distinctive “spoon” shaped bills. Needless to say my resultant record shot is a thing of wonder in both its lack of clarity and distance from object. 

P1090061 - A Distant Spoonbill Trio, WWT Llanelly

At least we’d connected and we were treated to another couple of short flight displays before the trio of Spoonbills seemed to settle for good in a distant ditch mostly obscured from view. Even so we waited another half hour but with no change decided to call it a day. Before we finish however an honourable mention must go to the ten or so Mediterranean Gulls also present. With memories still fresh from when even a solitary bird was cause for excitement this is a rapid and impressive change. Long may it continue.

As for day 26? Well it was another busy one at work so my wild time was restricted to a walk of just over two miles back to where I'd parked my car. Along busy roads this isn't exactly the height of relaxation but I did manage to spot one lone Cinnabar moth caterpillar. These are by far my favourite insects and really deserve an entire post all to themselves before this month is out. If the weather holds I've got an ideal location in mind which should be overrun with the little blighter's by now. Stay tuned.

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Sea Trust Stena Dolphin Day - #30DaysWild

Sunday, June 25, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


I promised something a little more exciting for day twenty four of #30DaysWild and, despite regretting hitting publish on that sentence almost immediately, I hope you'll agree that we've managed to deliver in style. It all began a little after midday way out west where we and thirty other intrepid volunteers and supporters of Sea Trust gathered in the 'luxurious' surroundings of Fishguard ferry terminal. Were we here to admire what must be one of the world's largest collections of faded and dusty plastic plants? An unexpected bonus for sure but, as the Stena Line superferry docked just outside hinted at, not our main objective. We were in fact here to take part in the Sea Trust Stena Dolphin Day, a joint collaboration between the fantastic people at Stena and Sea Trust itself. Our plan? To take the ferry out and back to Rosslare, Ireland whilst revelling in more cetacean sightings than you can shake a tuna at. Even better was the prospect of being allowed access to the usually off limits bridge thanks to some wonderful generosity from Stena. It was a mouth watering prospect and I couldn't wait to get going.

P1080973 - Fishguard

Boarding was a straightforward affair and after brief introductions it was up on deck in time for us to cast off. Conditions, though dry, were less than ideal with low cloud and compromised visibility but I had utmost faith (some would say foolishly) in the forecast which promised improving weather as we headed out. To be honest whatever happened I'd have left happy as just outside of port two Cory's Shearwaters flew straight across our bow. Large, pale and gliding on huge wings they were simply unmistakeable. This bode very well indeed and as we continued to gain speed Manx Shearwaters started to appear, significantly smaller than their rarer counterparts and a regular out in these waters. Interspersed was the occasional Guillemot, Razorbill or Fulmar and it wasn't long before I got to call our first Puffin of the day. With conditions being so dull and us sitting atop a large liner photography was going to prove tricky but I tried my best to get something on record. In truth though you really need to experience this for yourself as no amount of words can pass on the sheer joy at watching flocks of Shearwaters cavorting across the waters surface.

P1080977 - Strumble Head

P1080981 - Manx Shearwater

It was a big tick for the birds then but what about those cetaceans? Well Strumble Head was our first big chance as a regular haunt for Porpoise in particular but with the lighthouse barely visible through the murk we drew a complete blank. Perhaps a Bottlenose Dolphin then of which I was assured that a pair had been all but guaranteed off the breakwater in recent day's? Not on this particular day it would seem. Now I've been on enough trips through the years to know that it's not over until you're back on dry land so we kept our eyes peeled as we continued to make good time. A choppy sea state made spotting any breeches incredibly tricky and that only got harder as we broke free of our weather system and emerged into glorious sunshine roughly halfway across. Where once we'd been contending with breaking waves we could now also add blinding glare to the mix making even Shearwaters hard to pick out. In fact it was quite remarkable how the latter had gone from seemingly black birds to dark brown, a stark demonstration of how varied lighting can impact ones observations in the field.

P1090004 - Sea Trust Stena Dolphin Day

P1090021_2 - Manx Shearwater

I continued to snap away, mostly unsuccessfully, until Tuskar Rock lighthouse hove into view along with an increasing density of sea birds. Here Risso's Dolphins were a distinct possibility but despite adding a couple of Common Terns to our records we again drew a blank. This was starting to feel a little ominous but as we pulled into Rosslare our consolation prize came in the form of a few Kittiwakes, eight Black Guillemots and three Hooded Crows. The first two species were nesting on the outer breakwater whilst the Hoodies caught me completely off guard. It hadn't even crossed my mind that these would be the dominant Crow species out here so mine and Emma's enthusiasm may have appeared a little misplaced to those in the know.

P1090027 - Tuskar Rock Lighthouse

P1090035 - Black Guillemot, Rosslare

P1090029 - Black Guillemot, Rosslare
Black Guillemots

Hoodies!!

With just over an hour to kill before the return journey we enjoyed a free meal and quiz. The food was pretty darn good but the less said about our quiz performance the better. Turns out I really need to swot up on my sea mammals!

P1090041 - Sea Trust Stena Dolphin Day

Anyway we were soon under way once more and it was immediately apparent that the sea state had calmed significantly. I had a very good feeling about this and set about searching with renewed vigour. As before though it was the birds which performed well early on with small groups of Common, Arctic and Sandwich Tern all passing by. Then came an unexpected pair of Turnstone some distance out before a single Mediterranean Gull in full summer plumage. Welcome all, as were the ever increasing number of Manx Shearwaters, but what of those cetaceans? It was all feeling rather familiar until Emma put up the shout that she'd seen a large splash dead ahead. Cue much scrambling for binoculars before the next splash was witnessed by several others, myself included, as what we believe was a Risso's Dolphin leapt completely clear of the water before twisting and slamming into the sea side on. Absolutely brilliant as not only was this a brand new species for me it also seemed to open the floodgates. Hot on its heels we had our first encounter with a pod of Common Dolphins which approached rapidly from our right before diving beneath the ship. These were quickly followed by another pair which did exactly the same before a final pod, this time coming in on our left, finally allowed prolonged views for all. Frequently leaping clear of the water they were simply magnificent, smaller than I remembered but with those white flanks completely unmistakeable. As our courses converged the views got even better finally allowing me to get a couple of decent shots.

P1090053_2 - Common Dolphin

P1090051 - Common Dolphin

This was what we'd been hoping for all day and I'm sure a wave of relief swept through everyone that we weren't going to be returning empty handed. By the time a considerably sunnier Strumble hove into view I was pretty cream-crackered having been stood up for almost seven hours on watch. I wouldn't have missed it for the world however and, as did the rest of our group, left with a massive smile on my face.

P1090055 - Sea Trust Stena Dolphin Day

All that's left to ask now is Cliff, how long until the next one?

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Ringlets Before Drizzle - #30DaysWild

Friday, June 23, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


The irony of commenting that it was a little chilly last night did not escape me. But cool it was and with gusty conditions blasting through our valley I really wasn't expecting to find my first Ringlet of the year up on Gopa Hill. It only landed briefly before being carried away so sadly no photo, but if past summers are anything to go by there should be a whole lot more along very soon. Just a few meters further up the hill and it was the turn of another butterfly to stop me in my tracks, this one a superb Red Admiral. It did give me the run around but ultimately I emerged victorious.

P1080956 - Red Admiral, Gopa Hill

P1080969 - Home

A nice start but as this is my local birding patch I was really looking for a few feathered treats. Thanks to their powerful song Skylarks were easily picked out before I watched a Buzzard hovering with barely any movement of its wings along the valley rim. Other regulars including a lone Raven and umpteen Meadow Pipits were spotted before being joined by a large flock of Linnets whose numbers are particularly high here at this time of year. My personal favourites though were the Swallows of which we seem to have two pairs resident around the Bryn-bach-Common area. Both were sticking close to the ground passing me with barely a meter to spare on more than one occasion before swerving away back across the Bracken. And of that there is a lot right now making exploration a little tricky unless it's a path previously brokered by the sheep. One such route allowed me to creep up on this female Stonechat who almost certainly has young nearby.

P1080960 - Stonechat, Bryn-bach-Common

Further signs of successful breeding came in the form of a young Jay complete with stubby tale near the house as well as a Jackdaw still showing signs of its yellow gape. The latter nest in neighbours chimney pots but we seldom see the young before they're too old to distinguish from the adults so this was a rather nice sighting.

Other than that it was all rather quiet but I did manage to find another 7-spot Ladybird after our recent run of Harlequins. Three cheers for our native species!

P1080961 - 7-Spot Ladybird

Bringing us bang up to date it's Friday and what better way to prepare for the weekend than with cold, miserable drizzle. Yes in just a few days we've somehow managed to go from unbearable heatwave to autumn but that's why we Brits love talking about the weather so much. The result however is that after a brief venture to the shops my wild activities this evening will be confined to a comfy chair and a good book. This is still #30DaysWild though so my reading of choice at present is Chris Packham's memoir, Fingers in the Sparkle Jar. I'll admit that Chris's writing style is a little 'flowery' for my normal tastes but so far I'm finding it thoroughly absorbing and a full review may well find its way onto here in a few weeks time.

If that all sounds a little bit tame for your liking fear not as tomorrow we have something hopefully a lot more exciting planned. No spoilers for now except to say that I've been brushing up on my sea mammal identification skills........

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Choughs in the Mist - #30DaysWild

Thursday, June 22, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Being a creature of habit it’s good to break the mould every now and again so last night saw me heading down to Gower for an evening wander. But wait I hear you cry, there’s nothing unusual in that. True but this time around instead of trundling off to Rhossili I cut straight across the peninsula ending up at Southgate. Surprisingly this actually turned out to be a much quicker journey than expected and after donning boots I was walking the cliffs a little before eight. With sunset rapidly approaching light levels were already low and the air thick with a salty haze blowing in on the stiff breeze. If anything this only helped to enhance the dramatic nature of Gower's coastline and I worked quickly to try and make the most of the remaining light.

P1080943 - Three Cliffs

P1080933 - West Cliff

I wasn’t alone up there either. Periodic bursts of Whitethroat call erupted from those areas containing thicker vegetation whilst a pair of Stonechats and trio of Choughs were also milling about. With temperatures still high it was nice to be reminded of cooler times by the song of a Chiffchaff, the first arrival of which we spotted back when mid-summer seemed a long ways off indeed. All remained quite distant but I did stumble across a family of Crows feeding and generally messing about roughly half a mile from West Cliff.

P1080939 - Crow

My birding highlight though was undoubtedly the Peregrine Falcon which, having shaken off its pack of Gull pursuers, glided past me with a great sense of purpose and mystery. On stiff wings it looked every bit the master of its surroundings and I’m sure it’s no coincidence that moments after having disappeared over Three Cliffs a bank of sea fog rolled in. In a matter of minutes I lost sight of the bay completely and soon after the sea itself. Almost completely enveloped by swirling clouds of water vapour temperatures plunged by at least ten degrees bringing long awaited welcome relief from the insufferable heat of the last few days. That pretty much put an end to me photographing any sunset but it did allow for a little experimentation with the time lapse setting on my phone. Now there’s a phrase I never thought I’d be using.

P1080950 - Peregrine Falcon, Three Cliffs

P1080948 - Three Cliffs

The fog arrives.....

With no signs of the fog clearing it was pointless sticking around so I enjoyed a somewhat isolated walk back to the car with visibility frequently down to twenty meters or so. Somewhere off to my right I could still hear waves lapping against the cliffs but the overriding sound was of Choughs. Presumably grounded by the early onset of evening they’d taken refuge down a steep slope but despite peering through the murk I couldn't make visual contact.

Although thinning slightly as I drove inland the fog was still all prevailing but it didn’t stop me witnessing a Blackbird chasing off an intruding Tawny Owl near Gowerton. Now that’s definitely not something you get to see every day!

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