Autumn on Mull Part 1

Thursday, March 29, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


P1120696 - Isle of Mull
Mull. Home from home, place of natural wonder and the closest I'm ever likely to get to true wilderness. Regular readers will be familiar with our numerous jaunts up to this island paradise by now, a jewel off the west coast of Scotland and a place to which I find myself being inextricably drawn time and time again. We spent a couple of weeks last summer birding its cliffs, kayaking its lochs and walking its hills and still left wanting more. Is it any real surprise therefore that last October we were back again, a week ours to spend amongst the Red Deer, bronzed bracken and soaring Eagles.

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Harbour Porpoise off Worm's Head

Monday, March 26, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Harbour Porpoise, Gower
Just two days prior to our first Wheatear sighting of the spring we'd been down at Rhossili looking for the very same thing. Conditions were blustery and a tad on the chilly side but find a sheltered spot and it was very pleasant indeed. Even so it didn't look that promising and so it proved to be, the crashing waves over on Worm's Head however providing more than enough entertainment.

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Rooftop Shelduck and Sanderling Surprise

Friday, March 23, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


P1130855 - Sanderling, Cefn Sidan
With our weather now back on an even keel (famous last words) I finally have chance to catch up on a few previous outings before the allure of Willow Warblers has me once more prowling woodland in an ever hopeful manner. Ah the memories. Thankfully my avian subjects were a whole lot more cooperative weekend before last beginning with those at Penclacwydd. After our double dip on both Hawfinch and Spoonbill there during the "beast from the east" we had unfinished business and the plan was to walk in, spot both, then leave with a job well done. Mother nature of course had different ideas. Neither species was visible either on the reserve or out on the estuary leaving us to wonder whether or not it might be something personal? I presume not as the Shelducks were more than happy to show themselves, the very latest in roof top ornamentation for that person in your life who already has everything else.

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The Return of Spring

Tuesday, March 20, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Twenty four hours later and you’d be forgiven for thinking that Sunday’s blizzards were just a dream. Sunshine and clear blue skies abound with only a few small pockets of snow holding on in shaded crevices any reminder of our recent wintry weather.  Finally it feels as if we’ve been able to cast aside the last few months and can look to the future with real confidence, those nurtured memories of long summer days just waiting to burst back into reality once more. And if I could sense that change then our wildlife certainly could too if the sheer abundance of life yesterday evening was anything to go by.

As I hope will be the norm for the foreseeable future I was able to get back from work on Monday and head straight for the hills. Immediately I could hear the high pitched calls of Redwing, not an all too common patch visitor but one which seems to mass here about this time of year as final preparations for migration are made. They remained frustratingly elusive throughout with only occasional flight views possible but each one was a moment to savour, the setting sun picking out their red under-wing patches perfectly. Not to be outdone our resident species were also putting on a good show with Mistle Thrushes rattling their way overhead, a pair of battling Buzzards up on Gopa Hill and of course the yaffling of Green Woodpeckers. There were lambs too, many more than there had been even that morning and each one a picture of innocence which could surely melt even the hardest of hearts.

P1130951 - Lamb

Up on Bryn-bach-Common I turned to find a pair of Ravens just hanging in the air parallel to me, a brief moment of eye contact before they soared off down the valley to continue their evening patrol. Less easy to spot were last week’s Wheatears which may have already moved on but in their place came a marked increase in Linnet numbers and a return to voice for the Skylarks. The Yellowhammers too had done a bunk with Stonechats seemingly now occupying what I had hoped could be breeding territory for the former. Time will tell but I feel the Stonechats may have the weight of experience on their side as they’ve successfully raised several broods here previously.

And still they came. Meadow Pipits adding their own voices to the mix, the silent glide of a Sparrowhawk looking for its next meal and let’s not forget those Buzzards which seemed ready to kick off round two. I saw all this and more and just had to take a moment periodically to stand, listen and absorb.

P1130953 - Loughor Estuary

Looking down towards Loughor I was struck by how far west the sun currently sets, something which will soon start to change as our daylight hours lengthen and the sun makes its steady march north. Yet another reminder that it’s still early days but that great things are just around the corner.

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Gower Snow in March

Sunday, March 18, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


P1130928 - March Snow on Gower
I may have spoken too soon. Just a few days after celebrating the arrival of our first spring migrants and heralding the end of winter proper it seems that mother nature has had other ideas. The first warning signs came yesterday which, following a comparatively balmy evening on Friday, dawned bitterly cold. We still managed to walk a couple of local hills but the wind was absolutely freezing and as the hours passed began to be accompanied by the occasional flurry of snow. Those flurries only increased as darkness fell leaving us wondering as to what to expect come Sunday or if, as before, Swansea would somehow avoid the worst from this latest easterly onslaught.

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The Wheatears Have Arrived

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


P1130890 - First Wheatear of 2018
What a gorgeous evening yesterday was. Sunny, mild and, best of all, the first time this year I've been able to get back from work and still have enough daylight remaining to head out for a walk. I can't explain how wonderful that simple act felt and boy were my efforts rewarded when up popped a pair of Wheatears on Bryn-bach-Common. Not only were these my first Wheatears of the year but they were also my first spring migrants full stop. And where better to record such a momentous occasion than on my own local patch, an encounter which I'm not ashamed to admit had me rather excited to the extent that whoops of joy may have been uttered.

P1130891 - First Wheatear of 2018

P1130890 - First Wheatear of 2018

P1130893 - First Wheatear of 2018

Of the two it was the male which proved most approachable but even then, as you can probably tell from the shots above, he was never exactly what you'd call close. Add to that failing light and I had my work cut out to get anything decent on camera but as always with moments like this, it's more about capturing a memory than anything else.

There was plenty more to be seen as well including a couple of Green Woodpeckers, singing Skylarks, rattling Mistle Thrushes and even a male Reed Bunting. Overhead the nightly movement of Canada Geese saw several birds heading west to roost sites unknown before a familiar but hard to place call reached my ears. Scanning a distant patch of Gorse I soon found the culprit, one of two Yellowhammers in the vicinity which treated me to a brief snippet of song before returning to their less elaborate call. It's been a good long while since I've seen any Yellowhammers up on the common and with these two seemingly a pair perhaps we may be in for a successful breeding season.

P1130895 - Yellowhammer

Walking home with the sun now well and truly setting I enjoyed the briefest of views as a Sparrowhawk shot across my path and disappeared amongst the trees. Moments later a Blackbird darted back in the opposite direction, a series of what I can only presume were expletives emanating from its beak. Had I just come face to face with death then I'd probably have felt the same way. An apt sentiment perhaps considering a pair of C-130 Hercules passed over shortly after, an endangered species in its own right as the fleet is gradually replaced by the more modern Airbus A400M.

P1130901 - Lockheed C-130 Hercules

As the drone of their engines slowly died away I was left once more to enjoy the sounds and smells of a countryside fully awakened from its winter slumber. Birdsong abounded, fresh shoots and leaves are starting to appear and it can't be long now before Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and hirundines return in force to kick start spring proper.

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Golden Manorbier

Tuesday, March 13, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


P1130792 - Manorbier Coast
My overriding memories of this winter are of it being both cold and wet but on the odd occasion that the sun has shone it's proved truly spectacular. A lot of that has of course to do with the places we've chosen to visit, none more so than Manorbier. Sitting just west of Tenby in the Pembrokeshire national park Manorbier has long been a favourite haunt of ours and with views like this, who can blame us.

P1130783 - Manorbier Coast

P1130779 - Manorbier Coast

P1130784 - Manorbier Coast

However, don't let those clear blue skies deceive you. In person it was bitterly cold, a strong wind necessitating full winter clothing but find a little shelter and suddenly it felt like spring. Daffodils flowered, Skylarks sang yet you needn't have looked too hard to break that illusion. Nearby farmland still held flocks of wintering Redwing for instance and rather unexpectedly hundreds of Golden Plover as well. The latter were a very nice surprise and with several large groupings visible were clearly finding this Pembrokeshire landscape to their liking.

P1130775 - Golden Plovers, Manorbier

Out at sea a lone Great Crested Grebe was fishing in Swanlake Bay whilst a brute of a Great Northern Diver off Manorbier itself continued what has been an excellent winter of records for the species. Being still too early for auk activity it was left to a pair of Chough to continue the entertainment although to be honest, geology does a pretty darn good job of that around these parts.

P1130792 - Manorbier Coast

Other notable sightings from the day include a Sparrowhawk using one field's fence as its own personal lookout as well as a couple of Mistle Thrush identified thanks to their chattering calls. Really though it was the sea to which my attention kept turning, an inviting expanse that if I hadn't known its true temperature would have had us reaching for the kayaks in no time. Soon, soon.

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Beast from the East, Except in Swansea

Sunday, March 11, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


P1130810 - Black-tailed Godwit, WWT Llanelli
It's hard to believe that just over a week ago we were facing down a red weather warning for snow and freezing temperatures. By Thursday afternoon my office was closed as were most public buildings across the country with advanced closures for Friday already announced. Talk of snow was not in inches but metres, drifts were expected and all travel was strongly discouraged unless absolutely necessary. Needless to say the supermarket shelves were quickly stripped and for once, at least for most of you, the warnings proved well founded. Snow did indeed fall in huge quantities leaving some communities cut off for several days, water pipes did freeze and as those unfortunate people forced to spend over twelve hours stuck on the M80 will testify, travel really was a bad idea.

Unless of course you lived in Swansea. My colleagues and I had spent the preceding few days watching weather forecasts with a sinking sense of inevitability as projection after projection showed this particular part of south Wales devoid of snow almost entirely. Yes temperatures were likely to be the coldest they'd been for several years but it was as if a giant dome had been placed over us keeping the white stuff at bay. And so it proved to be. Other than the occasional flurry we escaped completely untouched yet travel fifteen miles in any direction and things were very different indeed. It was only by Friday lunchtime that one lane of the M4 managed to reopen past Cardiff yet I spent an unexpected bonus day's leave pottering around the garden. By Saturday it was clear that we were to be spared so instead headed down to WWT Llanelli to see what was about.

P1130813 - Llanelli WWT

Needless to say it was very cold with the ground frozen solid as were most bodies of water. The captive Nene, unused to this sudden lack of visitors, were even more demanding than ever and we ended up purchasing a bag of seed to ensure safe passage through (this may be a slight exaggeration - ed). It was clear that our wild birds were feeling the pinch as well with Redwings and Fieldfares popping up all over the place including a sizeable flock outside the Michael Powell hide.  These had been joined by several Meadow Pipits, a none too regular record for me here and one which had the resident Sparrowhawk taking a few hopeful passes but without success. Six Pintails was another good record but Lapwing numbers were lower than expected, most having spread far and wide across surrounding areas including one in our neighbours garden. Talk about having to do a double take! The Black-tailed Godwits were also notable for their absence with the exception of one individual which gave brilliant views as it paraded back and forth.

P1130810 - Black-tailed Godwit, WWT Llanelli

Unfortunately there was no sign of the two long staying Spoonbills who were perhaps wondering if Britain wasn't such a great place to live after all but we did stumble across a Common Snipe, again at close quarters. Hunkered down at the back of the NRA scrapes it was nice to finally get a semi-decent Snipe photo having missed out on a perfect opportunity at Titchwell a couple of weeks before.

P1130820 - Common Snipe, Llanelli WWT

Elsewhere on the reserve saw a similar story. Relatively low numbers of birds but a decent selection including an abundance of winter thrushes. We did try for the Hawfinch but dipped again although I was probably just as happy to have seen a Green Woodpecker over in the Millennium Wetlands, a welcome blast of colour on this dullest of days.

Still didn't make up for the complete lack of snow though.

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North Norfolk in a Van - Part 2

Saturday, March 10, 2018 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


P1130773_2 - Goldcrest, Holkham
Our second Norfolk night was another sub-zero affair but tucked up beneath sleeping bag and duvet I was warm, comfortable and contented. Condensation however was a bit of an issue with every inside surface of the van coated with a thin film including windows, steel panels and even the dash. This was despite leaving the windows open a crack and just reinforces the need for insulation as our number one priority. For now though no harm was done and thanks to another gloriously sunny morning everything dried off in no time as we cooked breakfast, planned our day ahead and pondered the madness of those next to us who, contrary to all common sense, were indeed camping. As on Saturday the soundtrack was a mixture of Skylarks, Curlew, Mistle Thrush and a distant Greenfinch, the latter sadly worthy of note these days as a result of recent population declines. We probably could have sat their all day but with opportunities for more birdy goodness at every turn we had to drag ourselves away with Holkham our destination.

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North Norfolk in a Van - Part 1

Wednesday, March 07, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


P1130690 - Titchwell
When someone mentions Norfolk in mid-February, what immediately springs to mind? Cold certainly, wind a high probability but camping? Only if possession of a full complement of fingers and toes is not something to which you aspire whilst frostbite is considered a mere inconvenience. And that’s a shame really as with good birding to be had and those wide open vistas to enjoy, Norfolk really has a lot going for it at this time of year. In the past we’ve splashed out on one of the few hotels local to Titchwell but with prices at over a hundred quid per night that’s not something I was particularly fond of repeating. Clearly we needed alternative options and at this point anyone who’s familiar with my aspirations for 2018 may have an inkling as to where this post is heading.

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