Final birding day of the year

Friday, December 31, 2010 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

Yesterday was my final birding day of the year as a result of an unfortunate shortfall in my annual leave that has put me back in the office this morning. The places I could have visited were wide and varied but I eventually plumped for an old favourite in the shape of Whitford Point. The high tide would coincide very nicely with my arrival to hopefully push some waders and waterfowl closer in.

23819 - Whitford Point, Gower

It was a glorious day and the woods around Cwm Ivy were heaving with birds. Long Tailed, Coal, Blue and Great Tits were all about, as were a couple of Ravens and a very noisy Jay. Song Thrushes seemed to be everywhere popping out of the grass as I walked, while a singing Robin seemed almost alien after the quietness of the last few weeks. Just as I reached the sand I heard the familiar call of Chough and spotted three on the dunes. Overhead a flock of Skylark made their presence known. Down on the shoreline a couple of thousand Oystercatcher were feeding and a mixed flock of Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Sanderling were patrolling the beach. A quick scan of the Burry Inlet revealed ten Great Crested Grebe, one male and two female Red Breasted Mergansers and three immature Eider. Further on a Grey Heron and a single Bar Tailed Godwit were to be found.

23816 - Bar Tailed Godwit, Whitford Sands, Gower
Bar Tailed Godwit
With the tide rushing in the muscle beds around the old lighthouse were mostly under water but enough was left to house a flock of some 130 Turnstones and twenty Redshank. I got my scope out for a more detailed scan in the hope that I would finally find my first Purple Sandpiper of the winter. And I did! With its head tucked under its wing it blended in well but the markings were unmistakeable. Eventually it did wake up briefly to let me see its  beak and confirm the identification. A brief sighting of three Grey Plovers flying past meant that I had now seen the species three days in a row on Gower. Not bad considering my complete lack of sightings of this species there previously.

23818 - Whitford Point, Gower
Berges Island Hide
The tide was by now almost at its maximum so I made my way round to the hide at Berges Island to see what was about. What there was were masses of birds as far as the eye could see. 144 Brent Geese were in close feeding just in front of the hide as well as forty more Eider. Exact counts of the other species can be seen on the Glamorgan Birds Page by some fellow birders in the hide, but a brief run down included another Grey Plover, Redshank, about twenty Dunlin, Pintail, Wigeon, Shellduck, Teal and about two thousand Knot. Out over Burry Pill the waders were briefly put into the air as a Merlin went on a hunting trip. A Peregrine Falcon could be seen at distance near the old military look out post.

23817 - Brent Geese, Whitford Point, Gower

What I really wanted however was my last bogey bird for Gower i.e. a species I consider that I should have seen on the peninsular. The bird in question was a Slavonean Grebe and I was a bit miffed to hear that I had been looking at a stretch of water earlier where there had been two at exactly that time. Fortunately the others in the hide picked up one feeding out in the bay so I continually scanned the area until I finally caught sight of it. Although distant the views were pretty good leaving me very happy. A great way to round out the year.

On the walk back along Whitford Burrows I picked up a few Curlew out on the marsh before being assaulted by a cacophony of noise. I looked around for the source of the commotion just as three Peregrine Falcons shot overhead. Two adult birds were attempting to steal a kill from a younger individual which looked to be a Redshank. I'm not sure who won the battle as they were soon lost to sight behind the dunes.

I finished off the day with a brief stop at Penclawdd. The usual culprits were all present but unusually so was a Little Grebe fishing around one of the boats. Three different Grebe species in a day is always the sign of a great trip. I look forward to many more of them during 2011.


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It Doesn't Rain It Pours

Wednesday, December 29, 2010 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

Both metaphorically and literally as it turns out.

23809 - Port Eynon in the fog

Today mainly consisted of very thick fog that knocked visibility down to little more than a few hundred meters, with precipitation ranging from annoying drizzle to driving rain. My plan of a lengthy walk across the backbone of Gower was put on hold and I found myself sat in the car at Port Eynon, eating a sandwich and contemplating just heading home. I heard a distinctive call from the back of the car park and quickly located the culprit as a Chough sat on one of the fence posts. A rather unusual place to spot one around here but fantastic to see that at least one had made it through the cold snap. Feeling slightly uplifted I did a quick scan of the rest of the area I could see and found two Song Thrush, a Mistle Thrush and two Linnets. Not a bad haul at all and enough of a lift to get me to drag myself down onto the beach. Boy was I glad that I did.

23814 - Brent Geese, Port Eynon

First spot was three Brent Geese (above) swimming a few meters offshore near the old salt house, closely followed by a single Grey Plover. Yet another example of waiting to see something for ages only to see it several days in a row and at different locations. Also feeding on the beach were six Turnstones (still no sign of any Purple Sandpipers this year) and a solitary Sanderling. In the worsening weather I wondered out onto Sedger's Bank where a flock of fifty Oystercatcher were roosting. My interest though was drawn to the water where a female Eider was bobbing around at close quarters. It was too wet to get the camera out so I finished the walk to the end before returning. In that brief time the bird did a disappearing act and I couldn't relocate it anywhere.

I spent the afternoon walking from Mumbles to Langland Bay looking for a warbler that shall remain nameless. I had no luck with that but did see two more Chough near Langland as well as several Redwing on the golf course. Bracelet Bay held twenty eight Mediterranean Gulls plus three juveniles in the car park that posed as obediently as always.

23815 - Mediterranean Gull, Bracelet Bay


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Winter on the Burry Inlet

Wednesday, December 29, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

After two days of drizzle the snow is completely gone and the temperature has shot up to the heady heights of almost eight degrees. With continuous showers sweeping across the hills the best option for today was to carry out a bit of car bird watching along the Burry Inlet. First stop was Penclawdd where a Moorhen was an usual find feeding with two male and one female Gadwall. Redshank numbers reached well over fifty with similar numbers of Dunlin, Curlew and Black Tailed Godwit. A pair of Shovellers and fifty three Shellduck were out on the marsh whilst a flock of over four hundred Wigeon were frequently up in the air. Being restricted to the car meant that I actually had time to count the Oystercatchers resulting in a final score of nine hundred and thirty birds. 

I was very happy to finally see the overwintering Brent Goose population as twenty six birds flew upstream towards Loughor. I'm not sure where exactly they were headed but I haven't seen them go that far up the estuary before. Other star birds included the seven male and three female Pintail that were snoozing out on the mud and the single Grey Plover which was a first for me on Gower.

Our other stop was at Llanrhidian Marsh where I was hoping to film some video of Hen Harriers. Unfortunately the birds and the weather were against us with just a single sighting of one female before the mist and rain descended and set in for the rest of the afternoon. We tried to stick it out but were only rewarded with a couple of Little Egrets and a Grey Heron. I'm hoping for some more favorable conditions before the Harriers leave us once more as I'd love to improve on my somewhat shaky efforts from last year. That's unlikely to be anytime this week however as the forecast is for more rain and cloud meaning that my camera is likely to remain safely tucked away.


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Christmas Day at Rhossili and Winter TTV

Sunday, December 26, 2010 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

I hope you all had a cracking Christmas and suffered nothing more than a bit of weight gain after eating far too much. We deployed our annual combative tradition of heading over to Rhossili for an afternoon walk instead of slouching in front of the TV watching Santa Claus 3 (why on earth have they made three of them?!). The snow was still lying thickly on the ground giving the area an altogether different landscape from the one I am used to.

23797 - Rhossili, Gower
23796 - Rhossili, Gower 23799 - Rhossili, Gower

The causeway over to the Worm was fully exposed during our visit and was playing host to forty or so Golden Plover. They were incredibly flighty but did give us some cracking views as they flew past just yards away. I think this is the first time that I have seen these there so it was certainly a nice Christmas bonus. A large flock of Lapwing were feeding on the grass bank that faces the sea, one of the only open areas of ground to be found. Other than that things were pretty quiet apart from the Oystercatchers and a couple of Cormorants. Two Seals over on the Worm itself were being pretty vocal. No doubt a typical after dinner argument.

23803 - Rhossili, Gower
23807 - Rhossili, Gower

Today it was time to do the early winter TTV (timed tetrad visit) for the BTO Bird Atlas project. Normally it is recommended to avoid extreme weather conditions for fear of skewing the results but it has been a bit hard to do that this month. As it was we did pretty well recording twenty nine species in the space of just over an hour. Highlights were a flock of sixty Fieldfare that briefly landed in a tree beneath Weobley Castle and three Little Egrets. It's good to see some Egrets still about as by all accounts they have been having a pretty torrid time during these freezing conditions.

23808 - Lapwing, Bracelet Bay

The Lapwing above was feeding on the grassy area by Bracelet Bay car park on Gower this afternoon along with several more of its kind and a couple of Common Snipe. It really is telling how desperate these birds are now when they are willing to feed in such busy open areas. A berry tree in Sketty was packed with Redwing and a couple of Fieldfare but I have once again turned up a blank on the Waxwing front. There must be one out there for me somewhere surely.


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Sandy Water Park - Bittern and Rail

Friday, December 24, 2010 Adam Tilt 11 Comments

23794 - Sandy Water Park, Llanelli

In a rare show of good people management I was allowed to leave work early today giving me a couple of hours of daylight to spend at Sandy Water Park near Llanelli. The lake there is frozen solid apart from a couple of small areas where water flows in. Unsurprisingly these oasis's were absolutely packed with what little waterfowl there is left, one being full to bursting point with some thirty Mute Swan. Tufted Duck, Mallard and a single male Pochard made up the numbers on what was a pretty barren scene. There have been reports of a Bittern at this site over the last couple of days which I found very surprising given that the reed beds are somewhat limited and easily accessible by both humans and dogs. Therefore imagine my astonishment when I glanced into the stream past the small wooden bridge and found a Bittern staring out a cat! Fortunately the Bittern saw sense and flew the short distance back towards the lake where it landed on the ice. I managed to get a vantage point from which I could get what would have counted as a superb view in any other winter than this.

23791 - Bitter, Sandy Water Park, Llanelli

Also feeding in the small stream was a very confident Water Rail. Someone had dropped some bread into the water which had attracted the rail and several Moorhens. Despite the dark conditions I somehow managed to fluke some shots that I am absolutely delighted with. This is the first time that I have managed to photograph this species and the results aren't half bad.

23790 - Water Rail, Sandy Water Park, Llanelli
23789 - Water Rail, Sandy Water Park, Llanelli

Also out on the lake was a Grey Heron that despite having some open water looked distinctly uninterested in doing any fishing. In fact it looked positively grumpy.

23786 - Grey Heron, Sandy Water Park

The trees along the lake shore were full of bickering Redwing and Song Thrushes. Having only seen a couple of Redwing so far this winter it was great to find somewhere with a decent concentration. Despite following them around I didn't manage to get any photos as they always managed to land just behind a branch or in an area that was simply too dark for my camera. The Black Headed Gulls however were much more obliging as they posed in the sun near the car park.

23781 - Black Headed Gull, Sandy Water Park, Llanelli

For me it's now time to go and wrap some presents. I would just like to say Happy Christmas to all of my readers and thanks for stopping by. I hope you have a cracking holiday and get revitalised for the coming year.


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Best Bird of the Year 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

Over on 10,000 birds they are currently running a feature to chose your best bird of the year. Now the definition of 'best' bird is going to be a very personal and subjective one so I expect there will be a wide variety of answers. If I was going to chose a 'best' bird on pure rarity value, then the Bobolink at Eglwys Nunydd reservoir must rank pretty highly, as would the Marmoras Warbler on the Blorenge and the Corncrakes on Iona or the Golden Eagles on Mull. For me rarities such as these are certainly very exciting to see but I wouldn't count them as my 'best' birds purely because they didn't mean a great deal to me on an emotional level. For me I have to chose something that has meaning and will stick in my memory for years to come. For that reason I am selecting my best bird of the year as being the Bittern.

My first sighting of Bittern goes way back to 1997 at the RSPB Minsmere Reserve when I was a mere thirteen years old. I had been into birding through my dad for a couple of years at that time and was aware of Bittern as one of those exotic birds in the field guide that I simply knew I was never going to see. Therefore you can imagine my excitement to arrive at a reserve and be told that we might actually get to see one. I rushed my parents around until we reached the recommended hide at which point I sat down and vowed I would not move until I had seen one. My parents may have laughed but I was deadly serious as they began to realise once the first hour had passed. I heard the distinct Bittern booming noise a couple of times before I finally got the views that I craved as a Bittern took flight from the reeds ahead and flew past the hide several times before disappearing once again. To this day I can still remember everything about those few moments as if they had happened a few hours ago. I can remember the shape of the reed beds, where I was sat in the hide, even what I was drinking (a black plastic bottle of orange Tango if anyone was interested). From that day I was sold on birding and have been hooked ever since.

However my story with Bitterns was to be a dry subsequent thirteen years as I failed to get a whiff of a single sighting. I tried spots where I was supposedly in with a good chance but it wasn't until this year that I finally got to relive those magic moments from long ago, suitably right at the beginning and end of the year. In January I was fortunate to get superb views of an individual at Forest Farm near Cardiff as it patrolled a small frozen lake. More recently I have unbelievably seen four different birds on Kenfig Pool in the same day, once again on ice. Both times I felt that same sense of excitement that I had experienced back in 1997 and was drawn back into a simpler time when the stresses of adult life no longer mattered. For those few minutes I was a child again relishing in the simple joy that our great British wildlife can bring. No other bird can have as profound an effect on me as the Bittern and that is why I must choose it as my best bird of the year.

11932 - Bittern at Forest Farm
Bittern at Forest Farm near Cardiff, January 2010

23720 - Bittern at Kenfig NNR
Bittern at Kenfig NNR, November 2010


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More garden birds and Raptors

Thursday, December 23, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

The cold snap continues and with it the reliance on garden feeders of our local birds. Although I haven't seen the Yellowhammer since last week all of our regular visitors have been busy eating us out of house and home. The amount of sunflower seeds they are managing to get through is really quite astonishing. One new species was a group of five Long Tailed Tits that stopped in for a couple of minutes. Although not a new garden tick it is the first time that I have seen them here since the beginning of the year. They tend to go from garden to garden very quickly so they may be more frequent here than I realise and I just haven't been fortunate enough to spot them. The Starlings have reached a new peak with twenty six birds sat around the garden at various points. With such photogenic birds it would have been wrong not to fire off a couple more shots.

23775 - Starling, Pontarddulais
23774 - Starling, Pontarddulais

I also wanted to mention in this post the increase in the number of raptors that I have been seeing locally. We normally get a good selection of species here but not as close or as frequent as I have been experiencing. On Wednesday two Red Kites were gliding low over the fields on the way in to Pontlliw, whilst another flew just over my head upon arrival at work in Morriston this morning. The two Peregrine Falcons from the DVLA have also been out hunting regularly with the male seen at around three this afternoon heading off along the M4. They must be being successful as well judging by the feathers that keep fluttering down past our windows. Buzzards are even more numerous with a couple past the office last week and regular sightings of them sitting on lampposts. I imagine that the harsh conditions are driving these birds ever closer into our urban settings as they try to find food. Red Kites in particular have been the big movers with reports coming in from all over the Swansea area. Keep your eyes out for them particularly while driving as they do have a habit of going for roadkill.


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Bewick's Swans at Kenfig NNR

Monday, December 20, 2010 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

No new snow fell overnight on Saturday but the freezing temperatures meant that there was barely any thaw. As a result the landscape down on Llanrhidian Marsh, Gower looked more akin to the Arctic tundra than a marsh on the south wales coast. At Penclawdd large numbers of Teal (forty plus) were feeding in the mud along with plenty of Dunlin and Black Tailed Godwits. Further out a pair of Shellduck flew past several hundred Oystercatcher. I would have stayed longer to get a more accurate picture of the numbers and species but it was bitterly cold and I wussed out.

23780 - Llanrhidian Marsh

The main action of the day was again to be found at Kenfig NNR. An early morning find by Neil Donaghy of four Bewick's Swans had me braving the M4 for the first time since Thursday in an effort to complete seeing all three UK Swan species within twenty five miles of my house. Bewick's are very rare visitors to this area so to get four on Kenfig pool is pretty special. Fortunately the birds (two adults and two juveniles) stuck around for me to see them.

23758 - Bewicks Swan, Kenfig NNR

For much of my visit the swans kept their heads tucked well under their wings as they dozed away the afternoon. When they did wake up and move it was always around the very middle of the unfrozen section of water. This was probably a wise move on their part as the local dogs were keener than ever to run over the ice. Fantastic birds and I hope they stick around for other people to see.


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Singleton Park - Leucistic Blackbird and a Parakeet

Saturday, December 18, 2010 Adam Tilt 3 Comments

Another inch of snow last night didn't stop me getting Emma into Swansea center for work today, though it did leave me with the morning to kill before it was time to head home. I spent a couple of hours walking the streets around the Kingsway in the hope that I would bump into the small group of Waxwings that have been seen there on a couple of occasions. Sadly I was out of luck but a flock of Long Tailed Tits was a nice surprise. Needing to move the car before Tesco slapped a fine on it I headed over to the sea front and Singleton Park. The view along the beach was stunning although I still find something inherently wrong about being on a beach covered in snow.

23773 - Swansea beach under snow

Also on the sands were a couple of Rooks trying to find something to eat, while out on the exposed mud several Oystercatchers and Curlew could be seen. A couple of Dunlin looked to be in reach of a photograph but some very soft mud and my rapidly disappearing feet put paid to that idea.

23758 - Rook, Swansea Beach

Singleton Park was white over with the snow just starting to drop from the tree branches in the warming sun. I walked from top to bottom and saw a couple of Redwing, numerous Song Thrushes and Blackbirds as well as six Nuthatch, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and two Jays. About midway up the park there is a small pond that as you can probably imagine is completely frozen over at the moment. Here I saw the sad sight of a Grey Heron resolutely staking out its territory but with little hope of catching anything to eat. I hope for its sake that it has the sense to move on as that water is likely to be out of action for some time.

23761 - Grey Heron, Singleton Park

Heading through the ornamental gardens I stopped to take a photograph and was immediately surrounded by birds. A Great Tit flew almost directly at my head before landing on a branch a few inches away, shortly followed by a couple of Blue Tits. A Robin was the next to arrive but with the added trick of calling repeatedly and staring straight at me. They were all quickly scared off by the four or five Blackbirds that appeared out of no where and got similarly close. I presume these birds are used to being fed and have become quite well versed in knowing how to get a quick meal. Unfortunately for them I was not carrying anything edible and had to leave with their disapproving stares burning a hole in my back. During this episode I noticed that one of the Blackbirds around me was partially leucistic. Although a common occurrence in this species I have never seen anything more extreme than a couple of white wing feathers before so this individual was quite unusual.

23764 - Leucistic Blackbird, Singleton Park

While trying to encourage the above into the sunshine for some better light I heard a sharp, loud call, closely followed by a flash of green. I searched the trees above and located a Ring Necked Parakeet of all things. If I was in the south east then this wouldn't have been at all unusual but in Wales? I imagine it is most likely to be an escapee but then they all are to some extent.

23766 - Ring Necked Parakeet, Singleton Park

I'll leave you with an image of one of the many Squirrels in the park that was following me around and begging at any opportunity it got. Cute I'm sure you'll agree.

23767 - Squirrel, SIngleton Park


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Swansea gets its snow and I get a Yellowhammer

Friday, December 17, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

Signing off yesterdays post with the words "let's hope for some snow"certainly seemed to do the trick as this morning I woke to find a good five to six inches of the stuff. After missing out almost completely on all the fun a couple of weeks ago it seems that Swansea has finally gotten its turn in the spotlight with the usual traffic chaos and school closures. To be fair conditions were atrocious with work closed and the roads virtually impassable for much of the morning. Despite the BBC News declaring this "the day the snow changed everything" (nothing like a bit of tabloid reporting huh?), the main change for me was an extra day to go exploring and some stunning scenery to look at.

23752 - Pontlliw in the snow
23750 - Pontarddulais in the snow

I took the opportunity to walk the three miles from Pontarddulais to Penllergaer and back to see what was about. Song Thrushes and Starlings seemed to be the order of the day with plenty of both along the whole route. A flock of six Jays was quite unusual over Pontlliw, but not as strange as the Woodcock that Emma saw earlier in the morning. During her abortive attempt to get to work she got stuck in the snow at which point the Woodcock flew in and landed on the road in front of her. It sat there quite happily for a good ten minutes or so before she was able to turn the car around and head back home. Speaking of home the feeders have been absolutely packed with birds throughout the day. The species seen included Chaffinch, House Sparrow, Dunnock, Robin, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Greenfinch, Collared Dove, Jackdaw, Starling, a Common Snipe flying over and two Great Spotted Woodpeckers. A Red Kite was also in the area. The pick of the day though goes to the Yellowhammer that almost made me drop my breakfast I was so surprised to see it. Yellowhammers are pretty rare around here at the best of times and I never expected to get one in the garden. I managed a single record shot just before another blizzard closed in.

23746 - Yellowhammer, Pontarddulais

As has been the trend on here recently, I couldn't leave without another couple of pictures of the local Starlings. Normally they are very chirpy but today they almost seemed to be whining. I'm guessing that they aren't the biggest fans of snow!

23753 - Starling, Pontlliw
23745 - Starling, Pontarddulais


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Kenfig Castle and Saltmarsh

Thursday, December 16, 2010 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

Sunday was the latest in a long line of cracking winter days with clear blue sky and sunshine.

23733 - Kenfig Pool

Despite promising the other half that I would fix the garden gate, the lure of the Bitterns at Kenfig was too much and I was soon sitting back in the south hide waiting for their expected appearance. Overnight there had been a significant refreezing of the lake with all four cuts in front of the hide now completely solid. The couple of Moorhens that had been feeding well here were now reduced to bickering amongst themselves, but more importantly the Bitterns seemed to have done a bunk. I had arrived at about eleven but people had been sat in the hide since eight and hadn't had a single sighting. I began to wonder whether they had moved off to try out another lake or if they had relocated to Kenfig saltmarsh where the water was likely to be be less frozen. Instead of waiting around I decided to go and explore the far northern reaches of the reserve, something I had never done before.

First port of call was Kenfig Castle which I eventually found thanks to my phones GPS. Without it I would probably still be wondering around aimlessly searching now. There has been a castle on the same site since 1140 when a wooden construction on a motte surrounded by a moat was built, followed in 1185 by a stone tower after the original castle had been destroyed in an attack. Over the years the castle was involved in several more battles resulting in extensive repairs and enhancements. Ultimately though it was the ever shifting sands that finally engulfed the area and caused the abandonment of Kenfig around 1485. Partly excavated in the 1920's the sands are once again encroaching on what is left of these ancient ruins. They are still guarded however by a small herd of Highland Cows. I'm sure their stare is worse than their bite but I didn't want to take any chances and kept my distance.

23743 - Kenfig Cattle

Once you get onto the ruins they are a lot more substantial than it would first appear. Several large interior spaces are visible along with thick sections of walls, one of which includes an excellently preserved pointed archway through which it is possible to squeeze and gain access into the castles inner sanctum.

23737 - Kenfig Castle

The thing that struck me while I was there is just how close the castle is to having been completely obliterated. To the east lies the M4 while to the north land once used by the steelworks is a mere stones throw away. The castle really stands as a last defiant symbol that Kenfig is to be left alone.

23741 - Kenfig Castle

Moving on I followed the river down to the saltmarsh. Common Snipe seemed to be erupting from everywhere as they took advantage of the unfrozen river banks, whilst the trees were alive with Chaffinch, Blackbird and Song Thrush amongst others. A Buzzard greeted my arrival at the marsh just as a Little Egret glided towards me over the reeds. As expected the water was relatively unfrozen and was providing ample feeding opportunities for twenty Teal, five Gadwall and a couple of Mute Swans. I was hoping for a Marsh Harrier but was out of luck. However while scanning with my binoculars I spotted a Bittern fly up out of the reeds before settling down again a moment later. There was a report the previous week of a Bittern here so this may have been that individual as opposed to the missing birds from the lake. Either way it was great to find another one at a different location.

On my walk back to the Kenfig pool I was passed by a Merlin and also came across some rather interesting cow pats. Normally I wouldn't take so much interest in them but these had holes in that I believe have been caused by Snipe looking for a meal. The shape and size were certainly suitable. What do you think?

23744 - Cowpat with Snipe feeding evidence

Back in the hide and it turned out that one Bittern had been spotted briefly but that was all. I haven't seen any reports since then so I wonder if they have moved off or are just being elusive and saving energy. If I get a chance this weekend I will pop down for another look but my time will be limited as I am back in the Midlands on Saturday and Christmas shopping on Sunday. Lets hope for some snow in the meantime.


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Return to the Kenfig Bitterns

Tuesday, December 14, 2010 Adam Tilt 12 Comments

This weekend started with a common garden visitor that had a rather unusual feature. The individual in question was one of our Starlings that appears to have lost a leg! From the looks of it the loss may have been fairly recent as the bird was definitely unsteady on its feet, falling right over on a couple of occasions. Despite the disability it was still able to feed and drink even though there was a bit of bullying going on from the rest of the flock. It was back on Sunday so hopefully will stick around and I can keep an eye on it.

23732 - Mute Swans on the ice at Kenfig NNR
Mute Swans on the ice at Kenfig
My parents were down visiting on Saturday so I thought it was worth another trip to Kenfig NNR in the hope that the Bitterns would put on a show as impressive as they had done for me a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately the day was grey and cloudy so light for photography was definitely going to be an issue. We arrived at the south hide around midday and after speaking to a very friendly birder ascertained that there were at least a couple of Bittern hiding out in the reeds in front of the hide. The ice appeared to have thawed a bit since my last visit meaning that the furthest left cut looked our best bet for a display. An hour passed during which time we saw a Cetti's Warbler and heard several Water Rail calling, but no Bittern. I was about to suggest we moved on when a casual scan of the north side of the lake revealed a Bittern flying from left to right! It landed in a gap in the reeds to the left of the north hide. Almost simultaneously Emma spotted another flying again from left to right that landed in the area known as Margam Break. This one walked around in the open for a few minutes before slinking off out of sight. Less than five minutes later a third Bittern erupted from the reeds to the left of the south hide and flew the length of the lake before dropping down next to the north hide. Three Bittern in ten minutes was certainly a personal record but we hadn't got the close views that I had promised my dad.

Taking a risk of missing the two birds that were still somewhere in front of our current position, we took the decision to move around to the north hide in the hope of stumbling across one of the three birds we had just seen head in that direction. The walk around was pretty quiet apart from a Goldcrest at the hide entrance. We opened the door carefully so as not to cause any disturbance as the window shutters were already wide open. I glanced to the right and there feeding in the channel was one of the Bitterns! I quickly got everyone on the bird as it walked around in full view before moving into the reeds. We were just in the process of congratulating one another when it appeared back in the channel and started a slow walk towards us. As my dad snapped away it got closer and closer until it was barely a couple of meters from the hide. At this point it must have realised it was being a bit too showy as it took flight and headed over to the old boathouse where it proceeded to forage along the waters edge. I don't think I have ever seen Bitterns in such open conditions which must surely be a measure of how desperate they are becoming.

We returned to the south hide for a final watch to find that the birds there had been giving similarly impressive views. Our share came soon enough with two Bitterns taking to the air from our right before flying off to roost on the west shore.

23733 - The Bittern beds at Kenfig NNR
The magic Bittern reed beds
After several years of searching at Kenfig I can't believe the quality or quantity of views that I have had over the last couple of weeks. The weather has certainly had its part to play but this isn't exactly the first time that the lake has frozen over so that can't be the only reason. As for the total number of Bitterns present I can confirm that there are four definites with the possibly of up to six. It is hard to get an accurate count but having watched the lake for most of the afternoon I am confident in my numbers. Can any other lake in the UK beat that at the moment?


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Submitting Records to the County Recorder

Tuesday, December 07, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

I have spoken on here in the past about the methods I like to use to record my wildlife sightings when I am out and about (link is over in the sidebar), but I freely admit that my home office and this blog are often their final destinations. It may just be an excuse but I find that I simply don't have the time to dedicate to formatting them into a suitable state for submission to the local county recorders. This is something that I aim to change over the coming months as I realise how valuable everyones records are. The reason for revisiting this subject is that I have just finished putting together a report for the East Glamorgan county recorder David Gilmore concerning my sighting of a Glossy Ibis at Kenfig NNR. Not only is this my first official submission for the county but probably also the rarest species I have ever self found. As a result I wanted to make sure I got enough detail down for the record to be accepted. I am one hundred percent confident in my sighting but putting a description into words is surprisingly hard when you can't just say "well it just looked like one". Hopefully I have got the tone and content about right but I will certainly be practicing to make future submissions even better. I have included my description below.

Date: 28/11/2010
Time: 14:40
Location: Kenfig NNR main pool
Species: Glossy Ibis
Reporter: Adam Tilt

Sitting in the north hide on Kenfig pool I became aware of a large black bird flying along the opposite side of the lake. Although initially seen above the remains of the old boathouse I cannot say for certain if it had taken off from the field behind or had simply flown in from further away at low level. I was able to watch the bird fly the length of the pool along the shore in a southerly direction, slowly climbing as it passed in front of the caravan park. It circled briefly in an area roughly in line from the hide to the visitor centre before flying off over the trees in the direction of Sker Point at which time it was lost from view.

For the entirety of the sighting I was able to view the bird through my binoculars (Opticron 8x42) at a closest distance of approximately 150m. The bird had a distinctive long, thin, downcurved bill that was grey in colour. It's body was long and thin with an outstretched neck and long trailing legs. The wings were broad and relatively rounded exhibiting slightly separated feathers at the tips. Overall colour appeared black but there was a lighter region underneath the wings stretching from the body towards the tips. Best comparison size wise was with a recently passed Cormorant which was larger and bulkier and lacked the curved bill and trailing legs.

I am familiar with this species after having previously observed the flock at Burry Port in September 2009 and from sightings abroad in Florida.


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Goldeneye on the River Ogmore

Monday, December 06, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

One of my favorite haunts these last few winters has been the River Ogmore near Bridgend. Why winter in particular I hear you ask? Well firstly it is a lot quieter than the summer months meaning that the chances of watching wildlife are greatly increased, and secondly because winter is the time of year that Goldeneye's make their annual return. This year is no different with around fifteen individuals already patrolling up and down the river near its estuary.

23727 - Goldeneye, River Ogmore

The picture above was taken on Sunday and captures the winter colours being reflected in the water perfectly. You might also be able to pick out a male Gadwall that has sneaked its way into shot, one of two on the river at the moment and a bird I don't often see on these stretches of water. Other unusual species included six female Goosanders (by far the largest group I have ever seen here), a female Red Breasted Merganser and a stunning male Pintail. The waterfowl numbers don't end there though with fourteen overflying Wigeon, at least a hundred Mallards, around thirty Teal and three Little Grebe. As we were visiting at low tide the expanses of fresh mud along the banks served as an excellent attraction to the regions waders. The local specialty of Redshank were ever present and being as argumentative with each other as always, whilst four Dunlin (including one with a limp for some reason), seven Turnstone and three Common Snipe were also seen. I had hoped to bump into some Purple Sandpipers as the area around the river-mouth is supposed to be very good for them, but I once again drew a blank as in previous years. After my success with Bittern at Kenfig finally under my belt however it can only be a matter of time. If anyone is heading down to have a look for themselves it is worth mentioning that two Water Pipits were reported over the weekend. I'll admit that I am not an expert on identifying Pipits beyond the more usual Meadow and Rock varieties but it is definitely worth keeping an eye out.

23729 - Goldeneye, River Ogmore

On the way back home we stopped in at Eglwys Nunydd Reservoir which to my surprise was at least half frozen. The result was that most of the ducks were concentrated into one smallish area to the back of the sailing club. Picking through the hundreds of Tufted Ducks I happened upon a superb male Scaup. I always find it striking how much bulkier and larger Scaup are to the very similar Tuftys. There were also a couple of Great Crested Grebes fishing and at least ten Pochard. Even better though was the flock of twenty one Goldeneye hanging out towards the rear of the rest of the birds. It looks like I have another great spot to get my Goldeneye fix now then. 

One advantage of this freezing weather has been the stunning clear blue skies that have accompanied it. Sunday was no different which resulted in a fantastic sunset over the reservoir.

23731 - Eglwys Nunnydd Reservoir

Somewhere amongst those dots is the Scaup if you fancy an impossible challenge. As for me I am off to curl up by the fire in the hope of shaking off my throat infection, something which walking around in sub zero temperatures seems to have made rather worse.


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Busy Garden Feeders

Thursday, December 02, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

With the cold weather continuing to ravage the country it is more important than ever to feed our garden birds and provide them with fresh, unfrozen water to drink. I have been keeping our feeders topped up regularly throughout the year and have consistently attracted a mixed flock of local visitors. Things have been getting rather busier recently as more natural sources of nourishment have dried up allowing us to welcome back some old friends. We now have at least three Coal Tits while the Robin and Dunnocks stay around for far greater periods of time. The Collared Doves are also back, as are the couple of Greenfinches (common elsewhere but seemingly rather scarce in the local area here). This morning a rather fine Song Thrush spent a good couple of hours patrolling, and the noisiest birds of all are back in the shape of the local Starling flock. My road is currently home to either one large flock that is spread out or several smaller flocks that are in close proximity to each other. Either way we have a regular five or six in the garden that are taking great delight at devouring everything they can get their beaks into. Fortunately my garden is constructed in such a way that I am able to photograph them at ground level while still standing up and remaining hidden (a steep slope and retaining wall are marvelous things). I have been able to capture some cracking shots that really show the character of these little birds and I have included my favourites below. Enjoy.

23716 - Starling, Pontarddulais

23715 - Starling, Pontarddulais

23714 - Starling, Pontarddulais

23717 - Starling, Pontarddulais


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