Red Crested Pochard at Cosmeston Lakes, Cardiff

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

After the success with the Bittern at Forest Farm we popped down the road to Cosmeston Lakes to search for the Red Crested Pochard that had taken up residence there. Within a couple of minutes we had spotted it lurking near the bridge between the two main lakes. Compared to the more common Pochard species that we typically see on our waterways, the Red Crested Pochard is a very exotic looking bird. In fact I'm pretty sure that the nearby Great Crested Grebe didn't quite know what to make of it if its suspicious stares were anything to go by.

11948 - Red Crested Pochard at Cosmeston Lakes. Cardiff 11947 - Red Crested Pochard at Cosmeston Lakes. Cardiff

The Red Crested Pochard is an extremely rare visitor to South Wales, with what resident population there is in the UK being restricted to southern and Eastern England. These birds are mainly made up from captive escapees which have managed to establish a small breeding population numbering around twenty five pairs. Occasionally truly wild birds do put in an appearance after traveling over from mainland Europe. I am not yet sure which category this particular example falls into but it is certainly wild enough to count as a new tick for me.

11940 - Mallard at Cosmeston Lakes, Cardiff 11939 - Canada Goose at Cosmeston Lakes, Cardiff

Whilst walking around the lakes I also took the opportunity to take some pictures of the more common waterfowl that can often be overlooked. I realised how easy it is to miss out on the species that we see every day after noticing that I had very few pictures of Mallards. These really are very attractive birds when you get up close. The feather patterning on the above example is quite extraordinary and was catching the winter light nicely. The Canada Geese were also showing off well and it seemed a shame not to take advantage. I always like to try and capture Geese and Swans in action poses which happily they tend to oblige with. It also enabled me to answer the question that I am sure you have all been pondering for years; what is the colour of a Canada Gooses eyelid? White it would seem is the answer.


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Bittern at Forest Farm, Cardiff

Saturday, January 23, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

A bit belated I know but last weekend I visited Forest Farm near Cardiff for the very first time after hearing of a Bittern that had taken up residence at one of the pools there since the New Year. We headed straight for the first hide and were very surprised to find it already packed with people (all of them with cameras and lenses that I can only dream of). After finding myself a spot that offered some sort of view between peoples heads I slowly realised that I was standing next to world renowned wildlife photographer Andy Rouse. I have been an admirer of his pictures for some time now and find it a great inspiration to try and improve my own work. The banter between himself and others in the hide was great, especially the snippets of advice that he was offering to the young "twitchmeister" of Birders in Boxers blog fame. I have made it my mission for this year to get to one of his talks as from what I saw they would be an excellent way to spend an evening.

But enough of the celebrity spotting. We were here to see a bird that numbers at most 150 individuals during the winter and one that I have only ever managed to see on one previous occasion. That was thirteen years ago at RSPB Minsmere. I have been looking ever since but have never again hit lucky. That was until today. I'll let the pictures do the talking.

11932 - Bittern at Forest Farm 11929 - Bittern at Forest Farm
11934 - Bittern at Forest Farm 11927 - Bittern at Forest Farm

To say I was happy would be an understatement. In near perfect lighting we watched the tall reeds rustle and move as the Bittern edged closer towards open water. A call went up and we quickly located the bird moving along the waters edge just inside the reeds. A few minutes later and the Bittern was poking its head out into the open as it looked for food. The water was like a mill pond and generated near perfect reflections. I was amazed to see just how green its legs were and at how it was standing on the reed stems themselves as opposed to wading through the water. The sound of camera shutters going off inside the hide seemed almost deafening but couldn't distract from the marvel that we were witnessing. A few minutes passed before the Bittern took one last look and took to the air. It flew across in front of the hide just above the water before landing in the reeds on the other side of the water and disappearing from view. Absolutely stunning and a day to remember for a long time to come.


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Sandy Water Park In The Rain

Saturday, January 16, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

The end of the snow has heralded the return of our typical British weather; the wet and mild conditions that we are all more familiar with. As the rain lashed down today I headed over to Sandy Water Park in Llanelli for a walk around the lake and along a stretch of the coastal path to see what was about. The grassy areas near the car park held a couple of hundred Black Headed Gulls who all looked like they would rather be any place else.

11914 - Mute Swans at Sandy Water Park 11921 - Tufted Duck at Sandy Water Park

As soon as we reached the waters edge we were quickly accosted by a couple of Mute Swans who seemed intent on getting food from us. As we had none the only option was a quick retreat. Even as an adult a Mute Swan standing up to you is still a sight to behold. Also feeding along the banks were a single Song Thrush and many more Coots than I have seen in the past at this location. Much to my surprise the water delivered a couple of female Goldeneye's amongst the usual Tufted Duck and Pochard. Following on from my last couple of posts I also wasn't surprised to see a Common Gull floating about with the more common Gull species.

From here things took a more unusual turn. Whilst scanning the water a couple of Rooks walked right up to us and started staring us down. Emma threw them a bit of bread from her sandwich and one of the Rooks immediately seized upon it. From hereon the same individual followed us as we walked along the coastal path. It always held back a few meters until we stopped at which point it would pop up in front of us. Given the terrible weather it was too dark to photograph against the ground so I stood next to a sign post in the hope that the Rook would perch on top against the much brighter sky. Low and behold he duly obliged. Amazing.

11925 - Rook at Sandy Water Park 11918 - Mute Swan at Sandy Water Park

Further along the coastal path we encountered the largest flock of Redwing and Fieldfare that I have seen so far. Approximately forty Redwing and five Fieldfare were feeding along with fifteen Starlings on the sodden ground. Other notable species included a Grey Wagtail, three Little Grebe and a single Snipe flying around near Pwll.

The final sighting of note was a Jackdaw dropping a snail from height onto the ballast of the railway line that runs parallel to the coastal path. Judging by the crack as shell made contact with ground it certainly seemed to be a successful and relatively effortless feeding method.


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Common Gull Distribution Across South Wales

Tuesday, January 12, 2010 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

After my comment in the last post concerning the distribution of Common Gulls around the Swansea area, I decided to do a bit of research to discover if indeed this cold weather has been pushing these birds further afield. To my surprise I discovered that the winter range of the Common Gull is far more extensive than I would ever have imagined. By looking at the BTO winter survey carried out between 1981 and 1984, it can be seen that there were upwards of potentially 1,500 individuals overwintering on Gower alone. Contrast this to the breeding survey where their range is much more restricted being primarily located north of the border in Scotland. The west coast of Scotland was previously the only place that I had seen Common Gulls, unsurprisingly during the breeding season. I think the fact that I have seen them over the last couple of days in this area is due to my being out and about more this winter than last and with a greater knowledge of Gulls than to any shift in behavior as a result of the weather. It has been interesting nonetheless to be learn a bit more about another of the winter visitors to these shores.

The above maps were constructed from data collected as part of the BTO Bird Atlas project. The BTO are currently constructing the next Bird Atlas and any help is very much appreciated. For more information head to the Bird Atlas homepage.


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A Very Wintry Kenfig NNR

Sunday, January 10, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

11907 - Kenfig in the grip of winter

The view that greeted me at Kenfig NNR today was one of almost complete desolation. The lake was almost entirely frozen over (and to quite some thickness at that) whilst the surrounding ground was as solid as rock. I had been hoping to see one of the Bitterns that have been hiding around the reedbeds but those plans were soon dashed by the numerous people who were walking on the ice right through the reeds and in some cases in front of the hides. If a Bittern had been present it would almost certainly have moved off by now.

A good scan of the ice revealed nothing more than a hundred or so Black Headed Gulls mixed in with a smattering of Herring and Lesser Black Backed. I was very pleased to also see a couple of Common Gulls, yet another virgin location for this species and me after Penclawdd yesterday. I don't know what their usual range is but I would be interested to see if this cold weather has been pushing them further afield. The only patch of open water was jam packed with Coot and Mallard with a pair of Tufted Ducks also present. A larger flock of Tufted's had made a brief fly past but obviously hadn't liked what they had seen.

In the surrounding fields good numbers of Redwing and Fieldfare could once again be seen foraging for food, whilst a single Meadow Pipit and female Reed Bunting added a couple of new ticks to the year list. Several Wrens were also noisily moving around the undergrowth though what they were finding to eat I don't know. The dune system didn't offer anything beyond yet more Redwing and a single Snipe.

One encounter from the day sticks in my mind and probably typifies the conditions being experienced elsewhere. Whilst scanning some reeds a Robin came very close onto the ice in front of me and spent the next five minutes or so hopping around and pecking at the ice. Whether it was trying to get at bits of food trapped in the top of the ice (unlikely) or attempting to get at some fresh water (more likely), it certainly appeared to be fairly desperate. In these conditions it is vital that you put out food and also some form of water supply. It may not seem like much but these small efforts may be the difference between life and death for large numbers of our feathered friends this winter.


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Redwings, Thrushes and Lapwings

Saturday, January 09, 2010 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

I started off my first trip of the year with a morning stop at Penclawdd to have a look at the estuary. With ice and snow extending onto the mudflats in some places it was not surprising to see large concentrations of Gulls and Waders feeding on the areas that remained unaffected. The Gulls consisted of sixty plus Black Headed Gulls mixed in with several each of Common, Herring, Lesser and Great Black Blacked. The waders were well represented with the usual locals including Redshank and Little Egret. I was pleasantly surprised to see some personal firsts for this spot including a single Black Tailed Godwit, several Teal and a Snipe. I also got some fantastic views of a group of four Skylarks which came to feed next to the car.

11897 - Lapwing at Mewslade, Gower 11887 - Penclawdd

Next I headed further into Gower to Mewslade Valley near Pitton. Mewslade, unlike the rest of the country, doesn't have much snow on the ground and as a result has been attracting birds in much greater density than is usual. The roads down were covered with feeding Redwings and Song Thrushes adding another hazard to the icy conditions. To have so many on the roads just goes to show how bad conditions are out in the fields. Further Redwings were present in the car park at Mewslade along with a very fine Mistle Thrush.

The walk into the valley was absolutely alive with bird life. I can't think of another occasion where I have literally been tripping over the birds as they went about their business. In all I saw over a hundred Redwings and at least fifty Song Thrushes. Amazingly I also spotted one of my bogey birds in the form of a Woodcock which I saw flying down the valley. Although it was only a silhouette the body and beak shape stood out from the lighter build of the Snipe so I am confident enough to count it as a tick.

Just inside Mewslade Valley is Nitten field, an area of land that is planted up each year with a mixture of native plants and flowers with the specific purpose of attracting and supporting some of our struggling farmland species. A quick look around resulted in a couple of Reed Bunting as well as a single Yellowhammer and hordes of Chaffinches and yet more Redwings. A single Fieldfare also popped up out of the undergrowth giving a full compliment of the Thrush species for the day.

11892 - Mistle Thrush at Mewslade, Gower 11889 - Great Spotted Woodpecker at Mewslade, Gower

As the cold began to bite I headed back to the car but not before a Great Spotted Woodpecker put in a brief appearance allowing me to grab a quick photograph and tick off another first for birds photographed. Once back in the car I stopped to have some lunch and was able to witness just how the cold weather is driving certain species of birds out of their usual feeding grounds. From the relative warmth I was able to observe Lapwing, Redwing, Song and Mistle Thrush, House Sparrow, Goldfinch, Rook and Pied Wagtail all feeding on the same small area of grass. Each field had the same sort of make up with the usually large Lapwing flocks split up over a much greater area than is usual. I just hope that they can find enough to eat and can avoid the predators long enough to outlast this cold snap.

11894 - Redwing at Mewslade, Gower 11896 - Redwing at Mewslade, Gower

With the sun setting I rounded off a very pleasant day with a brief visit to Kenfig Nature Reserve. I had been hoping to see a Bittern but with people walking through the reedbeds on the frozen lake that wasn't very likely. The only open water was packed full of Coot and Mallard but not much else. The surrounding grasslands contained several more Fieldfare as well as another couple of Snipe. Just as I was leaving I had a superb encounter with a Golden Plover. At first I didn't realise what it was that I was looking at, but was able to approach within a few foot. For a brief period we stood just looking at each other allowing me to get absolutely superb views of its plumage without the need for binoculars before it flew off. Magic.


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Collared Doves At Last!

Friday, January 08, 2010 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

I spent last night sorting out the final photographs from 2009 prior to my first trip of the year this weekend. Amongst the more common species such as Greenfinch, Blue Tit and Great Tit of which I am starting to gather a good collection now, I was very pleased to have captured a couple of Collared Doves.

11873 - Collared Dove at WWT Llanelli 11875 - Collared Dove at WWT Llanelli

Collared doves are one of those species that I see on a daily basis but actually getting a picture has proved much trickier. These photographs were taken under the feeders at WWT Llanelli in difficult lighting. Things weren't helped by the birds seeming desire to deliberately hide behind a tree trunk or stand in the shadows. It took three visits over a couple of days and several hours of waiting before everything fell into place for a moment and I got the shots that I wanted.


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Happy New Year

Thursday, January 07, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

A few days late I know but Happy New Year and welcome to 2010. And what a cold start it has been. We have had snow on the ground here in Pontarddulais for the best part of three weeks now, and with temperatures dropping even further over the next couple of days it will hopefully stay around until at least the weekend when I will be able to get out and try to capture some wildlife in the snow.

11883 - New Year Snow 11884 - New Year Snow

After a couple of months of inactivity my aim for this year is to visit a site or go for a lengthy walk at least once a week, whatever the weather. Further to that I will be updating this blog after every single visit to give as best a picture as possible of what can be seen around my patch and the wider country. I have a few targets, both mammalian and bird, that I want to see and photograph this year. Key bogey bird species that I want to tick off are Hen Harrier, Marsh Harrier, Woodcock and Bittern. I have seen a Bittern once before but that was so long ago that it doesn't really count anymore. I have put up my 2010 bird list on this blog and will be trying to beat my 2009 record of 147 species. I would also love to see Badgers a lot more after my first and only encounter last year, as well as photographing some Foxes. I know we have foxes around the house, it's just a matter of trying to spot them during daylight hours. Another target is to complete my walk around the entire coast of Gower. So far I have probably covered about a third of the distance with some lovely sections still left to do. All in all I am looking forward to the year ahead and the adventures that the great outdoors will bring.


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