Bitterns Galore. And a Glossy Ibis.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010 Adam Tilt 9 Comments

Sunday was biting cold which for me always suggests a trip to Kenfig NNR and its often frozen lake. Despite the cold snap the lake is still roughly half open water which must be a welcome relief to the waterfowl that currently calls it home. Coots, as usual, were by far the most numerous species, but Tufted Ducks and Pochards were also well represented. A pair of Wigeon were more unusual, while a Little Grebe and single Common Gull were nice additions. My main interest though was in the reed beds that border the north and south of the lake. Over the last few years of my visiting I have regularly heard of Bittern sightings but have never been fortunate to see any for myself. Boy was that about to change.

We entered the south hide around 2pm, just after an exciting event had clearly occured. The usual raised emotions and digital camera screens being shown around brought on the feeling that I'm sure all birders have felt at some point in their life; if only I had got here a few minutes earlier! We sat down and were told that a Bittern had just been seen walking betwen two sections of reed right in front of the hide. A truly envious view I'm sure you'll agree. I was still hopeful and got myself ready for a long wait. I wasn't going to move when I knew a Bittern was hiding in the reeds in front of me, something my parents learned when I was much younger at the RSPB Minsmere reserve. After less than five minutes one of the people in the hide spotted something right at the back of the furthest left channel. Standing proudly on the ice was a Bittern! Even more exciting was that this clearly wasn't the bird that we were waiting to emerge in front of us.

23719 - Bittern at Kenfig NNR

The shot above is one of the more typical views of Bitterns that people get and for me only my third ever. This individual was only on view for a few seconds before it took flight and headed further away into the reeds. Again a couple of minutes passed before what we had been waiting for happened. The second Bittern of the day edged out onto the ice before slipping and sliding itself across and into the next section of cover. The lighting was absolutely perfect with sun shining on the bird and the perfect blue sky reflecting in the ice. I couldn't and still can't believe how lucky we were.

23722 - Bittern at Kenfig NNR

23720 - Bittern at Kenfig NNR

This particular bird had one more treat to bestow upon us as it once again stepped into the open to our far right. Now in the shade the resulting photograph I feel portrays what a hard life it must be at the moment for our wildlife.

23724 - Bittern at Kenfig NNR

After chatting in the hide about how fortunate we had been, Emma and I moved on to the north hide. The first bird we spotted was a Common Snipe hunkered down in the dead reeds using its camoflauge to the full. Without binoculars it was seriously difficult to spot.

23726 - Snipe at Kenfig NNR

We had been hearing the call of Water Rails on and off all day so it wasn't a surprise to see one on the opposite side of the lagoon. In a first for me I actually saw the bird call. More amazing was the third Bittern of the day that popped its head out of the reeds just above where the Snipe had been sitting. Three Bitterns on one lake in about half an hour must be some sort of record, especially considering the quality of the views.

What happened next very nearly topped everything, even though I didn't exactly realise it at the time. From the corner of my eye I saw a large black bird flying along the far shore of the lake towards the south hide. Through my bins I clearly saw a long, grey, down turned beak. Initial thoughts were of Curlew but it was black. It must be a Glossy Ibis then. I couldn't quite believe myself however and as I started to question what I knew I had seen I began to lose confidence and didn't report it for fear of setting people off on a wild goose chase. As it turns out I should have done as yesterday the Glossy Ibis turned up down the coast at Dunraven. A couple of other people have also since reported the bird at Kenfig on Sunday who were similarly cautious. I am so glad that it has turned up again as the sighting had been nagging at me all night. Hopefully it wll stick around for a while and I can try for some photogrpahs next weekend.

I have also submitted this post for a new meme World Bird Wednesday hosted by Springman over at Pine River Review so please check it out and join in the fun.


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Frozen Patch Work

Saturday, November 27, 2010 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

After the last few weeks of traveling it was time to spend some quality time on my local patch, the Cwm Dulais valley. Much like the rest of the UK we received some very welcome snow yesterday afternoon that, although not heavy, is still around today due to the freezing temperatures we are experiencing. Up on the the hills that enclose the valley the snow lies a couple of centimeters thick, creating some very picturesque views that shows what we can hopefully look forward to this winter (I like snow by the way in case you hadn't gathered by now).

23707 - Cefn Drum
23708 - Cairn on Cefn Drum

Unsurprisingly given the harsh conditions the birds were not exactly in abundance. A superb juvenile Red Kite hanging in the air above my head was a particular highlight, one which we bumped into again later on and were treated to a low fly past. A Buzzard was also on the wing staying motionless in the air as it made the most of the bitingly cold northerly winds, while a Raven put in a brief but noisy appearance. Speaking of Ravens, we came across numerous bird footprints in the snow that I believe belong to either a Crow or a Raven. The shape and size all match as does the gait. Particulalry telling though are the scratch marks that link the footprints together. Apparently Ravens and Crows drag their feet as they walk leading to these markings.

23704 - Crow/Raven Footprint
23711 - Crow/Raven Footprint

There was a good movement of Wood Pigeons down the valley numbering at least fifty, presumably on their way to less frozen ground down by the sea. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen on the edges of the woodland and I heard a Green Woodpecker somewhere off in the distance. Most of the small birds had retreated to the gardens of the few houses that dot the valley, with the exception of a couple of Meadow Pipits and a Robin that were hanging on almost at the top. I certainly don't envy them. Top sighting of the day though goes to the Common Snipe that we accidentally flushed near Pale Bach. We heard another up near Twr Maggie (the cairn in the photo above) that reminded me so much of our trips to Mull.

Upon our return there was just enough time to pop over to Gower for what seems like the first time in ages. Our destination was Llanrhidian marsh where I was delighted to spot one of the returning female Hen Harriers moments before she dropped out of sight into the reeds. I definitely want to try and get some more footage of these graceful birds hunting this year so expect to see a few more updates on them as the winter progresses. There was also a flock of some three hundred plus Starlings that came in a constant stream from the direction of Rhossili up the Burry Inlet before vearing off towards Llanelli. I wonder where they are roosting?


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Red Grouse on Ilkley Moor

Thursday, November 25, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

Ilkley Moor is a great place to see Red Grouse. That is what my internet search came back with when looking for somewhere to go walking on the last day of our Leeds trip. Having never seen Red Grouse (even though I have walked on Ilkley Moor before) it seemed like the ideal place to go and explore once again. Fortunately the fog from the previous day had lifted but it was still very dark with the cloud base barely clearing the top of the hills. We set off from the rock formation known as the Cow and Calf and took in a big loop over the top of the moors including a visit to a rock circle made up of twelve stones (The Apostles). Within a few minutes the unmistakable call of a Red Grouse piped up from the heather in front of us, closely followed by calls from at least two other locations to our side and rear. A dog running around soon had one of the birds in the air as it arced around before disappearing from view once more. I immediately set off in pursuit but the dog beat me to it as the bird was once again flushed. I needn't have worried though as a little further on we came across a female walking along the path in front of us. I snatched a shot but it was way too grainy to be of any use. I knew that I had to try and get a bird against the sky for my camera to be able to produce any results and was fortunate when an opportunity presented itself to allow me to do just that.

23701 - Red Grouse, Ilkley Moor

This male bird was very approachable allowing me to get close enough for the gloom not to be a major issue. I lay down in the bracken partly as camouflage but also to allow me to get the angle that I wanted. I am very pleased with the results as for a first effort of a Grouse in pretty poor conditions I don't think I could have done any better with the camera I have. Moments after taking the picture the clouds descended even further putting an end to any more photography.

It wasn't until I was editing the days photographs that I realised I had a couple of other nice shots that show the birds well in their natural habitat. I am particularly pleased with the first as I feel it captures the atmosphere of the setting very well.

23699 - Red Grouse, Ilkley Moor

23700 - Red Grouse, Ilkley Moor

It just goes to show that wildlife photography isn't all about the close-ups. Don't forget to include the habitat as that is just as important and spectacular as the subject itself.

I should also mention that we saw a single Common Snipe up on top of the moors, as well as a flock of twenty or so Golden Plover flying over. You really never can guess what you will see out there.


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Oyster Mushroom, Candle Snuff Fungus and a Pied-Billed Grebe

Wednesday, November 24, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

I spent last weekend up in Leeds visiting Emma's parents which I hoped would give me an ideal opportunity to connect with at least one Waxwing. Things initially looked good with birds being reported from all over the local area so when chance allowed we headed out to search. I'll let you know now that we were completely unsuccessful. Despite arriving within half an hour at a couple of recent sightings there wasn't a Waxwing to be seen anywhere. The final straw came whilst we were looking in Bradford and a flock was reported at the end of Emma's parents road no less! (Bradford did deliver an impressive flock of six Blackcap in a single tree though). At this point I realised that the Waxwings were just toying with us and resolved to find one naturally in the course of normal events, hopefully even nearer to home in Wales. As a result I am still firmly in the "I haven't seen a Waxwing yet" club but I remain hopeful.

One of the places we visited during our stay was Golden Acre Park. This is a large area that is a mixture of formal gardens, lakes and a wild nature reserve. The first bird we spotted was a Red Kite gliding across the sky which is never a bad way to start the day, closely followed by a couple of overflying Redwings and several Mistle Thrushes calling from the treetops. In fact I think Mistle Thrushes were one of the most abundant birds we saw as no matter where we went in Leeds or the surrounding area you were pretty much guaranteed to bump into some. The usual woodland birds were out in abundance including more calling Nuthatches (see my previous post) and a pair of Goosanders on the main lake. In the nature reserve we were very fortunate to glimpse a Woodcock as it erupted from the undergrowth in front of us, and were able to watch a large Fox slinking through the undergrowth from one of the hides. Given the perfect growing conditions that there have been this year it wasn't surprising to find an abundance of fungi and mushrooms. Two species in particular caught my attention as I don't recall having seen them before. A bit of internet research has led me to the names Oyster Mushroom (so called because it looks and tastes like an Oyster) and Candle Snuff Fungus.

23693 - Oyster Mushroom, Leeds
Oyster Mushroom
23696 - Candle Snuff Fungus, Leeds
Candle Snuff Fungus
We also took the opportunity to visit the RSPB reserve at Fairburn Ings for the first time despite the day being shrouded in very thick fog. Whilst the weather rendered the lakes almost invisible the birds that were close more than made up for it. We saw several Willow Tit that had Emma and I studying their plumage intently to make sure that we could discern them from the extremely similar Marsh Tit. Eventually we were satisfied that we had everything covered which I am very happy about because I can't remember the last time I saw one. I wish they had hung around for a bit longer as our views were relatively short as they flicked through the trees or briefly landed on one of the reserve feeders. Speaking of feeders the following picture shows the sort of conditions that we were dealing with. You should bare in mind that this was taken at midday.

23698 - RSPB Fairburn Ings

If you enlarge the picture you can probably see a few of the Goldfinch that were around as well as several of the female Pheasants that were feeding on the spilt seed. What I hadn't expected to see were several Tree Sparrows mixed in with the Tits and Finches. This reserve must be a very good place for them as yet more were flitting around the visitor center itself. The Tree Sparrows really are cracking little birds and it is such a shame that we seem to have lost our population on the Gower Peninsular. Spot of the day though goes to Emma who picked out a Water Rail running along the bank of one of the ditches. For me this bird symbolises winter like no other as that is the only time of the year that I ever see them. Probably explains the rather cold weather we're having.

You may have noticed from the title of this entry that I have thrown Pied-Billed Grebe in there. Rather fortuitously our journey back to Wales took us right past Hollingworth Lake in Rochdale, the current home to this countries latest American migrant. A short walk from the car had us in the more natural setting of the southern reed beds that border the reservoir, where a small gaggle of telescopes told us we were in the right place. Despite a bunch of particularly non-helpful or talkative birders we found the Grebe sitting in the undergrowth at the far side of the water. It looked around several times giving superb views of its beak before settling down for a nap. We could have hung around for longer in the hope that it would come out into open water but to be honest it was freezing and I wanted to get back on the road. Nevertheless it was a cracking bird that should hang around for a good while yet as it looks very well settled. I think it has been about ten years since Britain was last treated to a Pied-Billed Grebe so it is certainly worth a look if you get a chance. Hollingworth Lake is also a very nice place to visit in its own right. I'll leave you with a picture of the area where the Grebe was as that was the best I could manage. It's definitely in there somewhere I can assure you.

23703 - Hollingworth Lake, Rochdale


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Mediterranean Gull at RSPB Radipole Lake

Tuesday, November 23, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

I mentioned in a previous post a ringed Mediterranean Gull that we had seen in the car park at the RSPB Radipole Lake reserve back in October. I sent the details (White 3J76) off to the ringing team and have just received the birds life history. Much like the last record I sent off from a Gower bird, this individual has been returning to the same place in the UK for the last couple of years. Amazingly it was originally ringed in Antwerpen Belgium as was the Gower bird. For some reason though it clearly decided it fancied the weather of Southern England instead of Wales. I can't imagine why.

23636 - Mediterranean Gull, RSPB Radipole Lake
Summary of rings for individual: 2716
Colour Code of ring Leg Ringing scheme Metal ring Age of bird Ringing date Ringing location Ringer
White 3J76 right Bruxelles E909681 >3CY 08/05/2006 Zandvlietsluis, Antwerpen, BELGIUM 51,2N 4,17E
Sightings for individual: 2716
White 3J76 v 15/07/2006 Le Portel, Pas-de-Calais, FRANCE 50,42N 1,34E Duponcheel, Camille
White 3J76 v 27/07/2006 Le Portel, Pas-de-Calais, FRANCE 50,42N 1,34E Duponcheel, Camille
White 3J76 v 27/07/2006 Le Portel, Pas-de-Calais, FRANCE 50,42N 1,34E Flamant, Renaud
White 3J76 v 04/08/2007 Studland Beach, Dorset, GB 50,39N 1,56W Taylor, Richard
White 3J76 k 19/03/2008 Zwijndrecht (Ineos complex), Antwerpen, BELGIUM 51,15N 4,2E De Smet, Walter
White 3J76 k 19/03/2008 Zwijndrecht (Ineos complex), Antwerpen, BELGIUM 51,15N 4,2E Kearsley, Lyndon
White 3J76 v 29/03/2008 Oye Plage, Les Huttes d'Oye, Pas-de-Calais, FRANCE 50,59N 2,03E De Smet, Walter
White 3J76 v 26/08/2008 Poole Harbour, Dorset, GB 50,4N 2W Wolf, Pim A.
White 3J76 v 11/10/2008 Radipole Lake, Weymouth, Dorset, GB 50,37N 2,28W Taylor, Andrew
White 3J76 v 11/11/2008 Radipole Lake, Weymouth, Dorset, GB 50,37N 2,28W Stanley, Ian
White 3J76 v 15/11/2008 Radipole Lake, Weymouth, Dorset, GB 50,37N 2,28W Stanley, Ian
White 3J76 v 15/11/2008 Radipole Lake, Weymouth, Dorset, GB 50,37N 2,28W Simpson, Keith
White 3J76 v 07/01/2009 Vila Nova de Milfontes, Baixo Alentejo, PORTUGAL 37,44N 8,47W Flamant, Renaud
White 3J76 v 07/01/2009 Vila Nova de Milfontes, Baixo Alentejo, PORTUGAL 37,44N 8,47W Rooselaer, Edwin
White 3J76 v 07/01/2009 Vila Nova de Milfontes, Baixo Alentejo, PORTUGAL 37,44N 8,47W Van Bochaute, Hugo
White 3J76 v 07/01/2009 Vila Nova de Milfontes, Baixo Alentejo, PORTUGAL 37,44N 8,47W Verdegem, Philippe
White 3J76 v 12/10/2009 Radipole Lake, Weymouth, Dorset, GB 50,37N 2,28W Phillips, Luke
White 3J76 v 25/11/2009 Radipole Lake, Weymouth, Dorset, GB 50,37N 2,28W Chown, David J.
White 3J76 v 26/11/2009 Radipole Lake, Weymouth, Dorset, GB 50,37N 2,28W Chown, David J.
White 3J76 v 28/08/2010 Portland, Ferrybridge, Dorset, GB 50,32N 2,27W Down, John
White 3J76 v 20/10/2010 Radipole Lake, Weymouth, Dorset, GB 50,37N 2,28W Tilt, Adam


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More Snow Buntings and some BBC Autumnwatch Stalking

Tuesday, November 16, 2010 Adam Tilt 6 Comments

Sunday dawned drab and dreary so after a very nice cooked breakfast at the B&B we returned to Ynyslas hoping for another crack at those Scoters. Although the sea was a bit calmer the Common Scoter rafts were still too far away for me to be happy at distinguishing the two species apart. I turned my attention back to the car park where I was happy to see the Snow Buntings were still feeding in the same position as yesterday. One seemed to have departed overnight however as there were now only four birds present. A word of warning that if you visit the Ynyslas Turn car park watch out for the golfers! One took a shot directly at my car as I drove in which fortunately just missed.

23675 - Snow Buntings, Ynyslas
23676 - Snow Buntings, Ynyslas
23671 - Snow Buntings, Ynyslas

The main location for the day was the RSPB reserve at Ynys Hir. The center feeders were busy with six Coal Tits as well as a male Great Spotted Woodpecker, a single Nuthtach, Greenfich, Chaffinch and Siskin. The visit was a massive success as we got to see over two hundred Barnacle Geese feeding on the estuary. Other geese species included Greylag and Canada but unfortunately we couldn't find the small flock of Greenland White Fronted Geese that are out there somewhere. Other notable species included a hundred or so Wigeon, a male Goosander, Common Snipe, Oystercatcher, Redshank and another Kingfisher. Two Reed Buntings were a nice addition although they gave me a good run around as I tried to photograph them. A Goldcrest up in the forest added some nice colour to the day. The award for best moment of the day though has to go to the male Hen Harrier that swept past us in the Breakwater Hide. We had noticed a flock of Starlings take to the air before he glided past just the other side of the railway line. A few moments later and back he came, this time on our side of the railway embankment and as close as I could ever have hoped for with his dangling yellow legs showing brilliantly.

A final stop at Ynyslas in the evening couldn't relocate the Snow Buntings but a Great Crested Grebe off shore was a nice find, as was the mixed group of Ringed Plovers and Sanderling that briefly landed on the sand.

Back at Aberystwyth and the BBC Autumnwatch activities had kicked up another gear. A small group of people on the end of the pier looked to have some familiar silhouettes and quickly turned out to be Chris Packham and Kate Humble preparing to present a piece to camera. While waiting for the Starlings to arrive the Kingfisher was once again on the rocks but this time actually fishing. We saw it successfully return with a catch on a number of occasions after diving into the rock pools. One dive looked to have been a bit ambitious as the awkwardness suggested that the Kingfisher had somewhat overestimated the depth of the water!

23677 - BBC Autumnwatch on Aber Pier
Who is that standing on the end of Aberystwyth Pier?

23680 - BBC Autumnwatch on Aber Pier
It's Chris Packham and Kate Humble!

With a rather nice sunset developing the Starlings arrived, though they were considerably later than the previous evening and went to roost much quicker and with less aerial acrobatics. I believe that the late evening sun had probably encouraged them to stay out on their feeding grounds for a bit longer than normal hence the rather hurried arrival. Usually I photograph the flock from a good distance in order to avoid the droppings but this time I tried out a location much closer and from a lower vantage point. I like the different perspective that I was able to capture and even managed to avoid being plopped on.

23686 - Aberystwyth Pier Starling Roost

I recommend watching Autumnwatch this Thursday to see the finished results. I certainly will be and will have my finger over the pause button trying to spot myself in the background. Sad I know but they say everyone gets their two minutes of fame.

23691 - BBC Autumnwatch on Aber Pier
Sunset at the end of filming and a perfect weekend

I have also submitted this post for a new meme World Bird Wednesday hosted by Springman over at Pine River Review so please check it out and join in the fun.


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Snow Buntings and more in Ceredigion

Tuesday, November 16, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

This weekend was my four year and ten month anniversary of meeting Emma and it seemed like an ideal excuse to head away for the weekend to our old university haunt of Aberystwyth. We set off nice and early on Saturday and arrived at our first stop, Cilsan bridge in Carmarthenshire, just as the sun was peeping over the hilltops. The view from the bridge down the river was superb with the last of the autumn colours still on show and nothing to hear but birdsong all around.

23656 - View from Clisan Bridge

I visited here last year to have a look at the large overwintering Whooper Swan flock that had taken up residence in the fields that border the river. It looks like they are on their way back again as we counted nine individuals split across both banks. Also mixed in were several small groups of Mute Swan which were extremely active. As soon as they had settled in one location they were back up in the air looking for somewhere else to land giving us some great views in the progress. Also on the river were a pair of Little Grebes and a single Cormorant. Some movement in a small coppice to one side of the bridge alerted us to the presence of our first Fieldfare of the year. I suspect that there was also a Redwing in the same bush but as I was trying to get a better view of it a female Sparrowhawk swooped in sending everything scattering. It briefly alighted on a gate post before heading off after the Starling flock that it had just sent packing. Our final treat from Cilsan was a pair of Jays. We had been able to hear them calling since we had first arrived so it was nice to confirm that our audio identification had been correct.

As we headed further into mid Wales we picked up a Red Kite and several Buzzards. Also of note were the large number of Collared Doves that we spotted, mostly in areas of human habitation. I'd be very interested to see the population statistics for this species as I am sure they are becoming more and more abundant. We arrived at the RSPB Dinas reserve mid-morning and were treated to another three Fieldfares next to the car park, as well as another Red Kite and the usual pair of vocal Ravens. The Blackbirds were also out in force feeding on the heavy berry crop that this years weather has produced. The woodland was alive with birds as we spotted Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Great Spotted Woodpecker and various Tit species in quick succession. The Nuthatches were fascinating as apart from being the first time that I have heard them calling it was also the first time that I have seen one preening! With food at a premium we were able to observe two different methods of foraging. One of the Great Spotted Woodpeckers was busy lifting moss off tree trunks to search for insects hiding beneath, while a Nuthatch was hammering away at a damaged area of tree branch, presumably to get at something inside.

23659 - Nuthatch

We were fortunate to spot a single Dipper on the river as the water levels were very high. It emerged from underneath some large boulders on the far bank before flying towards us. Somehow it then managed to completely disappear before I could get my camera out. Typical.

We took the scenic route from the reserve past Llyn Brianne and over the mountains before arriving at Aberystwyth. We didn't stop just yet however as there were reports of both Snow Bunting and Surf Scoter at Ynyslas. Amazingly for that stretch of coast the wind wasn't blowing a gale but the sea still had a pretty big swell on. I scanned the water and picked up a couple of rafts of Common Scoter but conditions were just not good enough to try and identify their rarer cousins. While I had been watching the sea Emma had moved along the shingle to where another birder had trained his telescope back into the car park and was  now  madly waving at me. I headed over and there on the ground were no less than five Snow Buntings barely feet away. I couldn't believe it. I quickly got a few record shots as the weather had started to close in and a light rain was falling. The lighting was terrible but I am very happy with the results.

23660 - Snow Bunting, Ynyslas
23661 - Snow Bunting, Ynyslas
23662 - Snow Bunting, Ynyslas

Just like the Lapland Bunting I saw at Kenfig these birds were very tame. They were however much more colourful and a real pleasure to watch. I have only ever seen this species at Cley in Norfolk about fifteen years ago so this was a real treat for me and a life tick for Emma.

With the day drawing to a close we headed to Aberystwyth where we would be staying overnight. As the sun set the huge Starling roost started to gather over the pier giving their usual spectacular display.

23664 - Starlings over Abersytwyth

There were several professional cameramen dotted around the front filming proceedings for a future BBC Autumnwatch episode (more on that in the next post). More unusually was the presence of a Kingfisher sat on the rocks in front of Old College. On the same rocks were several Turnstone as well as a decent Gull roost containing twenty Black Headed Gulls and upwards of thirty Common Gulls.


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Adventures in Dorset (and a little bit of Devon)

Friday, November 12, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

23592 - Lyme Regis, Dorset

I spent several days in the fabulous Dorset countryside a few weeks ago, based primarily around the coastal village of Lyme Regis. For those that don't know Lyme Regis is the best fossil hunting location in the country with cliffs that basically form a large conveyor belt bringing new specimens onto the beaches on a daily basis. I spent most of my time there religiously combing the shore and came back with some great finds. The only problem was that this didn't leave much time for a lot of birding. The coast at Lyme Regis had limited offerings in the form of numerous Herring Gulls, loads of Meadow Pipits and Rock Pipits and a very surprising Razorbill. In fact I'm not sure if it was the Razorbill or me that was more surprised as it popped up from beneath the water only a few meters away from where I was stood.

The one day of proper birdwatching we managed was along the Axe Estuary just over the border in Devon. We spent the morning traveling on the Seaton tramway which cuts right through the middle of the estuary affording superb views in all directions. The first bird we saw was a stunning Merlin sat on a fencepost that only took flight as we were right alongside it. Moments later a Deer (presumably a Roe) bolted out straight in front of the tram before running out across the mud and onto an island in the river. Other birds seen from the tram included Little Grebe, Grey Heron, Shellduck, Curlew, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Wigeon.

23591 - Wigeon, Axe Estuary
Wigeon on the Axe Estuary
On the return leg we broke our journey at Colyford to go and explore the nature reserve at Colyford Common. Boy was I glad we did that. From the brand new hide we were immediately on to a male Ruff (my first of the year) as well as a couple of Green Sandpipers and three Ringed Plovers. Scanning around I spotted a suspicious looking bird that I quickly realised was a Curlew Sandpiper! I had another life tick and for one of my bogey birds as well. Admittedly it wasn't that close to home but I'm not going to complain as it was a beautiful little thing. It was at this point that a rather excited gentlemen burst into the hide asking if we had seen the Buff Breasted Sandpiper that had just flown our way. No I hadn't but I would certainly like to. Unfortunately he then pointed to the Ruff and began to describe its features and explain how he was experienced with this species behaviour having seen one before. I didn't have the heart to contradict him as he seemed very happy with himself but in my opinion it was a Ruff. At the end of the day if you are convinced you have seen something then who has the right to tell you that you haven't? In fact in his opinion he probably thought I was wrong but we both went home happy and confident in our identification. That's how bird watching should be in my opinion.

23583 - Colyford Common, Devon
Across Colyford Common to the Seaton Tramway
Elsewhere around Dorset I captured some cracking shots of a few of our more common species including a Robin that was singing his little heart out so close to me that I actually had to move back to get him in the frame.

23599 - Robin, Dorset
23618 - Chaffinch, Dorset
23632 - House Sparrow, Dorest
House Sparrow
During our stay we also popped into the RSPB reserve at Radipole Lake in the hope of seeing some Bearded Tits. We were out of luck on that score but did see a Common Snipe, four Gadwall, twenty Teal and a pair of Shovellers. The best was saved till last though with a stonking Mediterranean Gull sat amongst the Black Headed Gulls in the reserve car park.

23637 - Mediterranean Gull, Radipole Lake

As you can see from the picture above this bird is ringed much like the one I found on Gower a few months ago. The ring reads 3J76 and I shall send off the details to find out where this bird originates from. Stay tuned for another edition of "This is your life".


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Marvellous Mumbles

Friday, November 12, 2010 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

I have just been processing my backlog of photos and came across a nice selection from the beach at Mumbles Pier taken around the middle of October. It was if I remember correctly the last properly hot day of the year with a clear blue sky and no wind whatsoever. My parents were down visiting so I thought I would take the opportunity to show my dad (a keen bird photographer) my favourite place on Gower for watching Turnstones. As always they put on a fantastic show allowing both my dad and I to get some very nice shots. The flock was spread out across the whole foreshore starting at the pier and heading out to the land past the lighthouse. It was hard to estimate numbers but at least forty sounds like a reasonable figure.

23516 - Turnstone, Mumbles, Gower
23532 - Turnstone, Mumbles, Gower
23527 - Turnstone, Mumbles, Gower
23510 - Turnstone, Mumbles, Gower

Those of you that read my blog regularly will probably have seen my report from last time I visited this beach which involved copious numbers of Starfish and some very hungry Herring Gulls. This visit was no different with the rapidly retreating tide leaving hundreds of the helpless creatures littering the beaches.

23534 - Starfish, mumbles, Gower

We saw many of the Gulls pick up an easy meal though devouring it was a lot harder given the constant competition and mobbing that was taking place. Fortunately on just one occasion an immature Gull landed within range of my camera. The picture below shows one very satisfied looking bird. You'll notice that the Starfish is attempting to keep itself rigid, presumably as a means of defense. This seems to prove relatively effective but eventually the Gulls find an angle at which they can wolf them down in one go.

23521 - Herring Gull eating Starfish, Mumbles, Gower

Other birds seen on the day included eight Common Scoter flying past Mumbles lighthouse from the direction of Swansea Bay. I know a large flock gathers off Aberavon Beach at this time of year so that is a likely starting point for these particular birds. A solitary Mediterranean Gull was a nice flyby while a brief scan of Blackpill delivered three Grey Plover, four more Turnstones, over a hundred Oystercatcher, twenty plus Dunlin, five Curlew, two Shellduck and a solitary Bar Tailed Godwit.


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The Seasons Are Changing

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

It has been just over a month since my last entry on this blog and for that I apologise. I had not intended to take such a long absence but other commitments were slowly building (mainly DIY and work related), and I just felt the need to concentrate on other things for a while. After such a brilliant few weeks of birding I was also nearing the point of being 'birded out' so to speak. As a result I have spent the last month just generally enjoying myself and catching up on other activities. I also spent a week fossil hunting around the beaches of Lyme Regis which proved to be immensely successful. I returned with a car that was considerably heavier than when I left with a boot full of various Ammonites, Belemnites and other assorted goodies which have rather handily allowed me to completely fill one of my spare rooms. As a means of decoration it was far cheaper and more unique than anything you could ever hope to buy in a shop. I will put a post up at some point showing some of my best finds along with a few bird stories including another lifer and the ticking of one of my bogey birds.

So where did I leave off? Those early days of October seem so long ago now as we rush head first into November and say goodbye to autumn. After a series of blustery days most of the leaves are now on the floor and the mornings are often frosty. Waking up to see the mist hanging over the Loughor estuary is certainly a nice perk however. The birds have also sensed the changing of the seasons and have started their winter migrations accordingly, whether that be leaving or arriving on our shores. I had one of my best ever demonstrations of this at Worms Head on Gower after work, something which unfortunately will now no longer be possible due to the clocks going back an hour and the nights coming ever earlier. As I walked along the top of the cliffs I came across a group of five Wheatear feeding in the grass and presumably waiting for the perfect opportunity to start their outward journeys. I rather optimistically spent fifteen minutes or so trying to get a shot of one against the setting sun but to no avail as despite my constant instructions on where to land they steadfastly refused to cooperate. Whilst in the process of looking like a mad man talking to himself I put up a thrush like bird into the air from just beneath the cliff edge. I heard the distinctive call and caught a flash of red as my first Redwing of the winter flew past and over the fields towards Mewslade. A brilliant sight and a real show of migration in action. The Wheatears may be off but we can look forward to some great arrivals.

Just before I reached the end of Worms Head another familiar call filled the air as two Chough flew in from the direction in which the Redwing had headed. Amazingly one came and landed barely ten foot from where I was stood and started feeding while the other landed a bit further away behind me. It was almost dark by now so maybe they hadn't seen me. I stood as still as I could for fear of scaring them away and was able to watch them for five minutes or so before they moved off into the nearby fields of their own accord.

After all that I almost forgot about the sunset which was my original reason for visiting there in the first place. The sky was too clear for anything too dramatic but it was still a great show.

P1060585 - Worms Head Sunset, Gower

On the walk back to the car a pair of Kestrels were on the wing catching the air currents shooting up the cliffs. I often see a Kestrel hunting here so I am not sure if this was a pair or two individuals. They did at one point chase each other around calling but that could have been just playful banter. Either way great to see. I just wish one of the days they would do it in daylight as it would be a fantastic photography opportunity.


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