Eglwys Nunydd is back, and so is Spring

Sunday, February 27, 2011 Adam Tilt 16 Comments

Regular readers of this blog may recall the excellent run of rarities that Eglwys Nunydd reservoir threw up around September time last year, including a Bobolink, Grey Phalarope and Whiskered Tern, all of which I managed to see. This weekend the industrial water body was back on form in a big way.

We arrived in somewhat overcast conditions but the sun soon came out as we were treated to three superb Reed Buntings in bushes along the bank. In the bay next to the locked gate were two Little Grebes that briefly raised our heart beats given the identity of one of our target species for the day. Also present was a single Wigeon amongst the various other waterfowl, probably the only time that I can recall ever having seen one on its own. Our walk around the perimeter involved much scanning of the large Tufted Duck rafts until we hit gold with a fantastic male Greater Scaup. Moments later we were on to a second, but this time much closer. The size difference with their smaller cousins was clear to see, whilst the sun was helping to show off the green sheen to their heads brilliantly. A few hundred meters further on and Emma spotted the second small Grebe species of the day in the shape of a Slavonian Grebe, a life tick for her and only my second ever. Compared to my very distant views from December of one off Whitford Point this bird was practically in our laps, although rather inconveniently still just out of range of my camera. We watched it float along for a good while, taking in its winter plumage to the full, aware that we would be very lucky to get such good views of one again any time soon. If those two cracking species aren't enough for you then there has also been a Lesser Scaup putting in sporadic appearances over the last week but we didn't spot it. Elsewhere on the water several pairs of Great Crested Grebe were beginning to flirt with each other using their fantastic mirror dance technique. At the moment it is all a bit half hearted but it is a definite sign that Spring is on its way.

While in the area we also popped over to Kenfig to see if we could reconnect with the flock of Pink Footed Geese. Unfortunately their favored field was empty due to the presence of a dog, but as we were driving back they flew overhead coming from the direction of Kenfig Pool. I believe they have now turned up at Ogmore further down the coast so it remains to be seen if they will return.

Our next stop was at Bracelet Bay on Gower. By now the early morning clouds had cleared and for the first time in ages the sun was out and we had blue sky. Being a tad conscious that this blog was rapidly turning into something populated entirely by night shots I was eager to get in some bird photography. 16 Mediterranean Gulls were in a raft on the sea but one posed incredibly well on a lamppost in the car park. A surprised looking Wood Pigeon was equally obliging.

23927 - Mediterranean Gull, Bracelet Bay, Gower

23930 - Wood Pigeon, Bracelet Bay, Gower

The afternoon was spent down at Oxwich Bay with the main purpose being to try out the new bird hide. I have always found the reserve there a bit of an enigma as I knew there was plenty of wildlife present but could never really work out where you were supposed to see it from. That has all changed now with the addition of a large new hide looking over a prime piece of habitat. Hen Harriers are regular visitors as seen by Caroline, and which we unfortunately just missed. It was nice to see some Teal and a male Shoveler though. Out in the dunes a Green Woodpecker gave me the runaround, as did a pair of Mistle Thrushes.

Today was spent mostly at the house where we were treated to a bit of a raptor fest. Mid-morning found four Buzzards circling over the garden (one of which was extremely pale), while this afternoon we were treated to three Red Kites.

23931 - Red Kite, Pontarddulais
23932 - Red Kite, Pontarddulais

I have never seen this many birds of prey over our hill before but I certainly hope that it will continue. That wasn't the end though as an afternoon walk along the Loughor foreshore delivered a Sparrowhawk and a Kestrel. Given that we seemed to be on a roll I kept my eyes peeled for an early migrating Osprey. No luck there but it must only be a matter of time.


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Toad Rescue In Burry Port

Friday, February 25, 2011 Adam Tilt 4 Comments

I have just had probably one of my most traumatic, exciting, fulfilling and exhilarating wildlife experiences ever.

A few weeks ago the local press reported that Toad crossing signs were going to be placed on the B4311 in Burry Port (which still haven't appeared incidentally), where each year the local population of Toads has to migrate across a busy road to get to their traditional breeding ponds. Having never seen a Toad before this captured my interest so for the past few weeks I have been making regular visits in the hope of catching a sighting. Click here for a map of the exact location. Until tonight I hadn't seen a single one but boy has that just changed.

Driving along at about ten o'clock this evening I suddenly had to slam the breaks on as the road was covered in Toads for a good 300m stretch. I quickly popped the hazard lights on and got out to take a photo while no other cars were about. It was only then that I realised how many had already met a sad end under the wheels of less careful motorists. The carnage was almost too hard to bare so I set about doing what I could to save those that still had a chance.

23924 - Toad, Burry Port

Many were simply sat in the middle of the road motionless with no clear idea of where to head next.

23916 - Toad, Burry Port

On the opposite side of the road from where they had started the problem was clear to see. Although they could jump down onto the tarmac without a problem the kerb they needed to climb to reach safety was proving too much of a challenge. Many were aimlessly hopping along the edge whilst others had simply given up and were getting on with mating where they were.

23918 - Toad, Burry Port

In all I must have carried about thirty across the road which was all of the live ones that we could find. They were surprisingly slimy but were very calm and apart from a few remained very still as they were picked up. Indeed some didn't seem to want to let go at all.

23921 - Toad, Burry Port

It took a good hour to get everyone to safety but I fear there will be more casualties over the coming week. We are going back tomorrow evening to see if we can help any others and would encourage everyone to be vigilant when driving at night, particularly during this damp and warm weather.


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More Views From Penclawdd

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

I have another couple of images from my photography session at Penclawdd that I'd like to share as I am very happy with them. I love the mix between the natural vista of the Burry Inlet and the way it so starkly contrasts with the town of Llanelli on the far bank. The different coloured light sources have really helped to illuminate the clouds, and if you look closely you will see some more of the wild Gower ponies dotted about the place.

23914 - Penclawdd After Dark

23913 - Penclawdd After Dark


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Ghostly Gower Ponies of Penclawdd

Tuesday, February 22, 2011 Adam Tilt 8 Comments

Last night I needed an escape so headed down to Penclawdd on Gower after dark. Rather handily my arrival coincided perfectly with the high tide, which with no wind meant a large expanse of perfectly still water was there to be taken advantage of. Out in the darkness I could hear the calls of Curlew and Oystercatcher, but it was the squelching noises being generated by the wild ponies that call these marshes home that really caught my attention. I strained to pick out any details until I eventually spotted a reflection in one of the pools. Pointing my camera in that general direction I set up a 30 second exposure and hoped for the best.

23915 - Penclawdd After Dark

Expecting a herd of ponies to stay perfectly still for half a minute is, as you would expect, a tall order. Their movement however has helped to give them a ghostly quality which I rather like. As can be seen from the reflections, these animals are completely surrounded by water out in the Burry Inlet and will most likely stay there until the tide once again retreats.

After Penclawdd we moved on to Parc le Breos on South Gower. For the first time since the start of winter the Tawny Owls were in fine voice with at least four individuals calling out, often all at the same time. In the nearby undergrowth I could also hear various rustlings and the occasional animal noise but frustratingly there was almost zero light so I couldn't see anything. In the past I have had close encounters with both Badger and Fox at this location, with Badgers being my best guess this time. Oh how I wish I had a night vision video camera!

Other notable events from the last couple of weeks have included a fantastic flock of 14 Pink Footed Geese on the 13th. I caught up with them briefly during torrential rain in a field on the opposite side of the road from Kenfig NNR. They had a single Greylag in tow and looked well settled as they went about their business. Since then they have relocated a couple of times but last I heard they were in the fields on the east side of Kenfig pool. If they are still around this weekend I will try and find them again and get some photos given that they are such a rare species here in Glamorgan.

It's also worth mentioning the number of birds that have been visiting the feeders in the garden recently. The last few weeks have seen a massive upsurge with the Niger seed being a particular favourite. We are now regularly getting a couple of Siskins and up to five Goldfinch on it. Being at home for much of the weekend doing DIY has also meant that we now know that the occasional Long Tailed Tits we see are far more frequent and long staying than we previously realised. Top billing though has to go to our local Starlings that now number around twenty birds. On Monday last week this briefly swelled to a massive seventy plus at about half four in the afternoon. I only have a relatively small garden so it was certainly a sight to behold. My best guess is that a flock from elsewhere arrived to pick up our birds before they all moved on to the large roost in the reeds at Llangennech. I have seen similar arrivals at about the same time on a couple of occasions since, but they never stay for more than a few minutes. Good job really as they get through a hell of a lot of food!


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Siskin, Goldcrest and Golden Eagle in Mid Wales

Tuesday, February 08, 2011 Adam Tilt 18 Comments

What a wild, wet and windy couple of days this past weekend turned out to be. Both Saturday and Sunday were dark and grey with strong winds blowing the rain almost horizontal. On reflection it probably wasn’t the best time to take a two day jaunt through mid Wales, but at least it didn’t turn out to be as calamitous a decision as our camping trip last year in Pembrokeshire (the wind blew the tent down on that occasion). I blame the arrival of our first ever Siskins to the gardens new Niger feeder for lifting our spirits and encouraging us to push on with our plans regardless.

23911 - Siskin, Pontarddulais
Our first garden Siskin and my only photo from the weekend
First port of call was the Llyn Llech Owain country park in Carmarthenshire, a new location for us consisting of a large lake underlain with thick peat and surrounded by a small forestry area and open scrub-land. The lake itself was devoid of anything more interesting than a couple of Mallards and a noisy Jay, while the trees held a Goldcrest and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. Despite the conditions the area shows much promise, particularly for springtime, so we shall definitely be back.

Next was Cilsan bridge to have a look for the wintering flock of Whooper Swans. Unfortunately they were nowhere to be found, presumably having relocated to a field out of sight somewhere else in the valley. Plenty of Mute Swans and twenty or so Greylag Geese were in their place, while on the river a Little Grebe and a Little Egret were doing their best to feed in the fast flowing waters.

With the rain getting heavier and heavier we arrived at Talley Lakes. After donning full waterproofs a short walk found us looking over the upper lake and scanning through a flock of Tufted Ducks hunting for anything unusual. Nothing was forthcoming as we struggled to hold the binoculars steady, but further out were four male and seven female Goosanders. That is by far the biggest flock I have seen for this species and it was a welcome sight in the gloom. Another couple of Goosanders were on the Rheidol River near Aberystwyth with at least six Red Kites circling overhead, but that was pretty much the end of the days birding due to ever worsening weather.

Sunday was spent mostly at RSPB Ynys-hir, though we were still being hounded by  rain and gales. The tide was extremely high as a result of the onshore winds meaning that the estuary was pretty much devoid of wading species due to a lack of feeding opportunities. A few Curlew and Oystercatcher were sticking it out but that was about it. Fifty or so Barnacle Geese were mingling in with the regular Canada Geese but the small flock of White Fronted Geese that spend the winter on the estuary eluded me for the fifth year in succession. Talking of elusive species, we spent a good hour searching the woodland at the back of the visitor centre looking for a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Once again we drew a blank but we did see another Goldcrest, a couple of Treecreepers and Nuthatches as well as a courting pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers. Even better was the pair of Brambling that briefly appeared at the top of a nearby tree. In the car park on the way out a large mixed flock of Siskins, Goldfinches and Chaffinches were marauding over the seed feeders. Have Siskins had a good year as they seem to be everywhere at the moment?

Over both days we tried our luck up in the hills around Pontrhydygroes, looking for a Golden Eagle of all things. The bird in question is believed to have escaped from captivity about eighteen months ago, but news only leaked out into the wider domain last week. Although not a truly wild bird it would have been a fantastic sight to see if only the visibility hadn’t been so poor as to make any chance of finding it almost impossible. It does however give me a chance to repost one of my favourite photos, taken a few years ago on the Isle of Mull and showing a Golden Eagle being mobbed by a Raven.

Golden Eagle and Raven on Isle of Mull, Scotland
If you want to see more bird centric blogs then check out the World Bird Wednesday meme, hosted by Springman over at Pine River Review, by following this link or clicking on the banner in the sidebar.


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Save Our Forests? Well yes I think we should actually.

Monday, February 07, 2011 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

Time for something a little different on my blog tonight, concerning a cause that I would very much like to draw your attention to.

Social media and the traditional press have been awash these last few weeks with myriad responses to the UK governments proposal to sell off the entirety of our publicly owned woodland. Hundreds of thousands of people are in uproar over the potential loss of a valuable resource for both wildlife and the general public to organisations whose main interest may lie more with the bottom line than with the enrichment of our woodlands. An online petition currently stands at just over 467,121, which rather admirably demonstrates the strength of public opinion being generated by this debate. Before adding my name to the list I wanted to do my own research to see which side of the fence I sat on to avoid just joining a campaign through ‘peer pressure’.

Firstly the facts. The Forestry Commission currently owns 258,000 hectares of forest estate, making it the largest government owned land holding in England. This covers 2% of the total land area of England but only 18% of the country’s total woodland, the rest already residing in private ownership or with charitable trusts. The proposal is to sell off or lease this land to a combination of individuals, charities and for profit companies in an effort to save money, allow the Forestry Commission to become a solely regulatory body and move us closer to David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’. On that latter point it seems to be working as almost half a million people getting involved in what is at its heart a political issue is something that we should all be proud of.

When I first think of the Forestry Commission I immediately picture the dark and virtually lifeless mass plantations that dominate some of our hillsides. With tightly packed tress filtering out almost all light at ground level and regular felling for commercial trade, I can’t really see the problem in passing on that land to private firms to manage. The issue is that these areas do not make up the majority of land for sale. Of the 80% of land that is wooded only 70% is designated as conifer or mixed with 30% being broadleaf. The remaining 20% consists of everything from limestone pavements to urban green spaces. These areas are absolute treasures to this country and I would be much warier about losing these to the private sector.

The reasons for these concerns are multiple. Firstly, any private company would surely be more interested in making a profit off the land than building visitor centres, opening up trails or encouraging wildlife to prosper. In the current commercially intensive plantations this may be acceptable but in places like the New Forest? And if the government were to apply stiff legislation on what a company could do with the woodland prior to the sale or lease to encourage these activities, then what are the chances of someone actually wanting to take it on in the first place. On a similar point why would a private company take on the 20% of land that is currently tree free if there wasn’t the opportunity for development, whether that be for more commercial plantations or god forbid yet another golf course (and that’s coming from someone who likes a good round of golf every now and again).

The other option is to let interested individuals or charities take over sections to manage themselves. This sounds fantastic initially. Who wouldn’t want someone with the forests best interest at heart looking after an area for the good of the nation? Personally I’d be at the front of the queue bidding to play my own part but in reality this option could never work, and it’s all down to money. The British people are capable of some amazing acts of generosity when it comes to charitable causes, but surely managing the nations forests and enhancing them for the next couple of hundred years is just one step too far. Initially the government is proposing to offer grants to help the newcomers but it is intended that these will substantially reduce in size after a few years. So what might start off as a boom may quickly leave us with huge areas being poorly managed and maintained, with little option but for the government to step back in.

And this brings me to my biggest misgiving about the whole issue. We are told that the country must reduce its deficit and to do that we need to save money. I couldn’t agree more and it was one of the key decision points for me when choosing who to vote for at the last elections. Therefore things like tax rises and public spending cuts are to be expected and I fully support them. However, short sighted and rushed policies such as this, which could have massive long-term consequences, were not what I had envisaged. Firstly the sell off would actually cost the government some £20 million, not including as yet unannounced redundancy and restructuring costs within the Forestry Commission itself. These are one off fees but the ongoing grants will not be, particularly if my prediction of struggling organisations comes true and the government is forced to step back in to help.

If the financial arguments don’t really stack up then why not just sell off the most commercial areas that offer little to no value to the general public (something which it appears the Woodland Trust have long advocated), while concentrating efforts on preserving the vast majority for the nation. Keeping this land in the public domain is precisely what I believe the government should be doing instead of going looking for a quick buck. At the end of the day the status quo costs £655 million a year. That sounds a lot but not when you consider that apparently the government can save over £6 billion simply by cutting waste. Surely that means we can keep our woodlands out of the hands of the private corporations?

I have tried to take as balanced a view as possible while reviewing the literature, coming at it from the point of view of a very interested party more than any sort of expert in the field, and I hope that comes across with the points I have made. I haven’t seen anything that has convinced me that this is a sensible or safe route to go down, and for that reason I have firmly added my name to the ever-lengthening petition. If you are of a similar mind then please head here to lend your support. Before that I encourage you to follow some of the links below to enable you to make an informed judgement based on your own interpretation of the available material. Thanks for reading.


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Sea Mouse, Three Cliffs Bay, Gower

Friday, February 04, 2011 Adam Tilt 10 Comments

Walking along the beach at Three Cliffs Bay we stumbled upon a strange looking object lying on the sands. Our first impressions were that it was some sort of pine cone, though one that was heavily waterlogged. Picking it up revealed a soft composition that when squeezed released a stream of liquid. This prompted a closer inspection revealing a hairy covering on top and a foot-like structure underneath. What we had found was in fact a Sea Cucumber, a new sea creature for both of us.

Update 06/02/2011
After I posted this entry a comment from Stu corrected my original identification. This is in fact a Sea Mouse and not a Sea Cucumber as I had originally thought and my thanks go out to him. I'll admit now that I had never heard of these before so it's fascinating to have actually found one. Sea Mice are, despite their appearance, a form of marine worm and normally live buried head first in the sand. It's body is covered in a dense mat of hairs that normally have a red sheen to warn off predators. When light shines on them perpendicularly however they flash green and blue as in my photos below.

23879 - Sea Cucumber, Three Cliffs Bay, Gower

23880 - Sea Cucumber, Three Cliffs Bay, Gower

Information on Sea Cucumbers:
It's remarkably hard to find decent information on these creatures from an internet search without being inundated with recipes on how to cook them. Personally I can't think of anything I'd like to eat less but it takes all sorts I guess. The best information I can find is from Wikipedia's article which I recommend reading if you want to learn more about these fascinating marine animals. They are also good for hair loss apparently!


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Frozen Rhossili - with ice on the beach!

Friday, February 04, 2011 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

Following on from a couple of posts ago where I included a picture of a huge sheet of ice stretching across Rhossili beach, I have a few more pictures to share showing the unusual conditions. The first one is the view looking towards Burry Holmes from the vicinity of the Helvetia shipwreck. By the time this was taken the tide had started to turn and was on its way back out, leaving a mass of crumpled ice behind along the hight tide line. To me it looks more like a scene from the Arctic than the UK.

23893 - Ice at Rhossili

This constant movement and refreezing process had left the ice with some amazing patterns embedded within it. The photo below shows just one small section because I wanted to portray some of the finer detail that was present.

23891 - Ice at Rhossili

More interesting ice shapes were to be found up on the slopes above the beach where a small stream was flowing out of the hillside. Here splashing water had frozen in a similar manner to at Cwm Dulais, this time encasing nearby vegetation instead of rocks. One Fern in particular had become completely trapped in its icy blanket.

23899 - Ice at Rhossili
23897 - Ice at Rhossili

My plans for this weekend are to visit a few new and some old favourite sites across Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion. The weather forecast is looking less than favourable but hopefully that wont put off the wildlife.


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Frozen Cwm Dulais

Wednesday, February 02, 2011 Adam Tilt 7 Comments

Last weekends freezing conditions had a rather impressive impact on the Cwm Dulais valley behind my house. Huge rafts of icicles were to be found dangling from overhanging ledges, whilst rocks in the river were covered in a layer of ice formed where splashing water had instantly frozen. The structures and shapes that had formed were unlike anything I have seen before, even during the cold weeks of last December. Also of interest was very clear evidence of freeze thaw erosion taking place along several exposed slopes. Overnight water droplets in the ground had frozen and expanded, pushing the edges of the banks outwards (frost heave). After a couple of hours of morning sun a thaw was well underway, allowing the ground to slump back into its original form. However, the outer particles of soil were now finding themselves unsupported and so were falling away at quite an alarming rate. We only watched for a couple of minutes but during that time witnessed these mini landslides occurring in numerous places alongside one of the farm tracks that traverse the valley sides. Although on a limited scale here it was fascinating to see the process at work. Bird-wise the only species of note was my first Dipper of the year flying downstream.

23903 - Frozen Dulais
23904 - Frozen Dulais
23906 - Frozen Dulais
23909 - Icicles, Cwm Dulais

I took a late evening drive out around the coast of Llanelli last night in search of any nocturnal activities and hit lucky with a couple of Foxes bounding along just by the roadside. These are the first that I have seen there so far this year and looked to be young individuals judging by their size. More surprising were the three Grey Herons that were standing motionless on the grass verges at several places. My guess is that they are out looking for frogs on these damp evenings. They certainly made a rather spooky appearance when caught in the headlights.


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