A bit more wildlife from Dorset

Thursday, April 28, 2011 Adam Tilt 4 Comments

Before I disappear off the grid for the second four day weekend in a row (surely this is what all weekends should be like!) I thought I'd share a couple more of my favourite photos from our recent trip to Dorset. The first is of a Common Lizard which we spotted sunning itself on a piece of wood in a nature reserve close to where we were camping. It initially shot off into the undergrowth as we approached but after a few minutes of waiting it slowly crept back into view giving this rather cheeky pose.

24214 - Common Lizard, Dorset

The rest are of the absolutely brilliant Sedge Warbler from Radipole Lake. I took so many photos of this bird that its hard to pick just a few. I hope you like them.

24232 - Sedge Warbler, Radipole Lake
24224 - Sedge Warbler, Radipole Lake

Closer to home I had a quick walk around my local patch on Tuesday evening and can happily report that at least one of the Cuckoos is still in the Cwm Dulais valley, although it seems to have moved further down towards the Pontarddulais end. The pair of Bullfinches were still on Gopa Hill and although skittish seemed unwilling to travel far. I wonder if they are planning on nesting nearby? Up on Bryn-bach-Common a single male Yellowhammer was once again singing from the telegraph wires and I spotted one of the female Wheatears sat on a fence post.


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Easter Adventures in Dorset

Tuesday, April 26, 2011 Adam Tilt 16 Comments

In a perfectly timed piece of choreography a Purple Heron turned up at Kenfig NNR on Friday, almost as if it knew that the local birding fraternity would need something to keep themselves occupied with over the long weekend. I would have been there in a flash if not for the fact that I was already down in Dorset pitching my tent. To have missed out on the excitement due to holiday plans is understandable, but then to narrowly miss a second Purple Heron a few miles from where we were camping could be considered fate. It was clearly not meant to be for me and that rather exquisite Heron species this Easter.

In truth I wasn't too disappointed as the area around Lyme Regis delivered so many goodies that I soon forgot all about Herons of a non-grey nature. The town itself was absolutely packed with holiday makers (as expected), but the resident Herring Gulls and Feral Pigeons didn't seem to notice. I must apologise for the bald head in the background of the pigeon shot but he would not move no matter how amorous they got.

24211 - Herring Gull, Lyme Regis
24212 - Feral Pigeon, Lyme Regis

A walk out to Beer Head in the evening delivered a nice flock of Fulmars out on the sea as well as a passing Gannet. I must admit though that my attention was mostly taken by the Rabbits that seemed to be everywhere. They were just too cute for even me to resist!

24216 - Rabbit, Beer Head

Our first full day (Saturday) was spent over at the two RSPB reserves based on the wetlands surrounding Weymouth. Once we had negotiated the 2012 Olympic roadworks it wasn't long before we were walking around Radipole Lake to the sound of Reed Warblers, Sedge Warblers, Cettis Warblers and Whitethroats. With the exception of the Reed Warblers I photographed them all including an absolutely stunning Sedge that sat at head hight in a bush bordering the path, belting its song out for all it was worth. It was one of those moments where you almost have to pinch yourself to make sure that you aren't dreaming as the bird was that close. It was a similar story with the Cettis which I got my best ever views of on several occasions, despite the fact that they stuck much more closely to the shadows.

24230 - Sedge Warbler, Radipole Lake
Sedge Warbler
24222 - Whitethroat, Radipole Lake
24235 - Cetti's Warbler, Radipole Lake
Cetti's Warbler
Elsewhere on the reserve things were relatively quiet with no sign of the resident Marsh Harriers (quickly becoming my biggest bogey bird) or the Kingfishers. I did however get my first lifer of the holiday when we encountered a male Hooded Merganser, a local celebrity as it turns out. The story goes that the bird was found as a youngster trapped in a storm drain over on Portland, and was bought to Radipole to recuperate which it did magnificently. Since then it seems to have convinced itself that it is a Tufted Duck and has stuck around for well over a year. Despite this it is still a wild bird and free flying so counts as a tick in my book.

24234 - Hooded Merganser, Radipole Lake

For the afternoon we moved on to Lodmoor and my second lifer of the day, the long staying Long Billed Dowitcher. I have seen this bird blogged about ever since the very first day that it was found in late 2010, so it was very nice to finally get to see it in the flesh. It was feeding happily on one of the pools and I really can't see it leaving any time soon as it is very well settled, despite some photographers pushing their luck by jumping a fence and walking right up to the waters edge. I didn't which is why the record shot I took was so poor (80x digital zoom is never going to be up to much).

Lodmoor also had lots more quality present including yet more Whitethroats, Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers (I've yet to see any of these in Wales this year) as well as two very nice Common Terns. To finish the day off we spent a couple of hours at Portland Bill amongst the Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers, and also saw a superb male Black Redstart.

Sunday morning was spent walking along the River Coly. Not only was it a beautiful location but the wildlife was also fantastic. Particular highlights that come to mind include finding a Sand Martin colony with birds flying in and out of nest holes, as well as a Kingfisher that perched on a branch a few meters away from us complete with fish in mouth! Unfortunately it never sat there for more than a second so no photos. We also didn't want to stay any longer as I had a feeling there was a nest very close by and didn't want to cause any disturbance. Other birds seen included my first House Martins of the year, Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker as well as a White Wagtail and a Pied Wagtail. I seem to get precious few opportunities to photograph Wagtails so this was an opportunity not to be missed.

24250 - Pied Wagtail, River Coly, Devon

Later in the day we explored the fantastic reserves around Colyford and Seaton that have developed a tremendous amount since our last visit in October. The work is a credit to all those involved and the new hides are truly fantastic. With the exception of a female Wheatear things were relatively quiet though so we moved on to the Otter estuary in the hope of a third lifer for the weekend. A quick scan of the area and we were soon watching a Bonaparte's Gull feeding alongside a couple of Black Headed Gulls. It was far more distinctive than we had expected and we were able to see both the black beak, pink legs and head colouration to confirm the identification.

We took a step back from the birding on Monday to search the beaches back at Lyme Regis for fossils. Pickings were relatively slim which was to be expected given how many people had been there over the last few days, but we still came back with a few nice finds. I'll share some photos of the more immovable and impressive offerings from the beach in a future post. I was glad I had taken my camera when an incredibly tame Rock Pipit popped up onto the rocks next to us.

24253 - Rock Pipit, Lyme Regis

This little encounter rounded the weekend off very nicely and despite being slightly exhausted we'd had a great time. For now its three days more work then off to mid Wales for another long weekend. If the weather holds we will be climbing Cadair Idris. I can't wait.


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Choughs in Wales

Thursday, April 21, 2011 Adam Tilt 6 Comments

The Chough population in Wales has been gaining strength in recent years and now represents about 75% of the total number in the UK. Their main stronghold is along the coast of Pembrokeshire but they have been steadily spreading, returning to the Gower Peninsula in 1990 for the first time in over a century. Over the last few weeks I have been fortunate to encounter this rarest species of the Crow family on an almost weekly basis, but have held back the photographs as I am concious that we are well into the breeding season and I don't want to give away too many details concerning their locations.

24082 - Chough
24083 - Chough

The above photos were taken along the Ceredigion coastal path where I was amazed to see a flock of ten Chough, several of which were collecting discarded sheep's wool. So intent were they to carry as much as possible that they not only stuffed their beaks to overflowing but also grabbed great clumps with each foot. By the end of it I was beginning to wonder if they would actually be able to take off and if they did whether or not they would even be able to see where they were going. They seemed to manage in the end though.

24152 - Chough, Gower
24151 - Chough, Gower

The pair above were much closer to home on Gower. They were incredibly tame and carried on feeding even when a local dog walker passed right by them. Much like Red Kites the Chough is a great example of how some excellent conservation work can have a massive impact on the success of our wildlife. Long may they continue to flourish as our countryside is better for their presence.


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Cuckoo on Bryn-bach-Common

Wednesday, April 20, 2011 Adam Tilt 8 Comments

Yesterday was one of those perfect evenings where everything comes together. It started off on Gopa Hill where I found a cracking male Blackcap singing from the trees around the old ruined farmhouse, my first for that area. Sitting nearby were a pair of Bullfinches while the air was filled with the sound of Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers. A few steps further on and a Jay slipped by unusually silently for a bird that normally likes to make its presence known. As I neared Bryn-bach-Common I thought I heard a distinctive call from the valley below so stopped to listen. After a few seconds silence I heard it again and there was no doubt; a Cuckoo was back in the Cwm Dulais valley. I scanned the area intently but with so many potential perches it was always going to be a pretty much impossible task to locate it.

With the Cuckoo still echoing around the hills I turned towards the common just in time to see a largish bird fly up from the ground and land on the telegraph wire normally frequented by the Yellowhammers. I almost couldn't bring myself to hope that it was what I thought it was as a I raised my binoculars for a better look. Sure enough I found myself looking at a superb male Cuckoo and its usual entourage of Meadow Pipits.

24205 - Cuckoo, Bryn-bach-Common
24209 - Cuckoo, Bryn-bach-Common

This was by far the best view I have ever had of a Cuckoo and I was able to watch it for a good hour as it roamed widely across the grassland. The majority of its time was spent calling from the various poles and wires, but on occasion it did land on the ground. This was presumably to find food as I saw it return to its perch with a large caterpillar at least once. The Cuckoo did disappear into the valley a couple of times which made me wonder if this was the same bird that I had originally heard calling or another individual. The answer wasn't long coming as not one but two male Cuckoos flew right overhead. One of the males carried on out of view in the direction of Felindre whilst the other resumed its previous activities on the common. A territorial dispute maybe? Whatever the reason I felt amazingly privileged to have enjoyed such amazing views of these charismatic birds.

The Cuckoo's weren't the only new arrivals on Bryn-bach-Common. One male and three female Wheatears quadrupled this years count for the species, and it was also very nice to find a male and female pair of Stonechats. The Swallows from last week were still feeding over the nearby farmland and another four Bullfinch gave a very decent count for the day. The more usual species were also out in good numbers including Dunnock, Blackbird, Pied Wagtail, Magpie, Rook and Carrion Crow, all against the backdrop of almost continuous Linnet movements.

24208 - Wheatear, Bryn-bach-Common

There was also a good number of Butterflies on offer including Yellow-tip, Speckled Wood and Red Admiral.


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One Swallow Does Not Make A Summer

Sunday, April 17, 2011 Adam Tilt 16 Comments

Or so the saying goes. But do two?

24204 - Swallow, Pontlliw

Probably not if the plummeting temperatures this evening are anything to go by. I spotted the above pair of Swallows sitting on telegraph cables on the drive back from having my hair cut this morning. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me at the time so walked the couple of miles back to the location after first returning home to collect it. I wasn't really expecting them to still be in the same place but to my delight they were. Judging by the length of the tail feathers I think this is probably a male and a female and they looked well settled. The male in particular was very showy allowing me to get my best photos to date of these spectacular birds.

24201 - Swallow, Pontlliw
24203 - Swallow, Pontlliw

Closer to home a Wood Pigeon was pulling some moves, again from an overhead cable.

24198 - Wood Pigeon

We may often moan about pylons and cables spoiling the view as they crisscross our landscape, but the birds certainly seem to make the most of them. I have even read that the removal of these handy perches has actually made it harder to watch spring migration in action from places such as Strumble Head in Pembrokeshire, as the birds now just fly straight over and carry on inland. It's funny how our efforts to return areas to a more natural state can have unexpected impacts such as this.


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Beautiful Bracken

Saturday, April 16, 2011 Adam Tilt 3 Comments

I went up to Bryn-Bach Common this evening for another attempt at photographing the Yellowhammers, but they were sadly absent. I did however see my first patch Swallows and Sand Martins and what I believe may have been a Tree Pipit. Rather foolishly I hadn't taken my binoculars with me though so I cant be sure of the id. Other birds seen included numerous Meadow Pipits and Linnets but all were keeping their distance. Instead I turned my attention to the Bracken that is suddenly shooting up across the common. I have always found the shapes that the unfurling fronds make fascinating, so decided to try and capture as many as I could and turn them into a collage. If you want to see the beauty of nature at its best then there is no need to look further than the humble Bracken.

24196 - Bracken


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Minotaur Beetle (Typhaeus typhoeus) at Rhossili, Gower

Thursday, April 14, 2011 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

It's always worth keeping one eye on the ground when out and about as you never know what you might be missing right beneath your feet. A perfect demonstration of this occurred on Sunday whilst on the Woodchat Shrike hunt described in my last post. Just after watching the Blackcaps flitting around the old Rhossili Rectory we spotted a black beetle walking along the footpath and stopped to investigate.

24165 - Minotaur Beetle, Rhossili, Gower

Initially I thought that this might be another Bloody-Nosed Beetle but we soon noticed that this one was definitely not flightless and also had the addition of three impressive 'horns' behind the head. A bit of internet research quickly delivered the correct identification as a male Minotaur Beetle, or Typhaeus typhoeus if you are feeling fancy. The Minotaur Beetle can grow up to 2.5cm in length and is the UK's largest dung beetle species. Although the males may look impressive they are actually smaller than the females who lack the males adornments. Their typical habitat is sandy grassland or heathland where they feed on any dung but seem to prefer that produced by Rabbits. I'm sure there is a sound scientific reason for this preference but I can't help thinking that if I was in their position I'd be more inclined to roll small Rabbit droppings around as well rather than sections of cow-pat for instance. They breed and shelter in tunnels that can run up to 50cm deep and from which several side chambers branch off. Each of these chambers is used to hold a single egg, whilst nearby a store of dung is built up on which the larva can feed when they first hatch. Unusually there is absolutely no parental care for the offspring.

When looking for distribution maps I wasn't surprised to find out that although widespread across England and Wales, the Minotaur Beetle is scarce. Rhossili seems to be a favoured spot for them however with sightings dating back to May 2005 and more recently in October 2010. It's certainly worth keeping an eye out if you are in the area.

After my encounter though I'm still not sure who was more interested in who. Any suggestions?

24177 - 24165 - Minotaur Beetle, Rhossili, Gower


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Woodchat Shrike, Llangennith Moor, Gower

Wednesday, April 13, 2011 Adam Tilt 6 Comments

The big breaking news late on Saturday evening was that a Woodchat Shrike had turned up on Gower and was to be found feeding around Llangennith Moor. An early morning text off Barry Stewart on Sunday confirmed that the bird was indeed present and also served as a handy prompt to drag myself out of bed. My parents were down visiting for the weekend and with my dad a keen bird photographer it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. Half an hour later and we were on our way.

24170 - Woodhcat Shrike, Llangennith Moor, Gower

Upon arrival things weren't looking good with a large area of suitable habitat to search and no clues apart from another distant birder who seemed not to be looking at anything in particular. I put the binoculars to my eyes for a quick scan and there, sitting on top of the first bush I came across, was the Woodchat Shrike.

Against the blue sky and in the sunshine the chestnut brown head stood out brilliantly whilst the beak and body shape made the bird completely unmistakeable. We sat down and watched the Shrike for a good hour as it moved from bush to bush, taking what looked to be small insects from both the ground and the air. We had almost unbroken views throughout, right up until a fantastic Merlin came swooping past us through the reed bed, taking our attention completely. As you can probably guess the Shrike chose that exact moment to hop out of view and conceal itself while no one was watching.

By now the other birder had drifted off and we found ourselves alone giving us a perfect opportunity to move in closer to try for a few photos. That of course relied on us relocating the Shrike which we eventually did when it popped back up on top of the same bush from which it had originally disappeared. The distance between us and the bird was still huge and with the heat haze kicking in the record shot above was the best that I could manage. Interestingly this is the second Woodchat Shrike that I have seen in this area, the first being a couple of miles away on Rhossili Down in 2009. I wonder when we will get our next one?

There were plenty of other birds in the vicinity including Dunnocks (which for some reason my Dad kept mistaking for the Shrike when they hopped into view - he's going mad I think), Meadow Pipits, Linnets, Pied Wagtails, Stonechats and a couple of Reed Buntings. They were all quite flighty but I got a couple of pictures that turned out nicely.

24166 - Stonechat, Llangennith Moor, Gower
24168 - Reed Bunting, , Llangennith Moor, Gower

From the above you probably get the impression that we headed straight for Llangennith but you'd be wrong. Continuing in my philosophy of not going somewhere just to see a bird we actually started the day off at Rhossili and walked the coast path from there to reach the Shrike. This turned out to be a great move as the vegetation along the the route was packed with recently arrived migrants. The highlight for me was my first Blackcaps of the year with at least five individuals feeding on berries in and around the old Rhossili Rectory. They were given a good run for their money though by the Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs that were showing beautifully in the flowering Blackthorn.

24161 - Chiffchaff, Rhossili, Gower

Other birds seen on the day included a couple of Kestrels, a pair of Ravens, Fulmars, Cormorants and the usual Gull suspects loafing around on the sea. We also seem to be suffering from an influx of Lesser Spotted Tourists. It certainly wasn't this busy in December!


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Dotted Bee-fly (Bombylius discolor), Bloody Nosed Beetle and more

Tuesday, April 05, 2011 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

24134 - Rhossili Beach, Gower

At Rhossili Spring was in full flow on Saturday with more newly arrived migrants present. We had barely stepped out of the car when our first two Swallows of the year shot overhead travelling west. Out on the headland a flock of at least fifteen Sand Martins arrived right before our eyes and spent a couple of minutes flying around us at close quarters before moving on. I love being surrounded by these birds as they often come within touching distance and seem to be staring straight back at you. In the same area we also spotted a couple of Chiffchaffs that led me on a merry chase as I tried to get them in the cameras viewfinder. Needless to say they won once again. Further along the coast at Tears Point there were several Linnets and I'm very happy to say three Stonechats. It's been such a quiet place without them during the harsh winter so it's nice to see some returning to Gower. The posiest birds though were once again the Dunnocks, although I'm not sure I'd want to be standing on those spikes.

24127 - Dunnock, Rhossili, Gower

The birds weren't the only signs of Spring with numerous insects now out and about. The first was an absolute beauty and something that I have wanted to see for several years now - a Bee-Fly. I got a really clear picture which upon closer inspection revealed that the individual we had found was in fact the much rarer Dotted Bee-Fly (Bombylius discolor). The standard Bee-Fly has a darker area on the leading edge of the wing which this one is lacking, replaced instead by several spots that gives it its name.

24124 - Dotted Bee-fly (Bombylius discolor)

In the same area we found two Oil Beetles and this Bloody Nosed Beetle, so called because of the way it excretes a foul tasting red liquid when threatened.

24126 - Bloody Nosed Beetle, Rhossili, Gower
24123 - Bloody Nosed Beetle, Rhossili, Gower

The mini-beast safari continued on Sunday when I was exploring the highest point in Swansea, Mynydd y Betws, and found a couple of Drinker Moth caterpillars.

24132 - Drinker Moth Caterpillar (Euthrix potatoria)
24133 - Drinker Moth Caterpillar (Euthrix potatoria)

At 374m high this was the last place I had expected to find caterpillars but there they were. My original target for the area had been Ring Ouzels but all we saw were lots and lots of Meadow Pipits, Skylarks and a solitary Buzzard. It's a fantastically remote area though and a great place to escape to.


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Mumbles Pier Kittiwakes - They're back!

Sunday, April 03, 2011 Adam Tilt 21 Comments

I made a passing comment a couple of posts ago that the Kittiwakes would soon be back on Mumbles Pier and Jeremy kindly let me know that they already are!

24116 - Kittiwake on Mumbles Pier

The breeding colony on the pier is now well over twenty years old and is one of only a couple in the UK that is on a man-made structure. Of those this is the only one that is so easily accessible. For a mere fifty pence you get unlimited time with these charismatic birds at little more than arms length. The only challenge is trying not to repeat the same photos over and over and to avoid any flying hooks from the assembled fishermen (something with which I have seen the birds struggle in the past). It was low tide during my visit and warm which probably accounted for the rather sleepy nature of the vast majority of the birds. Here are a selection of my favourite shots from Saturday.

24111 - Kittiwake on Mumbles Pier
24114 - Kittiwake on Mumbles Pier
24097 - Kittiwake on Mumbles Pier
24105 - Kittiwake on Mumbles Pier
24101 - Kittiwake on Mumbles Pier
24110 - Kittiwake on Mumbles Pier
24119 - Kittiwake on Mumbles Pier

Last year I made several trips to the pier to try and document as much of the breeding cycle as possible. I missed the initial nest building stage but witnessed everything from eggs to fledging. The reason for this concerted effort was that the pier owners are currently trying to get planning permission for a complete redevelopment of the area (something which I support in general), including an almost wholesale replacement of the pier structure. I have looked through the documents that I can find on the internet and there is mention of a bird survey giving specific attention to the Kittiwakes as part of the proposal, but details on any work to minimise the impact on them is scant to say the least. I am not sure where the law lies with relation to disrupting a Kittiwake colony but I really hope that that the birds manage to tolerate the work and will be here for another twenty years at least. The Mumbles would be a lesser place without them and their distinctive voices.


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Environmental Survey on Bryn-Bach-common

Friday, April 01, 2011 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

Environmental survey, Bryn-Bach-Common

This evening I got out on patch for the first time this week and was surprised to stumble across several recently placed traps dotted around various Gorse bushes on Bryn-Bach-common. Reading the attached note on one revealed them to be part of an environmental survey being carried out in preparation for renewal work on the overhead power cables. The lines that cross the common form part of the main Pembroke to Swansea high voltage line that was built in the 1960's and covers more than 80km of Welsh countryside. I'd imagine that surveys of this kind are standard practise but it's still nice to see them actually being carried out. I'd love to know what they find, if anything, as it would no doubt be quite enlightening. Does anyone have any idea if this sort of information would be publicly available if I were to make an enquiry?

Away from the pylons and traps we saw an always welcome male Yellowhammer, ironically calling from one of the power lines. Other than that things were relatively quiet apart from an ever increasing number of Meadow Pipits and the constant sound of yaffing Green Woodpeckers.

On our way back home three birds passed us that looked a lot like Swallows. These would have been my first of the year but it was a little bit too dark and a little too far away for a definitive identification. Given the increasing regularity with which sightings of Swallows are being reported across the area I would be very surprised if I don't bump into any this weekend. I'll keep you posted.


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