Cinnabar Moth Caterpillars

Wednesday, July 27, 2011 Adam Tilt 7 Comments

Regular readers may remember my entry back in May showing some of the Cinnabar Moths that were just starting to emerge in our back garden. This was a great progression of a story that started back in July last year when we first discovered Cinnabar Moth caterpillars feeding on plants in our lawn. In the hope of encouraging an increase in their numbers this year we let several areas of Ragwort, their favourite food source, grow whereas normally we would have cleared them away. The experiment certainly seems to have worked as over the last couple of weeks we have seen the caterpillars devour almost our entire supply of what most gardeners would consider a weed.

24698 - Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar, Garden

Our walk last Saturday revealed another booming population along the coastal footpath above Three Cliffs Bay. Here the Ragwort was absolutely teeming with hundreds of caterpillars of all different sizes.

24723 - Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar, Gower

24721 - Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar, Gower

Back to the garden and the challenge for the rest of the year is to try and find out where the caterpillars hide to pupate through the winter months. Given that many of them have already disappeared I think that some detailed detective work is going to be required. The neighbours really are going to think I've gone mad when they see me crawling around the flower beds on all fours!


Please note that comments will not appear immediately as after a surprising amount of spam I have had to enable moderation.

Gower Goodies

Tuesday, July 26, 2011 Adam Tilt 4 Comments

On Saturday we made a long overdue return to the Gower peninsula to take on one of our favourite walks.

We set off from the small car park on Cefn Bryn, known locally as the backbone of Gower due to the way that the large sandstone ridge dominates the landscape, and were almost immediately surrounded by the calls of numerous Willow Warblers. As we waited and watched we began to pick out what looked to be a family group moving through the gorse though they never stopped still long enough for any photos. Equally uncooperative were a nearby pair of Skylarks whilst overhead the sky was alive with a mixture of House Martins, Swallows and the occasional Swift as well as a pair of Kestrels and a Buzzard. It was equally busy closer to the ground with what seemed like an endless supply of Butterflies. I think I have mentioned previously that this year seems to have been particularly successful for them and the sheer variety of species on offer certainly bares that out. From the same spot we were able to see Speckled Wood, Meadow Brown, Red Admiral, Common Blue, Large White and numerous Gatekeepers, one of which is shown below.

24699 - Gatekeeper, Cefn Bryn, Gower

At Little Reynoldston there were several free roaming Gower ponies with relatively young foals in tow. With so many tourists in the area they were causing a bit of traffic chaos as everyone stopped to get out and take photographs, but that's hardly surprising when they look this cute.

24704 - Gower Ponies

From here our route dropped down into the ancient woodland of Millwood, once part of the expansive Penrice Estate. Yet more species of Butterfly greeted us on our approach including Comma and Ringlet, both new finds for me this year.

24705 - Comma, Millwood, Gower

24710 - Ringlet, Millwood, Gower

We hadn't ventured far into the cool shade afforded by the trees before a distinctive bird call caught our attention. We looked up to see a Marsh Tit sat on the end of a branch above us just before it flew off out of sight. Distinguishing Marsh from Willow Tit is always a bit tricky but having heard the call I consulted my iPod which handily includes a collection of bird songs for just such an occasion. As if on cue a second Marsh Tit piped up from a little further along the path which matched my iPod perfectly and confirmed our initial identification. I can't remember the last time I saw a Marsh Tit it was that long ago so this was a really brilliant find.

24717 - Penrice Estate, Gower

Having picked up more woodland species including Treecreeper and surprisingly several Southern Hawker Dragonflies, we emerged onto the landscaped valley in front of Penrice house itself. The view that you see above was packed with birds including a flock of at least eight Mistle Thrushes, an adult and juvenile Green Woodpecker and a juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker. More treats were to be had in Nicholaston Woods where a loud screeching heralded the arrival of a Buzzard. This was not unexpected as we often see them flying through the trees here, but this one turned out to be a bit special. Clutched between its talons was a large snake, clearly still alive as it wiggled in an attempt to get free! Judging by the myriad of calls from our left I think the Buzzard was probably on its way to a nest with its kill. Having never seen Snakes taken as prey before I had now seen both Peregrine Falcon and Buzzard do just that in the space of two days. Never let it be said that nature is predictable.

The rest of our walk took us across Oxwich Bay and up through Penmaen before we were once again at Cefn Bryn, though the opposite end from which we had originally started. From here the view back towards the sea across Three Cliffs Bay is spectacular.

24724 - Three Cliffs Bay, Gower

Also enjoying the view was this male Linnet which, unlike almost all other Linnets I have ever tried to photograph, didn't fly off.

24725 - Linnet, Cefn Bryn

The final stretch back to the car across the top of Cefn Bryn coincided with some of the clearest skies I have ever had the pleasure to walk beneath on Gower. To the north we could see right across to our own house whilst to the south Devon looked within spitting distance across the Bristol Channel. All in all a great day out.


Please note that comments will not appear immediately as after a surprising amount of spam I have had to enable moderation.

Back in the groove in South Wales

Sunday, July 24, 2011 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

After a fortnight on a remote Scottish island its surprising how what would have been considered run of the mill prior to departure now grabs the attention far more readily. How can that be I hear you ask? Well let me elaborate. As my last few entries on this blog have shown Mull is an absolute paradise for any wildlife lover, but there are some bird species that I take for granted here in South Wales that are as rare as hens teeth on the island. Our local Jackdaws for instance are always a bit of a nuisance as they steal the fat balls meant for the smaller birds and throw moss from the house roof all over the paths and my car. On Mull however they are almost none existent apart from small populations around Iona. Therefore returning home to find several of them enjoying the garden was somewhat like getting reacquainted with old friends. We had all forgotten each others bad habits and were happy to revel in one another's company once again. Clearly a lack of readily available food provided by yours truly had sharpened their hunting instincts as the individual below was actually catching flies straight out of the air as they zipped past its head, hence the rather concentrated look in its eyes.

24686 - Jackdaw, Garden

Its companion on the other hand was more than happy just to sit sunbathing on the neighbours slate roofed bird table. I'm not sure if its possible for a bird to look contended but this Jackdaw was giving it a damn good try.

24687 - Jackdaw, Garden

During our absence the plants in the garden had experienced a growth spurt due to a perfect combination of sun and rain. Whereas this was bad news for me as the lawns were in dire need of a cut, it was very good news for things such as our herb garden which has really started to blossom. The Thyme was a particular hit with its flowers covered in visiting Bees and Hoverflies, but it was a new visitor to the garden that really caught my attention.

24689 - Small Tortoiseshell, Garden

Like many butterflies the rather drab underwings of a Small Tortoiseshell belie the beauty that is contained within.

24691 - Small Tortoiseshell, Garden

Having restocked the garden feeders it wasn't long before the local bird population had us back on their map (less than an hour in fact) and were once again eating us out of house and home. It has clearly been quite a successful breeding season as we were inundated with groups of young House Sparrows as well as fledgling Blue Tits, Great Tits and a single Dunnock. Acting as if they hadn't eaten anything for the last fourteen days, though they surely had, were our pair of Collared Doves. They were straight on to the bird table and started putting the seed away at an astonishing rate. The only way they could have eaten more would have been if they hadn't knocked so much of it to the ground every time that they flapped their wings.

24697 - Collared Dove, Garden

24695 - Collared Doves, Garden

Even returning to work has its upsides as these past few days have given me some extraordinary views of the local Peregrine Falcons. There have been a couple hunting from our building for over a year now, though I believe that my initial assessment of a male and female was probably a bit wayward and an adult and immature bird is more likely. What I assume to be the same birds have now been joined by a pair of fledglings that have been giving breathtaking aerial displays as they chase each other around and occasionally lock talons. Through our double glazing these antics have all been silent but on leaving the office last week one of the juveniles was sat on a window ledge on the thirteenth floor screeching its lungs out. It was like nothing I have ever heard and caused even the most oblivious of people to cast their eyes skyward. Talking to others in the office these antics went on throughout the day but have not been repeated since. The highlight so far though happened late on Friday afternoon as we watched one of the birds return to the building with a Snake dangling from its talons! I have never seen a bird of prey take a Snake before let alone seen one being carried just the other side of a window from my face. All I can say is I hope they ate it otherwise I'm not sitting underneath the air conditioning ducts tomorrow.


Please note that comments will not appear immediately as after a surprising amount of spam I have had to enable moderation.

Isle of Mull Part 9 - Everything Else

Saturday, July 23, 2011 Adam Tilt 6 Comments

These last few posts have been packed with birds, insects and even the odd Otter or two, but there are still a few things to share that I didn't manage to fit in elsewhere. Perhaps our most surprising find on the island was the following Hedgehog that we encountered on our early morning drive to Iona. It was waddling along the road quite happily and seemed completely unconcerned by my taking its photo.

24590 - Hedgehog, Isle of Mull

The most nerve jangling discovery was an Adder not far from the house, a creature that I have wanted to see for a very long time. We were so close to stepping on it that the alternative outcomes don’t bear thinking about, but thankfully all was well in the end. The Adder looked less than pleased and after staring at us for a few moments it shot off into the undergrowth, hissing loudly as it went.

24595 - Adder, Isle of Mull

Elsewhere in the valley we saw a couple of Common Lizards basking in the sun. The one below tried valiantly to escape but found itself running into the ground, hence the reason for its body being twisted upwards behind it in the photo.

24520 - Common Lizard, Isle of Mull

Frogs were also much in abundance meaning that careful footsteps were needed around any areas of water. This one was seen in a small pool less than a meter across where the old water tank for the house once sat.

24585 - Frog, Isle of Mull

24586 - Pond Dipping, Isle of Mull

A spot of pond dipping in this pool revealed a wealth of creatures that I just would not have imagined living there. The first was a Newt (exact species unknown) of which we caught several youngsters at various stages of development. The one below was the largest measuring about five centimetres in length and still with external gills.

24587 - Newt, Isle of Mull

We also caught the following Cadisfly larva, a species that’s quite topical having recently being featured on Springwatch. This individual had adorned its protective casing with short sections of reed making for an excellent piece of camouflage.

24683 - Caddisfly Larva, Isle of Mull

Other species seen but not photographed included numerous Rabbits, a Hare near Fidden on the south of the island and Voles galore. The Voles never stayed out in the open long enough for a positive identification, but other visitors have recorded Water Shrew and Field Voles in the vicinity. Their abundance probably explains the reason for the valley being able to support so many raptors. These two weeks alone we recorded two pairs of Kestrel, a male Hen Harrier, a Buzzard and two Golden Eagles. Even on the ferry trip home we were still being treated to new species of wildlife with a pod of Porpoise feeding in an area of water where several different strong currents met. An excellent parting gift.


Please note that comments will not appear immediately as after a surprising amount of spam I have had to enable moderation.

Isle of Mull Part 8 - All good things must come to an end

Saturday, July 23, 2011 Adam Tilt 3 Comments

With just two days left on Mull we decided to stay around the house in the hope of getting some more sightings of the Golden Eagles. We weren’t disappointed as on a walk down to the beach we rounded a corner to find one of the Eagles sat just above us on the hillside. I quickly fired off a couple of frames on the camera before retreating and finding another route before we were spotted.

24672 - Golden Eagle, Isle of Mull

Being so close to these massive predators is always a buzz but I have no wish to disturb them so always make sure that we steer clear and never go deliberately looking for them. All of our sightings are just incidental to being in the valley and it’s an approach that clearly works for they are here year after year.

Our time on the beach was spent collecting driftwood for use at home but it wasn’t hard to spot where the Eagle was sitting as it came under a constant barrage of attacks from the local Hooded Crows and a pair of Kestrels. It’s a wonder that they get any peace at all with that racket following them wherever they go. The bird certainly had good taste though when it comes to resting spots as the view in this part of the world is simply spectacular.

24674 - Isle of Mull

A trip to Croig to see the Seals also found us looking at our second Diver species of the trip in the form of a first summer Great Northern Diver. The bird was preening way out on the loch but there was no mistaking its size and shape over the smaller Red Throated Divers that had been far more numerous throughout the rest of our trip. Along the shore seventy Greylag Geese including many of this year’s fledglings were floating about in a single raft, just one of the many that we had seen around the island. It certainly seems to have been a good year for them. At least forty Oystercatchers and five Ringed Plovers were also present, the whole lot taking to the sky as a male Peregrine Falcon glided across the scene.

24666 - Croig, Isle of Mull

At Croig I also managed to get my best shots for the trip of a Wheatear. This species is so numerous here that to not have come away with a decent photo would have been a disappointment. Unfortunately their flighty nature and my cameras limited range are not a good combination.

24665 - Wheatear, Isle of Mull

24661 - Wheatear, Isle of Mull

On our final day we once again spotted a Golden Eagle, this time sat on a rock on the far side of the valley. If it wasn’t for the constant bombardment being unleashed by the Hooded Crows and Kestrels it likely would have gone unnoticed, but as it was we were treated to prolonged views which made an unusual distraction from our kite flying. It would seem that even Eagles have their tolerance levels as after taking as much of its unwelcome company as it could tolerate it took to the air in a few down strokes of its massive wings. It gradually climbed higher and higher until its entourage was no more before flying out of sight.

24678 - Golden Eagle, Isle of Mull

The island had one final treat in store for us as the sun started to set. We climbed the hill at the back of the house from whose top it is possible to watch across a favourite hunting area for the local Short Eared Owls. It can be a bit hit or miss whether they turn up or not but on this occasion we were lucky. A single bird was flying along the deer fence, seeming to move so slowly through the air that I half expected to see it drop out of the sky. It was only visible for a few moments before the next hill blocked our view. We took the opportunity to look out to sea where the Treshnish Isles were catching the last of the suns rays before moving down the hill to see if we could relocate the Owl. The third island from the left in the photo below is Lunga, home to the Puffins from my last two posts.

24681 - Treshnish Islands

Once down the hill we once again spotted the Short Eared Owl which promptly landed on the ground where it stayed for the following thirty minutes. We waited to see if there would be any further action but it was not to be.

As we walked back to the house with the sun setting behind us, I reflected on an amazing couple of weeks. Every time I visit Mull it seems to throw up yet more surprises and stunning wildlife which through these posts and photos I have been able to relive all over again. Judging by the comments I have received it sounds as if you have all been enjoying them as well, and that makes it all the better.

24682 - Sunset, Isle of Mull


Please note that comments will not appear immediately as after a surprising amount of spam I have had to enable moderation.

Isle of Mull Part 7 - More from Amazing Lunga

Wednesday, July 20, 2011 Adam Tilt 6 Comments

One post really wasn’t enough to even scratch the surface of the photos that I took on Lunga, so please enjoy another. Apologies if you've had your fill of Puffins but I don't think you can ever have enough of them.

24629 - View from Lunga

24613 - Puffin, Lunga

24620 - Puffin, Lunga

24647 - Puffin, Lunga

24651 - Puffin, Lunga

24606 - Puffin, Lunga

24607 - Puffin, Lunga

24635 - Guillemot, Lunga

24631 - Razorbill, Lunga


Please note that comments will not appear immediately as after a surprising amount of spam I have had to enable moderation.

Isle of Mull Part 6 - Puffin Therapy on Lunga

Monday, July 18, 2011 Adam Tilt 21 Comments

By Wednesday the rain looked like it was set in for the long run with banks of cloud barely clearing the cliffs, covering the landscape like a quilt. Normally I’d have called the whole thing off and stayed in bed but we had a boat trip booked with Turus Mara out to Lunga (one of the Treshnish islands) and Staffa (of Fingals cave and basalt column fame). This is a trip not to be missed as you will soon see.

I began to get a feeling that it was going to be a good day when while eating breakfast a rather strange looking Wheatear hopped into view. It was clearly a male bird but in addition to the usual black eye stripe it also sported a large black bib. It was only visible for a few moments before one of the local Wheatears chased it off, but consulting the bird book leads me to believe that the individual in question could belong to the seebohmi race from NW Africa. I have no idea how likely this is but we did see another bird that exhibited similar characteristics a few years ago at Crackaig. Answers on a postcard please if you have any further information regarding this sub-species.

At our departure point we were surprised to see that the trip was as fully booked as normal despite the conditions, so we made sure we were in prime position to get the best seats on the boat. We needn’t have worried as we were the only ones brave enough, or should that be stupid enough, to sit out in the open. The trip to Staffa was very wet but we still managed to see good numbers of Black Guillemots as well as the occasional Manx Shearwater and Gannet. At Staffa itself the sea had a big swell on the go and it was only thanks to some expert seamanship that we were able to dock and disembark.

24660 - Staffa

Back on the boat we headed out into open water and got stuck into the good stuff with a Cory’s Shearwater seen through the driving rain. Despite being at some distance the sheer size of the bird compared to the nearby Manx’s was unmistakeable, as was the lighter brown colouring on its back. It’s funny as I always considered identifying a different species of Shearwater as an almost impossible task, but when you see one there really is no doubt. With one lifer in the bag the second was upon us moments later as a Storm-Petrel flew parallel to us past the boat. If I was to describe it as a House Martin of the sea you wouldn’t be far off imagining what we could see. In my excitement I very nearly ended up flat on my back due to the slippery deck, but as I've said there fortunately wasn't anyone up there with us to witness my mad flailing.

By some miracle our arrival at Lunga brought with it a break in the weather and even some sun. Lunga holds large colonies of Puffin, Guillemot and Razorbill amongst others, but unlike elsewhere the island is visited by so few people that the birds have almost no fear of humans. As a result the Puffins will often walk right up to you giving an encounter that is unparalleled anywhere in the UK.

24618 - Puffin, Lunga

24621 - Puffin, Lunga

24608 - Puffin, Lunga

24654 - Puffin, Lunga

24656 - Puffin, Lunga

24622 - Puffin, Lunga

Away from the main concentration of Puffins a large outcrop of rock holds the noisy Guillemots. Here thousands of birds vie for space along the ledges and bicker amongst themselves as they try to get the best patch upon which to lay their single eggs.

24645 - Guillemots, Lunga

Many of the birds already had chicks at various stages of growth. It was somewhat nerve wracking to watch the youngling’s career around the place only inches from a tremendous fall, but the parents would soon get them under control and safely tucked away under a wing.

24633 - Guillemots, Lunga

24639 - Bridled Guillemot, Lunga
Bridled Guillemot

Mixed in with the Guillemots you can often find Razorbills. When seen on water the two species can look remarkably similar but up close the massive beak of the Razorbill is unmistakeable. You'll have to excuse the Puffin in the second picture as every time I tried to photograph the Razorbill stretching its wings the Puffin would pop up into shot to see what I was doing. It was incredibly endearing if a little frustrating.

24623 - Razorbills, Lunga

24600 - Razorbill, Lunga

Other inhabitants of the island include the ever aggressive Shags that are willing to hiss and spit just as soon as they think you are getting a little too close. Trust me when I say they are not birds that you want to mess with.

24616 - Shag, Lunga

24614 - Shag, Lunga
Check out the midges in the top left - they bite!

Kittiwakes also use the cliffs to breed. Seeing them here in a natural environment certainly contrasts with the colony that we have at home on Mumbles pier.

24643 - Kittiwake, Lunga

It’s impossible to portray through a few photos just how amazing a place Lunga really is. The sheer quantity of birds and the behaviour between them that one can witness is beyond imagination. It is something that just has to be experienced to be believed. To finish things off nicely we were treated to the sight of a White Tailed Sea Eagle sat on a small island in Loch Tuath as we approached Ulva ferry on the return leg of the trip.


Please note that comments will not appear immediately as after a surprising amount of spam I have had to enable moderation.