Brent Geese in Broughton Bay

Saturday, October 29, 2011 Adam Tilt 4 Comments

Last Sunday we were back in Wales but it seemed that we weren't quite yet done with the goose species that had so dominated our Norfolk trip. Whilst walking from Llanmadoc to Burry Holms we came across a small flock of eleven Brent Geese feeding on an exposed area of rocks in Broughton Bay. These are regular visitors to the Burry Inlet but with the exception of a pair earlier this year at Port Eynon they are usually difficult to get close to.

25232 - Brent Geese, Broughton Bay

With a rapidly incoming tide their feeding area was soon under water, forcing the birds back into the relatively rough sea. In a feeling that I can completely relate to certain members of the group seemed particularly unwilling to renter the water, but another approaching group of walkers seemed to be the extra incentive needed.

25233 - Brent Geese, Broughton Bay

Fortunately the Brent Geese chose to swim right past us just a few meters out, resulting in some cracking views.

25236 - Brent Geese, Broughton Bay

Each incoming wave was taken head on by the birds in either a graceful surfing motion or by simply crashing through the foaming water. This isn't behaviour I have seen before but it makes perfect sense for a seagoing bird.

25237 - Brent Geese, Broughton Bay

As you can see from the photos above the weather was less than brilliant. Although warm a very strong wind was blowing and the promised sun completely failed to materialise. Given the conditions it wasn't surprising that other bird life was at a minimum, but three Mistle Thrushes at Cwm Ivy, a pair of Ringed Plovers on Broughton beach and two Stonechats on Broughton Burrows were all welcome additions. There were also at least forty Gannets fishing off Burry Holms and a good passage of Razorbills and Guillemots. The view, as always, was spectacular.

25238 - Broughton Bay

Seals seemed to be out in force as well with at least three seen during the day. Most of the time they were just loafing around but one in particular really caught my attention. There is a small channel between Burry Holms and the mainland which the water races through as the tide comes in, and this Seal had decided to swim through it. The speeds it achieved were mightily impressive during the brief passage, after which it popped its head out of the water and looked back as if to say "that was fun, let's do it again!". Did he swim around for another go? I'd like to think he did.


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Holkham Hall Fallow Deer

Thursday, October 27, 2011 Adam Tilt 4 Comments

25217 - Holkham Hall

Amongst the coastal footpaths and nature reserves of Norfolk we spent a very enjoyable day walking around Holkham Hall and its three thousand acre park. To my surprise we found a nine mile walk ranging across the entire estate taking in its huge pond, mature woodland, farmland and of course the Deer Park. Holkham's Deer Park was first established in the 1850's from a small herd of Fallow Deer which were moved to the site from elsewhere in Norfolk. Since then the herds numbers have swelled to well over eight hundred, and what a spectacle they are. We arrived at just after nine on a sunny but bitterly cold morning to find most of the animals grazing on the edges of one of the wooded areas. Their grunting and bellowing carried across the still air with incredible clarity, and it was hard not to be impressed by the sight of one of the stags in the early morning light.

25209 - Fallow Deer, Holkham Hall

25208 - Fallow Deer, Holkham Hall

25206 - Fallow Deer, Holkham Hall

The estate also has a small herd of eight Red Deer but they were far too timid during our visit for any photography. The size difference between the two species is clear, and whereas I was perfectly comfortable walking around in close proximity to the Fallows, I would certainly have had to think carefully about being a similar distance away from their larger relatives.


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More from North Norfolk

Thursday, October 27, 2011 Adam Tilt 4 Comments

Readers of my last post will probably have realised that quite a lot of our time in Norfolk was spent on the RSPB's fantastic reserve at Titchwell. It wasn't just the birds that kept drawing us back but rather the whole atmosphere of the place. I have never known anywhere quite so relaxing and rewarding to while away the last few hours of daylight. One of the revelations of the reserve were the new hides that have been built in such a way as to make you feel part of the landscape instead of giving the impression that you are sat in a garden shed. Much of these improvements have come about as a result of the extensive modifications that the RSPB have undertaken over the last couple of years to secure the reserves future in the face of rising sea levels. More information on the work can be found here and is well worth a read for those interested in how we can manage our eroding coastline.

25189 - Titchwell

One of the best features of Titchwell is the embankment that leads straight out to the beach. Unlike a lot of nature reserves you are completely exposed while walking along it and have wide ranging views across the various pools and marshes. As a result of constant exposure many of the birds are now perfectly at home with the presence of humans and venture right up to the path allowing for some excellent close-up views. Dabbling Teals were by far the most numerous but Redshank, Little Grebe, Jack Snipe, Water Rail, Common Snipe and this Black Tailed Godwit were all seen at just a few meters distance.

25199 - Black Tailed Godwit, Titchwell

My main reason for wanting to visit Norfolk was to see the huge wader flocks for which it is famous. Titchwell has its fair share of these and during our time there it was the turn of the Golden Plovers to put on a show. Every now and then, and for no discernible reason, the whole flock would take to the air and make some fantastic shapes in the air before returning to ground.

25200 - Golden Plovers, Titchwell

25201 - Golden Plovers, Titchwell

Titchwell's sandy beach sits at the end of the main path and is for many the highlight of the reserve. It stretches for miles in each direction and is largely deserted apart from the birds. Out on the sea we spotted Red Throated Divers and Great Crested Grebes whilst on the sand a still summer plumaged Grey Plover and various Turnstones and Ringed Plovers were present. It was the Sanderlings that really caught my eye though so I moved closer to the water and crouched down. I fully expected them to run away but they were completely oblivious to my presence and continued to feed all around me. Photographing them was difficult as they were constantly on the move, and with so many in range I would often find myself following one only to look up and see another right next to me. Definitely a memorable experience.

25224 - Sanderling, Titchwell

25222 - Sanderling, Titchwell

During our last evening at Titchwell we were treated to a pair of beautiful Barn Owls hunting over the reeds, but it was a couple of days earlier that I finally got to see this enigmatic species for the first time. We had just driven through Marston and I was accelerating away when Emma shouted out that she could see a Barn Owl sat on a fence post in one of the fields. In complete contravention of the highway code I instinctively braked sharply and glanced across just in time to see that she was right! Back on the throttle we found a farmers gate to turn round in and were soon parked up on the verge watching our first ever Barn Owl. It was clearly eyeing up the vegetation beneath it and on a couple of occasions dropped down as if to catch something. The light was failing badly but I took a record shot anyway as I could scarcely believe we had finally found ourselves in the right place at the right time.

25220 - Barn Owl, Norfolk

Eventually the owl moved further along the fence and out of sight behind a stable building, so we got back in the car and continued our journey. A few miles further on and we had just reached the outskirts of Cley when to my disbelief I spotted another Barn Owl flying across the road. In a flurry of ABS I stopped in a gravel pull-off and was able to watch the owl fly on across the farmland before vanishing behind some trees. After such an unbelievable couple of sightings we weren't surprised to find the original individual back on its post as we returned to our cottage.

The final bird to share from our trip is the rather strange looking Egyptian Goose, an escaped collection species that now has a healthy feral population in the UK. On my last visit to Norfolk we saw just one compared to the several flocks witnessed this time around. Titchwell and Cley both held good numbers but it was on the Holkham estate that their numbers were really booming. It was there that I was finally able to get close enough to one for a couple of photos.

25212 - Egyptian Goose, Norfolk

25216 - Egyptian Goose, Norfolk

Although not a true native to these shores they definitely add something a little bit exotic to our normal wildfowl species.


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Long Awaited Return to Norfolk

Tuesday, October 25, 2011 Adam Tilt 15 Comments

We spent last week about as far east as it's possible to get from our home in South Wales without leaving the UK. Our destination was the north Norfolk coast, somewhere I used to holiday regularly as a child but a place I haven't been to for at least fifteen years. From those early days I can still clearly remember walking out to the beach through the RSPB reserve at Titchwell, watching the huge wader roost at Snettisham and marvelling at the towering trees on the Sandringham estate. People always say that memories can be rose tinted and it is true that those holidays had their fair share of wind and rain, conditions that seem to be exasperated by the flat nature of the East Anglian landscape.

Fortunately for us our holiday bettered every single one of my memories. Despite not really trying we managed to see 106 species of bird as well as Seals, a Porpoise and Brown Hares. The headline figures disguise a wealth of special moments though that are far too numerous to put down in writing here without churning out something approaching novel length proportions. We had the obvious highs of seeing rarities including Jack Snipe, Yellow-Browed Warbler, Great Grey Shrike, Spoonbill and Slavonian Grebe, but for me it was the more common wildlife that really brought a smile to my face. Finding a field full of Red-legged Partridge on the first evening sticks out in particular, as although locally common in Norfolk they are almost non-existent back home. Watching them run around could have kept me amused for hours. I also managed to finally see a Barn Owl (four in fact!) and Marsh Harriers, six of which were hunting together late one evening at Titchwell. Sticking with birds of prey I have to mention the male Hen Harrier that we watched making idle attempts at catching a Starling during their evening murmurations. Then of course there were the huge flocks of Golden Plover and Geese, Bearded Tits, dabbling Teal, the overhead migration of Redwings and Fieldfares, the night we stumbled across a couple of Grey Partridges and being surrounded by feeding Sanderlings. And that's not even scratching the surface.

We knew we were in for some good times as soon as we stepped out of the car at Wells just after arrival. Walking to the edge of the estuary we were immediately treated to hundreds of Brent Geese, Bar and Black Tailed Godwits, Turnstones, Grey and Golden Plovers, Redshanks and Ringed Plovers. The Brent Geese were a particular treat and were a daily feature either in the air above us or feeding in fields alongside the roads and paths. They were relatively wary of people and the bright sunshine (yes we had a remarkable week of sun) was not particularly conducive to photographing black birds but I got a few photos that I am relatively happy with.

25177 - Brent Geese, Wells-next-the-Sea

25178 - Brent Geese, Wells-next-the-Sea

25179 - Brent Geese, Wells-next-the-Sea

Wells itself is a pretty remarkable place and well worth a visit. The combination of restored warehouses and historic high street lend the place a charm that is often missing from seaside developments. The large masted ship in the photo below is actually operated as a cafe, a great idea that means the quay remains an essence of what it must have looked like in its trading heyday.

25180 - Wells-next-the-Sea

The local gulls were very friendly as well with the Black Headed's having learned to beg for food whenever they sensed that a sandwich was in the offing.

25184 - Herring Gull, Wells-next-the-Sea

25171 - Black Headed Gull, Wells-next-the-Sea

One of our favourite evening locations was Lady Anne's Drive on the Holkham estate, the location of the fantastic Grey Partridges that I mentioned above. On reflection I think that they rank as my highlight of the holiday, mainly because they were such an unexpected sight. In truth I had actually forgotten that they even existed it had been so long since I had seen any sort of Partridge species. Our first time there fortunately coincided with a two hundred strong flock of Pink Footed Geese feeding on just the other side of a wire fence. A banging door (not mine I might add) briefly startled them into the air allowing me to get a cracking flight shot lit by the setting sun.

25186 - Pink Footed Geese, Holkham

Talking of a setting sun we were treated to one of the best 'land' sunsets I have ever witnessed that same evening.

25187 - Sunset at Holkham, Norfolk

Another great place to watch the sun go down was at RSPB Titchwell, easily the best nature reserve I have ever visited. We spent three evenings there, the highlight of which was watching six Marsh Harriers and a pair of Barn Owls hunting over the reeds. A dusk visit to Cley also comes close with a Bittern flying along the path in front of us, a Slavonian Grebe out on the sea and a single Avocet snoozing in one of the brackish pools. A Grey Heron fishing in the failing light captures the atmosphere of those evenings pefectly.

25188 - Grey Heron, Titchwell

I'll leave you with the only photo I managed to get of the Red-legged Partridges. As a consequence of being regularly hunted they are particularly skittish when approached so this is as close as I was able to get. Pulling back does have its advantages though as it meant I was really able to capture them in their natural environment.

25185 - Red-legged Partridge, Norfolk

Stay tuned for the second part of our Norfolk adventure.


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Strandline Oystercatcher Skull

Thursday, October 13, 2011 Adam Tilt 9 Comments

I have always been a great fan of walking the strandline of whatever beach I am on as you never quite know what you are going to find. It is often the best way of seeing creatures of the deep that one would not normally get to witness in their natural environment. Just locally I have been treated to washed up jellyfish of various species, a Sea Mouse, Starfish, all sorts of shells and even the odd marine mammal. My house is testament to these exploits as although living things are obviously left in place, I have collected the odd buoy and interesting piece of drift wood as well as relics of ancient shipwrecks and even small parts from a world war two tank.

My best find by far though happened last week during one of our walks around the Machynys peninsula. On my way across the beach to photograph the sunset I spotted something white in the sand and stopped to investigate further. On closer inspection it quickly became apparent that I had found the skull of an Oystercatcher, my favourite bird and one of the most common residents on the Burry. It was complete with the exception of its lower mandible which amazingly I found about twenty metres further along the beach, again in perfect condition. They were far too beautiful and intricate to leave to an uncertain fate so I took them home, cleaned them up and added them to my growing collection of beach paraphernalia.

25166 - Oystercatcher Skull

25164 - Oystercatcher Skull

25165 - Oystercatcher Skull

Having examined the skull closely I'm surprised at just how large the eye sockets are and how small the area for the brain is. I guess the phrase "bird brained" really is founded in reality.


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Catching Up On Moth Catching

Monday, October 10, 2011 Adam Tilt 6 Comments

Despite continually promising myself that I would get a proper moth trap together before the end of the summer, I have to admit that I have sadly failed. Never fear though as the tried and tested method of chasing moths around the garden and scooping them off windows at night has been relatively successful. If anything the smaller numbers have helped me to get my eye in on identification amongst a sea of similar species.

First up is a pair of Garden Dart's caught on consecutive nights at the beginning of September. I believe that the first is more worn than the second, hence the reason for the more prominent black veins on its wings.

25008 - Garden Dart

25013 - Garden Dart

Next a Vapourer caught feeding on Honeysuckle a couple of nights ago. This is a male of the species and typically a day flyer, easily identified from the female as it actually has wings.

25141 - Vapourer

Another garden beauty was this Willow Beauty which was attracted to my study window late one night in August.

24863 - Mottled Beauty

The smallest moth in my collection so far is the following Mint Moth, unfortunately photographed on the plant just next to my Mint. Maybe next time.

24844 - Mint Moth

Moving away from home this Lesser Yellow Underwing was making the most of flowering Heather along the coast at Oxwich Point, again in August.

24991 - Lesser Yellow Underwing

My final inclusion is not a moth but actually a large fly measuring between fifteen and nineteen millimetres in length and known as Tachina Grossa. You can probably see why my attention was drawn to it as the colouration was something that I had never seen before. Definitely one to look out for in the future.

24843 - Tachina Grossa

As for that fabled moth trap it will definitely be getting built over the winter in preparation for a new project that I will be launching in the new year, on January first to be precise. For its inaugural switch on I promise to get some better trapping pots as well, preferably ones that you can't read a list of ingredients on behind the moths!


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Damp Weekend

Sunday, October 09, 2011 Adam Tilt 3 Comments

I think it's fair to say that this weekend has been a bit of a washout given that I have been stuck in the house for most of the day looking out at a wall of fog. At least Saturday was relatively dry so I decided to head out and have a look around my local patch. It had obviously been a longer gap between visits than I had intended as the view from Gopa Hill revealed a completely new Tesco store that hadn't been there previously. Mind you they do build them quickly these days! On the bird front a Jay was a good start, one of several seen along the Cwm Dulais valley including a pair having a disagreement with a Crow on the lower flanks of Cefn Drum. There numbers really seem to have boomed over the last eighteen months or so, not only on patch but elsewhere in the local area. Only today I saw a pair on the way into Llanelli and another is a regular near work.

The most obvious birds of the day though were the Meadow Pipits. A flock of eleven by the old ruined farmhouse and twenty or thirty more in the fields along Gopa Hill were just the tip of a considerable iceberg. Continued movements overhead must have taken their numbers well into the hundreds, presumably the result of autumnal migrations as I have never seen so many there before. As I entered Bryn-bach-Common a calling Yellowhammer from the Rhododendrons below was a very welcome sound, followed soon after by the call of a Pheasant. My attention was somewhat taken though by the large number of 4x4's that were arriving and parking up along the sides of what is normally a very quiet single track road. As I walked through the dying bracken I could hear a couple of dogs barking, and then it finally clicked. Only I could inadvertently find myself in the middle of a hunt.

25161 - Pontlliw Hunt

I retreated to a safe distance just in time as the horses and hounds came bounding up the road and across the common. Now I don't think this is the place to discuss the merits of Fox hunting but it's not something I will ever endorse or condone. Fortunately there were no Foxes involved during my time watching and I can't deny that it was an impressive sight seeing so many horses and riders galloping across the grassland. 

My time dawdling whilst the hunt departed was worthwhile as the fields to the west of the common held a huge flock of at least five hundred feeding Linnets. In amongst them were a couple of Mistle Thrushes as well as several Chaffinches, House Sparrows and Skylarks. A Red Kite over the same field and a Stonechat on Cefn Drum were best of the rest.

The afternoon was spent at Sandy Water Park in the hope of some Redwings, but as I suspected it's a little too early for them yet. It shouldn't be too long now though. The lake is still pretty quiet given the mild conditions but a small amount of bread soon got the residents into a frenzy.

25162 - Feeding frenzy at Sandy Water Park

In the midst of the whirling Black Headed Gulls I caught sight of at least two Mediterranean Gulls, one of which landed on the grass just long enough for me to get a picture.

25163 - Mediterranean Gull, Sandy Water Park

At the far end of the lake another four Med's were sat on the grass, one of which was ringed but just too far away for me to make out its number. An adult and juvenile Little Grebe in a brief shaft of sunlight finished the day off nicely.


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Machynys Sunsets

Saturday, October 08, 2011 Adam Tilt 5 Comments

I've manged to make it down to the Machynys peninsular a couple of nights this week and have been treated to some spectacular sunsets. The wide horizons and big skies are one of the reasons why I love living in this area, and who wouldn't with views like these. I'll let the pictures do the talking.

25158 - Machynys Sunset

25157 - Machynys Sunset

25149 - Machynys Sunset

25144 - Machynys Sunset

25146 - Machynys Rainbow

25159 - Machynys Sunset


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Long Billed Dowitcher and more at Kidwelly Quay

Friday, October 07, 2011 Adam Tilt 4 Comments

My curiosity finally got the better of me on Sunday and we headed off to Kidwelly Quay to look for the Long Billed Dowitcher. I'd had a glimpse of what I thought was the bird a few days previously but I was nowhere near certain enough to add it to the year list and was hoping for some better views. Its local celebrity status was clearly drawing in the crowds as upon arrival the small car park was nearly full and a barrage of telescopes was pointed in the direction of the the railway bridge. Their focus was the high tide Redshank roost which a friendly couple were convinced held the sleeping Dowitcher. I had a quick look through their scope but to be honest I couldn't pick it out. Willing to give them the benefit of the doubt I kept my attention on the same bird for a good half an hour and was eventually rewarded with a couple of seconds of definitive identification. The Dowitcher lifted its head just long enough to allow me to see its prominent white eye stripe before it was once more lost in the long grass. Unfortunately the roost was too far away for any pictures so I resorted to the age old technique of photographing the people looking at the bird instead.

25116 - Kidwelly Quay

In truth I thought that was all we were going to get, but with a rapidly falling tide we decided to wait it out a little longer. For a while a passing Kingfisher (a welcome sight after what seems to have been a tough year for them) and a single Dunlin were our only rewards along with several tantalising calls as the gathered birders alternately caught brief glimpses of the Dowitcher. It was only with the arrival of another couple of the regulars that everything started to kick off. First blood went to a possible Pectoral Sandpiper that I caught running through the middle of the roost, but alas it was just too quick for a definitive ID. Whilst everyone was trying to relocate it I scanned along the river channel and was amazed to find the Dowitcher stood out in plain sight just as it started feeding in earnest along the newly exposed mud. Never in a million years had I expected to get such good views, a spectacle that was to continue for at least the next twenty minutes. 

We were still taking our fill when a Common Sandpiper was spotted in exactly the same area, closely followed by a Curlew Sandpiper which was soon joined by a second. A few minutes later and I spotted a third just under the railway bridge closely followed by a fourth next to the original pair. I could barely believe my luck considering that this was a species that I have historically had such bad luck with. Dare I say it but I think I was actually more excited about them than I was the Long Billed Dowitcher! The treats didn't end their either as from the same vantage point I was able to pick out three Pintails, numerous Teal, Shellducks, Oysterctacher, Little Egret, hundreds of Curlew as well as my first returning Wigeon of the autumn. What a morning.

Eventually we had to drag ourselves away and after seeing my parents off home we headed into Swansea. Walking around the docks a juvenile Herring Gull caught my eye as it flew down from a lamppost and attempted to land on the sloping roof of a nearby car. The polished metal must have been a lot more slippery than it had been expecting as amid a mass of fluttering wings it slowly slid down until its feet finally got purchase. It was a ridiculous sight that I just couldn't help laughing out loud at. I dread to think what passers-by must have thought.

25117 - Herring Gull, Swansea

25118 - Herring Gull, Swansea

Those of you who have read my previous entries will know that the real reason for our visit to the city centre was to see the very tame Great Skua that had turned up on West Pier. I know that I have already shared a few photos of this bird on here but it was just so spectacular that I couldn't resist squeezing in another one here to finish things off. Hope you don't mind.

25122 - Great Skua, Swansea


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