Bird Feeders at RSPB Fairburn Ings

Thursday, November 24, 2011 Adam Tilt 6 Comments

With the Christmas season fast approaching (already!!) we made a long overdue visit to Leeds last week to stay with Emma's family. A great time was had by all and I got the opportunity to indulge in two of my favourite Yorkshire activities; searching the moors in the vague hope of photographing some Red Grouse and enjoying a walk around the RSPB's fantastic Fairburn Ings reserve.

My first visit to Fairburn Ings last year was memorable for the dense fog that shrouded the whole reserve in semi-darkness. Visibility was such that walking along the raised embankment between the two lakes I was only aware of their presence from the sound of the ducks. Obviously this had somewhat of an impact on what we could see but it was also incredibly frustrating when we reached the visitor centre feeders and I was unable to take any photographs. Tree Sparrows and Willow Tits, both species I see very rarely, were feeding only a few meters away but there just wasn't enough light to get anything usable.

This time round things were looking up as we set off under clear blue skies. The closer we got though the duller it became until once again we arrived at Fairburn in the fog. In an effort to at least record something I was forced to resort to video.

The big surprise was a pair of Red-legged Partridges which were remarkably tame, especially considering the sound of gunshots that were filtering across from nearby fields. They were accompanied by the usual Pheasants (the tail of one can be seen behind the Partridges in the video above) as well as numerous Goldfinches, Tree Sparrows, Dunnocks, Greenfinches, Chaffinches and a couple of Willow Tits. The surrounding trees held several Redwings and a small flock of seven Collared Doves.

Out on the lakes themselves we could at least see the water this time and spotted several Great Crested Grebes, Little Grebes and four Pintail as well as the expected winter waterfowl species. Two Black Swans present were presumably escapees but given that they can fly and have survived at least one harsh winter already (we saw presumably the same birds there last year) they count as wild in my book. All in all a great day, although I do wonder if Fairburn ever sees the sun!


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Wittezee Shipwreck - The Return

Thursday, November 17, 2011 Adam Tilt 5 Comments

Way back in 2009 I stumbled across the impressive remains of the shipwrecked Wittezee, a Rotterdam registered tug which came to grief along the Gower coastline in 1940. That chance find amongst the rocks of Overton Mere opened up a whole new area of interest for me and spawned the website Gower Shipwrecks. Slowly but surely I have been researching other wrecks around the peninsula and visiting each location to hunt out and catalogue any remains or artefacts linked to their stories. It was therefore no surprise that on returning to Overton last weekend one of my key aims was to check on the wreck that I had last photographed over two years ago.

11164 - Vitte Zee Shipwreck at Overton Mere

At first all looked well but then I spotted the brand new outfall pipe that had been installed by Welsh Water and which cut right through the heart of the bay. Although relatively small and well disguised in itself, the machinery used to install it had necessitated the building of a temporary road across the rocks. In doing so it would appear that all of the remains I had originally photographed, some of which are show above, had been removed, no doubt to a fate that does not befit the history associated with them. Clearly I was less than impressed with this turn of events and started a search along the coastline in the hope that some evidence of the Wittezee still remained. To begin with all we found were small sections of steel which had no doubt been ripped from her hull as she broke up, but then we stumbled across a tangled mass of steel cable that must presumably have been part of her pulling gear.

25318 - Overton Shipwreck

Moving on we were fortunate that our visit had coincided with a low tide as it meant that we were able to walk much further out onto the rocks than previously. As we stepped down into one particularly deep ravine we could not have imagined what we would find. Spread before us was the actual hull of the Wittezee lying on its side, battered and with large sections removed for scrap but largely present from stern to bow.

25321 - Overton Shipwreck

25329 - Overton Shipwreck

25332 - Overton Shipwreck

The power of the sea has in places moulded the sheet steel to perfectly match the underlying rock formations, a testament to the power that once tore this ship apart. Elsewhere it almost appears as if the metal has itself been turned to rock given how every surface is encrusted with the same marine life. Those areas that remain clear reveal surprising details such as the makers stamp on one of the hull ribs.

25334 - Overton Shipwreck

25323 - Overton Shipwreck

To find that those first remains are now gone is sad, but to have discovered the hull is enough compensation to lessen the disappointment. Given their size and position it is likely that the Wittezee will have a presence on the Gower coastline for many years to come, and I for one am very happy about that.


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Snail Trail

Wednesday, November 16, 2011 Adam Tilt 5 Comments

In nature, as in life, it's often possible to overlook the smaller moments and events that make up the fabric of our environment. While a hunting Eagle or rutting Deer will grab the attention of most of us, have you ever stopped to watch Aphids feeding or a trail of Ants patrolling down a forest track? It's a pastime worth pursuing as those smaller creatures are usually to be found playing out the same life stories as almost every other living inhabitant of this planet.

25260 - A Snails Life


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Rhossili Rambling

Sunday, November 13, 2011 Adam Tilt 8 Comments

I was suffering from Chough withdrawal symptoms yesterday so headed over to Rhossili Down for a mooch around. After a rather warm climb to the top it wasn't long before I caught the first snippet of call drifting across the landscape, closely followed by the birds themselves. What I had originally thought was a single individual soon turned out to be a pair, not that surprising really as they seem to rarely forage alone. An attempt to move in closer was quickly aborted as they seemed easily spooked, perhaps unsettled by the Crow that was standing watch over their every move.

25299 - Chough, Rhossili Down

Patience turned out to be the best approach as a few minutes later one of the Choughs flew right past me on the way to its next feeding area. Even better was the fact that in a miraculous stroke of good fortune my camera actually managed to focus on a flying bird for only the second time in its long history of trying. Result!

25300 - Chough, Rhossili Down

Being the day before Remembrance Sunday it seemed appropriate to take a small diversion to visit the old WW2 radar station on the western flanks of Rhossili Down. First operational in 1942 it was one of a group of stations commanded from Milford Haven whose purpose was to monitor the Bristol Channel. Originally designed to monitor shipping and low level aircraft it was soon upgraded to form part of the Chain Home Low radar network until its closure in 1945. Now all that remains are extensive concrete foundations and broken walls that help us remember our coast was not always so tranquil.

25301 - Radar Station, Rhossili Down

After dropping back down to sea level I decided to explore Llangennith Burrows. Despite popping by earlier in the year to see a Woodchat Shrike it's not a place that I have walked extensively, and after an hour spent amongst the dunes I found myself wondering why. Although on a smaller scale then Kenfig it's still very easy to find yourself in almost complete isolation in a sand valley that likely no one has been for a very long time. Stonechats, Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Starlings, Meadow Pipits, Buzzards and the occasional Rabbit were my only companions, unless of course you count the extensive population of fungi that seemed to be growing wherever I looked.

25303 - Llangennith Burrows Fungi

25302 - Llangennith Burrows Fungi

25305 - Llangennith Burrows Fungi

By now the sun had started its all too rapid descent towards the horizon and with three miles of beach between me and my car it was time to turn for home. On the walk back I was treated to a large flock of Golden Plovers flying overhead in the direction of the Burry, whilst Oystercatchers and Gulls of Common, Black Headed, Black Backed and Herring varieties went about their business on the ground.

With such beautiful evening light it would have been remiss of me not to take the requisite shot of the Helvetia shipwreck with Worms Head in the background. It may be the most photographed view on Gower but it's not hard to see way.

25306 - Helvetia, Rhossili


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Owltastic Gower

Friday, November 11, 2011 Adam Tilt 4 Comments

I've just got back from a very productive evening drive around Gower, one of my favourite pastimes at this time of the year when the early nights make any after work walking difficult. I've been doing it for a couple of years now and always keep an eye out for any Owls caught in the cars headlights. Tonight I finally hit pay dirt with a superb Barn Owl sat on a fence post along the Llanrhidian marsh road. I'd heard rumours that one had been seen occasionally in that area but truthfully never believed that we would find it for ourselves. It sat bolt upright for a minute or so before disappearing over the hedgerow with a few strong beats of its wings. Brief but brilliant.

Tawny Owls were also on the agenda with a couple heard calling at Parc le Breos and another spotted flying across the road on the way down from Cefn Bryn. While we are on the subject I have heard Tawny's calling around the house on at least a couple of occasions over the last fortnight and Emma saw one fly across the back lane yesterday morning. After years of thinking that Owls were one of those unattainable birds its brilliant to be getting regular views, and even better to have some literally on my doorstep.


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Keeping It Local With Some Brain Fungus

Thursday, November 10, 2011 Adam Tilt 5 Comments

We kept it local last Sunday with an afternoon walk around the patch. On our way out we took the opportunity to top up the garden feeders that are really taking a battering now that winter is on its way. Bird numbers are starting to build up once again and it's only a couple of days before they empty. I dread to think what it will be like when the Starlings return and the temperatures properly drop. One of our most regular visitors are the Blue Tits which are becoming increasingly tame. This one was hopping around in the bush next to me as soon as the feeders were back in place.

25277 - Blue Tit

Up on Goppa Hill the usual Bullfinches and Jays were present but I was over the moon to spot four magnificent Red Kites soaring overhead. This is the first time in a good few months that I have seen these birds back together (assuming they are the same four that I have seen here in the past).

25285 - Four Red Kites, Goppa Hill

The Kites were ranging widely over the valley but every now and again one would approach within a few meters. Truly a great sight and one that I will never tire of. It was also nice to see a pair of Ravens, the first since our return from Norfolk.

25286 - Red Kite, Goppa Hill

Next it was over to Bryn-bach-Common where three Skylarks and several hundred Starlings were feeding. I suspect that there were also a few Redwing in attendance but we never got views clear enough to be absolutely sure. What we couldn't miss were two species of bright yellow Fungi, both of which are new finds for me. The first is known as Golden Spindles (Clavulinopsis fusiformis) and is a lover of short grassland.

25290 - Golden Spindles Fungus

The second has the frankly brilliant name of Yellow Brain Fungus (Tremella mesenterica) and was found on a piece of rotting Gorse.

25292 - Yellow Brain Fungus

We eventually finished up with a climb to the top of Cefn Drum and its summit cairn. With the Bracken dying back and browns replacing the luscious greens its not hard to tell what time of year it is. The only things out of place were our sweating brows. Is this really November?

25295 - Cairn on Cefn Drum


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Pembrokeshire Pup

Tuesday, November 08, 2011 Adam Tilt 7 Comments

Porth Clais is a 12th century harbour nestled in a small inlet on the Pembrokeshire coast. It was originally built to allow imported coal and timber to be brought to Saint David's, officially the UK's smallest city both in terms of physical size and population which barely exceeds 1,700 people. Porth Clais is notable for being lined with several superbly preserved lime kilns and is still used by a small band of fishermen and local tourists. On top of all that it's also one of the most attractive ports that I have ever had the pleasure to visit.

25257 - Porth Clais, Pembrokeshire

After failing to find the long staying Isabelline Shrike (see previous post) we set off from the port to take in an area of Pembrokeshire's coastal path that we had yet to walk. Only a few minutes had passed before we spotted a Great Northern Diver fishing just outside the sea wall, the first of several sea bird species seen on the day which included Gannets, Cormorants and winter plumaged Guillemots. It was also nice to find a couple of flocks of Long Tailed Tits feeding on gorse near the cliff tops, as well as a pair of Mute Swans on a large farm pond which was again very near to the cliff edge. Surprise of the day though has to go to the fantastic male Hen Harrier that came soaring into view just in front of us before proceeding to quarter the footpath for a good distance ahead. Perhaps it was enjoying the views from this spectacular part of the coast, something that if I hadn't been doing may have resulted in me being able to get my camera out in time to photograph him.

25258 - Pembrokeshire Coast

With an incoming tide we popped down to the beach at Porthlysgi Bay to watch the waters approach in what turned out to be an inspired move. We spent a good while exploring the rapidly vanishing rock pools and trying to identify the various bird footprints in the sand before moving to the top of the beach to check the map for our onward journey. In doing so I caught a small movement from the corner of my eye between two large rocks above the strand-line. At first all looked normal until one of the rocks moved again and then produced a head! It quickly became apparent that we had found a small Grey Seal pup dozing in the warm sunshine.

25264 - Seal Pup, Porthlysgi Bay

25268 - Seal Pup, Porthlysgi Bay

25270 - Seal Pup, Porthlysgi Bay

25274 - Seal Pup, Porthlysgi Bay

25272 - Seal Pup, Porthlysgi Bay

The pup was completely disinterested in our presence and just seemed to be trying to get comfortable on the rocks. It would occasionally have a fidget before settling down, closing its eyes and dropping back off to sleep. The temptation when finding a seal pup alone like this is to assume that it has been abandoned or is in trouble. In most situations this is simply not the case as parents often leave their pups hidden on beaches while they go off hunting. Interfering in any way could actually result in the parents rejecting the pup if they detect any human scent on it. I did however make a quick visual check and after satisfying myself that the pup was not in any distress we left it to snooze away the afternoon. Seeing a fully grown Grey Seal a little further along the coast made me all the more certain that we had taken the right course of action.

The Seals hiding place truly was a piece of art as from almost all vantage points it was completely hidden, even when we were back up on the cliffs and looking down. As an example I had been trying to photograph some of the Rock Pipits on the beach and must have come within a couple of meters on a number of occasions and had been none the wiser.

25263 - Meadow Pipit

We looped back to our starting point via an inland route and with our final glimpse of the sea were treated to two Choughs flying past. The perfect way to round off a very memorable day.


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Isabelline Duology

Sunday, November 06, 2011 Adam Tilt 6 Comments

It's been a great weekend here in South Wales with blue skies and temperatures so warm that on occasion t-shirts were more than adequate. Saturday started at dawn with the short drive to Porth Clais in Pembrokeshire where we were hoping to catch up with a very showy Isabelline Shrike. Finding the location was no problem at all but finding the Shrike was a whole other story. We checked out the fabled 'five bar orange gate' where the bird had been showing down to a couple of foot in the days previous, but it seemed we were not going to be so lucky. With so much suitable habitat in the area I wasn't that surprised and after a search of the surrounding area yielded no further sign we had to take the dip on the chin. Not to fear as with a coastline recently voted as "the worlds greatest region for 2012" by Lonely Planet at our disposal, we were spoilt for choice as to how to spend the day. Walking around to Saint David's soon had any thoughts of elusive Shrike's banished, but I'll save that for another post.

Later that evening we were back at home and with the darkness drawing in I resorted to the internet for some amusement. To my great surprise I found that an Isabelline Wheatear had just been reported on North Gower at Wernffrwd. The coincidence in name did not escape me but it was not until today that I was able to find out if our earlier luck was to continue. Fortunately it was not and we were treated to superb views of the Wheatear feeding in relatively close proximity to the gathered throngs early morning and again late evening.

Isabelline Wheatear, Gower

The photo above was the best I could manage given the birds small size and my similarly diminutive camera, but for all its over sharpening and cropping it serves as an adequate record shot. In beautiful lighting it was a treat to watch a bird that in all honesty I would never have picked out as something notable if I had stumbled across it myself. I can only echo the local birding communities gratitude to Rob Taylor for a superb find and for those who got the word out so quickly. I'll leave you with the prerequisite group shot of everyone enjoying another of Gower's red letter days. The Isabelline Wheatear is in there somewhere no doubt sat on one of it's favourite hunting tools - a pile of horse manure!

Isabelline Wheatear, Gower


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Late Red Admirals

Thursday, November 03, 2011 Adam Tilt 7 Comments

On my various walks over the last couple of weeks it has been very noticeable just how many Red Admirals are still on the wing. They are a frequent sight across the whole of the UK and one of our most recognisable butterflies, but until researching this post I hadn't realised that they are in fact a migrant species. Despite their ubiquitousness for much of the year it is our cold winters that mean that most do not survive to see another spring. This one was seen last weekend at WWT Llanelli where it was soaking up some autumn rays.

25252 - Red Admiral, Llanelli WWT

25254 - Red Admiral, Llanelli WWT

It's not all doom and gloom however as with warming climates the south of England has been able to record individuals flying throughout January and February, leading to the declaration of a resident population. Although small this population is expected to spread to other areas of the UK if temperatures continue to rise, but for now we are largely reliant on influxes from Europe to top our numbers up.


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Robins, Redwings and Rain

Tuesday, November 01, 2011 Adam Tilt 22 Comments

Robins, Redwings and rain - three words that sum up this past weekend perfectly.

I spent both Saturday and Sunday at the local WWT reserve near Llanelli, partly due to the fact that I needed to be in range of home for work commitments but mostly because it's been such a long time since I have properly explored its pools and marshes. To my surprise it was remarkably warm for the time of year with temperatures peaking at sixteen Celsius, but even that couldn't make up for the sheets of rain that kept blowing in off the Burry. Fortunately the sun battled its way through the clouds on Sunday just long enough to illuminate this friendly Robin.

25243 - Robin, Llanelli WWT

25244 - Robin, Llanelli WWT

With most of the trees now bereft of their leaves it is once again easier to find and observe many of our woodland birds. The reserves plantations were crawling with Goldcrests who appear to have had a particularly good year as well as passing flocks of Long Tailed Tits and the occasional Bullfinch. A Treecreeper was also a nice find given that we haven't seen one there for some time. I was pleased to see that the autumn migrants have started to arrive with at least eight Redwings spotted across both days. Relatively tame in the depths of winter they are currently very skittish and fled at the merest hint of a human approach. They are definitely my target species over the next couple of months as I have yet to get a decent photograph of one despite trying for the past two years. Wish me luck.

25247 - Tufted Duck, Llanelli WWT

Out on the pools waterfowl numbers are really starting to build with at least 215 Wigeon and 25 Shoveller present. Shellduck numbers were also pretty good as were Teal, but surprisingly there were very few Gadwall. They are normally a mainstay at the reserve so it was slightly bemusing to see so few. What was impressive though was the number of Pintails in front of the Heron Wing Hide. I normally count one or two as a good effort but on both days there were upwards of 72, a personal record for me which has been eclipsed today be a warden count of 124. Very nice indeed.

25248 - Coot, Llanelli WWT

Bad weather and high tides meant that water levels were high across the site, somewhat limiting feeding opportunities for waders. 51 Black Tailed Godwits and a Greenshank from the British Steel Hide were as good as things got, not forgetting the single Dunlin which is a species I haven't recorded there all that often. If the promised cold weather ever gets here this great start should get even better.


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