Leap Year Sunset

Wednesday, February 29, 2012 Adam Tilt 11 Comments

Leap Year Sunset

Today for the first time this year I was home from work before the sun had disappeared below the horizon. I had just enough time to dash up the hill behind our house with the camera before an errant bank of cloud blocked the developing sunset from view. Given that it is such an easily accessible location I have always bemoaned its lack of foreground material when it comes to photographing sunsets, so to find this perfectly positioned tree was very nice indeed. Now I wonder if the farmer would be willing to remove that fence.....


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Sunny Day at Kenfig NNR

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 Adam Tilt 16 Comments

For once the weekend turned out to be glorious across both days with blue sky, warm sun and a gentle breeze reminding us all that we do get nice weather occasionally. I was on my own for the bulk of Saturday so headed over to Kenfig NNR to see if I could snag a Bittern or two. To my surprise I found water levels across the reserve way higher than I can remember for a good while, with the 'beaches' around Kenfig pool completely submerged and some of the paths back under water. Not only did this mean that I was back to taking increasingly indirect detours through the dunes, but it also rendered the reedbed cuttings completely unsuitable for feeding Bitterns. Instead I turned my attention to the gathered waterfowl which was surprisingly varied considering the mild conditions. Gadwall, Great Crested Grebe, Wigeon, Pochard, Tufted Duck, over 200 Coot and three Goldeneye were all present but too distant for photos. Instead I turned my attention to the resident flock of Canada Geese. They often get a lot of stick for being an introduced species in this country but I find them quite engaging.

25572 - Canada Geese, Kenfig Pool

25576 - Canada Geese, Kenfig Pool

One particularly aggressive individual, possibly trying to assert its dominance before the breeding season, also allowed me to add to my occasional collection of "shouting bird" photos.

25577 - Canada Geese, Kenfig Pool

The old barbed wire fences that run into the water at a couple of places around the pool always provide ideal perches for a variety of species, and this visit was to be no exception. Common Gulls and Black Headed Gulls were the most numerous perchees but at the ruined boat house there were also three Cormorants drying their wings in the sun. The lighting was just about perfect (well perhaps a little bright if I am being picky) which allowed each feather to be picked out in detail. Not always an easy feat on a big black bird.

25573 - Cormorant, kenfig Pool

While photographing the Cormorants a familiar song drifted across to my ears. Although I couldn't locate the culprit flying way above my head its identity is no mystery. It would seem that the Skylarks have started singing again!

The walk out through the dunes was relatively quiet, as was the beach, but on the exposed rocks towards Sker Point Oystercatchers, Curlew and Turnstones were all busy feeding. I took the opportunity to take a shot looking back towards the huge steelworks at Port Talbot. I always find it a remarkable contrast that I can be standing in a huge nature reserve looking back at the temple of Welsh industry.

25578 - Port Talbot from Sker Point

At Sker Point itself a receding tide had revealed the fascinating structures built by Honeycomb worms, a species I have covered on this blog several times in the past. What may at first appear to be brown rocks turn out under closer inspection to be countless hollow tubes with walls only a single grain of sand thick. The worms themselves reside within, safely protected from the outside world at these times of exposure.

25579 - Honeycomb Worms, Sker Point

25580 - Honeycomb Worms, Sker Point

Honeycomb worms are a relatively uncommon species around the UK thanks to their very specific habitat requirements and vulnerability from trampling, burial under shifting sand and storm damage. Therefore to have what appears to be a healthy colony locally is a very nice thing indeed.


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Turkeytail Fungi (Trametes versicolor)

Sunday, February 26, 2012 Adam Tilt 5 Comments

25538 - Turkeytail Fungi

As part of a continuing effort to expand my knowledge of all things natural I photographed the above fungi during my Whitford walk a few weekends ago. My in the field identification skills seem to be currently stuck on Yellow Brain Fungus so the plan was to look it up when I got back home. Unfortunately for me I forgot a few key basics when it comes to identifying these often tricky species. Not only did I not note it's texture, the tree it was growing on or look at its underside, I also didn't take a photograph showing the colony as a whole. From the image above you get the impression that this was a solitary specimen when in fact it was just one particularly good example in layers upon layers of overlapping cups. All school boy errors I'm sure you'll agree and mistakes that left me in a bit of a quandary when it came to pinning down the exact species. 

After hunting through the excellent "Collins complete mushrooms and toadstools" I was sure this was a Turkeytail (Trametes versicolor) - sure that is until I looked a little further down the page and saw Trametes ochracea staring back at me. On the face of it the two species looked very similar to me especially when considering the large colour variation that each can apparently exhibit. At this point the various guides I checked started referring to all those lovely differentiating features which I had so handily forgotten to take note of.

In the end I have gone with my first impression after trawling through plenty of pages on google image search, a large proportion of which are probably tagged incorrectly anyway. The Turkeytail has commonality and the manner of growth in its favour, so I can be fairly certain that I'm correct. This being the internet though please feel free to correct me, or at the very least chastise me for getting in a muddle over what is apparently one of the UK's most common species of fungi.


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And Still They Keep On Coming

Friday, February 24, 2012 Adam Tilt 4 Comments

We were back in Burry Port this evening checking up on the Toads, and low and behold another batch were attempting the crossing. We lifted around half a dozen to safety but it seems that the migration has yet to reach its peak at this particular location if last years spectacle is anything to go by. Most of the Toads rescued were singles this time around with only one copulating pair seen, although we did spot our fattest individual to date.

25568 - Toad, Burry Port

25570 - Toad, Burry Port

Interestingly we shone a torch down a couple of drain covers and found at least ten Toads at the bottom of each. I have no idea what the waste water system is like in the area, but I'm hoping that they can find a way out at least relatively close to their intended destination.


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Toad Rescue - Round Two

Thursday, February 23, 2012 Adam Tilt 4 Comments

25565 - Toad, Burry Port

If you were driving through Burry Port this evening and spotted two strange looking people crouched at the side of the road in the fog you need not worry. They were not a couple of escaped lunatics (we definitely hadn't escaped at any rate), but were in fact helping the Toad above and his comrades cross a strip of tarmac that mankind has thoughtlessly lain right across their centuries old migration route. On the other side lies a breeding pool and its associated joys, but to get there means scaling two mountainous kerbs and dodging traffic that bears little regard for what passes beneath its wheels.

Regular readers will recall that on almost exactly the same date last year we carried upwards of thirty Toads across the road to safety in conditions not dissimilar to those we were experiencing tonight. In truth I hadn't realised it was that time of year again already, but after spotting several near Penclawdd and Scurlage on Gower we headed over to Burry Port to check on proceedings. Although numbers were lower than last time a couple had already succumbed to the traffic, so we quickly set about moving the six or so that we could see across the road and out of harms way. As before the kerb to leave the road seemed to be the major stumbling block with most of the Toads left to sit against it, and in some cases start the mating early.

25560 - Toad, Burry Port

25562 - Toad, Burry Port

In no time at all they were scooped up and deposited on the grass where they should hopefully have a much better chance of making it to the pond. For anyone who has never touched a Toad before I can assure you that they are as slimy as they look and feel distinctly strange in the hand. One even squeaked at me which was definitely a noise I was not expecting to emanate from a Toad.

25563 - Toad, Burry Port

The only reason we know of this location is from a news article that I read last year mentioning that the local council were going to erect a sign to warn motorists of the Toads presence. Unfortunately the item seemed rather premature as there was no sign in place then, something which has thankfully been rectified now and will hopefully cause others to drive a little more cautiously past the site in future. 

25567 - Toad, Burry Port


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Mediterranean Gulls at Bracelet Bay

Tuesday, February 21, 2012 Adam Tilt 12 Comments

We were up in Leeds this past weekend visiting family on what, despite a brief snow shower, turned out to be a very sunny couple of days. The presence of our favourite glowing orb was rather timely as Emma's parents house has just been fitted with solar panels, the readout from which quickly became rather addictive as we tried to suss out why certain panels were producing better output than others (for those interested it turned out that shadows being cast from a lamppost and the still erected scaffolding were to blame). I'm still not entirely convinced by the green credentials of such technology, but as a gadget they are absolutely brilliant. Away from the house we enjoyed a couple of very nice walks through the Yorkshire countryside which included sightings of three Goosander and a dipping Dipper along the river Ure. Photographically I didn't capture anything worthwhile but fortunately I still have a few to share from the previous Saturday.


Having reached the end of my Whitford walk I still had an hour or so before the sun went down and in a toss up between watching the Hen Harriers come in to roost over Llanrhidian Marsh or heading over to Mumbles for the Mediterranean Gulls, Mumbles won.

25554 - Mediterranean Gull, Bracelet Bay

I'd been watching the cloud slowly build and by the time I got to Bracelet Bay the sun was but a fond memory and the temperature had dropped like a stone. The Mediterranean Gulls weren't on their usual piece of grass or on the rocks beneath the car park, and at first the juvenile pictured above was the only individual I could find. Posing on a CCTV camera doesn't give the most natural of settings but it is a true representation of how this colony likes to hang out.

A commotion up towards the Big Apple (a novelty shaped seasonal shop not the American city) soon had the rest of the group located though I was sorry to see that they have adopted the habits of their less exotic Black Headed cousins and were busy feeding on chips being thrown from a car. The best photo opportunities were again on the surrounding posts with this developing summer plumaged bird the pick of the bunch.

25557 - Mediterranean Gull, Bracelet Bay

With a prime view of the chip killing field it wasn't long before the Med had some company on its perch in the shape of two Black Headed Gulls, company of which it clearly was not impressed. The insults fell on deaf ears however and it was ultimately the Med who was forced to move on after another landed almost directly on top of its head.

25558 - Mediterranean Gull, Bracelet Bay

With so much movement taking place it was hard to work out exactly how many Mediterranean Gulls were present, but an estimate of around twenty would be pretty much on the money. I didn't see any ringed birds on this occasion but there was a nice smattering of full summer plumage on offer. My vantage point also gave a great view over Mumbles Pier which has started to be dismantled ready for its restoration. I'm going to miss the Kittiwakes this year who for the time being at least are going to have to find somewhere else to nest. Lets hope they return once the work has been completed.


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Eider at Whitford Point, Gower

Tuesday, February 14, 2012 Adam Tilt 7 Comments

With so many outstanding wildlife locations locally it's always a difficult balancing act to try and visit them all each year. Often certain priorities have to me made to ensure that we catch up with particular breeding species for instance, but usually we just about manage to fit everything in. On Saturday however I came to the slow realisation that I hadn't been out to Whitford Point on Gower since the last day of 2010. That particular trip was immensely successful with huge numbers of Brent Geese, Eider, Knot and my first ever Slavonian Grebe. With the day to myself the oversight could be easily rectified and I was soon walking on the vast expanse of sand that typifies the coastline here at low tide. The walk through Cwm Ivy woods had already delivered an excellent variety of birds including Treecreeper and Bullfinch, a tally to which Whitford beach rapidly started adding. Huge flocks of Oystercatcher, Knot and Dunlin were in constant motion along the waters edge, accompanied by smaller groups of Sanderling, Redshank and Turnstone. Common Gulls were also surprisingly numerous but it was out at the point itself that I hit gold. A few meters off shore a group of at least 47 Eider were engrossed in a series of noisy and often quite active breeding displays.

25541 - Eider, Whitford Point, Gower

25540 - Eider, Whitford Point, Gower

The males in particular were stunning, resplendent as they were in full breeding plumage and equipped with one of the most distinctive calls in the bird world. I crept over the rocks and down to the water as stealthily as I could which is no mean feat in an almost entirely flat landscape. Fortunately the birds were so engrossed in their own activities that I was soon within range and carefully secreted behind the largest rock I could find. From my vantage point I had a prime view of proceedings as the gathering slowly drifted west on the outgoing tide.

25539 - Eider, Whitford Point, Gower

Trying to portray a scene of such vibrancy with my limited camera equipment was proving very difficult indeed. I'd have loved to have got some full frame shots of a male in the throws of display with head thrust backwards almost so as to rest on his back, but I daren't have moved for fear of showing myself and ruining an almost perfect moment. Instead I switched to the trusty video mode, balanced the camera on top of a few barnacles and let it roll.

Eventually the Eiders floated out of range so I bid them farewell and made my retreat further along the beach. Thousands upon thousands of waders were still following the tide out onto newly exposed areas, amongst which some seventy plus Brent Geese were also feeding. Out in the Burry Inlet itself I spotted two male and two female Red Breasted Mergansers along with a pair of Wigeon who seemed happy to let the flow take them where it wished. Not wanting to move on quite yet I walked further out into the tidal range and propped myself up against the last remaining steel lighthouse in Europe to take in the view.

25548 - Whitford Lighthouse

Back in amongst the dunes I kept an ear cocked for any tell-tale signs that Crossbills were in the area. The huge conifers that hold the central part of the dune system together can often be a fruitful location for the species, but on this occasion I was out of luck with just Coal Tits keeping me company. There was no such trouble in locating Lapwings and Shellducks however as several large flocks were feeding out on the marshland, with the former species also invading several fields behind Weobley castle. The feeding must be good up there as I saw a flock of Golden Plover in roughly the same place on the drive in amongst grass that looked surprisingly lush for February.


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Choughing Fantastic

Friday, February 10, 2012 Adam Tilt 8 Comments

Last Sunday brought with it a huge swing in temperature from around minus seven to plus ten, all in less than twenty four hours. The snow of the previous day seemed a lifetime away as we once again drove towards Rhossili on Gower, catching sight of a Buzzard on its favourite perch in the process. After taking in the bulk of Worms Head we set off around St Mary's church and almost immediately stumbled across a pair of Choughs feeding on the cropped grass just inside the first gate. In contrast to the usual individuals we see these two were both clearly ringed with a white over green ring on the left leg of one, whilst the other had a green ring on its left leg and a smaller metal ring on its right. Despite my best efforts I couldn't read any numbers on the rings which is a shame as I'd have liked to establish a bit of history about each. We tried to squeeze past without disturbing them but they were too wary for that and soon took to the air amid a flurry of calls.

As we climbed up to the top of Rhossili Down the Choughs were soon back in view, soaring along the cliffs on updrafts which I wished we could have exploited to the same extent (it's a steep climb!). I attempted a few photographs but increasing cloud cover and a corresponding drop in light levels rendered them as little more than black blurs. They soon put me out of my misery by dropping out of view, allowing us to carry on across what turned out to be an almost entirely birdless landscape. It may have been the cold weather of the previous day or just bad luck, but in the time it took us to traverse the highest land on the peninsula we saw little more than an admittedly welcome flock of Meadow Pipits near the old radar station. Even the two geocaches we were after put up a bit of a fight when it came to hunting them out. It wasn't until we were entering the dunes on the other side of Hill End that we got our next big bird fix in the form of another pair of Choughs. The lack of leg rings marked these individuals out as being different from those that had started our day in such emphatic style, but with dull conditions I was forced to use video to save this entry from being entirely text based.

A female Stonechat, three Song Thrushes and a pair of falconers carrying Harris Hawks were spotted at various points throughout the dunes, but the real highlight was to be found on the cliffs near Burry Holms. Three Fulmars, our first of the year, were alternately sitting on ledges or flying through the air beneath us whilst waves crashed against rocks stoically standing firm against the incoming tide. For me Fulmars bring back memories of our visits to Mull like no other, which probably explains the reason I have repeatedly been browsing the islands property pages this past week. When we did manage to tear our eyes away from them and look behind us I was amused to see that over a hundred Oystercatchers had gathered on the rapidly diminishing beach behind us. As ever they were completely unwilling to get their feet wet and were engaged in a gradual retreat with each incoming wave.

Eventually it was time to head back along three miles of sandy beach that we had literally to ourselves. It was only when we got back home that I realised the opening game of the Welsh Six Nations campaign had been on TV, which probably explains where everyone was. So instead of dogs and people we found ourselves surrounded by Sanderling, groups of which were running around us for much of the return leg. I will never cease to be amazed at the speed with which they can move, so fast that it almost looks as if they are on wheels. Mixed in amongst them was the occasional Ringed Plover, a great way to round off the days exploits.

25536 - Rhossili Beach, Gower

This great coastline had one last surprise to throw at us however. For the last couple of miles the clouds finally broke apart revealing the blue sky behind and a surprisingly warm summer sun. Before long I was walking along in just a t-shirt with my various fleeces tucked away in my rucksack. Winter may not have completely left us just yet but there are definite signs that spring is just around the corner.


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Brecon Snow

Monday, February 06, 2012 Adam Tilt 9 Comments

The weather forecasts on Saturday were all pointing to large quantities of snow, but there was also unanimous agreement in the uncertainty of where exactly that snow was going to fall as snow and where it was going to fall as boring old rain. We were already on Gower when the question was answered for our particular locality; rain it was to be. A quick change of plan was implemented and we were soon driving inland up onto the Brecon Beacons. Almost immediately the rain turned to sleet and then snow and it wasn't long before the scenery on all sides was white for as far as the eye could see. By the time we were up in the national park proper the snow had developed into a blizzard and was starting to settle on the previously clear road. Wanting to take it all in we carefully picked a lay-by that wasn't covered in ice and got out to take a few photos, at which point the folly of not already wearing my boots became clear as my foot sank into an icy blanket of fresh wet snow.

25522 - Brecon Beacons Snow

25520 - Brecon Beacons Snow

Moving on we were soon at the start of the main path up to Pen y Fan, although we had no intention of climbing the peak itself given the severe conditions. Instead I wanted to explore the stream that comes off the mountainside in the hope that a few of the smaller waterfalls would have frozen over. Unfortunately it wasn't quite cold enough for any of them to be fully solid, but the splashing water had certainly created some great icicles and ice formations.

25531 - Brecon Beacons Snow

25526 - Brecon Beacons Snow

25528 - Brecon Beacons Snow

25529 - Brecon Beacons Snow

Down in the forestry it was sobering to note that a couple of hardy souls were still trying to work through the worsening conditions. Their exertions were an effort to help stem the spread of Phytophthora ramorum, a fungus like pathogen that kills larch trees and which until 2009 was confined to the occasional garden outbreak. Since then the disease has been spreading rapidly due to its ability to create large quantities of infectious spores, and at present the only response is to fell infected trees. It's increasing spread across Wales is a real cause for concern, and will no doubt mean that these impressive machines are not going to be short of work anytime soon.

25524 - Brecon Beacons Snow

Despite having only been up on the hills for an hour or so the main road was becoming ever more treacherous and we decided that it was wise to head back to lower ground. As we did so we passed the Beacons Reservoir, normally a vast expanse of water but today frozen almost solid and with a covering of snow that made it look like part of the hillside. Given that the windscreen washers on our car had frozen up and the wipers themselves were encased in ice it's probably not hard to see why the reservoir was in the state that it was.

25533 - Brecon Beacons Snow

Things were unsurprisingly pretty quiet on the bird front but we did see another Woodcock flying over the road at Hirwaun whilst at the Storey Arms car park I got an opportunity to attempt my first 'Robin in snow' photo. Not the best I'm sure you'll agree but it's a start.

25532 - Robin in Snow

Back at home an hour watch of the garden had almost all of the regulars in attendance including the ever more frequent male Yellowhammer, a pair of Bullfinches and a marauding flock of Long Tailed Tits.


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The Missing Three Weeks

Thursday, February 02, 2012 Adam Tilt 6 Comments

The missing three weeks. It sounds like a title for the next Hollywood blockbuster but in truth its a simple introduction to me catching up on a blog that has been sadly neglected for much of January as work and life, with a very heavy emphasis on the former, have swept me along with barely a minute to spare. The past two weekends I have been stuck in the office, racking up some impressive overtime admittedly, and boy am I itching to get back out there amongst the scenery and wildlife that help keep this restless soul satisfied.

I have only managed one full days outing since that foggy walk exploring the ruins of Dunraven, and that was to the mightily impressive Ystradfellte waterfalls on the southern fringe of the Brecon Beacons. Over thousands of years the Rivers Melte, Hepste and Nedd Fechan have ground away at the bedrock to form stunning steep sided, tree lined gorges where every twist and turn hides ever more impressive falls and splash spools.

25510 - Ystradfellte Waterfalls

Waterfall country as it is known has been on our list of places to visit for as long as I can remember, but it was the gift of a BBC Countryfile walk book for Christmas that finally spurred us into action. Being a widely available guide we expected the paths to be very gentle but to my delight we found them to be anything but. The areas topography, popularity and high levels of rainfall have led to trails that are at best very uneven and in places almost none existent. Numerous times we found ourselves scrabbling down steep, slippery banks, hanging onto tree roots for support and with nothing but a several hundred foot drop ahead of us if it all went wrong. In an age of nanny state health and safety rules it was a pleasure to find the vistas uncluttered by fences or warning notices, something which should really be the norm not the exception. Being able to walk right out onto the rocks above the waterfalls and stare down into the abyss was exhilarating.

25514 - Ystradfellte Waterfalls

25515 - Ystradfellte Waterfalls

The largest and probably most famous of the waterfalls is Sgwd yr Eira, an imposing sight that hides a secret. Behind the towering wall of water lies a narrow ledge that runs the entire width of the fall. Walking along it is not only damp but also one of those things that has to be on everyone's to do list. I tried to get my camera out for a photo but I really don't think it would still be here to tell the tale if I had. Instead this view from down river will have to do instead.

25516 - Ystradfellte Waterfalls

Away from the waterfalls the gorges themselves were packed with wildlife. Nuthatches, Treecreepers, Buzzards and flocks of Tits were all about, but the highlight for me was the numerous Dippers that were to be found along the quieter stretches of river. We saw at least eight individuals including one that gave a brief outburst of song. Grey Wagtails were also out in force, completely smashing last years total for the species in a single outing. The damp setting itself was perfect for the growth of many fungi including this great example of Birch polypore (Piptoporus betulinus) which measured some thirty centimetres across.

25502 - Birch polypore (Piptoporus betulinus)

There have been a couple of other notable incidents these past few weeks that I should mention here for prosperity. The first was a Robin in full song beneath a street light on the next road over from my house. Not particularly strange in itself but it is when you consider the fact that it was almost eleven o'clock in the evening. Other after dark sightings have included a Woodcock shooting across the sky above junction 47 of the M4 followed a day or so later by a probable Tawny Owl in the same place. Back at work at least one Peregrine Falcon is still in residence and today it was joined by another. I wonder how long it will be before they start courting again?


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