Coed Bach Park

Thursday, May 31, 2012 Adam Tilt 4 Comments

27372 - Coed Bach Park

Yesterday evening I whiled away a relaxing couple of hours wandering around the woods in Coed Bach Park. Having spent the majority of this month up on open moorland it was quite nice to be amongst the cool shade of ancient Oak trees again, and despite the areas diminutive size I was very impressed with the variety of wildlife it contained. A foraging Squirrel welcomed me in, swiftly followed by a duo of young Robins resplendent in their speckled plumage. Blackbirds were absolutely everywhere and are obviously used to the presence of people as they were literally hopping around our feet as they hunted for food. Several of them must have had young in the vicinity as it was not unusual to see one head off with a beak stuffed full of grubs. Overhead a loud call alerted me to the presence of at least one young Nuthatch that was still being fed by its parents, but as with much of the bird life they were constantly on the move through the shady leaf canopy. This made photography difficult so it's not that surprising that I only came away with a few blurry and distant shots.

My lack of results was pretty much par for the course given the conditions, but it became very frustrating when I located a Blue Tit nest inside a hollow branch. Although the chicks were well hidden they could be clearly heard, the volume increasing notably each time one of the parents popped in with some food. It wasn't until much later that I finally got a view of the young birds after a couple of them managed to clamber up to the mouth of the branch to be fed. This gave me a perfect opportunity to test out the video capabilities of my new camera for the first time.

The jump in quality is immediately noticeable, to me at least, with richer colours and a real sharpness when played in full HD. However, the increase in resolution has come at a cost as my PC now lacks the power to play the videos back smoothly, let alone edit them effectively, although they are fine once uploaded to YouTube. I sense some expense on the horizon......

Back to Coed Bach and a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers were a nice find, although I envy the home owner into whose garden they flew. That's a species I'd love to have on our own feeders. A single Jay was being typically elusive but we got much better views of two Wood Pigeon, two Collared Dove, a Song Thrush complete with worm in beak and numerous Chaffinches and Great Tits. I'm pretty sure there was also at least one Spotted Flycatcher, although I only glimpsed it and my very distant record shots are inconclusive. It did seem to have the rounded head, colouration and overall shape for the species, but it will have to remain as a maybe for now unless I can relocate it in the near future.


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Grey Partridge on Cefn Drum

Tuesday, May 29, 2012 Adam Tilt 14 Comments

As promised I went back up onto the slopes of Cefn Drum this evening in search of the two Grey Partridges I discovered at the end of last week. Unlike last time I had my proper camera well and truly in tow and made straight for the area where I'd last seen them. With such a large expanse of habitat I held out little hope of a second chance, but in the end very nearly stepped right on top of the pair after only a few minutes of searching. They had moved slightly higher but seemed almost completely oblivious to my presence as they went about their feeding.

27363 - Grey Partridge, Cefn Drum

27364 - Grey Partridge, Cefn Drum

27357 - Grey Partridge, Cefn Drum

27350 - Grey Partridge, Cefn Drum

In the end it was me who ended the encounter as I moved away to leave the birds in peace. What a cracking pair and what a find for my local patch.

Elsewhere a stunning male Reed Bunting, two Mistle Thrushes, a passing Swift, several Stonechat and endless Skylarks made for a rather eclectic bunch, supplemented by a pair of Ravens and the croaky calls of what I think is the only Pheasant on the hill. A large metal bird also put in an appearance in the shape of this Hercules plane. They are a regular fixture along this stretch of countryside but it is the first time I have actually managed to catch one on camera.

27367 - Hercules, Cefn Drum

Up on the summit I spotted a pristine Painted Lady butterfly that thankfully remained stationary long enough for me to take a photo, unlike the numerous Small Heaths I had seen during me ascent.

27369 - Painted Lady, Cefn Drun

For me though it all pales into insignificance after the real stars of the show. Emma has unfortunately yet to make it up with me so let's hope I can find the Partridges for a third time later this week. At present they seem to be pretty loyal to one area so hopefully we will be in luck. For now I shall leave you with the view from the top of Cefn Drum, which on a day like today rivals the best of them.

27370 - Cefn Drum


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Hillwalking and Grey Partridge

Monday, May 28, 2012 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

Walking our countryside has always been one of my favourite past times and is something that I try to do every single day. I've often wondered just how far I could push myself however, and have long coveted the idea of completing one, if not all of Britain's national trails. The recent opening of the complete Wales coast path reawakened that desire for adventure within me, and in doing so kicked off an effort to build my stamina and fitness levels beyond their current state. Thinking that there was no time like the present I pulled out an OS map and plotted a 14 mile circular course from my back door to the Lliw Reservoirs. As I wanted to travel light out went my usual camera to be replaced with a small compact and I downsized my binoculars to a less weighty pair. Suitably kitted up I headed out and returned five hours later, no worse for wear and pleasantly surprised at just how fit I'd become since my lazy days at university. On the way I'd even managed to squeeze in some great birds including two Cuckoo, three Tree Pipit and three Spotted Flycatcher in the Bynllefrith plantation, as well as a great encounter with a young Fox cub in the entrance to an abandoned mine.

Buoyed by my success I headed out again the following morning to Glyntawe where we plotted a course from the Dan yr Ogof caves up to the summit ridge of Fan Hir, past the twin lakes of Llyn y Fan Fawr and Llyn y Fan Fach, before looping back down across the moors. The scenery up there was absolutely staggering, with the sheer drops of Fan Hir being a particular highlight. These are just a few of the many landscapes taken throughout the day.

27294 - Fan Hir, Brecon Beacons

27298 - Fan Hir, Brecon Beacons

27300 - Llyn y Fan Fawr, Brecon Beacons

27302 - Llyn y Fan Fawr, Brecon Beacons

27308 - Fan Hir, Brecon Beacons

Obviously such long walks were out of the question on the following work nights, but I kept up the pace by knocking off three or four miles each evening. All of these were again done without my usual camera, and up till then I hadn't regretted it. On Wednesday though that all changed and I was reminded why I had previously vowed to never leave home without it. I'd already made my way to the top of Cefn Drum and Twyn Tyle, and was on my way back when I disturbed two largish birds from the dead bracken. Initially I thought they were Snipe, but as soon as I relocated them I realised they were in fact two male Grey Partridges! These are nationally rare birds and as far as I know unheard of locally so it was a real star find. Reaching for my camera I groaned as I found only the compact, so the record shot below is very much a case of what might have been.

27316 - Grey Partridge, Cefn Drum

I was able to get relatively close but they were very wary and soon ran off up the hill as soon as I exceeded their boundaries. Nevertheless what a great encounter and certainly a lesson learned. There were also other successes that evening including the discovery of Yellowhammers on the eastern slopes of Cefn Drum (thereby extending their range beyond what I had previously known), as well as great views of one of the elusive Pheasants and another Cuckoo being chased by a Meadow Pipit. Needless to say I will be back up there this week with my proper camera in tow.


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Patch Dippers

Thursday, May 17, 2012 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

For the last couple of months I've been keeping an eye out for any sign of our local Dippers, but up until Sunday afternoon I hadn't had much luck. That all changed though as we approached a small bridge over the Dulais from where a loud and persistent call suggested we had finally located our quarry. We hurried over and found ourselves confronted with the sight of a fledgling swimming against the current in a highly canalised section of the river, just as the parent bird shot beneath us and disappeared around the next bend. I only had a few seconds to take in what was happening before overhanging vegetation on both banks obscured the young Dipper from view. By this point I was having flashbacks to an episode of Springwatch in which two cameramen were forced to watch a similar scene unfold, sadly without a happy ending. Despite knowing that interference is frowned upon, I had no wish to see the same events play out before my own eyes and was genuinely preparing to wade in when Emma thankfully spotted the bird.

27290 - Dipper, River Dulais

Luckily it had managed to find a branch to climb onto and was at least out of any immediate danger. It seemed to take a couple of minutes to compose itself before flying upstream, presumably after the adult we'd seen head in the same direction. Phew! Once we had the place to ourselves I had a careful look under the bridge and could see what I think is the hole in which the Dippers had been nesting. Its positioning is such that any less than perfect exit would almost certainly result in a swim, a hazard which this particular birds maiden flight looks to have fallen foul of.

Up on Bryn-bach-Common the Yellowhammers were conspicuous by their absence but it was very nice to find a male and female Wheatear, my first on patch for 2012. There were also at least three Stonechats, one of which is shown below.

27289 - Stonechat, Bryn-bach-Common

With the exception of two Swallows, a Skylark and the usual Meadow Pipits, everything else seemed rather on the quiet side. We did briefly get excited by a curiously plumaged raptor soaring way up the valley, but closer inspection of the few distant photos I took revealed it to be a young Buzzard. Earlier in the day we had been treated to the sight of two Shelducks circling over the back garden before landing in a field just behind. We had a pair do the same thing last year and for the life of me I can't work out why. We aren't that far from the Loughor estuary but surely there must be plenty of better places to go than up here in the hills. Does anyone have any suggestions as its certainly baffling me.


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Garden Feeders

Wednesday, May 16, 2012 Adam Tilt 3 Comments

Bird feeders. I'm sure everyone reading this blog probably has at least one hanging in their garden right now, but have you ever noticed how they seem to multiply? You start off small with maybe a peanut feeder, then add a seed feeder for good measure. Then you realise you're neglecting the ground feeders and put in a low tray, and don't forget the fat balls of course. What about Goldfinches? I'm sure you'd like those noisy, colourful birds visiting on a regular basis so a Niger seed dispenser is a must. Before you know it your garden resembles some sort of plastic tube showroom with dropped seed sprouting from absolutely everywhere.

Needless to say I'm speaking from experience and this weekend finally took action to get things in order. Out went the cheap and invariably broken feeders and in came new, high quality replacements from the local WWT reserve shop (doing our bit for conservation at the same time). In an effort to keep my crop of sprouting seed at a minimum the ground beneath each of the new feeders has been covered with weed proof membrane and slate chippings, and obviously I've also carefully positioned everything in full view of my patio chairs to maximise photographic opportunities.

27287 - House Sparrow, Garden

27271 - House Sparrow, Garden

Even before we'd finished the House Sparrows were moving in. It's not that surprising really as I think every house on our road has at least one pair nesting in their soffits or under roof tiles so there are plenty of them about. The fat balls seemed to be a particular favourite with regular trips being made to the bird bath, presumably to soften up the huge chunks of fat they were managing to tear off before swallowing.

27272 - House Sparrow, Garden

Blue Tits were our next visitors with the first individual choosing the new seed feeder below. It landed, looked at the nearest perch, gave a shake of its head in disgust and promptly headed off to the favoured fat balls. Thankfully it was soon back on the seed and judging by the quantity that has since disappeared, any initial misgivings have been overcome.

27275 - Blue Tit, Garden

27282 - Blue Tit, Garden

Our pair of Great Tits are noticeably less tame than their blue cousins so I was quite lucky to get the shot below. They only perched for a couple of seconds before quickly grabbing a single seed and shooting back into the cover of our neighbours apple tree to eat it.

27273 - Great Tit, Garden

The Coal Tits on the other hand sat on the feeders for several minutes whilst they searched for a seed that matched their exacting requirements. Needless to say it was invariably a Black Sunflower seed with much of the cheaper stuff ending up discarded on the floor. I'm sure the Dunnocks and Robins will be grateful though.

27277 - Coal Tit, Garden

Other visitors since the weekend have included a pair of Bullfinches and endless Chaffinches, so all in all I think we can consider the new feeders a roaring success.


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Smew and Ruff at Llanelli WWT

Sunday, May 13, 2012 Adam Tilt 4 Comments

It's been a while since I've felt the call of a rarity but last Sunday I couldn't resist. As a rule I tend to avoid the whole 'twitching' culture as for me it holds little attraction, but I have been known to pop out to a local site on the odd occasion that something particularly interesting turns up. When I do its as much about getting to see a bird I really like as notching up another tick on a list. The bird in question this time round was a male Smew that had been reported moving between pools at Llanelli WWT. Due to an American Pie film marathon the night before we were somewhat late rising and arrived at the observation pool well after midday. A scan of the gathered waterfowl revealed the usual Gadwall, Shellduck, Tufted Duck, Pochard and Greylag Geese, but as for the Smew there was no sign. This drunk looking Wood Pigeon on the other hand was hard to miss as it lumbered towards us.

27250 - Wood Pigeon, Llanelli WWT

Thinking that the Smew had probably moved on (it appears that it had already travelled from Gwent the previous evening to get there) we headed over to the British Steel Hide. It was much quieter on the wader front than our last visit due to spring tides having raised the water levels considerably, but there were still 67 Black Tailed Godwits feeding on the NRA scrapes. They had a lovely mixture of summer and winter plumage which quickly got closer as a passing Crow spooked the flock into flight. As they returned to ground one individual that had previously been hidden came and landed on the bank closest to us. From the flight views I couldn't work out what it was, thinking perhaps that it was some form of mutated Redshank. When it popped its head up though all became clear. It was a cracking male Ruff, complete with partial breeding plumage.

27261 - Ruff, Llanelli WWT

I grabbed the record shot above as it moved along the bank feeding, but due to distance and heat haze (see we are never happy with the weather in this country) the quality is a bit lacking. Even so it is my first Ruff on camera and more importantly the best plumaged individual I have yet seen. On the other side of the hide the long staying Pink Footed Goose was still visible with its Greylag companions but that was about all we could see as we were looking directly into the sun (there I go again!).

We continued to make our way around the reserve picking up a singing male Blackcap as we went until we came to the East Hide, a location from which I have seen absolutely nothing in all my years of visiting. Such is its record, or lack of one I should say, we very nearly passed it by without stopping. In the end habit forced me in and boy was I glad it had, for swimming across the opposite side of the pool was the Smew! Even better it was right in front of the Observation Hide where we had originally started off. A quick dash ensured we made it there in record time and quickly had the Smew relocated, now sleeping amongst the overhanging trees.

27268 - Smew, Llanelli WWT

Despite the compromised views it was a joy to watch. As a child visiting Slimbridge Smew was one of those birds that really grabbed my attention and got me interested in birds in the first place, but to date my only sightings in the wild had been a female at Slimbridge itself and a distant mixed group at Tally Lakes in Carmarthenshire. This beat both of those hands down. As the Smew snoozed we noticed that it was slowly drifting out into open water, thus initiating an anxious wait. Would it get free of the trees before waking up and swimming back into cover? Fortunately the eventual answer was yes and we got even better views as it had a quick preen before moving back.

27263 - Smew, Llanelli WWT

27264 - Smew, Llanelli WWT

Elsewhere there were excellent numbers of Chiffchaff and it was nice to see a few more Swallows passing over, though still only in single figures. With increased temperatures it was not surprising to see so much butterfly action with male Orange-tips patrolling their territory and a couple of Peacocks sunning themselves. This Green-Veined White brought back memories of Mull.

27254 - Green Veined White, Llanelli WWT

Breeding is in full flow with the Black Headed Gulls finally starting to settle down and a well grown Coot fledgling on the main pool. In addition several much younger Moorhen chicks were hidden amongst the undergrowth and the first of this years Greylag Geese also looks to have hatched. All were being uncooperative though so I had to make do with a very obliging adult Moorhen instead.

27257 - Morrhen, Llanelli WWT

Over in the Millennium Wetlands we heard our first Sedge Warblers of the year singing, but despite our best efforts we just couldn't pick one out amongst the reeds. Plenty of time left for that though before the season is finished.


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The Gower Loop

Friday, May 11, 2012 Adam Tilt 3 Comments

Having spent a week in the wilderness of Mull it was something of a shock to return to an office environment and the daily grind. A few low days unsurprisingly followed but its hard to stay down for long with Gower right on our doorstep. Eager to get back out into the countryside we popped over to Arthur's Stone last Saturday to begin our 'Gower Loop' walk. I've featured this route on the blog a couple of times previously and it always manages to turn up something unexpected like the snake carrying Buzzard from last year. We started off on more familiar territory though with a pair of Wheatears a little way down from the trig point. Despite being surrounded by these on Mull they are a still a special bird to see, especially considering the much lower numbers that we are treated to here in Wales.

27226 - Wheatear, Cefn Bryn, Gower

Heading down into Little Reynoldston a Skylark could be seen and most definitely heard high in the sky above us whilst a trio of Linnets were moving rapidly through the Gorse. Willow Warblers, Meadow Pipits and Dunnocks all added their voices to the symphony with an occasional interjection from a passing Swallow, several of which were repeatedly entering and leaving an impressive looking outbuilding. That's one species I would definitely like to see nesting at our own house. On the grass Rooks and Jackdaws were sharing their feeding grounds with a family of Blackbirds which included two very well developed fledglings. Other signs of successful breeding were not far away in the shape of at least one young Stonechat which was begging for food and being fed by a parent. In fact it seemed that Stonechats were doing particularly well in the area with at least six separate individuals seen.

27229 - Stonechat, Cefn Bryn, Gower

27230 - Stonechat, Cefn Bryn, Gower

The small lane leading to Millwood was alive with birds including five Mistle Thrushes that shot up from a neighbouring field as we passed by. My instinct was to follow them for some better views but the appearance of my first two Whitethroats of the year soon put that idea to bed. Despite singing well they unfortunately never showed long enough for me to get my camera onto them, tending instead to move through the centre of bushes and trees. It was great to see them back on territory though and reminded me just how quiet and sparsely populated places can be without our summer migrants. It was while looking for a Whitethroat and the source of another unidentified call (I suspect chicks in nest given it's high pitched nature) that we stumbled across this great example of Jelly Ear Fungi.

27234 - Jelly Ear Fungi, Millwood, Gower

Upon entering Millwood itself we were immediately greeted by a Green Woodpecker flying across the path, closely followed by what looked to be a Great Spotted Woodpecker a little further in. Both nice species to see but our attention was quickly taken by a Marsh Tit hopping around the lower branches of a tree to our right. The tree in question was exactly the same one upon which we'd seen a Marsh Tit last year, suggesting perhaps that this could be a permanent territory. Unfortunately it didn't treat us to any outbursts of song but said tree has definitely been added to my list of "must visit" places for each spring. Other birds seen in the forest included Jay, Goldcrest, Song Thrush and two Coal Tits along with a definite sighting of the suspected Great Spotted Woodpecker from earlier (it turned out to be a female).

The warm, still air was perhaps deceptive after the horrendous conditions that this part of the country had endured during our time away, but a large tree that had pretty much demolished a small footbridge served as a stark reminder of what we'd missed. I decided that the best way to pass was by going directly through and over the entangled branches, swiftly followed by memories of how often I used to fall out of trees as I lost my footing.

27235 - Millwood, Gower

Successfully across we passed the large house at Penrice and were soon plumbing the depths of Nicholaston Woods. A Buzzard (snakeless this time) was circling overhead along with a pair of Ravens that conducted a couple of flybys. Wrens called from everywhere whereas Chiffchaffs seemed less numerous than on previous trips, but it was three male Pheasants that really caught my eye. Pheasants are a bird that I've been trying to photograph for a while now having just one shot from years back in my collection, so to find what turned out to be quite tame and pristine plumaged birds was a real bonus.

27241 - Pheasant, Gower

27237 - Pheasant, Gower

After the dark coolness of the woods we were out into the open for the walk along Oxwich Dunes, followed by the inevitable climb up to the headland overlooking Tor Bay. On the way we spotted some very young grasshoppers but yet again failed to locate any Adders. I really must find out where they like to sun themselves down there. At the top we were reminded that although we may not have Eagles in Wales we do have Red Kites, probably one of the few raptors that is yet to gain a foothold on Mull. This one was hunting the nearby fields and we bumped into it several times on our walk back across Cefn Bryn.

27246 - Red Kite, Gower

Walking back to the car across the spine of Gower was very rewarding with commanding views in all directions. To our left we could see the sweep of Oxwich Bay and to our right the Burry Inlet and Loughor Estuary. Up ahead Whitford Lighthouse stood cut off by the incoming tide whilst behind us a break in the clouds allowed a small amount of sunlight to hit Three Cliffs Bay.

27248 - Three Cliffs from Cefn Bryn

Apart from the views our elevated position had other advantages in that it allowed us to scan huge areas of open sky. Another Buzzard was our first spot but it was the Swifts that really got us excited. We saw our first three over Penclawdd Pill on the 30th April but these were the first since then. There numbers are clearly still building and we eagerly await those that each year grace the skies above our village high street. Having already seen Sand Martins and Swallows last month we'd bagged all our summer aerial acrobats with the exception of one, House Martins. That was soon rectified with the appearance of a small group further down the slope towards Oxwich which quickly built into a large group right in front of us. We managed to count about twenty one before they headed off, a fitting conclusion to the "Gower loop".


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Isle of Mull 2012 - Caliach and The End

Thursday, May 10, 2012 Adam Tilt 3 Comments

Like all good things our Mull adventure had to come to an end at some point (much as I wish it didn't), making Saturday our last day on the island. If anything the weather was even nicer than that which had graced our trip to Loch Ba, with temperatures at a suitable level to allow t-shirt only walking for the first time all week. Our plan was to take the coast path from Calgary to Caliach Point, another of my favourite routes, where we would hopefully get to enjoy a successful hour or two of seawatching. On the way out though we couldn't help pausing to take in the valley and house in all its glorious remoteness.

27188 - Isle of Mull

At Calgary the Great Northern Diver was still out in the bay and still keeping its distance, but it was nice to see a few more Sand Martins starting to return to the dunes where they have a large breeding colony. A pair of Rock Pipits remained elusive near the old pier, as did a male White Wagtail, whereas a pair of Stonechats couldn't have done more to show themselves off. Frequently pausing on prominent perches they were continually chatting away to each other and allowed me to get reasonably close for some good photo opportunities.

27193 - Stonechat, Isle of Mull

At Calgary head an outcrop of rock held seven Shags and one immature Cormorant that absolutely dwarfed the other birds around it. I'd never quite realised the difference in size between the two species before but it was remarkably pronounced to the point of being almost comical (to us at least). A single Gannet could be seen fishing a little further out and it conducted a couple of immense dives while we watched. Back on dry land Wheatears and Meadow Pipits were absolutely everywhere whilst the view was as stunning as ever.

27189 - Calgary, Isle of Mull

The walk out to Caliach included a pair of Snipe which erupted from our feet and another Grey Heron in a location that was somewhat unexpected. I presume it was after Voles again as I could see no other reason for it to be stood in the middle of a field. As we came over one particular rise in the landscape the usual flushing of Meadow Pipits ensued, but this time something was different. An unfamiliar call mingled amongst the noise of alarmed Pipits and three birds seemed to be standing their ground. In fact they continued standing their ground until I was within a couple of meters and could clearly identify them as Twite. They barely acknowledged my presence and continued to feed as I fired away. Needless to say Twite are now at the top of my favourite small brown bird list.

27196 - Twite, Isle of Mull

27198 - Twite, Isle of Mull

As we drew closer to Caliach farm a flock of waders took to the air and quickly landed behind a large stone wall which provided great cover as we crept up behind it. What we saw spread out in front of us was eleven summer plumaged Golden Plovers, stunners every single one of them.

27203 - Golden Plover, Isle of Mull

Leaving them to their feeding we settled into a sheltered spot on Caliach Point to see what was about. Gannets were immediately visible in good numbers with one flying past at just a few meters distance and roughly parallel to our eye line. A single Black Guillemot flew beneath us whilst much further out a feeding frenzy was under way. Over thirty Kittiwakes, fifty plus Manx Shearwaters and a smattering of Guillemots were all concentrated in the same area with the Gannets carrying out the occasional precision dive between them.

27207 - Caliach, Isle of Mull

We'd been wondering where the usual Fulmars were when I looked over the edge to find a pair sitting snug against the cliff. They seemed very settled but as far as I could tell didn't appear to be nesting just yet.

27205 - Fulmar, Isle of Mull

27209 - Fulmar, Isle of Mull

With that it was time to head back to the house so that we could prepare for our departure the following morning. As always though the island had one last surprise in store. Looking out from the sun porch we spotted one of the Short Eared Owls heading from right to left which in itself was a great way to end the day. At the same time however a male Hen Harrier popped into the valley and started to quarter the same hillside. The two birds got closer and closer to each other until what we had been hoping for finally happened. Both birds went talon to talon as they battled for dominance with the Short Eared Owl ultimately proving victorious. There can't be many people who have had the chance to witness such an encounter. What a way to end the holiday.


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Isle of Mull 2012 - Loch Ba

Wednesday, May 09, 2012 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

There was an unfamiliar stillness in the air as I opened the curtains on Friday morning to see what the day had in store for us. To my relief the wind had finally dropped and what little was left seemed to have veered to the south resulting in much warmer conditions. After a quick breakfast in the company of our bickering Yellowhammers and Chaffinches we headed south along Loch Tuath to Ulva Ferry, where we made a brief detour to pick up the first of several Mull geocaches. The view was absolutely stunning as we looked back the way we'd come.

27140 - Ulva Ferry, Isle of Mull

We were very pleased to spot our first Lapwing of the trip flying across some nearby grassland after a fruitless few days looking for one, a situation that's hopefully down to the time of year and bad luck rather than any reflection on the state of their current population. On a similar note we didn't see a single Dunnock anywhere on the island. Where have they all gone? Moving on we drove along Loch na Keal (unfortunately no sign of the White Tailed Sea Eagles that are nesting there) to arrive at our walk destination for the day, Loch Ba. Tucked away on the Ben More estate and hidden from passing vehicles by forestry it turned out to be an absolute gem. We'd only gone a few hundred meters when the distinctive calls of a Tree Pipit caught my attention, quickly followed by the bird itself displaying from atop a tall pine tree. Tree Pipit is a new Mull species for us and indeed one for which our complete UK sightings can be counted on one hand. Down at the waters edge three Common Sandpipers were engaged in a battle royale for territory which included some brilliant behaviour. The two birds going head to head would each raise one wing vertically upwards and then face off until the weaker one either backed down or was chased away. Unfortunately I couldn't quite get it on camera but I did capture the victor eyeing me up for possibly the same treatment.

27144 - Common Sandpiper, Isle of Mull

On the water itself things were disappointingly quiet with just a single Goodsander keeping us company along with a couple of Mallards and family. I had hoped for a grebe or two, several of which were annoyingly seen a couple of days either side of our visit. Not to worry though as we did have other great sightings including a Golden Eagle high overhead, a singing male Siskin and remarkably another Willow Warbler that let me get close enough to photograph it. If they're not careful this could become a habit.

27146 - Willow Warbler, Isle of Mull

All of the wildlife in the world though could only serve as minor details against the grandeur that was the landscape. After almost six years of visiting Mull it is perhaps surprising that I had yet to walk amongst the more mountainous terrain that typifies the southern half of the island, but then again perhaps not given the quality that can be found in the small area around our house. As we moved further into the valley the land rose steadily higher on either side of us until at the head of Loch Ba we were confronted with the double caldera of a long extinct volcano. Beneath these sits a single isolated dwelling that is accessed by what I think is the best bridge I have ever seen. For some reason I just loved its construction and setting. What follows is just a selection of the magnificent vistas we were treated to.

27143 - Loch Ba, Isle of Mull

27147 - Loch Ba, Isle of Mull

27150 - Loch Ba, Isle of Mull

27149 - Loch Ba, Isle of Mull

A few more Lapwings greeted us at the loch head, most of which were probably breeding birds if their 'nintendoing' calls were anything to go on. (Nintendoing is our word to describe Lapwing vocalisations that sound remarkably like an old 8 bit Game Boy). A couple of Curlew, several Skylark and hundreds of Meadow Pipits also fed amongst the lush grassland.

The rest of the day was spent hunting geocaches including one tricky item in Tobermory that had us scratching our heads for a good while. If you saw a couple of people walking around the car park in circles then that was probably us. Back at the house we relaxed for a few hours before heading up the hill behind to watch the sun set. Due to a slight mistake with my iPhone app (it thought we were in Norfolk for some reason) we were way too early and in the end didn't stay for the actual event as it was absolutely freezing on top. The climb was still worthwhile though as we got to hear a couple of the Short Eared Owls calling, closely followed by the sight of a Golden Eagle high above Treshnish. For the next five minutes it soared over the same area before finally turning with the wind and disappearing at great speed. I managed to get a few distant photos but they wont be winning any awards.

P1000872 - Golden Eagle, Isle of Mull

Even though we missed the actual sunset we had great views looking back towards Ben More and the area where we had spent much of the day. This is probably my favourite view on the island and perfectly captures the essence of Mull.

27182 - Isle of Mull

Upon returning to the house we were almost immediately joined by the Short Eared Owl again, but this time it was hunting right next to the sun porch itself. The views were the best we'd had so far, but even better was yet to come.


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