Glamorgan Heritage Coast and Pen y Fan

Friday, June 29, 2012 Adam Tilt 6 Comments

Last weekend the weather was very hit and miss which gave us an ideal opportunity to focus on some serious walking and to give the camera a rest (I mostly failed on the latter). The reasons for wanting to do this were two-fold, starting with the fact that we are in the early stages of planning an attempt on the Offa's Dyke long distance path next year. Stretching from north to south Wales over a distance of 177 miles it is definitely going to be a tall order, but that's precisely why I want to do it. The second reason is that next summer I will be part of a team from work taking on the Welsh Three Peaks Challenge. This will involve climbing Snowdon, Cadair Idris and Pen y Fan in less than 24 hours and is definitely going to be tough. Despite being fit already there are always improvements to be made so on Saturday we headed to the Glamorgan Heritage Coast for another ten miler. Starting at Nash Point I couldn't help stopping to look at the lighthouses which were far less effected by the gale blowing in off the sea than we were.

27475 - Nash Point Lighthouse

Speaking of wind the Bristol Channel was again packed with Manx Shearwaters but despite looking we couldn't locate anything else in the choppy seas. Along the cliffs Fulmars and Rock Pipits were nice additions but it was the Skylarks in the fields that really grabbed our attention. A couple were in full song and flying quite close by, possibly as a result of this fledgling sitting slap bang in the middle of our path.

27476 - Skylark, Nash Point

This coast is famous for its stratification of overlapping shale, limestone and sandstone, a make-up which has resulted in historically unstable cliffs. As they have been slowly (and on some occasions rapidly) worn away a huge wave cut platform has formed at their base. Walking along it is one of the best ways to see the many fossils that litter this coast. We collected a couple but will definitely be back for a more serious exploration.

27481 - Glamorgan Heritage Coast

The cliff top fields seemed to be ideal locations for growing beans, but as with too much of our farmland these days were mostly devoid of bird life. The occasional Dunnock, Chaffinch and Linnet were about as good as it got until we stumbled across a Shrew sat on the track. Initially we thought it was dead but as we passed it suddenly moved. Instead of bolting off into the undergrowth though it ran a couple of inches and then set about trying to eat a Snail. It was completely oblivious to our presence and allowed me within a couple of centimetres to part the grass and attempt a photo. Sadly I was only partially successful and got this slightly blurred attempt, but what a great encounter. It didn't half make us jump when it suddenly bolted towards us though. Turns out we were just in the way of where it wanted to head next. 

27482 - Shrew

I should also mention that we had fantastic views of a Peregrine Falcon with kill near St Donats. It flew over us calling before returning to land on a ledge near the top of the cliff. We can't be sure if it had young nearby but chose to move on quickly just in case.

On Sunday it was time to leave the flat coast behind and climb Pen y Fan. Being one of the 'three peaks' you couldn't ask for a better practise ground and we were pleased to reach the summit in less than an hour even with a rather poorly Emma. Sadly the view from the top was almost entirely obscured by cloud but in some ways it made the place seem far more remote than it really is. I even succumbed to a friendly offer from a passing walker and ended up on camera myself, a rare event indeed.

27487 - Pen y Fan Summit

The climb down was even quicker and in no time at all we were back at the car. Our return obviously coincided with the summit finally clearing, just another reminder that you never know quite what to expect when out in the countryside. I was asked yesterday if I would ever consider emigration and I categorically answered no. I just love this country too much!


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Sunny Sunday at Marloes - Part 2

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 Adam Tilt 5 Comments

After the Gull-billed Tern diversion it's back to Pembrokeshire for part two of our walk around the Marloes peninsula. Part one finished in the old Deer park at Martins Haven and coincidentally that's exactly where we shall pick things up again. Though the Deer are long gone it's still a lovely place to wander through and was surprisingly the only location on the whole trip where we saw a Meadow Pipit. From the cliffs we had expansive views across the sea to Skomer island and could just about see the hundreds of Puffins that breed there every year. Though small their distinctive flight makes them unmistakeable even at distance and it was a pleasure to watch them going about their business. Slightly easier to spot were the few Gannets fishing further off shore.

27458 - Skomer

Returning to the main path we happened to be talking about the lack of Wheatears just as a male and female pair popped up on the cliff edge. They were pretty flighty but the pause helped us to spot a family of Choughs further down the sheer drop. There were definitely two adults and two juveniles present with the youngsters battling each other quite vigorously to receive a feed. In the photo below the young can be discerned by their slightly duller and less curved beaks and were a real pleasure to see. It's always nice to find evidence of our rare birds breeding successfully.

27459 - Chough Family, Nartins Haven

The terrain from this point on was noticeably different from that already covered as we found ourselves walking across much flatter and more expansive grassland. Ancient earthworks (including a fort featured in the latest series of Time Team) provided some historical interest but it was noticeable how the variety of birds seemed to have dropped off. Insects quickly had our attention instead when a loud buzzing caused us to look down at a small flooded area. The culprit was this stunning Broad-bodied Chaser, definitely the most impressive Dragonfly I've seen to date.

27460 - Broad-bodied Chaser, Marloes Mere

I was fortunate with the photo above as it only sat still briefly before flying further inland and out of reach. In almost exactly the same place we spotted a Burnet Moth and this pair of Lackey Moth Caterpillars sat on a fence post.

27461 - Lackey Moth Caterpillars

Next up was Marloes Mere itself, a nature reserve consisting of several shallow pools and marshland that draws in an impressive variety of rarities each year. For the last couple of months a group of Glossy Ibis have taken up residence there but we sadly couldn't locate the last remaining individual. Instead we were treated to Shelduck, Swifts, Swallows and House Martins as well as the singing Sedge Warbler below, the first I've seen this year.

27464 - Sedge Warbler, Marloes Mere

Up at the old farm House Sparrows seemed to be nesting in every available nook and cranny with this recent fledgling being particularly approachable.

27465 - House Sparrow, Marloes Mere

27467 - House Sparrow, Marloes Mere

With aching legs and noticeably pinker skin we made it back to St Brides some six hours after we'd originally set off. Remarkably the sky was still blue, the temperature pleasant and we both had a sense of satisfaction that for the first time in ages we had actually managed to beat the weather. If only it had continued into the next week.


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Gull-billed Tern, Loughor Bridge

Monday, June 25, 2012 Adam Tilt 5 Comments

Last night I made a terrible error of judgement and decided to watch another dire, tournament ending performance from England in Euro 2012 with the full knowledge that a Gull-billed Tern was showing just a couple of miles away. If the Italians had managed to put us out of our misery earlier I may still have made it down to Loughor in time, but penalties soon put the nail in that particular coffin. The result today was an anxious seven hours in work with updates coming in that the Tern was still in the area but back where it had originally been seen on Sunday at Penclacwydd. Fortunately my escape coincided nicely with its relocation to the mud just south of Loughor Bridge and I was there quicker than you can say englandarenevergoingtowinaninternationaltournament. I found the Tern almost immediately and was soon joined by Wendell Thomas who I believe is the original finder.

P1010435 - Gull-billed Tern, Loughor Bridge
Gull-billed Tern (bottom left)

It seemed very well settled and I was treated to unbroken views for a good half an hour or more. Only once did it take to the air but it didn't go far and was soon back on show. In fact I was even able to come home, pick up Emma and show her the bird before it finally seemed to head off west. Definitely a good way to round off a Monday that had little else going for it.

The photo above is taken at some distance and its perhaps worthwhile panning back to show the full scene.

Loughor Bridge

The Gull-billed Tern was ranging on the mud located roughly in the centre rear and seemed unperturbed by the heavy construction in the foreground. The workmen were oblivious and the policeman I spoke to bemused, but at least those in the know were enjoying our rare visitor.


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Sunny Sunday at Marloes - Part 1

Monday, June 25, 2012 Adam Tilt 13 Comments

Slightly later than intended but here's the Sunday blog from two weekends ago....

27424 - St Brides, Pembrokeshire

The small port of St Brides (above) looked absolutely stunning early on Sunday morning. With blue sky, fluffy white clouds and the sea lapping gently against the cliffs it didn't take long for memories of the previous days storm to be wiped from our thoughts. Our plan was to walk a circuit of the Marloes Peninsula, a ten mile loop that we've been meaning to do for a while after coming highly recommended by my parents. That distance seemed like a tall order to begin with though given the fact that we couldn't seem to drag ourselves away from St Brides itself. First it was a family of fledged Willow Warblers that captured our attention, quickly followed by a pair of Swallows who were nesting in the restored pump house. When we finally did make it onto the path proper we found ourselves walking alongside an old stone wall. By reflecting the sun and blocking out the slight breeze it managed to create a perfect sun trap which this female Blackbird was certainly taking advantage of. It's been ages since I've seen a bird properly sunbathing and definitely the first time I've got one on camera. Unfortunately we couldn't avoid disturbing her on our way past but she was so contented that we were almost upon her before she finally dragged herself away.

27426 - Sunbatching Blackbird, St Brides

The wall itself also looked to be providing the perfect habitat for many wild flowers. Regular readers will know that I'm not particularly enamoured with this aspect of nature but I couldn't help noticing the great examples of Navelwort. This is a species I've only ever seen in this locality and is certainly one of the more unusual plants out there.

27427 - Navelwort, Pembrokeshire

Whitethroats and Linnets dominated the next stretch and turned out to be a constant presence along the entire walk. Gulls of the Herring, Lesser and Great Black Backed varieties were passing by in a continuous stream, interspersed with the occasional Fulmar. Down in the water we had great aerial views of Shags fishing and our first Razorbills of the year, soon followed by a superb Harbour Porpoise. I'd been working through a raft of Herring Gulls when the porpoise breached slap bang in the middle of my field of vision. A few minutes later and it was back again though this time a little further along the coast. The water was so clear that we could still see it when fully submerged, a sight which took me right back to our first ever visit to Rhossili where we'd been treated to a similar sighting. It was too distant for photographs but the memory will definitely stay with me.

27441 - Stonechat, Marloes

A family of Ravens were our next find with one of the younger birds posing beautifully. It was sat just over a low wall from me and didn't seem to mind my proximity at all.

27432 - Raven, Marloes

27437 - Raven, Marloes

As the cliffs grew less steep and more vegetated the number of Butterflies started to increase. The predominant species was Speckled Wood but I did see the occasional Red Admiral and Painted Lady. One of the Blues tantalisingly flitted past but was lost from view before we could ID it. No such problem with this Wall Brown which was happy to pose once a rival had stopped trying to chase it off.

27438 - Wall Brown, Marloes

Reaching half distance we arrived at Martins Mere just as the boat to Skomer island returned from dropping off its load of visitors. It felt slightly strange to be in the port without actually taking the trip ourselves but I'm sure we'll be back before the season is done.

27443 - Martins Haven

Swallows were once more nesting in the toilet block, a location in which I unsurprisingly felt very self concious getting my camera out. To avoid any suspect connotations I locked myself in a cubicle where these two crackers had chosen to set up home. Definitely one of my stranger experiences.

27444 - Swallows, Martins Haven

27447 - Swallow, Martins Haven

Up in the old Deer Park I finally managed to break my duck when it comes to photographing Linnets, and what an individual to get on camera. The red plumage really stood out in the sunshine and its song was just as loud.

27450 - Linnet, Martins Haven

27451 - Linnet, Martins Haven

From the coastguard station we had commanding views over the stretch of coastline we'd covered so far, and that which was still to come......


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Stormy Saturday

Monday, June 18, 2012 Adam Tilt 5 Comments

It's hard to believe that the last two days were part of the same weekend given the complete contrast in weather conditions between them. Lets start with Saturday where we woke to a fierce storm that looked more akin to winter than the summer we are supposedly having. With rain lashing against the bedroom windows and wind howling through the eaves it looked like we were going to be facing our third weather hampered weekend in a row. In desperation I pulled up the Met Office radar maps and found what looked to be a dry window for the next three hours at Rhossili. Amazingly the forecast even turned out to be spot on for a change.

27419 - Stormy Rhossili, Gower

Walking along the cliffs the wind seemed to have lessened but the white horses out at sea told a different story. We only really started to feel its full force as we neared the lookout station at which point even standing still became a challenge. Each step required a concious effort to stop the lifted leg from being blown off course and it wasn't surprising to find that we were pretty much the only ones there. The birds were wisely keeping themselves hidden with the exception of a few Swallows and a single Fulmar which prompted Emma into trying a spot of flying for herself.

27421 - Windy at Worms Head, Gower

At Tears Point (below) we settled down for some sea watching and were immediately rewarded with the sight of two immature Gannets close in to shore. Further out a constant stream of Manx Shearwaters were heading west and gave great views as they banked up and over the crashing waves. A few adult Gannets and the occasional unidentified Guillemot/Razorbill were also observed before the ominous sight of approaching rain pushed us back to the car.

27420 - Tears Point, Gower

Not wanting to head home quite yet we instead drove down to Bracelet Bay. If anything the wind was even stronger there and the waves towered above more passing Gannets and Manx Shearwaters. We only had one bird on our minds though after an influx during the last storm, so with the car rocking on its suspension we settled in for the wait. As it was we didn't have to wait long before the sight of a small black bird dancing across the wave tops had me shouting out directions. Fortunately Emma was quickly onto it and we were both treated to our best ever views of a Storm Petrel. I'm no good at estimating distance but it was close enough to see the white tail band with just binoculars and was a definite distraction from the atrocious weather.

Speaking of the weather, which being English I tend to spend an awful lot of time doing, I thought I'd pull down some stats from our garden weather station to see exactly how much rainfall we've had this month. I think the graph below speaks for itself.

From two weeks of sunshine we've had to endure another fortnight of rain with barely a dry day to be seen. Thankfully Sunday finally managed to break that pattern and we headed west to Pembrokeshire to make the most of it....


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Mint Moth (Pyrausta aurata)

Friday, June 15, 2012 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

It's been a while since this blog has featured any moths, mainly due to the much promised but seldom progressed moth trap still being in pieces in my garage. That's not to say they aren't around though if the constant knocking against my windows each evening is anything to go by. Most of these I haven't tried to get on camera as it's usually been raining outside, but I did find a couple of beauties whilst out photographing Cuckoo Spit for the previous post. The keen gardeners amongst you may recognise the plant below as Mint, which is rather apt given that the moth upon it is a Mint Moth.

27418 - Mint Moth

27417 - Mint Moth

I spotted one of these increasingly common months in August last year on the same plant so it's great to see them back again. They are normally on the wing from May until September and are typically day flyers which is probably the reason I found them so easily. A couple of other plainer coloured moths were also out and about which is just added impetus to finally get that trap together!


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Childhood Inspiration - Bees, Bittern and Cuckoo Spit

Thursday, June 14, 2012 Adam Tilt 7 Comments

This week the BBC's Springwatch program has included a series of films featuring Chris and Martin revisiting their childhoods to experience the things that first got them hooked on nature. Pond dipping, searching for snakes and fossil hunting have all been covered and that got me thinking about what first grabbed my interest. When I cast my mind back the influence of my parents is clear with walks through the countryside, bird watching and photography all playing an important part in my upbringing. There are three distinct events which really stand out for me though as key moments where a lifelong love was formed. The first was undoubtedly spending three hours in a hide on the RSPB's Minsmere reserve looking for my first Bittern, a wait that was ultimately rewarded with two in-flight views and a superb booming display. I can still remember almost every minute of that vigil right down to where I was sat in the hide and even have the notebook in which my thirteen year old self noted down his excitement.

27415 - Old Logbook from 1997

The other two memories are from my parents back garden and were on a smaller scale, though by no means less significant. The appearance of Burrowing Bees one summer had me on my hands and knees for many an afternoon whilst I watched enthralled as a series of tunnels were slowly excavated. I seem to remember even proudly pointing them out to friends during one of my birthday parties. The next was much less mobile, though just as fascinating, and is commonly called Cuckoo Spit. I'm sure I originally took the name at face value but now know it for what it truly is. The frothy liquid is actually secreted by immature nymphs of a sap-feeding insect known as a Froghopper, and is presumed to act as a protective barrier to the creamy white insect within. It causes no harm to the plant but always manages to get on your hands no matter how hard you try and avoid it. I was pleasantly surprised yesterday evening to find my garden well endowed with 'spit' and promptly set about reliving my childhood.

27409 - Cuckoo Spit (Froghopper)

27413 - Cuckoo Spit (Froghopper)

I'm sure that many of you have similar memories, but what about children of today? The National Trust recently released a list of fifty things to do before you're eleven and three quarters (link), and I for one am happy to say that I'd managed to achieve the whole lot, bar two, by that age. If you're kids can't say the same then get them outside now so that we don't lose a whole generation to the TV and internet. Who knows, the next Chris or Martin could be out there already, just waiting for their interest to be stirred.


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Mumbles Kittiwake Update

Wednesday, June 13, 2012 Adam Tilt 7 Comments

At this time of year I'm normally looking forward to some great close encounters with the breeding Kittiwake colony on Mumbles pier. In the past I've taken some excellent photos and watched several generations of chicks hatch and finally fledge from there, and it's always been a treat. As I've mentioned previously on this blog however, the chance to repeat those magic moments is no more. Mumbles Pier has been closed for a complete rebuild and the traditional nesting sites netted off to prevent the Kittiwakes returning and subsequently being disturbed. Before you get the wrong impression I fully support the restoration project as it's something the area is crying out for. In the mean time the owners have gone to some lengths to provide alternative nesting sites on the adjoining lifeboat station. This weekend was my first chance to see how well those have been adopted, and after some initial scepticism when the plan was first announced I am pleased to report that at least some of the birds have started to nest.

27403 - Kittiwakes, Mumbles Pier

27402 - Kittiwakes, Mumbles Pier

Closer inspection of the above photos reveal at least fifteen nests with the majority located on the concrete structure itself rather then the newly provided shelves. There do appear to be signs that the Kittiwakes are starting to move onto those as well, but at the moment the number of nesting pairs is far below that which I used to see when they had access to the full pier. I do have one possible theory for the lack of uptake and that is that the surface of the wooden shelves is too smooth. I have no scientific reasoning for this beyond general observations, but the fact that they are gravitating towards the rough concrete and even the tops of posts suggests this could at least be a factor. Perhaps they don't feel comfortable on the wood as of yet, and next year it would be interesting to cover a couple with alternative surfaces to see if the birds have any preference. The spacing between each shelf could also be a bit tight but again only further experimentation will shed any light. It is early days so lets hope they become more used to their new accommodation and the colony can continue to go from strength to strength.

While we were there it seemed rude not to pop down to the beach and look for my favourite Turnstones. A relatively high tide and masses of people meant that we saw just the one, but it did pose relatively well on one of the rusting pier supports. Lighting was that bright grey which seems to have been hanging over south Wales for much of the last week, hence the rather washed out background.

27407 - Turnstone, Mumbles Pier

Over in Bracelet Bay a male Stonechat and several Cormorants drying their wings was about as good as it got, with the usual Mediterranean Gulls nowhere to be seen. I suspect they've moved out of the main hustle and bustle and are unlikely to have gone far.


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Garden Bullfinches

Tuesday, June 12, 2012 Adam Tilt 15 Comments

Some recent lax gardening resulted in a couple of Dandelions setting seed right outside my kitchen window. This is something I usually try and avoid at all costs as it invariably means I'll have more of the blighters to contend with over the coming months. There was an unexpected benefit however in that our Bullfinch pair seemed to absolutely love them. Over a couple of days they slowly devoured the lot, usually just an arms length away on the other side of the glass. The result was an outstanding series of views and my bests shots of this species to date.

27327 - Bullfinch, Garden

27333 - Bullfinch, Garden

27335 - Bullfinch, Garden

While we are on the subject of weeds I should point out the Mint that is in front of the female bird. Word of warning - definitely only ever plant it in a pot. I've got the stuff popping up all over the place!


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Cefn Drum and Graig Fawr

Thursday, June 07, 2012 Adam Tilt 3 Comments

Sunday was a total wash out but come Monday the rain had cleared even if the clouds hadn't. Neither of us particularly felt like driving anywhere so instead we struck out on foot in the direction of Cefn Drum. We'd barely got going when a Spotted Flycatcher flitted across our path in the forested section of Cwm Dulais. Unfortunately my camera was still in my rucksack so no photos, but what another great patch first especially coming so close on the back of the two Grey Partridge a couple of weeks ago. While we are on the subject we managed to accidentally flush both partridges from their usual location during our ascent, but now that the Bracken has grown up they were impossible to find once they'd landed. At least Emma got to see them this time though. The Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were again out in force along with a very decent showing of Stonechats, but a special mention should go to the two Jays who were mobbing a Buzzard above Gopa Hill. Definitely a sight I've not witnessed before. Passing the summit of Cefn Drum we were greeted by a Red Kite hunting and a solitary Mistle Thrush, both great excuses to pause and take in the view.

27390 - Cefn Drum

As you can see the lighting was pretty dire which was a real shame as with a blue sky the vista would have been stunning. I'll have to go back on a brighter day. From Cefn Drum the second 'peak' of Twyn Tyle was soon under our belt and we found ourselves on virgin territory. For those not in the know my local patch consists mostly of open access land which means no fences, no gates and the permission to wonder pretty much wherever you please. To the north of Cefn Drum sits another great swathe of this land known as Graig Fawr, a quick study of which on the OS map reveals a series of intriguing historical sites. Many of these are old cairns created from field clearances and for navigation, along with humps and bumps in the ground that hint at a time when this exposed landscape used to be inhabited and farmed. The most impressive earthworks are reserved for the highest point in this locality where an almost circular raised ring can just about be discerned. It is recorded on the local council website as a prehistoric domestic and defensive site, but in reality we know very little about its exact age and usage. In more recent times it has been used to site a trig point which still stands today.

27391 - Graig Fawr Summit

Following the route of St Illtyd's walk we soon came across some vertical slabs of rock which looked particularly out of place. It turns out they are the remains of two neolithic burial chambers which would once have been covered in a mound of earth. Remarkably they were only formally discovered in the 1990's and are now another scheduled ancient monument.

27396 - Burial Chamber, Graig Fawr

Near the bottom of Graig Fawr we made our final discovery of the day in the shape of a small area of specimen trees. Being in a landscape of predominantly open moorland they stood out like a sore thumb and were a definite indication that they had once been protected from the veracious appetites of grazing sheep. As we got nearer the remains of a stone enclosing wall could be seen and my thoughts immediately went to this being an old chapel of some sort. Exploring the insides however revealed nothing more than a stone step and a door lintel, not exactly indicative of a solidly constructed place of worship.

27392 - Byngalo Jinks, Graig Fawr

27394 - Byngalo Jinks, Graig Fawr

Through the power of Google I have been able to determine that this is in fact the site of a bungalow built in the 1920's by a TB sufferer known locally as Byngalo Jinks. His doctors recommendation was to get plenty of fresh air and he certainly chose an ideal location for that.

27395 - Byngalo Jinks, Graig Fawr

Back at home my interest was suitably piqued and I started to look into just how many historical monuments/sites I have on my local patch. The results were pretty astonishing as the map below hopefully shows, and that doesn't even include more recent developments such as the TB sufferer's house above or the extensive coal mining remnants.


Spreading my search just a couple of miles further afield revealed even more, including a couple of sizeable forts that look like they will be well worth a visit if we ever get some decent weather again. I find it fascinating and frustrating in equal measure that we know so little about the specifics of each site. If only I had a time machine.......


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RSPB Dinas - Raining Caterpillars

Wednesday, June 06, 2012 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

As surely as night follows day, the extended Jubilee weekend brought with it rain, cloud and wind. Fortunately Saturday was at least dry and the sky could optimistically be described as bright grey, so we headed north for our yearly fix of oak woodland in mid Wales. The RSPB's fantastic Dinas reserve was our destination and it immediately started to deliver with the sound of a calling Cuckoo from the car park and a soaring Red Kite overhead. In the small picnic area Emma managed to pick out a young Siskin being fed by its parent, a sight I missed while watching a Great Tit taking food into one of the nearby next boxes.

What really surprised me though were the sheer number of people in the car park. Usually you can expect at most one or two other visitors but this time every space was full. Perhaps they were trying to escape the banality that was the BBC's Jubilee coverage? Whatever the reason I feared that the influx may have pushed the birds into hiding and so quickly hurried over to the board-walk that stretches through the initial part of the forest. At first it was very quiet with just a couple of Nuthatches and a Willow Warbler putting in an appearance. Things started to look up though as we spotted a singing male Blackcap high in the tree canopy, quickly followed by our first male Pied Flycatcher. Then suddenly the woods came alive with a stunning male Redstart, Dipper, Spotted Flycatcher and at least another two Pied Flycatchers all showing within a couple of minutes of each other. The Redstart looked to be nesting on the far side of the stream with at least two nest boxes occupied by Pied Flycatcher families, whilst a pair of Blackcaps had made home nearer to ground in an area of thick vegetation. Unfortunately they all kept their distance but I did manage to capture this male Pied Flycatcher as it hunted for food.

27376 - Pied Flycatcher, RSPB Dinas

As we dropped off the board-walk the call of a Wood Warbler reached my ears and was quickly traced to a nearby tree. Remarkably the bird was at roughly eye level but a dog off the lead almost immediately spooked it into flight. Some people really don't get the concept of a nature reserve do they? Thankfully this male Chaffinch was much less wary and the light filtering through the leaves showed of its colours perfectly.

27374 - Chaffinch, RSPB Dinas

Along the river itself we spotted another (or the same) Dipper as well as a Peregrine Falcon being chased by two Crows. Wood Warblers continued to sing at regular intervals but remained elusive, something that cannot be said for the caterpillars. Everywhere you looked they were crawling along branches, up trunks or simply floating through the air in their thousands on silk threads. This meant it was nigh on impossible to take more than a few steps without becoming entangled in silk or picking up a few stowaways. This was a particular issue whenever I stepped off the main path to take a photo, and I am still picking up caterpillars today that somehow managed to make it all the way back home with us. Of course their presence is the reason why these woods are so productive, and it was no surprise to see birds with their beaks stuffed full of the juicy critters.

By now we'd battled our way through the constant bombardment and had made it to the other side of the reserve. Here the main river is left behind and once again silence returns to the reserve. Silence that is except for the calls of another two Cuckoo, one of which we managed to see at quite close range, an angry Mistle Thrush and the unmistakeable display call of a Tree Pipit. To my surprise the pipt kept dropping down to a branch not far above head hight which allowed me to get some great photos.

27384 - Tree Pipit, RSPB Dinas

27388 - Tree Pipit, RSPB Dinas

27385 - Tree Pipit, RSPB Dinas

I counted three Tree Pipit's in all, one of which gave us an excellent parachuting display as it moved from tree to tree. They were by far my best views of the species to date and were in almost exactly the same place as when I first saw them a couple of years ago. There wasn't chance to bask in our success though as a few meters further on a singing Wood Warbler was being just as showy. Again I was able to move in relatively close with the camera, and despite getting bitten several times by midges I am very pleased with the results.

27389 - Wood Warbler, RSPB Dinas

Having taken my fill an unusual call quickly had us onto a Garden Warbler, a distinctive bird for the very reason that it seems to lack any distinguishing features. In contrast the readily identifiable Great Spotted Woodpecker, Song Thrush, Treecreeper, Goldcrest, Wren, Swift, Swallow, House Martin and even a Canada Goose also made their way onto our list before we returned to the car. Now that's what I call a successful visit. There were also a couple of distinctive fungi species present including this great example of Chicken of the Woods.

27379 - Chicken of the Woods, RSPB Dinas

With a few hours left before we needed to return home we decided to head further north to the Elan valley. The steeply wooded hillside above the main visitor centre there has proved to be very productive in the past for many of the same species we'd already seen, with the added bonus that the Pied Flycatchers seem to nest much closer to the footpath. Unfortunately the weather chose not to play ball and drew our day to an early close, but rest assured we will be back.


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