Garden Great Spotted Woodpecker

Monday, July 30, 2012 Adam Tilt 6 Comments

I am very happy to report that the Great Spotted Woodpecker I previously mentioned has started to become something of a regular on our peanut feeder. On at least three days over the last week I have caught sight if it pecking away, and even managed to get close enough for the following photos on one occasion.

27644 - Great Spotted Woodpecker, Garden

27646 - Great Spotted Woodpecker, Garden

27648 - Great Spotted Woodpecker, Garden

The large red forehead patch indicates that this is a juvenile bird which could explain its presence in our garden and its relative tameness. I certainly hope it continues to visit as I can't think of a much more exciting bird to have attracted in.


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Large Skipper and Shipwreck at Rhossili

Thursday, July 26, 2012 Adam Tilt 4 Comments

I woke with shipwrecks on the brain Sunday morning which isn't as unusual for me as it might sound. With another gorgeous day forecast and a very low tide mid afternoon I decided a fourth attempt at photographing the City of Bristol wreck in Rhossili bay was definitely the way to go. Regular readers may remember my previous views of the ship have been limited to tantalising glimpses through the waves, but this time I was determined to get more. Thankfully I set off in good time as the summer traffic was in full flow whilst the beach resembled something more akin to the Costa del Sol than Gower.

27620 - Rhossili Beach, Gower

Dodging games of tennis and rugby that were sporadically breaking out, I made my way along the sweeping curve of Rhossili beach. It was nice to see a couple of this years Herring Gull chicks amongst the gathered gulls, presumably the only birds that could withstand being constantly disturbed. I was pleased to see a couple of Gannets out on the horizon as well as a thin passage of Manx Shearwaters heading north, whilst on the sand an occasional Carrion Crow was observed picking off various crustaceans left exposed by the retreating waters. Given their relative abundance Crows are a species I have yet to satisfactorily photograph so I took full advantage of a particularly tame individual.

27641 - Carrion Crow, Rhossili

27638 - Carrion Crow, Rhossili

At this point the City of Bristol was just starting to break through its watery cover but there was still over an hour to go before low tide. Taking a gamble that I wouldn't miss the critical moment I pushed on to the tidal island of Burry Holms. It's been ages since I last made it there which is a real shame as you get great views down the Bury Inlet from its ancient fort.

27625 - View from Burry Holms

It was the insect life this time which really grabbed the attention though with Meadow Browns once again very numerous. It was while waiting for one to settle that I caught sight of an unusual butterfly which I hadn't seen before. With two pairs of wings overlapping each other and a very hairy body, the Skipper family immediately came to mind. After checking my reference books that initial hunch has proved to be correct. I present to you my first Large Skipper.

27628 - Large Skipper, Burry Holms

27630 - Large Skipper, Burry Holms

The flowers upon which it was feeding were also holding hundreds of red Soldier Beetles (Rhagonycha fulva). Although not a new species for me it's the first time I've taken the time to properly photograph and identify them. They were pretty amorous as you can probably see.

27627 - Soldier Beetles (Rhagonycha fulva)

With my time up it was a mad dash back along the beach to catch the City of Bristol as she gave all she was going to. It was worth the effort as far more of her remains were visible than I have ever seen, including a section stretching away towards Worms Head that I had not previously known to exist. It's all so tantalising that I am sorely tempted to snorkel the wreck one day to try and see just how much is down there.

27636 - City of Bristol Shipwreck, Rhossili

I wasn't the only one interested in her as a visiting holiday maker took the effort to walk well over a quarter of a mile to where I was standing to ask if I knew what it was. Fortunately I was armed for just such an occasion having recently researched her history for my Gower Shipwrecks website. I sent him away with the address but I think some business cards are in order as it's certainly not the first time I have needed to give someone details of my web presence when out in the field.


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Landimore to Weobley and Beyond

Tuesday, July 24, 2012 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

Lawn cutting. The necessary evil that is the price to pay for any decent weather. Alas I fell victim on Saturday morning and was soon being punished by a combination of flying ants and a mower that weighs just a little less than a small hatchback. Thankfully I managed to escape with most of my body unharmed and did at least get to see another Ringlet butterfly and two calling Ravens overhead. Being the first day of the school summer holidays (ah those were the days) I knew that much of Gower was going to be heaving, so in the afternoon headed over to Landimore on its much less visited northern coast. From there I struck out across the fields to Weobley Castle where I was delighted to finally see a decent number of butterflies on the wing. A couple of Comma's were the highlight but they were few and far between, the majority being made up of Meadow Browns and Green-veined Whites.

27617 - Meadow Brown

27618 - Green-veined White

Under the midday sun and with an extremely low tide birds were on the scarce side, but there was still some real quality dotted about. A male Reed Bunting in the reeds beneath Weobley was accompanied by two Stonechats, whilst a Sedge Warbler with its beak stuffed full of insects is a sure sign that they have successfully bred. The nearby bushes held a female Blackcap that was behaving in such a way as to make me wonder if she also had a nest close by. She certainly didn't seem willing to move away any great distance, though who would with this view.

27616 - Llanrhidian Marsh, Gower

As I walked out along the causeway that dissects Llanrhidian Marsh my only companions were a couple of Gower ponies, several hundred sheep (one of which will no doubt form my Christmas dinner in a few months time) and the piercing calls of a small group of Swallows. In the few muddy pools that hadn't completely dried out an occasional shoal of fish would scarper away at my approach meaning I never did get clear enough views for a positive id. I always find this unspoilt landscape somewhat at odds with the WW2 watch tower that still stands sentry at the causeways terminus, a reminder of less peaceful times.

27614 - WW2 Watch Tower, Llanrhidian Marsh

If I'd thought things through a little more thoroughly I would have arrived at this point on a rising tide, but as it was all I could see were acres upon acres of sand. With no immediate prospect of that changing I retraced my route. Having a Sparrowhawk shoot across in front of me was definitely a nice way to round off the trip though I'm pretty sure the Greenfinch flock it was targeting didn't share my sentiments.


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Gower Gannets

Saturday, July 21, 2012 Adam Tilt 5 Comments

Yesterday evening was absolutely perfect with the sun beating down and a slight breeze keeping the temperature in check. After work I headed straight down to Rhossili where I was quite surprised to find the place almost deserted. You'd think people would have been out savouring every last second after the torrid conditions recently. Anyway I wasn't complaining and enjoyed a peaceful walk down to the head where I picked up a group of thirty to forty Gannets fishing in the middle of the channel. Scanning left a separate group of three birds were soaring and diving right off the coast at Tears Point, by far the closest in I have ever seen Gannets off Gower. Preying that they would stay put I worked my way closer only to be confronted with the same limitations that have prevented me from getting any pictures of the species to date. Against water my camera simply wont lock on or expose the birds correctly, so a new tact was definitely in order. A quick slither down an almost vertical slope and I had the birds against the sky. Now all I needed was some luck, and boy did I get it.

27600 - Gannet off Tears Point, Gower

27598 - Gannet off Tears Point, Gower

For over an hour I was treated to the sight of these magnificent birds soaring past me and at times right overhead. The small group of three birds slowly grew to at least fifteen individuals until I was almost surrounded. About half way through a pod of Dolphins appeared beneath them and were seen to breach on several occasions. Even better was to come though as they started surfing the bigger of the waves. It was a simply magical way to spend an evening.

On the walk back to my car I spotted this Stonechat perched obligingly on a stone wall. The colours are exactly as they were at the time due to the sun being barely visible above the horizon.

27610 - Stonechat at Sunset, Gower

27611 - Stonechat at Sunset, Gower

A few more days like this would be very welcome let me assure you.


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Friday, July 20, 2012 Adam Tilt 6 Comments

I had a sudden urge last night to head outdoors and photograph some wildlife. Unfortunately for me it was almost midnight which normally makes that particular activity a little difficult. Not one to let total darkness defeat me however, I donned a head-torch and stepped out into the garden to see what was about. After only a few minutes I was simply bowled over by the sheer variety and quantity of life that I could see. Woodlice, Slugs and Snails covered virtually every surface whilst Earwigs, Millipedes and numerous other unidentified insects provided the supporting cast. As the UK is currently home to more than thirty species of Slug they seemed like a good set of species to focus on, and I duly set about finding and photographing as many as I could.

27594 - Leopard Slug

27595 - Leopard Slug

The beauty above is a Leopard Slug, or Limax maximus for all those Latin lovers out there. The reasoning behind its name should be evident and at up to twenty centimetres in length it is one of the largest species you are likely to encounter in this country. It is almost always found close to human habitation which makes lawns, gardens and cellars very fruitful places to look for them. Their food typically consists of dead plants and fungi, but the Leopard Slug does have carnivorous tendencies and will chase down other slug species at its top speed of six inches per minute. Interestingly they have a strong homing sense and will often return to the same crack or crevice after each foraging exercise.

The second species I was able to photograph turned out to be a Black Slug, or Arion ater. Rather confusingly this individual is a red form of the species in a colour range that can stretch from jet black right through to being completely white.

27589 - Black Slug

27587 - Black Slug

I also took photos of several other Slugs but have yet to nail them down to an exact species. One in particular is quite puzzling as at the time I thought it's distinctive back markings would have made it fairly unique. However I haven't been able to find anything remotely similar online, so if anyone has any ideas please let me know in the comments below.

27588 - Unidentified Slug

Now I know choosing Slugs as a subject matter may seem slightly strange given their bad reputation, but I can honestly say that they were enthralling to watch. In fact I must be one of the few home owners out there to actively encourage their presence with the provision of rotting piles of wood and purpose built hiding places. Yes I may lose the odd plant but they certainly provide an interesting diversion when you are at a loose end late at night.


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Sunbathing at WWT Llanelli

Wednesday, July 18, 2012 Adam Tilt 5 Comments

The scarcity of updates here over this last week is testament to the continued disaster that is our so-called summer. It's rained every day for almost two weeks now and to be honest I've had enough. Even the garden is starting to show its displeasure with several plants suffering from waterlogged soil. However we're promised that the jet stream is on its way northwards in the next few days, so hopefully there is light at the end of the tunnel. In the meantime lets talk about last Sunday where a couple of hours of sunshine did miraculously break through the rain clouds. It was so uplifting to feel the warmth of direct sun again, a feeling that seemed to be shared with the gathered wildlife. Everywhere we looked there were birds sunbathing with the award for most extravagant pose going to this Blackbird.

27570 - Sunbathing Blackbird, Llanelli WWT

Above her in a tree another Blackbird was similarly basking while out on the main lagoon a Grey Heron had managed to form its wings into a bowl shape around its body. This presumably was to reflect as much warmth as possible back up onto itself. Elsewhere a Moorhen was walking around with wings outstretched whilst a Shelduck was simply panting the extra heat away.

27566 - Moorhen, Llanelli WWT

27568 - Shelduck, Llanelli WWT

There are several reasons for this behaviour beyond regulating body temperature, my favourite being that they do it for pure relaxation and enjoyment. It is also believed that sunbathing helps birds convert compounds in their preening oil into vitamin D, an essential component in maintaining good health. The extra heat can also dislodge parasites in their feathers or encourage them to move to other places on the birds body from which they can be more easily removed.

From the British Steel Hide we were delighted to see a Spoonbill standing amongst a sea of recently fledged Black Headed Gulls. It's the first one we've seen at the site this year and despite being distant was showing very nicely. The Black Tailed Godwit flock was also present and looked to have increased in size noticeably since our last visit. This was born out by a news article published a few days ago which reported an early influx of the species following failure at their Icelandic breeding grounds due to, you guessed it, bad weather! What this means is that we are already starting to see our autumn migrants with a sizeable flock of Redshank and Curlew also seen on the day. Thankfully conditions don't seem to have affected the aforementioned Black Headed Gull colonies if the hundreds of fledglings are anything to go by. Many of these were hauled up on concrete outside the Boardwalk Hide which gave some great photographic opportunities.

27577 - Black Headed Gull, Llanelli WWT

27581 - Black Headed Gull, Llanelli WWT

27585 - Black Headed Gull, Llanelli WWT

27578 - Black Headed Gull, Llanelli WWT

27582 - Black Headed Gull, Llanelli WWT

For some reason I just love their plumage at this age even though they have caused more than a little confusion in the past when spotted at distance. It's surprising how easily they can resemble certain wader species at times. Other youngsters seen included Shelducks, Mallards, Moorhens and Coots, as well as a couple of Tufted Ducks which already seem to have mastered the art of diving just as a photographer presses the shutter.

As with our trip to Mumbles the lack of butterflies was startlingly obvious. Judging from my twitter feed this isn't an isolated issue either which means its been a pretty poor year for them overall. Thankfully there were a few damselflies on the wing as well as this Southern Hawker. I've seen them on a number of occasions at the reserve but I think this is the first time I've ever managed to get a satisfactory photo.

27586 - Southern Hawker Dragonfly

A couple of other notable sightings since my last bloggage have included a Ringlet Butterfly in the lane to the rear of our house and three female/juvenile Redstarts at the head of the valley. Two little gems in another week of mediocrity.


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Rock Pipits at Mumbles Head

Wednesday, July 11, 2012 Adam Tilt 4 Comments

This weekend was a very bitty one with overtime, sporting events and out of hours support all restricting the time that I could spend out and about. Despite this I did manage to squeeze in a trip on Saturday to the Mumbles, handily coinciding with a low tide. As a result we were able to gain access to both the tidal islands that give the place its name, and even better return before they were once again cut off. The outer 'hump' with its lighthouse always reminds me of my visit to Alcatraz on account of its crumbling WW2 structures, but it was its butterfly inhabitants that I was really after. Unfortunately a strong wind and dull conditions ruled that particular avenue out. Instead we were treated to a Rock Pipit family who looked to have at least one fledgling in the vicinity if the continuous calling was anything to go by. The adults would frequently perch on the old broken walls, food in mouth, before flying down into the undergrowth which is where I suspect the young were hiding.

P1010575 - Rock Pipit, Mumbles Head

While out there I also accidentally stumbled across a geocache that we had yet to bag, a find which soon led to three more spread along our return route to Bracelet Bay. These unexpected finds are why I love the hobby as they always provide an extra avenue of enjoyment and end up taking you to places that you might otherwise not have gone. For instance I now know that there is a path around Tutt Head which could prove very useful next time we head that way for a spot of sea-watching. Speaking of which we did have a good scan of the sea but apart from four Ravens and the Kittiwakes, things were very quiet. There wasn't even a Turnstone in what has become an almost guaranteed location for the species. Still at least the view out to Mumbles Head was as spectacular as ever, with the sky showing just what a mixed bag of weather the day had delivered.

Mumbles Head

Thankfully when we got home it was the weather to the right that had won out in the end and we were treated to an hour or so of glorious sunshine. I took the opportunity to pop out into the garden where our resident pair of Collared Doves were being unusually tame. I think their attention was being taken by the tempting piles of seed that are just out of shot.

P1010581 - Collared Dove, Garden


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Garden Update - Cinnabar Moths and New Life

Sunday, July 08, 2012 Adam Tilt 7 Comments

It's been a few weeks since I've featured our garden on this blog, but after a couple of significant events now seems like the appropriate time to do so once again. Firstly we've had some great visiting birds including a male Siskin, our first since the winter, and up to three Goldfinches who have been devouring the niger seed no matter what the weather. There was also a big garden first on Friday in the shape of a male Great Spotted Woodpecker. It spent about ten minutes on the peanut feeder and is the first one I've seen anywhere near our street. I'm also happy to report that we are currently inundated with fledglings from successful Blue Tit, Great Tit, House Sparrow and Jackdaw nests. In addition this young Blackbird has been popping up every now and then and posed beautifully outside the kitchen window during a brief bout of sunshine.

P1010564 - Blackbird Fledgling, Garden

Away from the birds Cinnabar Moths have started to emerge from their winter slumbers, though I bet they wonder what they've woken up to.

27489 - Cinnabar Moth, Garden

In the next few weeks I'd expect to start seeing Cinnabar Moth caterpillars and I've left a couple of Ragwort plants growing to provide them with food. Photos if and when they put in an appearance.


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London Lizards

Friday, July 06, 2012 Adam Tilt 10 Comments

Normally when we talk about the reptiles in London it's corrupt bankers that are at the forefront of our minds. Thankfully the WWT reserve at Barnes has the sort that are far less likely to fiddle interest rates and bring the country to its knees. I am of course talking about Common Lizards, four of which we saw desperately trying to soak up the few rays of sun that managed to break through the clouds. With low body temperatures they unsurprisingly weren't that willing to move which was ideal for someone after a few photographs.

27533 - Common Lizard, WWT London

27506 - Common Lizard, WWT London

27502 - Common Lizard, WWT London

27531 - Common Lizard, WWT London

27499 - Common Lizard, WWT London

The surrounding pools were also home to several Marsh Frogs which were giving an incredible vocal display that has to be heard to be believed. If I'd though about it at the time I would have recorded some audio, but alas I have failed you. More the reason to head back again some time soon.


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WWT London

Wednesday, July 04, 2012 Adam Tilt 13 Comments

So here we are diving headlong into July and guess what? It's still raining and is forecast to continue doing so for much of the next month. Given that I spend so much of my time outdoors this is starting to get beyond annoying and is turning into something of a farce. I know British summers are legendary for their unreliability when it comes to the weather, but seriously? It's got to the point that I can barely sit still at work such is my yearning to be striding across some remote area of our countryside. At times like this drastic actions are called for, so on Sunday we headed all the way east to London's WWT reserve. And it rained there too!

27491 - WWT London

It's not quite as bad as I make out as we did at least get a couple of breaks in the weather including the one above that rather handily coincided with our arrival. It was short lived however but there were plenty of hides to shelter in when the downpours came. Being the middle of summer (supposedly) the birds were pretty restricted in number and variety, but there was some nice quality on offer after a bit of hunting. Young Lapwings and three Common Tern chicks show just how quickly this site has become an important wildlife habitat, whilst a pair of Egyptian Geese were unexpected and probably have very suspect origins. They could fly though so they are going on my list. Over the pools there were plenty of Swifts, House Martins and Sand Martins with the occasional Sedge Warbler making an appearance, not to mention the overflying Ring-necked Parakeets that lend a hint of the exotic to this urban metropolis. All were repelled by the sight of my camera though until we found a family of Mute Swans. The parents were looking after five cygnets and I defy anyone to call them "ugly ducklings".

27514 - Mute Swan Cygnet, WWT London

27512 - Mute Swan Cygnet, WWT London

Coot and Moorhen fledglings on the other hand almost look as if they were made for such a title. This is a face only a mother could love.

27493 - Coot Chick, WWT London

Grey Herons were very numerous which was nice to see after their marginalisation back home at the hands of Little Egrets. One youngster was particularly tame and was happy standing to attention mere feet away from the public. We chose a spot nearby to sit and eat our lunch, a decision which ended up having very unexpected consequences. Just as I was tucking into my apple (who am I kidding, it was an apple pie) a Water Vole popped out of some reeds and swam five meters or so before disappearing back into the undergrowth. I couldn't believe it as it's been years since I last saw one. Hopefully it will keep its distance from the Heron as I'd hate to be on the receiving end of that beak.

27522 - Grey Heron, WWT London

A little later and we witnessed an Eel that had fallen foul of another Grey Heron. Going on past experience I expected a longer battle between the two, but after a quick stab it was down the hatch in a matter of seconds.

27526 - Grey Heron with Eel, WWT London

Further signs of breeding could be seen all over the reserve with young Linnets, Robins, Great Tits, Blue Tits and even a Jay showing at various points. Even the main welcome centre was a hive of activity with Jackdaws nesting in light fittings, Feral Pigeons hanging perilously onto thatched roofs and this Starling chick poking its head out from a small gap in the brickwork. The parents were making regular visits with food and removed several faecal sacks whilst we watched, but I never did manage to catch one at the nest itself.

27518 - Starling nest, WWT London

Back to the water and a pair of Great Crested Grebes were showing definite signs of mating. One of the birds in particular was acting aggressively towards everything in its vicinity, including us on a low bridge over the water. We got a few tantalising seconds of the mirroring dance display that this species is so famous for, but sadly that was all. If you visit over the next couple of days though you could be in for a real treat.

27524 - Great Crested Grebe, WWT London

27525 - Great Crested Grebes, WWT London

That pretty much wraps things up on the bird front but tomorrow I shall have a post covering a more reptilian aspect of the reserve. Stay tuned.


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