Reflections on 2012 - Part 2

Sunday, December 30, 2012 Adam Tilt 8 Comments

Continuing on from part one of my 2012 round-up, here's a run down from August through December.


August was dominated by our first foreign trip in years to the Interlaken area of Switzerland. There's no possible way that I can hope to summarise such a monumental location in just a few words, so instead here are a couple of my favourite landscapes.

Panorama Walk from Schynige Platte, Switzerland

Interlaken, Switzerland

The bird life was also something special with this Alpine Accentor being my personal pick of the bunch.

Alpine Accentor, Switzerland

If you want to read more about the trip then I recommend heading here where Alpine Choughs, Marmots, Chamois and much more awaits.


The start of September saw me finding my first Reed Warbler of the year at, surprisingly, Sandy Water Park. It was skulking through some lakeside vegetation and was of great annoyance to Emma who had elected to stay in the car instead of braving the elements. She needn't have worried as a week later we were in Kent for my sisters wedding. While there we visited the fantastic Oare Marshes where a second Reed Warbler kindly showed itself along with an overhead Osprey and a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper. That was just the tip of the iceberg with the reserve holding thousands of other birds including Avocets, Green Sandpiper and Ruff. A few miles away and we were being treated to Marsh Harriers and a Yellow Wagtail whilst the cottage was a mass of Hummingbird Hawk-moths. Superb.

When we made it back home it was a Stonechat once more that really stood out from the various photographs I was taking. This brilliantly tame individual was up on Bryn-bach-Common and it allowed me to approach within a couple of metres.

Stonechat - Bryn-bach-Common

September was also the month of spectacular sunsets with Llanelli foreshore seemingly the perfect location from which to take them all in. I was present for several evenings with the following landscape easily the best of all.

Angry Sunset at Llanelli


October saw us wave goodbye to most of our summer visitors but there was still the occasional Swallow or House Martin dotted around Gower. We also welcomed the return of some old favourites with Redwings and a Brambling back on patch. When I think back though it is my discovery of a Wryneck on the Pembrokeshire coast that really stands out above everything else. We found the bird on the northern slopes of Porth Maenmelyn after following a group of Stonechats into the area. That led to the discovery of a Dartford Warbler which in turn led to me flushing the Wryneck. You really couldn't make it up. My disbelief was only compounded further when I managed to get both the Wryneck and one of the two Dartford Warblers present in the same photo. Simply amazing.

Wryneck, near Strumble Head

Dartford Warbler and Wryneck, near Strumble Head

Anything else was going to have to work very hard to beat that, but a Weasel above Oxwich Point came pretty close. We found it running through the ruins of a wall where it would stop to look at us before continuing on its merry way. In the end we were able to get pretty close but I never managed to get that killer shot I was after. Nevertheless this photo captures the Weasel character perfectly.

28932 - Weasel, Oxwich Point


You might think that November is a bit late in the year to be taking a holiday but trust me, Norfolk is absolutely perfect for it. Pink Footed Geese feed in the fields in their thousands and there aren't any of those annoying tourists clogging up the roads or beaches. This year we chose to stay in the middle of Wells which gave us brilliant access to the reserves at Titchwell and Cley as well as the Holkham estate. At all three we were treated to the sight of several Snow Buntings feeding but they pale in comparison to the flock of sixty plus at Holms-next-the-sea. To see them lifting off together was just mind boggling and probably ranks in my top three wildlife experiences of the year.

28994 - Snow Bunting, Holkham Gap

Elsewhere Marsh Harriers, Red Crested Pochards, Barn Owls, Bar Tailed Godwits and Bramblings kept us entertained whilst the appearance of three House Martins and a single Swallow over Wells beach was a real surprise. I think they make the record books as the latest hirundines I have ever seen in the country.

At home we took a couple of nice walks on Gower to explore Paviland cave and to stretch our legs towards Broughton Bay. The latter led to the discovery of a sunken forest as well as what ranks as my favourite Gower view of the year.

29004 - Whiteford Sands, Gower


And so to December which you only really need to glance down this page slightly to relive. The big news was that after a couple of years we finally managed to connect with some Waxwings. We found at least sixty feeding on berries along Bangor Street in Cardiff and they were every bit as fantastic as I'd hoped for. Although the light was terrible I did manage to get the following shot which I am particularly pleased with.

29050 - Waxwings, Cardiff

There was also the spectacular walk I took up to the snowy peak of Pen y Fan. As a self-confessed snow addict it was just what the doctors ordered following a year that, as you have seen, was largely bereft of the white fluffy stuff. For my third ascent of the peak I couldn't have wished for better conditions with the vistas stretching out for miles in every direction.

29096 - Pen y Fan

And there we have it. 2012 in a nutshell. In these entries I've only skimmed the very top of what was, on reflection, a very productive year and I really encourage you to flick back through this blog's history as there is real quality hidden within. Hopefully in the next twelve months that is something I can continue to build on so here's to 2013. Happy New Year and thanks for all your support..


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Reflections on 2012 - Part 1

Friday, December 28, 2012 Adam Tilt 3 Comments

It's become something of a tradition recently for wildlife and photography bloggers to revisit their favourite moments from the past year during December. Never one to miss a trend this will be my contribution and I promise to avoid mentioning the endless rain that seems to have been a permanent fixture here in Wales.


A new year and with it new objectives that sadly didn't take long to fall by the wayside. The much promised moth trap remained just that (stay tuned for big news on the mothing front), my planned bio-blitz of the garden was quashed by a lack of time and yes, it rained a lot (I really wont mention it again, honest). The annual tick and twitch event at our local WWT reserve delivered a respectable 58 species on the first including a cracking Slavonian Grebe out on the estuary. A Hawthorn Shield Bug was an interesting find in the kitchen before a lovely day at Slimbridge delivered such quality sightings as Lesser Scaup, White Fronted Geese and of course the Bewick's Swans. It is however a more common species that has the honour of being the first photo included here in the shape of this Pochard.

25464 - Pochard, Slimbridge

A week later and it was my local patch that really delivered the goods with Buzzards, Ravens and Red Kites all putting in an appearance. Those three have been a regular presence ever since but I have still yet to beat the flock of six Red Kites that turned up on the seventh. They were soaring above Bryn-bach-Common and I just had chance to grab a record shot before they drifted over the hill and out of sight. The result is never going to win any awards but it is special to me because of the moment it represents and that is why it is included here.

25493 - Red Kites

Later in the month we walked what was to be one of many new routes in the local area, this time taking in Dunraven and the Ogmore estuary. Despite the fog we had a great time exploring what remains of the old country house and also scored four Goosander, thirty two Goldeneye and three Grey Wagtails on the river. We also visited the waterfalls at Ystradfellte for the first time and they are definitely due a return in 2013.


February started in the best way possible with what was to be our only real snowfall of the year. Down here at the coast we were treated to nothing better than slush so we hopped into the car and headed for Pen y Fan. There we found near blizzard conditions and I was in my element. The temptation to climb to the top was large but we were ill-equipped for the conditions and instead spent time marvelling at icicles along the river.

The next couple of weeks were spent on Gower where we enjoyed great views of Chough around Rhossili and Hill End as well as the ever popular Mediterranean Gulls at Bracelet Bay. It is from a walk along Whitford though that my first photo comes and it shows the flock of Eider that are often found in that area.

25541 - Eider, Whitford Point, Gower

Apart from being my best Eider photo to date it is also the closest I have ever managed to get to these particular birds. I used natural cover to creep down to the waters edge and was privileged to observe display behaviour over a prolonged period. They either didn't notice me or simply didn't care and I was only able to move again once they'd gently drifted off along the coast.

February is also the month that sees Toads migrating to their traditional spawning grounds. Our nearest spot to observe this behaviour is at Burry Port and as in previous years we were there to provide a helping hand. Across two nights we rescued upwards of forty Toad's from the road and hopefully went a little way to helping secure this populations future. As ever all I asked was that one or two posed for me, and that they did exceptionally well.

25568 - Toad, Burry Port


We kicked March off with a sunny visit to Cosmeston that probably produced my single best photographic day of the year. As a result picking a favourite image is almost an impossible task, especially when considering that Whooper Swan, Lesser Scaup and a very confiding male Reed Bunting all posed beautifully for me. Instead I've travelled a couple of miles down the road to Forest Farm where we were treated to an impressive arrival by this Bittern.

25733 - Bittern, Forest Farm

It flew in from our left and landed right at the top of these reeds which somehow managed to hold its weight. From there it had a good look around before finally dropping down out of sight. Seeing any Bittern is always a special experience but to have such great views of this one made it especially memorable.

March also saw the arrival of a new camera to my life in the shape of a Panasonic Lumix FZ150. My old FZ28 had served me admirably but its lack of low light ability and short (by todays standards) zoom was starting to limit my creativity. Having used the FZ150 ever since I am happy to report that it has more than lived up to expectations as demonstarted by this Stonechat shot in appalling weather towards the end of the month.

25798 - Stonechat, Bracelet Bay


Easter bank holiday saw us returning to Lyme Regis for our first, and as it turned out only, camping trip of the year. Needless to say our fossil collection grew impressively once more and we started to see the arrival of spring migrants. Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Sand Martins all put on a show but its from the rock pools near Seatown that my first selection comes. Peering into the crystal clear water we were amazed at the colour and variety of Anemone's present including Beadlet and two Snake-locks varieties. Also present was a Velvet Swimming Crab which for sheer aggression towards us wins its coveted place here.

25871 - Velvet Swimming Crab, Seatown

Back home and the flood of migrants continued with Willow Warbler, Swallow and Wheatear all making landfall. There was also the unusual arrival of a Pink Footed Goose at WWT Llanelli which I believe stayed for at least a couple of weeks. It is to Gower that we must head for my second photo though and a walk that I took out to Worms Head. Crossing the causeway I was delighted to see a trio of Sandwich Terns fishing close to shore and managed to get my first in-flight shot of one in action.

26914 - Sandwich Tern, Rhossili


Our annual trip to Mull took place in May and was as spectacular as ever. I don't think I'll ever tire of watching Golden Eagles soaring over the house while we eat breakfast or having Snipe walking just outside. This year though the highlight was undoubtedly the Short Eared Owls which each night patrolled the valley where we stay. The views were simply out of this world and I had a couple of attempts at getting photographs which was tricky in the near total darkness. I did get lucky with one bird that landed nearby and showed off its 'ears' to full effect.

26969 - Short Eared Owl, Mull

I should also mention again the incredible encounter we witnessed between a male Hen Harrier and one of the Short Eared Owls. We could see them heading towards each other along the hillside until eventually they met talon to talon. After a brief skirmish they went their separate ways but what a special moment to witness.

Back at home the month was packed with great sightings including breeding Dippers on my local patch as well as the appearance of two Grey Partridge. The latter stuck around in roughly the same place for several weeks before Bracken growth meant they became impossible to track. On the walking front we took a spectacular route into the Brecons to see Llyn y Fan Fawr and Llyn y Fan Fach on what turned out to be a gorgeous day. The views were spectacular but they were just pipped for inclusion here by the superb male Smew that dropped into the local WWT reserve. Despite snoozing beneath the overhanging vegetation for much of our visit it did eventually drift into the open for my camera.

27263 - Smew, Llanelli WWT


A wet Saturday at the beginning of the month found us at the RSPB's Dinas reserve for our yearly pilgrimage. It's still the best location I know of to see woodland migrants and once again it delivered in spades. Pied Flycatchers, Spotted Flycatchers, Wood Warblers and Redstarts all showed very well but nothing could beat this Tree Pipit singing its heart out.

27388 - Tree Pipit, RSPB Dinas

A couple of weeks later and the sun had returned allowing us to take an extended walk around the Marloes peninsula in Pembrokeshire. The birdlife was stunning and included Sedge Warblers, five Chough, Linnets, breeding Swallows, Whitethroats, Razorbills and this stunning Raven. It was part of a family group and was much more obliging than our local birds.

27432 - Raven, Marloes

Special mention should also go to the Gull-billed Tern that turned up below Loughor bridge on the twenty fourth. I missed it that day after wrongly deciding to watch England get knocked out of Euro 2012, but thankfully it stuck around long enough for me to connect the next day. Although distant its beak was unmistakeable and we did eventually get some great flight views. Thinking back that was the only real rarity I saw all year which is a sharp decline over recent times. Let's hope that's something that can be corrected in 2013.


The mid-point of the year saw new life in full flow with breeding Rock Pipits on Mumbles Head, young Blackbirds and Blue Tits in our garden and huge numbers of Black Headed Gull chicks at WWT Llanelli. The first Cinnabar Moths also appeared around the house while we took visits to the Barnes reserve in London and I decided to photograph slugs in the garden (yes I was quite bored that night). One evening stands out above all others though and that is the time I spent at Tears Point on Gower. I was fortunate to arrive on a perfect summers evening to find Gannets fishing not far off the coast. Settling down to watch I was aware of them getting closer and closer until they were circling right overhead. Never in my life have I been so close to these magnificent birds and I was fortunate to capture a couple of brilliant photos. Of those this one is my favourite and it still makes me smile every time I see it.

27598 - Gannet off Tears Point, Gower

There was also a notable first this month when a Great Spotted Woodpecker decided to drop into the garden. It showed on a couple of different occasions during which I was able to creep closer with my camera. The following photo is the result and is another of my personal favourites.

27644 - Great Spotted Woodpecker, Garden

Check back in a couple of days to read all about August - December.


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Final Birds of 2012

Wednesday, December 26, 2012 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

With 2012 rapidly ticking off its final days I've been getting in a spot of last minute birding around the Christmas festivities. Principally this has involved sitting in the car at Llanrhidian marsh each evening in the hope of spotting a wintering Hen Harrier. We had no luck on that front but what we did see proved to be even better. First up was a stunning Barn Owl hunting the area beneath Weobley castle on the 24th. It was visible for well over half an hour and as only my second sighting of one outside Norfolk I was pretty chuffed. Its ghostly white shape stood out in stark contrast to the dull surroundings of yet another grey, wet day. Surely we must be due some better weather next year.

25821 - Llanrhidian Marsh Sunset
 Weobley and Llanrhidian earlier this year

Our next star bird came in the shape of a magnificent Great White Egret. There's been at least two about the Burry Inlet for much of the year but despite a couple of efforts we had so far failed to see either. Our closest encounter came just below Llangennech but the views weren't quite good enough for a positive ID. Such doubts were nowhere to be seen this time however as the Egret lifted out of the reeds and proceeded to fly serenely across to the Little Egret roost. There it perched with thirty two of its smaller cousins and gave us a great opportunity to compare the size difference between the two species. It may have taken a year but finally we'd nailed one.

Another watch on Christmas day produced nothing so spectacular but there were an impressive number of Common Scoter in Rhossili Bay. I didn't fancy making an exact count in the blustery conditions, but as a conservative estimate there must have been upwards of two hundred birds present. They stretched in a long raft from roughly the edge of the bay to just outside of where waves were beginning to break and looked very well settled. Let's hope they stay that close for a while longer as you never know what may join them.


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Patchwork Challenge 2013

Thursday, December 20, 2012 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

Having approached 2012 with no clear plans I've often found myself missing out on opportunities and not being as active in the field as I would have liked. Summer evenings spent inside just seem such a waste now that it's winter and there's not even a chance of getting out during the week. As a result I've set myself a few challenges to make sure that I get the most out of what I'm hoping will be an interesting 2013, both for me and this blog. The first of these is a new competition launched just last month whose aim is to promote and encourage the activity of patch birding.

Regular readers will probably have seen me referring to my 'local patch' on numerous occasions and I am by no means alone in having allocated myself such a place. Put simply a local patch is a small area of the countryside which a birder regularly visits throughout the year. Usually they are within a few minutes of the persons home and, apart from those lucky enough to live next to a nature reserve, they normally cover ground that to most people would look pretty barren. And that's precisely what drives many birders out onto their patch at every opportunity. You can spend months seeing nothing but the usual suspects only to stumble upon a country first when you least expect it. Why do you think so many rarities are found in places that have you wondering "who on earth was looking for birds there?".


The OS map above shows my own patch centred on Cefn Drum and Bryn-bach-Common. Both are areas of common land to the north west of Swansea and circle what used to be a coal colliery. Since its closure the buildings have gone and mine entrances blocked with nature left to heal the remaining scars. What exists today therefore is extensive open moorland with a stream and mature woodland down in the valley bottom. Being a few miles inland we get the occasional sea bird flying over but the bulk of sightings are firmly in the woodland/grassland categories. Saying that there are occasional surprises such as breeding Dippers, Grey Partridge and plenty of raptors. Hopefully that's a list I can build on during the next twelve months.

24009 - Sunset over Cwm Dulais

23708 - Cairn on Cefn Drum

This is where the patchwork challenge comes in. Set up by Ryan, Mark and Colin there are already upwards of 120 birders signed up, including myself, to take part in a little friendly competition. The winner will be the person who has the best year on their patch which through a quite ingenious scoring system will be roughly comparable to every other patch involved. This is mainly achieved by comparing a persons 2013 score with what their score would have been last year. For those interested the full rules can be found here.

27363 - Grey Partridge, Cefn Drum

24345 - Yellowhammer, Cwm Dulais

With my scorecard downloaded and patch details submitted there is nothing left to do but wait until January. My main objective is to increase my understanding of what flora and fauna species call this small part of Wales home, but I can't deny that a first rarity there would definitely be the icing on the cake. Watch this space.


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Reflective Mediterranean Gulls

Tuesday, December 18, 2012 Adam Tilt 15 Comments

I've got a bit of a record going when it comes to producing decent birds whenever my parents come to visit. Glossy Ibis, Woodchat Shrike and parading Bitterns have all helped add to the mystique that in reality comes down to nothing more than damn good timing on their part. One species though I am able to provide almost on demand, and that is the Mediterranean Gull. Regular readers will have seen the flock at Bracelet Bay featured on here numerous times previously and I make no apologies for doing so again. This time however I hope you'll agree that weather conditions and a flooded car park have combined to produce something a little less ordinary.

29116 - Mediterranean Gull, Bracelet Bay

29108 - Mediterranean Gull, Bracelet Bay

29111 - Mediterranean Gull, Bracelet Bay

29119 - Mediterranean Gull, Bracelet Bay

The young bird in the majority of these photos was easily my tamest Med to date and allowed both my dad and I to approach within a couple of meters. It was perfectly happy to paddle around and preen while we both tried out different angles and camera settings. The surrounding area held at least another ten individuals, one of which was ringed but flew off before I'd had a chance to read it. I guess that means I've got a perfect excuse to go back again in the near future (as if I needed one).


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Snowy Pen y Fan

Thursday, December 13, 2012 Adam Tilt 9 Comments

Anyone who knows me will have by now realised that I love snow. From November onwards I am constantly glued to various weather forecasting services in an attempt to work out when the first flurries will arrive. Of course we usually just end up with rain and sleet but having a commanding view over the Brecon Beacons from work does at least allow me to see some of the white stuff. On Saturday though I finally decided that looking was no longer enough and set off to climb Pen y Fan on what was to be my first ever mountain ascent in the snow.

29069 - Corn Du

My chosen route took me up what I consider to be the more difficult of the paths from Storey Arms and in no time at all I had the snowline in sight. Conditions couldn't have been more perfect with a crystal clear sky and no wind to bring the already sub-zero temperature any lower. What I hadn't anticipated were the sheets of ice that coated the path so I was forced to cut a new track up the slope on virgin territory. Each step was carefully chosen so as not to be caught unawares by hidden drifts or frozen streams, and in that manner I made good progress. Good progress that is until the final push up to Corn Du which had to be made on hands and knees to avoid a rather rapid descent back the way I'd come. Let me assure you that I've never felt so satisfied at seeing a summit cairn.

29071 - Corn Du

29070 - Corn Du

29079 - Corn Du

29075 - Corn Du

The small drop and climb up to Pen y Fan itself was completed in no time and I spent a good while soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the superb vistas splayed out before me. In every direction I looked I was confronted with yet more stunning beauty and it was only when I began to feel the cold seeping in that I finally moved on.

29096 - Pen y Fan

29081 - Pen y Fan

29098 - Pen y Fan

29082 - Corn Du

29090 - Pen y Fan

By now there were several more groups arriving on the mountain which seemed to be causing the resident Ravens a degree of frustration. They were continuously soaring along the ridges calling and would often come so close as to be able to hear the wind rushing through their feathers. One individual was particularly brave and walked right up to me before launching itself off into the abyss.

29088 - Raven, Pen y Fan

I briefly contemplated going for Cribyn but decided that the ascent looked a little too treacherous considering I didn't have any spikes on my boots. Instead I turned for home along the more popular route down to Storey Arms. If anything the ice on that path was even worse and at one point I found myself sliding downhill with nothing to stop me. A small protruding rock provided the necessary purchase to halt my progress but I took things a lot slower after that.

29100 - Corn Du

From these photos and words I hope I've painted a picture of what conditions were like up there, so it may come as a surprise to learn that I saw a group heading up in canvas shoes, hoodies and with no visible supplies. That's risky in the middle of summer let alone at this time of year and just goes to show the stupidity of some people. No wonder we hear of so many mountain rescues. The landscape in Wales is fantastic but take liberties and eventually it will bite back.


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Guillemots, Otters and Bosherston

Tuesday, December 11, 2012 Adam Tilt 3 Comments

Before Waxwing fever gripped us a couple of weekends ago we'd already had quite a successful days birding and walking at Bosherston lily ponds in Pembrokeshire. It seems like an absolute age since we were last there, a visit which sticks in the mind due to the then drought conditions and extremely low water levels. As UK readers will know drought is not something that we're currently suffering from, so it came as no surprise to find the ponds full to bursting with several of their low bridges completely submerged. Given our plan was for a circular loop that meant at some point we were in for a paddle.

29032 - Bosherston Lily Ponds

We started by heading down to the coast along a route lined with Robins, several of which were sufficiently tame to take a seed from Emma's hand. There was also a sizeable flock of Long Tailed Tits and a couple of Goldcrests, but the real interest was to be found out on the water where several Goldeneye were fishing. We counted six females and four males along with a single Pochard which was closely associating with the group. Our attention was soon taken however by a splash and the appearance of an Otters head. It was gone again in the blink of an eye only to reappear a little further out complete with fish in mouth. That was soon devoured and an even bigger fish produced in what must be excellent hunting grounds. Instead of getting stuck in though the Otter swam directly to the opposite shore where it submerged and didn't reappear. I presume it has a burrow in the bank there which is the first time I've been able to identify such a site. It was also the first time I've managed to see the Otters in the morning as past encounters have always taken place late afternoon or at dusk. The one constant was a lack of light so no photos this time, but you can watch videos from previous sightings here and here.

29034 - Bosherston Lily Ponds

As the views above show, we were being treated to some very pleasant early morning sun but the dark clouds gave a hint that all was not to be plain sailing. Nevertheless we carried on and soon came to Broad Haven where the stream that drains the pools was more of a raging torrent than the gentle trickle we are used to. Fortunately the bridge that crosses it was clear of water and we were soon enjoying the solitude of a Welsh beach in winter.

29036 - Broad Haven

A pair of Choughs feeding on the hillside was a nice find as we headed round to Stackpole Head, as were the Ravens that noisily flew past. Slightly less welcome was the prevailing smell of petrol which hung heavy in the still, cool air. The nearest oil refinery is several miles away from Bosherston but conditions must have been perfect to spread its odour in our direction. Thankfully after a few spectacular showers it cleared but it makes you wonder what those who live a lot closer have to put up with.

29039 - Broad Haven

On Stackpole Head itself I was delighted to find at least thirty Guillemots perched on a ledge beneath us. They were making the most of a large horizontal crack which allowed them to be almost completely sheltered from the elements whilst maintaining a view out over the ocean. The vast majority were in full plumage including a single Bridled Guillemot. Although these are a colour morph rather than a separate sub-species I still look out for them each year and this was my first for 2012. Talk about leaving it late.

29043 - Guillemots, Stackpole Head

29041 - Guillemots, Stackpole Head

29045 - Guillemots, Stackpole Head

Another couple of Choughs at Stackpole Quay kept us ticking along until we found twelve Goosander up from the eight arch bridge. They kept their distance but showed extremely well along with a couple of Teal and four Little Grebes. A few Cormorants drying their wings and a perched Buzzard rounded off the days birding before finally we were faced with the prospect of wading across a submerged bridge to reach the car. I'm amazed to say that despite being ankle deep neither of our boots let in a drop of moisture. In fact they were so watertight that it took effort to force them through the water such was their buoyancy.  Needless to say Mammut definitely get my recommendation if you are in the market for new footwear.


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