Snow Tracks

Tuesday, January 29, 2013 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

One of my favourite things to do when it snows is to look for animal tracks. Like an artists brush the disturbances made by passing creatures tell a story that at any other time of the year would simply have gone unnoticed. The wanderings of a bird looking for food or the tracks of a passing mammal are lain out before us in perfect clarity, often many hours after their owner has left the scene. Our recent snowfall was of the perfect consistency to preserve these transient signs and it didn't take us long to spot this pretty unmistakeable set of Rabbit prints up on Gopa Hill.

29193 - Snow Tracks, Rabbit

I probably got a little more excited about this than I should have, but seeing them really harked back to my childhood where this classic shape was no stranger to fans of Disney animations. As far as I can tell the local Rabbit population here is pretty small and I've only had a couple of sightings in the flesh over recent years, so it was nice to see more evidence of their presence. A little further on and a whole story was on display.

29196 - Snow Tracks, Rabbit

The photo above shows where the Rabbit (I'm presuming the same one as there was only a single set of prints) comes in from the bottom, has a rummage near the bushes and then hops off out of shot at the top.

Of course where there are Rabbits there is likely to be something that hunts them, and round here that is mainly done by one of the local Foxes. Not far from these tracks were the clear footprints of a Fox crossing the path and disappearing through a well worn hole in the vegetation.

29195 - Snow Tracks, Fox

Now the perfect next shot in this sequence would have been to find evidence of the two coming face to face, though to have done so would have been incredibly lucky. Saying that it's not unheard of so it's worth keeping an eye out next time you're walking in snow.


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Coed Bach Park - Thrushes

Saturday, January 26, 2013 Adam Tilt 3 Comments

As I'm writing this I can hear the all too familiar sound of rain bouncing off the windows. The snow of last week has now departed in the face of Atlantic weather systems meaning that for the next few days it looks like we are back to warm but damp conditions. Fortunately I still have a couple of posts to share involving the snow so we can at least pretend that it's still here.

I mentioned in my last post that the walk around our local patch had delivered a distinct lack of thrushes. The reason for this was pretty obvious in that snow covered hillsides wouldn't have exactly been their destination of choice when searching for food. A far more likely place to find them would be the woodland of Coed Bach Park where I guessed the trees would have provided some shelter to the ground below.

29209 - Coed Bach Park

Sure enough their leafless limbs had managed to prevent snow falling in large areas and it didn't take more than a couple of seconds to spot our first Redwing flying through. Another was turning over leaves nearby with at least twenty more scattered amongst the huge number of Blackbirds. Sadly it was so dark that I didn't even attempt a photo but seeing them was reward enough. At this point I should probably admit that until very recently I hadn't realised that the park was in fact much bigger than I'd originally thought. With the creation of better paths a whole new area has been opened up and this seemed like an ideal opportunity to explore it. Again we found yet more Redwings along with a couple of passing Mistle Thrushes and a superb Treecreeper. The air was also filled with the sounds of at least two calling Buzzards, one of which we found a short while later perched on a shed roof.

29206 - Buzzard, Coed Bach Park

The light really was failing at this point but there was still time to nip down to the river and see if anything had been brought in by the cold weather. A flushed Snipe put the fear of God into us as it erupted from the reeds, but it was out on the marshy fields where my breath was truly taken away. A mixed flock of several hundred Starlings, Fieldfares and Redwings were swarming over the land whilst a couple of Canada Geese looked on (yes I know but they are actually quite scarce here). A large flock of Fieldfares is something that I have never quite managed to connect with before as usually we see just the occasional one or two. Therefore this represented something of a red letter day and I thoroughly enjoyed watching them go about their business.

29210 - Coed Bach Park

As we headed for home a pair of Collared Doves reminded us that Spring really is just around the corner. A frozen and snow covered Tesco car park may not be everyone's choice of location for an intimate moment, but for them it obviously did the job.


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Patchwork Challenge 1 - Snow!

Sunday, January 20, 2013 Adam Tilt 5 Comments

These last couple of days have been fantastic as for the first time in two years we've finally had decent snowfall. The result was an inevitable day off work but more importantly it gave me the perfect opportunity to get my Patchwork Challenge under way. You may remember me blogging about this back in December, the objective being to see as many species as possible on a given 'local patch'. For me this meant formally adopting the areas of Cefn Drum and Bryn-bach-Common, both of which should be no strangers to regular readers. Of course I'm not expecting to get the highest overall count as my small area of Welsh countryside is never going to compete with those who bird such places as Minsmere and Titchwell, but that's the beauty of the Patchwork Challenge. It's not the highest score that wins but the person who has the best year in comparison to their last. On that front I hope to be a contender as with a little effort I'm sure I can turn up some really nice finds.

29188 - Snowy Scenes

Despite this being my first official outing on patch in 2013 I have been keeping a close eye on our garden which itself is included in my study area. All the usual suspects have been present and I've been delighted to welcome back several Starlings now that the temperature has dropped. There have also been a couple of notable rarities, for the garden at least, in the shape of a Pied Wagtail and a Wren, not forgetting of course the regular aerial visitors of Buzzard, Raven, Red Kite, Herring Gull, Lesser Black Backed Gull and Black Headed Gull. Yesterday though everything was blown out of the water by a Goldcrest briefly alighting in our apple tree followed by a Grey Wagtail just over the back fence. Result.

29192 - Snowy Scenes

29190 - Snowy Scenes

Up on Gopa Hill the snowy conditions were not surprisingly having an impact on the number of birds present with just a few Blue Tits and Great Tits skipping through the trees. Both Ravens were calling loudly from atop the telephone mast but other than a couple of House Sparrows that was about it.

29198 - Snowy Scenes

If anything Bryn-bach-Common was even quieter and I couldn't locate a Yellowhammer no matter how hard I tried (rather annoyingly Emma saw one in the garden on Friday but I was still in bed). Instead I had to make do with a distant Red Kite up the valley and a passing Rook.

29201 - Snowy Scenes

29202 - Snowy Scenes

Down in the valley and the evidence of illegal off-roading was sadly not hard to miss. The churned up ground did seem to have one advantage though in that it let the birds access less frozen earth. Making the most of this unexpected offering were a pair or Robins, male and female Stonechats and a single Meadow Pipit. I did try for a photograph but at the first sign of the birds discomfort I backed off. They've a hard enough job surviving at the moment without well meaning birders keeping them off their food. We left some Sunflower seeds to keep them going.

Walking back along the Dulais we kept an eye out for the Dippers from last year but I highly expect them to have moved down to lower altitudes. That's one species which I'll probably have to wait until March or April to add. Disappointingly there weren't any thrush species present though another Goldcrest helped reinforce my thoughts that they are doing quite well on patch. The Red Kite also put in another appearance but never quite close enough for the camera.

29205 - Red Kite

Back in the garden and I saw what may count as the first signs of Spring. A Blue Tit was investigating one of the next boxes and was seen to do the same today. Having not bred there successfully for the last couple of years it would be great if they had another attempt.

So where does all that leave me on the Patchwork Challenge? I've input all my values into the spreadsheet and am pretty pleased with a score of 33 points for 32 species (Red Kite my only double pointer). That's almost exactly half my comparative score from last year and is definitely a promising omen for the coming months.

33/68 (2013/2012)


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Early Morning Aberystwyth

Saturday, January 19, 2013 Adam Tilt 5 Comments

On Sunday we were out early to make best use of the relatively bright sky and a distinct lack of people. Almost immediately we found a Purple Sandpiper perched halfway down the sea wall in what turned out to be quite a precarious position. I didn't even have chance to focus the camera before a large wave rolled in and very nearly engulfed the tiny bird. It only just escaped with the breaker nipping at its feet all the way to a slightly safer perch near the pier. A little further on and it was a flock of roosting Turnstones that caught our attention with several Ringed Plovers sat behind. Regular readers will know that I can never pass a Turnstone without at least trying for a photograph, and the group duly obliged.

29171 - Turnstones and Ringed Plovers, Aberystwyth

29174 - Turnstones, Aberystwyth

I could have probably got even closer to try for a couple of portrait shots but a large wave soon put paid to that. With the roost site engulfed and my left foot considerably wetter it was time to move on.

Progress along the beach was more difficult than usual due to the heavy frost having stuck every rock and pebble together. The effect was something akin to walking on an uneven surface that would randomly give way with no warning. I'm sure the gulls were laughing, perhaps with the exception of this Herring Gull which had managed to find itself a dead fish along the shoreline. I've no idea what species it was and didn't have much chance to speculate before the whole lot had disappeared down the gulls throat. I had expected it to pick bits off but apparently good etiquette was not on the cards.

29177 - Herring Gull and fish, Aberystwyth

29179 - Herring Gull and fish, Aberystwyth

29180 - Herring Gull and fish, Aberystwyth

Down in the harbour and frost was again sitting heavily on the wooden pier. A couple of Meadow Pipits and umpteen Feral Pigeons were making their presence heard while we had a scan through the gathered birds. With the sea much higher than on Saturday there was less around so no Common Gull, though it was nice to watch a Cormorant fishing for its breakfast.

29182 - Aberystwyth harbour

The real stars were to be found on the seaward defences where at least six Purple Sandpipers were dodging breaking waves in their hunt for food. Light levels were very low and the birds very fast so I really struggled to capture them on camera. Fortunately I managed to get a single shot that came out sharp without too much movement on behalf of the Sandpiper.

29183 - Purple Sandpiper, Aberystwyth

Before heading for home we had a wander along Tan-y-Bwlch in the hope of spotting a wayward Bunting or perhaps a Diver species. There was to be no success on that front but I could hardly complain after such a fantastic weekends birding. There was however to be one final surprise in the shape of a Lamb that couldn't have been than a couple of days old. It's incredibly early in the year to see one and blows my previous record out of the water. I hope it makes it through till Spring.


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Whooper Swans, Otters and Starlings

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 Adam Tilt 3 Comments

This weekend was our annual trip to Aberystwyth and following last weeks slightly "twitchy" behaviour, the plan was to simply visit a few favourite sites and see what was about. First stop was Dryslwyn bridge where we were greeted by an over flying Peregrine Falcon and the sounds of calling Geese. The latter were feeding in sodden fields down by the river and were predominantly of the Canadian variety with a smattering of Greylags mixed in for good measure. Other than a Cormorant the water itself was pretty quiet but the small car park held a lively Nuthatch amongst the usual Tits and Chaffinches. There also looked to be several Thrushes in the area but they kept dropping behind hedges before we'd had chance to determine a positive ID. Thankfully one did eventually perch out in the open and we had our first Fieldfare of the year.

Next stop was Cilsan bridge a little further upstream, best known in these parts for its overwintering population of Whooper Swans. Last year I was just a little too late to catch up with them so I was very pleased to find fourteen individuals in amongst the fifty or so Mute Swans. As ever they were quite wary of passing traffic and positioned well off into the distance. I tried to get a couple of record shots but as with previous attempts they were pretty rubbish. Fortunately video once again came to my rescue and I was able to record some great feeding behaviour despite the strong wind.

We almost didn't bother checking the river which as it turned out would have been a very bad choice indeed. There were three Goosanders and a single male Goldeneye keeping a pair of Little Grebes happy, but that was nothing in comparison to the pair of Otters that were playing along the banks. I spotted the first in the middle of the channel before it headed to several large overhanging trees where it was joined by a second. They looked to be having the time of their lives and we watched them for a good twenty minutes or so before heading off. My first ever Otters actually in a river.

Cors Caron near Tregaron came next and has the honour of being the coldest place I have been so far this year. In sheltered areas it was fine but out on the bog a biting wind ripped away at any exposed skin. The birds didn't seem to mind with plenty of Siskins, Goldfinches and a Great Spotted Woodpecker on the feeders whilst out on the board walk we saw a Willow Tit and several Reed Buntings. A flash of blue also alerted us to the presence of a Kingfisher meaning that every day I've been out this year I've seen one. That's a record that I'd certainly like to continue.

When we finally made it to Aberystwyth there was just chance for a walk along the prom before the first couple of Starlings arrived to signal the start of Aber's greatest natural wonder. Within just a few minutes those couple of birds had grown into a flock of thousands and the murmuration was in full swing.

29151 - Starling Murmuration, Aberystwyth Pier

29139 - Starling Murmuration, Aberystwyth Pier

29149 - Starling Murmuration, Aberystwyth Pier

Unusually, for me at least, several of the arriving flocks would spend a few minutes out over the sea at incredibly low altitudes. They weren't quite touching the water but it was a close run thing. I can only imagine that this is a defensive action as any bird of prey would find it more difficult to attack them there.

29147 - Starling Murmuration, Aberystwyth Pier

Within half an hour the birds were mostly under the pier but there was still plenty of bickering and switching of places going on. The noise (and smell I might add) is incredible under there but for obvious reasons I didn't want to get too close. Fortunately a break in the clouds treated us to some superb lighting that really helped me capture the action.

29164 - Starling Murmuration, Aberystwyth Pier

29167 - Starling Murmuration, Aberystwyth Pier

29163 - Starling Murmuration, Aberystwyth Pier

29159 - Starling Murmuration, Aberystwyth Pier

With the Starlings tucked up and the sun set everything and everyone started to settle in for their evening rituals. For us that meant heading to the B&B which afforded us views right across the beach to where a small flock of Oystercatchers were roosting for the night. There can be no better sound than breaking waves to lull one to sleep.


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Bonaparte's Gull, Ogmore

Thursday, January 10, 2013 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

I arrived at the Ogmore River on Sunday, headed straight for the nearest telescope wielding human and heard those words that strike despair into every birders heart. "If you'd been here an hour ago we were having great views, but it's flown off since and hasn't been relocated". As I scanned downstream the sight of hundreds and hundreds of Black Headed Gulls only dropped my confidence levels further. You couldn't have asked for a better place to hide a Bonaparte's Gull.

Now normally I'd have just accepted the situation and gone off for a nice walk instead, but I fancied the challenge and kudos of being the first to re-find. Resigning myself to a lengthy search I duly stood around with assorted others as gulls slowly filtered their way past. Goosanders, Goldeneye, Mute Swans, Gadwall and what seemed like the worlds supply of Pied Wagtails joined them and kept us occupied before my feet inevitably became restless and I decided that a change of tactic was in order. Confirming that the Bonaparte's had last been seen heading towards the sea I set off in that direction, checking out every gull along the way. Soon enough I reached the point at which I could go no further and settled down to pick my way through the final two large flocks of Black Headed Gulls. Amongst them I found a couple of Common Gulls and a single Mediterranean Gull, the latter representing yet another new site for the species and me. Either they're extending their range or I'm getting better at spotting them. I was literally just contemplating that thought when the Bonaparte's popped up in the water directly ahead of me, seemingly from nowhere. My best guess is that it had been just out of my line of sight against the nearest river bank, though it was certainly showing well now.

29135 - Bonaparte's Gull, Ogmore

As with my previous Bonaparte's Gull in Devon this one was noticeably more erratic in its movements compared to the surrounding Black Headed Gulls, several of which kept chasing the former away. Again this was similar behaviour to that which I'd previously witnessed and is perhaps down to the others recognising a stranger in their midst. Unfortunately my chance to make further observations was short lived as a walker chose that moment to head right up to the birds and flush everything back upstream. Now if that was me I'd like to think I'd have put two and two together when I saw someone filming the birds and maybe chosen a slightly different route to avoid any disturbance. Instead I got the distinct impression that somehow I was in the wrong judging by the dirty look I received. Needless to say I didn't have the heart to look through everything again so I headed back to the car and let everyone I saw know that the bird was at least still on the river, if however once more lost.

With a couple of hours left I headed over to Kenfig NNR where remarkably another rarity had popped up in the shape of a Black-necked Grebe. As soon as I arrived it could be seen fishing in front of the reeds on, as you can probably guess, the most distant and least accessible stretch of water. Nevertheless the dull conditions at least meant that the views I got were very clear and my thanks must once again go the finder. Also out on the water was the largest gathering of Pochard that I have seen in a very long time. There must have been at least eighty birds present but probably many more, not to mention another couple of Goldeneye, a single Wigeon and two Great Crested Grebes.

It came as no surprise to find the paths on the reserve completely waterlogged and I reached the northern hide considerably muddier than when I'd set out. In the end I needn't have bothered as all I was greeted with was a dead Cormorant and yet more vandalism to the hide. Thankfully the southern hide seems to escape the worst of the abuse and I settled in to await the hopeful appearance of a Bittern.

29136 - Kenfig Pool

Unfortunately my run of good fortune couldn't stretch that far although I was accompanied throughout by a Kingfisher. I was first alerted to its presence by a large plop to my left, but for the life of me I couldn't work out what had caused it. Only after a good deal of hunting did I finally catch a glimpse of blue behind a large branch in one of the trees. A few moments later the Kingfisher once again dived into the water before heading up the left channel above to a post at its far end. From there it continued to fish, sometimes using a bent reed as a secondary perch. The only other sounds were of a Cormorant fishing and a Moorhen pushing through the reeds. It was a lovely way to see out the last few minutes of daylight and rounded off what had been a pretty spectacular weekend.


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Long-tailed Duck, Burry Port

Tuesday, January 08, 2013 Adam Tilt 13 Comments

One bird I really wanted to see in 2013 was a Long-tailed Duck. They've always held a certain fascination for me but despite trying on numerous occasions I had never quite managed to connect with one. You can probably imagine my excitement therefore when I realised on Friday that the occasional reports of a juvenile Long-tailed Duck in Burry Port inner harbour were in fact for a long staying individual which had been present for at least a couple of weeks. Next morning we arrived early and to my relief immediately found the duck still in its designated spot. At first it seemed to be quite close to the far side of the dock so I hurried around, only to find it instead slap bang in the middle of the water. This is not the first time I have fallen fowl of that particular optical illusion and I'm sure it wont be my last. Nevertheless it was showing well, if a little distantly for my zoom, and I was able to get a few record shots and take some short video. What a stunner.

29131 - Long-tailed Duck, Burry Port

29134 - Long-tailed Duck, Burry Port

After looking at the second photo above I realised that I'd also managed to find a Mediterranean Gull. It was keeping the gathered Black Headed Gulls company and is the first time I've seen the species at this site. Another tick on my 2013 list.

With my first lifer of the year in the bag a decision had to be made on what to do with the rest of the day. My original plan had been to get my participation in the Patchwork Challenge under way, but the lure of a few birds out west proved to be too great. An hour later found us at Marloes Mere on the hunt for a Ring-necked Duck. I'd initially hoped that it would be showing well from the main hide but we quickly realised that wasn't to be the case. Under an ever brightening sky we had great views of Teal, Shoveller, Gadwall, Wigeon and even four Pink Footed Geese in amongst several hundred Canada Geese, but no Tufted Ducks with which our quarry had apparently been associating. Determined not to be beaten we headed back up to the car park and from there got our first glimpse of a Tufted. The rest of the flock soon appeared though at such distance I was doubtful we were going to be able to pick out which one was the rare visitor. Thankfully I did manage to see just enough of the key identifying marks and a helpful birder also confirmed that I was onto the right individual. Who'd have thought that we'd see two such great birds this early in the year.


By now the light was fading rapidly but we had to try for the Long Billed Dowitcher a short distance away at the Gann. Sadly we couldn't locate it despite being pretty sure we were in the correct area, probably as a result of it going to roost for the evening. There were plenty of other birds present though to make up for the no-show including a couple of Goldeneye, a female Red Breasted Merganser and a stunning Kingfisher which we watched fly the length of the pools. Not a bad way to round off our first proper birding day of the year really, with Sunday set to continue in a similar vein.


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New Year Red Grouse

Wednesday, January 02, 2013 Adam Tilt 4 Comments

A new month, a new year and seemingly a new sort of weather if the strange glowing orb in the sky was anything to go by yesterday. Having spent the last couple of days in December tramping across Ilkley Moor whilst enduring driving rain, hail and the occasional upwardly flowing waterfall, it certainly made for a pleasant change. The reason for my being there were the numerous Red Grouse that live in the area and to which I am drawn each time I find myself visiting Leeds. There is something quite endearing about their character and the way in which they advertise their position so readily for a bird whose life tends to involve being shot at. That's not to say that they are at all tame however, especially when accompanied by the family dog.

29123 - View from Burley Moor

Having produced nothing but a couple of blurred frames thus far I was hoping that the sun would finally give me an advantage. A few errant clouds did their best to crop up unnervingly in synch with the appearance of each Red Grouse, but in the end I did finally get some results on Burley Moor. The female bird below was particularly approachable and even started to feed within a few foot of my position. The males however were much more flighty so I was pleased to get at least one of them on camera.

29124 - Red Grouse, Burley Moor

29126 - Red Grouse, Burley Moor

29127 - Red Grouse, Burley Moor

29122 - Red Grouse, Burley Moor

I had planned to take some video of the Grouse calling but a strong wind and rapidly failing camera battery put paid to that. As a result I have another great excuse to get back out there next time we are up that way. Of course all this activity 'oop north' meant that we weren't able to take part in the annual tick and twitch event at our local WWT reserve. Consequently my year list is off to a slightly slower start in 2013 (about twenty species), at least until next weekend anyway.


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