Kenfig NNR - Warblers and Wagtails

Monday, April 29, 2013 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

If our walk from Ogmore a week ago had signalled the first real signs of spring migration around these parts, then last Saturday was definitely the main event. In just a few hours at Kenfig pool we were treated to an array of recent arrivals, my personal highlight of which has to be the ten or so Swifts that dropped in late morning. In just a few moments the clear sky above the dunes was transformed from a blank canvas to a hive of activity. Similar scenes were unfolding over the water where hundreds of Swallows, House Martins and a couple of Sand Martins were busy feeding up after their long journeys. Thinking about it I can't remember the last time that I saw all four species together! The surrounding vegetation was just as frantic with Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs popping up everywhere. I had a great encounter with one of the former which posed for a photograph before being tackled to the ground by a rival. Let it not be said that these little birds can't put up one a hell of a fight.

P1040732 - Willow Warbler, Kenfig

Whitethroats were slightly less numerous but certainly more vocal, including one whose song stood out from the crowd. We initially watched it being chased into Brambles from where we subsequently got some great views and could confirm that it was indeed a Lesser Whitethroat. I think I've definitely got my eyes (and ears) tuned in to this species now after the pair we found last autumn on Gower. Sadly I didn't get a clear photo though as it never stopped moving. A similar problem was looking likely at the north end of the pool where the reed beds were alive with the sound of calling Sedge Warblers. I can't begin to guess at how many were present but it sounded like the whole counties population was hiding within. Thankfully some patience in what's left of the hide did eventually produce a few 'keepers'.

P1040737_2 - Sedge Warbler, Kenfig

The neighbouring fields also proved to be fruitful hunting grounds with a pair of Yellow Wagtails easily my star find for the day. They were roughly associating with a couple of Linnets which were very flighty and took the Wagtails with them at my approach. Fortunately they only went a short distance and I was able to take this somewhat distance photo. Normally I'd have binned it but as it's the only time I've ever caught a Yellow Wagtail on camera, it can have a stay of execution.

P1040734_3 - Yellow Wagtail, Kenfig

Surprisingly I didn't spot a single Wheatear but that does give me chance to include one from three weeks ago. We were walking the Gower coast path with my parents from Port Eynon to Oxwich and spotted this stunning male roughly half way along. It posed perfectly on an old stone wall for several minutes and seemed incredibly interested in our presence.

P1040625 - Wheatear, Kenfig

P1040619 - Wheatear, Kenfig

P1040620_2 - Wheatear, Kenfig

After all that there's only one question on my mind; when am I going to hear my first Cuckoo?


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Ogmore to Dunraven - Migrant Spectacular

Saturday, April 20, 2013 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

My twitter feed this week has been full of people detailing their influx of spring migrants and today I was hoping to grab my little piece of the action. With only Swallow, Wheatear, Arctic Tern and an admittedly hard to beat Hoopoe on the list so far, there was certainly plenty of scope for improvement. As usual the main issue was which part of this multi-faceted region to visit until we remembered a circular route that we'd tested last year from the Ogmore Valley across to Dunraven. Back then the weather had offered nothing but drizzle and fog so today was a great improvement.

Ogmore Coast

Within a few minutes of setting off I'd already spotted our first Swallow of the day as it disappeared over the Gorse lined coastal footpath. Another few meters and it was the turn of a stunning male Wheatear to grab our attention while all around the calls of Dunnocks, Skylarks and even a singing Stonechat filled the air. That last was particularly pleasing as I can't recall the last time I've heard one do anything other than 'chat'. It was another angry sounding call that belied the presence of our first Whitethroat of the year, a very smart male which posed well before dropping back down into the undergrowth. Although I knew it was futile I couldn't resist an attempt with the camera but sadly couldn't relocate it. Not that is until I'd put the camera away at which point it popped up relatively close by. Different year but this species still manages to give me the run-around! It was a similar story with the Linnets which I've decided definitely have it in for me.

P1040723 - Dunraven Gardens

It wasn't until we got to the old walled garden at Dunraven (above) that our next fix of migrants was delivered. The trees there were absolutely packed with Chiffchaffs and at least one, though undoubtedly more, Willow Warbler. From our picnic spot we had grand views as they hopped from tree to tree, frequently fly catching and occasionally calling. Amongst them were a multitude of other species including our first pair of Blackcaps this year, singles of Goldfinch and Collared Dove plus heard but not seen Green Woodpecker, Pheasant, Jay and Raven. A perfect oasis hidden away from the hustle and bustle of the nearby beach.

The walk up to the old ruins delivered Chiffchaffs by the bucket load but they all stayed true to form and away from the camera. Definitely something I need to work on this year after 2012's abject failure with the species. Overhead a passing flock of four Chough was very nice indeed before I was led a merry dance through the forest by my first Common Blue butterfly of the year. It got away but back at the entrance gates we were treated to a superb Brimstone and this Comma. Great to have them back on the wing.

P1040731 - Comma

Our return leg via St Brides Major followed a similar story with warblers everywhere plus at least another five Blackcaps. Over the village pond we watched several Swallows hawking for insects which reminded me just how much I've missed their antics during the winter months. Indeed their fly catching prowess seemed to be catching as on the way down to the river we observed a Chaffinch giving it a go himself. As it turned out the river was almost totally devoid of life bar a solitary Oystercatcher and the usual Mute Swans and Shelducks which was something of a disappointment. I couldn't complain though after such an enjoyable day where thirteen Celsius has never felt so warm.


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Patchwork Challenge 5 - Covert Intel

Thursday, April 18, 2013 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

View from Cefn Drum

I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours on patch this evening following up on some red-hot intel put my way courtesy of Barry Stewart. He'd been around Cefn Drum on Monday and had spotted two species which I have never seen there myself. Needless to say I've had itchy feet ever since and tonight headed out to the furthest reaches of my Patchwork Challenge area in the hope of relocating them. The first didn't take long to find as a pair of Stock Doves shot into the sky before I'd even got close. Flying in a long looping arc across the valley they were soon back in the same spot but would take flight again at the slightest movement or noise. This made hunting for the second species somewhat difficult and in the end I retreated for fear of disturbing the Doves from what is potentially a nesting site. I have however picked out a more distant viewing point which I shall be returning to next week.

So one success and one for another day, plus the added bonus of a Kestrel pair at the same location and an absolutely fantastic encounter with a flock of at least eighty Golden Plovers. Regular readers will probably have seen my distant photo of several in the last Patchwork Challenge update, and initially I was getting similar views again tonight. However while watching them head west a second, larger flock came up over the ridge of Cefn Drum and flew right past either side of me. They can't have been more than a couple of metres away and were skimming the ground the whole time. Initially I thought that I'd disturbed them but I'm now sure they came from further to the east and not from Cefn Drum itself. Either way I had just a matter of seconds to register the stunning summer plumage of several birds before they disappeared as quickly as they'd arrived. What a fantastic wildlife encounter and a perfect example of why birding a local patch can be so rewarding.

Elsewhere one of the Red Kites was doing an impressive job of ignoring the persistent attention of several Crows, far better at any rate than a Kestrel which was forced to the ground. A male Stonechat, two Swallows and several Meadow Pipits were having a quieter time of it but I can't go without mentioning the Skylarks. After so many months of walking with nothing but the rush of wind in my ears it is so nice to have their sound once again filling the air.

51/68 (2013/2012)


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Garden Feeder Update

Wednesday, April 17, 2013 Adam Tilt 7 Comments

This years extended winter has meant that the garden feeders have really taken a battering from the local bird population. Each refill has typically been lasting just a couple of days resulting in us getting through a lot of seed. The care package that arrived from Nature's Feast a few months ago was therefore a welcome delivery and it went straight out to help supplement our already extensive offerings. Included was their unique all season twist feeder which allows three different types of seed to be served from the same unit.

P1040561 - Garden Feeders

I was originally sceptical of its benefits but I've noticed a marked increase in the variety and quantity of birds visiting in comparison to my other feeders, plus food wastage seems to be much reduced. I think that the option of different seed types from its six feeding ports has meant that the birds simply choose their favourite instead of picking through a collection of seed to find something that they want. Certainly the ground beneath is much cleaner and anything that maximises food usage these days is to be welcomed. Combine that with a solid metal construction, easy filling and cleaning and I think we have a contender for my new favourite feeder. The birds seem to agree as within five minutes of being put out it had its first visitors, and they haven't stopped coming since. I've seen House Sparrows, Chaffinches, Great Tits, Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Greenfinches, Goldfinches and even my first Siskins of the year all pay a visit.

P1040584-2 - Coal Tit, Garden

P1040647 - Goldfinch, Garden

P1040576 - Blue Tit, Garden

Siskin, Garden

The Greenfinches have been a particular success as after having virtually none for the past couple of years we now get a regular flock of up to six. This is great news and they seem to be sticking around even though spring is finally starting to make itself felt. I'm not the only one who has noticed the changing seasons with the Collared Dove pair constantly sitting together and Jackdaws once again building a nest in the neighbours chimney. Given the amount of material that's been taken in I hope the owners don't want a real log fire any time soon.

P1040567 - Collared Dove, Garden

Our Coal Tits have also been exhibiting territorial behaviour, something that I've not really witnessed before. This one in particular was being very vocal as it called from the top of our tree and flapped its wings. I couldn't tell at first if it was just my presence that had elicited this display but I guess not as I heard it calling again several gardens further along.

P1040570 - Coal Tit, Garden

And that's how things sit currently in the garden. Now that the weather is warming up I expect to be spending a lot more time out there in pursuit of its other wildlife including a Hedgehog that we know visits but have yet to see. The moth trap is also raring to go after its triumphant first outing so here's hoping sub zero temperatures are a thing of the past.


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Hoopoe at Middleton, Gower

Monday, April 15, 2013 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

Yesterday produced an unexpected but most welcome surprise in the shape of a Hoopoe at Middleton on Gower. First reported on Saturday during torrential rain I originally gave it a miss as Hoopoe is easily my biggest bogey bird and I didn't fancy another wet, fruitless search (see this entry from 2010 for my last unsuccessful hunt for one). Early on Sunday however it became clear that the bird was still present and so we duly headed over. Our arrival was greeted with persistent drizzle that the wind rather nicely blasted into our faces as we peered into peoples neatly manicured gardens. By the time we'd exhausted the houses in Middleton and the path heading across to Rhossili, a familiar sense of deja-vu began to settle. Would this be another Hoopoe that slipped through the net? At least the rain had stopped and with only the Nitten field left to check we were pinning our hopes there. As we neared its top edge it was with some disbelief that our quarry flew in from the left and landed on the path twenty meters or so ahead of us! It was only there for a few seconds before hopping up into a bordering tree where it seemed to settle down. From our vantage point half of the bird was obscured behind a large branch but we could still see enough of that ludicrous plumage to well and truly tick it off.

Normally this is the point at which I'd include a dodgy record shot of the bird in question, but not this time. In a case of reverse psychology I'd actually left my camera in the car in the hope that would encourage the Hoopoe into showing itself. Clearly my plan had worked but that left me with a quick dash back into Middleton. On the way I bumped into Jeff and Peter who were just arriving and we all piled down the track to where Emma had been keeping tabs on the Hoopoe. To my relief it was still present but as soon as we moved to get a better view it was off like a rocket, high and distant to the east.

We scanned the area for a short while before I suggested that a walk over to the car park at Mewslade might be a good bet. It felt about the right distance away for where the Hoopoe had headed and I had a great image of it feeding there in my mind. Of course when we got there that proved to be just a dream and we set about scanning the fields again. Jeff and Peter moved up towards the small chapel whilst I headed along the track back to the main road. Astonishingly the Hoopoe chose that moment to land on a telegraph pole ahead of us, finally allowing me to get that dodgy record shot.

Hoope at Gower, Middleton

Emma legged it back to the others but the bird sat for less than twenty seconds before flying strongly back in the direction of Middleton. We set off in pursuit but couldn't relocate it again before my rumbling stomach and work commitments led us back home. The others stayed around for a good while longer and I'm happy to say they got good views and some proper images in the end. I recommend checking them out here.

At Middleton I also saw my first Swallows of the year with four individuals flying in off the coast. That seemed to open the floodgates with several more being spotted on the drive home plus one on the patch later in the evening. Not bad for a weekend that initially promised so little.


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Kinder Scout

Saturday, April 13, 2013 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

Our final big walk of the Peak District trip was to be on Kinder Scout, something of a legendary location to walkers here in the UK. Back in the early part of the twentieth century much of the open land of England and Wales was privately owned and access refused to all but the privileged few. For generations the working class had been campaigning against what they saw as unfair restrictions imposed upon them by the landed gentry, with Kinder Scout often the figurehead of their struggles. On 24th April 1932 a publicity campaign was launched centred upon a mass trespass of Kinder Scout. Four hundred Manchester ramblers set off from Bowden Bridge Quarry that morning and despite minor scuffles with hired 'gamekeepers' the majority made it to the top. There they met a smaller contingent from Sheffield and having exchanged greetings returned the way they'd come. In the end five people were arrested and jailed for supposed violence but the damage had been done and public opinion was now on the ramblers side. Many years of further lobbying followed but the creation of our first national park in 1949 and the Countryside and Rights of Way Act in 2000 are directly linked back to that historic mass trespass. Thanks to their efforts we were able to walk the Kinder ridge on Easter Sunday, starting in that very same quarry.

29644 - Kinder Scout Walk

 photo kinder_zps31e2f1e3.jpg

As with previous days the ground was still frozen and although the snow cover was much less than it had been, drifts were still very much a problem. Indeed the first gate we came to actually had to be passed over rather than through such was the depth of snow and ice.

29594 - Kinder Scout Walk

From Kinder reservoir we followed the route of William Clough, a steep and narrow stream valley that heads upwards at a steady pace to join the Pennine Way. Normally the main path traverses the ground slightly higher than the stream itself, but in these conditions it was just as easy to follow the watercourse. Isolated from the cold wind it felt a world away from the wide open moors that were hidden from view either side of us.

29606 - Kinder Scout Walk

29610 - Kinder Scout Walk

Now back on the Pennine Way we followed its course up one more steep and snowy slope before it was the turn of the ridge itself to guide us. To our left stretched the moorland whilst to our right was the often vertical drop back the way we'd come. All the time weather conditions were changing as clouds rolled in, snow flurries fell and the sun put in occasional appearances.

29611 - Kinder Scout Walk

29617 - Kinder Scout Walk

29620 - Kinder Scout Walk

All semblance of spring was soon forgotten as we arrived at Kinder Downfall, the tallest waterfall in the Peak District at some thirty meters. Unsurprisingly it was frozen solid and made for a spectacular sight, though I don't think our new found winter walking skills are quite up to that of the brave person climbing the waterfall itself!

29622 - Kinder Scout Walk

29626 - Kinder Scout Walk

29630 - Kinder Scout Walk

29632 - Kinder Scout Walk

Our next major landmark was the trig point at Kinder Low a few miles further on. It was easy enough to find but somehow upon rejoining the path we managed to take an alternative route from that which we'd intended. Normally this wouldn't have been a problem but in these conditions we came across a rather challenging obstacle. Instead of the gentle descent expected we were faced with an almost vertical drop down Kinderlow End. This photo really doesn't do it justice.

29642 - Kinder Scout Walk

Having watched a walker ahead successfully make it to the bottom we secured our backpacks and set off after him. Standing on the path whilst facing the ground meant we were still almost vertical and in that manner we began our descent. Each foothold had to be hacked into the snow and ice on what was probably the most extreme section of path I've ever walked. When the ground did eventually start to level out and we could see that there were no exposed rocks, a spot of bottom sledging seemed just the ticket. Probably not the most technical way to get down but a hell of a lot of fun.


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Derwent Valley

Sunday, April 07, 2013 Adam Tilt 3 Comments

After our exertions on Bleaklow the day before, a nice gentle walk around the upper reservoirs of the Derwent valley seemed like an ideal choice for Saturday. Well that was the plan anyway until I decided that an eleven mile circuit of both the Derwent and Howden was exactly what our definition of a rest day should be. Our starting point was the visitor centre at Fairholmes which itself turned out to be an unexpected wildlife haven. With the ground still covered in snow its collection of feeders were absolutely rammed with woodland birds whilst a flock of at least thirty Mallards were doing their best to deprive everyone in the car park of sandwiches. I photographed for a good half an hour or so before my fingers told me that I needed to move on and in fantastic light got some great shots including this Nuthatch and stunning Siskin. The male Chaffinch wasn't bad either.

29537 - Nuthatch

29541 - Siskin

29539 - Chaffinch

Following the very slippery path up to Derwent reservoir we were soon on the track that would lead us for the rest of the day. Despite a couple of vehicles having passed by it was still well covered with snow, as surprisingly was the ground beneath the tress. I guess it just shows how bad conditions were here the previous week.

29552 - Derwent Reservoir

In such beautiful scenery we came to the second reservoir, Howden, in no time and spent a few minutes marvelling at the engineering work that went into its dam. Somehow our modern utility structures just don't have the grandeur of these magnificent old public works and for me at least, our country is much the poorer for it.

29560 - Howden Reservoir

What I hadn't expected from this trip was to get a new life bird tick, but that was exactly what happened just after I'd taken the photo above. Emma called out that there was a bird of prey heading our way but with no binoculars I didn't expect to see much. However the bird in question came right overhead before doing an about turn and shooting off in the direction from which it had come. I did a quick mental run through of various species and their main characteristics, but in my mind I already knew the answer. After many years of wishing we'd finally clapped eyes on our first Goshawk! At almost Buzzard size but with a greyish back and white underside it was very distinctive and gave great views as it soared away from us across the treetops. Sadly those same trees curtailed our viewing and despite searching for the rest of the day we didn't get another view.

29563 - Howden Reservoir

At the very top of Howden reservoir (above) the landscape started to open up and we found ourselves once again on open hillsides. A couple of Ravens and the constant calls of Canada Geese were the only sounds we heard as the weather started to become increasingly changeable. One minute the sun would be shining only to be replaced the next with blizzards. In the end the showers proved to be short lived and by the time we finally clapped eyes on those Geese we were once more basking in golden rays.

29582 - Howden Reservoir

29578 - Canada Goose, Howden Reservoir

As with most reservoirs I've walked, this one had an unexpected sting in the tale in the shape of a seemingly endless spur that added at least another couple of miles to our route. Its presence had somehow eluded us during a quick glance at the map but it certainly made itself felt on our by now tiring legs. Thankfully the ever changing vistas kept us motivated along with some interesting remnants of the temporary village that once housed the workers who built these dams. Definitely a place that I'd like to return to, if not for anything other than its connection to the legendary Dambusters who trained for their daring raids over Germany on these very waters.


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Bleaklow and Overexposed

Friday, April 05, 2013 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

Bleaklow, widely regarded as one of the hardest navigable landscapes in the Peak District, may at first glance seem like a strange place to walk following heavy snowfall. For us though that challenge was the very thing that drew us there in the first place and I'm happy to report that our mountain skills were more than up to the task. As my last post shows our efforts were well rewarded with superb sightings of Red Grouse and Mountain Hare, but the Dark Park had so much more to offer. Firstly there was the chance to walk along part of the legendary Pennine Way, though at times the drifts were so deep that without a map its course was pretty much indistinguishable.

29408 - Pennine Way, Bleaklow

29415 - Bleaklow

29429 - Bleaklow

29432 - Bleaklow

In places the snow that looks so solid in the photos above would simply give way beneath our feet. Often there would be no warning of an imminent collapse and each of us found ourselves at least knee deep on a number of occasions. Fortunately the ground was so frozen that the underlying peat bogs didn't hold any nasty surprises and the worst we came away with was a grazed shin. Even so it did make for tough going until we split from the main path to head across to Higher Shelf Stones.

29452 - Bleaklow

29453 - Bleaklow

Here we were greeted by a scene of almost total desolation, much of it shaped during one tragic day in 1948. On the 3rd November that year Boeing RB-29A 44-61999 of the 16th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron, better known as "Overexposed", was on a routine flight from Scampton to Burtonwood. Conditions were not ideal with low cloud over the hills forcing the crew of thirteen to rely solely on their instruments for navigation. Having flown for what they believed was the correct length of time to pass Bleaklow they descended, tragically a few meters short of where they believed they were. The impact was severe and the ensuing inferno claimed the lives of all aboard. Even today the wreckage is spread far and wide with many sections of the plane still readily identifiable.

29491 - Overexposed Crash Site, Bleaklow

29463 - Overexposed Crash Site, Bleaklow

29468 - Overexposed Crash Site, Bleaklow

29477 - Overexposed Crash Site, Bleaklow

29479 - Overexposed Crash Site, Bleaklow

29482 - Overexposed Crash Site, Bleaklow

Between two of its massive engines sits a simple memorial lest we forget those lives which were lost.

29464 - Overexposed Crash Site, Bleaklow

For me this crash site was the most evocative of any that I've visited to date. Whether that was the sheer scale of the wreckage or the strange lack of snow surrounding it, I couldn't tell you.

A short distance away sits a trig point affording superb views back down to our base in Glossop. With the wind picking up the huge gritstone boulders offered welcome shelter for a spot of lunch. Judging from the carvings across their surface, some dating back well over a hundred years, I doubt we are the first or indeed will be the last to have done so.

29500 - Bleaklow

29502 - Bleaklow

29505 - Bleaklow

Suitably refreshed we headed over to Bleaklow Head following two further outcroppings of gritstone boulders. The going was much easier here due, according to a fellow walker, most of the snow having been blown off the top and straight down into the valley below. In contrast the Pennine Way in its more sheltered location was virtually impassable when we attempted to rejoin it for the return leg. I think we set off on the correct course initially but in the end had to abandon it and make our own route back to the car. The scenery was still just as stunning.

29512 - Bleaklow

29529 - Bleaklow

As we dropped lower it became noticeable that the snow was definitely thawing in comparison to our morning departure. With the improving conditions came an increase in walkers and a loss of the solitude we'd enjoyed for much of the day. Never fear though as there was plenty more of both to come over the next couple of days.


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