North and South on the Burry Inlet

Friday, May 31, 2013 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

Finally it looks like we may be breaking free from our long, cold spring if the last couple of evenings have been anything to go by. Temperatures are at last starting to flirt with the magic twenty Celsius mark and it's now unusual not to see at least a few hirundines flying overhead. On Wednesday we headed over to Penclawdd, fish and chips in hand, to watch what we hoped would be a decent sunset. The dark storm clouds looked threatening but at just the right moment they opened up enough to light the scene before us.

P1040951 - Penclawdd Sunset

P1040953 - Penclawdd Sunset

P1040955 - Penclawdd Sunset

While the sun was making its slow decent I took a walk along the river to see what was about. Swallows, House Martins and the occasional Swift were hunting over the water whilst on the marsh itself six Mute Swans, three Greylag Geese and at least twenty Shelducks could be seen feeding. Sadly a thorough hunt for the Whooper Swan reported from here earlier in the week drew a blank. The real surprise though was the number of small birds in the limited vegetation between marsh and village. One small stretch of shrubs alone held Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, several families of House Sparrows and at least two pairs of Dunnocks. We also found evidence for what is probably a second Little Egret roost along this stretch of coast with at least six birds seen heading towards it.

Yesterday it was the turn of the Burry Inlet's north coast for some attention as I walked from near the visitor centre on Llanelli's foreshore to the outer limits of Penclacwydd. With a virtually cloudless sky the light was fantastic and I found both a Meadow Pipit and singing male Chaffinch making the most of it.

P1040958 - Meadow Pipit, Llanelli

P1040964 - Chaffinch, Llanelli

P1040963 - Chaffinch, Llanelli

A male and female Wheatear were nice finds but way too wary to approach whilst a very large white bird flying towards the Loughor bridge was incredibly tantalising. It was most likely either the Spoonbill or Great White Egret which have both been seen near here in recent days, but sadly the distance was too great to make a positive identification. That certainly wasn't a problem for the multitude of whistling Shelducks which were spread out across the exposed mud. Several of the males were displaying though from what I could see they were having trouble attracting much attention from the fairer sex. A pair of Gadwall and several Mallards were pretty much the only other visible species given that the tide was so far out.

As on Wednesday there was plenty of hirundine action with House Martins being particularly numerous around the Machynys development. Interestingly I observed several landing briefly on the beach itself, presumably in order to feed on the multitude of insects there. Over at the golf club pond it was Swifts that filled the air allowing me to prove to myself once again that no, I really can't photograph something that moves that fast. Six Pochard and a similar number of Tufted Ducks were keeping a pair of Mute Swans company on the water with yet more of the ubiquitous Goldfinches nearby. They must have had a brilliant couple of years as I've never seen so many over such a wide area. I had hoped to finish off the day by photographing the sunset but at present it's setting over land instead of the hoped for water from this position. I'll have to return at a later date or stick to watching from Gower.


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Masked Crabs, Port Eynon

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

It's a rare occurrence these days that I leave home without my camera, but when I do you can guarantee that something awesome will appear. Two weeks ago it was a hunting Short Eared Owl along the banks of the Loughor whilst last weekend I was treated to more Masked Crabs than I have ever seen before. Our crustacean encounter took place at Port Eynon on Gower where a very low tide had exposed far more of the beach than usual. In the damp sand we spotted at least twenty of these curious looking crabs emerging and had to resort to a camera phone to record them for posterity.

DSC_0225 - Masked Crab, Port Eynon

DSC_0227 - Masked Crab, Port Eynon

Unlike most crabs that walk sideways and often dash for cover, the Masked Crab instead burrows backwards into the sand to hide. From there it breaths through two specially adapted antennae which have evolved into a tube that can be left exposed to open water. A remarkable evolutionary step that we witnessed being put to good use when a couple of the crabs decided that instead of standing their ground they would head beneath our feet. In a matter of seconds their bodies were completely submerged with just the very tip of that breathing tube visible. We certainly reconsidered walking barefoot after that.


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Patchwork Challenge 9 - New Life

Tuesday, May 28, 2013 Adam Tilt 11 Comments

When I said last week that the next few months would be very interesting on patch, little did I realise quite how soon those words would come to fruition. In the end it only took until Friday evening when a loud but unfamiliar call interrupted my exploration of Cefn Drum's lower slopes. Looking skywards I spotted a flock of four smallish birds heading into the uppermost branches of some nearby trees and duly went to investigate. What I hadn't expected to find was true patch gold in the shape of my first ever local Lesser Redpolls, and indeed the first for this year. What's more a couple of them were stunning males with incredibly vivid red plumage.

P1040941 - Lesser Redpoll, Cefn Drum

P1040944 - Lesser Redpoll, Cefn Drum

A short distance away the short, sharp peeps of recently fledged Robins led me to three very tame individuals. The parents were nowhere to be seen and as I crouched in a ditch the young birds approached to within a meter of my position. With their gapes still on show and a tuft of feathers above each eye they were the perfect vision of spring in action.

P1040934 - Robin Fledgling, Cefn Drum

P1040936 - Robin Fledgling, Cefn Drum

P1040937 - Robin Fledgling, Cefn Drum

Another couple of Robin families were spread out across the valley floor with further breeding success evidenced by two juvenile Stonechats. Some species are clearly a little way behind with this Crows nest holding a sitting bird. Whether on eggs or chicks I couldn't tell you but it's certainly quite exposed to the elements.

P1040939 - Crow Nest, Cefn Drum

The usual culprits were all in attendance but it's worth noting a marked increase in Linnet numbers at last with at least six birds now present. Yellowhammers are also finally beginning to show themselves more readily with a stunning male and at least another two birds in the same locality as the young Robins above. There was also the unusual sight of a male Blackbird chasing off a Jay who had no doubt strayed too close to its nest. Who knows what will turn up next.

63/68 (2013/2012)


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Herring Gull, Blue BBX

Tuesday, May 28, 2013 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

Herring Gull, Blue BBX

Regular readers may remember the ringed Herring Gull that I spotted a couple of weeks ago at Mumbles Head. Originally I read the ring as X88 but a quick internet search soon turned up a hit on the Gower OS blog for Blue BBX. Further analysis of my photos has revealed that this is the very same bird and so I sent my sighting off to Peter Stewart of Midland gull ringing fame. In just a couple of hours I had its life history in my hands (thanks Peter). It reads as follows:
 Date            Details

16/12/06    Gloucester Landfill Site, nr Hempsted, Gloucestershire. 51.56N 02.16W
28/09/07    Gloucester Landfill Site, nr Hempsted, Gloucestershire (286 days)
25/11/09    Bracelet Bay, Mumbles, Swansea (121 km, WSW, 2 yrs 344days)
04/09/11    Bracelet Bay, Mumbles, Swansea (121 km, WSW, 4 yrs 262days)
11/05/13    Mumbles Head, Swansea (121 km, WSW, 6 yrs 146days)
According to the BTO, Herring Gulls live to an average age of twelve years with a record of just over thirty having been recorded. At six already Blue BBX is approaching middle age and there's clearly the potential for many more years of life ahead. What is surprising is that it doesn't appear to have travelled anywhere else since it was ringed at Gloucester landfill back in 2006 and arrived here a couple of years later. I guess that, as for humans, the lure of Wales is just too hard to resist.


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RSPB Dinas - A Splash of Spring Colour

Thursday, May 23, 2013 Adam Tilt 5 Comments

The woodlands of mid Wales are very special places at this time of year, none more so than an area north of Llandovery composing the RSPB's Dinas nature reserve. Nestled between two fast flowing rivers its stunning views continually vie for attention with some of our most colourful and vocal spring migrants, and for that it has become a firm favourite on my calendar. The cold start to 2013 delayed this seasons visit slightly but good weather on Sunday meant that I could resist no more. Within minutes of stepping from the car I was already watching a trio of Spotted Flycatchers to an audio bombardment from the gathered Willow Warblers. Despite limited leaf growth there was still enough cover to make the latter elusive, but it was hard to miss this individual singing from right above the board walk.

A few footsteps took me into more mature woodland and I immediately picked up a Garden Warbler skulking through the vegetation. Notable for its plainness it was soon into more open terrain and singing at full volume. As I raised the camera my attention was immediately taken by a flash of colour and another song from above. Squinting into the glare a male Redstart was simply unmistakeable and I fired off a few frames even though the lighting was far from ideal. Having never managed to get one of these stunner's on camera before I was not going to miss this opportunity.

P1040887 - Garden Warbler, RSPB Dinas
Garden Warbler
P1040889 - Garden Warbler, RSPB Dinas
Garden Warbler
P1040882 - Redstart, RSPB Dinas
Such is the abundance of bird life at Dinas that as soon as I looked up again my eye was caught by the first of many Pied Flycatchers. Both the black and white males and their duller opposite numbers were present although they didn't as yet seem to be using the numerous nest boxes provided for them. Where else can your attention be taken simultaneously by such fantastic birds?

P1040895_2 - Pied Flycacther, RSPB Dinas

P1040918 - Pied Flycatcher, RSPB Dinas

I was still barely into the reserve and having seen several key species already, I knew it was going to be a good day. Indeed that proved to be the case with continued excellent views of the above across the reserve, interspersed with some great encounters with our more common birds. A Dipper on the river is always a nice sight, if however briefly, but this tame Nuthatch was really taking the biscuit.

P1040903_2 - Nuthatch, RSPB Dinas

P1040902 - Nuthatcj, RSPB Dinas

It was feeding rapidly from both the ground and lower sections of tree trunks, always on the move but never more than a couple of meters from my position. Having never encountered one quite so accommodating before it was a real treat to watch even though its refusal to sit still was slightly frustrating from a photographic point of view. Fortunately the equally tame and colourful Chaffinches were more than willing to pose for as long as it took.

P1040910 - Chaffinch

Roughly half way around the reserve I finally heard the one call that epitomises this habitat for me as two Wood Warblers started a sing-off high up in the trees. Following their sound up the steeply sloped woodland floor soon found me enjoying some of my best, and certainly longest, views of this species. Each outburst from the individual below was challenged by a rival not more than a couple of trees across, interspersed with occasional bouts of fly catching.

P1040912 - Wood Warbler, RSPB Dinas

Another few hundred meters and this time it was the turn of two Tree Pipits to add their voices to the rich tapestry already being woven. I spotted one feeding on the ground and moved in to try and better the decent shots I got here last year. The pipit had different ideas though and after being led a merry dance beneath the increasingly warm sun I conceded defeat and left them to it. If I remember correctly this is the fourth year in a row that the Tree Pipits have been back on exactly the same territory.

P1040904 - RSPB Dinas

Other highlights of the day included a solitary Mistle Thrush, singles of Red Kite and Buzzard plus an impressive count of Wrens. As usual there was not a single Chiffchaff to be heard there which I always find quite strange, but I did enjoy watching a Blue Tit feed a well developed fledgling. Further breeding behaviour was exhibited by a Long Tailed Tit with its beak stuffed full of insects and one of the aforementioned Wrens carrying away several small sticks. It was left to this Grey Wagtail to finish off the day though, sitting on a small bridge right next to where I'd parked the car.

P1040923 - Grey Wagtail, RSPB Dinas

My final tally for the day stands at twelve Wood Warblers, seven Redstarts, two Tree Pipits, thirteen Pied Flycatchers and three Spotted Flycatchers. The true populations are undoubtedly higher.What a place.


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Small Phoenix (Ecliptopera silaceata)

Sunday, May 19, 2013 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

I popped the moth trap out for a couple of hours on Friday evening which was about as long as I dared in its current non-weatherproof guise. Despite the short operation window though it still managed to catch one moth in the shape of this intricately patterned Small Phoenix (Ecliptopera silaceata).

P1110106 - Small Phoenix (Ecliptopera silaceata)

With two outings and two successful catches I think we can consider my home built effort a success. A how to guide will be coming in the next few weeks if you want to have a bash at building one yourself.


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Patchwork Challenge 8 - Three More

Friday, May 17, 2013 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

Five days and three new species nicely sums up the latest developments on patch. The first came on Monday evening with two Bullfinches along the wooded section of Birch Rock tramway, a nice find and the final 'common' bird that I considered lacking from this years list. From here on it gets much more difficult as I'm down to species I've either only seen here once or twice or not at all. The next few months should be very interesting indeed.

P1040850 - Stonechat, Cefn Drum
 Stonechat on Cefn Drum

My second new find came on Wednesday evening in the shape of two Swifts swooping low over the back garden. I'd seen several a few hours earlier down at the river Loughor and had surmised that it wouldn't be long until they were back in our village. I guess they were even more eager to get here than I'd first anticipated! They were there again tonight though this time in the company of a couple of Swallows and at least six House Martins (new species number three). What a fantastic and uplifting sight.

P1040859 - Birch Rock Tramway

While on the subject of hirundines I spent a delightful few minutes watching a pair of Swallows hawking for insects in the narrow cutting below Cwmdulais cottages on Monday. As the sun broke through the new leaf cover it produced some fantastic lighting which showed pefectly the abundance of insects that have now emerged.

62/68 (2013/2012)


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Patchwork Challenge 7 - Let's Go Fly a Kite

Monday, May 13, 2013 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

I wouldn't consider myself completely addicted to patch birding quite yet, but by the end of this years Patchwork Challenge that could be a real possibility. As it was I headed straight from Bracelet Bay on Saturday to the windswept grasslands of Cefn Drum to see if I could locate my first new species for May. Two glaring omissions from this years list were high on my agenda in the shape of Dipper and Linnet. Both are usually regulars here and have yet remained elusive throughout the last few months. It was something of a relief therefore to hear and see one of the Dippers shooting upriver not long after I'd set off. Unusually instead of their usual haunt around the old colliery site this one was right down in the wooded lower section of the valley. Chances are that's where they've spent the whole winter and I've just missed them as it's such a difficult area to view. With one target down it didn't take long for the second to fall with a lovely male Linnet a few hundred meters further on. Next time I really need to aim higher with what I'm looking for if birds continue to appear like this!


It seems wise at this point to include a map of my patch again as a refresher for anyone that missed it first time around. The long thin protrusion heading north east may at first glance seem like an odd inclusion, but let me assure you that it's there for very tactical reasons. It follows the route of an old tramway that used to serve coal mines back in the late 1800's and affords excellent views over the valley floor as well as another superb, though inaccessible, area of woodland. It also has the honour of being the only location locally that I've seen Redstarts, something which I'd love to repeat this year.

P1040841 - Old Tramway, Craig y Bedw

It is however a fair distance from home which has meant that thus far I haven't given it as much attention as I would have liked. This trip was to change all that though with a thorough investigation from end to end. I had been hoping for my first patch Whitethroat but with the Bracken still barely peaking above ground I think they'll be a while yet in coming. Instead I was left to enjoy a plethora of Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs along with a constant backdrop of yaffling Green Woodpeckers. The strong winds also seemed to be creating an interesting up-draft which was being enjoyed by a constant passage of Herring Gulls, three Buzzards, two Red Kites and the occasional Raven. At times all of the above were sharing the same airspace which unsurprisingly led to a few disagreements. It was the pair of Red Kites which really held my attention though as they performed what I presume to be a courtship display. It began with one of the birds appearing above the horizon with an item of prey fixed in its talons. The second bird approached from a short distance away which kick-started a series of flips and tight turns from both until I lost sight of them behind the hill. When they returned the prey was gone and they were both soaring together right above my head with frequent returns to the twisting and flipping display that I'd just witnessed. Now birds in flight has never been the strong point of my camera but I did my best to capture a little bit of the action.

P1040848 - Red Kite Courtship

P1040847 - Red Kite Courtship

P1040846 - Red Kite Courtship

In all I watched the Red Kites for well over twenty minutes before they finally drifted off again and out of sight. What a fantastic display from what I presume are the same birds that I see hunting around the house.

The 'north east spur', as I shall refer to it from now on, was otherwise pretty quiet although the aforementioned woodland did produce one call that I wasn't able to identify. All that means is that I have another excuse to head up there again in the very near future, if not tonight. Oh dear, I think I may be addicted after all!

59/68 (2013/2012)


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Mumbles Head - Eiders and Ravens

Saturday, May 11, 2013 Adam Tilt 4 Comments

The forecast this morning didn't look too promising so it was up to an old stalwart to step in and provide a destination. Those of you who read this blog religiously (doesn't everyone?) will probably have guessed that I am referring to Bracelet Bay and Mumbles Head, two locations that always seem to deliver no matter what mother nature throws at us. As it turned out today was to be no different with a quick scan of the ocean picking up two large ducks amongst a flock of Herring Gulls. I had to seek shelter from the strong wind before I had a steady enough view to see that they were in fact Eiders. This is the first time that I've ever seen the species in Bracelet Bay and at just a few meters off shore it would have been rude not to point the camera in their direction. Judging from the number of times they dived and the raucous nature of the surrounding Gulls, I gather that a school of fish were probably just beneath the surface.

P1040816 - Eider Pair, Bracelet Bay

P1040818 - Eider Pair, Bracelet Bay

The nearby rocks held a couple of Mediterranean Gulls and a single Oystercatcher, neither of which looked willing to take an approach. Instead I checked the tides and headed across to the outer island at Mumbles Head to see if the blustery conditions had grounded anything of interest. They hadn't but a pair of Ravens put on an extraordinary vocal display as I followed the path to the lighthouse. Never before have I had one of these large birds willingly sit at such close quarters and it was a privilege to behold. I can only presume that they have a nest nearby especially as one of them was seen carrying food down the cliffs. Needless to say I gave them as wide a birth as possible which wasn't that easy on such a tiny island.

P1040830 - Raven, Mumbles Head

P1040827 - Raven, Mumbles Head

Once I'd finally given the Ravens the slip it was into one of the old world war two gun emplacements to shelter from the ever strengthening wind. From there I had a commanding view over Swansea Bay and the Bristol Channel which would have been ideal if some of the Skuas that have been popping up along the coast this weekend had deigned to pass Mumbles. It wasn't to be though I did take great pleasure in watching an Arctic Tern fishing just off shore.

P1040832 - Mumbles Head

With any cobwebs suitably blown away I retreated back down to the causeway where four Turnstones were doing their best to feed. It was one of the Herring Gulls that really grabbed the eye though, most likely due to the huge orange ring on its left leg. I've had real difficulty reading the lettering on it but my best guess so far is X88. I shall try and find out more information on the birds origins next week.

P1040821 - Ringed Herring Gull, Mumbles

Over at the pier it was hard to miss the noise that signals the Kittiwakes are back in the house. My rough count puts the colony at over one hundred and fifty birds and it's great to see that the temporary shelving put up while the pier is being restored is now in full use. Rather worryingly though there seems to be little evidence of nest building so far.

P1040837 - Kittiwakes on Mumbles Pier

From there it was back home for another bash of the local patch which turned out to be equally productive.....


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Patchwork Challenge 6 - Reeling Grasshopper Warbler

Thursday, May 09, 2013 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

The recent discovery of Stock Dove and Kestrel on my local patch got me wandering about what else I'd potentially missed by keeping to regular routes and routines. As a result I've spent the last couple of weeks poking into every nook and cranny I can find to make sure that nothing else has slipped under the radar. The results have been surprising to say the least, with one dusk visit on 27th April proving to be something of a revelation where the bird life of Cefn Drum is concerned. Owls were our original target and although we saw plenty of pellets dotted around we had no sightings other than hearing the distant calls of a Tawny Owl. That was good enough for me however as, after all, it's the first time that I've ever found proof that they frequent the area. It was another sound that really got the blood pumping though when, just after the sun had set, a faint reeling call reached my ears from the grasslands north of the mound. Straight away I knew that it had to be a Grasshopper Warbler, a personal lifer not just for the patch but for the whole country. We spent the next ten minutes or so listening with strained ears as it continued to call, not an easy task with strong winds gusting into our faces. The approaching dark eventually forced us back down to the car where unbelievably we were greeted with another reeling Gropper! I could scarcely believe it and took a short video clip that just about manages to pick up a couple of the calls. I suggest turning your speakers up to eleven and listening very carefully around the twenty one second mark. Next time I wont try filming quiet sounds next to a stream.

Thinking back I can't imagine that the appearance of these two birds represents a new species for the area, rather it shows an increased awareness on my part. I've probably heard the calls many times before but for some reason just never picked up on their significance. Further weight was added to this hypothesis last weekend while camping in north Wales. Walking into Beddgelert it was hard to miss another Grasshopper Warbler reeling from undergrowth just outside our campsite. How many have I unwittingly passed in the last few years I wonder? 

P1040742 - Cefn Drum

It probably comes as no surprise that on the 30th I headed straight out after work and onto the northern slopes of Cefn Drum. My aim was to actually see one of the aforementioned Grasshopper Warblers as although hearing one is good enough to be included in the Patchwork Challenge, they don't get on my personal life list without a confirmed visual. Sadly prolonged searching didn't reveal a single call let alone a sighting, so for now they remain a half tick (yes I've introduced a new category to my lists). That's not to say that it was a wasted trip however as in the week since my last daytime visit Willow Warblers had descended in their hundreds. I spotted my first along the old railway track but from then on every bush from Gopa Hill onwards seemed to hold at least one. Even better was that this individual seemed particularly approachable, perhaps because the next nearest tree was a good few hundred meters away. 

P1040751 - Willow Warbler, Cefn Drum

Another new arrival came in the shape of two Cuckoos, one to the north and one to the south of Cefn Drum, both heard but not seen. It's great to have them back for another year and hopefully I'll get closer before they move on. A rather fine male and female pair of Reed Buntings rounded off the new finds for April whilst a supporting cast of regulars also performed well. Although the Skylarks seem to have toned their noise down a bit they were still present in good numbers along with three Stonechats, two Buzzards, three Wheatears, a Red Kite, numerous Meadow Pipits and a single Swallow. I was also treated to my first sightings of the male Pheasant (I'm assuming it's always the same one) skulking through the undergrowth above Cwmdulais cottages. Sadly it never came fully into the open as I'm a real sucker for their plumage. A pair of Yellowhammers and overflying Goldfinches rounded things off.

On an unrelated note I got to indulge in one of my other pastimes whilst I was out there; exploring old mine workings. Due to Cefn Drum's industrial past its flanks are pockmarked with numerous old workings, many of which have long since been filled in and closed. I was therefore pretty chuffed to find two addits which were still very much open along with the remnants of another old tramway. 

P1040746 - Old Mine, Cefn Drum

I shall definitely be revisiting them in the near future, especially given their close proximity to my Grasshopper Warbler location.

57/68 (2013/2012)


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