Patchwork Challenge 2014 Draws to a Close

Wednesday, December 31, 2014 Adam Tilt 11 Comments

It’s hard to believe but yesterday was my last opportunity of 2014 to get out onto the patch in an attempt to push my current Patchwork Challenge score a little higher. Despite a less than attentive year I had still somehow managed to draw level with my previous comparative species count, though not score (lack of Grasshopper Warbler this time out really hurt me), but 63 species is never the less still something to be proud of. Yes it may pale into insignificance against some of the big hitters but for my little area of Wales it’s a hard earned result and one which represents many enjoyable hours spent out in the field. Along the way there have been some notable highlights including a strengthening in the Grey Partridge population to at least six individuals (still the only birds recorded anywhere in the Gower area as far as I am aware) as well as several new finds including Common Gull and White Wagtail. Even better were a continued increase in Raven and Red Kite numbers though the shocking decline in Green Woodpeckers continues unabated. In complete contrast the local Tawny Owls seem to have gone from strength to strength with one particularly noisy individual keeping us awake on numerous occasions, often early in the morning. Certainly beats being woken by an alarm.

Out in the garden our feeders felt relatively quiet for much of summer and autumn but the recent cold snap has changed all that. I’ve no idea where all our Chaffinches and House Sparrows have been hiding but they are back now and have been devouring the sunflower seed as quickly as we can supply it. Arriving alongside them have been other welcome returnees in the shape of a single Greenfinch and Starling so it seemed a suitable place to start this final outing.

P1100578 - House Sparrow, Garden


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Pen y Fan Dusting

Sunday, December 28, 2014 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

Presents unwrapped, enough food eaten to keep me going until March and far too many hours of television watched. Yes Christmas is over for another year and I hope it's been a good one for you all and that Santa was as generous as he was for me (I must have been a good boy after all). Unfortunately the festivities have coincided with me being laid up for the best part of a week with what I can only assume was some new super strain of bubonic plague. Due to my ridiculous work ethic I didn't have to take a sick day but the resultant extra strain on body and mind meant that today is pretty much the first time that I've felt anywhere near like being back to my best (somewhere I can hear the worlds smallest violin being played). That's not to say that we haven't attempted a couple of outings though with a walk from Port Eynon on Christmas Eve delivering five Mediterranean Gulls and two Chiffchaffs whilst yesterdays jaunt up into the hills above Afon Argoed put us at eye level with a passing Goshawk. Definitely a case of quality over quantity then.

Of course all that is very well and good but what I really had planned for this break were several days walking amidst the snow capped peaks of the Brecon Beacons. Initially it looked like conditions weren't going to play ball but temperatures have plummeted over the last couple of nights and with it the white fluffy stuff has finally arrived. If I'm honest I would have liked a little more but our walk up Pen y Fan today was absolutely sublime with clear skies and just enough snow to keep the photographer within me satisfied.

P1100530 - Climbing Pen y Fan


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Cardiff Bay - Black Redstarts and Reed Buntings

Wednesday, December 24, 2014 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

Cardiff may not immediately strike you as a prime birding location but recent years have seen numerous highlights including a regular wintering Lesser Scaup and my first Waxwings for over a decade. Much of this interest has been focused on Cardiff Bay, a huge 500 hectare freshwater lake formed in the 1990's by the construction of a barrage across the tidal estuaries of the River's Taff and Ely. Its main aim was to kick start development of an industrial wasteland but also resulted in the loss of a habitat used by over 8,000 wintering waders and wildfowl. This was once the highest density of birds found anywhere on the Severn Estuary and despite various compensation schemes has never come close to being replaced. Saying that the result is undeniably attractive on the eye and as I've already said does have a habit of drawing in star birds. Such is the conundrum of man's impact on our environment.

P1100421 - Cardiff Bay

A couple of weeks ago we caught the train to Cardiff and after a short walk from the city centre found ourselves once more on a five mile circuit of its bay. Conditions were perfect with a clear sky and nothing more than a slight breeze that didn't drop temperatures any lower than comfortable. First port of call was Cardiff Bay Wetlands Reserve, one of the schemes constructed to help compensate for lost saltmarsh and tidal mudflat habitat. Clearly however it was never going to be a direct replacement and today provides a valuable home to Reed Buntings, Sedge Warblers and other reed dwelling species instead of the Redshanks and Shelducks which have long since moved away. In fact it was a pair of those aforementioned Reed Buntings which got the day off to an excellent start as we watched them avidly feeding on seeds.


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Hatton - Locks and Redwings

Tuesday, December 16, 2014 Adam Tilt 6 Comments

Sunday 7th saw us making a long overdue return visit to Hatton Locks, a flight of twenty one locks (not lochs as I originally spelt the title of this entry and which would have made for something entirely different) on the Grand Union Canal. Opened in 1799 they have a total rise of 45 meters over less than two miles, impressive numbers if you're in the canal business I'm sure you'll agree. Originally built for the transport of coal, sugar, spices and tea they today provide a very enjoyable walk along well maintained towpaths. Though a couple of modern concrete bridges jar slightly with the older architecture everything else is pretty much as it once was following a widening scheme in the 1930's designed to combat increased competition from rail. One need only look across to the neighbouring mainline however to see how that particular battle turned out.

P1100406 - Hatton Locks


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An Unkindness of Ravens

Sunday, December 14, 2014 Adam Tilt 7 Comments

We've been treated to something of a spectacle this morning with at least eighteen Ravens circling over our back garden and neighbouring countryside. I've never seen so many here before with our resident pair usually only being accompanied on rare occasions. This therefore was highly unusual and they stayed around for the entire morning, alternating between the fields, trees and sky.

P1100501 - Local Ravens


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Lower Brockhampton - Siskins and Soup

Saturday, December 13, 2014 Adam Tilt 4 Comments

Last weekend we popped backed to the Midlands to visit my parents and collect those all important Christmas presents, payment for which was taken in full by having to endure hours upon hours of reality television. Thankfully the full impact of such an assault was lessened somewhat having spent Saturday walking at Brockhampton estate, a National Trust owned property with a Medieval manor house at its heart. Conditions couldn't have been more perfect with a clear blue sky, frost on the ground and plenty of wildlife waiting to be discovered.

P1100360 - Lower Brockhampton

Arriving early allowed us an almost uninterrupted walk down from the top gate through mixed woodland to the view you see above. This imposing Georgian residence is now in private hands but still makes one hell of a statement amongst the rolling Hertfordshire hills. I just wish they hadn't built a huge conservatory on the side as it does rather spoil the spectacle. Aesthetics aside I was pleasantly surprised to see just how many birds were about with a Grey Wagtail feeding along the banks of the pond above, three Stock Doves overhead, numerous Nuthatches, Song Thrushes and Blackbirds and perhaps best of all my first Siskins for what seems like an absolute age. I don't know what the cause has been but they've remained incredibly elusive this year with even our most reliable spot on Mull having drawn a blank. I'm not aware of any national population crisis so can only presume that we've been unlucky making this small group even more special than usual.


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Creation of New Saltmarsh at Cwm Ivy

Friday, December 12, 2014 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

Earlier this week the long running saga concerning a breach in the seawall at Cwm Ivy Marsh finally reached its conclusion (read my original post on the subject here). For those locals who were lobbying the National Trust to make immediate repairs the announcement that the area is to be turned into a new tidal saltmarsh will no doubt come as a bitter disappointment. Not only will the seawall be permanently lost (a structure dating from the Middle Ages) but along with it what was once a popular walking route (I guess the Wales coast path just got a little longer as well!). I share this feeling of loss but as I've previously stated this controlled retreat was really the only sensible option available. With sea levels on the rise and an increase in both ferocity and frequency of winter storms any repairs to the old defenses would likely only ever have been a temporary measure. The costs involved in such upkeep are simply not justified by the grazing pasture they protect and with pressures elsewhere on saltmarsh habitat this seems a highly sensible option.

P1080716 - Cwm Ivy Marsh seawall breach

The new project is to be undertaken by both Natural Resources Wales and the National Trust and will ultimately result in the creation of almost 100 acres of new saltmarsh. When I last visited fresh water vegetation was already dying off, a process that has only accelerated as the breach worsens with each high tide bringing in silt and potential new colonisers. The hope is that this new habitat will become an important feeding and nesting site for birds and other wildlife, a tantalising proposition given the areas good accessibility and clear views. The one problem with the North Gower marshes is that they are often difficult to watch so I look forward to enjoying many evening roosts at Cwm Ivy as the transformation advances. My main hope is that Hen Harriers, a regular winter visitor here, take advantage of this new landscape and allow even more people to enjoy these spectacular birds.

If you want to read more on this story there are several news items about though I'm looking forward to reading a more detailed plan and timeline. In the meantime all we can do is watch and see how this exciting new initiative develops.

BBC News: North Gower farmland to return to saltmarsh habitat
Natural Resources Wales: New project to create compensatory saltmarsh habitat


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More From Penwyllt Quarry

Wednesday, December 10, 2014 Adam Tilt 5 Comments

As promised I've put together this follow up entry for those who enjoyed our visit to Penwyllt quarry a couple of weeks ago and wanted to see a little more of what remains today. The site is, not unsurprisingly, rather large and we only managed a brief look around some of the structures still present. I'm sure a more thorough investigation would likely reveal yet more of the history surrounding this place but for now here are a couple of my favourite shots from the day along with a little of their story.

P1100292 - Penwyllt Quarry
Penwyllt is located in the hills behind Craig-y-Nos and as such enjoys spectacular views over the surrounding Brecon Beacons national park. Not a lot remains today of the village itself which at its peak was once home to over five hundred people. Following serious decline the quarry finally closed in 1977 with most of the remaining buildings demolished in the 1980's. One survivor however is the Penwyllt Inn, known locally as "Stump Inn", which is seen here with the dramatic Carmarthen Fan in the distance.


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Penwyllt Quarry and Ogof Ffynnon Ddu

Monday, December 08, 2014 Adam Tilt 6 Comments

Time, or lack of it, has always been the chief protagonist in every bloggers failed attempt at regular posting and alas I too have fallen victim over the past couple of weeks. Posts have remained unwritten, photos unprocessed and comments unanswered but hopefully that will change given that, somehow, we find ourselves already deep into December. After all, one new years hangover will be plenty thank you very much.

Back to the action then starting with a highly enjoyable walk in the Brecon Beacons. I'm sure you'll all be expecting sweeping vistas and rolling hills (and they will of course feature) but this outing was instead to focus on the national parks' industrial past. It's perhaps easy to forget that this protected and treasured landscape was once the beating heart of a vibrant mining and manufacturing empire employing thousands of men, women and children. Some of these activities date back centuries with a few sites, particularly where quarrying took place, remaining active even today. One such location is Penwyllt which began life producing quicklime in 1819 but ended up encompassing silica brick manufacture and aggregate extraction. Served by its own station on the Neath and Brecon railway this small settlement grew rapidly and peaked at five hundred individuals living within a stones throw of the numerous quarries and limekiln's at which they worked. Looking at a modern OS map however you'd be forgiven for thinking this all a fiction as today only a few buildings remain together with the abandoned quarry and long lifted railway. Be not deceived however as in person the area has so much still left to offer, particularly for those with an interest in industrial archaeology.

There is a road that leads directly up to Penwyllt itself but we fancied a longer walk so instead parked up opposite the Tafarn-y-Garreg pub (also long since closed). Regular readers may recall this as the starting point for our walks on the Carmarthen Fan but today it proved ideally situated for the Brecon Way which threads itself behind Craig-y-Nos country park before climbing steeply up to our destination. Initially conditions were mixed with half the valley bathed in sunshine whilst we were left to toil in the shadows.

P1100247 - View from Craig-y-Nos


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Holkham, Salthouse and Cley - Birding Nirvana

Tuesday, November 25, 2014 Adam Tilt 13 Comments

Day two of our Norfolk break saw us rising at dawn once more though the clear skies of yesterday were sadly just a memory. Drawing back the curtains revealed instead thick cloud, light mist and persistent drizzle but none of that was going to stop us from attempting to build on our stunning first day at Titchwell. A quick croissant in the hotel's car park was enough sustenance to get me going and provided suitable alertness for Emma to spot the ghostly shape of a Barn Owl just outside Titchwell village. I quickly threw the car into a nearby drive and managed to spot the bird myself before it completely disappeared. Thinking that it may have continued further on we retraced our steps but could find no further sign though did manage to add a small flock of Stock Doves to our ever burgeoning tally.

Back on the road it was only another ten minutes or so before we were pulling into Lady Anne's drive on the Holkham estate. This arrow straight section of private road is one of the best places to see Pink-footed Geese in large numbers, particularly early in the morning, and despite poor viewing conditions today was to be no different.

P1100202 - Holkham

Until you've experienced the sight and sound of thousands of Geese on the move it's simply not possible to appreciate the sheer joy such a spectacle can bring. Your whole being becomes engaged in the simple beauty of nature and there could have been no better launch pad for the hours ahead. Even the closest fields offered their own additions to the rich tapestry of life on show with a couple of Egyptian Geese (which made an extraordinary sound in flight) plus numerous Moorhen, Wigeon and a distant Marsh Harrier quartering marshland off towards Wells.


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Titchwell - Dawn 'till Dusk

Friday, November 14, 2014 Adam Tilt 3 Comments

Last Friday afternoon saw us driving east for nearly seven hours, much of it through torrential rain. What, you may ask, could have brought on such madness? I could blame an early mid-life crisis or work related stress but no, what drew us inextricably across almost the entire width of England and Wales were the birding delights of the north Norfolk coast. I’ve been visiting this area for as long as I can remember but a couple of weeks ago came to the startling realisation that we were about to pass the two year mark since out last week in Wells. Clearly this was unacceptable and with no annual leave left this mad dash remained our only option. The plan was to rise at dawn each morning spending Saturday at Titchwell and Sunday further along the coast at Holkham then Cley. Each of these names has become synonymous over the years with truly top quality birding but even with such illustrious reputations we could never in a million years have predicted the 48 hours ahead of us. If that’s not whetted your appetite perhaps I should add that our trip included three lifers (two self-found) plus our best ever sea watching experience. This one is certainly going to live long in my memory.

Saturday morning at six are never phrases that you wish to combine but somehow we managed to drag ourselves out of bed at the superbly well-appointed Caley Hall Hotel. Drawing back the curtains revealed plenty of condensation (this is November in Norfolk after all) with a clear blue sky beyond. We were most definitely on. Jumping into the car Emma spotted a Muntjac Deer skulking across the field opposite whilst all around the sound of calling Pheasants filled the air. Two Red-legged Partridge waved us through Thornham before the short drive to Titchwell was complete. If you’ve never visited before the reserve map may look rather unpromising with a straight kilometre long path leading across the marsh to a beach. Let me assure you however that the sheer quantity and variety of birds hidden within is often breathtakingly broad, just one of many reasons why this has become my favourite nature reserve and one that I can happily spend an entire day or more exploring (others include WW2 tanks on the beach, stunning scenery, Sammy the Black-winged Stilt…..). Even the car park on this cold morning was fit to bursting with a very tame Robin taking food from my hand and a noisy flock of Long-tailed Tits making their way through the surrounding vegetation. You only need walk a short distance further to find the main path which today greeted us with a swirling flock of Golden Plover numbering in the thousands, several hundred Brent Geese arriving from their overnight roosts and, best of all, an immature Marsh Harrier quartering the reeds to our left.

Redshanks, Black-tailed Godwits, Water Rail, Teal, Little Egrets, Ruff and many more species lined our way as we made a beeline for the beach where a high tide meant that this morning that was the place to be. With only a couple of other early risers present we had the place pretty much to ourselves as long as you don’t count scuttling groups of Sanderling, Grey Plovers, Bar-tailed Godwits, Dunlin, Oystercatchers etc etc. A scan of the sea revealed a couple of passing Red-breasted Mergansers, thirty or so Common Scoter, Gannets, large groups of Wigeon, a single massive flock of Pink Footed Geese over towards Holme, one Sandwich Tern, two Great Crested Grebes and even eight Eider way off on the horizon. Such variety, and so easily obtained, simply puts our regular haunts to shame but unbelievably it was about to get even better. Movement amongst the dunes (at least what’s left of them following last winter’s tidal surge) quickly resolved into a group of nine Snow Buntings. I had planned on giving the camera a bit of a rest this weekend as usually most things here are out of range anyway, but how can you resist these gorgeous little birds.

P1100185_2 - Snow Bunting, Titchwell

P1100181_2 - Snow Bunting, Titchwell


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Llanelli Waders Including a Late Common Sandpiper

Tuesday, November 11, 2014 Adam Tilt 6 Comments

It was over to the Met Office and their radar maps on Sunday 9th in an effort to spot a gap in the series of weather fronts blasting their way across south Wales. My best option seemed to be early afternoon along the north shore of the Burry so it was no surprise that I arrived in perfect synchronicity with a torrential downpour. I guess there’s still a long way to go yet in improving our weather forecasting accuracy! At least the delay was brief and I did get to enjoy an impressive display as the clouds first obscured then slowly revealed the landscape before me.

P1100112 - Llanelli

The first rays of sunlight started to poke their way through only a couple of minutes later allowing me to pick out an impressive count of 368 Redshank on the mudflats above. Mixed in were a few Teal and Curlew plus a lone Little Egret but despite much searching I couldn’t turn any of the floating debris into a Phalarope. Believe me I tried. Nearby a trio of Carrion Crows looked suitable glum as I made my way across to Llanelli’s north dock.


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Return of Mumbles Pier

Monday, November 10, 2014 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

A summer plumaged Great Northern Diver drew us inextricably towards Mumbles Saturday before last where, contrary to recent form, the bird was not only located but also found to be performing extremely well. Although too far out for a record shot, binoculars allowed its active feeding to be observed well and it was nice to see one in such neat condition after an almost total absence of the species during our time on Mull. Closer to hand a roosting group of 17 Turnstone and 4 Redshank were on the old RNLI slipway whilst a single Common Scoter flew strongly out beyond the lighthouse. Best of all though was our viewpoint for this afternoons birding which for the first time in a couple of years found us at the end of Mumbles pier.

P1100108 - Mumbles Pier Lifeboat

For those of you who've not been following this long running saga perhaps a little background is in order. Built in 1898 Mumbles pier has walked the well-trodden path of many of Britain's piers with a typical story of boom and slow decline though thankfully without the devastating fires which have claimed so many of these magnificent Victorian structures. Its last major refurbishment took place in 1956 and despite ad-hoc maintenance during the following years its state today is far from sustainable and resulted in a major redevelopment plan being drawn up. Spearheading this work has been the construction of a brand new multimillion pound lifeboat station in place of the old pier-head with work elsewhere being funded through the sale of land along the foreshore. Needless to say various planning wrangles have left much of the plan as just that though thankfully the lifeboat station is now up and running with access via a temporary path along the increasingly decrepit pier. You only need to look at the photo above to see why these improvements are so urgent.


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Remember, Remember the 5th of November

Wednesday, November 05, 2014 Adam Tilt 3 Comments

I find fireworks are best enjoyed gratis and around here you don't get a much wider view than that offered from Penclawdd. Below are just a few of the long exposure shots I took from there tonight. More could undoubtedly have been produced but have you felt how cold it is outside? Absolutely nobbling.

P1100170 - Fireworks from Penclawdd


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November Arrives in Style

Tuesday, November 04, 2014 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

It's hard to believe that November is already upon us but arrive it has and with no sign of changing October's grey and showery conditions. Both Saturday and Sunday were compromised by heavy downpours and leaden skies so it was nice to see a splash of colour with which to sign off the weekend.

P1100163 - Sunset


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Review - A Message from Martha by Mark Avery

Saturday, November 01, 2014 Adam Tilt 4 Comments

September 1st, 2014 marked the centenary of one of the best-documented extinctions in history - the demise of the Passenger Pigeon. From being the commonest bird on the planet 50 years earlier, the species became extinct on that fateful day, with the death in Cincinnati Zoo of Martha - the last of her kind. This book tells the tale of the Passenger Pigeon, and of Martha, and of author Mark Avery's journey in search of them. - Amazon
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Format: Paperback / eBook
Released: July 24th, 2014
Rating: 8/10

I've been reading virtually non-stop today, so deeply engrossed in Mark Avery's latest book "A Message from Martha" that finishing has left me at something of a loss as to what to do next. The only suitable option I could come up with was to switch on this computer and write a review, though not having undertaken such a task for over a decade I've no real idea what form it should take. Perhaps therefore it's best to start at the beginning with an admission that despite my love of birds I'd never really heard of the Passenger Pigeon. Carrier yes, Wood definitely but what was once the most numerous bird in the world? Somehow not. Take your pick at whose door the fault for this omission should lie but in reality we should, as the human race, take a collective responsibility for not holding up the Passenger Pigeon as a lesson against which all our future actions should be measured. Perhaps it's a general malaise at hearing about just another extinct species, and an American one at that, but to not have learnt from the loss of a bird whose flocks could number in the billions would have been to waste one of the most dramatic and sobering extinction events of recent times.

And by recent I really do mean recent. In his opening chapters Mark gives a dramatic overview of the Passenger Pigeon in the mid nineteenth century when flocks a mile or more wide could be seen passing overhead often for several days at a time. Such was the density of these mass movements that there are numerous accounts of the sun being obscured but that's as nothing compared to the impact of seeing a nesting site first hand. One account from 1871 speaks of two arms stretching through the woodlands of Wisconsin, one stretching for fifty miles by eight and the other seventy five miles by six. Within this huge area birds would have been densely packed, often hundreds of nests to a single tree, for mile after mile after mile. Beneath them the ground was reported to be inches think with droppings whilst all around the sound of crashing timber would herald the failure of a large branch or whole tree, crushed beneath the weight of nesting birds. Just trying to imagine such a scene today with hundreds of millions of birds concentrated together is virtually impossible so the presence of numerous excerpts from contemporary observations, combined with Mark's scientific analysis, are invaluable. In fact the collation of those accounts for me was one of the highlights of this book as hearing the same sense of wonderment from many different and unconnected authors only serves to enhance the feeling that the Passenger Pigeon truly was something special.

Of course spectacle is only one part of the Passenger Pigeon story and this book takes a detailed look at other elements of its biology. Though much remains unknown Mark's journey through fact, fiction and deduction kept me engrossed as I slowly built up a better understanding of what it meant to be a Passenger Pigeon. Obviously nothing can replace first-hand experience and Mark takes us on a thought provoking road trip through the final years of this once numerous bird. From the last recorded wild individual (shot) to the Cincinnati zoo where Martha, last of her kind, passed away, there's almost a sense of inevitability concerning how few of the people encountered during his travels are aware of the story and how changed America has become since western invaders (I thoroughly approve of Mark's use of this term) arrived.

By this point I could already sense where we were heading and that, of course, was the reasons why we can't still enjoy massive flocks of Passenger Pigeons today. In a way I almost wanted things to turn out differently but in the end it all comes down to careless (for in this case extinction was certainly not deliberate) actions of the human race in its ever searching desire for progress. I got the distinct impression that Mark didn't think a lot of this so-called progress but I'd be a hypocrite not to acknowledge, as Mark does, that we certainly appreciate the easier lives we have today. However the same levels of comfort could undoubtedly have been achieved without such whole scale destruction of the natural world.

And this, for me, is where "A Message from Martha" really starts to hit home. Had the book finished there it would undeniably have been a fascinating and engrossing look back at one of the great extinction events of our time, but many would have put it down with a knowing shake of the head aimed squarely at our less educated ancestors. Thank goodness we don't make the same mistakes today!

The inclusion of the current plight of our Turtle Dove therefore is a master stroke and turns this book from a valuable account into something entirely more purposeful. Though never pushed I found myself nodding along to Mark's views on the current state of our own countryside and whose declining wildlife is figure headed by the magnificent, and rapidly disappearing, Turtle Dove. The book mentions on numerous occasions that each generation only measures a population on its own experiences and for me that means seeing Turtle Doves as a rarity. I've spotted the occasional individual over the years and always thought that was good going until reminded that barely thirty years ago large flocks were the norm. How could I, considered by myself to be reasonably well informed, have made such a glaring error? And that right there is why I enjoyed reading this book. It wasn't just a lively look back at a special bird but a warning that we have yet to learn from past mistakes. I've been left questioning whether I've really been doing as much as I could to help our struggling wildlife instead of simply taking it for granted, and sadly found myself wanting. My only hope is that in reading this book more will come to the same realisation and that Martha's message will not have fallen on deaf ears. The alternative doesn't bear thinking about.

I highly recommend checking out Mark's daily blog here to keep abreast of current conservation issues and of course think that you should read his book. It really is excellent.

Disclaimer: all views are my own based on a personal purchase, of my own volition, that I think others may enjoy.


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Autumn on the River Ogmore

Thursday, October 30, 2014 Adam Tilt 10 Comments

There was a distinctly autumnal feeling on Sunday morning which owed as much to the light drizzle and grey sky as it did the lack of leaves on trees following a week of inclement conditions. I had hoped to get out into the hills but with the day’s forecast not promising much of an improvement we instead headed east to Ogmore-by-Sea. It’s been a while since we last walked the river there and in that time there’s been a noticeable change in channel shape to such an extent that we could no longer negotiate the first meander without having to detour onto higher ground.

P1100071 - River Ogmore

P1100072 - River Ogmore

The estuary roost was pretty quiet with a couple of Oystercatchers and Curlew being the only waders present although another group had earlier managed to pick out two Purple Sandpipers. If ever there was a bogey bird for me here then that has to be it as I’ve never seen one despite checking their regular haunts on numerous occasions. Thank goodness the Aberystwyth birds are more confiding otherwise I’d have been pulling my hair out by now!

A quick glance up the river revealed another relatively quiet scene with no sign of the hoped for Goldeneye despite it being almost November. Presumably the mild autumn has meant they’ve not felt the need to start their migration as of yet. There were though good numbers of Redshank, a couple more Curlew plus a superb Kingfisher which we watched hovering and calling above a small channel. Elsewhere a Sparrowhawk gave brief views as it dived across our path and two Little Egrets spent almost the entirety of our visit chasing each other off. Given the quantity of feeding habitat on offer you’d have thought they could have come to some sort of sensible agreement. As it was I doubt either got much of a meal.


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An Introduction to Harvestmen by SEWBReC

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

Saturday morning found me on a train bound for Cardiff (environmental win) where I was to attend a course laid on by SEWBReC (South East Wales Biodiversity Records Centre). The subject being covered was an introduction to Harvestmen and I was hoping that through it I'd finally gain an insight into this tricky to identify and chronically under recorded group. Regular readers may recall that my previous attempts at putting names to faces have been less than successful so any tips I could pick up would prove invaluable.

28894 - Harvestman Spider, Mewslade
Harvestman at Mewslade, Gower
Our venue for the day was to be Cardiff museum and having arrived in plenty of time I was first on the scene. This was good on one hand as I definitely wasn't going to be late but did have the drawback of meaning that I was first to engage with reception who seemingly had no record of our event. I began to get concerned that I'd turned up at the wrong place but after a few more arrivals decided that we couldn't all be wrong! Fortunately everything was resolved a couple of minutes later and we were led to our room within a normally off limits section of the museum (always a thrill to get behind the scenes). Immediately the sight of microscopes set out on tables took me right back to my school days and I got that same sense of excitement as then knowing that today was definitely not going to be a textbook lesson.


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Fungi and Curlew Sandpiper at WWT Llanelli

Sunday, October 26, 2014 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

Last Sunday we headed back to WWT Llanelli for the second time in as many weeks. Our main aim had been to take another look at the recently arrived Wigeon so I was slightly disappointed to find them present in much lower numbers than expected. Only fourteen individuals were visible from the British Steel Hide which I think owes more to a very low tide than any significant changes in their general population. Not to worry as 32 Lapwing and 34 Redshank made up the shortfall, not forgetting of course a stunning Curlew Sandpiper! I first spotted the latter from over at the Michael Powell hide where its smaller size and long bill immediately signalled the presence of something unusual. Being somewhat distant however we had to make a mad dash around to the BSH in order to gain a better vantage point, only to see a large flock of waders take flight as we were literally meters from the door. Even before scanning the group you could sense the inevitability of our situation as, moments later, we confirmed that our target bird was indeed amongst them and by now rapidly heading out of sight. Fortunately after a wide looping circuit of the reserve they returned and from then on gave superb views directly opposite where we were sat. It only took a few moments to nail the key features for Curlew Sandpiper (aided no end by my having swatted up on the species just a couple of days earlier) after which we could settle down and watch it feed. A cracking bird and easily my best views of the species to date.

Elsewhere everything else was pretty much as it had been though both Greenshank and Shoveller numbers had increased to 13 and 33 respectively, whilst over on the Millennium Wetlands a very active Kingfisher was doing the rounds. What really grabbed the attention though were the sheer quantity and variety of fungi species on offer, starting with this impressive Macro Mushroom (Agaricus urinascens) on a bank amongst the ornamental bird collection.

P1100014 - Macro Mushroom (Agaricus urinascens), Llanelli WWT
Macro Mushroom


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Friday Sunset

Friday, October 24, 2014 Adam Tilt 8 Comments

After a long few days it was nice to see the sun pop out from behind the clouds this evening, even if only for a few minutes. Though brief the sunset's colours were similarly strong to those of a week ago and I was once again able to capture these images from my bedroom window. So much for struggling to find a vantage point locally when I'd not even considered our own house.

P1100053 - Sunset


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Worm's Head

Thursday, October 23, 2014 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

By Sunday the 12th our Mull withdrawal symptoms were really starting to bite having spent over a week away from the ocean. Clearly this state of affairs couldn't continue so after a quick check of the tides we headed down to Rhossili with the intention of walking across to Worm's Head. With a good weather forecast we clearly weren't alone in our plans with the path along the cliffs swarming and car parking prices higher than they had been during the summer! Fortunately there's plenty of space to swallow the numbers and it was relatively easy to find ourselves walking along unaccompanied.

P1090932 - Worm's Head

P1090931 - Rhossili Beach

The views looking out to Worm's Head were still as impressive as on our very first visit here some seven years ago now, as was the sweep of Rhossili Bay off to our right. Interestingly there was a new line of posts sticking out of the sand which at first glance appeared to be another shipwreck exposed as a result of the beaches ever changing profile. Closer inspection however revealed them to be far too linear for those origins and suggest perhaps some remnant of second world war defences, possibly barbed wire intended to prevent invasion.


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Seasons Collide at WWT Llanelli

Wednesday, October 22, 2014 Adam Tilt 8 Comments

If you read my last post here you'll know that I managed to squeeze in a short stint out on patch before a few spots of rain turned into an absolute deluge. Needless to say I was forced to take shelter beneath the very Beech trees I'd been observing until, with conditions steadily worsening, I was forced to head for home. The next couple of hours saw visibility drop down to fifty meters or so with water cascading off the roof and a newly formed stream taking up residence down our street. It was scarcely believable therefore when early afternoon brought a clear sky and warming sunshine which rather nicely coincided with my arrival at WWT Llanelli. Some kind soul has been feeding birds in the centre's car park of late allowing me to take some rather nice close-ups of this Blue Tit. It was perfectly content to sit just above my ahead, periodically flying down to grab another seed.

P1090911 - Blue Tit, WWT Llanelli

Walking out into the reserve proper saw conditions continue to improve bringing a Red Admiral onto the wing whilst overhead a flock of Jackdaws gave their typically raucous welcome. The usual commoner species such as Dunnock and Blackbird were quickly ticked off before meteorological conditions once again grabbed my attention with a powerful rainbow off towards town.


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Beech Birding Bonanza

Tuesday, October 21, 2014 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

My local patch may not be able to offer any Golden Eagles (more's the pity) but that's not to say there hasn't been plenty of interest since our return from Mull. We've had two Red Kites overhead, Long-tailed Tits and Goldfinches in the garden plus a rather extraordinary collection of life centred on a small strand of Beech trees. I've mentioned previously that the patch isn't exactly overflowing with wooded areas so this small collection, together with a neighbouring group of Silver Birch and Pines, has always been worth a look. Green Woodpeckers used to be a regular sight for instance (though their population seems much diminished of late) but nothing has ever come close to the quantity of species currently feasting on a bumper crop of Beech mast.

P1090895 - Local Beech Trees


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Isle of Mull 2014 - Cruachan Treshnish and Glac Gugairidh

Monday, October 20, 2014 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

Written on 03/10/2014, Isle of Mull

Like all good things our fortnight on Mull had to come to an end, a concept even harder to accept following one of our most successful and enjoyable trips to date. We'd spent two weeks revelling in multiple Otter sightings, watched up to three Golden Eagles for hours at a time and walked some of the most unspoiled wilderness that I've ever had the privilege to encounter. It's probably no surprise therefore that all who sail on the MV Isle of Mull view her with mixed emotions. At the start of a trip she's your gateway to wildlife nirvana but just a few days later has the onerous task of transporting you back to normality.

Thankfully we still had one last day to enjoy before our appointment at Craignure and we certainly intended to make the most of it. Yes the weather had once again taken a turn for the worse, although still far better than we could have expected for October, but that didn't stop us heading off over the hills towards Cruachan Treshnish. As the name suggests this hill sits behind Treshnish farm to the north-west of Crackaig making it a familiar sight but not one we'd ever climbed. Standing at 216 meters the actual gain in height from our starting point was limited but the nature of the terrain made for hard going. Short, cropped grass would quickly give way to heather and bracken hidden amongst which were numerous streams and treacherous bogs. Needless to say my foot disappeared on more than one occasion but we eventually made the peak in one piece.

P1090848 - Cruachan Treshnish, Isle of Mull


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Isle of Mull 2014 – ‘S Airde Beinn, Crater Loch

Sunday, October 19, 2014 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

Written on 02/10/2014, Isle of Mull

We’ve yet to find the best ‘next day’ activity following a strenuous walk but thought that the short climb up ‘S Airde Beinn sounded as good an option as any. As its alternative name of crater loch suggests this was once an active volcano and even today its dolerite plug and crater are still easily discernible.

P1090763 - ‘S Airde Beinn, Isle of Mull

P1090758 - ‘S Airde Beinn, Isle of Mull

Up at the top a short half hour walk takes you around the entire perimeter, a stroll that today at least was accompanied by gale force winds. The views on offer, when it was possible to hold the camera still at any rate, were both spectacular and far reaching. I even got to pick out the setting for a couple of blogs I follow over on the Ardnamurchan peninsula.


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Isle of Mull 2014 – MacCulloch’s Fossil Tree, Burg

Friday, October 17, 2014 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

Written on 01/10/2014, Isle of Mull

Walk number seven in the essential ‘Walking in South Mull and Iona’ booklet grabbed my interest from the very start. Anything whose description includes the words untamed, hard going, fossil tree and steel ladder was almost purpose built to awaken my inner-child and today we finally got to turn those pages into reality.

P1090726 - Walk to MacCulloch’s Fossil Tree, Isle of Mull

Signposts from the main road above Kilfinichen Bay lead you first along a metalled surface, then gravel, to the National Trust for Scotland’s car park nestled in amongst the trees above Loch Scridain. On such a gloriously sunny day and with an almost perfect forecast we were somewhat surprised to find our vehicle the only one present. As it turned out this was only a foretelling of the remoteness that lay ahead of us, ten miles through some of the most broken and untamed scenery on Mull. And yet the start could not have been more welcoming as we wound our way along a well-made track through pleasant forests with almost unrestricted views across to the Ross of Mull at our left.


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Isle of Mull 2014 – Potting the Reds

Thursday, October 16, 2014 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

Written on 30/09/2014, Isle of Mull

Sheets of rain lashing across the valley kept us cooped up until late afternoon. By then my Kindle was protesting ever louder that its batteries were about to expire (never a problem with paper) so when a break in the weather appeared we went for it whole heartedly. It appeared as if the improving conditions, which did not include a drop in wind speed nor an increase in brightness, had also brought the locals out of their respective shelters. First up was a male Yellowhammer on the feeders, its vivid colour standing in sharp contrast to the gloom cloaking everything and everyone. Even the Golden Eagles appeared as mere silhouettes though by flying right over the sun porch they still achieved an impressive showing. It’s not often you look up from a good book to find yourself literally meters from an approaching eagle.

P1090472 - Golden Eagle, Isle of Mull

With only a couple of hours until dusk, and probably even less before the next storm arrived, we set off to explore the hill directly behind our house. Standing wide and squat its mixture of peat bog, moorland and rocky outcrops makes for a challenging walk at the best of times though almost minimal human visitation means that anything found is often being done so for the very first time. So it proved today with the remains of a young Red Deer foal located just below the summit, its short life a mystery for now and evermore. Based on recent observations there are plenty of Red Deer which did make it into adulthood though and it didn’t take long to spot signs of their habitation. For most of the week we’ve been finding shallow, muddy pools which up until now had remained a mystery. They looked almost as if they’d been dug to provide a watering hole though for what and by whom we couldn’t fathom. That was of course until Emma remembered reading that stags will often roll around in such pools to spread their strong rutting odour across the entire body. Suddenly all those little details started to make sense with hoof/antler marks visible in the mud and material thrown wide in the process scattered across surrounding vegetation.


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Isle of Mull 2014 – Trig Bagging at Quinish

Wednesday, October 15, 2014 Adam Tilt 3 Comments

Written on 29/09/2014, Isle of Mull

It was all go this morning with an early outing to retrieve the remote camera (which captured absolutely nothing overnight, not even a sheep) finding us slap bang in the middle of a battlefield. To our left on the far side of the valley stood an impressive Red Deer stag, antlers thrust forward, sun shining from its sleek coat and voice clearly in very good working order. For the first time in days there was hardly a breath of wind allowing his bellows to travel clearly across to where we stood. What, or perhaps who, were they aimed at though? We didn’t have to wait long for an answer with another stag moving into view on the horizon up to our right. He too bellowed a warning across the valley before moving further up the hillside with his harem. Dispute seemingly settled that was the last we saw of either animal but let’s hope for some more direct action before the week is out!

P1090428_2 - Red Deer, Isle of Mull

Testosterone induced antics weren’t the only delights to be had on this first truly sunny morning in several days. Oh no. First up was a male Hen Harrier giving more superb flight views as it quartered the hillside before heading off in the direction of the deer (a rutting fan perhaps?), followed by a female Yellowhammer on our bird feeders. They’ve usually been a reliable fixture but had been strangely absent this year so it’s good to finally have one turn up. Also of interest were a family of Song Thrushes and four fly-over Mistle Thrushes, a new species for us in the valley.

It was a tough decision as to whether or not we should stay and watch for anything else to unfold but with no further sign of either stag we figured it would be safe to slip away. The walk we had planned would take us from Dervaig out to Quinish Point, one of our regular jaunts and a decent outing at just over nine miles. As usual on Mull the route offers endless possibilities for just about anything to turn up with this Slow Worm being our first surprise of the day.


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Isle of Mull 2014 – Deer Stalking and Dun Aisgain

Tuesday, October 14, 2014 Adam Tilt 5 Comments

Written on 28/09/2014, Isle of Mull

Having recently purchased for myself an army surplus camouflage jacket there were really only two ways that things could have gone down. Either I’d end up sitting in hides talking loudly about past sightings but lamenting the lack of birds currently on view, or else I’d go all Rambo and start creeping about through the undergrowth (though preferably without the death and bloodshed). Thankfully I’ve chosen the latter route and have spent much of the past week standing against various types of vegetation and asking Emma how well she can see me. Apparently this can get rather annoying after a while, especially when the person asking said questions is stood no less than two foot away. Who knew? My new undercover look has certainly been working its magic on the local Red Deer however allowing me to creep in closer than ever before. Their numbers around the valley have been increasing steadily since our arrival with this group found grazing on the hillside opposite.

P1090406 - Red Deer, Isle of Mull


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Blazing Sunset over Llanelli

Monday, October 13, 2014 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

There's not much that was going to divert me from my Isle of Mull posts, but last nights sunset put in an extra special effort and has managed to do just that. A little after seven o'clock the sky lit up in a blaze of glory with a richness of colour that I've seldom witnessed. Such was its beauty in fact that the local paper was even moved to publish a gallery of readers photos so I thought I'd put my contributions up here to add to the expanding library already being shared through social media.

Blazing Sunset over Llanelli

P1100003 - Blazing Sunset over Llanelli

Next up, back to Mull for a spot of Red Deer stalking.


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Isle of Mull 2014 – Otters but no Manxies

Sunday, October 12, 2014 Adam Tilt 6 Comments

Written on 27/09/2014, Isle of Mull

After yesterday’s exertions we chose to take things at a slightly more leisurely pace today, starting with a sea watch from Caliach point. With the wind blowing strongly from the west the hope was that a decent passage of birds would be on offer including those so far elusive Manxies.

P1090353 - Caliach, Isle of Mull

A couple of hours later and our wave skimming friends remained conspicuous by their absence but as a consolation prize a quartet of diving Gannets is always going to take some beating. There was a mixture of adult and juvenile birds in and around the coastal waters, most diving close enough to see each splash and almost feel the resulting impact. Keeping them company were a decent number of Kittiwakes (again adults and juveniles) plus Common Gulls and the occasional Guillemot/Razorbill. More unusual were a female Red-breasted Merganser and two Mallards, the latter perhaps wisely retreating back towards the farm instead of heading out to sea. Speaking of which the farm proved to be a goldmine for harder to find Mull species including our first Linnets of the trip as well as two overflying flocks of Golden Plovers. There was even another Snipe which again managed to evade detection until we were literally within touching distance before erupting into the air. I swear they’ll give someone a heart attack one of these days. Best of all though was an Otter which swam around from the bay before hauling out onto rocks beneath us. After finishing off whatever juicy morsel hung from its jaws it spent the next ten minutes or so fishing in a large rock pool before disappearing after one final dive.


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Isle of Mull 2014 - Climbing Ben More

Saturday, October 11, 2014 Adam Tilt 4 Comments

Written on 26/09/2014, Isle of Mull

Today we bagged our first ever Munro. After years of finding excuses not to climb Ben More conditions this morning finally meant that we would be waylaid no longer. Admittedly the force five to six winds and changeable weather were perhaps not ideal for reaching Mull’s tallest summit but sometimes you’ve just got to say to hell with it and get stuck in.

P1090254 - Climbing Ben More, Isle of Mull

Standing 966 meters tall Ben More is the only island Munro outside of Skye and dominates the landscape as you travel down Loch na Keal. What makes it all the scarier however is the realisation that you have to climb that height from sea level. No starting from half way up here a la Snowdon. Oh no. Every one of those meters is there for the taking and that’s exactly what we did.


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Isle of Mull 2014 - Marooned

Friday, October 10, 2014 Adam Tilt 4 Comments

Written on 25/09/2014, Isle of Mull

Or at least that’s what it’s felt like today with the entire valley enveloped in a thick, impenetrable fog. Our one saving grace perhaps has been that the forecast strong winds have been largely absent but that doesn’t improve matters much on an island where almost all activities involve being out of doors. At least the feeders have remained active and just about visible with Blue Tit numbers now up to five and our first House Sparrow of the trip making a brief appearance. Once again I remain both perplexed and impressed at their ability to zero in on such a localised supply of food in such vast areas of wilderness.

P1090246 - Isle of Mull

We did manage one trip down to the beach during a brief respite where visibility at least had picked up enough to allow a short spell of sea watching. Gannets seemed to be the main protagonists with a mixture of adult and juvenile birds making their way out of the loch. Several were seen to dive though how they can spot anything amongst the tumbling waves is another mystery in itself. Small groups of Kittiwakes were also on the move whilst along the shore a hardy group of Rock Pipits went about their business.

By the time we’d made it back home even that little spell of clarity had been whisked away leaving us to enjoy another evening in autumns grey embrace. 


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Isle of Mull 2014 – Langamull: Eagles, Eagles Everywhere

Thursday, October 09, 2014 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

Written on 24/09/2014, Isle of Mull

A few early morning showers quickly cleared away leaving us to enjoy breakfast in the presence of our three Golden Eagles. Once again they were patrolling the valley mouth, silhouettes clearly visible against a shimmering sea, their relief at improved conditions no doubt similar to our own. Earlier Emma had watched a female Hen Harrier (presumably the same individual as seen on Sunday) quartering the hillside opposite and with a Peregrine Falcon spotted on the way to Calgary, the tone for the day had pretty much been set. Indeed we’d only seen the Peregrine on account of having stopped to watch three White-tailed Eagles soaring above Cnoc Udmail, an unexpected and impressive tally even for Mull. The hope was that they’d follow the coast to our destination at Langamull where forestry work in the last year or so has completely opened up what was once a dark and forbidding landscape.

P1090236 - Langamull, Isle of Mull

Upon leaving the car we almost immediately spotted a White-tailed Eagle being harangued by two Hooded Crows, the actions of which quickly took all three below the horizon and out of sight. Moments later though and the former was back, this time with two more White-tailed Eagles as backup. All were untagged and gave a staggering display as they flew circuits low overhead, often close enough to be able to hear the wind rushing through their wings. Of course close is a relative term with birds this big but they certainly made it easier than normal to get a frame-filler.


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Isle of Mull 2014 – Sodden in Balamory

Wednesday, October 08, 2014 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

Written on 23/09/2014, Isle of Mull

By dawn this morning the fog had thankfully lifted though a blanket of cloud left conditions rather on the dull side. There were however spells of brightness, some may even have called it sunshine, so we set off in the direction of Tobermory with fingers well and truly crossed. Amongst miles of stunning scenery passed en-route Calgary, the very definition of a pristine Hebridean bay, stands out above all else so it’s perhaps no surprise that we chose to spend a little time in its company. Even on a day like today the white sands shone brightly and it was good to see Common Gulls and Oystercatchers making the most of the deserted conditions. So quiet was it in fact that we had the place pretty much to ourselves, unheard of during the summer months, with just a group of Rock Pipits and distant Curlew for company.

P1090142 - Calgary, Isle of Mull

Another short drive brought us to our next stop at Dervaig. Although the tide was still relatively high there were plenty of waders present including six Ringed Plover, four Dunlin and my first pair of Greenshanks seen anywhere this year. I’m not quite sure how that particular barren patch had been allowed to continue but perhaps more importantly they represented only my second ever Mull record, the first coming over at Loch Don several years ago. Also present were a vast array of Rock Doves, some with increasingly dubious plumage, plus three Little Grebes and a cracking Dipper. The latter was feeding around and under the road bridge, another good record for the area. Out in the loch a female Red-breasted Merganser made a somewhat inelegant entrance but gave a good show as she set about some intensive preening.


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Isle of Mull 2014 - Eagle Valley

Tuesday, October 07, 2014 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

Written on 22/09/2014, Isle of Mull

Famous last words and all that but today was anything but sunny. Still at least it was dry, in the main, meaning that a canoeing trip to Calgary seemed just the ticket. Unfortunately for us we are without a proper roof rack at present and the easy fit foam substitute we’d purchased was far from up to task. Slightly dejected we packed everything away and sat down to reconsider our options, only to spot an eagle heading directly for us across the valley. Obviously we assumed it to be one of our Goldies but as the distance closed its build started to look all wrong. A photo snapped as it passed directly overhead confirmed our suspicions that it was in fact a White-tailed Eagle! I’ve never seen one in our valley before and with a pair of Golden Eagles sat down on the cliffs that made for two separate eagle species visible at the same time. Where else can you get that from your front door?

P1090116_2 - White-tailed Eagle, Isle of Mull

With that the plan for the rest of the day was pretty much made for us so we headed off down the valley. Almost immediately we spotted the White-tailed Eagle again, this time passing from right to left between two headlands before putting the frights up a group of roosting Shags. Creeping closer the hope was that it had landed somewhere on the wave cut platform below but clearly our approach had not been as stealthy as it could have been. Even before we’d popped our heads over the cliff edge it was up into the air though we never could have anticipated the way in which it turned back and practically hovered directly overhead. Though the lighting was terrible they were the best ever views I’ve had of a bird that even here can make a Goldie look small.


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Isle of Mull 2014 - Otter Potter to Treshnish

Monday, October 06, 2014 Adam Tilt 21 Comments

Written on 21/09/2014, Isle of Mull

Our first full day on the island and the weather gods had chosen to treat us with blue skies and blazing sunshine. The cool breeze of yesterday had died away under cover of darkness leaving us to greet our morning visitor’s safe in the knowledge that we were in for a scorcher. Why is it that no one back home believes me when I tell them it’s always sunny up here?

P1090053 - Sheep, Isle of Mull

P1090055 - Red Deer, Isle of Mull

Today’s walk would take us along the coast to Treshnish and we’d barely got going before our first Golden Eagle sighting of the day. Soaring up from the cliffs it was soon joined by a second bird and together they climbed high up into the sky. A Kestrel was doing its up-most to harry them along but as expected this minor irritation was having no noticeable effect. On Mull even Golden Eagles sometimes have to play second fiddle however as my attention was drawn to a disturbance in the millpond like sea, one which quickly resolved itself into two Otters. They were busy fishing some distance off shore and gave great views as we worked our way along the cliffs. By the time we’d dragged our eyes away the Golden Eagles had taken their leave but I had no doubt they would be back again soon enough.


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Isle of Mull 2014 – A Golden Arrival

Sunday, October 05, 2014 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

Written on 20/09/2014, Isle of Mull

In hindsight having building work done to the house on the same day as setting off for Mull was not one of our brighter ideas. Packing clothes and stocking up on supplies is normally bad enough so adding curtain hanging and furniture moving to that list helped to make Friday more than a little stressful. It was with some relief when all went off without a hitch and we found ourselves at my parents house ready to grab a few hours kip. And by a few I really do mean a few as by four this morning we were in the car ready to devour the five hundred miles that lay between us and wildlife nirvana. Of course these days any journey in the wee hours seems subject to the roadwork trolls and today was to be no different. First the M42 was closed meaning after twenty minutes we were back exactly where we’d started from, then the M6 threatened closure but reopened just as we arrived, a feat repeated only a few junctions later. Then there’s the endless average speed camera’s which now seem to feature 40 mph limits. Until you’ve tried maintaining that speed on a completely deserted three lane stretch of road you will never know the true meaning of the word tedious. All that said by far the worst item of travel news came courtesy of BBC Scotland with the fateful words ‘ferry services between Oban and Craignure are subject to delays and disruption’. Bummer. A couple of frantic phone calls later and we’d managed to establish that although sailings were running the mysterious ‘technical issue’ had not been solved but this morning at least was not effecting service. Given our booking wasn’t until that afternoon we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.

Several hours later we pulled into Oban just in time to see the MV Isle of Mull head off on her midday sailing. The sense of relief was palpable and after a quick dash around Tesco for last minute supplies we headed along the seafront to see what was about.

P1090038 - Oban


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Late Summer Sunsets

Friday, October 03, 2014 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

I find this time of year almost perfect for photographing sunsets. Not only are they timed just right for a jaunt after work but around here the sun also sets in what is probably its most photogenic location over the Burry Inlet. Needless to say I've been out and about on many an evening recently but have made a concerted effort not to just rehash old images. This has involved the hunting out of new locations and also the furthering of an experiment into some close-up work which I first attempted during our holiday in Snowdonia. Those photographs got some very favourable responses (many thanks) so I had another go from up the hill behind our house. The view from there is somewhat spoilt by man-made obstructions meaning that this type of detailed work is far more suited.

P1080878 - Sunset


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Barrel Jellyfish Strandings on Gower

Tuesday, September 30, 2014 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

It would seem that this summer Gower has seen another series of mass Barrel Jellyfish strandings along its beaches. Previously our most recent encounter with these ocean giants had been at Rhossili back in June where almost the entire three mile stretch of sand was littered with corpses. Every fifty meters or so another would lie revealed by the retreating tide, a definite distraction to Emma who at the time was trying to enjoy a paddle through the shallows. Fast forward a few months and it seems that it's now Whiteford's turn to experience the phenomenon.

P1080826 - Barrel Jellyfish, Gower


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Beach Finds - Shark Fin Cartilage, or not?

Saturday, September 27, 2014 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

Correction - 05/10/2014
Much to my disappointment, and I'm sure your own, I have to put my hands up to having made a bit of a blooper here. Thank god it wasn't on the internet for all to see. The bone fragment below is in fact part of a birds sternum, species still unknown, not as first suspected shark fin cartilage. In my defence the shape is damned close but alas my inner child will have to accept reality though it's still a fascinating specimen to add to my burgeoning collection. I'll keep the blurb below as at the very least I learned something new about shark physiology and hopefully I can help prevent anyone else from making the same glaring error.


Another of my prized finds from many hours spent beachcombing is this Shark Fin bird sternum discovered on Gower just a couple of weeks ago.

P1080977 - Shark Fin Cartilage

P1080983 - Shark Fin Cartilage

Unlike you or I the skeleton of a shark is made up almost entirely from cartilage. This has the principle advantage of being lighter than bone meaning that the shark need exert far less energy to propel itself through the water. The animal loses no structural strength however as its skin is so thick that it acts almost like an external skeleton to which all the muscles are attached. This direct connection between muscle and skin is more efficient than typical physiology and is no doubt just another reason for the groups success.


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Beach Finds - Gannet Skull

Wednesday, September 24, 2014 Adam Tilt 4 Comments

Beachcombing is an activity that consists of an individual "combing" (or searching) the beach and the intertidal zone, looking for things of value, interest or utility. A beachcomber is a person who participates in the activity of beachcombing. Source: Wikipedia
With my love of the coast it is perhaps inevitable, even predictable, that the beachcombing bug would eventually have taken me under its wing. From a very young age we are encouraged to bring back a nice shell or interesting rock from family holidays so it only seems natural to continue that attraction for collecting into adulthood. Of course many of the most fascinating discoveries have to be left in place such as jellyfish or even the WW2 artillery shell I once found on Gower, but there are plenty of other things that worm their way back into our homes. Sitting behind me right now for instance is a bookcase containing everything from an old buoy and pieces of driftwood to my prized Oystercatcher skull which I still can't believe we found completely intact. Last years trip to Mull resulted in another fantastic addition to this collection with the discovery of a Gannet skull at Port Uisken.

P1080992 - Gannet Skull


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