Port Eynon Storm Damage

Thursday, January 30, 2014 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

Port Eynon

It's easy to forget the tidal surge of three weeks ago when you see the sea looking as it was on Sunday, but signs of our changed landscape are never far away. The view above was taken at Port Eynon during one of the days sunnier spells and you'd find it hard to imagine those relatively calm waters causing much of a problem. Just out of shot though sit a couple of houses that bare their scars for all to see. What little protection once afforded them has simply been smashed to pieces and there must be real concern amongst their owners with even higher tides than those which caused this damage forecast for the coming days.

P1060713 - Port Eynon Storm Damage

It's not just man-made structures which have suffered however. Already subject to massive sand loss over the past decade or so, the beach at Port Eynon is now more bereft of material than I've ever seen it. Underlying layers of clay have been exposed over large swathes of the western section whilst behind the sand dunes have also seen significant erosion. For as far as I could see their seaward extremities show signs of collapse as, perhaps more significantly, does the cliff further east.

P1060706 - Port Eynon Storm Damage

P1060709 - Port Eynon Storm Damage

With the main focus of news reports understandably on the human story there is a risk that destruction of important habitat such as this could be overlooked. Bring the current inland river flooding into the equation along with calls for river dredging and new defence schemes and it's not hard to imagine irreparable damage being done in the pursuit of an almost impossible goal. I'll admit to some bias here as fortunately my property is not one being directly effected but firmly believe that this is the time for a more innovative approach. Instead of working against nature we should start to work with it. Instead of deepening river channels why not slow the flow of water into them through afforestation and local storage facilities such as urban ponds and meadows. Where coastal flooding is a problem perhaps a degree of land could be surrendered to allow the regeneration of saltmarshes that themselves are known to act as excellent barriers against the sea. Not only would these solutions be more long term they would also have a huge benefit to the well-being of local communities and the wildlife that lives there. Of course there are locations where these initiatives wouldn't be suited and we would have to fall back on concrete and brawn, but it would be nice to see some more joined up thinking where possible. We already have the science to back up these ideas, there just needs to be a willingness (and the funding) there to implement them.


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Snipe and Big Garden Birdwatch - Patchwork Challenge 2014

Tuesday, January 28, 2014 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

In the two weeks since my first patch outing of 2014 I've only managed to add Lesser Black-backed Gull to my tally. It was a fly over bird while getting ready for work and up to that point was the only gull to have ventured our way. That's surprising given the blustery conditions of late which in the past have tended to blow birds from the Loughor estuary up in this direction. More worrying however has been the complete lack of any Red Kites. Since moving here they've become a regular sight around the house and patch but so far this year have been notable by their absence. With birds of prey still suffering from persecution nationwide your mind tends to wander towards the negative meaning that on Saturday they were definitely target number one.

Having covered Cefn Drum and the valley floor exhaustively last time out it was the turn of Bryn-bach-Common to receive some attention. Our approach took us up Gopa Hill which as usual managed to deliver the greatest variety of species anywhere in my study area. Raven, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Herring Gull, Robin, Blackbird, Jay and a very nice count of at least eighty Starlings got us off to a good start before a scarpering Song Thrush added a second new species for the day (apparently I can't count the farmers new flock of slightly dodgy looking Mallards). Stopping to relocate it had the added benefit of revealing what looks to be an ideal Great Spotted Woodpecker nest hole in one of the old Oaks. Given that this is a species I failed to find during the whole of last year I will be closely monitoring said hole for any signs of activity.

P1060701 - Gopa Hill

As the view above shows that stunning sunrise of a fortnight ago could not have been further from the drab and grey conditions this time around. Low cloud was actually obscuring the top of Cefn Drum whilst mist restricted visibility to pretty much the valley alone. As a result I wasn't holding out much hope for getting any updates on the Red Kite situation so was suitably delighted to spot one gliding in from over Pontlliw. It stayed in the vicinity for at least half an hour and helped to relieve my worries, though it would still be nice to see a couple more.

Another missing local was located a short while later when a female Stonechat popped up to perch atop some Gorse. It was in the exact same location as the pair I'd seen just before Christmas though there was no sign of the male on this occasion. A quick check across an area of flooded grassland revealed nothing of the Common Snipe which I'm sure must reside there, a theory only reinforced by Emma startling one into flight a short distance away. As usual we were right on top of it and had no idea resulting in the customary shock as a ball of feathers shot into the sky from near our feet. Like the Woodcock this Common Snipe is another bit of patch gold as they are by no means an annual sighting here. Following in quick succession were flight views of a Green Woodpecker and Mistle Thrush plus a flock of white Doves which I think are close enough to Feral Pigeons for me to tick them off.

As you can probably tell the dull conditions meant that any chances for photography were slim apart from another flock of at least 160 Starlings which were sadly spooked by the local hunt and their hounds. I did manage to find one bit of colour though in the shape of this Common Jellyspot.

P1060702 - Common Jellyspot

Back at the house it was time to take part in this years RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch which rather handily can also count towards the Patchwork Challenge. I wasn't expecting to pick up anything unusual, and indeed we didn't, but it was nice to see just how many birds are currently visiting our feeders. During the hour watch we missed out on a couple of regulars such as Blackbird and Collared Dove, but the eight species which showed did so in excellent numbers. Special mention must go to the Blue Tits with a rather impressive eleven individuals. I suspect the true count could be even higher as there was a constant stream in and out of the garden, but this was the highest total at one time. The final tally was as follows:

Blue Tit (11)Jackdaw (4)
Great Tit (3)Starling (1)
Coal Tit (1)Robin (2)
Chaffinch (7)Dunnock (1)

Those eagle eyed amongst you may note a complete lack of House Sparrows and no Greenfinches. The latter is a worrying trend that I believe may signal the return of trichomonosis although we have seen no sign in the rest of our visiting Chaffinches. A couple of years ago we were in a similar situation but during 2013 a regular flock of around seven Greenfinches made a return and seemed perfectly healthy. They've not been seen for a long time now though and only time can tell if they will return. Nevertheless it's heartening to see other species doing well and with our feral cat population seemingly under control for a change I look forward to continuing good counts over the coming months.

37 Species / 38 Points  


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Little Gulls and Purple Sandpipers at Port Eynon

Sunday, January 26, 2014 Adam Tilt 6 Comments

Little did I realise when signing off my last entry here that an idle threat to get to grips with immature gulls would prove to be quite so prophetic. Perhaps I should explain.

This morning was, as the Scottish like to put it, rather dreich. It's a word I love and one that roughly translated means wet, cold and gloomy. Perhaps as a good blogger I should have taken a photograph to illustrate the rain streaming down our bedroom windows behind which lay cloud cover at almost ground level, but in truth the energy just couldn't be mustered as once again the prospect of a dry weekend was snatched from my grasp. Then a miracle. Those same strong winds which had been howling through the eaves all morning finally managed to put their energy towards something useful and blew the latest front off to the east. Behind it came a clearing sky and, most amazingly of all, some sun! Quick as a flash we were out of the house and on our way to Port Eynon where a quick scan of the bay revealed what at first seemed to be nothing more than your bog standard flock of gulls.

P1060739 - Gull Flock, Port Eynon

In truth I dismissed them almost immediately being not one of the frankly sadistic bunch who love picking over this fiendishly troublesome bird group, so hats off to Emma for sticking with them and spotting two birds which looked distinctly different from the rest. I was soon onto them and together we noted the dark under-wings (unusual), small black beak and red legs. At the back of my mind a Little Gull identification was screaming to get out and after a perfect size comparison with nearby Black Headed Gulls that's exactly what we got. I've only seen this species once before and that was at very close range on Sandy Water Park, so to pick these out in the 'wild' was an achievement indeed. We stopped short of a victory jig though our excited chatter probably seemed at odds with conditions which were once more getting darker by the minute. 

There was little time for self congratulation however before another mystery gull reared its head. This time there was extensive black marking on the upper wings and another black beak as I struggled to move away from a possible Bonaparte's Gull. Again this is a species that I've seen a couple of times previously but never self found so in truth I had little more than memory to go on (never leave your bird book at home!). Indeed we were all but convinced until an adult Kittiwake drifted through the scene showing us the error of our ways. Of course it was a first winter Kittiwake and probably one of the birds from the breeding colony at Mumbles. I can't deny feeling a slight pang of disappointment when, as if on cue, a heavy squally downpour arrived to teach me a lesson for being so ungrateful. There was just time to fire off a few record shots with the camera before heading for shelter against the ruined Salt House.

Once calm had returned, and with it some more of that precious sun, we set about relocating the Little Gulls. The two adult winter birds were quickly found along with the Kittiwake when all of a sudden I began to see double. What looked like another juvenile Kittiwake had now joined the scene but appeared to be half the size of the first. A degree of head scratching followed before we realised that we were looking at a first winter Little Gull. The leading black edges to its wings and black tipped tail were dead giveaways (now that I've consulted the reference books) making it a rather nice trio. As you can imagine things only got better with the arrival of a third adult winter bird giving us four Little Gulls feeding together. That felt slightly special to put it mildly.

Needless to say I'd have loved to get some decent photographs but distances were simply too great and with hands like blocks of ice even holding the camera steady against the wind was an almost impossible task. The best I managed were a few grainy shots, the best of which are shown heavily cropped below.

Assorted Gulls, Port Eynon

Top Left: Common Gull (middle)
Top Right: First winter Kittiwake
Bottom Left: First winter Little Gull
Bottom Right: Adult winter Little Gull

Little Gulls definitely topped the days rarity scale but there was plenty of other action happening all around. At least three Mediterranean Gulls, several Common Gulls and plenty of Black Headed Gulls made up the rest of the flock above while out towards Sedges Bank a trio of Great Black-backed Gulls were also present. From that direction came a very decent flow of waders as the tide began to drop including the resident Little Egret, numerous Oystercatcher, seven Turnstone and a flock of at least forty Ringed Plover. Singles of Redshank and Curlew added to the menagerie prompting us to take a closer look. The walk over was distinctly rockier than I remembered it due in part to loss of material during the winter storms. A sheltered spot wasn't too hard to find though and we were soon enjoying close views of a Shag fishing just offshore. Surprisingly small compared to their more locally common relative the Cormorant it was another surprise treat from a day which had initially promised so little. Better was still to come though in the shape of seven Purple Sandpipers which flew in and landed not far from our position. I almost didn't bother moving in for some photographs but another appearance by the sun soon had me crawling across sharp rocks. Fortunately I think the results were well worth it.

P1060749 - Purple Sandpiper, Port Eynon

P1060750 - Purple Sandpiper, Port Eynon

P1060754 - Purple Sandpiper, Port Eynon

If I remember correctly these are my first Purple Sandpipers on Gower for a couple of years and as usual they were delightfully approachable. When mixed in with Turnstones they can be notoriously flighty but find them alone and it's hard not to get something worth keeping.

And with that it was back to the car before the next rain shower had chance to drench us once again. Considering the way the day had started I could not have imagined a more different afternoon. Birding in 2014 is definitely off to a flying start.


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Rhossili - Downs But Not Out

Thursday, January 23, 2014 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

The wet West and cold East continue to do battle on the meteorological stage which, unfortunately for those of us who were hoping for a decent winter, means that the mild yet stormy conditions that have prevailed since new year are set to stay for at least the next few weeks. This wouldn't be so bad if the occasional dry and sunny patch would fall on a weekend but alas it seems I'm cursed to witness these rare occurrences from the confines of my cell office. It's even got to the point where furtive glances have been made in the direction of my waterproof trousers (I'm not a fan, as you can probably gather). Fortunately things haven't got that desperate just yet with a break in the weather on Sunday allowing us out once more to stretch our legs. Rhossili Downs was destination of choice and after a short climb to the summit trig point we were rewarded with stunning views across the peninsula.

Rhossili Downs

P1060698 - Rhossili Downs towards Burry Holms

On the bird front everything was rather quiet with flight views of two Chough early on being the definite highlight. Other than a couple of Meadow Pipits, Ravens and Crows the ridge walk itself was almost completely devoid of anything feathered, until that is we arrived at the old WW2 radar station. Here a stunning Kestrel was at hunt giving us superb views both whilst hovering and after landing on the ground. I crept as close as I dared for a couple of distant photos and once again was impressed at the size of these birds up close. For some reason they always appear bigger than I expect.

P1060700 - Kestrel, Rhossili Downs

A noisy Wren heralded our arrival at Hill End campsite before the return journey back along the beach. I kept my eye out for any of the rare gulls which have been spotted in the bay recently but am well aware that I need to brush up my identification skills in this area and didn't spot anything more unusual than Mew Gulls. Oystercatchers were in great abundance whilst we struggled to get closer views of the hundreds of Common Scoter way out in Rhossili Bay. Three Fulmar off the old fort were much easier to observe and breaks my misheld belief that they only return to this area in the Spring. Just goes to show that you never stop learning and on that note I'm off to study plumage variation in immature Gulls. I may be some time.


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Afternoon on the Beach

Friday, January 17, 2014 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

Following our successful patch raid on Saturday we spent a couple of hours during the afternoon exploring Llanelli's foreshore. In the past this has been a regular haunt of ours but an increase in anti-social behaviour during last summer meant that we have tended to stay away of late. Given that it's the middle of winter however we expected to have the place to ourselves but a rare appearance by the sun had clearly brought out the masses. I have never seen the car park so busy but as soon as we got onto the beach it wasn't hard to see why. Conditions were absolutely perfect with no wind, blue sky and warm temperatures creating a feeling of ease and tranquillity that has been missing all too often recently. Could this really be the Welsh coast in January? The millpond like calmness of the sea suggested otherwise!

Llanelli Foreshore

On closer inspection that flat calm only stretched out a certain distance into the Burry Inlet before rougher conditions began to take over. The reason for this appears to have been a shift in huge quantities of sand during the recent storms which has significantly reshaped the underwater landscape. What used to be almost unbroken water out into the channel now seems to be a shallow lagoon with a submerged sand bar protecting the shore from any waves, no matter how small. Presumably these new restrictions have also helped to concentrate food closer as the quantity of birds to be found there was stunning.

P1060677 - Shells, Llanelli

A family of five Brent Geese were in close company with the same number of Red-breasted Mergansers whilst a single Great Crested Grebe wasn't far away. Large flocks of duck turned out to be Pintail, our first of the year, within which could be found Shelduck and the ever reliable Mallards. Waders were well represented with upwards of seventy Redshank not to mention the more distant Oystercatchers and what I think were a flock of Dunlin in flight. Then of course there were the Little Egrets, Grey Heron and some stunning Teal before I even start on the Gulls of Herring, Black Headed, Lesser Black-backed, Great Black-backed and Common varieties. It's hard to remember a time when this short stretch of coast has been so productive.

P1060684 - Reed Bunting, Llanelli

P1060683 - Reed Bunting, Llanelli

The Reed Bunting above was one of a group of five found at the end of the sand dunes which show clear signs of the winter storms. Here though the change has not been for the better with large quantities of material having been lost exposing the underlying layers of slag which belies this areas industrial past. Given that they look to have been completely submerged at one point we should consider ourselves lucky that they still stand at all. Similar systems in Norfolk were not so lucky.


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Sunrise - Patchwork Challenge 2014

Tuesday, January 14, 2014 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

We set the alarms ready for a pre-dawn start on Saturday as a show of just how seriously I will be taking the Patchwork Challenge this year. Never before have I been out on the patch at such an early hour and I was hoping that this novel (for me at least) approach might reveal a few new species that go to ground later in the day. Owls were definitely top of the agenda but initially any identification work had to rely on hearing alone as in the near darkness we were almost totally blind. All around us the dawn chorus was in fine voice with Blackbirds, Robins, Blue Tits and the occasional Wren chief protagonists at this early hour. It wasn't until we started along the old railway line that the first hint of light began to filter down into the wooded valley allowing us to catch brief glimpses of our companions. Every step taken seemed to reveal another Blackbird skulking through the vegetation or small gatherings of Robins feeding on the ground. This latter observation was unusual as typically we see Robins being very territorial. Perhaps their resolve softens during the night when company for both warmth and security trumps all else.

P1060641 - Cwm Dulais

By the time we emerged onto the lower slopes of Cefn Drum it was lighter still but for us sunrise was still a little way off. A series of loud calls from above heralded the passing of two resident Ravens, quickly followed by a couple of Buzzards further away. Emma thought that she'd also seen a Sparrowhawk patrolling the hillside but in the gloom I was unable to pick it out before the moment had passed. Fortunately it wasn't long before I found a superb male Sparrowhawk of my own giving excellent views as it perched on the ground a little way beneath the summit cairn. Perhaps it was scoping out the possibility of a meal as Meadow Pipits were certainly mobile in the near surroundings.

A single Green Woodpecker call soon had another species added to the year list before it was time to put the binoculars to one side and watch the sun rise. I'm ashamed to say that this is the first time I have ever made a deliberate effort to witness the start of a new day in this fashion and boy did nature not disappoint.

P1060645 - Sunrise from Cefn Drum

P1060646 - Sunrise from Cefn Drum

P1060650 - Sunrise from Cefn Drum

From the summit cairn even Port Talbot managed to look attractive in the orange glow whilst the view down towards the Loughor estuary was as stunning as ever.

Sunrise from Cefn Drum

Sunrise from Cefn Drum

P1060660 - Sunrise from Cefn Drum

With warming rays now penetrating the morning chill it was time to drop down the northern slopes of Cefn Drum facing Graig-Fawr. Last year the marshy areas here delivered Reed Buntings and a couple of outstanding reeling Grasshopper Warblers, but for those we'll have to wait until the spring for a repeat performance. Today we had to make do with a roosting Raven and the completely unexpected, but nonetheless hoped for, Woodcock that really put a spring in our steps. I've not seen Woodcock anywhere during the past two years so to get great flight views at close range and a stone’s throw from home was just brilliant. Sadly its long beak remained hidden but there's really no mistaking that back end!

Other than a few Magpies the birds remained elusive as we continued along the still shaded track though there was plenty of interest to be found in the numerous abandoned drift mines that litter this hillside. Small and worked by hand they hark back to a more brutal time in the areas history though I'd like to think that those miners still had chance to glance out across the scenery every now and again.

P1060670 - Frost on Cefn Drum

Satisfied that we'd seen everything where we were we mounted Cefn Drum once more before heading over to an area of steep rock faces that mark the very edge of my patch. Last year Barry Stewart tipped me off to a pair of Stock Doves here and almost immediately we spotted one flying overhead. To my surprise however another five followed soon after meaning the population here has increased at least three fold in the last seven months or so. I'd like to think that these new arrivals are a sign of successful breeding last year and but can't rule out the possibility that more have simply made this place their home.

P1060672 - Cefn Drum

Following the high level path back towards Cwm Dulais we managed to pick out a Kestrel despite having to look directly into the suns glare, quickly followed by a flock of at least twenty Rooks. Meadow Pipits were becoming increasingly vocal before a real surprise turned up in the shape of a Chiffchaff. During the summer months these are a regular sight but this is my first wintering individual here. Another interesting piece of information to slot into my understanding of this area and a perfect demonstration of why the Patchwork Challenge is so valuable.

29 Species / 29 Points 


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Patchwork Challenge 2014

Thursday, January 09, 2014 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

Last years inaugural Patchwork Challenge turned out to be an unprecedented success with birders around the country willing to fly the flag for their own regular haunts. For me the real delight was in the range of different habitats covered from world renowned nature reserves to small unknown localities, such as my own, where it is doubtful that any meaningful and sustained observation has previously taken place. As you'd expect the variety of species seen across this broad spectrum was vast and normally a simple listing competition would be out of the question. For instance how on earth could my inland hillsides compete with the wetlands of Titchwell or those who are fortunate to call superb sea watching sites home? Here lay the beauty of the Patchwork Challenge however which at its core was never simply about who saw the most species. Its real aim was to pit people against themselves in an effort to find and see more than they'd managed to do during the previous twelve months. If along the way that led to a better understanding of local bird distribution and an increased awareness of what can be found right on our front doorsteps, then all the better. After each outing a persons tally was calculated as a percentage of their 2012 score giving a level playing field against which all patches could be compared, irrespective of their relative productivity. Now we really did have a competition on our hands.

Needless to say I brought into this concept wholeheartedly and spent much of the first six or seven months making regular visits to my patch centred on Cefn Drum. Unfortunately circumstances meant that I rather missed autumn and the first half of winter but that didn't stop me from accumulating 64 species or around 96% of my 2012 score. Considering that target was something of an estimate I think things went rather well. Numbers only ever tell half the story however and this is a perfect case in point. Along the way I've been able to confirm a regular passage of at least one Spotted Flycatcher, noted a drop in the number of Yellowhammers present and even found completely new species for the patch including Stock Dove and Kestrel. Inevitably these regular visits also brought to light a whole host of other flora and fauna including my first ever Keeled Skimmers, not to mention the feeling of escape after a day spent at work. It's perhaps no surprise therefore that I, along with at least two hundred others, have signed up for Patchwork Challenge 2014.


Once again I shall be covering Cefn Drum and Bryn-bach-Common (see map above) and have set myself the added task of contributing a little to research in the process. I've always been a keen maker of lists during each patch visit but typically these have gone no further than the shelf in my study. Clearly this is of no benefit to anyone so for 2014 I shall be submitting all my records to the BTO's BirdTrack.  This is a massive database collating bird sightings from across the country which already in January has received a further 85,000 records. That volume of data simply couldn't be gathered by nature organisations alone and it will serve as an invaluable resource for years to come.

Enough talk then and onto the real business of patch birding. My first full outing is planned for this coming Saturday when I aim to give the entire area a thorough once over, but in the meantime I have already recorded one notable occurrence. Followers of last years events will know that I never did manage to record a Nuthatch on patch so imagine my surprise when Emma spotted one feeding in our garden last weekend! Quick as a flash I was out with the camera to record this momentous occasion.

P1060631 - Nuthatch, Garden

Next day and the Nuthatch was back, this time preferring a flat seed feeder instead of the peanuts. All I need now is that elusive Treecreeper and 2014 will have got off to a stellar start. Other species seen in the garden have included Blackbird, Robin, Dunnock, Chaffinch, House Sparrow and the three normal Tit species (Blue, Great and Coal). Of course the Jackdaws are also around in good numbers with this individual seen perching on our house aerial.

P1060632 - Jackdaw, Garden

These casual records take my 2014 patch total up to eleven species and eleven points. Hopefully that's a total which will climb steadily over the coming months.

11 Species / 11 Points


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New Birding Year, Same Old Weather

Monday, January 06, 2014 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

On Saturday we got our birding year off to a flying start with the traditional visit to our local WWT reserve near Llanelli. These first few weeks are always a doubly exciting time as when else can you go hunting for and 'tick' our commoner species such as Robin and Blackbird. Each new find takes on just as much significance as those new lifers which I'm sure (fingers crossed) will start to filter through over the next few months.

First stop was the Michael Powell hide where once again it was hard to escape the extreme tides we are still experiencing. Debris was pushed far higher than I have seen it previously and unsurprisingly water levels in the main lagoon were such that feeding opportunities were at a premium. As a result wader numbers were almost non-existent with just fourteen Black-tailed Godwits squeezed onto an area of grass to the right of the British Steel hide. Far more numerous were Lapwing with at least eight hundred birds lined up around virtually the entire perimeter. They made for an excellent sight especially when spooked into the air.

P1060637 - Lapwings, Llanelli WWT

P1060635 - Lapwings, Llanelli WWT

These spectacles became more frequent during our stay which usually signifies some sort of aerial predator in the vicinity, but our initial checks drew a blank. Perhaps we should have been looking closer to home as out of nowhere a stunning male Sparrowhawk popped up on top of one of the fence posts just to our left. There it sat for a good five minutes before finally taking flight and heading low over the lagoon and out of sight. A stunning bird for sure and only just bettered by a Peregrine Falcon perched out on the marsh a short while later. Although more distant it soon put on a good show as it crossed our field of vision heading in the same direction as the Sprawk. Returning our gaze to the water we picked up Shelduck, Little Egret, Greylag Goose, Wigeon (numbers a lot lower than I was expecting for the time of year), Oystercatcher, Curlew and a whole host of accompanying species including a surprise Meadow Pipit. Although not rare I've only recorded one at this location on a couple of previous occasions. Star bird though goes to a Kingfisher which flew in from the far side of the lagoon before alighting on its traditional perch. Even in such dull conditions the light shone from its back beautifully adding a splash of blue to an otherwise grey scene.

Over at the NRA scrape things were almost entirely deserted apart from a solitary Tufted Duck (still a 2014 tick) and one Black-tailed Godwit who soon fled in the face of a charging Shetland pony. Better luck was had at the Boardwalk hide with a couple of stunning Teal plus our first Shoveler and Gadwall. Goldcrest, Jay, Redwing and a calling Great Spotted Woodpecker were added in quick succession though to my shock we didn't see a single Dunnock. Where were they all hiding?

Moving on to the Millennium Wetlands another Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen before a surprise Treecreeper gave us a great display. Feeding near a couple of new bird feeders it was our first sighting of the species on this reserve for a good long while. From the Heron Wing Hide more of the same was in order with added bonuses of Little Grebe and two fly-over Mute Swans. An optimistic hunt for any Water Rail drew a blank but our second Kingfisher of the day behind the Peter Scott hide was absolutely superb. From there things took a turn for the worse with a brief but very heavy hail shower that did at least grace us with a double rainbow (I refrained from making an emotion laden video for YouTube - so 2010). Even better was our first Dunnock of the day which finally turned up as we damply squelched back towards the centre.

Totting up the days results brings my 2014 bird total to 51 species, not a bad haul considering we are less than a week into the new year and conditions have been far from ideal. My target for the coming twelve months is to finally break the 200 species barrier which although I've come close to beating once before in 2010, still stands strong. I'll need a bit of luck not to mention some favourable vagrants though I'm happy to see that the arrival of a juvenile Thayers Gull on Gower yesterday didn't spark me into action. Somehow I just couldn't force myself into the driving rain for a bird which I stood virtually no chance of identifying in the field. Perhaps if it sticks around however ...........

P.S. For those of you interested in all things listy I've added a new page containing my life and last few year lists here.


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Storm Surge

Saturday, January 04, 2014 Adam Tilt 3 Comments

Every check of the news throughout Thursday brought an ever increasing sense of doom as it became clear that the west coast of Britain was to be hit by its highest tides in at least sixteen years. That sounded bad enough but with every new severe flood warning issued i.e. an immediate danger to loss of life, I began to wonder what those living along the Welsh coast would wake up to come Friday morning. At first light it didn't take long to get a small sense of just how extreme conditions were with the section of Loughor estuary seen from our house appearing almost half as wide again as during the highest spring tides of recent years. With work on the horizon I only had an hour or so to go and assess any damage so headed down to Penclawdd as it's an area I know very well. The drive there was impressive to say the least with almost the entire landscape between the main road and opposite shore full to bursting. Never have I seen such extreme water levels here and I can only hope that the resident feral ponies made it to safety before it was too late.

At Penclawdd I was amazed to find the main car park completely submerged and it was obvious that levels had been even higher before my arrival. Looking towards the line of houses that border this stretch of water it appeared initially as if they may have escaped the worst, even though their limited protection was very close to being breached. Sadly a closer inspection found the road submerged under a good couple of inches and its inevitable that properties have been affected.

P1110189 - Penclawdd Storm Surge

P1110192 - Penclawdd Storm Surge

P1110195 - Penclawdd Storm Surge

P1110197 - Penclawdd Storm Surge

P1110199 - Penclawdd Storm Surge

Although extreme we were fortunate here that our relatively protected nature spared us any waves that could have made the flooding even worse. Those along more exposed stretches of coastline have not been so lucky and I simply sat in awe watching the news as it showed Aberystwyth promenade (my old university town) being ripped apart by the breaking waves. The damage there is colossal with benches smashed to pieces, sections of seawall completely missing and paving slabs tossed around like toys. The force of water was such that it was even able to move a car that some unfortunate soul did not manage to retrieve in time. This is a picture that has been repeated all along the west coast with many familiar locations such as Barmouth, Borth and Newgale all suffering severe flooding and evacuations.

Living on a hill certainly spared us from the storm surge but the continued bad weather has been throwing up its own surprises. A mighty clash of thunder in the early hours of Friday shook the entire house and seemed to rumble on for an eternity before finally silence, other than the roaring wind, returned. It was only in the morning that we discovered our neighbouring village was without power following a lightning strike. However things then got far too close for comfort last night when while watching TV I witnessed another bolt of lightning strike ground in our own garden barely ten meters from the house! The huge flash of light lasted less than a second but left me open mouthed and literally speechless. Fortunately no damage was caused but the alternatives have played heavily on my mind ever since. At least today has been calmer but already another storm is lining up for Sunday.


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Birds and Fungi Up North

Thursday, January 02, 2014 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

We spent the final few days of December in Leeds visiting family and I was pleased (!) to see that the recent Welsh climate of torrential rain and strong wind was not left behind.  As a result long walks were out of the question but we still managed some very nice shorter trips into the surrounding countryside. The first of these was on Saturday evening alongside the Leeds and Liverpool canal where we were treated to some of our best ever Kingfisher views.  Remarkably the bird in question chose to perch atop a small bush on the other side of the water, staying there until we were almost directly opposite.  The only downside was that it was so dull and close to dusk that lighting conditions were the wrong side of acceptable and my memories will have to serve as the only record. That lack of light became doubly frustrating on the return leg when we were treated to crippling views of two Goosanders (male and female) who were happy for us to stand within a couple of meters of them, albeit briefly. Like the Kingfisher these were the best views I've had of this species in a year which has seen them popping up on almost every stretch of water we've visited.

In a change of fortune Sunday morning broke clear and crisp allowing us to enjoy a lovely early morning stroll through Clayton Wood. For the first time in several months I felt a rekindling of that joy that comes from simply watching birds as all around us calls and movement brought the skeletal trees to life. Great Tits and Blue Tits were without a doubt the most abundant species present but it didn't take long for us to spot a Nuthatch which appeared to be digging into an old rotten branch. Initially I took this to be feeding behaviour but the constant calling and arrival of a second individual makes me wonder if this could have been a pair on the  lookout for a nesting site? Way too early I realise but with us having such a mild winter so far, who knows. Another couple of Nuthatches were not far away before we were treated to the remarkable sight of at least four Great Spotted Woodpeckers. A male and female seemed to be the most dominant birds with the other two individuals regularly being chased away. Perhaps a family group whose offspring from last year are being encouraged to find territory of their own. Whatever the circumstances they seemed oblivious to our presence allowing a couple of golden (literally) photographic opportunities.

P1060603_2 - Great Spotted Woodpecker

P1060602 - Great Spotted Woodpecker

P1060601_2 - Great Spotted Woodpecker

The regular sound of beak hammering against wood accompanied us up to the old quarry where a wealth of Silver Birch hosted a pleasing abundance of fungi. Birch Polypores of impressive size adorned several trunks but it was these Pale Oysters which caught my eye.

P1060611 - Pale Oyster Fungus

P1060613 - Pale Oyster Fungus

Nearby some impressive examples of Hoof Fungus blended almost seamlessly into the bark upon which they sat.

P1060615 - Hoof Fungus

Fast-forward to New Years Eve and another break in the weather allowed a walk along Ilkley Moor. The strong, cool wind certainly blew away the cobwebs though it did make hunting my targets a little more difficult. Fortunately their distinctive calls rang out clear as day and it only took a few minutes to find my first Red Grouse. Ilkley Moor has always been kind to me when it comes to photographing these birds and this occasion was no different with one individual in particular proving very approachable.

P1060626 - Red Grouse, Ilkley Moor

And with that 2013 drew to a close. Looking back through the last twelve months I see something of a mixed bag. Definite highlights were new life ticks including  a much anticipated Long-tailed Duck at Burry Port not to mention climbing the Welsh Three Peaks for charity and taking part in the Patchwork Challenge. Countering that though were the missing few months where everyday life rather got in the way and thwarted my efforts on more than one nature related project. Although we never know what the future holds I have plenty planned for 2014 including round two of the Patchwork Challenge which has just kicked off and of course there's always my mythical moth trap which will once again attempt to free itself from the dusty confines of our garage. Stay tuned.


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