Weekend Review - Titchwell Tales by Ray Kimber

Saturday, February 28, 2015 Adam Tilt 5 Comments

Ray Kimber has spent over 40 years patrolling RSPB Titchwell Marsh nature reserve, watching and recording its birds, wildlife and fauna. Over this time he has amassed a wealth of knowledge and has recorded and logged all manner of events, some of which are not printable in this publication,

As well as the factual records of numerous great days spent enjoying nature on the marsh, this book also includes some light-hearted anecdotes which combine to make it a very enjoyable, easy read. - Paul Roney, RSPB

Author: Ray Kimber
Publisher: Password Publishing
Format: Paperback
Released: 2014
Rating: 9/10

Picture the scene. Emma and I are stood on Titchwell's iconic west bank studying the source of many a birders confusion; female ducks. This one in particular is causing us pain as deep down we know we really should be doing a better job with Emma going for Pintail though I have my doubts. Conscious of Titchwell's ability to pull in the odd rarity I don't want to let anything slip through the net so am still willing it closer when Ray Kimber steps onto the scene. We didn't recognise him at the time of course but were immediately struck by his patient nature. Instead of telling us what it was and walking off he asks for our thoughts and key features before confirming that we are indeed looking at a Pintail. What a refreshing change from the know it alls you so often encounter on reserves these days.

That same patience, knowledge and good nature shines through in his book Titchwell Tales, an irreverent look back over 48 years spent at Titchwell. For someone who absolutely loves the modern day reserve it's easy to forget that there was a time before the RSPB arrived but Ray takes us effortlessly back to those early days. With a flock of seventy Black Terns and nesting Mantagu's Harriers within the first few pages you already know this is going to be a good one as we embark on an intensely personal account of Titchwell through the ages. Part anecdote, part birding account the mix works very well and I quickly found myself being taken back to this special corner of the North Norfolk coast. From an escaped Flamingo to the last flight of a VC10 it's all in here along with those characters without which we wouldn't have the reserve we do today. As a blogger the style of writing appeals greatly and is not a million miles away from the book I'd write if circumstances ever allow.

A couple of stand out moments stick in the memory long after having put this book down. The first is an account of barely escaping the North Sea storm surge of 1978 with their lives, the second being an occasion where a visitor had propped open one of the hide doors with an unexploded WW2 shell. Then of course there's Sammy the Black-winged Stilt, a personal favourite of mine and a bird I enjoyed on numerous occasions during my formative birding years.

If you've ever visited Titchwell reserve (and if not, why not?) then you'll find much to enjoy here. From birds to people and everything in between I found myself devouring page after page wanting to gain a little more insight into what makes this special place tick. When the end came I was only left wanting more. More stories, more birds but most of all, more Titchwell.

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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Pontarddulais Flood Alleviation Scheme Progress

Thursday, February 26, 2015 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

Way back in 2013 I covered new planning application notices which had gone up on my local patch detailing a proposed flood alleviation scheme designed to protect the nearby village of Pontarddulais. At the time I was pretty excited by some of the details including a new wetland area and landscaping of what, since the old colliery closed, had become something of a dumping ground for both waste and undesirables. Fast forward to the present day and work is progressing well with the valley almost unrecognisable from its previous state.

P1110161 - Pontarddulais Flood Alleviation Scheme


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Garden VIP's - Bullfinch, Goldfinch and Pied Wagtail

Tuesday, February 24, 2015 Adam Tilt 15 Comments

P1110194_2 - Bullfinch, GardenI've already mentioned in my last Patchwork Challenge update that our garden has recently been graced with a flock of eleven Goldfinches, and it looks as though they show no signs of moving on. We recently switched from black sunflower seeds to sunflower hearts in an effort to cut down on waste and mess and it seems that the birds, including our Goldfinches, are big fans. It's surely no coincidence that they arrived a couple of days after the change, as did two Greenfinches (increasingly rare here) and both male and female Bullfinches. Expensive tastes perhaps but I'm happy to fork out as long as they keep visiting.

P1110186 - Goldfinch, Garden


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#pwc2015 Woodcock, Yellowhammers and Adits

Monday, February 23, 2015 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

Climbing Gopa Hill on Saturday morning you couldn't help but notice the rapid advance of spring compared to even a couple of weeks ago. Daffodils, Snowdrops and even a few Crocuses are now all in flower, our garden Robin is once again tolerating the presence of another and best of all the birds in general are singing at the tops of their voices. Step outside and an aural assault greets you led by our resident House Sparrows, who have a volume second to none, but backed up by Blackbirds, Great Tits, Dunnocks and perhaps most pleasingly of all our recently arrived flock of Goldfinches. What started out last week as just a couple of individuals has now grown into an eleven strong raiding party who seem to adore the sunflower hearts we're now feeding (expensive tastes). Their varied calls could still be heard as I arrived at the old ruin from where the mornings supertide could be seen making its presence felt along the Loughor.

P1110156 - View from Gopa Hill

A pair of Red Kites were attempting to hunt low over one of the fields here but several Carrion Crows soon drove them off. Perhaps they should have taken a leaf out of the Buzzards book and stayed high in the clear blue sky from where their haunting calls could still clearly be heard. A single Rook was relatively unusual this far down the valley as was the flock of seven Redwings still feeding just off Bryn-bach-Common. Presumably these are the same birds which have been here most of the winter and seem to have great affinity for one particular stretch of hedgerow. If so it must be delivering the goods as this has been the most productive spell I've ever had on patch for this species. They weren't alone either with a female Sparrowhawk shooting through low against the ground.


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Supertides and Sunsets

Saturday, February 21, 2015 Adam Tilt 8 Comments

For some reason all major weather events this year have been tagged with a ludicrous moniker which seems tailor-made for sensationalist headline writers. First there was the #weatherbomb which turned out to be nothing more than your typical winter storm, closely followed by #snowmageddon which by all accounts was similarly unimpressive over on the other side of the pond. It was no surprise therefore when on Friday another new term was unleashed onto the nation, #supertides! Unlike its forebears there was at least a fair amount of certainty that this event would actually occur (the moon and planets don't tend to let us down all that often) so we headed off to Penclawdd to watch the supertide in action. Arriving just as the last of the days light still lingered on the horizon we were in prime position to witness the spring tides reaching the end of their eighteen and a half year cycle.

P1110131 - Penclawdd Supertide


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Burry Brents and Buntings

Thursday, February 19, 2015 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

More Windows 8 related pain left me an increasingly frustrated figure come Sunday afternoon (though fingers crossed I've finally fixed my problems) so I just had to get out for a few hours birding. Pembrey Harbour was destination of choice where the plan was to walk along the beach to Burry Port and beyond, a surprisingly productive stretch of sand with great views across the Burry Inlet. Four or five Teal got things off to a good start in Pembrey Harbour itself, closely followed by a solitary Redshank and three Ringed Plovers out on the large sand bank. Also roosting there were upwards of seventy Oystercatchers (a relatively small number for here but the high tide which brings them in was still several hours away) as well as a small group of ten Brent Geese. The latter were my first of the year and given their close proximity allowed for a couple of decent photos before someone drove a power boat right at them. Thanks for that whoever you were.

P1110094 - Brent Geese, Burry Port

P1110096 - Brent Geese, Burry Port

P1110097 - Brent Geese, Burry Port

With the Geese gone and no sign of their imminent return it was on to Burry Port (Mute Swans, Pied Wagtails but not a lot else) before we could regain the beach on its opposite side. There a pair of Sanderling, another year tick, were doing their best to avoid walkers and dogs but thankfully paid little attention to the strange person crouched down with a camera.

P1110102 - Sanderling, Burry Port

This stretch of coast still carries the scars of last years winter storms with erosion having taken at least a couple of meters of land in places, not to mention exposing the industrial underbelly of waste that bellies this areas recent past. Large lumps of slag from numerous iron works scatter the foreshore, many consisting of brilliant colours and shapes, but that hasn't prevented the natural rhythm of life continuing. Cormorants fly overhead, people are out enjoying the bracing fresh air and the trailing suction hopper dredger Sospan Dau still plies her trade.

P1110098 - Looking across to Llanelli

P1110103 - Sand Extraction, Burry Port

A Rock Pipit, Stonechat and Meadow Pipits kept things ticking over on the bird front until a sizeable flock of eight Reed Buntings at Tywyn Bach. Conscious of the appearance of a Little Bunting at Cardiff recently I gave them all a good check over, just in case, but had to make to do with our own resident variety. Not that this is a bad thing as I find Reed Buntings immensely satisfying to photograph. There's just something about their intricately detailed plumage and behaviour which has always appealed.

P1110116 - Reed Bunting, Burry Port

P1110112 - Reed Bunting, Burry Port

Eventually I had to tear myself away despite the possibility of there having been a Lesser Redpoll amidst the group. We only managed brief views of the individual in question before it was gone but clearly saw a smaller, stubbier beak and blander plumage. It's been a good while since our last encounter with the species but for now this will have to go down as one that got away.


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The Iron Mountain Trail With Added Clouds

Wednesday, February 18, 2015 Adam Tilt 6 Comments

Reading back through my various postings this year it quickly becomes apparent quite how kind the weather has been to us of late. Virtually every weekend has seen blue sky and sunshine so it was almost inevitable that last Saturday, having arranged to meet friends for a walk, our luck would finally run out. Not that the forecasts indicated this of course. Oh no that would have been far too simple. Instead they promised sunny spells and light cloud so driving up the heads of the valleys I was somewhat nonplussed to find torrential rain and dense low lying cloud. By the time we'd reached Keeper's Pond near Blaenavon conditions had thankfully dried up though with visibility down to less than ten metres or so the expansive views I'd been hoping for were ever so slightly compromised.

P1110064 - The Iron Mountain Trail


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Dinefwr Castle

Monday, February 16, 2015 Adam Tilt 4 Comments

Nestled amongst the trees of Castle Woods sit the substantial and imposing remains of Dinefwr Castle itself. Though there has been a defensive structure on this site since the days of Rhodri the Great (820 - 878) the present stone buildings date from around the first half of the thirteenth century. As ever precise dating is a confusing business, even more so here where there have been only limited archaeological excavations, but what we can be sure of is that Dinefwr has seen its fair share of sieges, fires, deaths and battles over the years. Given all that she's looking pretty good for her age.

P1110014 - Dinefwr Castle


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Dinefwr Park - Fallow Deer, Great White Egret and so much more

Friday, February 13, 2015 Adam Tilt 12 Comments

One of my unexpected Christmas presents this year was joint membership to the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, an organisation whose work is both widespread and incredibly valuable to my local area. I've lost count of the number of their reserves we've visited over the years whether it be through planned outings or happy coincidence and really should have joined up long before now. We'd have saved a fortune on Skomer landing fees alone! Now that we are members I intend to make the most of it starting with a visit last Sunday to Dinefwr Park. Though the car park, Newton House and deer park are owned by the National Trust, Wildlife Trust members can park gratis and enjoy free reign of the parkland before wandering over to Castle Woods (a Wildlife Trust reserve) which includes the superb Dinefwr castle looked after by Cadw. If you can follow that management web then well done and congratulations to all the organisations involved for coming together and preserving such a beautiful landscape. Just driving up the long approach road you can sense that this is somewhere pretty special, a feeling only reinforced if, like us, you are lucky enough to arrive when the resident Fallow Deer herd are resting on the long lawn behind Newton House.

P1100971 - Fallow Deer, Dinefwr Park

P1100979 - Fallow Deer, Dinefwr Park

P1100982 - Dinefwr Park

The early morning light still held a little of last nights mist lending a sense of authenticity to what is after all a deer park dating back to medieval times. Once an enclave for the rich and famous we can all now wander freely and that was exactly what we planned to do. Heading first through The Rookery it was hard to ignore the sounds of spring as all around us Nuthatches, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Wrens, Blackbirds and a multitude of other species were belting out their tuneful (and in some cases not so tuneful) songs. After the quiet months of winter they really did lift the soul with Nuthatches in particular being incredibly numerous. I can't remember having visited any another woodland previously where they have been quite so abundant. Topping them all though were a pair of Red Kites circling overhead.

P1100985 - Red Kite, Dinefwr Park

Jackdaws were also stretching their vocal chords with a small group of eight involved in raucous and at times violent territorial disputes. Much of this activity was centred on an old Oak whose trunk held a couple of large holes more than capable of holding a Jackdaw nest. Indeed I did see a couple of individuals enter one of these only to be somewhat viciously evicted leading to aerial combat the likes of which I've rarely seen. Birds were crashing through branches, feathers were flying and in one case two adversaries fell to the ground locked in battle. I've no idea who came out on top and I doubt they do either.

P1100975 - Jackdaw, Dinefwr Park

With their dispute taking them further into the woods we were soon left in relative tranquillity where I just couldn't resist photographing a few of the trees. There's something quite appealing about skeletal branches against a blue sky and with Dinefwr holding more ancient Oaks (over 300) than any other Welsh woodland there were certainly plenty to choose from.

P1100993 - Dinefwr Park

P1100966 - Dinefwr Park

The best part of the whole day for me though was the time we spent down by the mill pond. Once used to supply water to Newton House its machinery has been overhauled and is now back in working order. Were this a summers day I'm sure there would have been more people about but we had the place to ourselves. Better still there wasn't a breath of wind leaving the mill pond as smooth as, well, a mill pond.

P1100995 - Dinefwr Park

The dam which holds back this water here is surprisingly substantial and at its base sits a small area which must rank as the parks best hidden gem. With dappled light, the sound of running water and a view across the frozen river valley this really was my idea of perfection.

P1100999 - Dinefwr Park

P1100998 - Dinefwr Park

There was plenty of life sharing this space with us including a pair of Chiffchaffs who showed no aversion to landing on frozen water and a Grey Wagtail happily feeding mere meters from where we sat. Best of all though was the discovery of Otter spraint, the first time I've made such a find away from the Isle of Mull. Definitely bodes well for sightings of the animals themselves sometime in the future.

P1110003 - Otter Spraint, Dinefwr Park

Looking further afield a large flock of Canada Geese, several Teal and a pair of Mute Swans could be seen enjoying what little water remained free of ice but even better was to come. The Wildlife Trust have provided a hide overlooking the valley and from there we were presented with perfect, if distant, views of a Great White Egret. I was gob-smacked. Although we have regularly spotted these large birds at Llanrhidian marsh the sightings there have always been brief and in flight. Here though we could take the bird in at our leisure and even grab a passable record shot.

P1110010 - Great White Egret, Dinefwr Park

P1110006 - Dinefwr Park

After that anything else was going to have to work especially hard to impress but a very tame Goldcrest in Bog Wood did put in a sterling effort before it was up to the castle itself. That the ruins proved to be of exceptional quality should have come as no surprise and the views? Truly breathtaking. I think I've rambled on enough for this post though so will share those with you next time. Trust me they're worth the wait.


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Rhossili to Fall Bay

Thursday, February 12, 2015 Adam Tilt 18 Comments

I spent much of last weekend battling technology, if the shambles that is Windows 8 can be even classed as such, so a Saturday afternoon stroll at Rhossili seemed like just the ticket. With the weather being almost perfect there really was very little competition for my time, though I can't deny a significant pull to go and join the masses being entertained by a Little Bunting at Forest Farm reserve. In the end though Gower's stunning coastline won out and on reflection a relaxing walk was probably far better for my stress levels than trying to squeeze into a hide, no matter the rewards displaying just outside.

P1100943 - Rhossili Bay, Gower


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#pwc2015 - One Down Eleven To Go

Wednesday, February 11, 2015 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

With my January Patchwork Challenge scores submitted (and very healthy they looked too) it was straight back out on the first of this month to try and nudge that tally along a little further. Almost straight away we hit pay-dirt with a male Sparrowhawk crossing the fields beneath Gopa Hill. Given that it was a female who took one of our Long-tailed Tits the day before this suggests that there are at least two individuals still on patch, possibly the same pair which I saw together here last year. We spotted the male again at the old railway cutting where it was sat up high keeping a wary eye on our progress but my attention was towards the river where for the second outing in succession a Dipper could be seen hunting. As usual it only stayed briefly before moving on upstream but great views none the less. In fact seeing it down in the deep river valley reminded me that I've been dying to get down to water level for several years now so following a slippery traverse over mud and through Brambles that's exactly what I did.

P1100917 - Cefn Drum


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Garden Update - Drama, Death and New Homes

Thursday, February 05, 2015 Adam Tilt 7 Comments

P1100914 - Sparrow Terrace There was much drama in the garden last Saturday when an early morning visit from a Sparrowhawk resulted in the loss of one of our Long-tailed Tits. Emma managed to witness the whole event unfold with the hunter entering stage right before finishing up with a small ball of feathers pinned against our neighbours bird table. From there it was up into a tree before flying off marking only the second time either of us has ever seen a Sparrowhawk successfully hunt here. I have heard of some gardeners getting a bit distraught at such losses having invested both time and money in feeding our feathered friends though perhaps we should really treat these acts just as they are, another part of the natural cycle of life. The Long-tailed Tits comrades were clearly of a similar mind as they were back on the feeders in less than a minute and once again allowed me to approach within arms length.


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Weekend Review - The Moths of Glamorgan

Sunday, February 01, 2015 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

The Moths of Glamorgan is the first comprehensive assessment of the moth fauna of the county for nearly two hundred years. It is the culmination of 14 years of research and concerted recording effort in a county that hosts many scarce species. The status, distribution and flight period is given for each of the 1,500 species recorded from Glamorgan based on the county database of over 350,000 records. The book contains over 200 distribution maps and phenology charts as well as a section on the status of the moths in the county. Introductory sections on the history of moth recording in Glamorgan, geology and moth habitats. It provides a baseline for moth recording in Glamorgan and should prove useful for anyone that wishes to know more about the moths found in this corner of south Wales. - Atropos Books
Author: D. Gilmore, D. Slade & B. Stewart
Publisher: Atropos Publishing
Format: Hardback
Released: 2014
Rating: 10/10

With such an eye-catching cover image it was hard not to miss this weighty tome in the gift shop of our local WWT reserve. It wasn't until I picked the book up however that I realised quite what a quality publication it was; hardback, 424 pages, colour plates, distribution maps and all superbly laid out at that. Credit must go to all involved for producing something with such finesse and that's before we've even delved into the wealth of information contained within. Born out of an interest to simply determine the number of moth species to be found in Glamorgan it took the authors fourteen years of dedicated recording and research to produce this, the first definitive work on the moths of Glamorgan for over two hundred years.

As a birder with rapidly developing interests in the world of moths and mothing this book appealed to me on a couple of levels. Firstly there's the curiosity factor for any naturalist with a desire to learn more about this often complex and confusing group. We've all seen moths around but do we really realise quite how many species there are out there or indeed how localised some can be? I, perhaps naively, hadn't so browsing through these pages opened my eyes a great deal to the world around me and what I might expect to find on my own local path. This leads me rather nicely onto my second reason for purchase. It'll come as no surprise for those of you who are regular readers of this blog that I have oft spoken of setting up a moth trap in my own garden and indeed have already recorded a couple of species simply through gatecrashers at lit windows after dark. Clearly I'd like to take this casual interest much further but with such a wealth of species identification, especially at the start, is likely to be something of a challenge. Having this book as a reference guide therefore will prove invaluable as its detailed local data, whether that be areas of most abundance, flight windows or scarcity, will help advise and overcome my inexperience. Furthermore with such a clean and easily readable layout accessing that information when it's most needed will not become a chore in itself.

Obviously The Moths of Glamorgan will appeal most to those who are resident or at least regular visitors to the area but even for anyone with a passing interest there is much to recommend here. Lets hope that with ever more people entering the hobby we can expect the next update in a slightly shorter time frame than two centuries as I for one will be fascinated to see the changing shape, hopefully for the better, of moths in Glamorgan.

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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