Black Tern at Fendrod Lake, Swansea

Monday, August 31, 2015 Adam Tilt 3 Comments

The last fortnight has not been without its challenges. Bad weather, stress and too much work has meant that I've been keeping myself busy around the house which at least has resulted in the garden looking better than ever. I was really looking for an excuse to get back out birding today though and would you believe it a Black Tern provided just such an opportunity. Found at Fendrod Lake sometime yesterday, the juvenile bird was still busy feeding this morning and was clearly visible before we'd even got out of the car. Initially sticking to the middle of the lake it was soon ranging more widely with periods of intense activity right along the shore. Sadly for me those periods always managed to coincide with my being on entirely the opposite side of the lake, a pattern repeated throughout our stay. Nevertheless we got some great views of the bird as it fed at an almost manic pace, continually swooping down to the waters surface to grab some juicy morsel or other. At times its behaviour closely resembled that of a Little Gull and even its plumage was not too dissimilar from certain individuals we've seen. Of course I'd love to show you a photo at this point but sadly even my record shots were of such poor quality that they didn't warrant anything more than consignment to the recycle bin. Instead I thought I'd crack out the pencils and have a go at sketching it instead. Bear in mind this is my first attempt at drawing a bird ever but I think you can just about make out what it is.

P1150584 - Black Tern Sketch from Fendrod Lake

The inclusion of a couple of Swallows in the sketch was to remind myself that the Black Tern was far from alone on the lake. Swallows in particular were relatively numerous and on occasion seemed to want to chase the Tern off. This elicited a series of calls on both sides though none as fervent as when a Sparrowhawk put in a brief appearance. Also present were a couple of female Pintails amongst the usual rabble of Coots, Mute Swans, Mallards and assorted genetic mess-ups.

P1150556 - Magpie

I also couldn't resist photographing the Magpie above, one of a pair exploring the car park area. For such a common bird they're surprisingly tricky to get on camera so I tend not to pass when an opportunity presents itself. Now if only the Black Tern had been quite so accommodating.


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Double Dipped

Wednesday, August 19, 2015 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

P1150403_2 - Common Sandpiper, Llanelli WWT
Sod's law and I have a very close working relationship. Most of the time this is nothing more than a minor irritant but when it comes to birds, well that's a whole different matter. Chances are that if a rarity turns up in South Wales I'm likely to be at the other end of the country, if not out of it altogether. So it came to pass that a couple of days into our Leeds trip news started to filter through that a Rose-coloured Starling had turned up along Aberavon seafront. And not an immature bird either. Oh no. This was an adult with full pinky chest, one of those species I've been longing to see for a very long time indeed. As the photos and accounts rolled in all I could do was cling to the hope that it would hang around and we'd manage to connect on our return. Fast forward to Sunday before last and a grey morning light found us wandering the coast at Aberavon. For early August you'd have expected the place to be heaving but strong winds and heavy, frequent showers pretty much put paid to that. It also made our search all the more difficult as we scrutinised flock after flock of Starlings. That their numbers were so high is to be applauded but do you think we could find one wearing a pink waistcoat? Not a chance. With the Starling flocks spread out along a couple of miles it could have literally been anywhere, and that's of course presuming that it wasn't sheltering in someone's back garden. Maybe next time.

Another bird which has popped up during our absence was a Spoonbill at Llanelli WWT so that was our next port of call. Weather conditions still remained a little tricky and as we looked out from the British Steel Hide you'd be forgiven for thinking that we were standing on the edge of the world. And of course the Spoonbill had also done a bunk.

P1150375 - Llanelli WWT


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RSPB Old Moor

Tuesday, August 18, 2015 Adam Tilt 7 Comments

I was in two minds as to whether or not I should publish anything here from our visit to RSPB Old Moor. Not because we didn't see much, far from it in fact, but rather down to the lack of decent photos I managed to take. I'm probably my own worst critic however and in the end decided that publicising this excellent reserve was more important than any self doubt about my own work. And when I say excellent I really do mean excellent. If the name rings a bell it may have something to do with the Little Bittern that turned up there a few weeks ago. At the time Twitter was awash with images and accounts but since then the bird seems to have gone into hiding. It is still about judging from the occasional sighting reported over on Bird Guides but has taken the Bittern's famed knack at staying hidden to a completely different level. To save any further suspense we also drew a complete blank despite watching the reedbed in question for much of the day, a task made all the easier due to the way in which the reserve is set out. Its hides are arranged in a semi-circle around the main lagoons meaning that we always had line of sight across to the hallowed ground so if any Little Bittern had been showing, I'm sure we'd have seen it. Still didn't stop us feeling just a pang of disappointment though. At least there were plenty of consolation prizes to be enjoyed including this rather smart Feral Pigeon at the entrance. For such an overlooked and disparaged species they can be quite handsome things when viewed at close quarters.

P1150336 - Feral Pigeon, RSPB Old Moor


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Ilkley Moor - Swastikas and Apostles

Monday, August 17, 2015 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

It was a return to Ilkley Moor to round off our Leeds trip and unlike last time there wasn't even the hint of a light shower let alone the deluges which had severely challenged our resolve earlier in the week. In their place was a clear sky and sweltering temperatures as we set off from the Cow and Calf.

P1150302 - Cow and Calf, Ilkley Moor

These famous millstone grit formations are so-named due to their proximity and size difference though the legend of their creation is somewhat more intriguing. The story goes that they split when the giant Rombald was fleeing an enemy and stamped on the rocky outcrop as he leapt across the valley. That enemy was allegedly his wife! Whatever their origins these rocks have been drawing in the crowds for decades and many are now covered in graffiti, some of it carved to such a high standard that it must have been produced by stonemasons. The more modern stuff is typically vulgar and slapdash but examples dating back well over a hundred years are almost historical documents in themselves.


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Hebden to Grassington Moor Walk (Lead Mines)

Friday, August 14, 2015 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

It's always surprising quite how quickly a week away can simply disappear and by the time we got to our final two days in Leeds we still hadn't managed to fit in any of the long, moorland walks of which I'd so been looking forward to. This meant that, regardless of weather, we were going to get out there and so on Thursday we set our sights on Grassington Moor. We'd be repeating a route that I walked a couple of years ago, starting from the delightful village of Hebden before winding our way up the valley to Grassington Moor itself. The hope was that we'd get another opportunity to find Red Grouse (Grassington being a Grouse shooting moor) but there was also the added bonus of impressive industrial ruins along the way. Anyone who knows me well will quickly recognise that this is close to my perfect day out and we set off for the start with enthusiasm and even sporadic showings from the sun. Sadly as we approached Hebden those brief spells of brightness had all but vanished and by the time we were putting foot to path we were being completely overtaken by a heavy band of rain which mostly obscured the surrounding scenery from view.



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Morning at Golden Acre and Adel Dam

Thursday, August 13, 2015 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

Last Wednesday we met with friends for lunch, followed by a walk of course, leaving just a couple of hours free in the morning for exploration. With blazing sun (despite the forecast being for heavy rain) we headed over to Golden Acre park where a small wetland area near the entrance held a couple of Brown Hawkers. According to my records these are the first examples of the species I've ever seen so despite them being a little distant and partly obscured it was worth taking a record shot at least.

P1150153 - Brown Hawker, Golden Acre Park


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Fairburn Ings via Ledsham

Wednesday, August 12, 2015 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

After our success at Blacktoft the day before we decided to head to another RSPB reserve on Tuesday. Although there were no repeat prospects of anything quite as dramatic as a Montagu's Harrier, Fairburn Ings has in the past supplied a wide array of species and so hopes were high for another day of high quality birding. Before that though I had to get reacquainted with a site which initially appeared entirely unfamiliar, viewed as it was beneath a blue sky and bustling with visitors. All my previous visits here have been in the midst of winter which, without fail, also coincided with an almost impenetrable fog. Sunshine therefore was something of a novelty and it allowed much better viewing of the entrance feeders which were packed with Tree Sparrows. As I remarked in my last entry Tree Sparrows seem to be doing particularly well in this area and there were once again large numbers of young birds scattered throughout nearby trees and vegetation. I really wanted to try and get a few more photos of the species but in the end only came away with a single image. The birds were keeping themselves well out of the open which when combined with a strong breeze did not particularly lend itself to clear viewing.

P1150114_2 - Tree Sparrow, Fairburn Ings

Slightly easier to spot were the Goldfinches which have also been a virtually constant presence no matter where we've travelled in recent months. Numerous seed heads were again attracting them though that wind proved an equally challenging foe when it came to photography.

P1150111 - Goldfinch, Fairburn Ings

We could at this point have headed out into the reserve proper but conscious that our walks have been lacking a little in length of late we instead decided to head out on a four mile diversion up to the village of Ledsham. Much of the initial stretch took us along the periphery of a woodland giving a great contrast of closely packed trees on one side and wide, open corn fields on the other. Our local farms at home are put over predominantly to sheep farming so this was a welcome change and it was nice to hear a couple of Yellowhammers calling from somewhere out in the midst of it all.

P1150132 - Fairburn Ings to Ledsham

Not to be outdone the woodland also offered up the goods with another mixed flock including Nuthatch and Long-tailed Tit as well as the occasional Willowchiff which managed to remain resolutely hidden. I couldn't shake the feeling however that this kind of landscape really should have had more to offer. Where for instance were the Skylarks? At least Poppies seemed to be doing well with plenty seen along various field borders whilst a bank of Nettles held several clumps of Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars (or armies to use the correct collective noun).

P1150118 - Small Tortoiseshell Caterpillars

P1150121 - Small Tortoiseshell Caterpillars

In Ledsham we had a little wander around the church yard at whose centre sits a late seventh-century Anglo Saxon church. Not only is this the oldest parish church in Yorkshire still in use, it's also the oldest building of any kind in West Yorkshire. What struck me most was the distinctive tower which clearly shows two phases of building. The lower section is believed to be part of a porch belonging to possibly a monastery or other important Christian building and is one of the earliest parts of the present day building. It was only during Norman times (twelfth century) that the tower was extended upwards and the differing construction styles are clear to see. Also of interest is that until recently the village pub only had a six-day license preventing alcohol from being served on a Sunday. Legend has it that the Lady of Ledsham Hall encountered a group of drunken labourers one Sunday and was determined that the day should be kept sacrosanct in the future.

P1150133 - Ledsham Church

Swallows, Kestrels (another Yorkshire species which seems to be prospering) and Buzzard accompanied our return leg back to the reserve where the serious business of birding could finally begin. The main lake held a good collection of waterfowl given the time of year including at least two pairs of Great Crested Grebe plus several Tufted Duck and Pochard. Mute Swans were probably the most numerous species with over 240 individuals present and it was great to see a couple of Common Terns about as well. Best sighting though was the all too brief flash of blue heralding the arrival of a Kingfisher which alas we didn't manage to see again, not even from the appropriately named Kingfisher screen.

P1150137 - Fairburn Ings

What we did see well were a couple of Willow Tits, one on the feeders and one from the Pickup Hide. I must admit my identification comes more from site precedence rather than a definitive observation as I still struggle with telling the difference between Marsh and Willow Tits. Either way it was my first of the year and we also got to enjoy three Green Sandpipers and a single Common Sandpiper. It seems that this year these two species are hunting in packs.

P1150143 - Old Railway Bridge, Fairburn Ings
Disused railway bridge at Fairburn Ings
Normally this would be where we ended a visit to Fairburn Ings but that was before I knew about another part of the reserve just down the road. Here two more scrapes delivered Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Ruff and perhaps best of all a flock of seven Little Ringed Plovers. There was even talk of at least a couple of Garganey being present but with them in eclipse plumage I couldn't pick any out from the gathered Gadwalls, Teal and Mallards. Needless to say this is clearly one of, if not the best location on the reserve to see wading species and I will definitely be including it as part of any future visit.


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Montagu's Harrier at Blacktoft Sands

Monday, August 10, 2015 Adam Tilt 8 Comments

This is a big one.

This time last week we'd just had one of those days in the field which will always live long in my memory. It all stemmed from a chance conversation about Blacktoft Sands, an RSPB reserve on the Humber estuary which I'm ashamed to say had never crossed my path before. Tales of breeding Bitterns and Bearded Tits already meant that a visit was going to be a must, and that was before I'd discovered that this year Blacktoft is also playing host to a pair of breeding Montagu's Harriers! In recent weeks a single chick had fledged and reports were good that both it and the female were showing relatively well. Here was an opportunity I simply couldn't miss and we headed straight across first thing Monday morning.

We were greeted by a very helpful volunteer who gave us a little background on the reserve, what was about and, perhaps most importantly, which hide offered the best chance of spotting a Montagu's. We'd already seen a female Marsh Harrier quartering the roadside on our way in so hopes were definitely high. That sense of anticipation only increased as we settled down and immediately spotted a pair of Marsh Harriers out over the marsh. It was whilst following them that another raptor lifted into the air and straight away I knew that we'd hit the jackpot.

P1150107_2 - Montagu's Harrier, Blacktoft Sands


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Ingleton Waterfalls

Sunday, August 09, 2015 Adam Tilt 3 Comments

After enduring a series of heavy deluges the day before (which we overcame in fantastic style if I do say so myself) we thought on Sunday that we may as well make use of all that fallen water. So it was that we found ourselves at Ingleton, home of allegedly the most spectacular waterfall and woodland scenery in the north of England. The whole thing is accessed by a four mile trail first opened in 1885 and, despite the light drizzle which fell for much of our climb up through the valley, it did indeed live up to expectations. Brown, peaty water cascaded through a series of narrow gorges in dramatic style reminding me more than a little of Dolgoch falls in mid-Wales. The weather certainly matched as did the crowds with this being a prime tourist location at the height of school summer holidays.

P1150073 - Ingleton Waterfalls

P1150062 - Ingleton Waterfalls

P1150060 - Ingleton Waterfalls

I didn't end up coming away with many images of the falls themselves as in truth conditions really weren't on my side. Grey light filtering through thick vegetation is never really going to produce much quality but hopefully the few I've included above give a little sense of what we saw. At one point I even tried to get a little arty by using flowers as a foreground but should probably leave this sort of stuff to the professionals. Speaking of which it seems that at least one has had an unfortunate mishap with their tripod which we saw crushed and battered at the bottom of the falls. Whoops.

P1150068 - Ingleton Waterfalls

It was only as we emerged onto the open hillsides above Ingleton that the sun finally put in an appearance, lighting up a stretch of the River Twiss for a view which was so quintessentially of the Yorkshire Dales it hurt. Here too were our first real bird sightings of the day with a Dipper swimming in amongst the rushing water with a Grey Wagtail a little further upstream.

P1150077 - Ingleton Waterfalls

We ate our lunch on the lower slopes of Twisleton Scar End which offered a grand view back down the valley we'd just climbed whilst a small flock of Swallows flew low over the surrounding fields. There was also a Wheatear along one of the stone walls but it was a Garden Spider which really grabbed my interest. There was nothing out of the ordinary in the positioning of its web amongst a bank of Nettles but the manner in which it had formed a shelter certainly was. By folding over a leaf and sealing it shut with silk the spider had created both a place to hide and something from which to avoid the worst of Yorkshire's weather. I've never seen this species construct anything like this before but presumably that's just a lack of knowledge on my part rather than anything unusual. Certainly interesting though.

P1150079 - Garden Spider, Ingleton Waterfalls

As we set off back to Ingleton along a second series of waterfalls the heavens once again opened and a steady rain fell for the rest of the day. As a result my camera remained mostly unused but we did see some great wildlife including a Roe Deer which ran along the steep valley side after pausing for a moment to check us out. Not bad. Then we found an eclectic mixed flock of birds which included a Spotted Flycatcher, two Nuthatches, an adult Treecreeper feeding one of its young, a male Blackcap, Goldcrest and the usual assortment of Tits. To find all these species literally on the same tree either suggests an extraordinary abundance of wildlife in the woodland here or we really did just stumble across a single flock. To be honest the juries still out on that one as the sound of crashing water pretty much precluded birding along much of the route elsewhere which would have provided an answer.

P1150082 - Harvestman, Ingleton Waterfalls

Another interesting find was the Harvestman above (again species unknown I'm afraid) which I've included here less for the main subject and more for the red mites which are hitching a ride. These are parasitic in nature and this is the second individual I've seen carrying them. We finished our walk with a Great Spotted Woodpecker sighting over Ingleton village itself as the rain continued to pour. Sacre bleu.


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We're Missing Our Hen Harriers

Sunday, August 09, 2015 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

Today is Hen Harrier Day and as much as I'd have loved to be able to attend one of the associated events, it was not to be. If you don't know what I'm talking about then please click on the banner above which will take you to the Birders Against Wildlife Crime (BAWC) website where a wealth of information is available. To lose our Hen Harriers through illegal persecution, especially in this supposedly enlightened age, is completely unacceptable and the more of us who lend our support to the campaign the harder it will be for policy makers and those in power to ignore us. Only through a wider public awareness can we hope to bring Hen Harriers back from the brink so I encourage you all to spread the message wide and far through whatever means you can. Thanks.


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Marsh Harrier and Short Eared Owl on Ilkley Moor

Thursday, August 06, 2015 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

It's not often that one gets to draw parallels between the world of motor racing and birding but on this occasion I might just be about to pull it off. As a little bit of background I should mention that we headed to Yorkshire last weekend for a few days away and the weather since then has proven, well, a little unpredictable. At least that's the best excuse I can come up with for the complete inaccuracy of forecasts across the week culminating today in being told that we were enjoying unbroken sunshine when in fact it was actually lashing down with rain. Hmmmm. The upshot of this has meant that planning has pretty much gone out the window and each time we've headed for the hills has meant going equipped for every conceivable eventuality. So it was on Saturday when, having spent the (sunny) morning getting our accommodation sorted, we headed out to Ilkley Moor where I had a date with some Red Grouse. You can probably see where this is heading. Barely had we set off than the heavens opened, light drizzle at first but soon descending in to driving rain propelled by a steadily strengthening wind. The most annoying thing was that I'd managed to locate a troupe of eight Grouse nestled in amongst the Heather but conditions were so wet and dark that any photography was simply out of the question. We tried to wait it out in the shelter afforded by a few tress but in the end abandoned all hope and headed back.

Fast forward a few hours and we were back again, dried, reinvigorated, expectant and then ultimately disappointed. Again the heavens opened and as we found ourselves beneath the same trees once more I couldn't help feeling that today was simply not going to be our day. This time though defeat was not an option and as the minutes ticked by we finally began to detect a little lightening to the sky. Soon after the rain stopped completely and in the still dull conditions I managed to grab a few acceptable images of the same Red Grouse we'd located earlier.

P1150009 - Red Grouse, Ilkley Moor


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#pwc2015 Summer Shutdown

Tuesday, August 04, 2015 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

[Insert generic comment about time flies here]. Right, now that's out of the way it's fair to say that July has been a pretty quiet month on the patch all being told. No new species, some good breeding records and still as enjoyable a place to walk as ever. I made a couple of outings last week in the hope that there might have been some early autumn movement (I'm thinking particularly of Golden Plovers) but that turned out to be wishful thinking. Even the Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers seem to have lost their voices and the most we hear at the moment is the occasional chirp from deep within thick vegetation. Goldfinches on the other hand have built up some significant numbers with a flock of at least thirty birds skirting Bryn-bach-Common on Wednesday evening. Keeping them company were at least six Swallows reminding us that, despite the weather, this is still summer.

P1140992 - Goldfinch


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Sunny Skomer (Gull Island)

Monday, August 03, 2015 Adam Tilt 16 Comments

Friday before last found us scrutinising the wind forecasts with a little more urgency then normal. That day had seen sailings to Skomer cancelled as a result of strong northerlies and conditions didn't look much improved for the next twenty four hours or so. Now for someone who freely admits to not being much of a morning person, any early rise needs to be for a very good reason and be pretty much guaranteed something rather special in return. A potential wasted trip to Pembrokeshire didn't really fit that bill but what the hell, we all need to take chances from time to time. So it was that we found ourselves pulling into the National Trust car park at Martin's Haven a little after eight where we duly showed our membership card and were directed where to park. Conversation seemingly over I had to prompt on news of the boats and was surprised that the attendant didn't know. Strange given that is the main reason for the majority of visitors here! Thankfully a passer-by shouted across that they were indeed running and we hot footed it down to join the queue which even at this early hour was over twenty people strong (though still thankfully shorter than I'd feared given we are in school holiday season). We were all processed in quick order and with an hour or so to kill kept with tradition and headed up to the old Deer Park.

P1140920 - Martin's Haven


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Urban Birding - Kingfisher, Dipper and Grey Wagtail

Sunday, August 02, 2015 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

Way back at the beginning of July I heard that our neighbouring village had really upped the ante when it came to urban birding. Regular readers will probably recall that my own local patch often sees Dippers and Grey Wagtails but Kingfishers? Now that would be a first. After work one night we headed over to see what was what and almost immediately spotted one of the Kingfishers a little way downstream. It was hard to follow through thick overhanging vegetation, something which certainly wasn't a problem a few moments later. The bird flew straight towards us and perched on a branch just a few metres away before heading back the way it had come. Pretty stunning but alas the last we saw of it for the half hour or so we were present. The Dippers and Grey Wagtails were however much more visible with juveniles of both species perched either side of the bridge which formed our vantage point. Conditions were, to put it mildly, rather on the shady side so I resorted to video in an effort to capture proceedings. The results were quite pleasing.

If you've seen recent series of Springwatch then you may have noticed that short films based around unlikely wildlife in urban settings seems to be all the rage and I really think that these streams have great potential for producing just such a project. My equipment at present probably isn't quite up to the task but next year? Well, we'll have to see.

P1130973 - Mallards, Hendy

Also present on this short stretch were a couple of Pied Wagtails, Blackbirds, Wrens and a few low flying Swallows and House Martins. The cuteness award though goes to the clutch of Mallard ducklings above whose mother was sat just out of shot keeping a beady eye on what we were up to. Their small grassy island was a perfect safe haven from the traffic rushing past a few meters above and we left them still snoozing soundly.


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Ringed Plover at Burry Port

Saturday, August 01, 2015 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

After all the excitement of Fairford it was back to reality on Monday with a long drive home and an afternoon spent brushing up on my presentation skills for work. Hardly the way to round off what had been an excellent few days and come early evening I was itching to get back out with the camera. Somewhere. Anywhere. In the end we headed for Burry Port and almost immediately knew we'd made the right choice. Expansive views and a fresh sea breeze reminded me exactly why I couldn't live away from the coast anymore as we picked up a noisy Redshank and distant Curlew. Crossing the beach disturbed a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and their ever demanding offspring before the calls of a Ringed Plover stopped us in our tracks. We watched it run towards the dunes from a small collection of pebbles in front of us before it stopped, turned, and began to follow our progress intently. This behaviour was slightly curious (they normally just leg it and carry on feeding elsewhere) so I decided to scan the rocks just in case. Good job I did as nestled amongst them was this superbly camouflaged juvenile. Everyone say awwww.

P1140907 - Juvenile Ringed Plover, Burry Port


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