Looking Forward to 2017

Saturday, December 31, 2016 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

It's genuinely hard to believe that twelve months has already slipped by since I last sat in this chair and put pen to paper (cursor to screen?) in an effort to try and lay out what I wanted to achieve during the year ahead. I made no promises that all would be completed and in the end that's proved to be a very good thing as life often has a way of stepping in and showing just what it thinks of your carefully crafted goals. Not to worry as it's safe to say that 2016 turned out to be a bumper year packed with great days out, superb wildlife encounters and plenty of time spent with friends and family. It all seems to have passed in a blink of an eye however and there are definitely things that I'd like to have done differently. One massive personal lesson has been to just get on with it instead of worrying and over analysing the various choices available as doing so often means that you get nothing done at all! When I think back to how many mornings I've spent procrastinating over whether or not to do some decorating or go for a walk and ultimately ended up doing neither, I simply cringe. If I'd spent that time doing a little patch birding then I'd probably have a much better end of term report to hand in and who knows what I might have found in the process. As a result I shall be adopting a new personal mantra in 2017 which I can best summarise by stealing from a certain sportswear brand - "Just do it". And believe me I shall including, but not limited to, a few of the following items (and yes there will be a couple of repeats from this time last year that for one reason or another I just haven't been able to fit in).

P1070857 - Climbing Snowdon
View from Snowdon - Will we make it along Crib Goch this year?

Walk the Gower Coast
A complete circumnavigation of the Gower coast has been on my list of things to do ever since we moved down here and sat at the top of my 2016 targets last January. At 46 miles it's a relatively serious undertaking but is one that I eagerly relish, not just because of the great scenery through which I'll be travelling but also because I'm well up for a challenge since my first long distance walk in 2014. At a modest 35 miles that involved walking the Gower Way across two days and, based on that experience, this one is likely to need three days to complete it comfortably. As before I'm targeting a possible Easter window but failing that either before or after the main summer heat. In terms of blogging the event I'm yet to decide if a photographic timeline will be best or possibly even something filmed on the GoPro. Maybe both. Either way I'm really looking forward to it and can't wait to get going.

Patchwork Challenge 2017
After the highs of 2015 where I smashed my previous record for the Patchwork Challenge including recording new species and breeding records, 2016 has turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. I think my biggest downfall was including a second patch for the first time covering the upper Loughor estuary. This seemed to make perfect sense at the time as I hoped that the prospect of covering a completely different set of habitats would both invigorate and stretch my birding. In the end it did just that but not in the way I'd quite imagined, instead stretching time so thinly that I could cover neither patch as effectively as needed. As a result I shall be returning to my traditional haunt of Cefn Drum for 2017 at a time when it is likely to be undergoing great change. Planning permission is in place for a large track straight through the middle of the common in order to provide access to a nearby wind farm so it will be very interesting to see what impact that will have. The new flood alleviation scheme should also hopefully be entering its final stages after several years of torturous development so, all being well, there should also be a few new habitats created which I'm hoping will end up being a complete migrant goldmine. We can all dream, can't we?

One of our biggest adventures this year was finally purchasing two sit on top kayaks and what a revelation they have been. Despite only managing to get out on the water a couple of times before winter arrived they provided a completely new viewpoint on areas that we thought we knew like the back of our hands and allowed for some truly intimate wildlife encounters. I'm hoping for more of the same in 2017 and with plans to take the kayaks to Mull this summer I can't wait to see what we get up to.

The walk 1000 miles challenge was something we began in earnest last year but which sadly faded as we stopped recording regularly and then fizzled out altogether. In reality we probably did cover the distance but it would be great to be able to say for certain so this year we will be attempting the challenge once more. Better still with E having finished another shed load of exams we should have even more time available to squeeze in those extra miles and I look forward to reporting back on our progress.

Climbing Snowdon via Crib Goch
This is another one that's been on my bucket list for just about forever. We've climbed Snowdon itself a couple of times now but the lure of Crib Goch is simply too strong for me to ignore any longer. For those unfamiliar with its challenge the words "knife-edged arete" should conjure up some suitable imagery along with the fact that it's classed as a scramble with plenty of exposure and steep drops on either side. When combined with probably the most popular peak in Wales queues are not uncommon so we'll need not only a perfect forecast but also an early morning start to get the most out of it. This one genuinely excites me and I can already feel tingles of anticipation as I write this so god knows what actually being there is going to be like.

Have fun
Sounds simple but this is probably the most important of all my goals for 2017. It doesn't really matter what we get up to as long as we have fun along the way. Less stressing, less worrying and more doing is definitely the way forward. Part of that includes making time for a little more blogging as I really have missed it these last few months.

Here's to 2017 then. I can't wait to get stuck in.


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Pen y Fan - Final Peak of 2016

Friday, December 30, 2016 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

P1060150 - Pen y Fan, Boxing Day 2016
Bagged peaks have been a little slim on the ground this year but that hasn't stopped us racking up several ascents of Pen y Fan. Being the highest mountain in South Wales and within easy reach makes for an irresistible combination and many a spare half day has been spent on its flanks. The last twelve months have seen us up there in all conditions from thick snow and blizzards through to late summer sunsets, each walk unique in both character and weather. In fact I'm pretty sure that I could climb it every day for a year (now that would make for an interesting challenge!) and never find any two days alike. With this being Christmas and all it would have been great to round off our festivities with a final climb in the snow but alas, the days of white Christmases are I fear a distant memory. Instead we awoke to a forecast of clear skies and sunshine which seemed a good second best so we set off to burn a few of those calories consumed the day before. So too did most of South Wales.

P1060081 - Pen y Fan, Boxing Day 2016

I've commented before on the ever growing popularity of Pen y Fan but this is the first time that we've not been able to park in the main car park and instead were forced to pull up a short distance away. This did at least provide a new vantage point from which to photograph the hills (above) but just look at how many people were already on the main path. So much for solitude and isolation! Fortunately my favoured route across country from Storey Arms was completely deserted and we didn't see a single soul from start until we joined the main drag just beneath Corn Du. It was just us, the Ravens and a wandering Red Kite, plus those views of course. Although the day wasn't quite as clear as had been initially forecast clouds scudding across the sky provided an ever changing vista of light and shadow. I'll let my photos do the talking from here on.

P1060084 - Pen y Fan, Boxing Day 2016

P1060092 - Pen y Fan, Boxing Day 2016

P1060098 - Pen y Fan, Boxing Day 2016

P1060099 - Pen y Fan, Boxing Day 2016

P1060107 - Pen y Fan, Boxing Day 2016

P1060114 - Pen y Fan, Boxing Day 2016

P1060118 - Pen y Fan, Boxing Day 2016

P1060127 - Pen y Fan, Boxing Day 2016

P1060135 - Pen y Fan, Boxing Day 2016

P1060138 - Pen y Fan, Boxing Day 2016

P1060150 - Pen y Fan, Boxing Day 2016

You can see from my later shots just how large the shadows being cast were thanks to a low winter sun, an effect which somehow made the range look more dramatic than ever. The neighbouring peaks of Cribyn and Fan y Big were just begging to be climbed but with daylight hours already drawing to a close that's something which we will just have to save for next year. One thing that these images don't show is just how windy and cold it was at the top with windchill sending ambient temperatures well below freezing. Even so this was far from an arduous winter climb which we have so enjoyed in the past so my fingers are firmly crossed for decent snowfall in February or March. Maybe then I can shout those immortal words in my best Alan Partridge voice "Lynn, Lynn, where's my crampons?".

P1060143 - Pen y Fan, Boxing Day 2016


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Christmas Birding - Black-throated and Long-tailed

Thursday, December 29, 2016 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

As we enter those magic few days before 2016 throws in the towel, where no one really knows the day let alone the date, Christmas already feels like a lifetime ago. I hope dear reader that yours was an enjoyable one, surrounded by those you love in a celebration that gave a firm middle finger to all the negativity and heartache that the last twelve months has wrought across the world. We certainly did just that spending the big day itself at home along with enough food to open the next convenience store in Tesco's relentless march towards world domination (other faceless corporations are available). As is tradition that also meant squeezing in a quick trip to Rhossili between another perfect meal (thanks E) and the perpetually disappointing seasonal episode of Dr Who. Despite the weather doing its best to remind us of winters presence i.e mild and wet, we managed a brisk but largely dry walk out to Worm's Head and back. There really is nothing better for clearing the head and preparing ones second stomach for pudding and if there's the chance of a decent bird or two? Even better. With conditions as blustery as they were we didn't fancy searching for a lingering Lapland Bunting on the Vile so instead stuck to the cliffs where I surprised even myself such was my enthusiasm at seeing a pair of Fulmars soaring off Kitchen Corner. They are one of our favourite coastal birds and it's always a joy to see them, though whether these are individuals that have stuck around since the summer or are early returnees checking out their nesting sites for next year I can't be sure. Even better was to come though with an eagle eyed shout from my better half getting us both on to a Black-throated Diver out in the bay. Actively fishing about forty to fifty meters offshore it was easily identifiable thanks to its dark winter plumage and dagger like bill, our first Gower record completing what has proven to be a successful year for us both where sightings have been concerned.

P1060076 - Rhossili, Gower

P1060079 - Rhossili, Gower

Fleeting breaks in the cloud led to the Gower's winter patchwork of browns and yellows coming alive, but alas they were all too brief and before long we were hot footing it back to the car as another menacing weather front barrelled towards us from out at sea. There was just time for a scan along the surf to see if we could spot the two Long-tailed Ducks reported a week or so ago but in the end drew a blank.

But not for long. A couple of days later, the 27th in fact, found us walking the millennium coastal path around to Machynys. This is a regular haunt of ours during summer evenings but on the evidence of this outing perhaps we should expand that to cover winter as well! The evening before news had filtered through that another Long-tailed Duck had been found on the golf course there, not playing a round of eighteen but taking its fill from the presumably well stocked pond. Following a clear night my presumption was that the bird would have moved on but no, there it was still avidly feeding away. What a result! After the Barry bird last year this is my second Welsh record in what, judging from the various sightings pages, seems to have been a bumper season for them locally. Alas our golf loving individual seemed to want to stick closer to the sixth than my camera so here's a traditionally distant record shot on what was a very grey day indeed.

P1060173 - Long-tailed Duck, Machynys

Keeping our wayward visitor company was a nice selection of wintering duck species including a superb male Shoveller, lone female Goldeneye, at least six Pochard, a similar number of Gadwall as well as Tufted Duck, Mallard, Mute Swan and Little Grebe. A passing dog also managed to disturb this rather lovely male Teal from its slumbers allowing me to get what appears to be only my second ever photograph of one. Not quite sure how I've managed to take so few over the years.

P1060162 - Teal, Machynys

P1060169 - Tufted Duck, Machynys

Back at home and even the garden birds are doing their best to ring out 2016 in style with a rare visit from a male Blackcap plus the return of our Long-tailed Tit flock. The latter seem noisier than ever but are a very welcome sight and add a bit of variety to a seemingly never ending procession of Goldfinches which continue to eat us out of home. Still, bodes well for my next attempt at the Patchwork Challenge starting in just a few days time, and with Bullfinch and Nuthatch also turning up fairly regularly my hopes are high for a good start to 2017.


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Ogmore Goldeneye

Thursday, December 22, 2016 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

Goldeneye and Ogmore. Two words which go hand in hand at this time of year and with my parents down weekend before last we had the perfect excuse to go and see how numbers were building. The plan was to do a circular walk along the coast from Ogmore to Dunraven before cutting inland and following the river back to the car. It’s a route we’ve done several times previously and somehow it always manages to throw up a surprise or two whether that be truly spectacular blowholes or my very first Red-necked Phalarope. In the end we could produce nothing quite so dramatic this time out but the river did hold a small group of Goldeneye consisting of two males and two females. The former were clearly feeling a little frisky with occasional bursts of display behaviour witnessed. Sadly with the tide high and birds suitably wary they never came quite close enough for killer photos but even at distance made for a nice grouping as the sun sank behind the hills.

P1060055 - Goldeneye, Ogmore

Also present was a stunning male Goosander, my first for some time, as well as the usual assortment of bickering Redshanks, Teal, Pied Wagtails and an occasional Cormorant fishing up from the coast. It was nice to see several Gadwall here as well, a vastly underrated species whose intricate plumage is too often dismissed as just another dull duck. At Portobello gull numbers reached well into the hundreds but only a lone Great Black-backed stood out from the hoards of Herring and Black Headed though all made for a dramatic sight as they periodically took to the air as one. With temperatures reaching double figures I fear this is as close to a blizzard as I’m likely to get this winter! The first of these displays was caused by a passing Sparrowhawk with the second resulting from a horse at full gallop along the opposite bank. Looks fun but I’m afraid memories of nursing a bruised bum from my last time in the saddle preclude me from extolling the virtues of horse riding further.

P1060037 - Dunraven

Along the coast between Ogmore and Dunraven we were treated to all the regulars including a small group of Oystercatchers which seem to have made the car park their home and, more unusually, a pair of Great Crested Grebes fishing close in to shore. With the sea an almost flat calm we enjoyed fantastic views so it was unfortunate that passage was rather sparse.

If I was to name a ‘bird of the day’ though it would have to be this Turnstone which we spotted on the path initially before hopping down to the rocks to continue its feeding. I just love the character of these birds as whenever you’re photographing one there’s always that sense that you’re being toyed with.

P1060025 - Turnstone, Ogmore

P1060028 - Turnstone, Ogmore

I’ve written before about the sad loss to history of Dunraven House but its foundations proved an ideal location for a spot of lunch in the company of two Ravens and another distant Sparrowhawk. Slightly closer was a calling Buzzard which passed overhead on its way to see off an intruding rival whilst the odd Stonechat or two was never far away. One thing I definitely hadn’t been expecting to see was a Red Admiral on the wing yet down in the woods that was exactly what we got. A pristine example fluttering through the lower canopy in the middle of December? The new norm I think.


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My Life Outside 4.0

Wednesday, December 21, 2016 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

Well, things certainly look a bit different around here since we last spoke way back in September. That’s what happens when you fall a little out of love with the medium and decide that a complete revamp is just what the doctor ordered. Several weeks and umpteen hours later and I can finally present version 4.0 of ‘My Life Outside’. Leaner, cleaner and a whole lot more responsive, just the thing for a viewing public whose devices have become as varied as their interests. It’s hard to believe now but when I set off on this journey in 2008 my phone was still a Nokia 3310 (yes, really), tablets were something you took for a headache and the thought that mobile views would overtake the traditional desktop seemed quite preposterous. Yet today, in December 2016, that is exactly the world in which we live and I was finding my previous blog design increasingly out of touch.

So what exactly have I done? Hopefully the biggest change should be that on whatever screen size you are reading this there will be no clipped content, no images breaking free of their confines and easy navigation for all. If that’s not the case then please let me know though I can’t promise I won’t end up as a gibbering wreck rocking back and forth in the corner. A web developer I am definitely not! For those of you using screens that require a conscious head movement to view each extremity my content may appear a tad narrower than before but that should mean that text is easier to read without inducing whiplash and photos, necessarily reduced in size for speed and to prevent theft, no longer turn into a game of count the pixels. My old method of expanding content to meet the available real estate just doesn’t work any more now that large monitors have proliferated.

Elsewhere I’ve cleaned and simplified the overall layout, removing additions that seemed like a good idea at the time but in reality brought little benefit. Instead content is now king with large images and clearer text blocks hopefully encouraging a few more clicks and longer stays. Only time will tell and I’m sure there will be plenty of tinkering over the next few months. As with DIY which has been consuming much of my time since late summer, it seems that you’re never truly finished.

Of course all this effort will be rendered rather pointless if I don’t get back to blogging on a regular basis. And that is exactly what I intend to do. It may be a few weeks early for new year resolutions but mine will be to drag myself out of this mostly self-inflicted malaise to return once more to the hills, mountains, rivers and beaches that I now consider my natural habitat. I’ve already signed up for the Patchwork Challenge again after this year’s dismal effort and have plenty of walks in mind including some which should prove truly spectacular. With a full summer available there will also be numerous opportunities to get out on the water in our kayaks and I still have an ambition to complete another long distance route. Having fallen foul of broken promises on here before though let’s take one step at a time. For now please have a look around, let me know what you think and here’s to the next eight years of ‘My Life Outside’.


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