Penwyllt - Return to the Hills

Sunday, April 30, 2017 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

P1070514 - Penwyllt
As much as I love Norfolk it suffers from a serious lack of elevation. Gentle undulations are about as extreme as the landscape gets which for this resident of Wales is a genuine shock to the system. So it was that our first morning back home we headed straight for the Brecon Beacons; Penwyllt to be exact. Its combination of disused railway, huge quarries and industrial remnants appeal to me on several levels, not to mention the chance of a Ring Ouzel or two popping up.

P1070505 - Penwyllt

P1070503 - Penwyllt

The site was much as I remembered it from our last visit a couple of years ago. That is to say dilapidated with nature beginning to reclaim and soften its scars. Straight away we picked up the calls of a distant Raven, remarkably one of the few species which we didn’t manage to record during our time out east. It was quickly followed by the first of what would turn out to be at least ten Wheatears, all showing well yet always just out of reach for my camera. The same could be said of a stunning male Redstart, our first of the year and a species which begs to be admired and photographed, even if the result can only best be described as a record shot.

P1070506 -Redstart, Penwyllt

Heading up onto the hillside proper there were yet more Wheatears accompanied by a multitude of Meadow Pipits and singing Skylarks but alas, no amount of scouring likely looking spots could turn up any Ring Ouzel. Not to worry as the views were reward enough for me. Look one way and Carmarthen Fan dominated proceedings whilst the other was a mass of Limestone pavement.

P1070510 - Penwyllt

P1070516 - Penwyllt

Shortly after the above photos were taken a weather front swept in obscuring Carmarthen Fan and the valley between us at a fairly rapid pace. It didn’t take long for the first drops of rain to reach us though we were able to avoid the worst by sheltering on the leeward side of a large outcrop. Gazing out across the moorland reminded me a great deal of our time on Mull, somewhere I can’t wait to get back to over the summer.

P1070514 - Penwyllt

P1070520 - Penwyllt

Fortunately the downpour was relatively short lived and with the valley clear once more we made our descent along one of the numerous inclines which cross this area. The shot above shows an interesting junction where a later construction cuts through an older, stone sleepered operation. I’d have loved to have been up here in the early 1980’s before most of the village and old buildings were bulldozed.


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Eastern Adventures - Part 2

Friday, April 28, 2017 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

P1070229_2 - Bittern, Hickling Broad
If you've not yet had chance to read part one of the tale from our week out east then head over here first. No one wants to descend into anarchy after all.

Day 5 - Happisburgh and Hickling Broad
As good as things had been up until now, our Norfolk birding trip was about to kick into hyper-drive. It all started on another crystal clear morning though one which, I'm rather relieved to say, actually held a degree of warmth. After shivering our way through the past few days it made a pleasant change to be walking without coats along the coast path at Happisburgh. Now this was riskier than it may at first seem as in sections the path had dropped a good thirty foot onto the beach below leaving sheer drops that could quite easily catch the unwary off guard. Needless to say we gave these stretches a wide berth as just one glance at the crumbling cliffs told you that this was not a stable area. That feeling was backed up by nearby signs which showed how much of the village itself has been lost to the sea in recent years. Since 1990 an entire street has simply vanished and that rate of erosion is only emphasised further when you learn that in the not too distant past there used to be another entire village between Happisburgh and the coast. That's a crazy thought when one considers how solid and permanent we tend to think of the ground beneath our feet. Even worse is that as things stand there is no end in sight with any potential defences tied up in red tape and politics, a fact that will result in the loss of the village's church and lighthouse within the next decade unless something can be done.

P1070195 - Happisburgh

P1070198 - Happisburgh

But I digress. The reason for our visit had been a report from a couple of days previous that five Shorelarks were lurking nearby. Now Shorelark is one of those species which has been on my target list for several years now and was in fact one of the main reasons for our base of operations being located a little further east this tine around. On previous visits I've always noted that Great Yarmouth seemed a particular hotspot for these so was planning on heading there at some point, but with Happisburgh being a whole lot closer it would have been rude not to at least take a look. With acres of sand, cliffs and fields to search I didn't hold out much hope until Emma shouted that she'd found one on the path a little ways ahead. It couldn't be that easy, could it? Apparently yes! There in front of us was a Shorelark but our views were only brief before it relocated into a ploughed field just inland. For a yellow and black bird it camouflaged itself remarkably well but we soon had it relocated, along with another two of its compatriots. What a result. They were soon on the move again however and quickly vanished amongst the mounds of tilled earth but there was no taking away from the fact that we had our first lifer of the trip. I even got a terrible record shot to prove it.

P1070199_2 - Shorelark, Happisburgh

Sharing that ploughed field were six Turnstones, a pair of Ringed Plovers and a White Wagtail whilst back at the car another male Blackcap was in full song. From there it was a short drive down to the northern tip of the Norfolk Broads, or Hickling Broad to be more precise. This reserve is owned by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and we'd not picked it for any other reason than when I googled "Common Cranes in Norfolk", this was the first site which popped up. Initial impressions were impressive with a freshly opened visitor centre and friendly staff followed moments later by a pair of Common Crane circling on thermals high above us. Now that is what I call delivering on your promises. Both were however incredibly distant but even so their sheer size was a sight to behold and looked almost completely alien in our skies. Indeed the species was almost entirely extinct from this country until a small breeding population re-established itself here in the 1970's. Very recent history but I'm so glad that they're back.

As we explored the rest of the reserve it was standard Norfolk fare in the shape of Sedge Warblers, Marsh Harriers and Avocets until I spotted a strange looking Crow lurking at the back of one particular pool. As I watched it slowly emerged revealing an entirely unexpected Hooded Crow! Now this is a species normally only found across Europe and in Scotland so to find one here was completely out of the blue. Indeed it may be a reserve first as when I reported it back at reception they certainly couldn't recall having one recorded here previously. Pretty pumped up after that we almost immediately stumbled into a reeling Grasshopper Warbler, our first of the year and an individual that was even visible, just about. Not often that you get to say that about Groppers in my experience.

P1070209 - Chiffchaff, Hickling Broad
Not a Grasshopper Warbler but a Chiffchaff.

And now for something a little different. At Hickling Broad it's possible to pay a little extra and enjoy a boat tour out onto the broad, stopping off at a couple of otherwise inaccessible hides. This sounded very tempting given the weather and thanks to our excellent guide we had a thoroughly enjoyable trip (plus another couple of excellent book recommendations - I'm going to need some more shelves). Along the way we spotted a pair of Bearded Tits, Common Terns as well as a superb male Pintail, but for me the highlight turned out to be the treetop hide. With this area being so flat it's hard to get a sense of your place within it at times, something which a lot of steps and a distinctly wobbly structure soon had solved. All around us for as far as the eye could see stretched reeds and waterways whilst off in the distance stood sand dunes and the sea beyond. Even the lighthouse at Happisburgh put in an appearance along with a stark warning from our guide that if the sea ever does manage to break through there, all of this area could be inundated. Now there's a sobering thought.

P1070211 - Hickling Broad

Back on dry land we had one final stop to make at the Bittern Hide, a name which always induces a sense of scepticism. So it was that we sat down, opened a hatch and were soon enjoying views of a Bittern crossing the expanse of low lying reeds spread out before us. Nope, I couldn't believe it either and yes we were very jammy. Even better was that the bird appeared in no hurry, periodically stopping to look around or grab a juicy morsel. I wish my photos could do the encounter justice but with distance, heat haze and errant reeds all playing their part, these were the best I could manage.

P1070215_2 - Bittern, Hickling Broad

P1070219 - Bittern, Hickling Broad

P1070229_2 - Bittern, Hickling Broad

But wait, there's more. Having lost the Bittern to taller reeds after twenty (!) minutes or so we were treated to the sound of it and some distant rival booming away. Our bird then climbed the reeds ahead of us and, whilst precariously balanced, boomed again in full view before stretching those wings and lifting off, soon lost to the expanse of Hickling Broad. My best Bittern encounter without a doubt.

Day 6 - Wells to Holkham
I really didn't think that anything could have bettered yesterday but somehow our last day in Norfolk had one more ace to play. It certainly wasn't the weather however which was distinctly grey and drizzly as we set off from Wells, a fact which meant that even the hundreds of Brent Geese feeding nearby couldn't entice my camera into action. No photos then unfortunately so my first Whitethroat of the year, seen in Wells Woods, escapes exposure on this blog. Saves me royalty fees I suppose. We still enjoyed a lovely walk and at Holkham Gap managed to spot a flyover Spoonbill and pair of Whimbrels. Would the birds ever stop coming? Apparently not. Common Scoter and Great Crested Grebes were making the most of a calm sea until we arrived at the dunes beyond Holkham. At this point the sun chose to put in an appearance as we begin to look through the scrubby vegetation during the first genuinely hot period of the past week. I've heard people speak before of how an area can feel rare and, after spending just a few moments here, I knew exactly what they meant. There was an inexplicable sense of expectation that, given the time of year and weather conditions, there just had to be something unusual out there. Once again our luck was in as we stumbled across not one, not two but six Ring Ouzels! By now even I was starting to believe that we were somehow blessed. Actually that's not strictly true as earlier in the day there had apparently been double figures reported so in a way this was a bit of a let down (I'm joking of course). Even after all that Holkham had one last treat in store for us with a lone Pink-footed Goose and at least three more Spoonbill from the hides. Now that's how you sign off. Thanks Norfolk.

Day 7 - RSPB Minsmere
If you've seen my Nightingale post then you'll know that by Saturday we were down in Kent. Along the way though we thought we'd stop in at a very cold, rather grey Minsmere. Now this reserve and I have history as back in 1997 it was the first time I had ever set myself the goal of seeing a bird and was determined not to move until I was successful. This probably irked my parents no end but after an hour or so of waiting I was treated to my first ever views of Bittern. That was also the first trip on which I'd ever carried a field notebook meaning that I have the moment preserved for prosperity.

27415 - Old Logbook from 1997

Indeed it was the Bittern we were again hoping to see when initially planning this trip but given our success over the last few days that no longer seemed like such a priority. Even so we still managed brief flight views and heard several birds booming but we were instead focused on a few of the rarer species on site that day. Stone Curlews were target number one but they sadly eluded us once more though we did get more cracking views of Bearded Tit and another reeling Grasshopper Warbler from north wall. At least 45 Sandwich Terns out on the scrape were another year tick as was a male Mandarin. What I really wanted to see though was a Savi's Warbler of which one had turned up the previous day outside Island Mere Hide. When we arrived late afternoon there were a series of scopes trained in the same direction which is always a good sign. Turns out that the Savi's had been seen twice for just a couple of seconds in the last three hours or so, always on the same very, very distant bush. As we settled in for a long wait more Bearded Tit's kept us entertained until a distant reeling drifted across to our ears. It's hard for me to explain in words but the call was distinctly different from that of a Gropper, a lower and flatter pitch about the best that I can come up with. Then the shout went up that the bird itself was visible but I couldn't connect before the moment was gone. Another bout of reeling and an hour later and again the shout went up though this time I locked on almost immediately. Despite the vast distance between us the Savi's Warbler was visible calling and preening intermittently for at least a couple of minutes. Given the previous day's brief sightings it seemed that we had lucked in once more. Lifer number two and another species I never expected to see.

And that, as they say, was that. Next stop Kent for another lifer (Nightingale) before home and back to work. Without a doubt this had been our best ever trip to Norfolk and frankly, I just can't wait for our next eastern adventure.


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Eastern Adventures - Part 1

Wednesday, April 26, 2017 Adam Tilt 4 Comments

Tuesday’s entry covering our encounter with Nightingales at Dering Wood was just the icing on what had been a very nice cake indeed. We’d spent the previous week based near Sheringham in Norfolk, a little further east than our normal haunts but a change which would give us access from Cromer down to the Norfolk Broads. Up until now this had been an area we’d never previously visited but I’m pleased to report that it more than lived up to expectations. Of course we still managed to squeeze in classics such as Titchwell and Cley but it was new sites including Hickling Broad, Happisburgh and even Sheringham itself which proved to be the biggest revelations. Even our base, a small converted barn, proved better than expected with the addition of two Barn Owls roosting just outside our front door. We were first alerted to their presence when emptying the bins only to be met by a flurry of feathers as one of the birds shot out and across a neighbouring field. After that we were much more cautious and each evening treated us to a chorus of squawks, squeaks and screeches. Chatting to the owners it seems that Barn Owls have raised chicks here for the last couple of years so give it another few months and anyone staying there will be perfectly placed to enjoy their development. I’m sure it will get a whole lot noisier as well!

That discovery set us up pretty darn well for a week in which we managed to record 130 bird species including three new life ticks. We had an absolute blast though if I could have wished for just one improvement it would have been to have had a little more success photographically. Whereas no one can doubt Norfolk’s ability to deliver birds galore, they’re not always within camera range particularly for those of us with more limited equipment. Saying that I didn’t come away exactly empty handed so let’s get stuck into a little of what we got up to.

Day 1 – Sheringham to Salthouse Coast Path
Anyone reading this blog for even a brief amount of time will know that we love the coast. As a result most of our holidays seem to gravitate towards one and once there there’s often no better way to get to know an area than to walk its coast path. So that’s exactly what we did. The fact that Sheringham is known as one of the best sea watching sites in the country was just an added incentive though we quickly realised that was not a year round accolade. To see this place at its best you really need to be here from August to November when conditions are a little stormy, not during a flat calm in the middle of April. As a result pickings were slim with a couple of Fulmars, several Kittiwakes, hundreds of Black Headed Gulls and a lone Mediterranean Gull being about as good as it got. Fortunately things were a little more active on land kicking off with a flock of Turnstones along Sheringham promenade. Of all waders these are probably my favourite, partly due to their attractive plumage and partly because they tend to be quite tame, particularly in areas of heavy footfall. Here we weren’t quite at St Ives level of approachability but that didn’t stop me getting a couple of decent shots.

P1070123 - Turnstone, Sheringham

P1070118 - Turnstone, Sheringham

Out of town the landscape quickly turned to rolling fields with modest cliffs providing a slightly elevated view of our surroundings. This is Norfolk after all. Although still relatively early in the season we soon started to pick up migrants including a lone Wheatear and singing Skylarks, joined not long after by Sand Martins making the most of those fragile cliffs and an increasing number of Swallows as the day wore on. Birds of prey also put in a good showing with Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine Falcon and Buzzard all being recorded during our walk. The views weren’t half bad either.

P1070129 - Sheringham Coast

P1070131 - Sheringham Coast

P1070135 - Sheringham Coast

We probably could have gone even further than Salthouse but from there the path has been rather overtaken by encroaching shingle, and if there’s one thing I hate more than anything else it’s walking on shingle. So instead of torturing myself we headed back the way we’d come enjoying great views of the North Norfolk Railway before heading home for another evening with the Barn Owls.

Day 2 – Gresham to Felbrigg Hall
The forecast for Sunday included copious amount of heavy rain but as we gazed out at the sky all we could see was sunshine. Not wanting to waste a good thing, no matter how long it lasted, we elected to explore the local area a little more on foot. Heading out from the cottage we skirted Gresham with its fields of Oilseed Rape enjoying the sight and call of a Yellowhammer as we went.

P1070148 - Weavers' Way

P1070150 - Norfolk Church

Picking up the Weavers’ Way found us crossing fields sown with a crop in its early stages of development, something which back home would normally mean the complete obliteration of any footpaths. Not here though! Instead we found a wide track left clear, numerous signposts and well maintained stiles and gates. What a pleasure to find farmers actually encouraging walkers to cross their land, something I’ve long thought must be preferable to the alternative of having us straying off course in an attempt to pick up a lost path. All that time freed from following maps meant more time to notice the wildlife around us including a nice patch of Lady’s Bedstraw which we stopped briefly to examine, only to have a pair of Garganey erupt from a nearby stream. And when I say stream I really do mean a stream. It was no more than a meter wide and heavily overhung by Gorse bushes for much for its length but nevertheless, a pair of Garganey was what they were. The distinctive white stripe above the male’s eye was simply unmistakeable despite their unusual location. We were still stood open mouthed as they disappeared around the corner and once we’d snapped back into action no amount of searching could relocate them. Still, not bad for the first real rarity of our break.

P1070151 - Felbrigg Hall

Things returned to normal as we headed onwards to Felbrigg Hall with our route along quiet lanes delivering plenty of Stock Dove and Red-legged Partridge. Things were a little more hectic at Felbrigg itself thanks to a certain well known confectioner conducting an egg hunt but we soon found some semblance of solitude out in the grounds where a small wetland area delivered not only several Teal but also a quartet of Lapwings, one of which appeared to be sitting on a nest. Butterflies were also on the wing in good numbers with Orange-tip, Small Tortoiseshell and Speckled Wood all seen. In fact the sun was still blazing once we’d returned to the cottage a couple of hours later with the rain only arriving as evening began to draw in. Our forecasters seem to be just as flummoxed by the weather this spring as the rest of us apparently.

Day 3 – Cley and Blakeney
Another glorious morning found us at Cley but don’t let initial impressions deceive you. Despite all that sunshine it was bitterly cold with a strong north wind dropping temperatures well into single figures. In fact it was so bad that I was forced to crack out my gloves which I’d previously thought banished having waved goodbye to winter some weeks before. At least the crystal clear conditions gave us chance to enjoy our surroundings to the full including Cley’s landmark windmill.

P1070154 - Cley Windmill

The marshy land either side of the flood defences delivered our first Avocets of the trip, a species which in the end turned out to be present at virtually every water body we visited. A true conservation success story when I think back to how scarce they used to be. Other waders including Redshank, Curlew, Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit and Oystercatchers were also present in good numbers whilst spring migrants continued to build with our first Sedge Warbler and White Wagtail of the year as well as an increased number of Swallows. Adding their own voice to proceedings were several Cetti’s Warblers, always elusive however, an accusation which certainly couldn’t be levelled at the Short Eared Owl which popped up hunting the scrub between us and the beach. In strong sunlight we got some fantastic views, such a difference from the often dull and distant encounters we get up on Mull. We saw the same bird a couple more times during the day taking our Owl species count for the week to three (we’d also heard a Tawny Owl at the cottage the night before). As if that wasn’t enough we were also treated to views of five Marsh Harriers quartering the marsh. Over at Blakeney a tantalising group of waders fled before we’d had chance to ID them but I did at least pick up my first couple of New Naturalist books. I fear another collection coming on!

Having retraced out steps we set out to explore the reserve at Cley itself and were soon enjoying views of Ruff, Dunlin, a few lingering Wigeon and even a Red Kite. Just like being at home. The highlight though has to be a group of four Bearded Tits which we saw in flight over by the main hides followed by another lone individual from the east bank. All had announced their presence by sound long before we saw them. I even managed a quick record shot but to be honest the less said about that the better.

Day 4 – Titchwell
This was the day I’d been looking forward to for almost two years now. My favourite reserve and just about the only place that I can happily sit in one spot for an hour or more and never feel the need to move on. Past experience has shown that Titchwell has the pedigree to deliver big and across seven hours we managed to see 76 species. Much of the commoner stuff was similar to at Cley but we also added several new year ticks in the shape of House Martin and Blackcap. Indeed it was quite noticeable how quickly the volume of migrants was increasing with each passing day. A few Titchwell specialities such as Red Crested Pochard and yet more Marsh Harriers were quickly found before we got to enjoy more fantastic views of those Avocets. Although a passing weather front dulled conditions somewhat, nothing could distract from these stunning birds.

P1070167 - Avocet, Titchwell

Further migrants came from the Parrinder Hide with two Little Ringed Plovers and a flock of at least ten Bar-tailed Godwits and a Grey Plover down on the beach. The sun had by now returned but if anything the wind from yesterday was now even stronger and much, much colder. With a spot of sea watching in our plans we hunkered down behind the old WW2 defences and started to scan through an impressive raft of at least a thousand Common Scoter. They stretched almost across the entire viewable area and by pure fluke we managed to pick out a pair of Velvet Scoter in flight thanks to their distinctive white wing patches. This was cause for much celebration which briefly warmed us before it was back into the cold for a walk towards Holme. In contrast to winter the beach was relatively quiet bird wise but we did spot three Sanderling battling the conditions, one of which was blown clean of its feet while we watched.

P1070180 - Sanderling, Titchwell

P1070183 - Titchwell Beach

Similar challenges were being faced by hoards of caterpillars in the dunes, each inch of progress being undone as a sudden gust blew them several foot in the opposite direction. It’s fair to say that by the time we’d made it back to the hides and finally the car I was quite frozen, but Titchwell had one last trick up its sleeve. As I waited for Emma to visit the loos the unmistakeable sound of a booming Bittern drifted across. I shared a glance with a fellow birder who smiled and nodded in agreement. That moment of shared connection shows just what a special bird the Bittern is and I was grinning from ear to ear as Emma returned. Actually I wasn’t as I knew that she’d been dying to hear one for the very first time and it looked like she had just missed out. Or so we thought. Heading back to Fen Hide we decided to stick it out for another half an hour during which time I’m happy to report that we heard the Bittern boom a further three times. Absolute magic. Things couldn’t get much better than this, could they?


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Nightingales and Bluebells of Dering Wood

Monday, April 24, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

P1070476_2 - Nightingale, Dering Wood
We've enjoyed a pretty epic week's birding over on the east of the country this Easter taking in Norfolk, Suffolk and even a couple of days down in, dare I say it, Kent! The latter will never feature high on my list of favourite counties (it's just too darn full) but with my sister having made the strange decision to actually live there, needs must. If there's one consolation it's to be found in those rare areas of tranquillity that come from a little local knowledge. Dering Wood proved to be one such place, an area of ancient, semi-natural woodland owned and managed, rather appropriately, by the Woodland Trust. Just a few steps takes you out of the hustle and bustle of modern life and into the comforting embrace of freshly emerged vegetation and swathes of Bluebells showing at their absolute peak. Dappled sunlight rendered the still raw memories of a bitter north Norfolk coastline mute as we soaked up the atmosphere. Still a little too chilly for butterflies however though I'm told that double figure species counts are possible here on a good day.

P1070446 - Bluebells, Dering Wood

As nice as the Bluebells were I couldn't help but be distracted by the numerous bird calls filtering through to us from all sides. Chief protagonists turned out to be a couple of male Blackcaps in full voice along with the by now ubiquitous Chiffchaff, but it was also nice to pick out a pair of mating Blue Tits and even a tiny Goldcrest. Chaffinches were doing their best to confuse us as usual with a host of varied snippets but it was as we were nearing the end of our wander that a brief churring gave us cause to pause. It certainly wasn't a call I could immediately place and thoughts turned to comments made by my sister as we'd set off that the woods were allegedly good for Nightingales. Now this is a species I have never even considered the possibility of seeing, a species akin to Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in its mythological status as far as I'm concerned. It couldn't be though, could it? A flash of rich brown crossed the track ahead of us then, followed moments later by what I can only describe as one of the richest bird songs I've ever heard. Loud, liquid and rich with just a hint of laser fire (there may be a reason why I'm not a writer of bird guides) it positively erupted from deep within vegetation to our left followed seconds later, quite unbelievably, by the bird itself!

P1070476_2 - Nightingale, Dering Wood

P1070468 - Nightingale, Dering Wood

P1070455_2 - Nightingale, Dering Wood

Yes, yes, yes! What a bird and simply sublime views that at times were down to just a few meters. Errant branches and thick leaf cover did their best to obscure the Nightingale at times but for me that only added to the experience as we hunted for a clear view through to this master songster at work.

P1070458_2 - Nightingale, Dering Wood

Whilst we watched it became apparent that there were in fact two Nightingales present, perhaps a male and female pair given their proximity to one another. In the end though this was the only individual that seemed to show absolutely no concern at our presence even taking the time to catch what looked to be a caterpillar from a nearby tree. Out in the open and with a splash of sunlight that rich brown plumage which some have described as a little boring positively shone, even showing a surprising amount of red in those long tail feathers. I can see why my bird guide lists Redstart as a possible confusion species.

After ten minutes or so our encounter drew to an end as the Nightingales retreated further into the wood and out of sight leaving big smiles in their wake. What a simply awesome bird and remarkably my third lifer of the week. The other two? You'll just have to come back in a couple of days to find out.


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Catching Up

Thursday, April 13, 2017 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

P1070038 - Guillemots, Stackpole Head
I’ve just about lost track of the number of times in recent weeks that I’ve thought about putting a blog post together. On a couple of those occasions I even managed to type a few words but time and desire have not been on my side. Thankfully the prospect on both those fronts is starting to look up. Firstly work should hopefully begin returning to something approaching normality after the Easter break, and even if it doesn’t I’m committed to doing what I should have been doing all along and leaving any stress and worries in the office. On the desire/motivation front well, it’s spring in case you hadn’t noticed. Standing in my garden I’m now bombarded by an avian soundtrack including Chiffchaffs at full volume and an ever increasing number of Willow Warblers complete with their withering song. Up on patch we’ve already had our first Wheatear pass through and last weekend our glorious Gower walk was made all the more memorable by a migrating Osprey heading north. With better optics I may even have been able to track it all the way home but alas that particular patch tick will have to wait a little while longer. The point I’m trying to make is that there is so much life out there right now, we’ve got some great adventures planned to make the most of it and I just couldn’t not share that with you, my ever patient readers.

Before we get into the new stuff however, how about a little recap? One could quite easily mistake my lack of presence on social media and this blog as a sign that we haven’t been up to much. Thankfully the reality is very different with a fantastic run of decent weather finding us out and about every weekend and most evenings. The latter has been spurred on by our attempt at the #walk1000miles challenge on which we‘ve been making great progress. More on that below. We’ve also managed to squeeze in some very enjoyable trips out across South Wales taking in everything from WW2 history to a not insignificant amount of Pokemon Go participation. Yes I’m fully aware that I’m about a year behind the curve on that score but I’ve finally upgraded my phone and can now do many things including downloading new apps and taking photos that don’t result in a case of count the pixels. As a result you can expect many more snaps whilst we’re out and about over on my Twitter feed. I’ll let you be the judge of whether that’s a good thing or not!

Dale Peninsula Circumnavigation

A slightly grand title I’ll admit but towards the end of February we spent a day exploring this hitherto unfamiliar area. It was a logical choice really having just twitched the nearby American Wigeon and once again Pembrokeshire delivered in spades. As well as the usual glorious scenery we were treated to Napoleonic era forts, WW2 gun emplacements and shipwrecks, all set against the background of Milford Haven’s busy shipping channel.

P1060954 - Dale Peninsula

Bird life wasn’t bad either with a couple of Chough, great views of hunting Gannets and even a pond full of amorous Toads. We also heard our first singing Skylark of the year and saw our first butterfly in the shape of a Small Tortoiseshell. Most surprising though was a very early Hummingbird Hawkmoth which unfortunately managed to escape before I could grab a photo. The lighthouses of St Ann’s head were pretty impressive as well.

P1060969 - Dale Peninsula

Dinefwr's White Park Cattle Move House

That same weekend also saw us making our first trip of the year to Dinefwr, spurred on by seeing the estates rare White Park Cattle featuring prominently on Countryfile. With only two thousand pure breed individuals worldwide they are exceptionally rare and the National Trust is expending great effort in order to keep Dinefwr’s herd going. The loss of their breeding bull last year was a big blow but over winter the cows were able to move into brand spanking new sheltered accommodation. With this being Wales rain is never far away and this new shed will provide the cattle with a clean and dry place to while away the worst of the weather. When we saw them they looked to be having a whale of a time munching on fresh hay and, in the case of a couple of individuals, wearing it as well.

P1070006 - Dinefwr White Park Cattle

P1060998 - Dinefwr White Park Cattle

Out in the park there was the usual high density of Treecreepers and Nuthatches although for once the Great White Egret managed to give me the slip. In its place we were treated to an excellent collection of waterfowl including several stunning male Pintails, Wigeon and Teal. Sadly our concerted effort to relocate a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker reported a few days earlier came to naught, not an entirely unexpected outcome as I still maintain that the species is entirely fictional.

Cilsan Whooper Swans

It’s a rite of passage these days to catch-up with the overwintering Whooper Swans at Cilsan Bridge and this year we really came up trumps. Whereas recent sightings have been distant and often obscured, this time there were 45 birds feeding in a field right next to the road. Using my car as a hide I was able to get some decent photos considering the overcast conditions with this family group being my pick of the bunch.

P1070021 - Whooper Swans, Cilsan Bridge

Carmarthen Fan

P1070035 - Carmarthen Fan

If you’d told me that we’d be walking in the snow come the end of March I’d have likely scoffed. Yet our first lengthy hill walk of the year delivered just that with a few large patches of the white stuff still clinging to the ridgeline along Carmarthen Fan. In the process of melting it proved incredibly slippery but was a very welcome sight following another mild winter. Less welcome was the bitterly cold wind blowing in across the Beacons, one which tore at any exposed skin with vigour. The prospect of bearing the brunt of it for another six or seven miles appealed little so instead of following our planned route along the shores of Llyn y Fan Fach and Llyn y Fan Fawr we cut inland and made our own path across the broken land toward Carreg Goch. This proved an inspired decision as we were sheltered for much of the way turning what would have been an arduous trek into something a whole lot more pleasant. It also meant we could enjoy the plethora of singing Skylarks to full effect though surprisingly we drew a complete blank on Wheatears. I did however manage to catch my first sunburn of the year. Cap on for next time.

P1070036 - Carmarthen Fan

Stackpole and Bosherston

April kicked off with a day spent at Bosherston under another gloriously blue sky. It proved a bit early for the lilies which were just beginning to sprout new leaves but there was no denying the rapid onset of spring. We saw our first Bluebells and Wild Garlic of the year, picked out at least three Wheatears and were as ever far more excited than you’d expect to find Fulmars back on the cliffs. What we hadn’t expected to see were several rafts of Guillemots and Razorbills floating just offshore with a couple hundred more perched on a narrow ledge above. I have seen them in this location once before during winter but never in such numbers or this late, which does raise the question of whether or not they’ll breed. As far as I’m aware this isn’t normally the case so it will be interesting to see how things develop. Either way we got to enjoy lunch listening to a particularly vocal pair of Razorbills on the water below.

P1070038 - Guillemots, Stackpole Head

Highlight? That would have to be our first Swallow of the year which shot overhead as we were returning to the car. Hopefully the first of many in the coming weeks.


I mentioned above that we’ve been getting stuck into the #walk1000miles challenge this year and so far have clocked up over 200 of the buggers. That’s a little behind target but given that the majority has been squeezed out of very short daylight hours, I’m suitably impressed. A lot of mileage has been clocked up after work with a couple of four mile loops available to us direct from our front door. Encouragement to get out and walk these has been increased no end by the coming of Pokemon Go because, as well all know, you’ve just got to catch them all.


Never fear. My Patchwork Challenge attempt is alive and kicking but this post is already more than long enough so look out for a full update in the next couple of weeks.

So there we have it. A quick(ish) whistle stop tour of what we’ve been up to since we last met. Next stop is Easter where I expect to see the arrival of migrants continue to gather pace, hopefully with a couple of new lifers thrown in for good measure. And who knows, maybe that Osprey patch tick is just around the corner.


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