Llanrhidian - Marsh Harrier, Plovers and a Rainbow

Thursday, September 28, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

Don’t you just love those cold, crisp autumnal days when the air is so clear that everything in the landscape seems that much more alive? If only Sunday had been such a day. Instead we were faced with mild and humid conditions, probably my least favourite of all the weathers, to which we were soon able to add light drizzle for good measure. Were we deterred? Of course not. After our success with the Red-necked Phalarope we were eager to find one of its grey compatriots and with an individual being reported from Weobley on the previous high tide, that was exactly where we were headed next.

Now this walk is traditionally one for the drier months thanks to the ground between Landimore and Weobley tending to get waterlogged, so we were already a tad damp before the heavens opened for real. Having come so far already it seemed a waste to head back however and thus we pushed on, a screeching Kestrel overhead and the nearby sound of yaffling Green Woodpeckers our reward. Then the rain suddenly passed leaving behind a misty vista split by one of the shallowest rainbows I think I’ve ever seen. Stretching a good way along the Burry Inlet it made for an impressive sight but lasted only a few moments before vanishing as conditions continued to clear.

P1120397 - Causeway, Llanrhidian Marsh

That seemed to signal the starting gun as suddenly everything came alive. Off to our left a juvenile Marsh Harrier lifted above the reeds before gliding silently a short distance and vanishing back to ground. I presume this to be the same bird that was reported over the Millennium Wetlands yesterday and is our first for quite some time. On a slightly smaller scale there were at least three Wheatears out on the marsh proper as well as a flock of eight Skylarks which were noisily feeding along the old track, continually fluttering ahead of us at the last possible moment. From one of the old gunnery mounds we got distant views of a Peregrine Falcon heading upriver as well as several Little Egrets scattered about but as for the Phalarope? No sign I’m afraid. I suspect our chances were dealt a blow by the tide being well out but that didn’t stop us picking up a pair of Golden Plovers and flock of twenty or so Ringed Plovers, both seemingly in a rush to get somewhere else.

P1120400 - Watchtower, Llanrhidian Marsh

And that was as good as things got before the next downpour arrived lasting well into the evening. Odd really considering the forecast had promised cloudy but dry all day ………………


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Autumn Feeder Preparation

Tuesday, September 26, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

Now that autumn has officially started I thought it a good time to give our garden bird feeders a bit of TLC. They've all been cleaned and topped up as well as having a few minor repairs carried out pending the inevitable onslaught of winter. It won't be long now before we're inundated with birds once more (fingers crossed) after the comparatively quiet summer months which got me thinking about what feed to serve. Traditionally our offerings have been almost exclusively sunflower hearts, fatballs and occasionally peanuts, the first increasingly expensive but devoured at a rapid pace. Fatballs are considerably cheaper but don't last long either thanks to our resident population of Jackdaws and Magpies whilst whole peanuts just don't seem very popular at all. The less said about our experiment with Niger seed the better. I had planned to continue in a similar vein, that is until Haith's got in touch asking if I'd like to trial some of their award-winning SuperClean bird food. You bet I would.

A couple of days later and an exciting package arrived containing a new X1 Robin Feeder and two kilos of the fantastically named Beggars Banquet™ Softfood. The feeder went together in a couple of seconds, three components comprising a bowl, canopy and threaded metal rod. All are made from high quality components and it's clear from the extra little details that a good deal of thought has gone into the design of something which on the face of it at least appears quite simple. Take for example the brass receptacle embedded in the seed tray into which the connecting metal rod is screwed. I've seen other products use a plastic thread here and let me assure you that though it may work fine initially, you only need dismantle the feeder for cleaning a few times before that thread is gone. This bodes well for longevity and with drainage holes and smooth wipe clean surfaces any cleaning required should be an absolute breeze. One aspect I wasn't sure on initially was the canopy and that's more down to personal preference than anything else. In the past I've always thought birds unwilling to feed under cover but let me assure you that our residents have had no such issues with this one, plus it should keep those Jackdaws out leaving more food for our smaller visitors.

On to the seed itself next which is a soft feed blended with ground peanuts which have been milled to a size suitable for ground and table feeding birds. This is a species set which has been sorely neglected with out current feeding regime thanks to the usual garden centre seed mixes being mostly full of dross. Not so with Haith's offerings. Their SuperClean brand is free from dust, debris and waste husk, byproducts which are both bad for a birds health and also the cleanliness of our gardens. Putting these claims to the test I delved into the bag and my hand came out clean so a thumbs up from me. It's also noticeable that this mix is very moist thanks to its high oil content, good for nutritional value and also for keeping seed where it should be. Bonus points for recyclable packaging as well.

This is all well and good of course but there's only one true test of seed and feeder. I popped both out late one evening and whilst getting ready for work the next morning there was already a Robin getting stuck in. Blue Tits followed, much to the Robin's chagrin it has to be said, and it's been uphill from there. My initial serving only lasted a few days before requiring a top up so I think we can safely say that these offerings from Haith's are a hit. In fact I'll be putting another order in soon as I can only imagine this mix becoming more popular as temperatures continue to drop.

In summary I can highly recommend both the X1 Robin Feeder and Beggars Banquet™ Softfood seed mix. Thanks to Haith's for sending me their products to review and if you fancy getting hold of them yourself then head on over to their website for all your bird food and bird feeder needs.

Disclaimer: Haith's provided me with these products free of charge in return for my honest opinion and review. 


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Red-necked Phalarope - WWT Llanelli

Sunday, September 24, 2017 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

P1120351 - Waders, WWT Llanelli
It was an anxious wait for the gates to open at WWT's Penclacwydd reserve on Saturday morning. Why? Blame our latest star arrival, a juvenile Red-necked Phalarope which dropped in on Thursday carrying the distinct air of yet another rarity which wouldn't be hanging around for the weekend. Having made it through the night without fleeing however the first tendrils of hope began to develop and I kept myself glued to Twitter throughout Friday, monitoring the Phalarope's movements whilst expecting every new tweet to deliver negative news. To be honest I was more than pleasantly surprised that the situation remained unchanged by sundown and with the weather worsening hopes rose further that finally our luck might be in. By morning all looked good. Twitter spoke no ills, any overnight rain had just about cleared and with the tide high temptations for a jaunt out to the estuary would be limited. Then we almost managed to scupper the whole venture ourselves! In our rush to leave the house we'd both rather foolishly left behind our wallets within which sat membership cards to a certain local wildlife charity. Thankfully modern technology has moved beyond the need to carry small pieces of plastic to identify oneself and in no time we were rushing into the British Steel Hide, Phalarope in view moments later.

And what a cracking bird it was too. Avidly feeding on the NRA scrapes it exhibited the by now familiar Phalarope combination of frenetic activity teamed with continuous spinning. Noticeably darker and with more heavily patterned plumage on the back it was clearly different from the commoner Grey Phalaropes which we've seen previously. In fact such was the scarcity factor involved here that this was only my second ever record (the first being at Ogmore back in 2008) and a lifer for Emma, as I suspect it will be for quite a number of visiting birders over the next few days. Of course the icing on the cake at this point would be a frame filling photo to preserve the moment for posterity but alas, no. The Phalarope remained simply too distant for the couple of hours we spent in its company so how about a classic record shot instead complete with passing Black Headed Gull for contrast.

P1120336 - Red-necked Phalarope, WWT Llanelli

I've also got a couple of video clips which I may share later if for nothing other than the fact that they show a little more of the setting involved. You see the Red-necked Phalarope had a roosting flock of 42 Greenshank for company and they provided two important points of note. The first was to simply highlight just how small a Phalarope is in comparison and the second to provide us watching birders with endless amusement. It seems that no matter who you are or what your size, if a Phalarope wants to come through it's damn well coming through. A bolshie approach certainly and one which startled at least one Greenshank, woken from its slumbers as our wayward visitor bumbled straight into its legs.

Not a bad start to the day I'm sure you'll agree but as it turned out this was just the beginning. Turning our attention to the main scrapes we found a wealth of waders, the bulk of which were made up by somewhere in the region of a thousand Black-tailed Godwits. Mixed in were at least eleven Dunlin, six Knot, two hundred plus Redshank, a similar number of Curlew and at least two locally uncommon Bar-tailed Godwits. Pretty impressive and with an equally notable supporting cast which included a pair of snoozing Spoonbills (aren't they always?), four Brent Geese flying up the Burry, three Little Egrets, two Grey Herons, a flock of Linnets, Wigeon, fleeting glimpses of a Sparrowhawk and even a gronking low level Raven for good measure.

P1120351 - Waders, WWT Llanelli

Elsewhere on the reserve we managed to spot a family of five Bullfinches, two Blackcaps, seven Shoveller, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Great-spotted Woodpecker, singing Chiffchaff and a whole host of commoner species besides. There was also the impressive sight and sound of well over a hundred Greylag Geese coming in to land, not to mention this Fox which was brazenly walking about in the open.

P1120364 - Fox, WWT Llanelli

Another unusual record was this family of young Mallard ducklings, an incredibly late brood more suited to spring than autumn. Here's hoping they make it before the weather properly turns.

P1120369 - Late Ducklings, WWT Llanelli

Our next stop was Kidwelly Quay where with the tide now retreated we were hoping for more wader action. And it didn't disappoint. A couple of hundred Redshank and thirty plus Greenshank were most notable but there was also a smattering of Dunlin as well as the usual Curlew plus an impressive single gathering of thirty five Little Egrets. I had hoped to add Curlew Sandpiper too but despite three being reported here the same day we didn't manage to connect. Not to worry as compensation came in the shape of a magnificent Great White Egret, visible from miles away stood as it was in plain sight on the marsh at Banc y Lord. In fact so large was it that on my initial scan I'd actually counted it in with the thirty Mute Swans also present so I'm very glad that I went through for a second time. Along the canal a calling Kestrel and very vocal Cetti's Warbler were best of the rest.

P1120376 - Kidwelly Quay

From Kidwelly we headed over to Pembrey Burrows where I hoped to finish the day with a nice relaxing sea watch. What I'd not factored in however was just how far out the water retreats here meaning that this was our view on arrival. That's a heck of a lot of sand.

P1120389 - Cefn Sidan

P1120391 - Cefn Sidan

Not put off we headed out to see what we could find and in the end counted a couple of Gannets fishing close in as well as a passing flock of ten Sanderling. Not a bad note on which to finish and with the Red-necked Phalarope still present at close of play Sunday I highly recommend popping in to pay your respects as it may be another decade before our next.


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Curlew Sunset

Friday, September 22, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

P1120327 - Burry Inlet Sunset
After a few days of fairly terrible weather it was good to get back out yesterday evening in frankly glorious conditions. Of course things would have been even better had a certain Phalarope been there to greet me but alas all I could do was look in its vague general direction and cross everything that it stays put until the weekend.

As in recent weeks I was once more on the stretch of coast path between Penclacwydd and Loughor bridge and once more had a fine selection of waders on show. Somewhere in the region of a hundred Dunlin were feeding just beyond the sea wall along with a smattering of Oystercatchers and the usual mix of Gulls. No Terns this time out however but it was good to see the flock of Lapwings still about as well as a lone Black-tailed Godwit heading downstream, followed shortly after by a Whimbrel. Always a nice species to see but it was the Curlews which proved my star birds once again. Foraging amongst the marshy vegetation, their distinctive calls splitting the air at regular intervals, it was more a case of when rather than if I'd find one close enough for photographs. In the end this was the individual which came up trumps, happy to pose and feed despite my relatively close proximity.


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Dinorwic Quarry Explored

Tuesday, September 19, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

P1110999 - Dinorwic Quarry
Since my earliest days I’ve had a passion for exploring abandoned places. To begin with it was family holidays spent in our caravan which provided me with ample opportunity to visit castles, monasteries and all sorts of industrial fare but it was our time staying in north Wales which perhaps had the biggest impact. Surrounded by towering spoil tips formed through generations of slate mining I was left in awe, uncomprehending at how man could change a landscape so fundamentally and completely. Of course back then the constraints of caring parents meant that forays to the most enticing workings were banned, something about the risk of plunging to my doom or disappearing under a collapsing pile of slate. That left only sanitised museums such as Llechwedd to quench my curiosity which although enjoyable only really served to whet my appetite for the “real thing” further. Fast forward a couple of decades and now with risk assessment in my own hands I’ve been trying to get out to a few of those sites which had me enraptured all those years ago. Top of that list sits Dinorwic, the second largest slate quarry in the world whose prominent position dominates nearby Llanberis. Even from a distance its multitude of inclines, winding drums and tramways are clear to see, each acting as a beacon calling me to venture closer.


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Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr

Saturday, September 16, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

P1110643 - Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr Walk
August bank holiday weekend isn’t exactly renowned for great weather but with opportunities running out it was exactly the right time for us to crack out our tent for the first, and probably last, trip this year. As for destination we ran through a whole host of possibilities before settling on Beddgelert in Snowdonia. Just down the road from Snowdon itself this is the ideal base camp from which to launch an ascent of the country’s most walked mountain with the added bonus of being surrounded by some truly dramatic scenery.


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Ringed Plover Consolation

Thursday, September 14, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

P1120239 - Ringed Plover
Still with Black Terns in mind we headed over to the Pwll area on Saturday morning, parking up near Burry Port and walking out to the jetty at Tywyn Bach. With a distinctly wet weekend forecast it came as a pleasant surprise to be met with sunshine but in the distance dark clouds were already gathering.

P1120180 - Burry Port

Taking inspiration from the old adage that out of sight means out of mind we turned our backs on any impending doom and set off. With the tide only just starting to drop there wasn’t a whole lot of beach on which to walk but we made it over to the mound easily enough, area of choice for visiting Black Terns. Three or four Sandwich Terns and a pair of Great Crested Grebes were soon in the bag as was a nice quartet of Common Sandpipers plus six Mediterranean Gulls roosting amongst a flock of twenty Redshank and a hundred or so Black Headed Gulls. Lone Cormorants passed down channel at sporadic intervals with Oystercatchers also on the move but of our target species? Not a sign. As consolation prizes go though stumbling upon this incredibly tame Ringed Plover must rank pretty highly. It didn’t seem concerned by our presence at all and these are easily my best photos of this species to date.

P1120239 - Ringed Plover

P1120204 - Ringed Plover

P1120238 - Ringed Plover

Of course our luck with the weather had to run out at some time and with the beach exit in sight we were hit with an absolutely torrential downpour. Shelter was limited to put it mildly but we did manage to cower beneath a section of concrete jutting from the sandy cliffs. Not recommended but at least it saved us from a drenching.

It was only a few minutes before the sun broke through once more but with another bank of thick cloud approaching we thought better of extending our stay. Before we go though I should mention an interesting Seal sighting which at the time we thought might have been a Common Seal. This would be an unusual record for the Burry but as the animal was only bottling I couldn’t quite see enough to be sure.

Moving on we headed over to WWT Llanelli where inevitably one of the Black Terns had been spotted an hour or so earlier. Another case of wrong place wrong time, something which is becoming my own personal mantra of late. Most of the roosting waders had also moved on but we were left to enjoy a pair of Greenshank and a small flock of ten or so Wigeon. With the latter in eclipse plumage they were causing a bit of confusion for some visiting birders so it was nice to be able to confirm their identity and also point out two pairs of Gadwall. The less said about the increasingly heavy and regular showers the better.

P1120245 - WWT Llanelli

We called it a day not long after and have probably missed our chance now with this latest influx of Black Terns.


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Burry Inlet - Birds and Sunsets

Tuesday, September 12, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

P1120166 - Curlew, Burry Inlet
Last week saw a mini influx of Black Terns to our local area with sightings being reported from Pwll, Penclacwydd and Kenfig. In order to save any suspense I’ll tell you now that we failed to connect with all of them, though certainly not for want of trying. Our main problem you see has been that opportunities for local birdwatching of late have been limited to after work jaunts which somewhat restricts the locations that we’re able to get out to. The last thing I want to do for instance is spend another hour in the car having endured an entire day bashing my head against metaphoric brick walls. To that end the prime Black Tern hotspot of Pwll was out but the stretch of coast path from the WWT reserve along Morfa Bacas was most definitely in. The fact that I’d never quite got around to walking this particular route was just a happy bonus.


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Lydstep Caverns and Lawrenny Quay

Sunday, September 10, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

P1110476 - Lydtsep Caverns
I’m slowly catching up with the last few months backlog whose very existence speaks volumes for quite how busy we’ve been and how many great days out we’ve had. Continuing in that vein the subject of this latest entry takes us back to the middle of August and a trip out west to Pembrokeshire. Originally we’d planned a day of kayaking and to that end had spent the previous evening studying OS maps searching for stretches of coast which looked particularly interesting. Pembrokeshire being the way it is there were no shortage of candidates but one, Lydstep, seemed to leap out above all others. Accessible from either Lydstep village itself or further along at Manorbier the promise of cliffs and caverns was too enticing to ignore but alas, the great British summer had other plans in mind.


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Autumn Approaches

Wednesday, September 06, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

Dare I say it but things are starting to feel distinctly autumnal around here. Take yesterday evening for example, a good few degrees cooler than in recent weeks despite clear skies and with the sun now setting behind my oft-photographed “sunset tree”. Just a few weeks ago this perfect alignment wouldn’t have been possible but since then the sun's trajectory has rapidly narrowed bringing its final resting place much further south. This change also heralds the shortening of daylight hours, something which fills me with dread, meaning it won’t be long now before I’m leaving work in the dark and any sunsets will be right over the Loughor estuary itself. Until then though I shall continue to enjoy fine evenings such as this.

P1120113 - Sunset

There seems to have been a noticeable change in our local birds as well. Any fledglings have long since grown up and gone their separate ways, returning our garden feeders to some sense of normality. Hirundines too have done a bunk, Swifts vanishing at the beginning of August following several evenings of raucous overhead action with only the odd lingering Swallow or House Martin still present. In contrast Mistle Thrush numbers are slowly building and we enjoyed watching at least six fly over whilst photographing the scene above. Past winters have seen flocks of up to forty or fifty birds roosting on Cefn Drum and I’m expecting the same again this year. More noticeable perhaps is the change in leaf colour. As I write this now the scene before me is one of mixed hues, golden browns slowly seeping in amongst what I’m sure was a sea of green last time I checked. Yes autumn is definitely on the way so make the most of what time we have left before the skies finally fall silent once more and the long nights of winter are upon us.


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Mumbles Lifeboat Launch

Saturday, September 02, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

P1110452 - Mumbles Lifeboat Launch
I'm a big fan and supporter of the RNLI and still to this day find it amazing that such an organisation can exist on charitable donations alone. Since we've started taking to the sea in our kayaks their presence has been felt even more strongly and, following a visit to Mumbles pier for the Kittiwakes, I couldn't help but notice that they had a planned practice launch just a few days later. Now it might only be my inner child speaking but there really are few things more exciting than watching a lifeboat slide down its ramp and into the water. I've been fortunate to witness this spectacle first hand only once before whilst staying near Sennen Cover in Cornwall, so to see our local boat launch was an opportunity not to be missed.

We arrived at least half an hour early and in glorious sunshine which turned out to be a very good thing indeed. You see I'd completely underestimated the popularity such an event would generate and in no time the end of the pier was packed with eager onlookers. Everyone was in high spirits and we chatted excitedly until finally the large shutters at the front of the station retracted to reveal Roy Barker IV, our resident Tamar class lifeboat. Then before we knew it she was gone, rushing down to meet the calm waters of Swansea Bay in a matter of seconds, engines at full throttle taking her safely away and onwards towards Port Talbot.

P1110437 - Mumbles Lifeboat Launch

P1110452 - Mumbles Lifeboat Launch

Really I'd needed two cameras, one videoing and another for stills but given my limited crew of one I captured the event as well as I possibly could. Walking along the beach later I did however spot a couple of vantage points which look very promising for future launches so I shall definitely be making a return.

P1110459 - Mumbles Lifeboat Launch

Of course this being me I couldn't help but notice a few birds whilst we waited which included the Kittiwakes (obviously) as well as a pair of Sandwich Terns off the end of the pier. We also had the pleasure of watching a Barrel Jellyfish float beneath us, one of the few times I've seen this species alive and well as opposed to washed up along one of the local beaches.


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