The One Where I Go Missing For A Bit

Monday, November 12, 2018 Adam Tilt 7 Comments

If you’ve been checking in on this blog or any of my social channels even semi regularly over the past few months (and many of you have for which I thank you profusely), then you may have noticed that things have been rather quiet. In fact my last “original” content was way back in August following the barnstormer that was Birdfair 2018, after which I rather fell off the digital wagon. It’s not the first time and it probably won’t be the last despite my best of intentions and, as usual, the reasons are all too familiar. Time, work and having taken on too many other projects all feature prominently but new to me has been an overwhelming sense of despair that I’ve had real trouble shaking. Indeed it still burdens me now.

Some of this was a hangover from Birdfair itself where, despite writing of my intention to take inspiration from those fighting for our wildlife and environment, I couldn’t shake the sense that it was all hopeless and that in the end we’re on a downwards spiral whose course was set long ago. Even when opportunities to make a difference do present themselves it seems that those with the real power are either too busy playing politics or, as seems to be the case in many instances, simply don’t care. That makes global issues such as climate change and plastic pollution an almost impossible challenge. Even trying to lift my mood by heading out locally has managed to have the opposite effect with dirt bikes and fly-tipping blighting several favourite haunts.

Needless to say the desire to write upbeat posts therefore has been somewhat lacking and instead I’ve been throwing myself into other activities including the ongoing conversion of my van to a camper as well as spending an embarrassing amount of time playing Pok√©mon Go (yes, really!). When the urge to get back out birding became too strong to ignore we chose to forego the usual options and instead ended up on a week’s all-inclusive holiday to Sardinia. This came at just the right time with both of us nearing burnout and things couldn’t have gone any better. Fantastic wildlife, glorious weather and beautiful surroundings meant that we came back refreshed and with a feeling that perhaps all was not lost after all.

In recent weeks the rapid onset of autumn has brought a stark drop in temperature resulting in sharp frosts and some stunning early morning light. With it has come a flurry of Jay activity such that I’ve barely been able to go for a walk or drive without seeing these most colourful of corvids. Back at home our garden feeders have begun to feel the winter onslaught of hungry Goldfinches and we’ve also been joined by a chatty Magpie which seems to take much delight in banging our windows each morning. Beats an alarm clock anyway. Together these little moments have started to remind me why I fell in love with the great outdoors in the first place and that, no matter how difficult things may initially appear, there’s always hope and collectively we should never give up the fight. Hope prevails so long as there’s someone still standing.

So where does that leave me now? Conflicted yes but at least with light at the end of the tunnel and a renewed sense of excitement and curiosity. With a couple of months left before the end of the year I plan to bring this blog up to date with recent goings on and also to prepare for a 2019 which promises to be full of new opportunities and adventure. Just to whet your appetite here’s a sample of what will be coming your way very soon:

- Dipping through Waterfall Country
- Jurassic coast fossils
- Sardinia: a week birding and walking the Mediterranean
- Van Conversion Part 1: insulating and carpeting
- Van Conversion Part 2: cupboards and a custom bed
- Van Conversion Part 3: swivel seats and finishing touches
- Sunday Showcase

Plenty to keep me busy then including a backlog of several thousand photos to edit and catalogue, not to mention actually writing some posts. On top of that I'm sure there'll be plenty of opportunity for odd day's out here and there particularly when the hills start turning white. Consider normal service resumed as of now.

P1180670 - Lyme Regis

I've missed this little community we've built together and look forward to seeing it grow even further.


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Sunday Showcase - Wryneck vs Dartford Warbler

Sunday, September 02, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

Two rarities for the price of one

28864_2 - Wryneck vs Dartford Warbler - 2012 Re-edit

It's a personal guarantee that if you spend enough time immersed in nature then sooner or later you'll experience one of those moments which makes you sit back and think wow, did that really just happen? We've been fortunate over the years to have enjoyed that adrenaline kick more than once ourselves but one particular encounter stands out above all others.

Back in 2012 we were walking the Pembrokeshire coast path from Strumble Head to Tal-y-Gaer and, being October, talk inevitably turned to rare migrants and our thus far complete lack of success in turning up anything of note. In fact I had just broached the subject of Wryneck's when a bird shot out of the Gorse ahead before circling and vanishing into the undergrowth once more. I knew what I thought I'd seen but no, it couldn't be, could it? Searching intently soon had the culprit once more in view and blow me if it wasn't my first ever self found Wryneck! Seldom is life so perfectly timed.

Creeping closer I managed to get into a good position for photography, baring in mind that at the time my gear was somewhat limited, and already had a couple of semi-decent images in the bag. All the while though I could hear this frantic alarm call from somewhere nearby when, and I can still scarcely believe this some six years later, a Dartford Warbler hopped into view and proceeded to give our Wryneck a piece of its mind. For just a split second both birds were close enough to fit in a single frame and this week's Sunday Showcase is the result.

That wasn't to be the end of our Wryneck encounter either but for the full account why not head over to my original account of the day here.


Sunday Showcase is an opportunity to revisit a few of my favourite images. Some will have been published here previously whilst others will be freshly liberated from my vast back catalogue. All have memories attached and each week I'll be sharing those stories with you.


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Sunday Showcase - Ulva Swallows

Sunday, August 26, 2018 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

Recently fledged Swallows on Ulva

P1100343 - Swallow, Ulva

Last summer we finally made our first trip over to Ulva, an island located off the west coast of Mull with a permanent population of just six. Access came via a small passenger ferry which saw us safely across the narrow straight on what was a morning shrouded in mist. Like much of the surrounding area Ulva is bristling with wildlife and the first birds we stumbled upon were this trio of recently fledged Swallows. Their parents were dropping in at regular intervals to deliver food but there's no mistaking that look of discontent. After several weeks in a warm, dry nest, who could really blame them.

For a full account of our time on Ulva head here.


Sunday Showcase is an opportunity to revisit a few of my favourite images. Some will have been published here previously whilst others will be freshly liberated from my vast back catalogue. All have memories attached and each week I'll be sharing those stories with you.


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Birdfair 2018 - The Talks

Friday, August 24, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

I summed up my first Birdfair experience pretty well in a previous post but wanted to focus in a little more detail today on the various talks we attended across the weekend. For me these were the real highlights of the event, a chance to listen to and learn from a wide variety of speakers across an even wider range of topics covering everything from plastic pollution to the latest developments in camera tech. Without fault each was presented with passion and authority and in amongst the amusing anecdotes and often stunning photographs were several serious conservation messages. These in particular deserve a wider airing and even if just one person takes something away from my summary here then I'll consider this to have been a worthwhile exercise.


Tesni Ward - Working with Wildlife
I must admit to not having come across Tesni's work before but her talk was to focus on the Olympus OMD EM1 mk2, a camera which interests me greatly, but by the end I'd made sure to follow her various social media outlets. That the Olympus performs exceptionally well when working with wildlife was perhaps no surprise but I was completely taken by Tesni's own style and portfolio of images, some of the best I've seen. Her video footage in particular stands out for high praise, the only issue being now that I want the Olympus even more!

Mark Carwardine - Never, ever, ever write a field guide
The first of the big names for Birdfair 2018 and Mark did not disappoint. Essentially this was one man wrestling with his sanity after five years spent working on an updated field guide to the whales and dolphins of the world. Doesn't sound too difficult I hear you say but wow did we ever underestimate the effort involved. From reading thousands of scientific papers to commissioning hundreds of original water colour paintings, the sheer quantity of research involved is mind boggling. Much of this is cutting edge as we begin to understand our marine creatures that much better but this also means that the landscape is in continual flux. Even the number of actual species is changing on a fairly regular basis meaning that almost as soon as the guide is published it will inevitably become out of date. The same goes for population maps which after hearing of Mark's sleepless nights spent worrying I don't think I'll ever criticise in a field guide ever again.

P1170815 - Mark Cawardine, Birdfair

Mark also had a serious message to share in the shape of a petition against Iceland's insistence to continue whaling. You may have seen recently that they slaughtered a Blue Whale (later claimed to be a hybrid as if that made everything ok) and it was heartening to see so many adding their names. Of all the cruelties performed against the world's wildlife whaling must surely be one of the easiest for us to eradicate.

Jonathan Scott - The Making of Big Cat Legacy
I basically grew up watching Big Cat Diary so to see Jonathan speak was an absolute must. This was a heart warming tale of the making of his and wife Angela's latest TV series, one which I'll definitely be seeking out when it airs.

P1170820 - Jonathan Scott, Birdfair

Simon King - Then and Now
Another of my childhood wildlife heroes and I thoroughly enjoyed this romp through Simon's career. Using that as a pivot against which to discuss the current state of our natural world was a clever device and one which had me thinking about what changes I've seen in my own lifetime. The loss in biodiversity he's witnessed on the Somerset levels thanks to intensive farming struck a chord particularly. Long gone are the days where I'd spend hours picking dead flies and bees out of my car grille after a summer's drive for instance. There is hope though and by highlighting major success stories such as the restoration of Shapwick Heath and ethical farming exemplars there was a very clear message that if we all put a little more thought into the food that we buy then the cumulative effect could be huge. Food for thought (excuse the pun) next time you pick up that vaguely labelled pack of meat from Tesco (other supermarkets are available).

The Plastics Debate
Plastics. Thanks to Blue Planet highlighting the issue of plastic pollution within our oceans I challenge anyone to claim ignorance of what is possibly one of the biggest ecological disasters of our time. I had hoped that this debate would provide a set of varied viewpoints and ideas on how we might attempt to begin change but the panel were very much in agreement with one another and I couldn't help feeling a sense of despair that although we all recognise the problem, large scale change seems so far away right now. That is by no means the panels fault of course but a reflection on where politics is at present and they did a sterling job of stressing that even individuals can make a difference, no matter how small. In fact this was very much a theme across the weekend and there's a real sense now that meaningful change is only going to come from the ground up through sheer weight of public opinion. A message almost lost at the end by bringing the debate to a close by highlighting that this was the first ever women only panel at Birdfair (I'm guessing we're excluding the male chair in that) which although was a very good thing did leave me feeling a little odd. I'd much rather have taken away said panels opinions and messages rather than feeling that I'd been part of a PR exercise.

Dick Forsman - A Ten Year Raptor Quest
I think any birder would agree that there's just something about raptors which lifts them to another level. Dick's certainly one of them and has spent the last ten years researching his latest identification guide on the subject. Across an hour which simply flew by he shared tales of his adventures around the world as well as offering tips and tricks on where to go and how to age various birds of prey. It was utterly fascinating, convinced me that I absolutely need his book and confirmed that I have virtually no hope at identifying the rarer Buzzard species. Why oh why do they need to cross-breed I ask you.


Chris Packham - How are you feeling Mrs Nightingale
This was undoubtedly the busiest event of the entire weekend with every seat taken and many more forced to stand. And can you really blame them? Chris has increasingly become a vocal supporter of wildlife campaigns around the world and used his star power at Birdfair to provide a platform for people actively working at the conservation front line. Particularly shocking was hearing of Malta's continued disregard for European law exemplified by the killing of several White Stork in recent days. I'd been following this story on twitter but to hear first hand from those who have been monitoring the situation was heartbreaking. On a slightly different note it was brilliant to hear from Joe who has been promoting bird therapy as a way of dealing with depression and other mental health issues. I know from daily experience that getting out into nature does me the world of good and his is another book which I look forward to reading when published.

P1170830 - Birdfair 2018

Iolo Williams - A Career With Wildlife
This was far and away the most enjoyable talk of the entire weekend, a cross between serious wildlife conservation and a stand-up comedy gig. I've met Iolo once before and he came across as a thoroughly nice chap and did so here on the big stage as well. I won't spoil any of the anecdotes in case you get the opportunity to see him speak elsewhere but I will advise that you don't go stealing eggs as you never know when a Gurkha might be watching.

Tim Birkhead - The Guillemot's Pointed Egg
We all know that Guillemot eggs are pointed to stop them rolling off cliff ledges and new research shows that we're all completely wrong. For what I thought would be a fairly specialised lecture this was very well attended with one of the most active question and answer sessions of the weekend. Apparently we all like a good egg mystery! Tim's research has concluded that the shape is actually to aid adhesion when lain on a slope and who am I to argue.


Neil Phillips - Life in a Garden Pond
I've followed Neil for years on Flickr and this was a chance to see some of his stunning aquatic photography on the big screen. The perfect way to kick start a Sunday.

Nick Baker - Rewild
Rewilding is the in thing at present with a lot of focus being put on introducing species such as Wolves and Lynx back into our countryside. At least that's what the press would have you believe. Nick's take was much more focussed on re-wilding ourselves, getting back in touch with nature on a personal level and restoring a connection which is part of our fundamental make-up. Now that's a message I can truly get on board with and in a way is why I started this blog in the first place. 

So there we have it. A quick run through of the talks we attended at this year's Birdfair but rest assured only the thinnest of slices of what was actually available. I'd recommend that you follow the links spread throughout this piece to read in more depth on some of the issues highlighted and if possible consider what personal contribution you might be able to make. It doesn't have to be anything big, something as simple as cutting out single use coffee cups for instance, but if everyone could do the same then the cumulative benefits for our environment would be enormous.


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Birdfair 2018

Monday, August 20, 2018 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

Quite why it's taken me until Birdfair's thirtieth year to put in an appearance I'll never know but, in the words of those great philosophers i.e. our mothers, better late than never. For those who may be unfamiliar with the event it's essentially Glastonbury for birders with hundreds of talks and lectures spread across three packed days, not to mention stalls from just about every country, tour guide and wildlife related company that you could possibly imagine. Year after year I've watched others on Twitter sharing their latest selfie with Chris Packham or waxing lyrical about a presentation which I'd have loved to have attended and finally, it was my turn. Although I'll pass on the selfies if that's ok. Probably better for all involved.


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Gear Review - Wunderbird Women's Gyrfalcon Hoodie

Thursday, August 16, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

You may recall my recent review looking at Wunderbird’s new range of clothing tailored specifically for birders (if not it’s well worth a read). The feedback I've received since has been incredibly positive, none more so than from my partner herself. She loved the Gyrfalcon hoodie in particular and being the caring sort I reached out to Wunderbird to see if they’d be interested in a female perspective on their range. Thankfully they were and not only are my brownie points now well and truly in the green but Emma’s had an enjoyable weekend in mid-Wales putting her new gear through its paces.

As before the ordering process was a breeze with the website's sizing guide proving just as accurate for Emma as it had been for me. No easy feat as in our experience clothes sizes for the fairer sex seem to be a complete minefield with no two manufacturers apparently able to agree on a set of measurements. Even better was the cut which manages to tread that fine line between being tailored but not overly clingy. Thumbs up all round.

Once again the key features of padded shoulders, quick draw binocular supports and double layered pocket are all present and correct, the same high quality of materials and manufacture proving that my first delivery was certainly no fluke. As Emma tends to carry the weightier of our backpacks those padded shoulders have come in for particular praise easing pressure and increasing comfort no end. Interestingly she's also been finding the quick draw binocular support incredibly useful, not something we expected given that she already wears hers on a harness. Using the lower of the supports however has now completely eradicated any remaining movement and as I also found makes for a much more comfortable experience out in the field.

Something I couldn't do in my original review was comment on the warmth of the fabric thanks in no small part to us being slap bang in the middle of a heatwave at the time. Thankfully conditions are now returning to some kind of normality and Wales threw its best at us over the weekend including heavy rain and cool winds. The Gyrfalcon hoodie coped easily with both, managing to be warm yet breathable despite the high humidity and went on to be a cosy companion as we whiled away the evening back at base.

In summary then exactly what I've come to expect from Wunderbird. High quality clothing which really does deliver on its promises for birders, be they male or female. If you like what you see here then why not head over to the Wunderbird website or even better, pop along to their stand at this weekends BirdFair.
Disclaimer: Wunderbird provided me with these products free of charge in return for my honest opinion and review.


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Barmouth to Fairbourne and the Blue Lake

Tuesday, August 14, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

In my league table of Friday night’s, last week’s rates pretty near the top. Why I hear you ask? Let me set the scene.

We’d arrived in Barmouth at dusk and after meeting up with old friends it was on to our base a couple of miles further north. Quickly unpacked we cracked open the drinks and had a good old catch up before heading outside to marvel at events being played out overhead. Being well away from any major settlements light pollution was at a minimum so, despite a few last vestiges of sunset staining the sky out west, we could already see millions of stars and the first faint signs of the Milky Way. Mars and Venus both shone brightly and as our eyes became more accustomed to the dark we began to pick out satellites rushing by on their never ending orbits. Most were high and slow but one whizzed over at what must have been incredible speeds. I find it simply jaw dropping that we’re able to observe such spectacles though it did bring home quite how much “stuff” we’ve managed to put into space in a relatively short period. There’s some fascinating and worrying models out there which show quite how easily a destructive chain reaction could occur with the debris from one satellite destroying the next and so and so on. Sobering thoughts in these days of being constantly connected, particularly when watching the Perseid meteor shower nearing its peak. Yes not only did we have the Milky Way, planets and satellites to enjoy but also that favourite of childhood stories, shooting stars. It was a night not unlike this, many moons ago, that I spotted my first meteor streaking across the sky and to this day I still find them utterly enthralling.


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Sea Lavender, Flying Ants, Knots in Red and a Biased Press

Thursday, August 09, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

Well I'm calling this heatwave officially over and last week it was so nice to get out on a couple of evenings after work for what seems like the first time in ages. Our first port of call on Wednesday found us alongside the upper Loughor estuary where despite overcast conditions the marshy fringes were an absolute riot of colour. With its delicate flowers Common Sea Lavender stood out against dark mud and green foliage almost as if an artist had come along and dabbed their brush haphazardly along the river. Gorgeous and this is coming from a self-confessed "not a plant person".



Before any concerns are raised that I may be softening with age you'll be glad to hear that much of my interest was indeed taken up by birds. And there were plenty of them too. The tides here are ferocious and acres of mud quickly became rushing currents, pushing all those lovely waders a whole lot closer. Easiest to spot were of course Curlews, their melancholy calls emanating from all corners as if to herald the onset of autumn. I know it may seem a long way away right now but migration is already gathering pace and think about it, when exactly was the last time you saw a Swift?


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Cotswold Canals, Railways and Birds

Sunday, August 05, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

The Cotswold Water Park as a whole is not somewhere I’d describe as truly wild but amongst its one hundred and fifty lakes there’s plenty of wildlife to be found and a number of excellent nature reserves worth exploring. Formed as a by-product of gravel extraction the numerous pits left behind have been allowed to fill and thanks to careful management now provide leisure and recreation facilities for thousands of visitors each year. Our association comes as a result of the park’s rather handy proximity to RAF Fairford, home each summer to the royal international air tattoo. After a couple of year’s break we were attending once again and with Saturday free we had a ready made destination literally on our doorsteps.

With temperatures still troubling the low thirties a walk of any length was out of the question so instead we settled on a four mile loop taking in a couple of lakes and sections of both the long abandoned Midland and South Western Junction Railway and Thames and Severn canal. Setting out from the gateway visitor centre I was again struck by the sheer number of butterflies on the wing which surely must be having a very successful season. As before however most were reluctant to land and I was definitely in no mood for the chase. Instead we enjoyed our surroundings as we headed out along the tow-path but of the canal itself there was no sign. Where previously there’d been open water we now found a dry and overgrown channel, no doubt suffering due to the recent heat wave but surely in need of some ongoing maintenance as well. It was particularly upsetting to see a number of dead Pike in the old lock at Cerney. Last time we passed this way I photographed one of these beasts but sadly it looks like a lack of oxygenated water has done for them.

P1160808 - Thames and Severn canal

All however was not lost with plenty of new life also taking advantage of the canal ecosystem. First up was a Dunnock with beak stuffed so full of grubs that finding food, at least where insects is concerned, is seemingly no hardship at present. That was followed closely by the surprise appearance of at least one juvenile Redstart! Away from the Welsh forests which I normally associate with this species I had to do a double take but there it was and true to form remained frustratingly distant throughout.


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Golden Eagle Caught on Trailcam, Isle of Mull

Sunday, July 29, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

It seems like a lifetime ago right now but back at the beginning of the year we were enjoying a fortnight's break on the fabulous Isle of Mull. As always there was plenty of walking and wildlife watching to be had despite one of the coldest winters for many years refusing to release its icy grip. That's not to say that there wasn't plenty of sunshine of course but it was rarely ever what you'd call warm and towards the end of our stay we even experienced blizzard conditions and some epic snowfall. It was probably these harsh conditions which had led to the unusually high number of dead Sheep we'd encountered during our explorations, most well picked over but some still still looking very fresh. One in particular could only have been there for a day or so and with the possibility of eagles ever present I set up our trail camera on the off chance that something might turn up.


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Gear Review - Wunderbird Birding Apparel

Thursday, July 26, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

Every hobby has its stereotypes and bird watching is no exception. Asked to conjure up an image of your typical birder for instance and I'm sure a lot of us would include someone dressed head to toe in camo gear. In fact I can go one better and confirm numerous such sightings out in the wild and, whilst I would be the last person to criticise another's choices, it's not really the look for me. Like most I've been making do with generic outdoor gear for years so when Wunderbird got in touch asking if I'd like to try out their new range of clothing designed specifically for birders, I had to say yes.

The Wunderbird collection includes ranges tailored for both men and women and being the former I've been putting one of their short sleeved Kestrel t-shirts as well as a Gyrfalcon hoody, despite the current heatwave, through their paces. Thanks to the excellent sizing guide on the Wunderbird website both fit perfectly which makes me wonder, why don't all clothing companies do the same?


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Mynydd y Gwair Wind Farm - 18 Months On

Wednesday, July 25, 2018 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

mynydd y gwair now and then
Way back in February of last year we embarked on a photographic venture along the route of a proposed access track to the then still recently approved wind farm atop Mynydd y Gwair. As one of the few large remaining expanses of wilderness bordering Swansea the prospect of sixteen huge turbines marching across its open vistas was one which filled me with dread. We'd already lost neighbouring Mynydd y Betws a couple of years previous to another scheme so knew pretty much what to expect but this time it would be far more personal. You see in order to gain access to what is after all a relatively remote location the engineering firms involved would need to extend said track some 14km stretching from the A48 in Pontarddulais right through the very heart of my local patch. Country lanes would be widened, existing roads regraded and once green fields and open moors bisected. Back then all I had to go on were architectural plans lodged with the city planning office so I decided to document the works if not for posterity then at least to remind myself of what we once had.


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Hunting Bioluminescent Plankton

Sunday, July 22, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

P1170579 - Oxwich Bay

It probably says a lot about our lives that standing on Oxwich beach at a little after two o'clock this morning, looking for plankton, seemed perfectly normal. Others may of course choose to disagree, imagining instead some lonely vigil shunned by the greater part of society, self-elected purveyors all of the conformist message. Happily they couldn't have been further from the truth. Bobbing head torches for instance revealed one family paddling and splashing in the gently lapping water on the very same quest as ourselves whilst further along quiet chatter emanated from around a small campfire where every now and again some talented soul would attempt a spot of fire spinning. In the distance remnants of an earlier wedding party were finally dispersing and around us, Gower at its absolute best. Even at this ungodly hour it was still light enough to see the shape of Swansea Bay, the steelworks of Port Talbot burning brightly as if in competition with an orange moon only now beginning to slip behind the mass of Three Cliffs. On the lightest of breezes I caught occasional murmurs from roosting Oystercatchers unseen, their normally dominant vocalisations replaced, for now at least, by the chirping of insects. What a time to be alive.

But hang on a minute, plankton?

Oh yes dear reader, but no ordinary plankton, for this plankton was bioluminescent. 

Our search had actually started over three hours earlier, not surrounded by Gower's natural beauty but instead set against heavy industry across the bay at Aberavon. Two nights previous this had been the scene of a stunning display with the sea lit up bright blue for long stretches at a time and being something that I've always wanted to see, it was time to try our own luck. The chemical process which results in this fantastic light show is all down to Luciferin and the plankton uses it to try and attract predators towards any creature which may be, how shall I put it, tucking in. This is probably the reason why disturbed water gives you the best possible chance of seeing the phenomenon. There wasn't going to be a great deal of that around tonight however with the sea almost flat calm but already there were people out all along the beach waiting hopefully. We had a brief look ourselves but something about the place didn't scream - stand here for the next couple of hours with your camera and see what happens. Perhaps it was the large number of police cars, blue lights flashing, or continual parade of boy racers. We may never know. 

Instead we headed over to Mumbles and Bracelet Bay, then Langland and Caswell before finally arriving at Southgate. A short walk brought us to the cliff edge where down below the white outline of breaking water could just about be seen. Torches extinguished it took a while for my eyes to become acclimatised and on a couple of occasions I thought I'd seen something but couldn't quite be sure. If you've ever searched the night sky for meteors you'll probably know the feeling well. Then all of a sudden there could be no more doubt. Despite looking at numerous photos the previous day nothing could prepare me for just how bright the flash of light was. It was as if someone had switched a torch on just beneath the water's surface, only for a second, before extinguishing it and sinking away. Then came another and another, seemingly random bursts so as you never quite knew where the next would appear. 

And then just like that it was gone. The display had probably only lasted a few minutes but in that time I found myself transfixed, giddy excitement that only comes from experiencing something truly magical for the very first time and oh did I not want it to end. With energy flagging we made one last push and threw everything we had at Oxwixh which, if I'm very much not mistaken, is right about where we came in.

Alas there was to be no encore however and we couldn't get even a glimmer despite Emma's best water agitation techniques (at least she now knows her old boots aren't waterproof any more) so no photos beyond the overall scene setter above. Even so what an experience and to think that until last year I wasn't even aware that this could be seen along our coast. Needless to say I'll be back out again on Friday so fingers crossed we can do even better. If only work didn't have to get in the way.


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Pembrokeshire Camping - Grassholm, Gannets and Dolphins

Wednesday, July 11, 2018 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

P1160226 - Grassholm Gannets
We had a couple of unexpected visitors on our second morning camping in Pembrokeshire. First up was a Fox which ambled into our field, sniffed a post, then promptly left. Emma got great views but as I was deeply ensconced within my sleeping bag by the time I’d broken free it was far too late. No such issues with our second guest however which we were able to watch for some time as it hopped its way ever so slowly towards us. Quite where this Toad was heading is anyone’s guess but I carefully moved it into some nearby long grass where it would be safe as we broke camp.


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Pembrokeshire Camping - St Justinian's to Porthselau

Tuesday, July 10, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

It seems like an absolute age since we last spent a night under canvas so straight from work on Friday we packed the car and headed west. Over the years we’ve stayed at a number of campsites in Pembrokeshire including one on the cliffs above Fishguard which although offering stunning views does have the drawback of being a tad exposed. Taking down a tent in the early hours thanks to gale force winds is one experience I’m not all that keen to repeat. Since then we’ve always looked for more sheltered locations in which to lay our heads and none fits the bill better than Brandy Brook just outside Roch. Nestled deep in a wooded valley it’s a place of serene calm and beauty, no more so than when you’re the only residents as we found ourselves to be on this occasion. It only took a few minutes to get our tent pitched and then there was nothing for it but to lie back and listen to the sounds of country life unfolding. From a mature tree nearby I could hear at least one Nuthatch calling whilst overhead both Red Kite and Buzzard soared only to be overshadowed by a Sparrowhawk passing along the hedgerow behind us. Butterflies danced their way across the grass and on the sun soaked fields opposite we watched a flock of sheep go about their business. Or at least they had been sun soaked until a bank of cloud rolled in dropping the temperature noticeably and offering a rare respite from the blazing sun. In two minds as to if it was worth venturing out on the off chance of a sunset we were in the end glad that we did. Somehow, no matter the weather, Newgale never manages to disappoint.

P1150937 - Newgale Sunset


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Pencarnan Pied Crow

Monday, July 09, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

We’re just back from an outstanding weekend in Pembrokeshire, two days which saw us walking miles of coast path, watching Manx Shearwaters returning to their burrows and sitting just inches away from bow riding Common Dolphins. To say that we enjoyed ourselves would be an understatement and perhaps unsurprisingly I’ve got lots to share over the coming days. To kick off though let’s travel to Pencarnan campsite just north of St David’s, a gorgeous setting currently playing host to this chap.

P1160071 - Pied Crow, Pembrokeshire

Now depending on how closely you follow avian events this bird will either spark a pang of recognition or leave you scratching your heads. The former group will know it as the Pied Crow which first made landfall on these shores back in June, spending a week or so enjoying fish and chips in Cromer way over on the east coast. From there it moved across to Clevedon and on Wednesday last week turned up outside a caravan in Pembrokeshire. Not a bad little journey and one which has allowed plenty of people across the country to connect although it has to be said, not without a small degree of controversy. Being such an approachable individual inevitably raises questions as to origin with some calling this out as an escaped captive bird. Others favour a ship assisted arrival from the species’ native southern Africa. For what it's worth I didn’t really care and as we were in the area anyway it was a no-brainer to pop along for a look.


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#30DaysWild - Paddle From St Brides to Martin's Haven

Sunday, July 01, 2018 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

Yesterday was one of those truly special days where everything falls into place to produce memories which last a lifetime.

We were up early, at least by our standards, and by eight had the kayaks loaded and strapped down without too much fuss. Given that we last took them out a little under twelve months ago I put this down either to a fluke or, less likely, that we kind of know what we're doing by now. The rest of our gear including paddles, life-jackets and paddles had been packed the night before so it was just a case of adding food and drink before we hit the road for our date with high tide. The drive over to Pembrokeshire was surprisingly smooth and devoid of traffic and as we pulled into St Brides I immediately knew that we'd made the right choice. Spread out before us the sea was a tropical blue rarely associated with this part of the world, not quite mirror smooth but with swell at an absolute minimum. A light breeze was keeping temperatures in check helped no end by the sweltering thirties of the past week having dropped to a much more bearable twenty one. It only took us a few minutes to get kitted and down to the waters edge, eager to be on our way.


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#30DaysWild - Grass Snake and the Worm

Friday, June 29, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

Well it seems that my plan to daily blog our #30DaysWild adventures this June have turned out to be a little more sporadic than I’d originally anticipated. I couldn’t help but continue to put effort and countless hours into our DIY campervan conversion (a full update coming your way very soon) which when combined with our first proper heatwave in many years has simply left me with little time, or indeed desire, to log onto the computer and write. Take not this lack of digital communication however as a sign that we’ve been slacking or indeed that we’ve failed in our previously stated goal of using this month to reconnect with nature. Far from it. Each day has seen us out and about in these sweltering conditions whether it be for a lunchtime stroll, spontaneous day trip to mid Wales or indeed the now nightly ritual of watering our fledgling wildflower meadow. Even when working on the van we’ve been in the company of screaming Swifts, vocal Buzzards and all of our garden regulars.


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#30DaysWIld - Patch Birding and Sowing Wildflowers

Tuesday, June 05, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

Each year I'm always caught off guard by the rapid greening of our landscape. After months of nothing but barren browns it's as if we wake one morning to discover that the decorators have paid a visit and given the whole place a fresh lick of paint, green the dominant colour of course but with details picked out here and there in pink, yellow and blue. Nowhere have I found this rapid transformation more impactful than on my own local patch, an area which I've visited significantly less often this year than I'd have liked. Last time we walked this way for instance, en-route to the fallen trig, there was still a cold wind blowing and our first Swallows had just arrived. Last night numbers had swelled considerably and joining the aerial display I was delighted to see a pair of Swifts passing high above, their screaming calls surely the sound of summer and one of my top wild experiences to seek out at this time of year. I just can't help but smile every time I hear them. Perhaps they too were enjoying this revitalised landscape.

P1150577 - Cwm Dulais

Over on Gopa Hill I paused for a while beneath the deep shade of ancient Beech trees to watch a Blue Tit dart amongst their great boughs, its beak stuffed with a plump green caterpillar. Its reluctance to travel very far must have meant that a nest was nearby so I moved on, ragged plumage a sure sign that this adult was already working hard enough as it was. Higher up a glimpsed Willow Warbler tried to tempt me into a chase but I've learnt the hard way that I'm no match for these crafty passerines and besides, it was far too hot anyway.


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#30DaysWild - Mumbles for Kittiwakes and Chips

Sunday, June 03, 2018 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

It was another gorgeous day today and if anything even hotter. Let's just say that it's been a very long time indeed since I last saw the car thermometer read thirty Celsius! Common sense said head to the coast and who were we to disagree.


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#30DaysWild - Garden Birds and Three Cliffs Bay

Sunday, June 03, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

We've had some old friends visiting this weekend and whilst waiting for their arrival on Saturday morning we took the opportunity to spend a little time in our garden. Over the last eight years or so we've slowly been turning this comparatively small patch of land into a wildlife oasis and, although that work still continues, the fruits of our labours are already clear to see and hear. As soon as you step outside for instance it's impossible not to notice the wealth of birdsong, nor indeed the variety of birds which visit and use the feeders here each day. From relative obscurity we now have at least one pair of Bullfinches virtually resident whilst Goldfinch numbers remain sufficiently high so as to be a constant danger of eating us out of house and home. Alas the same cannot be said for Greenfinches whose population remains in free fall. That one should choose this moment therefore to put in an appearance was more than well timed, the magic of 30 Days Wild already wending its way into our every day experiences.


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#30DaysWild - New Month, New Challenge

Friday, June 01, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

There's something quite special about the first of the month. Whether psychologically or literally it offers an opportunity to draw a line under what's come before, take breath and, if necessary, change tack. And that's exactly where I find myself right now. The past few weeks, and indeed months if I'm being honest with myself, have seen a relentless push to try and get "everything done". Now any sensible person would recognise this as wholly unachievable but by god that hasn't stopped me trying. From painting skirting boards in the early hours to twelve hour days building a new set of garage doors, I've barely had chance to come up for breath and right now I'm shattered. Even so it feels as if it's been worth it and for the first time in years I think I'm finally on top of things. However, one area that has suffered throughout this period of intense productivity has been our wild time, the walks and trips which make this existence so rewarding. My sense of disconnect from nature's ebb and flow is palpable but the arrival of June offers a perfect opportunity to change all that and readdress the balance. How I hear you ask? Like this.

Today marks the start of the Wildlife Trust's 30 Days Wild challenge. It's premise is a simple one. Can each of us take just a little time out of every day in June to reconnect with nature through one random act of wildness. It doesn't have to be anything grandiose and could be as simple as admiring a view or taking the time to appreciate the beauty of a flower. Of course that's not to say that you can't go big if you want to as our exploits during last year's challenge show. We managed to squeeze in everything from an evening picnic to conducting cetacean surveys from the bridge of an Irish ferry not to mention travelling right across the length and breadth of the country. We found the whole experience so rewarding that we just had to take part again.

So what have we got planned? Not a lot as of yet if I'm being totally honest but rest assured that is not a situation which is likely to last very long. Already I've started to think about all the things we've neglected of late such as kayaking, walking and indeed birding. Then there's the chance for a first proper break in our camper van, mountains which are just begging to be climbed not to mention a host of things we'd like to do to our garden to improve its wildlife credentials. In fact I'm not sure a month is going to be anywhere near long enough.

For day one though I decided to keep things simple by going for a walk at lunchtime around a local nature reserve. As this was a work day that meant actually forcing myself to get up and leave the office which should be something I'm doing anyway but inevitably have been finding it all too easy to conjure excuses for why I shouldn't. Daft really as I know from personal experience just how beneficial even a brief spell outside can be both mentally and physically, as today has proved. I came back refreshed and launched into the afternoon with a vigour and sense of purpose which has been sorely lacking of late.


And what a glorious explore it was. Despite the sun having deserted us for what seems like the first time in weeks I found myself enveloped in a comforting blanket of Whitethroat song and heavily scented air. Since I last visited this city refuge has sprung into life to such an extent that what were once wide paths have become almost like secret passageways, their narrow winding a perfect excuse to slow down and take a closer look. Yellow Iris and Ragged Robin are immediately obvious but peering a little deeper I was rewarded with my first Orchids of the year. 

Elsewhere the family of Canada Geese which I've been keeping an eye on these last few weeks continues to go from strength to strength with all five gosling's doing well. They have however now reached that stage where early fluffy cuteness has been replaced with a sense of mismatched proportions, but I'm sure we've all had similar phases in our own lives. The lone Mallard duckling too is soldiering on, no mean feat with so many predators about.

And with that this year's 30 Days Wild challenge is well underway. I'm planning to blog our activities (almost) every day and can't wait to see what this month brings. 

If you want to get involved yourself then head over to the Wildlife Trust website, download the introduction pack and start making time for a little more wild in your own everyday life. Trust me, it's worth it.


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A Belated Spring

Friday, June 01, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

P1140854 - Skylark
It's been a funny old spring this year. Somehow I just don't seem to have got a grip on or felt part of it, almost as if events have played out around me but I've never quite been able to tag along for the ride. Our fortnight on Mull undoubtedly had its part to play, leaving home just as the first migrants started to arrive only to find ourselves thrust back into the depths of winter before returning to a landscape literally dripping with Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs. Even then spring migration continued to be a stuttering affair with things only really picking up towards the end of April, our limited spare time totally insufficient to get out and see even a percentage of what was going on. Clearly decisive action was needed so at the beginning of last month (where the hell has June come from!!) we put everything else aside and spent two days getting stuck into spring proper.


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Van Conversion - Introduction and Plans

Friday, May 04, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

Van Plans

From small acorns grow big ideas and that’s my excuse for why there’s now a VW Transporter T6 sat outside. What initially started off as a couple of interesting YouTube videos documenting those who choose to live in their vans full time sparked something within me that has kick-started a whole new strand to our adventuring. Admittedly we won’t be eschewing the comforts of bricks and mortar any time soon but the chance to escape for weekends without the hassle of tents or the cost of hotels is something that appeals greatly and by summer, that’s exactly what we plan to be doing. Before that though there’s much work to be done with the conversion from base van to full on camper being undertaken by our own fair hands. This is going to be fun.


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Mull - It's Been Epic

Wednesday, May 02, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

P1140798 - Redwing, Isle of Mull
Words and images from 06/04/2018

It's an unfortunate certainty that all good things must, alas, come to an end. So it is for our fortnight on Mull and after a day of rain yesterday we awoke this morning to a bleak and foggy scene.Visibility was minimal with the cloud base well below our position and you know what? I was ok with that. Over the last couple of weeks we've seen some truly amazing things, enjoyed great company and walked miles. There's been Eagles galore, Otters at close quarters and scenery that blows anywhere I've ever been out of the water. It's even snowed, a new experience for me on Mull and another side to this magic isle which I will forever carry with me. Really I could ask for no more and as thoughts inevitably turn to the life we will soon be forced to return I took a moment to absorb and reflect on how lucky we are to have found such a place as this.


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Langamull to Croig

Tuesday, May 01, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

P1140751 - Langamull, Isle of Mull
Words and images from 05/04/2018

Dare I say it but there was actually a bit of warmth in the air this morning, yesterday’s brisk wind nullified and after some early morning cloud plenty of sunshine too. In response it seemed that the stuttering spring migration of the past few days was finally beginning to gather momentum with at least four male Wheatears spotted around the coast and a pair of pristine White Wagtails at Croig, our first of the year. Nothing too dramatic but progress nevertheless.


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From Snowman to Owl to Adder to Sunset

Monday, April 30, 2018 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

P1140674 - Snow on Isle of Mull
Words and images from 04/04/2018

Contrary to all expectations we awoke at first light to find that Mull had been treated to another helping of snow overnight. Even this close to the coast the ground was white over but despite many very kind offers I declined the opportunity to go and build a snowman (you may sing this line if you must) choosing instead the warmth of bed and a good book. By breakfast the earlier low cloud base had lifted, blue sky was visible and even the sun had come out making short work of any snow around our house. This left for a rather incongruous juxtaposition of this snowman against what for all intents and purposes looked like a warm summer’s day.


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Red Grouse, in Snow, in April!

Sunday, April 29, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

P1140639_2 - Red Grouse, Isle of Mull
Words and images from 03/04/2018

A sudden and surprising desire to perform carpentry meant that Monday was spent weather boarding the gable end of the house. Back at home with numerous DIY stores just down the road this would present no real challenge but on an island where the nearest shop is a good hour or so away? Not so much. Fortunately over many years a policy of never throwing anything away, just in case, meant that we already had a wide array of materials from which to choose including left overs from the last major building work here and tongue and groove panelling which once adorned the front sitting room. Re-purposed these materials seemed to take to their new life almost too well, although the lack of a working drill did increase assembly effort somewhat. With one success under our belts there was no stopping us and a long missing section of guttering was quickly erected, again from recycled materials, doing our green credentials no end of good.


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Slavonian Grebes of Loch Ba

Saturday, April 28, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

P1140559_2 - Slavonian Grebe, Isle of Mull
Words and images from 01/04/2018

I don’t know quite how low the temperature plummeted last night but by morning it was still minus one and the ground was frozen solid. Ice encrusted any lingering puddles and in areas as yet untouched by sunlight everything was white over. For a west coast location in April this is pretty unusual to put it mildly but as we drove down the side of Loch na Keal, things were about to get a whole lot stranger. Not only were there several sheets of ice floating out on the loch itself but where the tide had receded more ice had been left haphazardly straddling the rocky shore. As conditions slowly warmed a cacophony of creaks and splintering cracks could be heard, gravity and physics beginning to win their war for supremacy. Watching on from its mantle as Mull's highest peak Ben More still wore a snowy cap and seems likely to continue doing so for some time yet.

P1140541 - Ice on Loch na Keal

Despite these unusual occurrences Mull’s wildlife continued as only it knows how and whilst an adult White-tailed Sea Eagle basked from its perch high up in the trees a trio of Red-breasted Mergansers braved the icy waters below. At Knock we parked up and were immediately surrounded by the calls of Siskins and Redpoll, both species which we see relatively rarely. Despite offering some great views they remained lofty throughout making getting even a record shot distinctly tricky.

P1140591 - Loch Ba, Isle of Mull

Admitting defeat we pushed on through a small area of forestry before arriving at Loch Ba, our walking destination for the day. The plan was for a simple out and back route along the well made track on its southern shore, about eight miles in all and a pleasant change from the boggy conditions experienced elsewhere. Or so we thought. It turns out that although peat may not lead to the driest of conditions underfoot it isn’t half as wearing on the feet as mile after mile of stone and gravel. Not that there was too much hardship felt of course when the views were as good as this.

P1140589 - Loch Ba, Isle of Mull

P1140582 - Loch Ba, Isle of Mull

P1140567 - Loch Ba, Isle of Mull

What we were really hoping for here was overwintering waterfowl which we got courtesy of three Goldeneye, around thirty Teal and a small flock of five Wigeon. A trio of Red-throated Divers were also nice to see, if a little distantly, but I had never in my wildest dreams imagined that we’d be watching summer plumaged Slavonian Grebes. What little stonkers! With predominantly black plumage set off by a pair of crazy yellow tufts behind the eyes there really was no mistaking them, and then things got even better. From one lone bird we came across a pair which set about a short courtship display. Lining up alongside each other they began to mirror their movements perfectly, heads switching back and forth crisply before both dived beneath the surface in perfect synchronisation. I preyed that they’d continue and I could film a little of their encounter but alas it was not to be. Even so these distant record shots should go some way to showing off their fantastic plumage.

P1140560_2 - Slavonian Grebe, Isle of Mull

P1140559_2 - Slavonian Grebe, Isle of Mull

Against that kind of competition even the four Golden Eagles soaring high overhead had to play second fiddle.

The marshy ground around Rubha Gainmhich held good numbers of Curlew, Skylark and Lapwing, the latter in full on Nintendo* mode and hopefully looking to breed. A couple of Common Snipe did their usual trick of almost giving us a heart attack as they erupted from our feet unannounced and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t turn any of the Meadow Pipits into an early Tree Pipit. In fact we couldn’t find any spring migrants whatsoever as the Wheatear drought continues.

P1140585 - Loch Ba, Isle of Mull

Our surroundings remained impressive throughout and it’s clear that there’s many potential routes here for future visits including an alternative ascent of Ben More.

Retracing our steps mid-afternoon it was actually warm enough to remove my coat for the first time this week, a strange feeling given that we have snow in our forecast for tomorrow. Even stranger was the sight of a Carrion Crow in front of Benmore Lodge, well outside its normal range as up here Hoodies are king.

P1140594 - Ben More from Loch na Keal

We finished off with a tour alongside Loch na Keal picking up Great Northern Divers pretty much everywhere we looked. Recent reports have put the evening roost here at somewhere near sixty birds so there’s certainly no shortage of them about. Contrary to my earlier statement we also spotted a male Wheatear, only our second this week, but still no hirundines. Mammalian interests were taken care of by around twenty Harbour Seals hauled out on a small rocky island before it was back to the house and an evening spent trying to forget the sight of Cows giving birth. The magic of new life? A gory hell more like.

*Lapwings' display calls sound like an old Nintendo soundtrack to me.


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