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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