The Black Mountain

Friday, February 21, 2020 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


P1230107 - Tair Carn Isaf
Search the internet for Black Mountain and you’re likely to find yourself faced with a slew of possibilities from across south Wales. Of these the Black Mountains east of the Brecon Beacons National Park are probably most widely known and which, rather confusingly, also contain a summit called Black Mountain. I’ve explored there numerous times but today our interests shall be focused further west where The Black Mountain range (as opposed to the Black Mountains and not the individual peak of the same name – keeping up?) straddles the county border between Carmarthenshire and Brecknockshire. Like most of our walks we were drawn to this area after spotting its interesting features on an OS map, principally the number of cairns around Tair Carn Isaf and Tair Carn Uchaf. Intrigued we headed up just before New Year on a typically overcast and windy day.

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Storm Dennis Batters Porthcawl

Sunday, February 16, 2020 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


For the second weekend in a row Wales has been battered by gales and persistent heavy rainfall, last nights deluge resulting in severe flooding across communities both local and further afield. With the ground already sodden and rivers filled to capacity there was simply nowhere else for the water to go other than straight through the increasingly fragile illusion that we are masters of our environment. Thankfully we've escaped relatively unscathed here and spent yesterday locked inside watching sheets of water being blasted up the valley whilst willing our internet and electricity not to cut out (they didn't). We woke to slightly improved conditions this morning and in need of some fresh air headed down the coast to Porthcawl. Even if you've never visited the town yourself you'll have probably seen images of waves crashing over its breakwater and lighthouse, iconic symbols of extreme weather which of late has become ever more common.

As soon as we arrived a huge wave sent almost unfathomable amounts of raging white water skywards, mother nature flexing her muscles as if it was nothing. The gathered crowds stood in awe as barrage after barrage was thrown landwards, the sea a boiling cauldron with waves breaking in any number of directions and the wind whipping up foam to be thrown like projectiles. I've seldom experienced such raw power and hopefully a little of that comes across in the following images.

P1230356 - Storm Dennis, Porthcawl

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Bracelet Bay Med Gulls

Monday, February 10, 2020 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Last Sunday we popped down to Bracelet Bay on Gower to get reacquainted with the Mediterranean Gulls. Fortunately for us a combination of high tide and stormy seas meant that there were at least twenty dotted around the car park including one ringed individual which originally hails from Poland. Unfortunately the combination of high tide and stormy seas also attracted plenty of people meaning any kind of approach was all but impossible thanks to constant disturbance. Nevertheless I persevered and ended up coming away with a pleasing set of images.

2020_02_0014 - Mediterranean Gull

2020_02_0015 - Mediterranean Gull

2020_02_0016 - Mediterranean Gull

Down at Mumbles Pier it was rather nice to see a few early returning Kittiwakes back on the scene whilst the wader roost on the old lifeboat slipway held very good numbers. Dunlin, Turnstone and Redshank all featured along with a solitary Oystercatcher which had presumably shunned its own species in favour of ruling over the lesser beings.

2020_02_0018 - Mumbles Waders

Other than that things were fairly quiet so there was nothing for it but to head to the pub for a Sunday roast. Now that's definitely my definition of a decent couple of hours spent birding. 

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RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2020

Saturday, February 08, 2020 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


It may be a new decade but some things will always remain the same including our participation in the world's largest wildlife survey. Each January over half a million people across the country come together to take part in the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch, counting the birds that appear in their gardens during a single hour and in doing so helping track the fortunes of our commonest feathered friends. As examples of citizen science projects go it's hard to think of any other that has so captivated the public and become such an integral part of our national psyche, or indeed that has run for quite so many years (forty plus and counting).

This year marked our tenth taking part at our current property and probably delivered the best results we've had since those early days. That has I'm sure something to do with the fact that for once we hadn't chosen an hour beset by torrential rain and gale force winds, conditions that favour neither man nor beast. In the end we managed to record twelve species and forty one individuals but for me the real interest lies in drilling down into the detail.


House Sparrow (8)
Goldfinch (8)
Blue Tit (3)
Dunnock (3)
Greenfinch (2)
Chaffinch (6)
Coal Tit (2)
Magpie (2)
Jackdaw (2)
Blackbird (2)
Collared Dove (2)
Robin (1)

Looking back at our first count in 2011 one thing that immediately jumps out is that our once common flock of Starlings is simply no more. I wish I could say that this was a local anomaly but sadly Starling numbers have been crashing nationally for some time leading to them being red listed as a bird of high conservation concern. The Greenfinch population has similarly been decimated, largely thanks to the rampant spread of trichomonosis, but here at least we have good news. A pair have once more become regular visitors this winter and both showed up during our survey window. House Sparrow numbers have similarly bounced back from just two in 2017 to a mighty eight, as have Chaffinches which once appeared lost but are now heading back towards double figures. I hope these species' resurgence has at least something to do with the work we've being putting into our garden including nest boxes, high quality food and plenty of natural cover. Certainly food has been one of the big draws for our Goldfinches whose numbers continue to build year on year, as does the cost of keeping them fed. 

The only really glaring omission from this years count was that of Great Tit which, given the regularity with which we see them, struck us as a bit odd. Perhaps unsurprisingly one popped up just after our hour had finished and they've been here ever since.

The rules of the Big Garden Birdwatch state that you can only record birds actually grounded in your garden which meant we saw several species which couldn't be submitted. Chief amongst these was a Redwing perched just beyond our boundary plus a pair of Red Kite overhead. Three Herring Gulls and a couple of Crows also passed through before, just as the final minutes ticked away, a flock of four Starlings swept across a nearby field. Perhaps then all is not lost for these charismatic birds and if conservation efforts can help them recover we might yet see them return to our feeders.

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Mermaids and Barnacles at Ginst Point

Wednesday, February 05, 2020 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


P1230253 - Goose Barnacles
Finding ourselves at a loose end one recent Sunday afternoon we went in search of somewhere coastal that hitherto had escaped our notice. That's no easy task when you've lived in the same area for over a decade but find one we did.

Ginst Point lies over the county border in Carmarthenshire and sits where Pendine Sands, of speed record fame, begins its long stretch west from Aber Taf. You could walk for miles and still have an endless stretch of sand before you yet this is very much a spot that only those "in the know" visit. I only found out about it thanks to a chance message on social media and even then, access is not for the feint hearted. You see Ginst Point sits at the heart of an MoD firing range which means frequent closures and, even when open, a far from welcoming arrival. Faced with steel gates, security cameras and plenty of warning signs threatening no unauthorised access I was very tempted to turn back right there and then. In the end though I decided that if the internet said it was ok to visit then it must be, and if not I'm sure the worst that could happen is we'd be asked to politely leave.

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Introducing the Birdsy Cam

Sunday, February 02, 2020 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


Even just a few years ago the idea of streaming and sharing live video from your garden feeders was both prohibitively complex and expensive, especially for the mass market. It was though a concept that appealed greatly and after seeing such technology on various TV series and via early pioneers including WildlifeKate, I researched the topic at some length. However, the prospect of hosting the resultant feeds seemed like more hassle than it was worth so my fledgling plans for a home-grown wildlife reality show never really got off the ground. Now though, thanks largely to advances in cloud computing and innovative companies like Birdsy, we finally have a product that is not only simple to use but also far more powerful than I could ever have imagined.

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January Birding

Thursday, January 30, 2020 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


P1230147 - Purple Sandpiper, Aberystwyth
For most birders that first outing of the new year is always extra special. It doesn't matter what one might see from Robins and House Sparrows through to Golden Eagles or Firecrests, all species carry with them an additional excitement factor of being "first for the year". When else for instance can you find even the most ardent of twitcher clamouring after a Pied Wagtail or, dare I say it, the humble Feral Pigeon. It's a brilliant time to be out in the field, no expectations for what lies ahead and a complete reset from the highs and lows that may have come before.

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Musings on a new year

Monday, January 27, 2020 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


There's a fine line between being fashionably late and downright tardy yet despite January appearing to stretch out for hundreds of days, waiting until the 27th to wish you all a happy new year is I fear straying towards the latter.

So what have I been up to during the mild, damp weeks which apparently pass for winter these days? Quite a lot as it turns out including plenty of birding, a bit less walking (see aforementioned weather) plus a fair bit of soul searching around what matters in life and what makes me happy. On that score we began January very much in the same vein as we rounded out 2019, being shown around a collection of strangers houses and resisting my every urge to point out what a poor collection of decorators the British have turned out to be. Am I the only one to have ever heard of masking tape for instance or considered the concept of cutting in? But I digress. The reason for these occasionally awkward, sometimes downright unpleasant outings was the mistaken belief that more space to store an ever expanding collection of "stuff" was what we really wanted. In fact so convinced were we that a couple of weeks ago we were on the verge of putting an offer down on somewhere twice the size of our current place only to find by the end of the journey home we'd somehow decided to forget the whole thing and book a long weekend to Gibraltar instead.

2019_06_0254 - Scotland

There wasn't a single reason for our change of heart, rather a collection of smaller niggles which when push came to shove we just didn't want to have to deal with. Money of course was one. Having been fortunate to work our way into a mortgage free position, moving back into debt literally a couple of months later felt like a retrograde step. Perhaps more importantly though was time, or the lack thereof. Did we really want to spend what would probably be the best part of the next twelve months dealing with solicitors, packing, unpacking, decorating and getting a new house just the way we wanted it? Although much of last year didn't make it onto this blog we were away virtually every weekend spending just under eight weeks in our self-built camper van. It was brilliant and the type of experience we want to extend into this new decade. Almost half of that time saw us up in Scotland and now my friends we come to the real crux of the matter. I've been to pretty much every corner of mainland Britain and we both agree that our futures lie not here stuck in the nine to five of corporate south Wales but somewhere on the west coast of Scotland where we can indulge our passions and redress a work life balance which has gone missing somewhere between university and our mid-thirties. Moving house in the same locality would just be a further delay to that ultimate goal so it's gone, forgotten. In its place the outlines of a rough plan are forming involving loch views and mountains galore. Of course there's also the pesky matter of income which is going to take a little longer to solve but I'm confident that can be overcome. After all we aren't the first and won't be the last to follow their dreams north.

P1220148 - Scotland

That's all a rather long winded way of saying that the beginning of this new decade sees me refocussing on the things that I enjoy. That means more photography, more writing, more getting out and exploring the great outdoors. All too often these have been the very things which have fallen by the wayside as pressures elsewhere sap both energy and time. No more. There's things I've been wanting to do for years, places I've wanted to visit and sights I've wanted to see. I want to learn more about our natural world and what makes it tick. I want to finally see Orcas in the wild and watch the northern lights dance above frozen lands. I could go on but we'd be here all day and I fear this entry is already turning into a more rambling stream of consciousness than I'd intended it to be.

So then to a little order. Regular readers will recall from years previous that I prefer to set loose goals rather than resolutions, confident that experience shows resolutions are only good for one thing - being broken. None of us know what lies before us and the hanging of a new calendar seldom signifies some profound shift in one’s own habits and characteristics, be they good or bad. Instead I find it more productive to focus on what I want to achieve and if there's anything to take from our chat so far, it's that this year should be one about coming good on dreams and promises I've been making to myself for far too long. Can anyone else feel a list coming on?


Focus on the future

I don't think this one needs a whole lot more explaining if you've already read this far and I did think twice about touching on the subject again. Focussing on the future also sounds worryingly like the antithesis of living in the moment and whilst the latter is absolutely to be encouraged, it shouldn't come at the expense of the former. I find that without a forward view, however rough, the traps of what is comfortable and familiar can become all too real and before you know it you're stuck on the same old treadmill, day in day out. We're perhaps fortunate in knowing what we want our futures to look like and we shouldn't lose sight of that no matter what this year brings.


Explore more

Last year’s trips around the NC500 and Ardnamurchan peninsula awoke something within me that had long lain dormant. Starting each morning in a new location, popping down roads to simply see where they led and walking routes seldom travelled proved to be an absolute joy and during 2020 we are looking for more of the same. I’d love to get out to at least one new Scottish island and we’ve already got several long weekend trips planned in the van. Chief among the latter will include time on Dartmoor, a place that we’ve inexplicably never explored as well as to the lake district and north Wales. I also hope to get abroad with our horizons currently focussed on the aforementioned Gibraltar and Donana national park in southern Spain. I need another Flamingo fix.

P1220267 - Waiting for the ferry


Be creative

I’m a creative person. Always have been, hopefully always will be. From an early age I’ve crafted, written and built. As a result it’s probably no surprise that this blog has now been running for over a decade. In 2020 I plan to extend that even further with at least one new post a week, hopefully more, covering all our adventures supplemented by a few rambles such as this along the way. I’m also a firm believer that words are always more powerful when accompanied by photographs so I’ll be putting more effort into that area, beginning with an equipment upgrade. My latest bridge camera is now a couple of years old and in that time the market has moved on, particularly where micro four third setups are concerned. I’ve had my eye on the Olympus EM1 in particular for a while now so it might finally be time to take the plunge. I also sold my first photograph last year so that’s another avenue I’d like to pursue further.


Learn

I’ve garnered a pretty decent breadth of knowledge when it comes to our natural world but recently, I’ve found myself yearning for a deeper understanding. Rarer bird identification in particular comes to mind as after ten or so years since my re-entry to the hobby I’ve got the commoner species nailed but would for instance still struggle to pick out a Honey Buzzard or any of the rarer warblers or waders. Insects too will be in focus, partly inspired by receipt of an excellent book on bee identification for Christmas. Expect many mis-labelled photographs heading your way soon.

2019_06_0145 - Fulmar


Help the planet

There’s no denying that the planet is in trouble. Biodiversity is crashing and temperatures are rising with all but the most blinkered accepting that the situation as it stands cannot be sustained. As individuals we have the power to make grass root changes, small but important steps whose cumulative effect will force responses from our governments and supply chains. Much of what has been done to date consists of little more than words and empty promises but here and there, glimpses of real change are starting to emerge. Take Tesco last week announcing that they will no longer sell plastic wrapped multi-packs of tins. A small gesture in the grand scheme of things but one which will take 350 tonnes of plastic a year out of our environment. You can quadruple that amount when Tesco’s rivals follow suit, as they surely will, and before you know it a lone pebble tumbling downhill has turned into a full blown avalanche. People are already asking Tesco what comes next and as environmental factors increasingly influence our shopping habits the rate of positive change will only increase. At least that’s the theory. 2020 has the opportunity to be a real game changer and I’ll be sharing some of what we’ve been doing in future posts.


Do what makes me happy

Above all 2020 is going to be about doing what makes me, us, happy. What little time we have outside of work should be spent on seeking enjoyment and self-fulfilment. If a particular activity or hobby doesn’t do that then it will be dropped. No hard feelings but life’s too short not to be enjoyed.

2019_06_0108 - John o Groates



Here’s to 2020 then. A new year and a new decade. Bring it on.

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