Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Wild Easter Break

It had been a scorching bank holiday weekend and the hottest April for more than 60 years. I hoped everyone had a wonderful break, nicely tanned and fully recharged for the next 3 working days before another long royal wedding weekend. We didn’t planned our break but somehow we seemed to be going out checking the wildlife. So these was what we did.

On an exceptionally good Good Friday we drove down to our favourite haunt, Aberystwyth. We planned to check out the Red Kites at Bwlch Nant yr Arian centre and, perhaps, a boat trip to check out the seals and dolphins at New Quay. We left sunny Coventry at about 11am with the car roof down and bopping our heads to the Millennium CD. As usual, traffic was queuing at a very smoggy and hazy Wednesbury.  Then a pit stop at the very busy Telford services.

The air was thick with the sickly smell of the rapeseed fields as we drove through the Shropshire countryside. Miles and miles of yellow blooms dotted the countryside. The planting season had also begun as the smell of freshly turned earth and stinking fertilisers permeating in the breeze. Traffic began to build up as we drove through to about 10 roundabouts from Shrewsbury. And it got worse in Welshpool cos some one had a bright idea to make the main road into a one-way system that branches to…Tesco!!! We had to circle back and took a different route and the sun was belting down on us. We’d the roof down but it was still scorching under our caps.Roadtrip Aberystwyth D50  22-04-2011 10-56-27 Thankfully, these gorgeous views of the rugged, Welsh mountains kept us sane. The drive took us through one of the loveliest scenery in the countryside. But not for long. At Newtown, we were stuck for about 30 minutes to get through 2 sets of traffic lights and a roundabout. What was going on? Apart from that, we have cars driving at 40mph on a 60 road. It was so disheartening. Then the weather couldn’t make its mind. It was sunny, then cloudy, then rain, then foggy, then hot, then….Roadtrip Aberystwyth D50  22-04-2011 13-52-25 We were going to miss the kite feeding time which was at 3pm. From a distance, we could see them circling the reserve, soaring high into the sky, gathering into huge numbers.  The car-park was full but we still managed to squeeze in. Then we dash down towards the feeding area. We saw nearly 100 kites circling  above us and loads of food still on the floor. They haven’t been feeding yet. Were they waiting for us?Nant yr Arian D300s X14  22-04-2011 15-04-34 We sat there patiently and then the frenzied swooping and sweeping began. It was the most spectacular sight to see these magnificent birds of prey with breathtaking feats of aerial piracy, diving, plucking the meat of the floor  before rising suddenly with the meat clutched in its talons. They soared for the clear airspace where they ate their food mid-air. With its nearly 1.8 metre wings spread out for stability, the head bends down to meet its forward lifted talons to feed. They still had to keep an eye out for other marauding kites trying to snatch the food from them.Nant yr Arian D300s X14  22-04-2011 14-43-68  We saw them chasing each other with their shrieking cries echoing through the valleys. More birds joined in. We also observed that as soon as any crows started to grab the food from the floor, these birds go on the offensive and started diving in again. I guess they were trying to chase the crows away. We even saw one on the floor with its wings spread out as if covering their food. If the sight of more than 30 kites swooping and diving doesn’t excites you, than I guess nothing will :-).Nant yr Arian D300s X14  22-04-2011 15-03-42

Sometimes, they flew so close to where we were standing that I could see the glorious red plumage with white patches under the wings with glaring bright yellow eyes and talons. We would have spent longer here when we heard thunder sounding quite close. A thunderstorm was predicted in the late evening. We didn’t want to get caught in a downpour so we rushed back to the car. We had lunch while waiting for the weather to calm down. The Red Kites were seen circling above our heads and once in a while letting out their mewing cries. Nant yr Arian D300s X14  22-04-2011 15-06-46

We also checked out the bird-feeder outside the visitor centre. The usual culprits were there : Chaffinches, Tree sparrows, Siskins, Greenfinches, Robins, Blue and Great tits. The trees surrounding us were in full symphony. I could stay here for hours but we got another trip to go to.Nant yr Arian D50  22-04-2011 14-23-59

We drove straight to New Quay, a popular tourist destination on the Cardigan coasts. It was dotted with caravan parks and holiday homes. We drove through the tiny town perched on a cliff and drove out again as there was not a single parking space left. There were parking lots on the other side of the town but they were too far away from the sea and we don’t want to leave our equipment in the car. Furthermore, Babe don’t want to be in a boat when a thunderstorm was predicted. So we headed back to Aberystwyth.

By this time, my head was pounding. Babe took a few photographs of the harbour while I tried to soothe my headache. We left at about 7pm with me feeling a bit off. And boy was I off!!! Babe had to stop 3 times because I need to throw-up. It was horrible and the winding and bumpy roads didn’t help. At one of the garages, Babe got me a cold drink and paracetamol. After washing my face with the cold water and taking some tablets, I try to sleep. Once on the motorway, I will have a problem if I want to throw-up because you can’t simply stop. Thankfully, I managed to fall asleep and Babe woke me up as we were nearing our casa. Aberystwyth D50  22-04-2011 17-42-09

I’d slept for nearly 2 hours. Thanks Babe. We arrived home safely. I’d a quick shower and we ate leftovers before I zzzz again. Babe as usual was busy uploading, editing and posting about 1k photographs.

The next day, on  a very subdued St. George’s Day, we took  things very slowly. We went to The Range to get some plants for my hanging baskets. And we weren’t alone. Every one seemed to be planning the same thing. The shop assistants were very busy replenishing their stock. I bought a tray of Bidens, Gardenias and Lobelias plugs. They would look amazing in full bloom.

Then it was a trip to our favourite playground to see if the swallows were about. We spotted them whizzing through the nature reserve and from time to time having a breather on the wires. We crept towards them and stood silently giving them time to get used to our presence. This handsome chap was busy preening himself before he strike a pose. More swallows will be arriving soon and then it will be one big party.Brandon Marsh D300s X14  23-04-2011 14-59-66

When we entered the sensory garden, we startled this cute Pied wagtail who was having a bath in the pond. He quickly flew on the perch and started drying himself We just stood there quietly mesmerised by his routine. The natives were taking good care of themselves to be ready to attract their mates. It was the season to produce. I couldn’t wait for more fluffy chicks.Brandon Marsh D300s X14  23-04-2011 15-10-58

We didn’t venture into the reserve because I could feel another headache coming. We left before it got worse. I spent the rest of the evening when it was much cooler in the garden. I had to tie the rose bush to stop it from trying to crawl into my neighbour's garden. Everything seemed to be romping away and new leaves have unfurled from the branches. So far none of the plants were affected by the deep cold. Thank god. But, I’m still waiting to see if the Nerine Bowdenni survived. No new shoots had sprouted yet.

On Easter Sunday, I was back to my normal self and went for a brisk morning walk around the block. The 3 churches along the street were beautifully decorated to welcome the worshippers. I bought the Sunday papers and had my usual mushroom omelette while listening to Sunday love songs and watching my feathered friends enjoying their breakfast.

Today we decided to make a second visit to Whitacre Heath. We missed the entrance, again, and then had to hassle with the padlock. Babe held the gate for me while I drove in to park the car. This was the first time I drove the Citroen and I’m pleased that I’ve not forgotten how to drive. It was also a surprise to see that we were the only one there.

We walked straight to the feeding station. Lots of Forget-me-nots (Myosotis) lined the path making the walk very pleasant. The reserve was in full cacophony of bird-songs but we can’t see any because of the thick undergrowth and the trees now laden with leaves. We waited and waited for some action at the hide. Only a Dunnock, Robin and Blue tit came over to feed. A Wren was heard clucking nearby. Whitacre Heath D50  24-04-2011 13-40-32 Suddenly a brief appearance of a Tree-creeper made all the wait worthwhile. We watched silently this very cute bird creeping slowly onto the duckweed in the pond. We haven’t seen this behaviour before. Was it having a drink or was it going to have a bath? Isn’t she gorgeous? We only see them running up and down the tree trunks. We also checked the hide at the end of the reserve but no one was at home.Whitacre Heath D300s X14  24-04-2011 13-58-27

On a lovely sunny Bank holiday Monday which was also Anzac day, we drove to Coombe Abbey to enjoy the rest of the week. Again, half of Coventry was there. We even had to wait to get the last of the disabled parking bay. We walked towards the pond and saw this donkey rides doing a roaring business. They looked bored but quite inquisitive when we walked by.Coombe Abbey D2h  25-04-2011 10-50-55

At the pond, we spotted this Egyptian goose tucking into the bread thrown in by the visitors. Because they were quite rare, we think this must be the same one that was spotted in Brandon Marsh some time ago. We have seen them before but never this close. . Check out those dark eye-patches.Coombe Abbey D300s X2  25-04-2011 10-56-32

We changed our minds about going to the hides  because we could see throngs of people, with their dogs heading the same way. The birds will just stay away. So we checked out the beautifully crafted lawns and gardens of the Coombe Abbey Hotel. Lancelot 'Capability' Brown was employed to re-design the gardens in 1771, incorporating the Coombe Pool, a 1 km long lake.Coombe Abbey D2h  25-04-2011 11-08-37

Since it was such a lovely day, we drove to Brandon Marsh which was just 10 minutes away. On the way out, cars were queuing to get into the country park. We drove past cars queuing to get into Morisson and B&Q. Cars were parked along Brandon Road because there was a car-boot on the nearby field. I dreaded to think what was happening in Brandon Marsh.

Yes, the car-park was full but we managed to park on the disabled bay. The swallows were having a siesta and people were everywhere. Not a good sign. Since I wanted to checkout the Whitethroats which were spotted by the golf course, we walked straight there. Lots of birdsongs accompanied us and we followed this Small White. Another came and they were making sweet love right in front of us. How lucky was that :-)Brandon Marsh D50   25-04-2011 12-25-38 We also saw a Peacock butterfly flying past and a Buzzard riding the air-waves. It was getting warmer too. As we walked through the New Hare Covert, a field of stunning blue greeted us under the canopy of oak trees. The bluebells have bloomed and they were English bluebells. The few benches dotted around here were occupied with people admiring this wonderful, peaceful oasis.Brandon Marsh D50   25-04-2011 12-31-40 As we got closer to the golf course, the sound of reeling Grasshopper warblers greeted us. We couldn’t see these secretive birds but we knew they were so very close. Babe spotted Andy who was busy training his Canon onto something. We joined him and there it was, not the warbler but a very handsome Whitethroat (Sylvia communisBrandon Marsh D50   25-04-2011 12-34-17

“And after April when May follows

And the Whitethroat builds, and all the swallow…”

~Robert Browning, Home Thoughts From Abroad”Brandon Marsh D300s X2  25-04-2011 12-36-34

This handsome male with its very striking white bearded throat was pouring its heart out above the hedges. From time to time, he would do a jerky display flight and urgent chatter before skulking around low down in the brambles. Then he flew out again, perched in the open. I think we took hundreds of shots of him.

Brandon Marsh D300s X2  25-04-2011 13-11-57

Suddenly, this  more often heard than seen, small olive bird made an appearance above our heads. It was the elusive Grasshopper warbler (Locustella naevia). He came out to check us out and began in singing a high-pitched series of trilling notes. All you could hear was the whirring of the cameras accompanying the song. Absolutely amazing. It was worth standing in the scorching afternoon sun for him. It appeared this year was an unprecedented year for them and I felt so privileged to see them.Brandon Marsh D300s X2  25-04-2011 12-57-54  We met Kay along the path and had a little natter. After spending sometime in the sun, I needed to get under a shade ASAP. We walked towards the nearly full Wright hide and had a drink. An Oyster catcher was nesting on the Tern Island, Little Ringed Plovers were busy feeding on the mudbanks and a pair of Great Crested Grebes checking out their previous nesting site. I hoped they were not thinking of using it again. We also had our first sighting of the Terns.

We had an amazing Easter weekend and only shared one chocolate Easter egg between us. We have been good about that. I’ve been off work since Friday and we’d managed to cram a whole lot of things together. I couldn’t wait to see what we were going to do next week. Watch this space.

Knock, knock..
Who's there?
Lettuce who?
Lettuce hide some eggs.


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