Saturday, 7 April 2012

Pre-Blackthorn Winter* Shenanigans

“The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another.

The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.”

~Henry Van Dyke~

In this case, the difference was just in a week. A week was a long time when it came to the British weather. Mild March had given way to Arctic April in matter of weeks and thankfully we managed to squeeze in a very short break in between the ‘seasons’. On the day the weatherman predicted glorious blue skies, sizzling sunshine and summer temperatures, we hopped into the car and made a day-trip to our old home-town, Aberystwyth, and to say hello to the Red kites.Nant yr Arian D7000  28-03-2012 14-14-011

We drove through the Shropshire countryside now swathed in a flush of green, like a Mexican wave of living green, with new leaves unfurling on every twig, branch and tree. Hawthorn bushes were abundantly in full bloom, scattering their snowy-white petals as we drove past. We whizzed through fields scattered with fluffy lambs skipping in the sunshine and with it the (un)delightful aroma of the countryside.Roadtrip Aberystwyth D3100  28-03-2012 11-27-34Our first stop was the Dyfi Osprey Project  situated in Cors Dyfi (Dyfi bog). This was our visit to this delightful nature reserve. When we arrived, the volunteers were busy sprucing up the information centre. They weren’t opened yet but we were allowed to checkout the reserve and the main-hide which about 500 metres away from the Osprey platform. The female, Mona, had already arrived and she was last seen flying towards the sea, most probably fishing. We spotted Chaffinches, Reed Buntings, Robins, Blue and Great Tits and my first ever sighting of a vole. That made my day.Dyfi Osprey Project D300s X2  28-03-2012 12-39-36 Then a quick drive towards the opposite end of the county. We wanted to be in time for the kite feeding session at Bwlch Nant yr Arian Forest Centre which was at 2pm. From a distance, we saw hundreds of these magnificent birds already gathering, circling and soaring above the lake. A quick check at the bird-feeder outside the visitor-centre and it was buzzing with more Chaffinches. We were a bit early for the Siskins. Nant yr Arian D7000  28-03-2012 13-50-058We made our way slowly downhill towards the lake. The strategic points had already being taken but we managed to find a good spot. And then the frenzy begins. At first, they watched, waiting to unfurl their wings. Then, suddenly they swoop down with breathtaking feats of aerial display skimming the ground to snatch a scrap before rising suddenly. With the meat clutched in its talons, they make for clear airspace where they feel secure enough to feed. With its 1.8 metre wings spread out for stability the head turns down to meet with its forward lifted legs. Now the kite can feed, but still keep an eye out for other marauding kites.

Nant yr Arian D7000  28-03-2012 14-11-027 Although there were still plenty of food on the ground, they still mugged from each other. Often too, they fished the meat that had dropped into the lake in a spectacular swoop. The long, high pitched mewing were echoing around us. From time to time, they would fly so low that I could see their bright yellow legs, striking white patches under the wings. and even the very sharp and superbly designed hooked beak. Totally stunning birds.Nant yr Arian D7000  28-03-2012 14-44-003 I wanted to check-out Aberystwyth town centre but we were caught up in slow traffic and thus changed our minds We’d a pit-stop at Morisson for bottled water and off course, Welsh cakes. We were driving up Primrose Hill when we decided to pay a visit to our old home in the Llanbadarn Campus. It was a shock when we came across piles of rubble. We had known that the University had closed the accommodation halls  but we didn’t expect this. We lived in one of the flats for a year while Babe was completing his degree and I was still recuperating. We’d wonderful memories here. Below was the Thomas Parry library where I spent may happy times studying and later working.Aberystwyth D7000 Stitch  28-03-2012 15-47-04 Then we headed to Borth. As usual, we took the scenic but narrow and winding roads. A stop on the hill overlooking Borth was a must. The view was breathtaking.  It was the perfect weather when the sky was azure blue, the sun shining blindingly and the Cardigan Bay waves rolling onto the beach below us. More cuddly lambs gambolling on the fields and bright yellow flowering gorses glistering by the roadside. Why did we leave this beautiful part of Wales???  We planned to have a picnic on the beautiful Ynylas beaches but it was just too windy and chilly. So had it in the car enjoying the scenic views. Then it was time to head home, tired but content.Borth D7000  28-03-2012 16-05-40 Thursday was a trip to Wing Wah with my colleagues. I guess we needed fattening up and girl-bonding over yummy Chinese food. We pulled the blinds down as we were seated opposite the sports club where we could see people doing Zumba. Priorities huh…After ordering a huge pot of steaming Chinese cha (loose-leaf), we took turns to sample the offers. My first stop was the Sushi bar. I filled up my plate and slowly demolished everything. Then I headed for the main course and filled my plate with Singapore noodles, King prawns with sweet chilli Thai sauce, King mussels with garlic, calamari, and pan-fried fish fillet. It was seafood galore for me.

Wed a lovely time checking out each others plates. I didn’t fancy the starters and had the crab and sweet corn soup to cleanse my palate instead. Then, I  headed for the main course bar again and pile high on more seafood. It was a night full of laughter and conversations. My final course was a plate of fresh fruits instead of pudding. We were so stuffed that everyone was very quiet in the car, digesting the food very s-l-o-w-l-y. I also ordered a takeaway for Babe as a treat.

CC wanted to fill her car and we drove round searching for a garage. The queue at Sainsbury was spilling into the parking lot, Tesco’s Cannon Park had already been emptied and finally she managed to fill at a garage at the end of Fletchemstead Highway. It was the day when everyone was panic-buying on the advice of a silly minister. Babe and I went out at about 11 pm to fill up the car. The nearby Sainsbury’s garage barrier was already down. At Holbrooks Lane, only the expensive supreme was available. Thankfully, we managed to join the long queue at Arena Park’s Tesco. Even then, only a few pumps were working.  

Did you switch off your lights at 8.30pm on Saturday? It was in solidarity with Earth Hour, the world's largest mass event in support of the planet. Famous landmarks which normally light up the night sky were being plunged into darkness to raise the profile of climate change. Turning off the lights was a symbol of commitment to sustainable energy for all. But we must remember that a single hour, once a year is not enough. We have to do more.

I hoped during this special hour, it would be good for us to switch off everything and find a quiet space. Just stop and reflect on what life was really all about and say a silent thank you. I sat silently watching the solar lantern changing its colour and listening to the late-night chirpings of the blackbird and house sparrow. A lone bat was out and about hunting. It was a beautiful night,

Wise men agreed that it was okay to be foolish at times and in fact, every silly act is a step to wisdom. So don't be embarrassed when someone plays pranks on you and calls you 'April Fool'. Babe did one on me by saying that there was a peregrine (or was it an osprey) on our neighbour’s roof. I was so excited…how gullible I can be :-)

“The first of April, some do say
Is set apart for All Fool's Day;
But why the people call it so
Nor I, nor they themselves, do know,
But on this day are people sent
On purpose for pure merriment.”


The weekend was spent at Whitacre Heath Nature Reserve. This was our first trip for this year. Situated in the Tame Valley and lying on the floodplain of the adjoining River Tame, the reserve was a medley of shallow pools, wetland, woodland and grassland. We only checked out 2 hides so that it won’t be too exhaustive for Babe. As we walked towards the main hide, we were serenaded by a symphony of bird-songs.  Whitacre Heath D7000  01-04-2012 12-02-39 We’d the hide to ourselves. A pheasant was guarding his harem of 4 females very closely. Chaffinches, robins, dunnocks, blue and great tits were taking turns on the bird-feeder. We saw a couple of mice running in and out of a pile of wood. Then this handsome Great Spotted Woodpecker made an appearance and took his turn on the peanuts. Check out those striking colours.Whitacre Heath D300s X14  01-04-2012 12-38-21 We held our breath when this adorable wren came over for a drink by the pool. He hopped over so close to the hide, oblivious to our clicking cameras.  Later we walked towards the scrape hide but nobody’s home and made our way back to the car. It had been a lovely, sunny week and what a contrast to what was coming next. Whitacre Heath D300s X14  01-04-2012 12-30-13

Is it so small a thing

To have enjoyed the sun

To have lived light in the spring,

To have loved, to have thought, to have done

~Matthew Arnold, 1822-1888~

*Blackthorn winter” is a term used to describe a short spell of cold weather at the end of March which occurs when the Blackthorn is in flower.

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