There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal
And we’d been spending a lot of time checking out 4 different woods. During the Spring Bank holidays, we made our first trip to Gilfach Nature Reserve in Radnorshire, Mid-Wales. We had made 2 trips to Gilfach, a week a part. Our first trip was on the Spring Bank holiday weekend and we joined the getaway trying to leave the Midlands. It was only 10C in the car and we sang our hearts out and bopped to the Driving Songs CD. We’d to because we were stuck in Newtown. So close and yet so far.
We followed the route on our GPS and went up mountains, down narrow valleys, hidden dips, secluded hamlets all with breathtaking views. Ooh, how we missed Wales. After 2.5 hours, we finally arrived at our destination. Gilfach is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSI) and nestled within the stunning Cambrian Mountains. We drove onto a very narrow road, over the River Marteg, up the hill through old, gnarled oak woods filled with the sounds and activities of woodland birds. I couldn’t wait to get out of the car. After using the facilities and a quick fresh-up, we joined the crowd at the courtyard.
We’d a big surprised when a few familiar faces turned around. Oops… it seemed that Brandon regulars were here too. We couldn’t talk much because the piece de resistance, a Redstart, had just flown onto the nearby stone wall which was laid out with mealworms. What a handsome bird. The male Redstart was a dandy with blue-grey above, rich orange below with a striking white forehead and inky-black bib. And the ever-quivering red tail. He really stood out among the Tree sparrows, Robins, Finches and Tits that were also feeding at the same time.
“I love all beauteous things,
I seek and adore them.”
They seemed oblivious to the numerous cameras rattling away. Then the Redstart flew into a nest box that was attached to the visitor centre, which was once an old barn. I bought a bottle of water and sat on the bench enjoying the views. Opposite the visitor centre was a 15th century longhouse, a traditional Welsh dwelling that had been restored with some of the surviving original features intact. Now a grade II listed building, the longhouse was occupied by private tenants. Imagine living in such a spectacular surroundings. They had a few bird-feeders in their garden and were being visited by several Siskins.
The byre was the lower end of the longhouse where the animals used to live. It now provided wet weather cover and information all year round for visitors. Educational activities were also provided for school children. With over 400 acres, the nature reserve played a vital role in conserving Radnorshire’s natural heritage. The old Mid-Wales railway, built in the 1860’s and closed in 1962, once ran through the reserve. After rattling of hundreds of photographs of the Redstart, we made our way down the road.We strolled past a group of photographers with their eyes and lens trained on a Gold/Firecrest, flitting around the fir trees. We gave them a miss and hunkered down with another group on a grassy slope. In the centre was a tree trunk smothered with mealworms!!! A Great Tit was flying into a nearby nest-box with some of the mealworms. And then, another beauty flew in and obliged the photographers with some fantastic poses. All you could hear was the cameras whirling away. And then the female flew in and joined the feast.
Pied flycatchers males were black and white, with an upright, short-legged, long-winged shape that helped them dart from a perch to a fly in a snap. The female was brown and inconspicious. Redstarts and Flycatchers spent the winter in Africa. The males returned as early as they dare to carve out a breeding territory, defending it against all comers with their songs. The females arrived a few days later. Males that failed to mate sang for weeks. The reserve with its open woodland floor and a dense canopy full of foliage brimming with caterpillars were ideal for these birds to bring up their young.
“The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson~
After getting our fill, we walked down the very steep hill enjoying the spectacular views. Cuckoo calls were echoing around us and Green woodpecker cries accompanied us. We checked out the Otter Hide which overlooked the River Marteg, cascading over rocks. It was very cool and soothing. Between several gnarled oak trees, nest-boxes had been nailed. Guarding one of these, was a male Pied flycatcher. In between singing his heart out, he obliged us by posing on different lichen-covered branches. What a trouper.
We checked out the bridge because a Dipper was supposed to be nesting underneath it. We scanned everywhere but it was no where to be seen. I was so looking forward to see it bobbing and curtseying on the rocks but not today. Although we didn’t see them, we were busy with the Nuthatches. They were everywhere and was curious to see us as we are to see them.
We decided to walk along the river hoping to see a Dipper and followed a nature trail through hedgerow-enclosed meadows. Anthill meadows dotted the landscape, ant snacks for the Green woodpeckers. The heather wasn’t yet in full colour which meant that the Damselflies and Butterflies weren’t settling. Trails were way-marked and linked the various parts of the reserve to the visitor centre. We decided to check them out another time. A pair of Grey Wagtails, skipped, hopped and wagged their way downstream.
“Little trotty wagtail he went in the rain
And tittering, tottering sideways he neer got straight again,
He stooped to get a worm, and looked up to get a fly,
And then he flew away ere his feathers they were dry.”
We checked out the bridge again and still no Dippers. We slowly tracked uphill towards the visitor centre. It seemed that most of the photographers had left. As usual, when it was quiet, my feathered birds came out to play in the courtyard. A Redpoll came out to join the party. It was so peaceful to be here that it was very hard for me to get into the car for the drive back to Coventry. And that was why we were back again after a week apart.
The 2nd. time we were here, it was 18C in the car. Gilfach was bathed in glorious sunshine. Buzzards and Red Kites were riding the waves, high in the blue Welsh skies. We made a pit stop at the bridge to see if the Dipper was out and about. Still no show. We drove to the visitor centre and it was quite empty. The Redstart came down to the courtyard to say hello. The Pied Flycatcher was no where to be seen. It was so hot that we’d a locally produced Welsh ice-cream each watching the clouds moved across the hills. We spotted a Jay ransacking a Song Thrush nest. As we walked along the Wyve Valley path, we heard of the cries of Great Spotted woodpecker chicks. We sat on the bank and waited patiently. On cue, the parent came to feed its chicks. AAahhh…
We stopped again at the bridge before heading home. A Pied flycatcher was still singing his heart out among the old wood and moss galore. He must be thinking of his second brood. The Nuthatches were still clambering up and down the tree trunks. A pair of Pied wagtails were flying along the river with its excited high-pitched twittering trailing behind. And then Babe spotted the elusive Dipper. Woop…woop it was a juvenile sitting patiently on a stone, waiting to be fed. I stood there mesmerised and really blessed to finally see this adorable bird.
“Peradventure he may have the good fortune to see the common dipper walking, literally walking, at the bottom of the waters in pursuit of its prey … precisely as if upon dry land.”
~George Pulman, Book of the Axe (1875)~
On this trip, we took a different route to the one we took earlier in the week. We took the A470 from Llangurig to Rhayader a bit longer but an easier drive. We also found out that it was about half an hour drive from one of our favourite haunts, Nant yr Arian. Before heading there, we made a pit stop at one of the scenic points. From here, we could see the River Marteg flowing into the River Wye. We also saw the disused railway tunnel which was inhabited by 6 species of bats. And the views was just spectacular.
Reluctantly, we made our way to Bwlch Nant yr Arian Forest Centre. And it was packed because it was the half term holidays. After paying for parking and using the facilities to freshen up, we found out that we were an hour too early. It was quite confusing to remember the feeding times. It was at 3 pm in summer and 2 pm in winter. But we’ve plenty of things to keep us occupied. We’d our lunch in the car and watched the Red Kites gathering in the sky. Then we checked out the feeding station outside the visitor centre. It was buzzing with Siskins, Redpolls and Chaffinches.
I popped into the RSPB hide to checkout a web-link of a Kite sitting on eggs. I asked the warden where the nest was and he told me that it was somewhere up the Plynlimon. Then we joined the hundreds who were making their way slowly towards the lake. Some of the best places were already taken but we still managed to squeeze along the Barcud Trail. While everyone else was checking the skies, I was busy checking out the lake. Lots of tadpoles were about, enjoying the warm weather. A Goosander was cruising around the lake. A Reed Warbler popped its head up and I think it has a nest nearby.
As everyone took their seats, the tension began as these majestic birds started arriving, circling high overhead with that characteristic deeply forked tail. Both birds and spectators wait (im)patiently for the show to begin. Some birds alighted in nearby pine trees, while others glided high above the hills. Crows and magpies were also waiting for the food to arrive. Once the meat had been thrown out, the crows were quick to snatch a piece but immediately the Kites came hurtling down, rarely if ever landing. They plucked the food in their talons from the ground and sometimes from each other’s claw.
We oohed and aahed as they twisted and turned, dived and climbed, and there were so many of them it became a maelstrom of spectacular aerobatics. The “high-pitched mewing” of the birds were accompanied by the sound of the huge beating wings. With its massive 1.8 metre wingspan, they effortlessly soared and glided through the air. Seen close, their plumage was a glorious combination of deep, glossy, chestnut-red, with dramatic white patches under the wings, accessorised with glaring bright yellow eyes and talons.
In the midst of the feeding frenzy, we spotted a Kite feeding furiously on the ground. We looked closely and noticed that it was without a tail. Just how this Red Kite managed to learn to fly without its rudder was a mystery. We think that was why it was the only one feeding on the ground because it couldn’t keep its food while in the air. Kites feed on the wings with the meat clutched in their talons, and they make for clear airspace where they felt 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 they can feed, but must still keep an eye out for other marauding kites and this poor thing won’t be able to tuck it up out of sight beneath the tail. But somehow, this tailless Kite still managed to feed and soar.
“No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings”
Our next woods in the list was our favourite playground. BMNR. As we walked through the visitor centre, I spotted the swallows flying in and out of the courtyard. I spotted one flying in and disappeared under the eaves. I quietly followed it and spotted a pair happily chattering and resting under the eave in the corner. Ooh… they were so chilled out and didn’t even blinked when I rattled off a few shots. Amazing … fingers-crossed that they might be thinking of nesting there. I couldn’t wait.
We continued towards Baldwin Hide. The reed beds were alive with twitterings. Whitethroats and Long-tailed tits were skulking in the undergrowth. We opened the shutter towards the island very, very slowly and there they were. Three very adorable, fluffy Oystercatchers chicks. They’d hatched about a week ago. One was sunbathing in the middle, well-hidden among the nettles. The other 2 were with their parents, busy learning on how to search for food. We took hundreds of photographs and prayed that they survived to be adults.
Then we strutted off towards East Marsh Hide. We heard the Cuckoo calling and as it got closer and closer, we saw it dropped on a tree. But it was just too far away to photographed and was hidden among the leaves. We met Andy and Kay and had a little bit of a natter before getting back to what we enjoyed. Whitethroats, Reed buntings and numerous warblers were flitting in and out of the reed beds. Redshanks and Little Ringed Plovers flew onto the island below us before being chased away by the nesting Oystercatchers and Lapwings.
It was very quiet at Carlton Hide except for a family of Coots feeding in the mudbanks. We left them and made our way towards the screen to see if the Hobbies were out and about. We met John and Janet and had a lovely long natter. They’d just returned from a birding holiday in Norfolk and were telling us of what they’d seen on their trips. The conversations abruptly stopped with the appearance of a Hobby. All you could hear were the rattling and whirring of 4 cameras as the Hobby flew rapidly after its prey demonstrating some serious high-speed aerial manoeuvres. We’d to laugh at the number of times our cameras banged onto the structure trying to follow its movement.
While we were busy with the Hobby, we were entertained by a Chiffchaff singing ‘chiff-chaff-chiff-chiff-chaff…’ its heart out on the tree top. Another bird thinking of a second brood. As we were about to leave the reserve, a Great Crested Grebe honked us goodnight near the wind-pump pool.
“The uncrested wren, called in this place chif-chaf is very loud … It does only two piercing notes.”
On the weekend, we checked out Bradgate Park and we weren’t alone. Thousands were there taking advantage of the lovely, sunny weather. Thankfully, we managed to find a parking space in the overflow car-park. As we walked, we noticed that every space beside the River Lin which ran through the park, was occupied by families having picnics, pond dipping or just splashing about. In the grounds, more were playing frisbees, cricket, flying kites, roller-blading, cycling, riding scooters, dog walking or like us, just walking, enjoying the atmosphere.
We were quite surprised to see the natives out and about, mingling with the crowd. They were quite wary with the dogs and vice-versa. It was quite scary to see parents asking their young children to stand close to the deer for a photograph. They looked adorable and tame but once spooked, they were dangerous. We also saw a few feeding them. God… didn’t they read the notices about not feeding the deer??? When will people learn? If they get hurt, I’m sure they’ll start demanding compensations. Babe approached a warden and told him what he’d seen. The warden wasn’t pleased and drove to remind them of the dangers.
We saw that Lady Jane’s Grey house was opened and quickly made our way there. We heard the Green woodpecker cries but they were nowhere to be seen. All the deer were huddled at the end of the compound. More visitors were out and about in the grounds harassing the natives. One was so harassed that we found him up the tree. You can hide from the others Mr. Peacock, but you can’t hide from me. After posing for a few shots, we left him alone.
I was hoping to see the Little Owls. We scanned the walls but they were not in a mood to play today. Pied wagtails skimmed through the park with their rapid twittering trailing behind them. We checked out the pond and damselflies were out and about in full force. An Egyptian goose was swimming peacefully in the middle of the pond. Last year, we spotted a family but they were nowhere to be seen.
It was getting warmer and the sun was right above our head. More people were pouring into the park and it was time to head home. We thoroughly enjoyed our walk through the woods and we hoped you did too.
“One attraction in coming to the woods to live was that I should have leisure and opportunity to see the spring come in.”
~Henry David Thoreau~