Britain was basking in glorious sunshine as a swathe of hot air swept in from the continent. Throughout the day, high pressure charged across the country. It was 20C in the car when we left the casa heading for Aberystwyth, again. We joined the thousands who were out and about but thankfully, the trip down wasn’t so bad. As we drove along the A58 from Welshpool, I noticed the Welshpool & Lanfair light railway meandering through the Banwy valley below us. We stopped at a lay-bye near Sylfaen and waited for it to pass. The passengers in the train gave us a wave and we waved back. I was hoping that the driver would toot his horn when he saw us but not today.
Opened in 1903, the railway linked the market town of Welshpool with the rural community of Llanfair Caereinion which was 8 miles away. Built as a light railway to avoid some of the costs of railway construction, the 2 foot 6 inch narrow gauge steam railway allowed for tight curves and steep gradients, enabling the line to follow the contours of the countryside. The trains were hauled by unique original locomotives. The carriages were from Hungary and Austria with access to the enclosed seating area via an open balcony, a great way to watch the picturesque mid-Wales countryside. We took a few shots before the heritage train chugged off into the hills.
Our first stop was the Dyfy Osprey, located at the Cors Dyfi nature reserve near Derwenlas. In 2011, for the first time in over 400 years, Ospreys were breeding in the Dyfi valley following 3 years work by the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust. Monty and Nora laid their first egg on Easter Monday 2011, followed by 2 more eggs. They successfully hatched and were named after local rivers Einion, Dulas and Leri. Satellite trackers were fitted when they were ringed. On Wednesday 27th July 2014, Einion made history by being the first osprey to fledge on the Dyfi in over 400 years.
Unsurprisingly, the car-park was buzzing. After paying £2.50 each to get in we walked across the boardwalk around the swampy, boggy reserve. A lot of changes had been made since we were here last. From water-logged, tidal salt-marsh, through reclaimed grazing land and conifer plantation to current wildlife haven, Cors Dyfi had seen many changes over the years. Now the reserve was a mixture of bog, swamp, wet woodland and scrub supporting a wide range of animals and plants. A familiar sight from my home country, water buffaloes, were feeding quietly in the corner. They were being used to graze the rougher gorse and reeds preventing acres of the reserve reverting back to the wild.
The authorities had removed the old boardwalk which circled around and its place was a fairly straight boardwalk that only goes straight through the reeds towards the observatory. We could hear the Arriva trains passing through several times during our stay. I was in no rush to reach the observatory and was far more interested in the dragonflies and damselflies patrolling along the boardwalk. Drains had been cleared and then blocked so that the site stayed wet and created new ponds, thus encouraging a wealth of odonata.
"Today I saw the dragon-fly
Come from the wells where he did lie.
An inner impulse rent the veil
Of his old husk: from head to tail
Came out clear plates of sapphire mail.
~Alfred Lord Tennyson~
And then I came across this impressive round wooden structure, looming over the marshland. Babe was already on the upper viewing level, 10 m above the bog below. The building provided a 360 degree panoramic view of the reserve and Dyfi valley with the Plynlimon Mountains and Snowdonia National Park beyond. An opportunity to experience the Dyfi ecosystem from a new perspective. There was a large room with various charts and binoculars and a telescope trained on the nest. which was 200 metres away. Unfortunately, tripods which belonged to the visitors were blocking the various viewing windows. I think it was very thoughtless to leave them all over the place.
We managed to find a clear space and checked out the piece de resistance. Glesni had so far laid two eggs and was was seen feeding on a fish on a tree at the far end. It was Monty’s turn to incubate the eggs. We found it hilarious that when Glesni flew in and perched near the nest, Monty refused to budge. Unfortunately, due to the distance of the nest from where we were standing and the haze, taking photographs was a challenge. There wasn’t much else here but I hoped that will change over time. I felt that the Trust concentrated too much of the ospreys and not enough of the nature reserve. The ospreys will only be here from May to August before flying back to West Africa. But the reserve will be there throughout the seasons.
Then we made our way to Bwlch Nant yr Arian trying to dodge the tired cyclists who were returning home from the Cycling festival. We arrived at the very busy visitor centre with plenty of time to spare. The mountain bike trails was full of cyclists whizzing through. Since it was such a hot day, we treated ourselves to a homemade Welsh ice-cream, Mary Farmhouse. Nom…nom. We slurped our ice-cream just beside the bird-feeder which was full of squabbling Siskins, Chaffinches and Tree sparrows. The grounds were littered with shiny yellow Buttercups with Whites enjoying the nectar.
Then we slowly made our way towards the lake. I was stopping at every nook by the lake for tadpoles and I wasn’t disappointed. They were at different stages of development. By the lake, I scanned the waters and spotted a Goosander having a swim. A family of Canada Geese with 3 fluffy goslings were also out and about. Hmm… not a good idea especially during the feeding session and I wasn’t wrong. The Red Kites were swooping in as soon as the meat was strewn over the banks. Some were dropped into the lakes near the family and a few Kites had mistaken the chicks for meat and started swooping in. Thankfully, the parents were very alert and managed to shoo off these birds of prey.
We’d taken thousands of photographs of these magnificent birds soaring above us but we wanted to take shots of them picking their food from the lake. It was a challenge and some of them flew surprisingly close to where we were standing and was out of focus. Thankfully, we managed to get some lovely ones. We also spotted the kite with no tail although it had grown a small tuft at the end and a leucistic kite. We enjoyed watching them flying after each other, trying to grab the pieces of meat from their neighbour. After taking our fill, we slowly made our way back to the car for refreshments.
A Red Kite hangs and slides
Along a stony ridge,
Perched on the sheer gust and bracing uplift,
Still on a windy hill sides slip.
It clings precarious, one of the last few, lone bird;
In its element on the breeze, imperious control haughty
Scouring the winter hill for carrion,
This century breeding pairs have not passed, a mere forty,
He soars and swings,
On an angular down tipped wing,
Long tail forked and angled as a rudder,
Quiet, beautiful, languid effortlessness, a steady study on the buffets of the wind.
Finally a drive to Gilfach nature reserve still dodging more cyclists. We stopped by River Marteg to see if the dippers were out and about. But not today. The woods were spookily quiet. Pockets of bluebells were dappling under the trees. We continued on towards the visitor reserve and was surprised to see that we’re the only one. We scanned the courtyard and it was practically empty except for this handsome Pied flycatcher flying down to check us out. I guess most of the birds were sitting on eggs.
I checked the bird-feeder and it was empty. Where have they gone? We walked along the Oakwood Trail with glorious views over the valley. Anthills peppered all over the meadows We heard the familiar cries. We followed the sound to a familiar tee and spotted 2 holes, one above the other. We sat down by the bank and waited patiently listening to the constantly clamour to be fed. A loud and resonant ‘chip’, and we knew that one of the parent was back with food. It flew into a nearby tree before landing below the nest hole and then manoeuvred into position before entering. A minute later, it departed, having temporally satiated the hunger of the brood. Then the cries began again. The parents will be kept busy for at least 3 frantic weeks. Then it was time for the long drive home.
We made another trip to Ashlawn Cuttings where we were serenaded by a very pleasant song from a Garden Warbler. It was singing its heart out from the electric wires that crossed the reserve. Peacock butterflies were fluttering by taking advantage of the sunny weather. We walked down the steep sided path towards the bridge. Wild strawberries were flowering profusely and the little red berries will provide food for birds and animals. The pool had shrunk and nearly covered with grass, reeds and weeds. We scanned the water and spotted a few tadpoles hiding under the leaves. We couldn’t stay too long because the thousands of midges were literally eating us alive.
From here, we nipped to Draycote Meadows which was down the road. Last year, Prince Charles had declared it the Coronation Meadow for the country of Warwickshire. The 5.5 hectare consisted of 2 wildflower meadows surrounded by ancient hedgerows. a spring-fed stream with small areas of scrub and wet rushy grassland. The wildflower display began in April when cowslips cover the ridges, with Lady’s smock in the damper areas. We missed that. But now, the meadow was covered with breathtaking display of butter-cups, adders-tongue, moonwort, yellow rattle, meadow vetchling, oxeye daisies and knapweed. The diversity of flowers supported a range of butterflies such as orange tips, meadow browns and small copper.
And among the thousands swathes of wildflowers, we spotted these Green-winged orchids among the butter-cups. The jester-like motley of its green and purple flowers gave this orchid its scientific name, morio, meaning a fool. It was very relaxing to be out and about in the lovely sunshine surrounded by bursting of colours from the yellow of the yellow rattle, the whites of the oxeye daisies and the purples of the knapweed. From time to time, the peaceful atmosphere was broken by the very vocal cries of the crows. There was a large rookery at the end of the meadow. We left before we got sun-burnt.
As we drove back home, we passed huge fields of rapeseed. The country had assumed a yellow tinge as it was the time when acres were in full flower. Unfortunately, many people suffer from allergies, when the plants started blooming. Thankfully, I am not affected by this but Babe do complain of runny eyes and sore throat. Demand for rapeseed in the UK had increased significantly as more and more farmers cashed in on the soaring price from rapeseed oil by swapping traditional crops.
I love the sight of the sea of gold and had always taken photographs from the car when we’re travelling up and down country at about 80 km. But today, I was completely bowled over when I’d such a close encounter. When I walked through this fabulous landscape, I felt like Alice in Wonderland. It was not hard to feel cheerful standing in the field. The golden glow from flowers eclipsed the grey clouds hovering over us. Despite their intoxicating aroma, they were truly beautiful to look at. Millions of busy bees were buzzing around me. It was like swimming in a yellow sea of flowers.
We also made a visit to our favourite playground. Swallows greeted us as we parked close to the wall. Pied wagtails were seen with beakful of worms for the chicks. We stood quietly at the end of the courtyard and watched it crept closer and closer and then disappeared under the solar panels. I knew it was nesting underneath there. Great Crested Newt had made a home in the pond. At Baldwin Hide, Common Terns were nesting on the pontoon. A Coot was seen dragging a piece of wood towards the island near the hide. Building a nest for a second brood, perhaps?
Thankfully, as soon as we reached East Marsh Hide, the heavens opened. Outside, the Sand-martins were enjoying the rain, with their delightful cries echoing around us. 2 female Mallards with at least 20 ducklings between them were dabbling near the mudbanks. An aggressive Mute Swan cobs was busy chasing the youngsters off the lake. We were told that the Oystercatchers and Redshanks have 4 chicks each with them. I could see the Oystercatchers but not the Redshanks. We dashed back to the car as soon as the rain stopped. But we made a pit stop at Goose Pool where we heard the familiar cries of Woodpecker chicks. We followed the cries and found the nest. We saw one of the parent flying close but it spotted us and flew away. We left immediately because we didn’t want to disturb them feeding.
Finally a trip to Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetland trust to check out the Crane chicks. Two chicks had hatched here for the first time in Western England in 400 years. Their parents, Chris and Monty, were hand-reared by The Great Crane Project, a programme hoping to re-introduce the once common birds back to Britain. They were released as 3-month old fledglings on the Somerset Moors and Levels, where back in the 1600s, numbers had fallen due to hunting and loss of habitat. But we weren’t alone. The car-park was full and the Martin Smith hide was standing room only. We weren’t too bothered and will check them out later when everything had calmed down. Amidst all the excitement, we spotted this very handsome pristine Spoonbill feeding very close to the hide.
The adult male was in breeding plumage. He started feeding very actively on the shallow pool right in front of us. He was so close that we could see his large, flat spatulate bills and fed by wading through the water, sweeping the partly opened bill from side to side. The moment any small aquatic creatures touched the inside of the beak, it snapped shut. We watched him feeding followed by a preen, another feed and then went off to the end of the pool for a long snooze.
Like old people trying to read a newspaper
through a magnifying glass
two round-shouldered spoonbills scan the mud,
knee-deep with feathers as white as snow-covered tussock
and black-rivet eyes imprisoned behind soup-ladled bills
the colour of pewter.
~Kay McKenzie Cooke~
While waiting for the Spoonbill to wake up. we’d the opportunity to check out the crane chicks. Last year, the parents managed to hatch a chick but it died before leaving the nest. Fingers-crossed this pair will survive to adulthood. It was quite hard to see the chicks because the grass was quite tall. But we knew they were always near their parents legs and when we could spot them, they looked like a fuzzy brown toy. They followed their parents and were fed by them, The chicks pecked the food from their parents beak. It was lovely to see them running from one parent to the other. It was believed that they grew a centimetre a day and it will take some time to reach their 4-foot high parents.
“You are the miracle bird,
Risen from the memory of the Sun’s womb
In the heart of the Earth.
Flutter, flutter on, my heart.”
We left as the family wandered further from sight towards the end of the field. I hoped that the parents were aware that a Buzzard had just landed on a nearby tree. We checked out Rushy Hide where a large flock of Black Headed Gulls were making themselves heard with their high-pitched and vocal cries. A few were seating on nests on the ground which was just a shallow scrape and lined with vegetation and we spotted a pair mating. The elegant black and white Avocets too were sitting on eggs. They were quite aggressive chasing away intruders that were getting too close to their nest.
We continued our adventure walking past the noisy Caribbean flamingos outside the restaurant. I was hoping to see some sitting on their nesting mounds but not today. Even if they were sitting on the mounds, the eggs were made of wood. This is because the wardens will come and collect the newly-laid eggs and substitute them with wooden ones. These eggs were then taken to another site to be incubated to give the eggs a better chance of survival. When they were nearly hatched, they were taken back to the original nesting parents.
A few adorable juvenile Nenes followed us expecting to be fed and gave us the eye when they saw that we came empty-handed. Off they go to harass the other visitors who’d bags of seeds to feed them. We checked the House-martins to see if they were nesting but it was quiet under the visitor centre’s roof. It was babies galore by the swan’s lake. Mute Swans with fluffy cygn
We made our way to the Greater Flamingos lagoon to see if they were sitting on eggs. As usual, they were busy feeding and flapping at each other. I think the same was happening here as with the Caribbean flamingos. We came across Coots at different stages of growth. I love watching the very pale and less black juveniles looking after the distinctively coloured heads of their younger siblings. When we walked past the Tropical House, a family of Shelducks with a dozen ducklings emerging from the undergrowth. They were very cute fluffy versions of the adults.
We went back to Martin Smith hide to see if the crowd had dispersed. It was still buzzing. And the Spoonbill had flown off. We took a seat further down the hide where a crow was nesting underneath the roof. From time to time, the chicks will be shouting their heads off. The Cranes were now feeding further down the field and we could see the chicks walking very close to their parents. Then the Spoonbill flew in and we all you could hear were our cameras rattling away. What a lovely end to the day.
In the home front, the Asiatic lilies were being decimated by the lily beetles. A pair was even mating at the top of the highest lily shoot. Sometimes they even have a menage a trois!!!. They laid their eggs in clusters and once hatched, started munching through the leaves and buds and covering themselves with their own fecal shield to repel predators. The larvae eventually became fluorescent orange pupae. We never kill them and just let them live. We find them fascinating to photograph. I had 5 pots before and then 3 and now only one was left which I think will be thrown away as soon as the season is over. This is because they will drop to the soil in late autumn to overwinter and emerged again next spring. This isn’t the decimated lilies. They were too gross to be shown. Instead, a stunning Aquilegia vulgaris stellata Nora Barlow.
At the moment, we don’t need an alarm clock to wake us up. A flock of juvenile starlings flew in at 5 am at the bird-feeder, demanding to be fed. Aargh …. too early. They were squabbling among themselves trying to get to the fat-balls or the feeding tray resulting in the seeds being scattered to the ground. Sigh… But then, these will be food for the Blackbirds, Dunnocks and Robins. When everything is quiet, the very shy Jay flew in and took his turn.
*Quote by Eileen Granfors, And More White Sheets