“Winter’s done, and April’s in the skies,
Earth, look up with laughter in your eyes”
~Charles G. D. Roberts, ‘An April Adoration, 1896~
We marked Earth Day by visiting one of our favourite places, Slimbridge WWT. We enjoyed the tonic of fresh air, the contact with the soil and the companionship with nature. We walked through the woods in search of flowering wild garlic and butterflies. It was always wonderful to be outside, whatever the weather. Although it was bright and sunny, it was very chilly in the open.
O Spring-time sweet!
The whole Earth smiles, thy coming to greet.
We were about to enter the visitor centre when we spotted these odd-looking creatures. We got closer and realised that they were baby pigeons or squabs. Somehow, their parents managed to make a nest in between the spikes that were used as deterrents. There was a myth that you never see baby pigeons and I was pleased to dispel it. Looking forward to see them growing up.
We headed straight to Rushy Hide. The Greylag goslings have grown up fast but still adorable. Dozens of Avocets were dotted along the shallow water. Some were feeding, sweeping with their up-curved bills from side to side. A few were sitting on nests which were shallow hollow in the mud, lined with a few pebbles or pieces of shell. We watched a female low in the water and we knew what was coming next.
The Chloe x Eurasian Wigeon hybrid was still around and had found a mate. It was usually seen with a flock of Eurasian Wigeon but they had flown back to their breeding grounds in Iceland, Scandinavia and Russia. It was feeding quite close to the hide that the green blue iridescent cap was very visible. It was busy feeding on aquatic plants and grasses.
We nearly missed this handsome Common Sandpiper feeding right below us. Oops…This small, short-legged wader with a long, straight beak was relatively drab in colour. The head, upper breast and upperparts were greenish-brown with delicate dark streaking, contrasting with the white underparts and greenish-grey legs. It was so close that we could see the white eye-ring.
It habitually bobbed up and down, known as teetering, as it foraged by sight among the stones and in the shallow water for insects, worms and crustaceans. In the Nukumanu language of Papua New Guinea, it was known as matakakoni which meant ‘bird that walks a little, then copulates’ in reference to the pumping tail and thrusting head movements!!!
We then checked out Martin Smith Hide and saw the Shelduck flock was building nicely, scattered across the mudflats. I think the rest of the waders were feeding on the estuary. We stopped at Willow Hide and I saw a pair of Whites on the muddy banks. At first, I thought they were sun-bathing but Babe told me that they were feeding on the salt. This was known as puddling and generally done by the males.
The butterflies extended their tongue to the surface and sucked up various minerals and salts that were important for their health. The salts helped in the production of pheromones which helped the males attract the females. They benefitted from the sodium uptake as it aided in reproductive success, with the precious nutrients transferred to the female during mating. These extra nutrition helped to ensure that the eggs survived.
A movement nearby caught my eye. I looked closely and it was a field vole. Also known as short-tailed vole, I was chuffed to have seen it. Although active during the day, voles were much less likely to be seen because they rarely leave the safety of cover as they were an important food source for owls, kestrels and weasels. They were very wary at all times and often stopped to sniff the air. Although their eyesight was not good, they’d acute hearing and responded immediately to sounds which indicated danger, running into the nearest cover.
Then we headed back into the grounds via the boardwalk. Goldfinches serenaded us. I wanted to check Kingfisher hide but realised that the windows had been locked to minimise disruption to the nesting birds. We stopped at Van de Bovenkamp Hide and saw the interactions between 3 Common Cranes. One was displaying or dancing with a variety of bows, bops and leaps.
On the way back into the grounds, we stopped by the playground and immersed ourselves in the garlicky smell of the flowering ransoms. The dense carpet was covered with long, elliptic leaves accompanied by angular stems of white, starry flowers with pointed petals. Soon, they will die down in the summer and retreat to their bulb which were dormant from August to early October. They grew back in November to late January.
We made a pit stop at the Tropical House. It was so humid and very crowded in there that most of the residents disappeared under the thick foliage. We managed to photograph this adorable Red-crested Turaco which was too colourful to blend in. A native from the tropical forests of Angola it was stunning with a white face, yellow beak and red crest. We then heard a very familiar call and wonder what it was doing here. On the way out, we spotted a notice that a wren had managed to get in and was flying around freely.
We headed straight to Hogarth Hide and it was packed with photographers, twitchers and visitors. We waited for a few minutes and managed to get a seat. Outside the hide, on the marsh, were the star attraction, three Black Winged Stilts feeding, picking up insects and crustaceans from the sand and water. At first, they were feeding at the further end of the lake and were often chased away by the nesting Avocets and Gulls.
Everyone held their breadth when one flew within a few metres of the hide. We’d amazing closed up views of these very long-legged beauties, usually found in the Mediterranean. They’d long pink legs, a long thin black bill and were blackish above and white below, with a white head and neck with a varying amount of black. They were wading through the water, their pink, stick-like legs folding and unfolding delicately as they dipped their long, needle-like beaks in the water.
These birds were part of a black and white wader theme here. There were 45 Avocets including several incubating birds, 3 pairs of Oyster-catchers and several Lapwings. Even a group of Ruff were trying to get in on the black and white act. Unfortunately, the Black Tailed Godwit flock didn’t get the memo. They were stunning, over 300 birds many in full summer plumage.
He. Where thou dwellest, in what grove,
Tell me Fair One, tell me Love;
Where thou thy charming nest dost build,
O thou pride of every field!
She. Yonder stands a lonely tree,
There I live and mourn for thee;
Morning drinks my silent tear,
And evening winds my sorrow bear.
He. O thou summer's harmony,
I have liv'd and mourn'd for thee;
Each day I mourn along the wood,
And night hath heard my sorrows loud.
She. Dost thou truly long for me?
And am I thus sweet to thee?
Sorrow now is at an end,
O my Lover and my Friend!
He. Come, on wings of joy we'll fly
To where my bower hangs on high;
Come, and make thy calm retreat
Among green leaves and blossoms sweet.
~William Blake ‘The Birds~
The next day, we chilled out on St George’s day at another favourite place, Brandon Marsh. We weren’t slaying any dragons here and had a wonderful time chasing after Swallows which were screaming above our heads. Fingers crossed, the weather folklore ‘When the swallows fly high, the weather will be dry’ was becoming a reality.
The swallows were not flying high to admire the views. Instead they were chasing after their next meal. On fine summers’ day warm air rose upwards. Insects were also swept up in these bubbles of warmth. And, since swallows ate insects, they’d to fly higher on fine days to find their food. Conversely during unsettled and cold weather insects seek the shelter of trees and buildings, so swallows had to swoop low to find them.
At Baldwin Hide, the Common Terns had arrived. These delightful silvery-grey and white birds had long tail streamers which earned them the nickname ‘sea-swallows’. They’d a buoyant, graceful flight, capable of rapid turns and swoops, hovering, and vertical take-off. Often they hovered over the lake before plunging down for a fish.
Common Terns were migratory, wintering south of their temperate and subarctic Northern hemisphere breeding ranges. They bred close to freshwater or the sea on any open flat habitat, including sand or shingle beaches, firm dune areas, salt marsh or islands. Here, floating pontoons were erected specially for them to breed.
While they were flying around, noisily with their repeated ‘kick’ calls, the long-staying male Goosander was chilling out on the mud-banks. He was still around because he’d hurt his wings but thankfully was still able to swim and feed himself. The fish-feeding duck had serrated edges to its bill to help it gripped its prey and often known as ‘sawbill’ Fingers-crossed, his wings would heal and he would be able to join his mates, again.
When it was time to leave, we were distracted by a series of trills and warblers. It was a Sedge Warbler, proudly singing its little heart out from the top of the flowering cherry tree. Song-flights were also performed. While singing, it took off, rose to a height of 2-5 metres and then after a short, circling flight, made a slow, ‘parachuting’ descent. They were migrants that overwintered in the sub-Saharan Africa. Once, it had found a mate, he will decreased the amount he spent singing.
We also made our first pilgrimage to Bempton Cliffs for this year. It was 8.6C when we left at 9.45 am on a wet morning. The GPS kept on directing us to the M1 but Babe continued to Newark and followed a new route on the A1. We joined the M18 at Cromwell and decided not to use this route again. It was quite a winding road. We drove through fields of yellow rapeseed and miles and miles of solar farms.
We were surprised to see the place heaving as it was a working day. From the top of the hill, we could see the overflow car-park full. Ooh…. But then, you don’t have to be a twitcher or photographer to be impressed by the sight of 250k seabirds gathering to nest and breed here. From April to October, the RSPB hosted this annual spectacle of thousands of noisy Gannets, Razorbills, Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Fulmars and Puffins.There was a warden directing the traffic and we managed to get a spot right by the visitor centre. Thank god!!! After freshening up, we made our way towards the action.
As soon as we step on the paved path, we were assaulted by the very familiar smells, sounds and sight of thousands of sea-birds. Seabird colonies during the breeding season were full-blown, multi sensual impression of movement, noise and smell. My eyes took everything at once, birds swarming the sky around the colony like bees and clinging to cliffs everywhere. Bempton Cliff was packed to the rafters with tens of thousands of individuals, pairs that worked together to bring up their chicks, shuttling to and fro from foraging grounds, bringing fish and nesting materials, disputing with neighbouring breeding pairs and dealing vicious blows towards intruders into their miniscule breeding territory. I could spend hours just watching them. It was good to be back again.
We have been here so many times but the spectacular views never failed to vow us. The cliffs were a seething mass of activity. Thousands of Arctic birds swooped onto tiny ledges no more than a few inches wide to nest away from the harsh Arctic winds, hundreds of feet in the air. A perfect nesting place, very close to rich fishing grounds. As we walked towards our favourite cove, Skylarks were singing high up in the sky, the beautiful song radiating through the air as the bird itself hung suspended somewhere overhead. We squinted through the bright sunlight but it was just too high above us.
A few Gannets appeared gracefully as they glided past by with outstretched wings occasionally maneuvering with their tails and exhibiting precision timing flapping as they approached the cliff to land. Through the thick cliff top summer flowers and grasses, I saw them collecting beakfuls of vegetation to take back to their nests to keep things looking ship-shape for Mrs Gannet. We’d been here sooo many times but we really appreciated these stunning birds.
Bempton Cliffs was home to the only mainland breeding colony of Gannets in England. They arrived here from January and left in August/September. These thousands of impressive and majestic birds were the stars of the show with their incessant sound of ‘cackling’ calls and graceful swift flight. They were either constantly flying in formation just like the Dawn Patrol or criss-crossing the sky. These soaring white geese with ink tipped wings that spanned reaching up to 2 metres (taller than me!) and piercing blue eyes exaggerated with eyeliner which gave them the name Spectacled Goose.
Gannets were silent except during breeding, when the head and neck were brushed in a delicate yellow. From time to time, their rough throaty hard cacklings could be heard. They paired for life and occupy the same nest each year. We enjoyed watching their bonding displays like bowing, sky-pointing and mutual ‘fencing’ of the bills. The males built the nests out of seaweed, feathers, grass, earth and sometimes strings and nets, all kept together with their droppings.
There were juvenile Gannets in varying states of plumage with their mix of dark and light markings on the wings flying past in groups. It would take 3 or more years to get the adult plumage. They started breeding at an age of about 5 years or older. In the mean time, these young pre-breeding birds spent the summer investigating breeding colonies, the one in which they were born, a behaviour known as prospecting and also meeting potential breeding mates on the way.
We also watched a group of Gannets having a bit of a scrap. And argue they did, locking bills, flapping wings and trying to twist and topple their opponents. The young were often seen practising this while loitering around the cliff-tops where they appeared to be land-forming the boulder clay that sit on top of the chalk cliffs into terraces suitable for nest sites. The name Gannet had a long lineage, ultimately derived from the same root as goose and gander. It had been used since Anglo-Saxon times.
‘… had for amusement the cry of the Gannet
And the trill of Whimbrels instead of the laughter of men
The Kittiwakes’ song in place of mead’
We were deafened by the Kittiwakes with their eerie onomatopoeic serenades ‘kitti-wake’ or ‘kala-week’ making the colonies very noisy places indeed. They bred in colonies on narrow ledges of the vertiginous cliffs. It was only during courtship and nesting time that the birds ‘kittiwake’. For the rest of the year they were mostly silently except for an occasional ‘kit’. True gulls of the open sea, they spent half the year out in the middle of North Sea and North Atlantic, only returning inland to breed. They will leave the summer breeding grounds earlier if they failed to breed and headed 1,800 miles to over-winter in Canada.
When we walked further down, more Kittiwakes were gathering nesting materials along the hill side. Then, they danced past on buoyant wings towards their nesting site, and the cliffs resounded to their name constantly being called, as returning birds greeted their mates. 10% of the UK population lived here on the cliffs at Bempton. They were the gentlest in appearance of all gulls, and it may be this, combined with their plaintive calling that lies behind a belief that the souls of dead children go into Kittiwakes.
Standing upright on the rocky ledges and doing their chalk cliff inspection in action were the dark brown Guillemots. They stood upright and lined every ledge and cranny and crammed together shoulder to shoulder on the narrow rock ledges. They were usually silent but growled a loud whirring sound when on the nests, with their white underparts showing and paddle-like feet sticking out in front. They came to land only to nest, spending the rest of their life at sea, where they were vulnerable to oil spill.
It would be lovely to see their courtship which took place in water where one will be swimming around the other which spins to face it. They also had communal displays where several pairs were circling and bobbing or standing and flapping wings. We were hoping to see the less common ‘bridled’ but were more common as you go north. Bridled birds had narrow but distinct white line around the eye, running back towards the nape. This earned them a number of special names such as Ring-eyed Scout and Bridled Marrot.
Babe was delighted when his favourite bird, the doe-eyed Fulmars, were everywhere. Gull-like but stockier with thicker head and neck, they were gliding on stiffly held wings with occasional wing-beats. The whiteness of their bodies and relative thickness of their head earned them the nickname ‘flying milk bottle’. They were also likened to a mini albatross because they seemed to enjoy flying in stronger winds. Their long narrow wings enabled them to fly great distances and were one of the best birds at gliding on air currents.
Despite their superficial gull-like appearances, they weren’t part of the gull family. They belonged to the same family as petrels and shearwaters and were closely allied to the albatross, often referred to as ‘tubenoses’. The bill and tubenose were a notable characteristic which helped distinguished from the other birds breeding here. They were the last birds to breed and pairs often cackled to each other like drunken witches.
‘Our most elegant companions were the fulmars, the premier acrobats of the waters, who glided in endless loops and circles around us for hours after hour riding close to the waves on stiff wings, their fat fluffy bodies like huge moths.”
~Tim Severin ‘The Brendan Voyage~
Suddenly, everyone on the viewpoint were getting excited when everyone’s favourite bird, the Puffin, flew in and rested on a rocky ledge quite close to where we were standing. The curious appearance of these birds, with their large colourful bills, striking piebald plumage and sad eyes, had given rise to nicknames such as ‘clown of the ocean’ and ‘sea rooster’. With their bright orange splayed feet, colourful bills and comical walk, it was hard not to be cheered by the sights of these birds.
Between mid-April and mid-July, these much-loved birds made their home here. Bempton don’t have any rabbits so their more usual nest site of unused rabbit burrows weren’t available. Instead they laid a single egg in a crevice in the cliff rock face. Their dumpy little bodies and tiny wings weren’t designed for easy flight and it was awful watching them plummeting from the cliff edge before their tiny wings started beating furiously and then whizzing past.
These plucky seabirds spent 8 months out at sea before flying in each spring to breed. And when they touched down, they were in the mood for socialising.They’d been away for so long that they were keen for a good chinwag to catch up on any gossips. It was a joy to watch them as they busily meet and greet each other. They have a very endearing courtship display in which the pair rub their beaks together excitedly known as ‘billing’.
Despite their jovial appearance, these spirited tiny birds had their work cut out from the moment they land ashore. There were fights over the females, the cleaning out of last year’s nesting burrows and the daily fishing to feed their chicks. Aggressive encounters between two puffins often began by gaping. This involved a puffin puffing up its body to look bigger and opening its beak and wings slightly. The wider the beak, the more upset the puffin.
Nearby, Jet black razorbills tucked themselves away in crevices and cracks. They had broader, blunter bills, picked out by a smart coachline along the top and tip. The edges of their hooked upper beaks were very sharp, enabling them to grasp fish and defend themselves against predators. It was thought that they earned their name from their bill which resembled an old fashioned cut throat razor. They ,too, only came to shore to breed and then wintered back in the northern Atlantic. They weren’t particularly vocal but deep creaking ‘urr’ were produced by breeding individuals. They were quite quarrelsome too.
It was sad to know that the future of this species were linked to the health of the marine environment. Fishing nets, pollution and declining fish stock all threatened these Razorbills. They were among the rarest auks in the world and how lucky that we could still see them here. In combination, 20% of the world population bred around the British and Irish coasts. Together with the Guillemots, they were among the first birds to fledge from the cliffs, and were gone before the Puffins left their cliff top burrows.
Then it was time to slowly ambled back along the cliff path. The view was stunning from here as the rugged limestone cliffs rose 400 feet from the North Sea with unrivalled views of the beautiful Yorkshire coastline with Flamborough Head, Filey Brigg and Scarborough all jostling for attention within a breath-taking panorama. The walk back was punctuated with the songs and calls of Skylarks and Meadow pipits battling with the winds and performing display flights and Tree swallows and Pied wagtails zipping around. Linnets were busy feeding in the ploughed fields.
When we walked through the visitor centre, I did notice that the usually rambunctious Tree Sparrows were unusually quiet and absent. They were often seen lingering around with their distinctive high-pitched ‘chip’ and their song were simple repeated variation of their calls. They were out and about and we found them along the path, collecting feathers to line their nest. They were spoilt for choice.
As soon as we got out of the visitor centre, one of the volunteers informed us that Short-eared owls were quartering the fields behind the car-parks. Whoop…whoop. We quickly made our way and what a sight to behold. Over the clifftop grassland, we saw one banking, patrolling and gliding just above the ground, its piercing yellow eyes scanning for voles moving in the grass below.
It was hunting on the wing, listening for signs of prey. Quartering flight was a mixture of flapping and gliding, sometimes hovering before dropping down onto an unsuspecting prey. It flew with deep, slow moth-like rowing wing beats, and glided on stretched wings over the open grassland. It was extremely maneuverable in the air, dropping suddenly or immediately flying into the air.
Short-eared owls were migratory which often over-winter here and it was a really unexpected bonus seeing them this late. They were medium sized owls with mottled brown bodies and pale underwings with tiny, often concealed ear-tufts They got their name from these feather tufts that could be lifted on the top of their head, usually as a sign of alarm or defence. They were largely nocturnal and crepuscular (dusk and dawn) but was still one of the most active owl during daylight. Because they hunt over wide open spaces, they’d longer wings for zipping between bushes and branches. They needed to be able to quarter meadows and fields, gliding and hovering, to locate and catch their prey.
Whilst slowly flying over the grassland, it moved its head around, to locate any movement below and allowing it to hear. This made it a dream to photograph, especially when it happened to look in my direction as it flew past. When it hovered over a located prey, it suddenly dived, stooping head first into the vegetation, bringing forward its leg at the last second to stamp down, and stunned the prey. Once on the ground, it mantled the prey while spreading its wings out in a defensive motion, turning its head around, checking nothing was approaching to grab its catch.
At first I thought there was only one when suddenly there was an aerial squabbling and sparring. When more than one owl roosts at a particular site, they battled for the rights to hunt over certain patches of the area. Flights lasted only a few seconds with them chasing each other in flight, calling out and clapping their wings. They made contact when flying, locking talons and rolling over in mid-air.
I am so chuffed seeing the pair as they were of European conservation concern and were an Amber list species. Seeing them was a memorable sight. There was something magical about them, a sense of otherworldliness that came from their nomadic nature. Wintering ‘shorties’ made use of lowland grazing marshes, areas of early-stage plantation and rough grassland, habitats that might once had supported breeding pairs. We headed back to the car when the pair disappeared behind the hills.
We’d a simple picnic of chicken sandwiches with crisps and washed down with hot coffee from a thermos. Then, we treated ourselves to the famous Yorkshire Dales farmhouse ice-cream to cool down. After getting our breath back, we walked the opposite direction towards the New Roll-up. Babe wanted to video the action at Staple Newk but we were distracted by the quartering ‘shorties’ again. Since this was the first time we saw them here, we wanted to get our fill.
After about an hour, we abandoned our plans to walk to Staple Newk as it was getting very hot. It was strange because on the way up here, it was so windy but not a single breeze on the cliffs. We bade goodbyes to all the seabirds with promises to come again before they departed back to the seas. As we walked out of the visitor centre, this handsome Swallow bid us’ Au Revoir’. Fingers-crossed, the next time we came for a visit, it will be nesting under the eaves.
After such a hectic day at Bempton, we chilled out with a gentle stroll through Tocil Woods. It was bluebell time. But before we even made it to the woods, we caught this Jay fighting with the ducks over pieces of bread left by the students. When it spotted us, it let out a screaming ‘krar krar’ call, before flying into the trees with its distinctive flash of white on the rump. Although, Jays were the most colourful members of the crow tree, they were quite difficult to see among the leaves.
We also noticed a Heron perched right on top of a fir tree and I knew that it had a nest up there. How it managed to build a nest which was a platform made from twigs and grass perched precariously among the branches was mind-blowing. I think it had a chick because if you looked closely to its right, there was a bundle of feathers tucked neatly behind the leaves.
Finally, we managed to make our way into Tocil Woods and we went aaah… A fringe of blue haze greeted us. There was nothing quite like a pleasant stroll through the woods, carpeted in bluebells. We sat on our favourite fallen, mossy tree trunk , gazing peacefully at our beautiful surroundings, awashed in blue. The music of nesting birdsong tickled our ears as dappled sunlight flickered across our faces whilst a million tiny tinkling bells rustled beneath our feet.
Folklore suggested that the bells rang at dawn to call fairies to return to the woods. Beware if you walked amidst these bluebells as these fairies may enchant you away and you might not be able to leave the woods!!!
We walked within an ancient wood Beside the Heart-of-England way Where oak and beech and hazel stood, Their leaves the pale shades of May.
By bole and bough, still black with rain, The sunlight filtered where it would Across a glowing, radiant stain— We stood within a bluebell wood!
And stood and stood, both lost for words, As all around the woodland rang And echoed with the cries of birds Who sang and sang and sang and sang…
My mind has marked that afternoon To hoard against life’s stone and sling; Should I go late, or I go soon, The bluebells glow— the birds still sing.
As we were walking through the woods, being lured by these fairies, we heard a familiar drumming. The fairies’ spell was broken and we followed the sound. High up in the tree, we spotted this Great Spotted Woodpecker busy hammering into the tree trunk. They drummed on dead trees and branches to maintain contact between paired adults and to advertise ownership of territory. It immediately flew off when it spotted us.
It was also time for us to leave this enchanted forest. Soon the summer canopy will cover the woods and the bluebells will die down, waiting to reappear again next year. As we walked along the foot-path, we came across a family of Greylags with at least a dozen of fluffy, yellow, adorable goslings. As usual, the protective parents were nearby ready to hiss at us if we got closer.
Our final adventure was a trip to one of our favourite places in the world, Aberystwyth. We left the casa quite early at 8 am. It was 10C and bright and sunny. Yellow flowering gorses lined the M54 and we came across a huge convoy of motorcyclists at Telford services. When we arrived at the first Shrewsbury’s roundabouts, we came across a banner for the Bike4Life event. I guess this was where the convoy was heading to.
We headed for Gilfach Farm and managed to park by Otter’s Hide overlooking the River Marteg. We knew it was going to be a good day when there were plenty of people focusing intently on something. We joined them and was delighted to see the Dipper on its favourite boulder. It could be difficult to spot if it turned its back, hiding its white bib and the black plumage blended beautifully with the jumble of boulders. It bobbed up and down before flying straight under the bridge in a blur of wings, its heavy body skimming the water.
Minutes ticked past and suddenly it flew out and whirred downstream . Seconds later, it appeared and stopped on its favourite boulder again, surveying the area for predators before flying back under the bridge. Its bill was crammed with caddis flies and their juicy-looking larvae, the favourite food for larger nestlings. Breeding females ate calcium-rich minnows for their eggs, and the newly hatched was fed on smaller mayfly larvae.
Babe went into the hide to get a better view of the Dipper while I stayed on the bridge. A flash of black and white landed on one of the branches and it was a Pied Flycatcher. Whoop…whoop. The male was mostly black on the underparts and white underneath, with a bold white patch on the folded wings. The females were browner. They were summer visitors, returning to breed after spending the winter in the sub-Saharan Western Africa, in wooded areas on the edge of the savannah and climax forest.
Pied flycatchers lived almost exclusively in and around oak trees, showing a preference for dense areas of woodland. This made the mature woodlands around Gilfach ideal breeding sites as these trees tend to support rich insect populations. They perched on the branches with drooped wings. They were the last of the hole-nesters to begin breeding and had to compete with other species which nested earlier. The provision of nest-boxes dotted among the trees had made this reserve a haven for them.
Then I joined Babe in the hide where the Flycatcher flew quite close to the hide. We were also entertained by the antics of a Nuthatch. It was checking out nooks, crevices and nesting boxes to lay its eggs. It was climbing up down and around the tree trunks and branches using its powerful toes. There was a huge fight when it was checking one of the nest-boxes and a Blue Tit flew out of it.
We then drove slowly up the steep winding road, praying that no car was coming down. After using the facilities, we checked out the courtyard. We scanned the nearby tree for the Redstart but it was quiet. It was also such a shame that no one was living in the traditional farmhouse. There was also no bird-feeder where flocks of Redpolls and Siskins would be feeding. We walked along the hillside where Cuckoo calls were echoing.
Buzzards were soaring overhead with their soft mewing. We then spotted this small, brown, streaky bird pulling a worm from the ground. It was a Meadow Pipit, the commonest songbird in the upland areas. When it spotted us, it suddenly flew up with a typical jerky flight. We were delighted to have seen it as the numbers had been declining since the mid-70s in the UK and was included on the amber list of conservation concern. Since, there was nothing else, we made our way to the car.
On the drive down, we planned to stop again at the hide but there was no place to park the car. We headed straight to Bwlch Nant yr Arian for the kite-feeding session. After using the facilities, we made our way to the feeding station to see what was about. It was buzzing with Chaffinches, Tree sparrows and Siskins, all waiting (im)patiently for their turn. Below, Dunnocks, Blackbirds and Robins were busy feeding on the dropped seeds.
A quarter to 3 pm, we walked down Barcud Way towards the viewing platform. We heard a Little Grebe whirring away but it was well-hidden. The long-staying Goosanders were still around, cruising around the lake waiting to take part in the action. These streamlined long-bodied ducks with thin pointed wings often dived underwater to chase after some fish. Above our heads, hundreds of Red Kites were circling and at 3 pm, the party started. I’d seen this hundreds of time and it still made my heart beat.
Their shadow dims the sunshine of our day,
As they go lumbering across the sky,
They scare the singing birds of earth away
As, greed-impelled, they circle threateningly,
Watching the toilers with malignant eye,
From their exclusive haven--birds of prey.
They swoop down for the spoil in certain might,
And fasten in our bleeding flesh their claws.
They beat us to surrender weak with fright,
And tugging and tearing without let or pause,
They flap their hideous wings in grim delight,
And stuff our gory hearts into their maws
~Birds of Prey, Claude McKay~
Then, we headed to Aberystwyth for our piece de resistance, fish and chips. When we drove down, we came across hundreds of cyclists. Oh…oh. As soon as we neared the town, there were diversions and signs for road-closure. We parked at Rheidol and I walked to the nearest chippy I came across. Since the seafront was closed, we drove back to Bwlch Nant yr Arian to have our lunch.
Unfortunately, we didn’t enjoy our fish-and-chips. The fish wasn’t fresh and it was oily while the chips were soggy. Urgh!!! The crows enjoyed them though. Then, it was a long 3-hour drive back to the Midlands. We stopped on a lay-by when we spotted lambs prancing about in the field. As soon as they saw us, they sauntered over for a closer look. Then, they ran back to their mum for a feed. We waved them goodbye and continued our journey.
You start in April and cross to the time of May
One has you as it leaves, one as it comes
Since the edges of these months are yours and defer
To you, either of them suits your praises.
The Circus continues and the theatre's lauded palm,
Let this song, too, join the Circus spectacle
~Ovid, Fasti (V. 185-190, CE)~