Barmouth to Fairbourne and the Blue Lake

In my league table of Friday night’s, last week’s rates pretty near the top. Why I hear you ask? Let me set the scene.

We’d arrived in Barmouth at dusk and after meeting up with old friends it was on to our base a couple of miles further north. Quickly unpacked we cracked open the drinks and had a good old catch up before heading outside to marvel at events being played out overhead. Being well away from any major settlements light pollution was at a minimum so, despite a few last vestiges of sunset staining the sky out west, we could already see millions of stars and the first faint signs of the Milky Way. Mars and Venus both shone brightly and as our eyes became more accustomed to the dark we began to pick out satellites rushing by on their never ending orbits. Most were high and slow but one whizzed over at what must have been incredible speeds. I find it simply jaw dropping that we’re able to observe such spectacles though it did bring home quite how much “stuff” we’ve managed to put into space in a relatively short period. There’s some fascinating and worrying models out there which show quite how easily a destructive chain reaction could occur with the debris from one satellite destroying the next and so and so on. Sobering thoughts in these days of being constantly connected, particularly when watching the Perseid meteor shower nearing its peak. Yes not only did we have the Milky Way, planets and satellites to enjoy but also that favourite of childhood stories, shooting stars. It was a night not unlike this, many moons ago, that I spotted my first meteor streaking across the sky and to this day I still find them utterly enthralling.

Sea Lavender, Flying Ants, Knots in Red and a Biased Press

Well I'm calling this heatwave officially over and last week it was so nice to get out on a couple of evenings after work for what seems like the first time in ages. Our first port of call on Wednesday found us alongside the upper Loughor estuary where despite overcast conditions the marshy fringes were an absolute riot of colour. With its delicate flowers Common Sea Lavender stood out against dark mud and green foliage almost as if an artist had come along and dabbed their brush haphazardly along the river. Gorgeous and this is coming from a self-confessed "not a plant person".



Before any concerns are raised that I may be softening with age you'll be glad to hear that much of my interest was indeed taken up by birds. And there were plenty of them too. The tides here are ferocious and acres of mud quickly became rushing currents, pushing all those lovely waders a whole lot closer. Easiest to spot were of course Curlews, their melancholy calls emanating from all corners as if to herald the onset of autumn. I know it may seem a long way away right now but migration is already gathering pace and think about it, when exactly was the last time you saw a Swift?

Cotswold Canals, Railways and Birds

The Cotswold Water Park as a whole is not somewhere I’d describe as truly wild but amongst its one hundred and fifty lakes there’s plenty of wildlife to be found and a number of excellent nature reserves worth exploring. Formed as a by-product of gravel extraction the numerous pits left behind have been allowed to fill and thanks to careful management now provide leisure and recreation facilities for thousands of visitors each year. Our association comes as a result of the park’s rather handy proximity to RAF Fairford, home each summer to the royal international air tattoo. After a couple of year’s break we were attending once again and with Saturday free we had a ready made destination literally on our doorsteps.

With temperatures still troubling the low thirties a walk of any length was out of the question so instead we settled on a four mile loop taking in a couple of lakes and sections of both the long abandoned Midland and South Western Junction Railway and Thames and Severn canal. Setting out from the gateway visitor centre I was again struck by the sheer number of butterflies on the wing which surely must be having a very successful season. As before however most were reluctant to land and I was definitely in no mood for the chase. Instead we enjoyed our surroundings as we headed out along the tow-path but of the canal itself there was no sign. Where previously there’d been open water we now found a dry and overgrown channel, no doubt suffering due to the recent heat wave but surely in need of some ongoing maintenance as well. It was particularly upsetting to see a number of dead Pike in the old lock at Cerney. Last time we passed this way I photographed one of these beasts but sadly it looks like a lack of oxygenated water has done for them.

P1160808 - Thames and Severn canal

All however was not lost with plenty of new life also taking advantage of the canal ecosystem. First up was a Dunnock with beak stuffed so full of grubs that finding food, at least where insects is concerned, is seemingly no hardship at present. That was followed closely by the surprise appearance of at least one juvenile Redstart! Away from the Welsh forests which I normally associate with this species I had to do a double take but there it was and true to form remained frustratingly distant throughout.

Golden Eagle Caught on Trailcam, Isle of Mull

It seems like a lifetime ago right now but back at the beginning of the year we were enjoying a fortnight's break on the fabulous Isle of Mull. As always there was plenty of walking and wildlife watching to be had despite one of the coldest winters for many years refusing to release its icy grip. That's not to say that there wasn't plenty of sunshine of course but it was rarely ever what you'd call warm and towards the end of our stay we even experienced blizzard conditions and some epic snowfall. It was probably these harsh conditions which had led to the unusually high number of dead Sheep we'd encountered during our explorations, most well picked over but some still still looking very fresh. One in particular could only have been there for a day or so and with the possibility of eagles ever present I set up our trail camera on the off chance that something might turn up.

Gear Review - Wunderbird Birding Apparel

Every hobby has its stereotypes and bird watching is no exception. Asked to conjure up an image of your typical birder for instance and I'm sure a lot of us would include someone dressed head to toe in camo gear. In fact I can go one better and confirm numerous such sightings out in the wild and, whilst I would be the last person to criticise another's choices, it's not really the look for me. Like most I've been making do with generic outdoor gear for years so when Wunderbird got in touch asking if I'd like to try out their new range of clothing designed specifically for birders, I had to say yes.

The Wunderbird collection includes ranges tailored for both men and women and being the former I've been putting one of their short sleeved Kestrel t-shirts as well as a Gyrfalcon hoody, despite the current heatwave, through their paces. Thanks to the excellent sizing guide on the Wunderbird website both fit perfectly which makes me wonder, why don't all clothing companies do the same?

Mynydd y Gwair Wind Farm - 18 Months On

mynydd y gwair now and then
Way back in February of last year we embarked on a photographic venture along the route of a proposed access track to the then still recently approved wind farm atop Mynydd y Gwair. As one of the few large remaining expanses of wilderness bordering Swansea the prospect of sixteen huge turbines marching across its open vistas was one which filled me with dread. We'd already lost neighbouring Mynydd y Betws a couple of years previous to another scheme so knew pretty much what to expect but this time it would be far more personal. You see in order to gain access to what is after all a relatively remote location the engineering firms involved would need to extend said track some 14km stretching from the A48 in Pontarddulais right through the very heart of my local patch. Country lanes would be widened, existing roads regraded and once green fields and open moors bisected. Back then all I had to go on were architectural plans lodged with the city planning office so I decided to document the works if not for posterity then at least to remind myself of what we once had.
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