Butterflies of Bryn Lliw Grasslands

Remember when I wrote that we'd only ever seen Marbled White's in England prior to our discovery at Whiteford? Lies all lies. Due to what I can only blame on old age it had completely slipped my mind that last year we'd stumbled across loads of the things literally just down the road. As we were on a long cycle ride the plan had been to return with the camera at a later date and do a proper explore but, well you know what happens to best laid plans. Still, there's no time like the present for righting a wrong so a couple of weeks ago we returned and virtually from the get go couldn't help but stumble over Marbled White's such were their number. Of course that doesn't mean they were necessarily playing ball when it came to photography but after an hour or so toiling in the heat I finally got the result I was after.

P1090407 - Marbled White

So where then is this place? Well if you'd been driving through Swansea in 1996 you very likely had it to blame for the closure of the M4 as that was the year the old colliery tip here caught fire. Left idle since the closure of Brynlliw it continued to burn for an astonishing three years until a legal case finally forced the Coal Authority to act. In the meantime residents were left to endure acrid fumes and thick layers of dust coating their properties. There's a fascinating article on BBC news here from the time. Reading that it's hard to believe we're talking about the same place but it's remarkable what a lot of landscaping and mother nature can achieve. Just look at it now.

P1090476 - Bryn Lliw Grasslands

The lush meadows were alive with insect life with yet more Six-spot Burnet moths and umpteen other day flying species which I didn't get chance to identify. Overhead we had both Red Kite and Buzzard at close range whilst the scrubby vegetation held a Garden Warbler, Chiffchaff and several Stonechats. We also caught sight of what we believe was a juvenile Green Woodpecker but it disappeared before we could get a better view. In such surroundings I decided that a challenge was in order and set ourselves the relatively ambitious target of seeing and photographing ten butterfly species before the heat forced us to retreat. How did we do? Judge for yourself.

P1090474 - Green-veined White
Green-veined White

P1090468 - Small Skipper
Small Skipper

P1090454 - Comma
Comma

P1090444 - Common Blue
Common Blue

P1090421 - Meadow Brown
Meadow Brown

P1090400 - Ringlet
Ringlet

P1090395 - Large Skipper
Large Skipper

For anyone numerically challenged I can confirm that there are only eight species there and of them the Common Blue barely counts given its sorry state. I'm amazed it could still fly. Even so not a bad haul but what did surprise me was a complete lack of Speckled Woods along the wooded boundaries. All that's done however is encourage me to try again. Indeed having read up a little on some of the other butterfly species which can be found in our local area I'm beginning to think that 2018 may even see us going for a year list. Now there's something I never thought I'd be saying!

#Walk1000Miles - Six Month Update

As promised it's time to take stock and see where six months of walking has gotten us. Will we still be on track for our year long target of 1,000 miles or will we find ourselves suddenly requiring a few marathon distances to catch up. The only way to know for sure was to sit down, average out our various pedometers and phone apps before totalling everything up. The result? See for yourself.


To my own genuine surprise we have just cracked the 530 mile mark which means we are bang on where we should be right now. Most of that distance has come through short walks after work each evening, when the weather allows of course, and it's amazing how quickly those can add up. Granted we've had a couple of weeks holiday in there as well which allowed us to set our current seven day record of 41.9 miles, and with another fortnight coming up I'm aiming to push that total even higher. 

The impact on me personally is that I'm probably the fittest I've been for several years but there's definitely still room for improvement. Motivation a plenty to crack on and see where we can get to before Auld Lang Syne once more graces us with its presence.

Juvenile Skylark and a Meadow Pipit

It's not escaped my notice that there has been a slight dearth of bird photos on this blog of late. Trust me, it's not for want of trying but we're currently in that time of year which we birders like to refer to as "the doldrums". The fact is that in general June and July are pretty quiet when it comes to our feathered friends, the odd rarity excepted. Why else do you think so many of us have ended up turning to butterflies, moths and even in some cases, dare I say it, plants! I've not yet been desperate enough to go quite that far but am definitely eagerly awaiting more interesting times. That's not to say that there's nothing out there to see of course, it's just that one needs work a little harder to find it. Our trip to Whiteford just over a week ago was a prime example where some good field craft ended up allowing me to get close to both a juvenile Skylark and adult Meadow Pipit in truly appalling lighting. I'm always up for a challenge however and ended up fairly satisfied with the fruits of my labour.

P1090122_2 - Juvenile Skylark, Whiteford

P1090120 - Meadow Pipit, Whiteford

Now if the local Caspian Tern would like to show itself at a time when I'm not in work then that would be much appreciated as that's one bird which is just crying out to make it onto these pages.

Bird Skulls

It's part of our innate human nature to want to collect and hoard. How many of us for instance have walked a beach's high tide line searching for interestingly shaped pieces of driftwood? At what age did you bring home that first cherished shell from your summer holidays? I'm no different and for as long as I can remember have been collating an ever changing assortment of natural items. Giant pine cones from southern France, bird feathers and enough driftwood to create several works of art around our home are just an example. One thing I really wanted to get into though were bones, or more specifically skulls. I lay blame on this latest area of interest firmly at the feet of several blogs and fellow twitter users whose own personal collections are envious to say the least. Jake's Bones I'm looking principally at you here.

It's not exactly the easiest of hobbies to start however requiring an element of luck and plenty of time spent out in the field. Thankfully the latter is in no short supply around here and over the last couple of years I've begun to pick up a few items, one of which has already featured on these pages. My very first find and still my personal favourite was this Oystercacther skull discovered near Llanelli, but since then I've also added skulls from a Gannet, Manx Shearwater, Jackdaw, Robin and Meadow Pipit.

P1090522 - Bird Skulls

With the exception of the Jackdaw skull which I miraculously found in the middle of our lawn completely clean, all have required a degree of preparation to get them to this state. Principally this involved several months soaking in water with a small amount of biological washing powder, a distinctly unpleasant process which works wonders at stripping off any remaining flesh. Then followed a couple of days soaking in Hydrogen Peroxide (surprisingly tricky stuff to get hold of) to sterilise and whiten the bones before a final thorough drying. As a first attempt I'm pretty damn impressed with the results as you'll hopefully agree.

Gannet
 
P1090479 - Gannet Skull


Manx Shearwater

P1090491 - Manx Shearwater Skull


Robin

P1090501 - Robin Skull


Jackdaw

P1090506 - Jackdaw Skull


Meadow Pipit

P1090507 - Meadow Pipit Skull

Seeing how well these have turned out has only increased my desire to keep searching and see what else I can find. All that's for certain is I'm going to need some bigger shelves!

#30DaysWild - Some Final Thoughts

30dayswild

Before delving head first into the second half of 2017 I wanted to take a moment to reflect on #30DaysWild, its impact and what lessons, if any, I can take forwards. That might sound a little corny and far too close to the “finding myself” mantra spouted from many a work shy teen and honestly, if you’d said the same thing to me a month ago, I’d have been right there with you. The truth is that I entered this challenge for a couple of good reasons, none of which involved a journey of self-discovery. The first? A simple desire to spend more of our time outside. Paired with this came the urge to engage with the natural world ever more deeply and if I could spread the word a little through this blog? All the better.

On all three counts I consider the past thirty days a success. We spent at least an hour outside every day, often more, and by blogging almost as regularly managed to spread our enjoyment far and wide. That last point in particular was personally very satisfying as the #30DaysWild posts garnered my greatest engagement across various social media platforms to date. Thanks to everyone that read, shared or liked and I’d like to think that somewhere out there we’ve managed to spark the curiosity of at least one person to bring a little slice of wild into their everyday lives.

So on the face of it then job done. I agree completely but it’s the more unexpected outcomes that are likely to leave the biggest personal impact.


The power of wild

The real purpose of #30DaysWild was to encourage more of us to connect with nature and on that front we did very well indeed. From Ireland to the Peak District to Wales, across land and sea, we ended up very well travelled and had some great encounters along the way. That Barn Owl near Carsington Water stands out as a particular highlight but being intercepted by pods of Common Dolphin runs it a very close second. We even managed to do a little good along the way including taking part in several citizen science projects of which Project Splatter (still a great name) featured most prominently. Hidden within that goal however was for participants to discover the power of wild when it comes to the way we as humans feel. It’s becoming increasingly well understood that our ever more isolated lives, be it on a relationship basis or our disconnect from the natural world is doing anything but make us happier. The power of re-establishing those lost links is not to be underestimated and my own experiences through #30DaysWild have certainly born that out. Behind the scenes this month there have been a couple of instances which proved very stressful. I genuinely don’t think I could have dealt with these as well as I have done had it not been for the opportunity to escape into the great outdoors. The chance to relax and simply be is a rare enough thing thanks to today’s rapid pace of life and I’d recommend we all do our bit to reverse that trend. Trust me you won’t regret it.


A sense of purpose

It’s perhaps telling that over last weekend I found myself almost at a loss as to what to do next. Sure I’ve got plenty of projects on the go and a house that is always in need of attention but somehow nothing seemed to grab me. I wondered initially if this frame of mind coming off the back of #30DaysWild was just a coincidence but now genuinely believe that one caused the other. I was on such a high for the past few weeks exploring, photographing, writing and sharing that for it all to stop, or at least pause, was something of a come down. Indeed I’ve only really perked up by sitting down to pen these words and for me that’s very telling. People say that doing something is never a chore if you genuinely love it and I think I’ve finally realised that the one thing I love above all else is this. The very act of experiencing or discovering something, capturing it on camera and then sharing is what I want to be doing, whether that be through the written word, video or tweet. That this can only occupy a small part of my everyday life is therefore unfortunate and by deduction means that I spend a good chunk of life not loving what I do. Now don’t get me wrong I have a great time and enjoy work but that’s not to say that I couldn’t be enjoying it even more. I think I’ve known that for a long time really as virtually since the inception of this blog I’ve had a line in my bio about hoping to move to the Isle of Mull in the future. Such a move would be less about a new home and more a new lifestyle including becoming self-employed. With Mull being such a special place that would hopefully mean being wildlife focussed but to get there will require a great deal of planning and not some inconsiderable luck. On the planning front there’s no time like the present so I’m going to start exploring what options could be available and how we might go about achieving them. I know what I want to be doing it’s now just a question of getting there.


For the love of writing

Despite the dread I feel upon being faced with another blank page, as soon as I start typing the words more often than not flow easily. According to many of my readers they’re even quite good which as someone who has had to increasingly learn that one’s own views are generally far too harsh, I shall take at face value. I’ve even been told that perhaps I should try some freelance work and you know what, I think I will. My history does include a couple of published articles way back when and having watched a couple of family members build their own niches in this field, it’s definitely something I want to have a crack at. I’m under no misconception that this is not an incredibly competitive arena to enter but not to try means certain failure. In the mean time I’ll continue blogging as often as I can as I continue to hone and develop my style.


Blogging is fantastic

This one might seem a little strange as a self-professed blogger but there has been the odd occasion where I’ve begun to question the whole thing. One need only look at the occasional blank gaps on this very blog as proof. However, the last twenty two posts for #30DaysWild have proven beyond doubt that the platform is still very much alive and that I want to remain an active part of that community. I’ve been able to find some excellent new blogs to follow and as mentioned above have received some great engagement coming back the other way. The only problem is that with so much content out there garnering new readers is increasingly tricky. My own view count has remained relatively static for the past couple of years which is great on one hand but there's definitely room for growth. Another area which will require thought and focus in the coming months.


Photography

I take photos almost every day and usually I’d like to think that they’re pretty good. There’s always been that niggling thought however that I could be doing even better but to do that I need to make a technical leap. For years now I’ve been using bridge cameras and feel I’ve pretty much extracted the best I can performance wise from the current crop. With no massive step changes on the horizon that leaves me with the oft debated move over to an SLR. If you’ve been with me since the beginning then you’ll know that this has been something on my mind for a long time. The difference now is that I’m finally in a financial position to do something about it and with a great deal of practice, who knows what new avenues may open. I’m not promising or finalising anything yet but it’s another topic to which I will be giving some serious thought.

P1090528 - #30DaysWild


#365DaysWild

So where does that leave us now? I’ve talked a lot about myself in this rambling entry, more than ever probably, mostly because I find that writing things down is the best way of gathering my thoughts. This has ended up serving two purposes which we shall deal with separately.

The first was to look at the effect that #30DaysWild has had. In case there was any doubt the answer is hugely beneficial. If even some of the over 40,000 people taking part has felt even a modicum of the same impact then the broader effects could be immeasurable. Hats off therefore to the Wildlife Trusts for creating and promoting the whole event and long may it continue. I for one will be back next year.

The second has acted as almost a second stab at some new year’s resolutions. That really wasn’t my intention when sitting down to write this but I’m certainly glad for the way it’s developed. I’ve got a good couple of weeks coming up with time to think a little more so we’ll see where that takes us. There’s unlikely to be any grand public statements as I’ve fallen foul of those all too often so I'll be letting things develop organically over time.

Which brings us rather nicely to some sort of conclusion and the sub-heading of this section - #365DaysWild. If the benefits of a single month have been this great it would be foolish to stop now so I’ll be making sure that I try to continue the challenge for the rest of the year. I can’t guarantee that most days will be blog worthy but rest assured that of those that are, you’ll all be the first to know.

Another Glorious Sunset

P1090546 - Sunset
What a gorgeous evening. I had no real plans for tonight but seeing that a decent sunset might be on the cards it would have been rude not to take advantage. Ambling up into the hills the distinctive sweet smell of Bracken hit me immediately, its foliage dense and dominating. Behind me ripe Gorse seed pods could be heard popping intermittently whilst overhead a single Skylark was giving it his all. Then all of a sudden crashing through this tranquillity came a passing flock of Linnets, their agitated calls a crescendo of noise sitting starkly at odds with the prevailing feeling of calm. All this I took in initially as an outside observer, not feeling part of the beauty around me. It was only as the moments slowly passed and I began to pick up on tiny changes in my surroundings that a sense of belonging began to emerge.

A Rabbit rustled unseen just meters from my feet.

In the valley one of our local Woodpigeons clumsily crashed through the trees.

Would they too be picking up on my impingements into this microcosm of our world, an almost insignificant piece of the bigger picture but one which at that moment I wouldn't have traded for anywhere else?
P1090536 - Sunset

The light was absolutely fantastic and began to change dramatically as the sun set. First the Skylark ceased then the smell of Bracken rapidly dissipated as temperatures plunged. Watching the sun I felt like I had plenty of time to play with yet a few minutes later it was as if a dimmer switch had been turned and I was left watching it sinking visibly out of sight.

P1090546 - Sunset

P1090539 - Sunset

P1090551 - Sunset

What had been a balmy evening was now chilly and with it came a new feeling of urgency as the land and its inhabitants rushed towards the changing of the guard. On broad wings a Grey Heron drifted by on route to its evening roost whilst off in the distance I could just make out what sounded like the calls of a Tawny Owl. Stood their alone I felt privileged to have borne witness to these moments, unique in their details and preserved only through my memories.
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