Blowholes along the Glamorgan Heritage Coast

A stormy day delivers a series of unexpected blowholes.

Edinburgh Bound!

The start of a week birding and walking the Firth of Forth.

Isle of Mull Sunsets

Stunning sunsets from a stunning island. Isle of Mull at its best.

Castell y Bere from Abergynolwyn

A moddy walk to Castell y Bere with added Choughs!.

Llanrhidian Evening Roost

Short Eared Owls, Hen Harriers and Great White Egrets.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Carreg Cennen Castle - Cows and Clouds

Back to last Sunday for this one where my parents luck with the weather continued to prevail. Remember all that sun and blue sky of late? Gone. Instead we had low, thick cloud casting a gloom more reminiscent of winter than the heights of summer. The only thing spoiling that illusion was our dual friends heat and humidity. It proved sweaty in the extreme each time we tackled one of the numerous ascents on our circumnavigation of Carreg Cennen. At least the castle itself looked suitably moody and menacing perched atop its limestone outcrop.

P1040207 - Carreg Cennen Castle

The plan had been to spend some time finding and photographing butterflies which have proved previously numerous along this walk. The dull light pretty much put paid to that idea though with only a solitary Speckled Wood and a couple of Green-veined Whites on the wing. Fortunately birds aren’t as picky about their outings and just above the source of the Loughor we stumbled across an absolute gold mine. Here woodland gives way to open hillsides and, as on previous occasions this summer, we found this to be ideal habitat for Redstarts. There were at least three individuals present, one adult and two juveniles, although we found many more further along our route. Keeping them company was a very active family of Spotted Flycatchers, my first for several months and a new species for me in this locality. They were doing exactly what they do best high in the treetops and proved impossible to get a decent photograph of that didn’t consist of a distant and slightly obscured silhouette. The same could be said of the juvenile Green Woodpecker which was lurking deep in one of the stunted Rowan trees, its plumage an intriguing mix of half speckled grey and half green. It issued a brief yaffle as it skulked off further into cover but a great find nonetheless. Also about were commoner species including Great Tit, Blue Tit and Chaffinch plus a constant presence of Swallows overhead. Talking of Swallows there were huge numbers around the farm beneath Carreg Cennen, many if not all as a result of the numerous nests within nearby barns. Birds were continuously passing in and out, several still showing their gape which marked them out as this year’s offspring.

And now, some Cows.

P1040203 - Carreg Cennen Cow

P1040198 - Carreg Cennen Cow

The photogenic calf and pregnant female above were in a field with other similarly pregnant animals, one of which was in the early throws of labour. As a ‘townie’ this proved terribly exciting and I whipped out the camera to capture whatever happened next. Mistake. Turns out giving birth is not beautiful or photogenic in any way and in the end we were saved from the full gruesome spectacle as her contractions seemed to pass and she settled back down. What was interesting to observe however was that all the pregnant females were frequently bending their heads back as in my photo above. Could they perhaps have been listening for sounds of their calf’s within? Whatever the reason it was clear that there was still a long way to go so we left the herd to some privacy and continued on our way. Certainly an interesting diversion though and excuse enough for one of the best alliteration post titles ever to grace this blog.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Goldfinch Drama

High drama graced our garden last night following the discovery of a grounded juvenile Goldfinch. This is not a wise move in an area plagued by feral cats and our concerns were rightly raised that were it to stay there it would not be long for this world. Physically it looked in good health but simply refused to move or fly off at any approach. Keeping a careful watch our suspicions were raised that it was perhaps stunned, another casualty of our garage window which no amount of reflective devices seems to prevent.

P1040327 - Stunned Goldfinch

P1040334 - Stunned Goldfinch

I’ve dealt with these circumstances a number of times before and moving the bird to a quiet area and keeping an eye out for predators usually gives the unfortunate victim time to recover. Emma was our designated carer this time around and picked the Goldfinch up easily enough but it quickly became obvious that it was in no fit state to stay in the garden. It was continuously nodding off apart from a few brief flight attempts that proved rather less than successful. The first saw it landing on Emma’s chest with the next taking it over to a tree where it singularly failed to make a landing and tumbled to the ground. Worrying to say the least and a little sad as whenever the local Goldfinch flock flew over our juvenile would look skywards but was clearly unable to join them.

P1040346 - Stunned Goldfinch

P1040355 - Stunned Goldfinch

P1040359 - Stunned Goldfinch

Picking it up for a second time we transferred the bird to an old shoebox lined with towels, supplied some water and covered with another towel. Placed in a quiet corner of the house we left our new guest to recover, peaking in every now and again to ensure that all was well. I’m happy to report that initial checks looked promising with the Goldfinch firmly asleep, head tucked under wing. The only problem was that it was now dark outside so although the recommended recovery time is a couple of hours we decided to leave things as they were overnight. Nerves were definitely jangling this morning but everything turned out brilliantly. Our Goldfinch was already flapping about so we quickly took the box outside and released it. First stop was our neighbours tree and a few moments later it was gone, presumably joined with the rest of its flock as they once more passed through. A perfect result that improved my mood today no end.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Sunset From Pen y Fan

P1040281 - Evening Climb of Pen y Fan
Last night's ascent of Pen y Fan was easily my best to date. A few colleagues and I had been kicking around the idea of an after work climb for the last couple of years but, as is often the case, great ideas tend to fizzle out unless someone grabs them by the horns and makes something happen. For us that kick up the backsides was an email last week, a welcome reprieve from the usual dross which fills my inbox. Weather forecasts were checked, rendezvous points chosen and before we knew it six in the evening had arrived and we were about to set foot on the lower slopes of Pen y Fan. Even after a few meters of climbing I instinctively knew that we had absolutely nailed this one. Conditions were perfect, warm with a light breeze, whilst overhead barely a cloud marred the sky. All around us Heather bloomed and best of all? We had the place virtually to ourselves. Stopping for a moment just to listen brought only the sounds of distant Meadow Pipts and the bleating of Sheep. Try the same thing on a typical weekend and the results would be far less pleasing on the ear I can assure you of that. Breathtaking doesn't really do the experience justice but it was probably the most relaxing and joyful climb I've yet completed. With great company and plenty of laughs we ate up the miles in no time, arriving at the summit just before sunset. That our timing was near perfect came as no real surprise on an evening where we could seemingly do no wrong.

P1040247 - Evening Climb of Pen y Fan

Monday, 15 August 2016

Waterfall Country - The Return

P1040144 - Sgwd Gwladus
My parents were down last weekend which provided the perfect excuse for a return visit to waterfall country, an area in the South Brecon Beacons synonymous with falls of water. Ahem. We last walked this route from Pontneddfechan in September of last year and one of my regrets from that day was not photographing the remains of the silica tramway along whose route the path initially treads. Built in the nineteenth century its construction was crude by more modern standards using roughly cut stone sleepers into which rails would have been fixed. Though the rails are long since gone several sections of well preserved sleepers remain, easily overlooked but well worth spending the time to seek out.

P1040113 - Pontneddfechan Tramway

Sunday, 14 August 2016

The Glorious 13th

Wow. Little did I realise when posting my views concerning the current campaign to ban driven Grouse shooting on Friday quite how quickly events would progress. Even as I hit publish the count 85,919 was immediately rendered out of date by a constant procession of new signees, all of whom were willing to make a stand and declare that the persecution of wildlife across our Grouse moors has to stop. By midnight we were only a few hundred short of the magic 100,000 mark, a target smashed early on Saturday and one which now recedes in our rear-view mirror with every passing hour. As of now this is where we stand and it warms my heart to think of so many other like minded individuals standing up for nature.

I should probably also apologise at this point to those readers who aren't used to seeing such campaigning on my blog, and who may indeed disagree with the goals of this very petition. I must admit to usually leaving this kind of thing to others but increasingly it's been getting harder and harder to step back and hope that others 'get the job done'. Social media is much to blame, not in the usual terms of glueing people to their phones but in opening many of our eyes to what is really going on in our countryside. At times it can make for rather depressing reading but where else would the Badger cull, Buzzard cull, Hen Harrier persecution, missing Golden Eagles and endless other wildlife crimes have got such wide readership? Certainly not in the national or local press, although coverage of this years inglorious 12th has been pretty darn good, and definitely not by the likes of the BBC whose impartial reporting I am increasingly beginning to question. But I digress. The truth is I see all this injustice and with it a large part of the population whose response is one of apathy. Not deliberate apathy let me make that clear, but one born out of a complete disconnect with our natural world and the challenges that it faces. The last couple of days has been a prime example where widespread information dissemination through blogs, radio, leaflets and interviews has managed to reach people who had thus far been disengaged but once better informed knew intrinsically that what was going on was wrong. This is indeed encouraging and shows the power of getting a message spread far and wide. For I genuinely believe that alone the wildlife organisations and their supporters cannot succeed. It takes that wider public engagement to really make a message heard and this one should hopefully be doing just that in the Houses of Parliament very soon.

All that brings us to what some are now dubbing The Glorious 13th, the date on which the petition to ban driven Grouse shooting surpassed 100,000 signatures. This means that it now has the chance to be debated in parliament and given its context and scientific backing there should be no reason for that not to take place. Yes there are other important issues on our governments agenda (here's looking at you Brexit!) but in the next six months I hope to see this issue debated in our highest house. The outcome? Hard to say, but given the vested interests of some of our MP's it could be an interesting and rocky road ahead. An important first step has been taken however. The Grouse shooting industry now knows they have a serious fight on their hands whatever happens. Campaigners will not back down and the ball is now firmly in their court to change their ways, step up to the mark or face consignment to the history books. The Inglorious 12th may stand for all that is bad about driven Grouse shooting but The Glorious 13th marks the day where we the public stated loud and clear, "No more".

Sign the petition to ban driven Grouse shooting

Friday, 12 August 2016

The Inglorious 12th #notsoglorious

P1040215_2 - Red Grouse, Bleaklow
Image © Leauge Against Cruel Sports
Today is August 12th. Until a couple of years ago that meant nothing out of the ordinary to me, as I doubt it did a great proportion of the general public. And why would it? Unless you are one of a very small minority who enjoy the 'sport' of driven Grouse shooting then the fact that today marks the start of that particular season was neither here nor there. However, what has become hard to ignore over the years thanks to tireless campaigning by the likes of Mark Avery and others is just what a cost this minority activity is having on our native wildlife, particularly Hen Harriers. Being fortunate to live near a winter site for these elegant birds means that I get to see them often but did you know that this year only three pairs bred on Grouse moors in England? The true total should be in the hundreds and the primary reason for this is illegal persecution by those that manage these areas for maximum Grouse numbers and thus the biggest 'bags' on any given day. Because why would you want to shoot one Grouse when you can slaughter hundreds?

And it's not as if this is some exaggerated campaigning by a select few as part of what some see as a war against the upper classes. That couldn't be further from the truth. There is no longer any doubt that rampant illegal persecution of Hen Harriers and other raptors on Grouse moors is not only ongoing but actively encouraged as the only viable means to keep the industry going. This isn't about class. I couldn't care less if it was some inner city youths or the local Lords and Ladies. Illegal persecution and killing is exactly that. Illegal. And the perpetrators should be brought to justice for robbing the rest of us of the chance to enjoy our native birds of prey, whoever they are.

Perhaps if a civilised debate could have reached some meaningful way forwards with the operators of these moors then the current campaign for an outright ban on driven Grouse shooting could have been avoided. But what little trust there may once have been has long since been eroded by a seemingly never ending parade of atrocities and illegal acts which go unpunished. There are many examples easily accessible across the web but here are some of the headlines which stick out for me:

  • There should be 300 pairs of breeding Hen Harriers in England. This year there are three.
  • There should be 500 pairs of breeding Hen Harries on Grouse moors in the UK. A typical year now sees less than 20.
  • It is a fact that burning of heather on Grouse moors increases surface run-off leading to a greater risk of serious flooding in downstream areas and increased costs to water companies. These costs are passed on to each and every one of us in terms of increased water rates.
  • 36 Golden Eagles have been found dead or lost from Scottish Grouse moors in the last ten years.
  • Thousands of Mountain Hares are wiped out each year (legally but it really shouldn't be).
  • Illegal traps are set which indiscriminately maim any passing wildlife.
  • Wholesale wiping out of Foxes, Stoats and Weasels on Grouse Moors is commonplace. Basically kill anything that could possibly have any kind of an impact on Grouse populations.
I could go on but frankly it's a little depressing and if you want the full horrific picture then Mark Avery's blog and Raptor Persecution UK are well worth reading. I must warn you however that even a cursory scan makes you wander if we have really made any progress in this country over the last couple of decades, especially when it comes to raptor persecution.

Thankfully with increased awareness the wider public is finally beginning to realise what is happening in their own back yards. Atrocities that once went unnoticed on remote hillsides are rapidly becoming public knowledge, hitting the national press and instilling the outrage that such acts rightly deserve. Last weekend was the third annual Hen Harrier Day and it was bigger then ever with events up and down the country attracting thousands of ordinary people just wanting to share their outrage at activities against which the authorities apparently seem powerless to act. Only by speaking with one voice can we hope to make a difference, force a national debate on this issue and hopefully save some of our greatest bird species, particularly the Hen Harrier, from further population declines. 

The best way to add your voice to this growing campaign is to sign the petition to ban driven Grouse shooting. This is not a decision that many of us have taken lightly but in the face of limited options it seems the only course now open. As I write this 85,919 people have already signed and at 100,000 the petition will be considered for debate in the Houses of Parliament. If you do anything this August 12th I would encourage you to add your signature and help ensure that in future years we don't look back and wonder what more we could have done to save our Hen Harriers. Thank you.

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