Eastern Adventures - Part 1

Tuesday’s entry covering our encounter with Nightingales at Dering Wood was just the icing on what had been a very nice cake indeed. We’d spent the previous week based near Sheringham in Norfolk, a little further east than our normal haunts but a change which would give us access from Cromer down to the Norfolk Broads. Up until now this had been an area we’d never previously visited but I’m pleased to report that it more than lived up to expectations. Of course we still managed to squeeze in classics such as Titchwell and Cley but it was new sites including Hickling Broad, Happisburgh and even Sheringham itself which proved to be the biggest revelations. Even our base, a small converted barn, proved better than expected with the addition of two Barn Owls roosting just outside our front door. We were first alerted to their presence when emptying the bins only to be met by a flurry of feathers as one of the birds shot out and across a neighbouring field. After that we were much more cautious and each evening treated us to a chorus of squawks, squeaks and screeches. Chatting to the owners it seems that Barn Owls have raised chicks here for the last couple of years so give it another few months and anyone staying there will be perfectly placed to enjoy their development. I’m sure it will get a whole lot noisier as well!

That discovery set us up pretty darn well for a week in which we managed to record 130 bird species including three new life ticks. We had an absolute blast though if I could have wished for just one improvement it would have been to have had a little more success photographically. Whereas no one can doubt Norfolk’s ability to deliver birds galore, they’re not always within camera range particularly for those of us with more limited equipment. Saying that I didn’t come away exactly empty handed so let’s get stuck into a little of what we got up to.

Day 1 – Sheringham to Salthouse Coast Path
Anyone reading this blog for even a brief amount of time will know that we love the coast. As a result most of our holidays seem to gravitate towards one and once there there’s often no better way to get to know an area than to walk its coast path. So that’s exactly what we did. The fact that Sheringham is known as one of the best sea watching sites in the country was just an added incentive though we quickly realised that was not a year round accolade. To see this place at its best you really need to be here from August to November when conditions are a little stormy, not during a flat calm in the middle of April. As a result pickings were slim with a couple of Fulmars, several Kittiwakes, hundreds of Black Headed Gulls and a lone Mediterranean Gull being about as good as it got. Fortunately things were a little more active on land kicking off with a flock of Turnstones along Sheringham promenade. Of all waders these are probably my favourite, partly due to their attractive plumage and partly because they tend to be quite tame, particularly in areas of heavy footfall. Here we weren’t quite at St Ives level of approachability but that didn’t stop me getting a couple of decent shots.

P1070123 - Turnstone, Sheringham

P1070118 - Turnstone, Sheringham

Out of town the landscape quickly turned to rolling fields with modest cliffs providing a slightly elevated view of our surroundings. This is Norfolk after all. Although still relatively early in the season we soon started to pick up migrants including a lone Wheatear and singing Skylarks, joined not long after by Sand Martins making the most of those fragile cliffs and an increasing number of Swallows as the day wore on. Birds of prey also put in a good showing with Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine Falcon and Buzzard all being recorded during our walk. The views weren’t half bad either.

P1070129 - Sheringham Coast

P1070131 - Sheringham Coast

P1070135 - Sheringham Coast

We probably could have gone even further than Salthouse but from there the path has been rather overtaken by encroaching shingle, and if there’s one thing I hate more than anything else it’s walking on shingle. So instead of torturing myself we headed back the way we’d come enjoying great views of the North Norfolk Railway before heading home for another evening with the Barn Owls.

Day 2 – Gresham to Felbrigg Hall
The forecast for Sunday included copious amount of heavy rain but as we gazed out at the sky all we could see was sunshine. Not wanting to waste a good thing, no matter how long it lasted, we elected to explore the local area a little more on foot. Heading out from the cottage we skirted Gresham with its fields of Oilseed Rape enjoying the sight and call of a Yellowhammer as we went.

P1070148 - Weavers' Way

P1070150 - Norfolk Church

Picking up the Weavers’ Way found us crossing fields sown with a crop in its early stages of development, something which back home would normally mean the complete obliteration of any footpaths. Not here though! Instead we found a wide track left clear, numerous signposts and well maintained stiles and gates. What a pleasure to find farmers actually encouraging walkers to cross their land, something I’ve long thought must be preferable to the alternative of having us straying off course in an attempt to pick up a lost path. All that time freed from following maps meant more time to notice the wildlife around us including a nice patch of Lady’s Bedstraw which we stopped briefly to examine, only to have a pair of Garganey erupt from a nearby stream. And when I say stream I really do mean a stream. It was no more than a meter wide and heavily overhung by Gorse bushes for much for its length but nevertheless, a pair of Garganey was what they were. The distinctive white stripe above the male’s eye was simply unmistakeable despite their unusual location. We were still stood open mouthed as they disappeared around the corner and once we’d snapped back into action no amount of searching could relocate them. Still, not bad for the first real rarity of our break.

P1070151 - Felbrigg Hall

Things returned to normal as we headed onwards to Felbrigg Hall with our route along quiet lanes delivering plenty of Stock Dove and Red-legged Partridge. Things were a little more hectic at Felbrigg itself thanks to a certain well known confectioner conducting an egg hunt but we soon found some semblance of solitude out in the grounds where a small wetland area delivered not only several Teal but also a quartet of Lapwings, one of which appeared to be sitting on a nest. Butterflies were also on the wing in good numbers with Orange-tip, Small Tortoiseshell and Speckled Wood all seen. In fact the sun was still blazing once we’d returned to the cottage a couple of hours later with the rain only arriving as evening began to draw in. Our forecasters seem to be just as flummoxed by the weather this spring as the rest of us apparently.

Day 3 – Cley and Blakeney
Another glorious morning found us at Cley but don’t let initial impressions deceive you. Despite all that sunshine it was bitterly cold with a strong north wind dropping temperatures well into single figures. In fact it was so bad that I was forced to crack out my gloves which I’d previously thought banished having waved goodbye to winter some weeks before. At least the crystal clear conditions gave us chance to enjoy our surroundings to the full including Cley’s landmark windmill.

P1070154 - Cley Windmill

The marshy land either side of the flood defences delivered our first Avocets of the trip, a species which in the end turned out to be present at virtually every water body we visited. A true conservation success story when I think back to how scarce they used to be. Other waders including Redshank, Curlew, Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit and Oystercatchers were also present in good numbers whilst spring migrants continued to build with our first Sedge Warbler and White Wagtail of the year as well as an increased number of Swallows. Adding their own voice to proceedings were several Cetti’s Warblers, always elusive however, an accusation which certainly couldn’t be levelled at the Short Eared Owl which popped up hunting the scrub between us and the beach. In strong sunlight we got some fantastic views, such a difference from the often dull and distant encounters we get up on Mull. We saw the same bird a couple more times during the day taking our Owl species count for the week to three (we’d also heard a Tawny Owl at the cottage the night before). As if that wasn’t enough we were also treated to views of five Marsh Harriers quartering the marsh. Over at Blakeney a tantalising group of waders fled before we’d had chance to ID them but I did at least pick up my first couple of New Naturalist books. I fear another collection coming on!

Having retraced out steps we set out to explore the reserve at Cley itself and were soon enjoying views of Ruff, Dunlin, a few lingering Wigeon and even a Red Kite. Just like being at home. The highlight though has to be a group of four Bearded Tits which we saw in flight over by the main hides followed by another lone individual from the east bank. All had announced their presence by sound long before we saw them. I even managed a quick record shot but to be honest the less said about that the better.

Day 4 – Titchwell
This was the day I’d been looking forward to for almost two years now. My favourite reserve and just about the only place that I can happily sit in one spot for an hour or more and never feel the need to move on. Past experience has shown that Titchwell has the pedigree to deliver big and across seven hours we managed to see 76 species. Much of the commoner stuff was similar to at Cley but we also added several new year ticks in the shape of House Martin and Blackcap. Indeed it was quite noticeable how quickly the volume of migrants was increasing with each passing day. A few Titchwell specialities such as Red Crested Pochard and yet more Marsh Harriers were quickly found before we got to enjoy more fantastic views of those Avocets. Although a passing weather front dulled conditions somewhat, nothing could distract from these stunning birds.

P1070167 - Avocet, Titchwell

Further migrants came from the Parrinder Hide with two Little Ringed Plovers and a flock of at least ten Bar-tailed Godwits and a Grey Plover down on the beach. The sun had by now returned but if anything the wind from yesterday was now even stronger and much, much colder. With a spot of sea watching in our plans we hunkered down behind the old WW2 defences and started to scan through an impressive raft of at least a thousand Common Scoter. They stretched almost across the entire viewable area and by pure fluke we managed to pick out a pair of Velvet Scoter in flight thanks to their distinctive white wing patches. This was cause for much celebration which briefly warmed us before it was back into the cold for a walk towards Holme. In contrast to winter the beach was relatively quiet bird wise but we did spot three Sanderling battling the conditions, one of which was blown clean of its feet while we watched.

P1070180 - Sanderling, Titchwell

P1070183 - Titchwell Beach

Similar challenges were being faced by hoards of caterpillars in the dunes, each inch of progress being undone as a sudden gust blew them several foot in the opposite direction. It’s fair to say that by the time we’d made it back to the hides and finally the car I was quite frozen, but Titchwell had one last trick up its sleeve. As I waited for Emma to visit the loos the unmistakeable sound of a booming Bittern drifted across. I shared a glance with a fellow birder who smiled and nodded in agreement. That moment of shared connection shows just what a special bird the Bittern is and I was grinning from ear to ear as Emma returned. Actually I wasn’t as I knew that she’d been dying to hear one for the very first time and it looked like she had just missed out. Or so we thought. Heading back to Fen Hide we decided to stick it out for another half an hour during which time I’m happy to report that we heard the Bittern boom a further three times. Absolute magic. Things couldn’t get much better than this, could they?

Nightingales and Bluebells of Dering Wood

P1070476_2 - Nightingale, Dering Wood
We've enjoyed a pretty epic week's birding over on the east of the country this Easter taking in Norfolk, Suffolk and even a couple of days down in, dare I say it, Kent! The latter will never feature high on my list of favourite counties (it's just too darn full) but with my sister having made the strange decision to actually live there, needs must. If there's one consolation it's to be found in those rare areas of tranquillity that come from a little local knowledge. Dering Wood proved to be one such place, an area of ancient, semi-natural woodland owned and managed, rather appropriately, by the Woodland Trust. Just a few steps takes you out of the hustle and bustle of modern life and into the comforting embrace of freshly emerged vegetation and swathes of Bluebells showing at their absolute peak. Dappled sunlight rendered the still raw memories of a bitter north Norfolk coastline mute as we soaked up the atmosphere. Still a little too chilly for butterflies however though I'm told that double figure species counts are possible here on a good day.

P1070446 - Bluebells, Dering Wood

As nice as the Bluebells were I couldn't help but be distracted by the numerous bird calls filtering through to us from all sides. Chief protagonists turned out to be a couple of male Blackcaps in full voice along with the by now ubiquitous Chiffchaff, but it was also nice to pick out a pair of mating Blue Tits and even a tiny Goldcrest. Chaffinches were doing their best to confuse us as usual with a host of varied snippets but it was as we were nearing the end of our wander that a brief churring gave us cause to pause. It certainly wasn't a call I could immediately place and thoughts turned to comments made by my sister as we'd set off that the woods were allegedly good for Nightingales. Now this is a species I have never even considered the possibility of seeing, a species akin to Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in its mythological status as far as I'm concerned. It couldn't be though, could it? A flash of rich brown crossed the track ahead of us then, followed moments later by what I can only describe as one of the richest bird songs I've ever heard. Loud, liquid and rich with just a hint of laser fire (there may be a reason why I'm not a writer of bird guides) it positively erupted from deep within vegetation to our left followed seconds later, quite unbelievably, by the bird itself!

P1070476_2 - Nightingale, Dering Wood

P1070468 - Nightingale, Dering Wood

P1070455_2 - Nightingale, Dering Wood

Yes, yes, yes! What a bird and simply sublime views that at times were down to just a few meters. Errant branches and thick leaf cover did their best to obscure the Nightingale at times but for me that only added to the experience as we hunted for a clear view through to this master songster at work.

P1070458_2 - Nightingale, Dering Wood

Whilst we watched it became apparent that there were in fact two Nightingales present, perhaps a male and female pair given their proximity to one another. In the end though this was the only individual that seemed to show absolutely no concern at our presence even taking the time to catch what looked to be a caterpillar from a nearby tree. Out in the open and with a splash of sunlight that rich brown plumage which some have described as a little boring positively shone, even showing a surprising amount of red in those long tail feathers. I can see why my bird guide lists Redstart as a possible confusion species.

After ten minutes or so our encounter drew to an end as the Nightingales retreated further into the wood and out of sight leaving big smiles in their wake. What a simply awesome bird and remarkably my third lifer of the week. The other two? You'll just have to come back in a couple of days to find out.

Catching Up

P1070038 - Guillemots, Stackpole Head
I’ve just about lost track of the number of times in recent weeks that I’ve thought about putting a blog post together. On a couple of those occasions I even managed to type a few words but time and desire have not been on my side. Thankfully the prospect on both those fronts is starting to look up. Firstly work should hopefully begin returning to something approaching normality after the Easter break, and even if it doesn’t I’m committed to doing what I should have been doing all along and leaving any stress and worries in the office. On the desire/motivation front well, it’s spring in case you hadn’t noticed. Standing in my garden I’m now bombarded by an avian soundtrack including Chiffchaffs at full volume and an ever increasing number of Willow Warblers complete with their withering song. Up on patch we’ve already had our first Wheatear pass through and last weekend our glorious Gower walk was made all the more memorable by a migrating Osprey heading north. With better optics I may even have been able to track it all the way home but alas that particular patch tick will have to wait a little while longer. The point I’m trying to make is that there is so much life out there right now, we’ve got some great adventures planned to make the most of it and I just couldn’t not share that with you, my ever patient readers.

Before we get into the new stuff however, how about a little recap? One could quite easily mistake my lack of presence on social media and this blog as a sign that we haven’t been up to much. Thankfully the reality is very different with a fantastic run of decent weather finding us out and about every weekend and most evenings. The latter has been spurred on by our attempt at the #walk1000miles challenge on which we‘ve been making great progress. More on that below. We’ve also managed to squeeze in some very enjoyable trips out across South Wales taking in everything from WW2 history to a not insignificant amount of Pokemon Go participation. Yes I’m fully aware that I’m about a year behind the curve on that score but I’ve finally upgraded my phone and can now do many things including downloading new apps and taking photos that don’t result in a case of count the pixels. As a result you can expect many more snaps whilst we’re out and about over on my Twitter feed. I’ll let you be the judge of whether that’s a good thing or not!

Dale Peninsula Circumnavigation

A slightly grand title I’ll admit but towards the end of February we spent a day exploring this hitherto unfamiliar area. It was a logical choice really having just twitched the nearby American Wigeon and once again Pembrokeshire delivered in spades. As well as the usual glorious scenery we were treated to Napoleonic era forts, WW2 gun emplacements and shipwrecks, all set against the background of Milford Haven’s busy shipping channel.

P1060954 - Dale Peninsula

Bird life wasn’t bad either with a couple of Chough, great views of hunting Gannets and even a pond full of amorous Toads. We also heard our first singing Skylark of the year and saw our first butterfly in the shape of a Small Tortoiseshell. Most surprising though was a very early Hummingbird Hawkmoth which unfortunately managed to escape before I could grab a photo. The lighthouses of St Ann’s head were pretty impressive as well.

P1060969 - Dale Peninsula


Dinefwr's White Park Cattle Move House

That same weekend also saw us making our first trip of the year to Dinefwr, spurred on by seeing the estates rare White Park Cattle featuring prominently on Countryfile. With only two thousand pure breed individuals worldwide they are exceptionally rare and the National Trust is expending great effort in order to keep Dinefwr’s herd going. The loss of their breeding bull last year was a big blow but over winter the cows were able to move into brand spanking new sheltered accommodation. With this being Wales rain is never far away and this new shed will provide the cattle with a clean and dry place to while away the worst of the weather. When we saw them they looked to be having a whale of a time munching on fresh hay and, in the case of a couple of individuals, wearing it as well.

P1070006 - Dinefwr White Park Cattle

P1060998 - Dinefwr White Park Cattle

Out in the park there was the usual high density of Treecreepers and Nuthatches although for once the Great White Egret managed to give me the slip. In its place we were treated to an excellent collection of waterfowl including several stunning male Pintails, Wigeon and Teal. Sadly our concerted effort to relocate a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker reported a few days earlier came to naught, not an entirely unexpected outcome as I still maintain that the species is entirely fictional.


Cilsan Whooper Swans

It’s a rite of passage these days to catch-up with the overwintering Whooper Swans at Cilsan Bridge and this year we really came up trumps. Whereas recent sightings have been distant and often obscured, this time there were 45 birds feeding in a field right next to the road. Using my car as a hide I was able to get some decent photos considering the overcast conditions with this family group being my pick of the bunch.

P1070021 - Whooper Swans, Cilsan Bridge


Carmarthen Fan


P1070035 - Carmarthen Fan

If you’d told me that we’d be walking in the snow come the end of March I’d have likely scoffed. Yet our first lengthy hill walk of the year delivered just that with a few large patches of the white stuff still clinging to the ridgeline along Carmarthen Fan. In the process of melting it proved incredibly slippery but was a very welcome sight following another mild winter. Less welcome was the bitterly cold wind blowing in across the Beacons, one which tore at any exposed skin with vigour. The prospect of bearing the brunt of it for another six or seven miles appealed little so instead of following our planned route along the shores of Llyn y Fan Fach and Llyn y Fan Fawr we cut inland and made our own path across the broken land toward Carreg Goch. This proved an inspired decision as we were sheltered for much of the way turning what would have been an arduous trek into something a whole lot more pleasant. It also meant we could enjoy the plethora of singing Skylarks to full effect though surprisingly we drew a complete blank on Wheatears. I did however manage to catch my first sunburn of the year. Cap on for next time.

P1070036 - Carmarthen Fan


Stackpole and Bosherston

April kicked off with a day spent at Bosherston under another gloriously blue sky. It proved a bit early for the lilies which were just beginning to sprout new leaves but there was no denying the rapid onset of spring. We saw our first Bluebells and Wild Garlic of the year, picked out at least three Wheatears and were as ever far more excited than you’d expect to find Fulmars back on the cliffs. What we hadn’t expected to see were several rafts of Guillemots and Razorbills floating just offshore with a couple hundred more perched on a narrow ledge above. I have seen them in this location once before during winter but never in such numbers or this late, which does raise the question of whether or not they’ll breed. As far as I’m aware this isn’t normally the case so it will be interesting to see how things develop. Either way we got to enjoy lunch listening to a particularly vocal pair of Razorbills on the water below.

P1070038 - Guillemots, Stackpole Head

Highlight? That would have to be our first Swallow of the year which shot overhead as we were returning to the car. Hopefully the first of many in the coming weeks.


#walk1000miles

I mentioned above that we’ve been getting stuck into the #walk1000miles challenge this year and so far have clocked up over 200 of the buggers. That’s a little behind target but given that the majority has been squeezed out of very short daylight hours, I’m suitably impressed. A lot of mileage has been clocked up after work with a couple of four mile loops available to us direct from our front door. Encouragement to get out and walk these has been increased no end by the coming of Pokemon Go because, as well all know, you’ve just got to catch them all.


#pwc2017

Never fear. My Patchwork Challenge attempt is alive and kicking but this post is already more than long enough so look out for a full update in the next couple of weeks.



So there we have it. A quick(ish) whistle stop tour of what we’ve been up to since we last met. Next stop is Easter where I expect to see the arrival of migrants continue to gather pace, hopefully with a couple of new lifers thrown in for good measure. And who knows, maybe that Osprey patch tick is just around the corner.

American Wigeon at The Gann, Dale

It’s been a while since I last twitched anything of note but weekend before last a certain North American visitor piqued my interest sufficiently to spur us into action. I am of course speaking of the long staying drake American Wigeon which rocked up at the Gann in Pembrokeshire earlier this year. Since then it’s been showing well and, contrary to the ideals being promoted by its country of origin, has been welcomed with open arms. He even seems to have teamed up with a female Eurasian Wigeon in recent weeks. Whatever would Trump say!

That’s about as political as I’ll be getting tonight so instead let’s travel to Dale early on a mild and foggy Saturday morning. Conditions had been steadily worsening as we headed west and despite telling myself it would be clearer at the coast, one glance across the Gann estuary told a very different story. Sea and sky seemed to meld into a single contiguous mass of grey but as we pulled into the car park a small flock of Wigeon on the nearest lagoon seemed as promising a place to start as any. A couple of minutes later and, armed with binoculars, we were soon enjoying the sight of an American Wigeon going about its business, followed throughout by his newly acquired female companion. Both were actively feeding near a group of roosting Oystercatchers and were more than happy to pose for a few photos which, even given the relatively close distance between us, ended up being pretty poor. But wait. By some miracle the sun chose that moment to break through the murk delivering strong sunshine and clearing skies. This was more like it and with the birds still happily feeding away I was finally able to capture some respectable images.

P1060910_2 - American Wigeon, The Gann

Of course you’re never quite close enough but hopefully the above shows just what a cracker this bird is. If I was to describe it as a Wigeon with added highlighting I wouldn’t be far off the mark and that green eye stripe, white crown combination really stand out in the field. Having our own native species in close proximity was just a bonus given that I wasn’t expecting to get views anywhere near as good as these. Talk about lucking in. Our good fortune was further emphasised a short while later as, having taken their fill, both birds took to the water and swam off towards the river. From this point on they were much harder to keep tabs on, often distant and sometimes absent all together, lost on the myriad of saltwater lagoons that make this place such a good spot for waterfowl. We only stuck around for an hour or so but in that time managed to also record Brent Geese, Redshank, Teal, Goldeneye, Little Grebe, Shelduck, Little Egret, Knot and Ringed Plover, not to mention a hugely impressive flock of some hundred plus Curlew in flight over the marshy land upriver. I can’t recall seeing Curlew in such numbers anywhere of late and they very nearly managed to upstage our American guest. Nearly, but not quite.

P1060918 - The Gann

The Last Days of Mynydd y Gwair

This year will see big changes coming to my little corner of the world. Not the slow creep of urbanisation which continues to erode our countryside but full on, landscape wide transformation. And all apparently in the name of green energy and saving the planet. I'm surely not the first person to spot the irony in that and to think this was all announced through the most innocuous of deliveries by our postman.

P1070028 - Mynydd y Gwair Wind Farm

After numerous years of debate, appeals, inquiries and protests the Mynydd y Gwair wind farm has finally been given approval to proceed. This will see the erection of sixteen 127 metre tall turbines on one of the last areas of extensive common land bordering Swansea. Having already lost neighbouring Mynydd y Betws to a similar scheme several years back locals already know what sort of habitat damage to expect and its safe to say that the place will never be the same again. Some will probably wonder at the fuss being raised over what to all intents and purposes is a large area of unimproved grassland, but that fails to recognise the impact and significance of having a location so close to where people live that one can genuinely escape to and see not a single man-made structure. This sense of freedom was one of the very things which drew me to Mynydd y Gwair many years ago and its loss will be felt deeply. Perhaps even more unfortunate is that the impacted landscape stretches far beyond the main wind farm site itself as in order to gain access a 14 km long track will be required. This will stretch from the A48 near Pontarddulais right through the heart of my local birding patch before cutting across Mynydd Garn-Fach and beyond. The full scale of these works is yet to be realised but its safe to say that the character of the place will be changed for ever. It was with that knowledge that we decided to head out a couple of weekends ago to document the proposed route as it is now, before the diggers move in and we lose a landscape which I have fallen in love with over the years. Soppy perhaps but when you've spent so many hours and days walking a place as I have it's hard not to form an emotional bond.

At this point I should probably discuss the inevitable counter-argument to my negative slant on the above, the one that states that we must reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and help tackle global warming. Believe me when I say that on both those scores you won't find any grumbles from this blogger. However, I do take issue with those who push onshore wind farms as part of that solution. They've definitely had their part to play as we investigated alternative means of energy production but I genuinely believe that they have run their course. For the energy they generate they are far too intrusive on our landscape when alternatives such as tidal, solar and offshore present a much better compromise. Solar in particular has proliferated locally over the past couple of years yet the sites are almost invisible unless you're directly upon one and have such a light touch (pun intended) that they can be erected and removed leaving virtually no trace. Small scale tidal schemes such as the one being proposed for Swansea also offer great potential as well as providing fantastic new facilities for locals yet seem impossible to get off the ground. Meanwhile we are happy to grant permission for more of our precious open areas such as Mynydd y Gwair to be sacrificed when recent news reports reveal that similar schemes are being paid by the government not to operate. Yes that's right, tax payers money is being spent to not generate electricity. You couldn't make it up. 

There are some who will inevitably throw the nimby label in my direction and it's true that I have not written of other such developments across Wales but my views are long held. In this case I am merely being presented with a unique opportunity to document and share the full process from start to finish, kicking off with things as they are today. Ideally we'd have had a clear blue sky and sunshine to show off this landscape at its best but what we in fact got was freezing cold, grey and misty, blizzard like conditions. For much of our walk it was snowing fairly heavily, though never enough to settle, and with cloud barely scraping the hilltops it was a miracle we could see anything at all. Still, the following images achieve their purpose admirably and I've annotated each with how things will change over the following two years.

P1060820 - Route of the proposed Mynydd y Gwair wind farm access track

This notice greets walkers near the top of Gopa Hill. It states that the footpath ahead will be closed for the next six months, opened to the public only when safe to do so. As the main access point to my local patch this could prove very inconvenient but hopefully the contractors will open it up during the evenings and weekends.


P1060823 - Route of the proposed Mynydd y Gwair wind farm access track

The centre of this image shows the point on Gopa Hill where the new track will arrive having cut across private farmland from the A48. To reach this point will involve a steep gradient and I can't deny that seeing the large transporters traversing this will make for an impressive sight. I'd still rather leave the place looking like this though as it's great for breeding Whitethroats.


P1060824 - Route of the proposed Mynydd y Gwair wind farm access track

P1060826 - Route of the proposed Mynydd y Gwair wind farm access track

These two images show the existing farm track running from Gopa Hill to Cwm Dulais which will be 'improved' to accommodate wind farm traffic. It's safe to say that its character will be forever changed once widened, regraded and a more permanent surface laid.


P1060832 - Route of the proposed Mynydd y Gwair wind farm access track

At Bryn-bach-Common the new track joins an existing minor road which will also need widening, strengthening and regrading. Regular readers may recognise this as part of the area I bird for the Patchwork Challenge but thankfully most of the important habitat will be unaffected by these works.


P1060835 - Route of the proposed Mynydd y Gwair wind farm access track

P1060838 - Route of the proposed Mynydd y Gwair wind farm access track

For locals five ways is legendary. To find such a complex junction out here in the countryside is quite unusual and part of that is down to its importance when the Graig Merthyr colliery was in operation nearby. This section is going to require major remodelling as the descent and rise is simply too severe for a large transporter to negotiate as it stands. I only hope that the character of this place wont be completely lost.


P1060840 - Route of the proposed Mynydd y Gwair wind farm access track

P1060842 - Route of the proposed Mynydd y Gwair wind farm access track

Climbing up to Cwrt-mawr reveals a further stretch of minor road which will need improvement.


P1060851 - Route of the proposed Mynydd y Gwair wind farm access track

Thankfully Mynydd Pysgodlyn (above) will be spared as the road skirts this area and the fallen trig point which resides there should be safe for many years to come.


P1060853 - Route of the proposed Mynydd y Gwair wind farm access track

Losing altitude once more the road descends to Blaennant Ddu at which point ......


P1060855 - Route of the proposed Mynydd y Gwair wind farm access track

.....we leave it behind to follow a muddy track which will be significantly upgraded.


P1060859 - Route of the proposed Mynydd y Gwair wind farm access track

P1060862 - Route of the proposed Mynydd y Gwair wind farm access track

The access track then follows the contours until Mynydd Garn-Fach, the first significant area of common land which needs to be crossed. Originally there were proposals to site turbines here as well but thankfully those have now been dropped. Even so, having a permanent and substantial track driven through this open landscape will have a major impact.


P1060866 - Route of the proposed Mynydd y Gwair wind farm access track

P1060869 - Route of the proposed Mynydd y Gwair wind farm access track

And then we reach Mynydd y Gwair itself. The top image looks down from Mynydd Garn-Fach whilst the second is taken from near the plantation above the Upper Lliw reservoir. The new wind farm covers this area in its entirety and I probably don't need to spell out the changes likely to be wrought here in the next couple of years.


P1060873 - Upper Lliw

Finally we finish at the Upper Lliw reservoir, looking back across the water with Mynydd y Gwair in the background. By 2018 this will be a view held only in memories and photographs.

As you can see the area of impact is extensive and it's going to be interesting to see how well the access track in particular blends in with its surroundings. For Mynydd y Gwair though there really is no hope now but I'll be keeping you up to date as the project continues.

Birding London - Parakeets and Egyptian Geese

Procrastination. We're all guilty of it. Even me. You'd think that self acknowledgement would improve things but if my expired passport is anything to go by, apparently not. That was the main reason for publicly acknowledging in my new year resolutions that this year things are going to have to change, not only for my own sanity but also to hopefully aid my ascent from the rut which life seems to have settled in to. Take London as a prime example. We first discussed making a weekend trip a couple of years back to see either We Will Rock You or Rock of Ages in the West End. Leaving our musical tastes aside this seemed like a great idea yet somehow we never quite managed it. Both shows have since closed, another missed experience, so weekend before last we decided that enough was enough. A quick internet search later and we had hotel and train tickets booked and, less than half an hour after leaving work, we were being whisked towards the capital aboard that stalwart of BR, the Intercity 125. Bang on time we arrived at Paddington and following a brief navigational error we were soon standing mid span on Tower Bridge taking in the lights, sights and sounds of central London. Why had we taken so long. This was fantastic!

P1060734 - London

Across two days we walked over twenty miles covering all the main tourist landmarks including the British and Natural History museums, Tate Modern (I don't understand modern art it's safe to say) and even managed to squeeze in purchasing a sausage roll from Harrods. Fear not though, this post is not going to be a rundown of London's famous vistas but will instead focus on the surprising array of bird species which call the city home. Even during that first evening we could hear the calls of Black Headed Gulls from the river to which we were soon to add Herring, Common, Lesser Black-backed and Great Black-backed. Who needs the seaside eh. They didn't have the Thames to themselves however as apart from the ubiquitous Feral Pigeons there were also several Cormorants including a couple in full breeding plumage. This individual in particular stood out, perched atop one of the old mooring points opposite Hay's Wharf.

P1060797 - Cormorant, London

Their quiet demeanour was in strong contrast to our next sighting, a trio of Egyptian Geese who were either wildly enthusiastic at each others presence or ready to start world war three. It was hard to tell which. After circling around for a bit two eventually settled on a barge moored mid-channel and embarked in what appeared to be courtship. Having only really come across these birds in Norfolk previously, finding them in central London came as something of a surprise. They've clearly taken the place to heart however as there were several more in St James park, all equally as bad tempered as the first. At least they seemed happy to pose for photographs and I got my best shots to date of these curiously plumaged birds. Some would say ugly, I prefer unique.

P1060619 - Egyptian Goose, London

P1060680 - Egyptian Goose, London

P1060686 - Egyptian Goose, London

P1060699 - Egyptian Goose, London

They weren't our last surprise either as St James park also held a decent collection of waterfowl. Picking the wild birds from captive was tricky but we ended up spotting Gadwall, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Coot, Moorhen, Mallard, Canada Goose, Pochard, Little Grebe and even a male Goldeneye (which delighted in giving me the run around), all within touching distance of Downing Street and an anti-Trump march. Then of course there were the famous Pelicans though these are anything but wild. First introduced in 1664 as a gift from the Russian Ambassador they certainly made for an impressive sight and look very good for their age.

P1060668 - Goldeneye, London

P1060708 - Pelican, London

Of course we couldn't visit London without at least one sighting of Ring-necked Parakeets and on that score St James' once again delivered. Their calls belied their presence long before we spotted one and from that point on they were a constant companion until we were well past Buckingham Palace. In poor light and always quite distant photography proved difficult but fortunately we hit pay dirt on a grey and foggy Sunday morning in Greenwich. There a flock of at least eight birds were chilling out in trees near the old navy buildings allowing some great views and a close approach. Once again these are my best shots of this species to date, but oh for a little sunshine.

P1060771 - Ring-necked Parakeet, London

P1060777 - Ring-necked Parakeet, London

Probably the only thing missing from our collection was a bird of prey, something which would once have been common in the days when Red Kites were considered vermin such were their numbers scavenging in the streets. We'll probably never get back to that state now that sanitation and cleanliness are all the rage but nevertheless, if you've ever thought that urban areas offer little in the way of bird life then think again. All that's left for me to do really is to finish off with the species that started it all, a Black Headed Gull outside the Houses of Parliament.

P1060653 - Black Headed Gull, London

I wonder what its views are on a Trump state visit!
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