Tornado and the Pembroke Coast Express

Pembroke Coast Express
Sunday before last saw an unusual visitor arriving here in South Wales and as you might expect from a land steeped in myth and legend, this was to be no ordinary cross-border incursion. Indeed, playing the Welsh very much at their own game what emerged from the Severn Tunnel in a cloud of smoke and steam was a true fire breathing marvel. With sun glinting off pristine green plating there could be no mistaking the power and pedigree of a machine which epitomises everything great about British engineering. Oh yes my friends, Tornado was on her way.

Dipping Through Waterfall Country

P1180590 - Pontneddfechan Waterfalls
Of all the seasons autumn for me is the one which seems to pass the quickest. One minute it's all lush vegetation and long sunny days, the next barren landscapes and lashings of rain. Somewhere in-between those classic vistas with which we're all so familiar, of valleys bedecked in oranges and reds, must exist, yet somehow we never quite manage to connect. Much of that has I'm sure to do with our local climate which has this uncanny knack of switching moods on an almost hourly basis. In fact by now I've come to realise that it's an almost guaranteed occurrence that as soon as the leaves start to change our first named storm of the winter will arrive to dash the display before it's really had chance to develop. And last year proved be no different.

Short Eared Owls and Elusive Grebes

P1180973 - Short Eared Owl. Kenfig
Yesterday did not get off to the most promising of starts. For a few days previous I’d begun to detect the onset of another winter cold. Nothing too major you understand, just the odd cough and sniffle, enough to let you know that sometime soon, probably at the most inopportune moment, man-flu would strike. Sunday morning turned out to be my ground zero.

Squeezing my eyes shut against the brightness of another unseasonably warm February morning I knew that I was in trouble. Pain arced behind my eyes and a previously undiscovered spring had overnight taken up residence within my nose. I could have dragged this broken body out of bed I suppose but wallowing in self-pity whilst claiming to have been visited by the worst cold ever suffered by a human is one of the few male pastimes which remains steadfastly ours. And that’s how I stayed until well after noon.

The One Where I Go Missing For A Bit

If you’ve been checking in on this blog or any of my social channels even semi regularly over the past few months (and many of you have for which I thank you profusely), then you may have noticed that things have been rather quiet. In fact my last “original” content was way back in August following the barnstormer that was Birdfair 2018, after which I rather fell off the digital wagon. It’s not the first time and it probably won’t be the last despite my best of intentions and, as usual, the reasons are all too familiar. Time, work and having taken on too many other projects all feature prominently but new to me has been an overwhelming sense of despair that I’ve had real trouble shaking. Indeed it still burdens me now.

Some of this was a hangover from Birdfair itself where, despite writing of my intention to take inspiration from those fighting for our wildlife and environment, I couldn’t shake the sense that it was all hopeless and that in the end we’re on a downwards spiral whose course was set long ago. Even when opportunities to make a difference do present themselves it seems that those with the real power are either too busy playing politics or, as seems to be the case in many instances, simply don’t care. That makes global issues such as climate change and plastic pollution an almost impossible challenge. Even trying to lift my mood by heading out locally has managed to have the opposite effect with dirt bikes and fly-tipping blighting several favourite haunts.

Needless to say the desire to write upbeat posts therefore has been somewhat lacking and instead I’ve been throwing myself into other activities including the ongoing conversion of my van to a camper as well as spending an embarrassing amount of time playing Pok√©mon Go (yes, really!). When the urge to get back out birding became too strong to ignore we chose to forego the usual options and instead ended up on a week’s all-inclusive holiday to Sardinia. This came at just the right time with both of us nearing burnout and things couldn’t have gone any better. Fantastic wildlife, glorious weather and beautiful surroundings meant that we came back refreshed and with a feeling that perhaps all was not lost after all.

In recent weeks the rapid onset of autumn has brought a stark drop in temperature resulting in sharp frosts and some stunning early morning light. With it has come a flurry of Jay activity such that I’ve barely been able to go for a walk or drive without seeing these most colourful of corvids. Back at home our garden feeders have begun to feel the winter onslaught of hungry Goldfinches and we’ve also been joined by a chatty Magpie which seems to take much delight in banging our windows each morning. Beats an alarm clock anyway. Together these little moments have started to remind me why I fell in love with the great outdoors in the first place and that, no matter how difficult things may initially appear, there’s always hope and collectively we should never give up the fight. Hope prevails so long as there’s someone still standing.

So where does that leave me now? Conflicted yes but at least with light at the end of the tunnel and a renewed sense of excitement and curiosity. With a couple of months left before the end of the year I plan to bring this blog up to date with recent goings on and also to prepare for a 2019 which promises to be full of new opportunities and adventure. Just to whet your appetite here’s a sample of what will be coming your way very soon:

- Dipping through Waterfall Country
- Jurassic coast fossils
- Sardinia: a week birding and walking the Mediterranean
- Van Conversion Part 1: insulating and carpeting
- Van Conversion Part 2: cupboards and a custom bed
- Van Conversion Part 3: swivel seats and finishing touches
- Sunday Showcase

Plenty to keep me busy then including a backlog of several thousand photos to edit and catalogue, not to mention actually writing some posts. On top of that I'm sure there'll be plenty of opportunity for odd day's out here and there particularly when the hills start turning white. Consider normal service resumed as of now.

P1180670 - Lyme Regis

I've missed this little community we've built together and look forward to seeing it grow even further.

Sunday Showcase - Wryneck vs Dartford Warbler

Two rarities for the price of one

28864_2 - Wryneck vs Dartford Warbler - 2012 Re-edit

It's a personal guarantee that if you spend enough time immersed in nature then sooner or later you'll experience one of those moments which makes you sit back and think wow, did that really just happen? We've been fortunate over the years to have enjoyed that adrenaline kick more than once ourselves but one particular encounter stands out above all others.

Back in 2012 we were walking the Pembrokeshire coast path from Strumble Head to Tal-y-Gaer and, being October, talk inevitably turned to rare migrants and our thus far complete lack of success in turning up anything of note. In fact I had just broached the subject of Wryneck's when a bird shot out of the Gorse ahead before circling and vanishing into the undergrowth once more. I knew what I thought I'd seen but no, it couldn't be, could it? Searching intently soon had the culprit once more in view and blow me if it wasn't my first ever self found Wryneck! Seldom is life so perfectly timed.

Creeping closer I managed to get into a good position for photography, baring in mind that at the time my gear was somewhat limited, and already had a couple of semi-decent images in the bag. All the while though I could hear this frantic alarm call from somewhere nearby when, and I can still scarcely believe this some six years later, a Dartford Warbler hopped into view and proceeded to give our Wryneck a piece of its mind. For just a split second both birds were close enough to fit in a single frame and this week's Sunday Showcase is the result.

That wasn't to be the end of our Wryneck encounter either but for the full account why not head over to my original account of the day here.


Sunday Showcase is an opportunity to revisit a few of my favourite images. Some will have been published here previously whilst others will be freshly liberated from my vast back catalogue. All have memories attached and each week I'll be sharing those stories with you.

Sunday Showcase - Ulva Swallows

Recently fledged Swallows on Ulva

P1100343 - Swallow, Ulva

Last summer we finally made our first trip over to Ulva, an island located off the west coast of Mull with a permanent population of just six. Access came via a small passenger ferry which saw us safely across the narrow straight on what was a morning shrouded in mist. Like much of the surrounding area Ulva is bristling with wildlife and the first birds we stumbled upon were this trio of recently fledged Swallows. Their parents were dropping in at regular intervals to deliver food but there's no mistaking that look of discontent. After several weeks in a warm, dry nest, who could really blame them.

For a full account of our time on Ulva head here.


Sunday Showcase is an opportunity to revisit a few of my favourite images. Some will have been published here previously whilst others will be freshly liberated from my vast back catalogue. All have memories attached and each week I'll be sharing those stories with you.
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