A Chattering of Choughs

One species which appears to have had a very successful breeding season, at least locally, is the Chough. With their curved red bills and matching legs these charismatic birds are most definitely top of the corvid pecking order. You can keep your Jays and your Magpies (yes even with their iridescence) and give me a calling Chough sweeping along a Welsh clifftop every time.

We’re fortunate here that the Gower peninsula holds a healthy population and it’s been rare for one of our evening walks down that way this summer not to have encountered at least a couple. Of course weather conditions unfortunately haven’t tended to be on our side so most of those views have come during gale force winds. Not so on our last trip to Southgate however which saw calmer conditions finally arriving on these shores, if not the sun. There a flock of twelve incredibly vocal and boisterous individuals were roaming widely as far as Three Cliffs, often feeding on the cropped grassland without much concern for passing walkers. I shot a few frames but in truth I could tell that the results would be disappointing so was happy to just stand back and watch events unfold.

At times the flock would split into two distinct groups, each taking a different direction but inevitably coming together again a short while later. One of these gatherings saw the Choughs perch along the cliff-face itself, exactly what I hoped they’d do and a final chance to get some halfway decent photos. Creeping closer under cover of one of the old limestone pits I popped up a mere couple of metres distant, unnoticed and with probably the best seats in the house.
 
P1240911 - Chough, Southgate

P1240907 - Chough, Southgate

P1240912 - Chough, Southgate

House Martin Down

You can’t visit Welshpool without a stroll along its stretch of the Montgomery canal, eminently pleasant at the best of times but particularly so with the sun shining and summer in full flow. We chose to head north towards Buttington Cross, our route accompanied by strings of Mallard ducklings and shoals of Rudd. Darting across the canal’s surface meanwhile were all manner of hirundines with only the Swifts practising their brand of aerial acrobatics at higher altitudes. I’ve often wondered how young birds learn their flight skills, even more so when one’s choice of lifestyle requires such dexterity and agility. We were about to get a taster as to how difficult life on the wing can be.

Shortly after passing beneath one of the numerous bridges which crisscross this navigation there was a sudden commotion and splash from behind us. Emma turned first, just in time to spot a Sparrowhawk exiting stage right leaving a House Martin struggling frantically in the water. We could only surmise that a chase had ensued with the desperate martin crashing either out of sheer desperation or a costly mistake. Whatever the cause a rescue mission was clearly in urgent need and it looked like we were the people to mount it.
 
P1240693 - House Martin down

Llanymynech Rocks

P1240776 - Brimstone, Llanymynech Rocks
Finding hidden gems in oft visited areas is immensely rewarding. Take our high tide visit to Banc y Lord a couple of weeks ago as one such example. Another came at the conclusion of our recent long weekend in Welshpool when, with a few hours spare before heading home, we popped up the road to Llanymynech and its intriguingly marked Heritage Area on the OS map. Now this is somewhere we’ve driven past on numerous occasions, probably even spotting the small brown attraction sign as we did so, yet we simply had no idea that what lay within was a wealth of history and one of the best small nature reserves I’ve visited.

Doing a bit of research reveals that this area was a major centre for the lime industry up until the 1900’s and a remarkable collection of associated buildings and infrastructure remains to this day. Railway embankments and a stretch of disused canal offer plentiful walking opportunities, weaving through woodland which one minute finds you entering a sunny glade and the next drops you out in front of a forty two metre chimney. Sitting high above all this is the quarry itself, straddling the English Welsh border and active for almost two thousand years up until the first world war.
     
P1240745 - Llanymynech Rocks

The intervening years have seen extensive regeneration with Ash woodland now covering much of the site. Beneath the cliffs however, where old spoil tips and tramways dominate, large swathes of short grassland have developed to produce a true botanical treasure. Since 1972 the Shropshire Wildlife Trust have managed the quarry as a nature reserve, carefully nurturing this special habitat for its orchids and butterflies. With the sun blazing there was certainly no shortage of the latter and we spent a happy hour trying, and in the most part succeeding, to get a few photographs.
 
P1240776 - Brimstone, Llanymynech Rocks
Brimstone
P1240768 - Common Blue, Llanymynech Rocks
Common Blue
P1240765 - Meadow Brown, Llanymynech Rocks
Meadow Brown
P1240783 - Large White, Llanymynech Rocks
Large White

Being a fan of abandoned industrial sites I couldn’t of course resist a photograph of one of the old winding drums. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a slate quarry or a limestone quarry, climbing those inclines is still one hell of a good workout.
 
P1240759 - Llanymynech Rocks

The quarry also plays host to some decent birdlife with family groups of Willow Warblers flitting through the scrub whilst Buzzards and a Red Kite were pretty much a permanent presence overhead. Announcing its arrival with a harsh call though was our star bird for the day, a Peregrine Falcon which flew in and quickly vanished behind a crevice high up on the rockface.

I’ll finish with an image of probably the most impressive structure on site, a vast Hoffman lime kiln. Built around 1900 it was Llanymynech’s last significant development and today is exceptionally well preserved. One of only three examples left in the country it was used for the continual burning of lime and must have been a hellish place to work. Men would have spent their days inside those vast arches surrounded by heat, noise and dust. Hard to imagine when standing in the cool, tranquil setting of today.
 
P1240788 - Llanymynech Limeworks

In summary then a true gem which I have a feeling will become a regular stop-off point in future whenever we’re passing through. We were a bit too late this time to see the Orchids in flower so that’s definitely worth a return trip alone.

Garreg Lwyd Dotterel

P1250053 - Garreg Lwyd
Bank holiday weekend was a busy one for us with Saturday spent exploring the Preseli Hills (trip report to follow) and Sunday afternoon taken up with something called a social gathering. An odd concept I admit but one which I think could really take off, maybe even as early as next year. That only left a couple of hours free in the morning so we decided to head for a walk around Garreg Lwyd above Brynamman. The weather was glorious with a cool breeze hinting at autumn just around the corner and visibility stretching for miles in all directions.
     
P1250023 - Garreg Lwyd

P1250021 - Garreg Lwyd

P1250028 - Garreg Lwyd

An Epic Strumble Seawatch

P1240856 - Strumble Head
With all that’s been going on during the past week our trip to Strumble Saturday before last seems like a lifetime ago. Back then storm Ellen was still making her presence felt which meant big winds, big waves and even bigger birds (at least in terms of the amount of thigh rubbing induced). Spring tides too were playing their part which was the main reason for us starting our day at Banc y Lord, an early nineteenth century seawall overlooking Kidwelly Marsh.
 
P1240824 - Kidwelly Marsh

On a normal tide the vast area of saltmarsh stretching out before you would be a combination of marshland (obviously), fields and muddy channels. Line up the sun and moon however and the whole area disappears beneath the waters of Carmarthen Bay, pushing birds which would otherwise be spread far and wide much closer. Having lived here for over a decade the fact that I’d never visited this particular vantage point before now is a surprising omission but as the saying goes, there’s no time like the present.

Llangennech Train Derailment, Fire and Pollution of the Loughor Estuary

P1240891Llangennech train derailment and fire
Looking out of your bedroom window in the early hours to find not only a major incident unfolding but also a potential environmental disaster is not really what I had planned for yesterday. But then again this is 2020 where plans it seems were made to be broken and the unexpected is quickly becoming the norm. When else for instance could I have realistically imagined myself dealing with the nations press all clamouring for use of a photo snapped on my mobile and having to turn down radio interviews left, right and centre. Sounds like a surrealist fantasy but I kid you not, this was how I spent a good portion of my morning.