The Aberglaslyn Pass has always offered walkers a dramatic mix of scenery and wildlife and even though the recent revival of the Welsh Highland Railway has rendered the old tunnels off limits, an alternative riverside path more than compensates. Back on Wednesday we set off from Beddgelert to tackle a circular route out along the river before returning across higher ground to the north. I’d been this way a couple of years previous but in damp conditions the views had been somewhat disappointing. We may not have had any rain this time around but the clear skies from earlier in the week had sadly departed leaving a grey and hazy scene. What hadn’t left us however were high temperatures resulting in hundreds of Ringlet butterflies on the wing. The highest density was focused around the riverside meadows where Meadow Browns and Large Skippers were also showing exceptionally well.
Birds were not to be outdone with several family groups of Grey Wagtail making the most of an abundant supply of insects, as was a solitary young Dipper. Surprisingly this was to be our only sighting of the latter, a marked decrease in numbers from eighteen moths ago. Stopping for lunch delivered great views of a Common Sandpiper in flight followed by it feeding a way off to our right. Searching for a better view revealed two Goosanders before we went all soppy for a female Mallard attempting to take her ducklings through an area of rough water.
The local Swallows were also feeding on the abundant insects with one pair in particular focusing their efforts around the bridge above. A quick peak beneath confirmed my suspicions with a large nest tucked up against one of the beams. Its construction however was far from typical with an almost spherical shape and more use of moss than mud. To my knowledge this is hardly usual for Swallows and suggest perhaps the work of those aforementioned Grey Wagtails or Dippers.
Pushing on a huge Horse Fly was spotted while photographing this rather nice group of Orchids. I know I’ve always stated that I’m not a flower person but I fear that persona may be slipping as time passes. I’ll blame my advancing years.
A little further and it was time to leave the river and push on upwards through forestry plantations. I can only describe that climb as something akin to swimming to the surface from a great depth. Between closely packed trunks there was not a breath of wind and with insects beginning to treat us as a walking buffet the break into open country was such a welcome relief.
The stone structure (above) at Bryn Duhas has origins unknown although it is believed that much of the current remains originate from a second world war lookout tower. The views would certainly have been extensive though I can’t help thinking that something a little more spacious would have increased comfort levels considerably. That aside I wonder if whoever once dwelt here also got to share this hillside as we did with a stunning male Hen Harrier. Out of nowhere it soared across the valley beneath us before disappearing into the forestry from which we’d just disentangled ourselves. What a stunning bird and due to their sadly increasing rarity a moment to be cherished. Despite the many hours I’ve spent walking Welsh countryside this is the first time I’ve ever seen the species in summer or over upland terrain. Surely a damming indictment of the conditions this species is forced to endure and another reason why we should all support the protection of Hen Harriers across the UK. I recommend checking out the Birders Against website for more details on how you can fight to stop the extinction of these magnificent birds.
With that in the bag anything else was going to have to work very hard indeed to compete but a noisy family of Spotted Flycatchers did their best. For Emma these were her first sightings of the species this year following our failure to get over to the Dinas reserve, though we couldn’t luck into any of their pied relatives. Never mind as we’d certainly enjoyed the outing. I even won a game of Poohsticks!