One of my unexpected Christmas presents this year was joint membership to the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, an organisation whose work is both widespread and incredibly valuable to my local area. I’ve lost count of the number of their reserves we’ve visited over the years whether it be through planned outings or happy coincidence and really should have joined up long before now. We’d have saved a fortune on Skomer landing fees alone! Now that we are members I intend to make the most of it starting with a visit last Sunday to Dinefwr Park. Though the car park, Newton House and deer park are owned by the National Trust, Wildlife Trust members can park gratis and enjoy free reign of the parkland before wandering over to Castle Woods (a Wildlife Trust reserve) which includes the superb Dinefwr castle looked after by Cadw. If you can follow that management web then well done and congratulations to all the organisations involved for coming together and preserving such a beautiful landscape. Just driving up the long approach road you can sense that this is somewhere pretty special, a feeling only reinforced if, like us, you are lucky enough to arrive when the resident Fallow Deer herd are resting on the long lawn behind Newton House.
The early morning light still held a little of last nights mist lending a sense of authenticity to what is after all a deer park dating back to medieval times. Once an enclave for the rich and famous we can all now wander freely and that was exactly what we planned to do. Heading first through The Rookery it was hard to ignore the sounds of spring as all around us Nuthatches, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Wrens, Blackbirds and a multitude of other species were belting out their tuneful (and in some cases not so tuneful) songs. After the quiet months of winter they really did lift the soul with Nuthatches in particular being incredibly numerous. I can’t remember having visited any another woodland previously where they have been quite so abundant. Topping them all though were a pair of Red Kites circling overhead.
Jackdaws were also stretching their vocal chords with a small group of eight involved in raucous and at times violent territorial disputes. Much of this activity was centred on an old Oak whose trunk held a couple of large holes more than capable of holding a Jackdaw nest. Indeed I did see a couple of individuals enter one of these only to be somewhat viciously evicted leading to aerial combat the likes of which I’ve rarely seen. Birds were crashing through branches, feathers were flying and in one case two adversaries fell to the ground locked in battle. I’ve no idea who came out on top and I doubt they do either.
With their dispute taking them further into the woods we were soon left in relative tranquillity where I just couldn’t resist photographing a few of the trees. There’s something quite appealing about skeletal branches against a blue sky and with Dinefwr holding more ancient Oaks (over 300) than any other Welsh woodland there were certainly plenty to choose from.
The best part of the whole day for me though was the time we spent down by the mill pond. Once used to supply water to Newton House its machinery has been overhauled and is now back in working order. Were this a summers day I’m sure there would have been more people about but we had the place to ourselves. Better still there wasn’t a breath of wind leaving the mill pond as smooth as, well, a mill pond.
The dam which holds back this water here is surprisingly substantial and at its base sits a small area which must rank as the parks best hidden gem. With dappled light, the sound of running water and a view across the frozen river valley this really was my idea of perfection.
There was plenty of life sharing this space with us including a pair of Chiffchaffs who showed no aversion to landing on frozen water and a Grey Wagtail happily feeding mere meters from where we sat. Best of all though was the discovery of Otter spraint, the first time I’ve made such a find away from the Isle of Mull. Definitely bodes well for sightings of the animals themselves sometime in the future.
Looking further afield a large flock of Canada Geese, several Teal and a pair of Mute Swans could be seen enjoying what little water remained free of ice but even better was to come. The Wildlife Trust have provided a hide overlooking the valley and from there we were presented with perfect, if distant, views of a Great White Egret. I was gob-smacked. Although we have regularly spotted these large birds at Llanrhidian marsh the sightings there have always been brief and in flight. Here though we could take the bird in at our leisure and even grab a passable record shot.
After that anything else was going to have to work especially hard to impress but a very tame Goldcrest in Bog Wood did put in a sterling effort before it was up to the castle itself. That the ruins proved to be of exceptional quality should have come as no surprise and the views? Truly breathtaking. I think I’ve rambled on enough for this post though so will share those with you next time. Trust me they’re worth the wait.