Long. Weekend. Two words revered amongst those who have not yet had the good fortune to retire from regular employment and the reason why Thursday morning found me back at Craig Cerrig-Gleisiad (and yes I did have to look up the spelling). Our first visit to this impressive glacial formation was back in April and the birds seen on that occasion promised great things to come. As we were just passing through as part of a much larger walk however, opportunities for a deeper and longer exploration were limited. Today that would not be the case.
Despite it still being early the temperature was already rising rapidly when I arrived and if not for a strong breeze blowing in across Fan Frynych the stark embrace of those towering cliffs could have become very oppressive indeed. As it was conditions proved most pleasant and I took my time wandering through the wooded lower reaches listening to singing Willow Warblers whilst failing completely to actually see any. At least the insects were more visible though the sight of Horse Flies eyeing up my arms was probably something I could have done without. Far more interesting were numerous Ringlet butterflies and a superb Golden-ringed Dragonfly of which a photo was surely destined to appear on here. Unfortunately I got distracted by an unfamiliar call from the Bracken slopes above and by the time I’d turned back it had done a bunk. I couldn’t be too disappointed though as the noisy culprits turned out to be two juvenile Redstarts! As best I could tell they were entirely free of their parents and looked to be feeding well. Though you can’t really tell in these photos, even at this early stage of development that bright red under-tail was clear to see and a joy to watch as the birds flitted along.
Suitably buoyed by this early success I pushed onwards to emerge into the main bowl itself. Carved out during the last ice age there is no way to describe it other than dramatic. I almost wasn’t surprised to hear the calls of a Peregrine Falcon hidden somewhere up on one of the ledges but I definitely hadn’t been expecting to find a Spotted Flycatcher sat on a branch right in front of me. I just had chance to grab a shot before it hopped off and continued to feed nearby. Talk about jammy.
The Flycatcher wasn’t the only bird using this particular scrubby bush either as its upper reaches held a Tree Pipit and a bird which at first glance had me confused. It was gone before a better view could be obtained but left uttering a call which seemed entirely unfamiliar. Linnet-esque but definitely not quite right. As I stood and watched I began to see more and more of these birds until eventually one perched out in the open. Cue light bulb moment as through my ‘bins I saw a stunning male Lesser Redpoll. Perhaps it should have been obvious a whole lot earlier but I see Redpolls so rarely that they just don’t come readily to mind. Craig Cerrig-Gleisiad is clearly something of a goldmine for them however with at least six individuals, though probably many more, seen. Sadly I never did manage to get a photo so instead turned my attention to the Pipits. Both Tree and Meadow were about but I could only find this Meadow Pipit willing to pose. Nice looking bird though.
Walking deeper amongst the glacial moraines turned up a family of Stonechats but it was another chat species which got my pulse racing. A female and two juvenile Whinchats were the cause and I had great views of them and another adult Redstart a short distance away.
From here on things got a whole lot more energetic as I climbed up towards the summit trig point at Fan Frynych. As on our last visit I couldn’t help but be impressed at the expansive views and again wondered at the logic of those massing off in the distance atop Pen y fan. Why choose the crowds when you can have all this solitude and space?
Following the ridge southwards offered more commanding views across the surrounding landscape against a backing track of singing Skylarks. I’m not sure why my local birds have fallen silent when these are in such fine voice. Also about were more of the ubiquitous Meadow Pipits, a solitary Red Kite and several Broad-bodied Chasers. The latter were frequenting one of the small pools which earlier this year had held masses of Tadpoles and which next year will undoubtedly provide food for the Dragonfly larvae. It’s a circle of life thing don’t you know.
Also up at these high altitudes was a nice collection of Cotton-grass, a plant which for me just screams of Mull. The boggy uplands on the island are absolutely covered with the stuff and this was just another tug at my heartstrings reminding me that we really need to get back there in the next few months.
Having navigated around the upper rim of Craig Cerrig-Gleisiad a steep descent soon found me back amongst the moraines at which I’d started. A single Wheatear was nice to see but top find went to another couple of Whinchats, one of which came close enough for a semi-decent photo. Alas I seem to have mucked up the focusing a tad (I blame the heat haze) but it’s still my closest photograph of this species to date.
All in all then a very successful trip with my key target species of Tree Pipit and Redstart well and truly ticked off. I only wish I’d come a few weeks earlier as a passing walker told me that she’d literally been tripping over Cuckoos back then. Still, there’s always next year.