It’s fair to say that motivation is proving a little hard to come by of late. I could have accepted the first month or two of relentless rain, grey skies and wind (it is winter after all) but month three really started to push my patience. What had once been a novelty with each hour grabbed between downpours a moment for celebration, had by now turned into a repetitive story of missed opportunities and frustratingly curtailed outings. Long walks were fast becoming a distant memory and as for the hills, I can’t remember the last time we set foot on the Brecon Beacons proper. Still, at least February would offer a bit of relief surely. Sadly not. Once again one rainy day has bled into the next with odd moments of brightness almost always coinciding with time spent at work. Come the weekend and if a couple of hours of dryness happen to pass your way then count yourself lucky as chances are that’s the last you’ll see for several days hence. For someone who loves the outdoors this has not been conducive to making me a happy chappy, my feeling of despair only heightened by being struck down with man flu over the weekend just gone. This is a serious condition afflicting those of us carrying the XY chromosome combination and has led to me being mostly bed-bound ever since. In fact that’s where I’m writing this from having been too unwell to drag my crippled carcass into the office where I could have shared my carefully cultivated infection. I did briefly open the curtains but that was a mistake as all that confronted me was someone called Imogen who had decided to batter South Wales with 80mph plus winds and yet more, yes you guessed it, torrential rain. Add in a busted PS4, too many weeks until my next holiday and, oh, everyone’s gone.
If you are still with me then apologies as I realise that I am not alone in having had to endure what has to be one of the wettest, dreariest and downright depressing winters for a good few years. It’s certainly the worst I can ever remember. Thankfully I have something decent to share from the weekend before last where a frankly remarkable dry morning on Saturday meant we could squeeze in a trip to Dinefwr. Even stranger was that it actually felt cold, properly cold, necessitating the breaking out of hats and gloves for the first time in what seems like an age. Best of all though was that there was actually some sun, genuine brightness from a golden orb that I’d genuinely feared lost to the human race. Looking skywards through bare branches to the blue sky beyond was a genuinely uplifting moment that’s carried me ever since.
I spent a good while stood in that one spot, absorbing the warming rays and marvelling at an abundance of life which seemed just as pleased in their upturn in fortunes as I was. Jackdaws squawked noisily as they chased each other through the upper branches whilst down at my feet leaves were being thrown this way and that by foraging Blackbirds and Chaffinches. Robins were in full song, their summer tune at that, with a backing chorus of Blue Tits and the distinctive calls of both Nuthatches and Treecreepers. A little bit of hunting soon turned up both the latter species but whilst the Treecreeper led me a merry dance one of the Nuthatches was only too happy to sit and pose.
I probably could have taken a few more shots but a sudden sleet shower soon put paid to that. This new camera of mine might be weather sealed but I don’t really want to put that claim to the test unnecessarily. Strangely the sun was still shining and a few minutes later had reasserted itself over our wintry interruption. A good thing too as a short distance into the deer park we came across a herd of Fallow Deer resting and feeding on the hillside above us. Previous visits here had given the impression that these animals are very shy, normally only visible early in the morning and never at close quarters. Clearly I have been misled however as this mixed group of males and females was perfectly at ease with our presence allowing ample opportunity to experiment with composition and camera settings alike. Check out some of those antlers.
In the end it was we who chose to break the encounter by setting off deeper into the park, leaving the Deer behind. It’s not often that you get to enjoy such close proximity to these animals, even in parkland settings, and let me assure you that they are a dam sight less intimidating than coming across a Red Deer stag at the height of rutting season on Mull. That was a genuine pant wetting moment. Thankfully we were on safer ground here and in the company of more Nuthatches than it’s possible to shake a stick at (about six by my reckoning) soon reached the two hides. Immediately it was clear that all that rain had caused extensive flooding across the Tywi valley. Large pools of standing water abounded and were being taken advantage of by a wide variety of waterfowl. Pintail (11), Coot (3), Cormorant (2), Shoveller (6), Wigeon (30+), Gadwall (2), Grey Heron (3) and Mallards were all present but best of all, roosting amongst the herons, was a superb Great White Egret. This is the second winter in succession that we have seen what I presume to be the same bird here and it never fails to impress. If only it would wake up and show that long neck off. Then it did though frustratingly remained at great distance.
Our next success came in the marshy woodland that sits below Dinefwr Castle itself where once again a wealth of small birds surrounded us. At least three Goldcrest, yet more Nuthatches and Treecreepers plus a Coal Tit were quickly eclipsed by a pair of Marsh Tits calling repeatedly overhead. Once again catching one in the open proved a challenge but perseverance just about won out in the end.
I needed even more patience for the next arrival which turned out to be a Grey Wagtail. It landed in the shallow stream bordering our position but with so much shade about I really needed it to come a little closer. Following the birds movements closely pretty much had me convinced that it was deliberately toying with me as it first approached only to quickly change direction just before it reached the one shaft of light I was aiming for. In the end I think it felt sorry for me and perched up exactly where I’d wanted it to all along.
Back out in the open it was clear that the sun had once again left us leaving in its wake a bitingly cold wind blowing straight up the valley. Overhead we witnessed a Red Kite being mobbed, heard yaffling Green Woodpeckers from somewhere nearby and managed to spot a trio of Mistle Thrushes mere moments after having remarked that we’d not seen any winter thrushes all day. Sadly my comments on Golden Eagles did not meet with such immediate results.
Up at the castle we got a commanding view across the flooded valley (above) and got great views down onto this structures current guardian, a Raven. Then it was time to head for home just before the heavens opened and plunged the whole landscape back into another week of rain and murk. Still, it was nice while it lasted.