Friday, December 2, 2016

Wildlife Diary: On Sale Now


NOW ON SALE
Wildlife Diary based on 52 weekly observations all made over a single year within 5 miles of Llanbedr, Gwynedd; a rich landscape of mountains & lakes, moorland & pasture, rivers & woods, estuary and seashore.

Illustrations by C.F.Tunniclffe, OBE, RA.

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Monday, January 7, 2013

Hen Harrier, Grey Plover, Gt Northern Diver

Despite high pressure over western France, this western seaboard has been shrouded in ‘Scots mist’ for the past week or so. But hazel catkins are already a-dangle over the lane; narcissi shooting beside the gate; lawn needing a trim already: winter has been washed away leaving an early taste of spring.

Dull morning on the estuary brings fewer species than usual, but some memorable highlights. Expected neat little Teal, sharp-winged Wigeon and large upright Shelduck on shining mud-banks; small party of back-quiffed Merganser, drakes displaying in quietly filling estuary channel; large party of gulls rest up on wide sand flats. Heavy brown Curlew stand on the river bend; smaller, elegant grey and silver Redshank, active and alert.

Scanning for soaring raptors over far dunes, a small white bar floats over and across expansive reed-beds backed by dark osiers at the back of the marsh; only gradually, camouflaged, brown angled wings and long steering tail of female Hen Harrier materialises, quartering reed-bed margins.

On boulder shore, large, white-on-black Oystercatchers take off, ‘peeping’ frantically as usual with smaller, stripe-winged Turnstones; soft mewing with buzzing calls from a party of small, fast, sharp-winged Ringed Plover and Dunlin wheeling out over the sea then back and away up the estuary. Two distinctive plaintive calls from a single, medium-sized wader heading away in direct flight across the estuary mouth, grey with pale wing-stripe, belly and rump, alighting upright and stout billed in dark bladder-wrack: first Grey Plover of the year.

Taking the eye from the ‘scope, a long, low, dark form swims seaward in the estuary mouth below, heavy-ridged brow deciding unusually close view of Great Northern Diver, seen here perhaps once a year, twisting up a clear white belly to preen before swimming fast with the current into spreading waters of the filling estuary.

Wildlife Wales Activities: www.wildlife-wales.co.uk


Friday, December 28, 2012

Hints of Spring...

Clearing the moat dug around the pig ark may give just a hint of the horrors of the Somme: sage-green ooze sucks at wellingtons, staying on the shovel just sufficient to be thrown clear; hens cower tight under perimeter ivy and fencing to avoid rain and mud; 120lbs on four sharp trotters have puddled the orchard as effectively as clay canal lining.

Mild temperatures have brought on winter salads in the cold glasshouse despite late sowing: Japanese Mustards; Rocket & Land Cress; and 9 varieties of Italian Lettuce, Endive & Chicory; all grown as cut-and-come-again salad leaves through newspaper; a taste of summer in winter.

Since the week of the longest day, loud repeated Song Thrush couplets ring out over the valley with occasional, simple and wild Mistle Thrush song and Great Tit insistent 2-note refrain; first sounds of spring to join Robin’s sweet trill and pugnacious Wren enfilade.

Nothing unusual in over-wintering waders and ducks on estuary & shore with sea-duck, divers & grebes on the sea, nevertheless, the winter landscape brings rich, memorable images: storm-blown, dirty sea pounds the beach and rocky shore with creamy surf; solitary Grey Heron stands erect like a gangly guest in grey wedding suit, hands clasped behind, looking out to sea; bony knee-deep in broken wave swash sweeping over rock and dark bladder-wrack, dangling dark crest blown sideways in the wind.

Little Egret is less patient: angelic white, wading on black stick legs in a dark drain, prodding with yellow feet, rushing and stabbing deftly after small-fry flushed from the muddy bottom; then off, sailing high over the dyke to the sandy estuary, briefly sharing a sandy, shallow pool with an equally elegant Redshank, both birds chasing and stabbing at tiny prey before off yet again in buoyant flight deeper into the marsh.



Wildlife Wales Activities: www.wildlife-wales.co.uk

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Frost & Blue Skies

Grass and leaves crunch with frost all day; breaking ice for the pig trough; ash and birch stems stand sunlit white against deep blue sky; gloved fingers pinched hard when scrolling optical lenses in stonking cold easterly breeze.

The wildlife walk proves rich with memorable images: compact little falcon flickers fast over the seaside hamlet, over the railway line, jinked down a hedgerow before flipping up into a small oak crown. Moments later, the Merlin swoops out low to crash, wings spread, onto frost-grey pasture; then off again, having missed its prey.

On a fence-post dividing rush-clumped meadows, an upright form sits, long-tailed, grey-tan with yellow legs: resident Kestrel preening, feathers fluffed.

Out on the flat estuary under a wide sky, thin whistles and growls from sharp-winged Wigeon, silhouette in shallows and shining mud, roosting, preening or sifting tiny molluscs from wet sludge. Sudden commotion as Wigeon, Curlew and gull flocks lift with loud whistles and calls with no visible cause located.

Calm returning, three long, low, back-quiffed Merganser silhouettes are spotted swimming downstream with Shelduck, Mute Swans, Gulls and Cormorants in scattered groups before a familiar, half-expected, erect dark form perched way out on the flats, tall and angle-shouldered on a rock: anticipated Peregrine surveying its flocks.

Later, a dozen Wigeon seem unconcerned, silhouette in sandy shallows of the harbour pool. However, sudden whistles prompt a quick scan of the sands revealing a vacant rock and powerful, sharp-winged form flickering low over the sands, eventually raising feeding ducks, waders and gulls before turning to skirt low over the horizon, altering course and accelerating after Redshank and Ringed Plover surprised into flight ahead.

Even with high-definition vision and fastest flight on the globe, this apprentice killer has its work cut out to take equally alert and sharp-sighted prey by surprise.



Wildlife Wales Activities: www.wildlife-wales.co.uk

Monday, December 3, 2012

December Dawn

Starting up the lane before light, wet leaves underfoot; abrupt, loud buzzing from early Wren deep in lane-side laurel before sky opens grey overhead with first view of distant mountains.

The river runs clean and loud as we climb out of the valley toward tree-line and open farmland. Turning to close the first field gate, a long-tailed shape hangs angle-winged behind the last Sycamore: early foraging Red Kite. Moving up the first field, bulky, short-tailed shape stands erect on dry-stone wall ahead: Buzzard leans forward and launches away, broad wings held dihedral as it wobbles out over the wooded valley.

Another Wren buzzes in rocky scrub as we splash through mountain stream and hit the first climb. Orange dawn lights the underside of summit cloud. The only other bird heard is sharp ‘chack’ of chipped flint and urgent whistles from Stonechat in rock and heather.

Up the grassy mine track, footprints now mark a dusting of snow; hot, wet forehead along with cold pinched toes on the last climb to the ridge.

Here, ground falls away to Cwm Nantcol, a deep bowl formed by towering peaks of the Rhinog Horseshoe, orange dawn now flooding through ‘The Door of Ardudwy’ ravine. Northward, Tremadog Bay lays, duck-egg blue, backed by grey Llyn Peninsula tipped by Bardsey; Wicklow Mountains just visible, low on the horizon.

Stopped quiet, not a bird can be heard: only faint rush of mountain streams and heart pumping strong.

Descending from the ridge, Meadow Pipits lift from walls in halting flight with ‘seep, seep’ calls; swish of long Raven wings combing air overhead; long-tailed, anvil-billed ‘Meat Crow’ determined on carrion.

Fields now in daylight, war-painted Chaffinches flit up from gleaning horse-feed; Redwings fly up from wet meadow feeding to tree-top vantage as we pass homeward along the lane below.

Wildlife Wales Activities: www.wildlife-wales.co.uk

Monday, November 26, 2012

Stonechats, Kestrel, Egret

Sun hangs low beneath white cloud down the coast, western sky blue over serried ranks of dirty green waves breaking cream surf along the beach. One rainbow pillar sits on the bay in white mist, opposite end faded in black cloud banked behind sunlit mountain slopes: just a snapshot of recent tumultuous weather patterns. Snow on the tops then first frosty morning turns to wind and rain by day’s end fetching down showers of leaves to drift against stone walls and gutters, light snow of yellow Larch needles under banks of coarser broad-leaves. Truncated butter-yellow Tulip Tree; deep red calligraphic Japanese Maples; sharp-pointed yellow Norway Maple with matt brown Oak, shiny tan Beech, simple yellow Hazel and many others blown even into the kitchen.

On the coast, especially in good weather, numbers are up as returning over-wintering birds mingle with resident populations. Good to see recently depleted Stonechats along the dyke flitting up to the tips of thistles and Gorse sprays, more cocky even than closely-related Robins.

Less common here than Peregrine & Merlin, a Kestrel has been about, perched quietly on telegraph poles or fence-posts, watching, preening, dropping down and back with small prey, or hovering with spread tail and fanned wings, a static, tan-coloured patch over dun November landscape.

Awaiting the 10:00 am walk start, the van rocks in strong winds that gust up the coast, sky leaden behind mountains, even gulls struggling to penetrate wind and navigate turbulence. Suddenly, a medium-sized bird lifts from the drain, southward toward the estuary, bright cream white against leaden clouds, rising and falling with sudden jinks and corrections, trailing black stick-legs and custard-coloured feet: Little Egret struggling to make headway against the storm when sudden grapeshot hits the van and the scene disappears in the white mist of a passing squall.



Wildlife Wales Activities: www.wildlife-wales.co.uk

Friday, November 9, 2012

Autumn Leaves, Little Gull, Peregrine Getaway

Not much to report but leaves continue to fall, lightening the woods and carpeting woodland paths. Yellows and browns dominate the view across the valley with occasional dark green Holly or grey-green Pines for contrast, village largely hidden amongst trees. This morning, curtains of light drizzle move over the valley misting the horizon to pale sky, just a light breeze sufficient to waft spinning and spiralling leaves high. No advantage in leaves moving far from source, but aerodynamic efficiency must enable a tree to carry the maximum number of these lightest of solar power-packs with minimum weight or wind resistance.

With useful minerals re-absorbed leaving red, yellow and brown coloured waste, the petiole anchor is broken and the leaf wafted away like a kite with no string, or a wing without a fuselage.

Every year……

Isolated gulls beat upwind low over the bay, occasionally twisting and dropping down to peck a morsel spotted between serried ranks of dirty green waves. One in particular claimed attention: finely built like Black Headed Gull but lacking bi-coloured wing; lacking also black and white tips of most other gulls, and ink-tipped Kittiwake wing.

White wing-tips, dark under-wing, and surface-feeding behaviour lead to Little Gull identification, despite no nearby gulls for comparative scale.

Inland, a wooded escarpment with cliffs marks a past coastline and higher sea levels. After 15 minutes, scanning the ridge for soaring raptors has still not paid off. Then a flock of large birds rises up behind the ridge, dark against the sky. Before clear identification, a single bird separates from the crowd with fast, pointed wing-beats: strange, irregular shape, eventually crystallising into heavy-laden Peregrine making quick getaway. Half-mile of distance gives space for quick tuck and bill assisted load shift, moving prey back under the tail for more streamlined, efficient flight.


Wildlife Wales Activities: www.wildlife-wales.co.uk