Sunday, February 8, 2009

Animal tracks in snow give a glimpse of the olfactory world that dogs inhabit; the trails they follow every morning, nose down, tail up. This morning, neatly paired tracks of a small mammal, tail marks between, run like a long zipper in the snow at 2750ft on Y Llethr, highest of the Rhinog Mountains. The sea below is leaden grey under snow-laden skies. White cloud forms and is swept back over the ridge like a thick blanket by north wind meeting snow-covered slopes. Set in white snow under gunmetal skies, each grey, flat slate of a mile-long drystone wall is picked out in black and white. Three black Ravens croak out of white cloud and sweep down to perch, hopeful that the dogs will make a kill. One dog stops, lifts a paw to point, then pounces, nose deep into snow, but another Shrew or Vole lives to squeak again.

Returning from the mountains, soot-grey and ruddy backed Fieldfares sweep off or stand upright in snowy fields with Redwings; white eye-stripes and glimpse of red under wings like war-painted Song Thrushes. A small, neat nest of lichen and horsehair is held out on upswept Ash over the lane; Goldfinch’s nest, invisible under leaves last summer. Pale-breasted Buzzard stands atop a telegraph pole like a totem.

Song Thrushes have joined the dawn chorus, each phrase characteristically repeated in song ringing out across the valley. Parties of Siskins are once again overhead in bouncing flight, wheezing calls and song from Alder and Larch tops. Diminutive, soft ‘peeping’ calls are heard in and around the garden as Bullfinches move in to feed on young fruit buds. Hazel catkins loosen from the tightness of winter, but no snake tongues of velvet-red yet seen of female flowers emerging from bud tips to catch wind-blown pollen.

Wildlife Wales Short Breaks: Autumn, Winter & Early Summer

For details, telephone (01341) 241469

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