Thursday, February 19, 2009

North & East airflows have loosed their iron grip and spring has flicked forward a few pages in the mild, westerly air. Taking a day out to fish, the first Blackthorn in white blossom is passed on a disused rail embankment. River is low and Grayling have moved from their usual lies into deep pools to avoid the cold or to shallows preparing to spawn. Not a touch all day, but a penetrating ‘pheep-pheep’ denotes Kingfisher approach; a spot of electric blue between a blur of wings buzzing upriver. The afternoon beat is rocky: the buzzing pipe of Dippers penetrates the sound of rapids & rushing water; a white spot, bobbing over a boulder or swinging away over water, chocolate brown breast and black body & wings merging with winter landscape.

Shooters have reduced the numbers of wildfowl in the estuary, but high tides have wiped muddy creek bottoms clean of old marks, fresh tracks & footprints recording recent wildlife activity. Pinch-toed rabbit ovals are set in pairs with staggered two behind. Prison uniform arrows denote waders: great ribbed toes of Curlew with accompanying bill holes on the mud; smaller Oystercatcher; fine Redshank marks and tiny Ringed Plover or Dunlin are all clear. The same pattern but with outer toes curved inwards are made by Wigeon & smaller Teal, webs creating tension between the toes. Perching birds have more or less back claws, so tiny Meadow Pipit marks run all over the mud; Raven’s narrow prints penetrate deeply with prominent claws.

Out on the bay, in addition to the usual scattered parties of black Scoter and occasional white-fronted Great Crested Grebe, a stocky duck with heavy bill rides the gentle offshore swell, dark, with whitening breast: drake Eider awaiting bold white & black summer colours before heading north to breed.

Wildlife Wales Short Breaks: Autumn, Winter & Early Summer
For details, telephone (01341) 241469

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