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