Monday, 14 May 2012

Noar Hill - 12th May

A dry and sunny Saturday allowed us to take the opportunity to go butterfly hunting.  Close to us just outside Selbourne is a small reserve on chalk downland called Noar Hill.  We have only been here once before, last August, and we said then we would return in the Spring and Summer.

The first thing that struck as we entered the reserve was the amount of cowslips everywhere.  They seemed to stand out like small loudspeaker stands.  In amongst then would be early purple orchids, germander speedwell and bugle.

I expected to see many butterflies in the sheltered spots, but at first it was quiet, with only the odd Orange Tip and Large White flying through.  At long last we found what we were looking for, the Duke of Burgundy.  Apparently the adults rarely visit flowers and most of our sightings were of the males as they perched on a prominent leaf at the edge of thev scrub.The Duke of Burgundy has seemed to have done well this year, in total we found at least fifteen over the reserve, these are the best of the photographs I was able to get of a stunning little butterfly.

Once we started seeing the Dukes everywhere, other species started to turn up, this Holly Blue provided a nice opportunity to see the dark blue tips on the upper wing, as well as the usual shot of the characteristic spots on the underwing.

Another first for the year was the Small Heath, we found two, but as is typical with this butterfly, at rest the wings are held up showing only the underside. In flight the upper wing is a gorgeous pale orange.

It was a very nice afternoon, in some very welcome, warm sunshine, in a very lovely reserve, with a bonus of stunning views over the south downs.

Mid Wales, Gwenffrwd-Dinas - 6th May

It was another sunny morning, and we set off even earlier to try and find Dipper.  Our main destination was the RSPB reserve of Gwenffrwd-Dinas, which combines old oak woodland with fast flowing water of the river Twyi.  Our journey took us over the mountains and through moorland to the large reservoir of Lynn Brianne.  This route was completely empty at this time on a Sunday morning, and we were able to stop and enjoy the scenery along with the birds that occupied the roadside.  The first stop was a small stream, and as we slowed down we saw a pair of Dipper fly away from us.  We followed in the car, and was able to watch them as they swam in the stream, but did not get the chance to photograph them.  However on one such stop we were joined by a pair of Stonechat that scolded us with their alarm calls that sound just like stones being banged together. 

While we looked for the Dipper a Grasshopper Warbler reeled from the tussocks, but of course we never saw it.  All along the journey we scattered Wheatear from the road side, and also managed to set up a female Ring Ouzel, which was very nice.  One male Wheatear posed nicely in the dry grass tussock.

At the reserve we took the board walk that stretched out over the many small streams that came down the hillside.  Pied Flycatcher were in the oaks around the nest boxes, and you could hear Wood Warbler singing.  We walked down around the river, and stopped for coffee to take in the wonderful scenery.  On one side the beautiful oak wood, with the inter woven branches and trunks, and on the other side the river crashing over the rocks.  Above us along the ridge the odd buzzard would show, and we also had a short but clear view of a Peregrine as it took off from the rocks.  The oak trees formed a blanket over the slopes of the mountain, and everywhere you looked there was moss and greenery.

Initially the walking was difficult over the rocks and around the trees, below us the river was fast and loud and this would block out any bird song.  It wasn't sufficient though to block the calls of a pair of Dipper that came flying up river and stopped just in front of us. 

As they stood on the rocks they characteristically bobbed or dipped, flashing the white eyelid as they blinked.  They didn't stay long, and were gone up river.  We saw others later, and they would always signal their arrival with a shrill whistle that stood out from the rushing water.

At some stages you could get down to the river, and this would allow some lovely views along the water. On one of these stops I also found a Common Sandpiper preening on a rock close to the water.

The river now began to level out, and wide itself away from the trail and the woodland, this allowed us to explore the woods, we were able to find typical woodland species like Nuthatch and Blue Tits along with the cascading song of the Wood Warbler, while overhead a pair of Raven called as they flew back and forth across the valley.

A cuckoo called from across the valley, and gradually came closer.  We decided to take a break and see if it appeared but we were never able to find it, after a while it could be heard further and further away.  We were entertained though during the coffee break by a pair of Blue Tits carrying moss and leaves into a hole in one of the oaks.  As they came out of the hole they were careful to ensure there were no unwanted visitors close by.

As we walked back to the car park it began to drizzle.  Just before the car park, a small pipit flew around us.  When it did settle it I was able to see it was a Tree Pipit, and it perched nicely for a photo. The change in the weather though could not spoil the morning.  We had both been captivated by such a wonderful, beautiful place.  

We took the same route back to Aberystwyth over the mountains.  The views across the reservoir were lovely, but now it was a lot more difficult to keep stopping as the amount of traffic had increased.

As we came around one corner I noticed a bird sitting on a fence post, we stopped and I could see it was a Cuckoo.  As I got out to try and take a photograph it flew off, and perched a little further away, as I watched it again it was then chased off by a rusty coloured bird, which was a female.  Sadly I was unable to get any good photos, the shot below is just a record shot.  It was though very nice to see a bird that I don't often come across these days.

We stopped off in Tregaron at the Cors Caron nature reserve.  This is one huge bog, and we walked around the boardwalk.  Before we set off a Sparrowhawk put in an explosive appearance as it tried to mug the finches on the seed feeder by the visitor centre.  This was to be the highlight of the visit though with only a Redshank, a Teal and plenty of Swallows and House Martins worthy of note as we walked around the reserve.  The Teal though did produce a nice reflection in the inky black bog water, and a female Wheatear at the end of the boardwalk did look rather lovely.

We left the bog and set off for Aberystwyth, the sun had returned, but we didn't stop, just drove through and headed north to the dunes at Ynys Las.  The dunes are a National Nature Reserve, and are very extensive with lots of high dunes falling away to sheltered slacks.  The tide was out and for as far as you could see was beach and sand.  A small group of summer plumaged Dunlin flew about, and gulls could be seen in the distance at the waters edge.  Far away to the north the clouds had gathered over the higher peaks of Snowdonia.

We walked around the beach, then headed into the dunes.  In one of the slacks we were amazed to find this perfectly formed Fungi.  This is a Dune Brittlestem or to give it it's latin name Psathyrella Ammophila.  They apprently feed and live on decaying Marram Grass and are usually found in stable dune slopes and dune slacks. Variable in colour but often a brown colour, Dune Brittlestems usually occur either singly or in small groups. It looked like a little parasol for some one in the sand, and seemed completely out of place.

As we made our way back to the car, a pair of Stonechat once again did not like our presence, and called loudly at us.  The male made a lovely composition against the dried Marram grass.

We decided to drive back to Devil's Bridge over the mountains.  As we came along the narrow road, I noticed a large black bird with red on it's head.  For a moment I was quite excited, could it be?  No it wasn't a grouse but a pheasant.  However even more bizarre than it being black, it was in fact a deep blue colour.  Where there should normally be the rusty brown plumage it was completely deep blue.  It looked quite magnificent, I wonder how he gets on in a fight?

It was now a lovely evening, and the views were stunning.  As we drove around one corner I noticed a silvery grey bird being mobbed by crows.  I stopped and searched, but could not find it, the crows were still there though. I am certain it was a male Hen Harrier, and I wished I had seen it for longer, all I had to console myself was the stunning view.

We had been so lucky with the weather, and was able to enjoy two wonderful days with some wonderful wildlife, and incredible scenery.  How lucky we were was reinforced the next day as the rained poured down as we made our way home.

Mid Wales, Ynys Hir - 5th May

For the Bank Holiday weekend we headed to Mid Wales, staying in Devil's Bridge just outside Aberyswyth.  This allowed us the opportunity to visit the RSPB reserves of Ynys Hir, and Dinas, and to also visit the Osprey project at Cors Dyfi, and to see some of the spectacular scenery around this beautiful area.  It was overcast as we set off along the motorway into Wales, we had some rain as well, but by the time we arrived at our hotel it was dry if a little grey.  The forecast for the weekend was dry, so we had our fingers crossed it would hold.

After settling in we ventured down to the waterfalls that the area at Devil's Bridge is famous for.  With the rain of the last few weeks there was plenty of water and the falls looked spectacular.  The falls become two streams that merge here into the river Rheidol.

The hotel is just visible at the top of the picture.

On Saturday the sun came out and we set off early in sunny blue skies to the RSPB reserve at Ynys Hir.  The reserve is the current home of BBC's Springwatch programme, and when we arrived it was easy to see the attraction.  The reserve covers oak woodland, estuary saltmarsh and freshwater lakes and bogs.  We were so lucky with the weather, and was able to enjoy all of the reserve throughout the day.

We walked the oak woodland first, these are Sessile Oaks that are only found on west Atlantic coasts, with the bluebells the woods were gorgeous, and we spent our time walking through them.  The trees seem to bend and inter weave, and they create a wonderful pattern as you look out across the hill.

The classic oak woodland species were present, Wood Warbler and Pied Flycatcher, both would be in song, and the Pied Flycatchers were seen around the nest boxes.

Wood Warbler

Pied Flycatcher checking for insects

Pied Flycatcher

From the woodland we walked out along the boardwalk to cross the bog.  At a small group of willow trees we found a pair of Redstart.  Another typical bird of the area, the male is a really gorgeous bird, as it sits the red tail is constantly flicking, giving the bird its name.  As we watched the Redstart the Willow Warbler sang from on top of the willow tree.

Male Redstart
Willow Warbler
 The next area to explore was the estuary saltmarsh, it also afforded the opportunity for a cup of coffee.  The path to the hide was flooded and it was difficult to walk along.  We became the interest of a very defensive Canada Goose that seemed intent on ensuring we moved on quickly as it chased us from the other side of the fence.  A stunning male Wheatear was the highlight, and it posed very nicely on one of the fence posts.  While the hide was quiet, it did provide some lovely views across the Dyfi estuary.


After warming up we headed off back into the wetland.  The surrounding trees were full of Willow Warbler and Blackcap song.  A very obliging Skylark posed like the Wheatear, so after it rose slowly into the air above the field and burst into full song.  In the wooded areas the fallen and living trees were covered in Lichen and Moss creating a world of green.


It was still quite early and the air temperature was quite cool, so it was a surprise to find a green-veined white butterfly. It was using the bluebell more as a place to warm up rather than to feed.

In the boggy areas there were many fallen trees covered in moss, and trees were also growing from almost any location.  This particular Holly tree had taken a close affection for it's pine neighbour, as it appears to be hugging it!

After leaving the bog, and another cup of coffee, we walked towards the saltings and wetland to the north.  A big disappointment was the fact that we could not see the heronery, I was looking forward to this,as I had read about it.  It does seem strange that a site that is identified as good for seeing herons in their nests, then closes off access until they have fledged.  The walk around the reserve though was not without its drama.  We came across these two cock pheasants that were very intent on sorting things out between each other, so much so that we could stand as close as a metre from them as they whacked each other with their beaks.

The dissappointment that we couldn't even see the Herons was compensated with some lovely views of a pair of Redstarts on a fallen dead tree.  Their behaviour appeared to indicate that they may have a nest somewhere in the tree.

As we walked around the reserve, little pockets of shelter and trees would produce activity if you stopped to wait and look.  Here are some examples of what we saw.

Female Pied Flycatcher with a fly

Treecreeper at the nest
Willow Warbler
 The whole reserve looked splendid, as the sunlight picked out the emerging leaves and the distant moors, all around the trails bracken and ferns could be found uncurling as the new leaves emerge.  The stone slate walls are all topped with moss, and in places flowers grew from between the layers of slate.

Finally we decided to take the one trail we hadn't yet walked, and as we came out into the open from a wooded area we were greeted by a lone Red Kite quartering the field.  As it circled round it came ever closer and eventually drifted past just above our heads.  You could see it watching us as we stood beneath it, a wonderful experience.

We left Ynys Hir mid afternoon and headed to the Cors Dyfi reserve, the home of the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust Osprey project.  Two Ospreys, Monty and Nora bred here last year for the first time, and raised three chicks which were subsequently electronically tagged and tracked on the travels to Western Africa.  Unfortunately one, Leri, is presumed to have died, but the other two Dulas and Einion, are still being tracked in Africa.  The adults have returned again this year and are currently incubating three eggs

The hide is away from the nest, and access as you can imagine is restricted.  You can walk around the small reserve, and you do see the ospreys as they move from the nest up the river to fish.  The main feature of the reserve is the HD TV screens that fill both the visitor centre and the hide with images of the Ospreys on the nest, and nearby on the perches.  It is a lovely way to get close to these beautiful birds, the yellow eye is stunning, and the talons look huge and fearsome.

If you want to find out more about the project then please go here: