adventure, Birds, Climate

To the Alamo and Beyond

Here we are, a group of intrepid British bird-watchers hunting the Ferruginous Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium brasillium) in Texas last month, in perishing conditions as a freak cold front swept the US. All wearing everything we had and me with socks on my hands we searched a ranch 1/6th the area of Wales for a little tropical owl at the far north of its range. Our guides were tenacious and cunning with their recordings of Pygmy calls and inside information about recent sightings, they had no intention of letting us go until we had seen this timorous beastie.

Ferruginous Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium brazillium)

Here he is, about the size of a starling (but all puffed up), as intrigued by our strange appearance and beguiling calls as we were by him.

It had been even colder the day before when icicles were spotted dangling from the air-conditioning vent at breakfast. Here are the more robust members of the party looking for icebergs on Corpus Christi Lake.

As the more feeble fled for shelter in adjacent woodland we were treated to a view of this Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) who had had the same idea.

As we climbed back into the minibus and fell upon the last of the emergency Worther’s Originals (the beauty of travelling with Grandads) a little bird flitted frantically in the bare branches above, looking for something to eat — a Black Throated Green Warbler (Setophaga virens) — a late migrant caught short by the Arctic blast.

Black throated green warbler — juv (Setophaga virens)
Climate, Hill Farming, Meteorology

Grass Roots Meteorology

Not looking at the colour of the grass to determine the dryness of the summer but measuring things oneself to confirm ones suspicions — that’s Science!

We had not lived in Wales very long when we suspected that it was a rather wet climate — I bought a very primitive rainwater gauge and commenced my research (in the spirit of the age of enlightenment and gentlemen scientists (or gentlewomen).

I measured the weekly rainfall for two years until one frosty morning an iceberg formed from the previous days precipitation and split the gauge and terminated the experiment.  However the results were conclusive –approximately 2000 mm (2 metres) of water per year –somewhat less than on the slopes of Snowdon and less than we expected –on balance it felt wetter!

We did prove beyond doubt the proposition — it is a rather wet climate.

We have rain all the year round, more in winter and less (if only slightly) in the spring.

Weekly Summer Rainfall for 2015 and 2016 (in pencil) in mm

mm of weekly rainfall in usual summer

Please note in June 2016 a perching Magpie, attempting to drink, knocked over the whole apparatus.  Okay, it’s not very professional but absolutely authentic.

In contrast  this summer’s record flat-lined until a couple of weeks ago.  There was no rain at all — measured or otherwise.

The poor farmers were carting water to their flocks on the parched hillsides.  The waterfalls were silent and the brooks no longer babbled.  Neighbours were seen lifting their manhole covers and staring forlornly into their wells or struggling up from the dwindling river with buckets of water to flush the loo.

Rainfall is something we, in Wales, take for granted.  We found one of our young farming friends sinking a bore hole last week having come face to face with the real possibility of drought and the previously unthinkable situation — one where he is unable to water his stock.

Our stream did not run dry but our pond stopped overflowing and the level dropped considerably mirroring the huge reservoirs of this area that supply the big cities of Liverpool and Birmingham.  Demand outstripped supply and during the hot weather we are told that the demand in the cities actually increased.  None of us should take our water supply for granted.


Rocky bottom of the Clywedog Reservoir


Rare glimpse of remains of Gronwen where our friend Audrey lived before the valley was flooded by the dam 50 years ago.

Climate, Hill Farming, Sheep farming

White Wales


No longer wet and green, where we live is suddenly white and crisp.

Today we went to inspect the moors above our home on the untreated roads.


There is an amber alert for heavy snow overnight and cautious farmers were driving their sheep to land nearer home.


Like us they were slithering a bit but seemed pleased to be heading home.


Climate, Ecology

Barn Owl 2016



Barn Owl 2016

We have ideal Barn Owl habitat (except of course when we accidentally set fire to it!)

P1060860 fIREMEN

But our climate is not ideal because Barn Owls, who like to hunt at night and are quite picky eaters, cannot fly in torrential rain;  this is a real problem in Wales!  This is the reason we occasionally glimpse one by day; it is not a good sign, it means it is very hungry.

The population is under threat in our area, despite the profusion of nesting sites and voles in our little valley and the hard work of all the volunteers.  However, inspection of our Barn Owl box revealed one Barn Owl feather in 2016 so, as the Owl Man said, we are on their radar so we live in hope.


Meanwhile we will only meet at Falconry Displays.




Climate, Natural Beauty



In Winter one becomes more aware of levels, height above sea level, contours and isobars, temperature differentials and of things variable, that change ones view of the world.


Yesterday from the frosty world of the valley bottom we walked up through layers.


Through the chill mists that form in the valley like a rising sea level.


We climbed to where the sun skims the top of the hill to fill the opposite side of the valley with colour,


and makes silhouettes of the sheep on the horizon.  Then we looked back over the hill tops, bathed in winter sunlight.



Climate, Wales

The Year Rolls On

Unremittingly — can you smell that mintyness that rises from the damp litter of fallen leaves?


We’ve enjoyed a long and beautiful Autumn.  The beech woods have been aflame and the more sober oaks have held on to their russet leaves until just a few days ago.


But now suddenly, in one night, everything is changed!


The sky has cleared and the temperature has plummeted.  At night the stars in our black night are stunning and the all-day frost in the hill’s shade makes the morning seem moonlit. You can see the cold and smell the cleanness of the air (and stub your toe on a frozen mole hill).


As the low winter sun peeps over the hill and stretches over the ground, where it touches it brings back life and colour.



Christmas Buttercup!

It’s Christmas Week — it’s still raining and we’ve had record high night-time temperatures.  The grass is still growing, albeit slowly and the sheep who are usually complaining that they need concentrate by this time of year are not even bothered to lick the Rumevite block I put out for them.

And now, the first buttercup of spring;

it’s as if the shops were full of hot cross buns and Easter eggs — where will it end?

P1060739 Xmas buttercup

Climate, Hill Farming

Too rough for ducks!


Our stream in summer

The exceptional rains continue, the ground is saturated, the reservoirs are overflowing and the rivers are in flood. It’s worse further north and it’s bad enough here.

P1060690 Our little stream

Same  stream today!

Last week, unusually for December,  I saw a Dor Beetle on the path — moving to higher ground, I thought, ahead of the flood.

P1060520 Abandon Home

Just in time, as it happened, before water started to spew out of the burrow.  In the valley bottoms the water table is higher than the ground so mole hills erupt with water, like volcanoes, and if you stab the ground with a stick it may spurt at you.


Water is running everywhere.  Waterfalls appearing where they do not normally belong.

New Waterfall

Impromptu waterfall

At dusk this evening the chickens put themselves to bed but the two ducks were nowhere to be seen. They weren’t in the sodden field, nor in the yard, not under the truck and not in the barn or in the road which has turned into a torrent.

The lane

The road


Way to a neighbours house, cut off by stream

Way to a neighbours house, cut off by stream

The torch wouldn’t work and the hurricane lamp blew out, but somewhere, above the storm, there was a distant quacking.   The two ducks had strayed into the wetland (well — it’s all wet at the moment) and become separated and were calling to each other over the stream.  As I approached through the aspen and alder, one panicked and tried to cross the raging stream (remember, their wings are clipped), next minute she was in the churning, muddy water, whizzing downstream, spinning and flapping, quacking and squawking.  I was downstream of her so, holding on to a tree, I managed to lunge at her as she approached and flip her unceremoniously onto the muddy bank where she disappeared into a holly thicket before I landed, splat, where she had just been.  Traumatised (both of us) I carried her home over the bridge and reunited her with her friend, who came running to meet us.

Fuzzy Ducks

Tomorrow, I think they had better try their new enclosure — it’s too rough for ducks!

Climate, Ecology

Wet, wet, wet!

It’s all down to the Jet Stream.  It’s not a media construct, concocted by those who pull our strings to add weight to the recent climate change demonstrations — to boost the low-carbon economy and bolster sales of renewables.  In fact the media haven’t even noticed that parts of the UK have dropped from sight — at first just soggy then gone — submerged.


Llangurig church earlier today, in the Upper Wye Valley

I  can’t quite work it out — it’s warm and the grass is growing but it just won’t stop raining — I know it’s Wales but it’s poured, unremittingly for three weeks — 260mm and 60 of those in the last 24 hrs — and if it slips any further ( the Jet Stream, that is) it will all be snow and we’ll be living in Canada…


We’ll need a skidoo and not just new industrial water-proofs.

It’s not just the media that has been pre-occupied with more momentous events — I only noticed when I went out for some milk and had a Dr Gloucester moment.  Splashing through puddles in my little car, it suddenly felt as if I were driving through treacle and the outside world disappeared under the wave that enveloped the windscreen.  Where was the road?


Today on the back-road from Llangurig to Llandrindod Wells.

It reappeared only to disappear again almost immediately as I realised that I was wearing the wrong vehicle — I went home and changed.

Severn Break-Its-Neck, today, about 3 miles from the source.

Severn Break-Its-Neck, today, about 3 miles from the source of the Severn.

Alan put on is red woolly hat and we set off in our truck to intrepidly go and be amazed by the awesome power of water.

Everywhere sheep were damp and disgruntled.

Disgruntled sheep often with almost horizontal ears!

Disgruntled sheep often with almost horizontal ears!

In Staylittle (Stay-a-little as it used to be called and which is a much better name) the water was rising.

Rising water

Rising water

By the Clywedog Reservoir, used to regulate the flow in the Severn, men from the Water Authority watched.

I’ve told you this before, but you probably won’t remember: the Wye and Severn rivers both start within about a mile of each other on a hill just up the road from here.  Llangurig is the first town on the Wye and Llanidloes is the first on the Severn.

Wye Valley about 6 miles from source

Wye Valley near Llangurig about 6 miles from source

Both these towns are very near the sources of their rivers which go on down their respective valleys gathering volume and momentum — we have never seen them rage so much and so soon and so we fear for the communities downstream.  Today, while I was taking these photos of the river by the Old Mill, I met the architect who was looking at the flats, converted about ten years, and he told me that he had never known the arch (which you can’t see — but you should be able to see) to be submerged completely before.

It’s all a bit worrying — the rain has stopped now but everywhere roars with draining water.