Our friends from the Species Habitat Protection Group have turned their attention to the sad lack of properly constituted tree holes in our woodland — a flaw underlined in our recent ecology survey.
They are particularly keen to promote the habitat of pied flycatchers which already nest in our deficient holes — the oak trees are just too young (unlike the humans involved) — not gnarly and creviced enough!
We have it on authority that the pied flycatchers are due back from Africa tomorrow so, as always on our land, there was an imperative! Jan, Jon and Roger arrived this morning with 12 new nest boxes and got them up in the nick of time.
Ready for the arrival of our little avian orcas.
On their behalf I’d like to thank Jan, Jon and Roger and we look forward to more of these beautiful little birds nesting here in future.
I chose this cover picture which shows me in the raw — not at all the way I feel today — the book recounts the reasons why — all the bizarre experiences and formative encounters. The dodgy characters and extraordinary situations proffered by a medical education in the sixties. How the world has changed!
From the Cambrian Mountains looking across the Dyfi valley at the peaks of Snowdon peeping above the early morning mist — we get an early start to our winter bird watching with a brilliant bright day in January and a visit to Ynes Hir RSPB reserve on the estuary.
Still crisp –1/2 an hour later!
As the sun creeps under the mist — not much about but we are not complaining as we have already had a glimpse of a lesser spotted woodpecker and as we look out over the salt marshes with our backs to the woodland we still hear its drumming. There are the usual culprits by the river bank –a single little egret and a bunch of herring gull and scattered canada geese. But what have we here?
The beauty of nature watching is that there is always something new — even in mid-winter.
Another day the Hafren forest is quiet but the massive trees give an aura of magic as the light from some subtle thinning illuminates the mossy floor.
In the Hafren Forest, Mid-Wales there is the high pitched seeping of the tiny flitting goldcrests which is suddenly underscored by a lower pitched pipping — initially a long way off but growing ever closer, up in the canopy — could it be a flock of feeding crossbills?
Here they are — difficult to photograph against the winter light. Chattering to each other as they wrestle with the largest fir cones to extract the seeds with their tin-opener beaks. The male breasts glowing orangey/pink, while the females are green.
Walking back by the side of the river there is a dipper.
Driving down the Severn to Llanidloes to pick up our bread there is a bird feeder, overhanging the road, it is festooned with siskin, small green stripey birds, hanging like grapes.
Most recently we ventured up, out of the sheltered valley, onto the exposed hilltop, not far away but a different world.
It was bleak but beautiful up there overlooking the mountain tarns. There were fieldfare feeding on the close cropped pasture and teal, coot and goldeneye on the lake with 7 goosander, saw-bill fishing ducks. Hovering on the wind above was a huge buzzard, circled by a red kite. At a lower level a kestrel winged its way between two telegraph poles.
Yesterday Hefin came and fixed our roof. A squirrel had found a hole in the soffit(the timber under the eves) and had moved into the roof space above the bathroom for the winter months. It was disturbing Bill as he cleaned his teeth, by moving its furniture around in its garret, reorganizing the insulation and planning to rewire the electricity. Something had to be done —
— while squirrel was busy stealing the bird’s peanuts, Hefin sealed up the hole!
Today I was sitting in the bathroom contemplating the infinite when I was disturbed by the sound of someone dragging a concrete block across the roof. I rushed downstairs adjusting my clothes and burst out of the front door, ran around the house in time to see it. Evicted squirrel was perched on the roof above the mended soffit grasping the edge of the corner most roof-slate with both his little hands and heaving with all his might. I screamed. He paused and looked down at me enquiringly without releasing his grip on the slate. I yelled, I picked up a stick and beat the side of the house. He made a snap decision, stopped his attempted incursion and leapt the 8 feet into the nearest tree. Aha! So that is how he gets up!
So here we are again in the land of imperatives. Not for us a good read or a spot of light editing with out feet up. We spent the morning up the slithery bank mindful of all the historical figures who have fallen to their death from trees. Wielding Great-granny’s Edwardian long-tom and our state-of-the-art long handled clippers and pruning saw, we have removed the treacherous elder that was allowing squirrel to leap across onto our roof.
Transporting the brushwood to the heap we notice that the rickety sheep fence where it crosses the stream has, in our recent absence been busy turning itself into a dam by weaving sticks and leaves into itself and catching lots of silt. The whole construction now being frozen solid and ready to stand up to the force of the water when next in flood until inevitably it will collapse allowing the water to flow down the valley and the sheep to flow up into our precious re-wilding habitat.
Another imperative! To stand up to my reconditioned knees in freezing water and demolish the half built dam.
I have a new book coming out soon so have updated my author page on Amazon. Here is the picture I chose — an image by Spencer Means (CC BY-SA 2.0) which shows me, or someone very like me, in the 16th century.
It shows how I often feel much more accurately than would a 15 year old studio photo. Don’t be put off — whatever I write is tempered with good-humour, not jokes but amusement and affection. As a worn out family doctor I retired with my late husband to another world and in new places one notices things — in Mid-Wales I started to write. My friends were painfully honest and sent me off to university to learn how to do it better. My first book, ‘Iolo’s Revenge’ was published in 2018 about our adventures.
My new book ‘You don’t have to be a genius…’ comes out soon and tells how an ordinary, dyslexic but buoyant girl navigates another new world, that of adolescence, adult life and medical education. In the 1950s and 60s she was hardly a trail blazer but certainly looked at things from a new angle.
One of my daughters commented, ‘You raise a lot of issues, Mum, which, surprisingly, are even more relevant today!
At last the cloud has lifted. We have said good-bye to all our covid-tested Christmas visitors — family now gone home leaving that empty anti-climax and separation sadness. But wait! — It is the beginning of the nature-watchers year!
We’ve been up to Rutland Water, up before dawn and seen 46 different bird species for the first time in 2022 — including red kites and kestrel, 2 avocets —
There were 4 great white egrets, 3 curlews and lots of pintail ducks (this one with tail sadly depressed).
Several beautiful smew were enjoying the unseasonally warm weather.
There were more golden plover than you could shake a stick at and anyway I have given up my stick as my new knee is now fully commissioned!
We looked high
And we listened to the yaffle of the green woodpecker and the piping of the widgeon.
The RSPB rat, cleaning up under the bird feeders, came to say hello — I have a soft spot for rats!
We witnessed the ferocious battle between two cormorants as they wrestled for possession of a large fish which eventually got away. One bird attacked from the air, dragging the other below the surface of the now turbulent water, they were gone for a few moments then erupted again and again with more splashing and flailing of wings — what mastery of their elements — how silly… They lost the fish and sailed off in opposite directions looking embarrassed.
Our nuts are dwindling fast as the hungry birds look on, dismayed.
It might be worth getting a squirrel-proof feeder.
This is a friend’s with a squirrel-proof proofed squirrel proving that it doesn’t work. Looking at the size of gaps in the wire and the monumental girth of our squirrel, maybe it would work! At least it might filter out the fattest.
Like the hippopotamus our usual habitat is mud — glorious mud. Only occasionally do we venture from the soggy highlands of these British Isles to the sand around the edges and then what we see is unfamiliar.
Like this red banded sand wasp (Ammophila sabulosa).
This is a solitary (actually quite antisocial) wasp that stings its prey, often caterpillars, into submission then drags them to a burrow, sealing them in together with an egg of its own that will hatch into a hungry lava. If she finds another burrow that already contains prey and another female sand wasp’s egg she will eat the egg and replace it with one of her own — not very sisterly. They lose a third of their offspring this way which perhaps explains the frenetic way they were dashing about the sand on the day we visited Dunwich Heath.
We met this woolly bear on the sand dunes at Ynes Las, it is the caterpillar of the garden tiger moth (Arctia caja)– not rare in our childhood and not limited to sandy habitats, it becomes a colourful moth that evades our attention by flying at night. It is increasingly uncommon despite its disgusting taste which it enhances with a horrible sauce exuded from the back of its neck when attacked by a bird — its bright colours advertise this fact.
Not everything on the sand is unfamiliar, not even to this mallard!
The sun creeps over the hill and sends its rays under the clouds to emblazon the trees on the far side of the valley.
In the last few days the sky has been clear and the air crisp and clear.
We’ve walked through the woods of oak and beech, silent now except for the occasional call of a golfer over the crest of the hill and the hollow single knock of iron on ball.
The sheep are back on our land, difficult to count after dawn, camouflaged against the heavy frost.
For sheep farmers in Wales this is the New Year — the start of the farming year when the tup goes out with the ewes and the whole process starts again — I don’t know this one and certainly won’t be turning my back on him, even without his horns!