'BREXIT' the Blackbird.

In which European migration becomes an issue for a local resident...

The weather had been somewhat cold over the previous few days and finally over eight inches of snow fell overnight on December 8th, promising some exciting photographic opportunities that I had thought long-gone with the effects of Global Warming.

Unfortunately, the National Trust has (lets be polite) a very cautious  approach to snow and Charlecote was to remain closed for days - until the snow had long gone...
Travelling pretty well anywhere else here in the Midlands would be adventurous with the poor standards of driving - and roads....

There were to be a few hours of glorious entertainment in our back garden however, provided by our resident Blackbird who had been slowly eating the Firethorn berries outside our back window for the last few weeks, jealously guarding them from any other thrush that might approach.

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'Brexit' our resident blackbird before the onslaught!

I am sure I saw his beak drop as a flock of at least 35 Redwing and a few Fieldfare crossed the borders of his domain and defender upon 'his' berries! (The truth is that were planted for just these birds). He must have spent over an hour chasing the fieldfare off one by one only to have more arrive behind him: border controls were clearly totally inadequate! He gave up in the end and sat on the fence watching...

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Redwing (probably from Scandinavia).

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There's just too many of them!

Finally one of the elegant Fieldfare decided to feast on the berries - these are impressive birds and always welcome in the garden. They are more cautious than the other thrushes so can be difficult to approach sometimes.

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It was also good to see a few Starlings in the garden - once plentiful they are now sadly in trouble with numbers crashing in the UK. Their Winter plumage is stunning when seen in good light.

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Eventually of course, the berries had been stripped from the bushes by this influx of migrants and the garden fell silent once more.
Brexit returned to the path by the window and pecked in a distinctly desultory fashion....

Hi ho....

A Week on the Mid-Lothian Coast of East Scotland.

It has been a while I know since I posted anything on the blog: a period of angst regarding the point of it will be a familiar feeling to many who fail to earn their millions from such a pastime. And who could possibly care about the latest picture of yet another woodpecker at Calke Abbey or the Pintails at Slimbridge...

Actually, I am and so are just a few others according to the stats of this thing; surprising really if they are to be believed.

So, on to the week we spent around North Berwick (down and right a bit from Edinburgh) last month looking for some new (to us) sea-ducks and hoping to get some good images of the more familiar denizens of the Winter coastline. O yes - and the Purple Sandpipers promised on the rocks outside the North Berwick Harbour in the late afternoon....

We had never visited this part of Scotland before so were unsure what to expect although our son (of mylifeoutside.com) had visited a couple of years earlier and reported that it was a birding hotspot. We were not to be disappointed with the sound of hundreds of pink-footed geese roosting in fields near our rented cottage on the evening we arrived and many more flying overhead every subsequent evening thereafter! There were even the occasional family of Whooper Swans to be seen in the fields as we drove to and from the courage in the mornings as well. Not a bad start at all...

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Pink-footed Geese in the evening sun.

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Whooper Swans.
Our first outing was to Aberlady Bay to check-out the coastline in the area and were instantly impressed by the sheer numbers of coastline birds as the high tide brought them near to the clearly-marked paths. Wigeon, curlew, oystercatchers, eider, redshanks, and turnstones were at relatively close quarters and could be photographed without disturbance. The sun even shone on most days in this area of relative dryness.

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It is also worth noting that the impressive new Forth Road Bridge is visible from the coast here through binoculars as the new structure catches the sunlight.

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The Forth Rail and new Road Bridges from Aberlady Bay.
Roe Deer are often seen here as well - worth remembering in the evening when driving! These are a species that are almost impossible to see clearly in the South where we live so were a welcome addition to our wild-life sightings.
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Roe Deer.

In the end, we revisited this part of the coast several times, finally discovering Purple Sandpipers among the Turnstones at Black Rocks just East of The Aberlady Bay NR.
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Further West is the town of Musselborough and the coastline     walk (known as 'The John Muir Way' who was born here) to the pools remaining after the decommissioning and demolition of the local power station. One of the pools has been re-profiled to provide scrapes that are frequented by hundreds of oystercatchers and black-tailed godwits at high tide. We were repeatedly brought to a standstill by flock after flock of oystercatchers and godwits flying in to roost above our heads. The miss of the holiday was a beautiful male Red-breasted Merganser who flew past - I took so long to realise what he was that it was too late to press the shutter button...

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The River Esk runs through the middle of Musselborough and provides a great opportunity to see birds close-up either on the river itself or at the interface between river and sea. Goldeneyes were plentiful here - and swam TOWARDS the camera for a change. I like gulls - and welcomed the plentiful numbers of Herring Gulls loafing around in the shallow waters of the river. (We had hoped to see Scoters on this walk but were not to be lucky as the wind was in the wrong direction). Wigeon were plentiful here also feeding at the mouth of the river.

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As mentioned in the introduction to this piece of random jottings, Purple Sandpipers were a key target for the metaphorical 'tick' of the birder and an early evening drive to North Berwick Harbour yielded great views of the birds hunkered down against the strong (and cold) on-shore wind just beyond the concrete break-water. The monopod came in handy as did the 1.4x multiplier here!

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Purple Sandpipers at North Berwick Harbour.
Bass Rock is famous for the huge Gannet Colony and we felt an afternoon walk East from North Berwick along the sandy beach towards The Briggs of Fidra to view the rock and feeding sea-birds. A Weasel running alongside us as we returned to the car along the edge of the golf course was a great end to the day as well.

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Purple Sandpiper.
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Saint Abb's Head is under the protection of the National Trust of Scotland and is worth a visit on a windy day just for the views of the cliffs and crashing waves below. This was the one place where we spied both Common and Surf Scoters in the distance completely  unfazed by the 20 foot waves. During the Summer there is a sea-bird colony that can be viewed easily and safely (for both human and bird) from the path although no-one was home during our visit at this time of year of course: the highlight was the Grey Seals with pups on the bays below the lighthouse is clear view of the path - no need to get too close for a great view of these loveable creatures. A warden is on-hand to guard against idiots...

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St. Abb's Head.
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Grey Seal and pup feeding.
And finally, my favourite picture of the week; a male Common Eider defying the waves that insisted on washing him from his chosen rock...

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Male Eider.

Birds and Badgers in South Wales.

11th August.

It has to be said that the drive from the Midlands to South Wales across the Heads of the Valleys is not great at the best of times, but this time the traffic (due to endless road works that seem to involve actually removing the mountain completely in places) was even worse than usual AND it rained! Still we had been promised Kittiwakes, Mediterranean Gulls and BADGERS in the coming weekend - definitely worth the effort although some sun might be nice...

We need not have worried as Adam and Emma (see his blog at mylifeoutside.co.uk) had arranged for dry weather and even some sun on the Saturday when we arrived at Mumbles Pier to marvel at the kittiwakes that still nest on the rapidly disintegrating infrastructure connecting the land with the impressive new RNLI boat-house. One wonders what the future must hold with no progress being made in the quest for vital funds for rebuilding the pier and adjoining infrastructure. Still, for now the kittiwakes are wonderful to see and Mediterranean Gulls can be enjoyed on the near-by beach.

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Kittiwake inspecting the pier.

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Mediterranean Gull.
A meal at a local hostelry then prepared us for the highlight of the day - the month even - a couple of hours watching badgers in the evening light at Dinefwr National Nature Reserve thanks to the National Trust. The National trust organises these badger-watching sessions each year - book early however to avoid disappointment!

We were entertained by up to 10 badgers at any one time enjoying peanuts and peanut butter provided by the warden. With the sky only filled with light reflective clouds the conditions were as good as anyone could hope for photographing these charming animals.

A badger emerges from the set in front of our hide.

A general view of the set and woodland glade.

There's one in here somewhere: I can smell it!
All too soon the two hours were up and we had to leave. All was not over however as we were treated to Fallow Deer in the fields as we returned to our cars.
This in a place we must return to next year...

So, was that it?
Not at all, as a walk the following day (Sunday) delivered great views of a Little Owl at Kenfig NNR although the weather was not really ideal for insect watching - as a funnel cloud descended toward us...

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Little Owl at Kenfig NNR.

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"Should we be worried"?
The drive back over the Heads of the Valleys road seemed much shorter after such a great weekend!

You are encouraged to visit mylifeoutside.co.uk for a great insight into the wonderful wild-life opportunities of South Wales.

A Couple of Weeks on and Around The Talyllyn Railway

The Gal-y-llyn Railway was built to a gauge of two feet three inches to carry slate (as was the case of several other lines in Wales) from Bryn Eglwys Quarry, down the Father Valley to the Cambrian 'main' line in Tywyn. Just four carriages and two locomotives were obtained by Sir Haydn Jones to operate the line and they survived until closure (although in a terrible dilapidated state) until the closure of the quarry (and subsequently the line) in 1949. The rest, as they say, is history...

We now have the glorious opportunity to travel the seven and a half miles from Tywyn (Wharf) Station to Nant Gwernol on the first railway to be saved and run by volunteer enthusiasts anywhere in the World. I commend the reader to the many books that may be obtained about this unique example of industrial and social history that may be purchased from the StationShop - not Amazon please...

Furthermore, just once a week in Summer we can travel in a train comprised of the four ORIGINAL carriages with the original guards/ticket van behind one of the original locomotives; presently Talyllyn or No.1. No-where else in the World can one travel in such old original carriages as these - they even have cushions on the seats now...

So, gentle reader, with guide book purchased from the shop and membership (purchased before arrival by email or phone surely!) card safely in one's pocket, let us commence our Railway Adventure!

(Note that a fee ride on the Ffestiniog railway may be had with the membership card - that is a huge saving as well).

Locomotive Number One awaits the 'Right Away' at Wharf Station.
Tea must first be finished of course...

The first 'regular' station to be reached in at the lovely hamlet of Rhydyronen (where walks into the gentle rolling hills beyond the line may be begun). Here we see Edward Thomas drawing into the station viewed from the road bridge. This fine old gentleman in an ex-Corris locomotive bought by the first preservationists for £50 - a lot of money back then!

Rhydyron Station awaits the arrival of Edward Thomas.

Talyllyn reverses his train from the station - so we can take another photograph....
After rocking alone the line for a while we come to perhaps the most beautiful station on the line at Dolgoch Falls. Here our Victorian Train Special has reversed back over the imposing viaduct so we may take a photograph...
On other days one must visit the 'falls - a day after heavy rain is best perhaps.

Dolgoch Viaduct from the photographer's view-point.

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Dolgoch Falls - Lower Cascade.
BUT HANG ON A MINUTE!  Time warp!!!!!!!

On just these special occasions the unique (naturally) old water tower is to be employed to quench our venerable locomotive's thirst (and to wash the driver's trousers). 

Don't worry; there is plenty of water here...

Nearly full now!

And so onwards up the lovely Fathew Valley until we reach what used to be the end of the line for passengers - Abergynolwyn - with it's improbably long platform (homework - find out why) and a rather fine Tea Room built from the slate of toehold winding drum house that once served the village far below in the valley. This is where passages once had to alight until the mineral extension was built to Nant Gwernol at the foot of the first incline that was once used to carry slate down from the quarry high in the hills beyond here.

One might choose to walk to the lovely ruins of a local castle from here with fine views of Birdrock, or one might hold on tight (there are some pretty impressive curves up ahead) and proceed to Nant Gwernol safe in the knowledge that the train will return to Uber' soon and wait while passengers have a nice 'cuppa' and some home-made cake in theta-room. This is a REQUIRED activity...
In the next photograph we see Tom Role enter the station (homework - why is he called Tom Rolt - canal enthusiast will know that name)?

Tom Rolt (No.7) enters Want Gwernol around the last curve.

Now; do you have a camera? 

If so, there is a tradition to be observed here...

One must exit the carriage (WHEN IT HAS STOPPED) and head for the front of train at speed (DON'T RUN) to capture the ritual of un-coupling and pulling forward to the foot of the incline; reversing around the carriages and finally coupling to the 'down' end. Photographs must be obtained of each of the four key stages!


Drat! Not quick enough! Not getting any younger you know - and people will insist on getting in the way...
So here is Edward Thomas on another occasion-

Edward Thomas prepares to return to Abergynolwyn and that piece of cake.
So all that remains is for me to point out that there are several lovely walks to be had from Nant Gwernol (one might even walk back to Abergynolwyn perhaps, crossing the line for another photo-opportunity) including a stiff climb up to the remains of the quarry itself: all well sign-posted of course.

The Quarry.
So there we have it; a memorable trip on a lovely old train operated by friendly people (all volunteers) and great walking as well. A week is easily filled and don't worry about the weather as the waterfalls and locomotives look best when it rains anyway! Note however that in very heavy rain we were once offered a bucket as we sat in the open carriage....
Just click on any of the above photographs to be transferred to my Flickr Feed where other images may be perused.

So, what next?
Ah yes - Cadair Idris....