The Valley of Waterfalls.

A short while ago a visit to our son in South Wales provided the ideal opportunity to pause in our headlong rush (!) down the `Heads of the Valleys Road` and visit the National trust property of Aberdulais. This site of extensive local industry culminating in the famous tin-plate works is worth a visit if the odd hour is available as it provides an insight into a time not-so-long-gone as well as good views of the local dipper population. The ruins are not extensive but a good feel for the place in the 1800`s can be gained from reading the extensive information boards and the use of a little imagination. It is such a shame that little or no imagination was in evidence when so much was swept away in this historically significant area and replaced with brutalist concrete roads and bridges...

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The waterfalls are attractive and must be impressive in full spate; however, note the information board telling of the dynamiting of this lovely gorge for rock...

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The waterfall at Aberdulais.
As we had not spent as much time as expected at Aberdulais we decided to visit one of the many other beauty spots in this Valley of Waterfalls. We had learned of Melincourt Falls from the helpful volunteer at Aberdulais and this provided a pleasant one-hour return stroll to an impressive waterfall.

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Melincwrt (Melincourt) Falls

The following day (after discussing possible walks with our son) we decided that a visit to the river, waterfalls and archaeological remains of Pontneddfachan in the South Brecons would be an ideal walk in the dull weather that had once again followed us to Wales...

The Elidir Trail first follows the route of an 19th Century tramway with some of the old stone sleepers still being visible at the start of the route. (The remains of the silica mine and mill can be reached later). The main waterfall, Sgwd Gwladus, at a height of six meters is one of the most impressive sights on this walk and is not what one would normally associate with the hills of The Brecon Beacons.

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Stone sleepers on The Elidir Trail.
The river provides a perfect home for Goosander, Dipper and Grey Wagtail; all easily visible with a little effort and seemingly oblivious to the (often loud) walkers on the path above the river.

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Sgwd Gwladus Waterfall.

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A female Goosander says something rude (in Welsh)?
At the `end` of the trail at the bridge (pont) it became clear that the standard of driving here is no better than anywhere else; several pieces of the bridge parapet providing a perch for a Grey Wagtail in the river...

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Perhaps a return visit next year will provide the opportunity to photograph was is clearly an attractive bridge when intact.
Still, time was moving on so we did not stay long and retraced our steps part of the way before striking up the adjoining valley to inspect the remains of the Silica Mine and associated mill building - all now sadly overgrown and in ruins, pausing to photograph the river and other `falls on the way down. 

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So, another enjoyable walk came to an end; birds, waterfalls, archeology, a perfect combination.

White-letter Hairstreak and Common Blue Butterflies, Southern and Brown Hawker Dragonflies at Baggeridge Country Park!

A return visit to Baggeridge Country Park (a Local Nature Reserve near Dudley in the heart of the Blackcountry) was very much on the `wish-list` after our discovery of this magical reserve on the site of old coal-workings overlooked by the chimney of the local brick-works during a Butterfly Conservation walk last month.

The hope was to see and photograph some dragonflies and I was not to be disappointed. However the first  sighting was of a (very) late White-letter Hairstreak on the Creeping Thistles that grow in profusion on the poor shallow soils of the old spoil-tips! As this was the target species during our first visit (we were not successful then) I was overjoyed to say the least!

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We then walked slowly towards the pools down the valley looking-out for dragonflies (and more butterflies). Green-veined Whites and Speckled Woods were present but the next key species to be spotted was a resplendent male Southern Hawker resting among the thistles! I was able to take many photographs without the insect flying away - I suspect he was newly emerged. It is always particularly satisfying to be able to `get close` for that head-shot ...

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This would have been enough success for one day but on leaving the park towards Himley Hall a female Brown Hawker caught a fly in front of me and then flew to some dead leaves to chew-away in peace! The camouflage was near-perfect so it was lucky that I had seen her land!

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We shall have to re-visit the park-land at Himley Hall (a Capability Brown project) but as it was getting hot and there was still much of Baggeridge to explore we returned (after lunch on a bench by the hall) along the same path towards the old railway line. It was notable that there were now no dragonflies to be seen - do they rest-up in the afternoon? However, Common Blue butterflies were plentiful on our return journey so there was still much to see and enjoy.

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Grass Snake and Painted Lady at Middleton Lakes.

August 5th dawned with some sunshine but fairly strong winds so our preferred walk from Kingsbury Waterpark to Middleton Lakes (RSPB) via the canal seemed a good idea after a few days of allotment weeding!

There wasn`t `much about` so far as birds are concerned at this `quiet time` but a good sighting of a grass snake crossing the canal was very welcome! (These lovely reptiles seem to be doing well on this stretch of canal). I was pleased to capture the snake`s tongue `tasting/smelling` the air in these shots.

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Butterflies remain scarce but rhis Painted Lady allowed a few close-ups before heading North from the RSPB carpark.

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A migrant butterfly in the UK; the Painted Lady is seen mostly in late Summer in the Midlands.
Common Blue and Holly Blue butterflies were present along the canal in the mid-afternoon although numbers are still small. Hopefully, numbers will increase as the month proceeds...

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Holly Blue (Second brood).
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Common Blue on Birds-foot Trefoil.

Northumberland Remembered - 1 - The Farne Islands.

Now that the Summer is winding-down to Autumn (did we HAVE a Summer?) I thought I would take the opportunity to look back at a week spent on the Northumberland Coast at Seahouses. This meant that The Farnes, Holy Island and Craggside (National Trust) would be easily accessible. On this little odyssey we were joined by our son who definitely has the knack for spotting the special bird! (Look at his excellent blog (after reading this) at 

It seems only natural to start by reviewing the Farnes` visit as this wonderful reserve is often the key reason for us birders to visit this area. The seabirds are incredibly close (perhaps too close for one`s comfort if the protective hat has been forgotten) and the Grey Seals viewed during the boat ride just add to the experience! (If you are not a good sailor then some form of anti-throwing up medicine is recommended as the swell can be much higher around the islands than one might expect). The pups are born in the Autumn so it was just adults that were visible in June when we visited. 

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Grey Seal.

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Grey Seal.

And who is this chap????

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During our week at Seahouses a combination of very low Spring Tides and a high swell meant that we could only land on Inner Farne (the `main` island) but this was fine as all of the species of bird can be observed here. Furthermore, as Springwatch was filming on the islands that week we were treated to a close encounter (!) of the `hero` kind! It was particularly notable that Iolo was only too pleased to have his photograph taken with many visitors as he waited to board his own boat with the rest of the BBC crew in spite of the fact that he had probably been up and about since well before dawn. It was amusing to watch husbands with lenses suited for bird photography trying to stand back far enough without falling off the pier...

Still, it was the birds that were the main attraction (really!): several species can be seen and photographed before landing on the island with a little luck and a fast auto-focus. The guillemots can be seen resting on the water surface as one approaches the islands.

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Eider Ducks are also plentiful here; presenting a tricky photo-opportunity as the boat wallows in the swell!
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Off course it is the Puffin which everyone wants to see...
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Once off the boat and on the footpath heading up to the small visitor center, the noise of all those thousands of birds really hits home. One is immediately `greeted` by the Arctic Terns nesting right next (or sometimes ON) the path. A hat is advisable...

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The chance to watch and photograph these amazing travelers so easily (special camera equipment really is not necessary) is one of those unique privileges enjoyed by those of us lucky to live in this great country...

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The Sandwich Terns should not be missed near the middle of the island; more distant but easily studied through binoculars. These birds are often seen in harbours and on the shoreline of the mainland as well.

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Sandwich Tern returning to the colony.
A glance at the Flikr feed will demonstrate how easily other seabirds may be photographed at close quarters including Shags, Ringed Plovers, Razorbills, Kittiwakes, Fulmars and Gulls. It is however the PUFFINS that steal the show!
I had wanted to photograph these iconic birds with sand-eals in their beaks and flying as well for years. This year it was possible to achieve both - thanks in no small part to the improved autofocus of the Mark II 100-400mm Canon L Lens.

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We shall have to return...

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Arctic Tern.

The BEST Kingfisher Shots Yet!

Lakenheath (R.S.P.B.) Reserve provided the best views of kingfishers this Summer that I have ever seen!
This handsome male was feeding his mate in a nearby tree and showed well for a couple of HOURS!

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Male Kingfisher.
Finally, I have the shot of Kingfisher with a fish...

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Mind you; I didn`t expect to see (and photograph) the regurgitation of a ball of fish-bones! Brilliant!
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Better OUT than IN!
Definitely worth a special post of it`s own...

A Month of Butterflies!

Now that July is over (and I don`t seem to have found the time to post anything here at all) I thought I would look back over the month of July and recollect what has been an amazing butterfly extravaganza...

The start of it all was another surprise present - off Daughter - in the form of a year`s membership of The Butterfly Conservation organization. This meant that we finally were encouraged to look into local butterfly walks and see if we could enlarge on our meager species-count.

Our first butterfly walk, organized by John Slater of the Warwickshire Branch, was an amazing success. (Beginners luck)? The Purple Hairstreak pointed-out on a low-level leaf as we set off was the first `lifer`, quickly followed by a Purple Emperor high in the trees! All this in a local woods (Oversley Woods) less than 45 minutes from our house that we knew nothing about!

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The Purple Emperor was too far away and in heavy shade high-up in an Oak Tree but following instructions from John, a visit the next day produced heart-stopping views of this beautiful and elusive butterfly drinking water from the damp path!
I was fascinated to watch the butterfly rotate through 360 degrees to the sun as it`s iridescent purple coloration `moved` across the wings dependent on the sun`s angle (the butterfly is almost black unless catching the sunlight at just the right angle). 
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Another butterfly that got the adrenalin flowing was the Silver-washed Fritillary; not overly rare but until now not photographed - they were to prove frequent sights in the wide sunny rides of the woodland of subsequent visits also. White Admirals should not be neglected this far North either...

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Ringlets have been particularly plentiful this year - this one seen among many at the woods.
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Coughton Court is not far from Oversley Woods and has provided a perfect opportunity to stroll in a different habitat (fields and new woodland) with correspondingly different butterfly species such as Marbled Whites, Meadow Browns and Small Skippers in large numbers.
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The Essex Skipper has expanded its range North in the last few years and can now be seen in favored haunts across Warwickshire. This charming little moth-like butterfly is best distinguished from its close cousin the Small Skipper by studying the antennae; `dipped in black ink` in the case of the Essex Skipper. Compare this image with the one above...

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Essex Skipper.

The next Butterfly Walk (with the West Midlands Branch) turned-out to once again be at a previously unknown location - Baggeridge Park - on the edge of The Black Country. This oasis on the edge of sprawling housing is a place that will be visited again in the future - for dragonflies as well as butterflies: the species one would expect on spoil-tips-turned-meadows were abundant. This shot of mating skippers was very satisfying...

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Small Skippers Mating.
Mind you, the target species here was in fact a moth - a Six-Belted Clearwing Moth no less!


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Six-belted Clearwing Moth!

Wicken Fen (a National Trust Reserve in Cambridgeshire) proved good for butterflies as well as dragonflies (more about them in another post) although the Great British Summer weather was not exactly helpful. Large Skippers were plentiful as well as Red Admirals and Brimstones to name just three not mentioned above.
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A walk around Weeting Heath (NNR) hoping for Stone Curlew provided plenty of sport of the butterfly kind even of the birds did not co-operate. This Small Heath Butterfly is drinking water from a recent rain-shower....
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Small heath Butterfly Drinking Rain-water.

And last - but by no means least - must be the Graylings photographed on the high crags of Malvern Hills thanks to the great guidance provided by Mell Mason of the West Midlands Branch. These butterflies are now critically endangered due to the growth of scrub following the cessation of grazing on the hills. This is an emergency as they are a unique sub-species (and are hence on the critically-endangered list) although scrub-clearance by volunteers and plans to reintroduce grazing may yet save the day...
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The Malvern Grayling.