Sunday, 29 May 2011

Springwatch - Air Traffic Warning

The sky’s a dangerous place right now, as young birds make their maiden flights. Frantic fluttering to a nearby branch, then the nervy, exhausted chick pauses to catch breath and attempt an altitude gain. Not all have a happy ending.

Yesterday a young crow hopped ungainly with its left wing trailing behind, so much bounce in the rest of the bird, but the wing, limp and useless. Did it survive the night?

There was a commotion in the trees as a buzzard attacked a young blackbird. The parents put on a ferocious display and the aggressor flew up, circling a while and screaming, before moving on.  I walked closer and on the ground was a young chick, staring up with its oversized beak.  Would the parents get it back to the nest?

A blue tit bundle of fluff dive bombed out of a tree onto our stone wall, then reversed into the unpointed stonework, calling for help. It seemed very indignant but I think it found a safe refuge until its rescue party could arrive. 

Saturday, 28 May 2011


Boles are alcoves or shelves built into walls to house skeps of bees, the way it was done before the invention of efficient, wooden beehives. By placing the skep in the alcove it would be protected from the worst of the rain and insulated from the cold on 3 sides.

Towards the bottom of our drive are a couple of derelict buildings with bee boles, one called Beekeepers Cottage.  ‘Our’ bee boles are beautiful, dry-stone constructions but a bit run down.

Just down the road towards Dolgellau, at Dolmelynllyn Hall, the National Trust are restoring their wall of bee boles.  It’s a case of one-upmanship, not just a few but 46 boles!

On 5th June 2011 they are holding an open day to celebrate 75 years of the property being in National Trust ownership. This event will include an expert on hand to explain the traditions of bee-keeping with skeps on display. The wall and the skeps will not be used for bee-keeping as this is not good for the welfare of the bees compared to modern hives.

If you miss the open day it’s still a sight worth seeing.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Bluebells and goats

The bluebells in the Maentwrog nature reserve are fantastic this year. With the blessing of the warden I cut and raked a lot of bracken last September and this has improved the display. I’ve also been tip-toeing around uprooting or snipping new bracken with my pruners.  Next year I’ll extend the patch to make it even more stunning for people as they walk down the Vale of Ffestiniog.

In bright sunlight the blue is pale, but by mid evening, after rain, it’s a deep rich colour. Nicely offset by the black and white of the goats as they browse their supper. 

In Wales bluebells are called clychau’r gog, which translates to cuckoo bells, as the birds and the blooms coincide.

Otters on the Dwyryd

Six years ago I saw my first otter by the Afon Dwyryd, playing in a puddle on a rainy night. Having got my eye in I expected they’d be commonplace but it took until last Friday (13th May) for my second sighting.

A mother seemed to be teaching her two large children how to catch fish. From the film below you can see the moment the fish is caught and hear the squeals of delight as they leap out and in to the holt or resting place. Mother emerges first, then one of the children leaving the other to eat the fish.

On the original film I think you can make out that it is a small eel but YouTube quality is a bit grainy for that detail.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Slime molds - shape shifters

Walking home through Coed y Bleiddiau, part of the Maentwrog nature reserve, I saw a pair of unusual objects about 10 foot up a tree. Bearing in mind some of the unusual sculptures on the nearby nature trail I thought I’d best check with the warden to see if this was another work of art. Not art but nature or maybe witchcraft. These were slime molds.

Doug (the warden) kindly copied me a 7 page document about the finer details of slime molds. It was the sort of prose that requires a dictionary every other word and by the end of the first page I was none the wiser.

What I have managed to absorb is that they are shape shifters. A bunch of amoeba? Reach for the dictionary and you will understand they are a ‘genus of Protozoa’.  Amoeba is derived from the Greek word meaning change and Proteus was a Greek god who could change his shape. So now you know.

Looking at the images on Wikipedia I can see that mine most closely match the False PuffballEnteridium lycoperdon. It’s at the stage called ‘aethalium’ which precedes the release of spores after which it’ll look like the dried remains of a mudball.

If you go down to the woods today, you’ll never believe your eyes.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Times & Campbell’s Cottage

Yes! We got a mention in Saturday’s travel section as 1 of the 20 places to stay in Britain’s national parks. The journalist must have been in a bit of a hurry .... ‘Campbell’s Cottage has its own platform on the Ffestiniog Railway that runs the 13 miles from Blaenau Ffestiniog to the quarry town of Porthmadog. Our photo was attributed to Yorkshire and we got a twee sitting room instead.

In anticipation of the huge interest to be generated we updated the YouTube footage for the cottage. Just in case you need a reminder this is what it’s like.

Peacocks love nettles

7th May and new nettles are being devoured by hungry black caterpillars. Looks like another good year for the peacock butterfly. We hosted several of these on our bedroom window, it was like a conservatory for basking butterflies last winter. Unlike most butterflies, which live just a few weeks, these have a long life with adults surviving potentially 11 months from July until June .... provided they settle down to hibernate rather than play in our window.

If you look at the film you’ll see lots of little black droppings, not poo but ‘frass’ and I think it will be very good for the garden.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Bluebells at Campbell's

The nature reserve on either side is blooming with bluebells. Higher temperatures have brought forward the display, must be about 2 weeks earlier this year. The goats have been tiptoeing through them to reach the tender oak leaves.  They say that bluebells live for 65 years and that granny bluebells have more bells.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Yet another Ffestiniog fire

Another sunny Sunday afternoon and yet another fire along the railway. The 4th day of incidents close to us in less than 4 weeks!

The first we knew of this one was the arrival of the short fire engine, the one that can make it round the hairpin bends on the drive. From here it was a brisk trot down the line, closed to traffic, to the fire about 200 metres up from Coed y Bleiddiau.

As far as I could tell it was an area burnt 3 weeks ago that had been set alight. We were able to stamp it out before it reached the trees and then the water bowser came up by train to soak the area and prevent it flaming up again – always a risk on a windy day.

Magic Moelwyn

Riding or walking alongside the Ffestiniog Railway is wonderful but the journey up the Wrysgan incline takes you into another world. If you look up from near the Lakeside Cafe at Tanygrisiau you can see through the tunnel to the sky on the far side.  A 6 hour round journey from Campbell’s Cottage complete with a steam train at the end. An epic day out.