Tuesday, 28 April 2015

It's a lamb's life

After the long dry spell, our farmer neighbour was well pleased with the rain as the grass had stopped growing.  When that happens he has to put out bales of silage, which the sheep reluctantly eat until the grass starts growing again. Once fresh grass is on the menu, then they turn up their noses at the old silage which has to be removed from the fields. Food waste!

Dol Moch Lamb
Along with the rain came a cold snap, with icy arctic winds and ground frost; not the best time of year to be a newly born baby lamb. The lamb from Dol Moch Farm looked especially fragile.

But this morning’s pitiful bleating, as I closed the gate at the bottom of the drive, came from a tiny lamb, thigh deep on the far side of the river. I walked over the bridge, along the bank and clambered down the steep bank. With one arm secured around a branch, jacket pocket zipped in case my phone fell in, I stretched as far as possible but could not quite reach the scruff of its neck. The scruff has lots of loose skin with which to lift a baby lamb. Instead, the best I could do was the scruff of the back on which there was nothing to get hold of. But my touch was so frightening that the lamb jumped into the water and thence quickly out onto land and scampered up the bank, bleating for its breakfast. Fortunately there was lots of sunshine to warm it up.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Small Copper on the Forget-Me-Nots

Small copper
At long last the garden got a soaking yesterday and today it was brilliant sunshine but cool; perfect for a bit of hard graft digging out a 10 year old compost pile. It’s several feet deep with extensive nettles and their yellow roots, so satisfying to pull out. Also deep in the mix are bracken rhizomes, bursting with energy. Both nettle roots and bracken rhizomes are drying out on top of the wall.

Mixed in with the weeds and soil was the odd bit of rotted carpet that I had put down to inhibit the weeds. For some reason I thought it would be biodegradeable, but it’s not, certainly not in my lifetime. I’ve got a black bin liner full of the various strands.

Sadly I have destroyed a couple of vole homes, globes of dry vegetation beneath the soil. A small toad looked indignant as I relocated it a couple of yards away. But star of the show was the butterfly flitting on the profusion of forget-me-nots. If I’ve read my guide correctly I think it’s a Small copper.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

False Puff Balls are early this year!

Bluebells and bracken are much earlier this year and so too are the false puff balls. These are slime moulds which climb up a tree trunk to get a better vantage point from which to spore. They look a bit like half a white tennis ball. The earliest I’ve seen them is 29th April but more often it is in May – I first noticed this year’s crop on 24th April and they were already past their peak.

In previous years there have been two puff balls on a single tree, by the Railway Inspectors Cottage in Coed y Bleiddiau. This year there are two trees, each with a pair of puff balls and a couple of minutes’ walk away there is a fifth false puff ball which is conveniently at eye level. 

Bilberry fruits also seem to be well advanced. Normally in July and August there are lots of berries on the far side of the stream but barely any on the near side, the side nearest Campbell’s Cottage. But today there were masses of unripe berries on our side. Are there some creatures that eat the berries on just one side of the stream? Could it be the badgers? Maybe they see the stream as the border of their territory?

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Billy the Kid

Watching wild goats can be a bit obsessive and part of the gang was chilling out at the edge of the reserve by the top of our garden. A couple were in the shade beneath the trees but Billy the Kid (born February 2014) was in the sunshine with his aunt.  He just couldn’t settle down. Will they be mating this autumn? I also love the birdsong with the cuckoo that arrived a couple of days ago.

22nd April saw the arrival of our first swallow swooping round the vegetable garden.

Monday, 20 April 2015


No rain, dead bracken and strong winds all combine to make April the flash month of the year for fires; about a hundred acres to the southwest of Tanygrisiau was burnt over Saturday night. Several hours later the embers were rekindled by the wind and the excellent fire crew from Blaenau came to the rescue. Thank you.

Ras y Moelwyn 2015

Ras y Moelwyn has to be the ultimate fell run or mountain race and this year it became part of the British Championship, with about 500 competitors, four times as many as in previous years.

Finlay Wild from Lochaber Athletic Club finished first in 73:09; that’s just 1 hour 13 minutes and 9 seconds for what most people would take a whole day to walk! It was good to see my friend Kurmang Rashid (inventor of the Kurdish Pastie) made it home ahead of two others in just under three hours.

There was surprise and excitement on the faces of many first time runners, with adventure and jeopardy never far away. Pinch points, particularly on the descent from Craigysgafn, caused the traffic to back up and prompted interesting diversions! This is what it looked like at the half way point:

Many thanks to the organisers, marshalls and mountain rescue for putting on this spectacular event.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

The Glaslyn Osprey Saga

Jimmy is heartbroken
Since 2004 the ospreys on the Glaslyn have produced 2 or 3 chicks each year. They mate for life, overwinter in Africa and travel separately. This year Mrs G arrived back in mid-March and has been waiting impatiently for her mate who has thus far not returned; it’s looking increasingly likely that he has died and will not return. Is that the end of the dynasty? 

Just recently a young male osprey born in Dumfries, nicknamed Jimmy, has been wooing Mrs G. I visited the excellent new visitor centre this morning as Mrs G was eating a fish which Jimmy had delivered to the nest. Could this be love?

The latest report says that Jimmy has already been ousted, and by Blue 80, a male born at the Glaslyn in 2012. Blue 80 is thought to have been mating with his Mum! Is this good news? Will the offspring be well balanced?

To keep in contact with the evolving story you should visit the Facebook page.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Wild Goats & Henry the Labrador

Watching the wild goats can get a bit obsessive and I think they might feel the same about watching the human. In recent days I have snuck up on them with Molly (our dog) restrained by a shepherd’s crook through the collar; in the absence of a lead it’s quite effective, but she wriggles and fights against it.

In each of the last two days I have trusted her without any restraint and she has stayed by my side for up to half an hour as we watch and I film and photograph the goats. But today’s session came to an abrupt end when an overweight black Labrador ran at the gang of goats and they disappeared down the steep cliff.

I shouted at the dog and pretty soon another voice mingled with mine: ‘Henry! Henry! Come here Henry!’ Eventually the dog returned to its master. That moment of peace and quiet was shattered.

In the film below I left the camera running as I intervened to stop the Labrador pursuing the goats. Mine was not an elegant speech, so I’ve edited it out.  

Monday, 13 April 2015

Slow Worms and Wild Goats - what a cocktail!

It was a cold old day, the coldest for at least three weeks, and the central heating had been switched into hibernation over the Easter heatwave. Warm drinks, a down jacket fit for the Arctic and hot soup for lunch kept the chill away.

Dull skies didn’t make the idea of an afternoon walk any more appealing but Molly (dog) is a stickler for routine and her exercise. Within minutes of entering the reserve we were both as warm as toast; me with hat and gloves and Molly chasing the Frisbee.

Half way round I saw a slow worm’s nose retreat beneath a boulder. I couldn’t resist a peek and lifted it; I shouldn’t have done that. There was a family of at least five and my rude interruption caused them to slowly (it was cold!) retreat to the far edge of the boulder which was resting on the ground. I couldn’t just release the rock for fear of squashing them, so I wedged it up, placed some flat stones beneath and backfilled with dead bracken and leaves. Hopefully they will be alright but I feel bad that I disturbed them.

As you can see from the photo there were cobwebs beneath the boulder and some impressive looking spiders co-existing with the slow worms. I assume slow worms don't eat these spiders. Does anyone know what type of spider? 

A little further on and we bumped into the gang of goats with Supernanny; she’s given birth to twin kids twice in two years. There are now seven in the family with an auntie looking after last year’s kids and an impressive Billy always guarding the rear. This is what they looked like:  

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Bodnant and The Far End

Skunk Cabbage - there's one of these in the top
pond at Campbell's Cottage
Bodnant Garden seemed huge when I was dragged around as a child but it’s a lot bigger now and I no longer need any encouragement to explore. In recent years the gardeners have opened up new areas such as Old Park, Yew Dell and most recently The Far End, an extra 10 ½ acres. As its name suggests it’s about as far as you can get from the reception, a gentle downhill stroll, perfect for mobility scooters, buggies and wheelchairs.

The Far End is based around a series of ponds that ensured a steady supply of water to the mill. One of them is the Skating Pond, which is where the owners used to skate in the winter and go boating in the summer. Another is the Otter Pond, so named after an exhausted otter took refuge here and Lord Aberconwy ordered the Denbigh Hunt off his property. The ponds are connected by streams crossable by a perfect Billy Goats Gruff bridge and, for the more adventurous, a set of stepping stones complete with hand rail. 

In early April the camelias were still blooming (delayed by a winter cold snap), magnolias were stunning, daffodils had just passed their peak and skunk cabbages were looking brilliant. If you want to know why they get their name, just rub the flesh of the plant and take a whiff.

For many people the most iconic sight is the Laburnum Arch, with countless coachloads coming to see its blooms in late May to early June. But it was good to see it naked, after two gardeners had spent most of January and February pruning and tying it into place. It looked more like basket weaving than gardening. 

A new head gardener has been appointed, John Rippin, who follows in the footsteps of Troy Smith and before him the three generations of the Puddles.

The Laburnum Arch

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Ras y Moelwyn Cometh

Easter Sunday began with an early mist that cleared 5 minutes after I set off up Moelwyn Bach, with Molly, but without sun hat. Too far to want to turn back to get one; surely the rays wouldn’t be too strong this time of year. But they were too much for my now reddened and receding hairline. That apart, it was perfect, not a breath of wind, crystal clear atmosphere and long welcoming views.

Near the top, at the false peak, the ridge of rocks that looks down on the house, was a memorial to R. A. J. 1982 with an arrow pointing in a line somewhere between Llan Ffestiniog and Trawsfynydd. Maybe a farmhouse? I must try and find out who R. A. J. was and why this memorial on Moelwyn Bach. 

Also near the top were huge quantities of frog spawn, more so than in the lower ponds. Is there some rivalry to see who can spawn the highest? Are there fewer predators higher up?

I looked down the steep descent to Stwlan dam and remembered that Ras y Moelwyn is just a few days away, on 18th April. This year is the first time that the race is part of the British Championships and instead of the usual 100 to 120 entries there are already 485! Should I start training or just take my camera along? I’ve finished in the top 90 on previous occasions but I suspect that won’t be possible this year. This is what Ras y Moelwyn looks like: