Don’t be fooled by the cold winds, the lack of leaves on the trees and the dark clouds – spring is here and the breeding season is well underway. You sense the heightened tension amongst the birds – they are in a state of constant excitement, rushing around with bits of fluff, twigs, leaves, in their beaks, tumbling the sky with display flights, and shouting their heads off at dawn.
This last week I’ve been trying to get some closer views of some of our local birds. That’s hard enough, but in addition I’m pushing my body to halt the inevitable loss of muscle which comes with age, and I’ve been trying out various combinations of gear to carry with me. Just to make sure I don’t sit down too much, I’m also involved with a squirrel trapping and badger mapping exercise for the two steep patches of woodland at Dinefwr Park (Llandeilo) which are owned by the Wildlife Trusts.
I think I know where the dippers at Pont Newydd are nesting, but waited for an hour in vain to pinpoint the site. I managed to get my pop-up hide in place for the kites at Llwynsion, but saw no sign of them and got no pictures. Not far from the kites nest is a patch of woodland with 2 very large raptor nests which don’t seem to be in use. It’s very steep and tough going trying to find a spot where I can sit still and watch. Trying to get a grip on the steep, wet underfloor carrying some 10 kilos of very valuable assorted glass, metal and plastic, I was stressed, and something happened to my left eye: a curtain of floaters, dark blobs and looping lines. I’ve had stuff like this before so I rested and waited for it to clear.
After 20 minutes the floaters were getting better but my lurching about and crunching twigs had emptied the wood of life. It was cold and beginning to rain and I gave up.
Friday came round: the week after Good Friday. I’m due in Dinefwr Park for my volunteer day. This usually involves walking slowly round the perimeter fence of the deer park to check for any damage and combining it with an hour spent in the badger hide in the middle of the park and an hour at the Kingfisher hide at the southern edge. I record and photograph what I see, and the for last few months, exciting records have been rare – a kingfisher near the hide, a Great White Egret in the middle distance, a passing fox. The same dead-looking trees, dull, close cropped grass, and always the mud – deep where the little streams run.
Today already feels different. The morning is forecast dry with some sun so I make an early start and get to a disused quarry where for many years a peregrine has nested close to a raven. I thought the site had been abandoned by both last year, but had confirmed that both were present a few weeks ago. I want to try out my new” bag hide” again. This is a large piece of thin netting in camouflage colours with an elasticated hole for the lens to poke out of. As ridiculous costumes go it takes some beating – a mad hunter playing at ghosts – so I do not want to be seen, and the quarry is not, to my knowledge, visited regularly by anyone else. I’d been there the day before, set up, seen the male peregrine and the raven pair, but both then disappeared and not a croak or a keek-keek was heard for half an hour. I didn’t want to stay longer in case the raven had small chicks exposed to the cold.
Today I made sure they and the tiercel (male falcon) had flown off, set up quickly, and waited. Just before I was due to leave there was a “cronk cronk” over my shoulder and one of the ravens flew straight to the nest! Punch the air! Well, no because I was covered in netting but you get the idea.
I guessed the tiercel was still watching from his distant perch on the cliff, and I was right:
I’m still not sure where the peregrine nest is, but I’ll be back.
From there I went on to Dinefwr, met my “boss” Rhodri, confirmed I would do the normal boundary check, and set off carrying the big lens in my backpack, with binoculars, camera and Tamron all-purpose lens carried on my harness. The sun came out. The wind dropped. It was actually warm!
My hour in the hide was bliss! I watched entranced as a nuthatch collected dead beech leaves for its nest, coal tits great tits wrens and blue tits dashed about checking nest sites, with a squirrel doing the same for a different reason.
Then, to make my day complete, the dozen or so hinds who had been relaxing just out of view began to stroll towards me, enjoying the sunshine. It made all the last few hard, dispiriting days worthwhile. I can do this thing!