Sun setting over Cilycwm.
After my trip to Northern England I couldn’t get much inspiration for writing from the long succession of dull wet days that followed. The mornings are cold and late, the afternoons short and dreary, and ever looming is the threat and promise of Christmas. There are things about this strange period that I enjoy, but the underside is terrible – “Two million turkeys, 100 sq km of wrapping paper and more than 100,000 tonnes of plastic packaging will be binned on Christmas Day.” (According to the Independent, but other sources give 10 million turkeys in the UK, which is 19000 tonnes of turkey meat!). Why can’t we just have the good stuff – being with families, good local food and wine, singing together, candle-light. I can do without an image of Christmas as re-invented to sell Coca Cola in 1931 (Santa)
My Christmas came early. After finding some solace in my bird feeding and recording efforts last winter, I decided on a more elaborate scheme this year, with more feeding stations and two high platform feeders which I hoped would attract buzzards and kites. It began in mid-November putting out seeds, peanuts, fat balls and peanut butter in small quantities and not every day. I also put a few meat scraps on one of the high feeders. This little beauty is a Marsh Tit:
The big surprise was the Jays. We’d never had them come to feeders before and now they were coming mob-handed – three of them at once! They cleaned up all the peanuts in minutes and then began on the meat scraps. Jays had a very good year last year because of the bumper crop of acorns. Now there are hardly any acorns and there are too many Jays chasing too little winter food.I was enjoying doing my daily stint in my luxury bird hide, (the new studio /shed /summer house) counting the numbers of each species occurring together, and taking a few pictures. There was no sign of a buzzard or a kite, but I expected them to be keener after Christmas when food gets scarcer.
Then, with no warning last week Brian arrived. Of course it could be Briony but I’d just been watching Monty Python so it had to be Brian:
Next day he was there waiting, flew straight up to the platform and took a good ten minutes to eat up every scrap, wipe his beak, send out a huge squirt of guano and gently flap away. A few days later I managed to capture him flying. Now I’m hoping to get him even closer, but I’m also hoping his feeding will attract a kite.
If the coming of Brian The Buzzard is my Christmas present, then for my birthday – the 23rd – I had another early present: a light show. I’ve been doing odd jobs, such as making nest boxes, for the Dinas bird reserve up the valley. The Dinas is a conical hill.
The Welsh language developed without cities, so when the industrial revolution brought urban culture to Wales, they had no word for City. Dinas means “fortress” – near enough. It used to be so remote that the hero of Henry Fielding’s 1749 book “The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling” aka Twm Sion Cati was able to avoid the irate father of his current squeeze by hiding in a cave here. Then in the 60s the dam was built and Llyn Brianne was created – a reservoir to provide Swansea with water – so now there is a road and lots of visitors come in the summer, but in winter it is blissfully quiet, and feels very wild.
The latest volunteer job is a modification of a pheasant feeder which we hope might attract Yellowhammers, one of the formerly common farmland birds whose numbers are in steep decline. I took some seeds – wheat, oats, kibbled maize etc and set it up on a little patch of ground near the car park. Then, in mid-afternoon I set off walking round the circuit. It’s a fairly challenging walk and the combination of cold air, exercise and the most wonderful light was the best tonic I could have asked for.
Thanks to those of you who read these pieces, and especially to those who give feedback. I’m working hard on a picture book with selections from the last year, so watch this space.