The name means either “blue” or “green island”, and reminds us that other times and other languages could see colour distinctions differently. In Welsh “glas” refers to the colours of nature, of the sky, the sea and the grass. Think how green the sea can look and you begin to realise that the distinction between blue and green in English is not absolute.
Actually Ynyslas is mostly a pale buff colour. It is a large sand peninsula reaching up from the long sandy beaches at Borth towards Aberdyfi on the other side of the Dyfi estuary. At low tide the deep water channel is barely 100 metres across. Although the peninsula is a National Nature Reserve, there are no restrictions on people or dogs and there is a large and well-used parking area. Having camped a few miles away, I arrive before dawn, park with the side door of the van facing the rising sun and set up my tripod. A car pulls in nearby and the sole occupant sits waiting and watching.
Waiting for the first glimpse, it is not hard to see the sun as a god and the sunrise as a mystical experience. You wait for ten, twenty minutes and then suddenly the top edge of this massive ball of fire which has been lighting up the sky reaches up above the hills and dazzles us. The light changes rapidly, and there is barely enough time to do justice to the scene before the complete sphere is huge in the dense atmosphere.
On the other side, the first rays make the elegant town houses glow a fiery orange, and opposite, the dense band of mist creates strange wintery silhouettes. A fishing boat sets off to navigate the channel to the open sea.
Although I know this area well, I have never been to this spot before so I pack up the tripod and set off round the point to explore. I am soon in a wide expanse of a foreshore of a type I struggle to describe. The best I can do is “large pebbles” – stones rounded by the waves of a size between an inch and a foot across. It looks deserted but a bird is calling: “peep” then a gap “peep”. I know this sound. It’s a small wader telling its companions that there is a threat, and I am the threat. The last time I heard it was in Iceland and the bird was a Golden Plover, but this is prime habitat for its smaller cousin the Ringed Plover, and no sooner is the thought in my head than I see a group of little birds flying rapidly across the pebbles. They must have been close, but they are so well disguised amongst the rocks I couldn’t see them. My guess was right, and this to me is one of the great experiences of bird watching – to recognise habitat and bird together; much more satisfying than seeing some rarity in the wrong place. Low light, camouflage and distance conspired to soften the images, but I’m happy. The day has begun well.