Monday, June 25, 2012

What does a nightjar sound like?

If you want to find out, first of all you need to locate a male nightjar.  According to the RSPB there are just 4,606 of them in the UK between May and August. They sing at night and like heathland - which is not necessarily the easiest surface to walk over in the dark.  But the heath at Gwaith Powdwr has smooth pathways and a guide, Rob Booth, to take you to the right spot at the right time without scaring the birds away. 

Rob will be leading a nightjar walk on Saturday 30th June and on Friday 6thJuly starting, presumably from the entrance to Gwaith Powdwr, at 8:30pm.  There is a charge of £2 for members of North Wales Wildlife Trust (NWWT) and £4 for non members. Please call Rob or the NWWT office on 01248 351541 if you would like to take part.

If you can’t make it, turn off your lights, close your eyes, turn up the volume and listen to the film above. The birdsong and call is courtesy of BirdVoice which produces great products for people like me struggling to make sense of who is singing what. 

Meadow magic

Meadow magic
Meadows buzzing with insects, a kaleidoscope of colour, are just a nostalgic memory. They don’t exist any more. Or do they? Just back from Slovenia, having seen the most astonishingly beautiful meadows, four of us decided to see what a Welsh meadow had to offer.

The National Trust’s Plas Newydd estate, on Anglesey, decided to open one of its meadows to the public, offering two guided walks per day over a five day period, from 23 to 27 June. Visitors pass an impressive bank of solar panels, and walk along carefully mown walks through a hay meadow. I cannot imagine any visitor not being impressed by what we saw.

Dandelion-like Cat’s ears and yellow rattle contrast with thousands of orchids, ranging from pale pink to deep purple. Most are common spotted orchids, but there are also hundreds of northern marsh orchids and hybrids of the two. But it is the handsome white cylinders of greater butterfly orchids that really take the breath away.

Ten years ago a visitor reported finding five greater butterfly orchids, a species for which there has never been a definite Anglesey record before, in the meadow. The National Trust took advice on how to manage the site, and implemented a regime of late hay cutting and grazing. It has done the trick; this rare orchid has multiplied fivefold. You don’t have to go to Sovenia after all to be wowed by a wildflower meadow.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The nature of a trail marathon

There was only one way to find out if I could do a marathon and a new one on my doorstep at Coed y Brenin seemed the obvious choice. ‘Trail’sounded so much more appealing than road; although at the time I did not realise trail would translate into 3,959 feet of altitude gain.

A strong breeze kept away the worst of the midges as the organisers outlined a revised course. Torrential rains had forced a new route to be marked at the last moment. Then it was into the starting funnel, ‘The Final Countdown’ blaring out of the speakers, and Iori, the wildlife ranger, started us with a blast from his twelve bore.

For the first mile there was much shuffling of the pack as runners settled into their pace, conversations were struck up and there was a steady, easy going atmosphere as we ambled along. After an hour and six miles into the trail, front runners of the half marathon went pounding past on a thin, steeply downhill path laced with slippery tree roots – having started 30 minutes later than me they were obviously going twice as fast.   

What we lost in altitude into that deep gorge was regained by an exhausting haul up the other side. Once more on high ground we were able to take in distant views towards Cadair Idris but low cloud meant only a local would know that. At Tyn y Groes, friendly assistants handed out snacks and drinks at one of the many oases along the way. Beginning to feel a bit weary I chanced a gel, a pouch of instant energy, but I won’t be using them again.

Twelve miles in two hours’ my new friend from Edinburgh told me, reading off her high tech gadget. For her this was just a training run for a sixty four mile event around Mont Blanc. Much as I enjoyed her company I explained that I needed to drop down a gear and off she went. This was my black spot with legs feeling heavy. I was now at the furthest point I’d run before. If I could get through the next six miles I’d have a good chance.

The following stretch seemed to go upwards for ever and I wasn’t the only one walking the steep bits - and later on the not so steep bits. Four young women passed me chatting as they went. There was talk about the Champagne being on ice. One said she’d have some tonic with her first gin. Printed on the backs of their T shirts:
Never under estimate
the strength
of a woman

Don’t f@#k with
one who enjoys
running 26.2 miles

My heart sank as the route took us back down that deep gorge and up the other side but then it was steady running once more. My companion at this stage was a woman from Abergavenny, also doing her first marathon. Knee bandaged and pumped with pills after an early fall she was determined to reach the finish. Whilst I was looking forward to a hot bath, supper and a couple of beers in front of Euro 2012 she had the prospect of feeding four young children at their campsite.

Flapjacks and a few words of encouragement buoyed me up for the final stretch. After crossing a river one of the helpers said ‘well done, just over a mile to go’.  I think he meant just a mile of uphill, it was steep and a cruel sting in the tail. Then a steady half mile freewheeling down to the finish. A few minutes under six hours was not fast but I’d done it. The first person in the world to ever do a trail marathon in this body.

Many thanks to Trail Marathon Wales for organising the event in cooperation with Forestry Commission Wales – it was brilliant, friendly and atmospheric. Thanks also to all the marshals, volunteers and to South Snowdonia Mountain Rescue Team whose presence gave me a little bit of reassurance. My only criticism would be towards my fellow runners for dumping so much plastic along the way.

What next? How about having a go at the Dragon's Back Race?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Walking with wolves

Monday 2ndJuly meet 12:45 for a 13:00 depart from Tan y Bwlch station on a guided walk into Coed y Bleiddiau, ‘forest of the wolves’, returning via the train leaving Dduallt at 15:30. Four hundred years ago wolves roamed this forest and legend has it that this is where the last wolf in Wales was slain.

In those days the land was owned by the Lloyds of Dduallt and their old house has recently been tree ring dated to 1559. In the census of 1841 there were 52 people living on their 600 acre farm; in the 2011 census there were only 5! Fortunately the land was acquired by the National Trust in the 1960s otherwise this beautiful oak woodland, managed by CCW, would be sitka spruce.

Huw Jenkins (that’s me) will lead this walk on behalf of the Snowdonia Society (Cwmdeithas Eryri). The route through the Maentwrog nature reserve stays close to the railway line but I’ve slashed an off-piste path through the bracken to show you some of my favourite bits.

The woods are full of birds singing away. I’m no bird expert but equipped with BirdVoice(a recent birthday present) we’ll see if together we can identify some of the many songs.

If you wish to join the walk the Snowdonia Society suggests you give them a donation of £2 if you are a member of the society and £5 if not. The one way ticket from Dduallt to Tan y Bwlch can be bought on the train and costs £2.40 or £2.20 for the over 60s. The Ffestiniog Railway have confirmed that the Tan y Bwlch café will be open.

We might see some goats but just in case we don’t, this is what they looked like a couple of weeks ago:

The Snowdonia Society is a registered charity working to protect, enhance and celebrate Snowdonia, its wildlife and heritage. The Society works with local communities, organisations and businesses to achieve this vision.

For full event details or to book a place contact Frances on 01286 685498 or email

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Inspired by Nature - the winners

Chris Kinsey is the winner of the Natur Cymru Inspired by Naturewriting competition sponsored by WWF Cymru, Tŷ Newydd, The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales and Dolphin Survey Boat Trips.

Andrew Forgrave, rural affairs editor at the Daily Post, said of The Hawk Moth Effect, the winning entry: ‘Can you remember that precise moment when you fell in love with wildlife? Chris Kinsey can. She was aged 10, and the object of her affection was an elephant hawk moth. With the gift of adult hindsight, she recalls the childish wonderment she felt with this “beautiful imago” that, to her astonishment, carried the gift of metamorphosis. Its “Alice-in-Wonderland transformation” from cigar butt chrysalis to moth world stealth bomber sparked a lifelong fascination with lepidoptera. And who can blame her?’

Gillian Clarke, the national poet of Wales and one of the judges, commented: ‘The best entries teach me something, and have a narrative. Good writing is clear, and avoids the temptation to add too many adjectives.’

Gillian Clarkewill present Chris Kinsey with the £500 cash prize, donated by WWF Cymru, at the Dinefwr 2012 Literature Festival on 30th June. She will also present the £500 voucher for the residential nature writing course at Tŷ Newyddto John Harold who came second with an article titled How I fell in love with the frog lady.

James Robertson, editor of Natur Cymru, commented ‘The competition elicited some wonderful pieces of writing. Luckily we had five prizes to give out: the judges agonised about the order of the final five, each having its strong points. Congratulations to all five winners, and all those who took part. Nature writing is clearly flourishing.’

Anne Meikle, Head of WWF Cymru, said: ‘WWF Cymru is delighted to have sponsored this year’s Natur Cymru writing competition. We hope reading such talented work will enthuse others into discovering the wonders of nature and some of the threats which they face.’

The other prize winners are Eloise Williams who wins an overnight trip for two to Skomer Island (sponsored by The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales) with an article titled I carry your heart with me. In fourth place is Liz Fleming-Williams who wins a dolphin survey boat trip for two (sponsored by Dolphin Survey Boat Trips) for her article Snow on a Raven’s Wing. In fifth place is Rob Collister who wins a meal for two at the Glasshouse Café in the Wildlife Centre at Cilgerran (sponsored by The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales) for his article In my backyard.

The first two articles will be published in the autumn edition of Natur Cymru. Prize giving at Dinefwr will be in the dining room of Newton House at Dinefwr at 2:15 pm Saturday 30th June. This will be followed by a guided walk through Castell Woods led by Ray Woods and Lizzie Wilberforce.