News

More Cuckoos arriving in the Beacons.
28th April 2017
More Cuckoos are coming into the Brecon Beacons and I have now seen four birds, all males. Their arrival is a bit earlier than in the previous few years as I mentioned in an earlier blog. It’s normally the middle of May or later before I see and hopefully photograph them. I went up to another site I watch in spring time and I was pleased to find another two male birds. One, however, disappeared quite quickly but one stayed on the territory, you get this happening quite often, they are quite territorial.
Last week there were hardly any Meadow Pipits there but this week they were everywhere. This is not a bad thing because they harass the Cuckoos and cause them to fly and perch on awkward branches



and sometimes, in the Cuckoo’s panic, this can be quite near to a bird watcher. These Meadow Pipits are very persistent and they will sit next to a Cuckoo on a branch and pull at its tail and wings to upset it.



However, the Cuckoo is also very persistent and they will usually stick it out for as long as it takes.
I watched this age old scenario be repeated yesterday and it is quite amusing for the spectator but not for either of the players. The Pipits were dive-bombing the Cuckoo



until he flew off to another perch and then the process was repeated again and again. I am waiting for a female Cuckoo to appear and that will really set things off. You have the male Cuckoo pursuing the female and the Pipits harassing both of them!
The Cuckoos emit a huge variety of sounds that you don’t hear normally, people just hear the male ‘Cuckooing’ and most don’t recognize the female’s bubbling call. There is also a variety of snorts, hisses and cackles that the male makes when under duress from other birds harassing him. It’s quite an experience to hear these noises and also the interaction between the male and female. I look forward to more encounters with these charismatic birds as the spring progresses.
Cuckoo on a cold spring morning.
23rd April 2017
In my previous blog post I mentioned that Susan and I had seen a male Cuckoo on an upland site in the Beacons. After seeing him and getting a quick shot while having a coffee in the car. I decided to try and see him again and I came back very early yesterday morning.
In this area Cuckoos favour upland sites as opposed to the marshes and other lowland areas in other parts of the country. They obviously choose Meadow Pipits as the surrogate parents for their young.
Unfortunately it can still be very cold on these upland areas in April and even in May sometimes. Yesterday exemplified this as a bitter wind blew early on and I was really feeling it despite having four layers on. I tucked in low under a copse of trees with a hat, scarf and gloves on and just waited.
This male bird is an early arrival because I don’t normally see Cuckoos until late April or early May and indeed most of my photos of them are in May and June. I was positioned right by where he had been perching previously and like most birds Cuckoos have their favourite areas and indeed perches, be it a post or branch etc.
It’s just a matter of being patient and if you have done your homework hopefully your waiting time will be reduced, especially in a cold wind!
After some time he was back in his area and I could see him perching on the branches of a hawthorn tree. However, he was obscured by a tangle of small branches so I had to wait, it’s no good moving around to get a better angle because Cuckoos are very wary and he would have flown off immediately. Experience with these birds dictates that you must be patient if you want any sort of shot.
Slowly but surely he made his way out onto a favoured branch and I shot him immediately,



he was a bit further away than I would have liked but more opportunities may come as the spring progresses. He didn’t stay long and he was moving around and calling from various perches as the morning went on. I came out from under the trees and moved around myself as the morning warmed up. I was walking back to my car and I could now see him perched on a branch seemingly enjoying the now pleasant sunshine.



These birds obviously feel the cold, wouldn’t you if you had just come from Africa?
He is not being harassed by small birds at the moment but that will come as they build their nests and that is when sometimes photographs can be obtained. The Cuckoos fly around to escape these birds and sometimes they will perch quite close to a birder/photographer in their efforts to escape.
I will be checking my preferred upland sites more frequently as the spring evolves in the hope of seeing more of these charismatic birds.
Swings and Roundabouts.
20th April 2017
I have been out looking for Ring Ouzels since early April and I have all but drawn a blank. This spring looks like a real bad one for Ouzels around here! I have paid six visits to an upland area called Craig Cerrig Gleisiad, which is supposed to be a breeding habitat for these birds and I have only seen one male bird. That viewing was on April 7th, a horrible cold and misty morning and he showed distantly for ten seconds and then flew off and was not seen by me again.



It's frustrating because there are plenty of Ouzels being reported on the UK coasts but they don't appear to have made their way up onto the Beacons. I will have to accept this as my only viewing this spring which is very disappointing but that's birding and it's time to move on.
There are reports of Cuckoos in the local areas and that is early for the Beacons. With this in mind Susan and I went out for a drive this morning and while we were parked up on a mountain road having a cup of coffee we could hear a male bird calling and as we scanned the nearby hawthorn trees we could see him sat out. I managed to take a record shot of him from the car before he flew off.



I will be back for another look next week perhaps a female will have joined him by then.
You lose some you win some!!
New Custom Page.
21st March 2017
I have added a new Custom Page to the home screen entitled 'Video Clips' this is next to the Guestbook page.
This page contains video clips (linked to Youtube).
Hopefully I can add more as time goes on.
Black Grouse at the 'End Of The World'
17th March 2017
It’s been many a long year since we have seen any Black Grouse in the UK, in fact it was around thirty years ago on a tour of Scotland. They are birds that have always intrigued us with their behaviour, with the male birds ‘Lekking’ pre-dawn on some lonely moorland. Showing off and posturing to attract females using their magnificent plumage, what’s not to like about them?





Basically you have to travel if you want to see these enigmatic birds and it’s either Scotland or the north of England if you want to be sure of at least seeing them. Photographing them is an entirely different matter, they are a ‘Schedule 1’ bird and therefore you cannot approach them in the breeding season. They shouldn’t be approached at any time really because they are easily disturbed and they are an endangered bird in this country. Their numbers have crashed in the UK and it is only through managed schemes that they have any chance of recovery. With this firmly in mind we booked a short break to north Wales near to Wrexham where there is one such scheme in place. The RSPB organises walks to see Black Grouse from one of their hides in the Llandegla forest but this usually results in seeing birds from a distance of a couple of hundred yards. This is not much use for someone wishing to photograph them.
However, there is in that particular area a solution to this photographic problem without, I’m glad to say, disturbing the birds. Opposite Llandegla forest there is a place called World’s End, this place is reached by a narrow moorland road that runs between Minera and Llangollen. This road bisects the moorland and runs through prime Grouse habitat. The male Black Grouse have their favourite Lekking areas and if one of the areas being used is relatively close to this road then it is possible to photograph these beautiful birds from the confines of your vehicle.



What you mustn’t do under any circumstances is get out of your car, or even worse walk the moor to try and see these birds. They will absolutely not tolerate people outside their cars and they will fly away great distances when disturbed and this would obviously impact drastically on their breeding etc. People have been seen walking through the bird’s habitat trying to photograph them, this type of behaviour is not only a criminal offence but it is ridiculously selfish and these people need to take a good look in the mirror and try and justify their actions.
On a lighter note, on Monday Susan and I arrived at our accommodation on a small farm near Minera, this was literally five minutes from the World’s End moorland road. We had researched a place to stay deliberately close to this area because of the very early time you have to be at any Grouse Lekking site. The accommodation was very nice indeed and was a cut above the usual places for the money involved. We paid £75.00 for a night with a continental breakfast. In addition there were fresh flowers, cereals, eggs, milk, orange and grapefruit juices provided. All bed linen, towels, heating and a plasma television included in the price. The owners Graham and Kath couldn’t be more helpful and made our stay very pleasant indeed.
Once we had unpacked, which didn’t take long, because this was a smash and grab attempt to photograph Black Grouse, we drove up onto the moor. As I have always maintained, planning is one of the five pillars of my bird photography mantra. The other four would hopefully be put into place the next day. We drove along the moor near to dusk and on a bare area of moorland very close to the road we counted sixteen male Black Grouse!
We couldn’t believe what we were seeing, we drove past them quite slowly and carried on along the road and they didn’t even acknowledge we were there. This was a very good omen for the following morning! However, when we were looking back at them from an elevated area some three hundred yds’ away we could see a man walking his dog along the road and when the Grouse saw him, at a distance of about a hundred yds’ they all exploded into the air and flew off immediately. This exemplifies my previous statement about getting out of your car to view these birds.
We packed all our gear into the car ready for a very early start the next morning, there’s no time for messing about that early! We dined on a portion of Susan’s excellent shepherd’s pie, I set the alarm on my phone for 04.00 and we retired to bed quite early. I must admit that I didn’t sleep well that night, I never do when I’m in a strange bed and of course when I’m hoping to get images of an elusive bird it makes it worse. I am always anxious about failure when I have made a special effort to get a special bird.
We were both up before the alarm and after a cup of tea and a very small bowl of cereal we made a flask of coffee and left. It was pitch black up on the moor and freezing cold and after stopping to arrange my lenses on the passenger seat, get our hats, scarves and gloves on and Susan getting onto the back seat we drove on. We parked up at the area we had seen the Grouse the previous evening and just waited with our binoculars at the ready. I crossed over onto the front passenger seat inside the car even in the dark to eliminate any form of disturbance. After about half an hour we thought we could hear some birds calling faintly and then through the open windows there were definitely the sounds of Black Grouse nearby. Slowly through the gloom, invisible to the naked eye, but in our binoculars we could see their white tail feathers as they displayed in the Lek.
Slowly the dawn broke and these magnificent birds manifested themselves in the glorious morning light.





They were strutting around on their own little patch of ground showing their white tail feathers and facing up to any other birds that encroached into their space. This posturing can result in quite nasty fights when beaks and claws are used. Females are attracted to male birds that are engaged in the most fights.





There was a fascinating array of calls, hissing, bubbling and croaking. It was pure theatre and we were mesmerised, I had to wait until the light built-up before I could take any decent photographs and this seemed interminable. I was praying the birds would stay for me to get some reasonable shots. Thankfully I managed to get some half decent images in addition to some lengthy video footage from this wonderful spectacle.
After about ninety minutes the birds went quiet and just dispersed and flew away. This behaviour is just part of the Lek, they perform, go quiet and then just fly away.



What an incredible experience and we were the only observers to witness it! We drove away and the coffee tasted very nice indeed after the performance we had just been treated to. In total we counted twenty male birds at the early morning Lek.



We spent the rest of the morning exploring the area, had some lunch in Llangollen and just generally chilled out. We returned to our accommodation and packed up, said goodbye to our hosts, set the Sat-Nav for home and left very contented indeed.
It’s great when plans come to fruition.

For more photos please see Latest Images / Black Grouse.

For some short video clips please see the Custom Page on the home screen entitled 'Video Clips' - next to the Guestbook page.
Spring-like morning in the woods.
07th March 2017
After a very bright moon-lit night last night I was up early and out today on a glorious spring-like morning walking in a local deciduous woodland. I had my new Sigma Contemporary lens, (See Review), in my small rucksack and my new Vortex Razor, binoculars, (See Review), around my neck, both so lightweight! I know this woodland and there have been Tawny Owls roosting there for as long as I can remember. As I entered the woods there was a big commotion principally from Blackbirds, this usually means one thing, a Grey Squirrel, a Raptor, (Buzzard usually) or a Tawny Owl. I was hoping for a Tawny and my hopes were realised as I saw a bird flying through the woods. I immediately walked to a place where I know these Owls sometimes perch on some broken tree stumps to get some relief when they are being mobbed. I stood up against a tree to break my outline up and waited.
There was more commotion and sure enough a beautiful Tawny Owl flew and perched on one of these tree stumps right where I have seen them previously. I had my little Contemporary lens ready, this lens may be small in stature but it packs a real focal punch. I waited for the Owl to steady and then shot it right out in the open, it looked at me and appeared unconcerned. Then it flew onto the next perch and I shot it again. It’s great when your knowledge gets you results, and as the Owl was pushed around by the Blackbirds I get a load more shots, thank you Blackbirds!!
I was able to zoom in and out to frame this stunning bird as it perched quite close to me at times, something I couldn’t have done with my 600.
This little lens is already proving to be very useful indeed!!











Appalling new breed of so-called bird watchers.
03rd March 2017
It was a beautiful spring-like day yesterday contrary to what the weather forecast predicted. Susan and I were out early with the intention of seeing some Hawfinches in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. We arrived at Parkend to find two cars already in place near the Hawfinch site so we drove past and got my kit out further on down the lane so as not to disturb the other two people that were already set-up. This is just common courtesy but you would be surprised by the amount of people who park their cars and just get out and spend time talking and setting up while disturbing other people, they have no manners or common sense, a really annoying combination!!
We quickly got ready, me in the front seat and Susan behind and then slowly and quietly drove up, parked and switched the engine off. I crossed over seats while inside the car and we settled in quickly. I have seen people pull up and leave their engines running and the radio playing for some time, they then get out, slam the doors and walk around their cars, they are so rude, it’s no wonder there are arguments at sites.
After about half an hour we could hear Hawfinches squeaking and ticking up in the Yew trees and then one bird dropped down to the ground and we had great views and a few photographs. However, a few more cars arrived and the noise level started to increase with people slamming car doors and talking loudly. These so called birders have no idea about how to approach Hawfinches, these birds are so shy and wary, and they will fly up into the tree tops at the least disturbance. In total there were six people making the noise and we knew it was all over once they then proceeded to walk on to the field and stand there waiting for these birds to come down. They have no chance whatsoever of a Hawfinch coming down when there are people out in the open, they will stay up in the tree-tops all day or even fly to another location. The situation then worsened when one so-called photographer among them walked over and stood right underneath the trees about twenty feet from the birds prime feeding area. He could see three cars parked with people quietly waiting for the Hawfinches to come down but that didn’t seem to matter to him. He displayed a total lack of understanding of Hawfinch protocol and even less regard for other people’s enjoyment, in short he was a total idiot!
He, I’m afraid exemplifies the new breed of bird watcher that is proliferating in the bird watching/photography hobby. They have absolutely no field craft or knowledge of their subject and no regard for anyone but themselves. You can always tell them they don’t carry binoculars, (there would be little point anyway because they don’t know what they are looking at). They have swerved no birding apprenticeship, getting better by learning from their mistakes like most people, they just buy a big lens and try to photograph birds at any cost.
The man in the car facing us finally got out to remonstrate quite politely with this man, and was not as you would think met with an apology and recognition of his behaviour, but with a tirade of foul language and abuse telling him he didn’t know what he was talking about. I also asked him to back-off and was met with the same barrage of abuse and the man behind me asked him to move back and he was threatened with violence.
At this point we all left and decided we were wasting our time trying to reason with this meat-head. I’m sure by this time the Hawfinches were long departed, thankfully I had some images from my time there. The man who got out of his car had come from Bristol and hadn’t got any decent images because of this man's behaviour.
Despite this unsavoury incident it was still a lovely day and we went walking and had very nice views of a Northern Grey Shrike and we also saw some Goshawks displaying.

It’s little wonder that people keep sites and sightings to themselves when people like that are around. Thankfully Susan and I watch wildlife together and I always photograph alone whenever possible. I want no part of this modern bird watching and photography scene because whatever your behaviour you will be tarred with the same brush as these people. I have photographed Hawfinches from various sites in the forest from my portable hide and had great results.



They will never get any decent shots until they understand the protocol you need to adopt to photograph Hawfinches.

Taken in winter in long grass which coincidently complimented the birds plumage.



However, this was when the forest didn’t have this current breed of so-called bird watchers.

Below are a few images taken prior to the incident.

See how their beak has changed from a straw colour in winter to a beautiful pewter-like affair coming into spring, this happens in late February into March as they come into their breeding plumage.











Red Deer Stag.
23rd February 2017
It's quiet on the birding front at the moment, this time of year is always the same in the Beacons. One bonus this winter has been the very mild and quite calm weather we have been experiencing, although grey skies have been the norm which are frustrating for a photographer, it's better than a harsh winter, especially for the wildlife. Most birds and animals should have been able to survive this year with no long cold spells and no real flooding either. The Red Legged Partridges are now coming running for their breakfast as soon as we rattle the tray of seed put out in the morning, they are so comical. It just goes to show that most wildlife can and does become accustomed to a routine, especially when there's food involved. One lovely spectacle has been four Red Deer stags that have spent the winter in the field next to my garden, they used to run away when they first saw us but now they come right up to the fence. Sometimes we throw a few apples over the fence to them and they seem to enjoy them and it's obvious they have become totally at ease living next to humans. In the evenings they always have a playful locking of antlers and in the gloom it's an evocative sound and is quite addictive. They will be moved soon and in a way we will miss them, I hope they are there again next winter.

Here is the biggest of the four, you can see how strong he is and I wouldn't like to get on the sharp end of those antlers when he's being playful or not!!

Y Barcud, (The Kite).
20th January 2017
This publication comes with the RSPB's Nature's Home magazine and is dedicated to bird related topics in Wales.
My wife Susan entered an image on my behalf in the 'Food Glorious Food' photographic competition and I had forgotten all about it until I opened up the magazine today.
I was really surprised to see my image on the front cover confirming I had won the competition. I am not competitive about my images at all, I just enjoy capturing images of nature. This image was taken while I was sat on an 'Armco' road barrier. I could see the birds feeding in a Rowan tree nearby and I just waited until they briefly perched in the top for a feed.

Waxwings, Episode Three.
20th January 2017
Here we go again!
A text from a local birding friend alerted me to thirty Waxwings at the driving centre in Brecon on Wednesday evening. What a winter this is for these birds, I have heard people say they come every four years but you can't rely on that, it may be ten years before they come to a place like Brecon again because we are usually last in the queue for Waxwings. In view of this early Thursday on a bitterly cold and misty morning I arrived and I could see them high up in a Birch tree. I set my kit up knowing that sooner or later they would come down to feed in a berry tree close by.
Sure enough down they came and fed right in front of me, I was absolutely freezing because there was no sunlight and I was in a very shaded area.
A woman came walking past and asked me what I was looking at so I gave her my binoculars to see the Waxwings, she couldn't believe how beautiful they were and telephoned her husband immediately and ten minutes later he arrived and we froze together watching these lovely birds feeding in front of us.
After a good feed they just flew off high and wide, this again exemplifies the fact that you have to react quickly if you want to see these gorgeous birds.





More Waxwings.
17th January 2017
I thought the Waxwings had finished for me this winter after photographing them in Brecon, but I was wrong. I knew there were a lot more around the country but I didn't think they would come to this area. However, the county bird recorder for Breconshire was driving through a small village nearby and by chance he saw eight birds in a hedgerow and that's how it is with this current irruption, they can literally be anywhere!
The following morning my wife Susan and I were out first thing looking for them, they were not in the same area where he had seen them the previous afternoon but after some searching I found them near the small village primary school. Thankfully it was a Saturday and I was able to set up my gear right outside the playground. On a schoolday I wouldn't have gone near there, you can't be too careful these days, (a sad reflection on the society we all live in).
The same eight birds were perched up high in a Birch tree but after a couple of minutes they swooped down to land in berry trees right by the side of us. They were no more than ten feet away and we could almost reach out and touch them. These lovely birds are so confident that it's quite amazing but also quite lovely.
I had to back off to get them in the camera frame and they were also continually singing their lovely jingling song which made it even more enjoyable. I took many shots before another three birders joined us and we all enjoyed the spectacle. The day after they were all gone, it's that fleeting and that's why you have to react straight away if you want to see and in particular photograph birds, don't wait, they wont!!





Waxwings at last!
03rd January 2017
The winter of 2016/2017 has seen a huge number of Waxwings come into the UK. This is predominately caused by a food shortage in their wintering territories in Scandinavia and the very north and east of Europe and Russia. Most winters only a small number make the journey to the UK, usually in the north of the country, but in other years, such as 2016/2017 thousands arrive. The descriptive term for this mass movement of birds is an irruption and irrupt they certainly have.
The north of Scotland first saw large flocks in the hundreds appearing and there are still a large number of birds there but inevitably they move south and west. It is geographically impossible for them to do anything else, because they are not going back home to a food shortage, and indeed the north of England next saw large numbers, Cumbria, Northumberland, Yorkshire and also Norfolk.
Next small flocks started to appear in north Wales and that made me hope that some birds would move south as food became more scarce. it doesn't follow that they would come south to the Brecon Beacons because they may pass the mountains and go either side. In fact this is often the case with birds appearing in Cardiff and not in the Beacons. However, I remained hopeful and on new years eve two birds were seen in Brecon town centre. I immediately dropped everything and drove there but the weather was grim and I didn't see them. New years day was a dreadful affair with grey skies, wind and incessant rain but I was hopeful that the weather would keep them in Brecon.
January the second dawned and I was off again in search of these beautiful birds and much to my delight I found five birds in the grounds of the local hospital. They were flying back and fore some berry trees in the car park and the local houses which fortunately contained further berry laden trees. After asking a very nice elderly lady for access to her garden I was able to get some shots against a bright sky with these confident birds perching virtually in front of me. It is not difficult to photograph Waxwings because as a rule they don't fear humans, the difficulty lies in finding them in the first place.
It was a real thriil to find these birds once again in Brecon.



Please see Latest Images, Waxwings.
Barn Owl in Iolo Williams's Wild Places.
16th December 2016
Just viewed Iolo Williams's new book 'Wild Places' while in Waterstones bookshop in Abergavenny and I was pleased to see a full page image of the female Barn Owl I had a few days with last winter. I haven't seen her this winter yet, I hope she's OK now that she's famous. There are a number of my images in the book which is good, highlighting the wildlife of this and other areas.



Partridges in my garden.
16th December 2016
Red Legged Partridges are quite rare in this area, unlike Norfolk where they can be seen all along the roadsides and fields. However, six of these lovely birds have been coming to our garden in the last few weeks. I waited in hiding for them one morning and as they were feeding in a quiet area I managed to photograph them.

They are so comical!

A Brecon Beacons Xmas Ghost Story.
01st December 2016
A CHRISTMAS GHOST STORY
BY STEVE WILCE

Some houses have a reputation - a certain aura that initiates stories about odd happenings in the past - rumours probably, but enough to start local gossip, and “Neuadd Fawr” deep in the heart of the Brecon Beacons was one such place. Uninhabited for a generation the old house stood isolated and decaying in its own grounds which were rapidly being reclaimed by nature. Its steep roof and high gables presenting a melancholy façade to anybody who caught a glimpse of it through the bare winter foliage. The house could only really be reached down a poorly maintained and narrow country lane where ancient and overgrown blackthorn hedges formed a dark forbidding tunnel.
The last owner, Caradoc Llewelyn Jones, was something of a recluse and he had done nothing to dispel the local gossip that the house was haunted. In fact, if the truth was known he actively encouraged it. This ensured the locals left him alone and the only person that ventured near the place was a local shop owner, a busybody named Elwyn Evans, who once a week delivered essential supplies. Mr Evans rarely saw the owner of Neuadd Fawr and payment was left in the old crumbling porch at the side of the house and once his deliveries were unloaded, he ‘didn’t hang about’ - as he recounted to any of his customers who were prepared to listen to his gossip. Most of what he said was taken with a liberal pinch of salt, however, a little addition here and there served to fuel rumours and no doubt increase his custom at the same time.
As winter approached in the year of 1887 Mr Evans discovered the reclusive owner in that very same porch, covered in a dusting of snow which had blown in through a broken window. It was concluded that he had fallen over, become unconscious and subsequently died of exposure. A grizzly end coupled with uneducated superstition and a gossiping shopkeeper propagated even more local stories about the house’s dark past.
A distant relative of the recently deceased, who nobody knew existed, was now the new owner of Neuadd Fawr. He had paid one visit to his crumbling inheritance and decided that he wouldn’t live there under any circumstances. He instructed a local solicitor to manage the house’s contents, saving anything of value and disposing of the rest. When this exercise was complete the old house was put up for sale or rent with basic furniture included, much to the amusement of the locals, because nobody was going to live there!
Sometime later, as November progressed, the little snug of the village public house was awash with rumours that the old house was to be rented, and a few days later it was confirmed that indeed, an author, one Richard Tregenna was to be the new occupier. He was apparently a fairly successful writer of historical novels, a confirmed bachelor and someone who openly declared that he had no time for superstition - saying, ‘Apart from my novels I only deal in facts’. However, his occupation and beliefs meant nothing to the locals, he was just someone who was foolish enough to rent Neuadd Fawr!
A rental period of three months had been agreed, this being the amount of time that Mr Tregenna deemed necessary to finish his latest novel. The new landlord was both surprised and pleased that someone was moving in because by his own admission the old place wasn’t the most welcoming. In addition he had been reading some diaries found by his solicitor that had been gathering dust in an old bureau, and some of the entries had raised an eyebrow.
When the house had been occupied by the parents of Caradoc Llewelyn Jones it was only ever used as a summer residence, when the days were long, and more importantly when the nights were short!! It appears that there were some very unusual occurrences that had made them feel very uncomfortable, especially in the evenings as the light faded. In fact once the month of October arrived they always packed-up and spent the winter on the south coast in rented accommodation. A little extravagant it was thought, but there must have been a reason.
It was now late November and a bitter wind scoured the bare Brecon Beacon’s countryside; the only sound was the stark call of a Carrion Crow uttered from a lonely ivy clad tree outside the old house. The countryside was asleep, harvests were long gathered in and livestock were safely in their winter pastures. The vicar of the local parish Reverend Nathanial Price paid a courtesy visit to the hall as was his custom to welcome any newcomer to his parish. After exchanging pleasantries over a glass of brandy the Reverend Price bade Richard good evening, declining the offer of dinner saying that he ought to be home before dark. It struck Richard that he had left in an unnecessary hurry, bordering he thought on rudeness, however, he dismissed the idea concluding it was just his imagination.
Initially his latest book had come on well but annoyingly he now appeared to be experiencing some form of ‘writer’s block’ and frustratingly he couldn’t seem to overcome it, he put it down to tiredness because he hadn’t been sleeping well. One night in particular he had been kept awake by an intermittent tapping on his bedroom window. The small hours had passed very slowly indeed and at one point he had contemplated going downstairs to try and write. This, however, he decided after some consideration, was a very unpleasant prospect. He didn’t understand why, but he felt singularly disinclined to leave his bed, making the excuse that it was particularly cold for the time of year. One thing he was determined to do was cut back the small branches of the ash tree outside his bedroom window that he felt were the source of his troubled sleep.
The following morning when he opened his window in readiness for the ash tree pruning to take place he had a very unpleasant shock. To his horror he could see that he was mistaken - the ash tree was nowhere near his window and couldn’t have been the cause of his interrupted sleep. This was very disconcerting, and after he closed his window he sat on the bedside chair to compose himself. Later he ate his breakfast with some difficulty, he had no appetite, and remonstrating with himself he maintained ‘there must be another reason, a nocturnal bird perhaps, yes, that must be it’. He started to feel a little better after he’d offered himself a plausible reason for the tapping.
The days laboured on towards Christmas and his writing was tortuous, having neither continuity nor creativity. Sleep, although not interrupted by any physical noises, nevertheless, continued to evade him. Frequently he was being kept awake by dreams of a most unsettling nature: he was alone, walking on the Beacons in a storm, and having casually looked back he perceived a vague figure some distance behind him. Although this figure didn’t seem to present any threat to him there was something about it that was deeply unnerving, possibly because it appeared, ridiculous as it may seem, to have no actual form. What was even stranger was that irrespective of how fast he walked this figure maintained the same distance between them. The only escape from this persistent panorama were his sudden awakenings. However, to get up and go downstairs was still very unpalatable indeed. Unfortunately time was now fast running out on the lease of the old house, but the prospect of remaining any longer was most abhorrent to him, therefore, finishing his novel had now became even more pressing.
Christmas eve brought with it a fall of snow, the countryside was enveloped in a sparkling white blanket and the house was well and truly held in winter’s grasp. Luckily he was well stocked up with enough food and fuel to last him over the festive period. He was working late into the evening, the log fire had burned down low and he was just putting his papers in order, contented that at last he was beginning to make some literary progress. He poured himself a glass of brandy and stood enjoying it in front of the dying embers of the fire, as was his custom before retiring - but what happened next would test the strongest resolve of the most steadfast unbeliever: An unexpected wind had begun to blow, rushing around the house, on it went, rising and falling, wailing and moaning and he thought that although it was only the wind, even the unimaginative would be happier without it after five minutes.
Suddenly - a fierce gust threw open the French windows scattering papers around the room and extinguishing his candles. After blundering around the furniture he managed to close the offending aperture and sit back down, breathless. Then after much searching he found a candlestick and righted it on his desk, he stretched his hand forward to locate his matches and suddenly he was paralysed with an indescribable fear - a cold clammy hand delicately placed the matchbox into his own; understandably he was frozen to the spot as an intense fear gripped his very soul, but then self-preservation galvanised him into action. He raced across the room and began to beat furiously on the closed door of the study which stubbornly refused to open, in his blind panic he had forgotten that the lock was prone to sticking, but finally, after what seemed an age he found himself outside in the hallway. Desperately he fumbled for the candle and matches that were always placed in an alcove at the foot of the stairs, but as he did so a ghastly voice whispered in his ear, ‘Why don’t you turn around and look at me’?
This hitherto staunch unbeliever stumbled up the stairs in complete darkness quickly reaching what he thought was the sanctuary of his bedroom where he barricaded a chest of drawers against the door. His beliefs had been radically challenged and he was now experiencing true terror – but it wasn’t over – he could now hear slow but deliberate footsteps climbing the old creaky stairs. He waited, terrorised by the unknown entity that he pictured outside his chamber door and appallingly his worst fears were realised as the door was now being slowly pushed open. With every ounce of strength, with every fibre of his being, with the remainder of his sanity he resisted the force from outside. A battle ensued, time blurred as he repelled the unseen horror again and again, until he must have collapsed with exhaustion and found himself prostrate on his chamber floor with daylight breaking.
Christmas morning dawned and the Reverend Price walked over to Neuadd Fawr to invite his new neighbour to the festive carol service after lunch. He thought it somewhat unusual that the front door was wide open in this cold Christmas weather and after much ‘helloing’, puzzlingly he received no reply. He closed the door firmly, but as he left he saw a line of footprints in the snow leading up the drive from the old house which he hadn’t noticed on his way in. However, these footprints were not it appeared made by someone just walking - they were too far apart, he could only conclude that someone had left in a hurry.
Merry Xmas.........
A Winter Shorelark.
21st November 2016
Shorelarks are a winter visitor to the UK from the frozen north, typically Scandinavia. It is here the Shorelark breeds, high above the tree-line on exposed stoney ground. This very attractive bird usually appears in small numbers on the east coast of the UK in winter, typically Norfolk. They usually frequent coastal salt marshes feeding mainly on insects and seeds roosting near their feeding areas on the ground.
Their head tufts, small feathers, are somewhat stunted in winter but are more prominent in summer during the breeding season. They have a very distinctive head pattern, a contrasting creamy yellow and black and a well-defined black breast band making them pretty much unmistakable when seen well.
Over the last year two birds have turned up on isolated and quite high hills in this area. In March 2016 one appeared in atrocious weather above Llyn Y Fan Fawr in the Brecon Beacons, and now a bird on Garway Hill in Herefordshire. Both very rare or possibly ‘Firsts’ for the respective counties of Breconshire and Herefordshire.
Yesterday I met up with two birding friends and we decided to try and see the Garway bird. The Beacons bird had been too difficult to photograph because of the atrocious weather and a short stay of one day.
We drove up to the bottom of this quite isolated hill in a four/four jeep and made the trek up to a small pond where the bird had been seen. After a steep walk up to the pond we could see the bird feeding continuously around the muddy shoreline - living up to its name! Thankfully we were all able to get some shots despite the really bad light on a very grey and overcast day and in addition after about an hour in the freezing cold it started to rain heavily so we packed up and quickly descended the hill for a welcome cup of coffee.
It was well worth the trip to see this lovely little bird which is very rarely seen away from coastal marshes in the UK in winter.
Please see Latest Images, Shorelark.
Winter Bramblings.
09th November 2016
This run of cold northerly winds have brought a lot of birds into the UK this autumn, nothing much in terms of rarities in the Brecon Beacons but that is not unusual. However, there has been a good wintering Thrush movement, Fieldfares, Redwings and Blackbirds but sadly the Ring Ouzel numbers were disappointing. I was hopeful of getting a few shots because of the super-abundance of Rowan berries in the area, but sadly it was not to be, I only saw four distant males.
Over the last few years there have not been many reports of Bramblings in the Beacons, probably because of the mild wet winters in northern Europe. These birds used to come in numbers and quite large flocks could be seen in places, sometimes in the hundreds. This year it has been colder and drier and I have been hoping for a few of these lovely Finches. They have a great affinity for Beech seeds and they can usually be seen feeding on the Beech ‘mast’ that has dropped to the floor, usually in the company of Chaffinches. Beech seeds are triangular and three dimensional and are quite large so the birds have to move them around in their beaks, shaving bits off until they are able to swallow manageable pieces.
Following up a report of a few birds in a local woodland nearby I was out walking early the next morning to investigate and I could see a flock of about thirty Finches feeding on the forest track and indeed there were about eight Bramblings amongst a majority of Chaffinches. They flew up into the trees as soon as I got anywhere near, the same old story, the only answer was to try from the car. Bramblings have a very conspicuous white rump patch and this is highly visible in flight. Therefore, if a large mixed flock of Finches fly up off the floor this is a good way of identifying them, they also have a wheezy, squeaky call that is quite distinctive.
I always carry a tub of seed in the boot and I sprinkled plenty of Peanuts and Sunflower seeds in amongst the Beech mast. They wouldn’t necessarily prefer these but they would be more conspicuous in amongst the leaf litter. I walked back down the track to the car and got my kit set up on the passenger seat and covered the window with ‘Camo’ netting. I waited ten minutes and then very slowly drove up the track and I could see the birds back down in the leaf litter. I crawled closer and just pulled off the track to the right so the passenger window was facing the area, about thirty feet from where they were feeding. They still flew up into the trees, they were still spooky, but if there is good feeding in an area they will return if you are quiet and still. I pushed my lens through a hole in the netting, resting it on a large bean bag and after about ten minutes the Chaffinches started to drift back down, then the Bramblings descended after a while and there now appeared to be about ten of these birds. If you are watching Finches feeding on the ground in a forest there is a kind of pecking order in reverse and it depends on shyness, first the Chaffinch comes down then the Brambling appears and then lastly the most shy of them all, the Hawfinch. Sadly there are very few Hawfinches seen in this area!
They all started to feed with confidence and the Bramblings were happily walking around and feeding about twenty feet from the car, it just goes to show what will happen if you are patient and quiet and this goes for the elusive Hawfinch too. After about five minutes, however, a Buzzard drifted over and spooked them back up into the trees. I could then see a few walkers appear in the distance so I called it a day because there would have been too much disturbance. The walkers wouldn’t even have noticed the Bramblings but they would spoil any further chance of a photograph.
Please see, Latest Images, Bramblings.
An autumn walk on the River Usk.
03rd November 2016
Yesterday morning dawned with clear blue skies, a welcome break from the anti-cyclonic grey skies of the past week. I had an early breakfast and went for a walk on the River Usk near to where I live. The air was clear and still and bright blue skies prevailed, a perfect morning for a walk. I just carried a photographic rucksack with a lightweight tripod and head attached, my walk stool and a thermos. This walk-stool is an invaluable piece of equipment as often there is nowhere dry to sit down this time of year. In addition it allows me to lower a tripod right down and still be able to look through the camera viewfinder. Because of the low rainfall this autumn, when I got down onto the river bank I could see the river was very tranquil. This is a big bonus for the Kingfishers and Dippers who rely on good river conditions to survive. I sat underneath my favourite tree, an old Beech, which has stood guard like a sentinel for a couple of hundred years. What tales this old tree could tell - floods, droughts, wars, poachers, lovers, it has seen it all.



Some of its roots snake up the river bank in search of water, others are flooded by the river for months on end. I love to sit underneath its branches and watch river-life go by, while sipping a coffee from my small flask. I sometimes see the electric blue flash of Kingfishers as they fly up and down. Hunting Dippers perching on the exposed rocks nearby and Grey Wagtails rising up to pluck passing insects from the air. I spent an hour there and took a shot of the old aqueduct that carries the boats of the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal over the Usk.



Finally I dragged myself away and carried on with my walk, looking for a place to stop and watch the river. I came across a small clearing near some rocks



and I could see three Dippers chasing each other round and round until they all perched together on the same rocks. They then all threw their heads back and began a singing competition, obviously some sort of territorial posturing. I love little wildlife cameos like this, it makes a walk complete for me and to be in beautiful surroundings to see it is perfect.

Sometimes the river allows you to get an image in these calm conditions that you can't get otherwise, you have to take your chance when she offers it.

Canon 1D Mk2 DSLR.
Canon 17-40 f4 Lens.
Manfrotto 055 Tripod.
Manfrotto MHX Pro tilt and pan head.
Hoya circular polarizing filter.
Canon remote shutter release,

I didn’t see or hear anybody all morning and that was perfect, it’s good to escape the hustle and bustle of modern life, if only for a few hours.
Wintering Thrushes flooding in.
22nd October 2016
I knew it was going to be a good day when my garden was full of migrant Blackbirds first thing this morning. With this in mind we headed up to the Elan Valley, north of Powys where there is always a super abundance of Rowan berries. It was misty earlier on but as we arrived the mist lifted and revealed a glorious day.

View fron Garreg Ddu dam.


Hundreds of fieldfares were flying around. In amongst them were a few Redwings. Fieldfares vastly outnumber Redwings but they exist happily together. They are both very spooky birds and are very difficult to approach and patience is required to photograph them, however, I managed to take a few half decent shots.


Redwing


Fieldfares


There were also a few Ring Ouzels and some Brambling in the area, altogether it was quite a spectacle. With regard to Ouzels it is best to wait until the berries have become depleted and then it is easier to track them down. It is worth the effort because they look very photogenic contrasting with the Rowan berries and leaves.
Twitching, not for the impatient!
15th October 2016
A remarkable 36 Siberian Accentors have been 'Displaced' this autumn, a first for the UK found on Shetland and now a week later another in Easington, East Yorkshire.
Many missed the Shetland bird due to its relatively short stay and the logistics and cost of getting there. It was therefore predicted that this bird, the second for the UK, would attract a lot of attention.



I don't know where either end of this queue is but over a thousand birders were present and only around twenty at a time could see the bird, a long stressful wait!