Was I dreaming or did I just spend a day in a sunny Glaslyn Valley?

As I get out of my car at the end of the wooded track, a hush has descended across the open valley. The air is warm and still and the murk of the low grey cloud lies heavy over the land. The quietness of the place gives it an atmosphere, like I’ve invaded the private world of the wildlife and plants. There would be silence if it was not for the birds; the dawn chorus appears to have lasted well into the mid-morning and there’s a whole avian choir singing in all 360 degrees. There is young life in abundance with great tit and robin fledglings, all calling to be fed, and the wrens shout alarm as they wait to enter their nest, beaks full of insects. The real herald of spring is here too; the cuckoo calling first at distance and then close by. The signs of the season have been clear in the valley for weeks but this is now spring in its prime. High up in the fir tree, the chicks have grown so much in just one week; they still have growing to do but they have already come so far.


The valley scene has not changed dramatically since my last shift but the plants are continuing to surge upwards; the bracken is becoming more dominant, the irises more plentiful and the flowers of the foxgloves are opening further up the stems. As the blossom of the gorse has died away, the bramble is starting to come into flower; hopefully to provide another bumper blackberry crop this autumn.

As the morning moved on, the wind picked up and blew the clouds away to reveal a bright blue sky and warm summer sun. In fact, today is the last day of spring (meteorologically speaking) and it has been a fine one. Yes the weather forecast yesterday said it had been one of the dullest on record but the Glaslyn Valley has been in its splendour – what will the summer bring?

The birds really were on top form today and I recorded 31 species over the course of my eight hour shift. The redstarts, wrens, willow warblers and chaffinches dominated with their calls but others made their presence known. The osprey battles with the crows are still ongoing and the buzzards have been close by too. The pied wagtails nesting just up the track have been taking insects from the drystone wall and a mistle thrush has been calling angrily around the site.


I did a long dreamt of thing today; I sat in the warm sun at the protection site – It may seem like a little thing to most. I think this little corner of north Wales is a hidden and quiet oasis and I love to spend time there but over the course of the past three springs (and over 30 shifts – many at night, to be fair!), I have yet to have this pleasure.  I’m sure the sun shines on the valley quite a lot but my shifts seem to coincide with rains and storms; so today was a bit of luxury.

Before I packed up for the day and made the long, but enjoyable and scenic, drive home, I went down to the river…

Standing on the bridge, staring down into the river, the water crowfoot and rich grasses wave in the current, like breeze blown stands of wheat.  A bee passes close by, humming as it bumps from flower to flower. The strong sun, not far off its yearly peak, brings a tingling warmth to my face, only slightly cooled by the passing breeze. The trickling water runs beneath the concrete slab and the mirror-like surface is only lightly stirred by the air flowing above. The crisp blue sky is reflected back towards the clouds but the crystal clearness grows as the river nears the arches. Above, a wren calls from a stand on the gorse and bramble covered stone wall, while below, shoals of small fish dart from cover to cover, momentarily wavering in the faster flowing water.  A redstart continues its chattering from the tree top, joined by the willow warbler and the blackbird, early for its dusk vigil.  The scent of tanning skin and drying grass mingle in the fresh air drifting in from the coast. The low bleating of the ewes and lambs go almost unnoticed, unlike the cuckoo announcing its subversive intentions.  I stir from my stance above the water and, begrudgingly wander back to my car.



Wybunbury Moss in Spring

Yesterday I went for a walk around my local nature reserve, Wybunbury Moss.  I volunteer there quite often with the local conservation group I’m part of but I also like to go for a walk at the Moss and probably do so every three weeks or so.

I usually use the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) BirdTrack app on my phone to record all the bird species I see and hear.  Yesterday, I recorded the most bird species I ever have done at the Moss, a total of 31.  One of the great things about BirdTrack is that you can go onto the BTO’s website and see all the records that you have submitted.  Interrogating my records for Wybunbury Moss reveals that I have recorded 57 species at reserve since January 2013.

While many of the species were fairly common, I did note both Raven and Willow Tit.  Ravens are starting to recover their former territories and I often see them at the Moss – for me their calls give me a real sense of wilderness.  The Willow Tits, as I’ve blogged previously, are a local rarity and have been in significant decline over the past few decades, so it was good to note them at the Moss again.

I first saw the ravens within the woodland that surrounds the Moss and they were calling quite irately for some time.  There was suddenly a call in return and I spotted a sparrowhawk nest high up in a fir tree.  Now I know where it is, I will have to return with my camera to see if I can get some shots of the youngsters after they leave the nest.

On the way out of the Moss, I passed through an area of wildflower meadow and took the following shot…

Visiting the Moss on a frequent basis means I get a real sense of the changing seasons.  From the first warm spring day spent on the Moss itself clearing fir tree saplings, to hearing and seeing some of the first migrant birds returning to breed and the trees coming out into leaf, to the wildflowers starting to bloom in the meadows. The season has been pretty special so far.


Wet days can be great days…

Why do people let a bit of rain get in the way of their plans – it’s only water, and if the weather is otherwise warm, what’s the problem? Yes, a winter storm, with ice cold sheets of rain and strong winds, chilling you to the bone can be a bit off-putting but if you wrap up in warm, waterproof clothes, it still shouldn’t stop people going outside for a bit of fresh (maybe bracing would be a better word) air.

Yesterday was a brilliant wet day, which started off with the May Breeding Bird Survey at Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s Blakenhall site, went on to include scrub clearance at a bog near Oakmere just off the A49, followed by some womble habitat improvement in my back garden and finished off with a few beers down my local. All but the latter included a bit of heavy rain – thankfully the survey was completed before the water started falling as rainy conditions can reduce the chase of seeing or hearing the birds but it chucked it down as I walk back to my car.

The survey at Blakenhall was slightly disappointing as I only recorded 17 species, compared to the 28 and 24 recorded on the previous two visits.  However, I did see four lapwing (hopefully two breeding pairs) – these birds are a red listed species and have suffered very significant declines over recent years.  The scenes at the reserve have changed so much since my first visits there late last year.  The trees are nearly all fully out in leaf and the ground cover is growing quickly – my next and final survey visit, in June, might require the use of a machete!


As I arrived at Oakmere to join the other Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers, the heavens opened and there was serious talk of going straight home. Fortunately, we all agreed to stay and get on with the task.  The task was on a privately owned Site of Special Scientific Interest and we were removing birch and pine saplings from a bog to help restore it back to its previous boggy state.  We removed a significant section of the scrub but there will need to be quite a few more shifts there to remove it all.


I’ve bought a hedgehog (womble) shelter and have put it under the hedge in my back garden. I’ve also bought some hedgehog food and am now trying to entice them into my garden. I’ve already found hedgehog scat on my driveway but at present there’s no way for them to get through to the back as there’s no suitable hole in gate or fence – this will have to be rectified!  The heavens opened again as I was installing the shelter under the hedge but I didn’t get too soaked.

Hedgehogs are in serious decline and there is a campaign ‘Hedgehog Street‘ to encourage communities to work together to improve habitats for these spiky creatures.

While I was away…

The wooded way is now in the shadow of a vibrant green cloak; the oak trees are out in full leaf. The damp track still has a scattering of the fallen leaves of last autumn but their replacements have brought a richness to the valley, yet to fade to their deep green of summer. A blackbird rushes off in front as I drive down through the woodland; the bluebells are now past their finest and the bracken is starting to take ascendency across the floor. There are a few rain drops in the air but it is not cold and the sun makes a fleeting appearance as I break cover across the wet pastureland. The clouds above make promises of downpours to come and it may be another day in the caravan or forward hide, sheltering away from the worst. While the bluebell bloom may be subsiding, there are other flowers here, with the fox glove and iris taking to the stage. The ospreys are still where I left them but there are now five, not two. The parents are stood alert by their sides as the three growing chicks rest in the cradling bowl of the nest. They have already grown so much; I’ve missed their early days and weeks but with more visits, I hope to see them thrive, from gawkiness into splendour.

There have been significant changes down at the osprey protection site since my last shift back in April. The biggest change of all being that the three eggs have turned into chicks, and they are starting to lose their down and show early signs of producing feathers. There are obvious differences in size between them and the largest seems to take precedence at feeding time but the smallest, and downiest (if that’s a real word) gives as good as it gets during the sibling squabbles.


There has also been some construction work down at the protection site. The old frame that held the solar panels (powering the camera and equipment) has gone and been replaced by a larger and more sturdy structure, with space for additional panels. The ospreys have also been doing some building work but not necessarily to our benefit – with constant adding to the nest, there’s now a stick, upright, obstructing the view of the chicks. Hopefully, the ever tinkering parents will move it soon.

Something that hasn’t changed is the weather, at least not for my visits anyway. There have been some nice spells since my last visit, but as usual, my shift featured heavy rain – please, please, please, can I have nice, warm weather for my next shift?

Also unchanged from my previous visits were the never-ending battles with the local crows, with the female frequently leaving the nest to chase them off, and this time one crow dive-bombing the nest while she was away chasing others.

Towards the end of my stint, the male brought in another fish; the third since the start of my shift at 10:00am. For the first time, I saw the female and male feeding the chicks together. When I say both, I mean she was and he was trying to. The chicks seemed to ignore him, even when he was trying to press food into their mouths and they would turn away and face the female. Eventually, after some persistence, and eating the fish himself, he managed to get one of the chicks to take food from him and seemed to finally get the hang of it. He’s an old hand at this fathering lark, having been breeding in the Glaslyn Valley since 2004; I’d have thought he’d have worked it out by now!


Osprey images courtesy of Bywyd Gwyllt Glaslyn Wildlife – thank you!

Cycle helmets: making your kids wear one…

…but not wearing one yourself?

I don’t really want to engage in the whole debate about making wearing a cycle helmet a legal requirement – I have my views and I’ll stick to them. However, as someone who always wears one, I find it hard to understand it when I see a parent out cycling with their child, with the child wearing one but not the parent.

What kind of message is that giving to the child? ‘Its okay, when you grow up, you won’t need to wear one either!’ Whilst these children are clearly precious to their parents (they are making them wear a helmet afterall), it doesn’t exactly do the children much good to have a parent in hospital with severe head injures, or worse, does it?  Furthermore, when does a child stop being precious to their parents?  By not wearing a helmet, the parents are indirectly encouraging their children not to wear a helmet later in life, increasing the potential that they could come to harm if they have an accident.

That is all.

Friends of Ramsey Island

One of my first tasks after returning home has been to become a ‘Friend of Ramsey Island’. Whilst I’m already a member of the RSPB, becoming a ‘Friend’ is a way to provide further, financial, support specifically to the Island itself. Whilst volunteering on the island may seem like work to some people, to me it is both a joy and privilege and I feel quite guilty that I get to spend two weeks on the island for free. So this is a way for me to ‘pay’ for my lodgings.

If any of my blog posts on Ramsey Island have sparked an interest in the island, maybe you would like to become a ‘Friend of Ramsey Island’ too or just make a one-off donation?

‘Friends of Ramsey Island’ webpage


May Breeding Bird Survey – Bagmere

With an extra day at home following my return from Ramsey Island, I went out and did the third of four spring Breeding Bird Surveys at Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s Bagmere Reserve. The reserve has changed hugely since my last visit with the trees now all out in leaf and the willow tree ‘fluff’ floating on the breeze and sticking to my clothes.  The warm sun made it feel like summer rather than spring.


The reserve was strangely quiet this morning and I only recorded 17 species, compared to the 28 and 24 species I recorded during the March and April surveys respectively.  However, I did record five new species for the site; blackcap, whitethroat, sedge warbler, sky lark and reed bunting.

The whitethroats were particularly excitable and angrily called at me as I strolled past.  This summer migrant is amber-listed for conservation but still has over one million breeding territories in the UK.


While the survey is focused on breeding birds, I noted mammals and butterflies as I made my way around the site.  Two large brown hares ran past me, momentarily stopping to check me out, and then loped off into the long grass.  I also identified large white, small white and painted lady butterflies as well as the small pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly, for which the site is known.


The Essence of Ramsey Island

I’m home now after (nearly) two weeks on Ramsey Island and it’s always a wrench to leave the place behind – especially yesterday as it was bathed in warm sunshine when I left.


At the beginning of each of my previous stays on Ramsey, I have thought that my next stint of residential volunteering should be on a different RSPB reserve. During the course of each stay, this usually changes to deciding to return to Ramsey, but only for one week, and eventually deciding to return the next year for another whole two weeks. This again happened this time and on the long five hour journey home, I started to think about exactly what it is about the place that draws me back each time. There are so many things that make Ramsey Island so special:

The People – The only place I can start is with the Ramsey Island staff – Greg, Lisa and Amy; they couldn’t be more friendly, welcoming, helpful, informative, understanding and patient. They all have a real passion for the island and its wildlife and this is passed on to the volunteers. Without them, the island, and volunteering there, wouldn’t be the same.

Volunteering on the island also wouldn’t be the same without the other volunteers. I have made some true friends during my stays and I’m sure I will make more during future visits.

I also have to mention Dewi, the island’s border collie – perhaps the best dog in the world!


Community – For a brief one or two week period, volunteers are part of a real, thriving and vibrant community, and not just on the island itself. Ramsey is just a small part of the wider community that also includes the boat crews and staff, scientists, locals, visitors and, of course, Derek, the local farmer who does so much to support the management of the island. However, while physically part of the community for only a brief period, with the island’s Twitter and blog posts it is now possible to be part of the ‘virtual’ community all year round.

The Work – Volunteering on an island and spending most days working on a range of tasks may seem like an odd way to spend annual leave to many people but beach holidays just aren’t for me. The work volunteers are given is so varied that few days are the same, with tasks ranging from helping with the boats and serving in the small island shop, to wildlife surveys, building maintenance, through to bracken bashing and talking to visitors (or is that bashing visitors and talking to bracken?). I have to say that the surveys and physical land management tasks may be where my real interest lies at the moment but I also really enjoy the other tasks and I find something very inspiring and energising about talking to visitors about the wildlife, the island and volunteering.

Wildlife – Well, we all volunteer on Ramsey for the wildlife and it’s a pretty special place where nature is concerned. However, it’s not just the obvious elements of the natural world, the birds and mammals, that make Ramsey an interesting location to spend some time. Through volunteering there my appreciation of the commonly overlooked aspects of the natural world has increased – from collecting dung beetles to being enthusiastically shown tiny spiders. During this stay the wild flowers also came into full bloom, transforming large parts of the island, with swathes of bluebells around the Bungalow and the base of Carn Llundain.

The Island – Finally, there’s the island itself, which seems to draw me further under its spell with every visit. I have to honestly say that I’m hooked and it has had quite a profound effect on me. It’s difficult to put my finger on it but it certainly has something, an essence, that I’ve found nowhere else. The fact that so many volunteers return year after year, shows that others have the same, or even stronger, feelings for the place.

Maybe that essence is the scenery. The island is truly beautiful and I never get tired of the views; I love sitting on the bungalow doorstep each morning (weather permitting) and staring out over the sheep fields and Ramsey Sound, towards Whitesands Bay and Carn Llidi. However, the island’s scenery changes as you walk around it and also through the seasons and different weather conditions – it is a stunningly beautiful place and I don’t think I could ever get tired of gazing across it.

Maybe the essence is related to the feeling of isolation, perhaps made stronger by the fact that the mainland and ‘civilisation’ are within sight and almost within touching distance. When on the island, the outside world seems so far away, yet it can be heard on the wind, when it’s in the right direction.

Maybe the essence is some mystical power the island holds; it certainly has a long spiritual history and many people have visited the island over the centuries for religious and spiritual reasons.

Maybe the essence is everything above all wrapped up together – the people, the community, the work, the wildlife and the island itself. In some ways, I hope I never work it out; I think it may be best left unexplained – helping to ensure I keep being drawn back!


Last Day on Ramsey Island

Well, that’s nearly it…I’ve just finished my last full day on Ramsey Island and I nearly blogged every day (doing much better than I thought I would).

The past (nearly) two weeks has flown by, as they usually do on the island, especially when there are boats to help with.

Today, as well as helping with the boat arrivals and departures, I finished doing a wheatear survey around the north and centre of the island, took some photos of the wildflowers and went on a boat trip around the island and out to the Bishops and Clarks.



The boat trip was with Thousand Islands Expeditions, the same company that runs the boat across to the Ramsey Island, and it’s well worth the price (a couple of flapjacks in my case!).

Ramsey Island Running Champion!

After my run around part of the island a few days ago, I was told of the Ramsey Island Three Peaks Challenge.  This ‘competition’ was set by a previous volunteer, Glyn Holt, in 2008, and involves running the tourist track, starting and finishing at the gateway to the Bungalow and taking in all three of Ramsey Island’s huge peaks (the towering Carn Ysgubor – 101 metres, the enormous Carn Llundain – 136 metres and the mighty Foel Fawr – 72 metres). The route is approximately 3.5 miles long and Glyn set the benchmark for the challenge with a time of 46 minutes.  In 2011, Tom Pinches broke the record, setting a time of 42 minutes and that stood until this afternoon.

Much to my amazement, particularly considering my age disadvantage (with at least 10 years on the previous contenders), I set a time of 38 minutes 56 seconds. I think I may have taken a slight shortcut but if the others have gone the longer route, this would only add around a minute to their time.

My record may not last very long, however, as Tom is returning next week for another stint of volunteering.

We had some departures and arrivals today with volunteers Nicola and Steve leaving and Harriet arriving.  We also had quite a few visitors with 17 on the 10:00 boat and 25 on the 12:00. I spent the day helping with the visitors and then tried to do a wheatear survey but didn’t get very far after talking to a visitor about a possible peregrine nest and trying to find chough for another group of visitors.

The weather today was spectacular with almost wall-to-wall sunshine.  There was a cool north-westerly breeze at the beginning of the day but this lessened as the day progressed – I’m amazed I haven’t been sunburnt yet!