A Final Weekend with the Ospreys

One last journey down the wooded track, now starting to be overgrown by the bracken and bramble. It is high summer and there is a heat I haven’t felt here before. This time there are no blackbirds guiding my way on the wing and the only sound is the undergrowth being brushed away by my car. As I break out into the harsh light of the open fields and walk to the river, the air is still and the birds are hushed. An occasional call of a flitting bird breaks the calm but not the cacophony of spring. The flowers are almost gone with the foxgloves dying away and the irises finished; only a few marsh woundwort remain. The insects are here though, the crickets and grasshoppers calling from the long grass, butterflies by the dozen dancing around the meadows and damselflies chasing each other above the river. Perhaps it is the recent heat and the lack of rain, but there appear to be the first tentative signs of autumn in the valley – with the brambles weighed down by a bumper harvest of blackberries and the bracken starting to turn brown. But this is the height of summer, we may be almost two thirds of the way through the season but this is the peak of the heat. The young ospreys, now fledged and learning their trade in the air, now seem to spend their days hiding from the sun beneath the large trees around the nest or wandering further afield to strengthen their wings and seek new lessons.


These were my last two shifts of the year down at the Glaslyn osprey protection site. The last three and a half months, and nine shifts, have shown the changing seasons as much as progress of the breeding osprey pair and their chicks.  The scenes in the valley have gone from the grey dampness of late winter, through the clean and freshly bright colours of the new leaves and flowers of spring, to the dazzling brightness and drying land of high summer.

I was first to see an egg in the nest this year but missed the hatching. I retuned to see three gawky reptilian chicks only a fortnight old and on each subsequent visit, with weeks in between, they have grown larger and more confident, until now when they are as large as their parents and just as magnificent.

During these two shifts, I spent quite a bit on time in my favourite spot – sat on the bridge, feet dangling. With the river now at the lowest I’ve seen; it’s hard to imagine during the spring that it was close to the bottom of the caravan, high up and far from the water. I spent time watching the fish, from shoals of small minnows to larger fish hiding under the bridge. The insects chased around, hovered and landed on the weed and the birds gathered food from the surface or beneath the slow moving water.


Well, that’s it. I get back in my car, opening the windows, a breeze washing in from across the fields. It’s with a sense of melancholy that I turn on the ignition and start my journey home, but there is also a sense of satisfaction of being involved in another successful breeding season for the Glaslyn ospreys. I have played only a small part compared to the other volunteers, who have made such a great start to the running the community interest company that now watches over the ospreys and shows them to the public. However, its all now down to the ospreys themselves; will the parents return for another year and how will the youngsters cope on their first long journey down to Africa and will they also return, in two or three years time, to breed themselves?

I slowly make my way back up the track, windows still open to let the last sounds of the valley in. The trees soon to be changing to their autumn colours, the bracken to die back, the other birds to seek their winter homes and a silence to descend over the land once more. I cross over the cattle grid and pull out onto the main road, accelerating away, not to see that old track through the woodland again until next spring.


The viewing site will be open to the public on selected weekends until the end of August.  For more information, click on the following link:

Bywyd Gwyllt Glaslyn Wildlife

Sweden in the Summer – Part II: Grilling in the Wilderness

If there’s one thing I absolutely have to do whenever I visit Sweden, it’s to go ‘grilling’. The Swedish countryside is dotted with wind shelters; small open-fronted log cabin-like shelters with fireplaces in front. The wind shelters are often close to water or nestled deep inside the forest and, for me, cooking over the open fire gives a real sense of being outdoors in the Swedish wilderness. The shelters are even stocked with wood, ready for visitors to light a fire!


The windshelters I have used most often are in Färnebofjärdens National Park. The park is quite small but holds a landscape of wide rivers, lakes and dense forest, holding a rich variety of wildlife. While on trips to the Park, I’ve seen so much nature of the northern lands with the birds being particularly evident including cranes, owls, and white-tailed eagles. Walk a few metres into the forest and you’re bound to find signs of elk too and if you want a bit of pudding, there’s always the blueberries and lingon (cow berries) at this time of year.


My grilling trip during my recent visit to Sweden was in the National Park and at a wind shelter at the edge of a set of rapids. It was a lovely, warm summer’s midday, with the sounds of the rushing water and the crackling fire accompanied by the smells of the forest, wood smoke and cooking sausages.

However, Sweden in the summer isn’t all sun and beauty; there are some smaller creatures that take a great liking for me, particularly my blood, and this trip left me with a very swollen ankle when I returned home.

I could spend hours sat at any fireside but there’s something special about grilling at a windshelter in the Swedish wilderness and I would happily spend days at one, maybe with a spot of fishing too (although I’m a complete novice at catching fish!). Over the years, I have visited the shelters in the height off summer, in the bright colours of autumn and deep in the cold, snowy winter – it doesn’t matter what the season is, I always have to pay a visit!

I’m sure the shelters could catch on in the UK but I think there are many people here who don’t have the same sense of a shared countryside that the Swedes seem to have and the shelters wouldn’t last long. Then again, there’s a belief that the vast majority of people won’t walk more than 100m from their car, so if the shelters were put half a mile from the road or car park, maybe they would last longer and be a reward the the more adventurous.

Sweden in the Summer – Part I: Blue Skies, Red Barns and White Swans

Walking along the forested dirt track, passing the summer homes, the lake comes into view. Approaching the water, the track gives way to short cut grass surrounded by meadow and marsh. The birch trees enclosing the shallow beach merge into pines around most of the lake. There are gaps in the barrier of trees, providing windows into meadows and glades.

The lake is calm but not mirror-like, with a light breeze rippling the surface and bringing scents of sweet, fresh nordic air with hints of the forest, summer blooms and the damp wetland at the water’s edge. Stepping onto the jetty, more ripples spread out and the creaking and clanking of the wood and metal disturbs the scene. Serenity soon returns and the only sounds are of nature at peace as the evening comes to a close. The last of the sun lights up the trees at the far end of the lake but the rays have lost little of their strength from the heat of the day.

The whoopers are here, two cygnets protected by cautious parents which give occasional trumpets on the far side away from my seat. The small orchestra of birds is given more depth by the willow warbler’s descending song and the far off bugling of the common cranes but a heron stands silent in the shallows, not delivering its harsh call. The screaming swifts add a quicker tempo as they chase in the evening’s closing light.

The deepening blue of the sky reflects in the calmer areas towards the banks with small disturbances triggered by pond-skaters making their punctuated ways over the tension. Fish rising to feast on the emerging insects ‘plip’ as they break the surface with an occasional splash as one leaps clear.

Out on the far edge of the lake are more industrious creatures. Beavers live here; their large lodge growing by the year. They make their way purposefully around their watery home; gnawing can be heard where they are working on their next tree to fell. The whoopers are wary of their presence and a beaver slaps the water with its tail and dives as one of the parents moves to ward off any further advance.

The evening is starting to cool and I return back along the tracks, giving one last look over my shoulder at a view which will have to wait again for another year.


I’ve just come home after a week and a bit in central Sweden visiting family. While the main purpose for visiting was to spend time with my brother, sister-in-law, nephew and niece, I did manage to indulge my wildlife interests.

The area of central Sweden where I stay is on the dividing line between the south and north of the country – the area immediately south being characterised by broadleaf woodlands and wide, open, hedgeless fields with the area to the north being typically rocky pine forest, dark lakes and bogs, interspersed with smaller meadows and glades. However, everywhere there are field barns in a deep, rich red which bring timeless touch of man to the landscapes.

The land is rich in wildlife and I saw a great range of fauna, many of which are rare or non-existent in my area of England or, indeed, the rest of the UK, while others would require a long trip for a glimpse. The summer house where I have spent some time can be great for seeing some of the specialities with willow and crested tit common visitors, crossbills passing in groups and the occasional sound of cranes and black woodpeckers. The roe deer are seen regularly but I missed the red squirrels this time and the brown hares, but I really dream of seeing a lynx or wolf in my wanderings around the area. I had my camera trap with me and caught a nice night-time video of a deer and her fawn – I say night-time but the skies stay light for 24hrs at this time of year, not a mid-night sun but light enough to walk without a torch.

The whooper swans breeding on the lake were a nice surprise as this is the first time they have done so in the three years I have stayed near the lake. I see these birds in the UK in winter but those are icelandic swans and I suspect these swedish breeders may winter elsewhere on the continent.


I’ve been visiting Sweden for the past 13 years and I still love to see the wildlife and scenery, and spend time out in the countryside – wilderness is much closer to hand than it is at home.

GUEST BLOG: For Wombles and Moomins – by Jack Riggall

I never intended to become a wildlife campaigner but I think I have to admit to myself that is what I am today, at least in part, even if I’m not that good at it – since January I’ve been doing my small part for the wider campaign for hedgehogs, called Hedgehog Street, and part of this is a national survey running from the 1st of February to the 31st of August, and this has been ongoing for three years (see the reports for 2012 & 2013 here) to form a better picture about what is happening to them. To support this I’ve promoted the campaign in a few local media outlets such as Nantwich News & The Cat Radio to ask people to get in touch with sightings; but the most enjoyable part of this is the glimpses of this mammal that I’ve had myself; though it was before I knew of the survey the most memorable (and odd) encounter was last summer when an adult woke me up in my garden by running into my face. When we both got over the shock it ran off, and I was surprised at how noisy they can be for their size (something hedgehog lovers have long known of course, but I’m new to the table). My later realisation was not quite as amusing and markedly less joyful; that these animals, beloved by almost everyone in the country (I’m going to exclude gamekeepers because of their use of the indiscriminate fen trap), have been severely reduced in numbers by our activities since the 1950s. Whilst the precise numbers are unknown, it’s very unlikely that there are more than a million left, a fraction of their numbers in the 1950s. The threats to the hedgehog are too numerous to mention but an overview can be found here with suggestions about what you can do to help them; and please do so (but not with milk!), because it may not be long before the many ‘I barely see them anymore’ equivalents I hear when discussing hedgehogs with people start becoming ‘I never see them anymore’. You can register to help with the national campaign here.

On to the moomins! You may have heard that beavers have been on the River Otter in Devon for a few years, likely having escaped from captivity nearby. Historically, the European beaver lived throughout the UK but was hunted to extinction for its fur & meat. Fortunately, the beaver is an ecological keystone, as George Monbiot explains, meaning it is a real gem for the river ecosystem, and so the results of its presence wherever it is reintroduced in Europe are very positive. Unfortunately, the knee-jerk response of the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), an already infamous government department due to their policy of culling badgers, is to capture these individual beavers and place them in zoos for reasons that soon fall apart under the mildest of scrutiny; that they harm fish populations, when in fact the presence of beaver dams is a great boon for fish as shelter and breeding grounds. Species of high conservation priority also benefit from the dams such as otters & water voles.

One renowned ecologist finds this plan to effectively eradicate the beaver from the English wilderness a second time so abhorrent that he is threatening legal action if DEFRA proceed with their plan. I have sent DEFRA my own comments with a request for them to re-consider; I hope you’ll do the same.

Onwards & upwards for our mammalian neighbours!

Jack Riggall.

Mammal Tracker

Last weekend I came across the Mammal Society’s Mammal Tracker app for smart phones.

I’ve been using the British Trust for Ornithology’s BirdTrack app for quite a while now and have submitted dozens of records but I’ve been wanting a mammal equivalent to use alongside it. To be honest, I have more interest in mammals than birds but they are much more difficult to see.

The Mammal Tracker app couldn’t be simpler to use and like BirdTrack, the information collected through Mammal Tracker will feed directly into conservation efforts. In fact, the information will help to produce the first UK mammal atlas for 20 years.

I’ve just checked the website and my records have already appeared on the national map; it is great to see the immediate contribution I have made.

If you have any interest in conservation and wildlife (and a smart phone) you should get this app.  Actually, you don’t need a phone at all as you can submit records via the Mammal Tracker website – see the link below:

Mammal Society Mammal Tracker website

Well, I’m off to Sweden tomorrow but I think the Mammal Society might be a bit suspicious if I start submitting records for moose, bears and wolves!