Summer in the Glaslyn Valley

As I drive down the track once more, the sun is already high and its light makes dappled patterns through the old oak trees. The breeze brings a shimmering to the shadowed world beneath the canopy, with the leaves dancing in its wake. I have my windows open, letting in the sounds of the valley and I’m serenaded by bird song from the wrens and willow warblers. The harsh light across the fields is visible before I break out into the open. The sky is a deep blue with the few clouds shadowing the tops of the surrounding hills and mountains. Summer has truly taken over from the spring now and the flowers are starting to finish their show. The irises have faded and the foxgloves are coming to their final flowers but the bramble blossom is more plentiful and there is even greater promise of autumn fruits. The day is warm and there are hours more for the real heat to grow but the breeze will be welcome high up in that fir tree.

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The three chicks have grown up over the last fortnight and they are now looking more like their parents. They try to shelter from the sun under the female’s shadow but there is really only room for one, two at most. The eldest is starting to stand up to its full height with some first tentative flaps of its wings; it will be only a matter of weeks before they are all taking their first flights. It’s amazing to think that in just a few short months, these chicks will have changed from hatchlings to intercontinental flyers – it does show how remarkable nature can be.

The valley really is full of life. From the birds in the woodland and over the open fields, to the butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies searching the meadows, hedgerows and water, and the fish in the river, darting from cover to cover. Whilst the focus may be on the young ospreys, the volunteers at the protection site are surrounded by new life; there are parties of young swallows, blue tits, great tits, long-tailed tits, redstarts and wrens, flitting, rambling and racing around the area.

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I spent the day divided between the caravan, the bridge and a sunny spot between the two. I even sat on the river bank for a time, dangling my feet in the cool water; a spot from where I got a different perspective on the scene and I was surrounded by flying life. The swallows were collecting mud from the riverbanks and were dropping low over the river, scooping up mouthfuls of the water. A moth (well I need to look up exactly what it was) hovered by my side, about a foot above the river, then dropped to dip its abdomen into the water before returning to its hover; it repeated this process several times and then flew off out of sight.

A walker with a dog went through on the footpath today. I gave him the usual warning but he was intent on going through. He stuck to the footpath and although both adults left the next, it was difficult to tell whether they were worried by him or were simply continuing their daily battles with their crow neighbours.

So much for only ever being there in the cold, rain and wind – that’s now two shifts in a row at Glaslyn with lovely weather. This will be my last visit for a few weeks but hopefully I’ll see the chicks again before they make their way south.

A Day with the Ospreys

Trundling down a woodland track, past the stone cottage and old barn, I splash through rainfall streams crossing the path. Winding round the rocky hillside, a wren flits across the way in the darkness under the enclosing trees. Emerging from cover, the landscape opens up from the old moss-covered oaks into wide damp pastureland bounded by water channels and stone walls. Across the river and the sheep fields, sits a tumbledown building, long past its best and beyond use. In the quietness of its surroundings, silence broken only by the low bleating of sheep and the occasional steam train whistle, it stands alone. Within a neighbouring copse, high up in a fir tree, watched over by Snowdon, is a large, jumbled collection of branches, twigs and turf – a cradle for a precious clutch of Welsh osprey eggs.

ImageThe nest isn’t only watched over by the mountain; it also stays observed by a dedicated group of volunteers putting in hours and days to ensure that no one disturbs the birds or steals their eggs. The rarity of these eggs is what makes them so valuable to collectors. A display of Welsh osprey eggs would enhance any collection, but this would not require the theft of one clutch but two. For whatever reason, egg thieves must have five eggs to display, and at up to three eggs a clutch, it takes two nests to fulfil this requirement. However, the value of these eggs is even greater to those who give their time to protect them and there is a growing band of people willing to put up with rain, cold and discomfort to prevent any attempts to take the clutch.

On Saturday morning I got up at 6:30am to travel to the Glaslyn Osprey protection site near Porthmadog, north Wales. It takes just over two hours to get there from home driving via a choice of scenic roads across the hills and moors or via the fast coast route. My first shift of the year started at 10:00am and as I settled down for a long eight-hour guard duty, tinkering with the new camera equipment, the female started to shuffle on the nest. As she stood up and stepped to one side, there beneath her was the first white and speckled egg of the year, her thirtieth and hopefully one of three to come. As the first to see the egg, I let Elfyn, the organiser of volunteers, know what I had seen, and within a few minutes the news was out. Quite a start to the shift!

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With the rain coming down from the start, the caravan with the monitoring equipment (Osprey Protection Spy Cave) seemed the best place to stay but eventually I went out to the forward hide, where the volunteers get closer to the nest and have a chance of better views. The hide gives a clear sight of the nest and tree and any one approaching them would be seen easily, even at night.

The quietness and natural beauty of the valley is one of the bonuses of volunteering there. While the rain, wind and cold can make it an uncomfortable existence for a few hours, we are rewarded with views across Snowdonia and the sights and sounds of wildlife, both birds and mammals.

After my shift I checked-in at a local hotel and then decided to really get into the Osprey way of living and try some water from the Glaslyn Valley and Porthmadog fish for my tea (pictured below!)

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