Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Wales Weekend - day 3

Day three in Wales, Bank Holiday Monday and we were torn between making a quick exit to beat the traffic and making the most of our time in Wales. We decided to compromise and picked a supposed four hour walk, called the 'Roman Steps' close to Cwm Bychan (walk 379 from the book '1001 Walks in Britain', published by the AA). I say supposed, as whoever described the walk in the book clearly hasn't walked it. The paths are either scree and rubble with a stream running down them or deeply boggy. That and there's no flat bits - it's either up or down, for seven miles. Overall the walk took five and a half hours and we were out of water and food and feeling very 'worn' by the time we finally got back to our car. Still the walk did offer a few brief but excellent photography opportunities, though sensibly I'd stuck with the 100-400x.

First up and immediately through the gate, before we were even on the path, Pied Flycatchers again! This male sat quiet unperturbed in the tree while I tried to get a reasonable view. The best views, with the light on the right side would have meant climbing the farmers wall, so I made do with this shot:

This female was in an adjoining tree:

You can tell by the backgrounds the day promised to be glorious so we set off in high spirits having had such a good start. The trail winds up through a woodland, which is clearly very wet, as evidenced by these moss covered rocks:

All about us the woodland was filled with birdsong. We were treated to a close view of a very mobile male Wood Warbler, seen here singing:

Here he's turned his head for, I think, an even better overall picture:

Unlike yesterday's picture, the colouration is clear to see, including the very lemon yellow supercilium and throat markings. Excellent :) I got a recording too but I think this blog only accommodates words, pictures and short films...

Immediately above the wood line I heard a bird calling, trilling, each call comprising three trills. I knew I'd heard it before (on a bird song CD) and recognised it as a Ring Ouzel. We searched the trees and located it some way off, too far for a good picture, but we'd found one!

Further along, this was the view beyond the 'green line' to the heather, though again not a grouse in sight, hence no Hen Harriers either:

Having completed the first ascent in 90 minutes we were pleased to be going downhill, though in very boggy ground. Following the walk you pass into a nature reserve and then into woodland which is part reserve, part managed forest. Sat proud on one of the conifers, this male Redstart showed its plumage really well:

Then he burst into song:

As I said above the opportunities were few and hard earned but we were very lucky. This bird was no more than ten feet away from us, and all of that distance was 'up' - and it actually flew from further away to the tree next to us to perch and then sing :)

Further along the path, this Tree Pipit (new bird!) perched briefly on a stump before flying off:

The second half of the walk, once you're through the woods and have navigated past ruined cottages, etc., is a down-and-up triangle on deeply boggy ground with no real path at all. It took another 90 minutes and was frankly pointless. Were we to do this again we'd take a map and compass and avoid this section completely just looping to the left (West) and toward the pass. You can see boggy fields below:

We only encountered two species of birds on the bog, one was Meadow Pipits, which were abundant and second Wheatears, including this female:

Strangely we flushed up to ten female Wheatears, but not a single male? By now we were very short of water and sweating prodigiously from both the heat (the car thermometer suggested 24 Celsius when we got back) and the hard walking, and we still had a major climb to go. It was made the more eerie by a pair of Ravens high on a hilltop calling to each other, we thought they might be watching us and hoping for an easy meal...

We started the second ascent towards the pass and along a river. About halfway up we heard a contact call we weren't familiar with. It was a female Ring Ouzel. In the time it took me to raise my camera however she flew down and out of slight. Thankfully the male felt obliged to have a look too and sat long enough for me to take his picture:

The last photo from Wales and a most welcome view, that was the lake next to which our car was parked. From here it took another 45 minutes to get down, and a further 20 minutes to drive to somewhere selling ice creams and water. It was a very hard walk and in parts not much fun, but we did have a real sense of achievement in having completed it:

In birding terms, Wales clearly has a lot to offer and we've only just scratched the surface, there's North Wales, South Wales, Central Wales and South-East Wales to go yet :)

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