Heather and a hen harrier on the Western Berwyns

July 2, 2011 at 11:28 pm | Posted in Walking, Wildlife | Leave a comment
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So what I did not like about this walk:

  • The slog through the heather
  • The swarms of flies
  • The boring monotony of bog and heather in the second part of the walk
  • The afternoon grey skies
  • The wet tramp alongside a mountain stream
  • The flies
  • Did I mention the heather (and the flies).

What I liked about this walk:

  • A lovely drive through quiet mid-Wales road, round Lake Vyrnwy and over the Hirnant Pass
  • Peace and quiet (not another soul seen on the whole 12 mile walk)
  • Seeing a hen harrier
  • Ticking off eight more peaks

After the majesty of the Carneddau it was time for a peak-baggers walk. This is a route that I can’t imagine anyone doing unless they were attempting to walk all the Welsh peaks. There are good views at times and few if any people to see, despite the walk being split by the Hirnant Pass that runs from Lake Vyrnwy to Bala, but much of the walk is a dreary slog across pathless heather and over nondescript peaks.

The walk begins well enough with a steepish climb from the bottom of the Hirnant Pass up the side of Foel Goch. After a hard section climbing beside the woods, I emerged onto the ridge for an easy walk over the first three summits. Foel Goch, with good views of the Arenigs and other mid-Wales peaks, is followed by the unmarked summit of Trum y Gwragedd and then Foel y Geifr, the highest point of the ridge.

As I approached Foel y Geifr, I seemed to be adopted by the local fly population, which accompanied me on and off for much of the walk. Human flesh must be in short supply on these rarely visited hills. The summit is marked by  a moss-encrusted trig point and there is a good view over to the Arans and  the less dramatic views of the hills on the other side of the pass give an idea of the walk to come.

From the peak it was a steep descent over grass and heather to Hirnant Pass. From there I took the forest road that formed the backbone for the rest of the walk. After a mile and half,  a detour  took me up to Pen Y Boncyn Trefeilw  before returning to the forest road. The next stage however was the toughest. First I came off the road over to Stac Rhos , a plateau with an unclear summit. After walking around a bit to make sure I had reached the summit, I descended down to  a boggy section  before climbing again across the slopes of Cefn Gwyntog through thick heather, with only a rare sighting of any path (climbing higher to the ridge may offer a slightly better route). After a hard slog for half a  mile or so, I reached the desolate summit. From there it was a return slog through descending through the heather to join a stream, Nant Cyrniau, that I followed up towards the summit of Cyrniau Nod. The Nuttalls suggest staying close to the stream to avoid the worst of the heather but this in turn means wading through boggy grass and marsh.

The one respite came when I heard an unusual cry and saw I whitish bird  circling over the moor a couple of hundred yards ahead. Larger than a kestrel and too pale for a buzzard and with a very different cry, it seemed to be circling as a warning of my presence rather than as part of a hunt. I fumbled for my monocular, and managed eventually to track the bird as it circled and then flew further away. I was pretty sure it was a hen harrier but needed a longer view. Going slightly away from the stream, distracted by the bird I took the wrong direction for a few hundred yards of  unnecessary heather hopping, the reward was a much closer sighting as the bird rose into the air again – circling towards me and then away for around five minutes. I’d never seen a hen harrier before – certainly not with any certainty – and the pain and frustration of the tramp through heather and bog now seemed worthwhile.

It was another half mile or so of the same stuff before I reached the summit of Cyrniau Nod. There were good views of Moel Sych and Cadair Berwyn, but this felt like small reward for reaching this remote, isolated summit. From the peak it was a much easier walk alongside a ridge fence before turning off to rejoin the forest road. A short detour after a few hundred yards took me to the last peak of the day, Y Groes Fagl, and then it was  steady walk through the forest for a couple of miles back to the car.

This is not a walk I would recommend to anyone but on the other hand it is characteristic of the stark isolation of much of mid-Wales and with that isolation comes occasionally the chance to see something as wonderful as a hen harrier in flight.

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Owl story – conclusion

June 15, 2010 at 6:24 pm | Posted in Wildlife | Leave a comment

After ten days or so of fascinating owl watching, we had to go  away for a short holiday and after we got back they had gone.

A few days later we could hear them calling across the valley and in nearby trees but we didn’t see them clearly for a few weeks. Then one morning I saw three owls fly from the beech tree at the bottom of the garden.

Since then they we have seen them several times, including close sightings on the garden fence and barn roof late at night.

Owl story IV

May 15, 2010 at 5:43 pm | Posted in Wildlife | Leave a comment

After a couple of days without a clear sighting, we found not just one but two owlets,  together in a tall hazel just outside the garden. It seemed like there might be two but we couldn’t be certain until we saw them together.

At first they were some distance apart but later we found them huddled together. Over the following days they moved around the same groups of small trees – with the adults also going back and forward between them and the other groups of trees across the valley.  When I first found the owlet on the bench we worried because he didn’t move for a couple of hours – but this is obviously how they protect themselves. They just stay more or less in the same place, at least during the day, and the adults check on them periodically and presumably feed them as well.

Each morning it was a case of checking if they were both there. They are quite distinct: one is significantly bigger and seemed to have more adult feathers showing, the other looks like Uncle Fester in the Adam ‘s Family-  both had grown a lot in just a week!

Owl story III

May 8, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Posted in Wildlife | Leave a comment

After walking the dogs first thing, I saw Izzy, the spaniel, barking at something on the bench near the back door. When I got there I found a young owl hunched up on the back of the seat – totally motionless and looking rather bedraggled.  It stayed there most of the morning, before eventually scampering (flying is not the right word) across the garden to the bushes running down the side of the garden.

Later that that evening, we watched through binoculars as he sat in the trees at the end of the garden, while one of the  adults flew back and forth around him, calling as well.

The next morning he had moved slightly into a large hazel tree a bit below our fence.

Owl story II

May 6, 2010 at 11:17 pm | Posted in Wildlife | Leave a comment

We saw the owls fairly regularly over the next few weeks.

In the first week of May I got an excellent view  of the other owl late afternoon, just sitting in the sycamore above the pond

We had also heard chirping noise from the behind the panel in the barn but when these stopped we started to give up hope of there being a successful nest.

Owl story I

April 23, 2010 at 11:57 pm | Posted in Wildlife | Leave a comment

Not much walking in April because of work commitments. Instead the spring highlight was the local owl family. In early March, I was  in the woodstore at the end of the barn when I heard a scrabbling behind a wooden panel attached to the corrugated iron sheeting (the barn is shell of iron and wood and just about still standing). I expected to see a squirrel clamber out, instead with a lot of effort a tawny owl gradually pulled itself out of the narrow gap and then took off out the doorway.  Over the next few weeks we saw the same sight several times, and hoped that there was a nest there. We tried not to disturb it but he or she (or both) seemed to get used to us going in and out and just flew off without too much panic.

We also saw the owls much more regularly during the day. In late-April, we watched this  owl hunting from  a fence post in the garden. He stayed there for at least 15 minutes, even while I was taking photographs.

Snowdon via Moel Eilio

March 28, 2010 at 11:00 pm | Posted in Walking, Wildlife | 1 Comment
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I’d planned this route to fit with a bad forecast for the day. Starting from  Llanberis it would give us the chance to come off the hills after climbing Moel Eilio if it was too wet on top of the ridge. Alternatively if the weather was good we could do a 10 mile loop going over the ridge and back via the Llanberis path below Snowdon, with various options to cut the walk short if necessary. There was also the chance of going all the way to Snowdon, though that would make it a 12 mile walk and around 5000 feet of ascent.

In the end the weather was excellent but half way up the steep slope to Moel Eilio, T had problems with his leg and had to go back. I continued up to the summit, which has excellent views all round, taking in the coast, Moel Hebog and the Nantlle ridge, Y Garn, Glyder Fawr and Snowdon itself.

From Moel Eilio it was a straightforward walk along the ridge to Foel Gron. The original plan had been good as there were easy escape routes back to Llanberis, but I carried on to Moel Cynghorion, which was a steeper climb. In theory I could have cut across to join the Llanberis path, but the route through the valley wasn’t clear. I had already decided anyway that I would at least go round the ridge and head on to Snowdon, if I had time. The summit had been tantalisingly visible for much of the walk and you don’t get that many opportunities to be there on a clear day. First, there was a leg-sapping drop and climb from Moel Cynghorion to join the Snowdon Ranger path. It was a lovely day to take this quieter route, I passed only a couple of people before the summit, including two guys carrying mountain bikes to the top! It was a perfect spring day so far, with a plenty of sunshine offsetting a cool breeze but as the summit came within reach it felt like winter again. The temperature dropped quickly to just above freezing and a cold mist was drifting across the top. There was still a considerable amount of snow on the path to the summit and beside the railway line.

As I approached the trig point the only other person around walked off; incredibly I had the summit to myself at 5 o’clock in the afternoon on a clear day. Then as I adjusted the camera, the mist came across cutting visibility to a few hundred metres but a bit of patience and the sky cleared and I had fantastic views of Crib y Ddysgl and Crib Goch (no less daunting up close) and of the Y Lliwedd ridge on the other side of the horseshoe. There was also a great view of the route I’d taken from Llanberis along the Moel Eilio ridge.

From the summit I took the Llanberis path down – except with snow on the ground I missed the point were it splits off from the Snowdon Ranger. So I did what you are warned not to do in winter and followed the railway line off the top. I can see why this is dangerous, snow builds up against the cliff side of the line but can then obscure the drop to your left. Fortunately there was only a remnant of snow and I could see the drop at all times, else I’d have backtracked. Eventually I reached Llechog, a rocky outcrop just a short climb up from the railway track and the final peak off the day. From here I dropped back down to joining the Llanberis path. This is the most straightforward (or boring) of the routes to Snowdon but I was counting on that, and an amble back with very sore legs suited me fine. Topping off a great day with a curry and beer in Llanberis was just icing on the cake.

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