Setting Off From Sandwell valley

Friday, 30 April 2010

April 30th Ospreys and Otters

Let's say it straight away - the otter at Ynys Hir died on sunday night. Dick, the site manager did everything he could for her but a collision with a train didn't leave the poor animal with much chance.

So, now on the road adjacent to Snowdon and hoping that the rainy weather improves so that I can get up there tomorrow without getting too wet. Have just come away from the fabulous osprey viewing hide and display run by the RSPB at Glaswyn, nr Porthmadoc. The male was on the nest when I left. Please if you can visit the centre just north of Porthmadoc and have a look for yourself. The staff there, Geraint, Stuart, Kate and many other very lovely and dedicated people will make you very welcome and tv screens show what's happening on the nest.

Right since leaving Dolgellau I've seen hawfinch, lesser whitethroat and ospreys for the year list, which now stands on 185.

I've also visited Harlech Castle and Portmerion [I am not a number I am a FREE MAN] and seen a beautiful burial chamber at Dyffryn, half way between Barmouth and Harlech. The lucky school children of the Primary school there that have this fabulous prehistoric site in their playground. Two large cromlechs {?} and stones surrounding them.

The weather has changed from sunny and warm to rainy and warm but at least there's little or no wind.

Now for the RSPB reserves visited :

1. Coed Garth Gell - after meeting Irmeli from Finland and her friend Suzanna from Hungary [2 lovely girls who insisted I finished off their cheese baps - thanks girls, lovely to meet you. All the best], went and hid the bike in the wood and circled it on the green path. Very few birds but the evening walk was pleasant because I had the company of an Australian girl, over here working with her boyfriend but now out walking the dog. Sarah was from Sydney and I thank her for the chat. 3 lovely girls in an hour - things are looking up. Birds - willow warbler, blackcap, house martins and a raven were most noteworthy but more spectacular were the views over to Cadair Idris range across the estuary. Well worth visiting the reserve for the views alone. Wonderful.

2. Other Mawdacch Valley reserves - The viewpoint by the old wooden toll bridge, which I was kindly allowed to cross for free, had 4 red-breasted mergansers by it, 3 were males. Also common sandpiper here. By the Youth Hostel there were 2 small woodland reserves and an early morning [5.00am] walk gave me dipper, pied fly', wood warbler, redstart, ravens and drumming great-spot woodpecker but still no lesser spotted woodpecker, which is turning into the bogey bird of the tour.

3. Cors Arthog Bog - blackcap, willow warbler and a good number of mostly male orange tipped butterflies and green-veined whites here.

4. The Migneint - not seen because of very thick cloud cover. I've attempted to do a Youtube video here to show you what it looks like but not sure the download worked. Heard wheatear, stonechat, meadow pipits, skylark and corvids but saw almost none of them. Thought up the words to a new song to the tune of 'In the Midnight Hour' by Billy Idol - In the Migneint mist I cried More, More, More. Just to see some birds I cried More, More More etc.

5. glaswyn Osprey viewpoint - osprey pair seen through telescopes there and on the tv screens. Also saw red-breasted mergansers, goldeneye, an injured whooper swan, whitethroat, hirundines and a fabulous close peregrine. Also an otter went in front of the hide at 8.00pm. Great to watch her hunt for 15 minutes or so in the pool like area beneath the weir.

OK time to go.

Off up Snowdon tomorrow and then to Morfa Dintlle before Anglesey.

All the best everyone.

Gary x

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

April 27th Dolgellau - Have been to Ynys-Hir and Lake Vyrnwy RSPB reserves

At last found a library open in Wales and at £1 an hour I'll pay it!

A fantastic last 4 days and now up to 182 on the year list.
New birds for the year : wood warbler, sedge warbler, whitethroat, reed warbler and whimbrel at Ynys Hir with ring ouzel [sorry Graham!] and whinchat at Lake Vyrnwy.

People met and thanks to them include :- best mate Gez, his wife Jude and Leiya [how do you spell it?]; friends who have a caravan at Ynys Hir luckily for me. Thanks for the meal and donuts. Also Dave Anning the warden at Ynys Hir, luck again to meet him as I'd arrived a day before schedule and he was away the next day. thanks for the info' Dave! Met the manager at Ynys Hir but under sad circumstances. On the early morning walk around the reserve on Saturday the 24th saw a what I thought was a dead otter on the railway track. Suddenly it moved! So i collected it and took it to the centre. I'm awaiting a phone call from Dick, the manager to say whether it survived. Honestly though things didn't look good for her, an adult female. Let's be honest if an otter allows one to pick it up, it's in a bad way. Met the warden of the Machynleth Osprey Project, unfortunatley briefly as I was rushing to see the Villa beat the sad blue noses. What a fabulous set up at the reserve just west of the town and let's hope the female seen gets a male soon.

Speaking of the Villa beating Blues [thought I'd say it again - another 6 points from them for us], thanks to the Macynleth Bowling Club for shandy and tele. Great place with great people as most people are.

A big thanks to Mike Walker, warden of lake Vyrnwy and his team including Gary [what a character!], Graham, Mike Morris [Up the Vale!] and Roger [thanks for the coffee]. I do hope that Graham saw the ring ouzel at the barns - like I did today, together with a whinchat. Smashing. I also hope for gary's sake that the peregrine returns to the peregrine watchpoint - soon to be renamed to 'let's have a look at anything watchpoint. Mind you folks it's worth going to this viewpoint even if the pergrines are on vacation elsewhere because the human company is so brilliant. Gary, the personal meeting people manager is a fabulous bloke from the smoke and together with Graham, a volunteer and 'another great bloke but I didn't write down his name - blast old age memory, and just going to the hide set up is a worthwhile experience. You'll have an informative good time with lots of laughs to boot.

Right, 4 mornings of up for the dawn chorus at 5.00am each morning and lots of walking around 2 crown jewel reserves. I have always loved the Ynys Hir reserve; great birds and beautiful views including one of my top 5 reserve hides in the wood there that looks out over the canopy and estuary. Now though Lake Vyrnwy is joining Ynys as a favourite. Indeed Gwenffrwd-Dinas, Ynys and Vyrnwy are three fantastic reserves and ones that the RSPB should be very proud of.

Speaking of hides, have a look in the hide closest to the shop at Vyrnwy. You'll never get closer to siskins than in there, where large glass windows and comfy plastic chairs look out at feeders only a foot from the glass. The birds don't mind people at all and the siskins are joined by 3 titmice sp. nuthatch and great spotted woodpeckers. Brilliant!

Other highlights, other than the year ticks and views [have a look along the lake at Vrnwy] were goshawk and grasshopper warblers; the former at Vyrnwy with one grasshopper and three groppers at Ynys. Also some butterflies at last; brimstone, orange tip, speckled woods and green-viened whites and also large red damselflies at Ynys.

So now for the woods around Dolgellau. Youth hostel tonight with the famous Youth hostel breakfast to start the day off tomorrow. Then over the estuary to barmouth and off to Harlech Castle. Up onto the Migneint as well before paying my respects to The Prisoner [Be seeing you number 6] at Portmerion.

No rest for the wicked and lots of miles and birds to see.

Must mention Matthew and Pippa from the University of York. Met the today up on the moor above Vyrnwy laying down crane fly traps [tipula sp]. 2 enthusiastic young biologists out there doing the work. Fascinating information that i must look up on the 'net when I;ve got time.

And finally thanks Des from Pontypridd, for the look at the OS map, the hotel and hostel details and the chat.

So onward, resplendent with the new collecting can [so please fill it folks!].

All the best and love to everyone,


Thursday, 22 April 2010

Let's go back to the 12th of April 2010

After talking about that great visit to Priors Field Primary School in Kenilworth yesterday I should try to get up to date with my travels so I'll cast my mind back.

Cycled to St Davids on the 12th, visited the wonderful cathedral after being told that the boat over the RSPB reserve of Ramsey would be th 10.00am one on the 13th. Can there be a more impressive cathedral view than when you come through the archway from the city [Britain's smallest] and down in the valley there it is? Beautiful!

After deciding upon camping position, went down to watch sun down at St Justinians. Sat on a headland and watched harbour porpoise in Ramsey Sound and yet another lovely sunset.

Heard a grasshopper warbler whilst cycling back to where I was to pitch my tent, on the northern edge of a marshy area aout a mile or so inland of St Justinians. [171]

13th April 2010

Up early to a frosty start with ice on the tent; a feature that would occur in increasing amounts over the coming mornings. Met Andy, a birder from Kent and together we tried to get views of the reeling grasshopper warbler.

The place I had camped in was an artist's creation; a field with various ideas of material use and planting not 'left to nature'. The artist had left a flag flying and a wooden mushroom upon which I sat eating my bowl of musesli. Felt like Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves and kept humming the theme tune to myself. The frontier of my sanity perhaps.

Boat over to Ramsey, meeting 2 children on the way, Ben and Ella whose father has a farm which he uses to help wildlife. Ben's was on a work experience week with the RSPB from school and they both talked with pride about their Dad's gig racing exploits. Had a brief go sitting at the boat's wheel pretending to steer it.

Was met at the quay by Greg and Lisa, the delightful married couple wardens of Ramsey and 2 volunteers; one named Lyndsay, the other a Deputy Head on a working holiday.

Walked alone around this beautiful island, clockwise, enjoying the amazing views on this clear sky day. Many wheatear seen with some males displaying their territorial rights. Also a few pairs of chough and a beach on the west side with 73 grey Atlantic seals on it. Few other birds but 36 plastic puffins seen. These are decoys to hopefully attract real puffins to land and breed.

Sang whilst walking. Well, there were only 12 people on the island at the time. Made up some silly words to the song Oklahoma, in Bill Oddie's Little Black Bird book style.

Here's the first verse :-

Oh for Fair Isle
Where the birds rain down into the mist
Where the sound of chak
Will set you back
As you lift your bins up by the wrist

It goes on in the same vein - have a go singing it and then add your own bits. Want the chorus? You're going to get it  anyway :-

We know that we spent more than a grand
Just to see a tatty warbler in the hand
But when you find
A first for Britain of that kind
Then you'll cry out
You're really great
I love Fair Isle
I love Fair Isle OK

Maybe I should leave it there but there's lots more. Fun eh?

Red deer and rock pipits at the northern end of the island and then goodbyes at the quay. One of the highlights of my trip so far, Ramsey.

Cycled to beyond Fishguard in the evening with thoughts on when the moderately strong N - NE wind was going to stop.

14th April 2010

A long cycle ride today to get to beyond Lampeter but stopped at Wales' biggest burial chamber, Pentre Ifan. Here's a website giving more details on this impressive monument.

What it must have looked like over 5 thousand years ago.

Lunch at Cenarth after a walk to the river rapids and waterfalls. The local pub was the venue with a large roast beef meal for £3.95. fabulous value.

An attempt to do the blog was foiled by a library only open for a couple of hours in the morning so a look around the town's castle ruins and a short walk along the river had to do instead.

Was getting increasingly disappointed by the amount of plastic rubbish, especially in the streams and rivers. The view from nearly every bridge stopped at wasn't dippers and grey wagtails but plastic bags. One such stop had the view marred by 6 large pieces of plastic and the remains of a dumped 5 bar gate. Sad.

Camped atop the first big hill SE of Lampeter - mistake, it was freezing but the morning brought compensations.

15th April 2010

Compensation was in the way of a cuckoo calling as I lay in my sleeping bag. [172] and the first singing redstart of the year nearby [173].

A beautifully scenic ride to get to the Gwenffridd Dinas RSPB reserve wasn't marred by meeting a Blue nose pub owner. Brummies, they get everywhere. Lovely family from Bournemouth met here too.

Around the reserve in the evening, ostensibly to find Robin Hood's cave; well, the Welsh Robin Hood who actually did exist. One Twm Sion Cati lived in the cave found on the steeply sloping hill that dominates the reserve. I take my hat off to him if he lived in this cave. It was very cramped and damp with a small entrance. Met a smashing bloke here with his son, Paul Blades from Lincoln who's obession is stone circles, standing stones and the like. Brilliant family when I met the girls and paul's wife in the car park later. See you in November!

OK I know I'm still a few days behind but I'm going to nip off and have my breakfast. Today I get the train back to Aberystwyth in order to continue the Biking Birder Experience but I need fuel to warm up. Looking out of the window from my Mum and Dad's here in Warwick, not a cloud to be seen so another very sunny and warm April day ahead. What a contrast to the winter.

See you in a bit

All the best everyone,


Another Fabulous School Visit in Kenilworth - Priors Field Primary 22nd April 2010

Back to Kenilworth today for an afternoon visit and what a brilliant class of children. Year 6 and the famous Mrs Butler, with late arrival of an equally famous Mrs Palmer. Once again children's names aren't quite what they may be but their response to my visit was lovely, with lots of fun.

So what answers did I get this time to the question - 'What do you do in Eco Schools at Priors Field?'

Gladys - "We turn off all of the computers when we're not using them."

Gromit - "We turn off lights too."

Loretta - "We grow plants."

Jelly - "We recycle paper and water [?]"

A lovely girl named after a place of worship acted out a rainforest frog enthusiastically and nearly every child contributed to a great afternoon.

Now the children have promised to do all they can to help our planet and here's hoping that the school gets their silver award soon - they deserve it.

So thanks children and especially Mrs Butler for letting me visit.

Great school - great day.

OK Who stole the collecting can?

Yesterday I wrote about visiting the lovely St John's School in Kenilworth. What I didn't say is that someone stole the collecting can off the front of my bike whilst I was watching The Second Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers marching in Kenilworth. The bike was chained to the cycle rack outside the town's library just behind me.

I've reported this to the police but I know what chances there are of recovery. I'd like the can back at least. Ladies at Slimbridge worked hard decorating it.

OK, back to the tour.

When I last had the chance to update the blog, other than yesterday, I was on the way to the Pembrokeshire Islands; Grassholm and Ramsey. Well, after visiting a dear friend [Gloria and her partner Ian and sister Michelle] I eventually got to Marloes and then Martin Haven and caught the boat to Grassholm. It was a fast boat, skippered by Annie. Even from 10 miles away one could see that half the island was white. That whiteness was thousands of nesting gannets; 40,000 plus nesting pairs. Also saw a few hundred puffins, and good numbers of guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, shags and kittiwakes. Peregrine and chough were seen around Skomer on the way back. Cycling towards Marloes, met Andy Davies and family. Andy's a local photographer who is going to start taking people onto the island of Skomer for photography workshops. Google his name for more info.

No sign of the green-winged teal but not too upset as I've already had one this year. Was upset though after the Villa / Chelsea semi final where once again a referee's 'bottling it' decisions influenced the outcome. Penalty should have been given and John Terry should have been off. When will the football authorities have the integrity to bring in extra assistance for the referees?

Away from all that disappointment, it was lovely to chat with a family from Kingswinford - hello Viera and Clive!

11th April 2010

A night sleeping in the hide at Marloes Mere [I know how to live it up], then up at 5.30am to see what migrants were around.

11 white wagtails, 2 male wheatear, chiffs and willow warblers with about 100 sand martins and a few swallows.

These were at Marloes Mere together with the 16 Greenland whitefronts that had been here for sometime and a couple of chough [169].

Walked around the headland at Martin Haven and saw 3 more pairs of chough, c. 200 puffins on the sea towards Skomer and a pair of ravens sky tumbling together. [170]

The boat to Skomer was smooth on a flat sea. Strange how the Spring I asked for arrived and now the weather is becalmed by this large anticyclone.
Met Jim, an ex volunteer of Skomer who's stories and advice was interesting; talk of 'shearwater' nights and short-eared owls, gull colony numbers drastically reduced and bluebells.
Went off alone for a while to circumnavigate the island anti-clockwise. Beautiful place but I've got to go back when I've booked accommodation for the night there. Amy, one of the summer wardens told how they'd counted thousands of puffins in the morning before the visitors arrived on the boat. Now there were just a few around on the sea, at the bottom of superb steep cliffs. What the island must look like in May is another reason for returning, for that's when the bluebells are in flower.

Back to Marloes in the late afternoon but still no sign of the GW teal. Instead the whitefronts, the white wagtails, chough, wheatear and my only stonechat of the day were seen.

Comfort this evening, stayed at the Youth Hostel that right next to the mere.

OK more days to catch up on but time now for another school visit - Priors Field in Kenilworth.

[Just in case you're interested now on 175 bird species for the year. Almost on target to break the non-motorised year list record by seeing all the regular birds. Can I see/find any rarities that will get me closer to my dream [Impossible Dream?] of 300, time will tell.]

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

A rest but still a Visit - St John's Primary School Kenilworth

OK, I know I've not been able to do the blog for the last ..... few days! Wales where the mountains stop mobile signals and where the internet is only available to a traveller such as 'moi' in a library only open for a couple of hors a day but I'll detail those missing days after reporting a brilliant visit to a brilliant school in Kenilworth, Warwickshire.

St John's Primary School was visited this afternoon and I had the great privilige in meeting both the school's Eco committee and the School Council; 25 children on the lawn outside the school entrance. So what did we do? Well we discussed why the school was an Eco School. "Helps the planet," said the tall Bazza. "Saves energy," so said the Brilliant Betty. Saves money too, added Fiona and "it's fun," said Gertie, short for Gertrude but may I say that these are not the childrens' real names - just a bit of fun with the kids and they know who they are.

Next we had 'Gladys' find Sid the rainforest frog and she hopped around the lawn demonstrating the way she thought he moved. 'Bill' showed her the proper way, with him pretending to climb a rainforest tree.

Rainforests were discussed and then climate change before they all made the Eco Promise.

So thanks Mrs Wilford, children and staff of St John's. Good luck with the Green Flag.

OK Porridge on tele - will write more when I've watched it. Still the best sitcom.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Clydach & Llanelli WWT reserve Tuesday 6th April 2010

Remember the scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? The one with a view of the Canyon of the Crescent Moon. Well that's the shape of the RSPB reserve at Clydach. OK it wasn't as hot and the trees get in the way of the geology but with a bit [lot] of imagination that's what you've got.

I was down the bottom following the excelent track around the whole of the reserve. Dippers [5] and grey wagtails [7] were the best as the migrants haven't arrived yet but I photographed the mosses and scenes, with a red cup-like fungus to look up.

Over to the WWT reserve at Llanelli, a day early but like Slimbridge a couple of weeks ago, I just had to get there. Well worth it too and maybe this is the best WWT reserve for natural habitats and birds. Maybe not the ge. se numbers but for the areas created over the spoils of industry and farmland it's fabulous. Today I looked around the eastern area with reedbeds, sallow slacks and pools, islands and black poplar woodlands. Lots of willow warblers, chiffs and blackcaps, as well as good numbers of sand martins and swallows. Saw both a bank vole, ignoring me as I sat on a gate and also a water vole swimming down a channel oblivious to me. The water vole was swimming - not the bank vole. More great people to meet here; Nigel the manager and Eleanor the office manager. Both welcoming and wonderful.

Now come on if you haven't been get down there and find some good birds. Families - get down there and get on the bikes [you can get a bike for free to cycle around the reserve], explore the water vole tunnels, feed the ducks and take a wild canow ride. Brilliant place!

Met the local 'Last of the Summer Wine' crew but this had over 10 members, not 3. Thanks Wendell, good to meet you. Greenshank, spotted redshank, a spoonbill and a couple of wheatear on the western scrapes and more willow warblers. Indeed I counted over 60 willow warblers during the morning.

Oh dear time to go. Using the internet at libraries is problematical and I can't seem to get the time to catch up to today [Friday 9th]. Almost there but a couple of exciting adventures coming up to get me over to Grassholm. More details next week.

Have a great 'Spring at Last' weekend everyone,




OK It's a bit late but this was last Monday KENFIG NNR 5th April 2010

Down the hill to Kenfig and a first visit for me here since the redhead a few years ago. My first visit there was in 1988 to see my first peid billed grebe. Memories of good birds and a fabulous visit, for a birder, ahead. One who visits the centre is greeted with two of the most lovely people anyone could wish to meet and they were no different for me. Thanks for the bananas!

Down to the first hide with a good number of willow warblers fresh in after a morning of heavy drizzle. Blackcaps, chiffs and cettis in the same area but the number of willow warblers was impressive; seemingly on every bush edging the pool.

Met a fabulous couple to whom every bird was 'cool' and new - Hello Nathan and Jan. Now how did Nathan meet such a cracking girl? How can they have a honeymoon in Peru and on Galapagos. Now that's a way to start a birding marriage. Hope the Bill Oddie book helps you both but I hope you realise that it's mostly tongue in cheek. [BOLBBB] Birders aren't like that really - we're worse.

Left the reserve after exploring the dunes down to the sea, noticing extensive scraping of dune slacks for the rare orchids to be found there, and rode to Eglwys Neuedd, a large concrete bowl of a reservoir just along the M4, not that I went that way to get there. My reward was very close views of a female lesser scaup, a male greater scaup [188] and a male ring-necked duck.

Is this area of Wales the take away place or not? Masses of Chinese TAs, fish and chips emporiums, pizzas; they were everywhere. So what does one do - join them and I had a small fish and chips with a pineapple fritter. [rivetting stuff this blog!]

Camped in a field near Glais, ready to find the RSPB reserve at Clydach the next day.

When will Spring be here?

Best to all,


Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Newport and Cardiff - American gull to see - eventually.

Another early rise to cycle around the Newport Wetlands reserve. Lots of cetti's calling, blackcap, willow warblers and chiffs as well. Met a local birder, Nathan and 2 'wardens - Chris & Keith. It turns out that the huge reedbeds are not RSPB but there is a cooperative going over the superb visitors centre. Was chuffed that an ex pupil from my Wolverhampton teaching days had come down all the way from the same place. Thanks Steve - great to see you. Not many birds but did have a bearded tit flying over the reeds.

Was photographed for the local newspaper, the Newport Argus, by Dave from Berkhamstead. Afterwards chatted with a very enthusiastic young RSPB warden; a would be twitcher whose name I think was Matthew.

More rain now as I made my way to Cardiff. Found Cardiff Bay and what a difference to when I was last here. Then it was a huge dirty estuary with massive rectangular pits full of seawater and jellyfish. I'd been visiting a friend from college, Susan potter from Penarth. I wonder if she's still there? Met Phil Bristow, another birder but no sign of the hoped for Bonapart's gull despite searching until dark.

Bed & Breakfast in a hotel with an oldie world decor including original Edwardian fittings. Great goal by Ashley Young won the game for the Villa against Bolton and fabulous to see United beaten by Chelsea. OK so the first goal was offside but how many decisions go United's way? Remember Vidic in the League Cup Final? I digress.

Back to Cardiff bay in the morning, late due to 2 [!] punctures. the tiniest piece of grit was the culprit. 11.00am to 3.25 then the gull was found. Worked for that one with it being sunny but cold in a very strong west wind. Bonapart's gull UTB [167].

The rest of the day was spent cycling into the strong wind to try to get as close to kenfig as possible before dark. Met a lovely couple, Chris and Karen from Nottingham at a prehistoric burial chamber. Saw another such chamber as well a couple of miles later and settled down in the tent along a footpath about 3 miles before Bridgend.

All the best everyone

Gary x

Forest of Dean 31st March - 2nd April 2010 When will Spring be here?

A very noisy hide adjacent to a small pond full of smooth newts at Highnam Woods, RSPB reserve nr Gloucester started the day on the 31st of March. An open hide, that it is it has no back but it does have a lot of feeders around it so very close views of titmice, inc' marsh and great-spot woody. The rest of the reserve was walked in pouring rain and a very squelchy underfoot pathway. Interesting swift sculpture along one path. Ravens overhead, 3 blackcap, 1 willow warbler and 3 chiffs seen and heard amongst the expected woodland birds.

Afternoon, reached Lower Lydbrook on the river Wye. Lunch, a tin of sardines and a couple of hot crossed buns shared with some mallard gave a relaxing opportunity to watch a group of hirundines over the river; mostly swallows but also 5 house martins [164]. Also a male goosander was on the water. Had seen some lovely views of the Black Mountains on the way, with them being covered in snow.

Stayed at the beautifully situated Welsh Bicknor Youth Hostel, after visiting Goodrich Castle in the afternoon. For a place to stay away from the rat race there can't be many more lovely spots. Great hostel.

Up early on the 1st of April and out for 6.00am to try to get a lesser spotted woodpecker but no luck. Good dawn chorus though with drumming great spots, singing blackcaps, chiffs and a female grey wagtail by the river. Should have played an April Fool trick on the staff at the hostel but I won't divulge why. Weather was cloudless with a gibbous Moon setting. It wasn't to last.

Was met by Chris, the new RSPB warden for Symonds Yat, at the bottom of the hill and he kindly took the panniers off the bike and I had an easier ride up it. Down came the rain again but not before having great views of the peregrines and a goshawk, which although circling a distant ridge, was seen through a telescope. [165]

Dipped hawfinch at Speech House with it still raining hard and then got mandarins on nearby pools. [166]

A nice walk around a pretty birdless RSPB reserve at Nagshead, well until the rain came down again in bucketfuls. Met Barry the warden, another birder and a rarity on my birding trip. Would liked to have stayed the night here and been there for the dawn chorus but it was pouring and I'd booked a night at St Brievals Youth Hostel. Got there in the dark to find it was a large castle. Bruilliant place and brilliant people staying there. This included a lovely family from Belfast and 3 fabulous Australians; Mark, Janet and Niamh Clemens from Tasmania. Great to meet you.

2nd April, Weather - pouring rain. Joined a tour of the castle/YH and saw the 'oubliette'; a large hole beneath a dormitory where in medieval times they used to throw miscreants in and 'forget' about them. Nice! If you want to see a ghost then stay here. Over 7 different ones have been seen or heard here. Unfortunately I didn't see or hear one. My bedroom, the Gaurd Room is supposed to have a gost that strangles you, or pushes you according to how he likes you. I left late in the morning not having been pushed or strangled but having fixed the broken back brakes.

Cycled down to Bigsweir on the Wye. the last time I'd been here was when I was a teenager and a school organised canoe trip down the Wye. How did we get out of our canoes at this place. The river's tidal here and the banks are immense and muddy.

Tintern Abbey next and the rain stopped as I arrived. Paid a smaller fee that usual because of my English Heritage membership, for now I was in Wales.

A brilliant viewpoint found after a long climb was the next stop. Views over the Wye, Chepstow and then on towards both bridges over the Severn. I just wondered why they don't make the place a little more visitor friendly with a panoramic viewpoint terrace and a cafe. Would be a great place for one.

More heavy showers but at least these were accompanied by superb rainbows, mostly doubles and one was at my feet whilst I sheltered. Where was a pneumatic drill, for the pot of gold was beneath the tarmac path.

Got to Newport Wetlands Nature reserve late in the evening but that's another story.

all the best everyone

Gary x