Seasons greetings to all (both) my readers.

Crib Goch and Llyn Cwmffynnon, January 2016
Crib Goch and Llyn Cwmffynnon, January 2016

Welsh winters are so often just mild, wet and windy. It is rarely cold enough for snow to fall, and if it does it will probably melt away within a few days. Just occasionally, though, the photographer is treated to something special. Last January there was a short break in the succession of big depressions tracking north eastwards across the north Atlantic. I drove up to north Wales one evening and spent the night in the layby by Llyn Mymbyr (near Capel Curig) as I often do. The following morning dawned bright, clear and calm, with the snow on the higher slopes of Yr Wyddfa reflecting the pre-sunrise colours. Unfortunately there was a thin layer of ice covering much of Llyn Mymbyr, so the reflection I was hoping for was rather limited. I was at a loss as to where to go next.

Then I remembered another lake – Llyn Cwmffynnon – in a hollow on the slopes of Glyder Fawr, above Pen-y-pass youth hostel. I knew it reflected the mass of Crib Goch if the waters were still. It might be worth a try! It was trudge up to the lake across boggy uneven ground in heavy winter boots and clothing and carrying my full SLR kit. Eventually arriving at the shoreline I found that this lake was also covered in a thin layer of ice which was hardly a great surprise! But with a water trickling through it, the stream down towards Pen-y-gwyryd had remained free of ice and was reflecting Crib Goch in its surface. This was the location I had been hoping for.

At first I decided to forego my polarising filter, which I probably over-use. But after a while a tiny cap-shaped cloud began forming, dispersing and re-forming over the summit of Yr Wyddfa, itself invisible but situated behind and to the right of Crib Goch. Out came the polariser! It was invaluable in bringing out the whiteness of the cloud against the blue of the sky. In fact in these conditions of perfect clarity and using my standard zoom at 24mm, uneven polarisation was a problem, and I had to do some work in Lightroom to remove it.  But the result looks good to me, and I’ve used it on my Christmas card this year.

So for those of you not on my Christmas card list, I’d like to take this opportunity of wishing you the Seasons Greetings and a successful year in 2017.

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A visit to woodpecker HQ.

Green woodpeckers at the nest, near Abergavenny.
Green woodpeckers at the nest, near Abergavenny.

Beech woodland is normally associated with the south-east of England; Burnham Beeches and Epping Forest are fine and well-known examples. But here in Wales native beech woodland extends into the south-east corner of the country, around Abergavenny, for example. It can be found as far west as Castell Coch, just to the north of Cardiff. It is what the writer and naturalist William Condry called “the district’s most distinguished calcicole” referring to its association with a narrow band of limestone rock which runs along the northern rim of the south Wales coalfield.

It is for oak woodland that most of Wales is renowned but in a forthcoming book I want to open people’s eyes to the presence and stunning beauty of beech woodland. This spring I visited Cwm Clydach, where the Heads of the Valleys main road squeezes through a narrow defile alongside the river between steep valley sides. I had first photographed here in the mid-1990’s and an  image of the polluted watercourse complete with dumped debris was used in my first book “Wales  – The Lie of The Land” (published in 1996). The gorge’s steep and rugged southern flank is clothed with native beech, but it is a far cry from the expansive woodland of southeast England. Here it is largely inaccessible but a public right of way descends to the valley bottom from the A465 and then climbs steeply through the trees to reach scattered houses, narrow lanes and an abandoned railway track.

Walking back to my van on this year’s first visit I heard the familiar laughing call of a green woodpecker, which I tracked down to the branches of an venerable but dead beech tree right by the side of the road. What’s more the tree’s branches were riddled with woodpecker holes large and small. One bird visited one particular hole which I took to be a potential nest-site. This looked like a photo-opportunity!

Anyone at home?
Anyone at home?

I spent many hours on three visits sitting in my van watching the woodpeckers going to and from the hole. The off-duty bird would call from a distance and its mate would appear in the entrance to the hole. They would then swap over. I was surprised at how late their breeding season was – there was no sign of food being brought to the nest even as late as June 11th. On one occasion a great spotted woodpecker peered in, and I believe I may have seen a lesser spotted on the same tree as well.  This really was Woodpecker HQ! Green woodpeckers seem to be quite wary birds at the nest and they are apparently very difficult to photograph there. So I was really thrilled when I managed to get what seems to me the perfect image of a pair at the nest.

 

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