More from Cwm Idwal.

Rowan, Ogwen Cottage
Rowan, Ogwen Cottage

Last week I posted about my eventually successful visit to Cwm Idwal in Snowdonia. But alongside the story of the photographs there was a quite different narrative running in parallel.

On my first visit to the Cwm, amongst the huge boulders below Twll Du, I came across some small brown birds. I quickly twigged that they were twite, which, strangely enough, I had been reading about the previous evening. As far as British birds go they are probably the supreme example of the “little brown job”. Visually there are no distinguishing features at all unless you can see the pale pink rump patch, but they do have a distinctive twanging call, which confirms their identity. At first it was just a couple of birds, then a juvenile begging food from a parent, then a bird leaving a possible nest site and finally a flock of 15 – 20 birds.

On my return to Idwal Cottage I looked around for someone to report my sightings to. There was no-one but a girl from the National Trust, who “thought she had heard of twite” but that was it. While I drank my coffee I noticed the nearby organic burger van, whose owner, Gwyn Thomas, the local farmer, was conversing with customers. My partner has worked with him so I went over for a chat. Eventually I brought up the subject of my  sightings. To my surprise and delight he is quite an authority on twite! Along with several other farmers in Nant Ffrancon he grows a seed crop for them to feed on during the autumn before they move down to the coast for the winter. I’m sometimes not a great admirer of farmers but this man is a star!

During our conversation a car drew up alongside and the driver came over. I recognised him but couldn’t put a name to the face. Gwyn left me with him and a tentative conversation began. I wondered aloud if I had seen him on TV. “No, I work on radio…” he replied. Not really a great help! “I did a book with you!” he added. It came to me in a flash. It was Dei Tomos, the author with whom I had worked on the Welsh version of “Wales at Waters Edge”. I buried my head in my hands in embarrassment! To be fair though, it was hardly a collaboration and we had only met once, and he couldn’t place me at first either.

The social aspect of my weekend continued the following morning. Back at Ogwen Cottage after a third unsuccessful visit to the Cwm, I was drinking coffee by my van. A familiar figure appeared. It was Martin Ashby, owner of Ystwyth Books in Aberystwyth, and one oldest and most valued friends. He was with his mate Nigel Dudley and just about to set off on a long walk up in to the Carneddau. I reluctantly turned down their invitation to join them.

On my return home I reported my twite records to the BTO Officer for Wales, Kelvin Jones. He told me that twite are declining steeply in Wales, and there is a project going to try to reverse this. Apart from the feeding project mentioned above birds are being ringed on the coast in winter in the hope that sightings in summer of ringed birds can reveal more about their movements. Although I had not seen any rings it seems my sightings had been the first this summer! The rarest breeding bird in Wales may actually now be twite, he said. (Does that make them rarer than osprey,  I wonder……)

Just a note on the photograph above. While dull, cloudy conditions are usually the kiss of death for most “big” landscapes, they can be ideal for details within the landscape. This lovely rowan tree was just below Ogwen Cottage.

To read more about Gwyn Thomas and his work in Cwm Idwal, click here.


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Possible jam tomorrow……………or a tale of three images.

Arctic tern, the Skerries, Ynys Mon.

These three things all happened today, I promise you.

Firstly, my phone rang. It doesn’t ring that often, so that was a surprise for a start. But this call was from a large international PR company. They had seen my “highly commended” image of starlings on Aberystwyth pier (see September 10th post) and wanted to know if they could use it in a bid they were working on for Canon UK . No, “we don’t have a budget for photographs” but if their bid was successful Canon might want to employ me. As I didn’t fully understand what they wanted or what was being offered in return (if anything) I asked them to email me with the details. Needless to say there was no email.

It easy is to be sceptical about such requests, and I was. But over the course of the morning I began to wonder if it was a genuine opportunity to which I had not been receptive. I phoned the company and got an email by way of a reply. They had already made other arrangements. Or had they? A further email conversation took place in which I offered them the picture for a fee, because they really did want to use it after all. “Cool. No thanks” came the reply. And so it stands. If they do want the image, they’ll be back. Possible jam tomorrow? Not when it comes to supporting a large multi-national with my work, thanks very much!

Later this morning I had an email from a friend who operates a small environmental interpretation consultancy. Would I mind supplying an image free of charge for a bid she was working on? If it was successful……etc, etc….. . I had no hesitation in agreeing to this request because Shelagh is a good sort and has been very supportive of my work over the years. I sent a jpeg over this afternoon.

Then another email arrived, this one from the British Trust for Ornithology. I have been doing voluntary bird survey work for the BTO for many years, including, from 2007 – 2011, “The Bird Atlas” of the British Isles.  The results of thousands of volunteers’ efforts on this project are being collated and will be published in book form next year. With the statistical techniques and computing power now available this will be a real powerhouse of information about  British and Irish bird populations. Earlier this year they put out a request for images to illustrate the book, and to my delight one of mine – of an arctic tern – has been chosen. There is no payment but it helps me to feel even more involved in an absolutely brilliant project which will be a benchmark in ornithological knowledge for many years to come.

The image of the arctic tern is reproduced above.

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