Them’re chuffs, them are.

I’ve lived in Ceredigion for over fourty years, and worked on the Ceredigion coastal path in the 1980’s, but have never really spent much time at Mwnt. And yet, with its tiny, ancient church, sheltered beach and National Trust car park, it must be one of the most popular and attractive destinations in the county. I had heard that a large flock of chough gathered there early in the morning, and that it was also a great place to photograph bottlenose dolphins. So I decided to visit.

The first morning – having parked up overnight a couple of miles inland – I arrived early. Choughs were gathering on the short grass in front of the church, so I manouevred my van into a position where I could use it as a hide. The choughs were busily feeding on leatherjackets , which they were digging out of the turf with their strong red beaks. I counted a total of twenty-nine altogether. They were barely troubled by the occasional passer-by, flying a short distance away before quickly returning. One thing I noticed was that they both hop and walk, the latter giving them quite a pronounced waddle!

Them’re chuffs, them are…….

I overheard the following conversation between one couple as they walked through the flock –

Him : “Them’re chuffs, them are”

Her : “Warrar?”

Him : “Them, they’re chuffs”

Her : (louder) “Warrar???”

Examining the pictures on the camera’s screen, it looked like very few of them were perfectly sharp. I blamed myself. I thought I was out of practice. But then I had an idea: was the viewfinder’s dioptre adjustment wrongly set? I re-adjusted it and found that most of the pictures were in fact quite acceptable. I must have rotated the adjustment dial getting the camera in or out of my bag. This is an ongoing problem with digital cameras . They have so many buttons and dials it is virtually impossible NOT to change settings in normal day-to-day use. Typically the focus point moves from centre to somewhere near the edge and you wonder why it won’t focus properly. There should be a lock button somewhere which would prevent these accidental changes.

As more and more people arrived, so the choughs began to filter away. I returned the next morning for another session. Parking in the same spot I waited for the birds to arrive. And so they did. It was mostly good-natured, co-operative feeding, but not always. Twice there were short but vicious tussles between individuals, who very rapidly resumed feeding alongside each other shortly later. I’m told by Adrienne Stratford, an expert on chough behaviour, that these spats are mostly between two juveniles – possibly even nest-mates. Far more often, however, two birds could be seen nestled close to each other, gently preening each other’s plumage.

Having pretty much exhausted the possibilities of individuals and groups of chough digging into what looked like a lawn, I turned my attention elsewhere. Occasionally choughs would rest on the church tower or a gravestone, and I thought that could make a nice picture, even though the birds themselves would be small in the frame. It turned out be quite an easy task with such co-operative creatures, and the pictures work well for me.

O

When I first started bird photography (for the book Wales – at Waters’ Edge) it was beyond my wildest dreams that I would be able to photograph chough. They seemed so rare and elusive. But as I have got to know them better I’ve realised they’re actually one of the most approachable species in Wales. At the same time they have lost some of their mystique; but is still so nice to spend some time in the presence of one of my favourite birds.

As for the dolphins I spent some time scanning the sea , and one afternoon picked out a small group heading quickly westwards some distance offshore; the more I looked the more I found. They were scattered over a wide expanse of water covering perhaps 1/2 mile by 1/2 mile. There were probably dozens altogether, possibly as many as fifty. Presumably they were bottlenose but a large group of commons was seen off the Teifi estuary not far away at about the same time, so who knows? When conditions are right (and when the mood takes them) bottlenose dolphins come very close inshore at Mwnt, and some great photographs have been taken of them. So I shall keep my eyes and ears open and make another visit before too long.

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….. and later that same morning……….

The tern posts, Ynyslas

Having exhausted most of the wood warbler possibilities (see previous post) and with over 400 images to examine and process, my mind turned to other things. It was still early in the morning and just a few miles away it would be high tide at Ynyslas, at the mouth of the Dyfi estuary. I decided to head over there to have a look at the wader roost.

The low cloud that I could see filtering through the trees above Tre’r ddol was even lower than I thought. Cloud base at Ynyslas was between zero and a hundred feet. Nevertheless it was a gorgeous morning, warm and still and there was no moisture in the fog at all.  To acclimatise myself with the conditions I began a short walk without my camera gear. Swallows perched on bramble stems set against a white background would have made a wonderful graphic composition; why on earth had I left my gear in the van? At that moment I half-noticed two black and white birds flying through the fog together. My instinctive reaction was “shelduck”, and then “those shelduck sound like ringed plovers”. Something wasn’t quite right here. I quickly got the binoculars on to them and immediately identified a pair of avocets! I watched them fly past through the mistiness and never saw them again. Avocets are rarely seen in Ceredigion so I phoned the news through to a couple of local birders before doing anything else.

The tern posts #2

Moving onward it was difficult to know whether I should be looking for birds to photograph or concentrating on the watery, monochromatic landscape. I know Ynyslas like the back of my hand but I had never seen conditions like these before. Another photographer was setting up his gear near some vehicle barriers (which migratory terns sometimes roost upon) and I could see why. It was bang on high tide and the water was barely rippling around them. I used a fast shutter speed to stop the ripples, while he was using a neutral density filter, tripod and a long exposure to blur what slight movement there was.  I wonder what his pictures were like?

Personally I love the broken reflections of the tern posts, and the herring gull which landed on one of them during my picture taking sequence. ND filters can be over-used and – call me old-fashioned – the old ways are sometimes the best.

 

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A Day at the Seaside – New Quay (Part One)

A couple of weekends ago last my partner Jane and I decided to have “a day at the seaside”.  Although we live only a few miles from Aberystwyth, going there is such a routine that it is sometimes difficult to drag one’s feet away from the well trodden paths we have each made in the town. So we decided to head down to New Quay, about 25 miles to the south, and what is more, go (most of the way) on the bus. Arriving on the outskirts of the village we made a connection on to the “Cardi Bach” – a local bus that twice daily links the villages between there and Cardigan. It seemed more like a fairground ride than a bus service as it rattled down the steep, narrow and overgrown lane running down to the coast at Cwmtydi.  Having fortified ourselves with coffee there, we began the coastal walk to New Quay about five miles distant.

Many years ago I had what could almost be described as “a proper job”. It was in 1983 and I was employed on a Manpower Services Scheme to supervise the clearance and re-opening of various stretches of footpath along the Ceredigion coast. So it was  a trip down memory lane for me, although it is shameful to admit that I’ve not walked several lengths of the coast since the early 1980’s! One particular stretch of the coastal slope/hillside I remembered as being impossible to traverse despite there being a public footpath across it. In those early days it was necessary to descend right down to a narrow and remote pebbly beach and then after 100 yards or so climb back up on to the cliff top. Since those early days additional sums of money have been spent on these paths and some relatively major engineering projects completed, and they now form part of the All-Wales Coastal footpath. What really brought my mind back to those days was the sight of two footpath signs which I had designed and possibly even built myself back in early 1984 – much the worse for wear after more than thirty years out in the elements but still doing their job and now almost part of the landscape.

On the walk we met Arfon Williams, one of the RSPB’s top people in Wales. We stopped to have a chat and he told me that he was planning to return to Cwmtydi via Cwm Soden, a wooded valley which Jane and I had crossed via a footbridge. During my footpath survey and clearance days I had identified Cwm Soden as having a particularly diverse range of butterflies and Arfon mentioned that it was now managed for them by the National Trust in conjunction with the charity Butterfly Conservation. I wondered if my observations in summer 1983 had contributed to the knowledge about Cwm Soden and the conservation effort now made there. I’d like to think so.

It was a good walk- if rather bird-free – and after a couple of hours (well, three….) we arrived at the bustling holiday village of New Quay. On this sunny Saturday afternoon it was absolutely heaving with visitors. The beach was thronged with families and the high-pitched voices of happy children were everywhere to be heard.  There were queues for ice-creams and chips and it really was the archetypal British summer seaside holiday experience. There is still a resident population of bottlenose dolphins in Cardigan Bay and New Quay is also the centre for dolphin watching in Wales. Several operators run boat trips out of the harbour to see them. There is also a conservation presence there – I should damn well hope so! In particular I popped in to the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre. It so happened they were running a 8 hour dolphin survey boat trip the following day and they had one space left! So it was back home on the bus then an early start the following day and a drive back down to New Quay. It was hardly good planning but that spare place definitely had my name on it!

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