Peregrinations (part two).

Cwm Coke Works, near Beddau

A couple of weeks ago I drove down to Cardiff with my mate Jonathan to see Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets at St David’s Hall. Nick was one of the founder members of Pink Floyd. A few years ago he put together a band to play music from “the Floyd’s” earlier and arguably most creative years, prior to Dark Side of the Moon. No Roger Waters dirges here, thank you very much! The gig, originally scheduled for spring 2020, was postponed, postponed again, and then again. You had to hope that Nick would still be fit enough to eventually play. That Wednesday, it finally happened, and he was. I don’t think he could be described as the most original or inventive drummer in the world, but he sets a rock-solid foundation for the other musicians around him. At the age of 78, it is astonishing that he is still able to undertake gruelling sequences of one – night stands, and to keep alive some of the most compelling rock music of all time.

I won’t say much more about the music, other than this : both Jonathan and I are of the opinion that the 22-minute long track “Echoes” (on the album Meddle) is one of the most sublime pieces of music ever created. I personally believe it should, and eventually probably will, be considered alongside the great classical music of its era. I had been worried that I wouldn’t be able to cope with experiencing it live. But as we left the venue agreed that the version of Echoes which ended the second set was a bit of a let-down. It was as if the band were wary of reproducing the space and tranquility which so permeates the studio version. Or perhaps they were unable to do so?

But I digress. My next encounter with peregrines, on the way back from Cardiff, was in a very different setting to the previous one; from the sublime to the ridiculous, you could say. I have briefly visited the Cwm Coke Works site twice in recent years. It only finally closed down in 2002, so I must also have seen it in all its working glory on earlier visits to the Valleys. I just wish I had given it the time it deserved as photographic subject matter, because this extensive site is now derelict and rapidly being demolished. Last summer I heard the unmistakeable calls of peregrines there so vowed to re-visit the site during the breeding season if at all possible.

The Coke Works bar and coffee shop, Beddau. (Mural hand-painted by Jenny Ross)

At first it was very quiet. A raven was calling and song birds singing from the woodland which is rapidly regenerating around the site. Then came the sounds of two peregrines in conversation. I spotted one bird circling low around the building in the main picture and shortly later J. picked out the female hunched down in the dirt on an inaccessible part of the site. Later the male brought her some food, and when she stood up you could see two tiny white downy bundles beside her. It is worth mentioning here that at the time Derek Ratcliffe wrote his masterwork The Peregrine Falcon (publ. 1980) it was virtually unknown for the species to nest on man-made structures in the UK : now it is commonplace. I suppose this site gives the birds all the security they need, but it was strange to see such dignified creatures in such delapidated surroundings.

A group of naturalists appeared on the coal tip behind us and I discovered that one member of the party was Carys Romney, who I had also met by chance on a previous visit. She is an ecologist and the leading light behind the Cwm Tips Appreciation Society. She told me about her new venture – a peregrine- and cwm tips-themed bar/coffee shop in the ex-mining village of Beddau a couple of miles away. As you can see from the picture above, there are some fabulous murals there by the artist Jenny Ross, and I can certainly vouch for the quality of the coffee! So why not give the Cokeworks Bar a visit if you find yourself in the area?

NB : I hesitated before posting details of the peregrine site, but it should be noted how well-known and valued the birds are locally; and how they are protected by some very keen site security staff.

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Peregrinations (part one).

Female dipper at Aberaeron

Over the last few weeks I’ve been exploring parts of the Ceredigion coast with the aid of an excellent bus service. I leave my van in the out-of-town-supermarket car park in Aberystwyth and hop on the bus. It’s a relaxing way to arrive at your destination, and stepping out of the bus in New Quay or Aberaeron on a sunny morning can feel like being on holiday!

I’ve never had much success photographing dippers, but there is a pair on the river at Aberaeron which is semi-accustomed to the presence of walkers passing by. I spent one morning there recently where I was able to photograph both birds at close range. The male has an unpleasant growth on his right ankle but that doesn’t seem to have affected his ability to supply his mate (and possibly youngsters) with larvae from the river bed. The female is a very fine specimen indeed.

I wouldn’t like anyone to think that I come back from a visit like this with memory cards full of perfectly composed, focussed and exposed images of birds like this. Quite the contrary. I’m often frustrated at the results I manage to achieve and I really don’t understand why some appear so mushy – especially those taken with my long zoom lens. Is it equipment failure or user error? I’d love to know. But I usually manage something to be proud of.

Checking me out …… peregrine near Aberaeron

After one visit I walked along one stretch of coast to the north of Aberaeron before catching the bus back home. It was delightful on a warm spring afternoon to be out in the fresh air with birds singing and the first wild flowers in bloom. Walking above some sheer cliffs I suddenly saw what I had been hoping for – a dark shape appearing above the waves and very obviously checking me out as it flew past. A peregrine! It repeated the maneouvre several times before disappearing back out of sight. Photographing fast-moving birds birds in flight has never been my forte but I was as prepared as I could be for this eventuality. Following the bird as it flew back-and-forth a few times, I attempted to keep it in focus, and I largely succeeded. I think the main reason for my success on this occasion was that the birds stands out so clearly against the background. There is very little chance that the autofocus will be confused. But it was still an anxious time until I opened the files up on the PC!

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