Dawn Chorus

I love the early morning, except when I have to go to work. At all other times, early morning, before people are fully awake, is the best time to take notice of your surroundings without the distractions of traffic and people. If you’re that way inclined, wildlife is more abundant. It’s the best time to photograph insects as they are still trying to warm up in the sun and so are quite sluggish. The dawn chorus welcomes in the day and when the weather is fine, you can’t beat this time of the day.

Today, Rufus and I went out to take advantage of the early morning sun. Off we headed to a relatively new location near Betws Mountain. Despite the sheep, I was able to find an area where I could let Rufus off the lead and we wander slowly through the trees towards the Upper Lliw Reservoir. All around, birds were singing but rather than a cacophony of sound, it was a gentle back drop to the trees, gently swaying in the breeze.

The sun was still low and casting an orange glow on the tree trunks. A curious lamb decided to take a closer look at Rufus (on the lead again) and me but got last minute nerves and bounded off back to its mother. In a small puddle, there were a lot of tadpoles well on their way to becoming frogs, and a number of waterboatmen floated on the surface of the water.

Through a gap in the trees, I spotted what looked like an old picnic table so on the way back we too a diversion through a rough avenue of trees and sure enough, there was a small clearing with three tables. The clearing had seen better days, it was overgrown and boggy in places and the tables were in need of some care too, but we spent a few minutes listening to the sounds of the woods and enjoying the sunshine. Rufus explored the edges of the clearing while I managed to get some snaps of a Mistle Thrush gathering grass for a nest.

Then we tried to find a path out of the clearing and managed to keep reasonably dry as we went back up the hill to the stile and the waiting car. You can’t beat a lovely early summer’s morning.

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How things change

Penlle’r Castell sits 1200 feet above sea level on Mynydd y Betws, north of Swansea. It was a 13th Century fortress built to dominate the disputed border between the Lordship of Gower and the Is Cennen and from it’s location the whole of this disputed land can be seen. It is now little more than a few mounds of earth which define the earth ditches that protected a stone building, perhaps a tower, within. It was probably not permanently occupied and a small garrison was all that would have been needed to protect the area and give early warning of incursion by the raiding parties of Is Cennen. It has been linked with William de Braoes, who held land in and around Swansea.

Some 800 years later and I would be fascinated to hear what the garrison soldiers would make of the view northwards towards Carreg Cennen castle and the northern border of Gower today. A new wind farm has been built on the undulating moorland and many giant windmills rise from the mountain like huge white trees. While 13th Century people would probably be familiar with the concept of a windmill, the modern design and sheer scale of these new turbines would be shocking.

Rufus and I had been for a stroll in the nearby forest above the Upper Lliw reservoir. I’ve only been here a few times and I’ve been looking for forest locations as I want to get some photographs of the flora of woods, particularly mushrooms. So today was a bit of an exploratory journey.

Rather than waste the rest of the morning, we took a detour over Mynydd y Betws and parked up at the side of the road at the edge of this wind farm. There had been a lot of controversy over the plans to build here and a local campaign to stop the wind farm lasted a couple of years. I have mixed feelings about this form of energy generation but I generally accept that this is one of the ways forward. In the particular case of Mynydd y Betws I’m not sure that an awful lot of harm has been done. Obviously, I can’t speak for the disturbed wildlife during construction, but wildlife is resilient. While the turbines stand out against the natural environment, they are no worse than some of the awful housing that can be found in rural areas these days.

Photogenically, (one of the reasons I was there today), they are a different challenge. I’m always up for a challenge, so off Rufus and I set from the car to walk the 300 yards or so to the nearest turbine. As we approached, the sound of the whining turbine grew louder and I was surprised to hear the pitch rise and fall as the wind picked up and died down. Closer still and the swishing sound the blades cutting through the air became louder, drowning out the sound of the wind.

Then we were directly underneath the blades. I wondered what Rufus would make of it all, both what he could see and what he could hear (as he is more attuned to high pitched sounds) but he was completely uninterested in any of it, more concerned with the various scents of the animals that survived the construction work. It was a strange sensation for me, with the tips of the blades seemingly inches above my head and combined sound of wind, blade and turbine.

Standing at the turbine site, I looked back up to the skyline and the low mounds of the ruined earthworks of Penlle’r Castell and once again wondered what the occupants would have made of all this modern technology.

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