Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Sea Roosts

After days of rain we’re in the midst of a dry, calm spell, and Swansea Bay is tranquil.  An evening sky of pastel blues, and shades of grey, reflects on the tiny ripples covering the sea as the tide creeps in, and there’s not a breath of wind, but the rains have left a cold, dank feel to the air.  A big wrack of brown kelp on the shore looks lifeless in the fading light, and I gradually make out oystercatchers moving about.  There’s just a few, no doubt eking out a last morsel before the tide forces them off the beach.  At this time of year, darkness comes early, and there are few visitors. Ironically these are some of the best days, when I can feel an intimate connection with life between the tides.

My walk along the shoreline crunches shells underfoot, disturbing the peace, so I sit in the sand dunes listening to the soft cry of the gulls and waders. I stay until the daylight is gone, as gulls continue to arrive from what seems every direction to their invisible sea roost on the sea. Some arrivals are visible in the glow from the streetlights, but soon disappear into the silence, landing somewhere on the glassy surface of the sea.  It’s wonderful.


Sunday, 19 November 2017

Sounds on the Cliffs

The yaffle of green woodpeckers is a common sound on our cliffs, and I often come across them whilst walking along the coastal paths.  They feed on the rabbit-cropped sward, looking for ants, and other small invertebrates. When disturbed, they usually call, head off to perch on a high rocky outcrop, or fly back to the woodlands, which in some places, reach almost down to the sea.

At this time of year, the sound on the cliffs is mostly of sea, wind and birds. There’s always the hiss of the sea, and usually the sound of breakers on the rocks.  It’s rarely silent. Today is a calm day, with a thick fog covering the coast. and  all I hear is the clang of the Mixon Buoy, the foghorn at Mumbles Head, and the drone of ships’ engines out of sight, but even on day’s like this, there’s often the call of a raven somewhere overhead.


Saturday, 18 November 2017

Shaking Tripod

Washed by so much rain, west Gower fields are gleaming. The countryside feels fresh, it’s as though the weather has cleaned away autumn, preparing the land for winter.  In bright sunshine, and with a stiff, cold, north-westerly wind blowing, I head for Rhosilli.  Most leaves are off the trees now, but a few beeches in sheltered spots retain some on their lower branches, glowing yellow and gold. The landscape gradually becomes treeless west of Scurlage, and familiar fields are dotted with pools of water. 

Rhosilli is wild and beautiful out of season. It’s far too windy for real trees here, but a few survive valiantly against the elements along old field boundaries, all bent by years of gales.  Wind-blown moisture from the raging sea creates a mist over the top of The Worm, which even though the tide is out, looks inaccessible on a day like this. The bay is full of white horses and flat, racing surf, just the wrong kind for the hardy surfers at Llangenith. There’s also far too much wind for hang gliding from the top of Rhosilli Down, and apart from just two souls walking the beach below, the entire span of the beautiful bay is deserted. 

A few walkers brave the wind along the path down to the causeway, but most turn back within minutes, seeking the sanctuary of their cars, others take refuge in the National Trust Shop, and some head for a warming drink in the Worm’s Head Hotel.  A brave photographer, hoping to capture the spectacle of wind and waves, battles valiantly with his shaking tripod. He takes a few quick shots, gives up, and like most of the walkers, escapes the wind in the comfort of his car.


Thursday, 16 November 2017

Woodcock

Walking through the woods down to the beach this morning produced my first woodcock of the autumn.  If I leave the narrow path, and clap my hands, I can usually flush one or two, and there will be many in the valley during the winter months.  Perfectly camouflaged on the woodland floor, they are grossly overlooked, most are found by hunters who bag good numbers in favoured woods over the winter months.  It’s ironic that woodcock is still legally considered a game bird, in spite of the fact that it has declined dramatically as a breeding species over the last few years; it’s now included on the amber list of species of conservation concern.  However the large numbers that are bagged after ‘The Glorious 12th’ are mostly of Russian origin, spending their winters in the UK.

Woodcock are primarily nocturnal, remaining still on the woodland floor during daylight, but I was lucky today.  The two I flushed moved only short distances, and with great care I’m able to find one of them again, and watch at close quarters as it pokes its long straight bill into the newly fallen leave litter.

Catching woodcocks is a bit hit and miss, and I haven’t tried for years.   Knowing the right woodland, and setting plenty of nets well before dusk can reap rewards, but a good catch never exceeds more than a handful.   Ironically again, most information we have about woodcock movements comes from ringing returns of birds killed by hunters.


Tuesday, 14 November 2017

The Sea

I see the sea just about every day, and sometimes don’t really look at it.  But I know it’s there, it’s an integral part of each day, and life revolves around it in one way or another.  It influences my everyday quality of life in ways I often don’t appreciate, and I could live nowhere else.

The sea is never the same, and invokes in me lots of feelings; beauty, safety, fear, respect, and many more.  I feel at home and comforted by it, and can’t imagine living inland.  Maybe belonging to an island race makes us creatures of the sea. It’s in our history, has saved us over and over again from foreign invasion, and makes us different from our neighbours on the Continent.

I know a lot about the terrestrial world, but very little about what lives under the sea.  When younger, I snorkelled in the kelp forest just offshore, but have no real appreciation of the abundant life hidden from view just a few yards away from the cliffs.  Its wellbeing is under threat like never before, and only now are we waking up to this. I wonder how many visitors to Gower are aware of this hidden world.

We get lots of gales from the Atlantic, and forecasting the weather here is a mixture of listening to the radio, local knowledge, and a good slice of luck. We have microclimates; it can be raining just a mile or so inland, and dry on the coast, or sunny inland when we’re covered in cold coastal fog.

Sitting on the rocks by the shore, a constant gentle hiss, and the sound of pounding surf is more or less all I can hear. No sounds reach me from the land, and there’s a feeling of the wild. A gull cries, turnstones call as they zip along the shore, and an oystercatcher, hidden in some crevice gives itself away.  Wilderness is difficult to find anywhere now, but here I can escape the man-made world. 

There’s order and disorder.  Waves roll in one after the other in a more or less regular fashion, but creating chaos as they crash onto the rocks to form myriads of tiny wavelets moving in all directions.  As the tide recedes it leaves behind replenished mirror-like rock pools, and there’s order again.  Little seems to move, but beneath the surface of the pools, there’s life everywhere.  Barnacles, periwinkles and whelks come to life, tiny shrimps dart about, and sea anemones open to feed. 

The sea responds to the sky, and the light is never the same.  It’s mostly cloudy today, creating a greenish grey hue on the surface of the water.  Shafts of light cascade through the greyness, forming pools of silver too bright to look at.  As the clouds move, so too do the pools of light, disappearing as quickly as they came. On other days, the sea is a mesmerising deep blue, or even emerald green, but it’s always magic.



Monday, 13 November 2017

Foxes

As I rounded one the many headlands on the coast in broad daylight many years ago, I came face to face with a fox.  For a few moments we stared at each other. I pondered the expression in his eyes, and neither of us knew what to do next, but he gave in, and quickly trotted off into the bracken. Looking wild animals in the eye may generate a response of indifference, curiosity, or fear. Only in our garden have I ever seen indifference in the eye of a fox.

I’m reminded of this encounter whilst talking to a friend today about a local man who seems to spend his life shooting foxes. I often hear the sound of a shotgun in the fields behind the cottage at night, and it usually means he’s out there with his shotgun. Since fox hunting was  abolished  a few years ago, I’ve read nothing of the predicted increase of foxes, which is understandable, since the ‘sport’ had little or no affect on their numbers.

Foxes visit our garden most evenings, and we often put out scraps for them, and if I turn on the light by the willow tree, I can marvel at their beauty and cunning. Top predators are important in any food chain, a point that our local shooter must fail to understand, and I do wonder why he does it.



Sunday, 12 November 2017

Squeaky Boots

It takes me just a few minutes to walk from our cottage to the top of Bishop’s Wood above Caswell Bay.  The unmade up lane leading down to the wood, used daily by horses from a local livery stable, is awash with mud.  In the field above the wood, a new winter stable is near completion and complete with solar panels; it seems that some people think more of their pets than themselves.

There’s no wind, and the weak watery sun has little effect on the damp air as I walk onto the woodland path high above the valley.  A soft, slippery carpet of fallen leaves covers the path, mosses drape oaks, sycamores and old broken down stonewalls, and a multitude of ferns, all make the woodland floor intensely green.  A robin, a distant wren, and the strange rasping call of a grey squirrel break the silence, and a line of maturing beeches attracts a small flock of tits and finches.

Towards the end of the path, I’m almost at treetop level, the sun lights the valley below, and as I break out into the open, I can see over a grey, flat-calm sea towards the distant Devon coast.  A bullfinch arrives in the hedge, inspects the shocking pink-coloured spindle berries, and leaves as quickly as he arrived.  A patch of spreading leafless young sycamores, already head high, will soon obstruct the lovely view from this spot, but an hour or so with a small handsaw is all that’s needed to restore it.

Down in the valley, I pass an old moss-covered log, where for years, an old man put out seeds for birds each day.  There are no seeds, no birds and no signs of the old man.  Deep inside the wood the small community at Holt’s Field enjoys an alternative lifestyle.  Living close together in small dwellings, they’d have been labelled as hippies in the 1960s.  Now their green way of life seems very relevant in an age of over consumption and climate change.

It’s been silent the whole way, save for a few birds, and my constant squeaky boots.