Thursday, 2 July 2009

The wanderer returns

Well the safari has returned to civilisation if you can call traffic jams, mobile phones and emergency services’ sirens civilisation.
Our remote location in a deep wooded valley in the heart of South Wales lacked all these…it was a hidden piece of tranquil heaven. Apart from the loudest Song Thrushes I have ever heard that is! The entrance gate is about a 5 minute drive from the cottage along a narrow woodland track.

The alternative way in involves a steep overgrown decent and crossing a narrow ford.
Putting out a crayfish trap overnight in the stream at various points either side of the ford revealed no crayfish. We were hoping for the native White Clawed Crayfish and not the dastardly North American invader, Signal Crayfish (which, had they been found, would have ended up on the BBQ) but could only find young Brown Trout despite a variety of tasty baits being offered.
What about the Red Kites?...missed them! Saw plenty on the drive down through the Cambrian Mountains, more numerous now than Buzzards which are more common than Kestrels, how times have changed! But the only one I spotted whilst not driving I missed taking a picture of as I was waiting for a Spotted Flycatcher to visit its nest site. Snap and be damned; there won’t always be another one soon.
The Spot Fly itself was a nightmare. First photo of the trip, through an old and dirty pane of glass but at close range. It took another couple of days to get another half decent shot, not through the glass this time but at a greater distance. I think the first shot is actually the best.
We had a few trips out. The first to Pendine Sands, home of the land speed record for many years where Donald Campbell broke the 150mph mark 84 years ago in July 1925 (a record that would only last a few months being broken at Southport, just over the river on the safari’s South Side). Frank was never going to break any speed records as he lumbered after his ball through the thousands of Lugworm casts.
A lone, but rather large jellyfish, turned out to be an Octopus Jelly, a species I’ve never come across before. Apparently this isn’t a big one! This Hermit Crab is a little beauty, what a superb pincer. We found him trundling quietly along the beach.
Having never been there before I hadn’t realised there were cliffs and rock pools to explore. The cliffs held a small colony of Fulmars, their stiff winged albatross-like gliding flight easily picking them out amongst the Herring Gulls. A family of Peregrine Falcons could be heard yikkering in the distance and gave brief but distant views.
In the rock pools there were a fair number of these little Cowrie like shells which we don’t get on our beach. They look almost tropical, but are in fact something quite different – the internal shell of a Sea Slug, Acteon. These bizarre strappy horseshoey type thingies are broken bits from a spiral of Sea Slug eggs maybe from Acteon, maybe not as apparently there is no key to Sea Slug eggs – you do surprise me! Many thanks to Kathryn at the Fylde Coast Marine Life Survey for the IDs I struggled with.
On the north coast of south Wales is the small town of New Quay, famous for its connection to the writer Dylan Thomas, and more importantly to the safari, Bottle-nosed Dolphins and other marine mammals. A boaty ride had to be taken. While we waited for the boat to be brought to the harbour wall we were lucky enough to see two, possibly three, Dolphins messing about round the boats right in the harbour itself. Impossible to get photos of, lots of shots of out of focus boats but not a sniff of a cetacean. I need to get some tips from expert dolphin photographer Monika .

Don't blink or you'll miss it!

Boat ride took us past very interesting rock formations were you can see the stresses and strains of the millennia in the twisted and buckled strata. The cliffs provided excellent nesting ledges for Guillemots, Razorbills and Kittiwakes. Once again my photographic skills were sadly lacking and this Guillemot is the only decentish pic I got – I blame the heavy swell for rocking the boat and spoiling my aim.
This Cormorant was in perfect position until it decide to take flight when I pressed the shutter. Fortunately a Gannet, from the big colonies further west, was much more obliging. My first and only attempt at a picture of this species.
Did we see any more Dolphins?...of course we did. Blink and you’ll miss it! There was a small calf with this female and they put on a splendid show of synchronised swimming for about five minutes…excellent stuff indeed. Poor Frank got rather hot on the way back and a way of trying to keep him cool had to be improvised. A couple of Grey Seals were seen briefly but the swell made spotting them difficult.
Back at (temporary) Base Camp a young Song Thrush started sunbathing on the shed roof while a young Robin picked insects from the moss. Unfortunately they didn’t offer a decent shot of them in frame together. Not easy this wildlife photography m’larky!
Around the fishing lakes the warm sunshine brought out a selection of dragonflies and damselflies. The bright blue damsel is Azure Damselfly, look for the ‘Honda’ logo on the segment below the thorax, Common Blue has Barrett’s, the builders, oak tree logo instead. I wish we could get a pair of Large Red Damsels doing this back at our base camp pond! This teneral Darter dragonfly could be Common Darter, but could just as well be a species I’m not familiar with…anyone any ideas/confirmation? Pairs of a rather large species of Pond Skater were enjoying the hot sunshine. Much bigger than the puny ones we are used to up in Safari land.

Finally, one of my favourite bugs, the iridescent, and well named, wasp Chrysis ignita, the Ruby Tailed Wasp. Ruby Tailed Wasps are 'parasitoids' meaning that they eventually kill their hosts: the larvae of burrow-dwelling solitary bees.
What happened to the promise of Badgers…those mythical beasts are just that. Although a sett was on site close by seeing them proved impossible. A concerted effort one night just led to a multitude of bites from a field guide’s full of insects. One morning the BBQ was not where we left it, but later, baits put out to attract the stripey faced critters weren’t touched. As for the Otters…even more mythical but the owner, another David, reckoned one had been active most nights in one of his fishing lakes as every morning it was well churned up. But we didn’t find any evidence of fish being taken and eaten.
Eventually it was time to repack the Land Rover and say good bye to our little piece of Welsh paradise. As Arnie sort of said…’we’ll be back’!
And no more Kites on the way home…shoulda took that photo when waiting for the Spotted Flycatcher.

Reading this back it looks like we didn't see much, but that wasn't the point - it was to go somewhere new and have a mooch round and enjoy what we found, which is exactly what we did...brilliant stuff!
Where to next? Back to more familiar haunts…butterflies to survey near to Base Camp…National Whale and Dolphin Watch is coming up soon, closely followed by National Marine there will be lots of goodies to report on.
In the meantime let us know what you have found in the outback you have visited for your hols.


Monika said...

Sounds like a fun trip! One of my favorite photos is actually the one of the pond really captured the surface tension around the feet.

As far as dolphin photography goes, it involves a little bit of getting used to shooting from a boat (although my secret is a lot of my photos are taken from land, and I'm lucky to be in a place where the orcas often pass close to shore). It also involves being really familiar with their behavior, so knowing where to expect their next surfacing...and also a fairly large dose of luck!

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Thanks Monika. A great time was had by all. Have to say our dolphins were feeding like mad and must have been chasing the fish all over the shop under water as they were surfacing unpredicably. Our boat was the 'safe' 100m away so to get any hope of a shot I couldn't really use the zoom. Definitely need more practice...will have to go again!!!


Warren Baker said...

Welcome back dave. I always enjoy reading your epic adventures!