Category Archives: Nature

Walking from Aberdovey towards Tywyn along the beach

Yesterday’s walk along the beach was extraordinary.  I had intended to park by the cemetery, but by accident parked opposite the row of houses at the foot of the road from the Trefeddian Hotel, crossed the golf course and emerged from the dunes at the Second World War pillbox.   The sun was hazy and incredibly pale, but at the same time reflected off the wet sand, creating some beautiful colour and light combinations.  I walked for far longer than intended, and it nearly became a case of walking into Tywyn and getting a bus or taxi back to my car!  Instead I retraced my steps, and because of the light it was like doing an entirely different walk.  It was lovely to see a pair of oyster catchers, obstinately refusing to do anything other than stand, preening in the sun!  They are in the video at the end of this post.

 

 

The woodland walks at Ynysymaengwyn

Ynysymaengwyn late 18th Century mansion. Source: Commando Veterans Association

I went over to Ynysymaengwyn today to take some photos for the article I’m writing about the history of the Ynysymaengwyn Estate.  Although it is now a caravan and camping site, it used to be the biggest landholding property in the area, dating back to the reign of Elizabeth I.  It is best known for its 18th and 19th Century history, when it owned most of Tywyn and Aberdovey, the fortunes of which were inextricably tied with those of the estate.  A splendid house was built in 1758 by the widow Ann Owen, and this was still standing together with a ballroom wing, a servants’ and administrative, kennels, a dovecote and kennels, as well as a vast kitchen garden in the 1960s.

When the last owner of Ynysymaengwyn signed the buildings and the remaining 40 acres of the estate over to Merioneth council, and it was then handed over to Tywyn Town Council, it fell into increasing disrepair it was decided that the buildings should be disposed of.

Only very few remnants of the buildings remain, but some of the woodland has been preserved as a series of very beautiful short walks.  I’ll write up full details of what is left of the original estate when I post the article, but in the meantime here are a few photos of the walks.  The snowdrops today were absolutely stunning, the walk down the Dynsynni was beautiful with the reeds rustling in the breeze, and the views across the hills from the Dysynni were wonderful.  The birds were all amazingly tame, and even a rabbit hopped across the path in sublime unconcern.

If you would like to visit, and I do sincerely recommend it, the surviving portion of the estate is open to the public as a woodland walk, with access to walks along the wonderful Dysynni river.  Just drive through the gate posts on the A493 and head down the short lane, watching out for a left turn that will take you into the carpark. In the bottom left hand there’s a map that shows you three woodland routes, the longest of which takes 30 minutes, but you can lengthen this by doing a section of the Dynsynni.  Take a bag full of bird seed with you if you like bird life – the wild birds are borderline tame, and all expect to be fed, and yell vociferously if you stand there looking at them and don’t provide sustenance!

Here’s the address:
Ynysymaengwyn Caravan & Camping Park
The Lodge, Ynysymaengwyn
Tywyn, Gwynedd
LL36 9RY
See the website for directions:
https://www.ynysy.co.uk

 

The challenges of grabbing a bite to eat in an Aberdovey garden in the winter

It has been remarkable watching the birds in the garden as they rush around to stock up on calories in this cold weather.  Even the blackbirds have ventured really close to the house to take advantage of a bowl of mealworms.

In a heavy wind, the goldfinches hold on for dear life to collect nyjer seeds, but are not to be deterred, as this one individual demonstrates.

I have no idea why these two blue tits tried, tried again and failed to collect peanuts from this feeder!  Fabulous to watch their quick dashing movements.  I love the bit where one of them decides that if the holes won’t work, he’ll drill through the plastic with his beak!  I went and had a look at the feeder, and although I could see nothing wrong I gave it a good shake and matters seemed to resolve themselves after that, and the peanuts began to be extracted in good order.

And this little visitor, not seen before or since, was quite a character.  I had to move the peanut feeder onto an upturned flower pot because it was quite clear that the mouse was going to carry on taking and collecting peanuts until it had enough to see out the winter!  He knew that they were there but couldn’t reach them.  He reverted to the tray of seeds had been put down for the robin, sparrows, dunnock and the blackbird.

The pheasants have no difficulty helping themselves to a bit of everything.  There were seven of them this morning, two males and five females, which is the greatest number I’ve seen in one go.  I feed them twice a day and they are quite happy to help themselves to whatever the other birds are eating, but in spite of their apparent greed, they are big birds and must need quite a lot of food to sustain themselves.

 

New strandline discoveries

Monday’s walk along the beach produced some more interesting strandline finds to add to those found on my previous strandline expeditions.  The sea was nearly at high tide, so the strandline was shifting all the time, wet weed and shells changing position as the waves pushed forward and retreated.  Sunday had been an endless day of really strong gales, complete with Met Office weather warnings, and although I expected this to have stirred things up a lot, I was not expecting to find much at high tide, so it was interesting to see what there was.

Barrel Jellyfish, Aberdovey shoreline

The most anomalous find was a dead barrel jellyfish (Rhizostoma pulmo), a common enough sight in warm summer months, but the first I have ever seen in winter.  The barrel jellyfish is distinguished by a thick rubbery bell and “arms” rather than tentacles, which have a distinctive frill along their edges. This is a  small one, but they can reach up to 1m in diameter and are the largest of jellyfish to be found in UK waters.  They have a mild sting.   The Marine Conservation Society collects sightings of jellyfish (and turtles, crawfish and basking sharks) throughout the year, so if you see one it is worth going to the MCS’s sightings page and filling in their online form.  There’s a good jellyfish identification guide on the IWS website, from which the following is taken:

Barrel jellyfish details

I also found two new eggcases.  If you are new to eggcases, have a look at my post on the subject, where I go into some detail.  These were very unlike the nursehound case that I found on the beach that day, but very distinctive.  Using the Shark Trust’s identification guide, it was possible to narrow them down to a Thornback Ray (Raja clavata) and a Spotted Ray (Raja montagui).  My photos of the two cases are below, together with the Thornback Ray  relevant page from the Shark Trust’s identification guide.

A page from the Shark Trust’s identification guide, accompanied by photos of the two eggcases found today.

Common piddock (Pholas dactylus)

The bivalve shell I picked up and kept is neither unusual nor relevant to any conservation programmes, but it is simply very attractive, with a wonderful textured surface, and I had never seen one before.  It’s a common piddock (Pholas dactylus), one of four species of piddock found mainly in the south and wet of Britain, all white. They are specialist borers, using the ridges for drilling into hard substrates to create burrows.  They have feeding siphons which reach out from the burrow into the sea to collect nutrients, and in the case of the common piddock the siphons are bioluminescent and glow green in the dark.  Shells can be up to 12cm long, and this one is exactly 12cm long.

I picked up a piece of seaweed that was a deep pink when I found it, and it turned black when I left it to dry out.  It’s a new one on me so I looked it up:  clawed fork weed (Furcellaria lumbricalis).  It only has the pods at the ends, which are its reproductive structures, in winter.  It tolerates low saline conditions, so will grow even in estuary waters.

 

Gales and bleak skies yesterday, sunshine today, a mad but wonderful contrast

Yesterday morning my first job was to go and retrieve the blue bins that had cascaded down the hill when their trolley fell over during the night.  I was awake much of the night listening to it.  Today was an amazing contrast.  Things started off a little grey, with sunshine filtering through the clouds, but by the afternoon the sun dominated, and although there were still clouds, they were an attractive gradient from pure white to dark purple and charcoal, the perfect foil for the brilliant cerulean blue.  I had only walked down to go to the Post Office, but somehow found myself cutting through the dunes and striding along the incoming tide on the beach. So happy.

Driving from Aberdovey to Chester after the snowfall

There was a light smattering of snow around Cader Idris, and near Dolgellau at Brithdir, but once I was approaching Bala it thickened up significantly, and in Bala itself cars were under 2 inches of snow.  From there to Llangollen via a somewhat curcuitous route along the foot of the Clwydian Range and down the Horseshoe Pass, it was a winter wonderland, very lovely.  There aren’t that many places to stop safely to take photos, but I managed a few.

Oystercatchers on the foreshore at Aberdovey this afternoon

I was so lucky this afternoon to see two wonderful oystercatchers on the foreshore.  I was on the members’ terrace of the Literary Institute (I promise that I am a member and wasn’t trespassing!) and heard a high-pitched peeping noise coming from below.  And there they were.  Squinting into the sun, I suddenly saw two absolutely perfect little waders rushing around on their spindly pink legs picking up mussels from amongst the seaweed and bashing them with their long, strong orange beaks against the stones.  You can hear the peeping and bashing noises on the video below.  The camcorder did a remarkably good job, given that I was shooting straight into the sun.   Oystercatchers also target cockles, limpets, small crabs and shrimps, all of which are available in the area.  Although oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus) are common on coasts, and I have seen them at the mouth of the Dysynni, I have never seen one at Aberdovey before.  I was utterly charmed.  Wonderful to watch and to listen to them.  When they took off, startled by some people walking along the foreshore, the lovely white streaks against the black of their wings were clearly visible.