Promoting observation, free range exploration, sense of place and citizen science, through the field notes of a naturalist.

Sunday 9 April 2023

The whoosh of a wind turbine and hum of a bike.


High above The British, near to Talywain is a hillside road that takes you over Mynydd Llanhilleth and past St Iltyds church before descending into Llanhilleth itself. Its a road that was once a popular resting place for stolen cars. Vehicles were booted to the top of the hill then dumped by allowing them to free fall into the Cwmbyrgwm valley below. Crash, bang, wallop! On occasion the army were deployed to winch the stricken cars out, but they soon returned. Nowadays better vehicle security and a line of roadside blockstone has reduced the local notoriety of this valley above The British, to a fading memory, only resurrected when trawling through my equally opaque slide film collection.

So above The British is upland. Species poor rush pasture and sheep grazed acid grassland amply scarred by the actions of bikers. This is where cars and bikers race without fear of the law and where fly- tipping is as part of the modern day culture of this landscape as much as sheep and skylark. Here too the occupants of misted up cars rest to eat their takeaways or partake in something stronger. It was no different when I recently took the opportunity for an evening visit to look for early spring migrants. Cars were intermittently placed along the roadside, some were clearly radio enthusiasts defined by those large aerials stuck on top of their vehicles, some others appeared full of youths smoking weed. I parked well away, as getting too close only generates puzzling looks or immature comments when I pull out my binoculars and camera, let alone a sweep net.

There was a keen wind. Bikers could be heard in the distance and a whirl of the nearby wind turbines was occasional. Here the interface between upland and enclosed grassland is delineated by dry stone walls and a number of impressive beech trees. It seemed spring had sprung, meadow pipit were moving overhead and skylark were in full song. Walls and fence posts are great for bird spotting. So when in an upland setting tracking down these features is part of a naturalists field craft. A male stonechat alighted on a wall in the distance only to be joined by a male wheatear - the first of the year. In the distance a crowd of around 200 thrushes took flight from a field only to perch in a line of beech trees, on closer inspection they were fieldfare. I watched as they glided back to their feeding ground of the tight sward of a sheep grazed field.

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