Another hectic month! I’ve travelled more over the past few weeks than I have all year. At the end of June I drove down to Hertfordshire, where I’m now staying until mid-August. It’s so strange being in my home town again after a year away – the same old walks I used to do daily are fresh now and I’ve been so surprised how many different birds I’ve been hearing. Since learning a few more bird calls in Scotland I’ve realised there’s more wildlife around here than I thought – it’s just a lot harder to find!
The day after I arrived in Herts I got on a train and headed west. My master’s degree has almost finished but we booked a short stay in Wales for our last residential. I stayed over with a friend in Bristol – seeing my first kingfisher of the year that evening – and the next morning we drove to Treberfedd Holiday Cottages in Lampeter, west Wales – our home for the next five days. This was my first time in Wales so I was excited to see what wildlife was around.
On one of the days we visited the seaside town of New Quay (not Newquay). We’d booked onto a dolphin watching boat trip, but as we stood waiting for the boat to return I spotted a dolphin right next to the harbour! It surfaced leisurely every few seconds and hung around for ages. It was strange to think this was the same species I spot from home, over five hundred miles north. It was great to see everyone else so excited.
Sadly I should have stayed at the harbour… During the boat trip we didn’t better the views we got from land and I had an unexpected bout of seasickness that nearly ruined everyone’s afternoon. I can’t believe how awful on boats I’ve become! I got a case of ‘green face’ in Norway last year, and now I can’t even go an hour on a sightseeing boat without feeling queasy. Note to self: I’m a landlubber now.
Another of our outings suited me far better. We visited a stunning area of Celtic rainforest called Gwenffrwd-Dinas. Surrounded by steep-sided valleys and threaded through with winding rivers, this was essentially my ideal home and all I needed was a wood cabin. I visited a Celtic rainforest during my time on the west coast and I didn’t realise just how incredible they are. I was dubious about the use of the word ‘rainforest’ but it describes the habitat perfectly – everything is that lush green you expect to see in the Amazon, just with willow warblers instead of howler monkeys.
We followed a board walk beside the river – spotting a dipper and a family of grey wagtails along the way – and then clambered up steep rocks embedded in the earth, eventually looping back around. We’d been keeping our eyes peeled for redstarts, which are special summer visitors to the UK that I hadn’t seen before.
With no luck throughout the walk I was ready to accept defeat, but as so often happens we saw a flash of scarlet just before the car park, and there was our redstart! Two in fact – male and female taking it in turns to carry insects into a tree nest hole. I was thrilled to see them both, especially the vibrant male. After one drop-off he flew directly overhead and perched in a perfect gap in the trees. The sun shone through his slightly fanned feathers and I had to bite back a whoop.
The redstarts were exciting, but my favourite part of the trip came on the last morning. My MA tutor had set a moth trap the previous night, and we headed over first thing to see what he’d managed to get. And what an incredible haul! With the help of the books we identified Blood-vein, Brimstone, Buff ermine, Garden tiger, Green arches, Peach blossom, Peppered, Plain golden Y and three of the most majestic creatures in existence: Poplar hawkmoth, Elephant hawkmoth and Privet hawkmoth. What gorgeous insects! The bubble-gum pink of the Elephant was stunning enough, but my favourite was the Privet.
I couldn’t believe how big it was as it clung to my hand with sticky feet, flickering wings revealing a black and pink-striped body. After goggling it for several minutes, I was just about to put it carefully into the hedgerow when it took off, fluttered against my face for a few seconds then completely disappeared. Up until now I haven’t been much of an insect person but the hawkmoths gave me a whole new perspective. I left Wales feeling refreshed and with a load of new species to add to my list!