Autumn 2013 part 1: in Mid-Wales, the hunting and gathering season is well underway....

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It's October 8th and time for the latest update. A bit overdue but spectacular weather has been somewhat lacking of late. High pressure - but often cloudy in nature - has been the predominant theme, with the odd wet and windy spell thrown in, but no major gales or spectacular thunderstorms so far this autumn. So, continuing on a mostly wildlife-dominated theme - well it is the season of hunting/gathering, after all, and the best such season in many years.

On the hunting front, fishing has been slow although I've been busy with other things including teaching a Lifelong Learning course for Aberystwyth University on the geological evolution of the Welsh landscape. This is a new course that I've put together, so have been feeling my way somewhat, but it all turned out OK in the end and in the three days of field-trips we managed to get an awful lot covered. Having said which, to do the topic justice in detail you could be out in the field for a month solid and still have to omit some bits! Wales is exceptionally diverse in its geology for such a small area of the planet's surface.

Settled conditions in late August saw some forays to the shallow rocky reefs south of Borth and an unusual catch from the shore one afternoon. On the way to my favourite ledge I heard the unmistakeable thump-thump of an approaching Chinook and spotted it heading low and southwards along the beach and towards the reef. I just happened to be at a spot with some useful foreground so I waited for it to come past..... a totally fortuitous shot!

chinook at Borth

On to my ledge with two hours to go until low tide. I cast out one rig for mackerel and other small stuff, whilst on the other I baited up a strong trace with a mackerel fillet to see if any large bass or even bigger fish were around:

big bait

When mackerel are a bit scattered, the trick is to fish a two-hook rig, with the hooklengths widely-spaced. The top hook is accompanied by a polystyrene bead, which makes it bob high up in the water. Baited with a small carefully-cut sliver of fish, any passing mackerel will attack it savagely. This indeed happened, and a steady stream of the fish came ashore. But a while later I had a bit of a run on the large bait. Tightening down and reeling in I had a bit of a surprise - a hefty (18 inch plus) Greater Weever!

greater
                  weever

Greater Weevers are rarely caught from the shore around here, although boat anglers catch them offshore. Like its common inshore relative, the Lesser Weever, the spines on its dorsal fin and gill-covers carry an unpleasant venom, which can cause agonising pain if you get spiked. It's a fiercely predatory fish with a large mouth with which to swallow smaller fishes whole. It's also excellent eating but needs careful preparation - kill it then cut from behind the dorsal spines to the base of the gill-cover and discard the head end. The rest is a) perfectly safe - good grilled or baked in foil - and b) delicious, but you definitely need to know what you are doing, and whatever you do, if you reel in a fish looking like the above image, don't grab it!

Late August also saw a huge increase in butterflies, with Tortoiseshells, Peacocks and Red Admirals especially abundant - an encouraging sign after the recent poor years. The Buddleia bushes in the car-park at my local were ablaze with them most days and I took these two shots one sunny morning:

red admiral

peacock

The seaweed-mulched Swiss Chard in the veg-garden has been outstanding, with some fronds getting on for an astonishing 3ft in length! The seaweed must be a partial factor at least - this is by far the best I've ever done with it, providing a steady supply of tasty greens.


swiss
                      chard

Fishing a remote spot in the Dyfi Estuary one afternoon - with little effect - I became distracted by the groups of Dunlin working the edges of the tide. I didn't have the long lens with me, but I managed to work myself to a close enough vantage-point:

dunlins

dunlins

.....before eventually they spooked, regrouping a couple of hundred yards away. After that I left them in peace.

dunlins

Nearby, Ringed Plovers were foraging amongst the seaweed - even more shy, I returned another day with a longer lens and managed to get these, the second of which is not too bad....

plovers

plovers

On another afternoon, on a fishing reconnaissance near Clarach, just north of Aberystwyth, I was blessed with excellent late afternoon light that picked out the interesting rock architecture making up the cliffs. In the shot below, glacial deposits, no more than a few tens of thousands of years old, and deeply gullied, lie on top of 430 million year old grits and mudstones of Silurian age...

Clarach

This splendidly-shaped spur of cliff shows the grits and mudstones to advantage. Prospective visitors need to be aware that these cliffs are crumbly so that it's sensible to keep away from their bases, especially where they are overhanging!


Clarach

So far, autumn 2013 has been one of the best seasons in years for fungal foragers like me. Chanterelles continue to be plentiful but there's all sorts to find and photograph, like these Leucopaxillus Giganteus (I think) - they are enormous.

leucopaxillus
              giganteus

Nearby, a Tawny Grisette - one of the Amanita family. Some Amanitas are edible, but since the family also contains some of the UK's few deadly species, I just appreciate them with the camera....

amanita

This, I think, is the False Death-Cap, Amanita Citrina - given that there is a white version of the Death Cap itself, the danger is obvious....

amanita


....so I stick to the easily identified edible species. Chanterelles are one example...

chanterelles

...as is the distinctive and tasty Hedgehog Fungus...

hedgehog
                  fungus

...the name stems from the fact that, unusually, it has downward-pointing spines on the underside of the cap, as opposed to gills.

Hedgehog Fungus

Puffballs are also pretty hard to mistake for anything, but they need to be good and fresh - once they go off-white they're past it...

puffball

Fungi come in all sorts of wonderful shapes and sizes - these are one of the cup-fungi...


cup fungus

Lots of these club-fungi (Clavaria) in conifer-woods this year...

Clavaria

...while rotting tree-stumps often carry dense clusters of Psathyrella which can be very photogenic!

Psathyrella

This is a close relative of the Honey Fungus - some patches of woodland are thick with it at the moment...


Honey Fungus

One weekend I took my visiting parents up to Ogwen to view the Darwin Wall and afterwards we walked up to Cwm Idwal. The light was quite good: this is the main stream draining the Cwm just above the Visitor Centre...

cwm idwal

...and here is Llyn Idwal, from which it flows, with the cliffs of the Devil's Kitchen beyond.

cwm idwal

A damp start to the day had left the rock quite moist: here the Idwal Slabs glisten in the sunlight. It's been a fair few years since last I climbed on them: they are easy-angled but owing to over a century of being extremely popular, the holds are all rather polished. In the wet even an easy route can prove quite demanding, which has led to a number of parties having major epics over the years!

cwm idwal

Zoom-in past the Slabs to the headwall, with the Idwal Stream cascading down the broken hillside and the forbidding cleft of the Devil's Kitchen to the right. The stream is negotiated by a bit of a scramble where it is crossed by the diagonally-rising path, and if a big downpour puts it into a major spate an alternative way up (or down) is the sensible option....

cwm
                      idwal

On the way home, I had to stop and get this shot of Snowdon from near Plas Y Brenin....

snowdon

Later in September and into October, mostly dry but cloudy - and at times foggy and/or very dull conditions
often prevailed. This was the view towards Plynlimon one morning, when embarking on one of my scheduled field-trips, with the Nant-y-Moch reservoir in the middle-ground. Water levels are low because maintenance work is being undertaken on the dam. The day ended up gorgeously warm and sunny...

nant y moch

...but on other days the gloom persisted. This IS a colour photo - ash and small-leaved lime-trees - an ancient woodland indicator - in the Llyfnant valley one Sunday when a few of us caught the bus to Glandyfi and walked back to Machynlleth via Glaspwll....

dull conditions

...even so, the sun did briefly appear as we passed these heavily laden Rowans.

rowan berries

Autumn 2013 is indeed proving a superb time to roam the woods and verges, areas that only twelve months ago were effectively out-of-bounds, being systematically combed by dozens of specialist police-officers and cave/mountain rescue
teams. None of us will forget those days. I think it's fair to say that Machynlleth has returned to some semblance of normality now, but to quote former Mayor, Gareth Jones:

"We have to move on, we have no choice, and we have already taken great strides in in doing so in the last few months - the Dyfi Valley is an area which has always put its young people first and we owe it to them to provide a peaceful, happy place to grow up in, just like generations of us have done before.

But let there be no mistake - there is an enormous difference between moving on and forgetting. Yes, we are strong enough to move on, but we have no intention of ever forgetting April Jones nor the tragic events of a year ago.

The people of Machynlleth and the Dyfi Valley have proven our strength and dignity countless times and I know that we will continue to show the world what a lovely, beautiful, caring and safe place we are fortunate to live in."

It would be difficult to put it better than that. In the meantime the perpetual, seasonal heartbeat of the planet goes on: the warm days of recent weeks are about to come to an end as the winds swing into the north and the first frosts of the coming cold season may be expected in some places - hopefully not in my Swiss Chard bed! More soon...

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