Summer 2011 part 4: A second display of Noctilucent Clouds, first Chanterelles and aerobatic Choughs.


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It's July 25th and the slow change of seasons is underway, that transitional time from Summer towards Autumn - the time of harvest and gathering, of making store and preserving - all extremely satisfying things. Until recently, the unsettled weather has persisted, with sea-temperatures well down in the Bay as a consequence and the mackerel are scarce this year - so far. Sometimes the early Autumn months can be the best for these delicious fish - it depends entirely on the conditions and is increasingly becoming dependent too on the EU getting their act together and addressing the issue of overfishing of mackerel on an industrial scale around the Faroes and Iceland.

On wet days I completed a long-needed upgrade of my commercial arm - the image-library linked-to at the top of this page. With much larger 800-pixel width enlargements to look at, more detailed captions and a very self-critical image selection process, the result is far more focused, relevant to the area and - I hope - a pleasanter experience for the user.

The clouded-up nights have given few opportunities to look for noctilucent clouds since the stunning early-morning display of July 3rd. Some areas saw a great display on the night of July 9-10, but here the first opportunity to lose most of a night's sleep was on the night of the 13th-14th. I headed down to Borth at 10pm for the post-sunset slot but nothing was doing - the twilight was beautiful, though:

Twilight, Borth Beach

Looking south, a couple of hours later, the near-full Thunder Moon was lighting-up the wet sand and surf alike, so I ended up concentrating on that:

Moonlit sea, Borth

From the top of the beach, the moonlight was casting shadows from the groynes, an amazing sight:

Moonlit sea, Borth

Around 0030 I got my head down for an hour and a bit, then headed back up the valley, continuing up to the top of the mountain road where I had seen the amazing display 10 days previously.

Sure enough - there seem to have been better pre-sunrise than post-sunset showings this year - the northern horizon was delicately picked-out by those electric blue to white tendrils. Although this display was much lower on the horizon and less bright than the previous one, with noctilucent clouds, any sighting is a result!

Noctilucent clouds

The display intensified in brightness a little with an interesting ribbed structure to its LHS:

Noctilucent clouds

Here it is in close-up:

Noctilucent clouds

Here are the Arans,
faintly silhouetted and no contest with July 3rd's surreal view:

Noctilucent clouds

In this image, Snowdon is just visible on the horizon in the centre....

Noctilucent clouds

As dawn approached, the mostly faint display faded out quickly and I headed home, quite satisfied with being permitted another glimpse of these mysterious clouds. They do not appear every night and despite some clear conditions in recent days the early-morning alarms (i.e. get up at 0200, look outside & check online for reports) have drawn blanks - however, reporting no-shows is a scientifically-important part of the observation-process as knowing when they do or do not appear, in conjunction with other atmospheric observations, helps to build a better picture of what makes these strange things tick.

Commonest around the solstice, the chances of seeing another display this year are now diminishing, though sightings have been recorded in August in previous years, so I won't give up just yet!

On the 21st I had to go to Newtown and on the return journey I headed up to the top of the mountain-road again - this time to see if any decent convective storms might develop. The lower atmosphere was clearly very unstable, with strong convective towers shooting up all over the place:

Convection meeting a capping-inversion

However, a mid-level temperature-inversion was present at about 10,000 feet, forming a cap beneath which the cloud was spreading out sideways....

Convection meeting a capping-inversion

....forming mini-anvils, just like the process by which thunderstorm anvils form at the huge inversion that marks the top of the Troposphere - the Tropopause - but lower down. Thunderstorm anvils are made up of cirrus-cloud - ice particles in other words. They are much higher-up than the structures shown in these images - on the day in question the Tropopause was at about 30,000 feet above surface. In this case, the convective cloud is spreading out beneath the mid-level inversion to form decks of stratocumulus, composed mostly of water droplets.

Convection meeting a capping-inversion

Heavy showers finally broke out to the north but were a rain-veiled mess: the only thing of note was this intense rain-shaft - such things are occasionally mistaken for tornadoes especially when seen in poor visibility like this:


More summerlike conditions took over from the showery regime by the 23rd, so a trip to NW Wales was jumped at - every opportunity in a mixed summer like this one deserves to be grabbed. En-route I stopped at a spot I know well to see if the chanterelles were up - and they were!


With a reasonable haul of these delicious mushrooms the trip was already a success. Carrying on I arrived at Uwchmynydd, SW of Aberdaron, early in the afternoon and walked out over the clifftops towards my intended ledge. At the start of the descent, I looked north to see a lone angler, dwarfed by the majesty and immensity of his surroundings:

Rocks at Uwchmynydd

For four hours I fished hard, casting and retrieving the lures, changing to different-coloured lures, using different lead weights to vary the depth, for just 6 mackerel and 2 pollack! A little disappointing, but the consolation was not having to carry a heavy rucksack of fish back up "Cardiac Hill", as we call it. This shot is taken halfway back up.....

Rocks at Uwchmynydd

Just after taking that, a gang of Choughs showed up. These birds, rare in much of the UK, are a common sight here, but wary and - with a maximum zoom of 200mm - hard to photograph. But on this occasion they were doing fly-bys above and below me and close enough to get some decent results, with the early evening sun illuminating their feathers:

Chough and Bardsey Sound

I liked the simplicity of this shot, with the distinctive red-orange bill open as the bird was calling to the others with that distinctive sound from which their name stems:


An excellent end to a great day out.

Over at the garden, nasturtiums and marigolds are providing a big splash of colour and keeping the bees happy:

Nasturtiums & marigolds

Determined to make the most of my catch, I got some charcoal going and set up the smoker: first place oak-dust in the recess:


Add smoking-racks with boned mackerel - they have first been marinaded in a sugary brine flavoured with lemon juice, garlic and pepper, then rinsed and left to dry for an hour:

Smoked mackerel in preparation

Put lid on smoker and give them about 20 minutes from when the smoke first appears. Simple and very tasty - as the image shows I was too keen to scoff some before taking a photo!

Smoked mackerel

I keep meaning to experiment with the smoker, hot-smoking some other fish-species that are common locally but not having spectacular culinary qualities - such as dogfish which we catch all year round. If any readers have a good dogfish-marinading recipe please get in touch! If I make one up that actually works I'll post it on here.

Here's a visitor to the garden that I've not seen before - a Blackcap. The main event in terms of wildlife is currently the cabbage-whites that demand an inspection of my broccoli plants every 48 hours, if I don't want to find they have been eaten into skeletons!


August will see a lot more gathering and a bit of hunting too, later in the month - or perhaps earlier if sea-temperatures pick up and the mackerel show in better numbers. It's been a strange year for sure - the chilly unsettled early Summer has really slowed things up and the buffeting the shallots had from a late-May gale seemed to slow their development badly - plenty of them but many are small. Guess a big pickling-session is called-for shortly....

More soon!


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