In search of Choughs

This morning I had a whole hour to myself, in between nursery drop offs. I was at a loss as to what to do, which is usually what happens when I find myself alone without my mini sidekicks. The day seemed nice enough, and on a whim I decided to dash to Marloes. I figured I had just enough time to get there and have a quick scout about for Choughs before returning to pick up JoJo.

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I follow the road that leads west out from town , past the supermarket, along through the housing estates until the bungalows began to give way to countryside again. Eventually the road narrowed, as most Pembrokeshire coastal roads do, until it became a single track. As the fields whizzed past and the horizon became more sky and sea than land it began to feel a bit like I was driving to the ‘edge of the world’

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I paused by a gateway to let a tractor pass. Looking through I could see that only a few feet of arable land lay between me, the edge of the cliff tops and ultimately the sea crashing below.

The car park was already filling up, and being poor and on the dregs of maternity pay I couldn’t afford it anyway. I slipped past and continued down to the Fisherman’s cottage, tucking the car neatly behind a row of other penny pinchers.

A small party were waiting on the jetty for the boat to Skomer, and several tankers filled the bay. This is usually a sign of bad weather out to sea, and sure enough there were several black clouds hanging ominously far on the horizon.

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From the Fishermans cottage the coastal path crosses a small stream, and follows a gentle slope up hill. As a reward for this short climb, you are greeted by this view (and, on days like today, the full force of any wind blowing in land).

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Standing a few feet from the cliff edge you can watch the waves crashing against the  pebble beaches below. These little coves often serve as refuge for seals, and it is not unusual to spot a pup,  white fur gleaming against the grey rock, waiting for its mum to return from feeding. Today was not the day to lean over the precipice to take a closer look.The wind threatened to knock me clean off my feet, and the edges of the path look a lot more eroded than I remember them to be.

 

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Is there a pup in this photo??!

To me the Pembrokeshire coast line is quite a magical place. Here you can see the full power of Nature at her best and worst. The full force of the wind, unimpeded by land for thousands of miles, blows away any everyday worries. Everything mundane suddenly pales and shrinks against the backdrop of this great, unpredictable swirling body of water.

 

Turning right I headed back inland, hoping against hope to spy the glossy black feathers and unmistakeable bright red beak of the Chough. Today is not my day. The wind is fierce, and nothing much is flying, appart from some gulls riding the thermals.

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Trying not to feel too disappointed I focused my attention on the ground beneath my feet. The headland is covered in spongy grass and moss, which cushions my steps. Here and there prickles of gorse add height to the flora, whilst splashes of Purple heather add colour.

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I knelt to get a better look, and notice a small black ground beetle scurrying and scrambling amongst the grass stems.

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As I made my way back to the car something caught my ear. A shrill insistent ‘seep seep’ cuts across the sound of waves and wind, and a small flock of songbirds burst from  cover and rise above me, a flash of gold, red and green zipping through the air, before coming to land on a furze bush. Goldfinch? But they are too fast and too far away for me to tell for sure.

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I reached the kissing gate and made my way past another group getting ready for the trip out to sea. They are kitted out in t shirts and thin field trousers, with backpacks full to burst with necessities for an island stay. I smiled, slightly pleased to not be the only one still clinging on to a summer wardrobe. The Chough hunt will have to recommence another day, as I had precisely 10 minutes to make the 20 minute return journey to nursery!

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To ‘the Point’

“Where are we going Mummy?”  piped up C from the back seat of the car.

“On an adventure, is that Ok?”I ask.

“Yes, that is Ok” she said, nodding

JoJo giggled in agreement.

It is 6pm and far too warm to contemplate starting the bedtime routine. Instead we can fit in one quick outing before the sun sets. Down along the country lanes we go, passing the imposing gateway to Picton Castle, after which the road narrows considerably to almost become a single track lane. The trees arch overhead, forming a canopy of green as we reach our final destination.

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Picton Point is the where the eastern and western Cleddau (pronounced cleth-aye) rivers meet. These rivers are quite special, and stretches of both have been afforded SSI status.  Apparently they are one of the best rivers in the UK for Otters. They also provide sanctuary for various species of Lamprey,  as well as the European Bullhead. Along the length of these two water courses, some 74km in total, exist several Special areas of conservation, with habitat for Marsh Fritillaries and Southern Damselflies.

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We started our exploration from under the boughs of an ancient sessile oak, stooped so low the bottom branch has been propped up.

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There is a waymarked walk along the banks of the Cleddau , left heads back inland , but C chooses to turn right along the path to the rope swing.DSC_0332 (Medium)

 

The tide was out. On the water, two kayakers quietly paddle along the estuary. Other than that our only company is wild.  I can here an oystercatcher in the distance, and jackdaws overhead. Seaweed crackles and pops underfoot as we make our way along the shore.

Gnarly tree roots protrude from the bank and dangle above us, reminding me of when Frodo hides from the Ring Wraiths.

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We trip trap over the boardwalk, a deep muddy tributary to the estuary beneath our feet. On all sides reeds rustle, and dragonflies flutter past their wings whirring mechanically. I think I saw a red darter, I can’t be sure as the light was dim and my camera too slow.

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Finally we reach the swing. I settle JoJo on the floor, where she amuses herself  with the shale. The rope dangles from the branches of an oak, thick and strong.C wanted a go, but at the same time was just a little bit afraid. She soon conquered her fear, she may be small but she is fierce!

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I stood and admired the view, out across the millpond calm water to Landshipping. Boats clinked, bobbing on the incoming tide. A small black bird, probably a Shag, flew low and straight over  the water.

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A gaggle of Canada geese flew past in V formation, honking loudly as they go.

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By now the light was beginning to fade so we retraced our steps, stopping to marvel at the piece of seahorse shaped deadwood.

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Picton point is a real hidden gem in Pembrokeshire’s crown of natural beauty. I find it is somewhere to go when the world becomes a little too fast. Here you can metaphorically press the pause for just an hour or so, and watch the comings and goings of riparian life.

 

 

 

Under 5’s at the National Museum of Cardiff

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If you happen to find yourself in Wales this summer and are looking for something toddler (and adult friendly) to do on a drizzly grey day, I can highly recommend a trip to the National Museum Cardiff. We went last month, just before the Schools broke up for Summer. It is a bit of a trek from the Farm, and I was slightly apprehensive at the thought of a 2 hour road trip with C and JoJo screaming in unison. Fortunately it turned out to be a super straight route and, despite gatecrashing some Graduation photos on the steps of the Museum (!) , we had a fantastic time.

Here are my top 5 reasons to visit:

1.Hands on exhibits

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I have been to a fair share of stuffy museums and exhibits , with and without small children in tow. I remember getting ‘politely’ asked to leave the Tate as a child when my brother accidentally waved his arm too close to a priceless painting. I hate it when I can feel the guards eyes boring a hole in my back if I lean in towards a cabinet, bearing a ‘Do not touch’ sign .

It gets worse when there are toddler shaped tornados following me. It is seriously no fun for anyone to spend the whole visit listening to me bark orders ‘Don’t touch that! ‘Don’t lick the cabinet!’ ‘Don’t climb on the Reliant Robin (yes, it did happen.)’ No. I am avoiding any museum or gallery that is not interactive, engaging and entrancing until my little ones are safely through the toddler years.

Fortunately the National Museum is very hands on and accepts sticky toddlers. We skipped the  floor which houses the art exhibitions .C was in ‘Whirling Dervish’mode , and when we got out of the lift on the top floor she made a bee line for a bronze statue, arms outstretched in preparation to climb. I managed to spin her back round into the lift, and we went to look at ‘Wriggle: the wonderful world of worms’ exhibit. DSC_1115__1470740494_22576

The centre piece of this amazing family friendly exhibit is the Wrigloo, which is essentially a giant wormery. It offers visitors a chance to experience a worms-eye-view on life, complete with predators watching your every move . JoJo and C thought it was great!

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C enjoyed dressing up as a caterpillar, but wasn’t keen on trying the ‘Scientist’ costume on!

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I managed to do some learning and exploring of my own whilst the girls checked out the worm related book corner.

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My favourite discovery was that the late Lemmy from Motorhead had a ‘late’ worm (a fossil) named after him.How very rock and roll. I have somehow managed to cut the model out of the photo (well done me), so I’ll leave it as a surprise for you to find out what Kalloprion Kilmisteri looks like!

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This exhibition runs until September 2016, so still plenty of time to check it out.

The Clore Discovery Centre, located on the ground floor to the left of the main entrance, is another wonderful family friendly area. I couldn’t get over the fact that we were free to explore the items on display here.

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Skulls, arrowheads, fossils, preserved insects ;things that are normally encased in glass, behind barriers or locked in storage vaults.

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It was really enlightening to be able to  handle them and even use a microscope to get a closer look.

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2.Toddler time

We discovered that this is on (during Term Time) completely by fluke. On every floor, tucked into a quiet corner were little ‘treasure chests’ stuffed full of toys, instruments and books.

Each box was themed to the relevant section of the museum. They seemed really popular, so much so that we had to circle the dinosaur section twice before we could get to the box!

The marine box had a fantastic selection of toys and books which occupied the girls for quite a while.

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We also had fun taking part in the play activities in the Clore Discovery Centre.There were lots of different musical instruments for the kids to try, with some supervision from staff members. C also got to make a jingley jangley set of bells. She chose to put a single bell on. One. Measly. Bell. It was still a lot of fun.

3.Its Free!

Need I say more? Not much in life is free any more, certainly not when it comes to amusing children. I advise using the car park at the rear of the museum.(Currently priced at  £6 for a days parking). There is a direct path round to the entrance and tickets for the carpark are bought in the museum gift shop, so no faffing for change! We got there at 10.30 and left at 4, so that makes it a pound an hour for entertainment!

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Winning at ‘rewilding’- just beside the car park.

There are touring exhibits, which require tickets to be purchased.’Treasures:Adventures in Archaelogy’ is currently based at the museum, but as this is on until the end of October 2016 we opted to save it for another day.

4.Child friendly feasting

The café downstairs has a great set up for the under fives.The food looked and smelled delicious, but being the skin flint I am we had our own packed lunch. I did stretch to a caffeine hit and a piece of cake, mainly so the girls could take advantage of the games and books stationed around the restaurant.Our seating area was right next to a trolley full of things to keep little hands occupied. I think JoJo’s favourite bit in the whole day was playing with an activity cube, the very same make and model as the one we have at home. The museum is also Breastfeeding friendly, with a designated room should you wish to use it.

5. Something for everyone

There is an awful lot packed into this museum. The ‘Evolution of Wales’ gallery was so good, we went round twice. In fact, C watched the audiovisual about our galaxy three times. I think she’d still be there now if she’d taken enough food in with her.

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The natural history galleries are also jam packed with interesting finds. I dare you to stand under the Basking shark and not be amazed at the sheer size of a creature that feeds only on Zooplankton. Mind blowing stuff!

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If nothing else in this blog takes your fancy, go and visit Kevin the crab. For a hermit crab, he’s pretty friendly!

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For more information and an up to date list of ‘what’s on’ take a look at the Museums website. If you do visit, let me know what your favourite bit was and why!

Tangled – A Pembrokeshire hedgerow

Sunny days in a Pembrokeshire summer are as rare as Hen’s teeth. This July seems to have been a particularly grey and soggy one, with the humans on the farm spending a good deal of time huddled indoors. Some days our wildlife spotting has been limited to the content of David Attenborough repeats and watching real life bedraggled blue tits and sodden sparrows fight over the bird feeder in front of the living room window.

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The ‘tangle’ before.

When the sun actually deigns to shine down on us, we tend to make the most of it. This particular afternoon we were just commencing our third walk of the day when my ears picked up a distant distinctive mechanical whine travelling along the road towards us. Living in the countryside, where traffic passes infrequently, you get used to the sounds that different vehicles make. I knew this could only be one thing- a ‘Hedge topper’.  A little black car shot past us, driving far too fast for country lanes, only to have to slam the brakes on as the tractor and hedge trimmer crested the brow of the hill.

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My heart sank. Just minutes before we had marvelled at the number of snails living all along the roadside. There were hundreds of them, wedged into the crooks of the dried cowslip, or balanced precariously on thin grass stalks.

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On first glance, or when whizzing past in a car, the hedgerows appear as a blur of green. Nothing stands out, until you slow down, stop and look. Along our roadside stretch, hawthorn, sycamore and ash trees make up the spine of the hedge. Rambling Bramble weaves itself around these, with various grasses, dog rose, bracken and ferns adding to the chaos. Bees (I counted 3 species in 5 minutes) bumble about the pale pink blossoms, the flowery sentinels of a bountiful Autumn Blackberry harvest.

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At ground level, speedwell and vetch poke out , the occasional Birds foot trefoil too.

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Clumps of Ragwort add more gold to the green.

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As we walked along a sickly sweet perfume wafted down from the peach blushed, cream and golden honeysuckle blossoms that crown the hedge, one of my favourite summer scents.  DSC_1066__1469082839_31887

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Along by the farm garden these ruby red ‘wild’ escapees caught our eye.

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We spotted some Pink Campion that were still in flower . A Myrid bug was perched atop one, waving its antennae as we passed by.

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Grypocoris stysi

All along the roadside  pungent Cow Parsnip was in full bloom, its frothy blooms attracting flies and insects galore.

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On some plants the flower heads were tied together with a tangle of gossamer threads. Peeling these apart revealed a little black headed caterpillar of the Parsnip moth. It emerged from its hide away, flip flopping  its body about in a rather disgruntled fashion.

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Within seconds all of this flora and fauna had been obliterated. Shredded. Chomped and spat back out by the churning, gobbling blades of the trimmer. I rushed out to survey the hedges once the tractor had passed. The cutting had been confined to the tangle of grasses and plants making up the verge, and the actual ‘hedgerow’ itself had been left virtually unscathed. The ‘roadside maintenance’ had caused a bit of devastation, with the snail population taking a definite hit. The caterpillars too had disappeared. I managed to rescue a few of those from the mangled remains of the Cow Parsnip plants along the edges of the tarmac.

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Now the ‘clean up’ of vegetation had finished, the rubbish caught up amongst the plants was much clearer to see. I followed a trail of Crisp packets, coffee cups, beer bottles, take away cartons and coffee cups back towards the farm house. All flung out of passing vehicle windows, discarded without a backward glance. Pretty disgusting.

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Despite my bemoaning the ‘evil’ hedge topper, I can understand the need to keep the verges cut back. When spring and summer vegetation crowds in towards the centre of roads barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass, visibility becomes much poorer. I just wish I’d had the chance to collect and transport some of the snails and caterpillars beforehand!

Seashore detritus.

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Crash of wave upon the shore,

Lift shell to ear and hear sea roar

Warm wind gust out from far inland ,

Whipping, whirling, grains of sand.

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Gulls scream loud, wheel and cry,

Soar like Icarus up on high.

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Toe tip I along the tideline alone ,

leave soft footprints amongst the foam,

Pick amongst the wave washed treasure,

Man made and nature born in equal measure,

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 Sea glass shard, pebbles, rocks,

sponge, anemone, seaweed locks,

Plastic, clam, tangled net,

barnacles ,crab carapace soaking wet,

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Lift up cans, straws, fishing line,

Odds and ends, all are mine.

Claim my prizes from the tide,

Amongst the waves no more to ride.

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Inspired by a #2minutebeachclean along Newgale beach, Pembrokeshire.

If you have 2 minutes to spare whilst on your favourite beach, give it a go! The aim is to pick up as much litter as you can find in the space of just 2 minutes (although if you want to keep going for longer, I don’t think anyone will stop you!). Once you’ve gathered your waste recycle or dispose of it appropriately. Et voila, you have done your bit to help keep our seas and oceans rubbish free! Head to the official beach clean website for tips on what to do and how to stay safe whilst doing it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adventures in Aberystwyth

Tuesdays are usually our day for spontaneous trips and succumbing to wanderlust. Midweek exploration benefits from quiet roads, beaches free from humans and empty attractions. Heaven!

I had stumbled across Bwlch Nant Yr Ariant the night before, whilst faffing about on the internet. I scrolled through the sites attractions and discovered they had Red kite feeding. That was me sold.

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Aberystwyth is a 2 hour drive away, and allowing for traffic and breaks I figured it would be best to start out early. I was flying solo today so bundled the kids into the car along with a picnic, snacks and birding gear and set off shortly after 8.30am.

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We headed north, cutting across the misty Preseli mountains. As we crested the summit we spotted a herd of wild Welsh mountain ponies grazing close to the road. We drove on, vowels disappearing from the village names (Eglywsyrw…need I say more!) the further North we got. Eventually we made it to our destination, four and a half hours before Kite feeding time! Plenty of time to explore!

We started off in the visitors centre. First stop-the loo.

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By the time we had ‘freshened up’ the café had opened and the smell of breakfast was wafting out from the kitchen. I hadn’t planned on buying anything but C decided otherwise. Whilst my back was turned she had helped herself to a milkshake carton from the fridge, unwrapped the straw  and was settling down at a table to drink it.To be honest, it didn’t take much to twist my arm into buying a coffee and sausage sandwich. The girls enjoyed sitting up at their very own pint sized picnic bench whilst I lounged back and enjoyed the view.

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Over breakfast we were treated to an avian floor show.Siskin, redpoll,sparrow, blue tits and chaffinch flitted back and forth from the evergreens to a massive feeder hanging from a climbing rope.

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Once my mug was drained and sandwiches scoffed we headed to the  adventure playgrounds. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a climbing frame with such an amazing view.

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The girls would quite happily have stayed on the basket swings all day, but I thought we should attempt to have at least a short walk. The most accessible route is the circular Barcud Trail, which leads along the shore of the lake and round to the Bird hide. It is perfect for little legs and buggies, and their are plenty of strategically placed benches along the way.DRAG.jpg

To keep little minds engaged you can take part in the animal trail, and try to spot the wooden animals that are dotted about. Unfortunately some are really quite well hidden, and it wasn’t until I spotted the dragonfly (number 10) that I realised we were going backwards along the route!DSC_0564__1468007935_52989

The wind was whipping over the lake, rippling the surface and sending tiny, choppy waves in to shore. A crested grebe propelled itself solemnly across the water, heading for a patch of reeds on the far side.

DSC_0629__1468008397_10609We followed the gravel path along the shoreline, gently sloping down to enter a stand of conifers.The scent of evergreen resin and pine needles hung heavily in the warm air. Further on it meanders through birch, rowan and oak trees. We traced our steps back along to the hide.We claimed our spot right in line with the feeding area, set out our picnic and played with the bird call ‘machine’.Lunch was eaten in the company of ‘a prince'(according to C, they were due to be married.Such an imagination!)

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Around 2pm the slate grey sky began to fill with kites,their whistles and shrieks bouncing around the valley as they lazily rode the thermals.  By 2.30pm I estimated there were about 100 birds waiting patiently for their meal.

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The 3pm feeding frenzy was spectacular. Birds practically dropped from sky, plummeting down to the patch of green grass to snatch up scraps of meat before shooting out over lake. Some flew low over the water, dragging their talons behind them over the surface Others hassled a gull that had floated a bit too close to the feeding station.

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Once the majority of the meat had been snapped up, the crowds of people dispersed quickly. We wandered back to the playground which was almost level with the Kites that had remained.A young boy  stood beside us and watched, open mouthed as a juvenile kite soared overhead. He stretched his arms up towards the bird as it disappeared over the crest of the hill. ‘Woah, did you see that?’ he exclaimed to nobody in particular.

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By now the girls had had enough. We managed to pick up a handmade Red kite badge as a souvenir (family tradition, its getting quite tricky to find real badges!) from the shop, and started out on the journey home. Soon both children were asleep. I spent the remainder of my trip with Mr Packham, narrating his amazing ‘Fingers in the Sparkle Jar’. Bliss.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welsh botanical gardens

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Ok…in the interests of ‘transparency’ and ‘honesty’, this post comes with a disclaimer. Day 14 actually happened on Day 1 of 30 Days Wild (collective sharp intake of breath from readership). I know, I know, that’s cheating. But I have a gap in my posts. I don’t like gaps. I also really want to share my bioluminescence story. Therefore day 14, written on day 30, experienced on day 1, is about Fungi. And I suppose it’s not really cheating. I can put a spin on it…yes, Day 14: Reminiscing on a wild day out.

The National Botanical Gardens of Wales is a real gardeners delight. And for a cactus killing, not-green-fingered person like me it is still a treat.  It is fantastic for families (the new adventure playground has a trampoline!!!)  and those in need of easy access as most of the paths are flat.

The massive dome glasshouse (reminds me of the Eden project) at the top of the garden houses an impressive collection of Mediterranean plants. It is also home to the a touring exhibition (from Edinburgh) about Fungi.

Fungi are neither plants, nor animals. They belong to a whole separate kingdom, hence the title of the exhibit. Like plants they are stationary and have cell walls, but like animals they get energy from digesting matter.

 

The exhibition space is dark and had an earthy, damp soil smell to it. We were immediately confronted by a towering Toadstool. I felt as if we had become Alice and’gone down the rabbit hole’ to Wonderland.

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Behind the Toadstools something was giving off a faint green glow. We went in for a closer look and found tanks full of these bioluminescent fungi.

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This process occurs due to a chemical reaction (the oxidisation of Luciferin) creating energy which is converted to and emitted as light without causing any heat to be produced. It is a common phenomenon amongst marine life, but on land is restricted to Fungi and invertebrates.The resultant eerie glow may function to attract prey or warn off predators. Neat!DSC_0307

 

 

 

 

I love interactive exhibits. I can’t stand stuffy cases full of dusty objects that are virtually impossible to identify due to poor labelling or tiny writing. Boring. Fortunately this exhibit was all about putting the FUN into Fungi (yes, I really did just write that.). I enjoyed fiddling about with the light up ‘Russian roulette’ good and bad fungi exhibit, very helpful for anyone wishing to rustle up a mushroom based snack.

 

If you are thinking of doing a bit of ‘foraging’ make sure you follow this advice

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The exhibition space was not very big but the exhibitors have managed to cram in a lot of stuff. Quantity with no loss of quality, I hasten to add.Around the corner from this was a light box and stack of ‘x rays’ and CT scan images to explore. They had been taken from patients suffering from Aspergillosis, a respiratory disease caused by mould spores. The disease also affects other species, including dogs, chickens and parrots. Once I’d managed to figure out which way up the radiographs were supposed to hang (i’m a vet,not a medic…thankfully) it was interesting to see how the fungal spores affected humans.

 

I was being dragged about by my whirling dervish toddler (fortunately JoJo was having a snooze) so I didn’t manage to see everything. Some times I just grabbed a quick photo before moving on. I’m glad I did.

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I have walked past the sign for this exhibit on several previous visits,  always thinking that one day I will make it across the threshold to explore its offerings. I’m glad that participating in  30 Days Wild made me finally go in!

Dr Beynon’s Bug Farm.

 

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How do you get to the Bug farm? Why,follow the dung beetles of course.

 

Day 22 wasn’t too wild and outdoorsy but it was very exciting! We were rather privileged to attend the official launch of one of Pembrokeshire’s newest and most innovative attractions, Dr Sarah Beynon’s Bug Farm. F happens to be related (in typical convoluted, Pembrokeshire fashion!) to Dr Beynon, so we were thrilled to be invited along.

Dr Sarah Beynon, (photo from cloud9management.co.uk )

Dr Beynon is an entomologist, TV presenter and insect farmer (quite a CV!).She is a fantastic ambassador for entomology, and an inspirational role model for girls (and boys) wanting to break into the world of science. Her enthusiasm for all things entomological is infectious. I have only met her in person once before this event, but even then could see how passionate she is about her subject. We took C and JoJo along for a visit a few months ago, and had the opportunity to see how Sarah can engage even the smallest child with Science. She took time to show C a hissing cockroach and managed to explain this wonderful, curious creature to her in simple terms. Making learning fun and accessible for all is something I feel strongly about, and it is definitely an ethos that the Bug farm shares.

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The website describes the bug farm as a ‘farm with a difference’. It is set within 100 acres of amazing Pembrokeshire countryside, with the city of St.Davids very close by. A lot has changed at the site since our last trip. The indoor play barn is now open, which is a very sensible addition to any child friendly Pembrokeshire ‘attraction’ . C thoroughly enjoyed balancing and running, and admiring the rather life like giant spiders    and beetles. that adorn the walls.

The walled garden is up and growing! The new bug museum is also open, full of interesting facts and displays.

There is also a bug farm trail around the site, which aims to show adults and children how farming can coexist with wildlife. For the culinary adventurer there is also the on site ‘Grub Kitchen’. Its all in the name, the kitchen’s fare is mainly based around entomophagy, although there are some non insect based options for the squeamish (including Lemonade scones!)

 The food looks and smells amazing. I haven’t had the chance to sample any of Andy’s (Sarah’s partner and head chef) cooking yet but i’m dying to give the’bug burger’ a go! The ‘Bombay Bug mix’ has also caught my eye. I love, love love Bombay mix, so figure this might be a gentle introduction into edible insects! The speeches and ribbon cutting ceremony started at 3pm. By this point C and JoJo were getting a wee bit tired and squirmy. I was concerned we might disturb proceedings, so we hid in the Tropical Insect Zoo for a bit!

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We missed the ribbon cutting but it was nice being able to explore the exhibits in peace. I love the displays, they are very clever and easily visible to little ones thanks to the handy steps!

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C and JoJo had a great time, with their noses pressed up against the glass tanks. C’s particular favourite was the scorpion exhibit. There is a button for a UV light, which makes the scorpion glow (if she obliges and doesn’t hide!). This is rather cool to see.

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C also likes the heated floor, she nearly fell asleep on it the first time we came!! There isn’t much information up around the insect enclosures, just Latin and common names on chalk boards. This is due to the fact that there are normally guided tours in this area. I still think it might be a nice idea to provide a leaflet with little take home facts and messages. I’m a sucker for info sheets, I think it’s just my inner ‘collector’ coming out!

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The collection also includes a gorgeous Rainbow Stag  beetle, a leaf cutter ant population all the way from Trinidad which is fascinating to watch as well as Stick insects.I officially heart stick insects. I used to have one as a Zoology student. It was called Nigel (yes, I do name all insects Nigel or Steve), and it used to travel around in a match box whenever I made return trips home to Ireland (On the plane. Note I now know this is probably not a good thing.)

We had a fab time and it was lucky that the sun shone down for the whole afternoon, showing Pembrokeshire off in its best light. If you ever happen to find yourself in this neck of the woods, I highly recommend a trip to the Bug Farm. I know a lot of people are down here at some point of 30 days wild, go and get up close and personal with some insects!

Day 18 – Red kite brings delight.

Red Kites are a frequent sight in the skies over Pembrokeshire. I have often stopped when out on my calls as a vet to watch one gliding over the fields. They often visit our farm, especially after the grass is cut at silage time. I guess it could be easy to become blasé about them but my years of city dwelling mean I get super excited over anything that isn’t a sparrow.

When F said we could go to the Red Kite centre, I felt like Christmas had come early. We had to get there by 3pm, which is when daily feeding occurs.A variety of meat is put out (Today’s menu included a rack of beef ribs!)which attracts buzzards, crow, ravens and magpies as well as the Red kites.   As per usual it was a bit of a battle to get everyone washed, dressed, fed and into the car, along with packing a picnic, baby changing bag, my camera and binoculars. We finally crammed everything in and set off.

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The centre is a 2 hour road trip away, so I had plenty of time to read up on the biology and conservation history of Red Kites, or to give them their ‘proper’ name, Milvus milvus. They belong to the Accipitridae family, along with Hawks and Raptors. A distinctive forked tail along with their red and grey plumage can help identify them. The bulk of their diet is formed from carrion and worms , but they can act opportunistically to take rodents and small birds. Breeding begins at 2, with both the male and female sharing nest building duties. I found it amusing that pairs will decorate the nest with found objects (including plastic bags, underwear and toys!) before eggs are laid. It reminds me of the ‘nesting’ phase I went through with both of my pregnancies, although my nursery decorations tend to come from Mothercare! It takes around 32 days for each egg to hatch, and as they are laid over a few days there is a slight age gap between the siblings. For the first fortnight females stay on the nest, with all food being provided by the male (human fathers take note, this is a GOOD move to win brownie points!). Once the birds fledge, they stick around for a short period before setting off for a while. They return home as adults, ready for breeding.

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I was also intrigued to learn that genetic studies have shown all welsh birds to be descended from a single female. There is a slight variation in genes noted between Northern and Southern populations, the divide running along the Towy valley. This shows that the birds have chosen to remain sedentary and breed where born.

Just outside Carmarthen I spotted a solitary Red kite hovering over a field. “Great, you’ve seen one, now we can go home” exclaimed F, gleefully. I glared at him from the passenger seat, and turned Radio 4 on to drown out his silliness. The countryside whizzed past as we journeyed east, the landscape gradually changing from relatively flat, green fields to rolling hills, green forests and eventually the moor covered mountains on the edge of the Brecon Beacons. By the time we reached Llandovery I was literally bouncing in my seat with excitement. F took a short cut, then missed our turning. “It’s fine” I said, through gritted teeth” We’ve still got 45 minutes to find it before feeding starts”. “Hmmph”replied F. This did not inspire confidence.

Fortunately the centre is well sign posted and it didn’t take us long to find it. We pulled up in the car park, and I got JoJo  settled into her sling. C was quite enthusiastic, as she got to carry the ‘noculars’.

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There were already kites gathering overhead as we walked up the lane to the hide. Twisting and turning they rode the thermals, whistling and mewing to each other noisily. I nearly fell over, tipping my head back to get a better view of their acrobatics. Not a good idea to lean backwards when carrying a 22lb baby on your hip!

This was the closest I have ever been to a Red kite. I could count the number of feathers on their beautifully forked tails, and see their golden irises glinting in the sunlight. We hadn’t even got to the hide yet, I was grinning with anticipation. Without a doubt, this was the most red kites I had ever seen.Once in, we settled the girls on the lowest bench overlooking the feeding area. I glanced around at the information posters  and my heart sunk “Children must be kept sat down and quiet during feeding.If they make too much noise, they will have to leave.””Shhhhh!” I’d stupidly left the bag full of distractions in the car, and C was already getting a bit antsy. How were we going to keep them still and quiet? I had a brainwave and managed  to keep C happy by building a ‘den’ with the sling. JoJo was happily gurgling at the 2 swallows that had built their  nest in the hide.

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I breathed a sigh of relief and got back to birdwatching. I counted 10 red kites perched in an oak tree about 150 yards away, and another dozen soaring over the sheep field next door. I stuck my head out of the hide and looked up. The sky above was thick with red-brown birds.

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About 20 juveniles, distinguished by their lighter plumage, mixed with fully grown adults. The odd buzzard hovered amongst them. Then it was time. Food was carried out onto the small field directly in front of us. Kites came in from every side, folding their wings behind them as they stooped to the ground. Chunks of meat were grabbed in curved talons and carried off to be devoured. Scuffles broke out occasionally, with birds tackling each other mid air. Meat was dropped, snatched, scooped back up then dropped again. Those of us in the hide jumped out of our skin as a huge piece of beef landed on the tin roof. I think I must have whispered ‘ this is amazing’ twenty times in the hour we were there.

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My bird watching reverie was broken by a distinctive aroma coming from about JoJo’s person. Uh -oh! Time to go. We made our exit as quietly as possible and headed back down the lane. From the car park I could still see the kites gliding around over the hills and fields of sheep. In the distance a shepherd on a quad bike gathered in his flock.

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Withybush woods

‘Accessible walks’ – yet another thing I have become accustomed to now that I am Mummy to two small children. In deepest darkest West Wales these are quite a novelty I am slowly expanding my list of walks that are ‘buggy and toddler friendly. Two and a half years in I have a few firm favourites. One of these is Withybush woods. It ticks lots of my criteria for walks with both a toddler and a baby. There is a car park, most of the paths are tarmack  or at least easy- to- push-a- buggy on , it is a relatively short distance and has plenty of flora and fauna to keep them (and me!) interested. The only downside to this walk is that the local firing range is just through the trees, so it can be a bit unnerving at times!

The woods are located at the end of an industrial estate in Haverfordwest. They once formed part of the Withybush Estate, which no longer exists.  C was quite keen to get going on today’s adventure, and shot off down the path as soon as I got her out of the car.

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Toddler on the loose!

The sycamore trees at the start of the trail house a rookery, and the inhabitants were quite raucous today. We followed the path until we came to the first stone bridge over the stream which meanders through the woods.

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C hasn’t quite fallen in love with ‘Pooh sticks’ yet, so my offer of a game was met with a resounding ‘no!’. I had a quick squint for otter spraint or tracks, as one of the information boards listed them as a resident of the woods. I couldn’t see any , and although it does look like good otter territory the woods are a favourite with local dog walkers.The banks around this bridge were churned up and full of doggy paw prints. I would be surprised if there were any otters here. DSC_0791

The wooden bridge is quite beautiful in its own right. I love its zigzag shape. F was quite content in her buggy listening to the different bird calls that filled the air. On top of the buggy are the different leaves we collected on our walk. I hope to make a simple identification chart for the girls .

Once we crossed the bridge we turned right to carry on with our figure of 8. The path on this side is tarmacked which is super for buggies. I remember doing this stretch just a few weeks after the birth of C. I was still extremely sore from the c section, and the distance from the car to the pond seemed vast.

The lake used to supply Withybush Estate with wild duck and fish. Now it acts as a haven for a myriad of species. Today we settled on our favourite bench and watched theWhirlygig beetles shooting across the surface. It wasn’t long before we were joined by the resident family of Mute swans. The Pen appeared with her beautiful brood of cygnets. Unfortunately there were only four today – one less than we counted on our visit 4 days earlier.

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Pen and cygnet

The cygnets were having a whale of a time, splashing about and practicing diving. They reminded C of her ‘Ugly Duckling’ story book at home.

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Very downy cygnet!

The Cob was swimming nearby, fending off some Mallard ducks who dared to swim just a bit too close to his brood.

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The family stayed close by for some time before making their way back across the pond towards the nest site. You can’t see it in this picture as it is well hidden in amongst the reeds behind the Rhodedendron bush.DSC_0847C and JoJo were busy enjoying a snack so I had the chance to watch some of the other bird life. I spotted several blue tits, coal tits, chaffinches, a robin, blackbird and nuthatch within a few minutes of sitting quietly on vantage point. I could also hear the distinctive two note call of the Chiff Chaff from amongst the trees behind me. After a while the girls started to get a bit restless so we headed on our way.

A few feet further up on the bank of the lake sat another Swan. It looked like a cygnet from last year as it still had a few greyish feathers. I am suprised the pair hadn’t driven it off from the lake yet. There were also a few Coots milling about on the pond, as well as some Mallard drakes.

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We crossed the stone humpback bridge which marks the end of the lake and headed back along the path towards the car park. I tried to keep a mental tally of the different trees we passed. around the lake were sycamore,ash, beech, oak and holly. The marsh land behind the lake was covered with alder, bog myrtle and willow. We crossed the bridge and were back amongst more beech, sycamore, hazel, lime and horse chestnut trees. C was quite tired now, and wanted carrying on my shoulders. Fortunately it wasn’t long before we reached the car park. C said goodbye to the rooks and told them we’d come to visit again soon.