I walked out this lunchtime with no intention of wildlife-watching, without my binoculars harnessed to my chest I set out to find a place to picnic.
I had an idea in mind after visiting the Ceredigion museum in Aberystwyth yesterday. I would climb Pen Dinas hill; site of a 9000 year old settlement, with remains of an Iron Age fort. With sandwiches in my pocket, coat tied around my waist and water bottle in hand I headed towards Tanybwlch beach and an area of Aberystwyth I’ve not discovered before.
As ever, when not wearing them, I felt a sense of nakedness from not having my binoculars. There was evidently so much unfolding all around me and I was equipt with just my own senses to make sense of it. I quickly realised that this was, in fact, a blessing and that I was appreciating the wildlife just as much and in different ways. A host of sparrows danced around the gateway that led up the hill, I soon saw linnets flitting along the gorse-edged path ahead of me and a buzzard mewed overhead. I stepped over a bald, dead chick and wondered how many times I might have walked this path and stepped over it, not noticed it. I paused for just a second to think of its contribution to this world.
As I rounded the hill I saw a beautiful river valley beneath me and instantly thought of kingfishers in the meandering waters. This time I’d be too far away to see them.
It was whilst making my way through this gorse that I realise what a privileged position I am in; I can understand many different languages haling from Antartica through to the artic! I can’t quite speak it yet, but I’m near fluent in bird! On this walk, without binoculars, I recognise my African friends: sedge warbler, whitethroat and chiffchaff and consider what a wonder this is. Not only being able to recognise who is there, but also to know whether they are feeling territorial, agitated, content, it’s an utter delight!
I recently dropped my car key on the vast expanse of heath that is the range, part of the RSPB South Stack reserve. Having adopted a relatively zen approach to the search for my lost key, I spoke to the resident stonechats as I approached their territory. “Stonechats, have you seen my car key?” Sure enough, just metres later, there it lay. I thanked the pair and ran excitedly along the heath to tell my friend Aled, before a fly flew into my eye.
Here, in Aberystwyth, I recognised the familiar whistle-click of a stonechat and mused that they speak the same language as my friends on the range, but could have the dialect of a cousin living further south. Whereas on Anglesey, that I know so well, I feel at one with the wildlife, here I felt almost an observer. This is a path I’d never walked before and I was a tourist. I felt accepted into the community when the beautifully bright male stonechat landed just metres from me.
This last section of the incline led me to butterflies; wall, white and small tortoiseshell, with a potential speckled wood zooming up ahead of me only to dip back down when I arrived.
It was noted that when I reached the top of the hill, where stands a monument to the Duke of Wellington, I sat eating my lunch overlooking the hills inland and not the vast expanse of sea I could have selected. Perhaps it has more to do with lack of maginification than anything else, but I was happy to look at the town below, the government buldings, churches, dwellings and wind turbines – all things which make Aberystwyth what it is and beautiful.
After sandwiches, I headed down the other side of the hill towards the town. “Uhhhh. That’s amazing!” I exclaimed aloud as a staggering yellow and black dragonfly the size of my hand landed beside me. I was too slow to get a picture, but it continued to put on a show as it surveyed the grasses like a Sea King helicopter out to search and rescue. Further down the path a second smaller dragonfly of the same type made an appearance. I’ve now identified these as Golden-Ringed Dragonfly and was unsurprised to hear that the females of this species are the longest dragonflies in the UK.
The penultimate leg of the walk took me through shaded coppices at the edge of farmers fields. Here, secretive blackbirds shied from my view as a song thrush paused overhead and young robins hopped along the path ahead of me.
Finally, I was back into the blinding concrete world and the narrow gauge steam train poop-pooped it’s hello.