Turnstones on Roa Island

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Male Eider.

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Turnstone (non-breeding plumage).

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Edible Crab.

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Sea Spider.

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Butterfish.

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Broad-clawed Porcelain Crab.

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Chiton (possibly Lepidochitona cinerea).

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Starfish…

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…walking.

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Snot?

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Herring Gull.

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Juvenile Herring Gull (probably).

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Roa Island just keeps on giving and giving. Every visit throws up something new. This time both the wind and the water were perishingly cold and we didn’t find quite the same abundance as usual. Apart, that is, from B, who has an eagle eye for these things. Sea Spiders and Chitons are both new to me. Sea Spiders aren’t actually spiders, but do have an extraordinary resemblance, whilst Chitons are molluscs with eight overlapping plates. A found the Chiton – when she pointed it out in a shallow pool I assumed that what she’d seen was just a fragment of a seashell.

Whilst the others retired to the shelter of the car to eat their packed tea, I wandered back down to the end of the jetty and tried to capture images of flying gulls. Slightly quixotic behaviour, since the light was fading, and the gulls raced past downwind, but they were relatively stately when they flew back upwind so it wasn’t impossible.

Many of the stones we overturned were covered in eggs (or roe) of some kind. The roe, in turn, was often covered in Whelks. I couldn’t decided whether the Whelks were laying eggs or eating them. Several stones also had blobs of creamy white or emerald green…well, we’ve christened it ‘snot’, for want of any more accurate knowledge.

No doubt, we’ll be back again sometime this summer.

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Turnstones on Roa Island

Towyn Farm – Early Morning Strolls II

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One morning I cycled down to the natural harbour of Porth Ysgaden and walked along the coast to Porth Gwylan, another, larger, natural harbour. Between the two, this rocky inlet, unnamed on the OS map, was home to many cormorants with two obvious, large and untidy nests and birds dotted about the cliffs.

Cormorants 

Cormorant

Six spot burnet moth

Six-spot burnet moth.

Porth Gwylan

Porth Gwylan

You can perhaps see a small speck in the water almost in the centre of the photo. It’s a grey seal. Sometimes one or two other seals would surface for a while, but this one stayed almost stationary, snout pointing upwards, apparently asleep. I went down to the shingle beach to get a closer view.

Grey seal

And even momentarily attracted the attention of the sleepy seal.

Grey seal 2

But not for long. I watched the seal for quite some time before heading back to the campsite.

Rock samphire

“This is rock samphire isn’t it?” TBH asked.

“I’m not sure. It could be.”

She tasted it. “Yes, it is. You try it.”

So I did, reluctantly. It was foul – tasted like soap.

“It’s foul – my bit tastes like soap!” I said, between all the spitting and retching.

“Yep – so did mine.”

Unopened centaury

I made a special trip to photograph these tiny flowers, which I had seen several times on my way down to the beach, only to find that in the early-morning shade they weren’t open. I got them again later:

Centaury

I’m pretty certain that it’s centaury, but I’m not sure which one.

Nearby another small pink flower…

Restharrow

…restharrow.

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I think that this is a centaury again, growing much taller on the rocks where the sheep can’t get to crop it short. Judging by the rosette of narrow basal leaves it would say that it is seaside centaury, which I suppose makes sense.

Towyn Farm – Early Morning Strolls II

Towyn Farm – Early Morning Strolls I

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Our days in North Wales sound found a regular rhythm – late to rise, leisurely breakfast, a few hours on the beach, back for lunch, return to the beach late afternoon, late tea, late to bed. This seemed to work quite well and the kids slept in OK, but once the sun gets on the canvas I inevitably wake and want to be up and about. So I added my own quiet prelude to each day – a solitary stroll along the coastal path and the lanes. We had bikes with us and sometimes I used my bike to extend the range of my short excursions.

The first of these walks began with blue sky overhead and mist all around. Mist bedecked webs glittered all along the fence. I assumed that the mist would soon burn off, but instead it would clear only to roll in again, the view appearing and disappearing with the whims of the mist.

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One of the delights of these walks was the abundance of bird life, mainly sea-birds and ‘lbj’s. I’m not very confident with identifying either. Is this, for example, a juvenile greenfinch as the sturdy beak suggests (but where’s the greeny-yellow wing bar?) or a female house sparrow? (but if so why is such a gregarious bird all alone?).

There’s certain wildlife I’ve come to associate with our trips to the Llyn Peninsula. One is the choughs which we saw on the grassy ‘cliffs’ when we were on the beach. Another is the labyrinth spider Agelena labyrinthica. We’d seen webs, but not spiders, on the gorse bushes on the lower slopes of Carn Fadryn, now I found many more webs on the gorse bushes on the cliff-top.

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I have an idea that this rather round bodied spider is the female and a more skinny body…

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…might belong to a male. But I don’t know why I think that.

The mist flagged up the extent to which the gorse was blanketed with gossamer…

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…with orb webs as well as the labyrinth type…

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Incidentally, the mini-Fuji in the background is Carn Fadryn.

At the end of the peninsula Yr Eifl and its neighbours stood out above the mist…

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…but was soon curtained off again.

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Meadow Brown

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Another lbj…

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…a sedge warbler?

My friend J, (the Adopted Yorkshirewoman) a gardener, had asked me about the abundant purple flowers in the hedgerows, or actually more often in the ditches. “Purple-loosestrife” I confidently told her.

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But I wanted to be sure that I was telling her right, so I took photos of leaves and stem for identification purposes and discovered that the stem is square sectioned and hairy with a red rib on each corner…

Purple-loosestrife stem

..which pleased me at least.

I’ve subsequently discovered that…

Close examination of the flowers shows that although those of any one plant are the same, they may differ from plant to plant. Different plants may have any one of three sorts of flower, which vary in the position of their male and female parts (stamens and stigmas). The stigma may project beyond the sepal tube, it may be level with the tips of the sepals, or it may be hidden inside. Each of the two whorls of stamens also vary in position. A bee feeding on nectar of one sort of flower will receive a dusting of pollen on two parts of its tongue from the two whorls of stamens. This pollen will be in the right positions to be brushed onto the stigmas of the two other sorts of flower when the bee visits them. This arrangement makes sure that the flowers of one plant are fertilised only by pollen from another of the same species, ensuring the vigour of the species.

..which is also rather wonderful.

This bird….

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…led me a merry dance, hopping about at the back of one of the local broad humped ‘hedges’.

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A whitethroat?

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..and his mate?

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Dry dock!

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Another lbj. This one surely is a sparrow, which must make the first a greenfinch?

Another plant the AYW asked about was this small blue flower, sometimes forming quite dense clumps and providing lots of colours in the hedges. I couldn’t put name to it at the time, but after some fairly torturous research I’m now confident that it’s sheep’s-bit.

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It’s common in the South of England and Wales apparently which is perhaps why, resident in the red and white rose counties, the AYW and I are not familiar with it.

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Another gatekeeper.

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Red admiral.

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Bindweed.

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I think that this little corker might be a cinquefoil, but I far from confident, and if it is I don’t know which.

I thought that I might dispense with all of my early morning strolls from Towyn Farm in one post but clearly I had forgotten just how absorbing that first walk was.

Towyn Farm – Early Morning Strolls I

Agelena labyrinthica

Last week we were in Wales, a fourth holiday at Towyn Farm campsite on the Llyn Peninsula, but I took very few photographs – chiefly because we spent much of our time on the beach and I’m not sure that my camera is robust enough to survive days on the beach. In the rock-pools we found fat green blennies, a thin black shoe-lace which turned out to be a fish, a couple of flat fish and lots of crabs and shrimps. B found a dead spider-crab floating in the surf and he and I found a mermaid’s purse, a shark’s egg-case, in a large rock-pool. One evening we saw a well-preserved dog-fish washed up at the tide-line, and every day the beach was littered with jelly-fish.

We were camping with friends and one morning we set off to climb Carn Fadyrn. The lower slopes of the hill are a purple and yellow patchwork of heather and low-growing gorse. The gorse was covered in webs, each one silvered with rainwater, and each having in the centre a tunnel with a resident labyrinth spider – agelena labyrinthica. Labyrinth because, apparently, down in the central tunnel there are actually several tunnels where the eggs are concealed.

The kids all coped admirably with the climb, even S who I had had my doubts about.

A snack and a rest en route.

We lunched together at the top…

…and enjoyed the fabulous views…

Looking down the peninsula.

Before the boys’ determination to clamber over every rock they could find…

…prompted a return to the cars below

We eventually headed for the beach when most people would have been thinking about leaving. There was virtually no wind, and only tiny waves, and the sea was incredibly clear. It was full moon, or there abouts, and the tide was very low. Some of us swam out round some exposed reefs of rock. A friend lent me a mask and snorkel and I was amazed at the variety, number and in some cases size of the fish I saw.

As the tide came in we had a barbecue on the beach and watched the sun go down over the sea.

Later in the week, when numbers had dwindled, we drove west to the end of the peninsula.

Looking out to Bardsey Island.

My camera helped to confirm that the small flock of corvids we saw were indeed choughs. (Poor photos, but clearly red legs.)

Agelena labyrinthica

Tintagel

On our drive down in the car we had listened to tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table so an early visit to Tintagel seemed appropriate. Our visit to began with a picnic in the garden of the old post office, our second picnic in the garden of a National Trust property that week since we had stopped at Mosley Old Hall on the way down. The ‘old post office’ is actually a 14th Century farmhouse. We really appreciated the sheltered garden because there was a very bitter wind blowing.

There isn’t a great deal left to see at Tintagel Castle and what there is, is medieval; so very old, but not far enough back to be the birth place of the legend, although there was something here before apparently. The setting is fantastic though.

The tide was in, so we didn’t get to visit Merlin’s Cave which disappointed the boys who I think fully expected to find a dragon in residence.

The Castle Garden.

 

After two years of fruitlessly waving my camera around and taking photos of empty sky, I finally caught a bird in flight!

Tintagel

Strolling Therapy

Well we’ve had a couple of more pleasant days. Today in particular was good. Not especially warm, but dry and occasionally sunny. As a result we’ve spent much of the day outdoors in the garden and at the children’s playground. Tonight I even dragged myself out for a walk – some actual ‘beating the bounds’.

It wasn’t a long walk. Just a brief stroll through the village and across the Lots to the Cove. Lately, I haven’t done half enough of this ‘walking and gawking’ (as Ron at Walking Fort Bragg calls it). It doesn’t really need to be a long walk. Just to be outside is therapeutic. The song of the wind in the trees. The smell of the sea. The texture of the mud and water in the Bay – enhanced somehow by the low, post-sunset light.

I’m drawn to the cove at this time of day, as the light drains from the sky. To the South the coast is dotted with the lights of Morecambe and Heysham and in the North, Grange and Kents Bank. But looking West toward the dark hump of Humphrey Head and the long horizon of the Bay it is easy to imagine that nothing much has changed here for a very long time (although you have to ignore the occasional winking light, presumably from a gas platform or wind turbine.) There is something raw and elemental about the Bay in these conditions.

It’s a while since I’ve been here, and the shape of the channels near to the shore has changed. Almost inevitably, the dark outlines of two herons are poised on the far side of the channel, fishing in their usual patient way.

Strolling Therapy

Sandyhills Bay

Last week the sun poked it’s head from behind a cloud briefly and after a rush of blood to the head I packed our two oldest kids into the car and took them away for a few more days by the sea. This time we went to the Solway coast in South West Scotland – a lot closer than North Wales. I chose the site based on online reviews which said that it was quiet, family friendly and right by the beach – all of which turned out to be spot on. Only a small line of dunes separated our pitch from the beach. It was a nice beach – backed by dunes but with cliffs on either side. It was slightly odd in as much as although it was sandy, further down it became soft squishy mud. The tide when it was out was a very long way away. When it came in, it came in fast, but was only a couple of inches deep.

The weather wasn’t always ideal, but we did manage a day and a half on the beach.

You can see here the transition from sand to mud – where the texture and the angle changes and the beach clearly becomes wetter.

We even had some blue sky – for a while.

We explored a little. The beach was incredibly rich in shells. We plodged along a stream flowing down the beach and onto the mud. B turned up a crab with no pincers – damaged and ill creatures seem to be our speciality at the moment. We played with a cloth frisby that I bought in the camp site shop. It flew surprisingly well. A really got the hang of flicking her wrist. B developed his own highly effective if rather inaccurate overhand style. Naturally we made sandcastles:

The kids decided to dig and then decorate holes:

On Saturday the weather was not fit for the beach. We checked out the charms of nearby Dumfries. On the way back to Sandyhills, with the weather improving, we stopped at New Abbey and visited the Sweetheart Abbey and the water powered Corn Mill.

The corn mill is still in full working order and was operating when we visited. It was fascinating. At the mill pond the miller introduced us to a brood of 5 day old Mallard chicks.

We also stopped at Southerness where there is a light house:

And if anything, even more shells on the beach than at Sandyhills (certainly a higher proportion of Mussel shells)

Our final day was showery. The showers decreased in frequency and ferocity as the day progressed. In the morning, when the showers were still heavy and regular, we climbed along the coast path to the hill west of the bay, Torrs Hill. The Lakeland Fells, across the Firth, had reappeared after the clag of the day before. Through gaps in the cloud the sun was lighting the Firth in silver and gold. The views were stunning. Sadly my camera was playing up and I have no photo of the Needles Eye – an impressive natural arch by the cliffs.

B revelled in the inclement weather and the steep and muddy path, but poor A found the whole experience a bit much. Fortunately, as the weather improved she really enjoyed the playground on the campsite and another trip to the beach.

Sandyhills Bay