Brecon Beacons Baby!

Updated: Aug 13, 2020

Well, only briefly but it was at least part of an all too short Welsh adventure...

Like many of us, I had a few plans this year which were scuppered after Coronavirus hit the UK. One of those was a tour of Wales and as I'd been somewhat chomping at the bit, when restrictions were lifted I took the chance of a quick adventure before anyone changed their minds!

On route I stopped off at the Forest of Dean. Having been here several times in the past I knew where to go. I managed some distant Peregrine Falcon shots at Symonds Yat, a poor quality fox I wasn’t quite ready for at RSPB Nagshead and a very early morning Mallard at the usually prolific Woorgreens. And in a day and a half, that was it!

Feeling like this was just going to be one of those trips I decided to ditch and move onto the Brecon Beacons - having been to Wales previously, it wasn’t somewhere I especially expected much from.

On arrival on a very sunny day I noticed the area was extremely busy with people (boy have people hit our natural spaces lately!) and so I tried to avoid some of the main tourist spots as it doesn’t bode well with wildlife photography.

First stop - Penmoelallt Nature Reserve. After a short walk it didn’t take me long to spot both Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Red Kites, Buzzards, Tree Pippit, Stonechats, Swifts, Swallows, Thrush, Siskin, Linnet, a flock of Long-Tailed Tits…. I’d literally walked up a hill and back.

After lunch (which included a large amount of wild raspberries) I visited some beautiful looking rocky outcrops I'd seen in the distance to which was the gorgeous area of natural beauty besides Taf Fechan.

After parking up I walked along a stream where I spotted a Dipper on a central stoney shore. I waded onto some rocks at the furthest point and begun to quietly shift my way closer along the stones. After a short while a White Wagtail, Robin and Spotted Flycatcher (a first for me!) all begun to make alarm calls of my presence but the Dipper remained frozen - likely to have been a juvenile that had decided this to be a good defence tactic!

I sat back and watched and what I found fascinating was that all three of the small birds begun to raise the alarm to the young Dipper - fluttering agitatedly around it, making alarm calls to alert it to danger. But the Dipper stuck to it’s tactic and not wanting to cause too much distress I took a few shots and moved on. I found it incredible seeing birds of different species look out for each other in this way though.

I eventually climbed up a hill till I got to the beginnings of a rocky outcrop with jaw dropping views to find Sand Martins that had no doubt been nesting amongst the cliff edges. It didn’t take me too long after that to stumble across some Welsh Mountain Ponies - one had even decorated her mane all by herself! With less than one thousand breeding mares left in Wales they’re now classified as a rare breed. These incredible animals free roam the mountain edges, managing the land through grazing with a few free roaming cattle - I also made friends with a gorgeous pair of young Blue Grey Cows who excitedly begun bounding around me.

A quick catch of sunset and a family of Kestrels swooping around the cliff edge finished the day off perfectly.

The next day I visited the British Bird of Prey Centre in Llanarthney where I got to photograph a Goshawk at special request (which was the main justification for the trip), along with a whole range of specialist specialist species, many which would be extremely difficult (if not impossible) to catch in the wild.

After that I headed North on the way to central Wales and visited RSPB Gwenffrwd-dinas. What an incredible reserve this was - out of all the one’s I’ve visited, this is by far the most picturesque and well maintained that I’ve been to. Forests, cliff edges, streams - the whole place is perfect for a great abundance of wildlife. Though, to be fair I didn’t actually get many shots to show that thanks to an abundance of vegetation at this time of year - but I so do plan to come back in early spring to seek out the Pied Flycatchers.

And the best part - not a shred of litter to be seen! I can’t even remember the last place that happened unfortunately.

After spending the night camped out overlooking the stunning Llyn Brianne reservoir I headed South West all the way to one of my favourite places in the UK - the totally beautiful Pembrokeshire coastline.

On the hunt for Chough’s I stopped at Martin’s Haven, walking around the cliff tops scouring the edges where they often sit. A few sightings here, Stonechats, Linnets, Oystercatchers, Gannets, Puffins, as well as a multitude of gulls. There were even a nesting pair of Swallows above the door to the toilets (which if anyone that was there is reading this - this is why I was sat there with my camera!)

I even got some shots of the UK’s largest fly - a female Dark Giant Horsefly. Unlike midge bites, which mostly just end up as an itchy inconvenience, the painful horsefly bite can take much longer to recover from because they cut into the skin rather than pierce it with two pairs of sharp cutting blades around their mouths. Infections can be common which makes them a problem for the wildlife photographer but this was a beauty!

Eventually I did get some Choughs shots (though a little distant) and more excitedly spotted a Peregrine. As a result I set up camp on the side of a cliff in the hope they’d return - which they didn’t! But the nicest part - the many walkers all appeared to vanish leaving me completely alone whilst I cooked my dinner in total peaceful solitude.

I was even given one final treat - another family of Kestrels including this female who hovered above me without so much as wingbeat and without taking her eyes off me for what seemed like an eternity.

Thank you Wales - I can't wait to come back.

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