Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Source of the River

Like many rivers, the Tawe begins its life as a mere trickle before eventually reaching the Bristol Channel in Swansea Bay. I head to the moors a dozen or so miles north of the coast in search of its source. The actual spot marked on the OS map is a very steep climb from the road; I’m content to sit by a tiny stream about half a mile away and imagine the exact location. The view from up here is quite magnificent, wild, open and devoid of trees and rugged, but yet with gentle features. High sandstone peaks, part of the Brecon Beacons dominate and below, rolling sheep-grazed pastures slope gently to the path of the young river. Old stonewalls, many in disrepair, mark out field boundaries, which are probably no longer meaningful and a relic of older ownerships. Apart from the cool breeze and the bleating of a few sheep, the silence is wonderful.

Three red kites play in the updrafts on a far ridge and ravens call out of sight. The old walls provide perches for wheatears and meadow pipits, the latter beginning to form loose flocks and stonechats sit boldly on top of sparse gorse bushes that border some of the tiny streams bubbling down to the river.

At the top of the rise the view east along the Beacons is spectacular and wild; north towards the English border are miles of mellow brown and green patchwork-quilted fields. Vast conifers plantations planted in the uplands after the last war created blots on the landscape, but are gradually being removed; in one of these recently felled patches I encounter a birding hotspot and the highlight of the day.

I first catch sight of the white wing-flash of a juvenile pied flycatcher, then another and another; wheatears, stonechats, a whinchat, all fly catching on the insect bounty provided by the debris left from the felling. Further down the hill young birches, willows and rowans, heavy with berries border the patch; willow and wood warblers, chaffinches, a single redpoll and a smart male grey wagtail add to the tally, but best of all a spotted flycatcher which, apart from my guaranteed one on Skomer Island in the summer, will probably be the only one for the year. Maybe there’s something in these alien conifers after all, but only when they’ve been felled.

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