There seems to me to be no place more breathtaking than Snowdonia.
After spending another week in the Welsh hills I can say I feel revived and refreshed. We always finish our time regretting that we aren’t staying for longer, wishing we could relocate to a wild and remote spot somewhere in the National Park.
One evening we took a stroll on the quiet lanes that worked their way up to our little cottage. With our eyes largely to the skies we were regularly joined by some fast moving and elegantly agile Swifts (Apus apus), House Martins (Delichon urbica) and Swallows (Hirundo rustica). In the evenings I had been reading “Raptor’ by James MacDonald, so inspired by his writing that we were on the look out for raptors. That evening though, something else caught my eye as raptors seemed to have heard we were coming and were seemingly elsewhere. A Brown Hare (Lepus europaeus) was spotted hopping down one of the lanes; it seemed fortune was on our side as at that moment the mottled brown hair was more visible on the black tarmac track. I hadn’t seen a hare since I lived and worked in south Devon nearly 6 years ago. The once common Brown Hare has seen a dramatic decline in numbers due to changing agricultural practices affecting its favoured grassland habitats. To spot the hare wandering, as we were, down a lane was a sight I felt we should behold. So we followed, watched and admired for as long as we could. What an enigmatic animal.
Whilst hiking on the hills we were often joined by Skylarks (Alauda arvensis), Meadow Pipits (Anthus pratensis) and Ravens (Corvus coral). The Skylark and meadow pipit are on the red and amber species lists, respectively, yet in the solitude of the hills they were a regular site. What a treat. On Llanberis path, on our way down from Moel Eilio, we spotted a small grey raptor flying in and out of the heather patches. We were some distance but through my binoculars was able to see, a Merlin (Falco columbarius). A brief glimpse of this fast moving bird, one we weren’t able to capture on film but appreciated greatly with the naked eye. The UK’s smallest bird of prey, its wingbeat tends to be rapid with occasional glides. In winter the UK population increases as birds from Iceland join us for the warmer winter climate but in Wales they are a resident. Although recovering from a population crash in the late 20th century it is still on the Amber List.
As I mentioned earlier I have been reading ‘Raptor’, it reminded me of how great an impact people have had and continue to have on raptors and other wildlife in the UK. In the late 1970s birds like marsh harriers were on the brink of extinction in the UK, and red kites were still confined to central Wales. Today, although achievements have been made, raptors continue to be persecuted. Much of this dislike of raptors (and predators generally) is based on poor evidence and understanding of ecology, but is deeply ingrained in the culture of parts of the sport shooting community that the illegal persecution of raptors continues today. As I write this piece I am reminded of how many of the birds we see in our skies are on the red or amber species list, for many reasons most relating to mankind. Reading MacDonalds words has inspired me to go on my own adventure in search of seeing all 15 raptors in the UK, what and where this will take me remains to be seen…
Thank you Snowdonia.