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Close-up hawk

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On the weekend, late in the afternoon a couple of guys on bikes with big cameras round their necks stopped outside.  They wanted to photograph the rope bridge.  “OK” I said and joined them as they took it from various angles.

Just then I spotted a commotion in the chicken run.  I’d already shut them up and all seemed in order.  I ran across and realise that there was a rather large bird thrashing about inside the netting.  It was a sparrow-hawk!

Sid, the vicious cockerel who is at least twice the size of the hawk, was cowering in the corner (admittedly protecting his harem) as I opened the gate and went in.

Realising that it was a photo opportunity of a lifetime, I called Toby and Clement (the bike/ camera guys) over and they tried hard to get some close-up shots of the hawk but it was flying around so quickly it was difficult to focus on it. We all also had to duck rapidly on a few occasions as it refused to go out of the open gate and kept returning to the furthest corner. Eventually Clement got this cracking shot, as good a picture of the sheer power of a sparrow-hawk as one is likely to get; see the sharpness of the talons, the ferocity of the beak and the keenness of the eye.

Power personified

As you’d expect when there were people about, we were soon joined by Smudge, who was a whisker away from pouncing on this protected species when a firm “No” from me stopped him! Maybe he is part dog after all.

Eventually I used the ‘new’ broody coop to trap the sparrow-hawk and with Toby’s assistance managed to get it close enough to the gate to set it free.  We then found a dead chaffinch, which had obviously been chased in by the hawk and killed before I closed the gate.

I did say “sorry House Martins” as it flew off to kill again sometime.

Sparrow-hawks aren’t our only birds of prey here.  Buzzards are “two-a-penny”, but recently we’ve seen the goshawks again – they are nesting in the forest behind the house. A couple of weeks ago we also saw, for the very first time above here, a red kite, with its distinctive forked tail.  They are becoming common to the west of here and lower down on the more open fields, but to see one here was a treat.

We occasionally see the blur as a sparrow-hawk zooms past the windows in pursuit of a smaller bird, but to be that close to one for such a long time was a real privilege.  Seeing the talons, beak and beady eyes at such close quarters was something I’ll remember for a very long time.

Photo: Clement Hodgkinson

Bye-bye Layla

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The end of an era finally came yesterday when Layla Land-Rover set off for a trip across the sea to Ireland.

Layla (who got her name because she had a British Leyland badge on the grille when she arrived – soon removed!) came from the brother of our neighbour Rob about ten years ago – can’t remember exactly as the paperwork went with her on the truck.   Over the years she’s done less and less annual mileage and it seemed crazy to keep a vehicle for less than 1000 miles a year, what with MOTs, and insurance – at least the road tax was free.

Built in 1972, Layla was an early example of the Series 3 (or possibly a late example of the Series 2a) and had started life with a petrol engine.  Somewhere along the line this was substituted for a diesel, which made it more economical but a lot noisier!

Layla and Fergi in 2009

Layla and Fergi in 2009

Over the years I replaced the driver’s door, added a thick sound-deadening mat to the front, a capstan winch (which was both authentic and useful), better headlamps so I could see in the dark and a few other bits and pieces.

I decided in December that as soon as she’d been MOT’d for another year I’d sell her.  An ad on the Land Rover Owner website, brought 3 replies in the space of as many days.  The first came from Ireland – well at least the buyer was from Ireland but he was in the Canaries at the time! – so he had first option.  I discussed the sale with his son on the phone and a deal was done.   The money came through before Christmas and then I sat and waited for a collection date.

In early January a call came though to ask if it could be collected “in a couple of hours”.  This was 7pm so I suggested the following morning may be better especially as his truck would be too large to get up our road easily.  8.30 the following morning I rolled into Llanfihangel and there was the transporter.  The driver looked a bit unsure, and lo and behold, with the roofrack Layla was too high to fit on.  So back she came.

It was then another month before a similar phone call, but this time with a smaller transporter. Once again the roofrack was a potential problem, but with a bit of careful manoeuvring, on she went.

Just!

Just!

A quick cuppa later, she was on her way to a new life in Ireland.

Bye, bye Layla

Bye, bye Layla

A quick e-mail to the buyer enclosing this photo and the relevant part of the V5 into the post at last to the DVLA and that should have been the end of it.

Then the phone rang at about 7.30. It was the Police at the port.  “Are you aware that a Land-Rover registered to you is about to leave the country?”   Well, yes I was of course aware, but it was good to know that the forces of law and order were on their toes and alert to any Land-rover smuggling.

Today we woke to snow on the ground and falling, but hopefully the replacemnt Subaru will take it in it’s stride.

Postscript: Just after Layla went Smudge wandered into the shed to take up his favourite place – lying in the spare wheel cover on the bonnet.  Not finding it, he stalked back outside giving me a ‘not happy’ look.  However a couple of days later he is happy again.  The accessory tray from the Subaru is both wheel-shaped, warm and nicely positioned on top of the trailer – good, warm, views all round.  Result!!

Unusual visitor

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This winter we seem to be spending more on feeding birds than we do on ourselves.  The numbers of birds on the feeders has been amazing, often ten to twenty on each nut feeder in the front garden and almost as many on the smaller ones by the sitting room window.

The vast majority of these are tits (no sniggering at the back!); be they blue, great, coal, willow or long tailed.  Often there’s a nuthatch or two and the occasional woodpecker, but the last few days there’s been a new visitor, and Natalie put her wonderful new camera to use.

Goldfinch going for the nuts

Goldfinch going for the nuts

Goldfinch, blue and coal tits

Goldfinch, blue and coal tits

Fine views and red grass

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Yesterday we took a couple of hours off from gardening to go to the top of the hill behind our house to have a look and walk along the footpath repair work which the Brecon Beacons National Park has been doing over the last 9 months or so.  We’ve been meaning to do it for ages.  The contractors parked their vehicles and heavy machinery in our yard whilst they were doing the work and we had many conversations in all weathers as to how the project was progressing.

So here are some photos we took yesterday of the work and views from the hill behind our house…and some reflections on how this relates to the garden…

Damage to the bog

Damage to the bog

‘The bog’ is Waun Fach and a site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) very wet and peaty with boggy plants growing in it.  However, over the years it has become badly eroded due in part to motorbikes riding the ridge path illegally and the pressure from walkers (legally) trying to find a reasonably dry route through the very wet bits.  The path has got wider and wider with subsequent loss of habitat and all the important species that contains.  Moreover, the peaty run-off, I understand, has caused such discolouration to the water in the Grwyne Fawr reservoir that the water supply from this reservoir can no longer be used as potable water and is now off-line.

I won’t go into details here of project funding and the partners involved.  The photos, I hope, show what a lovely job has been (and is being) done to protect important habitats by improving the footpaths so that people can enjoy the spectacular landscape.

the new path winding into the distance

the new path winding into the distance

another view of the path

another view of the path

I wondered why this grey-coloured stone had been chosen for the surface – it’s not the colour of our local stone.  Apparently, (I will avoid getting into technical detail here because I am not an expert) it has something to do with the acidity of the bog.  Our local stone is old red sandstone which is what we have used for the paths and walls and other stone features in our garden – because it looks right but also because we are not short of stone in our garden – as anyone who has visited can testify.

The path in the photos above has been created by laying geo-textile of the surface of the bog and then covering this with crushed-up (not the technical term) stone for the surface.  A finer layer of finely crushed stone is then put on top.  This works for the flattish areas but doesn’t work on slopes.  A different technique is used here – stone pitching.  We have used this same technique in our garden.

stone pitching on slopes

stone pitching on slopes

Here you can see the difference in colour between the imported stone (grey slabs) and the local stone – much pinker.

And here is the view…

the view across to the Brecon Beacons

the view across to the Brecon Beacons

Breathtaking.

It’s also interesting and informative to take note of what is growing up there on this exposed windswept site.  I was particularly struck by the eye-catching swathes of red grass.

'red grass'

‘red grass’

This was growing in very wet areas and I thought how good it would look in the regeneration zone of our natural swimming pond.  On closer inspection I think I identified it as cotton grass which we already have.  Bought from a reputable nursery I must add, not dug up from our SSSI.  I presume that ours in the pond will turn red during the Autumn as the weather gets colder.

Heather is also much in evidence in the drier areas which reminds me that there are areas in our garden into which we could introduce the native heather to good effect.

Alongside the eroded areas of path on the slopes heather has been strewn so that the seeds will fall and heather will be re-established.  It will be interesting to take this walk again in a years time to see how successful this has been.  This technique should work in the garden if the conditions are right.

repairing the damaged slope with heather trimmings

repairing the damaged slope with heather trimmings

The scar on the left of the photo above is the old path strewn with heather.  The new stone-pitched path meanders up the slope on the right.

heather 'strewings'

heather ‘strewings’

Work is also being done to prevent the water running off and washing the peat away.  This involves a simple technique of blocking the ditches – see photo below

preventing run-off

preventing run-off

All in all a brilliant example of what can be done if agencies and organisations work together to achieve mutually beneficial objectives.  And we can enjoy the views without getting our feet wet…

Now back to the garden and harvesting the rest of the potatoes whilst the weather remains dry.

A few recent pics from the Garden

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We’ve been so hard at work recently getting ready for next Sunday’s (10th) NGS Open Day – big hint!! – that blogs have dried up a bit.  So to whet your appetite here’s a few quick photos of what is flowering now.

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So come along and see this all “in the flesh” on Sunday 10th May from 11am to 5pm.  Adults £4, children free!! (no dogs unfortunately)

Teas, plants, garden accessories for sale.  Bring a picnic for an al fresco lunch by the river!

Goshawk update

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Just when we thought it was safe (for the ducks) to go back into the water……..

….. the goshawk came and sat on the willow arch by the sheep shed.

Hopefully lambs are going to be too big as we are expecting twins soon!