On a Cool, Damp Day in Early Spring…


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Slow to get going, this early Spring has been a bit of a roller-coaster weather-wise, with temperatures yo-yoing up and down almost on a daily basis. On occasional days the sun has been hot enough to burn, but most have been cloudy cool and at best damp from frequent rain showers. But the progress of Spring carries on apace and I don’t want to miss it, so I remind myself that cool, damp, cloudy days can be just as  rewarding as warm sunny ones, especially if you’re out between showers or soon after rain has stopped. On such a day I headed for one of my favourite places to meander – alongside the little River Colwyn where it runs through Old Colwyn and completes its journey to the sea. 

On damp grassy banks the flowers of celandines and daisies are closed against the damp and lack of sunshine.

The river is rarely deep, but today it was full enough to cover most of its rocky bed, shallow enough to create falls and white water where levels drop down, and running fast enough to make itself heard as it raced towards the sea.

The limestone wall that keeps it within bounds, damp from recent rain is decorated on the road side with opportunistic little plants; prettiest now were ivy-leaved toadflax with its little lilac-mauve flowers and the succulent grey-green leaves of a stonecrop.

Coed Myn y Don Woodland

The board illustrating some of the variety of trees that grow in this remnant of woodland is slowly being integrated into its surroundings, but is just about legible. Part natural woodland and part garden, there’s an interesting mix of flora here, trees, native wildflowers and cultivated ones blend well, and together with the river they help make this a valuable haven for some of our local wildlife. In places though, wildflowers are in danger of becoming overwhelmed by rapidly-spreading winter heliotrope, as I’m finding increasingly in other local spots I visit.

Winter heliotrope spreading beneath the info board

The golden flowers of a plant I hadn’t noticed here before caught my eye. Growing through grass and other plants, a small patch of the rather inelegantly named opposite-leaved golden saxifrage, which favours growing in damp, even boggy shady woodland places.

On the sloping bank that follows the curve of the river are primroses, which smelt delicious, common dog violets, wood anemone, whose flowers were closed and dog’s mercury.

Over the years, this has consistently been one of the very best places I know for hearing and seeing birds, and I wasn’t to be disappointed today. A chorus of birdsong accompanied the sound of the water; I stop to listen and although the songsters are hidden from sight, I heard a melodious blackbird, a robin, a few notes from a wren as it broke from cover and a taunting chiffchaff, one of my ‘targets’ for today, which frustratingly I couldn’t locate.

Tan y Bryn Gardens

On the bank just inside the entrance to the gardens the strange other-worldly shoots of one of our most ancient wild plants, horsetail, are already grown quite tall. A notoriously stubborn garden invader, I wonder if some of the plants are deliberately left, or whether they just refuse to be banished. A little further on, where water pools at the bottom of the slope, another alien-looking bud, this one enormous and belonging to the giant gunnera (aka giant rhubarb) with its correspondingly enormous leaves.

I stopped to listen to a song thrush. Perched in the shade on a branch of a tree close to the path he was singing enthusiastically, as song-thrushes do, then every so often pausing. In those intervals I could hear another song thrush singing from some distance away, in the woodland that continues on the other side of the road. They were clearly communicating, perhaps confirming their territorial claims, or maybe just having a conversation, discussing the sorry mess their human neighbours are making of things.

song thrush singing

As I stood listening to the thrushes, a robin, rapidly followed by another flew right in front of me, so close I’m amazed they missed me. They headed straight into a shrub, routing out a third robin, which flew out at speed and dived into a tree. The other two, most likely a pair, were right on its tail and the three of them chased across the road, where the ‘invader’ departed, leaving the others to regain their composure on a garden wall.

They weren’t the only ones chasing about; just seconds later two dunnocks raced past me. One disappeared from sight while another landed quite prettily in the middle of a flowering shrub.


Moving on, I was keeping an eye on the river and also scanning the rooftops of houses opposite, hoping to catch sight of a grey wagtail, always one of the special birds I hope to see here.

The damp short turf alongside this stretch of path is a favourite spot for foraging blackbirds and I’ve also seen both song and mistle thrushes here on occasions. Today it was left to a single pair of blackbirds out hunting together, which probably means they have young, hungry offspring to feed.

Nearing the top end of the gardens, one of my favourite local trees overhangs the path. A Japanese cherry, this beautiful tree is one of the highlights of a walk here at this time of year and is a total treat for the senses. Its snowy white blossom, which usually appears before the leaves, looks beautiful and has the most delicious rich honey-almond-y fragrance, which on a warmer, sunnier day might have been visited by bees. I’m not entirely certain, but I think it’s a Mount Fuji Cherry, named for the holy Japanese mountain covered with eternal snow

Following on from the sublime beauty of the tree, the next part of the path, which together with the river, passes under buildings and the main road through the village, has less appeal. Sadly, this lovely little river is prone to having rubbish thrown into it, most frequently glass and plastic bottles and drinks’ cans etc., but also random bigger items. Today’s photograph contains the frame of a pushchair.

Nearing the underpasses, I was distracted from thoughts of littering and fly-tipping by a flash of yellow and the flickering movements of a bird amongst the thicket of old ivy that covers the wall to the right of where the river flows through. There, inspecting the dried materials amongst the twining stems, a female grey wagtail was taking her time searching for pleasing pieces, which I think it’s safe to assume, would contribute to the construction of a nest.

grey wagtail pair

She was joined by a slightly brighter, more colourful male, who made several attempts to get closer to her, but definitely wasn’t interested in helping to collect nesting material. I watched them for quite a few minutes – she picking out bits and dropping them when she found something better; he flying off and coming back several times until they finally flew off together, up and over the wall and away over the houses on the far side of the road. Not the direction I’d expected, but maybe they were making a distracting detour to their nest site.

female grey wagtail

Some of the lack of beauty of the pedestrian underpass has been made up for by some colourful, well-painted graffiti on the outside entrance and along the inside walls of its length. At the moment it’s further enhanced by one of the biggest patches of ivy-leaved toadflax I think I’ve ever seen.

Inside, my favourite piece of graffiti art cleverly depicts the part of Abergele Road, which is immediately above, but as it may have looked when the tram ran through it, and also the viaduct which spans the bottom of the road where I began my walk.

Llawr Pentre

The underpass leads through to the part of the village known as Llawr Pentre. Down below the level of today’s village, this was where Old Colwyn originated and was where the ford across the river was located. Here too were a flour mill, dating back to pre-1750, a farm, a slaughter house, a wheelwright, a saddlery, and a butcher’s shop. Now it is purely residential and the access road lined with parked cars. Maybe not the most attractive part of the river’s journey, but it runs through regardless, and perhaps surprisingly, it is often a part visited by grey wagtails, so always worth a look. And lo and behold, as I was lingering noting wildflowers on the river edge, in flew this beautiful male who landed first on an overhead cable, then flew down onto a ‘for sale’ board. First thoughts were this was the male I’d seen on the other side of the underpass, but he had the black throat and bib of his breeding plumage, while this one didn’t.

The path loses the river for a while as you have to divert around private grounds. Steep steps lead up to a lane which you then follow towards the woodland dell of Fairy Glen. At the top of the steps a female house sparrow was feeding on seeds of a sowthistle. She is doubtless one of the members of the flock that inhabit the thick mixed hedge that borders one side of the lane. Hearing the lively cheeps chirps & squabbles of the house sparrow couples hidden from view inside there always make me smile when I pass by here.

The row of cottages along the lane are a draw for a variety of bigger birds and most of the roofs, chimney pots and aerials have been claimed as perches, roosts or nest sites. Todays there were pairs of herring gull, wood pigeon, collared dove & jackdaw, all looking a bit ruffled and fed up with the weather.

Fairy Glen

The river is visible once more, and down below at the bottom of the dell its sound is amplified by the steep banks that bound it. Birdsong adds to the music of the water, I pick out blackbirds, robins and great tit, then chiffchaff and blue tit. More raucously there’s the cooing of wood pigeons and the cawing of crows which remind of the closeness of houses.

The trees are still mostly leafless, but the steep sides of the dell and lack of bright sunlight keep it shady. At ground level there’s plenty of greenery from abundant ivy, lush ferns and patches of celandines. In places the well-trodden path is wet and muddy.

Great swathes of wild garlic cover much of the woodland floor and their pungent aroma fills the cool, damp air. It’s not flowering fully yet, but there are plenty of budding stems, so it won’t be long.

Someone’s been busy digging out a new pond

Here and there are little patches of early dog violets

and bright fresh green leaves of hazel

Although there are plenty of birds to be heard, I only had glimpses of foraging blue tits and robins that fly up from where they were singing as I got too close. I heard a nuthatch calling but couldn’t see him. Chiffchaffs continued to elude me. The only photograph I managed was of a wood pigeon keeping a beady eye on me from where it was tucked into a tall holly tree

Perhaps the birds sensed it was about to begin raining before I felt it. Time to turn around and head back.

Retracing my steps, still enjoying the sound of the river and birds singing despite the rain, I realised that I hadn’t met a single other person whilst I’d been here and had had all of this to myself.

Back out onto the lane, I met a man that lives in one of the cottages as he was putting out seed for the birds. He told me he does that twice a day and has his ‘morning birds’ and his ‘afternoon birds’. That probably accounts for the line of feral pigeons on his roof.

Re-joining the river in Llawr Pentre, I took this picture to show where it passes under the road and buildings, cropping out the cars that are always parked in a line close to the river’s edge.

Above the entrance to the underpass, watch out for the herring gull! This is one of several 2-dimensional images of our iconic irrepressible gulls that can be found located around Colwyn Bay.

Heading back through the gardens gives another chance to enjoy the glorious cherry blossom

The indignant blackbird in a the tree below had just chased off another male.

Curving back through the gardens this is perhaps the best view of the river.

The final view of it is as it disappears into the culvert taking it beneath the road, the Expressway bridge and the viaduct where it has quite a sad end, emptying into Colwyn Bay as what is called an outfall.

Wild on the Streets


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This is one of the best times of year to look for street flowers here in Rhos on Sea. Seeds will have had the chance to germinate and those plants with speedy life-cycles should be able to complete them before Easter, whose imminent arrival usually prompts the big clean-up of streets and other public spaces in time for the holiday, to welcome and impress an influx of visitors. With that in mind, on a sunny but cool day, I walked the route from my home to the sea-front, taking the roads and streets I’ve always found best for flowers and if I’m lucky, other wildlife too. My walk begins on Tan y Bryn Road, which at this end has something of a country lane feel to it. On one side, mature trees and gardens half-hide several big Victorian houses, now converted to Residential Homes, that are backed by the woodland of Bryn Euryn. On the other side, there’s a variety of houses of differing sizes and ages, with gardens also of varying sizes and maturity. In front of one, a strip of mown grass was providing happy hunting for a blackbird.

In the shade at the base of a fence an Italian lords-and-ladies brings a touch of the exotic to the roadside. This is plant is included in most wildflower books, where it may also be named as rare lords-and-ladies, described as Nationally Scarce and listed as near-threatened. This is because in the wild in Great Britain it is only found very locally near the south coast, elsewhere it is much more widespread as a garden escape, as it is here.

Italian lords-and-ladies Arum italicum

Close by, on an otherwise dull street corner behind a wooden bench, is a patch of three-cornered garlic, or as I know it, three-cornered leek. This is another plant with its origins in the Mediterranean region, but introduced here close to 300 years it is now perfectly at home here. Both common names refer to the stems, which are triangular in shape. Another common name is white bluebell, and it’s east to see why. If you look more closely you’ll see the flowers are similarly bell-shaped and pretty, but unlike a true white bluebell, each petal has a fine green line on the outside. The whole plant smells quite strongly garlicky and is edible. This patch, has been thriving for several years and unless it’s ‘tidied up’, it will continue to flower for months to come.

A house sparrow sitting chirping on top a hedge took me by surprise; this is the first one I’ve seen this far up and away from the main part of the village, so I hope that’s a sign that their numbers are increasing here and are moving out to find and establish new territories.

Limestone walls, built from locally-quarried stone form the boundaries of gardens and grounds along many of the roads and streets of the village. Cracks in them give refuge to a variety of wandering plants, and their bases trap leaves and accumulate layers of dust and dirt blown by the wind and washed in from roads and pavements. In their shelter, you never know what seeds might have been deposited and found the perfect haven, or become trapped there while seeking a more hospitable home. Many will start to grow but won’t come to much, succumbing early to drought, being sprayed with chemicals to kill them off to ‘tidy up’ the streets, or just from having landed in the wrong place at the wrong time. Those that survive and thrive are most likely to be annual plants with a speedy life cycle; bittercress, common chicory, groundsel, dandelions and sow-thistles always do well.

One of our prettiest wildflowers both in flower and in leaf is common fumitory. This flowering patch currently adorns the base of a wall opposite the entrance to Bryn Euryn Nature Reserve.

Here I crossed over into Rhos Road, one side of which is one of the best roads I know for spotting opportunistic plants, both wildflowers and garden ones bent on making an escape. This little group has common cornsalad, groundsel, herb robert, St John’s wort and other seedlings as yet too small to see properly.

Further along aubretia, or rock cress, a popular garden rockery plant rubs leaves with hairy bittercress and yet more groundsel.

On the corner of a driveway, purple-leaf shamrock, dandelion, purple toadflax, sow thistle, bittercress and more groundsel vie for space.

Perhaps the most surprising plant of the day was this Danish scurvygrass. It is a sea-side plant, so it’s in the right location, but I’ve not found it growing around the village beach or seafront, so I’d love to know how it got here.

Danish Scurvygrass Cochlearia pyrenaica

Although sunny, it was quite a cool day, so I was surprised to spot this little bee moving around amongst the leaves of a dandelion. I don’t know what species it is, but I think most likely a mining bee.

The opposite side of the road is shaded and in part lined with lime trees. I imagine that once these lovely trees formed an unbroken line, but now just 17 of them remain, with gaps of varying lengths between them. It’s such a shame the empty spaces have never been filled. The trees are broad-leaved limes, which now have new red twigs with leaf buds that are characteristically shaped like a boxing glove. Aphids love these trees and are already to be found on twigs, just waiting for the leaf buds to open.

Twig and leaf buds of a broad-leaved lime – with aphid

Nearing the village centre the busier main streets are not as hospitable to stray plants and I hurried on to the next spot I know that offers sanctuary, appropriately the base of the wall around the church. Here I found common mouse-ear, a bit straggly and not quite fully flowering yet, but there just the same.

Around the corner, as I’d hoped, I had more joy. I’ve found a few little treasures here in the past and today there were a few more There was more bittercress and common mouse-ear, both growing through a lovely patch of common whitlow grass which had reached a size and height that I could get a reasonable photograph of.

Next to that, a touch more groundsel and the leaves of a shining cranesbill made a pretty picture to finish with; I hope it survives long enough to flower.

Scouting Signs of Spring


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Snow was forecast to reach us later in the day today and the prediction for the next few days sounded like stay-at home-and-catch-up weather. As there’s always the possibility they’d got it right, I had to take the opportunity to get outside while the going was still fairly good to scout for signs that spring is not too far away. The bright sunshine pouring through my windows had been deceptive. Outside it was very cold, bitterly so when the wind intermittently blew, and I headed for some shelter in the woods, I was soon glad of the extra layers I’d piled on.

There are two choices of path through the first part of the woodland; the ‘official’ signposted public path and one that is a little higher up, accessed by scrambling inelegantly up a rocky bank, which is the one I took today. This is my favourite path, less used and with more of a feel of ‘proper’, older woodland on either side. Even at this time of the year there’s usually something interesting to see; there are some lovely big old trees and there’s always the likelihood of catching sight of a bird or two along here too.

On either side of me I could hear the contact calls of blue tits and close by the scolding calls of a small bird, made whilst flitting animatedly from branch to branch of a small tree. The sun shining behind it meant I had to squint to see it properly, but as I suspected, it was a lovely little long-tailed tit. Fingers crossed it was one of a pair and they’re nesting somewhere close by.

Several trees have been lost from here over the last few years. Any loss is sad, but there’s some compensation in that the space they occupied and the extra light allowed through to reach the lower levels of the woodland, new plants have the opportunity to grow. There’s competition along the path edges, budding twigs of seedling ash cluster close together for now, but eventually some will thrive and others won’t. Other seeds fortuitously landed in more spacious spots and are growing quickly into sturdy saplings. Amongst them, no surprise, are several sycamores and a little less expected, a couple of horse chestnuts. These saplings have already begun to release their new leaves from their tight buds, needing to grab as much light as they can to help fuel their growth before the big trees open up theirs and close off the canopy. Both have the most beautiful buds that are just beginning to open.

As well as the sapling trees there’s a mixed scramble of shrubbery along the path edges, ground-covering ivy, long whippy canes of dog rose and thorny lengths of bramble snake out seeking spots in which to touch down and take root. Honeysuckle, always one of the first woodland plants to put forth new leaves clambers over whatever it comes into contact with and climbs upwards trees where it can. There’s an abundance of holly in plants of varying sizes; and checking one or two of the bigger shrubs I found one that already has flower buds. Closed tight at the moment, these are buds on a male plant and they will open up into tiny white, scented flowers. It will take there to be a female plant nearby to benefit from the pollen of the male flowers if there are to be berries. There are touches of mahonia, which despite managing to flower each year and increasing in number of plants, doesn’t seem to really thrive here; plants stay small with thin foliage and leggy woody stems. Although it’s an ‘incomer’ to the woods, its early flowers are a useful source of nectar and pollen for early foraging bumblebee queens.

Jelly-ear fungus Auricularia auricula-judae

The felled trunk of what I think was a sycamore tree caught my eye as it’s smothered with the fascinatingly formed jelly-ear fungus Auricularia auricula-judae. This fungus is also known by the common name Judas’s ear, translated from the Latin auricula – ear and judae – Judas. Unfortunately, at some point in the past this was mis-translated and was frequently also referred to as the now unacceptable Jew’s ear.

Strongly associated with elder trees, these old common names for the fungus came about in part because of their distinctive shape and because Judas Iscariat, the betrayer of Christ reputedly hanged himself from an elder tree. The accepted English name is now jelly-ear, which aptly describes both the shape and texture of the fungus and is unlikely to cause offence.

Towards the end of the path, the alexanders plants are flowering. A particular favourite of yellow dung flies, I’d already found a couple of them in this spot on an even earlier flower a week or two ago. Not today though -it was way too cold, even with their little furry coats.

Some spurge laurel plants still have flowers, others flowers and forming fruits and some just fruits.

In an open space a young hazel tree is gradually securing its place and is showing a good number of new fresh green leaves.

There are still catkins on the mature hazel trees. but they’re starting to look a bit straggly and worn now. These dangling tassels are the obvious showy, pollen-bearing flowers of the hazel and are male. You have to look much closer to find the female flowers, which when fertilised will develop into nuts; they are bright dark pink, but very tiny and remind me of miniature sea anemones.

A branch fallen from a tree has been left to lie across the path. It’s only slender, but it’s provided a barrier against trampling feet and cold winds and together with leaves trapped against it, it has provided a safe place for opportunistic plants. False brome (grass), lesser celandine, nettle and speedwell have all found a foothold here.

Out on the Woodland Trail, the flowering currant, another sometime garden escape has both its pretty pink blossom and new leaves.

male flowers of yew

Yew has separate male and female trees and they too are flowering now. On some trees the male pollen-bearing flowers are quite prolific and very visible. In close-up they look like miniature heads of cauliflower in close-up.

Female flowers are tiny and green and are much harder to see. I did look, but admittedly not too hard as it was too cold to stay still for long and I couldn’t find any today.

male yew with clusters of tiny flowers

Further along the trail, the tall not-so-wild, cherry plum is still flowering beautifully, but not for much longer. Already many white petals are sprinkled like confetti on the earth of the trail beneath it, and it has already opened most of its new, red-purple tinted leaves.

On the muddy bank at the junction of the Woodland Trail with the ‘shortcut’ up to Adder’s Field the white sweet violets are out, although not doing too well this year. It’s not too surprising given the weather of the past year, but at least they’re clinging on. A purple flower amongst them caught my eye – there have only ever been white violets here that I have seen, but a closer look showed it to be an especially early, early dog violet.

This is often a good spot in which to see birds. There’s almost always a robin here, often the sight or if not, the song of a wren to be heard, blackbirds forage along the trail edges and in past years there have been mistle thrushes. Today a robin did appear for me, and there were glimpses of blackbirds rustled ivy leaves as they lunged for ripe berries. There were more sounds than sightings – a couple of disturbed wood pigeons clattered out of the trees, a great tit chimed his song, crows cawed and herring gulls squawked – a reminder that even though surrounded by woodland the sea is close by. Not a day for too much hanging about, I took the shortcut up to the field and came upon one of the treats of the day. A gorgeous jay was on the ground, rummaging in the deep leaf litter. It may have been searching for one of its autumn stashes of acorns, or perhaps was hoping to find insects. This is a hard time of the year for hungry birds.

Coming out from the shelter of the trees into the open field I was met by a cold wind and the first tentative flurry of fine snow. As I was about to move quickly on, another little bird caught my eye, a coal tit at the top of a branch of a small ash tree. This was my first sight of one so far this year and I’ve never seen one in this part of the reserve before, so another treat for the day.

The Cherry Plums

As I mentioned in my previous post, each year I look forward to seeing the ‘wild’ cherry plum tree here in its full glorious snowy-white blossom. Visiting it has become almost like an annual pilgrimage, a vision to behold at the end of winter that promises the approaching spring. I’d been a bit worried that I might have missed it at its best as I’d been away for a week or so, but having already seen the not-so-wild one earlier on, I was hopeful. It did not disappoint – despite there being a few petals sprinkled on the ground beneath, it was as beautiful as it could be, loaded to the tips if its branches with perfect starry white flowers.

The flowers of cherry plums almost always appear before the leaves and there are still only a few new glossy green leaves open yet; enough though to show the difference between this tree and the similar one on the other corner of this bottom end of the field. Quite young yet, this one is more of a tall shrub than a tree. It too has been flowering for a while, and has very similar-looking, although sparser pretty white blossom. It has already opened most of its leaves, which are quite well-grown. Tinted purple-red, the leaves show it has grown from the fruit of a cultivated variety of cherry plum, perhaps the similar big tree on the Woodland Trail that I passed earlier.

Walking up the hill to the top end of the field through thickening falling snow I picked up my pace and covered my camera, thinking I’d done for the day, but then the wind dropped and the snow stopped. As my dad would have said though, the sky was still full of it, so no doubt this would just be a brief lull.

Time though to have a look at the progress of the oak tree leaf buds – still tight as yet. At the end of one twig, what looks like a cluster of leaf buds is a knobbly growth produced by the knopper gall wasp, Andricus quercuscalicis, that causes ridged outgrowths, or ‘galls’, on the acorns of our native pedunculate oak. Forming in August they are sticky and red at first, then later become woody and brown. A second generation of the wasps then develops in the catkins of turkey oak.

A sky full of snow covering Colwyn Bay

Tucked into the shelter of blackthorn, a patch of budding celandines and leaves of lords and ladies, some marked with dark spots, others not.

Almost home – snowy white sweet violets carpet grass.

.. a pretty forget-me-not…

…. and a grey squirrel, watching me pass. Doesn’t it know they’re supposed to give us a break and stay tucked up indoors when it snows?

January on the Bryn


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As last year was drawing to a close I began thinking about how to go forward with this blog and how I might keep it fresh, interesting and not too repetitive. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that visiting and reporting on what’s happening in the same places year on year still interests me as much as it ever did. Finding things have stayed pretty much the same over a period of time is reassuring, and no matter how often you visit a particular place, there is almost always something new to discover and learn about. Also, in the rapidly-changing times we are experiencing, it’s increasingly important that we notice the ifs, the wheres and the whens of our local everyday wildlife, how it is faring and to note any changes. With that in mind, I set off for my first walk of the year to see what I could find around my local patch on Bryn Euryn.


The walk began with a bit of a shock – a sign declaring that the woodland I’ve come to know and enjoy over the past eight years and was about to walk through, is for sale! 

It’s not the whole of Bryn Euryn’s woodland that is on offer, but this privately-owned area, which covers a sizeable 10 acres or so, and fronts the Local Nature Reserve, is some of the oldest. There are some lovely big old trees here and it provides nesting and foraging habitat for a good number of species of birds. It’s also the only part of the woodland that has bluebells and wood anemones, both indicators of an old, maybe even ancient wood. In an ideal world, our local council, who own and manage the adjacent nature reserve would take it over, but I suspect the asking price might be too high for them. In this particular area, where there is great demand for property, my fear is that it could potentially be built on. 


A good clump of polypody fern

Despite the lack of its green canopy, the woodland is always green to some extent, in every season. There are serious dark evergreen yews and plenty of holly that catches and reflects back beautifully any available light. Tree trunks are clad with the borrowed greenery of ivy, which rapidly races high up almost every available vertical surface, and more that scrambles to cover the ground beneath them. 

Several fern species stay green throughout the winter too. Male ferns are fairly frequent, and there’s one spot alongside the path I took today, which has a lovely fresh spread of polypody fern. It suffered badly in last year’s summer heat and drought, but has recovered fully and come back better than I’ve ever seen it. The backs of the fronds are covered with neat clumps of spores, or sori as they are properly known.

There are several species of polypody fern which superficially all look similar, so it’s difficult to be sure which one you’re looking at, unless you’re an expert, which I’m not. Based on a few key points I think this one could be western polypody, Polypody gallii, but I can’t say for sure.

Some ivy berries are ripe, others are not.

At the top of this first rise of the path it meets with two others. At this junction there is a big spreading holly bush and next to it, another less usual evergreen, spurge laurel. This particular plant is getting to a good size now and is just beginning to open its pale lime-green flowers, which are pretty and smell lovely too, should you feel able to get down to their level!

Through the bare branches of the trees, although still sunny here on our side of the valley, low cloud sat over the distant hills and a misty haze hung over the land below.

One of my favourite parts of this path passes between a stand of Scots pines, (known to me on my own mental map as the Pine Grove). Most of the tall, straight trunks of these characterful trees lean to some degree, at a variety of angles, while way overhead, their long limbs bend and twist in the strangest of ways, as though they’ve been frozen mid some strange, swaying waving wind-dance. Sadly, in recent years, several of their fellows have been lost, some brought down in storms and one or two felled as they were in danger of falling.


The path carries on upwards, soon joining up with the Woodland Trail that circuits, and in parts, forms the boundary of the Nature Reserve. About to step onto the trail I stopped as first I heard, then spotted, a small party of blue and long-tailed tits that were foraging in the scrubby vegetation behind the wooden bench. This part of the Trail is one of the best places to see and hear a good variety of the bird species that are resident or migrate here, and several reliably stake territories and nest close by. One of my favourite trees grows here too – a big, rather battered old sessile oak that has lost a few branches, but battles on. Silvery grey in the bright sunlight against a dark blue sky, its limbs lifted skywards, it must surely be enjoying soaking up the warmth? I wonder if the great tits will nest in the cavity of its thick bottom branch again this year?

At this point I almost always hesitate and debate with myself which way to go. Reminding myself that part of my original plan for this walk was to see what, if  anything, there was in flower, my best chance of that was to go the most-trodden route and turn left. There’s a small amount of gorse along here that was just beginning to open up a few golden petals, which I’m always happy to see (and smell!), but thus far not a single other stray wildflower, nor even a catkin.

The lack of leaves, flowers, insects and other such distractions leaves space for noticing other things. The sculptural shapes of the trees, the textures of bark and lichen on twigs and branches. The sounds and glimpses of birds; a robin singing or perching, head cocked watching for movement in the leaf-litter below then pouncing down on it. A brief sight of a tree-creeper spiralling up a tree trunk. Tits calling to one another as they scrutinise trees for hidden prey, the gronk of a raven passing overhead. Woodpigeons flying on creaking wings then crashing in to land on the lookout for ripe ivy berries. Then, nearer to where there are houses below, argumentative magpies screeching and crows cawing harshly. 

On bright sunny days the leafless trees let through the light and show slices of the views beyond them. The shadows of their trunks and branches create intricate criss-crossed patterns on the ground. The track surface, eroded by the elements and by the traffic of walkers is bumpy, and in places you have to keep your eyes down to avoid tripping up, so although I meant to, I didn’t notice if the line of hazels had catkins; although, to be fair, they would have been above my head height anyway. 

The bank between the main trail and the ‘shortcut’ to the field is damp, sometimes even wet, and muddy in all but the driest of weather. Perhaps because of its dampness, it’s a good spot for wildflowers; it’s the only spot I know of in the woods where sweet violets grow. The flowers are white and very often get spattered with mud, but the patch is spreading year on year and odd plants are cropping up nearby too. In a good spring there can be a nice lot of lesser celandines, and later in the year a couple of plants of hedge woundwort. There were new violet leaves amongst the leaf-litter today and on the very wettest part a patch of bright green liverwort.  

Taking the shortcut up to the field, I hoped to see or hear a mistle thrush, but no such luck. Near the top of the track I noticed a patch of leaves of Alexanders – it’s range within the site is spreading year on year, perhaps because of seeds being eaten and spread by birds, or perhaps more likely by seeds picked up by, then falling from the soles of walkers’ shoes.

Fresh green leaves of Alexanders


The views from this side of the field are always good, but perhaps better now while the trees are bare of leaves. Even after years of living close to coasts, I am always amazed by the depth and intensity of the blues of winter skies and the sea on sunny days.

cherry plum tree – flowers early in the year

A short way from the bottom end of the field grows a cherry plum tree. Once again, as far as I know, this is the only one on the site of the reserve, and I would love to know how it came to be here. Cherry plums are the first of the trees to produce blossom, which comes out during February or early March before the leaves appear. I like to start checking this one early, so I don’t miss it in its glory. It’s a bit early yet, but the flower buds are already beginning to swell, so it won’t be too long. 

The field edges are bordered with an interesting mix of plants – mostly prickly ones, including gorse, brambles and a lovely stretch of burnet rose. Later in the year this will be one of the best spots in which to see butterflies and a range of other insects. 

I thought I might find one or two unseasonally early- blooming wildflowers here, but I think it’s been too cold lately for even the hardiest of them.

Adder’s Field, Bryn Euryn

There are fresh leaves though; salad burnet pushing through a layer of leaves and rockrose cushioned against bright green moss.

I loved the contrast of the fluffy seed heads of a sunlit wild clematis – aka the aptly-named old man’s beard or traveller’s joy, with the thorny dog-rose, which still has a few over-ripe hips clinging to it.

Flitting around the oaks at the top of the field, a small party of blue and long-tailed tits, maybe the same ones I saw earlier, maybe not.  

long-tailed tit

As I said earlier, the majority of the deciduous trees have lost all of their leaves, but every year there are one or two small oaks that hang on to theirs throughout the winter.

Trails meet at the top end of the field and as I wanted to continue to go up, I turned right to join the Summit Trail. Here too gorse is beginning to flower and the spiky bushes are studded with golden buds.

On the opposite side of the track bronzed bracken and the dried stems and seedheads of hemp agrimony still stand.


The track rises quite steeply through shady woodland for some way, then leads out into the light and open space at the top of a limestone cliff revealing this amazing view, which surely no-one could ever tire of. Here you can see the A55 Expressway snaking along the valley towards the mountains, with a glimpse of the river Conwy in front of them. The village of Mochdre is to the left, and the the not-so-lovely, but necessary recycling centre, which with some irony is located adjacent to the crematorium.

The grass and scrubby vegetation that provided great habitat for butterflies, bees and other insects back in the summer has been cut down, but should soon begin to grow up again. 

On an exposed limestone rockface I found lichens and cushiony moss and growing from cracks, the pretty fern called wall rue Asplenium ruta muraria.

on limestone: lichens, moss & wall rue

At the summit there were people practising flying a drone accompanied by their big dog, which bounded over and stood barking at me. People that know me well will know my thoughts on this (!) I’m not afraid of dogs, but it did make me nervous- you never can tell why they’re actually barking at you – and it took a few minutes before they called it back and put it on a lead. I had wanted to get some photographs from here, but took this one of a very blue Colwyn Bay and quickly moved on.

The long grass and scrubby shrubs at the edge of the hillside going down from the summit has also been cut down. In the summer this is where, hopefully, pretty common spotted orchids will grow and it will become once again the domain of the glorious dark green fritillaries. New trees are growing here, oaks and silver birches, which will eventually extend the woodland, but for now a single Scots pine has the hillside and the views over Rhos on Sea all to itself. 

Scots pine

At the bottom of the hill, finally, hazel catkins! This particular tree is usually one of the most reliable I know for producing a consistently good amount of catkins, but as with other hazels on the site it seems to struggle to produce many nuts.

An acrobatic blue tit foraging in a nearby oak tree finished off my walk nicely.

Squirrelling Away……


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Here in our corner of North Wales we are enjoying a gloriously colourful and particularly bountiful autumn. This year is another ‘mast year’; a natural phenomenon, still not completely understood, where some tree species produce very large crops of seeds in some years, compared to very few seeds in others. In the UK the last mast year was as recent as 2020, when oak trees across the whole country produced thousands of acorns. This year it’s an unusually big one; you might have noticed exceptional amounts of hawthorn, holly, rowan berries and sloes too, I certainly have, but more about that in my next post.

Over a few recent days, from my front windows, I’ve noticed a lot of grey squirrel activity taking place on the lawn in the grounds of the flats where I live. Now to put it politely, I’m not generally known to be a fan of grey squirrels, for many reasons and in our locality, it often seems we have more than our fair share. Having said that, at this time of year it would take someone with a much harder heart than mine to not enjoy watching the annual ritual of them scurrying around, nose to the ground, teeth clenched around precious treasure, searching for a spot in which to bury it. Here, where sessile oak trees abound, it’s most often an acorn, but unusually at the moment, I’ve spotted them with much meatier horse chestnuts. This is interesting as there are very few horse chestnut trees nearby, and those I know of rarely produce more than a few fruits each year. The nearest one I can just see the top of from my window is probably about 30 metres away behind other trees. Perhaps this year it too has produced more chestnuts than usual. 

A moment of indecision – where to go to bury this acorn?

Grey squirrels are well-renowned for their intelligence and resourcefulness and are notorious as opportunistic and resourceful garden bird-feeder raiders, so perhaps it’s not surprising to learn that when it comes to finding and then burying nuts, an apparently simple process, there is much more to it than first meets the eye. When it comes to selecting food for their larders, squirrels are picky; each and every nut making it to their larder will have undergone rigorous quality control. When a potentially good one is found, it is picked up and held in a paw to be scrupulously examined and assessed on its potential for long-term storage. Before burying the appearance is scrutinised carefully – there must be no visible signs of damage or infection. The weight is also crucial, a well-chosen nut will feel firm and heavy, a lighter one may be under-developed or occupied and partially eaten by a boring insect. Only those nuts passing all tests will be buried to keep fresh for future consumption.

A grey squirrel giving a horse chestnut the once-over before placing it in the ground

Once a burial spot has been chosen, the squirrel uses its front paws to dig a hole 2.5-5cm deep, then drops in the nut, ramming it in with its mouth.

A hole is dug and the nut dropped in

When it’s satisfied the nut is firmly in place it replaces the soil, patting it down to firm it. A final check to make sure no-one is spying is made, then leaves are placed on top to disguise signs of recent digging.

The nut is covered with soil and firmed in

A nut buried is by no means guaranteed to stay there. In the wake of an interment, all kinds of subterfuge and blatant piracy is likely to ensue.

An interloper about to dig up a recently buried chestnut

If an individual suspects it has been watched by another squirrel, it may wait until it feels safer, retrieve its own treasure and re-inter it in another spot. And there are always those that have no scruples (or perhaps less experience) that will enter a territory to steal from one more conscientious and industrious. Sometimes they will make off with their stolen booty and re-bury it as their own, and sometimes they have even less scruples and will simply sit and eat it right out in the open.

One piece at a time the squirrels build up a supply of food when times are good to save them from hunger when there is less available during the winter months, bearing in mind that grey squirrels in particular only hibernate during extremely cold weather. They work extremely hard to conceal a huge number of items in a scattered pattern (called scatter-caching) as a degree of insurance against discovery by other squirrels, mice or birds. But using this apparently random method of hoarding, how do they remember where they have buried their treasure?

A lucky grey squirrel can expect to enjoy a long life and it seems their brains get bigger the older they get. Not only that, but researchers have also discovered each autumn their brains get bigger again, and it’s this added capacity that enables them to create a huge mental map of where their treasure is buried. So, when they get hungry, it’s thought that memory guides the squirrel to the general area and then scent guides it to the specific location of a cache over the final few centimetres.

No matter our personal feelings towards these often-contentious little animals, one redeeming feature may be that many of their caches will remain untouched. Here in the UK, it has to be acknowledged that this behaviour practised by both red and grey squirrels contributes to tree dispersal, and therefore plays a part in regenerating our native woodlands; (and equally important, in the case of reds in particular, they also aid fungi dispersal). It’s such a shame they are so destructive; they are fascinating to learn about and entertaining to watch.

Conwy Marine Walk


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It was a view from Conwy’s town walls while on my earlier jackdaw trail that prompted this walk, reminding me that though I’ve often walked the Coast Path in both directions almost to and from the town and beyond, there were parts in the middle I had missed, including this stretch from the end of the quay around to the marina. It’s not a long walk and I imagine that at times it could get busy, but on this out-of-season winter weekday I met very few people and those I did all exchanged ‘hellos’ or at least a smile.   

To my surprise the town was quiet when I arrived here today, with less traffic and people than I think I’ve ever seen; at not far off noon on a sunny winter’s day I’d thought it would be busier. 

Castle Street, Conwy

The quayside was almost deserted, emphasised by the scarcity of herring gulls calling or hanging about on the alert for an opportunistic snack.

Conwy Quay looking towards the castle and bridge

The tide was out, which always changes the dynamic of a place too; many birds rest, conserving their energy for when the tide turns, hopefully bringing fresh food in with it. Numbers of herring gulls were gathered together sitting peacefully on distant sandbanks in the shallow water, while two nearby were alternately preening with just standing in the sunshine.

View from the quayside across to the hillside of Marl Woods

Other birds, like this oystercatcher and a redshank, continue to forage, stalking the exposed mud and sand on the hunt for buried shellfish.

The quayside is itself on the  route of the Coast Path and accessible to walkers. Cyclists have either to dismount or take a detour around the town, but they do have the option to rejoin it at the point I was heading for a short way beyond the harbour wall. 

Menai Strait & Conwy Bay special Area of Conservation 

On the far side of the wall, a board informs that “The water you see in front of you is a Marine Protected Area. It is special because of the way the sea is channelled down the narrow strait, creating whirlpools and areas of fast currents, and then opens out into Traeth Lafan and Conwy Bay, where slow currents lead to sediments being deposited in large sand and mud flats. It is a wonderfully diverse area which supports a rich array of marine wildlife such as corals, sponges and brittlestars, and birdlife like common scoter, wigeon and oystercatcher.”

Beginning at the top of a gentle downhill slope, the first view from the path takes your eye across to the far side of the estuary to the distinctive hill known as the Vardre, rising behind the small town of Deganwy. The path looks intriguing. Curving around between the shoreline and woodland, I imagine each bend will reveal a different perspective on the panoramic views. I can’t decide whether the palm tree adds or detracts from the view, but it looked quite at home against the blue sky on this sunny day.    

The path levels out and the wall lowers, opening up the view onto the exposed shore and the hills across the river.   

Rounding the bend you get a great view of Deganwy fronted by its promenade with the centrally-placed shelter and backed by the iconic double-summited Vardre.

View to Deganwy and the two summits of the Vardre

Bodlondeb Woods

The woodland which shades the path and is contained behind the stone wall is Bodlondeb Woods. Located in what were once the grounds of a Victorian mansion, they are now managed as a Local Nature Reserve. Presently the woods are home to a variety of trees, including a number of non-native species such as this enormous holm, or holly oak which leans dramatically over the wall, extending almost all of its branches and heavy evergreen canopy of leaves across the path. It seems plans for future management of the woods include the removal of some of the introduced trees to encourage native species and improve conditions for wildflowers. I’d like to think this one will be safe for as long as it stays healthy.

Holm oak – Quercus ilex – also known as holly oak or evergreen oak

Rounding another curve the view opens up to the headland of the Great Orme and the point at which the river meets the Irish Sea and the end of the Menai Strait.

As I stopped to photograph this view, a little party of wigeon swam into view , they were travelling slowly along the water’s edge, their eyes on the water, foraging for food. There’s a lot of seaweed along this part which in places covers piled rocks that slope from the path boundary down into the water. Exposed now by the receding tide, partly coated with mud and drying out in the sun, it wasn’t smelling particularly pleasant.

A little further along, some distance away I could make out a group of birds on the edge of a stream of water coursing along between high banks of mud. They were difficult to see in the bright sunlight, but having seen the three wigeon a short while before, and from their ‘gis’, I’m sure these were more of the same.

Half-hidden beneath the rise of a mudbank a little egret was focussing on something in the shallow water, intently following its movements, turning its head and shifting position, ready to strike. No luck this time though. The redshank behind the egret demonstrated a different hunting technique – it had its head almost completely immersed in the water.

Little egret and redshank

Rounding another bend, the path passes by a school and ends quite abruptly, emerging out onto a path running alongside the A547. The view in front of you now is filled by the rugged bulk of the headland of Penmaenbach, a part of the Carneddau Mountain range which marks the northern end of the Snowdonia National Park.   

If you were trekking the length of the Coast Path, you’d now have a decision to make. You can continue to follow the Coast Path towards Llanfairfechan, which after a bit of detour through a housing development you can rejoin, or you can take the considerably longer, but spectacularly scenic route up and over Conwy Mountain and across the hills. A map here shows your options, although it’s a bit high up on the fence and the ‘you are here’ right at the top of it, which is not too helpful to less-tall people like me.

As I’m not trekking the whole length of the Coast Path, I had already planned to make the Marina today’s destination as it’s still more or less on the Path and is the site of some interesting local history and humanly-altered geography. To reach it I turned right here to follow the road, which soon crosses over the A55 Expressway, then cut through the housing development to reach the walkway that runs the length of the frontage of the Marina. 

Conwy Marina

Despite how it now blends into the river scenery, the Marina is not a natural harbour, but came about as a result of the construction of the Conwy Tunnel, which takes the A55 Expressway beneath the estuary and was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on the 25th October 1991. The site the marina now occupies was once a part of Morfa Conwy, but one of the first processes undertaken when the tunnel work began was to excavate a huge basin, within which six sections of the tunnel tube were cast. When they were completed, an opening to the estuary was created, filling the basin with water. The tunnel sections were kept afloat with buoyancy devices, towed to their final positions in the estuary and lowered into a trench dug across the bed. The water-filled casting basin was developed to provide 500 pontoon berths, making it the largest marina in Wales, and opened in 1992. 

Mulberry Harbour

The plaque on the seating shelter overlooking the harbour commemorates both the 50th anniversary of the Normandy D-day landings of WWII, and also the construction here at Conwy Morfa of the Mulberry Harbour which was used in the landings.

‘Mulberry’ was the codename for a World War II project to build parts for two harbours which would be floated to northern France to aid the re-occupation in 1944. The original prototypes for them were designed by Hugh Iorys Hughes, a civil engineer originally from Bangor who foresaw that the Allied troops would need to build harbours on distant beaches because the main French ports were too heavily guarded. From 1942 to 1944, almost 1,000 men worked here to construct three giant caissons, known as Hippos. A major training exercise in July 1943 demonstrated the difficulties of landing troops and supplies on beaches, and in its wake thousands more men around Britain were diverted to the project, constructing more than 200 caissons in various parts of the country. The structures were towed to France and linked to form two harbour walls, enabling large numbers of vehicles, personnel, communications equipment and other supplies vital to sustaining the frontline forces as they pushed deeper into enemy territory, to be taken ashore.

A further memorial can be found beyond the marina on Conwy Morfa, reached either from here by following the path around the left of the marina, or if the memorial is your destination, from the nearby car park.

Marina to Conwy Quay

A547 to Conwy town-Cast Path entrance is opposite the pine tree.

Leaving the memorial I retraced my steps, followed the walkway that runs the length of the marina,  turned right past the The Mulberry restaurant and bar and cut across its carpark to get back to the A547 and the path back to the quay. 

The little egret had worked its way further upstream along the muddy channel and was much closer to the path now, almost at the point where the stream runs beneath the road. They are such a joy to watch, stirring up the surface of the sand or mud they are standing on then watching intently for a movement, keeping focussed, waiting for the right time to strike with its long dagger of a bill.  

A blue-painted footbridge crosses the stream; it’s closed off at the moment, otherwise I’d have been tempted to walk over it to see where it goes. 

On the muddy but grassy bank below the wall I spotted a bird moving around, surprisingly well camouflaged it took a minute of trying to focus in to realise it was lovely plump meadow pipit.

The mud is so soft and oozy that even this lightweight redshank (they weigh only about 120g) was leaving quite deep footprints behind it.

RedshankPibydd Coesgoch

The resting flock of ducks was still there in the sheltered valley between the sloping mud banks. With a better view of them from this angle I was happy they were indeed wigeon, with one or two redshanks in  amongst them too.


Another huge tree leaning over the wall may be a sessile oak (or may not); I’ll have to come back and check in a few weeks time when it has leaves.

The woodland is on a hill and as the sun lowers behind them, the trees cast a wide shadow over the shore. 

Another tall tree with a interestingly contorted branches frames a view of the castle and bridges half-concealed in a shadowy haze.

There were foraging birds on the shore now, jackdaws were probing the pebbles, and a redshank and an oystercatcher were inspecting the muddy sand. A herring gull was watching the oystercatcher intently, whilst stalking towards it.

The oystercatcher stopped, probed its bill deeply into the mud and pulled out a large shellfish, a mussel I think. 

I must have looked away for a split second and missed the action, but next thing, the herring gull has the prize! It either snatched the mussel directly from the bill of the oystercatcher, or the oystercatcher dropped it momentarily and the gull grabbed it. The poor oystercatcher left the scene, probably in a huff, while the herring gull carried its ill-gotten gains away; now it just had to work out how to open it.  

At the end of the path the robin was singing as it had been when I began my walk, but this time I could see him perfectly and allowed me to take his photograph. I thanked him of course. 

Blowing Away the Cobwebs


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Wednesday last week started out enticingly clear and sunny, perfect weather for a walk on the coast path to blow away the cobwebs. But, despite knowing full well how changeable the weather can be here on the North Wales coast, I dilly-dallied, doing stuff that could easily have waited till later. By the time I was ready to go it had started to cloud over and there was a strong breeze blowing. But it wasn’t raining and from my window I could see sun shining over the far side of Colwyn Bay, so that’s where I decided to head for.  

Llanddulas, with an interesting landscape and mix of habitats, is the perfect place to combine meandering-with-intent and if required, a brisk walk along the coast path, despite its bleakness on days like today. As I pulled in to park my car behind the defensive wall of rip-rap, two hopeful gulls landed on the ground close by, one a black-head gull, the other a herring gull. Even here the local gulls have come to associate cars with people with food, especially since lock-down brought more visitors and subsequently more people in camper-vans. 


The river (Afon Dulas)

The river’s water level is low at the moment, giving the opportunity for repairs to made to parts of its banks that have been quite badly eroded. The worst affected spots are those where people regularly leave the path to get down to the water; these spots, already weakened have been further damaged at times when the river level has been higher after storms and heavy rainfall.        

Looking downriver towards where the river soon meets the sea there are more eroded areas, one spot on the bend reaches very close to the edge of the coast path.

Crossing the bridge, I stopped to watch three mallards that were heading upstream towards me; a female  flanked on either side by two males. They seemed to be in no particular hurry, cruising steadily along paddling against the flow of the river, dabbling as they travelled. The water was surprisingly clear, and though it was rippled and textured by the wind, I could see the ducks’ heads as they searched the riverbed. All are looking very handsome in their bright breeding colours and I wondered about there being two males and one female; mallards start to pair up around October or November, so was one male hoping to entice the female away from the other, or was she torn between the two?

The wind was getting stronger and as it was blowing from the north-west, I could feel it pushing me along as I carried on following the course of the river to where it meets the sea. It was invigorating and all cobwebs were quickly dispatched, and I tried not to think about the walk back against a head-on wind.

The Strandline

At its end, the river is guided to its meeting point with the sea by a great man-made wall of piled rocks and it’s behind that the shoreline becomes accessible. 

The tide was just on the point of turning, and the wind was pushing some big waves towards the shore where they crashed and left foamy trails as they receded. There is no shelter from the elements anywhere along this exposed section of the coast and today, even the hardy herring gulls, often here in great numbers, were conspicuous by their absence.  

When the tide is in there is no visible sand, so it’s not greatly attractive to people, but this rough stony area of the shoreline is always interesting, both in terms of what plants grow here and what the waves may have carried in and left behind them on the strandline.  

The strandline here at Llanddulas is almost always interesting and is a good place to find some of the bigger and tougher shells, although many get damaged by the rocks and stones on the lower shore. A lot of twiggy and small pieces of wood get mixed in with the drifts of seaweed too; some is probably  driftwood, but as there are trees on the other edge of the path it’s likely that much of it is from there. Sadly, there’s also usually a lot of plastic waste amongst the treasures, endless metres of fine fishing line that gets tangled into seaweed, discarded wipes, plastic bottle tops and spent shotgun cartridges are some of the most frequently found items. I always pick up what I see and today ended up with at least half a bag full of stuff to put into the rubbish bin, but it’s frustrating knowing there’s a lot more out there that really doesn’t need to be.

The gulls may have been spending their day elsewhere, but there were several carrion crows about. One flew in and landed close to me on the rise of pebbles on the sea edge, perhaps interested to see if I’d found anything edible as I probed in the piles of seaweed. 

My activity also caught the interest of a free-running dog that came racing over towards me from the path, taking no notice of its owner’s attempts to call it back. It was a cute dog, but I didn’t want its excited company, and more importantly, I’d spotted a line of resting birds along the sea-edge just ahead of me and didn’t want the the dog to catch sight of them too and race over and disturb them, something that happens all too often here. This time I managed to divert it back towards its owners and the birds were left in peace. 

Oystercatcher – welsh Pioden y Môr

Oystercatchers seem, happily, to be maintaining good-sized populations along this coast and Welsh estuaries, but that is not the case generally, as highlighted in this recent post by Graham Appleton:

Over recent decades, numbers of Eurasian Oystercatchers have declined. In 2015 the species was reclassified as “Near Threatened” on the IUCN’s Red List (Birdlife International) and “Vulnerable” within Europe. It is also Amber listed on the UK’s Birds of Conservation Concern list, due to its European status, the concentration of its wintering population in protected sites and the international importance of UK breeding and wintering populations.

When Oystercatchers can’t find food

Not shells

Moving on, a bit higher up on the beach there was more to see, including pieces of ‘stuff’ that are found blowing around on beaches practically everywhere and some that I’ve only recently become aware of.

whelk egg cases & horn wrack

On the left of the photograph, a bundle of the dried empty egg-cases of the common whelk.

On the right is a piece of dried almost fabric-like hornwrack. It looks like a dried piece of seaweed, but is actually a colony of animals, meshed tightly together, each animal contained in a little box. When it’s alive, hornwrack grows only during spring and summer, forming bushy clumps attached to shells, stones, cobbles or rocky seabeds and is a pale beige colour.

dead-man’s fingers

I first came across a piece of the stuff in this photograph on New Year’s Day whilst out collecting shells with my little granddaughters on Rhos on Sea beach. There was a lot of there and I was intrigued by it, although they both said it was ‘disgusting’! It does look a bit odd, I admit and it feels strange, very light and a bit corky or spongy. It turns out that it is commonly known as dead man’s fingers, which in its life is a soft coral whose scientific name is Alcyonium digitatum, which also references fingers, an indication of how it grows.

It was interesting to find it here too and others have found it on beaches further along the coast, so I wonder if it all originated in the same place, brought in by a recent storm and carried on currents to be washed up in various places?

fresh leaves of yellow horned-poppy

On a calmer day I might have lingered here longer, but my hands were getting cold and I can’t operate a camera with gloves on. I took them off again to photograph this surprising sight ; the new green leaves of a yellow horned-poppy plant, then headed back over to join the coast path.

Back on the path I deposited my rubbish collection in a bin in front of the café/bar next to the caravan site and carried on, still blown from behind by the wind. This stretch of path towards Pensarn is edged on the sea side by a narrow strip of ground which in the spring and summer  months becomes a colourful border full of wildflowers. 

Presently, it is largely covered by grass and spiked with tall dried stalks, the remains of last year’s flower stems, but already the bright green leaves of Alexanders are growing strongly.   

Watching the sea crashing in against the fortified shore brings home just how powerful it is and how vulnerable to its effects the land is.

In the near distance I could see a few gulls flying around the posts of one of the groynes and although tempted to turn around here, I wondered why they were here when all others were elsewhere. As I got nearer I was more mystified; the gulls were perching on the tops of posts and flying up just as each big wave broke behind them, momentarily covering the post. It was entertaining to watch, almost as though they were playing a game of ‘chicken’ – seeing who could stay the longest before being hit by the rising water. 

Common gulls – the perched bird has its first-winter plumage

I couldn’t get close enough to the birds for a really good look, even with a zoom lens, but at least two  were definitely common gulls, which we don’t get to see many of; in fact here is the only place I have seen them for myself. These gulls are slightly bigger than a black-headed gull but much smaller than a herring gull. The common gull also has greeny-yellow legs rather than the red of the black-headed gull and the pink ones of a herring gull. The best photograph I managed was of one flying, which shows its bill, finer and more pointed than that of a herring gull and the larger ‘mirrors’ on its wingtips.  

Common gull – Larus canus

My original plan had been to carry on walking to Pensarn beach, but the thought of walking back against the cold and increasingly strong wind from even further away took away my enthusiasm for that and I headed back. As suspected, it was indeed a bracing walk back and I stopped only once for long enough to take a photograph of the view in the direction I was now walking in. I think I’d be a bit concerned if I had one of those mobile homes close to the shore edge. 

Note to self: don’t park your car this close to the sea wall on windy days- salt spray is not good for it!

On the Trail of the Jackdaws of Conwy Town


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The walk around Conwy town and its wonderfully preserved town walls is one of my all-time favourite trails, particularly on a clear sunny day; the views over the town, the estuary and the surrounding countryside are spectacular, whatever the season. There are many ways to enjoy this iconic town, but on this Trail I’m hoping to give a different perspective through the lifestyle of one of our most familiar everyday birds, the jackdaw, which have a special status here.

A jackdaw is the town’s unofficial mascot and appears as an icon crowning its signposts. 

The ramparts of Conwy’s iconic medieval castle and the walls that enclose the town have been home to countless generations of jackdaws since its construction during the 14th century, and the birds are an integral part of the town’s everyday nature and it’s culture. People born within the town walls can claim to be a Jackdaw, although their numbers are declining today as most of those that qualify for the title have reached their 80s and 90s, and the majority of babies are now born in hospitals outside the town.

Jackdaws are the smallest members of the crow family and familiar residents of most parts of Britain, with their presence and numbers being largely influenced by the availability of  locally suitable nest sites. They  nest naturally in places such as cavities in trees and on cliffs, but the greatest number choose to live alongside us, taking advantage of habitats we have created, including the exposed rocky walls of quarries, ruined and occupied buildings and, since the advent of central heating, in chimneypots. Historically, they are also well-known for nesting in church steeples, as noted in the first verse of ‘The Jackdaw’, by the 18th century English poet William Cowper (1731-1800):

The Jackdaw
There is a bird who, by his coat
And by the hoarseness of his note,
Might be supposed a crow;
A great frequenter of the church,
Where, bishop-like, he finds a perch,
And dormitory too.   

In Welsh folklore, this particular nesting trait led to the bird being considered sacred and evidently being shunned by the Devil as he ‘hates the church and everything belonging to it’. 

The Trail

There are several options for parking in and around the town, but having driven here and because of the route I had in mind for my trail, I began this one from the Gyffin Road carpark, which is ‘Pay & Display’ and located a short way beyond the town walls off Mill Hill (LL32 8NN). A first encounter with jackdaws is very likely to here, as ever-opportunistic there are often a few strutting around the carpark on the look out for treats. 

A brightly-painted subway leads from the carpark to the town and amongst other depictions of aspects of the town and its surrounds is a Jackdaw, Jac y Dô in Welsh, and above it the first verse of a ‘nonsense’ rhyme, still traditionally sung by children, including mine many years ago.

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It so happens that it’s one of the few that I remember the words and tune to, so every time I pass this I have it stuck in my head for the rest of the day! In Welsh it scans nicely and goes:

Jac y Do
Mai welais Jac y Do
yn eistedd ar ben to;
het wen ar ei ben y dwy goes bren
ho ho ho ho ho

In case you were wondering, it doesn’t translate well into English. The words don’t rhyme and don’t fit the tune at all!

The Jackdaw
I saw a Jackdaw
sitting on the roof;
a white hat on his head and two wooden legs
ho ho ho ho ho

Leaving the subway there are two options to get up to town level, either via two flights of fairly shallow stone steps or a zig-zagged slope. At the top is a stone archway between two towers of the town walls and in my picture you can just make out a tiny bird perched on the spotlight in the ‘window’ of the left-hand tower, which close to is an actual jackdaw.

The other side of the archway one of the access points to the town walls is found. Above the archway you can see a square hole in the stonework, one of many peppering the castle and town walls. These recesses, thought likely to have supported scaffolding as the castle was being built, account largely for the jackdaws’ presence here. They make perfect nesting places, snugly recessed within high sheer walls and safe from predators. 

In front of you is one of the afore-mentioned town signposts topped with a jackdaw icon, the town’s unofficial mascot. Close by is the visitor centre & art gallery and across the road St Mary’s Church. 

Jackdaws about town

At the bus stop

On Castle Street, on top of the gables of number 11 you are sure to see jackdaws, as forged from iron they can’t move far! The building bears the date 1539, but has origins in the mid-15th Century. It has undergone many changes of use since then: in the 18th century it became an inn, called the Black Lion, and is now a private house. The jackdaws are a 20th addition by a previous owner of the house; perhaps they commissioned them as they had been born within the walls and this was their way of stating their birthright? They are very convincing.

Iron Jackdaw on top of the gables of 11 Castle Street

In the town’s Guildhall on Rose Hill Street, there is a Jackdaw chair on display, a large wooden chair that bears the town crest and a jackdaw. Apparently the chair was once housed in the Castle Hotel and legend has it that whoever sat in it had to buy a round of drinks. It’s not clear how or why, but the chair left the premises and came to light when put up for sale in an auction in the south of England. It was bought by the Jackdaw Society who gifted it back to the town. (The Guildhall was closed on this visit, due to Covid restrictions, so the photograph is from the History Points website.)

A few real birds were hanging out around the rooftops and archway leading to the harbour. They may have been foraging for insects hiding in the stone crevices as well as keeping an opportunistic eye out for any dropped food scraps. At this time of year there are less visitors and less gulls, so less competition for the smaller jackdaws.

To access the town walls from here, I went through the archway to the harbour, a slightly convoluted way to get to the wall access I was heading for, but much more scenic. At the far left-hand end of the harbour I walked through the arch and then left up the hill to where a Postern Gate is located. The gate is double-arched, one over the road, where Town Ditch Road curves into Berry Street, which leads into Castle Street and the smaller one for pedestrians, behind which are steps giving access to the walls. 

This is the longest continuous length of the wall and is on a fairly steep slope in sections marked by towers leading up to the Watchtower.

From here on the views are pretty spectacular. The photograph below shows on the left-hand side the harbour and beyond it the volcano-shaped hill called the Vardre. On the nearside is part of the Bodlondeb woodland, in glorious autumn colour, around which curves the Wales Coast Path leading towards Bangor via Penmaenmawr and Llanfairfechan.  

On the right-hand side you can look down on Lower Ditch Road and across it to Bodlondeb Park and the railway line where it emerges from Conwy tunnel heading to Holyhead.

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On the wall of the road-bridge is a plaque which commemorates the commencement of the railway in 1845 and Robert Stephenson the famous engineer largely responsible for its construction.

A little further along is the much more recently constructed Culture Centre with more lovely trees surroundingit.

Jackdaws don’t have sole tenancy of the walls, especially outside their breeding season. The shadow reaching towards the building is cast from one of the towers that punctuate the wall and this particular one has been taken over by pigeons, two almost completely white ones and at least three pairs of the more conventionally coloured ones. They were clearly in the throws of nesting (pigeons breed throughout most of the year), noisily asserting their places in the recesses, or ‘pigeon holes’, in the stone walls with their breasts and neck feathers puffed out. The holes must reach a good way into the walls as you can’t see the birds once they are inside, but you can certainly hear them – the stone acts as an amplifier and increases the volume of their ‘cooing’ to almost car-engine level! If I hadn’t seen the birds and only heard the sound I wonder if I’d have known what was making it.

As I mentioned before there are not as many Herring gulls around town at the moment, but despite people’s best efforts to deter them there are always some. They’re way too canny to be taken in by a couple of stone owls.

As I got close to the Watchtower I spotted the first Jackdaw I’d seen for a while, but it didn’t stay long.

This is the highest point of the wall and the logical place for a watchtower; the views, as near to bird’s-eye as you can get, are far and wide, especially on a clear sunny day such as this, and just breathtaking. 

This is also the junction of the walls from where you can look back along the way you have come and change direction to walk downhill towards the town and to meet up with the castle itself.  

The walkway slopes down to the next tower, which is Upper Gate -I like the little sign warning you that the entrance to it is low.

Beyond that I carried on walking to the Mill Gate and took the steps down to leave the wall, which bring you down near to the railway station. To get back into town, walk along the station platform, take the steps up to Rosemary Lane and turn right to cross the bridge. At the end of the road you are at the junctions of Lancaster Square, Rose Hill Street and High Street.

From the bridge you get a view of the archway in the old walls that the railway line passes beneath. It’s a much-photographed sight and despite the proximity of the station and the town, it has an ethereal feel to it and wouldn’t be out of place in a Tolkein story.

From here I retraced my steps back towards the castle, and in the hope of spotting a few more jackdaws, I followed the path through the archway to the back of the castle. From here the scale of the castle and the height and sheerness of the curtain walls is most apparent and awe-inspiring. How could you fail to be impressed by the symmetry and roundness of the towers? It really is an incredible achievement of design and engineering.  

At the side of the path is an intriguing piece of machinery: I don’t know what it is although I have a few theories: I will keep trying to find out, but am hoping someone reading this will know and help me out.

Jackdaws foraging on the grass at the back of the castle

If you continue to follow the path towards the estuary you see the entrances to the tubular railway bridge. This was a pioneering design credited to the renowned engineer Robert Stephenson, although he is said to have enlisted the help of others including Isambard Kingdom Brunel and William Fairbairn. The ingenious engineering takes the route around the south of the castle on a purpose-built ledge, disappearing into two iron “tunnels” which are also a bridge over the estuary.

And it was here that I finally saw Jackdaws as I’d hoped – peering down at me from a niche in the rounded wall of a tower. The perfect way to end a wonderful walk.

The Butterfly Effect


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Just a few short short weeks ago things weren’t looking too hopeful for our summer butterflies; the cold, damp start to the season had kept their numbers low and every sighting of any species was gratefully received and shared on social media. With many species already in decline, the predictions for the success of this year’s summer broods were edging on pessimistic and on many days, when out on walks I didn’t see a single one. Half-way through this month, a guided ‘Butterfly Walk’ was scheduled by a friend that regularly records the butterfly transect around Bryn Euryn, the limestone hill in North Wales which is at the centre of my ‘patch’. In preparation he’d done a recce the day before and his sightings were so few that he put out a warning that evening suggesting people may want to postpone the event and try again in a week or two! No-one cancelled, probably as most of are of an age where we’re not constantly checking our emails or social media sites, and about 20 of us gathered as arranged. Perhaps we were also a little giddy with the excitement of our very recent release from some of our Covid 19 restrictions (Wales has been a tad more cautious than England), and this was the first time we’d been allowed to meet up outside of Zoom since lockdown began. So in the spirit of ‘mad dogs and English/Welsh men and women’, we set off on this boiling hot Sunday afternoon (the beginning of the heatwave) to walk up to the top of the hill, 430 feet (131m) closer to the sun in the hope there’d be at least a few butterflies putting on a show for us.  

Long grass on the cliff-edge providing perfect habitat for meadow butterflies

Of course it was well worth the effort, or I wouldn’t be mentioning it; in the space of 24 hours the butterfly species count had magically rocketed from practically zero to most of those we’d expect to see here on a good day at this time of year, plus day-flying moths The count for each species wasn’t high, but the majority of those we saw were fresh and all were highly mobile and in a group that size, numbers of pairs of eyes meant we didn’t miss seeing much. But the best part was watching the effect these particular insects have on people of all ages; some excitedly enjoyed the first sightings of rapid-flying Dark Green Fritillaries while others crouched down around a plant to witness the mating of a pair of Small Skippers. All captivated by the fluttering of wings and for a few magical moments, completely absorbed and transported into another dimension. Butterfly chasing should definitely be put on prescription!

Although I’d thoroughly enjoyed the company and butterfly sightings seen by the group, I’d missed photographing the fabulous-but-flighty Fritillaries, so as the hot weather seemed to be holding, I wanted to go around again at my usual meandering speed and a couple of days later I set off to see if I could fill in the gaps. This time I wandered up through the woods where the paths and trails are shaded and it’s a pleasant degree or two cooler than out on the open hillside, which surely has to be one of the best reasons for planting more trees in a warming climate. 

A lovely fresh Comma and its shadow were a great start to my walk
Woodland paths are edged with False Brome grass

Now the tree canopy is more or less closed and limiting the light reaching the ground, flowering plants are scarce and as the earth dries out any that aren’t designed to cope quickly wilt. Built to withstand such conditions, one exception is Wood Sage, whose flowers seem particularly suited to Common Carder bees. Nipplewort, an annual plant with tiny yellow flowers and slim wiry stems always seems to find a few agreeable spots along these paths too.

As always I stopped at the fence on the woodland boundary to look out over the meadow on the other side. The long grass was cut on a mild, sunny day back in January this year, which at the time I remember thinking seemed like a strange time to be doing that, but it doesn’t seem to have mattered as now it’s grown tall again and I could see there’s also Hogweed and Ragwort in flower and it’s full of Knapweed in bud. I could also see it was alive with butterflies – mostly Meadow Browns as far as I could see, which was a good sign there would be more to see in more accessible places higher up. There were clearly other insects about too – my photo was ‘bombed’ by what could be a wasp or maybe a hoverfly!

Meadow with long grass and butterflies

Stepping onto the Woodland Trail that circuits the Nature Reserve it was hot – too hot now for insects such as hoverflies that would all be hiding away under leaves or on tree branches. Birds are mostly beginning a ‘time-out’ in which to rest after a busy breeding season and to moult their old feathers and grow new ones, so it was very quiet. The total lack of a breeze was even keeping down the ever-present traffic noise from the valley below.

Leaving the woods behind I joined the Summit Trail, more or less at the point where we’d begun the butterfly transect on Sunday. The small field here used to have a good patch of long flowery grass at this lower end, but perhaps due to more trampling and changes in the weather patterns, it’s not as good as it used to be for butterflies. Today there were a Small Skipper and a few Meadow Browns flitting about in the grass, but far more of the latter around the field edges where there is scrubby vegetation with low bushes of bramble and gorse. I  counted to roughly 30, all busily chasing about low in the grass and around the brambles, with none settling for even a quick snap. The wildflowers are a bit sparse too, some Lady’s Bedstraw, a scattering of Rockrose, a few clumps of Keeled Garlic and the odd Harebell were all there was to see. The huge spread of Hemp Agrimony is just beginning to open its flowers and on the opposite side of the field the Burnet Roses have a good crop of hips; red now, but they’ll ultimately ripen to black. One of my favourite sights now are the feathery globes of Goat’s-beard that stand like little beacons in the shorter grass. 

From the open field the trail goes up through the woods again, so there’s another short break from the heat, although the slope is steep. At the top is the clifftop with the long grass and scrubby vegetation pictured at the beginning of the post, and it was here that during the last two days, butterfly numbers had increased the most dramatically. Where there had been maybe 20 or so on Sunday, now there were more than I could have counted of Meadow Browns, a good number of Gatekeepers, lots of little Small Heaths, several Small Skippers, one or two Brown Argus, a Grayling and possibly even a Dingy Skipper. Standing out amongst the crowd of brown and orange butterflies were dramatic red and black 6-spot Burnet moths. All of these species are dependent on tall grasses as food plants for their caterpillars and as adults they take nectar from flowers, so where there’s a good area of long grass with wildflowers in it, they don’t need to move far. 

6-spot Burnet Moth on Creeping thistle

The hot sunshine had coaxed more flowers into bloom too, particularly the blue-lilac Scabious, which is a favourite of butterflies and of many other species of insects too. 

On a cooler day I would have lingered longer around this one spot and doubtless found even more than I did, but the heat out on the open hillside was intense, and if I was to find Fritillaries I had still to get up to the summit and down the other side of the hill. When I first began exploring this hillside, back in 2012, the management of it was quite different; the long grass would have been kept shorter and Ragwort considered a noxious weed and kept at bay. Gradually attitudes have changed and over the years the plant has spread considerably and a result, as well as providing important nectar and pollen for invertebrates, the numbers of plants supporting the unmistakeable black and yellow striped caterpillars of Cinnabar moths has also increased; some plants had several, others one or two. 

6-Spot Burnet moths mating above a newly-vacated cocoon

Going down the other side of the hill it was Burnet moths that dominated the airways, flying low in, over and about the grassy slope. Many would have been newly emerged from their alien-pod like yellow which are frequently seen attached to grass and other plant stems. Often there is a mass emergence, with males emerging first. They then sit above the cocoon of a female and wait for her to emerge, pouncing on her to mate before she’s barely had time to draw her first breath of fresh air.

Amongst the grass on this side of the hill you can find some of this site’s loveliest wildflowers, Common Spotted Orchids; most are at the end of their flowering now, but while following one of only two Dark Green Fritillaries I saw today I found a few fairly fresh ones. There was some Dropwort too, the dry limestone grassland relative of the similar-looking moisture-loving Meadowsweet.

On the other side of the trail, where the hillside is left much to its own devices a lovely pink-purple haze of Rosebay Willowherb stands out against a backdrop of trees. 

Rosebay Willowherb

Despite my best efforts, I didn’t get my photo of a Dark Green Fritillary, but it was too hot to chase about, so I sat on the grass for a short while and enjoyed watching those I saw; they are impressive – and very fast on the wing! Luckily I have a stack of photographs taken on other occasions in this exact spot, so here’s one I made earlier.

Dark Green Fritillary on Scabious

As so often happens, there were compensations; close to where I’d stopped a Brown Argus landed on Ragwort and another fresh Gatekeeper on nearby Hemp Agrimony.

Then as I was about to turn and head back home, my favourite of all the summer butterflies, a perfectly beautiful little Small Copper landed first on a stone at the edge of the trail then flew up to a nearby Ragwort; my first sighting of one this year and a perfect note to finish on.



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January arrived quietly this year, bringing with it a mix of winter weather. It’s been consistently pretty cold, with even the mildest days barely rising above 4° C, but we’ve had ethereally misty days, drizzly-rainy days, bright sunny frosty days and even some snow. In between, more than a few days have been dull, sunless and still, the kind of winter days that feel like time’s been suspended and the day somehow never really got started before it was over. But little by little the days are getting longer, and on my restricted Covid-lockdown-exercising-only-from-and-to home-route around my local woods, there are definite signs that spring is not so far away.

A wintergreen path carpeted with shed leaves

The shed leaves of the deciduous trees, mostly oaks, ash and sycamores lie in a thick carpet on the woodland floor and are still covering the less-trodden tracks. Their absence allows through the bright winter sunlight and also highlights the extent of the permanent greenery here; indeed, there’s so much of it you might feel you were in a tropical forest if it wasn’t so cold. There are several species of evergreens contributing to the winter verdure; dark brooding yews, tall twisted Scots pines and masses of shiny holly, all of which are native plants. Then there’s Holm oak (also known as Holly oak or Evergreen oak) and cherry laurel, both non-natives and classed as invasive. But most responsible for creating the jungley ambience and linking everything together, is just one species of plant; ivy. It is quite literally everywhere, covering the ground, clothing tree trunks and forming leafy frames to woodland views.

How ivy affects trees

Although prolific amounts of ivy may look unkempt and alter the appearance of trees, there are some common misconceptions regarding the effect this climbing plant has on them. The first is that ivy kills trees: be assured it doesn’t, and neither is it parasitic. Strong, healthy trees are not adversely affected by ivy; its roots take no nourishment from or through a tree’s bark, and the tree’s leaves don’t allow enough light through for the ivy to grow too vigorously.

It is only when a tree is naturally weakened and begins to die back that ivy will reach into the thinner crown, so ivy doing particularly well in a tree might indicate a tree that is already struggling, but it will not have been the cause of the tree’s sickness. In this instance though, the ivy may make a tree more vulnerable to wind damage; the added bulk of the ivy increases its resistance during high winds and may make it more likely to be blown over, so hastening the tree’s demise.

About ivy

There are two subspecies of ivy that grow in these woods, both of which are native to Britain: these are the climbing Hedera helix ssp. helix and Hedera helix ssp. hibernica, which doesn’t climb, but spreads across the ground.

Specialised hairs on ivy stem

Ivy is an evergreen, woody climber which can grow to a height of 100ft (30m). The stems have many fibrous, clinging, adhesive-covered roots which help it to climb. Mature older plants develop thick woody stems that can allow them to become self-supporting.

The leaves are dark green and glossy with pale veins. The leaves on non-flowering young plants have 3-5 lobes and a pale underside. On mature plants leaves are oval or heart shaped without lobes, although leaf edges may sometimes be wavy.

Ivy is an essential part of the habitat, providing food and shelter for a diverse range of different organisms.

Holly Blue Celastrina argiolus

Being evergreen, ivy provides year-round dense cover for a wide variety of wildlife. During the winter it offers hibernation sites for many insects, which in turn attracts birds that come to forage for them. Butterfly species which survive the winter in their adult form often hibernate in ivy, including the lovely Brimstone, usually amongst the first species on the wing in the spring. Ivy is also the foodplant of the second, or summer generation of the caterpillars of the beautiful little Holly blue butterfly. In late July/August female Holly blues lay their eggs on swelling buds of ivy flowers, which caterpillars burrow into and eat from the inside. Once fully grown they leave the buds and pupate on the underside of Ivy stems where they will overwinter and emerge as an adult butterfly in March/April the following year.

In some instances very dense ivy may provide winter hibernation sites for bats.

Nuthatch working its way up through ivy

One of my favourite woodland birds is the handsome Nuthatch. Although they are colourful, these beautiful birds can be hard to spot when they are foraging around tree trunks and branches, but when they choose to be heard, particularly when singing or crying out in alarm, they have a very loud voice. On a recent walk I traced the whistling sound one was making to an ivy-clad tree a few metres away. Believing itself to be well-concealed I was able to watch it carry an acorn from somewhere around the bottom of the trunk right up to near the top. I momentarily lost sight of it several times as it wove in and out of the ivy, travelling in an erratic kind of spiral up the main trunk, but I managed to follow it disjointedly until it got so high it was making my neck ache to watch it. I couldn’t see if it still had the acorn when it got to the top, it’s quite likely it may have cached it for later consumption somewhere along the way and was foraging for hibernating grubs or caterpillars to eat now.

Perhaps the greatest gifts that ivy gives to wildlife are firstly that it flowers late in the summer or early autumn, providing a bounty of late nectar to a wide range of insects from hoverflies to bees to butterflies. Then following the flowers come generous crops of berries, some of which begin to ripen in the early winter and others slightly later, providing a bountiful progression of nutritious food, lasting through to the spring, which feeds a great many birds, both residents and winter migrants.

Male blackbird feasting on ivy berries

The amount of ivy and the resultant bounty of berries it produces are a great draw to two species of birds in particular, Blackbirds and Wood Pigeons. Winter walks are practically guaranteed to be accompanied by a soundtrack of rustlings, flappings and often crashings as birds of both species fly from one ivy vine to another. From the blackbirds there are frequent alarm calls too; there’s a lot of competition for the best berries and they’re worth squabbling over. Neither bird is really purpose-built for the acrobatics required to reach the berries dangling temptingly out of range, but that doesn’t stop them trying. Blackbirds often launch themselves upwards to grab a dangling berry, a rather ungainly method, but who cares if it works?

Wood Pigeons are more ponderous and considered in their approach, eying up the best-looking berries before stepping cautiously towards them, craning their chicken-like necks forward as far as they can and making a grab for them, sometimes losing their balance and flapping madly to restore it.

Ivy berries are loved by other species of birds too, including the song thrush, mistle thrush, redwing, blackbird and blackcap. Although the berries appear in October-November, birds don’t tend to start eating them until later into the winter, shorter-lived berries such as rowan and hawthorn are eaten first, leaving the longer-lasting ivy berries until last. The berries are a great source of protein and, according to the RSPB, gram for gram contain nearly as many calories as a Mars bar! No wonder our local Wood pigeons are looking so plump!