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A good weekend

We gathered at Parkgate on The Wirral for the high tide at midday on Friday. As the tide comes in, particularly the highest tides (and this was an equinoctial high tide with a super moon!) the voles and mice on the saltmarsh swim for their lives and the predators gather for the feast (as do the birdwatchers).

Everything eats voles! There were masses of gulls and Carrion Crows, and Grey Herons, Little Egrets and Great White Egrets catching the mammals as they became more and more concentrated in the remaining areas of dry-ish land or had to swim to the next one. Three Short-eared Owls were present and gave great views. A Kestrel and a couple of Marsh Harriers as well as at least one ringtail Hen Harrier and a distant quite-close-to-adult Hen Harrier were also seen.

And there were lots of birders to chat to as well; about that recent Hen Harrier satellite-tagging paper and about the General Licence challenge of Wild Justice.

On Saturday, I was in Snowdonia, mostly, staying at Plas-y-Brenin, the Mountain Sports Centre and giving a talk there that evening. But after breakfast on Saturday morning, looking up the valley towards Snowdon (with Goosanders flying past), there was time to revisit both the ‘Lake’ and ‘Valley’ sites which I had visited while writing Inglorious.

It was a pleasant day to spend in the Welsh hills and mountains. I didn’t encounter any Hen Harriers but I heard from others that they are back in some of their regular haunts. Still, it was a lovely day and there were a few Red Grouse calling and a Merlin dashed across the road in front of us too. I don’t see Merlins very often.

The Red Grouse made me think. They were present but not in the overwhelming densities that you find them on English grouse moors – these Welsh moors, not managed for Red Grouse shooting, certainly had their Red Grouse but at rather more natural and normal levels.

It was good to be in the hills, we don’t have many in Northamptonshire, and we don’t have any coast so it was good to see the sea too. We popped down to the reserve at RSPB Conwy where we were asked whether we had come to see the phalarope to which the reply was ‘No, but if you have one .. where do we go, please?’. A few minutes later I was looking at a winter plumage Grey Phalarope swimming about and picking off insects from the water while several Chiffchaffs were singing in the background – it was clearly a spring day where summer met winter.

After walking round the reserve and seeing a few more birds, butterflies and wonderful views of both Snowdonia and Conwy Castle it was time for a late lunch.

Back at the delightful Plas-y-Brenin in the evening (I think I’ll be going back as a visitor later this spring to experience the Wood Warblers in the oakwoods as well as having another look for Hen Harriers (good rooms, good food, good bar)) I gave my talk to a delightful group of people including one gentleman who was a grouse shooter, a shooter of grouse over dogs (and who bought a copy of Inglorious), with whom I had a good and very friendly chat afterwards. Several people donated to Wild Justice and I added their contributions to the crowdfunder this morning to take it over £32,000.

It was noticeable that here in Wales, in a National Park that has tourism as a very strong part of its economy, no-one asked ‘What will we do without grouse shooting?’ as they are already in a happy post-grouse-shooting age over most of the Welsh uplands. And no-one pointed to driven grouse shooting as the means to revitalise the Welsh upland economy either.

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