Forest of Dean - We`ve now moved north and left a bit, pitching up on the western Marches of the Forest of Dean near the Welsh borderlands, or as Pat succinctly put it, "in the middle-of-nowhere", and its great; it must be about as remote as you can get in this over-crowded island of ours. At night time all that can be heard is the belching and farting of dairy cattle, the `steep` calls of migrating Redwings and distant, hooting Tawny Owls. There`s not a speck of incandescent light anywhere, just stars and a waning moon, superb.
However, come daybreak and the atmosphere soon changes, as the maize harvest is well underway and the narrow lanes become hazardous highways as tractors and trailers commute between field and silo, at breakneck speed, with this valuable forage crop used to feed cattle, sheep and the like. Having not been down this way for a while I was surprised at the acreages that are now grown on such poor soils (red, shale and acidic), but apparently it is a recent phenomenon made possible by new plant varieties that allow this hungry crop to flourish under certain local conditions, providing it is grown on hill tops and slopes with a southern aspect, where it receives maximum sunlight, and is regularly fertilised with slurry in the early stages of growth, of which there is a regular supply hereabouts.
Anyhow, we`ve spent a fair bit of time this weekend walking the River Wye between Chepstow and Monmouth, and what a stunningly beautiful river it is, meandering and bisecting the tree-clad valley complete with autumnal tones and all. And, I`m pleased to report that Dippers are commonplace, at least along this section of the river; we even noted one in the centre of Monmouth from the town bridge. Grey Wagtails too were abundant, while Green Sandpiper, Kingfisher, Little Egret and Shelduck were also present. Buzzards mewed overhead and 2 Red Kites twisted and turned along the watercourse.
Back at base camp this afternoon the sun broke through, elevating the temperature and bringing forth a flurry of raptors. So, it was a case of large mugs of tea all round, feet up, a bone for Barney and a spot of scanning from our terrace overlooking the wooded hillside. At least 10 Buzzards came and went during our two hour watch, plus several Sparrowhawks, Kestrels and a single, whopping great Goshawk that launched into a Buzzard sending it spiralling down into the canopy; infact, I`m pretty sure it killed it! Jays were constantly on the move over the tree-tops, en-route to storing acorns in secret places, plus a string of Redwings, Ravens, Chaffinches and several Great Spotted Woodpeckers over.