I’d never been to Ynys-Hir. I’d passed by the place a number of times, pulled over and peered from the periphery, always on the way to or from somewhere else. There are Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers there; elusive, declining in number, difficult to spot at any time and ever more so as the tree canopy thickens out in the summer months. Spring offers a small window of opportunity.
I’ve spent enough time heading west into bad weather that had never been predicted to take a pretty circumspect view of the forecasts; even those for the following day. The clear skies of early morning had turned to blanket cloud by the time we passed west of Shrewsbury, drizzle as we crossed into Wales and substantial rain by Welshpool. It was a case of hoping that the predictions had been slightly adrift and not completely inaccurate.
By Machynlleth the sky had just begun to lighten; passing Dovey Junction there were patches of clear blue. If I was inclined towards that kind of thing I might even have indulged in some mild (but unspoken) optimism.
No longer being RSPB members, we had to stump up the admission fee (a fiver each). Much as I admire the work done by the charity at places like Ynys-Hir, Loch Garten, Sandwell Valley and elsewhere, the continuing collusion with rapacious energy companies is a deal breaker when it comes to membership. Appointing a high-profile Springwatch presenter and turbine apologist to the position of president might have been seen as a smart PR move but it leaves the fundamental questions unanswered: why is a supposedly flagship conservation charity giving tacit, sometimes active, approval to the destruction of habitat in support of industrial development? Just by way of example.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, Ynys-Hir…
The reserve covers a substantial tract of ground (around 550 hectares) but it’s the uncommon diversity of habitat which sets it apart – wetland, grazing pasture, mixed woodland, reed beds, salt marsh and estuary flats. The terrain is manageable enough to be accessible to those carrying heavy photographic gear, sufficiently extended to accommodate others seeking a quiet corner.
Ynys-Hir attracts serious birders; it’s not unusual to stumble across a cluster of tripods arranged around a single bush, batteries of long and expensive lenses all trained on a small, sometimes unprepossessing and probably bemused visitor; often one no bigger than an average house sparrow. These encounters are an invaluable source of information to the non-expert: where to look; when to look; how to identify. This was how we came to see the chiffchaff, the pied flycatcher (although we later found one of those for ourselves), and the immobile and camouflaged wheatear. The redstart – perched at the high point of a dead stump – was one even we couldn’t miss. Add in a variety of warblers and buntings, a wood seemingly teeming with goldcrest, a single nightingale and a pair of drifting kite, and you have at least a flavour of the place.
There were no lesser spotted woodpeckers to be seen though. The general consensus, from those who know, seemed to be that if there is a formula for seeing a lesser spotted then one of the variables in that equation is a slice of good luck.