A Glorious Evening in May

Today has been another glorious day at the beginning of summer; the weather has been spectacular for the last few days. It has probably been the hottest day of the year so far and it was one of those lovely summer evenings that you remember nostalgically in the winter. The daylight slowly fades into the late evening twilight as the sun sets and the wood pigeons ‘coo’ in the trees.

The sun was setting in the valley as we set off for an evening walk from home. You can just make out the slate roof of our house in the trees in the bottom left of the picture below. The land beyond the trees running up to the skyline belongs to us.
Sun Setting in the Valley

The valley is spectacular with wild flowers our route takes us around the valley, crossing the river twice on a circular route.

Harebells are amongst the myriad of wild flowers on the roadside.Harebells













The hedgerows are alive with wild flowers, the primroses and bluebells are just starting to fade but soon there will be wild strawberries that we pick and eat on our walks.Wild Flowers

The whole valley, with virtually no traffic or road noise is a very special place.The valley

We cross over the river in the bottom of the valley via the small footbridge.River

It is cool in the woodland by the river.Wood

The evening sunlight starts to fade across the floor of the valley.Valley Sunlight

Look at the ivy on the old clinging wall
Look at the flowers and the green grass so tall
It’s not a matter of when push comes to shove
It’s just an hour on the wings of a dove
~ Van Morrison


Almost the last sun of the evening falls on the recently cut fields. The small road beyond leads down to our house. Three Red Kites honoured us with their presence and soared overhead nearby.valley curves

We cross back over the river by the small metal road bridge that leads to our house.cothi (9 of 11)

Liz lingers on the bridge that leads back home to look for Dippers and Wagtails.Cothi Bridge

The very last rays of summer light fade as we walk home.cothi (11 of 11)



Photographing Red Kites at Gigrin Farm

With the recent blast of cold weather we took the opportunity to get out to try to get a few winter shots.

Elan Valley Farm House in Winter
Elan Valley Farm House in Winter with a dusting of snow.

As this meant being out and about looking for wintry locations (as above) we ended up back at the Elan Valley and decided to go Gigrin Farm the Red Kite feeding centre near Rhayader, Powys. Gigrin is well known to many wildlife photographers and at feeding time you will see dozens, if not hundreds of Red Kites at close quarters.

Red kite at Gigrin
Red Kite at Gigrin Farm, Powys © John Burton

Feeding takes place at 2.00 p.m. in winter and 3.00 p.m. in summer; so get there at least 10 minutes before. There is a selection of wooden viewing hides and some taller specialist photography hides. They are all roughly the same distance from where the birds are fed and the photography hides are probably only necessary for those with very large lenses (particularly if they want to point them skywards) and tripods. For first timers here like us it’s probably just as good to use one of the ‘normal’ (and less expensive) hides. Particularly as the Kite behaviour at feeding time is frantic and it takes a while to observe and learn how the birds are behaving. When the initial action stops after 45 minute stick around because the younger birds who have waited their turn (there is a ‘pecking order’) will come in to feed. By now there is also less of a frenzy to the feeding and picking out shots becomes a tad easier (not easy!).

Unfortunately, despite a bright start to the day, the cloud built up so that by 2.00 p.m. the light was fairly grim making focusing difficult and exposing even harder. As I don’t have a very long lens I used a 300mm f4.0 on Liz’s Canon 40D (to take advantage of the crop sensor). This enabled me to quite usefully fill the frame. It was also necessary to use AI Servo mode to assist with focusing and whilst difficult the 40D did better than I expected in the poor light. However, exposing for the birds correctly against the dull bland sky meant an almost perfect white background and resulted in images that have a very ‘graphic’ quality; as if they are straight out of a bird illustration book. Whilst the shot above, for example, was not what I was hoping to achieve I think they have an interesting quality and would look good as greeting cards etc.

So we’ll definitely go back when we think the light is better one day.


The Elan Valley

The elan valley
Mist in The Elan Valley

Oh dear we’ve been very lax in updating the blog recently. Too busy enjoying ourselves. For the last two weekends we’ve been spending time in the Elan Valley camping overnight in a wood near Rhayader in mid Wales and photographing and walking round the lakes during the day. We were there to take advantage of the amazing Autumn colours and as you can see from the photographs this was enhanced by the amazingly still water.

The Amazing Autumn Colours at Carreg-ddu
The Amazing Autumn Colours at Carreg-ddu

The dams, reservoirs and 73 mile of aqueduct of the Elan Valley waterworks in mid Wales were mostly built about a hundred years ago to supply clean water to the city of Birmingham in the English Midlands. Although it looks like a bridge the Carreg-ddu dam (below) is partially submerged to keep the water level up at the extraction point.

Carreg-ddu Submerged Dam
Carreg-ddu Submerged Dam

Leaving aside the morality of removing the original residents to flood the valley the reservoirs and dams which supply water to Birmingham entirely by gravity are a an amazing feat of engineering. It is almost beyond comprehension that thousands of men could build these structures. It really does put in perspective the rubbish that we see built today. In addition the foresight of elders of Birmingham to conceive and undertake such a scheme is astonishing. As well as building the dams this also involved building a 73 mile long aqueduct down which the water travels at less than 2 miles per hour, taking one and a half days to get to Birmingham.

The Foel tower is where water starts its journey to Birmingham
The Foel tower is where water starts its journey to Birmingham

There is more information on the Elan valley dams here.

The walk around Carreg-Ddu reservoir is a lovely walk and you can start at various points. We parked at the car park by the Carreg-Ddu dam and did a complete circuit of the lake. The map below shows a longer walk starting at the visitor centre.

Carreg-ddu Walk
Carreg-ddu Walk

Chasing the Light

One of the great things about retirement is the ability to devote more time to other things; particularly photography. I’ve been trying to get some decent landscapes (and I’ve never considered myself too much of a landscape photographer) for a while now that we live in such a beautiful area. However, landscape photography is all about the light (usually early in the morning or in the evening). So with Derek, the BBC Wales weatherman, forecasting a misty start followed by a sunny day we set the alarm for 5.30 and set off into the Breacon Beacons.

Brecon Beacons
The Breacon Beacons on a glorious April morning © John Burton

We were rewarded with some lovely cloud and light for about 20 minutes or so. I got one or two good shots. I’ve been trying to photograph Carreg Cennen for a while now and this is probably as good as I’ve got so far.

Castle Cennen
Carreg Cennen © John Burton

In any event it was a glorious morning to be up on the Brecon Beacons. A full English breakfast when we got home would have been heaven but Liz doesn’t allow those on health grounds!!