As we launch our Green Traveller's Guide to the Dyfi Biosphere, David Atkinson visits the Dyfi Osprey Project near Machynlleth in the Dyfi Biosphere, Wales, for a day of bird watching, and meets Monty and Seren, two of the nature reserve's finest feathered friends.
Monty has the makings of a Hollywood heartthrob.
He flew thousands of miles from West Africa to Mid Wales in search of his mate and, having sat on the nest for a few weeks in eager spring-mating anticipation, found himself in a three-way love tussle with a new female suitor. Monty may be an osprey but, as part of just three breeding pairs in Wales, he’s rapidly going A-list.
We’ve come to the Dyfi Osprey Project, located just outside Machynlleth in the heart of the Dyfi Biosphere, to watch Monty in action from the high-definition nest cameras in the tower-hide, equipped with telescopes and binoculars. Ospreys became extinct in the UK in 1916 but returned to Mid Wales in 2008. Baby ospreys arrived in 2011.
“When the female, Seren, arrived in late March, Monty put on a fine sky dancing courtship display, climbing and diving for trout to take to her in the nest,” says project volunteer Alwyn Evans, talking us through the migration and mating cycle of the Dyfi ospreys. “But, after a couple of years, there’ll be no more wining and dining,” he smiles. “It’s a bit like being an old married couple.”
First-time breeders, we learn, generally lay two eggs and the incubation period in the nest is around 36 days. The baby ospreys fledge after around 55 days and will return to the nest after three years. Monty winters in the Gambia but returns each spring to his Mid Wales home. Einion, the first osprey born on the Dyfi for more than 400 years in 2011, will hopefully return this summer.
But just as we are admiring the elegance of these birds of prey on the wing, a moment of high drama develops as a third bird swoops in and makes a play for a spot on the nest. Cue a frenzied walkie-talkie exchange in Welsh from the hide as the females jostle for Monty’s affections.
A new purpose-built observatory is due to open later this year, enabling the project at Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust’s Cors Dyfi reserve to open year round from next spring. The RSPB nature reserve at Ynys-hir feels tranquil and calm after the soap opera of the osprey hide. The reserve, the base for the BBC Springwatch programme this May, showcases the rich variety of habitats that attract a large variety of species to the region.
We stroll through the reserve, following the gentle Saltmarsh trail to the Saltings hide, close to where the swallows nest in spring. Spring migrants chirrup their greeting, red kites soar above and bluebells form a patchwork through the wooded areas. Close by, kingfishers are bringing their young to practice fishing in estuary pools.
After walking for a mile or so, we skirt back round the visitor centre on the wetland trail towards a new blanket bog region. The local team is hoping to develop this area to counter the effects of climate change. “A blanket bog”, explains RSPB Engagement Officer Roger White, “is one of the world’s few carbon-neutral environments. It provides an fantastic habitat for insects.”
We finish the day at Glandyfi Castle, an imposing Grade II-listed gothic castle re-imagined as an eight-room boutique guesthouse, for a spot of afternoon tea. As we tuck into sandwiches and homemade scones in the library with sweeping views across the Dyfi estuary, owner Maureen Holmes describes the labour of love to bring the property back to life.
“It was a damp, derelict Gothic fantasy when we bought it,” she says, pouring the coffee. “But we loved the sense of history and five acres of grounds. We used green building, insulation and biomass-heating principles to turn it back into a homely place to be.”
Glandyfi Castle is located close to both the Osprey Project and the Ynys-hir reserve on the Aberystwyth road, making it easy to combine a visit to all three on a car-free day by bike, foot or bus; more details at www.traveline-cymru.info.
The Dyfi Osprey Project currently opens April to September with free entry; the RSPB Ynys-hir Nature Reserve opens year round and is free to RSPB members (£5 non members). Glandyfi Castle has doubles from £100 per night; more information at www.visitmidwales.co.uk.