Dryads by Cilonw Brook

The Cilonw Brook falls quickly from the foot of Hay Bluff in a series of small waterfalls, cutting a deep channel through the woods before slowing and spreading into a broad, shallow brook, where it can be forded, and then on again in a rush down to join the Wye below Hay. High up in the wooded valley where the broad leaf trees begin to give way to conifer we found these spectacular examples of the Dryad’s Saddle.


The ancient Greeks believed that dryads were forest nymphs who cared for the trees and protected them from intruders. These very solitary mythical creatures did not mingle with the other gods, preferring the shelter of the wood and forest. The Dryad’s Saddle provided a flat pliable surface on the side of the tree, affording a protective vantage point: a saddle for a dryad.


Polyporus squamosus is one of the most common of the bracket fungi seen in Britain and Ireland. It occurs across most of mainland Europe and in many parts of Asia and North America. It was first described scientifically by the English botanist and apothecary William Hudson in 1778, who named it Boletus squamosus. The species was renamed Polyporus squamosus in 1821 by the Swedish mycologist Elias Magnus Fries in his Systema Mycologicum.


Also know as the Pheasant-back Polypore: pheasant because of the feather-like scales on the surface of the fungus and polypore because the underside of the cap is covered with pores. The pores serve the same function as the gills that are on the underside of the cap on most mushrooms; they contain structures called basidia that create, protect and eject the spores when the environmental conditions for propagation are present.


There are recipes for cooking this fungi including one that suggests frying slices of young Dryad’s Saddles with bacon and serving on hot buttered toast. Another suggests marinading the saddle in olive oil and garlic overnight and then baking it whole. Personally I prefer to enjoy them in the woods rather than on a plate.


Top two: 22mm handheld: f.6.3 @ 1/160, ISO 360, sun through tree canopy.
Bottom three: 105mm macro handheld: f.7.1 @ 1/125, ISO 640, sun through tree canopy.


Gilfach Farm: Redstarts, Dippers and Voles

The Marteg rushes off the Cambrian Mountains, twisting and turning down through the valley that bears its name, through oak woodland and hay meadow until it joins the great sweep of the Wye above Rhayader.

Gilfach Farm occupies much of the Marteg Valley and surrounding hillsides; it has remained unimproved since the 1960’s. Now owned and managed by Radnorshire Wildlife Trust, who purchased the farm in 1988, it has become a wildlife sanctuary. We managed to spend two wet half days there recently and despite the awful weather and the lateness of Spring still managed to see and photograph some beautiful wildlife. There is a link to Gilfrach Farm Nature Reserve at the bottom of the post.


Dipper Cinclidae. One of a pair hunting in the Marteg. This one is about to fly back to its nest, under a nearby bridge. These are not dull birds despite their brown colouring; take a close look at the glorious patterns across its wings, back and tail. (Click on the image to enlarge.) Dippers get their name from their habit of bobbing up and down when on land. But what makes them remarkable is their method of walking into and under water in search of aquatic invertebrates (mayfly and caddisfly larvae in particular) and fish. They have a nictitating membrane or third white eye-lid which protects their eyes when submerged, nasal flaps to prevent water from entering their nostrils and a high haemoglobin concentration, giving them greater oxygen storage, which increases the time that they can spend underwater.

300mm f2.8 + 1.4xTC handheld: f.4.5 @ 1/2000, ISO 900, heavily overcast.


Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus. We saw a lot of these dapper little birds in Wales where there is a population concentration. Sadly they are in decline in most of the UK and Europe. Gilfach with its oak woodlands, properly laid hedgerows and fast running streams is the perfect habitat for these handsome little birds.



The female is not as showy as the male. From our limited observations the female seemed to be doing all the nest rebuilding and repairs whilst the male occasionally brought her a tit bit. I’m trying not to find analogies with another species here.

All 300mm f2.8 + 1.4xTC handheld: f.4.0 @ 1/2000, ISO 360, overcast.


Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca. To say that these little birds, slightly smaller than a house sparrow, were difficult to photograph would be a massive understatement. This male was busily establishing his territory along the bank of the Marteg and stopped his patrolling just long enough.


300mm f2.8 + 1.4xTC handheld: f.4.0 @ 1/1600, ISO 900, heavily overcast.


Field Vole Microtus agrestis. Also known as the Short-tailed Vole. The very nice couple who live in the farmhouse will make you a pot of tea, so long as you make a donation towards the upkeep of the reserve. So we were sitting at the picnic table in what had once been the farm yard, drinking tea out of proper mugs and trying to pretend that it was springtime once again and not a return to winter, when we realised that our sandwiches were being watched……



300mm f2.8 + 1.4xTC handheld: f.5.6 @ 1/640, ISO 1400, overcast.

Here is the link to the Gilfach Reserve web site:


A week in the Elan Valley: Willow Warbler

High up in the woodland, above Caban Coch Reservoir, spring has been very slow. The heavy snows in April have put everything behind and last week the trees were only just beginning to fully bud. The impact on the small birds was evident everywhere, little brown jobs charging about collecting nesting material and squabbling over territories. The Willow Warblers are common here, but to get as close as we did and photograph this beautiful little bird was a rare privilege.

300mm f2.8 + 1.4xTC handheld: f5 @ 1/640, ISO 320, overcast.

A week in the Elan Valley: Greylag

The Doymynach Reservoir was never completed by its Victorian engineers and is now a nature reserve. It is always worth spending time here, sitting quietly amongst the trees, both for the beauty of the stunning landscape and the wildlife that drops in – and then out.

300mm f2.8 + 1.4xTC monopod: f4 @ 1/2,500, ISO 450, low sun and cloudy.

A week in the Elan Valley: House Martins

Back in the beautiful Elan Valley last week and our fourth stay in the Llannerch y Cawr Longhouse. This time equipped with the right lens and blessed with some early sunshine, to throw the shadows, I managed to photograph the House Martins that nest every year under the Longhouse eaves.

300mm f2.8 handheld: f5.6 @ 1/2,500, ISO 100, 9am sun over the valley top.