Natural Mid Wales events- our blog
September 2018- Ceps, Ceps, Glorious Ceps.
The latest Natural Mid Wales outing in the woods above Abbey Cwm Hir in search of mushrooms was a fantastic success. Led by our expert, Daniel Butler, mushroom forager extraordinaire, we marched forward in search of fungi delights.
It was a beautiful warm sunny day. We convoyed up to a turning in the heart of the woods and with Daniel pointing out the different varieties as we travelled along a sometimes muddy and heavily rutted track.
It wasn’t long before we were looking at brown birch bolette. Not surprisingly often to be found under birch trees. Then it was on to the first of our ceps, porcini, or Penny Buns, as they are sometimes known. These are the fabulously flavoursome mushrooms which we buy dried in the supermarkets for an exorbitant price. We found lots of them, many of them gigantic. Soon all of our baskets were filling up with edible fungal delights.
Daniel talked us through the best ways to enjoy the mushrooms, how best to dry and store them, various ways to cook them. And how we shouldn’t worry too much when drying some of the larger ceps if we noticed a bunch of tiny maggots crawling out of them. Ughh.
The next edible find was a tiny little mushroom called The Deceiver. Edible yes, but not really worth the effort they say. Then it was the turn of The Miller, a small white mushroom which smelled strongly of yeast. Apparently delicious.
Of course it wasn’t all happy sailing. We came across mushrooms guaranteed to kill us and take us on a hallucinogenic trip before we expired. There was the easily spotted (excuse the pun) Fly Agaric – straight out of all our fairy tale memories. Towards the end of our foraging adventure we found a mushroom which is widely considered the most deadly of all fungi – The Deathcap. Sounds like something out of Stars Wars, doesn’t it? Handle with care, half of one is enough to kill an adult within three or four days. And there’s no antidote. Then we spotted The Staghorn Coral – simply beautiful. But while it wouldn’t kill you, it was far too rubbery to eat .
The names that people have given these mushrooms are incredible, so full of mystery and adventure. There is even one called The Artist’s Conk. There is Chicken in the Woods, Hen of the Woods, Jack O Lantern. Another killer is called The Destroying Angel. And just to make it clear that the devil doesn’t have all the best names there’s a lovely edible one called The Horn of Plenty.
Before we headed home Daniel checked all our basket to ensure that only the edible ones were coming home with us.
Once home we sliced our ceps thinly, and dried them overnight. Next step – risotto!
Look out for details of our next trip in November to see the leaping salmon at Gilfach.
14 August 2018- Cnwch Bank and the lost pond
The sun had decided to stay away when eight of us (counting a well behaved dog called Tessa) arrived at Beacon Hill Common, the starting point of our visit to Cnwch Bank last Tuesday. We stood awhile admiring the views all around us, trying to identify various distant hills. We could see the hills and mountains of Wales and Shropshire stretching before us for miles in every direction.
Our plan was to bask in the glorious banks of flowering heather on the slopes of Cnwch Bank. So we set off at a leisurely pace. We spotted a sign. We were on Glyndwr’s Way, it told us. The track had seen its fair share of off-road vehicles.
All around us was heather moorland. And in amongst the heather, lots of whimberry plants – no fruit sadly. Perhaps the sheep had them. Much used for dying cloth in the early twentieth century, they say that the RAF uniform first got its unique colour from these low-lying fruits. Known as bilberries up north they are now recognised as a super foods. Look out berries.
The landscape that surrounded us was made of many colours – the red of the whimberry leaves, the purple of the heather, lots of different shades of green and of course the bright yellow flowers of the gorse. Now in full flower, they looked stunning. As long as you didn’t fall into them. Luckily we didn’t. And sprinkled through the heather were trays of grit – for the grouse. After all we were marching through a grouse moor.
As for Cnwch Bank itself. We were a little early to enjoy the purple of the heather in its full glory. But there were enough hints of what was to come to suggest a return visit in a few weeks would be worthwhile. We crossed over to Pool Hill to get a good view of the whole of the bank.
We knew that there was an interesting pool to be found on Pool Hill so we trekked through the heather up to the top (well nearly) but couldn’t track it down. We thought we had lost one of our group but he was just scouting further afield for the elusive pool.
There were lots of sheep or course, warily eying us and particularly edging away as Tessa came near. But she had no interest in them. She was too busy sniffing at the amazing smells she kept coming across.
The trip was a delight but it was time to head home. So we crossed Pool Hill and climbed back down to Glyndwr’s Way. It was a fabulous day out, great sights, great chat, and decent weather, even though we didn’t find the pool.
Keep an eye out for the next Natural Mid Wales outing. It may be another fungi foray. Wherever it takes us, it will be fun.
13 March 2018- Watch the Birdie – A Visit to Llanbwchllyn Lake
When we met in the Erwood Station Car Park for our trip to Llanbwchllyn Lake, Richard Knight had some exciting but worrying news for us. A rare winter visitor to Wales – a ferruginous duck! - had been spotted on the lake. It had arrived three days earlier and could still be there. This meant that the hide might be packed with birdwatchers from across the country. There might be no room for us!
We piled into two cars and set off. The Beast from the East had still left snow blocking many of the single-track roads leading to the lake so we had a bit of a roundabout journey. When we reached the lake there was only one other car there.
The walk to the hide, though quite wet underfoot at the entrance, was delightful. Every few steps Richard would point out to us the sound of some bird or other. Suddenly the lake was ahead of us. Surrounded on at least two sides by reed beds, the water was a clear mirror to the blue sky above and it’s sprinkling of white cotton clouds. It was cold but beautiful.
We reached the hide. It stood on the edge of the lake, at the end of a short pier. And there was our sole birdwatcher tucked into the corner crouched over his spotting scope. Silently we filed in and took our places at the open shutters. Out came our binoculars. Richard set up his own angled scope on a tripod. This offered much greater magnification than our binos. We scanned the far shoreline, Richard drawing our attention to various birds and naming them for us. We took turns to look through his scope.
And what did we see? Tufted ducks, Goosanders, grey geese, noisy coots, a flock of teal, but not a ferringous duck in sight. He had moved on. We weren’t that bothered. We sat for a while enjoying the peace. What at first seemed to be silence was actually a constant ever-changing chorus of birdsong.
Eventually the cold made its presence felt and we left the hide to carry on around the lake. Just outside the hide the undergrowth on the edge of the lake was rich with Scarlet Elf Cup. We heard a couple of jays above our heads, but couldn’t be seen. We reached the outflow of the lake, crossed over the little footbridge and out onto a patch of marshland. There we had another marvellous clear view of the lake and its birds. It was then that we found the first of three bloody nosed beetles. Richard was very excited, as they are not normally found in such an environment. They get their name from the foul tasting bloody red liquid that they release from their mouth when threatened. Since we offered no threat we saw no red. Whew!
We headed to the cars and back down to Erwood. We parked ourselves in the Wheelwright Arms and reviewed the morning’s outing over a fabulous lunch.
Cors y Llyn- November 2017
We had a great morning at Cors y Llyn National Nature Reserve near Newbridge on Wye, led by Richard Knight.
The reserve is a mire, with a boardwalk to keep your feet dry. Lots of colourful mosses and lichens, gorgeous fungi, and a surprising number of wild birds including a snipe, redwings and fieldfare.
Fungi Foray in Abbeycwmhir- September 2017
Our Fungi Foray got off to a stuttering start. We planned to meet in the Fishpools car park in Radnor Forest. But the track was closed for logging.
No problem, said Daniel Butler, our mycologist guide for the day, so we convoyed off to the forest at Abbey Cwm Hir. As we reached the top of the track, the loggers were there before us and a skidder was working away just around the corner, but all was fine and they agreed to let us stay. Parking as close to the edge as we could, we stepped out of our cars.
Daniel immediately found an enormous Cep otherwise known as a porcini. Its proper name is Boletus Edulis. Weighing in at around 400 grams he revealed that ceps currently sell for about £30 a kilo. He had been at this very spot two days earlier and it wasn’t there. So this giant had grown from nothing to this size in just 2 days!
Deep breaths all around, and lots of searching the ground. For most of us it was no luck. However, Jen and Paul did manage to find one specimen.
It was a fascinating outing. Daniel entertained us throughout with his encyclopaedic knowledge and amazing stories, from celebrity poisonings to the truth about how few of our native fungi can actually kill us. Many of their names were truly exotic. We particularly liked the Destroying Angel, a mushroom so poisonous that just half of one of them is enough to kill a person.
We didn’t get to see the Angel but we did see lots of Fly Agaric. Eat a lot of these and they could kill you, but its more hallucinogenic than toxic. However, spotting these hippy delights is a good signpost for porcinis - they thrive on identical growing conditions.
We saw lots of Honey Fungus, famous for its habit of killing off trees. It was great to discover that these too are edible. And then this find – three of the same mushroom having popped up a with a gap of about 12 hours between each one.
The rain did eventually arrive but we soldiered on. Every few steps or so, one of us would spot yet another species. We gathered around as Daniel gave us all the gen on what it was, if it was it edible or not, and lots of other interesting titbits about it.
We didn’t actually collect too many mushrooms but never mind. At the trip’s end Daniel shared out slices of that fabulous Cep along with some chanterelles. It was an excellent day out all due to our brilliant guide Daniel Butler.
Have a look at his website. You might like to book a place on one of his forays. www.fungiforays.co.uk
Ospreys at Cors Dyfi- July 2017
July's Discovery Day took seventeen of us to a small but perfect wetland a few miles outside Machynlleth, and home to a breeding pair of Ospreys – Cors Dyfi Nature Reserve.
We arrived late Tuesday morning to be met by Pip, our guide for the day. A short briefing about the history of the reserve and then we were through the door and into the reception area looking at live footage of the Ospreys on their nest. Monty, the male and his mate Glesni currently have three chicks. There they were large as life on the screens in the little reception area.
They were actually 500 yards further into the reserve and we were soon on the way to see them.
Pip led us along the boardwalk towards the observatory. On the way we spotted lots of common lizards basking on the sides of the boardwalks, some without their tails. Pip pointed out the abundance of bog myrtle all around us. She offered us each a leaf, ‘smell don’t eat’, she cautioned us, reminding us of its hallucinogenic properties. We took her advice. So we didn’t taste it. All around us the wetland is home to otters, and many birds – nightjars, reed warblers, sedge warblers, and lots more. We could hear them but they stayed hidden.
Not so hidden were the two water buffaloes. They stared as us as we stared at them, from a safe distance mind.
Finally we reached the observatory itself is a marvel of engineering. Pip revealed to us that the largest piece of equipment used in the building of it was a quadbike.
From there we watched the two adults and their three chicks, both in the flesh and on the screen. There were plenty of guides to answer our many questions. As we stood in the viewing room, we were treated to the sight of Monty returning from a successful fishing expedition with a decent size trout in his beak. He landed on a pole a short distance from the nest and proceeded to gorge himself on this lunchtime treat. His mate Glesni, and the three chicks looked on. What you call a pecking order perhaps.
All agreed it was a fabulous trip. If you haven’t been, then go while the Ospreys are still there. That means get there before September before they head off to Africa for the winter.
Our next outing will be in early August. Come with us as we go beaver watching near Carmarthen. Keep an eye out for more details. Don’t miss it.
National Dawn Chorus Day 2017
On Sunday May 7th members of Natural Mid Wales joined in celebrating National Dawn Chorus Day at the Radnorshire Wildlife Trust’s Gilfach Nature Reserve near Rhayader. The event was organised by the local natural history society “Rhayader by Nature” with leaders Richard Knight and Steve Jones.
A dozen keen people turned out for the 5.30 a.m. Dawn Chorus walk to listen for and learn about the identification of bird songs and calls, returning to the Reserve Centre for hot drinks and croissants.
Among those seen and heard were the special Welsh woodland birds: pied flycatchers, redstarts and wood warblers. Also tree pipits, willow warblers, black cap, garden warbler and white throat and two or three cuckoos were both heard and seen. All these species are summer visitors from Africa that come to nest and rear their young in this country before returning to warmer climes for the winter.
Resident birds joining in the dawn chorus included song thrush, blackbird, wren and robin while later in the day people were treated to views of redpoll, tree creeper and goldfinch and down on the river a dipper and a goosander were spotted.
An adventure in Mid Wales- March 2017
We met at Pwllgwilym Farm in Cilmeri. Then we boarded Richard Davis’s Welsh Overland Safari coach for a day of adventure. There were eight of us including Richard, who was to be our driver, plus one very entertaining whippet.
Our plan was to head for Tregaron, home of Twm Sion Cati, Wales’s very own Robin Hood and a great Prankster, via the Devil’s Staircase and then on to Strata Florida, an old Cistercian Abbey in the hills above. But the weather was to thwart our plans. There was a lot of snow about, and the near vertical Devil’s Staircase was not to be tackled on such a day.
Undaunted, Richard quickly devised an alternative plan and we headed for our first stop – Prince Llewellyn’s Memorial stone just outside Cilmeri village. Richard filled us in on the events which lead to the death of the last true Prince of Wales in the nearby field. We stood looking up at the monument – an awesome sight, then walked on to the visit the well where his severed head is supposed to have been washed before making its way to the Tower of London to be displayed on a spike for all to see and take heed.
Then it was back to the coach and on to the Mynydd Epynt (The mountain of Horses) towards Brecon. It was snowing up there, so our stop to take in the spectacular views was brief but spectacular. Next stop was the Epynt Visitor Centre where we saw a fascinating visual display of the clearing of the farming communities on the mountain by the army in 1940. 219 people had to leave their homes with very little notice.
We then headed through Brecon and on to Talgarth Mill for a fantastic lunch and a tour of the mill itself. From there we drove on to Tretower Court and Castle, home of the Vaughans. Cadw have recreated many of the rooms using the original techniques of the day. The refurbished Great Hall is a sight to see. Richard and Rita seemed most at home on the top table.
Our last stop of the day was Henrhyd Waterfall, the highest waterfall in South Wales. In spite of the wet weather, it was still a stunning sight.
On our way back over the Beacons we passed as close as permitted to the army’s FIBUA village. That’s ‘Fighting In Built Up Areas’, commonly known as ‘The German Village’.
It was a fabulous day, sprinkled throughout with Richard’s never-ending stream of stories about the area and its history, some of it more myth than fact I would think. Roll on the next one. It will be in April and will be to Carngafallt Nature Reserve for springtime birdsong, and another possible trip with Welsh Overland Safari.