Spring on Beacon Hill
The Heather, Pillwort and Pools Project Officer Sue Buckingham, has been out and about on the Beacon busy spotting the first signs of spring. Here is her update:
- The first frog spawn was spotted on 14 March and it is now appearing in almost every pool and rut.
- A pair of curlew has arrived. Their haunting melodic cry can be heard in the early mornings around Beacon Lodge. These large birds can be recognised by their long down-curved bill, brown upper parts and long legs. There have been worrying breeding declines in many areas including Radnorshire largely due to loss of suitable habitat.
- Otter spraint (poo) has been found around pools on the hill and a dead otter was found on the road below Tynryhn Gate. It has been sent for post mortem which will highlight its age, sex and health status before its death and the reason it died. My guess is that it had been hunting for frogs as it was close to an area of wetland and was run over as it crossed the road. Otters have very good senses of hearing and smell but very poor eye sight so are vulnerable when crossing the roads. The good news is that otters appear to be making a comeback which suggests the river quality is improving. In the UK evidence suggests that as otter numbers increase mink numbers decrease and reports locally appear to back this up.
- The hill is alive with pairs of skylark, rising in their distinctive vertical song flight and small brown meadow pipits are also in full song, giving fluttering parachute display flights.
- Red grouse have paired up and will hopefully have a successful breeding season. Their numbers are very low and there may be as few as 4 pairs left on the hill. This is of great concern as it mirrors their decline across the rest of Wales. In Victorian times Beacon Hill was a renowned grouse moor.
- Two common lizard were caught basking in the heather on Black Mountain on a rare warm day.
- April has been an exciting month as the County Mammal Recorder Sorcha Lewis led a mammal day showing how to read the "signs" left by elusive mammals. The day resulted in some new records for the Beacon including water shrew. This is a tiny carnivorous beasty that may use venomous saliva to immobilise its prey and feeds on invertebrates and amphibians. We also found weasel "scats" (poo), a large amount of otter spraint, together with field vole runs and latrines.
- It's been the month for exciting amphibian finds, with pools revealing populations of not only frogs and toads but also great crested, smooth and palmate newts. My ambition is to find one pool with all 5 species!
- The cuckoo has arrived! I saw its' dark silhouette fly across the hill near Beacon Lodge, where it alighted in the conifers to confirm with 3 loud cuckoos that it was a male! The males give a clear cuckoo and the female a more bubbling watery cuckoo. Cuckoo are now on the "Red" list as their numbers have declined significantly and The Beacon will be one of the few places in Radnorshire where they can still be heard. Try walking the paths near Fair Well, Cwm yr Ingel and Cwm Dwilwn for the best chance of hearing it.
- Flocks of Golden Plover paused at Cefn Pawl on their journey to Northern breeding grounds. The birds were stunning with their breeding plumage glinting in the sun.
- The curlew that arrived in March look as if they will stay and breed on the hill. This is fabulous as numbers of curlew breeding in the uplands is declining.
- A pair of Hare have also been sighted boxing and generally enjoying the spring around Beacon Lodge. The boxing is a result of unreceptive females fending off passionate males, not as previously thought 2 males fighting for the "top ranking" spot.
As spring progresses please let me know what you see and take care not to disturb the ground nesting birds and sheep with their lambs as you walk the hill. I would encourage dog owners to keep their dogs on a lead in order to avoid accidently frightening wildlife which are legally protected under The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.