.. are not my favourite thing, except when I'm doing my British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Breeding Bird survey. This year I've been allocated a square to survey in Bwlch Llanberis Pass, Cwm Glas Mawr. My job is to visit it twice, once in May and once in June, starting at 6:45, and recording all the adult birds I see or hear in 10 'transects'. These are then submitted to the BTO, who analyse all the data to understand how the bird world is faring.
Cwm Glas Mawr is stunningly beautiful at this time of day. When I start, the shadows are stark, as the sun isn't yet shining into the valley, but just catching the top. There's very little traffic on the road, no walkers out and about. It's only really you, the rocks, streams, birds, and the occasional butterfly...
... not to forget the mosses and grasses, a few bluebells and (lower down) some braken, which is steadily colonising.
Gradually, the light moves further down the south side, leaving the north side still dramatically dark.
I love it up here. This is a view looking west, the Dinorwig quarry looking dramatic. Our house is just behind the big rock in the foreground, just to the right of a meadow pipit that you can (hopefully!) make out sitting in the middle of the rock.
The birds seem to be a mixture of birds you get in lowland areas (like dunnocks, wrens, blackbirds, chaffinches, wagtails (pied and grey), buzzards, cuckoos, sandpipers, ravens and kestrels) and more uplandy ones like meadow pipits, wheatears and ring ouzels. The crossover between the upland and lowland is at about 300m I think, and there is a little cottage (used by climbers) whose garden is either the territory of the lowlandy blackbird, or an uplandy ring ouzel. The ring ouzel is a beautiful bird that looks like a blackbird, but with a white bib and a beautiful scaly pattern on its feathers.
Yesterday, it seemed the blackbird had won out this year. It was singing away from one of the rogue rhodedendrons in the garden. I also spotted a starling for the first time, looking magnificent, irredescently green, high up in the mountains. Half wondering whether it was something more exotic, I took a quick snap of it through the binoculars.
My favourites are the sandpipers, who sometimes travel down the river opposite our house. Here's a picture of them that I took through binoculars last year. Beautiful, characterful birds that bring the sound of the sea. Fitting really, geologically speaking.
Geologically, it's a fantastic place. Little clues everywhere as to its violent and complext history. Here these columnar structures are stunning (if you like this kind of thing!)... I highly recommend a walk with local geologist Paul Gannon, if you want to find out more.
At the end of the survey, I wander through some ruins of buildings, connected by a mysterious walled road. The place can feel so wild, but human traces are everywhere, influencing so much of what is growing and living here, hewing structures from the rock so that they are almost indistinguishable from the mountains themselves. I think that it adds to the place, noticing these traces, thinking of who built the walls (italians and irish as well as the welsh), who used this strange road?
There are questions about the future too: I find myself almost feeling hopeful as I contemplate the new hydro scheme, just completed, its scars still fresh on the ground.