In the conifer forests at Clocaenog, the night is swept by cloud and rain; in the few clear periods before midnight, midges and moths are on the wing and nightjars churr incessantly from the clearings. Tony Cross catches a male in a mist net but the female escapes and we miss the opportunity to find a nest. The period before dawn is the same wet weather; the nightjars churr again but are too distant from our nets that are set above the rank heather near the forest track.
In the early morning, the sky clears and the dawn light burns sulphurous scars in the grey clouds that inch across the dark green hills. The hay fields full of crested dog’s-tail are rinsed by the night rain but the wind is light and the air warm, so the walk in Wellingtons to the ridge is easy going. Song thrushes sing with deafening repetition from the adjacent woods, and meadow pipits seep seep when disturbed from the fields and ditches with beakfuls of craneflies and other insects.
The view runs across the Alwen valley, dark woods patching the great spillage of sheep pasture, rudely pricked by brilliant white, wind turbines, to the purple-washed Berywn mountains beyond. This is a boundless landscape of understated richness.
We visit the Glaslyn valley where we stomp through rush pastures littered with hidden sheep. Tony climbs to the top of a huge Douglas fir to ring three osprey nestlings. The handful of osprey nests in north Wales are guarded by teams of watchers, echoing the work on red kites in mid-Wales 30 years ago. In another 30 years, ospreys will probably be as common as kites, but another rare species will be being watched and cared for in the same way; perhaps an eagle species or some Mediterranean émigré. The public viewing centre is run by a community wildlife organisation Bywyd Gwyllt Glaslyn Wildlife and offers a distant but beautiful view, from the balcony above the river, of the nest tree across the flat pastures; there are also live pictures from cameras near the nest, a warm welcome and mugs of hot coffee.
We then catch obliging, recently fledged hawfinches that are tempted by a large patch of sunflower seeds, deep in a tall forest of oak, beech and hornbeam near Dolgellau. A return trip to one made in June 2015. All caught birds are specially colour-ringed to enable breeding success, survival and movements to be measured and hence help understand why they are such a rare species in Britain.
After another damp and fruitless night chasing nightjars in Clocaenog, we head south. In the hot morning sun on the river Severn near Carno, we find little ringed plovers, common sandpipers, a pair of oystercatchers and a single curlew. Sand martins have nests everywhere in the cliffs of sand between seams of gravel; in one shallow bank, holes have been dug out by a fox or badger and feather remains litter the ground. We set nets across the shallows and miss all the waders but catch and ring, just a metal ring, no additional colour ring, an adult and young kingfisher, pied wagtail, a hatful of sand martins and a moulting redstart.