Thursday, 9 May 2013

Luminous Road

There is a road not far to the north of Swansea that traverses Mynydd y Gwair which follows an ancient route from Llangyfelach to the Amman Valley. The section of the road in my photo below I believe is referred to as "The Golden Mile". Just out of shot to the right is a small lay-by where on a clear day you can see the Black Mountain to the north-east and the Brecon Beacons and Fan Gyhirych to the east.

To the right of where the road disappears on the distant horizon are the remains of a castle. The castle marked the boundary between the Cantrefs of Gwyr and Mawr. The views in this last wilderness area of the county of Swansea are stunning and will soon be ruined with yet another wind farm to be built on the land you see in the photo below. But wind farms are not the subject of this blog but I would like to take issue with that matter in a future blog.
I have for quite some time lived in hope of seeing the Northern Lights ( Aurora Borealis), and am aware that on rare occasions they can be seen as far south as Swansea. So, many years ago I subscribed to an aurora alert whereby when there are the right conditions with regards to solar activity, I am notified by email when there is a chance of seeing the Northern Lights this far south. Over the years I have received a number of alerts but frustratingly this part of the world was under a blanket of cloud for most of these and thus making it impossible to see the aurora. Had there been clear skies then the aurora would have been visible as there were confirmed sightings further south than our latitude in places such as Slovakia and the south of Germany.

One day in  August of 2010, I received a " RED" alert and the conditions were not ideal but favourable that night. The moon was not rising till after midnight and there would be scattered clouds. So, for the best chance of seeing the aurora then you need to get away from light pollution and Mynydd y Gwair is the ideal spot and closest to Swansea where I live.
 Being summer it was not going to get dark until after 10 pm so I headed up shortly after 10pm calling into my sisters house in Llangyfelach on the way. I told her there was a possibility of seeing the aurora later in the evening and that in the unlikely event that I would be fortunate to see the lights I would ring her. I set off from my sisters house around 11 pm armed with a flask of coffee and headed for the lay by on the above road. As I was driving over the highest point of Mynydd y Gwair I became aware of a greenish hue to the sky ahead of me in a north easterly direction. I immediately stopped the car and switched the headlights off. What I saw was the aurora......... or was it ???? There was a definite green hue, that same green colour that I had seen in so many documentaries and photos about the aurora ,but this was different. The green light seemed to be reflecting off some large cloud but there was nothing below that could have generated that kind of light and certainly not that colour. This was not a curtain of green light that one would usually see as with the photo to the right.
At that moment, I was certain I must have been witnessing the aurora and decided to telephone my sister as I had promised. In the total darkness I could not find my mobile phone on the passenger seat so switched the car interior light on. I made a quick phone call to my sister and when I switched the interior light back off the green hue had gone and I was in total darkness. I had read enough about the aurora to know that its appearances can sometimes be brief and intermittent and it could very well make further appearances. So, I decided to drive on further to the lay by just before the start of the Golden Mile. I pulled into the lay by, switched the engine and head lights off and sat there in a eerie darkness . Away from the urban light pollution and without a moon, the Milky Way was clearly visibly. The night sky was awash with so many stars that you just do not see when living in a city albeit there were some clouds to mask parts of the sky. I sat there patiently gazing towards the north and after some time had passed something unusual caught my attention. I was there in total and complete darkness but slightly to the left of where I had been focusing my attention I became aware that I could clearly see the Golden Mile section of the mountain road as it was glowing a faint dull green luminous colour. That same green luminous colour you find on bedside alarm clocks and the same green colour you associate with the aurora. What on earth was I witnessing? What was causing the road to glow green? I sat there for a little over an hour and watched the crescent of the moon rise in the sky to the east some time after midnight. The green hue did not reappear in the sky above me but the road stretching a mile ahead of me remained a dull luminous green. I decided to call it a day, or to be more exact a night, and headed off home.
The following day , and for some days after, I spent numerous hours on the internet looking for some explanation of what I had witnessed. Was the luminous green glowing road a reaction to the Aurora Borealis?? If it was , then I really did see the Northern Lights if all too briefly . I could find no answers though to my question despite visiting numerous web sites and forums related to the Northern Lights. I even posted the question on the AuroraWatch UK group on Flickr. If anybody is reading this and would like to see some stunning photos taken of the Aurora in the UK then visit the group by using the following link :  You will find my post on their discussion forum which I posted in September 2011. I had some replies but nothing that could explain what I saw and I have not found any other account of tarmac roads reacting to the Aurora Borealis .
I have been waiting for another opportunity to go up to the same spot and although there was intense solar activity earlier this year, Swansea on each occasion was under a veil of cloud. All very frustrating because on each occasion  again the Aurora was witnessed further south than the latitude that Swansea sits on.

Whilst waiting for intense solar activity and clear skies, I live in hope of a decent hot summer. Something which we have not had here now for 5 years at least. I mention this because another natural phenomena which is slightly similar to the Aurora is something you find in the sea and not the sky. I have been fortunate to have witnessed this on a number of occasions and surprisingly very few people are aware of it. I am referring to what I believe is referred to as bioluminescence but what myself and friends called sea phosphorous. I first witnessed the spectacle as a teenager whilst camping on the Gower down at Llangennith. One balmy evening myself and some friends decided to go night fishing and as we came out of the sand dunes onto the beach we were greeted by the sight of breaking waves being illuminated the whole length of the bay stretching for 3 miles or more. The photo below gives you an idea of what we witnessed.

The waves that night were bigger breakers than depicted in the photo above so imagine how they looked stretching for miles. The following photo gives you an idea except that in the following photo the waves are very small as you would find in Swansea Bay.
Another hot summer when I was a teenager , myself and some friends spent a week in a caravan down Oxwich on the Gower. We decided to go for a midnight swim as the weather was so balmy. Oxwich being sheltered, you dont get the big Atlantic breakers as you do down Llangennith but we had great fun swimming in this phenomena. The photo below gives you an idea of what we experienced.

I do not know what will come first, a hot balmy summer or clear skies and intense solar activity. As far as a hot balmy summer is concerned then I think we are more likely to witness the second coming of Jesus but we can live in hope. If either come then expect to see me parked up in a lay by on Mynydd y Gwair or walking along a beach late at night. If you have not been on the mountain road from Swansea to Ammanford then take a trip up there. It is surprising how few people in Swansea have been up there and there are some stunning views which will be ruined with the proposed wind farm on Mynydd y Gwair. Much to my horror they have completed the wind farm on nearby Betws mountain and those turbines are visible from Cockett in Swansea.
Below are some photos taken from Mynydd y Gwair and nearby, including some taken from that lay by.

Below is a recent photo taken from the lay by where I have zoomed in showing a section of the Golden Mile and the heads of the wind turbines recently erected on the adjacent Bettws Mountain.

Below is  where the Golden Mile ends and you descend down onto the next section of the mountain road which takes you over Bettws mountain.

And this is what greets you further on :

Thursday, 22 March 2012

A Squawk in the Park

Pecking Order

Whist walking through my local park yesterday feeding the birds, it was not long before I heard our resident Ringnecked Parakeet. A very distinctive and rather loud bird, but on this occasion he seemed a bit more raucous. Also, some Jackdaws had joined in the chorus, so it was a rather noisy to say the least. Curiosity eventually got the better of me and I went off to investigate. I eventually found the Parakeet high up clinging to the side of a tree.
He seemed very curious about the hole in the tree and I soon realised there were two Jackdaws inside. Having observed this Parakeet now for some months, it has become apparent that the Parakeet has struck up a sort of relationship with the Jackdaws in the park and will often be seen flying with flocks of Jackdaws. They will roost together and rather unusually, the Jackdaws tolerate this intruder.

On this particular occasion though, the Jackdaws were not too happy with this nosey neighbour. Jackdaws will nest in holes in a tree so I assume this pair had made their nest and possibly they have laid a clutch of eggs. In the next two images you can see the head of one of the Jackdaws and what ensued was a clash of beaks.

This clash of beaks went on for some time until the Parakeet retreated to a nearby branch.

The Parakeet kept returning time after time, and on the final encounter both Jackdaws appeared from inside the hole.

The Parakeet beat a retreat for the umpteenth time to  a branch just off to the left.
The Jackdaws eventually emerged and flew to a nearby branch followed by the Parakeet who perched alongside the Jackdaws. They squawked for a while but no fighting ,and then the three of them flew off into the distance.
So, what was going on? My first thought was that this was birds defending their nest. Jackdaws will rob the young or eggs from other birds nests so is this what the Parakeet was doing? Well, obviously not because both Jackdaws would not have left the nest unguarded if they through there was a danger present. Once the Jackdaws had left the nest the Parakeet had no interest in the nest and it was obvious that the Parakeet`s interest was with the Jackdaws. Had the Parakeet struck up a strong bond with this particular pair of Jackdaws? Why is there this interaction with this pair and also the other Jackdaws? The Parakeet is a gregarious bird and in the south east of England where there are thousands of these feral Parakeets, they congregate in large flocks at winter time.
This particular Parakeet has now been resident in this park for three years and one cannot help feel sorry for this bird. It obviously yearns for the company of other birds and I half hope that a female parakeet will eventually turn up. Only half hoping though because if they start breeding here then we are in for a very noisy time.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Historical Amnesia ( Wales)

                              Cadle (Swansea)
Wales has a very long and interesting history but little if any is known about this subject by the Welsh people. You travel throughout England, Scotland and any country in Europe and you will come across countless monuments and statues commemorating significant events and people. Yet in Wales until recently , there was nothing. This is despite the fact that there are more castles per square mile in Wales than in any other country. This fact alone would indicate a country with an interesting military history and although the castles are still here in various states of repair, what do we actually know about the events that led to the building of these?

From my own experience, very little if any Welsh history was taught in the schools I attended. At Dynevor grammar school in Swansea I was taught about King Edward`s conquest of Wales and the castles of King Edward such as Harlech, Caernarfon, Conwy and Beaumaris. Basically, I and Welsh pupils in general were taught history from a British ( English) perspective. Should we not have been taught from a Welsh perspective and have been taught about Llywelyn`s defence of Wales and his castles? I attended Dynevor Grammar school but it was not until I left school that I discovered that the name Dynefor is derived from an important Welsh castle just outside of Llandeilo. Was it a case of indoctrination through our education system to make us feel British rather than Welsh? Whatever the reason, the “British” education system has caused a Welsh historical amnesia. Most , if not all Welsh people, will know about the Battle of Hastings and will be able to tell you the year (1066). Whilst that may have been a significant event in English history as it led to the end of Saxon England and the defeat of that country, Wales and the separate Welsh monarchies continued for another 200 years.

I lived first 26 years of my life on the outskirts of Swansea close to a place called Cadle.

 It was not until quite some time after I had left school that I discovered that Cadle is Welsh for battle place and that a very bloody battle was fought in the vicinity. This particular battle was a catalyst that led to some very interesting events and outcomes, yet who knows about this? I am going to address this issue by first of all giving an account of this battle fought in Swansea and the consequences of this battle. I intend to highlight other historical events which were ignored in my schooling. Cadle will be addresed in Historical Amnesia ( Wales ) Part 1.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Volcanic Sunsets in Wales

The volcanic eruption that took place in Iceland in April 2010, provided amateur photographers like myself an opportunity to bag some decent sunset photos. It also of course created a nightmare for holiday makers and airlines across Europe. I must say though that I was a little disappointed as I think I was expecting something a bit more spectacular than what I witnessed and caught in my camera lens.

In this day and age we understand what causes volcanoes to erupt although we cannot predict accuratley when they will blow their top. In Wales we have experienced the after effects of volcanic eruptions many times over the ages and in fact some of our finest mountains are the result of volcanic eruptions hundreds of millions of years ago. Last April we had reports and video footage of the exploding volcano on our TV screens within hours. We then had numerous reports tracking the volcanic dust with the aid of satelites in orbit around our planet,

In ancient times our ancestors would have witnessed the after effects of distant volcanic eruptions but would have been totally oblivious as to what was happening in the skies above them. I remember reading Brut y Tywysogion (Chronicles of the Princes) many years ago and some of the entries made me realise that what was being recorded was in all probability the after effects of volcanic eruptions in Iceland or possibly somewhere else further afield. Here are the entries which are probably records of volcanic effects in Wales and also other entries relating to lunar and solar eclipses.

688. And then, four years after that, it rained blood in the island of Britain and Ireland
690. Six hundred and ninety was then the year of Christ, and then the milk and butter turned to blood
692. Two years after that, and the moon turned of a bloody colour.

710. Seven hundred and ten was the year of Christ, when Pepin the Elder, king of France, died. And then the night was as light as day

810. Eight hundred and ten was the year of Christ, when the moon turned black on Christmas day; Menevia was burnt; and there was a mortality among the cattle over the island of Britain.

831. One and thirty and eight hundred was the year of Christ, when the eclipse of the moon happened on the eighth day of the month of December. And Satubin, bishop of Menevia, died.

1185. The ensuing year, about Lent, the patriarch of Jerusalem came to England, to request aid from the king, lest the Jews and Saracens should destroy all Jerusalem; and with a multitude of cavalry and infantry he returned back to Jerusalem. In that year, on the calends of May, the sun changed its colour, and some said there was an eclipse of it. In that year David, abbot of Strata Florida, died; and Howel, son of Ieuav, son of Owain lord of Arwystli, died, and was honourably buried at Strata Florida; and then Einon, son of Cynan, died.

Well, I have not seen any red milk recently unless you include a McDonalds thick strawberry milkshake. Recent reports suggest that an even bigger eruption is brewing in Iceland so maybe we are due for some even more spectacular sunsets. I just hope that Yellowstone does not blow any time soon as that is overdue and when it does then goodbye mankind.

Here are a series of photos taken at Penclawdd on the 17th April, 2010

And here are some more taken from on top of Mynydd y Gwair on the 15th April 2010.

On my Bike

The recent mild weather encouraged me to pump up the tyres on my bike and armed with my camera I set off in the direction of Mumbles calling first to Singleton Park. I have become a frequent visitor to this nearby park over the winter to feed the birds. Some of the birds will actually come and feed out of your hand, especially the bold Great Tits.

Great Tit enjoying my nuts!!
  Blue Tits and Robins are not so bold and you have to be patient for these birds to come and feed from your hand. The robin will serenade you like no other bird and the range and diversity of its song is really incredible. Whereas the Great Tit will land in your hand and spend some time inspecting the nuts, the Robin makes a quick dash and grab.
I already knew that Robins are quite an aggressive bird from various sources but I have now witnessed this first hand from my various visits to the park. As well as feeding the birds nuts out of my hand, I also place bird seed in various locations throughout the park. A Robin will descend and stand guard at one of the feeding stations and will see off any other bird that dares to come and try and take some of the bird seed. It is quite surprising to see larger birds flee from the aggressive Robin but equally surprising is to see the little Blue Tit who will sometimes stand up against the bullying Robin. The battles that ensue happen so rapidly that it is difficult to capture in video mode. In the video clip below you will see the Ble Tit hanging upside down below the Robin. They had already had one fistycuff  when the Robin made another attack on the Blue Tit but it was the smaller Blue Tit who won the day and was able to sit at the dinner table eventually in peace.

An unusal resident in the park is a female Ring Necked Parakeet. I do not know whether she is a local escapee or one of the now established colony of 30 -40,000 resident parakeets from the south east of England. Maybe they are extening their range or just that she got blown off course one windy day.

She seems happy enough and is usually in the company of Jackdaws who strangley enough tolerate and seem to enjoy her company. I cannot help feeling sorry for her though as these are a gregarious bird which congregate in large flocks and this can account for her mingling with the Jackdaws.
Amongst the rich variety of birds in the park, I think my favourite has to be the colourful Nuthatch. This bird will not feed out of your hand but as well as being an attractive bird its feeding technique is quite interesting. The Tits will take a nut and the fly off to an adjacent branch where it will hold the nut with a claw and then peck away at the nut. The Nuthatch however, will take it to a tree and wedge it into the bark of the tree and then being a member of the Tree Creeper family will cling to the side of the tree and peck away at the nut.

Another unusual resident is a male Blackbird. Nothing unusal in that you might suppose, but this is a partial albino Blackbird that has been about for some years now.
On with my journey and back on my bike. I eventually cycled onto the promenade and headed down towards Mumbles. There is a dinghy parked up on the promenade down at Oystermouth with a rather unusual name. The owner I assume has a strange sense of humour??
I stopped off on the Mumbles Pier as I am accustomed to for a short break with the intention of cycling on to Caswell. Here is a nice shot of the pier from a previous visit.

The view I am usually confronted with when I stop off at the pier is as below:
 But on this particular day the tide was well out and after taking a couple of shots with the zoom lens I was able to ascertain that the tide was still going out. The people in the next shot were between the middle and outer island and obviously waiting for the channel to clear so that they could get out onto the island that holds the landmark Mumbles light house.
It dawned on me that here was my opportunity to go out onto the island. I have lived in Swansea all my life and from my living room window I have a view of the light house. Yet, I have never venutred out there. So I secured my bike to the railings on the pier and set off across the rocks. I soon realised that this may have been a mistake as I had the wrong footwear and soon had an attack of some awfull foot cramps whilst clambering over the rocks. I was not to be daunted however and persevered. The first thing that I became aware of is the number of steps  that you have to ascend which you can see from the previous and the next photo.
I was not to be deterred however, and for some reason I had a perpetual smug smile on my face. The reason was, because here I was doing a "first". This was the first time ever that I was going onto this island. I was rewarded with vistas I had never experienced before and was able to get up close to the gun emplacments and of course the light house. I  took the opportunity to take some photos and here are some below.

On the final ascent to the light house

Outer gun emplacement

Looking west towards the coastguard station

The sun was getting low in the sky and the temperature was starting to drop, so time to head back to the mainland and hopefully my bike has not been stolen?
On the way back I took the opportunity to take some more shots

On my way back to the pier I noticed a man standing on the cliffs but what caught my attention were the clouds.
Cycling back home along the promenade I made another stop to take another photo of the clouds. I have fore some reason a fascination with clouds??
So, quite an enjoyable day and why? Because I had done something new. Also, what had I learned? Wear appropriate footgear at all times and that Robins are bullies.

Right, off to feed the birds now.