bird watching birds National Trust photography Shropshire wildlife

A Wild Mountain Pool

Wildmoor Pool sits alone up on the top of the Long Mynd amongst open moorland. We live on the northern edge of the South Shropshire Hills and we need to drive only a short distance to the Long Mynd at the southern edge of the South Shropshire Hills. On a very hot and humid day we decided to take our books, a flask of coffee and some fruit and seek out the cooler air atop the Long Mynd. We had never been to the Wildmoor Pool before and we were stunned by its beauty and isolation as it came into sight. A triangle of clear water tinged brown by peat.

It is described in my book on the Long Mynd as a place to sit and wait for the wildlife to arrive. This proved to be so true. On our arrival we spotted lots of different Damsel Flies and Dragonflies in a myriad of sparkling colours, but little else, no birds to be seen or heard in the sky, on the bushes or amongst the bracken and heathers.  These dragonflies have such evocative names – Black Darters, Common Hawkers, Golden-ringed Dragonfly.

So we sat, got comfortable, poured coffees and got out our books to enjoy in the peace up on the long mountain. The silence and still warm air created an atmosphere of calm and peacefulness – and above all contentment. This silence was only occasionally interrupted by tiny splashes of water as fingerling Brown Trout plucked flies from the mirrored surface and sent ripples out in concentric rings moving slowly outwards towards the edge of the pool. Deep throated croaks from frogs emerged from deep within the reeds. The surface dwellers barely make a sound or a ripple, the Water Measurers, Pondskaters fail to break the surface. Water Beetles and Water Boatmen pierce through the surface to collect bubbles of oxygen.

Reflections decorated the pool’s surface. When the Brownies’ ripples reached them they shimmered but otherwise they were still as the mountain air.

The slopes of the mountain here were decorated with bracken and heather and little else, so the tiny simple blooms of the Tomentil shone like golden stars in a clear sky. Yellow glows in so much green. Close to the pool edge the bracken is joined by tough sedges such as Bottle Sedge, rushes such as Common Spike Rush, with Yellow Flag and Mountain Thistles punctuating them with colour. Further from the bank Bogbeans and Bog Pondweed flourish.

Water plants often take a pool over trying to cover it and dominate, but here the National Trust manage the amount of growth and keep a good percentage of water clear. This allows us to appreciate the large white flowers of the Waterlilies pushing through the surface amongst their flat circular plate-like leaves. As far as we know we have only two native waterlilies, one little yellow one and a larger white one but this one was the palest shade of pink, which confused us.

The clear air up here encourages lichens and mosses to grow on any suitable surface. Around the pool and roadside they colonise fenceposts of concrete and wood.

After sitting quietly for a while and enjoying a coffee we became aware of a deep rumbling a little like distant farm machinery at work or a distant hovering helicopter, and after a while we realised this incongruous sound was under the road where it skirted the pool. After a little exploration we discovered that the sound was that of the water overflowing from the pool through a pipe passing under the road. The water drains from the peaty slopes and seeps into the pool. The road acts as a dam and on the far side the overflow bursts from a pipe rumbling and roaring into a tiny stream which disappears into the valley. From the pool side the water disappears beneath a grated hole before rumbling and bubbling its way underground.

After a while we began to hear bird calls and to see the occasional one in the sky passing over our heads or perching atop the tallest fronds of bracken. The smaller birds prove mostly to be Meadow Pipits. But two scarcer species the Stonechats and Whinchats share the same silhouette so are difficult to differentiate when perched on tall strands of bracken. But when they move and their colours and markings become clearer we can see that the Whinchats have definite eye-stripes and the Stonechats black heads. The chest of the Stonechat is more colourful being more pure orange than the buff-orange breast plumage of the Whinchat. This area suits them well as they like steep hillsides covered in bracken with a good understory and enjoy being near water.

Big birds are less frequent, probably the commonest being the large black Ravens which pass high over us nearly always in pairs and cronking deeply. Although we love seeing the dragonflies and their cousins the damsel flies and the small songbirds we are equally enthralled with the sight of their predators. While watching a male Kestrel hovering above the hillside vegetation and admiring his russet and grey tones, I was distracted by the site of a rapidly flying tiny bird of prey, the Hobby. I followed him as he flew to the damp area above the Wild Pool where dense clumps of reed and rush are interspersed with small pools of water. Here he hunts the dragonflies and damselflies. What a flying display!They look like a cross between a Swift and a Peregrine Falcon.

Even smaller is the Merlin, Britain’s smallest bird of prey which we watched as it hunted for the Meadow Pipits just feet above the bracken. They are now rearing their second batch of youngsters so are hunting here and when successful flying off to the nearest trees and small woods lower down the mountain.

As the afternoon wore on the heat increased alongside the humidity and the slopes became quiet. We returned to sitting and admiring the very special pool.

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Follow that stream!

A walk along a tiny stream in a deep valley in our Shropshire Hills seemed most inviting on a warm May afternoon, so we set off for a half hour drive from home to Cardingmill Valley at Church Stretton. Much of the countryside here is managed by the National Trust so at weekends the valley gets too busy for our liking. Hence we chose midweek for our stream side walk, and found a few cars and people close to the Visitor Centre but as we left that behind we were almost on our own.

The stream leads us into the valley.

The wide valley where we joined the tiny stream looked most inviting with its steep slopes running up the tall hillsides towering overhead, all topped off by a clear blue sky. We hoped to see different birds here in this upland habitat and a scarcity of plants but those we see should be interesting in how they adapt to their environment.

One of the gentler slopes.

We were heading for a narrower side valley called “Light Spout Hollow” where if all went well we anticipated discovering a waterfall. So the first section of our walk along the Cardingmill Valley the path was relatively wide and even and the climb gentle. Looking up the slopes towards the sky we searched for the Buzzards which we could hear mewing overhead as thye wheeled in the thermals. But these are steep head-spinning slopes so it was a matter of glances of these wide-winged soaring birds of prey. It was easier to appreciate the hovering hunting tactics of the Kestrel hunting on the lower slopes.

Storm clouds brewing over the hills.
The green side of the valley.
Looking back to see where we have come from.
A Hawthorn bonsai shaped by the weather.
Looking up at the bonsai Hawthorn.
Fresh Whinberry foliage.
We turn left as the valley splits into two.
Clear water stream.
Lichens enjoy the moist atmosphere near the stream and clean air.
Some boulders have a soft cuhion of moss.

The extreme winter conditions here become apparent in a variety of ways. The huge boulder has been split in half by repetitive freeze-thaw action in successive winters – such nature power. Trees are sculpted by the weather into natural bonsais which create dramatic silhouettes on the horizon.

Mother Nature – rock splitter.
The extreme weather takes its toll on wildlife and livestock.
Bonsai Hawthorn.

The effects of the weather varied from place to place and from slope to slope. On one side of a hill Birches grow in abundance but just turn a corner and the hillside is empty of trees bar one lone stunted Birch.

All on my own!

The stream changed character as we moved up the little valley with miniature waterfalls, rapids and swirling deeper pools, until finally we reached our goal – the main waterfall. Here we stopped for a well-earned rest and to take in the atmosphere and views, and enjoyed our usual outdoor victuals of fruit and coffee. The boulders which we rested on were slippery and shone from the action of resting walkers’ bottoms.

The stream clambers noisily over boulders in its path.
The stream flowing over smooth rocks under an overhanging willow.
The clear water passes beneath sprigs of scented Water Mint.
Water power has gouged deeply into the rock.
Nearly there.
As good as we expected.
Looking and listening while enjoying a coffee.
Our little green friend who joined in our picnic.

Here at the top we listened to the constant songs of the birds and tried to identify those fast flyers over our heads. Wheatears, Stonechat, Whinchat and Pipit. On our way back down we concentrated on finding the wild flowers that managed to find a foothold or sheltered place.

Jude the Undergardener leads the way down.
The winding path shows us the way.
The glossy round leaves of Pennywort.
Fresh ferns flourish in the cool shade at the base of rocky outcrops.
Almost back.

What an enjoyable walk, wandering up valleys with just birds and sheep as company. We must return in the Autumn.

Shaun the Sheep was here!