In search of Mountain Goats

Mountain Goats have roamed Snowdonia for many years and I always enjoy seeing them from time to time, especially when it involves a walk up the Rhinogs (or more correctly Rhinogydd). The Rhinogs have always had that little extra feeling of wilderness for me, where better to view wild goats. I should really refer to them as feral, since they are descended from the domestic goats of pastoralists some 10,000 or so years ago. So having parked in Coed y Brenin, Tamsin & I headed for the rocky northern slopes of Rhinog Fawr.

Our route up in to the hills took us past the picturesque Pistyll Gwyn, which had a decent flow after a few nights of autumn rains.
This is a lovely walk with great views, so nothing would be lost if we didn’t sight the goats.

Cardigan bay & Lleyn peninsula from the Rhinogydd

It was here that I spotted the first small group of goats. Tamsin was busy sketching a view that she felt would inspire her fantasy writings, and so I was meandering amongst the rocks when I spotted 3 goats a little below Llyn Du. At a distance that was towards the limit of the optics that I was carrying, the normally very skittish creatures remained relaxed whilst I took a few pictures & then retreated.

We continued to enjoy our time on the mountain but it wasn’t until we were practicing our parkour balance descending the wet rocky track at a fair rate of knots, that our second goat sighting occurred. We heard an eerie bleating from several hundred feet above us. Tamsin the trusty spotter wheeled around to see…

Spotter Tamsin

.. two billy goats with generous horns calmly grazing amongst the crags & another goat high above them, bleating (see featured header image).

Billy Goat

I did take some rather shaky video of the goats but given that for part of it I was prone in a midge infested bog at the time the quality is limited, apologies.

Hope you enjoyed, take care of yourself & our precious planet 🙂

One of my favourite walks – Y garn, Glyderau loop

This is one of my favourite walks. A circular loop from the Youth Hostel by Llyn Ogwen, taking in some of Snowdonia’s fine mountain peaks.

Do be aware that some of the going is quite rough, there are sections of scrambling on scree and that in winter you are likely to need crampons & ice axe. That said, it’s an exhilarating mountain walk with fine views.

As one leaves the car parking area and follows the well made path to Llyn Idwal, it’s great to view the imposing cliffs above you with the knowledge that you’ll soon be walking above them. Upon reaching the lake we turn right to head up the slopes of Y Garn. This path is steep & particular care is needed in icy conditions. As you climb, do take time to look around and take in the views; looking east across Llyn Ogwen with Tryfan on its righthand shore or looking north along the Nant Ffrancon valley and out to sea.

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Nant Ffrancon with snow tipped Carneddau

Upon reaching the summit of Y Garn, fine panoramic views are available, looking over most of Snowdonia. Again take in Tryfan to the east or look south-west to Snowdon & her relatives.

Now we must descend about 250m southwards to Llyn y Cwn before ascending the shaded scree slope to the summit of Glyder Fawr, the highest point on this walk. The rough & jagged rocks of Glyder Fawr provide quite the dramatic viewpoint. Now we can enjoy the high level walk eastwards from Glyder Fawr, via Castell y Gwynt to the similarly rocky summit of Glyder Fach.

Whilst it is possible to descend almost directly via the eastern scree slope of Glyder Fach to Bwlch Tryfan, it may be more enjoyable to take the slightly longer route to Bwlch Tryfan by diverting towards Llyn Caseg-fraith, as shown on the map.

Once we have reached Bwlch Tryfan, follow the rock strewn path downhill past Llyn Bochlwyd & its associated waterfall and then all the way back to where we began.

In total a very enjoyable walk of about 7 miles with a climb of around 3,300 ft. Whilst timing will vary upon your pace & how much you stop to enjoy / photograph the views, it is best to allow most of a winter’s day to complete this – say 7 hours.

Below is my map for this walk, embedded via Viewranger:

Natural History Photography – Why? Reason 1

4:30 am Beep, beep, beep. The alarm goes off. I’m comfy & warm, it’s freezing out there but there’s stuff to do before getting on the road. Why do I get up? To take some landscape shots…

A few hours later it’s still dark and we’re at our first destination. I’m reckying by torchlight for the perfect spot to set up the tripod. The car was reporting -6 degrees when we stopped, feels at least that cold to me. Damn, there’s a light breeze. I’ll really need that breeze to drop, if the reflections are to be perfect.

The first glow of dawn light tinges the sky, it’s so peaceful, serene even and I feel that oneness with mother nature that you just won’t get in a town or with a bunch of folk. Time to take a few longish exposures.

It’s light now & the sun is about to rise above the horizon, birds start singing, it’s time for the main event. The breeze has dropped, almost as if nature is holding her breath & right on cue too. Boom, those first mandarin coloured rays of sun illuminate the Snowdon Horseshoe. The warm light quietly yet inexorably rolls down the mountains, illuminating them in it’s fiery glow. The lake in front of me forms a perfect still mirror, reflecting the morning mountain beauty; mingling it with reflections of the lake’s own glacial boulders. Click, the picture I wanted, saved to flash card. Time to just enjoy these fine moments of sun-kissed mountains & lake.

Then it’s back to the car. Get out the stove to cook up beans on toast for breakfast. And then time to drive to our daytime destination, there are 7 hours of daylight left to make best of, with camera & Shank’s pony.

Snowdon Horseshoe at dawn, from Llynnau Mymbyr
Snowdon Horseshoe at dawn, from Llynnau Mymbyr

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Shooting Stars, Meteors and the Perseids

The recent meteor shower  was a great celestial occasion for both viewing and photography. In this post I hope to explain what causes the ‘shooting star’ displays and illustrate how they appear to radiate from a particular point in the night sky.

I’ve been waiting for a clear sky on the peak night of the Perseids  for several years and this year provided me with the closest yet, almost 2 hours of clear sky with patchy moving cloud. So let’s start with a close-up picture of a shooting star.

A Perseid Meteor 40s f4 24mm ISO1600

Shooting star is a colloquial name for the trail of a meteoroid as it passes through our planet’s atmosphere. At this point it is more correctly called a meteor, if any fragment manages to meet the ground it will then be called a meteorite. Meteoroids are solid chunks of material moving through space with a size ranging from a spec of dust up to 10 meters across. When such an object enters Earth’s atmosphere, at speeds up to 40 miles per second, it heats up and usually disintegrates at about 30 miles of altitude. This fiery death happens in a mere second and is what we see from the ground. The colours seen in this display, can give scientists a clue about the composition of the meteor. In the picture above the blue/green suggests copper and the yellow/orange suggests sodium. If the brightness of a meteor in our skies is greater than that of the planets, then it is considered a fireball or bolide. We were lucky to see one such fireball last night, high in the north-east, above Dyfi Forest.

Perseid and Andromeda click image for a larger view …

The picture above shows a wider field of view, the Perseid meteor can be seen top left, whilst one of our neighbouring galaxies, Andromeda, may be seen in the bottom right. These images were taken using a Canon 5DMkII & 24-105L lens on a normal photographic tripod. With an exposure time of 40 seconds, this is long enough for the Earth’s motion to cause star trails, which are indeed very evident. To avoid this one could mount the camera on a German equatorial mount, as per the picture at the bottom of this blog post.

A meteor shower is said to happen when many meteors are seen in the sky over a short period of time and they all appear to radiate from the same point. This is caused by a stream of cosmic material colliding with Earth’s atmosphere. The Perseids are just one such stream of material. The comet Swift-Tuttle  travels through our solar system on a 130 year orbit, occasionally it loses matter and this is left as a stream of cosmic debris that our planet passes through in the fist half of august each year.

So why do the meteors in a shower appear to radiate from the same point and can we illustrate it?

Having been dropped by a speeding comet, all these cosmic dust particles are travelling in parallel with each other and at very similar velocities, perspective  vision demands that they appear to originate from the same point. For example, imagine you are standing in the middle of a long straight road. Far in the distance 2 motorbikes appear from the same point. In truth one is on the left of the road & one is on the right. As the motorbikes approach you, they will appear to diverge away from the same starting point and eventually one will pass one side of you and the other will pass the other side of you. The motorbikes have never moved apart, yet they appeared to originate from the same point. This is how it is with the meteors but on a much larger, cosmic scale.

The Perseids appear to radiate from a point in the constellation  of Perseus, hence the meteor shower’s name. To illustrate this I took the picture below:

Perseid Radiant click on image to view a larger version …

This was taken with a Canon 40D and 15mm f2.8 fisheye lens, mounted on an equatorial mount to avoid field rotation and star trailing. A series of 170 35-40 second images were taken sequentially. Satellite & aircraft trails were filtered out, as were cloud laden exposures. The remaining exposures were further filtered for meteor activity and then composited to form the above image. Six meteors can be seen streaking across the night sky. To the left one can see the Plough (Big Dipper) asterism ; to the right the constellations of Cassiopeia & Perseus can be seen. Each of the six meteors’ paths can be traced back to within the constellation of Perseus.

The orientation of the above image is looking directly north, over southern Snowdonia. Bottom left is Foel Crochan, Aberllefenni, with some cloud cover.

I hope you saw some meteors, if not, better luck next time. If you are hoping to photograph meteors, remember that the burst of light is typically only 1 second long and that’s what you’re trying to image. So use a fast lens and maximise the light gathering potential of your camera. Expose for long enough that the sky appears slightly brighter than black. Use a focal length of your choice, wider gives you more chance of catching one, longer may give you more detail.

Have fun.