Archives for January 2012

Icy winds blowing in from Russia

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Derek Brockway Derek Brockway | 16:03 UK time, Monday, 30 January 2012

Much of Wales has had a wintry mixture of rain, sleet and snow over the last 24 hours, with most of the snow falling on higher ground.

I'm not expecting much (if any) more snow over the next few days, but the thermals will definitely come in handy as this week it's going to be one of the coldest so far this winter - with easterly winds blowing in from Russia.

snow in Maenchlochog near the Preseli hills

This photo was taken by Sian Cleddau in Maenchlochog near the Preseli hills in Pembrokeshire.

It might also be an idea to check your car anti-freeze too as there will be some low temperatures overnight.

snow in Gilfach Goch

There was just about enough snow in Gilfach Goch for Caitlin and Geraint Powell to build a snowman.

I'm not sure it will make it into our snow art picture gallery though!

Temperatures tonight will be around freezing or below and the Met Office has issued a yellow warning of icy patches.

Yellow means be aware, especially in the south and west where we've had most of the rain and snow today.

Over the next few days our weather will be dominated by high pressure over Finland and that means cold easterly winds blowing across northern Europe and into the UK.

The rest of the week will bring us plenty of dry weather with variable cloud, sunny spells and hard frosts so you may want to protect any vulnerable outdoor plants.

Over the weekend, it will hopefully turn milder with a spell of rain preceded by snow but the cold air could return again next week.

Don't forget you can keep up to date to with the latest traffic and travel news on Radio Wales, Radio Cymru and online at www.bbc.co.uk/wales.

Wrap-up warmly, keep feeding the birds and keep an eye on elderly neighbours and relatives during this cold snap.

Cold and clear weather ahead

Derek Brockway Derek Brockway | 15:20 UK time, Friday, 27 January 2012

Yesterday was more like winter should be with sleet and snow in some parts of the country. Most of the snow fell in the Heads of the Valleys area during a heavy downpour yesterday afternoon.

Near Dowlais in Merthyr Tydfil about an inch of snow fell and this caused delays for drivers travelling along the A465 : Photo by Ian James

Matthew Fox took this photo in Tredegar where everything turned white

There was also thunder and hail in places. This was Rachel Mathias' car outside her home in Hakin in Milford Haven

Low pressure is bringing more wintry showers today - some of them heavy with hail, thunder and sleet and there's more snow in places too.

The snow is mainly on high ground above 300 metres or 1000 feet but big snow flakes are possible lower down in any heavier showers along with gusty winds.

This evening the showers will die away leaving a dry and clear night with a widespread frost and icy patches.

Tomorrow will be a fine winter's day with bright skies and sunshine. After a frosty start, temperatures will recover rising to 5 or 6 Celsius in the afternoon with very light winds. So, tomorrow will be a good day for getting out and about and trying out a walk.

Sunday will start dry and bright but cloud and rain in Pembrokeshire will spread east wards during the day. As it does so, it will turn to sleet and snow, mainly on the high ground in Mid Wales, the north and east.

Temperatures ranging from 3 Celsius in Welshpool to as high as 10 Celsius in Fishguard with a south to south-easterly breeze.

Next week, rain, sleet and snow on Monday will move away. The following few days should then be dry and chilly with sunshine and frost.

It looks as if February will get off to a cold start this year with a large block of high pressure over Russia keeping fronts over the Atlantic away from our shores for a little while.

Big Garden Birdwatch

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Martin Aaron Martin Aaron | 10:09 UK time, Thursday, 26 January 2012

Over half a million people will be taking part in the world's biggest wildlife survey this weekend - the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch.

Simply spend one hour over the weekend of 28-29 January, counting the birds in your garden or local park, and record the highest number of each bird species seen at any one time.

After some inspiration? Have a look at some popular garden bird species in our picture gallery.

This winter has seen temperatures go from mild, to freezing, and back again, with ice, snow, wind and rain all thrown into the mix.

And after two cold winters before it, the wildlife charity is eager to find out what this year's confusing weather will mean for our garden birds.

RSPB Cymru's Dana Thomas said; "The last few months have been anything but predictable so it will be interesting to see what kinds of birds people are seeing this weekend, and in what numbers."

"With plenty of natural food still about some of the usual suspects might be a bit elusive, but heavy rain and strong winds could send other surprises our way.

"And spring-like signs might even be inspiring early breeding activities. There's already been lots of evidence of birds recce-ing potential nest sites so whatever the weather, it'll be a busy time."

The mild and wet weather has meant a different atmosphere in Wales's gardens and calls to the RSPB's wildlife enquiries team shows that it's having an impact on wildlife too.

The wildlife charity usually gets calls during the autumn from people asking where the birds have gone, but this has carried on for longer into the winter.

The Big Garden Birdwatch is an important tool in spotting early trends in bird numbers. Doing the survey in winter allows us to predict how birds are faring ahead of the breeding season.

Garden bird feeder by Brian Mottershead.

Garden bird feeder by Brian Mottershead.

It doesn't matter what type of garden or outside space you have, in the survey's 33 year history, participants have watched birds in all sorts of alternative gardens.

February can be the harshest month of the year and a time when birds should be getting well fed to get in shape for the breeding season. Good energy supplies now give them the best chance of producing healthy young.

Big Garden Birdwatch events taking place around Wales this weekend:

RSPB Glaslyn Osprey site, Pont Croesor

There will be activities for young and old to encourage an interest in nature and promote RSPB membership. Fee: no charge / age group: everyone. More info please call Geraint Williams on 07921 284 321

Frongoch Garden Centre, Caernarfon

Join RSPB Staff to monitor bird activity on the Centre's feeders. Fee: no charge / age group: everyone. More info please call Geraint Williams on 07921 284 321

RSPB Conwy reserve, LL31 9XZ

Find out how to attract lots of birds to your garden and learn how to identify and record them for the Big Garden Birdwatch. Bird cake making for children between 1.30 - 3.30pm. Fee: Bird cakes 50p each / age group: families. More info please call Charlie Stretton on 01492 584 091.

RSPB South Stack Visitor Centre, Holyhead, LL65 1YH

28 January from 11am - 4pm. A fun day of learning how to make your garden a wildlife haven, attract birds and other wildlife into your garden and take part in many games and activities. Take home a big garden bird watch form, do the survey and become a wildlife hero. Fee: free / age group: Families. Contact Hayley Riseborough on 01407 762100 for more info.

Rhug Estate Farm Shop and Restaurant, Corwen, Denbighshire, LL21 0EH

Find out how you can attract birds into your garden and visit the Rhug Estate New Farm Shop and Restaurant. Fee: free / age group: all. For more information please contact Kim Boccato, Giuseppe Boccato on 07921 283 685.

Portmeirion Village, Minfordd, Gwynedd, LL48 6ER

Discover which birds visit your garden and how to join in the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch Survey. Meet the resident birds of the inspirational Portmeirion Village, Estuary and Woodland. Portmeirion entrance charge applies, Downloadable Winter Entry Voucher reducing entrance to £1 for adults, children free, available on the Portmeirion website. For more information please contact Kim Boccato, Giuseppe Boccato on 07921 283 685.

Newport Wetlands Visitor Centre, West Nash Road, Newport, NP18 2B

Sunday 29 January from 1-3pm. Take part in a quiz to see how many of the top 20 birds from last year you can recognise. Venture out onto the reserve on a guided walk to identify the birds that call Newport Wetlands home and make a fat feeder to attract birds to your garden before taking home your very own survey sheet so you can take part in the RSPB's Big Garden Bird Watch. Fee: £3.50 per child / RSPB Child member £2 / age group: 5-12 years. Please call Hana Callard on 01633 636351 and Tara Okon on 01633 636354 for more info.

Techniquest, Stuart Street, Cardiff bay, CF10 5BW

29 January. A joint event with Techniquest Science Discovery Centre to include an information stall, children's make and take activities and guided walks around the Cardiff bay nature reserve in the company of knowledgeable local volunteers and staff members.

Fee: Normal Techniquest entry charges apply. Walks will be bookable on a first come first served basis and limited to four groups of 20. A small donation may be requested for make and take activities / age group: all. Suitable footwear will be required for the walks, all adults to supervise their children). Please call Phil Pinder / Helen Mears on 02920 353 000 for more info.

Roath Park Lake, Cardiff

From 10-4pm at the lighthouse end of the lake. Learn about the Birds of Roath Park Lake and get advice on feeding your garden birds and learn how you can take part in this years Big Garden Birdwatch. Fee: no charge but donations are welcome / age group: families. For more info please call James Bainton on 02920 353 000

Forestry Commission Wales Bwlch Nant yr Arian site, SY23 3AD

27 January from 10-4pm.Come watch the beautiful Red Kites at Bwlch Nant yr Arian as they swoop down from the skies to pick up their meal. After watching this fantastic wildlife spectacle, find out what types of birds are native to the area and see how many different birds you can spot in your garden.

Fee: Free. Car park charge of £1.50 / Age group: all ages welcome. For more info please call Joe Hawthorne on 07525 722898

This table shows the average number of the 2011 top 10 species of birds recorded per garden across Wales, and compares this with the results from the 2010 and 1979 surveys.

Species

Average per garden in 1979

Average per garden in 2010

Average per garden in 2011

% change

1979-2011

house sparrow

10.0

4.92

5.389

-46.11

starling

15.0

4.55

7.480

-50.13

blue tit

2.4

3.63

4.374

82.25

chaffinch

3.0

3.61

3.701

23.37

blackbird

4.0

3.42

3.609

-9.78

robin

2.0

1.73

1.728

-13.6

collared dove

.28

1.17

1.17

317.86

goldfinch

-

1.13

1.208

-

great tit

0.9

1.8

1.989

121

wood pigeon

0.2

0.82

0.79

295

Visit the RSPB website for more information and to submit your results online.

St. Dwynwen's Day

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Derek Brockway Derek Brockway | 16:10 UK time, Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Today is a special day - St. Dwynwen's Day.

Dwynwen for those of you who don't know, is the patron saint of Welsh lovers.

The weather today hasn't been great for a romantic stroll. Some places have been dry with a little sunshine on north coast and mild with temperatures in Flintshire up to 12 Celsius but generally it's been cloudy.

In the west and the northwest, it's been damp and windy with gales in Snowdonia and gusts over 60mph recorded at Capel Curig.

This evening a cold front over Ireland will move east bringing a spell of heavy rain followed clearer weather and a few showers.

The wind will ease once the rain clears and it will be turning colder with lowest temperatures 1 to 4 Celsius and a risk of icy patches on some untreated roads.

Tomorrow morning you will notice the drop in temperature as it will feel noticeably colder.

Some places will start dry and bright with some sunshine but showers will become more widespread during the day - some of them heavy with hail, thunder and sleet and snow on the hills and mountains, mainly above 400 metres or 1200 feet.

Top temperatures tomorrow will be 6 to 9 Celsius and breezy, especially along the south and west coast.

On Friday a few showers are likely, mainly in the north and dying away during the afternoon, but otherwise dry with bright skies and sunshine.

As for the weekend, there's some uncertainty at the moment.

On Saturday there is a risk of rain but Sunday may become dry and colder.

Next week, we could be in for a spell of cold weather with easterly winds and a blocking high pressure system.

Amazing cloud formation: Kelvin Helmholtz

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Derek Brockway Derek Brockway | 10:41 UK time, Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Will Lewis from Glasbury, Powys sent in this amazing picture, taken on 14 January 2012 over looking Llangors in Powys. This is a photo of Kelvin Helmholtz billows:

View over Llangors with the Brecon Beacons behind. Image by Will Lewis, Powys.

The fog or stratus is colder and denser than the overlying air, so the two don't normally mix.

However, if the wind is strong enough, shear between the cloudy and non cloudy layer forces mixing, which manifests itself as unstable waves on the interface between the cold, dense air and the warm, less dense air.

These roll up into billows, or breaking waves. It is not often that you see the process so clearly illustrated but this is a great photo which could easily grace the cover of a weather or fluid dynamics book!

The Cloud Appreciation Society has more information about this fascinating cloud

NOAA says "Kelvin-Helmholtz clouds are a result of wind shear in a stable atmosphere"

And check out this video of Kelvin Helmholtz Wave Clouds over Birmingham, Alabama.

Thanks to Will for sharing his photo with us.

Where have all the birds gone?

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Martin Aaron Martin Aaron | 11:19 UK time, Monday, 23 January 2012

As the milder weather continues, our wildlife is becoming increasingly confused with the fact that we are still actually in winter.

Yesterday I visited Merthyr Mawr with my 2 year old son and his friend for a spot of 'dune surfing' on a snow sledge - hard work dragging/ carrying him back up to the top each time but good exercise and I probably burned off more calories than the fitness 'boot camp' that arrived later!

But getting back to the wildlife...on our way to the dunes, I noticed the verges were full of flowering snowdrops, but aside from the unseasonally early blooms, I didn't see many birds?

This was in stark contrast to a recent visit to Penbontrhydyfothau in North Pembrokeshire. The weather was bitterly cold with NE winds and Penbontrhydyfothau lies in a pretty shady valley but prone to frosts.

As a result the garden bird feeders, packed full of peanuts were absolutely buzzing with life - with non-stop visits from blue tits, great tits, coal tits, house sparrows and nuthatch. I also saw my first bullfinch of the year, such a plump and beautiful bird (the male anyway) but rarely seen these days.

I'd not seen that many birds in a single garden for years, especially when compared to my relatively quiet garden in Porthcawl where frosts are rare - thanks to the close proximity of the Bristol Channel.

Apart from crows, seagulls, the odd territorial robin and occasionally alarmed female blackbird diving into the hedge - I've hardly seen anything of real interest in my garden all winter long.

It made me think about a recent email I received to wales.nature@bbc.co.uk from a gentleman who was very concerned about the lack of house sparrows in his garden. A once thriving population, basically vanished from his garden during the autumn.

The RSPB have also been inundated with similar enquiries asking 'where have all the garden birds gone?'

Don't panic, it's not down to some mysterious migration pattern, an increase in the local cat population or the neighbours having tastier morsels on their bird feeders - it's simply due to the fact that birds are currently finding easy pickings out in the countryside. Birds in the countryside? I know, it's absurd!

The mild weather means that there are still plenty of insects around and the ground is still soft enough for birds to easily forage for their favourite bugs and grubs.

Yesterday I even found a bright green caterpillar chomping its way through an exotic plant I've been carefully nurturing in time for summer.

I'd put it in the garage to protect it from frost and mistakenly assumed it would be safe as the leaves are covered in fine, spikes (which would make them fairly unappealing to most creatures) but this little critter was right at home, so perhaps he came with the plant?

I put up some fat balls outside for the birds a month ago and they are still intact, vitrually untouched - so the birds are clearly finding food elsewhere.

However, we're not out of the woods yet and if the weather does suddenly cool down - food will literally become scarce overnight and birds will once again flock to our gardens, towns and cities for those life saving handouts.

So, don't stop putting food out altogether - but equally don't worry if your feeders aren't busy.

Lyndsey Maiden, a warden from the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales has been in touch with some peculiar wildlife observations in South Wales such as a robin sitting on a nest and currently incubating 5 eggs in Bridgend.

It would good to know what the earliest record of a fledgling in Wales is, as we might just have some local contenders in our midst.

Magpies have been spotted flying around with nesting materials in their beaks and in Morriston Park a nuthatch has been seen flying in and out of a nesting hole.

Meanwhile in the city, coots are mating and building nests at Bute East Dock in Cardiff.

A hedgehog has been spotted out and about in Carmarthenshire and more and more birds are now beginning their dawn chorus including collared doves, song thrushes, blackbirds and robins.

Personally, I'm still hoping we do get some snow in February so I can try out the sledge on snow rather than sand but the Met Office seems to be 50/50 at the moment - depending on which weather model you opt for - remaining mild with occasional cold snaps or snow with hard frosts from the north east.

I'd love to hear about your unusual and unseasonal wildlife sightings so please leave yours in the comments box below or drop me a mail at wales.nature@bbc.co.uk

How do you like your eggs?

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Rachael Garside Rachael Garside | 10:43 UK time, Monday, 23 January 2012

Did you eat breakfast this morning?

If you did, was it something just grabbed on your way out of the door or did you sit down and make a meal of it?

Farmhouse Breakfast Week starts today , providing a perfect excuse to treat yourself to a 'proper breakfast'.

This annual event is organised by the Home Grown Cereals Authority but also supported by the Farmers Union of Wales who are hosting breakfast this week at a number of locations, from the House of Lords in London, the European Parliament in Brussels to Bryncir mart in Caernarvonshire in support of various charities, including Cancer Research UK .

The idea is to highlight the importance of eating a good breakfast and making sure that Welsh produce is part of your morning meal.

Local farm sausages, crispy Welsh bacon and free range eggs, a 'real' loaf of bread and some Welsh butter - you can't deny we've got plenty of choice on offer.

I was invited for breakfast at Gellifeddgar farm at Blackmill near Bridgend last week - occupational perk! - where we recorded the 'Country focus' programme.

The smell hit us as soon as we arrived, wafting across the farmyard. Inside, Gill Morgan was busy at the Aga while her husband Charles finished off his chores outside.

'We always eat a good breakfast' Gill admitted, 'it set us up for the day. And it's something we've passed on to the grandchildren too.'

'So many children don't eat a proper breakfast and need to realise how important it is to help them concentrate and do well at school.'

'Shake Up Your Wake Up' is the theme for this year's campaign - suggesting that if we make small changes to our morning routines, we could make room for a better breakfast.

So get up a few minutes earlier, get out the frying pan, put the sauces on the table and maybe even dust off the toast rack sitting in the back of the cupboard.

Bore da

Rhys to the Rescue: Series 2

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Martin Aaron Martin Aaron | 16:55 UK time, Thursday, 19 January 2012

When Welsh wildlife is in trouble, it's often humans who are to blame although nature and the weather can also take their toll.

Dr Rhys Jones is back with a brand new series of Rhys to the Rescue on BBC One Wales, Wednesdays at 7:30pm.

Reptile expert, Rhys Jones

Reptile and animal handling expert, Dr Rhys Jones.

In episode one, currently available on BBC iPlayer, Rhys deals with an escaped snake in a bathroom, a big cat sighting and a lonely chimp!

Next week, Rhys rescues two tawny owl chicks found in the middle of a wood in Cwmbran. Had they become distressed and disorientated during a recent storm or taken and later abandoned by humans?

His next call is to Caerleon to see a grass snake, before travelling to Bridgend to save a Manx shearwater and attempt to release it back into the wild off cliffs at Southerndown.

Wyn the Warden and Dinefwr Park

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Rachael Garside Rachael Garside | 14:31 UK time, Thursday, 19 January 2012

Looking out for hazardous trees, feeding fallow deer and pregnancy-testing a native breed of rare cattle - all in a day's work for countryside warden Wyn Davies.

Wyn has worked as the Area Warden for the National Trust in Carmarthenshire for the past ten years and even though it's winter, there's plenty of work to do.

Wyn Davies, area warden for the National Trust in Carmarthenshire.

Wyn Davies, Area Warden for the National Trust in Carmarthenshire.

"This is the perfect time to maintain the pathways, mend fencing and signs and survey for any potentially dangerous trees" Wyn told me as we took a walk around near Llandeilo, "Christmas is behind us, we've had the shortest day and there are already signs that spring is just around the corner. I saw a horse chestnut coming into bud the other day, and a few snowdrops appearing."

Wyn and I walked along a new footpath at Dinefwr - the 'Brown Path', not named after the colour of the terrain, but after the landscape architect Capability Brown, who visited Dinefwr in the eighteenth century and suggested the route from Newton House to the medieval castle, taking in some of the best views in this designed landscape on the way.

We passed a field of grazing White Park cattle, one of our native Welsh breeds which have been here for around a thousand years.

The herd has just been pregnancy-tested and of the 22 cows, 20 are in calf, which means there's a busy spring calving ahead.

We walked on through the deer park, home to around 120 fallow deer. The herd needs to be fed daily at this time of year with sugar beet. In the misty rain today, there was no sign of any deer - they'd taken shelter in the trees.

A fallow deer at Dinefwr Park by Steve Greaves.

A fallow deer in the woods at Dinefwr Park by Steve Greaves.

Dinefwr has one of the best collection of ancient trees in the country, with around three hundred trees thought to be more than four hundred years old.

Wyn talked about them as if they were family members, talking about their characters and saying how upset he gets if they lose one in a storm.

As he put it poetically, "In some ways, winter is the best time to see the trees because without their leaves, it's easier to appreciate their structure and majesty".

Through the ancient woodland, we headed down towards the oxbow lakes created by the river Towy.

At this time of year, the lakes are a haven for visiting wildfowl, hundreds of geese, ducks and other migratory birds stopping off in Wales to escape the arctic conditions of northern Europe.

There's a thriving otter population here as well, but no sign of them on our walk.

Finally we headed along the boardwalk, a meandering wooden pathway passing the millpond and paused to admire the Castle Oak, reputed to be the oldest tree in the park.

At around 800 years old, it was quite a sight. Wyn assured me it was also home to thousands of invertebrates, part of the reason that Dinefwr is the only park in Wales designated a national nature reserve.

A really enjoyable walk and a chance to escape the bustle of everyday life and an invitation to revisit Wyn and his work as a warden in the spring, his favourite time of year.

For more information on opening times at Dinefwr visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dinefwr

Sunsets and sunrises

Derek Brockway Derek Brockway | 10:41 UK time, Wednesday, 18 January 2012

We've had some beautiful sunrise and sunsets recently.

Jacqueline Lane took this photo at Morfa Bychan.

Morfa Bychan sunset by Jaqueline Lane.

Morfa Bychan sunset by Jaqueline Lane.

Roger Roberts from Monmouthshire sent in this picture taken at the Upper Neuadd reservoir in the Brecon Beacons.

Sun rise over Upper Neuadd reservoir by Roger Roberts.

Sun rise over Upper Neuadd reservoir by Roger Roberts.

And how about this one of a sunrise in Llandudno by Mike Pritchard. Stunning!

Sunset over Llandudno pier by Mike Pritchard.

Sunset over Llandudno pier by Mike Pritchard.

Most of the rain today will be on the high ground in the south and west with low cloud, mist and hill fog.

However, it should dry and clear-up in the north later in the afternoon with the wind easing and feeling noticeably milder.

Top temperatures between 11 and 13 Celsius which is 4 or 5 degrees above the average.

Weatherman Walking: Episode two

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Derek Brockway Derek Brockway | 16:10 UK time, Monday, 16 January 2012

Thanks to high pressure it was a dry weekend with plenty of sunshine, some cloud, frost and a few fog patches as well. The colder, brighter weather a welcome change after all the wet and windy weather we've had so far this winter!

Temperatures over the weekend fell as low as minus 6 Celsius inland but some windward coasts stayed a few degrees above freezing with a breeze off the sea. At Milford Haven, the lowest temperature was only 4 Celsius.

I know lots of you took advantage of the fine weather and I've had some beautiful photos including some gorgeous sunsets tweeted to me over the past few days.

How about this for a sunset shot?

Sunset from the Great Orme. Image by Glyn Roberts

Sunset from the Great Orme with Penmaenmawr & Anglesey in the distance. Image by Glyn Roberts, Conwy.

Today is the last day of the fine, sunny weather. Tomorrow will be much cloudier and it will turn milder by Wednesday with south-westerly winds bringing some rain and drizzle. Top temperatures on Wednesday 10 to 12 Celsius.

On Thursday rain will clear and it will turn colder and brighter again. Windy too with wintry showers. The showers falling as sleet and hail. Some snow is likely too but not much. Most of it on higher ground and on the hills and mountains.

Don't forget, there is another episode of Weatherman Walking tonight on BBC One Wales at 7.30pm

Meanwhile Stargazing Live starts tonight at 8.30pm on BBC Two so you've time for a cuppa in between!

Conditions tonight will be ideal for looking at the night sky but it will be a different story tomorrow night and on Wednesday night with much more cloud expected.

Stargazing Live in Wales

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Martin Aaron Martin Aaron | 09:23 UK time, Monday, 16 January 2012

After last year's successful event, Stargazing Live returns to BBC Two, 16-18 January 2012.

Last year, up to 40,000 people took part in Stargazing astronomy activities in the UK and in 2012 BBC Learning and the Stargazing Live team are inviting more of you to get involved, with hundreds of events and star parties being organised with partners around the country.

With clear skies being forecast over the next few days we should be in for quite a treat.

Dr Huw Bolton from the National Museum Wales returns with another Stargazing blog explaining what you can expect to see in the night sky at this time of year and what events are taking place in Wales.

Dr Huw Bolton

Dr Huw Bolton, Conservator - Geology at the National Museum Wales.

Again this year, the National Museum Cardiff will be running a wide range of astronomical events, activities and talks to tie in with the BBC Two programmes.

Winter is a great time to explore the night sky. The long nights mean that you don't have to stay up too late to do a bit of stargazing.

The constellations visible at this time of year are some of the brightest in the sky, and in early 2012 two bright planets are well placed for viewing.

Jupiter and Venus are in the evening skies this winter and spring, and give an excellent opportunity to tread in the footsteps of Galileo in the winter of 1609-10.

He was the first to see Jupiter's four bright moons orbiting around the planet, and the first to see the phases of Venus - observations that changed humanity's view of the Universe.

Soon after the Sun sets, Venus can be seen shining brilliantly white in the south western sky. It will become ever better placed for observation over the coming months as it moves closer to Earth and develops its spectacular crescent phase.

Jupiter shines pale yellow in the south after sunset, making an interesting naked-eye colour contrast with Venus, reflecting (literally) the different compositions of their cloudy atmospheres.

Jupiter's moons and the crescent of Venus can nowadays be seen using simple binoculars. Our activities at the Museum will include a working model of Galileo's telescope.

You will be able to see for yourself just how difficult it was to make these remarkable observations 402 years ago, and see how far telescope technology has advanced since then.

By 8pm on these winter nights, the bright winter constellations start to dominate the eastern sky: Orion, Taurus, Gemini and others. The best known pattern is that of Orion with its distinctive hourglass shape. There are many myths surrounding Orion.

This star pattern was seen as a great hunter in Greek mythology, and was placed in the sky far away from his venomous nemesis - the constellation Scorpius.

Many of the stars in Orion lie at a similar distance, and are of a similar age, as they formed close together in the 'Orion arm' of our spiral Galaxy.

The main stars of Orion itself are white in colour and are therefore extremely hot - with the exception of the spectacular red giant Betelgeuse, which is much cooler, but over a thousand times the diameter of the Sun.

The contrast between the colour of Betelgeuse and the rest of Orion's bright stars can be seen with the naked eye.

Below the three stars of Orion's Belt lies the great Orion Nebula. This is a 'stellar nursery', where stars are being born out of vast clouds of hydrogen gas.

This nebula can be easily seen through binoculars as a glowing greenish patch of light, one of several bright deep-sky objects visible in binoculars at this time of year.

While seeking out this nebula, look also for the spectacular Pleiades star cluster in neighbouring Taurus. The three stars of Orion's Belt point upwards and to the right, straight towards the Pleiades.

Also known as the Seven Sisters of folklore, the Pleiades are one of the great sights of the winter sky.

Moving closer to home, Earth impacts have been in the news recently with the likely crash of the Russian Phobos-Grunt space probe after it failed to leave Earth's orbit.

Broken space probes are not the only hazard to threaten Earth from space - as part of our activities, the museum will be running an impact simulator, so you can see the disastrous effects that a comet or asteroid would have if it hit the Earth.

Smaller meteorites are much more common (and less dangerous) and have certainly landed in Wales in the past, as I have mentioned in my previous blog entry.

If you have found what you think might be a meteorite, bring it along to the museum on the day and we will identify it for you.

So if you want to know more about space and stargazing, come along and speak to us. Take a look through our telescopes, hear talks by professional astronomers, see how the ancients saw the constellations, view our meteorite collections and much more.

Events in Wales:

The National Museum Cardiff will be hosting Star Attractions at the Museum all day Saturday 21st January 2012.

The National Waterfront Museum, Swansea, will be hosting a Star Party on the evening of Friday 20th January. All entry and events are free.

You can also join in with the live programme via Twitter #bbcstargazing.

Check out the How to Guides for star and Moon guides, planetary activity and audio guides, videos and more.

Best of the sunshine in the north

Derek Brockway Derek Brockway | 16:27 UK time, Friday, 13 January 2012

It's certainly felt more like winter today compared to recently. In fact last night was the coldest night of the month so far with temperatures falling as low as -1 Celsius in places with a fairly widespread frost.

There was also a beautiful sunset yesterday evening which would have delighted the shepherds.

Over the weekend, the dry weather is set to continue with high pressure close by. More frost and a few mist and fog patches are likely as well.

The fog could be dense and freezing in places and slow to lift and may linger into the afternoon in a one or two spots.

Otherwise it will be fine and bright. The best of the sunshine tomorrow in the north and towards the Cardigan Bay coast. Some cloud is likely in Powys and the south.

On Sunday there will be more of a breeze from the south-east making it feel colder. The wind will be strongest in the south-west and that will help to keep the frost away from windward coasts where temperatures will stay above freezing overnight.

Next week will start dry but it may turn milder and more unsettled by Wednesday. Later in the month, there is a hint of cold and wintry weather after 21 January.

However, there is a lot of uncertainty in the forecast beyond 5 days so don't get too excited about there being snow just yet.

Waste not, want not

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Rachael Garside Rachael Garside | 10:42 UK time, Friday, 13 January 2012

How does this sound for a really simple idea? - take the surplus produce from the food industry and instead of burying it in landfill sites across Wales, redistribute it to people in the community who really need it.

That's the vision behind the charity Fareshare Cymru and I've been out with them this week, seeing how the process works.

We've heard about waste strategies and Government targets to reduce waste - well this scheme fits neatly into part of the plans and the ultimate aim is that Wales should be a country where no good food goes to waste.

It was an early start at the depot on the Capital Business Park in Cardiff where Fareshare Cymru has one of two bases in Wales (the other is in Llandudno Junction) Fareshare has been operating on a UK level for around 20 years now, but only came to Wales last September.

Guy Boswell is the project manager in Cardiff and he showed me around the warehouse where they keep the produce.

There was an amazing variety of foods stacked up on shelves stretching from floor to ceiling - from boxes of pasta, hundreds of tins of hot chocolate which couldn't be sold because the labels had accidentally been printed in Swedish to a whole pallet of after-dinner mints.

They can also stock fresh produce in huge fridge and freezer stores.

We joined volunteer Shelly on a trip in a chiller van up to Abertillery to the Tillery Frozen Foods factory where they had a stack of vegetable moussakas with one ingredient missing from the sauce which meant that meant they couldn't be sold, but are perfectly okay to eat.

With the food on board, we headed back to Cardiff in time to see a huge lorry arrive from Bristol with a delivery from a well-known cream cheese manufacturer.

We then took a delivery of produce to the Huggard Homeless Centre in Cardiff, where around 38 beds are provided for people who would otherwise be sleeping rough.

In the kitchens, the staff were busy making corned beef pasties and explained to us that before Fareshare starting delivering, they were relying on fried foods, but could now provide healthier food for the men and women coming to them for help.

As Guy explained, they need a lot more companies to donate surplus food (he was very firm on stressing that it's surplus and not 'waste').

After all, it costs £58 per ton to take anything to landfill - so it should make economic sense to donate it instead. Also, funding could be a problem in future because without it, the scheme couldn't work.

The whole experience was a real eye-opener, but it also makes you think about just how much food we do waste. And how our demanding shopping habits have created all this surplus in the first place. Definitely food for thought.

You can hear more about this story on 'Country Focus' this Sunday at 7am on BBC Radio Wales.

Turning colder from today

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Derek Brockway Derek Brockway | 09:38 UK time, Thursday, 12 January 2012

Last Autumn was the second warmest in the UK for over 100 years and this winter has been generally mild so far as well.

We haven't had much snow and frost so it's no wonder some flowers are blooming much earlier than usual.

A study in Cardiff has revealed that 63 species of wild flowers are in bloom at the moment - that's more than double the average number for this time of year!

Hawarden in Flintshire was one of the mildest places in Britain yesterday with a top temperature of 13 Celsius, 6 degrees above average.

But a change is on the way and it's going to turn colder from the north today with frost likely on Friday and temperatures rising no higher than 6 to 8 Celsius.

This morning a weak cold front will move south across the UK bringing a little rain followed by much clearer, colder air from the Arctic. High pressure will then take control on Friday and over the weekend.

Met Office chart from Thursday 12pm

Met Office weather chart from Thursday 12pm.

So today will be the last day of the mild, cloudy and damp weather for a while.

Tonight will be much clearer with some frost and fog forming. Friday will be dry and settled with very light winds and plenty of sunshine once any mist and fog lifts.

The weekend will be mostly dry with sunshine, more frost and a few mist & fog patches. A south-easterly-breeze will pick-up on Sunday making it feel chilly.

Next week will start dry but it looks like turning more unsettled and windier by the end of Wednesday as an area of deep low pressure develops out in the Atlantic.

Derek

Richard Burton walking trail opens

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Martin Aaron Martin Aaron | 15:15 UK time, Wednesday, 11 January 2012

A new walking trail has recently opened to commemorate the Hollywood star, Richard Burton.

The trail starts at Burton's birthplace in Pontrhydyfen.

Visitors can then listen to the Oscar-nominated star quote a passage from Under Milk Wood, the play by his favourite poet Dylan Thomas who also has walks dedicated to him in Laugharne near Camarthen.

Signposts with facts about Burton's childhood and career are placed along the trail.

The Richard Burton Trail is a three mile (4.8km) walk around the villages of Pontrhydyfen and Oakwood, surrounded by the Afan Forest Park.

The trail was created by the council's tourism section with help from the Cwmavon Residents Action Group, Forestry Commission Wales and the Richard Burton Advisory Group at Swansea University.

Find out more about a recent Weatherman Walk we did around Laugharne, following in the footprints of Dylan Thomas.

BBC News - Richard Burton trail at Afan Forest Park opening

More mild weather to come

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Derek Brockway Derek Brockway | 12:53 UK time, Monday, 9 January 2012

After last week's heavy rain, gales and flooding, the weather is in a quieter mood this week with the jet stream further north and high pressure over France.

Yesterday the warmest places in the UK was in Usk in Monmouthshire where the temperature reached 13 Celsius, 55 Fahrenheit - about 6 degrees above the January average.

So it's no wonder some plants and trees are flowering earlier than usual like this Magnolia tree which normally flowers in April!

Magnollia, flowering extremely early as you can see from the local paper, dated January 6, 2012. Image by Mrs Rossalyn Morris.

Magnollia, flowering extremely early as you can see from the local paper, dated January 6, 2012. Image by Mrs Rossalyn Morris.

Over the next few days, temperatures will remain on the mild side with winds blowing from the west or south-west. These winds will bring a little rain and drizzle at times, low cloud, mist and hill fog as well.

During Thursday, a cold front will move south bringing a little rain followed by much clearer conditions. It will also turn colder. Friday should be fine and settled with a ridge of high pressure bringing sunshine and a touch of frost.

Later in January, there is a hint of colder weather to come. However, this a long way down the line. Things could change but something to bear in mind.

In the meantime, Friday looks the best day this week for going for a walk and if you are after a few ideas on where to go - a new series of Weatherman Walking starts tonight on BBC One Wales at 7.30pm.

Check out website which has details of all the walks - including route descriptions, downloadable maps and some lovely photos taken on location by Martin Aaron.

Derek

In search of brown hares

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Rachael Garside Rachael Garside | 13:49 UK time, Friday, 6 January 2012

I'm just back from a trip to try to spot brown hares here in Carmarthenshire.

I was near the village of Brechfa and joined Vaughn Mathews who works with the Wildlife Trust Wales and is currently coming to the end of a three year hare survey of Wales.

It's estimated that there's been a 75% drop in hare numbers in Wales since WWII, but the survey is trying to establish if areas which are being sensitively managed are seeing a resurgence in numbers.

Farmland run as part of the Welsh Government's Tir Gofal scheme is being compared with land which is not part of any agri-environment projects.

We climbed a steep hill, slowly, looking carefully for any signs of hare, but as Vaughn explained, we were unlikely to see any in daylight.

Vaughn Mathews

Vaughn Mathews is currently coming to the end of a three year hare survey of Wales.

He told me that most of his sightings have been at dawn or dusk and that 3 years on, he still finds it a thrill to spot a brown hare: "They're just such charismatic creatures," he says "they can be so secretive and then sometimes, you can see them plainly, boxing together or bouncing along a field."

"I've also spoken to many farmers who say they'd like to see more hares on their land and wonder how they can attract them."

Hares are quite choosy though and apparently they don't like to share their living space with rabbits, sheep or people for that matter, and prefer to be around cattle, probably because they don't graze the grass so low.

Intensive farming methods, the loss of mixed farming systems and higher stock levels are all being blamed for dwindling hare numbers.

Vaughn wouldn't be drawn on any of the surveys findings, which are due to be published in the Spring, but he hinted that there could be a few surprises in store.

A hare from our Flickr group taken by Ros Bayliss.

A hare from our BBC Wales Nature Flickr group taken by Ros Baylis.

After a steep climb, several tricky farm gates and a lot of wading through thick mud, sadly we didn't spot any hares today.

But the Wildlife Trust Wales is asking for members of the public to get involved with the survey, by reporting any sightings of this reclusive animal.

If you're luckier than me and spot a brown hare, you can get in touch with them by visiting www.welshwildlife.org

You can hear more about my hare spotting trip on this week's Country Focus on Sunday, January 8 at 7am on BBC Radio Wales.

Watch a clip featuring Iolo Williams trying to measure the speed of a hare running.

Weather calming down

Derek Brockway Derek Brockway | 16:28 UK time, Thursday, 5 January 2012

I know a lot of people are fed up with the recent wind and rain so I've finally got some good news - the worst is over, at least for a while, anyway...

The wind is easing and the next few days are looking calmer but it was anything but calm last night!

At Capel Curig in Snowdonia a gust of 88 mph was recorded whilst 63 mph was recorded at Aberporth in Ceredigion.

63 mph was recorded at Aberporth and Mumbles Head and the wind strong enough to bring down a few trees across the country.

Thanks for your tweets and pics over the last few days. Remember you can keep in touch and sent photos to me @Derektheweather.

The Afon Vyrnwy in flood by Ron Kyte.

The Afon Vyrnwy in flood by Ron Kyte.

River levels are generally falling with the drier weather today but there is still one flood warning in force at the time of writing - in the Lower Dee Valley from Llangollen to Chester.

Flooding in Welshpool by Ian Francis.

Flooding in Welshpool by Ian Francis.

The reason for the stormy weather is a deep area of low pressure which is now over Sweden leaving Britain in a brisk and chilly north-westerly air stream. Meanwhile a cold front will bring fresh snow to the Alps so good news for skiers.

Met Office chart for Thursday, 4 January from 12 noon.

Met Office chart for Thursday, 5 January from 12 noon.

Tonight we'll see a few blustery showers but otherwise it will be dry with some clear skies meaning a cooler night with temperatures inland falling as low as 2 Celsius bringing a ground frost in some rural spots.

There is also a warning of icy patches on untreated roads in Denbighshire, Conwy, Flintshire and Wrexham so take care on the roads.

Tomorrow will start dry and much calmer than today. It will be bright for a time in the east but cloud will develop, bringing a little rain and drizzle. The winds will be lighter than today as well with top temperatures between 8 and 11 Celsius.

So, the weather is calming down tonight and hopefully you'll get a better nights sleep than last night!

Derek

Winds easing but heavy rain on the way

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Derek Brockway Derek Brockway | 15:38 UK time, Tuesday, 3 January 2012

I'd like to start my first blog of 2012 by wishing you all a very Happy New Year! But sadly there's not much to celebrate on the weather front...

Wales has been hit by the worst storm of the winter so far with heavy rain, flooding and severe gale force winds causing widespread problems.

At the peak of the storm this morning, the wind reached violent storm force 11 on the Lleyn Peninsula with a gust of 93 mph at Aberdaron. While 71 mph was recorded at Mumbles Head in Swansea.

A flying trampoline spotted in Bala today by Dylan Vaughan Evans.

A flying trampoline spotted in Bala today by Dylan Vaughan Evans.

The gales were strong enough to bring down trees, blow over wheelie bins and even pick-up a trampoline in Bala, Gwynedd and drop it onto a car. There have also been reports of Xmas trees (put out for rubbish collection), flying away!

Torrential rain has caused many rivers to become very swollen and at the time of writing, there are 2 flood warnings in force in the Conwy Valley and in the Lower Dee Valley plus 29 flood alerts.

The reason for the stormy weather is a deep area of low pressure which moved in from the Atlantic last night.

It crossed Scotland and is now heading towards Scandinavia so we've seen the worst of the heavy rain and severe gales for the time being but there's still a sting in the tail this evening.

The wind will increase for a time, especially in the north and west with a risk of severe gales and blustery showers. It should become drier, clearer and less windy after midnight.

Scattered showers are likely as well with more rain on the way tomorrow, over night into Thursday.

Met Office weather chart

Met Office weather chart from midday today on Tuesday, 3 January 2012.

The Met Office has also issued a warning of heavy rain.

40 to 60mm, (over 2 inches), of rain is expected on higher ground, especially in Mid Wales, the Cambrian Mountains and in Snowdonia. Given that the ground is already wet and saturated, there is a risk of more flooding to come.

On Thursday the rain will clear and the strong to gale force wind will slowly easel. Friday should be less windy and after a dry and cold start it will turn milder with only a little rain.

Aberdulais Falls in full flow by Mike Davies.

Aberdulais Falls in full flow today. Image by Mike Davies.

There is still no sign of any really cold weather and significant snow on the horizon - just short bursts of cold air from time to time but nothing to get too excited about.

I will let you know if I see a change in the weather pattern which so far this winter is being driven by a strong jet stream bringing bouts of heavy rain and gales in from the Atlantic.

Derek

Looking back over rural Wales in 2011

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Rachael Garside Rachael Garside | 15:00 UK time, Tuesday, 3 January 2012

I've noticed many of the newspapers have published their reviews of the year - so if you can't beat them...

A limit on the number of wind farm developments in Wales, a levy on plastic carrier bags, reform of the Common Agriculture Policy, more delays and deliberations over a proposed badger cull in West Wales, not to mention an Assembly Election and a reshuffle of rural posts in the Welsh Government.

Politically it's been a busy year and all these issues have been hot topics on Country Focus over the past twelve months.

There was also an opportunity to remember the devastation of the Foot and Mouth outbreak of 2001, ten years after the event.

Even a decade had failed to weaken the strength of feelings and bitter memories of such a tough time for the Welsh countryside and in a special programme, we revisited one of the areas worst affected near Brecon and spoke to people affected by the crisis.

Ten years on, there were still tears, anger and frustration at what happened and a general agreement that if the disease recurred, things would be handled very differently.

On a happier note, my wildlife year has included trying to count Kingfishers on the Teifi River (not one appeared, although I did see an otter), spot seals along the Cardigan Bay coastline (again, no luck), travelling to a secret location in deepest Carmarthenshire to try to hear the cuckoo (we heard one) and seeing a dolphin leap out of the water while swimming in the sea off Llangrannog.

But the highlight for me this year was a trip to record a programme on Skokholm Island off the Pembrokeshire coast back in June.

The weather and surroundings were glorious and the sea birds were out in force.Sitting on the cliff tops, only a few feet away from hundreds of puffins is a memory I won't forget in a hurry.

At the time, the warden Jerry Gillham was coming to the end of his first year in the job and is still there, dividing his time between Skomer and Skokholm during the winter months and blogging about island life on Skokholm.

I'm lucky enough to earn my living mostly outdoors and continue to be amazed at how rich and diverse our landscape and wildlife is in Wales.This year, I've walked along parts of Offa's Dyke, the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path and joined the writer and poet Owen Sheers for a walk in the Olchon Valley, setting for his novel, Resistance.

I've no idea where I'll be heading in 2012? But I hope you can join me!

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