I so often write about the magnificence of the exotic creatures that reside in distant lands. I talk about the great apes that inhabit the remote forests, I highlight the splendour of the big cats and I describe the almost transcendent beasts that populate the deep depths of the ocean.
However, although these creatures are breathtaking and sublime in an abundance of ways, you can just as easily be wowed by the plethora of wildlife that resides right on your doorstep, or in this case, in the lush valleys of Wales.
For the past five days I have been staying at the Margam Discovery Centre in South Wales for a geographical fieldwork project. Whilst I was there I encountered an opulence of natural wonders, a couple of which I'll share with you here.
With its aerial prowess, piercing screams and crescent shaped wings, the bird that looped between the trees and circled above us could be nothing other than a Common Swift. I watched the swift weave between the branches with a raw exuberance and agility that only these bubbly birds possess. They are the masters of the air and this individual seemed particularly competent as he braided through the atmosphere. Although his grace was astounding and his speed was breathtaking, the reason I felt so honoured to witness such a dazzling spectacle was because this bird had likely returned from somewhere as far as Morocco or Algeria only weeks before. Whilst I was trudging to school and completing homework during the bitter Winter months, he was most probably traversing across large swathes of Africa, flitting above herds of elephants and distant cultures that I could only dream of from the confines of a classroom. For five days in May whilst I penned papers and typed essays, he was embarking on an epic 5,000 mile journey all the way back from the sultry lands of West Africa to the temperate UK. As I stood there watching this avian acrobat, I couldn't help but feel remorse at the meagre duration of his fleeting stay - this wonderful bird will be leaving us in only two months to return to the exoticism of distant lands.
After a day of investigating the River Ogmore from source to mouth, we sat on a wooden platform suspended over a gently-rippling lake at Margam Discovery Centre. A group of ducks paddled through the silky water, the mother's webbed feet stroking the depths, propelling her across the lake with an admirable ease. Her ducklings chased after with anxious honks as their ungainly bodies and wispy fluff provided them with a much greater challenge than their mother had to face.
Bead-like beetles balanced on the ends of blades of grass, their heads prodding the air in an almost mammalian curiosity, whilst their legs paddled for a grip on the smooth surface.
The quiet suddenly seemed to intensify as the dark, damp muzzle of a deer poked through the foliage just across the lake.
Her coral-pink ears twisted independently, straining to catch the rolling waves of sound before a predator could sense her first. Her brown eyes swept across the landscape. Tree. Plant. Beetle. HUMAN. Upon seeing us her dark gaze widened in unease, she lifted a long graceful leg and took one step forwards; a bold movement in a world brimming with danger and death for vulnerable prey. However, logic soon prevailed and she bounded away over the pitted landscape, hugging the perimeter of the trees.
Whether it was the bejewelling beatles, graceful deer or nimble swifts, the wildlife that I encountered in Wales was once again a reminder to me that you do not always have to travel hundreds of miles to encounter natural beauty. Sometimes the most awe-inspiring, exquisite wildlife can be right on your doorstep.