It is not often, in fact quite rare to come across somewhere to park a vehicle with stunning views, welcomes overnight stays and is cheap. Wild camping by Cardigan Estuary we did not envisage, when setting off from Pembroke to travel up the coast to historic Cardigan. In fact we did not have a clue in real terms what we were going to do, except follow those little signs that pop up to remind you, this is where we should stay. So we camped up on Saturday in the hot afternoon, cooled by a breeze from the estuary. Instantly we were transfixed as the beauty of our surroundings became almost hypnotic. Rolling tidal currents, boats bobbing at moorings and so much wildlife, all surrounded by lush greenery and most importantly, peace. Sitting under a glorious sun, sipping Shiraz in peace, in a car-park, unheard of in my experience, still here we were. It was not long before the resident wildlife made themselves known to us. Several families of ducks with varying sizes of broods, ranging from two to eight chicks, those straight from the nest, so tiny and sweet, others tiny replicas of their moms, all waddling along the riverside, munching constantly, tiny beaks sifting through mud for delicacies. When the tide changed, off they swam, only to return later for a good feed and a long nap by the water’s edge. Watching a mother duck teaching her babies to fly is a memorable image in my mind now. Eight baby ducks beating their tiny wings, mimicked mum and skimmed across the surface at amazing speed, some flew for a little way before skidding to a halt, others fell flat on their beaks. Comical does not begin to describe the antics we witnessed, all provided by Mother Nature.
On both sides of the river birds were busy with their young. A procession of Canada Geese, parents with ten goslings waddled towards the coast on the other side of the river, only to swim back later in the day as the tide turned. A lone swan was soon joined by three more as they made their way down the estuary, later they would fly back over our heads, with the familiar drum wing beat and a spot of honking. A pair of Shell Ducks and eight tiny babies, pecked at morsels as they made many tiny webbed foot prints in the mud. A mother crow pestered by three babies more than capable of feeding themselves, pecked an occasional well needed lesson. Surprisingly, there were very few folk around and for a car-park it was empty. With no neighbours to speak of, this was bliss and a little bit of Crach’o’Magic in the spinning. A buzzard circled overhead, gliding over thermals, hunting, but not for long, as a small flock of crows alighted from a tree on the opposite side of the river and chased the raptor away amidst a chorus of cackles and caws.
Presently we were joined by a lone seagull landing on the beach. I say landed, he/she, plunked down in an ungainly fashion, glanced at us and looked surprised. Now as to whether he/she was surprised at us, or the fact a landing, no matter how ill-conceived, worked. We were not sure, but of his/her look of surprise, no doubt existed. Comical in the extreme is how the next couple of hours panned out, and this lone seagull was our entertainer. We quickly decided on him being a male, possibly due to observing a little ineptitude of interpersonal relationships, with other species as well as his own. A quizzical look here and there and he hopped over to Mother Duck and brood to say hello. Needless to say, his presence was most unwelcome and this small duck turfed off Cecil (we named him) with a flutter of wings and a smack of her beak on his silly face. Cecil jumped back, surprised once again, that look in his golden eyes (most unusual for a seagull) full of indignation. Half fluttering and staggering Cecil approached a baby crow. I am sure he was simply curious but the baby crow went in for the attack, and before Cecil could say, thanks for the fish, Mother Crow appeared. Cecil beat a hasty retreat landing in the river, where for the next twenty minutes he bathed and bathed and preened, followed by more splish splash and yes, more preening. He looked like a different bird, pristine white and mottled feathers shining in the fading sunlight as dusk approached. An orange razor-sharp beak, finished its work as a shiny head reappeared from under immaculately preened tail feathers. He could have entered a beauty contest, if such a thing existed in the world of seagulls.
I know they say, don’t feed the seagulls, but we liked Cecil, he was rapidly becoming a bit of a permanent fixture. So we found an egg and tomato sandwich left over from our journey, and despite being somewhat tempted ourselves, decided to give it to Cecil. Now, it is most interesting, not another seagull was in sight and Cecil stood alone. Until that is, the egg and tomato sandwich left my hand, spinning flight towards Cecil. Before I had finished saying, “There you go Cecil.” Half a dozen seagulls appeared from nowhere, spinning and amusing us with aerial acrobatics, beady eyes upon the flying morsel of human kindness. None had the piercing golden eyes like Cecil but were very keen to share his tit-bit. Cecil, however, had other ideas and they did not include sharing. In a millisecond Cecil moved like lightning, a flash of white, a flutter of wings and crash. He beak dived into the mud missing the sandwich on first lunge, and covering his aforementioned pristine seagull cleanliness, with sticky wet mud. No mind to Cecil, brain, golden eyes and beak firmly focussed, he lunged again beating a flying opponent to the prize. A flick of his head and Cecil spooned the sandwich into the air, two big chomp’s and three gulps, and he retired the victor. The others, clearly disappointed made a few cursory swoops on the off-chance there may be more, then disappeared as quickly as they arrived, without a trace. Cecil returned to the shore and began bathing, seemingly for ages, amusing us in his now familiar comical way, as the sunset fell on this beautiful, never to be forgotten day.