Promoting observation, free range exploration, sense of place and citizen science.







Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Garnlydan Reservoir: a birders enigma



I can't quite square the circle that is Garnlydan Reservoir. Historically it's produced some nice passage birds but it seems nowadays that this has all but dried up, How much of this is due to high water levels is anyone's guess but compared to the range of birds recorded from Rhaslas that's but a few miles along the Heads of the Valleys road, Garnlydan is a massive disappointment.

Twelve lapwing flushed from a small pond adjacent to the reservoir flattered to deceive. There was absolutely nothing on the reservoir, however four snipe took off from marginal Juncus. Here too was a dew encrusted black darter dragonfly and a water scorpion was the only other notable.







Sunday, 4 September 2016

Bang, bang!




Four sheep were grazing on a patch of community owned green space and moved between parked cars as I pushed through a kissing gate on to the lower slopes of Mynydd y Garn-fawr. The metal structure clattered as I paused to absorb the vista. The heather was at its purplest best, the air full of black dangly legged red-thighed St Marks fly and pollen. A swallow flew low over the colourful patchwork, calling briefly. The objective was a disused rifle range part way up the hillside. This remnant 20th century feature of large bank, stone revetment  complete with pock marked cast iron plates and pre-cast concrete building is one of the few discernible features on this part of the Blorenge Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). 


The sheep track weaved through a mosaic of bracken, heather and acid grassland. Scrambling over a outcrop of scree a pile of weathered red grouse pellets blended well with a background of bleached sandstone rocks. A painted lady butterfly fluttered over the dry baked soil of the path before taking off into the distance. For its age the pre-cast concrete building was in relatively good condition and to my surprise supported a swallow nest containing two large young. A hovering kestrel appeared on the horizon, and on closer inspection was wrestling with a large dragonfly that its eventually dropped. A few meadow pipit were flushed on my way back. At this time of year upland fences and dry stone walls can be rich pickings for migrant passerines. Hence a nearby wall proudly displayed a pair of vocal stonechat and a female wheatear.










Sunday, 21 August 2016

Herbal essence



Leaving Garn -yr-erw there's an area of cleared land that once supported a couple of rows of miners cottages. All that now remains is the green space that was once the back gardens of these properties, complete with remnant garden plants. Flowering garden mint (Mentha sp.) continues to thrive among the overgrown vegetation. As with many flowering plants at this time of year, they prove very attractive to insects. A patch of two metre square mint was home the the giant fly Tachina grossa; a single mint moth Pyrausta aurata and a strong population of green tortoise beetle Cassida viridis.





Sunday, 7 August 2016

Crackling and a cackling




With the massive industrial size aerator now gone, car parking at Fisherman's, Llandegfedd Reservoir was easier, so I took full advantage by simultaneously opening both back doors of my car whilst togging up for my visit. 

A fisherman repeatedly threw stones at a family of mallard invading his swim as I blazed a trail along the west bank. A group of around 80 Canada goose supported the putative cackling goose that's at least half the size of a regulation Canada. Two birds carried standard BTO metal rings that were too far away to read. This is where colour ringing produces much better results!. A large stand of flowering betony was a pleasing find as I shuffled my way onwards through the meadowland.







Birding centred on accumulations of commoner waterbirds. The aforementioned 80+ Canada goose were supplemented by approaching 100 cormorant, 75 + great crested grebe and a raft of 150+ assorted gulls, complete with a variety of species, and ages thereby offering the best opportunity for birding.


Most of the gulls were lesser black-backed with a few herring and black-headed thrown in for good measure. A couple of suspect yellow-legged went unconfirmed. There were two adult great black backed gull positioned on convenient bouys. However one bird stood out. A leucustic bird was clearly visible reminding me of one photographed on the River Usk, Newport several years ago.

The visit ended with a march around The Island and Green Pool where a little egret, three common sandpiper and several calling reed warbler where the only notables. What was remarkable was the number of  singing Roesel's bush cricket. Their crackling song was widespread.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

The Bristol Two


Lesser black-backed Gull. Blue C+D Maesglas Retail Park, Newport. 31 July 2016
Not all of the colour-ringed gulls I find on my travels and near continent movements. These two birds are likely to be dispersals from the work of Peter Rock in urban Bristol.

Lesser black-backed Gull. Purple D+N Lakeside Retail Park, Brynmawr, 17 July 2016

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Orthoptera training course



It's my 'just in time' approach to project management that had me finishing off my presentation for the recent Gwent Wildlife Trust Grasshoppers and Crickets training course just the day before it need to be rolled out. Despite my misgivings about cumulative SSSI impacts by stealth, Welsh Water's Watersports Centre at Llandegfedd Reservoir was a nice venue for a course. Spacious room and balcony over looking the reservoir was complete with excitable teenagers, canoeing, falling in and screaming with adolescent fun - those were the days!



A friendly bunch of attendees stoically endured my morning biology and identification Powerpoint session. After lunch it was in convoy around the lanes to the Glascoed end of the reservoir for a couple of hours of practical field work. We were joined by Gavin Vella who had been out all day waiting for the summering osprey to appear instantly pointing a large moth, probably red underwing, resting motionless high up on tree trunk.


The troop of budding orthoperists moved on to the nearby meadows where excitement was barely contained as Roesel's bush cricket was netted followed quickly by long and short winged coneheads. Further vegetation bashing turned in meadow and field grasshopper and speckled and dark bush cricket. A successful day was rounded off by some keen naturalists sniffing and reeling back at the pungent smell of a potted sexton beetle caught by Elaine Wright. The smell of death is the trademark of this coleoptera.



Monday, 25 July 2016

Radio silence


Broad-bodied chaser. Cwmbran

Its a conspiracy! With two of my children moving house at around the same time and an elderly father who's care needs are demanding more commitment, my naturalist activities are restricted to bite size morsels these days. That said my intermittent lunchtime forays provide some opportunity.The following collection of images are a montage of recent notables.

Redshank. Llandegfedd Reservoir


Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary. Garn Lakes LNR


Tuesday, 19 July 2016

An isolated pond



There's a small solitary pond on top of a large former coal tip at the Varteg that's an interesting little feature. Not because it supports a cluster of biological rarities but just for its sheer variety. Common water-plantain is not a regular occurrence in the acidic uplands, its a plant more at home in the lowlands. A few sweeps of the trusty net produced the dark blue reed beetle Plateumaris sericea.



Thursday, 30 June 2016

Pteridomania



My first thoughts were limestone fern a species that's something of an enigma to me. Apparently recorded in their thousands on exposed east facing slopes around Blaenavon I've yet to find them myself. That's why when examining a disused agricultural building complete with post-medieval enclosures north of the Keeper's Pond known as Pen-Rhiw-Ifor, it was a fair assumption that the extensive population of ferns growing from the mortar of the brickwork were in fact the infamous limestone fern. Alas after closer examination they weren't, but there were a interesting diversity of ferns on view nonetheless.


Brittle Bladder Fern


Hard Fern

Maidenhair Spleenwort & Harts Tongue Fern

Maidenhair Spleenwort

Lemon Scented Fern

Wall Rue








Wednesday, 22 June 2016

The vista



There's some truth in the saying 'you're a grumpy old man'. As I'm getting older my intolerance and propensity to irritation have increased markedly and it doesn't take much for me to step on to my metaphorical soap box. For example my walk up to Coity Pond behind Big Pit, Blaenavon is a case in point. This is a nice linear feeder pond that was once used to support the activities of the pit and is now a significant biological resource. My visit to conduct the annual moonwort count, of which there are only 31 this year, was marred by a plethora of crisp white private land signage. Whilst access is still available its limited to just the eastern side. And here I go! I detest the creeping privatisation of green space - something that's increased stealthily during these times of austerity. I'm sure someone will correct me if not factual but it's my understanding this pond is (was) part of the Big Pit complex and therefore government owned. If this is the case, limited access flies in the face of public bodies well-being obligations. A bit bullish I know, but I won't be prevented from accessing land that I've used all my life!


With that off my chest the pond supported four male tufted duck and a single cormorant. Calling from its immediate environs were reed bunting, tree pipit, stonechat and linnet. A distant peregrine also called. On the invertebrate front a green tiger beetle showed well and a flowering cotoneaster shrub provide a source of nectar for a number of tree wasps and early bumblebees. Bashing a broom bush produced a record of broom bush beetle.













Saturday, 18 June 2016

One wet evening



The American Gardens above Pontypool Park is something of a local novelty. A collection of redwood trees,other conifers and various rhododendrons grow in an entanglement around a roadside pond. For years devoid of management the dark overgrown domination of rhododendron has now given way to a new feeling of openness and light. Selective felling and a pond makeover has now put the site on the naturalists itinerary. 


Between rain showers and a visit to the local supermarket I risked a foot drenching for a short walk around these gardens. The pond supported a couple of male mallard and several black domesticated fowl.. A coal tit called as I examined a discarded tree trunk complete with chicken in the woods fungi. The only invertebrate of note was the long horn moth  Nematopogon schwarziellus



Saturday, 11 June 2016

Shrouded in mystery



Its not the semi-buried miners helmet or the recently discovered stash of unused NCB branded pit props that gets me to Forgeside, its the myriad of hidden wildlife that's grown to forgive the worst excesses of human exploitation. In nature time is a great healer, and for me this is a much more interesting narrative than the overpowering retrospectivness that's enveloped this community. That said much of the wildlife I cherish as a local born and bred naturalist is only there because the landscape has been wrung out and left to dry by former economic activity.



On the Gilchrist Thomas Industrial Estate there's an area of limestone slag - a by product of the Blaenavon Ironworks - that seems to have eluded those keen on industrial artifacts. Whilst there's much tub thumping about the damage caused to spoil tips by bikers this unique habitat is being nibbled away by the operational requirements of a nearby business, all of which appears to be beyond the gaze of landscape historians.

The recent warm weather has been ideal for invertebrate watching. Sweep netting through the verdant vegetation that's now a welcome feature of Blaenavon will reveal much for a biological recorder. A few examples are illustrated below.

Mottled Grasshopper
Nemophora degeerella
Micropterix aruncella



Thursday, 2 June 2016

Wash day blues



 Monday evening I fell down. Plodding through the indiscriminate upland environment that is Garn yr erw the Molina grassland hid some substantial sodden caverns and over I went! This gymnastic event produced two wet feet, one of which extended a good way up my trouser leg covering it with a peaty, red oxide cocktail. Those in my household who know about such things, claim, with some assertiveness that my Tesco discount jeans are now ruined.




Before I went face down in a bilberry bush it was pleasing to produce a count of 31 moonwort from a walkway spoil tip. There were at least two pair of calling stonechat and an a male wheatear in alarm mode. A heron went north, two mallard went east, a couple of swift went west and a lesser black backed gull was all over the place. The hidden gem that is the former industrial reservoir at Garn yr erw was complete with discarded camping/fishing kit but supported a four egg carrion crow nest in a single waterside willow tree. The nest was constructed of brittle heather stems of a type that is a remnant of heather burning.




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