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

Sunday, 23 April 2017

We ride with impunity

The early morning Bank Holiday Monday visit to the margins of Waunafon Bog was thrilling and depressing in equal measure. Thrilling because my hope that a grasshopper warbler would be reeling was confirmed, in fact there may have been two birds. I went into stealth mode in the hope that the loudly reeling bird could be photographed in action, But despite having a grandstand view of the scrub from whence the bird was singing, as hard as I tried it was impossible to pinpoint. Moving on a male stonechat was fencepost hoping and parties of swallow were sweeping silently over the bog purposefully heading north. Other birds noted were linnet, three pair of reed bunting, two snipe and two flyover Canada goose.

And now for the depressing part - look away now those of a nervous disposition. The bog itself is a long time neglected ecological asset of SSSI quality. At the headwaters of the Afon Lwyd water appears to have been diverted away from the bog to prevent it causing a flooding problem on a nearby road. This has contributed to a perception that it is drying out in places illustrated by increased scrub growth. Nonetheless the bog, whose role in carbon storage and ecosystems resilience should not be underestimated, is facing a more immediate threat. Off - road activity has carved a deep scar in the peat and in the process breaking fences to gain access. Those responsible ride and destroy with impunity. Its incredulous that authorities seem unwilling to act to kerb the damage that is becoming a landscape trademark of the upper Afon Lwyd. 

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Beetle bank

I should have been more alert to the prospect that a sunny early spring Sunday at Llandegfedd Reservoir would have a liberal sprinkling of leisure seekers. And so it was, there were, walkers with dogs, walkers without dogs, cannabis smokers, sunbathing courting couples, fisherman, sailors with associated noisy powerboats and hooters, paddle boarders who sought refuge in the less crowded corners of the reservoir and an individual who coughed loudly and intermittently from the richly vegetated upper reaches of Green Pool.

As a consequence my trusty Opticron scope was not deployed. Preferring to potter about on the margins of the reservoir I settled down on the exposed shoreline of the island. The water level was high by still low enough for a small area of eroded soft bank complete with ample stone turning potential. On closer examination the collection of stones on the waters edge were well populated with a variety of basking beetles. Seemingly attracted by the stones absorbed warmth the following species were identified.

Mint Leaf Beetle (Chrysolina herbacea)

Weevil (Sitinia lineatus)

Imperial Rove Beetle (Staphylinus caesareus)

Dung Beetle (Aphodius sphaecelatus)

Flea Beetle (Longitarsus membranaceus)

Sap Beetle (Glischrochilus hortensis)


Orange Ladybird (Halyzia sedecimguttata)

Monday, 10 April 2017


I only seem to have enough spare time for snatched visits to local patches these days and last Saturday was no exception. That said I did manage two snatched visits in one day.

First up was a morning excursion to a part of the Lasgarn Wood, near Abersychan. Parking on Waterworks Lane just below the now decommissioned reservoir I made my way to a small adjacent ancient beech woodland. Many species of bird were in full song, with chiffchaff, willow warbler and blackcap most prominent. A small patch of flowering lesser celendine briefly attracted a bee fly (Bomblyius major) and green woodpecker and nuthatch were vocal, the latter leaving a suitable nest site in a hole of a beech tree.  A distant singing redstart could be detected from a hedgerow of a nearly farm.

Later on I wandered around Blaenavon Community Woodland. Several calling redpoll and a great spotted woodpecker covered the extent of the birdlife on offer. However several green tiger beetle and two peacock butterflies were compensation.

Friday, 17 March 2017

The Sentinals

A couple of weeks ago I spent a soggy Sunday morning wandering around the clearfell that is Blaenavon Community Woodland. Managed by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) the majority of this conifir woodland was recently felled under a plant health notice due to a phytophthora infection. A massive ecological pertubation such as this provides a very good opportunity to study the processes of succession.

I was pleased to see a cluster of standing deadwood. There are mutterings amongst the local dog walkers as to their purpose. The heavy rain suppressed most birdlife, but the haul road tracks were starting the recolonise nicely with pioneer vegetation. This parsley piert was common on bare mud.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Guitar hero

There can't too many places where 1960s graffiti has survived the attention of public funded clean up teams. The 'Free Wales' slogan daubed on the cast iron framework of a railway bridge on the outskirts of Blaenavon was a very visible demonstration of the socio-political feeling of the time. Those responsible for recent bridge refurbishment work were unable to recognise the importance of such a political statement within the context of modern day social history and it was regrettably painted over. Thankfully this Jimi Hendrix graffiti is tucked away on another bridge several miles south and has been preserved by virtue of being beyond the public gaze. Long may it survive!

A short walk close to home down the former railway line now a multi user leisure route with the objective of helping my son photograph some natural textures was notable for numbers of singing birds. An orange ladybird was found over wintering on the underside of a cherry laurel leaf and a damaged hart's tongue fern was characteristic of the leaf mine of the micro moth the fern smut.

Running adjacent to the leisure route is Snatchwood Park a private former Victorian parkland landscape complete with heritage trees. This beech tree has been modified for access probably by pigeon shooters. Hopefully more from this site in due course.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Reading the pavements

You can gain a pretty good picture of a Saturday night out in Newport by reading the debris on the Riverfront walk the morning after. Vomit, trails of blood and drugs paraphernalia could be easily detected. On a positive note I struck lucky with a find of a twenty pence coin that was  accompanied by the first flowering common whitlow grass nestled amongst some weathered fag ends.

There were more gulls on the River Usk tide line than of late. Around 150 black-headed gull complete with varying degrees of summer hoods were watched over by good numbers of herring and lesser black backed gull. The overwhelming majority of these larger gulls were immature/sub adult birds suggesting those breeding adults are already on or close to their breeding grounds. However one bird was conspicuous by its crisp plumage. A yellow legged gull was sartorial elegant set against the dark chocolate merk that is the River Usk water. A couple of great black backed gull alighted with characteristic deep throat vocalisations.

I moved on to Tredegar House Lake where the assemblage of water wildfowl was unremarkable in its composition. The leuistic coot stood out along with five little grebe. A colour ringed black -headed gull carrying white AF460 looked familar. Seems I recorded this bird on the 31st January 2016 and was orginally ringed at Heligoland, Germany.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

People interactions

I write this in the midst of yet another cold - that's three within a month! All this illness has reduced my enthusiasm for chasing waxwing, in fact most other avian attractants for that matter, although its nice to see my predicted promise posed by the berry laden ornamental sorbus around Trevethin shops near Pontypool has now been realised.

Nonetheless between bouts of feeling sorry for myself I've squeezed in the odd truncated de-motivated visit. Last Sunday morning I was in and around the relative comfort of Newport's Riverfront promenade. Now reading some of my past postings you will have undoubtedly noticed my willingness, not only to communicate my personal interactions with wildlife but that of the people I encounter along the way as well. We must not forget that humans are also a species and deserve the same meticulous attention. So when propped against the chunky riverside railings scanning the assemblage of loafing gulls my attention was drawn to the light hearted chatter of a party of 20 + approaching community payback litter pickers. Some were resplendent in the summer plumage of yellow tabards others more drably coloured in sub-adult plumage. As they got closer the verbal interactions and vocalisations between the group got louder and on passing me one hapless attendee felt confortable enough to offer me some ill informed advice as to the value of the River Usk. 'Ha ha, you won't see anything in there except for fucking rubbish, ha,ha, ha......'. He is of course entitled to an opinion, an opinion that no doubt still resonates with many and was arguably the driving force behind the aspirational Newport barrage. Contrary to this rank and file popular belief as to the value of intertidal habitat we as naturalists understand the rich diversity offered by riparian mud.

Leaving the Riverfront I called into Tredegar House Lake, A large gathering of around 200 black-headed gull was all that was note worthy. Making my way around Tredegar House itself I noted an additional group of black-headed gulls perched in single file along the the ridge tiles of the courtyard buildings. This made for easy observation of birds carrying rings. I quickly came across two with metal rings followed by another couple with yellow darvic rings. Following some internet research these are considered to be polish birds. In stark contrast to my earlier interaction a couple asked what my interest in the gulls was. I explained showing them some images of the birds with rings, this icebreaker revealed that their daughter and son in law were BTO members.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Now that's what I call December.

I can't remember a December like it, snatched birding due to a myriad of other time consuming obligations and to top it all two separate bouts of illness. The first, some bug that almost prevented me from delivering my 'ring reading' presentation to Gwent Ornithological Society members and then to round off the year nicely I was struck down by a heavy cold just after Boxing Day that resulted in three days in bed, followed by an extended period of miserableness. So this posting is a compilation of end of 2016 highlights, albeit few.

First up is my relatively new urban birding venue of Newport River(Usk)front. Easy access make for good gull watching with some birds carrying rings. A recent short visit produced just a single long staying first calender year colour ringed Herring Gull origin Bristol. Because of the imposition of Sunday car parking fees I now use a nearby residential area, giving me the opportunity to explore a part of the River Usk margins hitherto off radar. A large green space with play area contained some nice mature trees many adorned with bat and bird boxes and was a worthy sight (site). This got me investigating further and around the back of an allotment plot growing just at high tide level was a Black Poplar. Now care needs to be taken when identifying one of the rarest trees in the British Isles as many hybrid Black Poplar have been planted but there were s few features that suggest this is the genuine article. I'll re-visit when in leaf to confirm, fingers crossed.

Elsewhere a couple of visits to the ponds around Brynmawr were notable for the numbers of birds present. This is particularly relevant to Dunlop Semtex Pond where up to 60 Wigeon have been around for most of this early winter period. Augmentation is provided by Coot, Mallard, Tufted Duck, and over 100 Herring, Black-headed and Lesser black-backed Gull. The newish floating island has benefited the local Cormorant population with around six regular birds including the long staying Dutch ringed bird. A quick visit yesterday produced a male Shovelar at DSP and a pair of Gadwall at Beaufort Ponds. Here's hoping for a better start to 2017!

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

White out

It seemed appropriate that the first significant snowfall of this winter coincided with the appearance of the first bay window Christmas trees in Blaenavon. With a waxwing reported from Weston - super-mare I was hopeful one may turn up on one of the berry laden urban street trees in Brynmawr or Ebbw Vale. Alas this was not the case but the berries were providing a feast for the local thrushes.

There was not much on Beaufort Ponds except for a single male goosander. Machine Pond was not much better but a pair of stonechat that moved around the adjacent grassland. By contrast Dunlop Semtex Pond was full of wildfowl. To my surprise there were still around 49 wigeon present along with a single female teal. However the most notable was three gadwall - one male, two female. Although I've recorded Gadwall from Beaufort Ponds before this is thought to be the first site record for DSP.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Late afternoon at a gull roost

I've noticed the walkers car park at Welsh Water's Sluvad Works had been partly used as a contractors compound of late, so was uncertain if this was still available for Joe Public. As it happened it was so I decided to make my way down hill to the Pettingale hide at Llandegfedd Reservoir to assess the extent of the winter gull roost.

At the hide I was greeted by another example of lack of investment in facilities for birders. Litter was strewn around the inside of the structure and views were restricted due to rampant vegetation, A maturing willow is now obscuring observation to the south and another to the north west. However, there was hardly a breath of wind thereby providing ideal conditions for reservoir watching.

At around 2.30pm a large raft of very vocal Canada goose were being paired off into smaller groups by the actions of dingy sailors. At the same time a group of around 100 mainly lesser black backed gull was forming toward the north of the reservoir. Over the next hour and a half the roost built up to around 3000 birds with many arriving from the south and west. The gathering didn't appear to contain anything that warranted closer scrunity, there was however a single great black backed gull and around 10 common gull.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Pond mud snail

With a record of the infrequent pond mud snail (Omphiscola glabra) from nearby Brynmawr I tried my luck with a search of the myriad of ponds in and around the Canada Tips area of Blaenavon. Arriving at a pull-in to the west of Keepers Pond I was instantly confronted by several tame sheep anxious to see if I had a spare cheese sandwich or something else edible. The wind was brisk and had an edge that said winter is on its way. The good thing about this location is that its not far to the first aquatic point of investigation, a shallow yet extensive habitat dominated by common spike rush and lesser spearwort with a linear tract of open water that's clearly the product of four wheel drive activity. Ten minutes or so sweeping through the murky water produced no molluscs at all the best finds centred on a single palmate newt and many greater water boatman.

A lone meadow pipit called as I transversed the hillocks of coal and sandstone spoil to the next watering hole. This pond was deeper nestling at the foot of several towering tips providing enough shelter and warmth for a common darter to alight on the stony track. To my surprise a man walked by with a dog on a lead, my greeting was met with silence. Maybe he was nervous and surprised to encounter another person in the heart of Blaenavon's former industrial landscape on a midweek afternoon. Otherwise he was hard of hearing. Whatever the reason he was soon out of sight and I commenced with my objective of finding the elusive pond mud snail. Despite a prolonged effort and another couple of palmate newt later I draw another blank and moved onto a find the next pond.

This one has featured in this blog before as an example of how off road driving is inadvertently keeping small water bodies from succeeding to vegetation dominated marshland. This was a much more fruitful site, not because there were any pond mud snail here either, but for an increase in species variety. An example of the large black ground beetle Carabus problematicus was found drowned and a late black darter dragonfly repeatedly alighted. There were at least two species of pondweed (Potamogeton spp). This group of plants is notoriously difficult to identify to species level. To compound the identification dilemmas I dragged up just one mollusc not the target species but one of the pea mussels (Pisidium spp.) that are also a touch tricky to sort out.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

More Wigeon at DSP than LR

Catching up on a bit of leave from work has given me the opportunity to get around a few waterbodies I've neglected of late. Recent engineering work at Dunlop Semtex Pond, Brynmawr has resulted in a marginal reduction in water levels, this in turn has produced a useful draw-down area but also promoted a growth in submerged macrophyte vegetation proving an attraction for grazing wildfowl. Although I wasn't able to find the recently reported female shoveler a pleasing count of 48 wigeon with a supporting cast of many, coot, moorhen, tufted duck, mute swan, mallard, great crested grebe and 45 Canada goose. The Dutch colour ringed cormorant was also present sunning itself on one of the floating islands.

Previously a visit to Llandegfedd Reservoir was notable for how little bird activity there was. Four teal was about the long and short of it. Its a paradox and a measure of SSSI mis-management by stealth that DSP now supports more wigeon than LR. Whatever happened to those large grazing flocks? With a scarcity of avian interest I turned my interest other taxonomic groups. Water chickweed was still in flower and some stone turning was good for ground beetles.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Two quid. you must be joking!

I sometimes wonder who reads this frequent (recently in frequent) narrative of my nature rambles. But to the small collective of individuals who do, you will have picked up that one of my regular winter venues is the nice comfortable environs of the Riverfront in the heart of urban Newport. Comfort of course is subjective as anyone encountering the wind whipping up this part of the River Usk on a January morning will question this assertion. However refuge from the biting wind can be obtained by using the convenient Sunday morning free car parking status of the Riverfront car park, that is until recently. It now seems Newport City Council has introduced a new £2 car parking tariff. This of course is blatant opportunism as the said parking facility is opposite the Friars Walk shopping emporium. Local authorities tend to get excited at the prospect of generating additional income to a point where nothing else matters but the money. I'd be surprised if any consideration was given to the wider well-being benefits of free Sunday morning car parking for those, like myself, who wish to enjoy the riverside walk rather than shopping for cherry red lip gloss. Not to be deterred by this punative penalty on non-shoppers and now displaced to parking in a nearby residential area, I made my first visit to this site last weekend.

I blame it on the unpredictable biorhythms of the male menopause in not sorting out the tide times and arrived at high tide which is not best for birding. But to my surprise a party of 40 or more redshank were squeezed onto a small patch of exposed inter-tidal mud. A few images were obtained before all birds took flight disappearing down the river and out of sight. As a muddy fringe of a falling tide started to appear so did the gulls, but there was little to dwell on save of a metal ringed black headed gull. This bird only stayed briefly but appeared to be carrying a Lithuanian ring.

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.

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