Promoting observation, free range exploration, sense of place and citizen science, through the field notes of a naturalist.







Thursday, 21 June 2018

A cold wind doth blow



A couple of evenings ago I spent an hour at the reedbed site of Garn Lakes Local Nature Reserve. It was cloudy and by the time I'd ventured onto the reedbed a fine drizzle had set in whipped up be a strong wind. The water channel around the western edge of the site was low but it was clear the mat of phagmites planted by the local authority in recent years were now taking hold. There were few odonata on the wing save for a common blue and several blue tailed damselfly; a female four spotted chaser struggled to fly in the cold wind. On the plant front there were hundreds of southern marsh orchid and a few common spotted and many heathly stands of ragged robin supporting a number of bilberry bee. Some sweep netting of the phagmites produced my first personnel record of a marsh click beetle (or could it be hairy click beetle?) along with many reed beetles (Donacia spp). A narrow-bordered five spot burnet moth was obliging for a photograph.

Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet

Common Spotted Orchid
Putative Marsh Click Beetle



Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Wildflowers of Pontypool Town Centre


Red Valerian 

Now don't get excited urban Pontypool is nothing like a species rich hay meadow in the spring but it does have a variable mix of wildflowers, or weeds as some wish to refer to them as. Despite humankinds best effort to spray them out, pavement plants survive and in some places are no doubt thriving. A mid evening walk around the centre of Pontypool produced nothing more than a got number of mainly annual plants, growing from walls, unmanaged planting beds and from the base of walls. The following images represent a selection.

Black Spleenwort
Hedge Bedstraw

Hedge Woundwort

Hairy Tare
Lesser swine cress

Woody Nightshade

Common Chickweed
Red Campion

Oxford Ragwort

Unidentified grass spceies (non-native?)















Sunday, 17 June 2018

New patch for my patch



On the western slopes of Coity mountain above Blaenavon is a hitherto unexplored landscape of semi -improved meadows, disused farm buildings, remnant drystone walls and a scattering of mature trees. Where the ffridd habitat bleeds into the marginal farmland is a new patch for me, emphasising that even a lifetime of observing local wildlife it's still possible to find areas untouched by the childlike curiosity of a valley naturalist.

At the Garn lakes Local Nature Reserve (LNR) north car park I pushed my way into a small flower rich meadow where a couple of ponds augment the reassuring scruffiness of this mass of tangled botany. Struck by the hundreds of southern marsh orchid I paused to watch around half a dozen four-spotted chaser dragonfly using the pond, here too some well meaning individual has introduced a white water lily. When photographing a stand of ragged robin and lesser stitchwort I felt something crawling through my hair it was the long horned beetle Rhagium mordax.


Back on the road westwards pass the Whistle Inn with its raucous inhabitants and onwards past the adjacent camping and caravan site where some campers were sitting out enjoying the warm late evening sun, I turned south through a metal gate. A farm track and public footpath avenue was flanked by drystone walls and scattering of stunted hawthorn trees some in flower. The view from this point had a calming influence and offered a new perspective on this part of Blaenavon. Here an agrarian landscape with it's backdrop of spoil tips characterised the variety contained herein.

Through a very large stand of Japanese knotweed I found the remains of a farm building with a line of mature plum trees and a bolted rhubarb plant with its rosette of large leaves. Beyond and through binoculars I could see a field of scattered orchids and yellow rattle and a frenzy of flying invertebrates silhouetted against the June setting sun.

The track at this point was shadowed by trees on both sides but not dark enough to prevent about half a dozen heath spotted orchid from flowering. Back in the open sunshine a small wetland flush supported lesser spearwort; a tree pipit was singing in the distance. Shutting another squeaky metal field gate the footpath took me through a field of horses feeding a safe distance away, but all raised their heads in unison to check me out as I got closer. The horses eventually continued grazing and I reached an impressive disused farm building unmolested. But what an idyllic location! The large structure with its small cottage windows evoked images of children playing, their mother keeping a watchful eye in her floral pinny and father in flat cap drinking a mug of cider -stereotypical I know. A quick rummage through a decaying pile of timber produced a stand of white stonecrop. I retraced my footsteps knowing that I would return to this spot again and hopefully before the summers out.
















Saturday, 9 June 2018

Writer's block




I sense I have a touch of writers block these days. Getting out and recording the wildlife on my local patch isn't the problem, sitting down and writing about it is. Not sure why this should be, perhaps I've said everything that needs to said in my previous postings and I just don't have anything new to talk about. Or its a symptom of extended periods of mental exhaustion that are more prevalent as I plough towards the big 60. Whatever the reason its there and I just have to manage it. 

This posting is from a couple of Sundays ago when I visited the Black Ranks area on the outskirts of Blaenavon. Here, once stood a row of terraced housing so called due to the black water repellent coating painted over the houses. Now with these miserable structures long gone all that remains is a rough roadside pull-in and a collection of garden escapees that hint at the areas previous inhabitants. Against a backdrop of constant road traffic I wandered the lush roadside herbage complete the net, binoculars and camera accompanied by the occasional car horn blower who obviously wasn't accustomed to seeing such a person with such kit. I can't get my head around how a couple of lads wearing baseball caps backwards, driving a souped up BMW adorned by oversize wheels and various silly window stickers finds a roadside naturalist so laughable.

The afternoon was very warm and thrashing through the vegetation produced a number of day fly-moths including a cinnabar, mother shipton, the mint moth (Pyrausta aurata) and a burnet companion. A couple of dingy skipper completed the lepidoptera list.













Thursday, 31 May 2018

Two tip trips



As usual I'm behind with my posts. This rushed communication covers the weekend before last when I made two visits to a couple of colliery spoil sites, once again in the faboulous industrial landscape of Blaenavon.


The first excursion was to the Coity Tip area, where I counted at least 111 moonwort growing on the path side around the rear of the tip. At Coity Pond a little grebe called and a coot sat tight on her nest. A pair of stonechat were rather irratated by my presence. A calcareous (tufa) speepage from the lower part of the tip requires a closer examination. This feature offers the chance of a diversity within a generally acidic environment.


Next day I made my way to Canada Tips and to my surprise I found what seems to be a predated Canada goose nest. Here too was my first dragonfly of the season in the form of a four-spotted chaser.







Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Gulls at ground zero



These are scenes from a somewhat chaotic colony of inland breeding gulls at Brynmawr. I've known this colony for at least 10 years and during this period birds have nested on the pitched asbestos roof top of a unit type factory. Following the abandonment of the factory and it's subsequent demolition earlier this year I fully expected the birds to move on. However, and much to my surprise, they have returned and are now nesting at ground level on the concrete foundation of the former building. 

I counted at least 30 sitting birds of both herring and lesser black-backed gull, along with a single great blacked-backed. There may have been as many as 200 noisy birds in or around this site with a significant number engaged in courtship posturing or actual mating. During my visit the birds were disturbed by a drilling rig just outside of the perimeter fence suggesting its redevelopment is not too far off. Furthermore at ground level it was clear by the number or corvids present that raising a brood will be something of a challenge for the gulls.











Sunday, 13 May 2018

Bogging


The small parking area at the northern access to Waunafon Bog is temporally reduced to accommodate the heavy machinery and welfare facilities of a nearby civil engineering project. Nonetheless, there is still space and its free! As I pushed my way through a kissing gate and adjoining fence colourfully decorated with a variety of poo bags complete with bulging contents, a peregrine flew north. It was only just past 6am but the noise from the constant traffic of the Brynmawr - Blaenavon road hindered any attempt to detect a reeling grasshopper warbler - or anything else for that matter.



Away from the noise pollution the meadow pipit and skylark were more discernible. A Canada goose called loudly from the bogs vast interior. A steady flow of water was exiting a culvert pipe under the now disused pit road, fed by a deep channel. Its no surprise the bog appears to have a growing expanse of drier areas when unjustified and environmentally damaging water management actions are allowed to continue unchallenged. As I made for a small disused feeder pond I became aware of heavy breathing as the first off road cyclist of the morning pumped his way past without a nod or a wink. The solitary mature ash tree that stands alone on the lower slopes of the Coity marked the location of said pond. Here too are the remnants of historic fly-tipping composing of a large quantity of asbestos sheeting and a pair of white Adidas trainers, but more concerning is the vast bare and deeply incised ffridd slope roadways of scrambler bikes. 



Kicking over an area of developing lichen heath community on a patch of plateaued coal spoil I paused to ponder the prospect of a more forensic examination of the bogs moister areas. I declined.  Before climbing back onto the nicely surfaced redundant pit road I knelled to photograph the showy red tips of cladonia lichens. Now on a mission to return back a couple of calling linnet flew over and then, as if from nowhere, a second cyclist approached from behind. This time I was greeted with a stout, 'morning' as he slowed to strike up a conversation. A nice engaging cyclist, we shared man talk, that focused on camera equipment and posting on line. Interestingly he asked if I posted on the Blaenavon and Beyond Facebook site, the very same question was postulated exactly a week ago by a dog walker on Mynydd y Garn-fawr. Therefore is this site the leading authority on all things Blaenavon, I ask?




Monday, 7 May 2018

A closer look at Mynydd y Garn - fawr


Another early morning start, this time to Mynydd y Garn -fawr east of Blaenavon. According to the South East Wales Biodiversity Records Centre (SEWBReC) this section of the wider Blorenge Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) is very much under - recorded. Parking at Capel Newydd a nearby roadside sycamore has become a shrine to the passing of local people. From this part of Torfaen I made my way towards the Monmouthshire potion of Mynydd y Garn-fawr. A roadside bench was marked by a lost pair of reading glasses. A cuckoo and several redstart sang from the scattered trees of the nearby enclosed farmland. Once on to the upland habitat a small valley caught my eye with various wetland features from running water to wet flushes. One such flush contain a large patch of  fountain apple - moss (Philonotis fontana) and a female reed bunting.

After falling into a hidden stream and receiving a wet foot and lower leg I made for a stand of heather and promptly put up a red grouse. Walking through this habitat was hard work but after awhile I located a well used footpath and made my way back. A male wheatear was very obliging perched on top of a small conifer. The roadside electric cable supported a male stonechat and a number of vocal siskin flew around the nearby forestry plantation.







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