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

Saturday, 10 October 2015

As suspected

I've heard back from the BTO regarding the colour ringed black headed gull photographed on top of Tredegar House in Newport on 24 September this year.

As suspected the bird marked white 2P34 was ringed as a nestling at Cotswold Water Park on 20 June 2010.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

The oldest tip in the book

My copy of Martin Haigh's The Evolution of Slopes on Artificial Landforms, Blaenavon. UK (1978) claims this tip to be the oldest in the Blaenavon industrial landscape complex. Sitting in Mynydd Coity's ffridd habitat and overlooking the expansive Waunafon bog the tip with its large' black eye' of unvegetated coal spoil purports to originate from early Victorian times. Having promised myself a closer look I finally made the effort late Friday afternoon, scaling a hillside where nowadays only ponies and bikers dare venture.

It was some trek, through tussockly stands of molina that hid drainage ditches and rocks I came across long forgotten features of man's efforts to conquer nature. A pair of railway sleepers bridged a drainage ditch leading to a large rusty lichen encrusted water value that in turn revealed a small reservoir of open water with extensive margins of sphagnum moss. This legacy of water management paraphernalia seems to be off the radar of those who champion cultural both and natural landscapes. 

Where gazing animals are able to browse there was dung with associated dung fungi and where the grass was short grassland fungi such as the golden spindles fungi Clavulinopsis fusiformis could be found. I took advantage of my elevated position to view Waunafon bog from the west and in doing so noticed a couple of distant walkers seemingly collecting magic mushrooms and a stonechat moving between thistle tops. 

Having reached the tip it was something of an anti-climax. Not sure what I expected but the oldest tip in the book was much like all the other tips I've frequented doing my time as an advocate of post in industrial landscapes. Nonetheless the extent of mature dwarf shrub heath that clothed most of the tip hinted at its elderly nature. Why the eastern flank remains devoid of any green biomass is conjecture. Could be the angle of repose or a hostile chemical composition?  A fast running stream that emerged from the hillside cut its route close to northern side suggesting the tip was deposited almost slap bang on top of this running water feature. Another example of the lack of appreciation surrounding the dynamics of natural resources displayed by our industrial forefathers.

The tip!

Dung fungi

Golden spindles fungi 

Stream to side of tip

Sleepers across a ditch

Man made pond with draw down pipe.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Scribbling in the margins

Waunafon bog
My latest biological recording excursion took me from the north of Garn Lakes Local Nature Reserve on through the disused railway cutting that forms the eastern margin of Waunafon bog. The deformed lichen encrusted fence posts that once prevented grazing animals from straying onto railway line are often good perching birds. And so it proved with meadow pipit, stonechat and a single whinchat all using these features intermittently. The most novel sight however was that of a nuthatch that took flight from a small willow only on alight onto one of these bogland fence posts. For a species normally associated with mature woodland, parks and gardens it was somewhat bizarre to see.

It was pleasing to still encounter a good variety of flowering plants complete with a number of noteworthy invertebrates. Along the disused cutting with its bed of limestone clinker was the non-native blue fleabane along with eyebright and fairy flax. These flowering plants were juxtaposed with heather, purple moor grass, bracken and willow scrub including a couple of specimens of creeping willow that seemed to prefer the edge of the railway cutting.

Butterflies were still on the wing including a number of common blue and singles of red admiral and small heath. A bog hoverfly and a caterpillar of the broom moth provided further colourful entertainment.

Fencepost nuthatch

Bog hoverfly Sericomyia silentis
Broom moth caterpillar
The railway cutting

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Grey Phalarope at Ynys - y - fro

I've not really bought into this long distance twitching game, preferring to build up a picture of local wildlife is much more rewarding for me. That said should a noteworthy species occur within a twenty minute drive I will sometimes make the effort. A case in point was yesterdays grey phalarope at Ynys-y-fro Reservoir. A couple of weeks leave coincided nicely with this bird turning up.

Ynys -y -fro Reservoir has always been a little bit of an enigma to me. Well watched in the 1970s, 80s and early 90s coverage dropped off when Welsh Water invested time and effort in fishing and sailing largely to the exclusion of birdwatchers- there must be an answerable equality issue here?  For me a visit to Ynys-y-fro has rarely involved a walk around the lower reservoir due to a lack of clarity around access and a perception that the tenant fishing club has a monopoly. Wentwood Reservoir is just as bad littered with keep out signs thereby pushing birders and naturalists to the outer limits peering in like pervy voyeurs. This is why I cautiously welcome the new public access arrangements for Llandegfedd Reservoir. You never know should Jeremy Corbyn succeed at the next election we may eventually see our vital natural resources back in public hands with recreation services managed for all not just the few! 

I digress. On arrival I scanned the distance shore unsuccessfully for the diminutive bird, only to discover it was feeding on the margin just four metres away. A supporting cast came in the form of a few pochard and a wheatear that incredibly was more obliging to the camera than the aforementioned phalarope.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Beside river and tip

I'd intended to check Tredegar House Lake for gulls but a patch of rough grassland near to Newport tip caught my eye, and it was here I spent a couple of hours. The grassland led down to the edge of the Ebbw river where moorhen and shopping trolley were both at home. The late summer sunshine produced a good number of common darter dragonflies alighting on wooden fence posts and a discarded velour armchair. A couple of migrant hawkers patrolled to the sound of a chiffchaff in autumn sub song. A large stand of thistle were linked by the webs of fat garden spiders. I'm almost sure I heard the song of a Roesels bush cricket but a protracted search produced only long-winged conehead.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Grazing animals and bryophytes

Cruet collar-moss (Splachnum ampullaceum) grows on aging herbivore droppings and with the landscape around Blaenavon now supporting a healthy herd of Welsh black cattle I felt a search was in order. Unfortunately the wet heath and rhos pasture in the Garn yr erw area produced nothing at all despite plenty of cowpats. This disappointment however was compensated by a good movement of upland passerines. Couple of wheatear were very mobile along with several skylark and dozens of meadow pipit. The willow scrub beside a small upland pond supported a reed bunting and a sedge warbler. A whinchat alighted briefly before flying out of sight. Somewhat surprisingly the same pond was home to a female tufted duck. Black darter dragonflies were widespread.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Energy levels

Prevailing weather conditions and a dip in personal energy levels conspired to reduce my field activity of late. Nonetheless this Fridays snatched visit to Llandegfedd Reservoir was interesting. It was pleasing to chat to a family from Caerleon out looking for the recent osprey and Gareth who was out with his new Ebay purchase of a Canon DSLR complete with 300mm lens photographing this female redstart that posed obligingly on post and wire fencing. This increase in visitors engaging with wildlife is a pleasing outcome of Welsh Water's more relaxed approach to access, an improvement on the backward lockdown approach of more recent years.

A chunky fly-by wasp led me to an active hornet nest in the base of a mature tree. A little egret flew from meadow to tree whilst on the reservoir a mid water immature black tern was very mobile. A large grounded pike was an attractant to a number of gulls, a heron and a couple of carrion crow

Hoverfly Eupeodes luniger

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Black ranks

Now long gone the Black Ranks were two rows of roadside miners cottages on the outskirts of Blaenavon. They were so named due to a coating of a black tar type paint that help waterproof the dwellings from inclement weather. Today all that remains is a rough hard surface providing convenient  parking for white van man and litter louts. 

From here I made way into the open upland landscape. A pair of stonechat called loudly as if defending a breeding territory. In the distance the 'peep peep' of the heritage steam railway conjured images of grubby middle aged men in National Coal Board overalls waxing lyrical about rack and pinions, pounds per square inch and release oil, drinking builders tea from a chipped enamel mug. 

From the species poor sheep grazed pasture I climbed to the coal spoil plateau that is Cefn Garn yr rew. With the springtime breeding lapwing now elsewhere it was down to the small heath and grayling butterflies to fill the vacant void.  At a pond a mallard alighted and emerald damselflies and black darter dragonflies were numerous.

Off the plateau I followed a fenceline keeping sheep from wandering onto the highway. The road margins here were rich in wildflowers otherwise referred to as weeds by those who have no appreciation of our natural heritage. A flowering bramble bush was complete with half a dozen or so bilberry bee (Bombus monticola). 

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Opportunist mothing

Beautiful Yellow Underwing  Anarta myrtilli  caterpillar

I've a few moth traps from the portable actinic to a couple of 250w mercury vapours. Running the latter, although very efficient, lights up the back garden like a searchlight and runs the risk of complaints from the neighbours, so unfortunately I don't often get the chance to use them. So most of my mothing these days is of the opportunist nature, recording as flushed from vegetation etc. when I'm out and about. The images here are a selection of recent encounters.

Chequered Pearl Evergestis pallidata

Shaded  Broad -bar Scotopteryx chenopodiata

Pyrausta purpuralis

Scarce Footman  Eilema complana

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Urban patches

Hoverfly - Scaeva pyrastri
Whether its a vacant building plot, a post industrial site, a canal, road verge or unkempt corner of a park patches of green space are the life blood of urban wildlife. Many of these patches are ephemeral with there very existence in accordance with the ebb and flow of urban regeneration. All towns have patches, look had enough and you will find. These images were taken in Cwmbran over the last couple of weeks.

Hoverfly - Chysotoxum bicinctum
Water fern  Azolla filiculoides
Least duckweed Lemna minuta

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Whiter shade of pale

Great White Egret
At a time when the summer sports scene is dominated by those wearing white its only fitting that the local wildlife should wade in with its own contribution. Thursday evening at Llandgefedd Reservoir the great white egret showed well along with at least two little egret. Marbled white where on the wing and a clay pipe was a nice find semi- emerged in the drying mud of the drawdown zone.

Remains of clay pipe

Little Egret
Marbled White

Saturday, 4 July 2015

The Punchbowl

View over Punchbowl lake
It seemed that every gate post on the way towards the Woodland Trust's Punchbowl reserve was erected specifically for the benefit of attaching signage. A tasteful 'all welcome' sign gave way to a number of Brecon Beacons plagues warning that motor vehicles were banned. Another wooden post symbolized with various icons struck through warning those interested in camping, fishing and motor bike riding that these were not permitted. The value of this sort of clutter was soon realised when I passed the time of day with half a dozen overnight campers and a scramble bike rider. There were no fisherman present, but a passer by referred to me as such solely on the basis that carried a sweep net, the fact that I clearly had no fishing rod didn't seem to matter. That said The Punchbowl is a very interesting site for a naturalist and well worth a visit.  

New Zealand Pygmyweed
A singing yellowhammer faded as the descent towards the lake was marked by the buffering influence of an avenue of impressive beech trees. The site itself sits at the foot of the Blorenge SSSI and is shrouded by a cloak of woodland. At the lake edge it was clear there is a problem with the invasive non-native New Zealand pygmyweed as the margins were completely swamped by the cushioned effect of this plant. Nonetheless there was much more on view to satisfy a quizzical botanist. Plants included pond water crowfoot, marsh pennywort, bottle sedge and rigid hornwort. It was no surprise to see a pair of Canada goose was a couple of young and at last I was able to get a few shots of a male emperor dragonfly - I've always found this species difficult to get close to. A striped longhorn beetle topped the visit off.

Marsh Pennywort

Emperor dragonfly

Longhorn beetle Stenurella melanura

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