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







Sunday, 7 October 2018

In the bin Herring Gull


A few years back I caught a fleeting glimpse of an adult herring gull swooping from lamp post to lamp post carrying just a metal ring. This was unusual as larger Larus are generally accompanied by a colour ring. The bird, in the car park of one of Newport's out of town retail parks, was obviously patrolling for discarded fast food. At the time I dismissed the chance of ever making contact with this bird again, regarding it as one of those frustrating one off encounters that was of insufficient quality to establish a ring number. As I know this retail park to be good for small numbers of loafing gulls, mainly black-headed, I took the opportunity, whilst in the area, to drop in again.

There were around 20 black-headed gulls, some standing motionless others sitting on the warming grey surface of the car park. A group of first year herring gulls were picking at a collection of car park litter, pulling at wrappers and calling loudly like a group of Friday night teenagers. Close by was a bin - why put litter in a bin when you can just throw it on the ground - with another small group of first year gulls. However, perched on top of the stainless steel rubbish receptacle was an adult herring gull carrying a metal ring. The bird made intermittent attempts to access food buried in the bin.  Opening my car door in an attempt get hold of my camera that was hidden away in the boot the bird took flight only to alight on the roof top of a distant building. Relocating a safe distance from the food laden litter bin I waited hoping for the return of the ring carrying bird. The bird did eventually return but disappointingly only chose to move between lamp posts, so once again I was unable to secure the number on the ring.I'll try again.



On to Riverfront Newport for the falling tide of the River Usk, the number of black -headed gulls are building yet the larger gulls remain surprsingly low in comparsion to previous years. Nonetheless, I could pick out an adult great black-backed gull along with the now regular yellow-legged gull. Scanning the rest of the tideline gulls it was pleasing to pick up a couple of Peter Rock's colour ringed birds from Bristol.









  

Sunday, 23 September 2018

I counted fifty


Early last Saturday I parked up in the mist of Mynydd Llanhilleth to walk around the interface between field and common land. Here the upland audio was dominated by a backdrop of whirling  wind turbines. Pausing at stile that signalled a footpath route across open farmland defined by margins of mature beech trees, I made way for a runner who passed the time of day and hinted at the imminent improvement in the weather conditions. 



Over the stile and onward through a field the remains of a farm building provided a resting point for a pied wagtail. A mixed flock of goldfinch, linnet and meadow pipit moved between ground feeding and fence post loafing. A number of skylark were overhead. Onward through the grassland surrounded in majestic beech a willow warbler called from the depths of one such tree.


Through a farm gate I emerged onto open common land where a distant kestrel dropped out of the sky before climbing to hover again. The dry stone walls in this area appeared in good condition. Intrigued by the distant wind turbines I set off across the open landscape of bracken and species acid grassland to join a newly created access road. This gave me the opportunity to view the valleys landscape westwards and doing so I was struck by the amount of wind turbines that now litter this area. Counting south to north a total of exactly fifty could be seen. Heading back I encounted more skylark, a single female wheatear and a small copse supported a chiffchaff in autumn sub song. 

Sunday, 9 September 2018

It's just a Hobby


Another late post from last weekend I'm afraid. Nonetheless, I wanted to check out progress of the alpine clubmoss that I found last year on a spoil tip in Canada Tips area of Blaenavon. With the on-going issue of illegal off road biking there is an ever present threat of the plant being damaged of even destroyed completely. After a bit of a walk I scrambled up a rather steep sided tip and was thankful to be able to relocate this interesting clubmoss sprawling amongst the heather. A family of walkers breezed by as I was on my hands and knees parting the heather - a penny for their thoughts!


From the top of the tip I had a panoramic view of the rest of this expansive area of coal and sandstone spoil and wondered why I seem to be the only naturalist willing to search this landscape for wildlife. I suppose I'm old school, willing to investigate the wider countryside to record nature rather than sitting in a hide on a nature reserve - wheres the sense of exploration in that!


Down the other side of the clubmoss tip I stumbled but kept my footing as the loose material rolled away underfoot. There was a well worn path with recent bike tyre tracks that led to a rather attractive pond formed at the base of a couple of similar sized tips. The large hoverfly Sericomyia silentis alighted and a good number of emerald damselfly were still on the wing. From the stark barren landscape of the tips I emerged onto that typical upland mosaic of marshy grassland and dwarf shrub heath habitat. One of the red brick shelters that can be found over looking Canada Tips caught my eye so off I marched. 


As if waiting for a bus I stood in the doorway of the building as a hobby flew low across the heather then climbing high against the late summer sky. A mountain biker peddled hard in the distance before picking up speed and disappearing behind a tip. The drone of a motorbike was an ever present but distant audio backdrop. On the track back a female migrant hawker briefly alighted and a wheatear moved from derelict concrete post to derelict concrete post flashing its white rump as it went.


Monday, 27 August 2018

Botanising at Llandegfedd Reservoir


You could be forgiven for thinking that Llandegfedd Reservoir is just about birds. Not the case, the reservoir and its surrounding habitats provide much more for the inquisitive naturalist, than a passage wader or feeding raptor. This summers warm, dry conditions has produced a drawdown zone ideal for plantlife that is hitherto inaccessible due to higher water levels and marginal scrub. I've not yet found anything that would excite hardcore botanists but the community of marginal plants is one that is becoming increasingly difficult to find in the vice county. The following collection of images were taken several weeks ago.

Orange Foxtail

Trifid Bur-marigold

Marsh Cudweed

New Zealand Pygmyweed

Unbranched Bur-reed

Common Water -plantain

Narrow-leaved Water-plantain

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Marsh Harrier and the ledden skies






The moral of this post is that you never know what you may see on a shitty day in the valleys. What possessed me to go out for a walk at 7.30pm on a Friday evening when heavy rain was forecast I don't really know, but I stubbornly did (pointing finger in defiance). Setting out from Garn Lakes Local Nature Reserve (LNR) to cross the road into that divine coal spoil landscape abused by our grubby handed ancestors I was somewhat surprised to see white bryony sprawling over the charcoal grey ironwork fencing of a deserted play area. This climbing plant is common and widespread in lowland Gwent but somewhat unusual in the valleys.




The skies were continuing to darken, but nothing was going to stop me pottering about these upland habitats. A small flush encircled by a couple of dominant spoil tips generated sufficient interest for me to rest my naturalist bag and start parting the vegetation like a school nit nurse. A number of sphagnum mosses, lesser spearwort and bog pimpernel fuelled my boy scout enthusiasm to press on. A deeply incised gully that takes water from higher up has been interfered with by apprentice civil engineers who seem oblivious to natures ability to 'do its own thing'. Instead of working to keep water in the upper landscape a system of failed pipes and blockstone lay bare these unsustainable and futile practises. Scrambling up the crumbling tip I emerged in view of Hill Pits, I paused with hands on hips to catch my breath, a man walked hurriedly by as if expecting the imminent arrival of rain and sure enough looking down the valley it was! Two dewatered waterbodies, now filled with common cotton grass attracted my attention as light rain started to fall. Here I found a significant population of round leaved sundew. Onwards and upwards I ploughed on through the hard work of molina grassland towards that large bunded waterbody on the horizon. The rain had now stopped but the evening was darkening even more. As I glanced skyward a raptor appeared in the distance. It was clearly something more special but too faraway for definitive views. I reached for my camera and started taking random images. I struggled to follow the bird through the viewfinder as it moved intermittently over the open landscape of Garn yr erw. Was it an inland marsh harrier?


At the unnamed waterbody a single Canada goose and a female mallard with three decent sized offspring moved around the lake. A quick circuit and I was on my way back via the ruin of Tir Abraham Harry and that single posing wheatear. Now thinking that I really should make an effort to get home dry I increased my pace. Back at Hill Pits the walker I saw earlier was marching back to whence he came. Beyond was another partly vegetated tip that deserved my attention. Festooned with lichens and shrub heath here I found a population of small cudweed. To my surprise a photographer walked past with tripod visible from his backpack. Back home my wife quipped about going out to play again as she pointed at my trousers that were sodden to knee level.


Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Riverbank exploring


River upstream

With water levels exceptionally low now is a good time explore to those hard reach river side areas. Urban rivers can be rich pickings for naturalists with an often eclectic mix of native and not so native wildlife. With this in mind I called into a nice accessible spot on the Afon Llwyd at Ponthir. A wide pebbly margin was ripe for stone turning producing good numbers of ground beetles including Elaphrus cupreus. Plant life included the now omnipresent invasives of Japanese knotweed and Himalayan balsam. Here too were good stands of pendulous sedge and a some wood-club rush a plant somewhat surprisingly on the 2017 Monmouthshire Rare Plant Register. Also frequent were remote sedge and hairy brome. Other plants include figwort (with mullein moth caterpillar), water chickweed, lesser spearwort and brooklime.


River downstream

Wood club-rush

Water chickweed
Remote sedge
Mullein moth caterpillar






Friday, 20 July 2018

A liitle oasis


It's more than a week since I ventured to the Varteg for my annual visit to the reclaimed landscape of The Balance. A makeshift hand written sign attached to a field gate advised dog owners to keep them on leads due to the presence of cattle. And sure enough positioned inconveniently just the other side of a footpath stile were a dozen or so grunting, tail swishing, pat forming cattle taking advantage of the shade provided by a number of mature trees. A quick detour took me beyond the cattle and into an open vista of gorse, bracken and acid grassland, here marbled whites, ringlets and grayling butterflies were in abundance. I could feel the sun burning the back of my neck as I fumbled to photograph one of these busy insects - unsuccessfully!



The land form here is characteristic of a 1970's land reclamation scheme. Gone is the randomness of industrial abuse and in is a smooth, ironed out, sheep grazed blandness where you need to work to find nature. However, through the heat and the dust of a sheep track and just like a head scarf draped over the shoulder of a Bedouin tradesman came a green verdant river of vegetation adorned with white nodding heads of scattered common cotton grass. With purpose in my stride I quickly arrived at a substantial spring flush still with running water. Here I was surprised to set a single snipe to flight. Dropping to my knees for a closer examination of the herbage I discovered a mass of ivy-leaved bellflower, bog pimpernel and round-leaved sundew.


Following the running water to an area of open water, that was clearly characterised by odonata I began to search for these colourful insects. Keeled skimmer were the most numerous, but thrown in for good measure were a golden-ringed dragonfly and a broad bodied chaser. Scarce blue-tailed damselfly move slowly through the stream side herbage. A male yellowhammer sang from the top of a nearby gorse bush.






Sunday, 1 July 2018

The fossil path




The fossil path was the pet name we gave to a small limestone quarry on the northern edge of the Lasgarn Wood near Abersychan. The spoil tips therein contained a wonderment of shelly limestone from the Carboniferous period, and as kids we made trips to dig the fossils. Today the disused quarry has lost the majority of its calcareous grassland to bracken and scrub, but some patches remain. These contain a variety of fine grasses and other herbage - quaking grass is one notable.

Working my way through the parched remains of a disused reservoir a group of southern marsh orchid were found thriving within the dappled sunlight of an area of willow scrub. Onward through the coolness of an ancient woodland a wood warbler called as I transversed a now dry stream. Beyond the woodland was an area of larch clear-fell now home to thousands of flowering foxglove. I could hear tree pipit and whitethroat. A golden-ringed dragonfly patrolled and a comma butterfly alighted on a bramble thicket.


Arriving at the fossil path my mind drifted to a once open landscape of limestone grassland now largely lost to scrub dominated by field rose; a large field maple, unusual for the locality, appeared to be doing well. Some butterflies presented themselves including the first marbled white of the summer. In the heat of the afternoon meadow grasshopper were stridulating. Once a popular recreation area for local people today I meet or saw no one.








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



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