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

Monday, 8 February 2016

Brynmawr for gull watching

Whilst contemplating the destination of my usual Sunday morning excursion I had a recollection that around this time in previous years, gulls, mainly herring, were starting to congregate on their breeding site on the roof tops around Asda Brynmawr. And so it proved to be up to 60 birds were present on the undulating asbestos roofed redundant industrial building. My main objective was to check for colour ringed birds but on scanning the legs of herring gulls one stood out as not being pink.

This was my first yellow-legged gull in the north of the county and followed the Iceland gull found on the same building last February. The above photo illustrates some of the contrasting features between the yellow-legged and herring. Note the yellow legs, darker mantle, and bulkier head and neck form.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Long stayer

I recently reported the sightings of three colour ringed black-headed gulls to their respective schemes - two Polish and one German. A prompt same day response from Rafal Sandecki regarding white TTW2 (see blog posting  17 October 2015 ) confirmed that it was ringed as a chick on 8th June 2015 in Culianian - Pomeranian Province on an island in Lake Kusowo, Poland.

Meanwhile the bird carrying white AF460 that's been frequenting the environs of Tredegar House since December last year can still be found often amongst the line of birds on the roof top of said building. A brief sighing of another bird with a colour ring covered in mud proved frustrating. 

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Once an Olympic sport

Live pigeon shooting was a popular nineteenth century past time, even featuring in the 1900 Paris Olympic games. This blood sport that consisted of live pigeons being released from a box trap in front of a 'gun' is no longer practiced in the UK but countries such as USA and Spain still entertain this questionable activity.

Historically live pigeon shooting was readily reported in local newspapers just like the scorecard of a village cricket match is nowadays. Below is an example of a newspaper report from the turn of nineteenth century detailing one such match.

'On Monday a pigeon shooting competition took place between the members of the Blaenavon Gun Club, at the new cricket grounds. The weather was very favourable, and a large number of persons assembled to witness the shooting. The first competition was for a sweep stakes of 10s each; five birds 21 yards rise and 61 yards boundary. Seventeen entered. Messrs. Wride and Brinkworth shot in their usual excellent style, and were deservedly applauded, each killing five birds. They divided the stakes between the shots. .John Wride, 111X1; John Brinkworth,11111; Evan Adams,11110; John Pullman, 10111; Willliam Cox, 11110; Henry C Steel, 11010; Thomas Davies 11010. For the sweepstakes of5s each ten entered, but as there were not sufficient birds left the stakes were  divided between Messrs, Wilson, Pulman, Orchard, Edmonds and Lewis, each having killed three birds. Hammon, of London, as usual, supplied the best blues. 

Given their bad press it can be easy to forget that feral pigeon is on the BOC British List and its felt the population and distribution of this species in Gwent is poorly understood. The large population of several hundred birds centred on Newport Castle featured a range of characteristic plumage varieties for those wishing to cut there teeth on pigeon recording.






Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Greyscale birds

This weeks collection of monochrome waterbirds from just two lunchtime visits to Cwmbran Boating Lake. Water rail, goosander, kingfisher, and tufted duck joined the more numerous Canada goose, black-headed gull, moorhen, coot and mallard.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015


The beauty of time off from holding back the steady drip drip of environmental damage is having the space to ponder and potter. This week I made the short journey to scuff around a couple of the few remaining urban wildspaces of Blaenavon's inner town. 

St Peters churchyard is large. From its lime tree lined entrance it quickly opens up into a naturalists dream of unkemptedness. Grave stones, at more angles than a draughtman's set square, emerge from a threadbare, weather beaten, tangled mass of vegetation. A great spotted woodpecker called as it alighted in one of the several mature Scots pines followed quickly by the less aggressive call of a coal tit. I pushed my way through bramble and brittle stalks of rosebay willowherb over uncertain terrain that hid the remnants of graves and all the associated decaying stonework. A desire line that marked the lower boundary of this urban oasis and a road with a small cul-de-sac of houses was littered with discarded drinks cans. I knelt to examine an ornate headstone with the forms of wildflowers traced in the stonework and found some fresh dogs mess.

Leaving this place of the dead through a stand of Japanese knotweed and a newish wooden five-bar gate with a missing latch making its closing impossible, I left for the nearby Beeches house. A gully with a locally distinctive stonewall complete with a coping of slagstone led to this, another unmanaged urban green space.

Ty Mawr or The Beeches is a large former NHS nursing home and before that a base for industrialists to organise grouse shooting parties during the Victorian times. Now disused the house and grounds have declined significantly. Several mature beech trees carry the penknife carvings of teenage lovers from the 1960's  - an unrecognised cultural subject. A small common duckweed covered pond was populated with debris including a chair. I looked for a makeshift headstone that I remember seeing a number of years ago that marked the grave of a dog that was probably a shooters companion, but this could not be found. A fallen tree colonised with what appears to be oyster mushroom was compensation.

Saturday, 26 December 2015


It seems an obvious statement but the study of leaf-mines is a somewhat specialist area of the natural history spectrum. Nonetheless having checked the leaf-mines website this one on hart's tongue fern appears to have been 'dig' by the larvae of the fly Chromatomyia scolopendri and something of an unusual occurrence west of the Wye Valley. This one was found today on the edge of a limestone quarry near to Lasgarn Wood, Abersychan.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Baltic birds

I re-visited Newport Riverfront on Sunday morning in the hope the Lithuanian ringed black-headed gull that I was previously unable to read the full ring number, would still be present. Thankfully it was and a complete number was obtained. There was also a Belgium ringed bird on view. However, today during my lunch break I located a second Lithuanian bird, this time a first year bird, at Cwmbran Boating Lake. I will submit via the Lithuanian ringing scheme website (and BTO) and let you know in due course.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

The Lithuanian

Having promised to give a talk as part of next years Gwent Ornithological Society's indoor programme on 'Ring Reading: An Exercise in Citizen Science it was about time I started to gather some more information otherwise it could look a bit threadbare. Armed with  a small bag of assorted scarps from pizza crusts, bread and stale chips I made my way in pouring rain to Riverfront, Newport. A very obliging population of black-headed gulls were happy enough to line up single fine on the riverside railings but none carried any rings. Moving position some 200 yards or more south ward past the University of Wales building I seemed to attract a different crop of birds, soon attracting a Polish colour ringed adult black-headed gull. With food waste running low I was delighted to also locate a Lithuanian ring bird that was a bit flighty which was frustrating as I wasn't able to obtain a complete ring number before food ran out.

Leaving Riverfront to check out Tredegar House Lake I called in to ASDA for some of their own bread -33p a loaf. The good thing about this bread is that its baked stale, and if you doing believe me try some! A gathering of about 100 gulls made for a promising feel and soon it proved so with a German colour ringed bird among the scrum of squawking birds.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Photography redefined

Taking an image of a great northern diver that was mid reservoir, in a howling gale and with a camera that doesn't perform the best at full magnification was something of a challenge. I think its called a record shot!

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Putative intermedius

Among the many lesser black-backed gull (Larus fuscus graellsii) feeding on the edge of a falling tide along the Riverfront, Newport last weekend, was an individual that clearly sported a darker mantle. Although care needs to be taken when separating lesser black-backed gull subspecies it does suggest this bird is of the subspecies f.intermedius a species known to breed in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Natural play- a generational thing.

I was heartened to discover a make shift rope and stick swing in the Lasgarn Wood last weekend. These used to be commonplace in the peri-urban woodlands of my youth but are now largely replaced by more formal play spaces, fenced off, British Standard equipment with soft fall rubber matting to help ensure all risk is removed from play. I remember some monster rope swings slung from a bough of a veteran beech that once mounted would thrill the most discerning thrill seeker.

The woodland was largely quite but unseasonally warm. A sunny glade was populated by a single red admiral butterfly that repeatedly alighted on a tree trunk. In the heart of the wood where trees were at their densest and sunlight was at a premium slugs and snails were widespread. Plaited door snails could be found cheek by jowl with the lemon slug Limax tenellus, an ancient woodland indicator species. Not many records from the vice county of Monmouthshire but then who bothers to record slugs! 

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Back for the winter

Having been immersed in my own little citizen science project of ring reading for a few years now, I'm starting to record birds more than once and over successive years. The last posting is a case in point. Black-headed gull colour ringed white REY was first noted last winter (year) and has returned for another spell eking out a living among the highly productive mud of the River Usk.

This intertidal substrate is also an attractant to the now familiar multi ringed Redshank that's back on its patch at Riverfront, Newport, for at least the fourth year. Away from the colour ringed birds an adult Black-headed gull carrying just the bog standard aluminium ring proved a challenge to photograph at Tredegar House Lake last Sunday 25 October. A Dutch inscription with number 3728.630 rang a bell. And so it was, this bird was noted from the same location on 10 November 2013.

Away from the ringed birds a very confiding one footed Rock Pipit was very much at home on the concrete walkway/cycleway in front of the Riverfront Theatre. Dropping down to the muddy margins of the River Usk when disturbed by a cyclist or jogger it was more than happy to return to hopping around when the relevant fitness fanatic was a safe distance away.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

A weekend of firsts

Last weekend was good for firsts. A very obliging first year colour ringed black-headed gull at Tredegar House Lake was the first bird I've recorded from Poland, A short video is the first on the new Valley Naturalist You Tube channel. 

Earlier white REY on the railings near to the Riverfront Theatre, Newport rang a bell. This Danish ringed bird was first recorded from the same location in November 2013 (see blog post).

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.

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