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







Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Chiffchaff all around


Only an hour or so available to me last Sunday so I decided to take in another local woodland. Craig Ddu is an ancient woodland on the lower slopes of Mynydd Varteg Fawr and is skirted by a mosaic of unimproved grassland, a stream and plenty of coal spoil most of which is located on or adjacent to the stream. 

The walk to Graig Ddu was via a footpath from Talywain Rugby Club. Snaking past the clubs main pitch the path emerged into an open landscape of land re-profiling and patchy tree planting schemes. A disused Rugby pitch, still with its rusting posts and clearly unused, is reverting back to rush pasture. A number of chiffchaff were in song accompanied by several greenfinch. Reaching Craig Ddu with its stands of sessile oak and beech I followed the tale tail signs of off road bikers down to an extensive area of coal spoil with its fast running stream. A couple of grey wagtail moved along the stream as I climbed a steepbut eroding  tip  to view Mynydd Farteg Fawr. Here the remnants of a lost farmstead could be traced by its ramshackled dry stone wall and several mature trees. A skylark could be heard in the background. Turning for home serveral more chiffchaff were singing and the warmth of a the early spring sunshine brought out a peacock butterfly.







Sunday, 24 March 2019

More Chromatomyia scolopendri


I pass it everyday but never really spent any quality time exploring its contents. Pen - y -lan woodland between Aberyschan and Cwmavon is a steep sided beech and sessile oak ancient woodland that has a former railway line now cycleway and Local Nature Reserve cut through its middle. Due to its steepness I was surprised to find a number of well used desire lines that thankfully aided my journey through this woodland. 

It became evident there were only a few mature trees amongst the many younger specimens. Of those that remained they were principally of beech scattered around extensive earth works that must be a legacy of the nearly railway construction. Bird activity was extensive with a number of pairs of nuthatch, calling great spotted woodpecker and coal tit. In the darker and more humid parts of the wood grew many harts-tongue fern and few carried the distinctive leaf mines of the fly Chromatomyia scolopendri. But beware, although easy to find the fact this fly has a limited distribution in Britain any attempt to have your record accepted by the national recorder will be rejected without a supporting photo.





Saturday, 16 March 2019

Three days in February



Seems a long time ago now but the three days of unseasonal weather in February enabled me to get out of the office at lunchtime to do some stress busting biological recording.

Not far from my base in New Inn, Pontypool is a pleasant riverside walk alongside the Afon Llwyd. A small number of black headed gull and lesser black backed gull pottered around a closely mown Rugby pitch that sits adjacent to the river probing for worms, only to be disturbed by a dog walker, they never returned. The river was still reasonably high but sufficiently low to reveal the characteristic debris of an urban watercourse, including a push bike. A couple of grey wagtail flew southwards and two tree creeper moved from tree to tree. A bank of harts-tongue fern was examined for leaf mines. The underside of one specimen appeared to show the frass of the micro moth harts-tongue smut (Psychoides verhuella) Also in the dappled sun light of the river were a number of early mining bee.



Next days lunch was spent in Pontypool Park and here too I followed the flow of the Afon Llwyd southwards. The warm weather had generated some early spring butterfly activity, with singles of comma, red admiral and small tortoiseshell noted. Another bank of harts-tongue fern was examined, revealing an individual non-native girdled snail and the tell tale sign of the leaf mine of the under fly Chromatomyia scolopendri.

The following day around the Blaenavon minewater treatment reedbed was a singing chiffchaff, the first time I've recorded a singing bird in February.








Sunday, 24 February 2019

A credible video



A credible video of a great grey shrike at the top of a mature lodgepole pine tree off Llanover Road, Blaenavon got me up and out early in the hope of tracking it down. As there is a substantial area of forestry clear fell at Blaenavon Community Woodland this is where I focused my attention. 

A clear mild morning was accompanied by a fair bit of birdsong. A song thrush was in full flow along with a number flyover croaking raven. Several hundred metres beyond the woodlands entrance is a remnant farm building here some kind soul has scattered bird seed and erected three feeders just out of arms reach. Here a nuthatch and coal tit fed briefly while redpoll called overhead. A couple of tree creeper moved from tree to tree and eventually out of sight. Despite a prolonged search of the tops of trees there was no sign of the great grey shrike. My attention drifted to some of the mature trees that were scattered around this lost farmstead.



Multi-stemmed mature beech and sycamore showed evidence of historic management, whilst an embankment displayed a few flowering blackthorn, not commonly found in the uplands. In a secluded dingle was a beech tree with the tell tale black staining of Phytophthora disease possible P.ramorum. Back to the main woodland thoroughfare and the dog walkers were starting to appear, so it was time to trek back, but not before noting the first frog spawn of the year in a small pond.




Sunday, 3 February 2019

Lean times


Work has dominated my time over the last couple of months restricting opporunities to get out and to populate this blog. That said, I did manage a couple of hours last weekend taking in Tredegar House Lake and the River Usk in Newport. 


At Tredegar House Lake there were the usual cluster of regular wildfowl. Tufted duck numbers were just over 20 and some of the 13 little grebe were very focal. A male pintail was a welcome arrival and could be the same bird I recorded a few winters ago.

My little citizen science project of reading rings on gulls has not produced much this winter. Numbers of black-headed gull were close to 100 at the lake but only one bird was carrying a ring. This Dutch ringed bird had first been recorded at the same site in November 2013.




Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Birding on a family holiday: Fuerteventura




I don't really do birding holidays, but where the opportunity arises I will squeeze in some birding when on a family break. Fuerteventura, has become a regular bolt hole for us, plenty of sun bathing for the wife combined with long coastal walks for me. This was the first time we had visited during December so was a bit of an unknown quantity weather wise. We had expected more rain and lower temperatures but it turned out to be wall to wall sunshine with daytime temperatures at around 24 degrees. As usual we based ourselves in the north of the island in the tourist hot spot of Corralejo. Away from the coastline with its combination of sandy beaches and extensive low tide rocky areas, the landscape is dry and volcanic with sparse vegetation, a desert like natural park on the southern outskirts of the town was within walking distance.


Day One - Sunday 2nd December

After what seemed like an age travelling, day one included a late start, but not before I was awoken by the resident collared doves with a few chirping Spanish sparrow thrown in for good measure. Just before lunch I took a short walk past the now semi-derelict water park to a patch of land on the edge of town. This area was covered with small razor sharp volcanic stones that made walking in lightweight canvas shoes something of a challenge. Some vegetation was good perching for a Southern great grey shrike and great cover for a singing spectacled warbler. A couple of Berthelot's pipit picked their way through the arid terrain as a kestrel alighted on a large roadside advertising hoarding. Just 50 metres away small groups of holidaymakers were walking to town, as, to my surprise I flushed two stone curlew. A barbary ground squirrel put in a brief appearance.

There were a lot more butterflies around than I can remember on my previous trips to this Canary island. One of the most attractive was the greenish black tip (Euchloe charlonia). A large grasshopper with powerful flight capabilities was encountered frequent and was identified as the endemic Canarian band-winged grasshopper (Oedipoda canariensis).

On the way back to our hotel as small group of unkempt roadside confer trees were dropping cones onto the pavement. Here around a dozen Spanish sparrow were accompanied by two or tree common linnet (Carduelis cannabina harterti). Later that afternoon two swifts were noted high above our hotel. These were considered to be pallid swifts.








Day Two - Monday 3rd December


Most of the rest of this holiday involved coastal birds. The good thing about Fuerteventura is that its wetland birds are so accessible, they don't seem to have the same fear of people that we are accustomed to with birds in Britain. The first opportunity to walk the coastline is always a holiday high spot. From urban Corralejo we wandered south to the sand dune area, just as the tide was falling. 

A couple of little egret fished at the water's edge as a party of sanderling ran around a sandy cove. Where the beach was punctuated by rocks up to to hundred wading birds were scattered. Common sandpiper and turnstone were actively feeding whilst whimbrel and grey plover were just loafing and very approachable. A decent party of ringed and little ringed plover moved grudgingly revealing a single dunlin as they did.








Day Three - Tuesday 4th December

Day three included another few hours exploring the coast, but it will be remembered largely for a mass migration of painted lady butterflies. Hundreds of thousands of these insects were everywhere moving southwards through urban areas and some directly out to sea. I watched a monarch butterfly arrive from its cross sea journey and disappear out of sight inland. Bird wise, yellow-legged gull were numerous and a small party of bar-tailed godwit were noted.






Day Four - Wednesday 5th December

The fourth day of the holiday didn't add too much the species list. A couple of common raven were active over our hotel and a brief stroll along the town beach produced a distant ringed sandwich tern. A spectated warbler in scrub on the edge of town was a bit more visible for a photograph, but only a bit.




Day Five - Thursday 6th December

With continuing cloudless skies today's walk took in the urban-rural interface close to the sand dunes nature park. At this urban margin is a significant amount of dereliction, unfinished holiday resorts that seem to blight this part of Correlejo. Nonetheless, this edge of town landscape was very interesting.

Here southern great grey shrike were frequent often perching on lamp posts and fencing. Up to three hoopoe were vocal and a single kestrel was montionless on a large rock. The barbary ground squirrel in this area were very numerous. Botanically it was good to see the endemic Canarian sand loving plant Androcymbium psammophilum this species is listed on Annex 2 of the European Habitats Directive. Also found was the Canarian crested grasshopper (Dericorys lobata). The only moth encountered was a crimson speckled (Utetheisa pulchella), this moth is a rare migrant to Britain.












Day Six - Friday 7th December

This was our final full day on the island, so I took the opportunity to re-visit the site that I had noted the stone curlew earlier in the week. On this occasion it was very quite, the spectacled warbler was still present but continued to be elusive. The surprise however was a grey heron a rather unusually species for the island. A short whistle stop visit to the beach added a single greenshank.





















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