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

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Inform BTO

Its only rarely you get the opportunity to view the legs and feet of gulls and wildfowl. This recent cold snap has done the trick by hosting those usually submerged 'pins' from the icy depths to a position where they can be checked for Ratner style jewellery. At Bryn Bach Park yesterday there were several hundred assorted gulls along with a smaller number of coot, mallard and mute swan all standing on the frozen lake. The two ringed mute swan blogged on 5 December were joined by three other ringed birds of consecutive numbers. Now present are numbers ZY4632-33-34-35-36. Also noted was the above coot with ring number GC60061.

For gulls more than wildfowl ringers will certainly get more 'bang for their buck' if they use Darvic or colour rings in conjunction with the standard metal rings. With optical advances these days reading and photographing birds with rings is easier than ever but often still requires the bird to be viewed from several angles to read a full number. Ringers would get back more data if colours and larger numbers were available to view in the field, after all plotting the movements of birds is what ringing is all about and anything that enhances this must be worth it. By example the two ringed herring gull at Dunlop Semtex Pond recently were too distance to read a small number on a discoloured  metal ring but with a colour ring things may have been different.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Gulls on ice

There were a good number of gulls on offer at Dunlop Semtex Pond yesterday. The majority were black headed, but also included the above common, herring and lesser black backed. Two herring gull (one adult and one first winter) were carrying metal rings but were too distance to read numbers.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Men and Sheds: Observational Structure of the Year Award 2010

Its a clean sweep for Llandegfedd Reservoir. Seems as if Gwent's other honey pot sites have a lot of catching up to do! Nominations welcome for 2011 award. (Ed: must devise criteria that doesn't expose this award to calls of subjectivity)

First: Green Pool Hide Llandegfedd Reservoir (SSSI).

Second: Bert Hamar Memorial Hide Llandegfedd Reservoir (SSSI)

Third: Pettingale Hide Llandegfedd Reservoir (SSSI)

Commended: Magor Marsh (SSSI)

Commended: My Fensman portable hide c1979

Heavy duty canvas, wooden poles and sisal guy ropes- vintage!

Note: Awaiting photo. Currently residing in an inaccessible spot at back of shed.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Brass monkey weather

The old jalopy registered minus thirteen (-13) as I drove southward this Boxing Day morning and the two pairs of novelty Homer Simpson socks covering my little piggies were hardly adequate to keep out the cold. As there's more chance of winning Friday nights Euromillions draw than gaining access to Welsh Water reservoirs these days I played my trump card and headed for the much under-rated Pettingale Hide. Admittedly a bit of a trek but its just off a footpath with no Houdini style locks to negotiate and it gets you to where the action is.

'I've lived here a long time but never seen it frozen over like this' said a local Farmer as I breezed past him with purpose in my stride. Sure enough the reservoir was frozen hard but for a few areas of open water towards Green pool and Fishermans car park. In the distance I could pick out at least four goosander a few pochard, good numbers of Canada geese and cormorant, a couple of great black backed gull but the pick of the bunch were at least 14 Bewick's swans.

Magor Marsh seemed even colder, on just a little bit of ice free water was, 6 mute swan, 5 gadwall, 2 little grebe and other assorted commoner wildfowl. A woodcock was also flushed from a wooded area on return.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Read all about it

The 2009 Gwent Bird Report has arrived. This years report is another fine tribute to birding activity in this corner of Wales. New editor John Coleman has produced volume 45 in the tried and tested format of systematic list, articles, ringing report along with a bumper crop of excellent photos by Lee Parsons, Nathan Casburn etc. 

On analysing its content I can't help expressing an on going concern about birding coverage at Llandegfedd Reservoir. See wigeon count table with only two entries and none at all for tufted duck a point referenced in the text. This is a worry, a time series of counts since when the valley was flooded in 1963 is in danger of  being eroded by lack of counting activity. Hopefully this year will see a bit of a renaissance.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Island biogeography

Presented myself at Llandegfedd Reservoir's North end gate at 9.30 this morning only to find it double padlocked. Hung around until 10.30 admiring the frosty scene but the gate remained firmly chained. Slightly irritated I moved on to The Island near Usk.

Must say it made a nice change to have a wander along the banks of the River Usk Special Area of Conservation (SAC). Birds on show included 5 goosander, 4 little grebe, a single moorhen, half a dozen mallard and a great spotted woodpecker.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Makes a change from a gull

Motacilla cinerea for your enjoyment. Next time whooper swan from Ponthir Reservoir?

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Thanks for your concern but I'm fine, now throw me some bread!

Six waxwing still feeding on the now rapidly diminishing berries at Ebbw Vale as I drove past en route for Bryn Bach Park.

At the park only a small area of open water remained where all the wildfowl had gathered. Within the five mute swan present were two carrying BTO rings. Also the above adult black headed gull seemed to be coping fine minus a leg.

Aptly named

Adorned in just my wee willy winkie nightshirt I opened the front door to dispose of last nights Domino's and noticed a small moth on the step. Turned out to be a winter moth probably Operophtera brumata rather than fagata the northern winter moth. Although common and widespread its still somewhat notable to record a moth during sub zero temperatures.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

A brief look at the Common (Mew) Gull

At this time of year groups of gulls congregating on frozen lakes and ponds are good for both photography and the sharpening of those identification skills. Gulls as a group can be very tricky with differing age and seasonal plumage, and are therefore something of an acquired skill that needs to be worked at to build confidence. Only recently I agonised over a large gull that had come in to roost on Ponthir Reservoir. Was it a ring billed or just a common or garden herring gull? The latter prevailed but the varying amount of dark markings on bill had me going for a while.

The common gulls depicted in the above image illustrate how plumages differ depending on age. My assessment of these gulls would be:

Left hand bird: Adult winter - note crisp plumage with slight streaking of head and slight bill band.

Middle bird: 2nd winter - heavier streaking to head and breast with thicker bill band.

Right hand bird: 1st winter - blend of immature and adult plumage with well defined dark tip to bill.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Waxwing free zone

You could be forgiven for believing that the only birds worth seeing in Gwent at the moment are waxwings. Nice though they maybe its now time to move on so this afternoons excursion was Magor Pill and Magor Marsh.

Encouraged by Chris Packham's Exe Estuary jaunt on Autumnwatch last week the first stop was Magor Pill and the Severn Estuary in all its glory. But my word it was cold, and it didn't help to find my walking boots, that had been left in the car overnight, were frozen. However the threat of frost bite wasn't going to stop me and on a falling tide the usual assortment of coastal waders and wildfowl were on show. The most noteworthy counts were c150 wigeon, c50 linnet and several skylark.

On to Magor Marsh and collected on the remaining small amount of unfrozen lake was, 2 gadwall, 2 shoveler, 14 teal,  and 3 little grebe. A single reed bunting was noted on the way back to the car along with 14 mute swan in a nearby field.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010


Seasonal Affective Disorder is no joke if you're a sufferer, so to make sure I don't fall victim to this debilitating disorder I try to get out as often as possible. Cwmbran Boating Lake is close enough and accessible enough for an half hour winter blues busting visit. 26 Goosander and Arnie the long staying dutch ringed black headed gull provided the entertainment. Arnie was doing some interesting things with his ring!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Civic reception

Got to the rowans outside The Buffs Cabaret Venue just as the Dean Martin lookalikes were turning up their collars and leaving after a full night of piano playing and bourbon drinking. No waxwing so onto the Civic arena in Ebbw Vale. I was hardly out of the car before that characteristic trilling was detected. Six in total alternating between a large mature tree and several berry bearing trees. Interestingly the birds were often badgered by a rather territorial mistle thrush.

Given this venue supported a long staying flock the last time these Nordic visitors graced our fair county I'm somewhat surprised there's been no official civic reception, no mayoral address, no cutting of the ceremonial tape, no freedom of the borough, no brass bands, absolutely nothing!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

A merry dance

Unbeknown to me and several other birders sitting in cars covering all angles of the legendary Brynmawr rowan trees, that the waxwings had taken advantage of the dualing of the Heads of the Valleys road and generous Welsh Assembly Government grants to relocate to Ebbw Vale. Several circuits of the block that took in the best Brynmawr could offer including car park, bus station, Talisman pub, Kwik Save and that well known international crooners club, The Buffs Cabaret Venue failed to produce the target species, although good numbers of blackbird and mistle thrush filled some of the gap.

I must have been  something of an unusual sight for Brynmawrians as I walked the circuit four times with camera and long lens in hand. At one point as I was photographing what berry eating avian treats had bothered to turn up, a grey curly haired man rushed up to me from within a nearby Cafe. In an excited dialogue he asked if I were a landscape photographer as he was a painter. He then proceeded to explain how he'd obtained a £15,000 bursary to go to art school in London and was subsequently asked to apply to the Royal Academy but didn't manage to get round to it. However, he did have a passing interest in birds fuelled by a  mate who was a grave digger who kept zebra finches and cockatiels. 

Nonetheless it wasn't all a Gary Bagless waste of time as my urban circuit produced what must be the most westerly record of mistletoe in the vice county. There it was growing in a tree down a narrow street between the Talisman  pub and the bus station. This too created some little sensation particularly amongst a group of fluorescent jacket wearing Stagecoach drivers as they stood motionless with that 'what the f**k is he doing' look on their faces as I took a photograph of the mistletoe set against the backdrop of someones upstairs window!

Last nights Peter Kay gig at the CIA was excellent! Did note the interval video of Peter's Comic Relief cover of The Proclaimers, I will walk 5,000 miles contained cameo appearances from David Bellamy, Bill Oddie and that superb comedy duo The Crankies.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Less - a - scaup

Some time off so made the trip to Tredegar to catch up with the scaup at Bryn Bach Park. Needless to say no scaup but a nice selection of wildfowl including tufted duck, pochard, mute swan, mallard, coot, great crested grebe, cormorant, 5 mute swan and a single goldeneye. The black headed gull with ring as per blog entry of 24 October was still present.

Sunday, 14 November 2010


It was hardly worth sharpening my Wales biodiversity week souvenir pencil for, as this afternoons visit to Llandegedd Reservoir failed to trouble a new page in the Valley Naturalist field notebook. Apart from the usually grebes and geese etc. 30 lapwing, a flyover male goosander and  a nice charm of goldfinch was about it. A glimmer of things to come however was the early signs of the infamous LR winter gull roost. Pettingale point here I come!

Mystery caterpillar and this is serious!

Yes I know it's dramatic but I'm keen to confirm the identity of the above caterpillar. I had a stab at it a while ago and narrowed it down to a moth that has only been recorded locally on the odd occasion, but can't remember its name. So can any one help? It was taken when sweep netting an area of cotton grass near Blaenavon during August 2009. Gold star to anyone with the answer!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

A conservation priority?

Bryn Bach Park was a goose free zone a week ago but this weekend numbers of this highly mobile and very successful species were as high as forty nine. Its only about twenty years ago that the Canada goose in Gwent was eminently tickable, now it's widespread and numerous. As an introduced species its about as far away from a conservation priority as one can get, yet to my surprise I've just heard of a group dedicated to its well being.

The Canada Goose Conservation Society is not a research based study group but an animal welfare organisation promoting the humane treatment of this bird in the wake of growing concern over control measures. However, the most interesting fact is that it's a Gwent based society. Whilst I defend the right of anyone to express a view and to campaign accordingly I do wish efforts of often well meaning people could be directed towards areas of real conservation concern. What about the Lapwing, Grey Partridge or Lesser Horseshoe Bat all are in a bit of state at the moment how about a society in their name? See for more information.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Johnny foreigner, coming to a town near you

While salivating at the sight of the bonfire night cup cakes in the window of a well known chain of high street bakeries a ladybird caught my eye as it alighted close to me. Instantly recognisable as a harlequin I reached for the naturalist regulation issue toffee hammer by which to dispatch the objectionable interloper, but paused.  On closer inspection I quickly came to appreciate the markings on this most attractive of coleoptera. Black wing cases adorned with two large red spots topped by lovely facial markings. Why do we have to squash um? I just can't do it. So, with a new found appreciation I lovingly encouraged the beetle out of harms way waved it goodbye and made my way back to work wondering if a moral offence had been committed.

On the subject of invasive non-natives I've also heard today of a record of the yankee western conifer seed bug from a house in Cwmbran. First noted in the UK in 1999 its now known from an increasing number of locations over southern England, with sightings also coming in from west Wales see This individual is thought to be the first for vc35. Thanks to NL for providing the info.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Cut and apply image of favourite berry eating bird

These berries are plentiful on four ornamental rowan trees outside the former Kwik Save store Brynmawr at the moment. This was the venue for a healthy party of waxwing the last time they visited in numbers a few years back. But it seems the current invasion has yet to filter this far south,  but we live in hope.

Another site worthy of a check is Tesco car park Pontypool where a similar range of berry bearing trees exist - some nice whitebeams. Although beware, using a pair of bins in a public place anywhere in the valleys is likely to result in disapproving glances or even possible arrest. You can fell some nice woodland during bird breeding season, put a terrier down a badger sett, discharge a firearm in a public place in full Rambo attire or drive your 4x4 repeatedly through an upland bog but demonstrate any affinity to the natural world and you're in trouble. The only way of avoiding a spell in the slammer is to plead insanity by claiming you're a birder/naturalist/ecologist.

Tour of the Heads of Valley forgotten blue network produced the following:

Bryn Bach Park - c125 mallard, c75 coot, c50 tufted duck, 4 great crested grebe, 17 pochard, 5 moorhen and several redwing.

Beaufort Ponds - 1 little grebe, 7 wigeon, 4 mute swan, 11 coot, 13, tufted duck.

Machine Pond -  1 little grebe, 1 tufted duck, 17 coot, 10 mallard.

Dunlop Semtex Pond - 1 little grebe, c30 tufted duck, c50 mallard, 6 moorhen, c35 coot, 3 great crested grebe.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Trust me if there were waxwing around.....

........I'd be out trying to get the desired image, but there's not so you'll have to make do with more of the same I'm afraid. Of all the Canada geese that come and go from Cwmbran Boating Lake I've yet to clock one with a ring. Given the numbers ringed at Llangorse Lake every year this has always been somewhat surprising. So yesterday righted a long standing wrong with the above Christmas meal suitably adorned with an ID tag.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

This is becoming obsessive

Penyfan Pond just for an hour this morning and there were plenty of Grampies taking their Grandchildren to feed those nice little ducks. Unfortunately the 20 or so mallard and a similar number of black headed gull were very timid, so almost impossible to check for rings. It wasn't until I was deleting a rather disappointing crop of images did I find the above. Not much to go on as its a tad out of focus, but looks foreign to me. Also cormorant and common darter.

They're all over the ruddy place

Going about my usual business this weekend I called into Bryn Bach Park near Tredegar for a spot of wildfowl counting. It seems the popularity of duck feeding has both increased the number of domesticated mallard variants as well as wildfowl in general. Although the resultant frenzy of a scrap of bread being dropped into the water by a young family on an Autumn outing mainly involves mallard, coot, black headed gull and mute swan other more cautious species such as tufted duck, pochard and great crested grebe are now becoming involved. This makes for good photography.

However, given my new found past time of bird ring spotting I went on the prowl amongst the black headed gulls once again and just as I was running out of patience and as if by magic one appears. This time not a bird from overseas but one closer to home as it was wearing a nice shiny BTO ring.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Gwent on the coleoptera map at last

I ran to meet the postman at the garden gate eagerly awaiting the arrival of the latest edition of The Coleopterist. And sure enough there it was, the tell tale brown manila envelope wedged between the Damart Christmas catalogue and another mailshot from Sun Life Insurance.

Carefully pulling apart the covering not to damage the unfranked stamps (retained as security against anticipated postage increases in the wake of the Governments Post Office privatisation plans) I exposed the 63 page bumper edition to the autumn air. Turning over the attractive monochrome cover I read the contents. There amongst the usual notes of new county records and a very interesting looking item entitled 'Canopy interception trapping for beetles in mature and veteran trees at Hatfield Forest, Essex, in 2008'  I paused at the word Gwent. Now having been a subscriber to this most learned of journals for a number of years and never having the joy of reading a decent item on beetles from Wales let alone vice county 35 I'm sure you can understand my momentary state of disbelief.

Contained therein was a six page report by Mr.Coleoptera, Keith N. A. Alexander on 'Coleoptera records from the Gwent Levels area of southeast Wales (VC35), detailing a survey of ground and saproxylic beetles at seven locations along the Levels. The plethora of nationally scarce and local beetles noted once again concretes (sorry I know I shouldn't use this word when talking about the Gwent Levels) the reputation of this area as a biodiversity hotspot and at the same time one that cries out for further study.

In the run up to the period when we all celebrate the birth of baby Jesus by going on a orgy of spending I recommend considering a subscription to The Coleopterist as a present with a difference. Its only a tenner for three issues. See Naturalist Links for more info.

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