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

Sunday, 31 January 2010

If you go down to the woods today...........

Had a wander around my local patch today. Lasgarn Wood near Abersychan is a special place for me its where I cut my ornithological teeth as a kid. Birding and nest finding there probably isn't a part of this ancient woodland I haven't explored. Apart from its natural heritage its also steeped in industrial and agricultrial artefacts from shallow limestone workings, tramroads to drystone walls. And not surprisingly for an ancient wood some fine specimens of beech trees. On a day when birds were few are far between other things tend to catch the naturalist eye. Bryophytes ( mosses and liverworts) for example are widespread yet difficult to identify but the tree trunk dwelling Metzgeria furcata is one- with a bit of practice- thats not too hard to sort out. On the bird front the mature larch was providing ideal feeding siskin, goldfinch and three crossbill.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Silence is golden - unless you have tinnitus.

In the absence of birds this blog is turning out to be something of a collection of 'arty farty' photographs of assorted waterbodies in Gwentland. Todays excursion was to Pant-yr-eos Reservoir slap bang on the border of Torfaen and Celtic Manor City Council. Last time I was here was back in late summer 09 when the water level was low exposing a margin of mud, fishing line and Fosters cans but with some interesting bryophytes to boot. This time b****r all, alone on a crisp winters morning with nothing to keep me entertained but the constant background crackle of my tinnitus. Alright I maybe going over the top, there was the odd blackbird and dunnock in early spring song but for waterbirds eight tufted duck and six mallard was just about the long and short of it. Its not that Pant -yr - eos is a Micky Mouse place either with past records of black necked grebe, little egret and other notables its one of those places that could and will turn up something worth writing about in due course. But in the meantine savour my recent addition to 'Around Gwent a Photographic Essay' with some tufties thrown in for good measure.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Missing diver.

Hit Llandegfedd Reservoir this afternoon to sample the Great Northern Diver but neither a visit to the dam or walk around Green Pool and the Island was enough to locate it. Ironically, was told by a couple of visiting birders that the bird was present earlier in the day, never mind got some good views of nine Goldeneye in flight. Other noteworthy birds included Goosander, Kingfisher and fly over Skylark.

Now credit where credit is due Welsh Water staff both past and present deserve a pat on the back for the amount of proactive conservation work undertaken at Llandegfedd. From Sand Martin banks to Osprey poles to grassland management and winter bird feeding they really have sought to bring some diversity to the reservoir. But two inititives stand out. Firstly, three cheers for the retention of standing deadwood. So important for so many ecological reasons dead trees are all too often seen as a health and saftey risk and felled without question. Secondly, not a web cam in the grass but a tennis ball on a stick! Yes, this unlikely combination is for the benefit of Harvest Mouse. Not a mammal i've ever seen but survey work a few years ago confirmed their presence at the reservoir. The hole in the tennis ball is an indication of just how small the little critter is.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Boating lake beauty.

These days its takes something special to get me out of bed before dawn on a working day. But the arrival of a red crested pochard not far from my chosen place of toil at Cwmbran Boating Lake was sufficent to motivate an early rise. While most of working Gwent was considering another duvet day due to further covering of the 'white stuff ' I was on my way to a birding venue that hitherto had featured little to stir the cockles of a birders heart.

Arriving at the waters edge while it was still dark is not recommemded for good views or personal safety but eventually the target species emerged from the winters gloom. There tucked in amongst about 100 mallard was the 'boating lake beauty' a pristine male red crested pochard. Whether its a native bird in from the continent or one of Britains established feral population is anyone's guess. Checking the birding websites there appears to have been a few around recently including one in west Wales and another at Penarth so maybe, when considering the prevailing weather conditions, it was in from mainland Europe. Whatever its origin, apart from a bird seen briefly at Llanwern in 2008 no red crested pochard had been recorded in the county since 2002.

Checkout photos of the 'boating lake beauty' at

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Most influential books, journals and assorted bits of kit: Part One.

Pontypool/Monmouthshire/Gwent Bird Report a must for those serious about birding and bird conservation in this corner of the principality. Thanks to the vision of Bert Hamar and others way back in the 1960's Gwent has a fine legarcy of reports that track the development, social history of modern bird watching and docment the fortunes of our feathered friends in this neck of the woods.

Having been a member of the Gwent Ornithological Society for around 35 years I can still vividly recall attending my first indoor meeting in the then Pontypool Leisure Centre as a new and proud card carrying junior member. With shoulder length wavy hair, denim jacket and flared Wrangler jeans I and my mates were greeted at the door by Bert concerned that our motive was disruption rather than that of genuine interest.

Since those early reports of the Pontypool Ornithological Society with its swallow logo banged out on a traditional typewriter no doubt with its inky fingered carbon paper lining to todays impressive all singing all dancing colour copy, its publication is as much awaited as the first cuckoo. For me its influenced my activity as a birder/naturalist over the years, given reason to the purpose of recording and motivated the writing up of nest box studies and wildfowl counts. Long may the report continue acting as a conduit for everything that is good about birdwatching in Gwent and more importantly influencing youngsters to take up and contribute to a most absorbing and worthwhile past time - far better than Xbox Live! Oh! and if anyone can help me track down volumes one and two of the Monmouthshire Bird Report to complete my collection you would make a middle aged man very happy.

Friday, 1 January 2010

I started out with nothing and still got most of it left - Seasick Steve.

New year, new page in field note book and Magor Pill was todays chosen venue in the hope I could rattle up a full and impressive page of notes to kick off a new recording year. Now being a valley boy (old man) coastal tide times are just a minor point of detail that is until you climb the sea wall to view all before you and find the waters so far out you need to press into action the x60 scope eyepiece just to locate it! In fact it was so distant I could have easily walked to Denny Island and back in just my wellies! (Only joking don't attempt a coastal ramble to Gwents only island as you could end up like veteran local naturalist Colin Titcombe who got into trouble doing the very same thing and was just fortunate to be rescued by a passing boat). So with only a few dozen Redwing and Fieldfare and passing Little Egret to show for my efforts it was on to Magor Marsh.

Ah! good old Magor Marsh, like a well worn pair of Homer Simpson slippers, easy parking, flat effortless boardwalk to the hide where a comfy park bench was waiting for me to rest my weary legs. Only thing missing was a Coffee/Tea vending machine- come on GWT get it sorted! Why bother developing your field craft off the beaten track when it can be delivered on a plate. Three cheers for Magor Marsh the pond supported some nice wildfowl including 12 Gadwall and about 30 Teal with an odd frantic Kingfisher. A couple of Stonechat were hanging around the fringes of the car park, but a field on adjacent farmland was full of activity with good numbers of winter thrushes and about 150 Lapwing and 15 Golden Plover. And so to home with thankfully something in my note book- rest easy.

From Russia - or more accurately the former Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic - with love.

It comes to something when you only realise the Black Headed Gull  in front of you was carrying a ring when you download your photographs the following evening. However, they were sufficently sharp to make out a few letters and numbers and enough to determine that it wasn't a shiny new BTO ring Christmas present it was showing off.  Now thankfully gone are the days when reporting a ringing retrap/recovery involves filling out a card sending it off via snail mail then to wait anxiously greeting the postman at the garden gate every day for six months just for some news. With the information super highway at our finger tips an hour or so searching the net and bingo those handful of letters on the ring were enough to confirm the bird was ringed in Estonia at the Matsalu Bird Ringing Centre in fact which is part of the Matsula National Park. Off course I'm still going to need to fill out details on the BTO website to find out some of the more finer details of the bird such as when it was ringed, how old it was when ringed etc. but at least i've got some information to be going on with.

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