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

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

For sale, birthplace of one of the worlds most celebrated naturalists - but does anyone care?

Kensington House near Llanbadoc Church, Usk the birthplace of Alfred Russel Wallace a world renowned Victorian naturalist accredited with independently developing the theory of natural selection at the same time as Charles Darwin, is on the market and crying out to be snapped up for the nation. Given the global significance of Welshman Wallace and his extensive body of work from travels around the world you would expect those entrusted with the conservation of our built heritage to be fighting to save it for future generations, but not a bit of it! CADW has refused to list the building citing modifications as a reason for sitting on its hands- although there are examples of other modified buildings listed by the same body. So what about the National Trust? Well no luck here either as apparently it doesn't meet its acquisition policy. Seems to me that if Kensington House were a castle, a building with links to royalty or a relic from the industrial revolution then you're quids in but the birthplace of a man motivated by the study of the natural world then there's no chance. For more see

Finally an apt quote from Wallace:
'If this is not done, future ages will certainly look back upon us as a people so immersed in the pursuit of wealth as to be blind to higher considerations'.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Ring a ding ding

Picked up on this lesser black backed gull in midweek feeding on burger scraps in the car park of TK Maxx in Newport. At the time it wasn't close enough to make out the colour ring so made a return visit this evening armed with some stale Braces. It didn't disappoint and was soon bated within camera range, although I got some odd looks from Halfords staff on a fag break! Colour ring clearly depicting A:D so will endeavour to determine origin and report back in due course.

Sounds like two pebbles being knocked together

Stonechat, so cute, photogenic and an iconic species of upland heath I just couldn't resist uploading another image, this time of a female - look elsewhere on this blog for the male and an immature bird. Mynydd y garn fawr with its drained reservoir supporting cotton grass and spoil tips in the background illustrates the stonechats typical habitat. Note not a dirt bike in sight!

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Room without a view

Just as well birds were scarce at Llandegfedd Reservoir yesterday as this was the view from Green Pool hide - a curtain of phragmites. Now before I open up old wounds with birders complaining about lack of facility management etc.I don't have a problem with this. Lets be honest how many birders actually regularly visit the reservoir these days anyway? Two, three, four, five? Why should reservoir staff invest time into maintenance when so few birders bother to visit. Its the Newport Wetlands effect again folks!

With that off my chest the weather was glorious yesterday evening,  a substantial draw down zone was perfect for ground beetle hunting, but watch those Canada goose droppings! The meadows around the Island were at their summery best with thousands of common spotted and southern marsh orchids, also large skipper, common blue and meadow brown butterflies showing well. Best of all the butterflies on offer was the first marbled white of the year.

Other flying things included black tailed skimmer, emperor and broad bodied chaser dragonflies with common blue, azure and blue tailed damselflies. Oh! nearly forgot the only birds of note were two singing sedge warbler.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Summer solstice singing skylark

Theres a place on the hillside overlooking Llanhelleth called Gwastad. A nearby fire damaged woodland was ideal for a spot of nightjar 'checking out'. Didn't manage any nightjar, but two cuckoo were nice, a flyover bat and as it was the longest day singing skylark could still be detected at 22.20.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Every little helps

This resourceful coot at Bryn Bach Park yesterday wasn't about to waste a carrier bag as next year with a 7p tax around the corner there may not be too many around. However, I'm absolutely sure all the revenue raised by the Welsh Assembly Government will be ploughed into nature conservation making sure this coot won't need to depend on pond detritus as nest material and we'll hit our next biodiversity target as well. I'm an old romantic aren't I?

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Father's Day excursion

Visited Penhow Quarry late last year and promised myself another trip as soon as possible. Todays excursion was therefore long overdue. Although a fly over peregrine was the only noteworthy bird, dragonflies were the order of the day. Emperor, broad bodied chaser and black tailed skimmers were all well represented.

Didn't expect too much from Ponthir Reservoir, but a couple of mute swan were a new species to the water for me. Otherwise two pair of coot, a pair of great crested grebe with a rather swamped and waterlogged two egg nest, and what appears to be the start of a post breeding tufted duck gathering with seven birds present. Also black tailed skimmer.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Who are the wild ones?

Further to the criticism by some of the behaviour of a birding minority at the Marmora's warbler twitch, evidenced by tape luring nesting willow warbler and trampling upland habitat at a time when breeding birds abound, there's more. The red bricked shelters that fringe Blaenavon's Canada Tips, untouched by human hands since Hilter got his marching orders, have been tagged by The Wild Ones. But who are The Wild Ones? Could they be errant birders, with scope, tape lure and spray can at the ready? No! more likely  Sunday afternoon off road clowns unable to walk too far without getting out of breath but behind the wheel of a Suzuki 4x4 soft top, peat bog, spoil tip, pond  and rocky outcrop pose no problem at all.

At 6.30 this morning a t-shirt alone was not enough to absorb the birdlife wonders of Garn yr erw in comfort, so coat was donned and off I went. Although the dawn chorus has diminshed in the barmy lowlands those avian treats in the uplands are still giving it some. Reed bunting, snipe, skylark, meadow pipit and two grasshopper warbler continued to offer a tune or two, while wheatear and lapwing called less tunefully in defence of their young. A bloody nosed beetle ouzed its red deterrent and a forest of shoreweed could be seen just beneath the surface of Balance Pond, all observed by a fence post heron

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Sosban fach

A snatched visit to Garn Lakes Local Nature Reserve didn't thrill, several skyark and a snipe was about the long and short of it. A couple of southern marsh orchid that had forced their way through an old enamel cooking pot was worth the odd snap or two. 

Marmora's warbler RIP! Local birders rise up and reclaim the hills.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Japanese knotweed with some woodland plants thrown in for good measure

Not far from downtown valley bottom and within the throwing arm of a decent third man fielder is a very nice limestone quarry. 'Just popping out for half an hour love, be back for the game' was the cry as the front door slammed behind me. Hour and a half later I was back having recorded the continued presence of round leaved wintergreen from within the darker depths of scrub encroachment.  I sometimes think what would be the reaction of a walker coming across me lying flat taking a photograph of some small jobbie on the woodland floor? However, no need to worry no one walks in the countryside anymore too risk averse, think of all those decaying trees just waiting to fall on a passer by and then there's brambles! Oh yes back to round leaved wintergreen, one time rarity now augmented by records from another limestone quarry a couple of miles down valley and one from Newport, so a success story. Also noted some over zealous weed killing that not only targeted the Japanese knotweed on the track leading to the quarry but a further 50 metres of the 'tidying up' of those nasty ancient woodland plants such as dogs mercury, bluebell and wood anemone. 

Friday, 11 June 2010


I have to pinch myself as its a whole week since the long eared owl/nightjar fest with CH et al and bingo I managed to photograph another 'nightjar' (see above) but this time of the subspecies cideri. This confiding individual was sitting motionless in grassland at The British.

I wanted to take some photos this evening of whinchat so the extensive stands of bracken around the slopes of The British seemed the most natural place to visit, but there were no birds to be seen suggesting numbers are depressed. However, a male stonechat was reasonably obliging. Yellowhammer was in song along with linnet and cuckoo. A beautiful demoiselle was an interesting addition given I've always considered this to be a lowland species. Stridulating meadow grasshopper are now widespread.

Thursday, 10 June 2010


Not a kick ass Canadian prog rock band or a veteran Liverpool and Wales striker but an unusual wetland plant. According to Wade's Flora of Monmouthshire (1970) the blunt flowered rush is a rarity, however the more recent book of the same name produced by Trevor Evans suggest it's present in a few more tetrads, six in total. It therefore was a welcome find when it was located alongside the main road from Pontypool to Crumlin yesterday. Once again just goes to show that the old prejudices displayed by some county naturalists in the 70s 80s and 90s that ' there's nothing of value in Gwent west of the River Usk' is just poppycock - would use a stronger word but I have standards to keep!

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Lost property

I'm a bit late with this entry but a sun shiney Saturday morning stroll around Blaenserchan was a wildlife photographers delight. Nesting birds, numerous butterflies and other assorted plants and inverts - what a place! On the way back to my car I came across some lost property in the form of an expelled slow worm tail. Don't recollect having ever recorded this reptile in the valley before, so another tick for me.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Secret squirrel

Yesterday a group of about a dozen mainly ageing birders met for an evening of evocative crepuscular activity at a secret location in western Gwent.- I agree it sounds a bit dodgy but I can assure you it wasn't! And what an evening it was, Whinchat, stonechat, cuckoo, long eared owl, tree pipit, grasshopper warbler and drumming snipe, but for me the stars of the evening were a couple of churring and in flight nightjar from an area hitherto unknown for this species. Suddenly my Marmora's warbler syndrome seems to be receding and looking in the mirror this morning the associated itchy rash that had taken hold in the darker recesses of my body now seems a whole lot better, such are the healing properties of nature. Thanks to international wildlife tour leader, ecological entrepreneur and camera misplacer CH for an excellent evening - we must do it again! I'm now off to update the pristine nightjar distribution map in the recently published, highly expensive Birds of Gwent tome with a disproportionate smudgy red dot.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Marmora's warbler syndrome

My GP suggested taking things slowly, having an early night and placebo calm down pills as the best way of coming off a Marmora's warbler high. So lunchtime today I took my packed lunch, tartan rug and flask to Llantarnam Ponds. But it wasn't long before I got ants in my pants and reached for my camera for some odonata photography. On offer were single emperor and broad bodied chaser dragonflies along with some obliging beautiful demoiselle.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

A twitching we will go, a twitching we will go, blah, blah, blah, blah, a twitching we will go.

When news came through this afternoon that a Marmora's warbler had been found off the slopes of the Blorenge near Blaenavon (yes! Blaenavon) I couldn't believe what I was hearing. So before the factory hooter had finished I was off. On arrival there were already a gathering of about 50 birders from all over the UK and by the time I left at 7.45pm numbers had swelled to well over 100.  But what about the bird? Well, it showed reasonably well in a hawthorn close to the road but moved around within bracken and was a bit illusive. This apparently is the sixth UK record and to the best of my knowledge the first for Wales.

During protracted periods of warbler 'no show' other birds provided a welcome in the hillsides. Whinchat, stonechat, tree pipit, reed bunting, yellowhammer and a fly over hobby kept the cameras and long lenses ticking over.

Photo thanks to Google images.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Tip top tips

Canada Tips near the Keepers Pond above Blaenavon is an extensive area of post industrial habitat a product of opencast mining by the Canadian Army during the war. Now this area is a mosaic of ponds, bare ground and regenerating heathland. One of the specialities of these tips is the little fern moonwort. Once considered to be plant to look for in the sward of a meadow its now more common on the post industrial sites of western Gwent. Elsewhere the only noteworthy bird was a red kite that lumbered overhead and had me frantically searching for my Sigma 500mm lens, but too late!

Finally, there was an interesting article by Libby Purves in yesterdays Times (31-05-10) bemoaning the state of society that discourages children making camps out in woodland and hedgerows. She blames parents and conservation organisations that frown on leaving children to make unrestricted play in a natural environment, picking flowers and making bows and arrows with a penknife in true Famous Five tradition. She, correctly in my opinion, signposts the lack of young naturalists coming through the system to our hand holding society and has a dig at outdoor spaces that are ordered in terms of surfaced walkways and interpretation boards with limited opportunities for first hand experience of nature. If we are to reconnect with nature and respect biodiversity we need to take this issue by the scruff of the neck and give it a good shaking. For starters schools should reintroduce, summer term nature walks and bring back the school nature table.

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