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

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.
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