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

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Squealing piglets

In contrast to my recent access rant getting into Llandegfedd Reservoir yesterday was a breeze. Water levels were high with a stiff wind creating choppy conditions which made for difficult birding. Respite was found in Greenpool bay where teal, mute swan, little grebe and others found shelter. Here too was a single male pintail. Water rail were in fine voice with up to four birds calling loudly from within a metre of the Greenpool hide. Excellent views can be obtained by viewing the alder and willow carr through the two right hand observation flaps and just waiting patiently. 

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Fishermen welcome others run along and play elsewhere

Back to my cause celebre! There were hundreds of wildfowl at Wentwood Reservoir yesterday but to do anything more about getting a closer view other than sticking my scope through the bars of the gates like a Special Branch officer on a surveillance operation was impossible. Once again Welsh Waters practice of embracing certain income generating recreational users more than others means that birders are locked out like naughty children.
So what is Welsh Water's policy on access to their landholdings? Paul Henderson Strategic Regulation Manager in his written evidence to the Welsh Assembly Government's Sustainability Committee Inquiry into Access to Inland Water in 2009 gave us a hint. He said:

'We are committed to providing appropriate access and promoting recreational use at our landholdings for the public in so far as there is no significant risk to health and safety, risk of pollution or damage or harmful impact to wildlife'.

Later on in his evidence he re-emphasised this commitment by saying, 'We are always keen to encourage greater use of our sites...........'

Why is it then that we birders are being drowned out when it comes to having fair access arrangements? In  my examination of the 13 recommendations that came out of the WAG inquiry none related to access for the study or enjoyment of biodiversity. Yes there was the reassuring statement that recreation improvements would only be allowed if not detrimental to biodiversity interests,  but in doing so shouldn't the benefits of conserving and enhancing biodiversity be accessible to the public to enjoy and cherish?

Another recommendation featured funding to help improve access to inland waters. In response WAG set up SPLASH  a Water Recreation Challenge Fund for Wales. Since its inception its funded over 65 projects to the tune of over one million pounds but its seems only one project is 'access to wildlife' related. Why is this? Is it that campaigning conservation bodies just don't see a problem with access to nature at wetland sites?
Fine words are offered by Welsh Water and WAG in relation to nature conservation but allowing access for individuals and organisations who are well placed to support their conservation aspirations is all too often restricted or barred. Birders are simply up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Gwent Goosander Survey: Visit 2

Took in Bryn Bach Park before returning to Dunlop Semtex Pond for the start of visit 2 of the Gwent Goosander Survey. 'Twas bitingly cold but a few black headed gull were happy to come in close for some scraps left by the locals. This adult gull was carrying a ring marked Estonia but wasn't able to make out the number as the bird wouldn't stay still long enough and the ring's on upside down.

At DSP there were five goosander ( 4 female and 1 male ) all of which eventually left taking a north westerly route. Full count:

9 Pochard
9 Tufted duck
8 Moorhen
16 Coot
30 Mallard
5 Goosander

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Forgotten logos

My wife refers to it, rather dismissively, as 'paper shuffling' but a recent examination of my dusty archive of biological records turned up an item I feel is worthy of mention. Buried amongst the pages of annual ringing totals, nest box records punched out on an old style typewriter and a growing file of more contemporary orthoptera records shared through email, I found a letter head sporting a forgotten, unfamiliar logo.

This logo, to the best of my fading memory was one of the earliest for the then Gwent Trust for Nature Conservation (now Gwent Wildlife Trust). A rather statuesque Barn Owl was the main focal point which, I seem to remember, eventually gave way to an updated symbol in the 1990's of a  more action filled, in flight owl just about to alight on its prey. Today with the barn owl  logo ditched - in some cattle feeding trough - the local Wildlife Trusts throughout the UK generally use a variation of the black and white badger symbol as a sort of nationwide corporate identity.

An evolution or time series of logo's used by conservation organisations and naturalists' societies over the years can sometimes provide an interesting insight into the make up, direction and membership profile of these organisations working to protect our natural heritage.  The Gwent Trust for example in using the barn owl chose a species in decline, who's stronghold, once fortunes had changed, would be the landowning rural communities of  Monmouthshire. Who would have guessed that a drift towards using the badger logo could potentially alienate the same rural farming communities were once courted with the owl logo.

For me logos often act as a memory prompt, a focus for the reminiscing of times long gone when as a Young Ornithologists' Club (YOC) member I along with some mates would look forward to the annual local cine film viewing of the new RSPB movie, all of which seemed to involve the ubiquitous Bobby Tulloch and the Shetlands Islands. For a logo the YOC's design of the 1960's and 70's could easily, with some little adaptation, be that of the Hitler youth or Third Reich. A spread eagled kestrel that wouldn't have been out of place adorning the cap of the camp commandant of Colditz.

Other logos have evolved and come and gone. The BTO has buried at sea its Gannet in favour of some other thingamajig and the RSPBs iconic Avocet logo has changed but to their credit retained the same bird despite it now being a conservation success. Pen and ink calligraphist designs have given way to the whizz ding of computer generated artwork easily transferable to cap or polo shirt. But amongst all this modern organisational identity there's still the odd group that remain true to tradition. See the Monmouthshire Moth and Butterfly Group logo as an example!

Monday, 5 December 2011

A touch of the Med

Happened on this 1st winter Mediterranean Gull busy preening on top of the refurbished boat house at Cwmbran Boating Lake this lunchtime. No amount of enticement was going to get this bird down to join the dozens of black headed gull milling around my feet and the Canada geese tugging at my trouser legs. Also 27 Canada goose and a single black headed gull with shiny ring but didn't hang around long enough to photograph.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Severnside solidarity

Yes it sounds righteous but I have a social conscience and strong sense of fairness and equality that's why I had no hesitation in withdrawing my labour in support of millions of other low paid public sector workers who today stood up for their pension rights. It's not just about defending my pension its about the pension prospects of future generations and every ones right to have a quality of life into retirement and old age.    

That said I took the opportunity provided by this industrial action to visit the coast at Black Rock near Chepstow. This part of the Severn Estuary coast line is home to a soft cliff habitat that is one of the rarest in Gwent. The ecological value of this cliff is in its special invertebrate assemblage, but at the end of November its true glory could not be fully appreciated. Nonetheless, some stone turning did produce an assortment of unidentified ground beetles along with harlequin and 16 spot ladybirds.

Bird wise the foreshore was very disappointing. Single redshank and curlew along with around 10 wigeon were complemented by some15 skylark.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

One from the archive

It was such a dismal day up north today I didn't even bother taking the trusty Canon out of the bag. So I've raided the archive for this whimbrel shot taken on a day and in a location where poor light and rain are rarely an issue.

Today's site visit took in, Dunlop Semtex Pond, Machine Pond, Beaufort Ponds, Bryn Bach Park and Garn Lakes. By far the most species rich was Beaufort Ponds with 2 mute swan, 12 Canada goose, 10 wigeon, 3 little grebe, 3 tufted duck, 10 coot, 1 moorhen and 20 mallard. Otherwise there was smattering of pochard and great crested grebe across most sites and a count of 11 Canada goose at Garn Lakes was the highest on record.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011


In my efforts to track down ring carrying gulls frequenting certain urban watering holes I've developed a keen eye for leg abnormalities. This lunchtime at Cwmbran Boating Lake were around 100 blacked headed gull, none however were tagged with that nice foreign ring or a chunky easy to read colour ring, but several were obviously walking wounded. 

First up was a limping bird restricted by some tightly woven fishing line. Second was an amputee who managed very well with just on leg. With similar birds recorded last year at this site and Bryn Bach Park it does seem that the black headed gull suffers more than most for daring to adapt to man habitat.

Elsewhere at the boating lake were 28 goosander, 16 Canada goose, 2 moorhen and 50+ mallard. Also a harlequin ladybird.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Gwent Goosander Survey: Visit 1

Past Garn Lakes Local Nature Reserve in thick fog with visibility down to 20 metres only to emerge into bright sunshine as I dropped into Brynmawr. This however was the only positive aspect of my goosander survey visit to Dunlop Semtex Pond. No goosander but here's the list:

1 Pochard,
4 Tufted duck
10 Moorhen
1 Little grebe
18 Coot
38 Mallard
7 Goldfinch
3 Grey wagtail
2 Coal tit

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Waunafon fog

Quick visit to Waunafon bog in the hope of an inland short eared owl produced nothing but four raven and a flyover thrush thing - oh and fog masses of the stuff.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Just in time for Sunday

Joining the lunchtime dog walkers at Cwmbran Boating Lake were 14 Canada goose, 2 moorhen, 50+ mallard and 6 Goosander including a scruffy first winter male. The latter arriving right on time for Sunday's Gwent Goosander fest!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

I'm just not cut out for twitching

Racing down to the Newport Wetlands yesterday for the Slavonian grebe was just impossible. No worries however as my experience of this species in Gwent previously was that they stay around for a couple of days at least, so I was reasonably confident of it being present this morning. Despite a couple of hours searching through gadwall, tufted duck, pochard, coot, little grebe etc I drew a blank. There were however some inverts on offer including an active silver y moth, a red admiral and a good number of common dater.

Prompted by this scaup faced Tufted duck at the wetlands I decided to call in to Ynys yr fro Reservoir just in case something of interest was lurking in the shallows. Nothing much to write home about but was able to park in the fishermans car park as the gates were unlocked.

Sunday, 6 November 2011


I never seem to find any accessible mistletoe to examine, it all seems to be out reach high in the tops of trees. Inspired by Jonathan Briggs excellent item in the recent edition of British Wildlife magazine entitled Mistletoe- a review of its distribution, conservation and insect associates I was determined to track some down. This I was able to do at Llandegfedd Reservoir this morning where a patch was located low down on a hawthorn.

Its too late in the year now to look for any of the distinctive insect associates, but leaf mines and exit holes should still be detectable. None could be found today but mistletoe is certainly worthy of closer examination.

Bird wise there were about 75 wigeon, 50 teal, 70 Canada goose, 9 tufted duck, 8 pochard, 1 little grebe, 5 mute swan and 2 snipe. There were also good numbers of fieldfare and redwing, and a few skylark and meadow pipit. A late red admiral spent some time alighting on the warmer surfaces provided by wooden fence posts and the fisherman's portacabin.

Good as well  to see some new feeders at the bird feeding station all they need  now is some contents!

Talking of food I managed a fleeting visit to Beaufort Ponds on my way to get the weekly supplies in this afternoon. The pond was supporting a couple of mute swan, 3 wigeon, 11 coot (including one with a gammy leg) 10 Canada goose and 2 little grebe.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Where's the water gone?

The pond at Magor Marsh was rather low on water today nonetheless there were still a few teal present, a fly by kingfisher, a Cetti's warbler and a reed bunting.

I took the liberty of having a look in one or two of the accessible nestboxes on the reserve. In one was this overwintering queen German wasp (Vespula germanica) note the diagnostic three dots on face.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Thanks to GWT staff and members in Ebbw Vale


A belated thanks to staff of Gwent Wildlife Trust's Environmental Resource Centre in Ebbw Vale for hosting a talk from yours truly recently about my activities as a naturalist. A good, very receptive and enthusiastic crowd turned up to share their love of nature in Gwent's coalfield - interestingly some people from Chepstow as well. By the way the resource centre is well worth a visit!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Return of the ringed CANGO

In the absence of a pied wheatear, yellow browed warbler or long billed dowitcher I revert to my default bird, the Canada goose. Should anybody out there be vaguely interested the two Llangorse Lake ringed birds reported at Cwmbran Boating Lake during the winter period 2011-12 are back on site. See page 117 of new, fresh off the press, Gwent Bird Report 2010 for recovery details.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

What coughed this thing up?

Came across this pellet on a low wooden fence post in Cwmbran earlier this week. It was safely retrieved and stored in the ever present naturalist's pot. The make up of the pellet is almost entirely of invertebrate remains. I'm pretty certain I know the bird that produced it, but do you?

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Bread of heaven

Left the Rugby to the sound of an overhead redwing, destination the forgotten blue network of Brynmawr/Ebbw Vale/Tredegar. Bryn Bach Park was the most diverse waterboby with the odd cormorant, and great crested grebe, many mallard, 36 tufted duck, 8 pochard and 2 mute swan, one of which was ringed.

At Beaufort Ponds were another pair of ringed mute swan along with 10 Canada goose and other assorted commoner wildfowl. However the most interesting feature was what appeared to be a willow weave bird hide being constructed on the opposite shore. With the new hides at the Newport Wetlands seems there's likely to be more competition for this blogs annual Observational Structure of the Year Award 2011- watch this space!

Monday, 10 October 2011

Ah! the memories

Back in the 1980's and 90s I was part of a small ringing group of three based at a site just off the dam at Llandegfedd Reservoir. Here we spent many an enjoyable Saturday ringing in the comfort of a hut donated by Welsh Water (in the days when they supported birding) and modified to include a wood burning stove etc. Annual ringing totals often approached 1000 birds sometimes boosted by August and September sessions at the North End. Alas the hut fell in disrepair when my 'A' ringer Percy Playford became ill.

Shortly after Percy died the hut was rescued by Richard Poole and transferred to a site on the Island but unfortunately its use in this new position was short lived and here too it was abandoned. The hut today is a fragment of its former glory now all but derelict, rotting and crest fallen but a few reminders of its glory days can still be found amongst the remains. A stencilled ringing notice from the days before computers, a tin of nails, chairs, a table and a modified window for easy of release of processed birds. A piece of the social history of bird ringing in Gwent disappearing without a whimper.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Beetle mania

Another copy of The Coleopterist journal (yes that's a journal for beetle nerds!) and therein another item on beetles in Gwent. This time its a three page article on the rediscovery in Wales after 150 years of Amara fusca. Seems it was found in Newport Docks in August 2008.

Elsewhere today at Cwmbran Boating Lake were 64 Canada goose, and a single mute swan. Will check the geese for rings in due course.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Go back, go back, go back.....

..... were the words that tugged at my paisley pj's as I made my way down that old wooden hill at some unearthly hour. No time to wipe the sleep from my eyes, I was off, this even before the first mongrel had clocked on for that unique canine dawn chorus that is the wake up call for modern day valley life.

A fence post wheatear caught my eye as I turned the road to the Foxhunter Car Park, Blaenavon. The target this morning was 'Sunrisre Over Monmouthshire' photography, followed up with some red grouse spotting thrown in for good measure. It was no surprise to find other earth worshippers in the car park. Kneeling beside tripod mounted camera they whaled in appreciation as the mother of all life emerged on the horizon.

Past the Fred Hando memorial bench and the Foxhunter memorial plaque I left the bearded, kaftan wearing photographers destination Blorenge mountain taking the new BBNP memorial footpath improvements  before veering sharp right into more interesting terrain. Here the first grouse were flushed, taking off in a panic to a land of pixies and fairies out of sight but still just audible with their characteristic 'go back, go back' vocal. Taking no notice of the advice of a sub species of the willow grouse I pressed on regardless only to record a pleasing fourteen birds before reaching the Blorenge memorial trig point. Here I posed in conquering Everest style before dropping down the east face and onwards. 

The path here was through peat, still holding water enough to threaten an over walking boot reminder of the approaching rainy season. Quickening my pace after slowing to remove an irritating hardened sun baked sheep's dropping from my boot I flushed a snipe that took off vignetted against the brightening sky. Here too skylark and  meadow pipit were plentiful. On to the gently rounded and sheep grazed limestone spoil hills I emerged to view, hands on hips, the vista that is the green and pleasant land of rural Monmouthshire spread out before me - a mountain biker sped past wobbling in surprise of my early morning presence. Here too were a good number of swallow, an active fox moth caterpillar and a less than active eggar moth cocoon was retrieved from beneath a dislodged stone. A snowy ink cap was also emerging from a pile of horse dropping.

PS. For a blog that gets only c1200 hits a month, the value of having 'sexy' in the title of two consecutive postings has paid dividends. Just over a day into October this site has already registered close to 400 hits. Just goes to illustrate the preferred subject matter of many website searchers!

Friday, 30 September 2011

Not as sexy as AGP, fact!

After my previous posting about the LR stitchwort I've now reviewed my bold yet woeful identification attempt in the light of further information. As I write I hang my head in shame due to need to confess another ID banana skin. A late flowering marshland growing stitchwort just had to me one of the rarer species but alas the above plant is in fact at the very opposite end of the stitchwort rarity lineage. Not marsh stitchwort as stated but the common or garden, found everywhere, lesser stitchwort. Oh well nothing ventured nothing gained. 

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Not as sexy as AGP but.......

This plant may not generate the same testosterone inspired reaction as the recent plethora of coastal wading beauties, but is arguably more significant. Whilst twitchers chase the latest windblown vagrant, work remains to be done on the recording, distribution and better understanding of the flora and fauna of Gwent.

At Llandegfedd Reservoir yesterday morning this small white plant caught my eye growing on the margins of the Inlet. As you will know most flowering plants are at a premium this time of year so  one in full flower demanded my attention. A touch of book and Internet research has led me to the bold and maybe foolish conclusion that this is marsh stitchwort ( Stellaria palustris). Whilst reasonably widespread in the East of the British Isles its never plentiful and reference to the recent Flora of Monmouthshire (Trevor Evans) suggests this is the first county record - this of course needs verifying.

Elsewhere on the reservoir there were three shelduck and yet again a lesser black backed gull with chunky colour ring.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Chance encounter

Left work and headed straight for West Usk Lighthouse to catch up with the grey phalarope and pectoral sandpiper. A bit of trek along the sea wall from Lighthouse pub car park proved to be well worth it but not for the target species. Having side stepped a large herd of cows to walk along saltmarsh I joined the creme de la creme of Gwent birders in the form of Darryl Spittle, Chris Jones and Nathan Casburn who were enjoying another yank wader in the form of an American golden plover. Unfortunately my Sigma 500mm is not the best but I'm sure the steady flow of birders that I met on my way back to the car will produce some better images in due course.


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