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

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The Lousy Watchman

Came across this common dor beetle (Geotrupes stercorarius) or lousy watchman yesterday in a meadow at The British. Its so called due to its love of dung and propensity to being infested with mites on its underside. Didn't turn this one over to check for mites but did note it was a bit whiffy!

Clocked my first wheatear as well with two male and a female at Big Pond. Also reasonable numbers of meadow pipit, upwards of 30 noted feeding in sheep grazed pasture.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011


Out walking the dogs at Tirpentwys Local Nature Reserve and happened upon this red kite drifting down the valley. More significant however was a calling curlew from farmland above the reserve.

Monday, 28 March 2011

In celebration of British summertime.

In failing light a few hardy birders made it to Blaenserchan in celebration of the first opportunity to actually do some birding after work. A confiding yellowhammer was a bonus given its scarcity but the real star was a performing tree pipit and possibly another in song some distance away.

The light was poor but did manage a few record shots of this tree pipits parachuting display flight.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Not for the faint hearted

On the way to Goldcliff I called into Liswerry Pond. Now the last time I visited this dump was about six months ago, since then the anglers have done some impressive habitat management and stripped away most of the bankside vegetation. It must be said that I felt a bit uncomfortable walking around the lake as it was well populated by thirty something baseball cap wearing fishermen, and  by the number of bivouacs and disgarded Stella cans many will have been there all night. The only refuge for a few pairs of waterbirds is a mid pond collection of 45 gallon drums and used tyres.

Goldcliff by contrast was very pleasant. A singing willow warbler and a couple of flyover swallow were my first of the campaign. On the lagoons were the usually mix of waders and wildfowl including greenshank, c50 avocet, little erget, peregrine, wigeon etc etc.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Barred by livestock

From Beaufort Ponds follow the footpath links under the Heads of the Valleys road then onto Garnlydan Reservoir for a wheatear or two. Well that was the plan until my way was barred by a substantial herd of welsh mountain blacks and number of large galloping horses with a flatulence problem. So with my large livestock phobia well and truly reactivated a quick about turn was in order.

Taking refuge amidst the nicely surfaced paths around the upper and lower Beaufort Ponds wasn't such trial however. Skylark were widespread, a male reed bunting showed well along with the odd chiffchaff. A mute swan that took flight to move between the two ponds brazenly revealed its ring to the massed ranks of dog walkers.

Elsewhere at Dunlop Semtex Pond world domination by the Canada goose continues apace with 17 birds present along with 22 tufted duck, a female pochard and the omnipresent pair of great crested grebe.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Beaufort sunset

Looks as if the mute swan are building at Beaufort Ponds also chiffchaff in song. From the squashed toads on Garn Road opposite Garn Lakes LNR it seems the annual carnage is underway.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Is this the geekiest natural history newsletter?

If Brian Cox were an entomologist he would surely be an avid reader of this newsletter. The Myriapod and Isopod Group studies woodlice, centipedes etc and I first got interested in these creepy crawlies after finding the small ant white woodlice (Platyarthrus hofmanseggii) in a local quarry. Not everyones cup of tea but you'll be surprised how many woodlice recorders are out there and others yet to come out of the closet.

This is my first moth of the year. This common plume moth (Emmelina monodactyla) was found clinging to my car early morning.

Sunday, 20 March 2011


Today was the day of the chiffchaff and not much else if I'm perfectly honest. First stop was Magor Pill with nothing of significance to report other than a small party of LEARN students on a birding field visit. Things improved slightly at Magor Marsh with a cettis warbler and several small tortoiseshell butterflies.

On the way back decided on a little detour to have a look at Bulmore Lakes on the Celtic Manor pitch and putt course. Not sure on public access so had to put up with a road side view - does anyone know if there's a public right of way to the lakes? Apart from a lot of middle aged men wearing silly brightly coloured trousers I could just make out four great crested grebe, four greylag geese and about 26 Canada geese.

No sign of any toads at the moment but Newport City Council are doing their best to raise the profile of road mortality and biodiversity generally -they've even managed to get the road closed bet thats gone down well!

Finally today's chiffchaff totals were as follows:

Magor Pill -1
Magor Marsh - 6+
Christchurch Hill, Caerleon - 1
Bulmore Road, Caerleon - 3+

Friday, 18 March 2011

'Whats this Dad?'

'What the hell is that. Daaaad!' was the cry from my sons bedroom last night. On arrival I found this western conifer seed bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis) trapped in the bottom of a glass tumbler competing with the dregs of a long gone cherry Tango.

This squash bug is a native of north America but since its introduction to Europe in 1999 has spread rapidly. As with the example above its a large bug readily attracted to light and therefore isn't fussy about coming indoors. For those of you with a copy of A Photographic Guide to the Shieldbugs and Squashbugs of the British Isles: Evans and Edmondson (2005), forget it, you won't find  mention of it - ooops!

Its a tick!

If I were a year lister, which I'm not, after yesterdays visit to the River Usk at Llanwenarth I'd be sharpening my trusty HB pencil in readiness to insert another nice neat symmetrical tick in the BTO's Long List of British Birds booklet, you know the one we all have in our Christmas stocking each year. Because yesterday produced at least three singing chiffchaff on the Usk to complement the one outside my front door. Other bird notables down by the riverside were two pair of goosander, two calling curlew, dipper and mute swan.

Away from the ornithological delights of this fine river there was a wealth of other biodiversity to warm the cockles of ones heart. Otter spraints were evident in several places accompanied by some fresh muddy footprints. There was also a smattering of wild daffodils and some lady smock just about to burst forth.The extensive areas of shingle banks were also ideal for compulsive stone turners such as myself, with some early shingle beetle activity on view including Bembidion tetracolum.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Early evening in a clear-fell

Wentwood is apparently the largest ancient woodland site in Wales so you can't blame a couple great grey shrike wanting to spend some time there. However yesterday evenings stroll was an attempt to find one of the same brand in a woodland other than Wentwood.

High above Pontypool on the southern side of the Crumlin Road is a large imposing conifer plantation the upper section of which is adjacent to Mynydd Llwyd and was clear-felled about 12 months ago. The challenge nonetheless was locating the site without getting lost. With the aid of a trusty Landranger map the best I could do was to park just off Mynydd Maen common and walk. After a modest half an hour or so avoiding a quizzical herd of Welsh Mountain Blacks and the rutted terrain courtesy of our off road friends I arrived at the said clear-fell. Apart from a solitary singing dunnock and a distant skylark it was hardly worth the effort. But all was not lost as I picked up a male hen harrier as it left the moorland of Mynydd Llwyd to disappear over the valley to Mynydd Llanhileth. The only other scrap of life to trouble the Valley Naturalist note book was a good population of the little ground beetle Notiophilus biguttatus.

There were some smashing examples of dry stone walls on offer as I returned to base and a fly over party of about 8 fieldfare rounded the evening off.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Breeding season begins here

It seems the spring like weather has spurred some birds into early nest building. At Bryn Bach Park this evening there were at least two separate great crested grebe nests and a number of coot doing things with bits of vegetation. Nothing much to shout about on the summer visitor front as I'm still awaiting my first chiffchaff, wheatear and sand martin although whilst walking the black labs this morning at Tirpentwys Local Nature Reserve thought I heard a wood warbler - obviously mistaken! Back to Bryn Park and the hybrid greylag x Canada goose was in amongst about 46 Canada's most of which were paired up. Otherwise c40 tufted duck, 5 pochard and a single cormorant. Flying visits to Beaufort Ponds and Dunlop Semtex Pond produced broadly the same wildfowl assemblage but in smaller numbers, the only variable was at Beaufort where there was a pair of mute swan and a calling little grebe.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

What vented this?

Yes this is a bird dropping but from what species? While you're pondering your response I'd like to tell you about my trip around the glorious Cefn garn yr erw landscape this morning. An early wheatear failed to show but skylark song was widespread, other notables included a male reed bunting in song and a single grey heron. However the most pleasing sight was the return of lapwing to their breeding site on the hillside above Garn Lakes Local Nature Reserve - eights birds in total.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Another ringed CANGO

This is my second ringed Canada goose from Cwmbran Boating Lake following on from the one noted in early October last year. Interestingly, the ring number on this bird is only one digit different to the Llangorse Lake ringed October bird.

Monday, 7 March 2011

British mosses

Spiky Bog-Moss (Sphagnum squarrosum)

Common Haircap (Polytrichum commune var. commune)

Left home yesterday lunchtime to the distant sound of a chainsaw in action - nothing like an improvement in the weather to bring out the lumberjack in you! Destination was one of my local patches known as 'The British', named after the now long trashed British Ironworks. I arrived just in time to witness a Skoda saloon climb to the top of a large spoil tip, turn, descend, and rejoin the public highway. Didn't notice a valid tax disc as it passed me, but I'm sure they'll have had one.

The British is a playground of accessible brown and green space for local communities, valued by some abused by many. Nonetheless early successional plant communities sit in harmony with ancient woodland habitat making it a naturalist's delight. I'm trying to get into bryophytes but as a difficult group I need to put in some fieldwork to build confidence so today's objective was photography and voucher specimens. 

Of the few I was able to identify straight off were a number of sphagnum species including spiky, papillose and flexuous bog-mosses. There were some impressive yellow meadow ant mounds capped with common haircap. I took samples of about twenty other mosses now awaiting a rainy evening to identify. Birds were thin on the ground but for a party of about 40 fieldfare and a half a dozen or so redwing.

A very enjoyable couple of hours ended where it began with another form of countryside abuse, this time a numb skull dressed in full urban gorilla attire discharging his air gun with gay abandon. 

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