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

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Today's guest publication

Grabbed hold of a copy of Britain's fastest growing waterways publication Towpath Talk  today on the way to a few watery places - no surprise its the fastest growing publication as its free! First stop was Ynys y fro Reservoir which was more of a slow moving turnaround rather than a stop because it seemed that every bloke in Gwent with a fishing rod had descended on this birding no go zone. Down then to the Mon and Brecon Canal at Malpas. A nice little walk  down to the M4 was full of common wildfowl including several recently fledged moorhen and a sitting mute swan. There was also some exciting  'look but you can't touch' views of Gwastad Mawr. Does anyone monitor this site?

By contrast Pant yr eos Reservoir had only one fisherman who left shortly after I arrived probably because my mutterings containing frequent swear words and must have carried readily across the reservoir. On the bird front there wasn't much to shout home about apart from a single male tufted duck, a singing redstart and some juvenile grey wagtail so I turned my attention to creepy crawlies of which there was plenty to see. Here's a list of notables:

common ground hopper ( Tetrix undulata )
slender ground hopper   ( Tetrix subulata )
dark bush cricket - first instar ( Pholidoptera griseoaptera )
scorpion fly (Panorpa communis)
micro moth ( Adela reaumurella )
micro moth ( Incurvaria masculella )
common blue butterfly ( Polyommatus icarus )
peacock butterfly ( Inachis io )
green tiger beetle (Cicindela camprestris )
ground beetle ( Agonum marginatum )
hoverfly ( Leucozona lucorum )
bee fly (Bombylius major)

Finally, is it a swan or is it a heron? On the way home I took in Llantarnam Ponds and caught sight of this heron looking as if its swimming on the pond or maybe due to low water levels its just standing. Nonetheless can't say I've ever seen this behaviour before. Just managed this out of focus shot before it took off.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Early instar in April!

I don't ever remember recording early instar phase meadow grasshopper ( Chorthippus parallelus ) in April before, shows how warm its been of late. Also on offer at Tirpentwys was this common groundhopper ( Tetrix undulata ).

Monday, 25 April 2011

How long will the authorities put up with these?

It was just another holiday weekend in the valleys as I breezed past a taped off crime scene with a Communty Support Officer in attendance on my way to see if any of the gulls on the roofs around Asda Brynmawr were carrying colour rings. There were at least 100 noisy lesser black backed and herring gulls in place on the adjacent industrial estate, some already sitting on nests. The sides of the buildings are now liberally splashed with gull droppings and judging by last years pebble dashing this is only likely to increase. With the Lakeside Retail Park car park so close I've noticed some of the gulls had left their calling cards on one or two of the vehicles. I just wonder how much longer the authorities will put up with these birds before they do something about it?

As I tend to squeeze in my birding around work and domestic commitments, visits to Machine Pond are often restricted to counting wildfowl from the nearby road. Today however I forced myself to put one put in front of the other and go in search of a plant I'd never seen in the vice county but one which had been recorded close to the pond.

Access was surprisingly easy with nicely contstructed disabled friendly walkways a bridge and other assorted Country Park furniture. No need therefore to change out of my suede shoes and beige linen suit! At the head of Machine Pond was another smaller pond dominated by water horsetail ( Equisetum fluviatile ) and a single pair of coot around which was an extensive area of marshy grassland. It was here I found the target species.

According to the Flora of Monmouthshire bogbean (Menyanthes trifoliata) occurs in 19 tetrads in the county but todays find was the first for me - my only previous exprience of this wetland plant was from The Burren. There were a scattering of other interesting records from the margins of the pond, including numerous slender groundhopper (Tetrix subulata) and the hitherto unrecorded small but distinctively marked ground beetle (Bembidion articulatum).

As I was off the designated pathways with binoculars and camera in hand often stooping or kneeling to sample an interesting fragment of our natural heritage, I seemed to attract some popular attention. Almost without exception people paused on the bridge to watch a middle aged naturalist go about his passion. You could almost read their minds - what is that bloke doing he's strayed off the path!.  On return I was shouted at by a small group of children, 'mister are you a bird hunter' ? At least it was a try!

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Looking out for a trip

Birdguides is reporting a trickle of dotterel into the country so decided to pay the Blorenge a visit. This was the scene of the last major trip of these upland birds a handful of years ago. With new access improvements to the trig point I was there in no time surveying the Brecon Beacon mountains through the haze. From there down to the edge of the Blorenge with its calcareous grassland mounds overlooking Abergavenny. Here I disturbed three ring ouzel and a bloke photographing the landscape.

Making my way back the sheep cropped grassland gave way to billberry and molina with bracken and the odd hawthorn and mountain ash thrown in for good measure. The birdlife here was more variable a yellowhammer sang in the distance along with an intermittent cuckoo. Parachuting tree pipit were alighting on drystone walls and the tops of nearby trees. Towards the road back to the Foxhunter car park I had flashbacks to last years Mamora's warbler twitch, but today I had to be content with a couple of whinchat and a male stonechat.

Previously I'd only encountered this longhorn moth ( Adela reaumurella ) in woodland glades, however today this striking little moth with its lengthy antennae was plentiful 'dancing' in the bright sunlight around deep billberry.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Needle in a haystack - yes its the annual Silurian caterpillar pilgrimage

Yesterday I joined Rhiannon Bevan and Clare Williams (Butterfly Conservation) on a hillside above Abertillery for what now seems to be an annual Silurian (Eriopygodes imbecilla) moth caterpillar search. What is probably the most wackiest event in the naturalist calendar goes like this:
  1. At approximately 2000hrs join like minded lepidopterists at a remote pull in high above Abertillery.
  2. Ascend hillside to a point between 450 - 500 metres above sea level, somewhere close to the Blaenau Gwent - Torfaen County Borough boundary.
  3. Locate a suitable habitat patch dominated by billberry.
  4. At 2100 hrs (just as the last red grouse completes its dusk calling) activate torch, drop down on to knees, and begin a hand search for a small caterpillar feeding within the vegetation.
  5. 2230 hrs descend hillside in pitch dark satisfied that the target species has been located. 
However implausible this seems the survey methodology does actually produce results and on this occasion we were successful in locating two caterpillars complete with diagnostic diamond livery.

The Silurian is considered to be one of the rarest moths in the UK. This red data book species was first found by the late G.A. Neil Horton on the same hillside in 1972 and subsequently named after the Silures. Since then it's been searched for by both local and visiting lepidopterists on a regular basis. The most notable survey was conducted by Dr Paul Waring back in 2005/6, with the intrepid Dr.Waring sleeping overnight in his car whilst running light traps and searching for larvae.

Last night however wasn't all about the Silurian, we did find a couple of other interesting items. If you can help put a name to these it would be much appreciated.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Stash was a cache but not cash

Strumbled across what I first thought was a package of ill gotten gains. What I'd hoped was a stash of used twenties turned out to be nothing more than a Geocache. Geocaching is a modern day treasure hunt using a GPS to locate hidden bundles. This sandwich box was found alongside the Afon Lwyd at Ponthir.

Along the scrub and treelined riverbank was a typical assemblage of birds blackcap, willow warbler blah blah blah. Most notable however was a calling curlew from farmland adjacent and where there's running water there's always a dipper.

Some seasonal invert firsts included common groundhopper (Tetrix undulata) and the bee fly (Bombylius major). Under a shingle bank pebble was the ground beetle (Bembidion tetracolum).

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Around the back of beyond and back

It's little wonder I have to frequently re-tune my TV if those bloody ravens drop their sticks in amongst the transmitter paraphernalia. Contact Cameron and ask for raven to be added to the Big Society cull along with badgers, moles, wasps, polecats, goosanders and cormorants.  And while I've got the ear of the coalition leader how about relaxing the Wildlife and Countryside Act to allow residents to beat the living daylights out of those messy house martin nests or redeploy redundant public sector workers to fell trees blocking the reception of Sky subscribers. Yes, lets get the economy moving with some real green initiatives.

Mynydd Garn Clochdy supports one of the best upland habitat mosaics in Gwent with an ornithological history of some note. This morning I accessed this hillside via the trademans entrance taking in some lovely early morning views of the bollocksed agricultural landscape of the Usk Valley and beyond. Birds on offer included a flyover swallow, singing tree pipit, redstart and linnet with a distant cuckoo.

There's still not a great deal to see on the botanical front in the uplands at the moment although bilberry is starting to flower, but root around and you will find something to get on your knees for such as this field wood rush ( Luzula campestris ).

Also popped into Garn Lakes LNR to have a look at the newly planted reedbed and in the process flushed three snipe. On the top lake was a sitting Canada goose, four pair of coot, a pair of moorhen, two pair of tufted duck and a single little grebe.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

'The Oakwood Three'

It was the agony of choice, local, but where? Could it be The British for a ring ouzel, Blaenserchan with the potential for  anything to turn up or the Lasgarn Wood for 'The Oakwood Three'? With pied flycatcher, wood warbler and redstart back in the county I plumped for the latter in the hope of picking up at least one of the three.

Just like Saturdays Lottery numbers I was wide of the mark. No sign of 'The Oakwood Three' and a GOS posting for Blaenserchan showing the  presence of wood warbler and even cuckoo took the edge off an otherwise very enjoyable spring weekend. Wasn't all bad as I did stumble across my first blackbird nest though.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

A naturalists playground

Those blog followers will know that Canada tips on the outskirts of Blaenavon is a favourite haunt of mine. A landscape bedeviled by the utilitarian activities of past generations is now a naturalists delight. A mosaic of early successional lichen-heath communities sitting on the edge of heather moorland and rhos pasture. But for me one of the main attractions is the variety of unplanned ponds, runnels and other moist habitats formed through the pillaging and abandoning of this land for its carbon riches.

A 7am start was early enough for nature to provide me with a chilly reminder that it is still just April. Predictably skylark and meadow pipit were in in good voice but the first notable bird was a flyover sand martin heading north-south over the blackened tips. Shortly after the sand martin came a peregrine once again low over the tips. I thought about a photo but trying to change a 50mm to a 500mm lens in time to catch a peregrine in flight just isn't realistic.

At this altitude and at this time of year flowering plants are at a premium, nonetheless did come across a thriving patch of early dog violets (Viola reichenbachiana) on a spoil mound of a more neutral chemical composition.

Climbing to the top of the tips and viewing back towards Cefn garn yr erw and Waunafon bog I could just make out a lapwing. This is the area where the former mining activity gives way to more traditional upland habitats. To my surprise this exceptional wildlife resource has recently been burned, nonetheless I flushed a pair of red grouse from just about the only patch of unburned habitat for 200 square metres.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Construction underway

The Afon Lwyd in Cwmbran was a total joy today, no shopping trolleys, or trees festooned with bog roll just the trickle of water, bird song and the crackle of Japanesse knotweed bursting forth from its winter riverside slumber. On the invert front brimstone, orange tip and red admiral fluttered by, but the most interesting buzzy thing doing the rounds was a strong colony of the plasterer bee (Colletes daviesanus). This is a solitary bee that digs a nest chamber in friable soil and about 50+ of these  bees were doing just that alongside the river. According to the National Biodiversity Network website and akin to most things entomological in Watsonian vice county 35, there is only one other county record.

It wasn't just bees that were building the new riverside sand martin banks appear to be attracting the attention of the target hirundine.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Run to the hills its the brown-tail moth

I've yet to have this confirmed but I'm reasonably confident this is a larval web of the brown -tail moth (Euproctis chysorrhoea). This  moth is rare in Wales but widespread in southern and eastern England with only the first county record from the Newport Wetlands last autumn. Theres a lot of hysteria surrounding this caterpillar as it can cause irratation if touched, so it keeps the white overall and mask wearing pest control industry busy with their cans of chemical exterminator.

Midday at Magor Pill and the tide was nowhere to be seen so it was little surprise that waders were thin on the ground. Nonetheless there were some nice wheatear (4 male and 1 female) on the saltmarsh rocks between Magor Pill and Cold Harbour Pill.

At Magor Marsh a Cetti's warbler was kicking off, also numerous chiffchaff and the odd willow warbler blackcap and reed bunting. On the pond was 2 pair of little grebe. coot, moorhen and just when I thought the Magor would miss out on the attention of Canada goose two turn up.

Marvellous March

Its seems an age since I can remember a month of March so littered with summer migrants. The weather has certainly been kind for the return of our trans-African friends and with good climatic conditions theres always more incentive to get out and record. By contrast last year was late, I only just managed a singing chiffchaff a few days before the month closed. This year's March tally is, chiffchaff, willow warbler blackcap, wheatear, swallow and tree pipit.

In amongst all the good news on the bird front is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to lepidoptera. Personally I've yet to record a brimstone although a record of a large white from Cwmbran mid month was early.

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