A lunchtime visit to Pets at Home in Cwmbran offered more than just a bag Iams and some Bob Martins. On return to my car this white letter hairstreak alighted on the windscreen and was very obliging for some mugshots.
Luke's posting of a couple of common tern as late as 3pm at Bryn Bach Park yesterday got me and my good wife travelling up the Heads of the Valleys road for an evening of mid summer relaxation in this popular Country Park ( what is a Country Park?).
If you don't mind having to constantly side step power walkers, joggers, fishermen, dog walkers and mobile phone users this park is a reasonable spot for accessible birding. Couldn't find any of the tern's though, so had to make do with photographing, once again, some of the commoner wildfowl.
It was the usual predictable mix of mute swan, Canada goose, tufted duck, great crested grebe blah, blah, blah! By the time we'd made it round the home straight of the lake circuit the skies has darkened and our pace had quickened discernibly having got caught up in the slip stream of a couple of JJB Sports account holding power walkers complete with iPods. Just past a notice board proudly displaying a collection of photographs of chubby fish caught by even chubbier middle aged fishermen there were a pair of great crested grebe feeding close in which had the effect of interrupting the rhythm of my accelerated pace. This was a mistake as the rain came and I got wet. - although made for some nice 'plip plop' raindrop photos.
Note: must get myself a pedometer, a head band and some lycra shorts at the weekend to ensure I don't get labelled a geek - too late I hear you say!
Adonis ladybird (Adonia variegata) Varteg 31 May 2011
Water ladybird (Anisosticta 19-punctata) Garn Lakes Local Nature Reserve 25 May 2011
Such a popular feature of British summertime ladybirds are, compared to other coleoptera, well recorded that is until you examine distribution maps for vice county 35. I don't know what the problem is with biological recording in the county but not many recorders seem to bothered about submitting records. Collecting biological data is so fundamentally important to informing and prioritising conservation action I urge everyone to submit records to the local records centre and/or the national recording schemes.
I tried out my new Father's Day pressie of a retro style flask along the banks of the River Usk at Llanwenarth today. Its design took me back to the days when as a pre-adolescent I remember summer Sundays were all about John Arlott and John Player (cough!) Sunday League Cricket and not just another opportunity to go shopping. On the issue of smoking sponsorship etc. I vividly recall my sense of shock when as a young Yorkshire fan I witnessed aghast as Phil Sharpe ace batsman and slip fielder was interviewed on TV during a Roses match smoking heavily!
Its always a pleasure walk along the River Usk. A colony of between 40 and 50 sand martin were busily feeding young within an eroded bank. A couple of common sandpiper were vocal along with whitethroat, garden warbler and a distant cuckoo. Two curlew were active in adjacent field and on one occasion birds were seen to mob a corvid, suggesting they have young.
I first became aware of the river shingle spider (Arctosa cinera) through the pages of Colin Titcombe's books on the Wildlife of Gwent. It is a large furry spider thats seem reasonably common on shingle banks - certainly not one for the phobic
Amongst the plethora of ground beetles on offer was this little gem. Bracteon litorale is an Nationally Scarce (B) species only found on sand banks on the margins of running water.
Pick of the bunch yesterday evening from Lasgarn Wood was this speckled longhorn beetle (Pachytodes cerambyciformis). Methinks I've recorded this one before but certainly not for a while. NBN tells me that Wales is very much a stronghold for this species and for Gwent most records come from the Wye Valley.
Complete with a fresh bi-annual haircut and some leave and I was off to sample the natural heritage of the Varteg. First stop was a well known flytippers mountain track. Here I found various black bags spilling baby clothes, a number of asbestos sheets, several piles of conifer cuttings and a good number of tyres.
From this dismal setting I climbed the hillside to the flanks Mynydd varteg fawr. Although Sundays deluge had departed it was still a tad blustery thereby depressing bird activity to a disappointing level. It wasn't until I reached a spot that offered some shelter was I able to pick up wheatear, stonechat and a number of reed bunting.
Like most of the coalfield the landscape here is pock marked with little features that hint at a former use. Tracks, stonewalling, small quarries with piles of excavated stone and channels now full of water complete with margins of cotton grass and the odd broad bodied chaser.
For a mid June day its was nothing to shout home about. A round trip of about three hours only small numbers of birds the most notable was six pair of reed bunting and four pair of stonechat.
Pay and Display car parks have a debilitating affect on me. I'm sometimes struck by a temporary paralysis that attacks my hands when tightly clenched around the coinage necessary to by a ticket. Releasing the money is painful, a finger by finger process exposing the money from within my sweaty palms.
Paying for a car parking ticket is much more acceptable however if there's a pleasant view complete with some living things. From the Pay and Display car park in Chepstow is a good view of the Castle and with it about five pair of breeding herring gull with young.
Ask any students studying an NVQ in Countryside Management and they'll confirm that sticking up a fence is a skill as fundamental to land managers as tractor driving, game bird husbandry, the setting of snares and raptor persecution. So this cyber notebook entry takes a look at the contribution this most basic of boundary feature offers to an upland landscape where natural vantage points are generally thin on the ground.
The disused Waunafon bog railway cutting is flanked by an assortment of wooden and concrete posts linking a dogs breakfast of wire fencing and cheap and cheerful subsistence farming repairs. Chicken and barbed wire, rusty and new is patched with the odd pallet and corrugated sheet, joining posts very few of which remain in their original upright position. The now decaying timber posts are attractively well adorned with various lichens and bryopyhtes with some supporting the remains of the odd raptor pellet but many with a crusty top of passerine guano. And once, given the extent to which this landscape was managed for red grouse, will have no doubt been ideal for an odd gin trap or two.
As you would expect at this time of year this mornings 'post posers' were busily flitting between post and wire feeding fledglings and ticking off a naturalist who dared venture into their patch. But no surprises amongst the assemblage which included many meadow pipit, the odd male blackbird, two separate family parties of stonechat, a reed bunting and a couple of swallow. However the most numerous bird to take advantage of the posts was a post (no pun intended) breeding flock of about 200 starling.
I like these features as there's something quaint and 'arty' about a gnarled and decaying timber post. It adds character and distinctiveness to a landscape that was obviously much more managed in previous generations than today. These undervalued landscape features often jostle for attention with remnant drystone walls and lost farmsteads.
In this landscape the meadows created by the erection of said post and wire are almost without exclusion semi-improved, rich in herbage and invertebrates. Several species of orchid, adders tongue fern, moonwort and other measures of quality grassland attract damselflies, moths, bees, butterflies etc. etc.
The most surprising find however was a patch of ten or more bee orchid north of Garn Lakes Local Nature Reserve. It wasn't too long ago that this botanical attractant was championed as a species restricted to middle class Conservative Monmouthshire, only occurring in Wye Valley areas. Thankfully, it's now crossed the floor to embrace the promised land of diluted socialism and is frequently encountered in the 'yucky' western coalfield of Gwent.
Being in the right place at the right time is nine tenths of the battle when it comes to birding and although the upland landscape around Blaenavon is known to support between 15-20 pairs of breeding grasshopper warbler, I've still yet to visit a suitable site to hear one this year. In 'ye olden times' the Garn yr erw area would be a banker for the bird but a couple of hours treading the boards didn't produced anything remotely close to a reel.
There were of course many other breeding birds showing well. Reed bunting was remarkably widespread with at least four singing birds. The six lapwing set a nice picture against the early morning cloudless sky of this corner of north west Gwent. A couple of pair of wheatear were also busy feeding recently fledged young.
From the cotton grass beds I weaved my way past Hills pit through the large spoil tips on to the dry acid pasture. Here I discovered even more of the little pteridophyte moonwort and several burnet companion and common blue were stirring as the early morning breeze gave way to warm sunshine. Also here I recorded the first stridulating meadow grasshopper - summer really is here.
Finally I stumbled across this little gem on the return journey. I am fairly confident this the billberry bee (Bombus monticola) note its distinctive red abdomen. Although I'd been shown this species before by others who know more about bees than myself, I'm please to have been able to have discovered it independently. Considered to be in decline, this bee has a UK distribution that is mainly north western.
Yesterday evenings Dunlop Semtex visit was so utterly forgettable I'm struggling to recall anything worth blogging. Noteworthy though was another piece of modern art, just to re-emphasise that in troubled times the economically challenged valley communities are not afraid of pushing the boundaries of contemporary artistic thinking. Full marks to a local supermarket as the corporate sponsors of this Turner prize contender.