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

Saturday, 28 July 2012

The Mon and Brecon Canal - another under recorded biological resource.

A check on progress with the field work for the new national dragonfly atlas will illustrate just how poorly recorded the vice county of Monmouthshire is. There are exceptions of course, birds are well covered, there's been  a welcome increase in lepidoptera recording and thanks to the work of individuals like Trevor Evans and Sam Bosenquet higher and lower plants seem well documented, for the rest forget it. This void at best is embarrassing but for a county that supports some quality habitats this lack of recording threatens the future well-being of our natural heritage.

One feature that is a legacy of our industrial heritage is the Mon and Brecon Canal. Winding its way from Brecon through the rolling agricultural landscape of Monmouthshire and on to Newport through the urban conurbations of Pontypool and Cwmbran, not forgetting an arm off to Risca, the canal is a smashing landscape scale wildlife resource. But predictably we know very little about it. Having walked the canal as a young ornithologist and now as an old natuarlist it seems the non navigational sections where the canal has been 'chopped up' by roads and other development are the most diverse.

Stretches of water covered in various species of duckweed, both white and yellow water lily along with the scarcer frogbit, but also in places the non native floating water fern can be found, all supporting a very healthy population of breeding moorhen and mallard. As a kid I remember water vole, alas no more, but otters and bats are frequent. As for invertebrates, these are plentiful, especially where the towpath has escaped the grass cutting activities of the tidiness brigade. Odonata are there for the taking, beautiful and banded demoiselle damselflies and emperor dragonflies are common. Look out for the variable damselfly and hairy dragonfly. Get out and record or expect it to be lost.

Monday, 23 July 2012

I'm back....again!

A:D the Bristol ringed lesser black-backed gull is back doing the rounds in the Maesglas Retail Park car park in Newport for at least the third consecutive year. Showing well especially if you have some spare grub.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Coity complex

After a saturday that saw a significant improvement in the weather both Coity Tip grasslands and Mile Pond were less than impressive. The main objective was to pick up on some dragonflies but unfortunately not a single insect was recorded, however a few common species of damselfly were noted, but never numerous. On the grassland around the tip a single marbled white and a count of around eleven moonwort lifted the spirits but only a couple of six spotted burnet moths.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Dragonflies and Damselflies

A big thank you to everyone who turned out for the SEWBReC dragonfly and damselfly training at Llanelly Hill today. The weather was kind for the afternoon field session that followed the mornings lecture. Seven species of odonata were recorded and well photographed by those in attendance, including black darter, four spotted chaser, common and southern hawker and scarce blue tailed damselfly. Other species noted include dark green fritillary and great crested newt. On return to our cars we bumped into two visiting freshwater ecologists on their way to do some caving and invertebrate recording in the Ogof draenen cave system. Apparently they've recorded some new species to Wales in the cave!

Monday, 16 July 2012

Chit Chat

A visit to Garnlydan Reservoir was generally unremarkable save for a pair of whinchat and a distant male stonechat. A couple of yellow waxcaps was interesting given you would normally expect these to be autumn species - a measure of the how much rain we've had recently!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Under Monnow Bridge


A female goosander loafed around with the mallard and other assorted hybrids under the Monnow Bridge at Monmouth yesterday whilst the Morris Dancers jingled their bells and flapped their hankies to a song about the barley harvest on the bridge above. Elsewhere there seemed to be something of a bee theme going on with the opening a Bees for Development shop in the town.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Dormant interest rekindled

Nothing like a couple of local colour ringed gulls to reawaken the fire in my belly for all things larus. So in an idle moment I drifted back to my spring trip to Fuerteventura and some yellow legged gulls .....take me back pleeeease!

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Come the winter its Spain or Portugal for me

Many thanks to Peter Stewart of the Severn Estuary Gull Group for his swift response to my report of Blue CHL the colour ringed lesser black backed gull from Brynmawr. As you can see it seems the bird enjoys wintering in southern Europe and who can blame it!

Ringed  24/11/07 SGD Stoke Orchard landfill site, Gloucestershire. 51.56N 02.02W
Sighted 28/11/07 JDS Grundons landfill site, Gloucestershire (2 km, N, 4 days)
Sighted 05/11/08 JDS Grundons landfill site, Gloucestershire (2 km, N, 347 days)
Sighted 20/11/08 JDS Grundons landfill site, Gloucestershire (2 km, N, 362 days)
Sighted 12/12/08 MD Quarteira, Faro, Portugal (1718 km, SSW, 1 yr 18days)
Sighted 02/12/10 JC Boca do Rio, Porto do Son, Coruna, Spain (1155 km, SSW, 3 yrs 8days)
Sighted 15/01/11 GM Alcazar de San Juan tip, Ciudad, Real, Spain (1397 km, S, 3 yrs 52days)
Sighted 10/07/12 SW Brynmawr, Blaenau Gwent (76 km, WSW, 4 yrs 229days)

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Panasonic Lumix FZ45 to the rescue

After fiddling about with trying to fit a compact camera to a scope in order to get a pic of the colour ringed lesser black backed gull on the factory roof opposite Asda Brynmawr, I ditched the lot in favour of my newly purchased Panasonic Lumix FZ45 bridge camera. And I'm glad I did as not only one but two colour ringed birds presented themselves late yesterday evening. First up was blue CHL and secondly white GU. Will keep you posted as to their origin.

Sunday, 8 July 2012


Interestingly Bubbles the colour ringed mute swan seemingly moved purposefully across Dunlop Semtex Pond to preen within the recent detergent discharge of a nearby business. I've reported this effluent to the Environment Agency on at least a couple of occasions but nothing changes. By contrast I noted a recent BBC Wales News item on very same issue but on the Nedern Brook in Caldicot whereby an EA officer, quite rightly, waxed lyrical about the biological impact of detergents. The frustrating thing is I know which business this detergent is coming from!

The roof top lesser black backed/herring gull colony opposite Asda is now as busy and noisy as ever with many young birds joining the throng. Given the extent of gull colour ringing in and around the Severn Estuary these days it was almost odds on a ringed bird would turn up. This adult presented itself  in mid roof area and allowed for a number of pics with both my Sigma 300mm and 500mm lenses. By the time I got my scope in position to read the number it dropped out of sight only to reappear very briefly and only just enough to read the letter L as part of the inscription. Unfortunately none of the download pics were sharp enough to help with the full sequence.


Its July and picnic time

A break in the weather yesterday tea-time had me trekking to the Pettingale Hide at Llandegfedd Reservoir for a bit of risk averse birding. After everything I've said about countryside clutter I was certainly glad of the cover the hide provided, as the sky soon darkened and then failed to stop raining for any significant time during my hour or so stay. The hide here could be so good if there was some vegetation management around it. As such views toward the dam are non existent, and very restricted toward the north due to head height bracken etc. Interesting though some strumming has taken place around the nearby bench and life buoy - presumably for the benefit of fishermen?

I enjoy July and August at reservoir. Lower water levels with passage waders, muddy margins with ground beetles and liverworts and invertebrate rich meadows. Yesterday seemed a world away from such romantic thoughts. A quick scan of the floating island or are they fish rearing tanks, produced a colour ringed lesser black backed gull, but as I arranged my kit for a record shot they all took flight to the middle of the reservoir. Otherwise a shelduck, a fast flying duck that emerged from Sor Bay in the gloom and flew strongly around the reservoir to alight just off shore of The Island/Green Pool area could have been the recently reported common scoter or even a mallard.

 Finally, brief rain respite produced what I first thought were longhorn moths, with dozens of these insects dancing around the bracken/bramble/hazel view restricting vegetational combination. On closer inspection they appear to be caddis flies. Further research required to identify to species level.  Calling in at the dam before returning home produced circa 12 common sandpiper suggesting inland wader movement may already be underway.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Nice weather for ................




and the knocking of dainty little butterflies off their perches into the watery abyss below!

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Some assorted flies

A quick jolly after work to one of the best wetland habitats in Gwent, the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal at Sebastopol was very productive for colourful invertebrates mainly in terms of diptera. Damselflies were also well represented as illustrated by the above in feeding mode.

Chrysotosum bicinetum

Scaeva pyrastri

As yet unidentified (open to offers)

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Something for the weekend sir?

Those familiar with the distinctive post industrial habitats of south Wales valleys will have no doubt witnessed the steady re-grooming of the landscape. Just like a visit to the barbers, washed away is the ruffled and dishevelled hair style created by the hands of  successive industrialists, in favour of a more modern day Vidal Sasoon look. In places the unkempt Just for Men style has been combed back into place with the slickness of  1970's  Brylcreem advert, giving parts of the landscape a Mallen Streak air of respectability. But if you want to see wildlife at its best go now to the areas where the curly perm, mullet and pony tail survives. Seek out the fringes of road verges where the short back and sides of highway management is less achievable and the botanics grow to collar length.

Here in amongst the discarded drinks bottles, ubiquitous wheel trim and condom wrapper are flaky patches of baldness where the vegetational competition is reduced and the bee orchid takes a hold. No medicated treatment here to neutralise the legacy of chemical variability allows acidic loving plants to rub shoulders with those of  a more calcareous nature. Kidney vetch whose long peroxide golden locks sway in the wind as a car rushes by, or the punked up dyed purple hue of the tightly cropped small leaved thyme. Blue fleabane, fairy flax, southern marsh orchid, moonwort and assorted grasses and sedges all grow unrestrained, enjoying the freedom of a more relaxed cutting style. Yes, biologically rich habitats can still be found but be quick as they won't be around for long. But ensure you look for the patches that have avoided the Bobby Charlton comb over treatment or Wayne Rooney re-thatching!


Sunday, 1 July 2012

No moths were harmed in the making of this purchase

Those worthy of the noble tag of 'naturalist' will most definatly have bibliophilic tendencies. The link between the activities of those who study natural history and the printed word (and artwork)  is well documented. In his 2010 New Naturalist volume Books and Naturalists Dave Elliston Allen opens by saying:

'Of all the many pursuits and studies that have the outdoors as their principal focus, natural history must surely be without rival in the extent to which it depends on books - and have always done so. Unless the different kinds of plants and animals encountered in the wild can be told apart, and, for preference, mentally pigeonholed with a name, the subject could not exist'.

Now I detest paying top whack for anything, preferring to keep my pounds, shillings and pence firmly within my metophorical wallet, along with the moths I'm always accused of releasing when its inadvertently opened. That's why I often check out those bastions of sustainability, the charity shops, for the occastional out of print bird report or pair of part worn dead mans trousers at cost effective prices.

Monmouth charity shops are always good for a naturalist bargain or two. It must be something to do with its social composition and the generally higher quality donations they receive. Compare the piles of well thumbed copies of Chat magazine in the charity shops of Newport with those of Vanity Fair in Monmouth.

Having bagged a 50p copy of the Norfolk Bird Atlas in Oxfam I moved, with wife in tow, to the British Red Cross shop. After admiring a circa 1975 Polaroid camera in near mint condition and pondered over the possible purchase of a Metal Collection vol 4 CD, including tracks from new wave heavy metallers Raven and Venom, the natural history section of the well arranged book shelves caught my eye, and there, next to the ubquitous copy of David Attenboroughs Life on Earth and Percy Thrower's A to Z of Gardening was Lars Jonsson's Birds of Europe field guide on sale for the princely sum of £1.50, RRP £25. Carefully removing said book from the shelf the audible yet hushed tones of ' not another book' was uttered.. Safely bagged without too much further trouble and strife, but avoiding the need to buy one at five pence through the taking my own save the planet reuseble bag, and, only having to resort to chapel chance for the purchase my mind drifted to where the book should reside at home, next to my Collins Field Guide to Spiders or squeezed in at the end of my run of Poyser's?  Decisions, decisions.

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