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

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Pitch inspection required

Monmouth School cricket pitch along side the River Wye was completed flooded today. It caught my attention due to the sheer number of gulls using the field. Of the 300-400 birds present 75% were common gull.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Five a day

Got around five of north west Gwent's water bodies yesterday starting with Pen y fan Pond. More people and dogs than you could shake a stick at resulted in a depressing count of just two cormorant and half a dozen or so mallard. Next stop was Cwmtillery Lakes where 12 goosander, 4 coot and singles of little grebe and moorhen mingled with upwards of 100 mallard.

Beaufort Ponds was by far the most interesting, with a site busting count of 48 Canada goose, 13 wigeon, 22 tufted duck, 6 pochard, 25 coot with a small number of mallard and herring gull thrown in for good measure. Machine Pond was uncharacteristically quiet with 22 coot, 3 tufted duck and 2 mute swan. By the time I'd reached Dunlop Semtex Pond I was looking into a setting sun which didn't make for accurate count but there we well over 30 coot, 2 mute swan, 11 Canada goose and smaller numbers of tufted duck, mallard and moorhen.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Thank the Lord for Darwin

I was thrilled to have been able to get my grubby paws on a copy of the First Annual Report (1867-68) of Cardiff Naturalists' Society. Why? Because this, to the best of my knowledge contains the first documented evidence that naturalists were active in the south Wales valleys at the height of the industrial revolution. Contained therein is a report of one of the earliest outdoor events of the society, a joint walk with the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club of Hereford and the newly formed Cardiff Naturalists'. Interestingly both these natural history societies remain in existence today. 

Representatives from both learned societies arrived by train, meeting at Crumlin Station for a walk that would take them through the Crumlin Viaduct over the upland landscape towards Pontypool for an evening meal in the Three Cranes public house. En route the group, that included a high percentage of Reverends, stopped for a lunchtime presentation about local geology delivered by an attendee with a large map, before heading on towards Pontnewynydd about a mile from Pontypool.  Here they noted the presence of red backed shirke and a dead common shrew.

The report is stuffed full of historical insights, not only into the flora and fauna that occurred nearly a 150 years ago in south Wales but also includes some telling reminders as to the social make up and priorities of the time. I've already hinted at how religious preachers we activity involved in Victorian natural societies, an association that today is at best tenuous given current irrefutable evidence that God didn't create the earth and all things on it. It seemed that some of the essential attributes on the job description of Victorian clergy, was obviously to believe in creationism but to join a natural history society and show a healthy interest in the finer points of Cricket.

This deluded link to creationism is further evident on page 20 of the report. Rev Professor Gagliardi in his address about the Natural System to a General Meeting of the society on 3rd February 1867 opens his presentation and sets out his view.

'Each moss, each shrub, each shell, each crawling insect, holds a rank important in the plan of Him who form'd it;......'

The Rules of Cardiff Natuarlists' from this time also makes for interesting reading. The fact the society felt the need to state within it 'That Ladies be eligible as Members'  tells us much about equality and the status of women at the time. However, new aspiring members would need to be proposed and balloted in, but excluded by 'one black ball in three'. 

I am pleased to have been able to obtain this report (all for the princely sum of £2.49) as I'm sure other than those held in libraries in Newport and Cardiff University, few will now have survived into modern times. Moreover the National Museum of Wales project to digitise back issues of the Transactions of Cardiff Naturalists' Society doesn't appear to go back this far.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

A late otter

Thanks to a tip off from ace road kill observationalist Chris Hatch I was able to photograph this recent unfortunate otter beside the A472 Pontypool to Crumlin road. Even though I've tramped the countryside for longer than I care to admit I've not had the good pleasure to see a live  beating heart otter. Yes, like any card carrying naturalist I've prodded and sniffed the sweet aroma of their do do's (spraint is the official scatological term), photographed footprints in the mud of the River Usk, recorded characteristic fish kill signs at Cwmbran Boating Lake and even seen several other dead specimens roadside and in the drink of the Monmouthshire-Brecon Canal but never one that is warm.

Dead specimens of all British mammals are always worthy of closer examination so I took the opportunity to take some images of those little dainty feet. Note the diagnostic pads that are the main feature of those prints in the mud we all look for.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

The National Trust's seasonal mix

 The National Trust's Tredegar House Lake was rich in avian biomass but middling on the species richness curve. A substantial flock of circa 400 black headed gull contained nothing different save for a single herring gull. A small party of around four cormorant were flighty and seven little grebe hoovered up the minnows before a cull is called. Otherwise there were up to 30 coot a handful of moorhen, two heron and a single tufted duck.

On return my birding attire promoted a comment from two gentleman 'are you here for the French bird?' Somehow Coco Chanel rather than a hoopoe sprang to mind.

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