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

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Video footage reveals evidence of Gwent colour ringed Med Gull

I've been using the video facility on my Panasonic Lumix of late with interesting results. This still taken from a short video of two Mediterranean Gull at Tredegar House Lake back in October clearly shows a white colour ring on one of the birds. It was a brief glimpse revealed only by going through the footage frame by frame. It seems this is the first documented record of a colour ringed Med Gull but unfortunately the clarity of the still is not of a quality that allows the number to be read.  

Monday, 30 December 2013


This Finnish ringed Black Headed Gull took some enticing to bring it within photographing range at Riverfront Newport yesterday. Elsewhere there were 60 Tufted Duck and 13 Little Grebe at Tredegar House Lake.   

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Sustainable Peri-urban Drainage System (SPuDS)

Those familiar with the land use planning process will no doubt understand the rationale behind Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS). Water management in the urban environment is crucial in helping to alleviate episodic flooding. Hard surfacing that's efficient in rushing water off to the existing drainage system often ends up being someone elses problem further down the river catchment. To moderate this SUDS are often designed and incorporated into new developments as a way of ensuring water is regulated.

A key feature of SUDS is a balancing pond. In modern systems such a feature is often simply a depression in the ground that takes excess water and releases it in a measured and controlled manner. But its seems that balancing ponds are not just a part of a modern water management system The peri-urban industrial landscape around the south Wales coalfield has many 'balance ponds'. The pond pictured above is situated above Pwll Ddu quarry and in recent times at least, has been devoid of water. But this changed within the last week when heavy rain temporarily filled the pond.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Parkland wildlife

This late posting relates to a visit to Tredegar Park last Sunday. Like all parkland environments theres no shortage of grey squirrels to entertain the middle class National Trust patrons. This one played peek-a- boo around a mature Wellingtonia tree but had obviously met with some sought of accident as the majority of its characteristic curly tail was missing. 

The lake itself seemed brimming with birdlife. The common wildfowl were supplemented by a healthy count of 58 tufted duck and 12 little grebe. Many of the female tufted duck displayed varying degrees of white facial markings providing a potential scaup banana skin for those inexperienced birders. 

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Breeding plumage in winter

Black headed gulls are well known as non conformists when it comes to the timing of plumage change. Those hardy birding souls who have in the past endured the harsh winter weather to view the Llandegfedd Reservoir gull roost will have noted the change in black headed gull plumage from late January onwards. This bird at Riverfront Newport last week (mid December) was certainly the most advanced in the development of its summer head plumage I've seen. 

Saturday, 14 December 2013

This one is EY66023

Not sure if those of you who read this blog are starting to reel at the sight of another ringed black headed gull but for me this is citizen science in action. There are thousands of bird ringers in the UK and abroad giving up their time and money to further our understanding of birds and to provide the much needed evidence base for targeted conservation action. As a lapsed bird ringer its not in my DNA to ignore a bird carrying a ring and at this time of year it's gulls that provide the stimulus.This bird was one of two with rings at Cwmbran Boating Lake midweek.   

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Beside the Wye

Another brief stop-off visit to Tintern and two black headed gull were with rings. The most interesting was a foreign bird but I wasn't able to get a good series of photos to enable the ring to read. The other was UK ringed number EN95615.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Wild cabbage (Brassica oleracea)

A shock discovery of a photographic record of a great grey shrike from the head of the Blaenserchan Valley in early November had me out in the hope it was still around. Needless to say it wasn't so I made my way down to The British avoiding a steady stream of off roaders some pulling wheelies in defiance of oncoming vehicles.

At The British a yellow flowering plant caught my eye from a roadside pull-in popular with local fly tippers. A robust plant with green brassica type leaves had me reaching for my BSBI crucifer guide. It seems this is a specimen of wild cabbage a native yet scarce plant in the UK. A mainly coastal species the only substantial population in vice county 35 is on the walls of Chepstow Castle. But just before you get excited it seems wild cabbage is often grown in gardens and The British record surely has its origin as a domestic throw out.   

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

High count

Cwmbran Boating Lake is a small wetland that's always worth a visit. This lunchtime there was a site busting count of 41 goosander along with smaller numbers of other assorted wildfowl and gulls.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Tintern teasers

A small party of black headed gull caught my eye when passing through Tintern yesterday. Out of around 20 birds three were carrying rings but despite numerous photos from as many angles a possible I could only get enough to read the sequence on a single BTO ring. Does anyone recognise the origin of EP33914?

Friday, 22 November 2013

Beer for birders

Well not exactly beer but a variety of ciders. Happened on this clutch of attractively labelled gut rot in a home brew shop by the name of Brewers Droop in Bristol. Can't tell you what they tasted like as my wife has drunk them!

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Danish II

A quick visit to Riverside Newport and the colour ringed redshank is still showing well feeding along the shore line of a rising tide. An elderly gentleman arrived on his bike with a shopping bag full of scraps for the birds, quickly attracting a mass of noisy gulls. In amongst the gathering was this colour ringed black headed gull although sorting out the number was a bit of  a challenge due to a coating of luscious River Usk mud. On closer examination the letters ARK can be seen on the metal suggesting its of Danish origin. The white colour ring is inscribed with the alpha numeric sequence 5EY.  I'll report and wait.   

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Just hangin' about

I've never really bought in the whole twitching thing, as rushing around the country looking at ship assisted birds that wouldn't have otherwise found their way to our shores is just fundamentally unsustainable. However I'm sometimes tempted to get involved if its local and the Newport Wetlands penduline tit was just about local enough for me.

On arrival I felt reasonably confident the bird that had performed for three days in a stand of reedmace just outside the visitor centre would once again show well. How I was mistaken! I therefore joined about 100+ birders in a vigil of just hangin' about. After an hour of mind numbing inactivity I came to my senses and left with only a pair of stonechat to trouble the pages of the now infamousValleyNaturalist field note book, but underscored with, 'twitching what's the point'!

Sunday, 10 November 2013

German nein Dutch

Some people twitch tits I prefer rings - this is of course a reference to the Newport Wetlands penduline tit and my interest in citizen science through the reading of birds carrying rings! Now as a lapsed 'C' permit bird ringer I know how tricky it can sometimes be sorting out a poorly stamped inscription on a little aluminium ring. So imagine the complexities of reading same ring in the field but attached to the leg of a frantic black headed gull drunk on an elixir of water soaked bread. This was just the scenario last Sunday when it seemed that every card carrying National Trust member had descended on Tredegar House Lake with a dog ( usually a water loving Labrador or spaniel ) and a bag of kitchen scraps. 

Most, if not all of these well meaning individuals had only one objective and that was feeding a family party of mute swan. But where bread is involved it's always reduced to a raucous feeding frenzy akin to that outside Ali's Kebab Emporium in the wee small hours of a Saturday morning.

Now part of the ring readers field craft is to keep a keen eye of those wildfowl feeding Sunday strollers, as the resultant gathering of the avian masses is where the rings are. One such gathering of an excited family attracted most of the gulls from around the lake and at least two black headed gulls were carrying those shiny things but with the photographic difficulty factor close to ten on the photographic difficulty factor scale I decided to concentrate on the one that kept alighting on a small boundary wall. Sixty plus images later I felt I had enough to sort out a number.

Later that evening I had secured  a number believed to be from the German ringing scheme. This was subsequently submitted and to my surprise a couple of days later I had a reply from Frank Moors of the Dutch scheme with details of the bird that was ringed in the Summer of 2012 at Griend in Holland. The only drawback was that the information was supplied in Dutch and translation was somewhat painful.

That afternoon at Tredegar Lake there were also at least two Mediterranean Gull, four tufted duck and six little grebe along with singles of cormorant and heron.

That same day I called in to Riverside, Newport as the tide was out. Amazingly the first bird I set eyes on was the colour ringed redshank first noted almost exactly a year to the day in the same location. The contrast between the response to reporting bird rings to the BTO and that of continental schemes is that one year on I am still waiting for a reply!      

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Hunting down the strangler

A couple of country bumpkin types told me of the presence of a rare fungi the powder cap strangler (Squamanita paradoxa). This parastic fungi occurs in only one Welsh location and that is the Clydach Gorge. Why this should be is anyone's guess, but it could be that its just under recorded as its preferred habitat of acid grassland is widespread in the valleys. In an half hearted attempt to track it down I stayed local and headed for The British. After good numbers waxcap, coral fungi and the odd dung fungi I called it a day, but not before shooting a few frames of some masculine industrial heritage.  

Saturday, 26 October 2013


Photographing colour ringed birds is one thing but those carrying conventional  metal rings pose something of a special challenge. If you are lucky enough to get close to the bird, trying to get a series of images that enables the ring number to be read is almost impossible. Fortunately a black headed gull with a ring marked Denmark spent long periods preening on top of the Boat House and Tredegar House Lake. This allowed me sufficient time to capture almost all of the ring. Alternatively a second ringed bird presented a more difficult challenge and I was unable to get any decent shots. Almost amongst the black headed gulls was a single Mediterranean Gull that eventually took flight leaving the lake. Four tufted duck were the others worthy of mention. 

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Impressive customer service!

My experience of reporting colour ringed birds especially through the BTO website has not been great. No reply is the standard reply - note still waiting for feedback on the Newport Riverfront colour ringed redshank of last winter! Following some preliminary research it appeared that the above coloured ringed mew gull noted in Monmouth earlier this month ( see 6/10/13 posting) was first ringed in Norway. This morning after tracking down the Norway Museum colour ringing web page I updated all necessary data fully expecting to have to wait days, weeks, months for a reply, but to my astonishment I received an instant, yes, instant reply, with the following data:

Ringed on 10-9-2012 as a first calendar year bird (1cy) at Mosvangen Camping, Mosvatnet, Stavanger, Rogaland. Norway.

To date this is, by a long chalk, the most significant colour ringed bird gull I have found. 

Al fresco

Over recent weeks I've taken the opportunity scoff my lunchtime cheese baps in the lay-by on the dam at Llandegfedd Reservoir. Anti-social this may be but you quickly develop a picture of the wildlfe that occurs along this long strip of concrete.  This stint of mid day office exclusion has reminded me of a item I wrote for the Gwent Bird Report back in the early 1980's. Entitled something like 'Llandegfedd Reservoir: Birds from the Dam' it centred on the avian delights that had personally been recorded at the end of the reservoir that didn't need changing your footwear to walk around. 

My recent observations have not been ground breaking but great black backed gulls, coot, great crested grebe and cormorant are regulars. Little grebe are reasonable frequent with a maximum of three. The grassy margins were until the last few days home for up to 30 meadow pipit along with good numbers of pied wagtail.  

Elsewhere on the dam an area of flowering ivy has been alive with early atumn diptera, hymenoptera and lepidoptera. This queen wasp frequented gaps in the masonary looking for an over wintering site - I believe this to be a German wasp

Sunday, 13 October 2013

And through the gloom of a Fochriw morning, it emerged.

Yes it is technically out of county but Rhaslas Pond above Fochriw is less than a bills length beyond the boundary. Saturdays are always busy for me so to get in a visit before the long-billed dowitcher skipped on to its next watering hole I needed to be on the road early. At the pond the weather was dismay, low light, cold, windy and a threat of rain. Nonetheless the bird was located at the south west corner and performed well with views down to 10 metres. 

On the way home two separate parties of redwing were noted crossing the Heads of Valleys road and on the outskirts of Blaenavon a red kite battled the wind.  

Saturday, 12 October 2013

West country wanderer

Thanks to another sharp response from Peter Stewart I can bring you information about this colour ringed lesser black backed gull photographed at low tide on the River Usk, Newport last Sunday 6th October.

It was first ringed at Gloucester Landfill Site nr. Hempsted, Gloucestershire on12/4/08. A subsequent 38 sightings of the bird were made in and around Gloucester until 2011. This is the first record since that date.  

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Motor city

It's a fallacy that my life revolves around off the wall naturalist activities and the subsequent updating of this blog. Other things in a busy schedule include work, subsidising off-spring, watching TV sport and listening to progressive rock/metal music- see not such a nerd after all ! So for obvious reasons this posting is a liitle late in making it to the digital super highway.

Talking of highways the Sunday before last (29 September) I visited the land of the internal combustion engine where the fantasy of a race track promising thousands of jobs sit bumper to bumper with the dualling of the Heads of the Valleys road. My usual parking spot for easy access to Garnlydan Reservoir was barred by earthworks, traffic cones and tattooed construction driving trucks that when revved belched copious amounts of air-borne particulates (PM 10s?). A fluorescent tabard wearing workman with discoloured safety helmet worn at a jaunty angle crossed the road in front driving a dumper that bounced in tune with the uneven terrain of upland rhos pasture. So displaced to a lay-by just past a blue roadside sign marked Powys I proceeded to make my way in full late summer sunshine across pylon dominated landscape to said waterbody.

En-route a stridulating meadow grasshopper was noted close to a chicane in the track but was barely audible between the noise of frequent drive-by bikers that seem to use the Llangattock road. Where a small quarry had developed a small pond black darter dragonflies were still on the wing, alighting on the dozen or so discarded tyres that now sit easy with carbon hungry aspirations of this area of Gwent. The reservoir itself was surprisingly low on water. Six wigeon flew in, possibly the same birds that were present at Beaufort Ponds earlier and a few gulls seemed unsettled mid water. Half a lap into a full circuit around the reservoir I put up three snipe. Fourteen lapwing then took flight moving around the reservoir set against the blue sky like an avian chequered flag and finally two redshank made it on to the podium.


Sunday, 6 October 2013

Colour ringed Eurasian Mew Gull

A new gull watching location hit the big time yesterday -well for me anyway. Chippenham Sports Ground across the road from Waitrose supermarket in Monmouth was home to a party of around 50 gulls. Within a contingent of fourteen Eurasian mew gull (Larus canus) was this little bejewelled beauty that happily tugged at earth worms moving from third man to deep square leg on the cricket pitch. This is my first colour ringed mew gull from the county of vices 35. Given the colour ring starts with J suggests this bird is of Norwegian origin. Lets hope I can get some feedback on this one! 

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Out of luck...again!

Shoreweed ( Littorella uniflora )

Lady luck wasn't with me at Llandegfedd Reservoir as there were no passage waders, no passage terns, no passage passerines (or very few anyway) in fact not much of anything at all. Vis mig was restricted to a small number of skylark. Botanically shoreweed was still visible on the muddy shoreline of Green Pool bay.

A mid afternoon visit to Tredegar House Lake was a little more variable but similarly dry. Moderate numbers of common wildfowl from coot to moorhen and mallard, with a smattering of cormorant, heron and six little grebe. A swallow was still visiting the nest site in the boat house and black headed gull numbers were over sixty, but without a Med gull or ringed bird in sight.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

A by-product of the smelting process

A late posting from the weekend. Garnddyrys just of the Blorenge is a well known landmark for its large fused blocks of iron smelting slag. A red kite drifted overhead before disappearing into the mist of the Blorenge. A stonechat called from the nearby heather clad slopes and good numbers of meadow pipit were augmented by a party of around 30 goldfinch.

At Dunlop Semtex Pond the first four winter wigeon were on show but the pond was dominanted by a site busting count of 82 Canada goose. Also present were small numbers of moorhen, coot, tufted duck, mute swan and great created grebe

Friday, 20 September 2013

Reading - Newport - Cork

Some of you may remember the colour ringed black headed gull in the July 16th posting. Having got around to reporting the bird via the Cotswold Water Park ringing project I've now recieved a response. Thanks to Tim Ball for the swift turnaround of information. Details as follows: 

26/06/2011   Ringed as pullus (1) at Lea Farm, Gravel Pit, Hurst (Wokingham)
16/07/2013   Ring read in field at Tredegar House Lake, Newport
21/07/2013   Ring read in field at Dunkettle, Cork Harbour, Eire

Its seems well etablished that many southern England black headed gulls move in a westerly direction after breeding. It is interesting that just five days after my sighting this bird was in southern Ireland.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Reduces anti-social behaviour

 Gull with part eaten apple 

Gull with tennis ball  

Gull with child's slipper

'Give them something to do' is often the response of the general public to instances of anti-social behaviour amongst the youth. The assumption being that if youngsters are free from boredom they'll be less inclined to drink under age and go snogging in parks. The same could be said of those other urban anti-socials, the gulls. A spate of ice cream pinching and dustbin raiding is enough to tie up the resources of the local Wildlife Crime Officer for months. In an effort to keep gulls occupied and away from jumping on parked cars in supermarkets residents throughout Gwent are being encouraged to throw all unwanted small items into the River Usk Special Area of Conservation (SAC). The idea is that these then become exposed at low tide and washed back up on the incoming tide offering gulls endless hours of boredom busting fun. Early indications from a pilot study in Newport suggest reported cases of dive bombing gulls are down. Mrs Jones of Seagull View has greeted this news with cautious optimism, she said. 'These birds were landing on my chimney pot and calling loudly, things got so bad we had to install CCTV and go ex- directory, Dai at number 19 was even considering vigilante action. But the 'Give it to the Gulls initiative does seem to be working'. These sentiments were echoed by Mr.Bright a local lighting engineer who had seen a corresponding reduction in gulls hanging about on roadside lighting columns and swooping to take morsels of food ejected by legitimate road users.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

This is a rare sight indeed

Happened to drop into Magor Marsh today and was lucky enough to photograph a water vole taking advantage of an apple on one of the feeding platforms. Gwent Wildlife Trust has an on-going reintroduction programme at this site. Lets hope its successful.

Friday, 13 September 2013

A sense of neglect

Dunlop Semtex Pond in Brynmawr has taken a turn for the worst. Once a pond servicing the thirst of heavy industry this redundant natural resource was included in a comprehensive regeneration scheme that saw  a mix of residential and retail properties, freshly branded as 'Lakeside'. The pond itself was sold to a local angling organisation and public monies were used to improve access primarily for fishing. Since this brave new world the pond has steadily developed an air of neglect. Waterside fences have been damaged and not replaced, access to ramps and fishing platforms are barred to all other users by padlocked gates (similar to Wentwood Reservoir) and its also accumulating that characteristic eclectic mix of urban detritus. Furthermore there's an issue with algal blooms. The surface is now over half covered by algae that seems somewhat unique to this site. I suspect this is directly related to the daily input of detergent from a nearby business exacerbated by the ill judged introduction of defecating domestic fowl. These birds are mainly sedentary choosing to spend most of their time preening in or adjacent to the main water inlet, where organic material is flushed into the pond.      

I'm sure the reasons behind this neglect are complex so I wouldn't wish to be too critcal. My issue is with the regulatory bodies and funding organisations who appear to think that the future well being of these sites are best placed with fishing interests as if they are the only player in town. Welsh Water embraces angling like a lifelong friend often to the exclusion of other legitimate users. Wentwood Reservoir is like Fort Knox accessible only to fisherman with no hint of multifuctionality here! Angling is a predominately male dominated past time but with numbers particapating falling annually it surely is time for plan B, where the interests of the majority are preferred to the interests of the few. 

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