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

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Trip hazard

An early Saturday morning start around my Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) square on the Blorenge and the hope of maybe a passing trip of dotterel. If only I'd known of the Brecon Beacons National Park (BBNP)footpath 'improvements' across the SSSI to the trig point I wouldn't have bothered purchasing those crampons and ice axe from the Blacks liquidation sale. Now the Blorenge summit is easily accessible to urbanists in carpet slippers or four inch heels (standard deviation +/- one inch). That nasty woody upland vegetation that scratches your legs rubbed out in favour of a bed of scalpings delineated by stones to prevent walkers straying into the abyss. 

On reaching the trig point the way was sprinkled with the trappings of casual walkers, little black packages of a clay type substance (sausage shaped but easily mailable), fast food wrappings and plastic remembrance flowers that were juxtaposed against a back drop of nationally important dwarf shrub heath habitat. Where the path stopped the wind blew enough to make my eyes water and I ferreted in my jacket pockets for hat and gloves. Here I met a true countryman suitably attired in hoodie and track suit bottoms who passed the time of day and hinted that to continue any further would be full of hazards such as jagged stones, waterlogged peat and buzzards that swoop to take small children to feed their young. I hesitated to ponder his comments but continued nonetheless safe in the thought that I wasn't accompanied by any minors so the risk of buzzard attack would surely be proportionally reduced. I checked for a mobile signal as insurance. Here a red grouse wheeled as if it was defending its territory and a male chased a female wheatear with a glint in its eye. Thankfully I returned home none the worst for my adventure and well within the time frame that I give my family before they need to alert mountain rescue.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Closer than a black winged stilt

After near on forty years of treading the boards as a jobbing ornithologist come naturalist any notion that I would turn in to a tick box twitcher has been as alien a concept as a north American ruddy duck - and we all know whats happened to them! But this blogging lark is slowly converting me by stealth into a trainee twitcher complete with smart phone and Twitter account. My therapist has told me that a sure sign of progress is moving out of the self denial phase to one that recognises the problem, only then can we work together on a coping strategy.

After a hard day with hammer and anvil I stoked up the ole laptop to find to my shock the GOS sighting page proclaiming 'Stilt Pontypool'. My pacemaker went into overdrive. Where in Pontypool could a black winged stilt turn up? Llandegfedd Reservoir is a possibility, what about the ornamental ponds in Pontypool Park or the pond adjacent to the seventh hole on the outward nine of Pontypool Golf Club or even my Aunt Sally's goldfish pond? - this was quickly ruled out as utterly ridiculous due to the presence of a plastic life size heron deployed as an efficient and cost effective predator deterrent. Alas my initial state of euphoria quickly dissolved into despair when through closer interrogation the record in fact related to Gwent's answer to twitchers heaven the Newport Wetlands. Silly me.

This therefore presented me with a dilemma. Friday night is shopping night how would I convince my good wife and soul mate that our usual trip to the supermarkets around Brynmawr could be still achieved via the Newport Wetlands? It's a simple round trip after all. Pleading came to mind although my 2013 quota for this approach has already been exhausted. Then a flash of inspiration, I suddenly realised  that she's out of the country on business and the decision on where shopping is executed is mine and mine alone. Ha ha! The rest they say is history.

Spot the target species!!

Sunday, 21 April 2013


The gull colony on the pitched asbestos roof of a haulage company in Brynmawr now supports a substantial population of birds. Some appear to be sitting on nests others are carrying moss in readiness. Birds with rings take a bit of digging out but the with the help of a scope the odd one can be found. This lesser black backed gull with light blue O+M maybe a Cardiff/Flat Holm bird. By the way there was still at least one great black backed gull visible on the roof. Not sure Gwent has ever had an inland breeding record of this species.

Bryn Bach Park was the busiest I've every seen it. The first sunny weekend day of the spring brought out the family duck feeders en masse. As a result parking at the site was difficult and using binoculars in such a public place generated some lingering looks from the ill informed. Although one elderly lady and self confessed RSPB member did take the time to ask if I'd seen anything interesting.

All this duck feeding that often results in a brawl of Canada goose, coot, mallard and gull seems to attract the attention of the lesser scaup. The bird made its way from centre lake to within less that 10 metres when several children loaded with smart price bread appeared. Even so it never seemed interested in the food just in the commotion created by it.

Those followers of this natural history journal will have picked up on my interest in the standing water habitats of the Heads of the Valleys corridor. Collectively they represent a significant wetland resource and I'm sure that if this landscape scale collection of stepping stone habitats had been located in the Wye Valley or on the Gwent Levels those who seek to protect biodiversity for further generations will have taken more of an interest in their value and conservation. 

Unexpectedly an hitherto unvisited pond came to my attention whilst surfing Google Earth. Cefn Golau Pond is a small pond on the uplands above Tredegar not far from Bryn Bach Park. Its unremarkable in terms of quality wetland sites with next to no emergent vegetation but it does have a wooded central island where Canada goose, coot and mallard were residing. A few pied wagtail were flitting about but one bird that had alighted on the outer branches of an island tree caught my attention. It eventually moved to feed along the shoreline and turned out to be a white wagtail.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Do not adjust your set

Spent a couple of hours at Llandegfedd Reservoir this morning hoping for some nice commic terns. Didn't connect with any terns so it was left to a visit to the dam to salvage the morning.

The above poor image of white wagtail that briefly alighted on the dam wall before being helped on its way by a pair of territory holding pied wagtail (lower photograph) was the best I could do. Also three common sandpiper and many blackcap.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Wind from the south

Improvement in the weather with winds now from the south has brought a large fall of summer visitors. Soon, due to their increasing commonality I won't even bother noting the presence of chiffchaff, willow warbler, house martin and swallow etc. 

At Cwmbran Boating lake yesterday two pair of coot were utilising the unanchored floating islands not seemingly bothered by the drifting of said platforms. Also on the islands were two common sandpiper.

With the widespread lesser celendine now in flower I wasn't surprised to pick up my first spring  bee fly Bombylius major also several comma butterflies were happily alighting on the profusion of yellow flowers.

Friday, 12 April 2013

A foreign tongue

Llantarnam Ponds south of Cwmbran supports an assortment of introduced domestic fowl, so one can never be sure that this pair of Mandarin duck are not someones idea of a mini wildfowl collection. Whilst the female stayed firmly in the middle of the pond the male was happy to feed on the grass between the pond and the main Llantarnam Industrial Estate road. Although it wouldn't tolerate my approach and on one occasion it took flight confirming its well and truly a free flying bird.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Chick flick

Given the slow start to the bird breeding season it was something of a surprise to see this recently fledged moorhen on the Mon and Brecon Canal at Griffithstown earlier this week. Its maybe a measure of how bad its been as it appears this was only chick on view.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Waders, not just for the coast you know

A spring like Saturday was just enough to get me motivated for an early Sunday morning start. At 7am I was parking at Garn Lakes Local Nature Reserve ready for a trek around the greater Blaenavon landscape. First up was a singing reed bunting easily audible from a stand of juncus beside the Blaenavon to Brynmawr road due to a general  lack of traffic at this unearthly hour. Next was a male wheatear. My stealthy approach with camera in hand failed miserably as it dropped down from its lofty perch and out of sight.

A snipe flushed from a track side ditch signalled the first of up to ten other birds during my walk, it seemed that each patch of juncus was hiding a bird only to be revealed when a middle aged naturalist chose to walk through the damn stuff. Lapwings were conspicuous and to my surprise a loudly calling redshank echoed around the landscape as it made its way northwards.

At the top of Canada Tips with impressive views of the Sugar Loaf and beyond and where skylark were in fine voice I put up four red grouse only to disappear over the horizon in typical vocal manner.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Same shape as an apostrope

Ponthir Reservoir was bathed in spring sunshine this afternoon and to top it all there were no Welsh Water busy bodies in sight to spoil the walk. It was a measure of the improvement in temperature that this comma butterfly was on the wing. On the water was a pair of teal and three goosander.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Culturally - modified trees (CMTs)

An item in the February edition of British Archaeology struck a chord with me. The article centred on the on-going study of carvings on beech trees around the Salisbury Plain area apparently chiseled in bark by war time soldiers. Many of these culturally-modified trees or arbroglyphs were more than just attempts at rural graffiti some were detailed images of semi-naked Land Girls in erotic poses. Wow!

This got me thinking of local examples of tree trunk scribblings around my local patch in the woodlands and field margins of the Eastern Valley where the smooth and easily modified bark of the beech tree is commonplace. I've seen these tree carvings off the beaten track in various woodlands. The above photo was taken this weekend on trees at the extremity of the Cwmsychan valley near The British. The most interesting aspect of these markings is that they're often in locations were nowadays people are rarely seen. Clearly these were carved in a time when walking in the countryside was far more popular as a past time than it is today and when pen knifes sat cheek by jowl with conkers, chewing gum and the Observers Book of Birds Eggs in the trouser pocket of any self respecting teenager. Almost all of the modified trees I've found to date carry initials, some with a date attached as in the photo, where 1970 and 1978 can clearly be seen. Unfortunately due to the ephemeral nature of trees these arbroglyphs will have a shelf life. Someone needs to record these now or a part of our modern cultural heritage will be lost for ever.

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