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

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Black and white

The dis-harmony that was on display between these two species of swan back in the breeding season has melted away as both serenely fed in the shallows of Green Pool Bay at Llandegfedd Reservoir. With a tasty drawdown zone now developing there's been a dribble of waders passing through. Yesterday evening I touched base with a redshank, a ringed plover and a common sandpiper. A couple of kingfishers chased about in characteristic excited fashion and a pair of reed warbler were still carrying food. Up to half a dozen black-tailed skimmer were active along with many marbled white butterflies.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Aye Aye Captain

After all the doom and gloom of recent poor butterfly years it seems this year has bucked the trend. Grassland habitat is alive at the moment with various skippers, ringlets, meadows browns and so on. Having heard on the grapevine that the remarkable coloniser the Essex skipper has now reached Blaenavon I took it upon myself to visit that much talked about 'derelict' site The British, in search of this climate change benefiter. Of the 29 skippers examined through my x10 optical aid five sported those diagnostic black tipped antennae. However the most amazing thing of my visit was that I didn't fall down an 100ft open flooded mine shaft, I wasn't knocked down by hoards of rampaging teenagers on motorbikes, nor did I stumble across any rusting barrels of glow in the dark toxic chemicals. In fact contrary to popular media commentary the site is tranquil accessible green space full of cultural and natural heritage!

Sunday, 21 July 2013

BSBI at The British

The assembled masses

I was pleased to be able to attend a Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI) field visit to The British yesterday led by joint vice county recorders Elsa Wood and Steph Tyler. My role was to help track down some of the more interesting plants previously recorded at the site in the days when Trevor Evans was county recorder. On the must see list was moonwort, bog pimpernel, round leaved sundew, marsh st johns wort, musk, ivy leaved bellflower, petty whin and bog asphodel etc. A marathon five hour session failed to locate many of the target species due to the overwhelming amount of bracken that's taken a hold over much of the site. In place's the often head height vegetation proved a challenge to get through! Nonetheless we did manage to find an interested mire habitat supporting several of the aforementioned plants.

Bog pimpernel

Apart from plants much more was on offer including many marbled white and singles of grayling and small pearl bordered fritillary butterflies, the day flying mint moth Pyrausta purpuralis was also found. Mottled grasshopper was common on areas of sparsely vegetated colliery spoil and a single golden ringed dragonfly put in an appearance. Although now pushing toward the end of July there was still a surprising amount of bird song to pick out. At least two yellowhammer were still singing with whitethroat, whinchat, redpoll, peregrine and garden warbler as a supporting cast.

Grayling in characteristic closed winged pose

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Nice site/sight

Coldwater Ponds are a couple of nice artificial fishing lakes at Llanelly Hill. Surrounded in semi -improved grassland complete with ringlets, small skippers and meadow browns the water bodies are characterised by an abundant population of fringed water lily. Ideal for odonata therefore with large red, blue tailed and azure damselflies dominating, along with several rather territorial four spotted chasers. There were also several hawker dragonflies on the wing which proved tricky to identify but were likely to be common hawker.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Gull dispersal

The recent trickle of black headed gull dispersing from their breeding grounds is now turning into a flood. Present at Tredegar House Lake yesterday evening were around 50 birds including at least four juv/imm birds. The adult with colour ring 25J9 is a banker for a Cotswold Water Park bird - will send to BTO but not confident of an early response if at all. Other interesting snippets in common blue, red eyed and blue tailed damselfly and a rather tatty emperor dragonfly.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

A break from TMS

Four spotted chaser

Broad bodied chaser

Emerald damselfly

Scarce blue tailed damselfly

In the barren industrial wastelands of Gwent where the flat capped woodbine smoking unemployed still queue at the labour exchange and where nature conservationists fear to tread, giant hogweed is almost unknown. I was somewhat surprised to find this fine specimen from within the boundaries of a Welsh Water covered reservoir at Varteg. Given this organisations recent indifferent record in successfully managing land for biodiversity - for recent example see the cutting down of species rich grassland at a covered reservoir on the Blorenge - its a safe bet that this individual has been inadvertently introduced by those responsible for grounds maintenance at the Varteg site.

Elsewhere a break from Test Match Special saw me walking around the reedbed area of Garn Lakes LNR looking for odonata. Present were many broad bodied chasers, several four spotted chasers and damselflies of the emerald, common blue, large red and scarce blue tailed varieties. Other note worthies included small skipper, ringlet and marbled white butterflies along with a single snipe several reed bunting and a flyover cormorant.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Compendium of odonata

White legged damselfly
Four spotted chaser
Large red damselfly
Scarce blue tailed damselfly
Blue tailed damselfly

Recent notables:

6 July, Blorenge - Whinchat, imm Wheatear, Emporer dragonfly, Broad bodied chaser, Golden ringed dragonfly, Scarce blue tailed damselfly, Large red damselfly, Blue tailed damselfly, Common blue damselfly.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Nutrient deficient

If this water body at Cefn garn yr erw on the county borough border between Blaenau Gwent and Torfaen were to visit the pond doctor it would certainly be prescribed an emergency dose of multi-vitamins. Oligotrophic or nutrient deficient ponds are characteristic of the uplands in north west Gwent. The many former industrial ponds in this area collectively form an important landscape network that hitherto has slipped under the radar of discerning traditional conservationists. 

Anticipating a change in weather conditions last Thursday evening I had a 'just popping out for hour' moment in the hope of some freshly emerged odonata. I didn't however bargain for a strong upland breeze that suppressed activity. The best I could muster was a large unidentified in flight dragonfly, a single snipe and a wind battered brown china mark moth. 

Wednesday, 3 July 2013


There's something about the Glastonbury Festival that doesn't cut the mustard with me anymore. Gone is the ripped jeans and Afghan coat wearing free festival of my youth to be replaced by the commercial success of chart topping artists with vintage cabaret acts thrown in to attract empty nesters with disposal income. Looking at this years line up I struggled to see anything worthy of the ticket prices other than Billy Bragg who single handedly kept the Trotsky Stage going with the support the miners, down with Thatcher, smash the poll tax mantra. Give me Download any day!

However, the Glastonbury affect was felt in the Valley Naturalist household as to allow our daughter and her partner to attend this mud fest we agreed to look after our two year old Grand daughter over the extended weekend. This was great but it did limit biological recording activities to drive by snap shots and duck feeding visits. I now fully appreciate the trauma endured by young mums and grand parents in cleaning  Canada goose droppings from within the tyre treads of a push chair!

A collective of ad hoc records goes something like this:

28 June. Llantarnam Ponds - Common blue, azure, blue tailed and large red damselfies.
28 June. Cwmbran Boating Lake - Blue tailed, azure and beautiful demoiselle damselflies
29 June. Magor Car Park - Lucerne and white stonecrop.
29 June. Magor Marsh - Emperor dragonfly 
30 June - Garn Lakes - Broad bodied chaser (3)
1 July - Llantarnam Industrial Estate - Narrow-bordered five spot burnet moth and the bee mimic hoverfly Volucella bombylans var. plumata 

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