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

Saturday, 28 March 2015

At the second attempt

When I heard of a sighting of a great grey shirke on my local patch at Blaenserchan I was keen to get out at the earliest opportunity. But it took two attempts to connect with the bird.

Visit 1 - Sunday 22nd March 

This first excursion failed to locate the target bird but a leisurely meander through the valley on a mild spring afternoon had plenty more to offer. A singing chiffchaff was my first of the year and a male stonechat near to where the shrike had been sighted was a bonus. Here too was a peacock butterfly taking advantage of the sun traps provided by the remains of the pit head bath house. On to the head of the valley where ancient beech woodland dovetails with an industrial terrain. A clatter of wings and branches preceded a flush of around 250 wood pigeon; a raven called loudly.

When the wildlife thins out I drift on to the many remnants of cultural heritage that this open mosaic habitat on previously developed land provides. A few mature beech trees that survived the ravages of decades of coal excavation within the core of the site reveal some interesting penknife graffiti.

Who Billy Chapman was is any ones guess but the Blaenserchan valley has a long history of mining toil. The most notable event was the Llanerch pit disaster the resulted in the death of over 170 men and boys. The local history society are fund raising for a more fitting memorial to those who died 

Visit 2 - Wednesday 25th March

Having failed on Sunday to track down the target predator a days leave (use 'um or lose 'um) on Wednesday gave me just enough time for a further visit. I had purpose in my stride as I made my way at pace to the area where the bird had last been seen by other birders. This time I located the bird quickly by its song. It was eventually picked on top of a hawthorn tree then alternating between these smaller trees and the tops of nearby mature beech.

Saturday, 21 March 2015


Black Spleenwort (Asplenium adiantum-nigrum) is a widespread fern in Monmouthshire. In the Flora of Monmouthshire author Trevor Evans refers to the population growing between the stonework of  Hill Pits chimney at Garn yr erw near Blaenavon as the highest known location in the vice county. Also notable of late is a Common Whitlowgrass (Eruphila verna). This early flowering plant was recorded recently growing between pavement slabs in Magor and Caldicot town centres. Probably under recorded.

Dunlop Semtex Pond has largely been de-watered for engineering works exposing a margin of smelly mud and assorted urban clutter hoisted in by environmentally friendly locals. However de-watering exercises can provide opportunities for biological recording. In among the debris are many hundreds of dead Horny orb mussel (Sphaerium corneum).

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Spoils of industry

The role of water in the making of Blaenavon's industrial landscape is something of a neglected subject I feel, yet the management of this resource has left a legacy of features that any 'from scratch' nature reserve designer would be proud of. Water based artifacts abound, from numerous reservoirs, some breached and barren features to others still supporting standing water often protected by a thick margin of Juncus. Juncus also delineates the many now disused channels that once transported water from the water bodies to the point of industry use. These days wildlife has moved in to fill void vacated by miners, iron workers and water operatives.

Yesterday's visit to the wetland that is Garn yr erw was marked by numerous singing skylark a bird that's still holding its own in the upland. Several reed bunting called from the willow that's now maturing around the fringes of a number of ponds. From the purple moor grass expanse a snipe called infrequently contrasting with the frequency of red grouse. Here too was a stonechat. To Cefn Garn yr erw where a more contemporary reclaimed land form was marked by around 8 lapwing at home on the Cladonia dominated coal spoil. This is a landscape that delivers much but promises so much more for an inquisitive naturalist!

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Aspiration realised

Each time a SEWBReC Square of the Month is released I promised myself a trip to an under recorded 1km no mans land. This aspiration however always seems out of step with spare time availability so as night follows day the enthusiasm  remains unfulfilled - until now perhaps! 

Just like the coincidental Valentines Day release of Fifty Shades of Grey those clever marketing bods at SEWBReC unleashed the March square in time for the first flush of a new spring. Half expecting the Gwent 'box' to be another 'out in the Monmouthshire prairie lands' where rye grass meets ruminant meets barbed wire fence I was taken aback to find this hitherto biological recording whiteout to be just a five minute drive from my workplace. So what self respecting naturalist can resist such over whelming temptation? The gauntlet has well and truly been thrown down!

Despite a quick look at the OS map revealing not much more than fields, a sunken lane, a trig point and a place name of Great Beech, a pond and some woodland offered better prospects for pan species listing, I made my way for a lunchtime recording session motivated by a chaffinch in full song.

A pair of highly polished black Marks and Spencer office shoes prevented any straying off into the agricultural wilderness. So for now backstage of this particular show will remain for another day, but there was enough to whet ones recording appetite. Distant mistletoe, badger runs and ancient beech trees are tempting prospects. A pond just off a Public Right of Way may require some creative navigating. 

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