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

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Post breeding movement?

At any other time of year the sight of a black headed gull drifting effortlessly around the margins of Llandegfedd Reservoir would hardly be worth raising your binoculars for, but yesterday evening was different. A single bog standard adult bird in pristine summer plumage that glided in and around Green Pool bay suggests that the westerly post breeding movement of this gull is already underway. I say this, as, to the best of my knowledge the closest colony of breeding black headed gull to the vice county of Monmouthshire is Cotswold Water Park. Not massive distance but far enough to imply the cutting of family ties, at least for this bird has happened.

The mesotrophic grassland (MG5) around the Fishermans car park is fast reaching its peak. Hundreds of spikes of common spotted and southern marsh orchid are juxaposed against a backdrop of seeding yellow rattle, birds foot tefoil and grasses all fringed by hemlock water dropwort. Walking through this habitat I was struck by the invertebrate biomass. At times the vegetation heaved with the movement of late instar grasshoppers like a scene from a Hammer Horror film. Meadow browns are now on the wing as well as large skipper and burnet companion. But none of the azure and common blue damselflies was pale enough to suggest a white legged. A good population of burnet moths were active. Given its still June I am plumping for narrow-bordered five -spot?

Monday, 22 June 2015


Parking opposite the Lamb and Fox public house I was once again struck by Abergavenny's mountainous vista. Under feet was the first flowering wild thyme and wall pepper. Toward Pwll du there were a small noisy group of youths riding a variety of Heath Robinson vehicles. A scrambler bike, something a lot smaller - akin to one of those tiny pedal cycles circus acts used to ride - and a truncated quad looking thing belching smoke that drifted over the heads of a nearby group of grazing animals. A more mature off road enthusiast emerged from over the horizon that is Canada Tips. Passing close by, there was no number plate on view so probably no insurance either. Nonetheless he joined the highway for a short distance before pulling into the pub for a pint of best scrumpy no doubt. This is modern day lawlessness, untouchable recreation in the peri-urban environment.

Despite the blue skies there was a keen wind that kept active wildlife under wraps. A female wheatear was in alarm call mode as I negotiated the rough terrain. Where the valley narrowed I entered a tyre strewn landscape where hundreds of the black round things are being enveloped by vegetation. 

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Nationally scarce - notable b

Common spotted orchid
Omaloplia ruricola 
A visit to Pant yr oes Reservoir, woodland and grassland was a break from the norm but nonetheless very enjoyable. A mature beech/oak woodland gives way to a reservoir boundary of species rich grassland alive with invertebrate activity.

Highlights of  a long species list (soon to be unloaded on the SEWBReCORD site) includes the nationally scarce beetle Omaloplia ruricola, the longhorn moth Nemophora degeerella, early instar dark bush cricket, common lizard and a pair of breeding great crested grebe. Keep tuned for news of visits throughout the summer. 

Nemophora degeerella
Micropterix calthella

Friday, 12 June 2015

Take heed

Students of ecological processes will be familiar with the principles of succession. This is the often linear progression of vegetational development from bare ground to early pioneer plant (and animal) communities through to grassland, scrub and onto climax woodland. From the start of the industrial revolution landscapes have been used and abused for the winning of minerals leaving large areas despoiled with waste material. It was only a short time ago that government agencies viewed an industrial landscape as derelict and something worthy of re-profiling, mass rye grass seeding and tree planting. Thankfully the Blaenavon landscape has avoided the ravages of tax payer funded landscaping schemes, thereby leaving nature and its sucessional process to advance uninterrupted.

On display during last weekends early morning visit around Canada Tips, Blaenavon were all stages of re-vegetation. This variety, officially branded as open mosaic habitats on previously developed land, is one of the most interesting habitats in Gwent. But changes in tree cover are becoming more evident. Hawthorn, rowan and conifers are now appearing more frequently among stands of heather. Whilst the odd tree adds to diversity, unchecked the landscape overtime will change to one that is effectively wooded. 

Given this landscape is of international heritage value this in itself suggest that the current open vistas with differing types of spoil tip development should be retained as a management priority.  So how can the move to scrub and woodland be arrested? It seems that in the absence of herds of grazing animals employed to control woody species that the only activities that are helping to slow down succession are the villains of the piece the motor sports enthusiasts. Those charged with managing the wider Blaenavon landscape would do well to plan for a future whereby tree management should a priority otherwise the tips, ponds and acid grassland that are so much of a feature of the area will be lost to woodland. 

Monday, 1 June 2015


Despite the dire warnings of pending extinction I've found cuckoo to be relatively widespread this year. Whether its the Blaenserchan valley, off the Blorenge, Waunafon bog or the flanks of the Coity the call of this bird has been a banker on my early morning excursions this spring.

Saturday I was marching around the modern day heritage features of Big Pit's environs. The landscape now littered with 'you are here' and 'this is where you need to go' signage still holds that old fashioned naturalist magic if, of course, you can access it before the tourists arrive to sample a day of paying homage to our mining forefathers.

The large coal spoil tip adjacent to Big Pit car park was the venue for my annual moonwort count. Although this little fern has just started to show the count of 187 was impressive. Next time 200+?

Other notables included several goldfinch, a good number of linnet and a calling reed bunting. A dingy skipper alighted as the sun warmed the spoil.

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