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

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Ladybirds of Gwent

Harlequin Ladybird (Harmonia axyridis)

Harlequin Ladybird - dark form

7 Spot Ladybird (Coccinella septempunctata)

24 Spot Ladybird (Subcoccinella vigintiquattvorpunctata)
It appears to be a very good year for ladybirds. These were just a few images of three common species encountered during my lunchbreaks in the Cwmbran area last week.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

BBS - first leg

In panoramic view of the mist laden agricultural lowlands of Monmouthshire the Foxhunter car park at 6.30am on a Sunday morning was populated by a couple of camper vans and a car that may have had a back seat sleeper. I volunteered to append a second Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) square to my long standing existing square on Mynydd y Garn Fawr so was prepared for an extended transect walk. 

The majority of my double square is dominated by Calluna vulgaris thereby limiting the avian composition. And so it was. Approaching the end of my transects the species tally was just skylark, meadow pipit, three calling red grouse and a fly over carrion crow. As I was about to wrap up some salvation came in the form of a male wheatear, a swallow and a distant cuckoo, albeit outside of my square.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

New internationalism

The Monmouthshire - Brecon Canal is another post-industrial artifact that engenders a sense of watery eyed nostalgia among some. Retirees give up their time to point brickwork and sit on stewardship committees hoping to arrest decaying processes. It's a somewhat thankless rear guard action, compounded by the clinical hands of post war newtown planners. From the tranquil rural landscape of Monmouthshire the canal  feeds through the grey infrastructure of Pontypool and on to Cwmbran. Here this aged transport channel has been severed like one big waterway vasectomy cut into a series of barely connected parts. No longer will the marriage of urban and rural be consummated. 

Despite the periodic displays of public affection the canal environment is a litmus test of what society really thinks of this green urban thoroughfare. A short walk through any built up section will more often than not produce a shopping trolley or two or a floating polystyrene takeaway container with associated lager cans. Where the vegetation thins, peer into the water for more historic evidence of Calor gas bottles, chopper bikes and ring pull drinks cans. And the towpath has a liberal helping of dog faeces. 

For modern day ecologists who believe the prevalence of non-native species is a reality of  globalism - see The New Wild by Fred Peace - the canal offers rich pickings. Above the layers of inter-generational fly-tipping and silt accumulation this wetland supports a cosmopolitan array of biodiversity from around the world. Botanically Himalyan balsam, and Japanesse knotweed sit cheek by jowl with American water fern, South American parrot's feather, Canadian pondweed and New Zealand pygmyweed. Canada goose, American mink and red-eyed terrapin from Ninjiland are all commonplace. And then there's the goldfish and koi crap from where I do not know!

Looking beyond the non-natives you will find some gems. As highlighted in a previous post the canal is poorly recorded.  This week a couple of meadow long-horn moths was noteworthy.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

An evening with Chris Packham

I've a bit of time for this chap. An 'in the blood' naturalist and committed conservationist he's certainly not afraid to offer a view. Moreover he's done more than anyone to popularise the fundamental importance of the natural world through the contemporary concept of citizen science, and in so doing given BBC's Springwatch a much needed leg up. With his memoir 'Fingers in the Sparkle Jar' just published I couldn't miss the opportunity to see him in conversation with Polly Morland at the Savoy Theatre, Monmouth - another date is scheduled for Chepstow!

I arrived at the venue to be greeted by a queue, but thankfully nothing like the snaking black monster I dealt with at last years Robert Plant gig, so it was no great hardship - although the couple behind we agitated by the wait. The theatre filled quickly and was obviously a sell out. The age demo-graph of attendees covered the full spectrum but with the vast majority aged 50+  and female.

The stage set was basic with a rolling backdrop of greyscale images and more colourful artwork from the book. Chris articulated his influences and experiences of his early years growing up in Southampton. Like many boys in the seventies collecting was important from eggs to insects and reptiles. The biggest influence during his teenage years came in the form of a school teacher who was a naturalist and bird ringer along with a kestrel that was stolen from a nest and trained as a companion. Among the undoubted passion and joy for his subject there seemed a large dose of melancholy. His TV persona of a chirpy, knowledgeable and accessible naturalist slipped as he talked movingly about the affect the death of his kestrel had on him. A period of depression ensured. Then the cuckoo in the nest was exposed, Chris has Asperger's Syndrome. Chris was quick to draw the positives from this choosing to celebrate his uniqueness, and as a grandfather of a toddler who is on the autistic scale I wholeheartedly support his assertion. He talked about his years in University when the study of biology took precedence over the student bar. And then came the raw energy of punk years when hitch hiking (whatever happened to that!) to gigs to see bands like The Clash and The Undertones was his main preoccupation.

The evening finished with a question and answer session including a defense of wild boar in the Forest of Dean, drawing a loud round of applause when ridiculing ignorant local politicians for calling for a cull. The lights went up and the grey haired throng shuffled to the front to purchase a signed copy of the book from an impressively well stocked stall. All in all a very enjoyable evening. Next up George Monbiot! 

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Terminal decline

There's a small breeding population of lapwing on coal spoil above Garn-yr-erw, Blaenavon, and despite being harassed by sheep, dog-walkers, bikers, fell runners and corvids the number of breeding pairs has remained more or less constant at around 4-6 pairs, That is until this year! With just a single pair showing this weekend it now seems the colony is in terminal decline.

The primary objective of my visit however was to track down a medium size pond that is clearly evident on aerial photographs but one that seems to have avoided my gaze to date. It didn't take too long to locate said water-body, a deep, dark, oligotrophic pond with a vista of rural Monmouthshire and promising summer odonata prospects.

Birding was very much focused on calling birds. Cuckoo, Canada goose, snipe and pheasant were all detected calling from within the wider landscape. The most interesting record however was a couple of sand martin feeding low over molina grassland.

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