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

Sunday, 29 April 2018

That was the week (three weeks) that was

I've been a bit slow in getting new posts to this blog of late, so this posting aims to bundle together some of my recent visits to my local patches this month.

Saturday 7 April 2018 - The British, Talywaun

Around this time of year I like to make the pilgrimage to The British hoping for a spring ring ouzel. To see these birds you need to be very lucky and my luck has been out for a number of years. However my best historic encounter was an autumn one when a number of leaving birds were brought down with a fall of winter thrushes.

As usual I started off early and was greeted by several singing willow warbler and chiffchaff. Three stock dove left a red brick engine house as I passed toward the Big Pond area. At Big Pond there was little to offer and certainly no ring ouzel. Attention drifted to some of the other natural features and in particular the impressive remnant beech trees that litter the ffridd landscape in the Gwent valleys. Moving between the trees I came across the characteristic hole of the minotaur dung beetle Typhaeus typhaeus fashioned in a pile of sheep droppings.

Saturday 14 April 2018 - Garn yr erw, Blaenafon


It was a very warm Saturday afternoon and Dine Steel Incline was populated by intermittent parties if rucksack carrying teenagers, possibly taking part in a Duke of Edinburgh award scheme activity. From a distance I could hear them howling, screaming and giggling as they transversed the particularly muddy lower stretches of this listed structure. My own encounter with a muddy feature was a seasonal pond that on closer examination appeared to support a healthy population of pedunculate water starwort Callitriche brutia. The pond that overlooks Canada Tips and the wider Usk Valley around Abergavenny was in fine condition reflecting the clear blue skies. A couple of wheatear chose to move between fence post and stone and a reed bunting could be heard in the distance.

Wednesday 18 April - Lasgarn Wood, Abersychan

This was a bit of a flying visit to the Lasgarn Wood clear fell. To get there you pass through some nice beech woodland, notable on this occasion by at least three vocal nuthatch. In the clear fell I was greeted by a single peacock butterfly closely followed by a small tortoiseshell. A number of willow warbler were in song along with a single tree pipit. A pile of stacked fire charred larch logs were slowly being colonised by, appropriately, fire moss.

Saturday 21 April - Waunafon Bog, Blaenafon

Another early Saturday morning visit this time for grasshopper warbler and was lucky to track down two reeling birds. Other notables include a male stonechat and a reed bunting. However the most unusual for the location was a male pheasant. There was an active green tiger beetle but the strangest occurrence was a group of cultivated daffodils growing from within an extensive area of purple moor grass.

Wednesday 26 April - Canada Tips, Blaenafon

It was blowing a gale and very cold so apart from a singing skylark birds were keeping low. I was pleased to be able to relocate both alpine and fir clubmoss.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

From Malaga to Newport

Puerto de la Calleta de Velez, Malaga, Spain.

Thanks to Jose Sanchez Cordero I've now recieved information about the colour ringed lesser black-backed gull I reported from the River Usk in Newport recently. It was ringed in late March last year (2017) at Puerto de la Caleta de Velez, Malaga, Spain and was subsquently reported four times up until early April that year.

Interestingly it was ringed a Larus fuscus intermedius. There are three recognised subspecies of fuscus;

  • L.f.fuscus is the smallest and darkest of the subspecies. Its alternative name is the Baltic gull and breeds on the Baltic coasts of Finland, Sweden and Estonia and migrates to sub-Sharan Africa in winter.

  • L.f. intermedius and L.f.graellsii are more simarly to one another than fuscus. Intermedius normally breeds from Belguim and the Netherlands eastwards into Scandinavia, and graellsii which breeds in Britain, Ireland, France, northwest Spain, Portugal, Iceland and Greenland. Both subspecies largely winter in southwest Europe and northwest Africa.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Even in the most hostile of environments

Rue-leaved saxifrage
Finding nature in an urban environment isn't everyone's idea of a day out, but with a keen eye and a willingness to search those forgotten corners, wildlife can be found. Previously my forays to urban Newport have been primarily for gulls and colour ring reading but with the numbers of birds dropping - all black-headed gull have now left - attention drifts to wider things. Last weekend it was noticeable some of those pavement weeds that residents and local authorities love to exterminate were starting to come into flower. The small white flowered common whitlowgrass was showing in abundance along the grey infrastructure near to Friars Walk. This is a widespread annual plant of urban areas that  I've also recorded in car parks in Brynmawr, Abersychan, Pontypool and Caldicot. Also around the Millennium Bridge in Newport were a number of rue-leaved saxifrage although recorded widely in the vice county its less plentiful.

Common whitlowgrass

Petty spurge

Back to the gulls and all of the birds alongside the falling tide of the River Usk were the larger Larus species and most will be local, breeding on the rooftops of urban Newport. Amongst about 70 or so  birds was a single great black-backed gull and an adult lesser black-backed gull with a white colour ring. After some investigation it appears this is a Spanish ringed bird. Interestingly I could not find a a standard metal ring on this bird. Although it could have been ringed on the tibia and therefore not visible.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Pwll du revisited

The mist swirled around a newly erected roadside chevron sign as I left the Blorenge destination Pwll du. Booting up, the rain started to fall and the normally impressive views of the Usk valley were obscured by a greyness matched only by the colour of my hair. 

The entry point to this impressive landscape was a mud bath but the nearby close cropped sheep grazed turf supported a healthy party of feeding skylark and meadow pipit. Here too is the obligatory collection of signage pointing walkers in the right direction and telling them how to behave. At the quarry there was little avian interest apart for a fly-over raven. I walked into the bottom of the this geological scar looking for anything that might interest a rambling naturalist - the rain became heavier. Beyond I climbed through an extensive area of gorse but all was quite. At the transmission pylon a male wheatear flew from rock to rock until it was lost in the distance. 

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