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

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Tree art

Spent an enjoyable couple of hours in the company of Steve Carter last weekend woodland birding. Redstart were in fine song and a marsh tit was a useful addition to the mornings list. Out in the open a single garden warbler and a number of whitethroat were welcome as was a tree pipit and a couple of stock dove. Plant wise a flowering lousewort was notable.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Dug out

Dr. Stephanie Tyler, joint Botanical Recorder for the vice county of Monmouthshire, has recently reminded me that this year is the last year of recording for the new flora atlas of the British Isles. Stephanie impressed on me that the Pontypool area needs more records so with this lodged in my mind I took an hours evening walk just down the road to Riverside on the outskirts of the town. This  tranquil green space lies adjacent to the Afon Lwyd and is abutted by an ancient woodland, a football pitch and a popular riverside walk complete with mature parkland trees leading to and from the town centre.

Accessing the riverside it was evidence that there was a very population of ramsons (wild garlic) in flower. This species is a well known indicator or ancient woodland but was just at home next to the water. This part of the river used to be much more open and old photographs show a mill race and weir. Now the canopy is close and the weir hard to detect, nonetheless the river on its western side has been urbanised with pipework draining water from the town. In total I recorded about 30 plant species many, just like ramsons, indicators of ancient woodland, including bluebell and dogs mercury. A plant growing near to an adjacent small watercourse is thought to be large bittercress, an infrequent plant in these parts.

Making my way from the riverside I followed an access track towards a football pitch used by Trevethin Football Club. Here common comfrey was coming into flower and great horsetail was noted, another infrequent species in these parts. I didn't have time to explore the nearby woodland but another visit soon will ensure this area is covered adequately. 

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Industrial archaeology

There was a welcome in the hillside for those who risk letting their dog off a lead as I made my way past the Whistle Inn pub complete with nine unlicensed off road bikers towards the lower east facing slopes of the Coity mountain above Blaenavon. As the bikers made off splitting up to ride over common land and up the route of the National Cycleway Network I paused to view a disused farmstead encircled by a field pattern of drystone walls and a couple of maturing sycamore trees.

Thereafter the footpath progressed steeply through the typical habitat mosaic of sheep grazed acid grassland and rush pasture. There were a number of wheatear, and a single tree pipit cascaded into a hawthorn tree commanding good views. My destination was a small disused mine on the Coity hillside, one that I had viewed from afar but never found the motivation to make the trek for a closer examination. Now the time was right and I was determined to find the road that leads to this industrial artifact.

The vista from this side of the valley was one that I seldom experience, preferring the to do my birding on the Blorenge side of the valley, so viewing the post industrial landscape from the Coity gave a new perspective. The precision engineered Mile Pond a former feeder pond for Big Pit stood out in all its rectangular glory, another example of mans obsession with tidy sharp edged order. 

Finding the pit road I was struck by how quite it was, a few meadow pipit and an occasional distant singing skylark. A raven became noteworthy when normally it wouldn't. Within reach of the mine the terrain rose steeply again towards its entrance with its gate long gone, discarded nearby to be absorbed into an all encompassing bed of rush. 

Wandering around the remains of this small privately owned hillside mine I was surprised to find the now decaying remains of buildings and mine machinery, as if those who had worked the site had left in a hurry. Miners kit in the form Wellington boots, protective eye wear and well worn part rubberised safety gloves darkened by the handling of oily spanners, were commonplace as I picked my way through the site. Within the canopy of a steel framed building there was a row of small breeze block rooms, some empty others with shelving complete with a good selection of machinery spares, rusty nuts and bolts, filters, couplings etc. In one room I found a female blackbird siting on a nest built on a heating pipe and there were several other used nests from previous years. I spent an hour or so pottering around this industrial relic and not a better hour I will spend for along time.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Violet Oil Beetles

I was pleased to accompany Gavin Vella, Liam Olds and Michael Kilner to an undisclosed site in Monmouthshire countryside to view the violet old beetle. By coincidence the site is well known to me as it was an area where the late Percy Playford had a nest box colony in the 1970s and 80s supporting up to 10 pairs of pied flycatcher. Percy was my mentor and trainer in gaining my bird ringing licence.

The search for the oil beetles was straightforward with around 20 individuals noted as we walked the site. It was also pleasing to see both male and female pied flycatcher still using an area of former coppiced alder woodland.

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