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

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Appreciating the local

Out appreciating my local patch again, this time on the lower fringes of Mynydd Garn-wen. Following the hedgerow lined thoroughfare of Lasgarn Lane brings you to Mynydd Garn-wen with its whitewashed trig point and panoramic view of agricultural Monmouthshire to the east and the Severn estuary to the south. Whilst the trig point with its undeniably impressive vista was the destination of other local exercisers I took a route that followed a dry-stone wall northwards.

Upland boundary features are a magnet for some birds. That combination of wall, fence post, barbed wire and the occasional tree, frequently attract the likes of wheatear, stonechat,and meadow pipit. The shelter from the mountain wind that a good field boundary provides benefits the one of the few upland butterflies. Up to four green hairsteak were noted fluttering around the banks of dead bracken that grade into the tight sward of the sheep grazed acid grassland.

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Chocolate box quality

One of the benefits of this Covid-19 lockdown is that restricted movement shoe horns you back into your local environment. Gone are the drives to other places, in are the walks to familiar places.That said, I'm beginning to realise those familiar local places may not so familiar after all.

As you can tell from recent posts I've been taking a 10 minute walk to the woodland I can see from my home, but on this occasion I pushed on beyond its leafy glades with intermittent chiffchaff and distant redstart and out into the agricultural landscape that bleeds into the upland environment of Mynydd Garn-wen and the southern extremities of the Brecon Beacons National Park. The link between Company's Wood and Mynydd Garn-wen is Lasgarn Lane, a quiet thoroughfare visually more akin to lowland Monmouthshire than the chaotic vista's of the South Wales valleys. Bazaarly, this lane has an almost a chocolate box quality. Flanked by a hedgerow on both sides it supports a hedge bank adorned with bluebell, cow parsley and greater stitchwort. Surely in the days before 24 hour TV and computer games this lane will have echoed the sounds of children out for a walk after Sunday chapel, the girls returning with posies of wildflowers, the boys with a fresh song thrush egg for their collection.

This lane with its parallel hedge weaves through a farmland backdrop of improved grassland and mature trees. The hedgebank is crammed with herbage like the back room of a charity shop, punctuated only by field gates and the odd wooden stile. My New Naturalist book of hedges tells me its possible to age a hedgerow by the composition of woody species. I started to look, not to apply the aging metric in earnest, like some fresh faced undergraduate - although I sense field skills have dropped of the agenda of ecology degrees - but just to a get feel for its possible longevity. There was field maple, hawthorn, blackthorn, elder, holly, beech, sycamore, sessile oak, hazel, dogwood, rowan and common lime. Elsewhere in this lush green corridor were many mature trees shaped in a manner that suggest active management was more prevalent in the past. This walk certainly brought out the Oliver Rackham in me.

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Red wood ant in Lasgarn Wood

When in primary school some of the streetwise kids claimed the chunky eggs of the red wood ant could be harvested as fish food. I believed them of course. Today I question this as a truism, but I do have vivid memories of the red wood ant occurring frequently throughout the Lasgarn Wood, near Abersychan. Their impressive nests made of piles of larch needles located on the edge of a sunny glade and when out birding where given a wide birth, to do otherwise would risk your shoes and trousers becoming engulfed by busy aggressive looking ants armed with that chemical weapon of formic acid. Away from the nests wood ants could be encountered along footpaths some considerable distance from known any nest site.

I had feared the felling of the larch plantation, that was the ants stronghold, would have a detrimental impact on the status of an invertebrate that has its stronghold elsewhere in Gwent. But, my new found local patch of Company's Wood has proved otherwise. On well trodden footpaths wood ants are widespread, so numerous that they can be seen forming broken lines of single file activity. Even fallen timber, exposed to the sunlight are a meeting point for ants, just like the public realm of an urban shopping centre. 

Saturday, 2 May 2020

In the company of Company's Wood

Just a ten minute walk away is Company's Wood. This ancient woodland sits between the larger Lasgarn Wood to the north and Freeholdland Wood to the south. Combined, the three woodlands form a continuous wooded corridor that stretches for more than a mile through Torfaen's upper Eastern Valley.

From a road bridge over the Afon Lwyd a footpath snakes steeply through the tree canopy complete with its underlying geology of carboniferous limestone. A ghost slug stopped me in my tracks. This milky white mollusc is unmistakable. Interestingly I've recorded this recent coloniser previously on the outskirts of Pontypool Park, here too close to the Afon Lwyd. Onward through the woodland, passing a flowering cherry tree and a number of path side field maple, birdsong was pronounced. Nuthatch, chiffchaff, willow warbler and blackcap were all in fine voice.

At the top of the climb the path emerged onto what we knew as youngsters, as the tramline. This is a remnant of industrial activity from bygone days. A track that was used to move limestone across the valley to sites such a The British ironworks. I paused to catch my breath - much needed for one that is approaching sixty one. Around this intersection I could find bluebell just coming into flower along with ramsons, yellow arcangel and pitnut. A few people passed, including a couple who asked me about butterflies.

From the intersection I took the tramline route north for a while before turning east. This took me into an area of larch clear fell. A tree pipit sang from a tall spindly silver birch before parachuting in full song to a tree with more cover. A lad of a scrambler bike passed heading north. My time was up so I made my way back whence I came. On the way I, paused again, as naturalist often do, to photograph the distinctive leaf mine of the fly Chromatomia scolopendri on harts tongue fern.

Ghost slug


Leaf mine of Chromatomia scolopendri

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