Promoting observation, free range exploration, sense of place and citizen science.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Tyr Abraham Harry

This is an area of industrial workings in the upland landscape of Garn-yr-erw, Blaenavon comprising remnant buildings and stonewalls surrounded by spoil tips and water management features. It seems that every time I tramp around this interfered with habitat I find new and interesting components. Some of the most notable are ponds that are a clearly of manmade construction given their shape.

It was a rather cool and blustery day as I made my way towards the Hills Pit area. There were a pair of wheatear in alarm call and as I scrambled through the heather covered lower slopes of a spoil tip a meadow pipit was flushed from a nest of six eggs. Beyond, there are a couple of ponds with intermittent willow scrub, here a couple of juvenile stonechat called, along with a reed bunting and a single snipe.

Monday, 22 May 2017

For how much longer?

Since the closure of Blanserchan Pit in the 1980s and the subsequent purchase of the valley by the local authority, I've witnessed a gradually change in this landscape. From a characteristic post industrial blandness to one that threatens to become woodland, sofening the Cwm in a carpet of birch and stubben conifer. The battle against scrub encroachment is now reduced to local authority guerrilla action; management when resources become available. However, without a concerted, consistent effort to reduce and restrict, the progression of succession from open vista with its blackened tips and seek and find fragments of industrail relicts will be lost, remembered only by those Facebook pages with monochrome images of the past.

Despite this ongoing change some patches of more open grassy swards can still be found. It was windy but that didn't stop a number of butterflies and moths taking flight. Around eight dingy skipper and three small purple-barred day flying moth were evident. According to the distribution maps prepared by Martin Anthoney (County Recorder), the small purple-barred has lost ground in the east of the county with just a few sites remaining in the west.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Call of the Curlew

I'd hardly got of my car when two loudly calling curlew flew overhead from east to west. Garnlydan Reservoir was strangely quiet, previous visits were populated by ubiquitous dog walkers and fishermen, not the case today. A circuit of the reservoir produced a bird list that any self respecting birder could predict. The tally included, at least four territory holding wheatear, two male stonechat, two calling reed bunting, five lapwing, and singles of common sandpiper, snipe and great crested grebe.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Twitter for Gwent bird news ( #gwentbirds )

Most of Gwent's birders, beyond the beginner stage that is, now use Twitter as the primarily source of sharing bird information, by adopting the hashtag #gwentbirds. This is where I picked up news of the ring ouzel found by Craig Constance at The British recently. Next day I was up early for a walk around my lapsed local patch hoping to find my own ring ouzel. A couple of blackbird flying along the upland fringe were double checked for that tell tale white crescent, but as hard as I try I couldn't turn any into the target species. Nonetheless plenty of other species were on offer including singles of wood warbler, greenfinch and whitethroat. There were many singing tree pipit, males of stonechat and reed bunting at lease two pair of wheatear and two cuckoo. 

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Remembering Abergavenny Sewage Works

I've a head of silver hair which is why I can remember those days in the 1970's when Abergavenny Sewage Works littered the pages of the Monmouthshire/Gwent Bird Report with records of yellow and white wagtail and various passage waders, In those days of course visibility of the treatment works was good, today its like Fort Knox. I recollect an anecdote often relayed by the late Percy Playford back when I was an active 'c' ringer, saying that he had previously run a number of mist netting sessions at the site during which time some of the sewage beds were characterised by large plants yielding a healthy crop of tomatoes, which he subsequently picked and took home to eat.

common cornsalad

From Waitrose supermarket cross the road to the new housing estate on the old Coopers Filters site. Heading south and before the fly over there is a restricted lane entrance with a bright yellow barrier. Access can be found around the barrier, the lane then continues adjacent to the housing estate and straight to the sewage works. Where the housing stops there is a field with a pond, the margins supported a good population of slender ground hopper - there was also a single coot and one unaccompanied mallard duckling. A whitethroat sang from a nearby thicket. At the sewage work there is a well worn track, not thought to be a public footpath. This led through two fields to the margins of the River Usk. Here a couple of grey wagtail and a common sandpiper moved between stony spits. A few common wildflowers were in full bloom including, common fumitory, common cornsalad and green alkanet. There were also four species of butterfly on the wing, including red admiral, speckled wood, and orange tip.

common fumitory

green alkanet

Sunday, 23 April 2017

We ride with impunity

The early morning Bank Holiday Monday visit to the margins of Waunafon Bog was thrilling and depressing in equal measure. Thrilling because my hope that a grasshopper warbler would be reeling was confirmed, in fact there may have been two birds. I went into stealth mode in the hope that the loudly reeling bird could be photographed in action, But despite having a grandstand view of the scrub from whence the bird was singing, as hard as I tried it was impossible to pinpoint. Moving on a male stonechat was fencepost hoping and parties of swallow were sweeping silently over the bog purposefully heading north. Other birds noted were linnet, three pair of reed bunting, two snipe and two flyover Canada goose.

And now for the depressing part - look away now those of a nervous disposition. The bog itself is a long time neglected ecological asset of SSSI quality. At the headwaters of the Afon Lwyd water appears to have been diverted away from the bog to prevent it causing a flooding problem on a nearby road. This has contributed to a perception that it is drying out in places illustrated by increased scrub growth. Nonetheless the bog, whose role in carbon storage and ecosystems resilience should not be underestimated, is facing a more immediate threat. Off - road activity has carved a deep scar in the peat and in the process breaking fences to gain access. Those responsible ride and destroy with impunity. Its incredulous that authorities seem unwilling to act to kerb the damage that is becoming a landscape trademark of the upper Afon Lwyd. 

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Beetle bank

I should have been more alert to the prospect that a sunny early spring Sunday at Llandegfedd Reservoir would have a liberal sprinkling of leisure seekers. And so it was, there were, walkers with dogs, walkers without dogs, cannabis smokers, sunbathing courting couples, fisherman, sailors with associated noisy powerboats and hooters, paddle boarders who sought refuge in the less crowded corners of the reservoir and an individual who coughed loudly and intermittently from the richly vegetated upper reaches of Green Pool.

As a consequence my trusty Opticron scope was not deployed. Preferring to potter about on the margins of the reservoir I settled down on the exposed shoreline of the island. The water level was high by still low enough for a small area of eroded soft bank complete with ample stone turning potential. On closer examination the collection of stones on the waters edge were well populated with a variety of basking beetles. Seemingly attracted by the stones absorbed warmth the following species were identified.

Mint Leaf Beetle (Chrysolina herbacea)

Weevil (Sitinia lineatus)

Imperial Rove Beetle (Staphylinus caesareus)

Dung Beetle (Aphodius sphaecelatus)

Flea Beetle (Longitarsus membranaceus)

Sap Beetle (Glischrochilus hortensis)


Orange Ladybird (Halyzia sedecimguttata)

Monday, 10 April 2017


I only seem to have enough spare time for snatched visits to local patches these days and last Saturday was no exception. That said I did manage two snatched visits in one day.

First up was a morning excursion to a part of the Lasgarn Wood, near Abersychan. Parking on Waterworks Lane just below the now decommissioned reservoir I made my way to a small adjacent ancient beech woodland. Many species of bird were in full song, with chiffchaff, willow warbler and blackcap most prominent. A small patch of flowering lesser celendine briefly attracted a bee fly (Bomblyius major) and green woodpecker and nuthatch were vocal, the latter leaving a suitable nest site in a hole of a beech tree.  A distant singing redstart could be detected from a hedgerow of a nearly farm.

Later on I wandered around Blaenavon Community Woodland. Several calling redpoll and a great spotted woodpecker covered the extent of the birdlife on offer. However several green tiger beetle and two peacock butterflies were compensation.

Friday, 17 March 2017

The Sentinals

A couple of weeks ago I spent a soggy Sunday morning wandering around the clearfell that is Blaenavon Community Woodland. Managed by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) the majority of this conifir woodland was recently felled under a plant health notice due to a phytophthora infection. A massive ecological pertubation such as this provides a very good opportunity to study the processes of succession.

I was pleased to see a cluster of standing deadwood. There are mutterings amongst the local dog walkers as to their purpose. The heavy rain suppressed most birdlife, but the haul road tracks were starting the recolonise nicely with pioneer vegetation. This parsley piert was common on bare mud.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Guitar hero

There can't too many places where 1960s graffiti has survived the attention of public funded clean up teams. The 'Free Wales' slogan daubed on the cast iron framework of a railway bridge on the outskirts of Blaenavon was a very visible demonstration of the socio-political feeling of the time. Those responsible for recent bridge refurbishment work were unable to recognise the importance of such a political statement within the context of modern day social history and it was regrettably painted over. Thankfully this Jimi Hendrix graffiti is tucked away on another bridge several miles south and has been preserved by virtue of being beyond the public gaze. Long may it survive!

A short walk close to home down the former railway line now a multi user leisure route with the objective of helping my son photograph some natural textures was notable for numbers of singing birds. An orange ladybird was found over wintering on the underside of a cherry laurel leaf and a damaged hart's tongue fern was characteristic of the leaf mine of the micro moth the fern smut.

Running adjacent to the leisure route is Snatchwood Park a private former Victorian parkland landscape complete with heritage trees. This beech tree has been modified for access probably by pigeon shooters. Hopefully more from this site in due course.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Reading the pavements

You can gain a pretty good picture of a Saturday night out in Newport by reading the debris on the Riverfront walk the morning after. Vomit, trails of blood and drugs paraphernalia could be easily detected. On a positive note I struck lucky with a find of a twenty pence coin that was  accompanied by the first flowering common whitlow grass nestled amongst some weathered fag ends.

There were more gulls on the River Usk tide line than of late. Around 150 black-headed gull complete with varying degrees of summer hoods were watched over by good numbers of herring and lesser black backed gull. The overwhelming majority of these larger gulls were immature/sub adult birds suggesting those breeding adults are already on or close to their breeding grounds. However one bird was conspicuous by its crisp plumage. A yellow legged gull was sartorial elegant set against the dark chocolate merk that is the River Usk water. A couple of great black backed gull alighted with characteristic deep throat vocalisations.

I moved on to Tredegar House Lake where the assemblage of water wildfowl was unremarkable in its composition. The leuistic coot stood out along with five little grebe. A colour ringed black -headed gull carrying white AF460 looked familar. Seems I recorded this bird on the 31st January 2016 and was orginally ringed at Heligoland, Germany.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

People interactions

I write this in the midst of yet another cold - that's three within a month! All this illness has reduced my enthusiasm for chasing waxwing, in fact most other avian attractants for that matter, although its nice to see my predicted promise posed by the berry laden ornamental sorbus around Trevethin shops near Pontypool has now been realised.

Nonetheless between bouts of feeling sorry for myself I've squeezed in the odd truncated de-motivated visit. Last Sunday morning I was in and around the relative comfort of Newport's Riverfront promenade. Now reading some of my past postings you will have undoubtedly noticed my willingness, not only to communicate my personal interactions with wildlife but that of the people I encounter along the way as well. We must not forget that humans are also a species and deserve the same meticulous attention. So when propped against the chunky riverside railings scanning the assemblage of loafing gulls my attention was drawn to the light hearted chatter of a party of 20 + approaching community payback litter pickers. Some were resplendent in the summer plumage of yellow tabards others more drably coloured in sub-adult plumage. As they got closer the verbal interactions and vocalisations between the group got louder and on passing me one hapless attendee felt confortable enough to offer me some ill informed advice as to the value of the River Usk. 'Ha ha, you won't see anything in there except for fucking rubbish, ha,ha, ha......'. He is of course entitled to an opinion, an opinion that no doubt still resonates with many and was arguably the driving force behind the aspirational Newport barrage. Contrary to this rank and file popular belief as to the value of intertidal habitat we as naturalists understand the rich diversity offered by riparian mud.

Leaving the Riverfront I called into Tredegar House Lake, A large gathering of around 200 black-headed gull was all that was note worthy. Making my way around Tredegar House itself I noted an additional group of black-headed gulls perched in single file along the the ridge tiles of the courtyard buildings. This made for easy observation of birds carrying rings. I quickly came across two with metal rings followed by another couple with yellow darvic rings. Following some internet research these are considered to be polish birds. In stark contrast to my earlier interaction a couple asked what my interest in the gulls was. I explained showing them some images of the birds with rings, this icebreaker revealed that their daughter and son in law were BTO members.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Now that's what I call December.

I can't remember a December like it, snatched birding due to a myriad of other time consuming obligations and to top it all two separate bouts of illness. The first, some bug that almost prevented me from delivering my 'ring reading' presentation to Gwent Ornithological Society members and then to round off the year nicely I was struck down by a heavy cold just after Boxing Day that resulted in three days in bed, followed by an extended period of miserableness. So this posting is a compilation of end of 2016 highlights, albeit few.

First up is my relatively new urban birding venue of Newport River(Usk)front. Easy access make for good gull watching with some birds carrying rings. A recent short visit produced just a single long staying first calender year colour ringed Herring Gull origin Bristol. Because of the imposition of Sunday car parking fees I now use a nearby residential area, giving me the opportunity to explore a part of the River Usk margins hitherto off radar. A large green space with play area contained some nice mature trees many adorned with bat and bird boxes and was a worthy sight (site). This got me investigating further and around the back of an allotment plot growing just at high tide level was a Black Poplar. Now care needs to be taken when identifying one of the rarest trees in the British Isles as many hybrid Black Poplar have been planted but there were s few features that suggest this is the genuine article. I'll re-visit when in leaf to confirm, fingers crossed.

Elsewhere a couple of visits to the ponds around Brynmawr were notable for the numbers of birds present. This is particularly relevant to Dunlop Semtex Pond where up to 60 Wigeon have been around for most of this early winter period. Augmentation is provided by Coot, Mallard, Tufted Duck, and over 100 Herring, Black-headed and Lesser black-backed Gull. The newish floating island has benefited the local Cormorant population with around six regular birds including the long staying Dutch ringed bird. A quick visit yesterday produced a male Shovelar at DSP and a pair of Gadwall at Beaufort Ponds. Here's hoping for a better start to 2017!

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

White out

It seemed appropriate that the first significant snowfall of this winter coincided with the appearance of the first bay window Christmas trees in Blaenavon. With a waxwing reported from Weston - super-mare I was hopeful one may turn up on one of the berry laden urban street trees in Brynmawr or Ebbw Vale. Alas this was not the case but the berries were providing a feast for the local thrushes.

There was not much on Beaufort Ponds except for a single male goosander. Machine Pond was not much better but a pair of stonechat that moved around the adjacent grassland. By contrast Dunlop Semtex Pond was full of wildfowl. To my surprise there were still around 49 wigeon present along with a single female teal. However the most notable was three gadwall - one male, two female. Although I've recorded Gadwall from Beaufort Ponds before this is thought to be the first site record for DSP.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...