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Juvi Osprey puffed up / Llandegfedd Reservoir 2017

Light before the storm

Before Storm 'Brian' hit, we had one day with promising weather and thankfully it landed on my day off! How convenient. Despite this, the day very much started un-prepared as I arrived at Blaenavon without a tripod, binoculars and without a spare battery! Typical school-boy error. Either way, I manage to stretch my single battery life as long as I could and I literally filled a memory card on one bird! The Rock Thrush showed extremely well, partly due to someone putting down thousands of Meal Worms.. A much welcomed food source I'm sure but perhaps not the best idea to keep feeding it as it will need to move on eventually and it has a long way to go. I have to thank John Marsh, the finder of the bird and also the guy responsible for me now using a 300mm 2.8 IS. To say i'm overwhelmingly happy to have this lens is an understatement as it's been on my wish list for quite some time. In-fact I now have to find something new to say when my girl friend asks me what I want for Christmas. (I've been saying a 300 2.8 jokingly for years)...

Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush

Last weekend I made the effort to go and see a rarity to the Uk, a 1st winter male Rock Thrush! I've personally never seen one before, particularly because we've only had 2 Records in Wales since 1981. They breed anywhere from southern Europe to North Africa and even parts of Central Asia. They winter in North-east Africa however so to get them this time of year, this far south, gives you a clue how far our this guy is. The strong southern winds caused from Storm Ophelia proved too much from this bird that must have got caught up during migration. Either way, this Rock Thrush couldn't have picked a more suitable spot in Pwll Du quarry which still has a ready supply of insects but also plenty of un-touched berries on the trees. Not for long however as our winter visitors such as Redwing and Fieldfare are already on their way. Other notable species at Pwll Du quarry were a single Black Redstart, Redkite, 4 Wheatear (should be gone already) and lots of Meadow Pipits. 

Glorious Ospreys

I've held this off for long enough now. What have I been doing the last couple months? Well, as far as photography is concerned, very little to be fair. I simply haven't found the time. However! after quite a few 5am starts with not one, but three! Ospreys at Llandegfedd, I set out to get a close up shot of these outstanding birds, but in a way that would leave the birds completely undisturbed, showing their natural behaviour, without them knowing I was there. 

I'm very lucky in that I got to observe these birds in and outside of work for the last month and a half, so got to learn a lot of their routine. All three birds are this years Juveniles, one of which was ringed in Scotland and the other two that stayed the longest which I believe may have been siblings due to their interaction and lack of rings. It was the two siblings that really put on the show for us as they appeared to be very much so beginners at catching fish. They would often fail to land on a perch while also trying to hold onto a wriggly, wet fish. They started off catching silver fish, like Roach and Rudd, likely because they are easier to see in the water but they did manage to get better in their time here. It was quite a proud moment watching them catch their first trout! some of which were quite big. There's lots more I learned about Ospreys thanks to these individuals and having them so late in the year was a bonus for us for sure, I just hope they manage to get to Africa in time and safely. They have all left now so fingers crossed for them. 

Wryneck @ Llandegfedd

This month has been pretty busy so far, and October is looking to be even busier! However I am only on seasonal work right now (sad face), so I'll have 4 months over the winter time and plenty of time to write some blogs. For now however you'll have to deal with my staggered blog posts. I am saving them for something special that will be revealed soon ;). I have been taking pictures, I'm just waiting for the right opportunity to post them!

For now I'll give you a taster of the fantastic bird that turned up at Llandegfedd last weekend! I've never seen a Wryneck before and was blown away with how cryptic their patterns were. You can learn a lot through observing behaviour and because I didn't really know much about these birds, I did spend a full day observing the bird after Gavin Moore found it and thankfully put the word out. I joined in the search while the bird popped up in random places, swiftly followed by eager birders, myself including. I was extremely disappointed to see a notorious paparazzi climbing and running across the Dam wall on arrival just to get a closer photo. The lengths that some people take to get a photograph are unreal and I would much rather wait and observe than clamber over people who simple want to see the bird.. Something that may never happen if you're own actions cause the bird to be flushed. Selfish photographers, it's an illness. 

The bird was trying to feed alongside the road verge near the curbs. Every now and again it would pop up on the fence post. It was just a matter of hiding behind a car and hope it would land on a post in reach of the lens, which it just about did 5 minutes after I said I was going to leave. It pays to be patient :). 

Wryneck / Llandegfedd / Saturday 23rd

After the Storm

With heavy storms hitting the Uk the last two weeks, we've seen Migration in two very different ways. Firstly a halt in activity due to high winds coming from the south, this brought us 3 Juvenile Ospreys at the same time, just over a week ago. They are all still at Llandegfedd and are continuing to catch fish and put on a great show, right from the visitors centre. Following the high winds, the weather has taken a change with rain storms coming from the north, which has seen the swift movement of thousands, if not millions of Swallows and House Martins all over the country. It was quite a spectacle today to see so many bird moving south. One of the 3 Juvenile Ospreys showed a Blue Darvic Ring (Blue JL8) on the left leg which we've tracked back to Aberfoyle, Scotland this year. Darvic rings are proving to be vitally important in tracking birds of prey as the large rings can be read with a good telephoto lens. The last two photos in this group show all three Ospreys in one tree and the last picture is one of the Ospreys looking at a Fox in the background lol. Something I never thought i'd see in the same lens, despite it being a way off. 

Pontypool Uplands and Cefn Ila

Yesterday's upland birding session with Craig Constance brought about some nice migrants passing thru, starting off the day with a Juvi Merlin hunting over the moorland above the British, later picked up again as it flew over our parked car and flushed a flock of starlings off the road side! It continued to mob a Red Kite while heading south to the next mountain. Nothing great to show you photograph wise, only this very distance shot of it heading off in the distance. We also noted 2 Spotted Flycatcher, 1 Yellow Wagtail, 2 Redstart, 2 Wheatear and plenty of resident birds like Green Woodpecker, Buzzard, Kestrel (3), Raven and plenty of Stonechat fledglings. It's starting to get a little colder on the mountain now but still plenty of insect life and this Devils Coach Horse Beetle put on a good show walking across our path. 

I visited Cefn Ila today also in search the Wasp Spider, previously introduced by local spider expert Mike Kilner. I was shocked however upon visiting to find that most of the pristine Wasp Spider habitat has since been lost and overshadowed by newly planted Trees and shrub. The site is run by the Woodland trust who've done a marvellous Job at planting a great variety of broad-leaf trees. No-doubt a wonderful woodland to come! But a shame to lose a fantastic spot for such an iconic species of Spider. I did however find plenty of the Spiders food with lots of Grasshoppers and Roesel's Bush Crickets (My favourite british cricket). Also at Cefn Ila were lots of Spotted Flycatchers near the Bee Hives / Orchard. 

Tirpentwys Nature Reserve

If you're lucky to get a space in the now downsized car park, this Nature reserve is well worth a visit. When not used as a pick up point for downhill bikers - (who've created a huge downhill course on the north facing mountain side) - it's quite a peaceful site, rich in flora and fauna. The Common Lizards were showing really well in the closed section of the Car Park in the walls, but you do have to be slow approaching and patient, for they always see you before you see them. Further up the valley the Migrant, Southern and Common Hawkers were putting on a decent show, with lots of newly emerged Palmate Newts exploring their surroundings, possible eyeing up any winter hibernation spots as the colder weather is approaches. 

Despite the breeze, Butterflies were showing well also with Common Blue, Essex Skipper and about 30 Small Coppers (The most I've ever seen). So many that they were squabbling over available flowers. 

Something I wasn't so impressed with was the worrying amounts of Himalayan Balsam. An invasive plant that is spreading like wild fire through our countryside and isn't very easy to get rid of. Our native bees pollenate them rapidly which sounds good but this actually is a bad thing because it detracts the bees from pollenating our native flowers. Between that and the incredible seed dispersing mechanism that the plants have, I can see us having real issues in the future if this isn't dealt with soon. 

Llandeg Updates

What a weekend! and what a pleasure to see so many birders this weekend turning up to see the 2! Ospreys present at Llandegfedd. Our original male has picked up a female bird and both are showing signs of courting so it's worth keeping a safe distance from any perched birds and observe them from the Dam, North Car Park, Petingale or Bert Hammar Hide for extended viewing in the morning or late evening. Quite a few birders were treated this morning only feet from their cars at the north car park (Glascoed End) with a fly-by from both birds as they inquisitively checked us out while fishing. 

Possibly the same male? 

Looking back through old records and our current male could well be the same male we had July 2016 last year, (See picture above) that also stayed for over a month in July before heading off. There were two other birds present last year also, one with a Blue ring that we didn't make out in the end. Could be a coincidence but the female he's picked up this year also has a Blue ring which we finally got a closer look of today and it so reads NW1

Female Osprey NW1

I'm yet to find out details from this bird but it's likely a young female as the Ring info isn't on any of the Ring Data listed online. This could mean it's been rung very recently but time will tell, I'm just waiting on a phone call. 

A beautiful Common Tern showed really well from the visitors centre around 8am and tucked up most of the day on the Fishnets after a mornings fishing. Loved the fact that it landed on one of the safety boats I regularly use. 

Cattle Egret

'Patching' is so important and there is nobody that's more committed to a single patch than Craig Constance. He really does put a lot of time and effort into birding Llandegfedd and as a result, he has found some great birds over the years. Yesterday evening was another classic example as we were just about to meet up after my shift and he finds a Cattle Egret right opposite the visitors centre, much to my approval, as I've never seen one before!. They are usually winter visitors to the Uk but breeding records are increasing yearly, this year even breeding at the popular RSPB site - Hamm Wall Nature Reserve. Llandegfedd is a perfect breeding site for Cattle Egrets with plenty of mature trees around the outskirts of the water to nest in but also plenty of farmed fields for Cattle Egrets to feed. As the name suggests, Cattle Egrets are closely associated with Cattle, in that they prefer to be feeding at the feet of cattle as they disturb insects off the ground. They are native to places like Asia, Africa and Southern Europe and you may have seen them in Nature documentaries on TV, feeding around the feet of Elephants and larger cattle. Here their feeding methods remain largely the same, only they feed around Cows, Horses and Sheep. 

In other news, the resident Osprey is still present, seen only early hours and late evening. I would recommend making an early appearance for best chance of seeing it fishing (between 5-7am, or late evening between 7-9).