Llandegfedd's Perks

Only because I don't work at Llandegfedd anymore, doesn't mean I don't love the place. Despite being open to public, you can still get the North end hides to yourself for the day and it still has some great passage birds, if you can spot them!. Lucky for me I have a friend who's devotion to birding Llandegfedd exceeds the average jo's 'patching' efforts. Craig Constance time's his arrivals in perfect accordance for spring and autumn migrants and to be fair and so far we've had quite the arrangement.. he finds them, and I turn up late and photograph them. Seems fine to me?

I have a few things to thank Craig for this time around though as he also got me my first opportunity to photograph a Purple Hairstreak Butterfly in his Garden that decided in the hot weather that Craig's tropical sun-tan lotion was suitable enough for drinking, as it literally landed on his chest haha. Take em while you can! Usually Purple Hairstreaks stay right up in the canopy of mature oak tree's, and all you usually get is a fleeting glimpse of them chasing each-other as a spec in the sky. This was a first for his Garden that backs up on the same woodland that Peakmans LTD want to carve a new road thru.. I'll say no more. 

In the bunch  below you'll also see a very detailed shot of a Dark Bush Cricket. They remind me of the sound of late summers nights, as they're the only species of Cricket here than continue to chirp throughout the night. Llandegfedd is a great place to hear this spectacle at night but it can also be heard in many other parts of the countryside. 

Local Development

The Canyon Cut

The human 'race', ever seeking to exploit our natural resources and poor old Pontypool is no exception. We've fought for a lot over the years and the battle continues for the last bit of green space we have. A hidden gem of a location called 'The Canyon' has had profit seekers eyes twinkling for years to dig up and sell the remaining second class aggregate, left over many years ago by former opencast. The industry left a huge scar on the land, thought to never heal again, but after many years, it finally started to heal up, but here they are again, banging at the door to destroy a beautiful nature haven. This site is unique. It's Torfaen's one and only, and to get something remotely similar, you'd have to travel abroad. It's not just some tourist attraction though! It's much much more! It's a place of solitude in a world filled with noise pollution. The Canyon, even on a windy day hits lows of just 28db's which is quiet by anyone's standards. It's the only place in Gwent, just 30 yards from a main road where you could experience near silence!. Many of you reading this wouldn't have experience silence in a very long time but it's a proven fact that these quiet conditions have massive mental health benefits. 

It's also a location where over 12 species of Dragonfly can be found in Summer, including Keeled Skimmer and Black Darter. It's home to many specialist invertebrates like Grayling Butterflies, Green Tiger Beetles and a great place for aquatic invertebrates, amphibians and reptiles alike. The surrounding woodland is also home to an array of bird species. 

All this however is threatened by a 20+ year project that aims to literally flatten the site. Bringing up to 90 lorries a day across Hafodyrynys Road, of which leads to the second most polluted road in Britain! All the while, only opening up 12 Jobs... 12!!! Something doesn't add up here. Not only that, but the proposed access route to the Canyon is right thru the middle of an ancient woodland! Torfaen council did a great Job by turning down the application on the basis of the damage done to the ancient woodland as without that, Peakmans LTD would have probably already been working on the site. Peakmans did however challenge the objection, so while the council fight that corner, the rest is left in the hands of the public. I spoke with quite a few of the local supporters last week at one of the public meetings, and it was great to see sosuch enthusiasm shared to save The Canyon. Over 150 people turned up. While my part in this is limited, I hope to do all I can in supporting local enthusiasts that are leading this fight and just want to say, if you're one of them, you're doing a fantastic Job so far. Keep it up! 

Here are a few photographs taken in just a couple hours this week at the canyon. Seeing Keeled Skimmer is an annual highlight of mine here, what a beautiful Dragonfly. This week was my first time finding Common Lizard in the Canyon too, suspected to have been there for a while but I never actually managed to find one myself. This is because they have lots of places to hide and they will most certainly hear you coming in such a quiet spot as they rely on their hearing quite a bit. 

If you're interesting in helping fight this planning application, it's getting late in the game now but if you're on Facebook, head over to This facebook group for more details. Hope is NOT lost. 

Busy but Happy!

It's been a while since I blogged. So much has happened in this time of course, but not too much on the photography side of things. I am sporting a new Tripod however for my telephoto setup so looking forward to trying that out in the field soon. 

I've been working in Pembroke and Swansea for the last couple of weeks chasing wildlife for Iolo's new urban wildlife series for BBC Wales, It's been really tough trying to track down urban otters, so far without much luck, but it's not over yet. We still have autumn and winter to film and I'm absolutely loving my time there! The best part is having wildlife on my mind 100% of the time. Literally a dream Job come true, I still can't quite believe it. 

Below you'll notice a picture of a Nightjar from a session I had a couple weeks ago, thanks to a good friend Gary Howells. I'm so sad however to come back from Pembroke this week and to find out that the Nightjar spot has been set on fire. The very roosting perch you see in the photo is burnt to a crips. I've also come back to my neighbours cat killing everything that moves, with several dead animals in my garden, most of which are birds and amphibians from my pond. Refusing to put a bell collar on, this isn't over. I'm not prepared to watch this massacre, and then be on the beckon call every time they have an injured bird in their garden for me to look after. Enough is enough, things need to change, and people need to start taking responsibility for the destructive nature of their pets. Everything you see below will cease to exist if people turn a bind eye to problems like these. 

Anyway, without getting too depressive, enjoy the photo's! I'm trying to bring more colour into my portfolio, I hope you can notice this in my recent macro pictures. 

Magical Moments

For me, there is nothing that compares to the cryptic patterns and mysterious life style of the Nightjar. They are amongst a family of birds that mesmerise even the most experienced birders all over the world. They aren't glamorous, they certainly not colourful, they don't have sharp claws and rip apart pheasants, but they do have an in-built comb on a claw to keep their whiskers in top condition. 

Until now, I've not been able to show you these birds up close, partly because I'm yet to find a day time roost myself! Gary Howells however made this dream come true having found this beautiful roosting Male on his patch. I can't thank him enough for getting me this opportunity. 

Incase you haven't heard one before, here's a sound recording from two years back at Wentwood Forest. 

The Incredible Nightjar

It's always a good day when you learn something new about your favourite bird species. This month I've had a few nights observing them in my home town and I was fortunate to observe new behaviour too. Just as it was getting too dark to photograph, a male started to court a perched female on the ground. The display started with wing flapping while perched and tail wagging, she seemed to wag her tail in his face, as if to say she's ready, hurry up and get on with it. What came after that was something I've never seen before, as the male was 'stone hopping' and flying over her head back and forth from a pile of rocks. The only time I've seen this type of behaviour is in Birds of Paradise in the Amazon rainforest! It was incredible to watch what seemed like a very complex display, something they would have to perform as early as possible before it got too dark. That said, they do have incredible eye site, how else would they manage to catch flying moths in complete darkness?!. 

 Male Nightjar taken at Sunset over Pontypool 

Male Nightjar taken at Sunset over Pontypool 

Big thanks to Craig Constance for sharing this twitter post with me, as Jack Potter posted a fantastic close up image of the Nightjar's claw-comb! Yes! A claw that has a built in comb, used to maintain their stiff whiskers that help them direct Moths into their mouth while flying. It's reasons like this that I love being an amateur naturalist as there's so much more to learn which keeps fuelling what is going to be a life long passion. What an incredible species!

Birds & Bugs

Anyone who follows me on Flickr would see that i've posted lots of Bug pics lately. Bird photography when done properly, requires a lot of preparation. Whether that be finding breeding territories or searching for feeding grounds ect. It's nice to be able to just photograph whatever is right in-front of me. I love discovering new things, what they're called, what they eat, and their often fascinating life style. I hope my bird fan followers don't get bored of these blog posts. There will be lots more this year i'm sure.  Two Barred Longhorn Beetle, Broad-bodied Chaser, Wasp Beetle, Drinker Moth Caterpillar, Black-and-red Froghopper, Weevil, Dock Bug, Common Ground Hopper, Violet Oil Beetle, Wolf Spider and many more in the last week alone. 

GWT Magor Marsh

The gwent levels never fails to impress me. The sheer diversity there that thrive on both manmade and natural habitats is outstanding. Todays selection of photos only scratch the surface of the things I saw on my short trip after work to magor. Finding a Glow Worm larvae at the end of the wooden pathway was a nice reminder of what happens after dark. A late night trip in the next couple weeks might be on the cards to spot any lights in the darkness. The wind was up which meant the butterflies were down and I managed to get close enough to shoot a few orange tip butterflies with the Macro lens. The Emperor Moth was taken in St Brides thanks to Mel Oxford who was lucky enough to have one sat on his lawn! What a beautiful Moth! We have a great selection of beautiful moths in the Uk and it’s on my list this year to make a trap to record the species in my area. It will be a great way to expand my knowledge, learn more species and add to the never ending list of records that I have to send off. 

The Importance of our Verges #losthabitat #saveourverges

If you haven't noticed already, the roadside verges in Torfaen are looking stunning! A real good show this year of wild flowers, especially cuckoo flower! There are more wild flowers on our roadside verges than there are on the entire wildflower meadows combined at Llandegfedd right now. It reminds me of how important these verges are, and also why its so important that people stop complaining to the council about them not being cut!

I'll never forget rocking up to Pet's at home in Cwmbran and looking at a small collection of Bee Orchids, Just because the council had missed a patch of grass on their cutting rounds! We had to then fight to keep it uncut so they at-least had chance to spread and be pollenated.

It's an age old thing to assume that an uncut verge is an act of negligence. If only people realised how important these plants, flowers and grasses are to our ecosystem. If you're one that doesn't like the look of a wash of tall greens and dandelions, ask yourself, why? What's wrong with it?

If the answer is, it causes a hazard on the road, then I agree to some extent that tall vegetation on the approach to roundabouts, does prevent you to look ahead at the road to see if anythings coming. To me, that's not a reason to cut an entire roads worth of wild flowers. It's possible to manage these zones sensibly to ensure safety, but it can be done to benefit both us and nature. 
So, before you pick up the phone and start complaining to the council, please think about what choice you're making, and for who's benefit it actually is. The roadside shouldn't be managed like it's a Garden, because it's not! It's all that's left of the natural land that once was before we dug it all up a threw a load of concrete on it. #wildverges #losthabitat
 

It's on this note, that I'm officially NOT cutting my grass this year in the Garden. I'm already getting dirty looks from the street, but my priorities are set. It'l be a bug filled year in the Garden. Most of the pictures above were taken in my Garden, and it's really as small as it gets. Consider doing the same with me this year? And see the difference for yourself

Macro

Quick Job update for those that might want to know. My new Job at Aden Productions is so far going really well. I've never had so much pride for a Job before. I've met great people so far, and experienced some unforgettable wildlife events that will stick with me for a life time. 

While I still very much so specialise in Birds, this year I'm making use of a new Macro Lens to help me learn more about Uk's invertebrate and flora. As a naturalist, there's always something new to learn and I'm certainly not stopping at just birds. If I do post a pic up of an insect or plant that I've wrongly identified, please tell me as I'm going to put myself out on a limb and try and work some out for myself without exploiting my friends knowledge too much. I feel this is going to be the best way to learn. Taking pictures is a great way to learn, and for me, absolutely crucial. 

Also, if anyone can recommend any field ID books for Bee's, Wasps, Spiders & Moths, I'd appreciate it! My books are far from complete records as I can't seem to find any of these subjects I've taken so far. The Solitary Bee is probably a common species as I had lots of them in my Garden but despite this, I can't seem to find it in any of my wildlife books. The Green Orb-weaver is apparently a difficult one to ID without capturing it so I'll leave that one. You'll notice amongst the photos is a cool looking melanistic Common Lizard! First time for everything. 

Perspective

The last two months I've experienced so much change, what with the start of my new Job in Cardiff with Aden Productions, and also losing my beautiful Grandmother last week. It's times like these that remind us just how fragile life really is. It doesn't take much to throw you off-balance, even at times where things appear to be falling into place. I'm very lucky I have a strong, loving and supporting family that are always there to listen. My Nan Violet was certainly one of those, and despite having an endless list of health problems, she'd still listen to you moan about what really were, insignificant things in the grand scheme of life. Cherish your loved ones, they are irreplaceable. 

Below, just a small selection of images I've taken recently. I've not had much time outdoors, but the time I have had with the camera has been pretty productive. It's not quite spring yet for some of our migrants but they are turning up one by one. I do love Yellowhammers in spring and despite them being back on territory, they aren't singing just yet. We need a bit of warmer weather, which I believe is just around the corner. Keep your eyes open!