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! 

Forest of Dean Firsts

Back-tracking a little here, as Craig and I also went to the Forest of Dean on Thursday last week in search of a few of forest mammals. Ideally we would have loved to have seen Wild Boar, and all seemed on target! as we were just about to give up when Craig spotted a Boar 'Sleeping'... Getting all excited we approached slowly as it was a sub-adult male, tusks and all! but the closer we got, the soon realised that it wasn't sleeping, and it was actually dead :'(. Not sure the cause of death, but it wasn't that far from a main road, so likely hit by a car and stumbled into the woodland injured. I won't post the pictures, it was quite graphic. 

The day was saved however! As another first for both of us came soon after, in the form of a Muntjac Deer :D

I've only ever had 1 other brief sighting of a Muntjac but I've never got to photograph one before. If you haven't seen one before, it's not that they're not common, it's just they are so small, as so easy to miss. (About the size of a small-medium sized Dog). They aren't native to the Uk, but they're well established, and personally, a welcomed addition to the Uk Deer population. 

 Muntjac Deer

Muntjac Deer

Arriving home, I spent an hour along the Avon Llwyd to see how our Dippers are getting on, as they're usually quite early breeders, so most will be sitting on eggs already. 
This looked promising with territories well established, males singing around the nesting sites and even the Grey Wagtails are getting broody and won't be far behind I'm sure. 

A 'Twitchy' Day

Those who know me well, know that I'm not your typical birder, attending twitches around the country, clambering over people to get a look in at a rarity. It's not that I wouldn't love to see these birds, but it's the people part that I'm not overly fond of. Yes, it's great to share your passion with others, and it's certainly no bad reflection on those who do like to twitch, but it's just not for me. That said, it was a day of local twitching yesterday, with a very rare visitor at Twmbarlwm mountain in the form of a Snowy Owl!. It was picked up by a local Dog walker, who managed to photograph and video the bird on the peak of the mountain. Quite a few birders turned up once the news got out to search for the bird, but having searched every upland in my local area, we failed to relocate it. That's the way it goes sometimes!. You'd think a big white owl would be easy to find, but with patches of snow still on the uplands and thick moorland reed beds, they are harder to spot than we thought. 

Failing that, I made the effort to look at Craig Constance's rare find at Llandegfedd called a Black-necked Grebe. When he found it in the morning it was showing near the Fish Cages out in the middle of the reservoir, so not many people came out to see it as Llandegfedd can be quite a difficult place to bird, especially when it's a bird as small as a Black-necked Grebe, which is about the same size as a Little Grebe. 

Upon arrival, Craig and I both scanned and I just about managed to pick out a black dot in the choppy waves on the opposite side. We walked all the way to the north end from the visitors centre, both with inappropriate footwear on a very muddy path but it was well worth it as the bird was feeding 10-20 metres out from Green Pool entrance. Hiding behind a hedge low to the ground was enough to get it within reaching distance of a 600mm (300 with 2x). Still a cropping to fill the frame a bit but check this beaut out! Almost in full breeding plumage! Have to thank Craig again for the effort he puts into birding Llandegfedd. Without him, we'd loose a lot of truly great birds there.

An opportunity I cannot miss!

My time as a Seasonal Ranger has come to an end, with my last official day with them just yesterday. But why you say? You love it at Llandegfedd! This is very true, I do love Llandegfedd, and thankfully, my connection to Llandeg goes much deeper than a Job with Welsh Water, and that connection will never end. 

So what's next? Well, I've been offered a Job as a Specialist Wildlife Researcher for Aden Productions to help produce Iolo Williams' next wildlife documentary for the BBC. It's a great opportunity that I simply cannot turn down, and I can't wait to start with them on the 28th of this month. It will mean some extra travelling but it's well worth it, working alongside like-minded people, all of which share my passion for wildlife. I appreciate all the support from friends and family, as though this change is a good change, I still struggle at times like this as my anxiety can sometimes get the better of me. 

Below are four of my favourite pics from Llandeg last year. I'm sure I'll continue to have many more memorable moments at what is such a fabulous place for wildlife.  

Redwing & Fieldfare

There's no better time to put food out for the Birds and thanks to the kindness of many people, a lot of people have been getting extra additions to their bird table since the snowfall, with Fieldfare, Redwing, Brambling and some even graced with Hawfinch! (Jealousy kicks in). Frankly, I would be happy with a Fieldfare! and I was feeling rather missed out, till today that is, when my small Garden was visited by two Fieldfare. Before I geek over these fantastic birds, heres a story about the poor Redwing that flew into my neighbours window yesterday. 

Just out of luck that I open my front door just seconds after this beautiful Redwing flew into nextdoors window. While it's a good thing that they're visiting peoples gardens for food, windows, cats and predators await them and they're not always cut out for the Urban life. It's a risk they have to take however, as their preferred food is berries, most of which are currently on the ground under a foot of snow. 

I caught the bird fairly easy, which wasn't a good sign at first but 30 minutes in the warm with both food and water, is soon recovered and was ready to fight another day. The bird flew out of the box so quickly, I couldn't even get a photo in time, so this phone pic will have to do. 

Redwing Gavin Vella

My first sign that Fieldfare were in the area, came really early in the morning where I managed to just about catch one singing in the dawn chorus. We don't often hear this song due to them being winter visitors to the Uk, so to catch a recording of it singing was really special. Doesn't last long here, and it's right at the start of the recording, but it's a Fieldfare either way. 

It took a full day of watching intently and finally just as the light was dropping, in they came to eat the berries of my neighbours bush and feast on the apples I've put out on my make shift snow bird table. 

Fieldfare Bush Gavin Vella
Fieldfare Snow