Ivy Bee's

Finally caught up with an autumn and found my own Ivy Bee’s, unintentionally of course. Just met up with a friend at Pontypool Park Gates and thought I’d check the Ivy along the bridge right next to the Esso Garage. Took a while to spot them at first in amongst the wasps and hundreds of Harlequin Ladybirds but there were about 7 Bee’s regularly feeding at the same time nearest the Esso garage. Not easy subjects to get a good photo of really but I did my best. I may return this week for a second crack at it.

Ivy Bee

I’ve been organising photographs this weekend, getting on-top of backups before installing a new operation system on my Mac. Mac 0s Majave is proving to be a must-have upgrade for photographers. The new finger ‘showcase’ viewing mode is particularly useful for previewing a days work of photographs. Mac was always good for photography as you only needed to press spacebar to preview files and photo’s without even opening them. Well, in this new showcase mode you don’t even need to do that, you can simple zoom into the photo there and then, without opening anything. This allows you to find out which images are sharpest much quicker and delete those which aren’t needed, very quickly. In doing this, I came across an image from the Spring. A Garden Warbler, peeking out of the shadows of a dark gorse bush.

Garden Warbler

Whats a Garden without a Garden Spider? Been keeping an eye on this female for a couple weeks. She’s laid quite a few eggs so next year should be good for them if they can survive the winter.

For those that watched Autumnwatch this year, what did you think? Squirrels were a big feature, and I was shocked to see that American Grey’s were actually below their native Red Squirrels in dominancy. Being much bigger animals, I would have thought the Greys would have dominated over the Reds at the bird feeders. I wonder if our native Red Squirrels would be as dominant over the Greys? I guess we’ll never know if the Greys continue to spread disease to them. A trip up North is needed soon, I do miss seeing our Reds.

Grey Squirrel

Mental Health

Today just so happens to be World Mental Health Day, and I’d like to take this opportunity to speak about my own experiences, especially considering I’ve had to take time off work recently as a direct result of my own Mental Health. It’s all very real for me at the moment and I’ve finally got to the stage where I’ve had to ask for help.
 
Firstly, I’ve suffered with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) for as long as I can remember. This puts me in a generally low state throughout autumn / winter, and I have to try extremely hard to not fall into a trap, continually setting myself up for things to look forward to, or spending money on things that bring me pleasure in order to keep my mind occupied.

There are lots of things to look forward to in Autumn, and I am trying hard to break this cycle, but this is historical for me (and I’m sure many others), as autumn has always been a time of worry, stress, ill-health, bullying, drama, heart ache, anxiety, money problems… The list is endless  and the more I think about it, the more it makes sense why I am the way I am. Returning to school after a summer of roaming the British countryside, most of the time on my own, was always going to be hard to adjust to. Being forced to be in a room full of people, most of which are bullies, because if you don’t, you’ll fail at life. The system is a mess, with no regard to individuals.

This is where my social anxiety started and as the anxiety grew, I’ve sculptured my entirely life around it, making important life changing decisions as a direct cause of my social anxiety. I lost all my friends, not because we fell out, but because I chose to separate myself from a world I wasn’t happy with. Some deal with this reality positively and face it head on, and I’ve tried that.. I became a musician.. about the only place I was comfortable being in within any social environment, hiding behind a drum kit, watching the night go by and not really being a part of it. Just sitting there in my own world doing what I love, and doing it as best as I could, every single time. This seemed to work at the time but the reality was, it made me worse, and that is where I had my first anxiety attack. The first anxiety attack nearly put me in hospital as literally thought I was going to die, I didn’t know what it was, nor how to deal with it. That day I literally went home to my mother and cried my eyes out.. I hadn’t cried that much at my own grandparents funeral. Still don’t even know what the trigger was, other than trying to be the best I could be, the best way I knew how, and that was to get the speakers sounding perfect, the drums in tune, my hands warmed up, the car parked in a spot that wasn’t too far to carry the gear, all of which were far from perfect. The pressure to please people and myself got too much and something had to give out and the only thing I had left was my brain, which seemed at the time to have disappeared. It’s often called a panic attack, and that’s because the body has a flight or fight response to an experience that you can’t control. It happened again, at another Gig and even though it was bad, I did handle it a little better, because I knew what it was.

It’s good to know about these things, but nothing can prepare you for experiencing it yourself as it’s a silent killer. You aren’t aware its even there before it’s too late and you’re scraping yourself off the floor.

While it is tough for me, I can’t begin to think of how hard it must be for the people closest to me. My Girl friend and my Family know how hard it is to get me at family gatherings, social events, meals, weddings, shows, or just general meet ups. It affects me every day, and it’s hard to even talk about it as it just makes me ten times worse.

There’s no surprise that I’ve ended up with a passion for wildlife photography and nature conservation,. It’s because the outdoors takes me back to a world that is perfect…A world that doesn’t worry about human culture, it just carries on delivering the most memorable experiences of my life, all the while, making me a healthier person, thru sound, smell, touch and visual elements that have inspired the best creative minds in the world. Nature is incredibly powerful.

All I want from life is to be healthy, do right by my family, love my girl friend the best way I can, and share this wonderful world of nature we have on our doorstep with you. To do this, I'm going to need some help, and it starts by making everyone aware that people are suffering from their own Mental Health story, and I do take comfort knowing that I’m not alone. I just wished society would catch up faster, and start seeing us for the fragile minds we are, living each day as it comes.

I could go on but I think I’ll leave it there as I doubt I’ll sleep a wink tonight after this.
I’ll leave you with some photographs I’ve taken in the last couple of months. I haven’t managed to get out much as I’ve been flat out at work researching for a new Tv series for BBC Wales.

If all this is new to you but you feel you might be suffering from something similar, I’m happy to talk about it, but there are lots of support groups and a Doctor can offer various ways to help.

 

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I’ll revisit these photo’s below in a future blog post but here’s a sneak peak at a few of my recent photography highlights.

Wasp Spiders & Roadside Verges

A perfect example of how important roadside verges can be for wildlife. A buffer zone has been left, probably not by choice, but there is a convenient reen at the bottom of a slope which the council thankfully! don't want to cut!

Wasp Spiders are a very remote species, often found in the exact same spot as previous years, so long as the eggs manage to last the winter. Any type of grass cutting would destroy the eggs and could wipe the population out entirely. I found 14 spiders altogether in 3 main groups, each group had a dozen or so together, likely to be the place they hatched. They don't travel far, as the habitat they're born in is exactly what they need to survive. Their prefered prey is Grasshoppers and their web is most certainly up for the challenge of catching them. 

 Verhes

Verhes

One of three egg sacks found in the same tuft of grass. Easily wiped out with a simple end of year grass cut.   

Because the species is so delicate, a re-introductory plan would be beneficial in areas of suitable habitats, such as the west side of Cefn Ila backing onto Prescoed Prison. The un-managed land at prescoed could hold a decent population. Llandegfedd Reservoir wild flower meadows may also be suitable, if it wasn't for the fact that they cut the grass each year and graze it with sheep in the winter. 

 Wasp Spider Egg Sack

Wasp Spider Egg Sack

Sawfly Stages

A bit different from my usual blogs but thought some might find this interesting. I noticed my rose bush in spring was covered in Sawflies and now I know why. They were laying their eggs in the stems of the plant. The eggs hatched about a month ago and continue to hatch in various stages. The first hatchlings are now doing a great Job at killing my Rose off but I'm allowing them to do so, as I do believe that Rose is a pretty resilient plant and if I trim off the bad branches, I'm sure it will recover well. The Sawfly Larvae are growing, but look how they stick their bums in the air...I wondered what the reason for this was for this, but given that they inevitably have to share leaves with their siblings, it makes sense for their survival to give each-other a fair chance, so lifting their bum in the air allows more caterpillar's per leaf. Space is important right? Safety in numbers and all that. There may be a more scientific reason, but that's the conclusion I came to. 

Dying Rose 

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 secondary 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 the 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 so much 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 interested 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!