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Blaenserchan

Finally Found Frogs!

When is the last time you saw a pond full of Frogs? not just a little bit of Frogspawn in the corner? Well for me, it’s been a long time. Torfaen just doesn’t seem to have as many as we used to. Not sure why. It could be predation, climate, or we’re just going thru a couple bad years in general for amphibians.
Maybe it’s because they’re getting earlier each year and I’m just missing the activity?
The latter certainly would make sense as you could have swore it was spring today in Blaenserchan. 20+ Frogs with a substantial amount of Frogspawn already. I’ve been after a good close up shot of a Frog in the water for a while and it was a bonus to get them with the spawn in-shot. The first pic is now one of my all-time personal favourites, partly because it took a lot of patience to get it. My back is certainly feeling it after being on the floor for so long. The issue with this particular pond is, it’s located in the upper altitude of Blaenserchan, so they just weren’t used to people. All it would take is for me to scratch my nose and they would all disappear in the depths for 20 minutes at a time. Either way it was worth it.

I assume the fungi above is Candle-snuff Fungi that’s gone over but i’m not entirely sure. They didn’t seem rounded enough to be Dead Moll’s Finger’.

It was only the other day that I set out to the Forest of Dean to witness the iconic Goshawk display that happens this time of year. Even with the breath taking view of Symonds Yat that overlooks the forest, you’d be lucky to come across a Goshawk perched up. So you can imagine my excitement to stumbled across one today on my way home from Blaenserchan. A bit distant even at 600mm and I didn’t have my scope with me to enjoy it but I was happy to spot it. I was looking for Great Grey Shrike at this point and the white belly of this Goshawk just stood out to me from a mile.

Goshawk

Blaenserchan - Black Redstart

Today I visited most of my local wild spaces and spent a fair few hours in the Blaenserchan Valley in search of Common Lizards. I did find some, 7 in-fact, but they were proving extremely difficult to find on this hot day. Usually you find them basking in the sun in the morning and evenings but it was so warm, they were disbursed all over the mountain in amongst the bracken.. Don't know if you've ever seen a Common Lizard in a mountain full of bracken but it literally is like finding a needle in a hay-stack. I came prepared for it however, even brought my chair along as I know, once you find one, you have to gain their trust by sitting and waiting until they realise you aren't going to hurt them. I got so close I could have reach out and touched a few. Blaenserchan was so good today, it brought me a 'lifer' in the form of a female Black Redstart! - Thanks to birding friend Tim Griffiths for that one as I surely would have missed it with my head stuck in the bracken looking for Lizards. I also found a Yellowhammer in the valley which I personally haven't seen there before. Insect life was great too with Bloody-nose Beetles, Green Tiger Beetles, a Stonefly, Brimstone Butterfly and many more. 

Migration

Today was a pretty incredible day for Birding in Gwent. This morning started pretty early, arriving at Blaenserchan before sunrise to get an early look at the reported Great Grey Shrike. I bumped into local ecologist Steve Williams and as we searched together for the Shrike, we were greeted instead with a pretty large flock of 150+ Brambling! This year has been terrible for Brambling with winter numbers quite below average so it was nice to see such a large flock of them, especially this late in winter. So late in-fact that our first Spring/Summer migrants are arriving on the same day! With Chiffchaff, Wheatear, White Wagtail and Sand Martin being my first spring visitors of the year. Other birds for the day, Reed Bunting, Stonechat, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Yellowhammer, Greenfinch, Green Woodpecker, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard and many more. 

Second evening visit, finally caught up with the Great Grey Shrike, observed for a good hour mimicking the sounds of Siskin and Redpoll, I suspect to lure them in closer for the kill. Pretty incredible birds. My favourite pic was the sun going down, just about lined it up at the top of a beach tree between the mountain in the distance. 

Blaenserchan Butterflies

Plenty of Butterflies at Blaenserchan yesterday enjoying the sun. Didn't find my intended species (Small B-frits) but there were plenty of Dark Green Fritillaries flying around but were too fast for me with added wind speed. I thought the first Butterfly below was a Dingy Skipper at first because it appeared really dark in colour when the wings were open but turns out its a Large Skipper. Below that was another species that was quite numerous called a Small Heath. 

So many butterfly species in this valley. Redpoll sang overhead and Common Lizards were very active in the meadows. 

One thing I wasn't expecting to find was Wild Strawberries! being colourblind, I tend to miss out any many colours in the field, especially reds amongst a sea of brown and green. These strawberries however were growing on a vertical wall so it was easy for me to spot them. Once I did spot them, I started noticing them a lot more and eventually come to the conclusion that the entire mountainside was covered in them haha.  

Blaenserchan

Spent an hour up Blaenserchan today after work, what a lovely hour it was! Greeted by the Small Pearl Bordered Fritillaries and seen out by a pair of Redstarts and a Male Cuckoo that I ALMOST missed lol. Just cut off his wing....

Torfaen Biodiversity Partnership

Today I was very fortunate to be invited along to a meeting based around Biodiversity in Torfaen. Firstly, big thanks to Steve Williams (Torfaen's head ecologist) for inviting me and secondly, I'd just like to point out how lucky we are to have such great people and great minds sticking up for nature in our county. Without organisations like Gwent Wildlife Trust, Friends of the Earth, County Ecologists and self employed naturalists, our county and others surrounding it will be much worse off. Despite feeling quite 'safe' in their hands, they still need all the help they can get so if there is anything you yourself can do to support your local conservation groups, please help out. 

1 of the sites we visited today was, believe it or not... was Pets at Home in cwmbran.. Why on earth uh? Well, I heard about this before but thanks to some of the grassland being left to grow, we actually had wild Bee Orchids growing on the banks of the road side. This is a perfect example of how our ecology can re-establish itself sometimes if, just left alone. I learned a lot about grassland and meadows today which has made me appreciate my favourite meadows at Llandegfedd even more. 

1/3

Below I've included some photographs from yesterdays short morning trip around Pontypool. Happy to see another Redkite and also find quite good numbers of Redstarts. 

Clocks Forward!

You've no idea how great having the clocks move forward was for me.. For months now the weather has been brilliant while I've been sat in work... and on the weekends the heavens would open lol. Having an extra hour in the evening really does make all the difference! I can now go out straight after work and have 2-3 hours left of light which is all I really need to keep me happy. 

Yesterday I had my first official driving lesson too! Which went fantastically well.. I'm already out on the roads so please watched out! I'm still learning that is for sure lol. In all the hype around the Great Grey Shrike the last couple weeks, I missed the opportunity to show you a few other photos so here are a few textured photos below and also another Folly Tower photo from yet another angle in the Gwent Valle

Great Grey Shrike, Blaenserchan (Stollen my blog)

On the chance that the Bird will get used to my presence, I went straight up after work. To my disappointment, the Bird still doesn't like me. haha! No sun out today which I guess isn't such a bad thing with a light coloured Bird like this. 

Great Grey Shrike, Blaenserchan

My second trip up Blaenserchan to see the Great Grey Shrike and it showed well despite keeping its distance. I botched my only good opportunity to get a good photograph as I was doing a short video of it prior to the bird flying straight at me. I simply couldn't change the settings quick enough! grrrr. Ahh well, what a Bird! :D Yet another Beetle found on this trip but this time it was a large leaf beetle called a Blood-Nosed Beetle! Usually see them in the summer so this is another early record. Blood-Nosed Beetles get their name from the blood they excrete from their mouths when threatened: A method that works on small mammals.