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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.


Back to the Basics

I don’t mean to use this blog as some kind of depressing therapeutic journal..but I’m not going to pretend that everything’s great for me right now. Times are tough at the moment and I hope that in writing this down it will not just give me a little relief but it might even be relatable to others, and therefor mutually encouraging.

In October last year I wrote my first blog about my own Mental Health issues. It was a massive leap for me to admit that I’m suffering and to ask my Doctor for help. The first lot of tablets didn’t agree with me so counselling seemed to be my only option. I’m now into my second session, and i’m realising now just how deep this issue goes. I’ll talk in more detail about this once my counselling has finished. Hopefully by then I’ll be in a better place to talk about it.

Social Anxiety has always been a massive barrier, Preventing me from reaching simple daily objectives, and recently preventing me from turning up to a public enquiry to save my local Canyon. It was extremely important to me to help save the Canyon and if it wasn’t for the knowledge that it’s being fought by equally passionate people, I’d feel pretty devastated about missing it. The Canyon is a place that I regularly turn to if I need a place to be alone, surrounded by pure serenity and beautiful scenery / wildlife. I hope that the enquiry is going well and wish everyone the best of luck. I have my fingers crossed that the right decision is made.

I haven’t ventured that far just yet but the woodland opposite my house has some great fungi opportunities with Winter Polypore, Jelly Ear, Scarlet Elf-Cups and with the warm temperatures, a 7-spot Ladybird emerged too. That is due to change for a short period with a slight sprinkling of snow today and plummeting temps. Ice can present some nice macro opportunities though so I’ll keep an eye out for that. I just need to get out of the house more.

On the Job front though, I’m still out of work and struggling to find something that isn’t going to make my health worse. I know many people stuck in Jobs that are quite frankly.. shortening their lives. Everyone has had to do a Job that they aren’t comfortable with or don’t like, but my health problems are no longer going to be pushed aside. Concentrating on my health though is coming at a financial cost so I can only hope that things pick up quickly or that I can find a way of selling my photographs.

Being self employed has never been more appealing to me than now. The value of being able to choose your own working hours, working around health and to not have the social pressure and stress that comes from Bosses & Colleagues.. this seems to be the logical step forward but it’s also the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. My self confidence has been knocked quite a bit, with a damaged wrist from working at Llandegfedd, which took away any chance of me falling back on my music career and also any chance of continuing my career in physical conservation work. Just when I seemed to find something that suited me well, in a production company, the social anxiety came back to haunt me. So I’m here now, stripping everything back to the basics, taking pictures that I enjoy and staying well away from people looking to use me to bump themselves up the ladder. It’s time to get myself there instead. There’s no room for selfish, unappreciative people in my life. Oosh that was a rant and a half. Please don’t feel too depressed after reading all that.. Here’s some pictures to make this look like a positive blog.

The Ground Moves

I’m not sure if these Fungi are just late / winter fungi or whether they’ve looked this way since the autumn, but they look in pristine condition. Photographing these late species reminds me of how little I actually know about Fungi..If anybody can recommend or even donate a good fungi ID book I’d be much appreciative as I do really enjoy them and I’m always looking to expand my nature knowledge.

It’s been mild but it only took 3 minutes for my gloveless hands to feel the numbing bite of this mornings -2c at Terpentwys Nature Reserve. I did note 6+ Crossbill calling and singing on the edge of the woodland right by the Car Park but I turned my attention to the ground, only really getting the camera out to photograph the emerging Lords & Ladies plants and the frozen rain from last night. I love the way Lords & Ladies unfolds from this spiral funnel and the photo below shows one of the leaves just about to break out of the funnel into those classic arrowhead shaped leaves. I also love the variety of leaf patterns, some showing dark spots and others completely spotless. Spring isn’t far away, but with upcoming snow forecast, I don’t think winter is quite giving up yet.

Re-edits and new Fungi

Seems standard to be ill over Christmas but I finally got out of the house today and had a short walk at Llandegfedd. Pintail and Jacksnipe were notable birds, though no pictures to show for them as they were too fast for me! I’d love to know what the first Mushroom is? If someone could let me know. There is a small patch growing on the clay mud banks possibly growing on the roots of the surrounding willows if that helps with the ID? Candlesnuff Fungus seems numerous this winter and hang on, is that Daffodils already?! They’re almost in flower! I wonder if our native Daffodil is coming out this early too.. I very much doubt it but it certainly made me feel better seeing them today, knowing that spring is just a couple months away! Won’t be long now before the Reptiles start emerging and spring migration begins. For some, it’s already began! that is a great feeling. Guaranteed to get another cold snap before spring though.. it’s always the same.
I’ve included some older pics of Rock Pipit, Fulmar and Tree Creeper just to add some birds into the mix.

Rainy Day at Wentwood Forest

Spent a dark hour at Wentwood today. Plenty of Crossbill, Redwing, Fieldfare and the odd Brambling within fairly large Chaffinch flocks. I usually time my visits to Wentwood for autumn / winter with the intent to find a Great Grey Shrike. No luck today, so my attention went to the forest floor, where I found lots of Deer Signs, Fungi and autumn colours to keep me happy.

Photography Experiments

I spent a lot of today just walking around with little to show for it photography wise. The light in these locations were pretty poor, so today I decided to ignore all the rules and try some slow shutter photography, maintaining lower ISO settings and just accepting the challenges that poor light can give. The first picture below is a Leopard Slug on the largest Fungi I've ever seen, it was the size of a dinner plate! With no tripod at hand, I used my bag to rest my camera and 100-400mm telephoto lens on the floor and I was shooting over a period of 6 seconds to gain enough light in what was nearly complete darkness. I also used my built in camera flash to add a little uplift, though I'm not sure it made too much difference. 

Below is an arty shot, some would call it a 'failed shot' having had too slow of a shutter speed to freeze the action, but considering it was a Stock Dove, I thought, why not? I'm not in any rush to get flight shots of Stock Doves so I tried to experiment with lower ISO / Shutter Speed and to be honest, I really like this. I'll be experimenting with this more often I think. 

My Secret Patch Delivers Again

If you're wondering why I have a secret patch, it's certainly not because I don't want to share it with you! It's mainly down to how many protected species actually nest there. I'm very torn because the site is by far my favourite location in South Wales. Even better than Llandegfedd Reservoir and you all know how much I love Llandegfedd!. Today I had another new Species for me in the form of a Black Darter and also an Unidentified Fungi that appears to be one of these Carnivorous types as it had a fly stuck in there much like a Sundew Plant. It appears to be a Fungi growing ontop of another Fungi but I'm still waiting to hear back from the professionals on that one. Lots of Froglets hopping around the floor today! I had so much fun photographing these little guys! I almost got a shot of them hopping off the stones but it was slightly out of focus. I may visit again tomorrow for a better photograph of the Black Darter. 

Meeting old friends

Today I set out to venture on my old patch in the hope that I bumped into a couple of old friends. Things have changed slightly on the patch since my last visit though! which made it slightly harder to find them but it didn't take too long before me and my Brother found them basking in the sun in the ferns. I am of course talking about my old friends the Common Lizards of the Tranch. I grew up in the Tranch and this mountain was my closest access to green space and despite it being small, it holds so much wildlife!. The 'Table Top' is a section of the mountain that we used to camp on as kids but it was only 3 years ago that I realised just how great this section of the mountain was for Lizards including Slow Worms. The site has history of heathland and you can still see lots of Bilberry and Heather along the edges where the bracken hasn't taken over yet. This site has history of producing Red Grouse but those days seem long gone. Bracken is so hard to manage and we've lost a lot of heathland to the stuff. Despite it being a pain for heathland, the Common Lizards seem to like them. Managed to get a real close shot of the re-gen of the tail of one of the Lizards too which looks incredible! 

Cefn Ila First Impressions (Wasp Spider!)

I've been meaning to check this location out for a while and who better to do it with than Mike Kilner (Local Spider Expert) and volunteer ranger for Cefn IlA. Species to watch out for on the trip were the very illusive Wasp Spider of which only 1 has been sighted this year by none other than Mike himself. 

First impressions of the reserve were brilliant! Their were plenty of Roesel's Bush Crickets amongst Long-winged Coneheads and Dark Bush Crickets so it instantly had my approval but the cackling of a Green Woodpecker and a distant Kestrel were all very inviting. The sheer variety of Tree's there is pretty incredible and with that, I intend on visited again throughout the winter. 

Once upon the right habitat, it didn't actually take us long to find a Wasp Spider! I spotted the first one and in discussed at it being so easy, Mike found a second shortly after. I also got to hold my first ever Slow Worm! I've been meaning to photograph them for a while now so this was a real treat.