Viewing entries tagged
Gwent Birds

Christmas Shopping

I don’t know about you, but I find this time of year extremely hard. Just too many people for me. Even this Jackdaw was finding the Christmas shopping a little hard this year as Mcd’s have splashed out for the extra thick bin bags but went for the clear option so you could see what you’re missing out on. A whole new element to animal cruelty… lol.

Jackdaw Christmas Shopping

I planned on shopping today, but instead opted for a short walk along the Usk river in Newport. I hoped to see the annually returning Mediterranean Gull that winters at Newport Mcd’s but they must have been feeding elsewhere. I did however have 15 Redshank, 2 Rock Pipit, 3 Goosander and a single Oystercatcher along the Usk River.

Rock Pipit



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!

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.

Boating Lake Diversity

Short trip around the Boating Lake today, was nice to bump into Steve Williams (our head ecologist) doing his regular Gull checks for rings. Steve has had some fantastic results photographing ringed birds with his camera, something that is far from easy considering you have to photograph the ring from many different angles in order to read the whole number. As valuable as these rings are for conservation, they don't half make it hard sometimes to read. 

I was hoping to get some Goosander photographs, and was lucky to get what looked like an entire family or two with two adult males, one juvi male and 5 female type. Light wasn't great today though so didn't process any of those images. Upon talking with Steve we spotted a Water Rail in the middle on the island. A regular winter visitor here but while speaking about the Water Rail, we heard another to our left, and then another to our right! Turns out there are at-least 4 individuals onsite with another calling from the opposite side. This is a particularly large number for such a small pond and it goes to show that with the right management, you build the habitat and they will come. 

Pied Flycatchers

Returning in 'decent' numbers so far this year are our locally scarce Pied Flycatchers, with only a hand full of breeding pairs left in Gwent. I typically pick them up on spring /  winter passage at places like Llandegfedd Reservoir, along rivers, canals and streams. Water does seem to attract them, most likely due to the large hatches of flies and insects also attracted to water. They aren't always associated with water though with some taking to woodland surrounding farmland - lots of cattle, lots of flies, therefor a good substitute. Most importantly for Pied Flycatchers however are our broadleaf woodland, preferably ancient woodland as they need generations of woodpecker holes and naturally formed holes in trees for which they like to nest in. Ancient woodland should be a continuing, never ending life cycle that should always be there, forever having tree's slightly younger to grow old and take their place, continuing to provide for nature and the planet. I see birds like Pied Flycatchers as indicators of a healthy woodland and there is much we could learn about our broadleaf woodland, just by studying Pied Flycatcher distributions. 

Male Pied Flycatcher, still waiting for a female 

Male Pied Flycatcher, still waiting for a female 


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.