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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. 

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. 

Not all about Birds!.. today at-least

Despite having a fantastic day for Birds today with great company from local Bird ringer Steve Carter, I have to admit, the insect and plant life stole the show for me. Especially after finding two firsts, in the form of a Green Hairstreak Butterfly and a Fairy Longhorn Moth, both of which are extremely small but make up for their size in sheer beauty! Both were also found on 'The British', one of the many lost and forgotten sites in the valleys that continues to surprise me. How lucky we are to have such places on our doorstep. I only wished more people could appreciate it as this site also so happens to be heavily abused and vandalised by locals.


Yellow Archangel 

Green Hairstreak Butterfly

Fairy Longhorn Moth

Beautiful Demoiselle 

Beautiful Demoiselle 

False Widow Spiders - Steatoda grossa

After a little clean out of the garage this weekend, I disturbed my first female False Widow Spider from a cardboard box in the corner. This particular False Widow (Steatoda grossa) is also called the 'Cupboard Spider' and for the obvious reason that it used to turn up in cupboards / out houses. This is different however to the False Widow's that I have in my Shed (Steatoda bipunctata) also called the 'Rabbit Hutch Spider', which is conveniently named considering that my shed was formally used to home rabbits by the previous home owners. 

I don't have a Macro lens, so these pictures are taken with my phone. Both spiders below are the 'Cupboard Spiders' from my garage, a second female of which I found today surrounded by the much smaller males in a pathetic excuse of a web. False Widow webs aren't very elaborate but are however much harder to see, therefor just as effective. 

I know lots of people don't like Spiders, especially ones with such a reputation as these for biting, but don't believe all the hype you hear about these. Yes they can bite but they rarely do. The bite itself for most people is just like a wasp sting, but just like bees and wasps, some people have an allergic reaction, resulting in being hospitalised. I personally have been bitten in the centre of my back by one of these and it was painful, but I'm still here.  

Wild Flower Garden

This year my girl friend and I made the decision to sow wild flowers in the Garden, in replace of some fairly typical Garden plants that I like to call 'fake plants'. By fake I mean, they don't really have any value to the ecosystem, other than sat there looking pretty. 

So in came the wild flowers and even though we were getting a few funny looks as the weed looking stems started shooting, we're so glad we did it now! Not only is the Garden looking very colourful, it has brought about lots of insect activity that we simple didn't get before! The Borage plants were getting huge and very weed looking until they flowered and now they are buzzing with life! As you can see below, this is the first ever Oak Bush Cricket I've had in the garden and with it, what I think is a Honey Bee (though I'm not a Bee expert at all)... 

I just about timed this right as the Bee flying from the flower made the cricket jump off the plant altogether. 

Because of the boost in insect activity, we've also started to get Toads visiting in the night time from the nearby Canal / Stream. Over-all, extremely happy and very low maintenance which is exactly what we needed. 

Funny that I should stumble upon this Oak Bush Cricket in the Garden.. as this was 1 of the 10 species we intended on finding at Llandegfedd's Grasshopper event with Steve Williams on the weekend.. We simply couldn't find one lol.. well there we go. #Garden-tick!

Field Recording Workshops 2016

This year I've going to be holding a few Sound Recording workshops throughout Spring / Summer. If you have sound recording gear and would like to know how best to use it or if you are just curious and would like to know where to start, this workshop is for you. With a focus on handling techniques, how to tackle bad weather conditions and most importantly, how to setup your recording devices to capture the sound as best as you can. Throughout spring I'll be touching on Bird Recording but during the summer I'll also hold classes on how to record insects. There are several types of microphones and I'll also help explain the differences between them and show you audibly why certain microphones work best for field recording. 

If this is something you'd be interested in, please get in touch and I'll get you on the list. If I feel like I have enough people interested, I'll make sure we set a date soon as Spring is fast approaching and we already have plenty of Birds to record. 

Gavin Vella Sound Recording
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Please share if you know anyone who may be interested 

Tenerife Extended (Bug Feature)

For every bird was a thousand insects, and that says something considering the amount of birds I saw! Crickets were everywhere and with it, their predators. I noticed 2 abundant species of spider around the hotel;  Cyrtophora citricola and Argiope bruennichi. 

Argiope bruennichi. 

Cyrtophora citricola

Something I didn't expect to see however was Dragonflies and there were a fair few flying around during the day. Most of them appeared to be Common Emperor Dragonflies but I'm no expert on Spanish Dragonflies so I'll have to look it up. 

Female Emperor Dragonfly (I assume)

South Sebastopol Insects

A single Migrant Hawker was the only large Dragonfly on the canal today along with plenty of Common Darters that like to sun themselves on the pathway. Despite them having vibrant colours, they are actually quite difficult to spot when they remain still. 

Telinga Microphone Test

Trying out my new Telinga Microphone today for the first time in the field, really loving the warm tones in the mid-high range which is exactly what I need it for. That said, the microphone records really flat accurate lows/low mids so for those quiet background days I'll be happy to leave recordings unfiltered. Some really interesting sounds happening in this mashup, firstly starting off with what I think is a Meadow Grasshopper, secondly a sound I've never experienced before but it's actually 2 Hoverflies having a 'sing off' with their wings. I assume that this is a way of showing a female how strong their wings by demonstrating how high pitched the sound they can make. This is for sure,Natural selection in its subtleties. Lastly, a dark bush cricket with an unidentified 'cricket' sound which I'll be looking into asap.

In other news, we had such an amazing flyby from a Juvi Goshawk today! Also had a Migrant Hawker in the same area along with plenty of Grasshopper activity. Stopped off at Llandegfedd in the evening to see 3 Kingfishers hunting on the pump stream and starting to get flocks of Goosander coming into the bay late in the evening just before it gets dark

Odd Weekend Out

If there was one thing I've learned this weekend, it's to stay with what your familiar with this time of year, if you'd like to get better pictures that is. I ventured to a few different sights this weekend, Magor Marsh, Forest Farm, WWT Llanelli and Parc Slip, all in a bid to explore new locations to broaden my species list this year. Although all these locations were beautiful and diverse, I wished I stayed home and worked my local patch. Not only would I have got better photographs but I would have had more time in the field. I really don't think I made the most of the sunlight we had on Saturday and a full rainy/cloudy day on Sunday really made me realise how much that sun makes a difference to our wildlife activity. At WWT Llanelli there wasn't a single Dragonfly in sight! That said, we spent more time exploring the place than digging.