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Newport Wetlands

#No New M4!

As distracting (and devastating) as the imminent disaster of Brexit is, there are some other really important things happening right now that need our attention. To save the Gwent Levels and the Wildlife within, we need to fight for it, otherwise the bulldozers WILL move in. Please contact your local AM’s and let them know that tearing up the Gwent Levels for this ridiculous plan to choose the most environmentally damaging route they could have possibly picked, IS NOT ACCEPTABLE!

Enter your details using one of the links below and if you’re on Twitter, use the hashtag #NONEWM4 to share your thoughts.

Water Vole have only been re-introduced in the last couple of years and upon making their comeback to the levels, already their habitat is set to be destroyed. These and many more species that benefit from the Levels, like our first breeding pair of Cranes for our 400 years! Read all about it HERE. It’s not acceptable. Please use one of the links, learn more about it and see how you can help, time is running out.

Water Vole

Savi's Warbler

I've been so busy this last week, buzzing here, there and everywhere! Spring is such a special time of year and this year we're lucky enough to be graced with the sound of the Savi's Warbler which was last heard on the Gwent Levels in 2014. We're lucky to get another or the same bird arrive which can be heard singing early morning.

The sound is pretty incredible, so much so that I didn't even focus on getting a photograph!. It was very windy and the forecast for this week isn't looking much better but I have high hopes for Sunday evening so I'm hoping that the bird stays for long enough. 

The picture below was taken by Matthew Scott and if you click on the picture it will take you directly to his flickr page. I don't often use other peoples photographs but in this case, I thought a recording would be more important to share! 

The sound of the Savi's is iconic and very similar to our Grasshopper Warbler. In comparison, the Savi's has a much faster trill making it sound very electric, where the Grasshopper Warbler is slower, quieter and more delicate (but equally satisfying). A Gropper is described to sound more like running your finger nail down a hair comb, spacious and high pitch. The Savi's is more like an electric churr with much greater speed and has more presence. It's much easier to miss a Grasshopper Warbler singing where Savi's will stand out. 

Newport Wetlands @ Sunset

After my last post and possible finding a Golden Oriole, there has naturally been some questioning and debates about the sound file I've posted. It's not as straight forward as it appears with all the mimicking species of bird there are in the Uk. It's that reason that the last two nights I've re-visted the same area to study all the Blackbird and Thrushes of the area to see whether they possess any 'oriole' like qualities. Considering most birds are already breeding, if there was a Blackbird with an oriole like phrase, I would have been able to pick this up again. 

I didn't however find any resemblance of the sound I recorded on the 5th of May. The recording is being examined by local expert so hopefully will get some confirmation soon. Either way I'm happy with what I recorded despite it being in the background. I've certainly never heard that song before and will continue to look out for these birds in the future. 

Last two days have been completely different for sound recording however.. with gusts on the coastal path averaging from 10-30mph, which is no good for sound recording. Despite this I did manage a few Cuckoo recordings and a windy Grasshopper Warbler recording, but I won't be posting these as I believe I can do better. Instead, below the pictures I'll conclude with a Blackcap song which literally was my conclusion to the end of today as I got back to my car. 

Sedge Warbler and something extra special!

The 5th of May last week was a busy evening... I had so much planned and went way past my expectations with perfect weather conditions for both photography and sound recording. I have about 3 days maximum like that a year.. it was really that good!. 

Anyway, listening back to this recording below of a Sedge Warbler, I found something I did not expect, and I only wished I had noticed it in the field! 

This recording includes the low rumble of a distant shipping going down the severn estuary about a mile away but what was most interesting about this recording was what happened after. 

In the recording below, if you haven't read the title already is a distant Golden Oriole! You have to listen hard for it though.. its just after the distracting passing Shelduck. 

This isn't a first for Newport Wetlands, in-fact, there was another recorded last year in the same spot! So it is very likely that it could be the same bird or just a hotspot for passing migrants as it is the first and only large woodland for miles along the estuary. 

Lets not take too much away from that beautiful Sedge Warbler song though! Got to love a bit of Sedge Warbler.. Not quite a Golden Oriole though uh? I only wished I had noticed this recording sooner. It's not like me to miss something as important as this. 

Gwent Levels #lovethelevels #notoblackroute

Please take the time to listen with a decent pair of headphones if you have a pair. Or better still, a surround sound system? lol. Apple iPods will do... With all the troubles that our Gwent Levels are having at the moment, I thought I'd put together a short Soundscape that was taken yesterday in just 3 hours after work. It was a glorious evening and I wanted to try and capture every aspect of what makes our levels special. You'll hear the iconic Sedge Warbler at the start of the recording with several species in the background like Cetti's Warbler, Chiffchaff, Cuckoo and also people talking in the background (which I wanted to include to show that people regularly use the levels as an escape). The middle part is hard to take in at once but believe me, all this was happening at the same time! The sound of the waves with Whimbrel in the background, a Bittern Booming and a ship about a mile out giving a drone undertone to the hole soundscape. It ends with the tranquil bubbling song of the Cuckoo and many other species singing their evening chorus as the sun went down. 

Sound is so important, and a factor that many of us overlook due to our often loud, industrial busy lives. That ship in the distance was over a mile away, yet due to the flat levels, sound carries for miles. Development in itself, especially in areas like the levels that are designated by the Government as protected for its rich biodiversity, will have massive implications both nationally and natively in a world where nature comes second behind man. We also have to think about the impacts that sound will have on our environment. The story of the Blackbird having to physically raise their volume and pitch to overcome traffic noise is a good example of the strain that industrial life can give to our wildlife. I can't imagine what it must be like for wildlife that require their ears to hunt for their prey. It's no wonder all of our species of Owl aren't doing so well anymore. 

With all this in mind, I'm strongly against the route chosen by the Welsh Government for the new M4 relief road. There were much more convenient and cheaper options to take and the outcome of this stupid decision goes to show where our Governments priorities lie. 

Below are some photographs from the day of a Whimbrel, Sedge Warbler and Common Whitethroat. 

Sunset @ Newport Wetlands

So many images to post up but not enough time! Here's a few from this evenings short visit after work to Newport Wetlands. Was nice to see a Male Marsh Harrier hunting the reed beds around the lighthouse and today I also saw my first Otter and Magor Marsh. Female Pied Flycatcher was taken yesterday just off the Canal in Goytre- 1 of many more to come this year I hope! 

Wetlands Weekend

Not had the time for editing lately so playing a bit of catch up here. Last weekend I spent the morning wondering from the Gwent Levels right up into the Valleys of Pontypool and both on this glorious Saturday brought some great birding with the great company of Paul Joy. In the hope to listen to our first years Grasshopper Warblers, we ended up with a very different, but equally interest mix of species throughout the day. Highlight for me was seeing Gwents first Hobby flying North hitting the first mountain it found in the Valleys on the southern peak of the Brecon Beacons National Park above Pontypool. Below you'll see a female Linnet which was frequently attending to her already hatched chicks. Nice to see so many Greenfinches at Newport Wetlands, this is a bird that I don't get to see much of in Pontypool anymore. Another great find in the form of a Spider this time which is called a 'Furrow Orbweaver Spider' which I presume is common on the wetlands given the perfect habitat for this species. They use the Reeds to funnel themselves a perfectly camouflaged nest. Last but not least for the day was a picture of a beautiful Male Pheasant glistening in the sun with the punchy vibrant colours you would expect to see in the tropics. 

Looking forward to Spring!

Can't wait for Spring to arrive and the days to start getting longer! :D This will be my first official spring being able to drive so I'm going to try my best to make is my most productive spring ever. I have lots on my species list to document and study so should make for an interesting one for photography. Below is a Male Bearded Tit and 1 particular species I intend on photographing just before Spring arrives where I find they are most active fighting off other Males and pairing up. This shot was taken at Newport Wetlands RSPB Nature Reserve in what ended up being 1 successful trip out of 100 failed visits! They are not easy to spot amongst the miles of Reed Bed on the reserve and even harder to photograph. 

Newport Wetlands Result!

This trip was legend, I won't be forgetting it for quite some time! A good friend of mine called Paul Joy has been trying to organise a trip to see the Bearded Tits at Newport Wetlands for a while now and we finally set out on my day off as early as we could to get the best chance of seeing them. We did everything according to plan by turning right as you get onto the reserve and making your way back on yourself once you hit the sea wall and returned using the lighthouse path over the water. By this point we had already seen some fantastic Migrants like Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler and many others but we soon found ourselves surrounded by at least 10 Bearded Tits! They appeared only feet away from us having been there all along and that really shows how well camouflaged they really are when in the thick reed beds. I snapped 17gbs worth of photos on this trip so I've only managed to edit a few of the best. Just as we thought we were done for the day having saw what we came for, we got a tip off about a couple Grasshopper Warblers fresh in off the coast and soon enough we were onto that iconic sound of a Grasshopper Warbler right in the middle of the thick brambles. We had to have quite a bit of patience on these Birds though but boy, did it pay off! For a spit second he came out and sang right on top of the brambles for long enough for me to burst a dozen shots. Other migrants came soon after in the form of Wheatears, Whinchats and we also heard a distant Cuckoo. A female Marsh Harrier showed briefly and the Garganey Ducks were still present. 

Having spent more time at Newport Wetlands, Goldcliff and Magor Marsh this spring, I'm really starting to see for myself just how important our Gwent Levels actually are for nature of all sorts. It provides such a variety of specialised habitats for all sorts of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and insects. What is it that makes the Gwent Levels so good for nature? Well, in short.. Water! If you take away the obvious bodies of water like that at Newport Wetlands and the smaller ponds / lagoons in Magor and Goldcliff, we would still have one of the largest networking systems of water in the country! If you look from above on google maps or in a helicopter, you'll struggle to even see the water that I'm talking about, especially during spring and summer. This is because they surround all of the fields in a historic mote fashion. They can stretch for miles and miles connecting into various water sources together and disconnection labouring farmland. This provides absolutely vital habitats for insects like Dragonflies that need naturally fresh water to reproduce and survive while giving a home to our protected Watervoles. This vast connection of water without the sacrifice of solid land and fertile fields creates and forms the majority of our gwent levels and that alone provides a balance that suits both our coastal birds AND our inland species like Starlings throughout the winter. To add to that, we have miles of Reed Bed in various shapes and forms which needs to be protected because literally every inch of a reed bed matters! The more reeds, the more diversity and the more space for breeding birds like Reed Warblers, Sedge Warblers, Grasshopper Warblers, Bearded Tits, Marsh Harriers, Bitterns, Little Egrets, Great White Egrets ect ect. I was also surprised by the amount of breeding avocets at Goldcliff! I had no idea that we had such a stronghold of Avocets! If you haven't seen them, check out my photo below or go and see them for yourself at Goldcliff. They are well protected with an electric fence around the lagoons but there are also plenty of hides to appreciate them. 

Newport Wetlands