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Signs of Spring

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

Signs of Spring

Waking up to the sound of birds singing and a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming away this morning was enough to set me up nicely for the day.
This warm bright weather has really kicked spring off with Birds of Prey displaying, Frogs laying eggs and lots of birds nest building. I get so excited for spring this time of year that I forget that our winter migrants have to endure the long journey home before they can even start to think about breeding. A reminder came in the form of a Redwing in song during this mornings dawn chorus.

Two days ago I drove to Symonds Yat view point as the sun was shining and the warm conditions were perfect to view an early spring spectacle. The Goshawk display is truly awesome to watch and theres no better place to watch it than Symonds Yat Rock. It didn’t take long to spot them in the air along with several Buzzards. A lot of people struggle to spot these Birds at Yat Rock and if you’re one of them, my advice is to look more closely at the larger birds of prey and zone in on their flight pattern. Buzzards will be flying slow, often soaring with their typical V shape wing position. Goshawks also soar, but when they do so, their wings remain flat. Their wings are so broad that they appear short in length compared to the size of the body. The most obvious features though are the wing beats that beat at a much faster rate to a Buzzard and as a result, they cut thru the air like a Jet fighter. Buzzards take a long time to gain a decent altitude where Goshawks just seem to glide thru altitude like it’s nothing. In the pic below shows a Male that was chasing what appears to be a Juvenile Female. Hard to say what was going on in the short time I observed them but it was really great to view them thru the scope. A Single female Peregrine was sat up in a tree above the nesting cliff too. It won’t be long till they get into the full swing of spring either.

Goshawk Displaying Gavin Vella

With spring flowers emerging everywhere, It won’t be long before we start to see insects popping up with them. Red Admirals, Brimstones and Peacocks have already been spotted so far but by far my favourite is when we get the Orange-tips. Now I’m sporting a Macro lens, i’ll likely be photographing a lot more bugs this year so apologies to the Birders who only read my blog for bird news.

Orange-tip Butterfly

I’ve got some other surprises coming up soon, some big stepping stones for me, but it’s early days and don’t want to speak too soon. So you’ll have to wait and see.

Spring is near

Despite being wet, windy and cold, spring is very much so around the corner. Spring plants are already emerging, my Daffodils in the Garden are almost flowering and Snowdrops are popping up everywhere. Saw my first yesterday at my local fishing ponds. 

Birds are also sensing this change, with temperatures slowly rising as the days get longer and those cold nights shorten. One bird particularly has adopted the help of family in order to survive the cold winter nights and thats the Long-tailed Tit. Once fledged from the nest, the youngsters will even help their parents to raise a second brood of chicks. This includes assisting to build new nests, chick feeding and maintenance. This family bond takes them right through the winter also, with strength in numbers, not just for the extra eyes to look out for predators and food, but to physically huddle up with to keep warm at night.

Local Spring Arrivals

Signs of spring are growing every day and today was no exception with Yellowhammer in full song back on territory and Curlew returning to some of their upland breeding grounds. Today marks the first day of the year for Upland Curlews (for me) and I've not heard of any other recordings in Gwent of such activity yet so think this may be the first record. I visited several favourite spots locally today and all of which were upland / moorland. Each day I grow to love our uplands more and more as I realise just how important the habitat is for the majority of our wildlife. I went out with an open mind today prepared to take whatever was presented to me and I was pleasantly surprised to find Yellowhammer back on territory singing their hearts out. Spring has already started for some birds. My local Long-tailed Tits are already starting to build their nest from spiders webs, lichens and feathers. 

I've spoken about the Yellowhammer Dialects project before so I won't go into too much detail but if you're interested in sound recording and have any records, even phone recordings, of a Yellowhammer, please contribute to this incredible project - http://www.yellowhammers.net/

I'm the only one that has submitted recordings in South Wales so records here a looking thin despite our abundance of Yellowhammers. It is important to record birdsong for this very reason so please have a look at their website as Pavel is doing a great Job. 

It was my brother that spotted this Curlew flying in from Llandegfedd direction and immediately after he saw it the bird gave off that iconic call giving its identity away. It later on landed in a cultivated field and later flew further north. 

Fighting with... yourself

Cold day but still plenty of spring signs in the air today. Day started off with this Male Blue Tit fighting with its own reflection in a car mirror. It's something we get often in spring on my street. It's really entertaining watching them try and bite themselves...I wonder if it's just practice for the real thing or whether it actually thinks that there is another Blue Tit on the other side of that mirror...

Long-tailed Tits weren't happy with me today with no Fat Ball Feeder.. The squirrels managed to polish off the last bit I had left too so they had to settle for the peanuts. I did actually find the fat ball feeder in the end.. someone had set it up at green pool hide instead... to my disapproval. 

I intended on recording the sound of the Water Rail today at Green Pool Hide (Llandegfedd) but they didn't perform like they did yesterday. I did however stumble upon this mouse! Which I believe to be a Harvest Mouse as it appeared yellow in colour, had short ears and long tail.. It certainly wasn't like any of the typical field/wood mice I've seen and it wasn't a vole. 
This is a pretty nice find if it is a Harvest Mouse as I know they aren't doing so well in the Uk. This was right next to the Reed Bed so pretty good chance that they are breeding there. I'll keep an eye out for them in the future, hopefully will get a photograph next time round. 

Frozen Frogspawn

With night temperatures dipping below freezing, our wildlife has to brace that extra bit harder. It's times like this that the feeding station becomes vital for a birds night survival, but what happens to the Frogs that have already began laying eggs? Well, as you can see, they do freeze if caught up in the top surface of the water. It's likely that the lower portion will still survive but this top layer, despite thawing later on that day, looks like it has been predated on too. 

Not sure what insect this is but it was walking on the ice with no care in the world.

Feeding station today had lots of activity, including a large female Sparrowhawk that for a minute looked like it was going to go for the male Pheasant but opted to carry on fly through. Even my heart was beating fast at that point! Can't image what the Blue Tits were feeling!. 

In other news, a record number of Water Rail at Green Pool today with 5 running around and 'sharming' like crazy. I wished I had my recording gear at hand at that point but perhaps I'll try that tomorrow evening in the hope they give off another good performance. Unfortunately, these Water Rail are pretty shy and were only visible when running between reed beds.  

Pairing Up

It's coming to that time of year where a lot of birds are already starting to pair up. These two Great Spotted Woodpeckers look like they've already done so, or at-least he is trying to impress her. This is the same Male that has been performing for me so well and by the looks his hard work is paying off. If you haven't seen the video yet of him performing, here it is once again.