December 2000 - Newsletter No. 77 PDF Print E-mail

Bumper December Issue of the Dipper and Associated Items

Help - Gwent Records for 2000 Wanted

Chris Jones, County Recorder

It’s that time of the year again and yes ........ I’m making my annual plea for your records for 2000.

Many of you are aware that the work involved in the production of each annual report is extremely time consuming for the systematic list compilers and the editor. However you may not be aware that the late submission of records means that many sections of the systematic list have to be re-written to incorporate them, making the task even more time consuming. So to ensure that your records appear in the 2000 Gwent Bird Report, and to help those giving up their time to produce the report, please submit your records by the end of January.

What records should be submitted?

For guidance, there is a section “Submission of Records” on pages 60-62 of the 1999 report. However during the completion of the 1999 Gwent Bird Report, one of the main comments being aired was the paucity of records for many of the commoner species e.g. Meadow Pipit, Robin, Blackbird, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Blue Tit and Chaffinch to mention just a few. Are there so few of these birds around in the county or are they just being overlooked? Could I please urge members to continue to record and submit as many records as possible. If the current trend continues it will almost certainly result in our producing a report on scarce and rarity species only, which would be a major backward step for the Society. From comments received from people outside the County, the Gwent Bird Report is considered to be one of the best, if not the best in Wales. This is something that the society and all contributors should be proud of, and something that we must continue to push forward. This can only be done with your support in the form of your annual records.

Where can you get Record Slips?

From Chris Jones by post – 22 Walnut Drive, Caerleon, Newport, NP18 3SB, 01633 423439. At indoor meetings via Chris Jones (if present) or Alan Williams/Library. Records can be handed in equally the same fashion, at either an indoor meeting or posted [address as above]. Thank you for your support

BTO News

Jerry Lewis

The annual Heronry survey, the longest running single species survey in the world, has had one more site added to the Gwent list. A new heronry near Newport, discovered in 1998, now has six nests, bringing the total number of heronries in our area to nine. Counts for the last five years indicated small increases in 1997 and 1998, before a 16% fall in 1999. There has been another small increase in 2000 with 136 nests, excluding the Llanhennock heronry for which no count has yet been received. Barry Catlin, Richard Clarke, Sheila Dupé, Malcolm Jones, Jerry Lewis, Richard Poole, Granville Savery, Steve Roberts and Ian Walker undertake the counts.

The Naturalised Goose Survey involved 16 randomly selected squares, most of which were surveyed in conjunction with our own atlas fieldwork. Survey forms are still outstanding for two squares but as expected, most of the others had nil returns due to lack of suitable habitat. Five squares held wildfowl – 27 Canada, three White-fronted and 24 hybrid geese, and eight Mute Swans. Canada Geese were found breeding in one square and Mute Swans in two.

Most Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) forms have now been returned for 2000, although a few are still awaited. This survey is now the main method of providing population trends for the commoner species in the UK. The increasing numbers of squares covered means that the BTO can now give separate trends in population levels for Wales and other parts of the UK. Forty-two of the 223 squares covered in Wales in 2000 were in Gwent – an impressive proportion given the size of Gwent. At the time of writing, only six squares are available for reallocation in 2001. The survey involves just two visits, early and late spring, to walk a 2km route and record all the birds encountered. Each visit usually lasts less than 11⁄2 hours. An earlier visit to the square is needed, to familiarise oneself with the route and to record basic habitat information. If anyone is interested in finding out more, please give me a ring (01873 855091) and help play your part in monitoring our bird populations. The vacant squares are:

  • ST2396 Abercarn
  • SO2610 Blorenge
  • SO3706 Bettws Newydd
  • ST2497 Mynydd Maen
  • ST2689 Rogerstone
  • ST2385 Michaelston y Fedw

Welsh trends are differing from other UK trends for the following species:

Declines for

  • Starlings - more rapid than the rest of UK
  • Chaffinch - stable in rest of UK

Increases for

  • House Sparrow – moderate decline in the rest of UK
  • Meadow Pipit – declining in Scotland

Many of the small residents have benefited from recent mild winters e.g. Wren, Great Tit, Goldcrest and Treecreeper. The aerial feeders House Martin, Swift and Swallow are also doing well.

Countryside Survey 2000 was a one-off survey involving a more intensive BBS type methodology. Four of the five squares were covered by Dick Finch (Llansoy) Barry Catlin (Magor), Steve Butler /John Davies (Abergavenny), and Lee Taswell (Bargoed). A fuller note will appear in The Dipper when the results have been published.

Breeding Waders of Wet Meadows Survey is a repeat of the 1982 survey to assess changes (reductions) in grassland wader numbers; chiefly Lapwing, Curlew, and Redshank. A number of sites were surveyed in 1982, mainly the levels and parts of the Usk and Monnow valleys.

To obtain adequate comparisons, they need to be re-visited next spring. This survey would fit quite nicely into our own breeding atlas fieldwork, so anyone with tetrads in these areas who are willing to help, please contact me. Additional volunteers are also likely to be needed.

Recent Bird Highlights

Compiled by Chris Hatch from information received on the GOS/Hamdden Bird Line

August ended with good numbers of waders present on the coast and inland; records include Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank and Black-tailed Godwit. Up to 13 Little Egrets were present at Llandegfedd reservoir between the 19th and the 31st, a female Marsh Harrier was reported from Goldcliff on the 20th, a Wood Sandpiper was at Peterstone Gout on the 22nd, two Black-necked Grebes were at Llandegfedd on the 23rd and two Hobbies were sighted at Gobion on the 27th.

September proved to be an exciting month with good numbers of records being reported. An Osprey was present at Llandegfedd from the 3rd until at least the 4th of October. Black Terns were present at Llandegfedd on the 5th, 21st and 24th (two birds) and Goldcliff (three birds) on the 28th. A White-winged Black Tern was reported from Llandegfedd on the 24th, but stayed only a short time. A Little Gull was present at Llandegfedd from the 8th until the 11th, whilst a Black-necked Grebe was at the same site from the 8th until the 17th. A Garganey was reported from Peterstone Gout on the 21st. A female Hen Harrier at Goldcliff on the 9th heralded the start of a remarkable few weeks for the new reserve. A Buff-breasted Sandpiper was discovered at Goldcliff Pools on the 13th, and stayed until at least the 4th of October, attracting much interest. To add to this, a Pectoral Sandpiper also appeared at the pools on the 23rd, staying until the 1st of October. Other sightings at the reserve included a Slavonian Grebe present at Goldcliff pools from the 21st, a Wood Sandpiper on the 23rd and Honey Buzzards on the 23rd (Uskmouth) and the 30th (Goldcliff).

October started well, with a juvenile Baird’s Sandpiper present at Goldcliff from the 4th until the 8th. A Jack Snipe was reported from Llandegfedd on the 13th, whilst six Bewick’s Swans flew over the same site on the 19th. Four Cetti’s Warblers and a Black Redstart were reported from Uskmouth on the 22nd. A Grey Phalarope was seen from Peterstone on the 24th and a Velvet Scoter was observed from Sluice Farm on the 29th.

Early November was dominated by winter visitors, with large flocks of Fieldfare and Redwing reported. Wildfowl numbers also began to build and interesting records included a Brent Goose at Llandegfedd on the 4th, three Scaup at Peterstone trout lake on the 9th, a Whooper Swan at ith good numbers of records Peterstone Golf Course lake, also on the 9th, and three Red-breasted Merganser at Goldcliff on the 18th. The autumn’s first record of a Brambling came from Wentwood on the 13th, over 70 Snipe were present at Uskmouth on the 14th and a Black Redstart was present at Goldcliff on the 17th and 18th.

A Different use of a Popular Hanging Basket

Marsha Beacham

The basket hangs proudly from our house, perhaps in a rather unusual place. It is not a mass of flowers as in previous years, but three little heads are visible occasionally, looking out on the world. The
basket has become a temporary home for a family of House Martins whose nest had crashed to the ground.

After catching site of them all struggling on the ground, it was necessary to move quickly to retrieve them before one of the local cats did. The next problem was to suitable home was found. One youngster, that we named Horace, seemed able to climb or flutter out of any container we tried to use. What were we to do with these three helpless bundles?

We took advice, which was to return them to as near to the location of the original nest as possible. But what were we to use as a surrogate nest? We searched around but nothing seemed suitable. Then a brain wave from a visitor. “Why not use a hanging basket?” We lined the basket with a supermarket bag and some newspaper, then arranged the remains of the nest for the birds to lay on. Lastly, a woollen scarf was draped over the basket to cover about half of the area to provide some minimal protection. A cup hook was screwed into the apex of the gable, and the basket was hung. All seemed well ‘till Horace jumped out to land as a ball of feathers on the floor. He was returned to the nest as quickly as we could get him there, hoping that he would settle. An adult and the three fledglings now seem to have settled happily in their new home. The adult can be seen flying back and forth, and the three small heads can be seen eagerly awaiting the next morsel of food. We all hope now that the temporary home will serve them well, and that they will all be able to fly off together in the autumn.

Cardiff, Home of Gwent's Ornithological History

Richard Clarke

Believe it or not, the best place to see some of Gwent’s rarities and, for that matter, oldest birds, is Cardiff. The National Museum and Galleries of Wales has an extensive collection of bird skins collected from all parts of Wales as well as from much further afield. Details of the skins have been put on the Museum’s web site where a database is available for interrogation. I searched the
database for Gwent records recently and was very surprised by what I found.

The oldest records for the County were from 1896, when Tree Sparrow, Yellowhammer, Redpoll, Chaffinch and other passerines were collected from Newport. However, the majority of the specimens collected in Gwent come from the 1920s and 1930s and the bulk of these originate from Peterstone Wentlooge and Marshfield.

There are many wader and wildfowl skins, including Dunlin, Red Knot, Sanderling, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Wigeon and Teal. Then there are the rarities and unusual species for the County. Some  of these are of particular interest because they do not appear to have been considered when past ornithological accounts of the County have been written.

Set out below is a selection of the more interesting specimens from Gwent. For the older records, I have checked what is said about the species in The Birds of Gwent (TBOG) and, as appropriate, I have made a comment in the table that follows. Overall, the Museum’s collection is without doubt a very valuable source of information and on face value provides an exceptional insight into our County’s avifauna.

However a cautionary note, TBOG refers to Great Crested Grebes being put on display at the National Museum purporting to have been collected at Marshfield. It was subsequently discovered that the collector came from Marshfield and the origin of the birds was far from clear. Museum Website: www.nmgw.ac.uk/biosyb/

Species Recovery Site Date Recovered Notes Comment
Leach'e Petrol Severn Tunnel Junction 26/11/1946 Knocked down by engine No reference in TBOG. Possibly the 2nd record for the county of the species
Shag PW 13/11/1939 Male No reference in TBOG. Possibly the 3rd record for the county of the species
Ruddy Shelduck Marshfield 11/02/1951 Female No reference in TBOG. TBOG records first record being at Undy on the 23rd May 1965
Smew PW 24/12/1938 Female TBOG records first record as being a female at Rumney in December 1938
Merlin Aberbeeg 22/10/1928 Female  
Bar-tailed Godwit PW 09/09/1934 Male TBOG states there was only one record of species between 1933 & 1963. Possibly the 2nd and 3rd records for the County of this species
Bar-tailed Godwit PW 18/09/1937 Female
Grey Phalarope Newport 25/10/1934 Male & Female No reference in TBOG. Earliest records in TBOG 1933 & 1954. Possibly the 2nd record for the County of this species
Long-tailed Skua Marshfield or Rumney Moor Nov 1927 Male No reference in TBOG. Possibly the 2nd record for the County of this species
Gull-billed Turn Church Farm, Wentlooge 05/07/1979 Female, found injured  
Arctic Tern PW 18/091935 Male No reference in TBOG. TBOG states first record as being in 1946
Razorbill Newport 25/10/1978   TBOG notes that at the time of publication (1977) there had been 3 records only.
Little Auk Llanthony 09/04/1975 Female TBOG notes that this bird was found exhausted near Llanthony on 24th March 1975
Hoopoe Blean Ochran Farm Llanellen None Given    
Common Redpoll Newport Nov 1896 Male Very early record for County
Hawfinch PW 10/04/1937 Male  

Birdwatching Websites

Contribution from Karl Richards

Here are some more good sites I’ve found over the past few months. As with the last collection, all of these sites start with the time honoured www. :

Angelfire.com/id/ravensknowledge/index.html - This one of my personal top 3 sites. I Love Ravens and have spent years watching them at Trefil quarries. This site covers detailed information on crows and ravens, mythology, intelligence and links to other sites.

Ornithology.com - This is a serious American website dedicated to the science of ornithology. Do not be put off by this though as there is a huge amount of information available here. There are links to a host of international conservation regular on-line lectures. Well worth a visit.

Airtime.co.uk/user/cygnus/swanstud.htm - Ever wondered why a swan has a length of numbered plastic drainpipe around its leg? - Set up by a group in the North West of England, this site details a comprehensive study of Mute Swans ringed in that area over the past few years. There is information on the ringing process, results of the study so far and the option for anyone to contribute to the  further study and input sightings of ringed birds.

Pitt.edu/~dziadosz - Not so much a website, more like a huge telephone directory of nesting bird Webcams. There are main headings covering 34 bird species such as Merlin, Osprey, Mute Swan and Blue Tit and then each species has it’s own list of Webcam sites, all of which are accessed by point and click. These cameras are sited all over the world and the images are stunning !!! A real treat for the eyes

Petersononline.com/birds/ - This is THE site if you want to polish up your bird ID skills. There are comprehensive “Teach yourself” sections as well as advice on Birdsong and JIZZ, attracting birds to your  garden, species fact sheets and ID Guides, a book shop and a Birding Events Calendar. For those who think they really know their birds then I dare you to try the “Silhouette Spotter” game.

Bird-hides.co.uk - Something for the weekend Sir? For the birder who has everything how about your very own custom-built hide. This is the home page for Gilleard Bird Hides and shows examples of hides they have produced for reserves all over the country. Who knows you may have been in on without even knowing it.

No www. With the following site, Io.newi.ac.uk/adamsdr/birds/birds.htm - The web Site for the birds of Clwyd. This is another must visit site should you plan to do any birding in the county of Clwyd. It contains an up to date list of county species, rarities and a marvellous “Where to go and what to expect” section.

Other Sites that may be of interest:

The Glamorgan Bird Club have a site that can be accessed at http://homepage.ntlworld.com/johndw/gbc.html.

Sally Brown and Tony Court have set up an internet mailing list for those interested in wildlife in Gwent. It covers all species including birds, insects and mammals. Everyone is free to contribute their latest sightings, ask questions, publicise local events etc. To join simply visit www.egroups.com, and search for gwentwildlife.

The British Trust for Ornithology has a website at www.bto.org where you can find out about the BTO and results of its national surveys.

The Welsh Ornithological Society has a site at http://members.aol.com/welshos/cac/

Disabled Birders Association

One of our members has registered with the Disabled Birders’ Association, which is free and open to anyone. The aim is to improve access and services for disabled birdwatchers. Details from DMA, 18 St Mildreds Road, Cliftonville, Margate, Kent CT9 2LT, www.disabledbirdersassociation.org.uk

Reports of Outdoor Events 13th August – 28th October 2000

Brian King

Llangorse and Talybont, Sunday 13th August. Leader Andy Rowlands.

We met yet again in poor weather, and started at the ringing station at Llangasty. Blackcap and Spotted Flycatcher had just been caught and we watched Jerry Lewis at work ringing and recording
measurements on them before they were released.

From the lakeside a large flock of Mute Swans was watched (103 had been counted the previous day), and Canada Geese were present in large numbers. Moving on through woodland, towards the hide and jetty, warblers were seen but were difficult to identify. At the jetty, Great Crested Grebes and Moorhens were watched, and Water Rails were thought to be present in the reeds.

The rain continued at Talybont where we saw small numbers of Pochard, Tufted Duck and Great Crested Grebe, and good numbers of House and Sand Martins feeding over the water.

The River Usk from The Bryn, Sunday 27th August. Leaders George Noakes and Steve Butler.

A good group gathered for this walk along the Usk and it proved to be a rewarding morning with many species seen. A small paddock on the route was alive with birds, including Garden Warbler, Long-tailed Tits, Blue and Great Tits, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Collared Dove, Green Woodpecker and Great Spotted Woodpecker. Along the river, Kingfisher, Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Mute Swans and Cormorants were seen, and several soaring Buzzards were noted. However, the highlight was provided by a Hobby which alighted on a tree within good binocular range, giving excellent views. We had another sighting, probably of the same bird, towards the end of the walk.

Goldcliff Pill and Pools, Saturday 2nd September.  Leader Chris Jones.

As always, this walk was  popular despite the early start, Reserve showed its potential again, with a good variety of birds in pleasant weather. The following species were seen and most could be observed for some time, enabling me at least to brush up on my wader identification: Dunlin, Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Ringed Plover, Little-ringed Plover, Knot, Oystercatcher, Whimbrel, Little Stint, Common Sandpiper, Ruff, Snipe, Lapwing, Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler, Gadwall, Little Grebe and Little Egret. From the sea wall, Goldfinches were observed feeding, good views were had of a resting Sparrowhawk and a Peregrine was watched for some time as it flew over the water. Returning to the lagoons, excellent views were had of Kingfisher using the sluice as a diving perch, and two Garganey were noted. A very rewarding morning.

British Talywain, Saturday 23rd September. Leader Pete Boddington.

There was a misty start to this hillside walk covering industrial wasteland and old tips, mixed woodland and marshy fields. It was interesting to see the area from new vantage points. It was quiet with regard to small birds, but with good weather breaking, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Buzzards and Ravens were seen and a Peregrine was heard calling. On our return, Goldfinches, Stonechats and a Yellowhammer were watched to round off a pleasant morning.

Caldicot and Coast, Sunday October 8th. Leader Ian Smith.

This new walk in Caldicot Castle Country Park was a pleasant introduction to the park in autumn, in fine weather. Although birds were not showing in great numbers, a steady movement of birds along the  hedgerows gave an insight into the southwards migration of finches and tits, whilst late Swallows and Martins showed in small groups. Returning to the cars, large numbers of Chaffinches were watched feeding under the trees. Moving to the coast, small numbers of Curlew, Grey Plover, Oystercatcher and Wigeon  and the were watched on the rising tide.

Llanelli WWT, Saturday 28th October.

Four of us braved the rain for this autumn visit and despite the conditions some good views were offered of Curlew, Little Egret and sheltering Wigeon. However increasing wind and heavy rain made it difficult to see from the British Steel Hide. During a short break in the weather, we moved to the Heron’s Wing Observatory where we saw Kingfisher, Little Grebes Shoveler and a very close view of a Grey Heron. Unfortunately the worsening weather encouraged an early return home, missing the hoped-for sighting of the resident owls.

Monmouth Area, Sunday 12th November. Leader Trevor Russell.

A small group met at the town and walked the banks of the Monnow and Wye, both in a swollen state after recent floods. A large flock of gulls rested on water lying on a riverside field. Mute Swans, Mallard, Long-tailed Tits, Fieldfare and Green  Woodpecker added to our count. Returning to our cars, it was decided to move to a woodland site where we completed the walk in fine weather. Stopping during a climb to the lane, a great deal of bird activity was observed in one spot where Great Tits, Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Long-tailed Tits, Robins, Wrens, Treecreepers and Nuthatches brought the end to an enjoyable morning.

The Outdoor Programme 2000

In general, the outdoor meetings have been well supported during the year. Despite the rain encountered on many occasions, and movement to other sites (Plans B), we have at times had ample reward, e.g. Hobby. I would like to thank all the leaders for their time, enthusiasm, expertise and willingness to help. Their efforts are greatly appreciated. My thanks too for the support of members who make the walks a success as we all learn what splendid variety the County has to offer in habitat and birdlife.

The programme for 2001 is almost complete, and I look forward to some fine birding in excellent company.

My thanks again, Brian King

News from Botswana, 21st September 2000

Steph Tyler

It seems incredible that our five years in Botswana is almost over. Lins’ contract finishes in December but then we plan to travel for 3 months in southern Africa before we fly home at the end of March (in time to do our Breeding Bird Survey squares, atlassing etc. – don’t worry Jerry!)

Last January-March saw the wettest summer in Botswana for more than 20 years. Floods seem impossible when you experience a harsh, long dry season here, but floods we had. Even in the Central Kalahari, tracks became impassable and the sight of Squacco Herons, Fulvous Whistling Duck and Painted Snipe (and many more waterbirds) along tracks in the desert was unbelievable. Lots of extension of ranges!

The standing water everywhere attracted unprecedented numbers of intra-African breeding migrants such as Dwarf Bittern, Lesser Moorhens and Striped Crakes. A bumper breeding season too for all ducks and geese. Not so good for Felicity Burge from Herefordshire who came to stay with us at the end of February to see Meerkats in the Kalahari. We did manage against all odds to get there, but the Meerkats were all flooded out and had vanished.

The heavy rains meant that trees retained leaves well into our winter (April-August) and many normally dry water-courses still had flowing water up to August. A sharp cold spell in July frosted all the leaves, but the savanna quickly recovered and is now green again. Migrant cuckoos, kingfishers and swallows from north and central Africa are arriving as I write this. European migrants will soon be here too. I have just returned from a bird conference (and brief holiday) in Uganda, and European (Barn) Swallows were abundant there. I did manage to have a day in a swamp on Lake Victoria and at long last, saw my first Shoe-billed Stork as well as Papyrus Gonolek and other swamp specials, plus some brilliant forest species.

Closer to home near Gaborone, our small pond is inundated by Red-billed Queleas with thousands drinking hourly. It means that ringing in the bush by our house is a nightmare, unless you like extracting hundreds of b------ queleas. They have been with us for months, because of all the grass seed after the rains at the start of the year. Fingers crossed, they will move on soon. Even ringing down at our sewage lagoon is tricky. You have to furl the nets well before dusk or you catch 1000s of quelea, widows and bishops, and are extracting them well in to the night – not a pleasant experience.

Waterbird counts, which we do twice a year on reservoirs, sewage ponds, and natural pans and lagoons, can be rewarding, even around Gabarone. Amongst the returning waders (Ruff, Little Stints, Curlew and Wood Sandpipers mainly) we get very excited by a Turnstone, godwit or a Whimbrel! This year we have been seeing more Black Storks than usual, and one small ephemeral pan had a staggering 3,580 Avocet. Lesser and Greater Flamingos have bred in enormous numbers in the Makgadikgadi salt pans, so too White Pelicans. An hour’s drive from Gaberone we survey a stretch of river (upper reaches of the Limpopo) where there are African Finfoots, in a small inflatable boat. Well we used to. A pair of hippos has now appeared on the river and that makes boat surveys a bit too exciting.

We are house-sitting for friends in Maun, a small town at the edge of the Okavango Delta, over Xmas and New Year so plan lots of trips into the Delta. Then we hope to see some more of Namibia and South Africa before our flight home. Then, who knows? I hope however, to see many "old" GOS friends during the spring.

I am sure that those of you who know Steph will be sorry to hear that her husband, Lins, was involved in a helicopter crash in the Delta at the end of May. As Steph says in her letter "He managed to break vertebrae, ribs and a foot, but after two months lying flat on his back, he is thank goodness, almost back to normal."

The Ultimate Deterrent? (And news from Trelleck)

Ray Armstrong

In the spring I was witness to a struggle between a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a European Nuthatch for the use of an old woodpecker hole as a nest site. The hole was in a rotting Scots Pine close to a woodland edge. I first noticed the woodpecker inspecting the hole inside and out, and it spent quite a lot of time clinging motionless to the tree very close to the hole. My immediate thought was that it was going to re-use the site.

A couple of days later, I was surprised to see a European Nuthatch emerge from the hole. It was apparent that it had taken over the site and had started to reduce the size of the hole by introducing mud. The woodpecker was nowhere to be seen, so I assumed it had abandoned the site for pastures new. This was not the case. Later in the day I saw it exit the hole and remain clinging to the tree, carrying out an external inspection. Throughout this period, the nuthatch was nearby, constantly alarming.

When I visited the site the next day, the nuthatch was present and once again was working away carrying mud to reduce the size of the hole, no sign of the woodpecker. As I approached the tree a couple of days later, I saw the woodpecker looking out from the hole and some of the mud had been removed from the entrance. As before, the nuthatch was alarming nearby.

This cycle of events was repeated a number of times over the next few days, with neither species prepared to give way, then a change. As I approached across the fields I noticed the nuthatch pecking at, and collecting, some pieces of rain-soaked fox droppings that it carried to the nest site and daubed around the entrance hole. It then flew onto the trunk of an adjacent pine tree and proceeded to strip small pieces of bark. It carried these back to the nest site and proceeded to stick pieces of bark into the fox droppings and mud around the nest entrance. In the past I have witnessed the European Nuthatch use material from a cow-pat to reduce the size of an entrance hole, but this combination was much more imaginative. It continued applying this mixture for some considerable time, during which there was no sign of the woodpecker. It occurred to me as I stood watching that maybe I should forward these observations to the Building Research Centre. This amalgam could be the basis for a revolutionary new type of “chip-board”!

Draw your own conclusions, but for whatever reason, the woodpecker did not return. Unfortunately the saga does not have a happy ending. The nuthatch brood failed due to the cold damp spring weather and the associated natural food shortages.

There is little of interest to report from the Trelleck area. The wet and windy weather appears to have suppressed local activity. I saw a single Redwing on 22nd September, but no sign of any Fieldfares. There was a flock of 100-150 Siskins on and around Beacon Hill throughout October, and two Stonechats were seen on the Beacon on 22nd October.

News from the Gwent Levels Wetland Reserve

Adam Rowlands Reserve Warden

The Reserve Car Park is now officially open seven days a week from 9 am - 5 pm. The Car Park provides access to a number of tracks around the reedbed creation lagoons at the western [Uskmouth] end of the site. To reach the Car Park, leave the A455 on the minor roads that lead to Nash and Goldcliff (approximately 2 miles from Junction 24 of the M4). After approximately one and a half miles turn right on the West Nash Road (signposted to Nash village and Uskmouth). Continue along this road for approximately one mile and the Car Park is on the left just before the entrance to Fifoots [Uskmouth] Power Station (O.S. grid reference ST334834).

Unlike the majority of the population of the country, we have welcomed the recent deluge that has raised surface flooding across the site to mid-winter levels. The wet grassland is looking very encouraging. We are keen to maintain the wet grasslands in the Saltmarsh area as a disturbance-free refuge during the forthcoming winters, to encourage waterfowl to the area. We would therefore be grateful for the continued co-operation of visiting birdwatchers in keeping to the Public Rights of Way (which are all clearly way-marked) in this area. We are embarking on a study, led by external consultants, to decide how we proceed with visitor access, interpretation, education and community involvement on the Reserve. GOS will be consulted in this process and we will provide further details regarding this essential part of the Reserve development in future articles in the Dipper.

This last autumn has seen some good numbers and exciting finds on the Reserve. Peak counts include up to 755 Teal, 6 Garganey, 79 Pintail, 157 Ringed Plover, 305 Knot, 19 Curlew Sandpiper and 50 Black-tailed Godwit. Waders continued to arrive from across the Atlantic, in the shape of juvenile Buff-breasted, Pectoral and Baird’s Sandpipers. At least four Honey Buzzards were reported from the site - reflecting the unprecedented arrival on the east coast of Britain and a single Osprey also passed over. More recent sightings have included a fly-over Lapland Bunting, the first returning Short-eared Owl of the winter, a single Purple Sandpiper [1st in the county since 1990] in amongst the Dunlin and several Black Redstarts.

To aid the future bird recording of the reserve the accompanying map has been prepared by Chris Jones, indicating the area / site names to be used when submitting your records for the site. This will greatly assist with the future monitoring of bird populations using the site and it will also help members to become more familiar with the area when reference is made in any publication.

Rapacious Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) Behaviour

Tony Dudley

On 22nd May 1999 at 11am, during a walk in my local park at Pontypool, I observed Carrion Crow behaviour that my birding friends and I had never seen or heard of before.

Passing beneath a row of young Field Maples approx. 25 feet high, a clamouring of alarm calls from Starlings, Mistle Thrush, Blackbirds, Robin et al drew my attention to the last tree. Thinking perhaps a raptor or owl was the reason, I moved closer to investigate.

The canopy was quite open, affording good visibility right through and around the tree. I was amazed to see not a raptor, but an adult Carrion Crow hopping away branch by branch from the tree's centre with a juvenile Starling clasped firmly in its bill. This Crow was flanked all the way by two others who were in turn giving warning calls to the other attacking birds.

There were no birds anywhere near the ground (short mown grass), so unless the Starling had died in the tree and had been taken as carrion, which I doubt, it must have been attacked and killed in the tree. A fact I feel sure I had witnessed.

The Concise Birds of the Western Palearctic states "Interspecific territoriality may occur with Rook and Jackdaw; more common with Magpie, which it will attack and even kill." However, no reference is made to other Passerines being taken as food.

Editor's comments: The Birds Of the Western Palearctic, Volume 8, states that food of crows is "principally invertebrates and cereal grains; also small vertebrates, bird's eggs, carrion, scraps, proportions varying greatly according to local availability. In general a ground-feeder and scavenger in agricultural landscapes, typically in pasture or rough grassland in spring and summer, arable fields in autumn and winter, when also nearer to towns, farms and woods etc."

However "when killing small vertebrates or robbing nests often co-operates in pairs or small groups, one bird distracting while another attacks. Commonly forces other birds, including raptors, to drop prey, e.g.Osprey, Night Heron, Common Gull, also seen to rob surfacing Coot."

Also, "many accounts of predation on other birds away from the nest, often young ones in severe weather" Species listed as being killed by Carrion Crows include Blue Tit, Dunlin, adult Woodpigeon, young House Martin, Alpine Swift, young Blackbird. "On cliff ledges will seize adult Guillemots or Fulmars by wing to drag them off the eggs, again often operating in pairs."

Committee Comentary

Trevor Russell

Due to the absence of the Chairman, Alan Williams, and the Vice Chairman, Helen Jones, Chris Hatch chaired the meeting on 5th October. Chris did an absolutely marvellous job and got us through the Agenda in record time!

Monmouth Show. The Committee heard that the show had been well attended and that the GOS stand had again proved very popular, visitors fascinated once more by the Al Venables Bird Quiz. It remains to be seen how many Membership forms will find their way back to Gill Jones. What is clear is that we do need to recruit more members to assist with manning the stand so reminders for assistance will be made at the last indoor meetings next March and also in The Dipper.

Representatives of the Gwent Wildlife Trust have visited Goytre House Wood, the bequest from Betty Morgan. They expressed an interest in leasing the wood from GOS, which would enable them to take responsibility for its day-to-day management. This suggestion will be explored further. The proposal to amend the Constitution to make GOS a charitable organisation will be made at the AGM in January.

GOS Website. Do we have any Internet website creators in our midst? The Committee would dearly like to create a GOS website but we lack the expertise! If anyone would like to volunteer please get in touch with any Committee member, telephone numbers and addresses can be found on page 2 of this Dipper.

(Chances are that anyone over the age of about 15 need not apply!) Palms may be crossed with silver and gentle bribes may be tolerated.

1999 Annual Report. Despite late record submissions and other delays, Richard Clarke exceeded all expectations by bringing the 1999 Annual Report to themeeting! Copies would be distributed to eligible members present at the indoor meeting on 7th October and by post. In his last year as Editor, Richard did very well to get the report distributed by early October. Brian Gregory will succeed him as Editor.

Finally, if you have not sent your Atlas Record Cards to Al Venables or Jerry Lewis yet would you please do so ASAP?

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