March 2001 - Newsletter 78 PDF Print E-mail

Foot and Mouth Disease and the  GOS Outdoor Programme

As I am writing this on Monday 26th February the news of the increasing number of foot and mouth disease outbreaks reminds me of 1967 when I was working on the Shropshire/Welsh border. The piles of animal carcasses, the stench of burning flesh and then the whole area without any stock in the fields left a lasting impression on me. I have a deep sense of foreboding that we are going to see a repeat of those scenes.

As birdwatchers we can do our bit by not venturing into the countryside during this epidemic. We have taken the decision to cancel the outdoor programme for the time being. If you wish to know if walks have resumed then ring Brian King on 01495 774587, or call the GOS/Hamdden bird line on 01495 769284

I sincerely hope that this will be over soon so that breeding bird surveys and atlas work can go ahead. In the meantime please avoid going onto farmland, even if animals are not in the vicinity.

Alan Williams


Further to the above, you are probably aware by now that all RSPB reserves are closed until further notice, as are National Trust and Wildlife Trust properties, many parks, and footpaths. Both Llandegfedd Reservoir and the Gwent Levels Wetlands Reserve (GLWR) are closed until further notice. The re-opening of these two sites will be publicised on the GOS /Hamdden bird information line, 01495 769284 and on the Society's new website at http://www.gwentbirds.org.uk . Kenfig NNR is also closed.

At the time of going to press, the village Hall at Goytre is still open and there is no plan at present to cancel the indoor meetings. However, if the scope of the epidemic escalates, particularly with respect to cases in Gwent, this may be subject to change. If in doubt, phone the GOS /Hamdden bird information line on 01495 769284 on the day before the indoor meeting. If the meeting is cancelled, there will be an announcement to that effect. No announcement means that the meeting will proceed as planned. Information will also be placed on the GOS Website at http://www.gwentbirds.org.uk ..

HPJ, Editor

BTO News

Jerry Lewis

Although BTO surveys can occur in any season, most of them seem to take place in the breeding season. So now is the time to think about expanding your birding experience and really contribute something to our understanding and conservation of the birds that give us so much enjoyment.

The Breeding Bird Survey is the main survey to monitor the population levels of our common species. Its results give rise to the "alert lists" that are periodically updated. Several squares are available this year and the current list, amended since the December Dipper, is:

  • SO3706 Bettws Newydd
  • SO3228 Longtown
  • SO2016 Llangattock (Brecs)
  • SO2689 Rogerstone
  • ST2484 Michaelston y Fedw
  • ST2485 Michaelston y Fedw

Just three visits are required, the first to familiarise yourself with the route and to collect habitat information, the other two to record the birds seen. Each visit should take 1½ - 2 hours.

The Breeding Waders of Wet Meadows is a repeat of a 1980's survey, involving only those sites that were surveyed then. Volunteers are needed to look at selected areas:

  • The Usk Valley at Caerleon, Bulmore and Newbridge on Usk.
  • The Caldicot levels near Redwick and Undy,
  • The Wentlooge Levels, Newport
  • Gwernesney (nr Usk)
  • and Michaelston y Fedw.

Three visits are also involved in this survey which could be done in conjunction with our own Breeding Atlas fieldwork.

Please let me know if you are able to help with either of these important surveys.

The Winter Farmland Bird Surveys should have been completed by now. Please return your forms as soon as possible, and please check weight to ensure correct postage.

Important Notice Regarding Foot & Mouth and Surveys

The one-off surveys of breeding waders of wet grassland, lowland grassland and Peregrines, all scheduled for 2001, have been postponed until next year. Please return all relevant maps and forms to Jerry. He will keep them together and re-issue them next year. WeBS counts are suspended until further notice.

Decisions are awaited on Heronries Census, Common Bird Census, Breeding Bird Survey, Waterways Bird Survey, Waterways Breeding Bird Survey.

Recent Bird Highlights

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

November ended with a Cetti's Warbler at GLWR Uskmouth on the 27th, three Little Egrets at GLWR Goldcliff on the same date, a Brent Goose at Llandegfedd Reservoir on the 29th and a Barn Owl near Abergavenny on the 30th.

December was an extremely quiet month, with few sightings reported. Highlights included a skein of about 600 geese over Abergavenny on the 7th, a Hawfinch at Llandegfedd Reservoir on the 10th, a Merlin at GLWR Goldcliff on the 24th, a Great Northern Diver at Llandegfedd Reservoir from the 26th to the 31st, 8 Bewick's Swans at Llandegfedd on the 24th, and a Water Rail at Ynysyfro on the 30th.

January provided some excitement with the discovery of four Common Cranes (2 ad & 2 juv) on the 13th on the Gwent/Glamorgan boundary near Bassaleg. This was only the third record for the County. The birds remained until at least the 20th. An out of season Common Sandpiper was seen on the Field Trip at Llandegfedd on the 7th, whilst a Black-necked Grebe turned up at GLWR Uskmouth on the 11th. Merlins were reported from GLWR Uskmouth on the 11th, 13th and 20th. Bewick's Swans frequented Llandegfedd Reservoir throughout the month, with a maximum of 10 birds present on the 14th. A flock of Brambling was observed near Llanfair Discoed on the 11th, whilst a Water Rail again appeared at Ynysyfro, also on the 11th. A Black-throated Diver made a brief appearance at Llandegfedd on the 14th, whilst a Great Northern Diver was at Llandegfedd from the 17th until at least the 26th. Lesser-spotted Woodpeckers were reported from two sites at Abergavenny on the 17th and 19th. Two Short-eared Owls were reported from GLWR Uskmouth on the 20th and 28th. An adult male Ring-necked Duck appeared at Wentwood Reservoir on the 21st, but later moved to GLWR Uskmouth, where it was present from the 29th until at least the 8th of February. A male Scaup was reported from Ynysyfro Reservoir on the 23rd and 24th.

February started quietly, with notable sightings including 15 Bewick's Swans at Llandegfedd Reservoir on the 1st and three Little Egrets near GLWR Goldcliff on the 10th. Interest soon picked up however, with four Waxwings discovered near Usk on the 12th. The birds were present until at least the 19th.


Sally and Chalky

Alec Moon

We shall begin with Sally, an immature female Sparrowhawk, who paid a visit to our garden just before Xmas 2000. Her first foray into Moon's supermarket, consisted of a bungled attack on one of the resident House Sparrows, which rapidly took refuge in a small hedge.

Sally perched on the trellis, barely 10 feet (forget the metric) from the kitchen window, giving me a splendid view of her markings. She remained on this perch for nearly 5 minutes, all the while glaring balefully at the escallonia ensconced sparrow, which by now was undoubtedly totting up its life policies and regretting not having made a will.

Giving up, Sally flew off unsatisfied and ill tempered, but prepared to learn. This has been demonstrated by several successful visits since, when one quick strike has produced the desired result- from her point of view at least.

Now for Chalky, a male House Sparrow, so named because of his white forehead. He has been with us for at least 3 winters. I have no idea as to what the life expectancy of a sparrow should be, but look forward to his visits continuing a while yet.

Let's hope that Chalky does not meet up with Sally.

Reports of Outdoor Events 26th November 2000 - 4th February     

Brian King

Gobion, Sunday 26th November, leader Brian King.

A quiet walk in welcome fine weather with conditions still wet under foot and the river still high. The walk upstream produced Goosander, Mute Swans and Little Grebes, but there were few birds in the hedges and trees. Flooding prevented a look around the oxbow, so we returned to the bridge. With time in hand, we walked downstream where riverside trees held good numbers of finches, Long-tailed Tits, Siskins, Redwing and Fieldfares, and we were able to watch a large flock of Starlings.

Llanwenarth, Saturday 9th December.

George Noakes and Steve Butler were brave leaders after another spell of heavy rain, the walk starting along flooded lanes overlooking flooded fields holding Wigeon. Sheltering in the churchyard from a heavy downpour, we watched some finches and Redwing. The path to the river was quite good and although the water was high, we saw Goosander, Little Grebe, a large group of gulls, and watched a Kingfisher for some time. Redpolls and Siskin were seen feeding in trees on the opposite bank. The force of the river was demonstrated when a large tree was washed from the bank into the rushing water. In all, it was a worthwhile walk despite the wet conditions.

Collister Pill, Saturday 16th December.

Yet another wet start for this final walk of the year, with Chris Jones leading the group. Difficult walking conditions along the sea wall restricted the distance covered, but we were able to see a large number of Curlew and large groups of passing Dunlin. A covey of Grey Partridge was feeding along the road, and several Goldeneye flew along the estuary. A quiet damp end to the outdoor year.

Llandegfedd Reservoir, Sunday 7th January, leader Chris Hatch.

A large group assembled on a sunny frosty morning. We were hoping for a sighting of the recently reported Great Northern Diver, but we were to be disappointed despite our best efforts. However it was good to watch a flock of some 200+ Lapwing at rest and in flight, along with good views of Canada Geese, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye and Shelduck. A Snipe was watched from the hide, and Redpolls were seen in the waterside bushes. Moving to the west edge, an out of season Common Sandpiper was seen towards the end of the reservoir, and we had good views as it moved away in rapid flight.

Slimbridge, Sunday 4th February.

Several members supported this visit to the reserve and the Bird Fair. The stands filled the entrance hall, providing interesting exhibits for the many visitors. Despite gloomy forecasts, the rain held off during the morning and it was pleasantly mild. As usual, it was good to brush up on the identity of many species not normally seen at close quarters.

Very large numbers of Lapwing were present, as were Wigeon and Pochard. The flight of Bewick's Swans for feeding at dusk was not on the scale of last year because the birds had been disturbed in the morning and were nervous. However, they arrived in groups of three to five, and soon filled the lake. During this time, a growing flock of Starlings gathered, wheeling in the fading light before roosting. .

Committee Commentary, February Meeting

Trevor Russell

"£1000 grant hangs by a thread of frogspawn!" Not quite in the same league of the "Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster" headline, but perhaps gaining equal notoriety is the delay surrounding the sale of Goytre House Wood by Monmouthshire County Council. The grant was awarded by M.C.C. to GOS to clear the pond in the wood. However, work cannot proceed until we become the legal owners but the money has to be spent by the end of the financial year, March 31st, otherwise it will be forfeited and we will need to apply again in the new financial year, in April!

And the frogspawn? Even if we could clear the pond before March, there was concern that frogs or newts might have started spawning. If that proved to be so, it was agreed to postpone clearance work until the autumn.

Gwent Levels Wetlands Reserve. Controversy still surrounds the parking and public access at the Reserve. Consultation meetings are now underway with residents in the vicinity of the reserve and other interested groups, including GOS. See News from the Gwent Levels Wetlands Reserve on page 6 for more details.

Birds of Gwent/Breeding Atlas. Early analysis of the survey data for this project suggests that fewer species are being recorded in tetrads compared with the previous Atlas in 1987. All members are requested to join in this important and groundbreaking work - the GOS is believed to be the first Society to repeat a survey on this scale in order to create a 'before and after' picture. Please be part of it!

Helen demonstrated an archive software programme, MapMate, at the meeting. One of several recording programmes available, it is relatively inexpensive and will enable records to be retrieved by species, by date or by location (Grid Reference). Therefore all recorders are requested to quote the location name and the grid reference of their sightings on their record slips.

Helen also demonstrated the club web site at http://www.gwentbirds.org.uk . The site is still under construction, and any comments would be welcomed. Our thanks to Phil Thompson for taking on this task and producing such a professional looking site.

Charity Begins at Home

A Review of the January 2001 Annual General Meeting

Trevor Russell

It all started routinely enough as around 60 members gathered to hear the Treasurer, Gareth Waite, explain that without a £1000 gift from our late President, Betty Morgan, we would have had a deficit of around £400 in the year. This was attributed to a slowly shrinking membership, now around 370. We will need to increase our membership if we are to operate with a small surplus. This also applies to indoor meetings where, despite an apparently excellent range of speakers and topics, attendance is rapidly declining. It is a puzzle to understand why.

The Chairman's report outlined the bequest of Goytre House Wood from Betty Morgan and the need to amend our Constitution to become registered as a Charity because the Society would become landowners (this was discussed at length later in the Agenda)

A detailed description of our recording area will also become enshrined in the new Constitution so that changes may only be made with the agreement of the AGM. It was later agreed to try to get a map of our recording area published in a forthcoming edition of The Dipper.

Alan also announced that a GOS website is under construction. It will contain such details as the Outdoor Programme (complete with maps of rendezvous points!), Indoor programme, County list, recent sightings, membership details etc. When the main pages and links have been completed the website address will be announced. (It is up and running at www.gwentbirds.org.uk.)

The change to Charitable status provoked a long discussion which eventually centred on the confusion caused by using different terminology in the new Constitution and the Rules for the Conduct of Business. The terms "Trustees", "Officers of the Society" and "Executive Committee" had been used interchangeably between the two documents and it was clarified that these terms related to the same body of people - the Committee! The new Constitution will be published once the Charity Commissioners have accepted it.

No nominations had been received for the role of Vice Chairman following the resignation of Helen Jones. The Committee will discuss this matter further, as we shall need to find a successor to Alan Williams as Chairman by the next AGM. Any volunteers?

The present Officers of the Society were prepared to stand for re-election. Gareth Waite was confirmed as Treasurer, Brian Gregory confirmed as Report Editor whilst Richard Clarke and Ruth Brown were both confirmed as Committee members.

For the second year running the long discussions had provoked seating fatigue and there was no enthusiasm left for a quiz.


Adam Rowlands, Reserve Warden

Almost immediately after the announcement in the last Dipper regarding the Reserve Car Park at Uskmouth, we had to close it again. This was due to a major bank slippage on the northern boundary of the Uskmouth lagoons, which required a great deal of engineering works and heavy plant to repair. The Car Park was closed for safety reasons, but the works are now virtually complete and we have been able to re-open the Car Park once more!

The study investigating all aspects of access, community, recreation, interpretation and education involving the Reserve is to be carried out by the Wetlands Advisory Service (the consultancy wing of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust). This project is in two phases. The first involves an extensive series of consultation to identify the aspirations of all organisations and individuals with an interest in the Reserve. The second will be a series of recommendations detailing how those aspirations can best be delivered. The study has already begun and WAS will produce their final report and recommendations in June.

The cold snap over the New Year period left virtually all the lagoons and floods frozen for a prolonged period. Waterfowl numbers on the newly created habitats dropped as a consequence, with the birds moving out on to the estuary and further afield. With the subsequent thaw numbers have begun to rise again, and we have recorded our highest counts of several wildfowl species during January. Selected peak counts during December and January include 3 Little Egret, 333 Shelduck, 580 Wigeon, 50 Gadwall, 1066 Teal, 380 Pintail, 163 Shoveler, 44 Pochard, 66 Tufted Duck, 64 Grey Plover, 374 Lapwing, 4500 Dunlin, 79 Snipe and 187 Curlew

Additional highlights include a Black-necked Grebe at Uskmouth in early January, a drake Ring-necked Duck at Uskmouth from late January, 1 - 2 Short-eared Owl throughout the period and a Firecrest in mid-December. Up to five Pochard x Tufted Duck hybrids continue to visit the Uskmouth lagoons, suspected to be the progeny of a drake Pochard and female Tufted that bred here in 2000.

We would again request that all birdwatchers visiting the site attempt to create as little disturbance as possible. This particularly refers to the Goldcliff lagoons where winter bird usage has increased in recent weeks. All present access to these lagoons is permissive - there are no public footpaths from which the lagoons are visible).

We would appreciate it if visitors could refrain from walking along the seawalls to Goldcliff Pill (and along the top of the seawalls and embankments at all locations on the Reserve) as this causes significant disturbance. The mouth of the Pill can be viewed from the public footpath along Boat Lane, at ST 362825. We are grateful for the co-operation of all GOS members in these aspects, which will hopefully allow more birds to use the site, and therefore provide more for all visitors to see.

WWT Consultation on Access, Community, Recreation, Interpretation and Education for the Gwent Levels Wetlands Reserve.

As mentioned in Committee Commentary and Adam Rowlands' contribution above, this process is underway. Representatives of GOS have attended one meeting on behalf of the Society. However the consultation is open to anyone with an interest in putting forward their own views. Residents of Nash, Whitson and Goldcliff should have received a mail-shot regarding this. Local Surgeries have been held at Nash Community Hall. At the time of going to press, just one more of these is scheduled, on Tuesday 13th March. If you are interested, contact Abi Pedlow at Slimbridge WWT (01453 891900 ext. 121, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .)

Gwent Atlas of Breeding Birds 1998-2001

Progress report for 2000

We have now completed three years of recording. Cover has not been as good as we had hoped, and as we enter our last full recording year, some 25% of our 400 tetrads have not been covered to anything like the necessary depth. It is true that we will be continuing Atlas recording into 2002, but that will be a mopping-up year when we fill in the blanks and ensure that we have got a comprehensive coverage. This mopping-up operation is likely to be quite extensive, and will involve us asking a fair number of observers to record in a new tetrad for their last year. This will not generally apply to observers who have taken on new tetrads for 2001, as we would like most tetrads to have received at least 2 year' cover. However, we would like tetrads that were started in 2000 or earlier to be completed by the end of the coming season so that observers are free to take on new tetrads for the final fling in 2002.

There is still time for you to volunteer to do some Atlas recording in 2001, so if you would like some interesting summer bird watching, contact any of the four Atlas Organisers. Failure to complete the Atlas properly would greatly reduce its value, so please think about whether you could contribute. If you are already contributing to the Atlas, but have not returned your card(s) for last year, we have probably assumed that you have dropped out, and reallocated your tetrads. If this assumption is wrong, please let us know.

Best wishes for the coming season

Al Venables

Ian Walker

Jerry Lewis

Mary Plunkett

GOS birders move and extend their PUB-CRAWL!     

Ian Smith

The weekly pub get together has been a regular feature of Gwent birders for nearly two decades, changing and adapting to new circumstances. Now there are two major changes:

WEDNESDAY EVENING MEETINGS have moved, from Llangybi, to a 9pm slot at the 'Greyhound' pub in Christchurch on the northern outskirts of Newport (Grid Ref. ST345 893). Many birders will remember the Greyhound as the regular haunt in the 1980's, abandoned then due to decreasing space and increasing noise. Things have returned to a more civilised nature since then. We are also resurrecting the idea of meeting earlier for a meal every THIRD WEDNESDAY of the month, the next garrulous gastronomic gathering being on 21st March, 7.30 for 8pm.

A new venture is meeting in the 'Moon and Sixpence' at the north end of Tintern village alongside the A466 (Grid Ref. SO528 007). This is on the FIRST FRIDAY of each month at 8.30pm. A number of birders now reside in this tiny village that is also within striking distance for birders in nearby Monmouthshire towns and the Forest of Dean.

New faces are always welcome; particularly those who can separate a Troglodytes troglodytes from a Tetrao urogallus, even though you may not necessarily have seen both.

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