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December 2004 - Newsletter 93 PDF Print E-mail

Reminder of Annual General Meeting 2005

The Annual General Meeting will be held on January 8th 2005, in the Village Hall, Goytre, starting at 7:30pm.

The Agenda and minutes of the 2004 AGM were distributed earlier in December.  If you haven’t received them, please let me know so that I can send you a copy.

Postal nominations should have been be received by January 1st 2005, though nominations can be taken from the floor on the 8th.

A short Finger Buffet will follow the AGM. The trick here is to bring some finger food to be shared by everyone but then select something that looks far more appetising than your own offering!

Following the buffet Al Venables will offer tantalising revelations in a behind-the-scenes progress report on the second ‘Gwent Atlas of Breeding Birds’. Being one of the first counties in the UK to produce a sequel to their first Atlas, the comparative data should give us not only absorbing reading but some intriguing insights into what the BOGII team have in mind for this eagerly-awaited volume in 2006.

You will need to pay attention, as there could be a test afterwards!

Announcements

Most of you will have been notified of the death of two members in December, but we have also been notified of one in November.  We would like to extend our sympathy to all GOS members who have lost family members during the year.

Colin Strange, from Abergavenny, died the end of November.   He had joined the Society in October 1991 and was a frequent participant in outdoor events during the early and mid 90s.

Having attended his close friend Colin Strange’s funeral, George Noakes was admitted to Nevil Hall Hospital a couple of days later and, sadly, died on 12th December.  George joined GOS in October 1989.  More recently he has succeeded Graham Harris as Librarian and has organised “out of county” trips for the outdoor programme.  He was one of the very active Abergavenny birders and a tribute to him from his friends appears on page 12.

The third was probably our oldest member, Peggie Cook.  Peggie was 98, and had been a long-standing member, having joined GOS in February 1974.  She has been a regular visitor to indoor meetings up to the day before her fall at home.  She was proficient in sign language and using this had been a stalwart in helping Kathy Leyshon, who greets you at the door, to appreciate the talks.  Anyone who wishes to give a donation in memory of Peggie may do so directly to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, West Quay Road, Poole, Dorset, BH15 1HZ, or to Helen Jones at an indoor meeting.

Promoting GOS

Outdoor Clothing with an Emroidered GOS Logo!

For those of you unable to attend the last couple of indoor meetings, you may be unaware that we can now offer polo shirts, sweatshirts and fleeces with an embroidered GOS logo.

All three garments are available in small, medium, large and extra large, Black, Navy or Bottle Green and the text in the logo can be embroidered in either silver or gold.  Delivery is normally 2 weeks, i.e.  order at one meeting, collect and pay at the next. The prices are:

  • Polo Shirt £12
  • Sweatshirt £15
  • Fleece £20

For further details please contact Trevor Russell

South Wales Argus Birdwatching Column

On the13th November, the South Wales Argus commenced the publication of a Saturday, fortnightly bird watching column (I don’t think I could sustain a weekly column!), and I shall be reporting on behalf of GOS.

The Argus seems enthusiastic about it and thinks that it will appeal to their readership.  With sales of about 30,000 copies on a Saturday, I think that it is a good opportunity to get some publicity for the Society and hopefully get more people interested in birds and our activities.

The GOS logo and website address will appear in the column, which will be about 300-400 words long, and photos are welcome as long as they are in jpeg format.  I’m trying to aim the content at general readers and intend to write something about the following:

  • What to look out for at the present
  • Basic ID information
  • Unusual sightings
  • Forthcoming GOS events

Anything topical e.g. Feed the birds day, Garden Birdwatch, birdtrack , 2005 Owl survey etc

I would be very grateful for any input from GOS members.  If you have ideas or opinions of what should be in the column please let me know (I‘m open to suggestions but may get a bit quivery lipped if you are too critical)!  Also, please get in touch if you have any tales, news or anecdotes or if you have any photos that you think would be of interest.

Remember, this is your column - I’m just the bloke who is composing it.

Drop me a line at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call me on 01633 866470

News from Newport Wetlands Reserve

Kevin Dupé, Reserves Manager

In September, 11 volunteers from the Pontypool Inland Revenue office spent two days at the reserve installing benches along our ‘Access for all’ route at Uskmouth. They installed 9 benches, which were made from redundant sluice boards and old telegraph poles. The only thing we had to pay for was the nails to hold them together! We have also surfaced the path that goes through the copse near the start of the cycle track at Uskmouth, allowing people in wheelchairs or with pushchairs to access the cycle track from the car park. It also makes it pleasanter walking for others as this path did get quite muddy in the winter.

The improvements to the viewing platforms at Goldcliff are almost complete. Richie Smith, our part–time Assistant Reserves Manager, has been assisted by several volunteers, but in particular Keith Jones (one of the two Keith Jones who are GOS members) has helped Richie for a couple of days each week. Other volunteers have used willow from Uskmouth to create screening for the platforms. The improvements should make the platforms much better to use and greatly reduce disturbance to the birds.

Duck numbers at Goldcliff have been fantastic this past month with Nationally Important numbers of Shoveler feeding in the saline lagoons. Tony Pickup (Senior Reserves Manager) counted 142 on 7th November. Wigeon numbers are around the thousand mark across the Reserve. A few years ago they were mostly feeding at night on the wet grassland, but this year they are feeding in the daytime over most of the Saltmarsh Grasslands.

At the end of November we pumped water into Field Block 3 (visible from Goldcliff Road, just after Red House Farm). We pumped for a total of 44 hours using one of our 6” diesel pumps and this raised the water level by 15cm. Duck numbers using these fields increased immediately and Lapwings started roosting on the flooded islands.

We quickly put the reed viewing screen back up across the gateway down Boat Road and I was testing this out when I witnessed a wonderful sight. A Peregrine was diving down on the Lapwings that were roosting there. One brave Lapwing flew up and started mobbing the Peregrine, then after a few minutes half the flock flew up and climbed very, very high. They were just tiny specks with the naked eye and not much bigger with binoculars. The Peregrine climbed higher and broke one Lapwing away from the flock. The Lapwing kept closing its wing to lose height with the Peregrine stooping after it. I thought the Lapwing was a certain goner, but it would dodge the Peregrine at the last second. This happened at least twice before the Lapwing reached the safety of the ground. The Peregrine gave up and flew off to find it’s food elsewhere. It made me think of children in WWII watching dogfights overhead.

The roosting Starlings are spectacular again this winter. Adrian Hickman estimates the numbers at over 30,000. There have been no sightings of Bittern yet, but we have mown areas in 3 reedbeds to provide suitable habitat for them to hunt in.

Lastly, some non-avian news. On 2nd December I saw a Common Darter dragonfly near Boat Road. This is a new County Record for lateness (by one day!).  On 29th November I had seen 3 in the same spot and 2 at Uskmouth a few days before.  Global warming?

Field Trip Reports

Portland Bird weekend, September 17th–19th, 2004 (George Noakes)

Twenty members met at the Observatory in the late afternoon, allowing us a few hours birding. Strong onshore winds with frequent heavy showers meant that sea-watching was the best option but only the commonest species were seen passing the Bill. Saturday turned out to be another sea-watching day as the weather conditions failed to improve. However, a flock of fishing Gulls and Gannets off the Bill lured in some more interesting species, allowing some members to gain a few “ticks”. Highlights were close views of Manx, Balearic and Sooty Shearwaters, some close enough to photograph. A brief visit to Chesil Cove failed to reveal the Sabine’s Gull observed there earlier in the day but our next stop at Ferrybridge allowed us to see a wide range of waders. Back at the Observatory most of the group enjoyed close views of a Firecrest in the garden. Sunday turned out to be a much clearer day, although a stiff breeze was still blowing. A fair number of Pipits, Wagtails and Swallows could be seen passing overhead but birds were difficult to find on the ground. After leaving the Observatory, most of the group called at Radipole RSPB reserve where, in more sheltered conditions, several species of warblers were seen. Our final destination was Lodmoor RSPB reserve where a small flock of feeding Black-tailed Godwits provided excellent photo opportunities.

Again, the Observatory turned out to be an excellent base and the group received a friendly welcome from the warden and members. The Pulpit pub was a good meeting place for our evening gatherings where we met with GOS members who had chosen to stay in local B&Bs. The B&B seemed an attractive alternative once Observatory guests had experienced John Davies’ culinary efforts on Saturday morning. The kitchen soon became a no-go area as billows of smoke rose from the cooker where he was making a special full English breakfast for himself and Steve Butler. Fortunately, Steve’s fire-fighting expertise was not called upon as John eventually gained control of the frying pan and every window was opened to clear the air.

  1. Fulmar
  2. Sooty Shearwater
  3. Manx Shearwater
  4. Balearic Shearwater
  5. Gannet
  6. Cormorant
  7. Shag
  8. Little Egret
  9. Grey Heron
  10. Mute Swan
  11. Great Crested Grebe
  12. Mallard
  13. Tufted Duck
  14. Common Scoter
  15. Sparrowhawk
  16. Kestrel
  17. Merlin
  18. Sandwich Tern
  19. Guillemot
  20. Oystercatcher
  21. Ringed Plover
  22. Knot
  23. Sanderling
  24. Curlew Sandpiper
  25. Dunlin
  26. Black-tailed Godwit
  27. Turnstone
  28. Arctic Skua
  29. Black-headed Gull
  30. Lesser Black-backed Gull
  31. Greater Black-backed Gull
  32. Herring Gull
  33. Kittiwake
  34. Wood Pigeon
  35. Little Owl
  36. Skylark
  37. Swallow
  38. House Martin
  39. Rock Pipit
  40. Meadow Pipit
  41. Pied Wagtail
  42. Grey Wagtail
  43. Wren
  44. Robin
  45. Wheatear
  46. Whinchat
  47. Blackbird
  48. Blackcap
  49. Whitethroat
  50. Cetti’s Warbler
  51. Firecrest
  52. Blue Tit
  53. Great Tit
  54. Magpie
  55. Crow
  56. Starling
  57. House Sparrow
  58. Greenfinch
  59. Goldfinch
  60. Linnet

Newport Wetlands Reserve 3rd October 2004 (Richard Clarke)

Gale force winds and torrential rain were forecast but fortunately the forecasters didn’t get it quite right and the walk went ahead mostly in the dry.  En route to the old reedbeds at the eastern end of the site we saw good numbers of Goldfinch heard several Cetti’s Warblers calling and witnessed some migration with small parties of Chaffinch and Meadow Pipit travelling through.

Once at the old reedbeds we met members of the Goldcliff Ringing Group who provided a demonstration of bird ringing with some 30 birds being processed while we were there.  We had excellent views of birds in the hand including Goldcrest, Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Cetti’s Warbler.  The latter being a real treat for those members who had only previously heard this often-elusive species.  As we were leaving, a late Reed Warbler put in an appearance.

Back on the trail, a distant Peregrine Falcon was spotted on a pylon.  Wildfowl seen included Gadwall, Ruddy Duck and a small party of Wigeon on the saltmarsh.  At least three Stonechat, presumably now at the site to spend the winter, were seen hovering over the reeds.  Finally a few Swallows, a Common Darter dragonfly and a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly indicated the last signs of summer.  Overall 51 species were recorded– not bad for what had looked to be a morning when a snooze on was the best proposition.

Peterstone 21st November  (Chris Jones):

A typical grey overcast day.  The walk from Peterstone Church to the seawall was very quiet, a small flock of House Sparrows being the only birds.

Scanning out over the estuary from the seawall, a mixed flock of about 500 Knot and Dunlin flew past and landed alongside a group of 50+ Black-tailed Godwits.  The walk towards the Pill behind the sea wall was also quiet, with very few birds picked up in the bushes, despite them being generally full of berries.  Arriving at the Pill, we tucked ourselves below the seawall and waited for the tide.  A male Goosander, a good bird for the estuary, flew down the Pill and landed just offshore.  There was a good selection of other duck present, 70+ Shoveler, 170+ Teal, Shelduck, Pintail and 170+ Wigeon.  Wader numbers were gathering all the time on the foreshore, ending up with totals of 320 Black-tailed Godwits, 3,000 Dunlin, at least 1,500 Knot, 180 Redshank and 50 Grey Plover.  The waders were generally very edgy, as a female / immature Merlin spent quite a while moving around several of the posts on the foreshore.  As the tide reached the stony foreshore we managed to move and were rewarded with excellent close views of the gathering numbers.  The highlight, however, was a Short-eared Owl which flew from behind us and was then attacked by a Peregrine.  A quick check of the gout revealed just 2 Stonechats and the now expected Little Egret.  All in all, an excellent few hours at a now under watched and what used to be a primary birding location in the County.

The Exe Estuary and Dawlish Warren 4th Decembers (Steve Butler):

Sadly, George Noakes was not well enough to attend this “out of county” event that he had arranged.

The day began at 7:00am when seven GOS members met for the trip to Devon.  Arriving at Dawlish Warren at 9:00 am, our birding started well with sightings of a Kestrel on a lamppost and Chiffchaffs in the bushes.  The weather was extremely pleasant for the time of year and the sun shone, and continued to shine, all day.

We moved onto the sand dunes overlooking the beach.  The sea was calm and clear, and the light was good.  Over the sea, we saw 20+ Red-throated Divers, Slavonian and Great-crested Grebes, Red-breasted Mergansers, 4 Eider, Cormorants, Shags, and a flock of Common Scoter.

We moved to the hide, where the high tide brought Brent Geese (pale and dark-bellied), good numbers of Grey Plover, Sanderling, Knot, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Ringed Plover, Curlew, Redshank and Little Egret, close in.

We then went to Exminster Marshes where we had views of Water Rail, large flocks of Wigeon, Shoveler and Teal, and we heard Bearded Tits calling in the reeds.  Looking over the estuary, there were considerable numbers of Avocet, Golden Plover, Lapwing, and gulls.

It was a very successful and enjoyable day, with 82 species recorded.

  1. Red-throated Diver
  2. Great Northern Diver
  3. Great crested Grebe
  4. Slavonian Grebe
  5. Cormorant
  6. Shag
  7. Grey Heron
  8. Little Egret
  9. Mute Swan
  10. Shelduck
  11. Brent Goose
  12. Canada Goose
  13. Wigeon
  14. Teal
  15. Mallard
  16. Pintail
  17. Shoveler
  18. Pochard
  19. Eider
  20. Common Scoter
  21. Red-breasted Merganser
  22. Buzzard
  23. Kestrel
  24. Pheasant
  25. Water Rail
  26. Moorhen
  27. Coot
  28. Oystercatcher
  29. Avocet
  30. Ringed Plover
  31. Golden Plover
  32. Grey Plover
  33. Lapwing
  34. Turnstone
  35. Knot
  36. Sanderling
  37. Dunlin
  38. Snipe
  39. Redshank
  40. Black-tailed Godwit
  41. Curlew
  42. Black-headed Gull
  43. Common Gull
  44. Lesser Black-backed Gull
  45. Great Black-backed Gull
  46. Herring Gull
  47. Guillemot
  48. Razorbill
  49. Wood Pigeon
  50. Collared Dove
  51. Feral Pigeon
  52. Meadow Pipit
  53. Rock Pipit
  54. Pied Wagtail
  55. Grey Wagtail
  56. Starling
  57. Magpie
  58. Jackdaw
  59. Rook
  60. Carrion Crow
  61. Wren
  62. Dunnock
  63. Chiffchaff
  64. Goldcrest
  65. Stonechat
  66. Robin
  67. Blackbird
  68. Song Thrush
  69. Mistle Thrush
  70. Fieldfare
  71. Redwing
  72. Bearded Tit
  73. Coal Tit
  74. Blue Tit
  75. Great Tit
  76. House Sparrow
  77. Chaffinch
  78. Greenfinch
  79. Goldfinch
  80. Linnet
  81. Reed Bunting

BTO News

Jerry Lewis

First of all I would like to make a plea for the return of this spring/summer's survey forms.  I am still short of forms for several BBS, Nightjar and Swallow Surveys where I know that the surveys have been done.  Please let me have them as soon as possible to ensure that they are included in the analysis.  Some surveyors may think that if they didn't find the target species it doesn't matter if the forms are not returned, however negative records are just as valuable as positive records in this respect, and there isn't much point in doing the survey if the results are not returned.

This is the second season of the Winter Gull Roost Survey, and most of our coast was counted last winter. Unfortunately the key gull roost at Llandegfedd Reservoir wasn't, so the priority is to ensure it is covered this time with a single visit in January needed.  If you are able to help with the count there, please contact me.  The counts of key sites however will only give a minimum population estimate, so to find out how many other gulls are out there, counts at other randomly selected tetrads are also needed - these tetrads are inland at Tintern and at 3 sites just inland from the coast - Alexandra Dock Newport, Whitson and Chepstow. There is also an opportunity to count at any other site where gulls roost, so plenty of opportunity to help at a site convenient for you.

The Scarce Woodland Bird Survey is scheduled to start next spring and will run for the next 2 breeding seasons. As volunteers will select their own survey sites, some advance planning is needed to produce the appropriate maps by the end of January, so anyone interested should make contact soon. The habitat recording will be simplified from that usually required on other surveys (by the use of innovative diagrams), and CDs of the songs/calls of the target species will be available. The aim is to get information on the habitat use and variation in densities of a range of woodland specialists across their UK ranges.  All types of woodland are suitable for this survey, and birds are recorded on transect routes (woodland walks) chosen by the observer, ideally in two different woods - one known to be good for birds and the other not so good.  The main target species are Firecrest, Hawfinch, Lesser Redpoll, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Redstart, Tree Pipit, Willow Tit and Wood Warbler, but a range of more common woodland species will also be recorded. This sounds like a good opportunity for some pleasant woodland walking whilst seeking out some of the County’s more elusive species, let me know if you are interested.

Please look at Birdtrack the online, year round, bird recording scheme developed between BTO, RSPB and Birdwatch Ireland. It will use your bird watching lists to support species and site conservation at local, national and international levels. Results will include the mapping of migration/movements of birds and the monitoring of scarce species. You can also use Birdtrack to store all of your bird watching records and, with your permission, these records will be available to the local bird recorders. For more information visit the Birdtrack website www.birdtrack.net or e mail the organiser at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Save your Stamps for Albatrosses

Every year 100,000 albatrosses are killed by longline fishing. This is having a devastating impact on albatross populations across the world.  Now all 21 species of albatross are threatened with extinction.  Please help save these magnificent birds.

The RSPB has raised more than £650,000 for their 'Save the Albatross' appeal.  You can help to raise even more by collecting the used stamps from your post, which they can sell.  If possible, please put UK and foreign stamps in separate, labelled envelopes. You don't have to steam the stamp from the envelope, just tear off the corner with the stamp and send it in.  The RSPB can raise £1.50 per kg for UK stamps and £12.50 per kg for foreign stamps.

Bring your stamps to Helen Jones at an indoor meeting, or send them directly to: RSPB Stamps, PO Box 6198, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire LU7 9XT. Please do not include any other correspondence.   This appeal will run until summer 2006.

Committee Commentary for October and November 2004

Trevor Russell

Protest action against the Newport Unitary Development Plan (NUDP) is underway with a joint protest from GWT, RSPB and GOS.  GOS used the latest Atlas data to summarise Red and Amber listed birds already in decline in the tetrads under threat of the development, and this was used as part of the joint submission.  Not surprisingly, as a consequence of the NUDP, it is thought likely that the M4 Relief Road scheme will be resurrected shortly which will impact on 6 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI’s), cause habitat destruction and contribute yet further to global warming with increased traffic volumes.

Consultants working on the Pendragon Wind Farm Development have asked for our breeding bird data for the 5 or 6 tetrads that may be affected, and the Committee agreed a fee to charge for the data.

It was agreed that we should create a weblink between our website and that of GreenWeb, www.monmouthshiregreenweb.co.uk, a network of organisations working to conserve the environment of Monmouthshire.  This will allow members to exchange information and opinion with each other and the wider public.

The planning application to fell ancient woodland and develop the area surrounding the Hendre Estate near Monmouth appears to have faltered, if not withdrawn. Nevertheless similar planning applications are anticipated and it was agreed to donate £25 to the Friends of Hendre Estate Fund to assist with in keeping everyone informed via their newsletter.  It was also agreed to donate £25 to the recent RSPB appeal “The Sea Life”

It was agreed to drop the idea to resurrect the Annual Dinner because there was insufficient support when the proposal was put to indoor meetings.  Thanks were expressed to Barbara Willis who had offered to organise it had there been sufficient numbers.

The four Committee members who will retire by rotation in January 2005 are: Ruth Brown, Richard Clarke, John Davies and Tony White. Diane Elliott and Dave Bassey attended both meetings as observers and will hopefully be nominated to join the Committee from January.

All Officers of the Committee expressed a willingness to stand for 2005.  See the AGM papers, distributed in December, for more details which invites further nominations.

Keith Roylance, Treasurer, wanted a decision on the amount of Bird Surveyor fees to be retained by the Surveyor. The formula proposed was (Payment Received minus Expenses) x 0.75, i.e. 75% to be retained by the Surveyor. This was agreed as an appropriate amount.

As part of the Torfaen Biodiversity Action Plan project Alan Williams will be grateful to receive any information regarding nesting Spotted Flycatchers in the Torfaen area.  In particular, what nesting sites they are using – walls/trees etc

The Annual Report for 2003 was distributed at the indoor meeting on Saturday 14th November and the remainder posted out the following week. Errors, both factual and typographical are being collated and steps will be taken to eradicate them in future editions.

Chris Jones reported a serious concern over car parking at the Goldcliff end of the Newport Wetland Reserve. Recent walks have attracted in excess of 70 birders who have swamped the Farmers Arms car park and surrounding areas. GOS walks publicised widely by the NWR seem to attract the greatest numbers and it was agreed that, in the interest of the Goldcliff residents, GOS would offer to lead 2 walks a year for NWR, and supply sufficient leaders for approximately 20 participants per leader. Programmed GOS walks at the NWR would be publicised to GOS members only to try to limit the numbers.

Regeneration of trees at Goytre House Wood is going well and it is intended to sleeve new oak seedlings. Beech mast has been planted and rhododendrons will be removed. The Tritikale and clover crop is seeding well and should attract seed feeders soon. 18 bats were found in 8 bat boxes, and three Daubenton bat boxes will shortly be purchased and installed.

The Gwent Wildlife Trust has recently published a document “Criteria For the Selection of  Wildlife Sites”.  Details are invited from anyone who considers they know a potentially qualifying site. Contact Gemma Bodé, 01600 740600.

Subscription rates starting January 2006 were discussed. Helen pointed out that in financial terms, whilst adult and family rates covered costs, the present £7 rate for Senior Citizens does not, and she proposed to increase the Senior Citizen rate by £1 to cover postage & printing increases and leave the other rates as they are. However, after discussion, it was decided that despite the financial facts, this might be considered to be “ageist”, and a majority voted to agree that from January 2006, subscription rates would increase by £1 for all members and that this should be proposed at the January 2005 AGM.  Following further discussion between the Chairman, Membership Secretary and Treasurer after the meeting, this issue has been deferred for a year though your comments regarding this issue would still be welcomed at the AGM.

Christmas Card Recycling

During January, collection boxes for Christmas Card recycling will be available at high street WHSmiths stores and Tesco stores.  Funds raised from the scheme will support the Woodland Trust to give every child the chance to plant trees as part of a major new campaign called “Tree for All” which aims to plant 12 million trees over the next five years.  If you can’t get to these shops but come to indoor meetings, bring your cards along to the meetings on the 8th and 22nd January and give them to Helen Jones.

Recent Bird Sightings (13th September to 2 January)

Compiled by Helen Jones from information received on the website

Some summer visitors continued to be seen during September and October. Last dates reported on the website are below, as are first sightings of winter thrushes. 
One singing Chiffchaff NWRG, 29th OctThree at Collister Pill area 14th Nov Five Wheatear, including juvs, as St Brides Wentloge on the 14th Sep and 1 At West Pill/Undy on 24th Sep
Willow Warbler LR 7th Oct A few Yellow Wagtails at NWRG on 24th Sep
Hobby, M4 Jnct 2, 11th Oct A few Redwing, St Brides Wentlooge on 24th Sep
Garden Warbler, PW/SF 19th Sep Black Redstart NWRG 6-11th Nov
4 Reed Warbler, PW/SF 19th Sep Fieldfare, Abergavenny 11th Oct
Whinchat, NWRG 15th Sep and at Undy 24th Sep 1 Sand Martin, Collister area on 19th Sep
1 female Redstart NWRG 3rd Oct C15,000 Swallows West Pill/Undy on 24th Sep
House martins LR on 19th Sep  
Location Date Species and Comments
  September
Unusual sightings in September included a Gannet in a field of rape stubble viewed from the Monmouth/ Brecon Canal at Mamhilad on the 14th, and another in a weakened condition in Fairwater, Cwmbran on the 20th.  A Manx Shearwater was found inland at Abergavenny on the 28th.  A sad sighting was that of a dead Fin Whale at St Brides Wentlooge for several days from the 23rd.
Llandegfedd Res. The Red-necked Phalarope reported on the 13th was present up to the 16th.  This is only the 3rd record, the last being a juvenile at Goldcliff in August 2002 (2002 Annual Report).  The first was from a sludge pond at Lower House Farm, Coed Morgan in November 1972.  It was originally recorded as a Grey Phalarope but later examinations of photographs confirmed the opinion of some observers at the time that this was in fact a Red-necked Phalarope (The Birds of Gwent, 1977)
15 Common Sandpiper
16 Adult Mediterranean Gull; 1 Yellow-legged Gull
19 Immature Shag, also present on 20th.
23 Osprey, also on 26th and 30th;
Goldcliff Sea watch 13 small number of Manx Shearwaters, single Little Gull and Arctic Tern, several Common Terns
14 Manx Shearwaters, a Gannet and an immature Long-tailed Skua
19 9 Common/Arctic Terns
Draethen area 14 Short-eared Owl
NWR Goldcliff   Regulars throughout the month include Little Egret, with 29 on 15th; Shelduck; Pintail with c40 on 16th; Mallard with 64 on 21st; Teal with 40 on 21st; Wigeon with 86 on 21st; Gadwall with 10 on 15th; Shoveler with 20 on the 15th; Wader species recorded regularly were Black-tailed Godwits with 160 on 21st; Knot c430 on 21st; up to 10 Greenshank; up to 12 Ringed Plover, Little ringed Plover; Dunlin; Redshank
  14 Ruff & Reeve, 2 present up to 26th;
  15 80 Goldfinch; juv Little Stint and Little Ringed Plover; 10 Greenshank
  18 1 Curlew Sandpiper, also on 19th; 2 Turnstone
  19 5 Bar-tailed Godwit
  21 1 ? Snow Bunting; 17 Curlew
  24 Pectoral Sandpiper
  26 3 Little Stint; 3 Grey Plover, 6 on 28th; Golden Plover
Collister Pill area 18 c470 Curlew; 1 freshly dead adult Gannet
Ynysyfro 19 2 Barnacle Geese
St Brides Wentlooge 19 Immature Shag
West Pill/Undy 24 6 Tree Sparrow; 6 Red-legged Partridge; c 450 Wigeon
Peterstone 25 Juv Sabine’s Gull; ad winter Mediterranean Gull; Merlin; 2 Golden Plover
  October
Llandegfedd Res. 03 Juv Osprey present up to 7th;
07 3 Stock Dove; 5 Marsh Tit
10 1 Red-necked Grebe, also on 11th.
11 ? Velvet Scoter
NWR Uskmouth   Regulars include Little Grebe with 12 on 4th; Cetti’s Warbler with 13 on 4th;
04 Red-breasted Mergansers; Little Terns; Sandwich Terns; 1 Ruddy Duck
09 Juv. ? Hen Harrier
NWR Goldcliff Throughout the month, Little Egret with 11 on 6th; ducks and waders as for September with up to 380 Dunlin and 480 Knot on 18th;
06 5 Little Grebe;
Gobion 08 3 Green Sandpiper; 2 Goosander
22 Barn Owl A40 near Gobion
Abergavenny 13 ?/imm. Golden Oriole at Castle Meadows until 16th and Llanwenarth on 17th.  This is an elusive species in Gwent, recorded in only 8 years since 1977, the last record being a ?/imm. ? at St Mary’s Vale in May 2000.  This sighting is unusual as previous records have been in May-July.
17 Barn Owl, Little Owl and Tawny Owl at Llanwenarth
Location Date Species and Comments
Peterstone 15 570 Curlew; Singing Cetti’s Warbler; Marsh Tit
Dingestow area 25 2 probable Red-legged Partridge
Brynmawr 30 Brambling
Collister Pill 31 ? Merlin; c500 Dunlin
  November
Merlins have been reported at a variety of locations – Collister Pill, Peterstone; Shire Hall; Redpolls turning up in woodlands and gardens.
NWR Uskmouth   Up to 21 Cetti’s Warblers and good numbers of Water Rail heard, up to 4 Stonechat present throughout the month along with a good selection of ducks including up to 57 Gadwall and 6 Goldeneye; flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare
03 c8 Water Rail heard; 3-4 Bearded Tits
05 Starling Roost of about 10,000
06 Richard’s Pipit
07 Whooper Swan; 2 Little Owls;
13 50 Reed Bunting; 300 Curlew; 50 Raven
29 ? hen Harrier
Abergavenny 05 5,000+ Wood Pigeons overhead
Caerleon 07 1 Green Sandpiper; 1 Common Sandpiper
Llandegfedd Res. Good selection of ducks and Gulls throughout the month along with 20+ Great Crested Grebes
09 1 Ruddy Duck; 2 Goldeneye; 1 Tree Sparrow
18 1 imm Whooper Swan
22 1 ? Smew
Monmouth 11 1 Woodcock and 4 Crossbill at Kings Wood
Raglan 11 5 Partridge sp., probable Red-legged, near Penrhos
NWR Goldcliff Regular duck and waders as for October, increased numbers of Shelduck, up to 23 Gadwall and 500 Black-headed Gulls
15 1 ? Hen Harrier; 1 Willow Tit
Nedern 12 Barn Owl flying over M48
Wentwood 14 Great Grey Shrike Cadira Beeches/Nine Wells area (Very scarce winter visitor)
16 50+ Siskin and a few Redpoll
Magor 14 Barn Owl
Collister Pill area 14 Good numbers of Wigeon, Redshank, Curlew and Dunlin; 5 Stonechat
Oakdale 23 Barn Owl
  December
Llandegfedd Res. 02 1 juv Whooper Swan; 1 Red-necked Grebe, also on 6th
NWR Uskmouth 02 1 Short-eared Owl
Usk 05 5 Goldeneye; 6 Goosander
Llanwenarth 05 2 Green Sandpiper
Wentwood 15 Bramblings at five paths
NWR Goldcliff 1525 280 Redwing; 390 Fieldfare50 Reed Bunting; 2 Bearded Tits
Out of county 17 Great Grey Shrike at Talybont Reservoir
Monmouth 19 to 27 Up to 10 Waxwing in Wyesham.  Whilst fairly regular winter visitors in the north an east of the UK, they are rather more elusive in Gwent with most recent sightings in February & December 1996, and February 2001
Collister area 19 1 pale-bellied Brent; 1 ad Mediterranean Gull; 102 Turnstone; c 4500 Dunlin; 12 Grey Partridge
Magor 24 2 Waxwings feeding on orange Rowan berries in garden
Strawberry Woods 25 2 Barn Owls hunting along verge of A465 Abergavenny-Hereford road
  January
Brynmawr 2 11 Waxwings feeding on Rowan berries by Kwik Save

A Tribute to George Noakes from the “Abergavenny Birders” (With comments from the Editor)

It was with great sadness that we received the news that our close friend, George, had passed away.  As a Committee Member, joint Field Secretary, and Librarian, all who knew and worked with George held him in the highest regard.  When we reflect on the many years that we as a group shared, the backdrop for of our memories was usually of one nature reserve or another and involved a pair of binoculars, a bird hide and plenty of laughter!

Our birding excursions took us all over the country but the local meeting place for the Abergavenny gang would always be the Castle Meadows where his easily recognised silhouette on his bike was often seen and where we enjoyed many of the common species of the Usk valley.  From here we will remember the look on George’s face as we enjoyed the recent views of the magnificent Golden Oriole.

One of George’s main attributes was his ability to organise.  He succeeded Graham Harris in continuing to run the Library efficiently, and in 2003 and 2004 took responsibility for organising “out of county” field trips.  Those of us who went abroad with George will remember how he, and our late friend Colin Strange, would organise our trips with almost military precision.  George used the internet to contact birdwatchers in the countries we were to visit, and on first meeting him, people would warm to his friendly nature and inevitably friendships were formed that would be everlasting.

Most of us will remember George for his keen interest in Natural History, principally in bird watching.  However, he was also a jazz aficionado, a film buff and an avid reader.  He admired all aspects of the French way of life and enjoyed many holidays in France with his family (we heard at his funeral that one of the first birds that got George interested in birdwatching was a Golden Oriole when he was on holiday in France).  His flair and knowledge of languages were greatly valued, especially when the gang were abroad and in need of a beer!

If George had a fault, it was getting through customs!  He always had difficulties passing through screening devices, which usually ended in further searches.  This may have been partly due to the combat/camouflage clothing he was wearing and the suspicious optical equipment he carried, but perhaps also due to his nervous fidgeting with his many pockets, checking to locate the various items he carried.

We will always remember him as a courteous, polite and engaging person who had time for everyone.  He was thoughtful and considerate and will be greatly missed.  Our sympathy goes to Margaret, Helen and Mike who have lost a dear husband and loving father.

The above was written by the male Abergavenny birders, but Ruth Brown had some thoughts to add:

George was like the hub of a wheel: he brought people together, providing the connection. For me, he brought me into the Abergavenny group of birders. He had the connections. I provided the wheels. I shall remember his delight on any GOS trip, when someone got a “lifer”, his suppressed excitement when we saw the snow bunting on Bryn Arw in November 2003, his quiet helpfulness, whether it was explaining the ID of a bird or directing you on to a bird, his willingness to go some distance if there was a bird that you particularly wanted to see and the help he gave whether it was lending a book, giving advice on web-sites, etc.

RSPB Big Graden Birdwatch 2005

The 2005 Big Garden Birdwatch takes place on 29-30 January 2005.  Last January, a staggering 419,000 people spent an hour watching their local birds, collectively recording over 8.5 million birds in a quarter of a million gardens.  

The survey is very simple. All you need to do is watch your garden or local park for an hour on either Saturday 29 or Sunday 30 January 2005, note down the birds you see and report the highest number of each species you see at any one time in the hour (this avoids counting the same birds twice).  It's important you don't count all the birds you see because some birds will return to your garden many times in the hour. Seeing the same blue tit come back 10 times does not make 10 blue tits. Wherever you choose to do your count, it's best to decide on a place where you can see the birds well and where you can sit quietly so they are not disturbed.

You can submit your results using the easy online form from 29 January 2005.   Last year, 41% of participants submitted their results this way at www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch.  Online submission is good for RSPB because:

  • they get your records immediately - as soon as you press the submit button, which means they can start analysing them more quickly.  
  • there is no cost to process your results. They go straight into their database without having to be input manually, so they have more money to spend on helping birds.
  • also, you can give more information. There are fewer constraints online and, in 2005, you'll have the option to tell us more about your garden and take part in future garden bird surveys in the spring.   

However, if you don’t have access to the Internet, don’t worry, Helen Jones will have forms available at the indoor meetings on 8th and 22nd January.  Alternatively, If you want to publicise the event, you can phone 0870 122 2793 to order a pack of 10 forms.

Percentage changes in 2004 top ten BGBW species since 1979, in average number of birds per garden and in brackets their place in the top ten*.

Species Average per garden in 2004 Average per garden in 1979 % change
House Sparrow 4.8 (1) 10.0 (2) -52
Starling 4.3 (2) 15.0 (1) -71.2
Blue Tit 2.9 (3) 2.4 (5) 19.7
Blackbird 2.7 (4) 4.0 (3) -31.8
Chaffinch 2.3 (5) 3.0 (4) -24.7
Greenfinch 1.8 (6) 1.0 (8) 84.4
Collared Dove 1.8 (7) 0.3 (-) 525.2
Great Tit 1.5 (8) 0.9 (9) 65.5
Woodpigeon 1.4 (9) 0.2 (-) 594.7
Robin 1.4 (10) 2.0 (6) -31.8

Since its first year in 1979, Big Garden Birdwatch participation has risen from 30,000 to a massive 419,000 in 2004.

Collared Dove and Woodpigeon are now five times more common in our gardens than in 1979.  Woodpigeons, recorded in 54% of gardens were up by 594%, and Collared Doves, seen in 62% of gardens, have increased by 525%. These birds, which do not feature in 1979's top 10 birds, now hold 9th and 7th place respectively.

The four biggest losers since the first Big Garden Birdwatch in 1979 have been Starling, House Sparrow, Song Thrush and Blackbird.  Song Thrush has suffered the biggest drop, down to 19th place in 2004 compared to 7th in 1979.

The Starling, beaten to the top spot this year by the House Sparrow, has seen its numbers plummet from 15 per garden to an average of 4.3, a decline of 71%. The House Sparrow, with an average of 4.8 per garden, has declined by 52% since 1979 when an average of 10 birds were seen.

*data from www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch//2004results/index.asp

How on Earth do Birds do it?

Black-tailed Godwits (J Gill & T Gunnarson, Nature, October 2004)

Researchers at the University of East Anglia tracked 14 pairs of Black-tailed Godwits (Limosa limosa islandica) by colour ringing them in their breeding grounds in Iceland where they arrive during April and May and then appealing for sightings by birdwatchers across Europe.  They have discovered that these monogamous birds, separated by hundreds of miles during the winter, manage to meet up again year after year to breed.  It was previously thought that the pairs of waders stayed together during their migrations to and from their winter-feeding grounds. But that is not the case according to the study.

Black-tailed Godwits are long-lived with the oldest studied being around 25 years old.  Male godwits remain in Iceland a little longer than the females to look after their young, so males and females move to their winter homes separately.   Studying birds that breed in South Iceland, the males and females were found to winter in different locations.  With one couple, the female over wintered in Humberside and the male near Faro on the Algarve, some 1200 miles away.  In contrast, the female of another couple spent the winter in sunny Spain whilst the male was in Essex.

The research team did not find a single example of paired birds in the same migrating flock, and found that on average, breeding pairs wintered about 600 miles apart with no link between their sex and where they ended up.  However, in the spring, they each head for their breeding ground in Iceland and manage to synchronise their arrival with astonishing accuracy.  Black-tailed Godwits arrive at breeding grounds throughout the month from mid-April to mid-May, but previously paired birds arrive within 3 days of each other.  Only rarely do couples fail to meet up at the right time, with just 2 females finding new mates rather than waiting for old partners.

How do they synchronise their arrival?  Possible explanations are:

  • They could winter in areas of similar quality so are ready to breed at the same time
  • There could be a genetic or physiological similarity between paired birds
  • They may time their arrival to coincide with the best conditions exploiting peaks in food availability

Seasonal changes such as weather or the position of the sun may give the birds an indication to head north, and after fattening up for the journey, and gradually moving northwards, they hitch a ride on good weather systems for the last leg of the journey.  If they happen to migrate on the same weather system, it will help them to arrive in Iceland at a similar time.

Plenty of questions to be answered so watch this space and please send in any records that you might have of colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwits.

Is the Bar-tailed Godwit the long-haul King of the Bird world?

Not to be outdone, the North American Bar-tailed Godwit has also been in the news in 2004.

The Bar-tailed Godwit is a bird that has been deified in Maori folklore, and acclaimed as the long distance flight champion of the bird kingdom.  Maori legend has it that it was their forefathers’ observations of the godwit flying south over the Pacific that made them take to their war canoes to find land.

After 20 years of study, scientists have discovered that Bar-tailed Godwit holds nature’s record for endurance flying, migrating from Alaska to New Zealand each year without stopping to feed.

At the Waterbirds Around the World Conference in Edinburgh, Bob Gill from the US Geological Survey, and Theunis Piersma of Groningen University, Netherlands, claimed that the bird completes 7,700 miles in 6 days and 6 nights at speeds of up to 50mph.

Rings were placed on a sample from the 150,000 breeding Bar-tailed Godwits in Alaska at the end of the breeding season.  It had been assumed that that the wading birds had to stop on land to rest and feed on their way to New Zealand.  However monitoring of ringing and ornithological data back to early in the last century found no evidence that they made stops on land in Asia or the islands of Oceania.

Apparently there has been data for 12 million birds but only around 800 have been seen on the ground over the last 80 years.  There have been a lot of people looking for the birds, so it suggests that they are not stopping anywhere.

Detailed studies of the aerodynamics suggest that they had the shape, wing length and weight to complete the journey in a single leg.  It was also reported that the birds benefited from flying with storms at their backs which blow across from the Pacific to from August to November.  They use these winds that are very predictable.  Fuel for flight was provided by a weight increase just before take-off.  At the outset, fat accounted for 55% of body weight and by the time they reached New Zealand they were emaciated.

There are several other birds that fly further than the Bar-tailed Godwit, but unlike the godwit they can sit and feed on the ocean, so as far as we know, this is the longest non-stop flight of any bird.

Do you want to see the enigmatic Black Grouse in Wales?

Black Grouse were on the verge of becoming extinct in Wales by 2015.  Following funding by the European Union, the National Assembly of Wales, and the RSPB, the Welsh Black Grouse Recovery Project was launched in 1999 and work has proceeded in 6 key areas in mid and north Wales (Llandegla and Ruabon Moors, Cloecanog, North Berwyn, Pale, Llanbrynmair and Migneint/Dduallt). [J Green, Birds in Wales1992-2000]

In 2004, the RSPB set up a viewing scheme in Clocaenog Forest, North Wales, and local accommodation providers were included in the scheme to encourage visitors to stay overnight.  The RSPB will be carrying on with Black Grouse guided walks during the lekking season 2005 (end March - beginning May) but it will not be in the same place as in 2004.

As yet, full details of the 2005 scheme are not available but if you want to a chance to see and hear this wonderful spectacle, contact the RSPB on 029 2035 3000 or email them at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Dipper Editor 2005

Having had no response to the plea for Dipper Editor for the last 2 years I am embarrassed (but very pleased) to say that we have had three volunteers, John Harper, Chris Field and Darryl Spittle.  Due to available time and experience, Chris and John volunteered with some reservations but with the enthusiasm of youth (!) Darryl seems to be happy to take on the whole package, so from March and for the immediate future, Darryl will be your new Dipper Editor.  Please send contributions for the March Dipper to Darryl at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Whether they like it or not, Chris and John have blotted their copybook and are now on our file as first-liners when the Dipper Editor position next becomes available!  We hope that they realise our great appreciation for their offer but that Darryl’s enthusiasm won the day.

Thanks to the three of you for your support, and all the best for 2005.

Make a difference to you and the environment in 2005

Are you fed up of junk mail that you put straight in the bin?  100 million trees are used each year to make junk mail, 44% of which goes into the rubbish unread.  Avoid this by registering with the Mailing Preference Service, Freepost 29 LON 20771, London, W1E 7EZ, ( 0845 7034599, or online at www.mpsonline.org.uk.

If you want to stop circulars hand-delivered and addressed to “The Owner/Occupier”, register with Door to Door Customer Services, Opt Out Room 130, Wheatstone House Road, Dorcan, Swindon, SN3 5JW

*Turn appliances off instead of switching to standby. A video recorder on standby uses almost as much electricity as when playing a tape.  Each year in the UK, video recorders use £113 million, and TVs £50 million worth of electricity just waiting to be switched on.  If everyone switched their TV right off at night, the UK could save enough energy to power a town the size of Basingstoke

*Switch to energy-efficient light bulbs.  Compact fluorescent light bulbs use 70% less electricity than traditional incandescent or halogen lights and last 10 times longer.  If every household swapped to energy-efficient bulbs it would save enough energy to power the lighting in two million homes for a year

*Go Mad! 365 daily ways to save the planet (2001) www.theecologist.org

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