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March 2009 - Newsletter 110 PDF Print E-mail

The Birds and the Barrage (Part one)

Al Venables

The Severn Barrage proposal is a very emotive subject that has given rise to huge amounts of debate, both for and against. Here, GOS Vice President Al Venables offers his informed opinion on how he feels the go-ahead for such a scheme will have devastating consequences for birds in Gwent.

I am sure that all GOS members must be aware of proposals to harness the tidal power of the Severn Estuary, which are currently the subject of a government feasibility study.

Five schemes are being considered, of which three are barrages across the estuary and two are tidal lagoons - one enclosing the mudflats adjacent to the Caldicot Level and the other enclosing Bridgwater Bay.

There is a general feeling that the largest of the barrages, which would stretch between Brean Down, Somerset, and Lavernock Point, Glamorgan, will turn out to be the favoured option - mainly because it will yield much more energy than any of the others; approaching five per cent of the UK’s electricity is the figure quoted.

However, it must also be said that the feasibility study could reject all the proposals. It could also decide to support other alternatives such as a tidal reef or tidal fence, both of which are new technologies currently under development.

Many people are instinctively pro-development, some because they view it as an extremely valuable contribution to green energy generation - which it will be - and others because they see the immense commercial opportunities that the project will offer.

However, as with any massive development, there are bound to be large environmental impacts. The Severn Barrage will be no exception, and the impact in this case will be on the large numbers of waders and wildfowl that use the estuarine mudflats.

How will the barrage affect the estuarine mudflats?

If the big barrage (Brean Down – Lavernock) is built, it is planned that it will generate electricity only on the falling tide. On the rising tide, the sluices in the barrage will open to allow free passage of water into the impounded inner estuary.

At high tide, the sluices will close and water will be held in the impoundment until the tide outside the barrage has dropped sufficiently to produce a good head of water. The impounded water will then be allowed to flow through the barrage turbines and generate electricity. The net effect will be that within the impounded estuary, the tide will alternate roughly between the current high tide level and the current mid-tide level.

According to the estimates of the Severn Tidal Power Group in 1989, this would result in 60% of the inter-tidal mudflats being permanently inundated and therefore unavailable to feeding birds.

Are the birds of the Severn Estuary very important?

The short answer is undoubtedly ‘yes’ - but predictably, many of those who are pro-development have already begun to dismiss or downplay any conservation/environmental concerns. So one frequently sees letters or other items in the press to the effect that ‘a few birds’ should not be allowed to stand in the way of the exploitation of such an important source of clean energy.

I was particularly concerned at the last GOS AGM when two of our members announced that they had read reports saying that the Severn Estuary had declined in ornithological importance and that it was no longer worthy of protection. It was mainly as a result of these reports that I decided our members should be enlightened about the true ornithological situation. So here it is!

The Severn Estuary is of international and national (GB) importance as a wintering site for around 69,000 waterbirds. It is also of national importance as a refuelling stop for several species of wading bird on passage between arctic breeding grounds and winter quarters far to the south.

In 1995, the estuary was designated a Special Protection Area (SPA) and a Ramsar site. This designation was based on the presence during the assessment period 1988/9–1992/3 of internationally important concentrations of five bird species and nationally important concentrations of a further 10 species.

Under European law, these designations confer very strong protection against development and there is currently no precedent for development occurring in the face of such a designation.

But have bird numbers really decreased since the SPA designation?

Since the SPA designation, the total number of waterbirds using the estuary has remained stable at between 68,000 and 69,000 - though within this overall total some species have increased and others decreased. However, when considering the possible effects of the barrage we need to concentrate those birds that are likely to be affected – these are the birds that use the inter-tidal mud, and not all the estuary’s bird populations fall into this category.

This is true of the internationally important concentrations of Bewick’s Swans and White-fronted Geese at Slimbridge. Both species have recently declined on the Severn owing to effects of climate change, but both feed on wet meadows and saltmarsh and would be unlikely to be affected by loss of inter-tidal mud.

Another two species that have declined significantly - but are not shore-feeders and therefore of minor relevance to the barrage debate - are the diving ducks Tufted Duck and Pochard. These two have declined on the Severn, mainly owing to the reduction of sewage discharges which had previously boosted their populations to artificially high levels.

The birds that we really need to be concerned about are all shown below in Table 1. The table shows (1) the numbers at the time of the SPA designation, (2) the most recently available numbers and (3) the percentage change between the two figures. A quick count reveals that eight species have increased since designation, while four have decreased.

Of the populations that were classed as internationally important on the Severn, Shelduck and Dunlin have retained this status - but with decreased numbers in the latter case - while Redshank has increased its numbers but had its status downgraded to national importance because the estimated size of the NW European population has been revised upwards.

Pintail and Ringed Plover numbers were previously of national importance but have increased to international levels, while of two species that did not previously qualify for inclusion in the SPA - Black-tailed Godwit and Shoveler - numbers have increased to national and international levels respectively.

Teal and Curlew have remained at national importance levels with greatly increased and slightly decreased numbers respectively. Grey Plover is the only species to have declined in importance status; this reflects a general decline in GB caused by climate-induced shift of winter quarters to the east.

Species SPA citation1988-1993 average Recent WeBS data; 2002/03 – 2006/07Average Change International/National importance
Mean annual peak counts on the Severn Estuary of waterbirds that would be likely to be affected by barrage construction
Shelduck 2,892 3,492 +20% International
Wigeon 3,977 7,200 +81% National
Teal 1,998 3,949 +98% National
Pintail 523 1,033 +198% International
Shoveler* (67)* 432 +545% International
Ringed Plover 227 (passage) 900 (passage) +296% International (passage)
Grey Plover 781 342 – 56%

Formerly national

Dunlin 41,683 21,430 – 49% International
Whimbrel** 246 (passage) 150 (passage) – 39% National**
Black-tailed Godwit* (37)* 240 (winter)435 (passage) +548% National (winter)National (passage)
Curlew 3,096 28862434 (passage) – 7% National (winter)National (passage)
Redshank 2,013 2,312 +15% National

National Importance = >1% of GB total. International Importance = >1% of NW European Flyway population.

*Shoveler and Black-tailed Godwit populations were not sufficiently large at the time for inclusion in the SPA citation, so the numbers quoted are from WeBS counts.

**Spring passage peak period for Whimbrel is typically very short so is often missed by the monthly WeBS counts, which therefore represent serious underestimates in many years and do not lend themselves to the calculation of importance thresholds. Nevertheless, the Severn Estuary is the fifth best estuary in GB for this species and numbers undoubtedly are of national importance.

Are the birds of the Severn still worth conserving?

As can be seen from the above figures, the Severn continues to hold very important bird populations - some of which have greatly increased in recent years – and, without doubt, they are worthy of conservation.

It is sad to see the decline in Dunlin numbers; this has been noted at many other estuaries (eg, Morecambe Bay –59%; Langstone Harbour –36%) and suggests there may be a decline in the NW European population. So if Dunlins are in trouble, it becomes even more important to preserve components of their essential habitat such as the Severn Estuary!

As we have seen, the construction of the barrage will greatly reduce the available mud for use by birds, but how much will this actually affect the birds? This is a complex problem about which I hope to say something in the next edition of The Dipper.

AGM Commentary

Trevor Russell

The 57 members who braved the galeforce wind and rain were welcomed by President Ian Walker, who invited Treasurer Keith Roylance to make his presentation on the state of the Society’s finances.

He, too, had seen huge waves of money sweeping through the accounts; 2008 had been an unusual year, with large sums of money being received as a grant from CCW – and promptly spent – on the Birds of Gwent publication.

Chairman Dave Brassey highlighted in his report the problems of vandalism at Llandegfedd Reservoir which has caused Welsh Water to impose tighter restrictions on access at both Llandegfedd and Ynysyfro (see background and rule changes elsewhere in this edition). While supporting the actions of Welsh Water, it is ironic that remedial action against the vandals may have to be paid for by the victims, the legitimate GOS visitors.

The Treasurer was on his feet again to present the committee proposal that annual subscriptions be increased to £16 for seniors and adults and £20 for a family. This was a significant change from previous fees because, for the first time, the concessionary rate for seniors was to be withdrawn and made the same as the adult rate.

To make his point, the Treasurer showed that the cost of membership (how much it costs to print and send an annual report, four Dippers plus other committed expenditure, eg, Insurance, etc) was nearly £14pa for an adult and nearly £17pa for a family. Hopefully, these fees can hold until 2015.

Through yet another presentation, the Treasurer made the case for a second committee proposal, to increase the entrance fee for indoor meetings to £2, which would include a raffle ticket. Inevitably, the justification was the increasing cost of speakers against the aim of making the indoor meetings self-financing - otherwise those who cannot attend the meetings would be subsidising those who do attend, which would not be fair.

Objections were raised by those who were opposed to raffle tickets on principle, and an alternative proposal was made to increase the entrance fee to £1.50 with raffle tickets sold separately at 50p per strip. This was carried unanimously.

Steve Butler had earlier announced his intention to step down as Field Secretary, with Luke Phillips fully prepared to step in as his replacement. This was a well-planned transition by Steve, who was warmly thanked for his contributions over the years. Luke was formally elected as the new Field Secretary.

Richard Clarke had come to the end of his three-year tenure as a committee member and had decided to retire. Richard has been on the committee in a variety of capacities for a number of years, including being Report Editor for four editions. His significant contribution will be sorely missed.

Two nominations had been received for committee members - Keith Jones and Rob Parsons - and they were elected unanimously.

The AGM was followed by a members’ evening finger buffet which was generous, appetising and very enjoyable.

The climax of the evening was a comprehensive and fascinating presentation by Annette Murray of Gwent Wildlife Trust on the progress made in the last few months at Wyeswood Common, where GWT is turning its inherited dairy monoculture into a native woodland pasture. GWT acquired Wyeswood Common during the spring of 2008.

Thanks to careful editing by Annette, the meeting managed to close at 22:00.

Committee Commentary

Trevor Russell

A barely quorate nine members made it through the sleet and snow to the first meeting of the year on Feb 9.

The Chairman welcomed three new committee members, although only Keith Jones and John Coleman made it and passed the Snow-Survival Initiation Test, while Rob Parsons wisely kept his powder dry up in snowbound Cwmtillery.

The deteriorating weather brought an unusual and welcome pace to a long agenda.

In a short recap on the AGM, it was reported for the record that the subscription increase to £16 for seniors and adults and £20 for family membership had been agreed unanimously, as was the motion to increase the entrance fee to Indoor meetings to £1.50 with the optional raffle tickets price held at 50p.

The retrospective planning permission for the runway and hangar developments at Whitson Aerodrome having been denied, the owner will now take it to appeal, which will eke out a further few months before being heard.

The access requirements at Llandegfedd and Ynysyfro reservoirs were considered and negotiations will continue with Welsh Water.

The impacts of the five remaining Severn Barrage proposals were reviewed, and although some key members were absent, discussion concluded that we need to identify the key ecological and environmental questions that need to be answered relating to each scheme.

Biodiversity Action Plans from around the county were heard: Caerphilly will be holding a Go Wild! event in June in Pontllanfraith, and Torfaen is looking to get the Heads of the Valley Lapwing Project extended into its area, with Steve Williams also looking for funding from GOS to support a Long-eared Owl project he is hoping to introduce.

The GOS website continues to generate debate at two levels: protecting it from fraudulent use and, for the future, modifying it to make it easier to use by contributors and consumers - report editors and researchers - alike.

A draft GOS Questionnaire was urgently having its ‘t’s crossed and ‘i’s dotted when an even more immediate question arose: how are we going to get home in the snow if we don’t leave now?!

The meeting closed abruptly…

2009 Gwent Bird Race

Luke Phillips

Despite just three teams taking part in last year’s bird race, it was considered a great success. So we thought it a good idea to try again this spring - but this time try to double the number of teams!

The race is on Saturday May 16, and - as with last year - teams are allowed to bird watch for the whole 24 hours of that day, finishing at midnight.

Here are the rules:

  • Teams can consist of two to four members
  • Teams must be together at all times
  • All team members have to see/hear every species counted
  • All birds have to be located by team members only, with no outside help on the day
  • All species seen have to be seen in the Gwent recording area
  • All species must be wild, not captive/domesticated (although feral pigeon can be counted)

Also, I will need every team’s total mileage - from the time they started birdwatching as a team, to the time they finished.

Could anyone intending to enter please let me know by May 1, either through the GOS website (visit www.gwentbirds.org.uk, then click on ‘forum’), by e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or by phone (01495 350852).

And good luck!

Chairman’s Chatter

Dave Brassey

“And so, my fellow members: ask not what your society can do for you - ask what you can do for your society.”

Well, as paraphrasing goes, it’s not too bad - and it fits the bill (no pun intended!). All voluntary organisations stand and fall by the input of their members, and ours is no exception. In fact, it amazes me just how much time and effort some of our members put in - and for that we are very grateful.

However, I do know that there are some of our members who would like to become more involved, but are not too sure how to go about it. The answer is very easy - tell somebody… anybody. Most of the committee members are available at the indoor meetings and some at the outdoor meetings. Alternatively, ask someone else to ‘volunteer’ you, or e-mail me, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it Don’t be shy - your help with any of our activities is more than welcome.

If I still can’t encourage you to volunteer your services, then perhaps you’ll let us have your thoughts by completing the questionnaire recently sent to you. We do hope we will get a good representative return that will enable the committee to ensure that the society provides what its members want. Be heard – have your say!

New access requirements at Llandegfedd and Ynysyfro Reservoirs

Keith Roylance

BUY A PERMIT!

Background

Increasing vandalism and fears for lives being endangered at open water sites has caused Welsh Water to change its access arrangements while enabling access to be maintained for the legitimate birdwatchers and fishermen who use these valued facilities. When the gates are locked, three padlocks will be in place: one for Welsh Water, one for the fishermen and one for GOS! However, the locking configuration will be such that GOS members will only need to carry one key to gain access, via the GOS lock.

New arrangements:

  • From March 1, 2009, GOS members visiting either reservoir will be required to carry a Welsh Water Permit which must be produced for ID purposes if requested by any of the ranger staff.
  • Permits for GOS members will be valid for 12 months from March 1 and are obtainable from the rangers’ office just inside the gate to the sailing club at the east side of the dam.
  • A concession for GOS members is that the permit will be valid for 12 months, unlike a shorter period for non-GOS members, and will permit access to both Llandegfedd and Ynysyfro.
  • Only GOS members with a permit will qualify for a key to open the GOS lock during the winter months, which will be issued by the Membership Secretary.

If these precautions are to have any effect at all, it will be vital that you close and lock the gates behind you once you are either inside or outside the reservoirs.

1. Llandegfedd

1.1 Summer months

The gates will be open during the summer months, March 1 to October 31, from 6.30am to 30 minutes after sunset - so only a permit will be required, not a GOS key.

1.2 Winter months

    During the winter period, November 1 to February 28/29, the gates will be closed but GOS members holding a permit and GOS key will be able to gain access from 9am to 4.30pm or 4pm on Fridays.

During the winter period, the Rangers will remove their lock at 9am and replace it at 4.30pm (4pm on Fridays), leaving the GOS lock on the gate to allow access to permit holders. The site must be vacated by closing time.

2. Ynysyfro

2.1    Presently locked to the general public - including GOS - for now, but is under review.

2.2    If it is decided that it will remain locked to the general public, but accessible to fishermen and GOS members as at Llandegfedd, GOS will buy an identical lock and replicate the Llandegfedd procedure.  Such access will, again, only be available to GOS members carrying a permit.

Outdoor walks programme

Luke Phillips

Newport Wetlands – Uskmouth, Saturday, January 3

Nineteen members braved to cold to come along to the society’s first walk of 2009. The weather was actually great – but, sadly, we were slightly let down by the birds.

Most of the reserve’s usual species were showing, such as Stonechats and Reed Bunting. And we did get good views of a group of Long tailed Tits containing a very nice Goldcrest, which was a first for a few of the group members.

A surprise came in the form of a fox, which we watched for a few minutes over at the power station.

A walk along the seawall produced a few expected wader species such as Dunlin, Redshank and Curlew. Sadly, the Bearded Tits and Starling roost failed to show - but it was great to get out and make the most of winter sun.

Species

  • Little Grebe
  • Cormorant
  • Little Egret
  • Grey Heron
  • Mute Swan
  • Shelduck
  • Mallard
  • Gadwall
  • Shoveler
  • Wigeon
  • Teal
  • Pochard
  • Tufted Duck
  • Goldeneye
  • Buzzard
  • Kestrel
  • Pheasant
  • Water Rail
  • Moorhen
  • Coot
  • Oystercatcher
  • Grey Plover
  • Lapwing
  • Knot
  • Dunlin
  • Redshank
  • Curlew
  • Snipe
  • Black headed Gull
  • Herring Gull
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull Woodpigeon
  • Green Woodpecker
  • Great Spotted Woodpecker
  • Wren
  • Dunnock
  • Robin
  • Stonechat
  • Song Thrush
  • Redwing
  • Blackbird
  • Cetti’s Warbler
  • Great Tit
  • Blue Tit
  • Long-tailed Tit
  • Magpie
  • Jay
  • Carrion Crow
  • Starling
  • Chaffinch
  • Siskin
  • Reed Bunting.

52 species

Whitford Burrows NNR, Gower, Saturday January 17

Just six GOS members joined a number from Carmarthen Bird Club for what was a superb day’s birding in fantastic weather.

As soon as we arrived at the reserve, a flock of Crossbill was heard and - shortly afterwards - seen settling in a hedge. Everyone had excellent views, including some of a few red males.

The Crossbills continued to show well for the next 10 minutes and we even had a really close view of a male, which was more concerned about having a drink from a puddle than a load of birders staring at it!

We quickly moved on as the tide was rapidly coming in. We made an attempt at flushing Jack Snipe, but saw only two Common Snipe. We had almost made it to the hide, when a ring tail Hen Harrier interrupted us but showed well as it flew out over the water.

From the hide we quickly saw one of our target species, Slavonian Grebe – and throughout the morning, we saw eight individuals! There were also good numbers of commoner wildfowl such as Teal, Wigeon and Pintail.

An impressive flock of over 1,000 Golden Plover was seen flying distantly over some farmland. We then moved further down the estuary where Common Scoter, Red breasted Merganser and a distant Red throated Diver were seen.

We were starting to get a little worried as we hadn’t seen the Eiders or Brent Geese. But on returning to the hide, we finally saw both species, although not quite as close as in previous years.

The weather was quickly changing so we started to head back, but not without trying once more to see Jack Snipe. This time we were lucky, and everyone managed to see one. We made it back just in time as the wind had picked up and rain was about to set in.

Thanks to Wendell Thomas and the other birders from the Carmarthen Bird Club for a great day’s birding. We’ll be back next year!

Species

  • Red-throated Diver
  • Slavonian Grebe
  • Great Crested Grebe
  • Cormorant
  • Little Egret
  • Grey Heron
  • Mute Swan
  • Brent Geese
  • Shelduck
  • Mallard
  • Pintail
  • Shoveler
  • Wigeon
  • Teal
  • Tufted Duck
  • Eider
  • Common Scoter
  • Red-breasted Merganser
  • Hen Harrier
  • Buzzard
  • Sparrowhawk
  • Kestrel
  • Peregrine
  • Pheasant
  • Oystercatcher
  • Ringed Plover
  • Grey Plover
  • Golden Plover
  • Lapwing
  • Knot
  • Turnstone
  • Dunlin
  • Redshank
  • Greenshank
  • Curlew
  • Woodcock
  • Snipe
  • Jack Snipe
  • Black-headed Gull
  • Common Gull
  • Herring Gull
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull
  • Great Black-backed Gull
  • Woodpigeon
  • Collard Dove
  • Green Woodpecker
  • Great Spotted Woodpecker
  • Meadow Pipit
  • Pied Wagtail
  • Wren
  • Dunnock
  • Robin
  • Stonechat
  • Song Thrush
  • Redwing
  • Fieldfare
  • Mistle Thrush
  • Blackbird
  • Goldcrest
  • Great Tit
  • Blue Tit
  • Coal Tit
  • Nuthatch
  • Magpie
  • Jay
  • Jackdaw
  • Carrion Crow
  • Rook
  • Raven
  • Starling
  • House Sparrow
  • Chaffinch
  • Goldfinch
  • Greenfinch
  • Common Crossbill
  • Reed Bunting

76 species

Gwent UKBS Report

Chris Hatch

Sightings, December 2008

Highlights

Waxwings were reported from Abergavenny (six on 25th), Newport (two on 28th) and Caerleon (one on 28th). A Snow Bunting was recorded at Sluice Farm (18th). A Black-necked Grebe was present at Ynysyfro Reservoir (from 20th).

Newport Wetlands Reserve

A female Marsh Harrier was seen on a number of occasions throughout the month. Two White-fronted Geese were recorded (25th). Other sightings of note included a Jack Snipe, a Bearded Tit, four Avocets and a Spotted Redshank (all on 6th), and a Merlin (27th).

Other sites

The Black Redstart was again reported from Peterstone Gout (6th). Single Mediterranean Gulls were recorded at The Moorings, Newport (4th), Ynysyfro Reservoir (28th) and Bulmore (28th). Up to three Short-eared Owls were present at Waunafon Bog (from 13th), with a single bird present at Rogiet (14th) and three birds at Peterstone (15th). Barn Owls were reported from Brynmawr (one on 10th), Llanofer (two on 15th) and Newport (single birds on 26th, 29th and 31st). Two Water Pipits were seen near Newhouse (6th), with three Tree Sparrows also present at the same site (also 6th). Other sightings of note included a Hawfinch at Mathern (14th), a Jack Snipe at Peterstone (17th), single Merlins at Waunafon Bog (24th) and Dingestow (30th), a Red Kite at Abergavenny (25th) and a male Hen Harrier near Brynmawr (31st).

January 2009

Highlights

10 Woodlark were present at Llanarth (from 10th). An adult Glaucous Gull was observed at the Newport Wetlands Reserve (from 22nd) and at Magor Pill (31st). A male Green-winged Teal was seen at Newport Wetlands (from 17th). A Black Redstart was present at Sudbrook (27th). Up to 100 Waxwings were reported from Newport (4th), while up to 26 Waxwings were present at Usk (from 5th), with two birds also present at Chepstow (1st).

Newport Wetlands Reserve

A male Hen Harrier was reported (3rd and 5th), with a female Marsh Harrier also present (16th and 31st). Other sightings of note included a Barn Owl (4th), a Kittiwake (23rd) and a Barnacle Goose (27th).

Other sites

Two dark-bellied Brent Geese were reported from West Pill (1st). Five Water Pipits were also at this site (3rd). Water Pipits were also recorded at Peterstone (20 on 4th). Single Mediterranean Gulls were reported from Ynysyfro Reservoir (3rd) and Llandegfedd Reservoir (11th), while a Yellow-legged Gull was recorded at Dunlop Semtex pond, Brynmawr (8th). Three Bewick’s Swans were present at Llandegfedd Reservoir (7th), while 20 Bewick’s were recorded at St Brides (27th). A total 23 Goldeneye were present on the River Usk at Llanllywel (11th). Other sightings included a Merlin on the Blorenge (3rd), a male Hen Harrier at Garnlydan (22nd) and up to four Short-eared Owls at Waunafon Bog (26th). Single Red Kites were reported from Garn-yr-erw (10th and 18th), Clydach (18th), Gilwern (20th), Wyllie (20th) and Waunafon (20th). A pair of Red Kites was also seen at Wyllie (22nd).

February 2009

Highlights

First winter Iceland Gulls were reported from Newport Docks (11th), Llandegfedd Reservoir (18th) and Newport Wetlands (25th). A Black Redstart was present at Sudbrook (from 10th).

Newport Wetlands Reserve

One female and up to two male Hen Harriers were reported (various dates), while a female Marsh Harrier was also present (from 13th). Up to three Short-eared owls were recorded (14th), while a Barn Owl was also present (10th). Other sightings of note included an adult-plumaged Mediterranean Gull (12th) and a Spotted Redshank (24th).

Other sites

Two dark-bellied Brent Geese were reported from Sudbrook (6th). Short-eared Owls were reported from Garn Lakes (11th), Waunafon bog (two from 14th) and Caldicot Pill (20th), while a Barn Owl was reported from Whitson (27th). A Yellow-legged Gull was observed at Llandegfedd Reservoir (15th), while a Mediterranean Gull was recorded at Newport (24th). Eight Waxwings were seen at Pontypool (14th). A Merlin was reported from Waunafon bog (14th), while a female Hen Harrier was recorded at Peterstone Gout (16th). Red Kites were reported from Tredegar (1st), Ebbw Vale (3rd), Cwmbran (15th), Abergavenny (22nd) and Llanelli Church (28th). Other sightings of note included three Jack Snipe at Gobion (7th), six Jack Snipe at Caldicot Pill (20th), a Lesser-spotted Woodpecker at Chepstow (10th) and a Spotted Redshank at Peterstone Gout (28th).

Newport Wetlands

Tom Dalrymple

December

Birds

A record count for Dunlin, with more than 9,000 birds counted on the 15th and 16th. Wildfowl numbers are similar to last month and haven’t yet reached the numbers seen last year:

Gadwall 64, Mallard 159, Shelduck 90, Shoveler 85, Teal 380, Wigeon 1,269, Black-tailed Godwit 150, Dunlin 9,206, Grey Plover 25, Lapwing 1,500, Redshank 99, Snipe 107. The five Avocet are still around from last month.

Other notable bird sightings for the reserve: female Marsh Harrier on the 1st, five Golden Plover on the 6th, a little Stint on the 7th and 16th, eight Common Goldeneye on the 14th,

a Spotted Redshank on the 14th and 16th, two Rock Pipits and 10 Ringed Plover on the 16th,

a Merlin on the 27th.

Management

A flexi-pipe splitting and a sluice board moving led to a significant loss of water from the wet grasslands this month. Fortunately, we were able to replenish the lost water from the reedbeds and the flexi-pipe has been replaced with stank boards.

Mike and Keith have repaired the small pontoon in the Reedbeds and have been busy building driftwood benches.

Events and visits

Mike O’Brien, Minister for the Department of Energy and Climate Change, visited the reserve on the 2nd to discuss the Severn Barrage proposals with key stakeholders.

Graham White, Gareth Fisher and Matt Self from RSPB Reserves Ecology visited on the 4th to advise on reedbed management.

Kevin organised a much appreciated reserve volunteers’ Christmas dinner on the 14th.

A range of Christmas Santas entertained visitors at the centre from the 13th onwards.

Carol singers from St Mary’s Church Nash entertained about 60 visitors on the 23rd.

January

Birds

Waterfowl numbers remained low during the beginning of January but picked up as the weather warmed towards the end. Wildfowl numbers haven’t yet reached the numbers seen last year: Mallard 181, Shelduck 181, Shoveler 139, Teal 580, Wigeon 1,651, Black-tailed Godwit 426, Dunlin 2,739, Grey Plover 267, Lapwing 2,753, Redshank 247, Snipe 80.

Other notable bird sightings for the reserve: adult Glaucous Gull seen at the saline lagoons from the 22nd to 25th, drake Green-winged Teal seen between the 17th and 30th, Marsh Harrier 9th, 16th and 31st, Hen Harrier 3rd and 5th.

Management

Mike and Ritchie have been busy gutting the old workshop in preparation for the new build which will hopefully start next month. Mike has manufactured a grid for the tidal flap which will allow us to let salt water on to the lagoons without fear of introducing foxes as well. The Inland Drainage Board has repaired our leaking field bunds.

Llinos Davies has started a six-month student placement with us. Her main job will be monitoring breeding waders using nest cameras and temperature data loggers.

Kevin has been in talks with Newport and Monmouth Councils to try and find a route for the all Wales footpath that doesn’t compromise the interests of the reserve.

Events and visits

Eco Trail Blazers, a family event, was held at the visitor centre on the 10th. The sculpture trail was officially launched on the 22nd, and representatives from Western Power who sponsored the trail attended, along with Alan Morris and children form Lliswerry and St Patrick’s primary schools, who helped the artist Dominic Clare design the sculptures.

There was a Big Garden Bird Watch promotion at the centre on the 24th & 25th.

To celebrate 2009 International Astronomy Year, Cardiff Astrological Society held a Dark Skies event at the visitor centre on the 31st.

February

Birds

Most of the wintering birds have left now. The very cold weather this winter has affected bird numbers on the reserve in two different ways: the birds of the saline environments that didn’t freeze seem to have fared much better than those reliant on the wet grasslands that were frozen hard for much of the winter.

We have seen very good numbers of wetland birds that tend to use the saline environment of the Severn Estuary and saline lagoons, with reserve record counts for Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Dunlin and Curlew. However, the counts for birds that are largely dependant on the wet grasslands have been below average: Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Mallard and Pintail are all below the five-year mean.

Notable bird sightings for the reserve this month were: Marsh Harrier female seen on the 24th and 13th and a juvenile seen on the 14th, Spotted Redshank on the 24th,16 Avocet on the 24th, two dark-bellied Brent Geese on the 18th, female Merlin on the 16th, Hen Harrier male on the 14th, 13th and 7th and female on the 14th and 10th, Mediterranean Gull on the 12th, Barn Owl on the 10th.

Management

Mike, Ritchie and Jackie have been double-checking the fox fence and adding the final touches to ensure there are no weak points in it. The warm weather in the last week of the month gave Ritchie the opportunity to weed wipe the hard rush growing at the base of the fence.

Mike and Ritchie have replaced all the old footbridges on the saline lagoons. A contractor has pollarded the remaining willows on Perry lane.

Events and visits

Kevin and Llinos led a guided walk around the reedbeds to celebrate World Wetlands Day on the 2nd. Kevin gave a talk on the 7th to the Greater Gwent Biodiversity Partnership.

The “Magical Mapstick Nature Walk” event was held at the visitor centre on the 14th. JJ and the field teachers launched the Wildlife Explorers’ group on the 21st.

David Carrington and his team from Kenfig NNR were given a tour of the reserve on the 23rd.

Chris Rogers and Claire Smith from RSPB Vane Farm were shown around the reserve on the 24th. Kevin and Llinos led a guided walk for the group Mentro Allen on the 24th.

Field notes wanted

Verity Picken

If you saw any strange or unusual bird behaviour last year, please write a brief account and send it to Chris Field (6 Chepstow Road, Usk NP15 1BL) or Verity Picken (Little Ton Bach, Llangybi, Usk NP15 1PB) for inclusion in the 2008 Report.

It can be anything from a few lines to a page in length.  These notes are often of interest and balance our more erudite articles!  If you'd like to contribute a longer article, please phone Chris (01291 673181) or Verity (01633 450620) - we're always open to ideas.

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