Home Articles The Dipper March 2004 - Newsletter 90
March 2004 - Newsletter 90 PDF Print E-mail

AGM Commentary

Trevor Russell

Nearly 70 members heard the President, Ian Walker, open the meeting with a one-minute silence in memory of Gerry McQuade, a past Treasurer, who died recently.

The formalities of the meeting were rattled through in record time because there were very few elections to the Committee.  Keith Roylance was left unchallenged in his bid to become the new Treasurer after Gareth Waite stepped down after 4 years in office, and was elected unanimously.  Other members of the Committee were not challenged either and so were re-elected en bloc.  No one volunteered to take over as Editor of The Dipper, so Helen will continue but we will be actively seeking a replacement this year. There were no Committee members retiring by rotation this year and so the formalities were completed in just over half an hour.

This left plenty of time to enjoy the delightful - and very filling - finger buffet whilst Jeff Fisher set up his computerised projection equipment for his talk entitled “Dunnocks, Dippers and Digiscoping”.  This proved to be a most professional presentation of a very high photographic standard. The degree of magnification that can be achieved by combined use of telescope and telephoto camera has to be seen to be believed.  His ID quiz, utilising some of his less-than-award-winning shots, had a novel twist in that the losers won the best prizes, theirs being deemed the greatest need! A nice touch. Jeff’s talk was filled with hints and tips, both during and after the presentation, and proved so popular that his Q&A time afterwards had to be guillotined in order to clear the Hall and lock up!

Gerald McQuade - 27th January 1934 – 9th January 2004

It was with much sadness that Society members heard of the death of Gerry McQuade on the 9th January 2004.  Gerry and Anne had been Society members for 30 years.  They moved to the Abergavenny area when Gerry came to work at Coopers Filters.  Previously they had been living in Canada but their roots were firmly planted in Scotland where they were brought up and it was to Scotland that Gerry made his final journey to be buried in a beautiful spot overlooked by hills.

I can see now why Gerry so loved the Skirrid, as it must have reminded him of home.  He used to lead a GOS walk around the hill and he seemed to know the whereabouts of every bird we were to see.

For me, I will always remember Gerry in his role as Treasurer for the Society, which he held for a number of years in the ‘90s.  He showed the qualities you would expect from a Scottish accountant: absolute rigour in the handling of the Society’s financial affairs and a tenacity in pursuing those who had not paid their subscriptions, but always with a wry sense of humour.

More than 20 members of the Society attended the memorial service at St Teilo’s parish church, which was a reflection of the high regard he was held in by his friends in the Society.

We shall all miss a good friend and birdwatching colleague.

Alan Williams

News from the Gwent Levels Wetlands Reserve

Kevin Dupé, Reserve Manager

This winter has seen wigeon numbers increase yet again on the Reserve. Tony and I counted 1,684 on a rising tide count on 5th February.  Significantly, over two thirds of them were feeding on the wet grassland, with the remainder on the Uskmouth foreshore.  One of the best places to get close views of wigeon (and shoveler, teal, lapwing and sometimes pintail) is from our new viewing screen down Boat Road.  The wigeon are often grazing within 20m of the screens.  Other recent bird highlights include a barn owl roosting in barns at our workshops, at least one bittern giving excellent views at the Uskmouth Reedbeds, regular sightings of merlin and peregrine, male and female hen harriers and a count of 98 shoveler and a count of 281 black-tailed godwits (from the reed screens at Boat Road).

One of our voluntary wardens Rodney Morris, has made another 10 tree sparrow boxes (to go with the 12 he had already made and put up).  We have put these up and have also made 4 very large bird feeders which we have placed near the boxes.  The 22 boxes are at 4 locations around the Reserve, each with one feeder.

The Reserve has recently entered a new phase in its development, with the appointment of a new Project Officer, Sue Rice.   Sue is on a three-year contract and she will focus on the establishment of the proposed environmental education centre and outdoor teaching facilities.  We are striving to create a centre of excellence for environmental education, which will become an invaluable resource for the children and wider population of Newport. The development will take place over the next few years.  We will keep you informed at all stages of the project.

The reeds at Uskmouth have grown at a tremendous rate since they were planted as 1m turves at 10m spacings in 1999.  Most of the reedbeds are now totally closed over and in the winter of 2002/3 we started to cut openings in them to create pools and channels for bitterns to feed in.  We did this by using a pedestrian mower and then raking the reed up by hand.  Cutting is the ‘easy’ part, but heaping up the reed into habitat piles or to be burnt is very labour intensive.  This winter we brought in an amphibious reed-cutter from Sweden. This tracked machine not only cuts the reed, but then rakes it up and takes it to the edge of the reedbed.  The machine worked for 4 days, driven by a man from Switzerland, and achieved a massive amount of work in two of our reedbeds.  The beauty of the machine is that it is totally at home on land, swampy reedbed or open water.  One of the concerns about putting any machine onto our reedbeds is that they are planted on top of around 5m of liquid, pulverised fuel ash (PFA).  If this machine had gone through the ‘crust’ of reed rhizomes it should have had no problems.

Mike Mazzoleni, Assistant Reserve Manager, has completed erecting reed screening along one end of our north-easterly, created reedbed (R8). This looks fantastic and blends in superbly with its environment (it should – the reeds were cut in R8), although it will stand out a bit more in the summer. Once the birds are accustomed to it, we will cut some viewing slots in the reed. There are plans to make a lot more screens.

A major piece of work over the winter has been looking for and repairing leaks from our Transfer Ditch and ex-arable field blocks.  Some of these leaks were caused by the summer drought cracking the clay bunds, but most are a construction/design defect.  The ex-arable fields all had under-drainage which should have been sealed by the clay bunds around the field blocks. Unfortunately the clay core of the bunds has not gone deep enough to seal all the drains.  This winter we are dealing with one field block, but there are another three that need attention.  Obviously, the repair work involves massive disturbance to the area where it is taking place.

Only two mink have been caught at Uskmouth this winter, compared to eleven last winter (when we first started trapping). This is with the same amount of trapping effort.  There has been no sign of mink since these two were trapped in December. Thanks to Voluntary Warden Chris Hurn who carries out the trapping.

One contentious issue has been dog walking, particularly at Uskmouth.  The problem is dogs off the lead, running into or along the edge of reedbeds, dogs on very long leads (15m) doing the same and dogs being encouraged to swim in the reedbeds. We recently putting up new signs which ask dog walkers “to keep their dogs on a short lead at all times and prevent them from behaving in a way that will disturb the birds or other members of the public.”  It finishes by saying, “Most dog-walkers are acting responsibly, however, the few who are not may compromise the future of all dog walking on the permissive paths on this site.” The signs appear to have had the desired effect on at least some of the culprits.

Last year we produced a joint events leaflet with GOS, GWT, Newport city Council and the Goldcliff Ringing Group. This was very successful and we are doing the same again this year. The new programme should be out by 1st April. We are grateful to GOS and the walk leaders for this co-operation.

Thanks to all our Voluntary Wardens who do so much to help the running of the Reserve

The GWLR Open Day will be held at the Reserve Car Park (Nash) on July 18th

The first Open Day last year proved to be very successful and we are sure that this one will be as good, if not better.  GOS will be there.

GOS Car Stickers

As supplies of car stickers have just about run out, we are considering producing new ones.  We could reproduce the existing one, but this might be an opportunity for you to design a new sticker for us.  Please send any designs to me by mid-April so that if we decide to proceed, we can get them organised for the summer shows.

Reports Of Outdoor Trips

Llandegfedd Reservoir Saturday 10th January 2004 (Steve Butler)

Sixteen members joined our first field trip of the year on an overcast, fairly cold day. Starting from the Fishermen’s hut, we walked around the Island to the point and then back to the car park.  The following species were seen:

  1. Great Crested Grebe
  2. Cormorant
  3. Grey Heron
  4. Mute Swan
  5. Canada Goose
  6. Wigeon
  7. Teal
  8. Mallard
  9. Pochard
  10. Tufted Duck
  11. Sparrowhawk
  12. Buzzard
  13. Kestrel
  14. Peregrine
  15. Pheasant
  16. Moorhen
  17. Coot
  18. Lapwing
  19. Black-headed Gull
  20. Common Gull
  21. Lesser Black-backed Gull
  22. Herring Gull
  23. Great Black-backed Gull
  24. Wood Pigeon
  25. Collared Dove
  26. Great Spotted Woodpecker
  27. Meadow Pipit
  28. Grey Wagtail
  29. Pied Wagtail
  30. Wren
  31. Dunnock
  32. Robin
  33. Blackbird
  34. Fieldfare
  35. Song Thrush
  36. Redwing
  37. Mistle Thrush
  38. Blue Tit
  39. Great Tit
  40. Treecreeper
  41. Magpie
  42. Jackdaw
  43. Rook
  44. Carrion Crow
  45. Raven
  46. Starling
  47. House Sparrow
  48. Chaffinch

Cors Caron, Tregaron, and Aberystwyth, Sunday 25th January (George Noakes)

A party of 12 members met at Abergavenny bus station and made straight to Cors Caron. The highlight of the day appeared immediately on our arrival at Pont Eynon  – an Otter spotted by Karl Richards as he pulled up on the bridge.  Unfortunately, not everyone was able to see the Otter which swam under the bridge and vanished.  Scanning from the bridge, we hoped for early views of the raptors for which this trip is noted.  However, all seemed quiet and, in view of the convenient high tide that morning, we headed for Aberystwyth.  Just as we had last year, we were treated to extraordinarily close views of a small flock of Purple Sandpipers sheltering on rocks at the Marina.  Members with digital cameras were able to obtain some splendid shots.  This year, however, we were unable to locate any Chough at Constitution Hill.  A thorough search of the sea produced no Divers, Grebes or Scoters but 2 overflying Red-breasted Mergansers were some compensation.  On our return to Cors Caron we took a slow walk up the old railway track, stopping to scan the bog at intervals.  Red Kites were now much more conspicuous after their visit to the feeding station, often drifting past right overhead.  Among the many small passerines in the bushes alongside the track was a small number of Willow Tits, providing fantastic views of this sadly declining species. Finally, Ruth Brown spotted a distant ringtail Hen Harrier, our only definite sighting of the day, and then a Peregrine was spotted perched in a tree by a local farm.  Though less productive than last year, perhaps due to the mild weather, this regular destination for GOS again provided a thoroughly good day’s birdwatching.

Great West Bird Fair Slimbridge WWT, Saturday 7th February (George Noakes)

Although not on the scale of the Rutland Bird Fair, our “local” version still has much to offer.  A number of members enjoyed a variety of activities during the day, including lectures and demonstrations, browsing the trade stands and exploring the reserve itself.  The presence of an immature Lapland Bunting lured some of us to join the specially organised walk to search for this winter visitor feeding with a flock of Skylarks in an area not normally accessible to the public.  Despite the sodden condition of the fields we were finally able to enjoy good views of the Bunting and, as a bonus, a ring-tail Hen Harrier.  An interesting selection of waders was in view from the hides leading to the Holden Tower and we were able to pick out several Ruff and a Spotted Redshank but not the typically skulking Jack Snipe that had been seen earlier.  An enjoyable day came to an end with very close views of a Barn Owl hunting over a field behind the car park.

Uskmouth Sunday 22nd February (Chris Jones): Ten brave members turned up for the afternoon walk around the Uskmouth end of the Gwent Levels Reserve.  With a stiff north to north-easterly wind blowing, birding was very difficult.  The male Ring-necked Duck was seen briefly in the far south-western reed bed, with just a small selection of other ducks present (Tufted Duck, Pochard, Gadwall, Mallard and Teal).   A walk to the Saltmarsh grasslands found a few other species, Wigeon, Shelduck and Shoveler in the distance on the flooded fields where there was also a small party of Curlew present.

Islwyn Canal Association Nest Box Project Update

G T Thorne

You may remember that this time last year, I described a collaborative project between the I.C.A. and the local Comprehensive School, to place a number of Nest Boxes along a stretch of the Crumlin Arm of the Monmouth – Brecon Canal and in adjacent woodland.  The association anticipated that this would be the start of a series of programmes along the canal.  An article had appeared in the local press, describing the benefit to the nature of the locality and the contribution made by the school pupils.  Unfortunately 35% of the boxes were vandalised, and the I.C.A. were very upset by this setback.  However we decided to leave the remainder in place and to continue monitoring on a low profile basis.

There appears to have been interest in some of the boxes by Great tit and Blue Tits but no breeding seems to have taken place.  At present all existing boxes are being checked and will be cleaned where needed.   We have also decided to purchase several new boxes and place them in private woodland where the risk of vandalism will be at a minimum.  This is part of the ongoing commitment of the I.C.A. to improve the canal and encourage interest in the large amount of wildlife that exists within the canal corridor.

A study of the canal is being undertaken to check on the potential usage and its effects on tourism, employment and wildlife. We believe that our ongoing plans are important for the future, and we hope to encourage the children to learn about the wonder of all aspects of nature within the area, and give them an insight into the industrial heritage associated with the Monmouth-Brecon canal.

I thank GOS for their continued interest and will forward an update in the future.

Ruperra Conservation Trust, Coed Craig Ruperra Open Weekend

This event is to take place over the weekend of 10th and 11th July from 10.00am to 5.00pm on both days.  There will be local and national conservation and other interest groups, historical themed activities, and a series of guided walks over the two days to look at the local and natural history of the site and the work being carried out to restore the semi-natural ancient woodland character of the reserve.

Bert Hamar Bursary

Steve Williams

From the Gwent Levels Wetland Reserve to Magor Marsh Reserve and inland to Llandegfedd Reservoir, we are fortunate to have some good quality, well-managed wetlands in which to do our birding.  No less valuable is the scattering of water bodies found in northwest Gwent around Brynmawr, Ebbw Vale and Tredegar.  This network of small to medium sized reservoirs, ponds and lakes now supports significant and locally important numbers of wildfowl.

One such site is Dunlop Semtex Pond (DSP) at Brynmawr, which has risen gradually in the league table of ‘Gwent’s sites to watch’ giving local birders an opportunity to view wetland birds outside of the traditional birding hotspots.  Numbers of birds using DSP have increased steadily since the closure in the 1970’s of the nearby factory that gave it its distinctive name.  More recently the DSP area has been subject to a regeneration programme that saw the demolition of the disused factory and the reclamation of adjacent post industrial for housing.

But what impact if any, has all this redevelopment had on the bird population of the nearby pond?  I am pleased to acknowledge support from the ‘Bert Hamar Bursary’ for a study into the breeding and wintering birds of DSP.  Information gathered through regular visits over the next twelve months will be added to that already collected since 1990 to present a fuller picture of population trends.  In doing so any initial impact of the redevelopment on bird numbers should become evident.  A full report on the findings will then be published in a future Gwent Bird Report.

Steve has previously published an article in the 1997 Annual Report

Indian birding with Kerala Connections

Trevor Russell

Kerala is found on the south-western coastal strip of India starting some 500km south of Goa and eventually running out of land at the tip of the sub-continent.  Having just returned from a brilliant holiday there I feel I must tell you about the company that helped us organise it, Kerala Connections.

Kerala Connections have their own set themed tours but they also help you to pick n’mix your own personalised tour.  We combined parts of their Wildlife tour with parts of their Taste of Kerala tour which selects hotels and homestays where cooking demonstrations and hands-on cookery is available.

I don’t go out of my way to look for tigers and lions etc but we did manage to scope 2 families of elephants from our island hotel built for a Maharaja.  Wild boar, Samba deer, monkeys abounded in the Bird Sanctuaries and National Parks.  No new Indian birds for me from my 110 species seen this trip but over 100 Open-billed storks coming in to roost on a luckless tree already groaning with Darters was memorable in the sunset.

All the ground arrangements worked punctually and reliably and gave us no anxieties whatsoever. The local Agents and drivers spoke good English and induced confidence.  We even managed to change our itinerary mid-tour and it worked like clockwork.  Houseboat accommodation, train journey, tea plantations, spice plantations, rubber factories were all contributors to a memorable holiday.  Not to mention the massage…Highly recommended.

See for yourself on the web at www.keralaconnect.co.uk, call Diana or Trevor Syrett on 01892 722440, e-mail to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Bird Watching Holiday in Wales, July 2003

G T Thorne

This came about after reading enthusiastic magazine articles about birdwatching holidays and the enjoyment enhanced by the company of fellow birders.  With my wife’s blessing I finally chose a week at the beginning of July with Cambrian Bird Watching, based near the Cardigan coast, with the hope of seeing plenty of sea birds.

I arrived full of expectation, and from the welcome given by the host Graham Walker and my fellow birders I knew I would have an enjoyable time.  After dinner, we agreed a schedule and discussed our birding experiences and local areas, which proved very interesting.  After a last drink we all went to bed, looking forward to day 1.

Cardigan Bay beckoned and as the heatwave continued we were able to start ticking off the various species, with Graham showing his vast knowledge of the area’s wildlife.  The highlight of the day was the family of Choughs that flew from adjacent fields and landed near to us, a first for me.  However sea watching by some of the team produced Guillemot, Shag, Bottlenose Dolphin and Atlantic Seal.  We moved on to Cardigan estuary for lunch, and amongst the gulls were several Sandwich Terns, another first and a superb sight.  An afternoon walk around the local cliffs produced House Martins nesting in the cliff face, Razorbills, Fulmars, and Herring Gulls with young.  With so much on the coast we almost became forgetful of the Linnets, Stonechats and Swifts flying around the adjacent fields.  What a start to the week!  Back at base, we had good views of the resident Spotted Flycatchers, and with the sound of the nearby Rooks in our ears we went in for a drink and to update our notes.

Day 2 took us to Borth, with a good view of Red Kite riding the thermals over Aberaeron  - excellent.  The cliffs at Borth proved ideal for seeing feeding Gannets and the movement of Manx Shearwaters along the coast; another first for me and others in the party.  We then checked the local reserve.  What a surprise greeted us in the form of a family of weasels playing between the railway line and nearby fences.  Cameras were busy and we had quite good photographs.  We had good views of Reed Bunting, Warblers and I believe a glimpse of a Bittern but could not confirm.  Other delights were the butterflies and flowers in the sand dunes.  The holiday seemed to be getting better by the day.

On Day 3, we visited a reserve and the upper reaches of the river in Cardigan.  Amongst many species seen, the highlights had to be the Shelduck with several young and, after a careful study of the various gulls, 2 Little Gulls.  Back at base in the evening, some of us were pleased by the arrival of a male Sparrow Hawk pursuing a Blackbird.

On Day 4, the morning was glorious, and we were very excited to be going into the mountains.  From Lampeter, we went via Pump Saint to Cwm Carno where a stop to look for Goshawk proved unsuccessful, although Buzzard, Warblers and a Kingfisher near its nest site made us happy.  We then went on to Dinas RSPB Reserve.  I have visited this area on numerous occasions, and find it a delightful unspoilt place.  The Pied Flycatchers had flown, but good views of Redstart, Treecreeper, Nuthatch and numerous other species were good compensation.  Also, as expected in this valley, Red Kite.  What a bird!  Just to finish the day, after dinner I was fortunate to see a Red Fox on its hunting trek.

Day 5 started damp and misty, not very good for Tregaron Bog.  We stopped to observe a Red Kite nest site, and had good views of the pair as they soared in the valley; very good for photography.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker was also a welcome sight as we progressed to the Bog.  Unfortunately the weather was terrible, and prevented us from seeing much though we did see Snipe, Green Sandpiper, Grasshopper Warbler and Redpoll, and we were all grateful to Graham for helping us with some of the birdsong.

Our last day dawned after a restless sleep.  We all agreed our visit to Skomer would be the highlight of the week, and the weather was again glorious.  Having seen films about Skomer and read articles, our expectations were high, and we were not disappointed.  From the first sight of the rafts of Puffins near the island, our binoculars and cameras were in continual use.  Near the old farmhouse we saw a Little Owl, a species not seen by me for years.  We were all hoping for Short Eared Owl, but none were obliging.  However on close observation, I found one partly hidden in the bracken and as it stayed in this patch, we were informed that it was possibly an immature waiting for food.  After this exciting find we went to the narrow cove which teemed with seabirds.  We were awe-struck by the Puffins walking into their burrows carrying food.  What a superb spectacle!  Various species were identified and many pictures were taken.  We were also treated to a view of a Peregrine Falcon partly hidden in a rock crevice, and we were all agreed that this island is such an incredible place, it must be looked after for future generations.  To the sound of the gulls we made our way back to the boat, taking last photographs of Razorbills and Puffins, before heading back to base.

What a day and what a week, all very enjoyable.  It was money well spent with all meals, transport by mini-bus, and expertise included. With the bonus of very good company, I had seen/heard 100 species, including 7 firsts which made me very happy.  I was also sent 2 CDs of the digital photographs taken by two of my fellow birders.  I was so impressed by this that I have now bought myself a digital camera.

Recent Bird Sightings

Compiled by Helen Jones from information received on the website

Location Date Species & Comments
  December
Usk   Up to 12  Goldeneye on R Usk, south of town
Peterstone Gout 021630 300 Black-tailed Godwit; 100 Knot; 1000+ Dunlin7 Little Grebe; 160 Shoveler; 40 Grey Plover (52 on 30th)1200 Dunlin; 134 Common Redshank
Wentwood 02 1422 4 Great Spotted Woodpecker; 6 Marsh Tit; 6 Crossbill between Cadira Beeches & Little OakGreat Grey Shrike, Little OakAt least 6 Brambling, Nine Wells
GLWR Uskmouth 05  0618212831 Dartford Warbler still present from November, reported up to 25th January, with 2 reported on 18th Dec; Drake Ring-necked Duck, still present up to 1st March; 4 Water Rail (5 on 18th); 6 Redpoll56 Goldfinch; 8 singing Cetti’s WarblersMerlin1 Short-eared Owl1 Bearded Tit (2 previously reported 30th Nov)
Bulmore Lakes area 0728 5 Green Sandpiper; 6 Goosander; 2 Redpoll; 2 Marsh Tit5? & 6? Goosander, 17 Long-tailed Tit
Llandegfedd Res. 0714 C15 Bewick’s Swans2 Marsh Tit; 9 Redpoll
Monmouth 08 Redpolls & Bullfinches visiting Osbaston garden
A40 13 Barn Owl hunting between Raglan/Abergavenny
Abergavenny 14 1 male Brambling, Castle Meadows
Caerleon area 19 2 Marsh Tit; 1 Willow Tit; 17 Collared Doves Lodge Wood/Lodge Hill
Ynysyfro Res. 21 1 female Ruddy Duck; 8 Little Grebe
A48 22 100+ Lapwing Parkwall/Crick
Risca 23 Kingfisher, Collared Doves displaying
Landewi Skirrid 28 Woodcock flushed from verge
Brockweir 28 Drake Mandarin Duck
New Inn 29 Ring-necked Parakeet, also on 30th.
Crumlin area 29 Barn Owl across Crumlin to Hafodyrynys Road 18:30
Triley 31 250+ Golden Plover and 21+ Lapwing in fields along A465
  January
Bulmore Lakes area 01 9 Common Snipe on Usk; Tawny Owl calling Caerleon in evening
Gobion 0127 Little Owl; 6 Little Grebe3 Green Sandpiper; 8 Little Grebe; 4 Grey Wagtail; 2 Bewick’s Swans; Common Sandpiper
Ynysyfro Res. 03 4 ad. & 4 imm. Bewick’s Swans
Rogerstone 04 1 Waxwing, remaining to 9th.
Newport 04 1 Spotted Redshank on River Usk by Sainsbury’s
Cwmtillery 04 ? Hen Harrier on Coity Mountain
GLWR Uskmouth 0409252728 409 Curlew1Bearded Tit1 Bittern (also on 29th); ≥50 Reed Bunting; c8 singing Cettis Warblers120 Pintail, mainly drakes2 Bearded Tits; 1 Merlin; 1 Water Rail
GLWR Goldcliff 04 62 Grey Plover; ≥690 Wigeon; 2 Ruddy Duck
Abergavenny 07142122 ≥30 Redpoll on silver birch in garden≥50 Redpoll at Werddu Golf CoursePair of Brambling Castle MeadowsChiffchaff; Siskin; Redpoll Castle Meadows
Cwmynyscoy 14 Redpoll on evening primrose in garden
Caerleon 15 4 Common Snipe; 1 Spotted Redshank
Llandegfedd Res. 16 54 Redpoll; 2 Brambling; at least 3 Tree Sparrows
Magor Marsh 17 3 Common Snipe; 1 Water Rail; drake Mandarin Duck (also on 24th & 28th)
Sirhowy Park 24 Chiffchaff
Collister Pill 24 Lapland Bunting (8th County record); ≥ 50 Skylark
Peterstone 26 88 Grey Plover; 360 Common Redshank;
Llandogo 26 ?Brambling
M4 J26 26 Short-eared Owl
M4/M48 junction 28 Barn Owl – 3rd time seen in area
  February
GLWR Uskmouth 0113 1516 Bittern (also on 7th, 13th &17th )? Hen Harrier (also on 14th, 15th, 27th & 29th ); 5 Water Rail (heard); plenty of singing Cetti’s Warblers; Chiffchaffc6 Redpoll1 Short-eared Owl; ? Hen Harrier
Gobion 07 2 Bewick’s Swans; ≥ 30 Siskin; ≥ 56 Goldfinch; 2 Green Sandpiper
Redwick 08 1 Snow Bunting
Neddern 08 4 Bewick’s Swans
Sirhowy Park 15 1 Woodcock flushed
GLWR 15 2 Avocet
Llanllowel 20 2 Bewick’s Swans
Llangatock Lingoed 21 1 Firecrest with Goldcrests; Marsh Tit
Abergavenny 24 Water Rail showing well at mouth of Gavenny; small flock of Redpolls
Nash 27 2 Brambling
  March
Abergavenny 02 Water Rail still showing well; Chiffchaff
Llandegfedd Res. 02 3 drumming Great Spotted Woodpeckers; singing Marsh & Willow Tits
GLWR Uskmouth 0204 ? Hen Harrier? Hen Harrier; 1 Short-eared Owl
Magor Marsh 02 1 Bittern; 1 Cetti’s Warbler; 1 Chiffchaff; Water Rail
14 Locks 05 1 Brambling
Osbaston 06 3 Brambling

The rise and fall of the Firecrest in Gwent

Firecrest is described as “formerly a scarce breeding resident.  An uncommon passage migrant” (1).   There were 3 records in Gwent, at Pontypool in 1926, Peterstone Wentlooge in February 1937 and Llandegfedd in January 1942.  The next records were not until 1972 when there were 2 sightings. Since then, there have been records in 25 of the following 32 years, represented below as follows: singing males were present in 10 of the years (Blue) and confirmed breeding in at least another (Red), other sightings are  indicated by (Green) (3).

Firecrest Records

The Birds of Gwent (2) states that, in 1975, “in May and June up to 3 were heard singing in Wentwood where they probably bred.  This appears to be the first such record for Wales, but in view of the recent expansion of its breeding range into southern England it seems likely that it could be established here in the near future.”

From the table above, this seemed to be coming true with singing males present during the breeding season of the following 5 years.  A nesting attempt was abandoned in 1977, following the theft of nest-material by a Chaffinch whilst in 1979 a nest was robbed of its material by a female Chiffchaff.  Successful breeding was confirmed in 1986 with at least 4 juvs being seen at Wentwood.  Four pairs produced about 15 young in Wentwood in 1988 and there were other singing males at Wentwood and Fedw Wood.  In 1989, 21 singing males were located at Wentwood and 11 pairs were known to have bred, producing 75 fledged young.  In 1990, singing birds were more widespread with records from 4 sites in the Wye valley as well as at least 12 singing males at Wentwood were young were observed.   In contrast, in 1991 just a single bird was recorded in October (3).  The sudden decline may have been due to the cold weather the previous winter.

Since then, of the 16 sightings 13 have been between September and March, with just 3 during the breeding season including a singing bird at Wentwood in May 2000.

A description is required for this species

I am sure that I am not alone in not realising that Firecrests had bred in Gwent.

Lapland Bunting is “An uncommon but regular passage migrant in small numbers, especially in autumn, and an occasional winter resident”(1).

The first record for Wales was in 1936.  Between 1992 and 2000, over 230 were recorded with 117 in Pembrokeshire and 102 in North Wales.  The majority being seen in September and October(1).  Lapland Bunting was first recorded in Gwent at Undy on 13th December 1970(2).  In 1986, singles were recorded at West Pill on 11th October and at Peterstone Wentlooge on 7th December.  One was again at West Pill on 25th November 1990, with three present on 1st December.  Also in 1990, one was found near Black Rock on 30th December and, in 1991 another was recorded at this site on 26th October.  There were no further records until 2000, when one flew over GLWR Saltmarsh Grasslands on 10th January(3).  This is clearly not a common bird in Gwent, and a description is required.

  1. Birds in Wales 1992-2000 (2002), Jon Green
  2. The Birds of Gwent (1977)
  3. Relevant Annual Reports of The Gwent Ornithological Society

Committee Commentary February 2004

Trevor Russell

Treasurer: Keith Roylance was welcomed as the new Treasurer, taking the baton from Gareth Waite.

Gwent Bird Report 2002 (!) was discussed and it was acknowledged that far too much time had been wasted in waiting for, and chasing up, late records slips.  It was agreed that in future there will be a cut-off date of January 31st for the submission of the previous year’s records.  Chris Jones, County Recorder, pointed out that Bristol Ornithological Society computerise their records on a monthly basis, which makes compilation much faster.  We will be promoting the electronic submission of records in future editions of the Dipper and at indoor meetings, but you can start NOW!  Publication of the 2002 Report is due in March 2004.

Planning Applications: We have heard that  a proposal to install a windfarm on Mynydd James/Coity Mountain been submitted to  Blaneau Gwent Borough Council.  Since neither our view nor data were sought as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment for this project we will be writing a strong letter of complaint and protest to the Chief Planning Officer.  In particular we will be pointing out that their data, which used BBS methodology, does not give a true picture of abundance, or the use of the area in winter or migration periods, and is consequently inadequate.  Other criticisms will include the loss of habitat with reference to Skylark, the risk of bird strike and the importance of the presence of Cuckoo and its host species Meadow Pipit.

Gwent Levels Wetland Reserve: Following a shake-up of meetings, the GLWR Advisory Group agreed a series of positive actions on the Reserve including screens to lessen disturbance, tenancy agreements, reed-cutting, a possible tower hide, and a Visitor Centre.

Goytre House Wood: David Parsons and Roger James have prepared a management plan which they will submit to the Forestry Commission with the aim of obtaining a grant for the necessary maintenance work. Their proposal is to maintain it for woodland birds, so that any trees with holes will be left standing whereas, in a commercial wood, they would be felled.  Further action includes control of rhododendrons, sycamore, bracken, and, to a limited extent, brambles, although they are important for birds.   The area planted with a seed crop needs more nitrogen in the soil if kale is to be considered, so a crop of Tritikale and Clover will be sown again this year.  There was a large flock of Linnets seen near there recently. Applications for grants from MCC need to be made by June, which is too late to pay for planting this year, but apparently there is some money left in the pot allocated to the financial year ending March 2004. The cost of planting is about £350.

The BTO will be conducting a Nightjar survey this year. If you have a favoured spot contact Jerry Lewis on 01873 855091

Reminder of Special General Meeting at Goytre Village Hall

27th March 2004 at 7.30pm, prior to the Indoor Meeting scheduled for this date.

The purpose of the SGM is to discuss the following proposal, which has the unanimous support of the Committee:

The Gwent Ornithological Society recording boundary should be altered by extending a part of its western boundary, to the north of Cardiff, so that it follows the centre line of the River Rhymney from map references SO 098113 in the north to ST 225835 in the south.

This change is necessary because our current boundary is no longer shown on Ordinance Survey maps due to local government reorganization. We have reached agreement with Glamorgan Bird Club on this proposed change, and would like the change to be effective from 1st January 2004 to make it neater for our respective Bird Reports.

Bird Brain 2003

Ray Armstrong

In October, I started putting a small 8cm wide ball of fat out for the birds to supplement their diet of peanuts.  I hung it from a branch of a tree on a piece of string about 30cm long.  It very quickly attracted the attention of a couple of young Magpies but accessing the fat posed problems for them.  They first tried pecking at the string where it was tied to the branch but, apart from fraying the string, this proved unsuccessful.  They then tried to reach the fat by stretching down from the branch, with no success, so then tried pecking at the fat as they dropped past it from the branch to the ground.  Once again this proved negative and their attempts appeared to become more and more frenetic, until they eventually flew off frustrated.

I thought that they would be back and sure enough they were.  They went through the same sequence a number of times a day over a period of about a week.  During this time they added one further variation.  That was to fly up to the fat ball from the ground and try to peck it.  This also proved pretty ineffective although they did manage to pick off some small crumbs.

Then one day I noticed the young birds had brought in the “heavy gang” in the form of a mature Magpie.  It quickly became evident that its approach was more relaxed.  After a couple of abortive attempts at trying to reach the fat by leaning down from the branch, it took hold of the supporting string in its beak a couple of centimetres below the branch, and pulled it up thus raising the fat ball a few centimetres.  It tried to repeat the action, but on opening its beak, the fat ball dropped down again.  It tried this a few times then “eureka”.  It leant down, took hold of the string, drew it up and put its foot on the loose loop of string.  It repeated this action several times until it had the fat ball in its beak.

Though full of admiration for the performance, I wondered how I was going to deter the Magpie and still leave the fat accessible to the small birds.  I concluded that lengthening the string might solve the problem, so suspended the fat ball on a 90cm long piece of string.  I soon found that this was no deterrent, as on its next visit the mature bird had only a couple of abortive attempts before it was again pulling the string up and feeding.  I would add that the young birds were still visiting and in attendance when the mature bird was going through its routine, but they did not appear to learn from it as they continued to try their failed methods.

I finally decided to withdraw the fat for a few weeks and to re-introduce it when the Magpies stopped visiting.  I am happy to report that at the time of writing, our feeding station is not currently on the Magpie itinerary.

The question is, was this Magpie exhibiting “learned behaviour” was it just an example of “trial and error” built on past experience, or was it showing an “ability to reason”!  Has anyone else witnessed this behaviour?

BTO News

Jerry Lewis

Most members are likely to have already cleaned out their Nest Boxes (National Nestbox Week was 14th - 21st February), but for those that haven't, here are 6 useful tips:

  1. ensure boxes are water tight (but with drain holes in the floor)
  2. wood should be at least 15mm thick to provide insulation from heat and cold
  3. do not site in direct sunlight as conditions may become too hot for small chicks
  4. make sure lids cannot be lifted by potential predators (cats and squirrels)
  5. do not site boxes next to feeders, or where predators can gain easy access
  6. clean out old nests in the autumn, or today if the box is not already occupied.

Observant readers will have noticed that text is in the plural.  However small your area you can put up several boxes.  This is one way of ensuring that you (rather than your neighbour) has the best located box, and with luck they could all be used by different species.  For those wanting to know more, the BTO have a 77 page definitive guide to nest boxes (£8.99 incl. p &p from Jacobi Jayne & Co, FREEPOST 1155, Canterbury, CT3 4BR).  Why not complete a nest record card this year to add to the BTO's database on nest histories?  For more information, send a stamped addressed envelope to:

Nest Records Unit, BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU

Some early migrants have caught out the BTO's Migration Watch (the on line reporting of migrant arrivals).  High pressure over Europe and warm south-westerly winds over the weekend of 7th/8th February encouraged early migrants to head north even earlier than usual.  Unprecedented numbers of House Martins, together with the occasional Sand Martin and Swallows were seen in the south of Britain.  Small numbers of that regular early migrant, Wheatear, were also seen.  Our unpredictable spring weather will determine if these birds are able to survive into the breeding season.  The Migration Watch site was not opened until 15th, but you should still send in your records, as the majority of arrivals will probably be as usual.  Visit www.bto.org/migwatch to enter your records or to look at the migration progress.

Two new spring/summer surveys this year are for Breeding Nightjar and for Swallow Feeding.  Both are simple to participate in and anyone wishing to help should contact me for more information.  In Gwent, Nightjars are now found almost exclusively in forest restocks.  Two visits at dusk (or dawn) are required in June/July to listen for the churring males.  The Swallow survey also involves two visits (between late May and mid August) to a randomly selected tetrad to count feeding Swallows and their predators.

The Breeding Bird Survey is always in need of replacement surveyors (see the following article for the importance of BBS to monitor how the "commoner" species are doing).  Overall, the 2003 coverage of BBS in Wales was disappointing.  Gwent is still the best covered County (if the three Glamorgans are not counted together) but we really need to get back to the pre "foot and mouth" level of coverage.  The number of squares surveyed is directly related to the number of species whose population trends can be monitored in the region.   Four or five additional squares need to be surveyed this year if we are to ensure the monitoring of the maximum number of species.  At the time of writing the following squares are available:  ST4592 (Llanfair Discoed)

  • SO2809 (Llanellen)
  • ST4896 (Itton)
  • SO3701 (Usk)
  • SO5119 (Llangrove)
  • SO3621 (Campston)
  • SO3929 (Ewyas Harold)
  • ST2385 (Michaelston-y-Fedw)

The survey requires one visit to establish the route and record habitats and two visits (May - July) to walk a 2km route in the square and record everything you see/hear.  It couldn't be easier, and you'll sleep well knowing you are doing your bit for bird conservation. Give me a ring if you want more information about this or anything else to do with the BTO.

Those who want to know more about bird survey techniques (or need a refresher) may be interested in a 1day course being held at Bridgend on 18th April (there are also others in other parts of the UK).  The cost is £20.  Contact me if you want more information.

Gwent’s Priority Bird Species (Recorders’ Forum BAP)

One of the dilemmas that faces decision-makers when it comes to conservation issues is, which species are more important?  Assessments for birds have been done many times at the national level, and as part of the Local Biodiversity Action Plan (LBAP) process this has also been attempted locally; sub groups of the Gwent Recorder’s Forum have assessed all species that occur in County. The bird sub group comprised Richard Clarke, Chris Hatch, Rebecca Hutchinson, Chris Jones, Andrea Rowe, Alan Williams, Steve Williams and myself, and a priority bird list was drawn up.  The assessment took into account rarity, threat, decline and restricted distribution for each species.  The final list comprised a range of breeding and wintering/passage species and was in 3 parts.  Those UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) Priority Species that were found in our area, those UK Species of Conservation Concern (SoCC) that were assessed to be of importance in our area, and a reserve list of species that fell just below this assessment.  The species were as follows:

UK BAP Priority Species (13) Common Scoter, Grey Partridge, Turtle Dove, Nightjar, Skylark, Woodlark, Song Thrush, Aquatic Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, Tree Sparrow, Linnet, Bullfinch and Reed Bunting.

SoCC Priority Species (12) Bewick’s Swan, Merlin, Red Grouse, Golden Plover, Snipe, Redshank, Short-eared Owl, Green Woodpecker, Ring Ousel, Grasshopper Warbler, Dartford Warbler, and Hawfinch,

Reserve List Species (18) Cormorant, Little Egret, Shelduck, Goosander, Hen Harrier, Hobby, Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Knot, Whimbrel, Barn Owl, Long-eared Owl, Lesser-spotted Woodpecker, Yellow Wagtail, Stonechat, Firecrest, Willow Tit and Yellowhammer.

The “Bird Group” has also been writing action plans for those priority species that did not already have a plan, and that process is nearly complete.  At the recent Recorder’s Forum (January 31st) the next stage was to identify potential projects that could realistically be undertaken to benefit these species.  Members of the Society have already been active in collecting data for the new breeding atlas – itself an important contribution to the knowledge that is a pre-requisite of decision making.

A number of individual recovery projects have also started in the last two years; by Goldcliff Ringing Group (Aquatic Warbler, Tree Sparrow and Cormorant), Welsh Water (Tree Sparrow), Forest Enterprise (Nightjar) GOS (Tree Sparrow), and Monmouthshire County Council (Lapwing).

At the Forum (and despite there being only 3 people with a bird interest) potential projects suggested included:

  1. extending the above projects to wider areas (if the initial findings are favourable);
  2. enhancing the monitoring of species that are still considered “common and widespread” which could be achieved through increased uptake of the BTO’s Breeding Bird Survey (see page 14 of this issue for squares that are still vacant)
  3. undertaking further species specific/habitat related surveys, the need for which may become evident when the atlas results are fully assessed.

The Countryside Council for Wales has a grant scheme – The Species Challenge Fund (SCF) - for projects that are targeted towards priority species or habitats.  The next application window is in December and a lot more thought is still needed to work up these initial proposals into grant applications.

If members wish to become more involved there are several ways that they can do so.  Each of the Local Authorities (that now make up the old Gwent), have Local Biodiversity partnerships (some more active than others) and all would welcome more local participation in the LBAP process.   The Gwent Recorders’ Forum (newsletters are produced twice a year) would also welcome more help and participation from anyone who records wildlife on even a casual basis.  Even better, if anyone has thoughts for projects that could be explored please share them.  Suitable points of contact for further information would be the Local Authority LBAP Officers or Society members who are already involved.  If anyone wants names for their local area you could contact Jerry Lewis

Introducing your new treasurer, Keith Roylance

I have had an interest in birds and bird watching since my early teens, and still have my original ‘Observers Book of Birds’ dated 1956.  My expertise remains fairly basic and I wish I could recognise more birds by their song as well as their features.  A chance meeting with Chris Jones on a walk at GLWR two years ago encouraged me to join GOS.  Having at that time just taken early retirement I found that I had the time to actively pursue what had until then been an opportunistic interest.  I immediately started to attend the evening meetings and soon after commenced with the outdoor programme. I now try to get out and about at least once during the week.

A member of the RSPB since 1979, I was persuaded to join the BTO two years ago. I now carry out the Garden Birdwatch Survey, and in 2004 have volunteered for the BBS after getting to know the ropes with Mick Bailey last year on his Pontypool square.

My main interest has always been farm, country and woodland birds, but the facilities we now have at the GLWR and elsewhere in Gwent is making me widen my horizons to take in all that it has to offer. I have to admit to still being nonplussed by the Gull family.

Other interests include photography, gardening and motor sport

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