Home Articles The Dipper March 2007 - Newsletter 102
March 2007 - Newsletter 102 PDF Print E-mail

Byrd Spotting

I have started making a new bird list. As opposed to the others I keep (life, UK, county, garden, etc.), this one doesn’t actually involve seeing a single species, indeed, only the most limited birding skill is required. Basically it is a ‘birds I have heard on the radio’ list. Of course, as with all these things, it isn’t quite as simple as it sounds. It isn’t good enough to listen to natural history programmes on Radio 4 ticking away as a Great Tit chimes in the background whilst the presenter talks you through another depressing tale of biodiversity loss in the face of a shiny new road or airport. No, no, this is altogether more fun. Species can only be counted if they appear on musical stations. Now, of course, some species will be found actually singing within songs (try The Beatles White Album for an easy starter); others are slightly craftier, skulking within the name of a song, album or band’s name. So far, I’m doing OK; did you know there are bands called ‘The Waxwings’ and ‘The Nightjars’, and a rather good album called ‘Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers’? There is even a tune called ‘Carolina Wren’. Unfortunately, there are, as with all lists, some tricky ‘taxonomic’ decisions to be made, where should I draw the line with generic groupings? Do ‘The Byrds’ merit a tick? What about Messiaen’s ‘Reveil des Oiseaux’? Or, and this is possibly pushing it just a little too far, how about Bonde do Role’s ‘Solta o Frango’?     

Anyway, I’m glad some people are creatively inspired by birds, I’ve been struggling for hours for something to pad out the introduction with, ho-hum, here’s The Dipper, I’m off to listen to the wireless.  

Darryl Spittle, Dipper Editor, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Announcements

Rare breeding birds and the GOS website

Just a reminder, please do not publicise any breeding locations of locally or nationally rare species, or those susceptible to persecution, on the GOS website. As a guide please do not place reports on the website of any species displaying breeding behaviour listed on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (see www.jncc.gov.uk/PDF/waca1981_schedule1.pdf for a list of these species).

In addition to this list, there are some of local and regional uncommon breeding species that should be treated in the same way. If you need clarification regarding a particular bird, please contact the Gwent Recorder (Chris Jones) at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Passage migrants can, of course, be reported, however, if unsure as to the status of the bird you have come across please contact Chris.

Please remember that egg collectors can access our website as easily as birders.

Birds behaving oddly

The Report editors are looking for short notes (anything from one or two paragraphs to a page long) on unusual or particularly interesting behaviour of birds in Gwent last year.  These will hopefully be included in a Field Notes section in the 2006 Annual Report.  If you saw anything unusual last year, please write up the sighting and email it to Verity Picken at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or post it to Little Ton Bach, Llangybi, Usk NP15 1PB.

Any good photos of birds?

We would also be very grateful to receive good sharp photos of birds taken in Gwent in 2006 for the next Report.  Please email them (or, if a big file, put it on a CD and post it) to the addresses given above  - please do NOT compress the file or amend it in any way (by cropping, sharpening, etc.) as this leads to loss of quality.

Our printers tell us that to get good reproductions the picture needs to be 300 dpi.  If your camera is, for example, eight mega pixels this means the bird image must take up at least a quarter of the area of the whole picture; if it's only five mega pixels, the bird image needs to take up at least half the picture.  Cameras should be set at the highest resolution and it is best to save the picture as a TIFF file if your camera offers this option (this must be done before the picture is taken).

Verity Picken, Report Editor

GWT require a helping hand

The Gwent Wildlife Trust would like to collect more information regarding the birds at their Branches Fork Meadow Reserve just off the cycle track at Pontnewynydd (SO 269015). The reserve is just below Tranch wood and consists of about five acres of meadow and woodland. If any GOS members would be interested in doing some form of bird survey of the reserve (e.g. producing a species list from monthly visits) please contact Richard Bakere, Phoenix Reserves Officer, Gwent Wildlife Trust on 07891 044007.

Situation Vacant

Dipper Editor: Unbelievably this once-in-a-lifetime, not to be missed, great big sweet ripe cherry of an opportunity is still available. If anyone is interested in the role, or would like further information with regard to what it entails, please contact either myself at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or Trevor Russell on 01600 716266 or e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Wader predation at the Newport Wetlands

As many of you will be aware the breeding wader populations at Newport Wetlands are subject to predation from a number of predators at different times of day and at different stages of the waders’ development during breeding. To help us gain a better understanding of the pressures that the waders are subject to, it would be a great help to the reserve management team, if, during the course of your normal bird watching activity, you could record predators’ present, time, date and location. Where wader predation is witnessed please record wader and predator species together with time, date and location.  We would also be interested in any similar records relating to recent past years.

Please send records to Chris Jones (County Recorder) at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Tom Dalrymple, Senior Reserve Manager, Newport Wetlands.

Some Bedtime reading

Whilst you wait for the forthcoming Birds of Gwent 2, in a state of ever-increasing anticipation, here are a couple of titles you may want to peruse. The shortlist for the, soon to be awarded, Royal Society Prize for Science Books has two ‘environmental’ titles included on it this year both of which might interest GOS members.

Lonesome George by Henry Nicholls details the efforts of conservationists to preserve the Galapagos' unique biodiversity and illustrates how their experiences and discoveries are echoed worldwide. He explores the controversies raging over which mates are most appropriate for Lonesome George (a 5ft long, 90kg tortoise aged between 60 and 200, and the sole remaining survivor of his sub-species) and the risks of releasing crossbred offspring into the wild. The story also draws together the islands' geology, evolution and history of human exploitation and features a cast of characters from Charles Darwin to the Swiss graduate who spent four months trying to persuade George to have sex!

The Rough Guide to Climate Change by Robert Henson is a complete guide to the most pressing problem facing humanity. From the current situation and background science to the government sceptics and possible solutions, this book covers the whole subject. The guide looks at the symptoms of change, how global warming works, the evolution of our atmosphere and what computer simulations of climate reveal about our past, present, and future. It looks at the sceptics' grounds for disagreement, global warming in the media and what governments and scientists are doing to try and solve the problem. It also includes lifestyle advice and tips for consumers who want to make a difference in tomorrow's climate.

So, if you are looking for something to accompany your Horlicks, or are struggling for a birthday present idea, there’s a couple of worthwhile reads to get you started.

Committee Commentary February 2007

A summary of some of the topics discussed at the recent Committee meeting

New Officers: The Committee welcomed Dave Brassey as the new Chairman and also Steph Tyler returning as a Committee member after a long absence overseas.

Annual Report 2005: A member had written to disapprove of our adoption of the many new bird names in the 2005 Report rather than stay with the old, familiar names that we have been using for years, e.g., Tundra Swan instead of Bewick’s Swan, White-throated Dipper instead of Dipper, Western Jackdaw, etc. (in recent years over 33% of the British List has recently gained new names or prefixes).  Name changes reflect new insights and changes to our taxonomic understanding of birds, as reported via the British Ornithological Union. If that is the reason why name changes are made, it then boils down to a question of what to do with the new names, ignore them or adopt them?  To ignore them would be to lag behind future editions of field guides and other publications, yet to adopt them invites the question ‘how best to do it?’  We recognised that in the UK, few people are going to shout “there goes a Eurasian Collared Dove!” or “is that a Stock Pigeon?”, but in other countries such distinctions may be necessary. So the challenge is largely one of presentation, how to keep the ‘old’ names in front of the (UK-based) reader whilst at the same time recognising that new names need to be introduced too. As the Birds of Gwent publication goes to press it will be interesting to see what reaction that provokes. The discussion continues…

Motor Biking nuisance on Penyrheol, Mynydd Maen: A letter sought our help in trying to curb the activities of motor bikers and 4x4-ers, in order to protect the mountain tops at Penyrheol, Mynydd Maen (though this is not unique to Penyrheol, Coity Mountain is similarly blighted). The damage to the heather and peaty tops is considerable, not to mention erosion, loss of breeding habitat and noise nuisance. We were told that complaints to the Gwent Constabulary had not yet been very successful. Discussion revealed that CCW employ a Wildlife Crime Officer covering South Wales. If you know of similar instances of damage and nuisance please try the following contacts in the first instance:

  • CCW - PS Ian Guildford - 02920 772446
  • Pontypool - Sgt Neil O’Connell - 01495 745583
  • Monmouthshire & Torfaen - PC 363 Andrew J. Mason - Tintern - 01633 642068
  • Caerphilly & Blaenau Gwent - PC 569 Kevin Gullick - Abertillery Police Station - 01495 233 943
  • Cwmbran - Insp. Bob Witherall - 01633 642401

Newport Wetland Reserve: A new manager for the Reserve has recently been appointed. Tom Dalrymple replaces Tony Pickup and we look forward to meeting him shortly

Birds of Gwent2: The volume will be sent to the publisher in mid-March though a publication date has not yet been set.

Trevor Russell, Secretary (01600 716266, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

Field Trip Reports                           

Whitford Burrows – 6th January:

Twelve members of GOS met Wendell Thomas at the arranged meeting place, but due to heavy rain we decided it would be better to visit the WWT centre at Llanelli.  Staying there until noon we managed to see Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Great Cormorant, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Mute Swan, Greylag Goose, Brent Goose, Common Shelduck, Eurasian Wigeon, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Common Pochard, Common Eider, Common Goldeneye, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Peregrine Falcon, Common Moorhen, Common Kingfisher and Common Coot.

Moving on from Llanelli when the sun came out, we made our way to Kidwelly, stopping along the way to see a Rosy Starling.  At Kidwelly we saw a good range of species including: 100’s of Eurasian Oystercatchers, 1000+ European Golden Plover, Grey Plover, 1000 + Northern Lapwing, Dunlin, Ruff, Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew, Spotted Redshank and Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Black-headed, Mew, Lesser Black-backed, Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls, Common Wood Pigeon, Eurasian Collard Dove, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Sky Lark, Meadow Pipit, Grey Wagtail, Pied Wagtail, Winter Wren, Hedge Accentor, European Robin, Stonechat, Common Blackbird, Song and Mistle Thrush, Cetti’s Warbler, Common Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Long-tailed and Coal Tit, Eurasian Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Common Raven, Common Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, European Greenfinch, European Goldfinch, Common Linnet, Common Bullfinch and Reed Bunting.  Finishing up at Coed Bach we had Green Sandpiper resulting in 79 species in all. Many thanks to Gwendle for leading the walk.

NWR Uskmouth – 21st January

Meeting Chris Jones at the reserve car park at 2:00pm we hoped for a good few hours birding and to finish with Starling roost.  The weather unfortunately was again cloud and wet, however, amongst the species seen were: Little Grebe, Great Cormorant, Mute Swan, Common Shelduck, Gadwall, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Common Goldeneye, Common Buzzard, Common Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Common Pheasant, Water Rail, Common Coot, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Northern Lapwing, Common Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew, Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull, Common Wood Pigeon, Pied Wagtail, Winter Wren, Hedge Accentor, Stonechat, Blackbird, Redwing, Cetti’s Warbler, Goldcrest, Long-tailed Tit, Eurasian Treecreeper, Eurasian Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch and European Goldfinch.  Only a handful of Common Starling were seen due to the weather conditions moving them on and, sadly, we missed out on the roost.  Unlike the starlings we had a pleasing 35 members turn up for the walk. Thanks to Chris for leading the walk.

Tregaron/Aberystwyth – 4th February

Twelve members met Steve Butler at Abergavenny Bus Station for a full day’s birding.  For once the weather was sunny but more seasonally cold. Starting at the bridge at the lower end of Tregaron, we progressed along the old railway path to the new hide where we saw a female Hen Harrier. Amongst the other species noted were: Little Grebe, Grey Heron, Mute Swan, Eurasian Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Goosander, Red Kite (showing well as usual), Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Common Pheasant, Common Moorhen, Northern Lapwing, Common Snipe, Ruddy Turnstone, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls, Common Wood Pigeon, Eurasian Collared Dove, Common Kingfisher, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Sky Lark, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, White-throated Dipper, Winter Wren, Hedge Accentor, European Robin, Stonechat, Blackbird, Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Redwing, Mistle Thrush, Common Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Long-tailed Tit and Coal Tit, Wood Nuthatch, Eurasian Jay, Eurasian Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Common Raven, Common Starling, House Sparrow, European Greenfinch, European Goldfinch, Common Bullfinch and Reed Bunting.

Moving on to Aberystwyth we were disappointed not to see the Red-billed Choughs and the amount of birds in general.  However, along the seafront we did see Great Cormorant, European Shag, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Purple Sandpiper and Rock Pipit.

On the way home we returned to the bridge at Tregaron, to spot Greenland White-fronted and Greylag Goose and Peregrine Falcon coming in at dusk to roost. In total 69 species were seen.

Llandegfedd Reservoir – 17th February

Meeting Steve Butler at the fisherman’s car park, 15 members of GOS made their way around the reservoir to watch the wintering water birds.  The conditions were overcast but a good variety of birds were seen, including: Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Great Cormorant, Grey Heron, Mute Swan, Greater Canada Goose, Eurasian Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Common Pochard, Tufted Duck, Common Goldeneye, Goosander, Common Buzzard, Common Moorhen, Common Coot, Northern Lapwing, Common Snipe, Black-headed Gull, Mew Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull, Common Wood Pigeon, Tawny Owl (heard), Great Spotted Woodpecker, Pied Wagtail, Winter Wren, Hedge Accentor, European Robin, Blackbird, Fieldfare, Song Thrush and Mistle Thrush, Long-tailed and Coal Tit, Eurasian Treecreeper, Eurasian Jay, Eurasian Jackdaw, Rook ,Carrion Crow, Common Raven, Common Starling, Chaffinch, European Greenfinch, European Goldfinch, Common Bullfinch, Lesser Redpoll and Reed Bunting - 54 Species.

Steve Butler

A typical Gwent day

A few members will remember our trip on the 4th February to Cors Caron. It wasn’t a bad day by far, but we did not get to see a male Hen Harrier (saw two female though). I was certainly hoping that we would see a male quartering over the bog and displaying. Sadly this didn’t happen, as did a few other species on that trip, Willow Tit! However we did enjoy a reasonable close up view of a female from the excellent new hide.

Three days after the trip, I decided to go and visit my neglected local patch, Manmoel Common. Sadly off-road bikers have been a nuisance on the weekends, which I get rather frustrated about, as do we all. All that aside, I decided to give it another go. It was nice to see a few of the commoner species about including plenty of Meadow Pipits and a few Sky Lark. Also loads of Mistle Thrush which I used to see a lot at this site. It was also a pleasant surprise to see five Stonechat, working their way through the heather.

However the highlight of the walk was yet to be seen. A little further on down the track I happened to glance to my right. I nearly fainted when I saw what was there. A male Hen Harrier quartering the heather! The bird continued to perform well and covered the whole of the area of heather. One distinct memory from this event was when the bird hovered briefly over the heather with its tail fully fanned out, the late afternoon sun shining through the feathers, great stuff! I watched the bird for further fifteen minutes before if moved off towards some trees and disappeared.

It’s typical that twelve of us had traveled for over two hours to see what I saw only ten minutes from my own house. It just shows what the county has to offer, at least, up here in cold damp North West Gwent.

Luke Phillips

Membership News

Membership Update: I am pleased to say that we have had 22 new memberships for 2007, so fully paid memberships stand at 229 as at 5th May.

Unfortunately, we have an additional 55 underpaid memberships because standing orders were not updated for the new rates effective from 1st January 2007.  These members will receive their membership cards for 2007 when they pay the difference due, and a reminder will be sent with this Dipper.  They should note that until a full membership is paid, they will not be eligible to receive the Annual report for 2006.

There have been 65 non-renewals for 2007.  We were notified by 5 members that they would not be re-joining for 2007, and reminders will be sent out to the remainder.  Current fees are

  • Adults £12.00
  • Family £15.00
  • Junior/Senior £9.00

Nest Box Event & Stephen Moss’ talk, 10th February: Unfortunately, because of heavy snow in Gwent on the Friday, and a poor forecast for the Saturday, the decision was made on the Friday to cancel these events.  On Friday evening and Saturday morning, I sent e-mails to those members for whom I had an e-mail address.  Unfortunately, some messages were returned because the e-mail information I had was not valid.  Also, on Saturday morning, Andrew Baker, Keith Roylance, Trevor Russell and I contacted the remainder of the membership, for whom we had details, by phone (including those who had not yet renewed for 2007).  Some of the phone numbers were no longer valid and for some members, we had no contact details at all.  Despite all our efforts, I am sure that some of you turned up at one of these events and if this was the case, we are sorry that you had a wasted journey.

One thing learnt from this is the need for valid contact details so that we can contact you if a similar situation arises again.  This is dependant on you giving the membership secretary your e-mail address and phone number, and advising of any changes to these.

The nest-box event was rescheduled for 10th March and proved successful.  Keith Roylance, Richard Clarke, Trevor Russell and I had spent a Saturday morning preparing about 90 kits from wood donated by Terry Howells and Sons Ltd.  We sold about 48 kits at the event and further kits/made-up boxes at the last 2 indoor meetings.  We hope to run this event again next year, and perhaps make it an annual event.

Regarding Stephen Moss’ talk, this has been rescheduled for Saturday 24th November, so hope you can make it there.

Helen Parry Jones, Membership Secretary

News from the other side

The Glamorganbirds website is currently out of action, however, the news and discussion pages are still working as per usual. So, if you are planning on a cross border birding trip or are just checking for the odd stray bit of Gwent gen the bird news page is to be found at http://pub43.bravenet.com/guestbook/3627196539/ and the discussion forum at http://pub43.bravenet.com/forum/3627196539/

BTO News

Returns from this winter's Northern Lapwing/European Golden Plover monitoring are starting to come in and I have received returns from Chris Hatch, Verity Picken, Steve Butler and John Davies.  There have been no reports of European Golden Plover and few of Northern Lapwing.  A small flock frequented Llandegfedd Reservoir (max of 100 in November) and a slightly smaller flock was on the Llangibby Bottoms (at least 76 in December).  Another small flock was at Llanellen (max of 30 in October).  I am also aware (from the website) that 900-1000 were in the Goldcliff/Uskmouth area in early January and around 600 in February, the NWR now appears to be the main wintering site in the county.  I expect that most members will be aware that, with milder winters, most migrant plovers are remaining on the east coast for the winter, with fewer large flocks in Wales and Ireland.  If anyone still has their survey forms, can they be sent to me ASAP?

This year's Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) forms are being distributed, and many of the spare squares listed in the last Dipper now have volunteers.  Just seven squares are now available - SO4817 (St Maughans)), SO3504 (Trostrey, Usk), ST2689 (Rogerstone), SO3621 (Campston Hill), SO3613 (Llanvapley), SO5117 (Welsh Newton -Hereford) and SO3011 (Llanellen).   At this rate 2007 will be one of the best years ever.  This is one of the easier surveys to get involved in and do your bit for conservation monitoring, so if anyone is interested (or wants more information) please give me a ring.

Offers of help for the next National Atlas are very slow to come in.  This is a wintering and breeding Atlas with four winter seasons (starting winter 2007/8) and three breeding seasons (starting 2008).  Details of the methodology are given below (repeated from the last Dipper) -.

The fieldwork is designed to provide a complete species list, and a relative abundance for each species, in each 10 Km square, in both the winter and the breeding season.  Winter is November - February inclusive and the breeding season encompasses April - July.  The fieldwork will comprise a balance between "roving records" and "timed tetrad visits", both will give the total species list and evidence of breeding, while the latter will provide abundance data.  Both types of fieldwork are of equal importance.  Roving recorders will have a very free remit - aiming to amass a comprehensive species list for each 10 Km square (this could be achieved by a mix of providing casual records, a day's birding through several squares or a dedicated search of the habitats in one square).  Timed tetrad visits will comprise a compulsory one-hour survey (optional two hour survey) during which individuals of each species seen and heard are counted.  There would be early and late season visits, so two winter visits and two breeding season visits to each tetrad.  The aim in each 10 Km square is to have timed visits in at least eight tetrads (choice of tetrads is up to the observer), but each tetrad need only be visited in a single winter and breeding season.  At this stage all that is needed is an expression of interest and an indication of your preferred area (10 Km square), please let me know if you are interested so I can begin to approach other people for other squares in the county.

So far I have offers of help for only a few 10 km squares (SO20, SO21, SO50 and ST28) so there are still lots of the county still uncovered.  Anyone interested or willing to help should get in touch ASAP.

The elusive Hawfinch will soon become difficult to see, as food is becoming scarce and they become hidden by the emerging leaves.  It is timely to remind everyone to try and keep a look out for colour rings if you are lucky enough to have any sightings - anywhere in the Wye Valley or the Forest of Dean.  There will be two rings on each bird (a dull grey metal one and a single plastic ring - either dark blue, light blue, yellow or red); the two rings may be on the same or on different legs.  If anyone has any sightings (even if only one ring is seen) please let me know.

This spring there are Ringed/Little Plover breeding surveys. It is 10 years since both were last surveyed and the aim is to assess their current populations and assess any changes.  In our area Little Plover is likely to be the more common breeder, despite it being much rarer nationally, as it nests on river shingles and in gravel pits/quarry workings.  Ringed Plover has a more coastal distribution and its habitat or sand/shingle beaches are uncommon in the County.  Little Plover is a Schedule 1 species and any observations will have to be made from a distance to avoid disturbance.  If you are able to check one of the known breeding sites, or come across either species during your bird watching travels please give me a call.

Were you one of the half million or so birdwatchers who took part in the RSPB's Garden Birdwatch over the weekend of 27/28 January?  If you were, why not record your garden visitors throughout the year and contribute to the BTO/CJ Garden Birdwatch - a free information pack is available from GBW Garden Bird Pack, BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU or from This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or by telephoning 01842 750050.  Having so many participants on a single weekend can provide interesting information, but so much more can be learned by undertaking the counts monthly throughout the year.  The numbers of the different species that visit gardens is influenced by several interconnecting factors - principally natural food availability and weather (see my article in the 2005 GOS Annual Report).  The BTO/CJ counters had spotted in mid August that this winter was going to be very quiet for garden visitors.  As natural foods have been plentiful, 3 of the common visitors (Blackbird, European Greenfinch and Common Starling) are all down in numbers, by -6%, -14% and -24% respectively.

Jerry Lewis, BTO Representative

News from the Newport Wetlands

Spring has definitely sprung! Northern Lapwings are displaying all over the wet grassland and some are even sitting on eggs already. A count yesterday (5th April) indicated around 36 pairs, but it is still early days. The Pied Avocets arrived back in early March, much earlier than in previous years. Lets hope our ‘anti-fox ditch’ and electric fence enables them to have a more successful year than last, when five pairs fledged only one chick. There have also been numerous sightings of Bearded Tit in the last couple of weeks. Even I saw four this morning! This was just reward for being up on the reedbeds at 7am on Good Friday!

As mentioned in the last Dipper, Newport Wetlands has achieved its targets set down by the European Union. On 5th February we counted 308 Northern Shoveler, this is over 2% of the UK winter population and smashed our previous record count of 215. A Great Bittern was also seen on that day by Chris Hurn – another good omen! This was also the day that Tom Dalrymple started as the new Senior Reserve Manager. Tom was previously working for WWT for at Slimbridge and then Arundel in Sussex,... more from Tom in the next Dipper.

Several improvements have been made to the visitor facilities at Uskmouth over the past six months. We have installed a pontoon across Reedbed 7 to the lighthouse. This reduces the walk to the lighthouse and to see the foreshore by over 1km, making them much more accessible, particularly for those with young children, school groups and those with walking difficulties. They also provide you with a fantastic experience of being actually in a reedbed and over the deep-water channels, and that much closer to the birds and other wildlife. We have also constructed another pontoon nearby which leads to an open area that has been cut in the reeds with viewing screens. The two pontoons have taken an age to build, or rather the actual pontoons only took nine days work, but fitting the handrails, netting, kick boards, anchors and building the three ramps to them has taken around 30 days. Apart from Mike, Richie and myself, Voluntary Warden and GOS member Keith Jones (Undy) has put in an incredible 33 days work into the pontoons’ construction. Six hundred pontoon units had to be moved at least three times each. A total of 2,475 cable ties had to be tightened, 1,600 staples hammered in and 450 nuts tightened.

In addition, 2.8km of existing track has been resurfaced to create smooth footpaths suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs. Reed viewing screens will be put up along the ends of all the deepwater channels. A new 250m footpath has been laid through the two copses at the western end of the ‘new’ reedbeds. Each copse has a raised viewing platform overlooking Reedbed 8 and 9. In order to create a larger area of disturbance free reedbed, the track which runs between these two reedbeds will be closed to the public. Finally, some time this year, a new ramped pathway will be constructed from the Environmental Education Centre field up to the reedbeds. This will have a maximum gradient of 1:20 to allow wheelchair and pushchair access.

Although not officially part of the ongoing project for the species in Gwent, we have been doing work for Eurasian Tree Sparrows for the past three years. Forty-seven nest boxes have been put up and two feeding stations established.  Three and a half hectares of spring arable with winter stubble have been planted over the past two years and another two hectares will be sown this spring. The original three and a half hectares were planted with spring barley and field peas and harvested by the tenant farmer. With no fertilisers or pesticides used they were probably of some benefit to wildlife. The spring barley produced an amazing density of field voles, which were fed on by large numbers of grey herons. The new area of arable, which will be at the end of Farmfield Lane, will be sown with a special mix of plants, designed specifically to feed Eurasian Tree Sparrows and other seed eating birds. So far all our efforts have been in vain, as far as Eurasian Tree Sparrows are concerned. The bird boxes have been used by Great and Blue Tit, bats and Wood Mice, but not sparrows. We get through an enormous amount of birdseed, but ‘only’ House Sparrows, European Greenfinch, European Goldfinch, Blue and Great Tit, Collared Dove and Common Pheasant have been seen feeding. Hopefully, our new arable ‘bird seed’ will be more productive regarding the target species.

Kevin Dupé, Reserve Manager

Recent Sightings: December to February

The following is a summary of reports posted to the ‘Recent Reports’ page on our website  (www.gwentbirds.org.uk).  ‘Notable’ records (i.e. those relating to species recorded infrequently within the county and requiring a description to be sent to the county recorder) are in bold type. All areas within the NWR and associated areas of foreshore are treated as a single location. Records relating to rare breeding species, or those susceptible to persecution are omitted.  Please note that the inclusion of a record within the following summary does not imply official acceptance and all records should be forwarded to the county recorder. Species names, sequence and taxonomy follow the seventh edition of the British Ornithologists’ Union’s British List (Dudley et al. 2006).

When posting information to the ‘Gwent Sightings’ page, please refrain from reporting rare species, or those susceptible to persecution, if they are showing signs of breeding. Please remember that the information on the website is open to all.

Thanks go to the following observers who all contributed records, apologies for any omissions: Brian Adcock, Mick Bailey, Rob Bailey, Pat Balshaw, Tony Balshaw, Richard Bakere, Nicholas Beswick, David Beveridge, Mike Bosley, Julian Branscombe, Matt Broome, Ruth Brown, Steve Butler, Steve Carter, Nathan Casburn, Barry Catlin, Tom Chinnick, Maurice Chown, Craig Constance, James Daly, John Davies, Steve Davies, Allan Dowson, John Evans, Chris Field, T Forster, Tim Hall, John Harper, Jennifer Haskins, Richard Haskins, David Hathaway, Gordon Hill, ‘Holly’, Gary Howells, Richard Howells, Robert Hughes, Chris Hurn, Jan Jenkins, Mal Jenkins, Roger Jenkins, Tony Jenkins, Chris Jones, Clive Jones, Hadyn Jones, Keith Jones, Malcolm Kingswell, Roy Lynch, John Marsh, Peter O’Duffy, John O’Sullivan, Phil Parson, Luke Phillips, Verity Picken, Mike Pointon, Ralph Powell, RM Price, Chris Radnor, Keith Roylance, Darryl Spittle, Ed Stevens, ‘Malcolm T’, Brian Thomas, Keith Thomas, GT Thorne, Eddie Wang, Mike Warburton, Lyn Waters, Bev West, Chris West, Julie West, Matthew West, Michael West, C. Williams, Steve Williams and Leyton Williams-Davies.

  • Tundra (Bewick’s) Swan – The herd in the Usk valley was reported from Llangibby Bottom from mid December until mid February with a peak count of 18 recorded on both 1st and 19th February. Birds were also seen at Llandegfedd Reservoir with six on 26th December and three 28th January, presumably these were ‘wanderers’ from the main flock.
  • Greylag Goose – Three birds were seen near Caerleon on 28th December. Birds at the main breeding site in the county have been colour-ringed in recent years so it is always worth checking their legs.
  • Barnacle Goose – Single birds, accompanying Greater Canada Geese, were noted at the NWR on 9th December, at Llandegfedd Reservoir on 26th December and 13th February, and Bulmore Lakes on 14th January.
  • Brent Goose – A single was seen off the NWR on 6th December and then, the following day, was noted off Goldcliff Point. There was then a flurry of records over the festive period with one at Peterstone on 24th, seven at Collister Pill on 25th, two there on 26th, and four at Magor Pill on 29th. The final record was of two at Peterstone in early February. Where specified, birds were of the dark-bellied bernicla subspecies.
  • Common Goldeneye – Four sites hosted this species: singles were at Llandegfedd Reservoir on 9th December and 26th February; between one and five birds were at NWR throughout the period; two were at Beaufort Ponds on 14th January; and a lone bird was at Dunlop Semtex on 11th February.
  • Goosander – Reported from sites scattered around the county, most counts were of less than ten birds but flocks in double-figures were received from Cwmbran Boating Lake, Llantarnam Industrial Park, the River Usk and Llandegfedd Reservoir.  
  • Willow Ptarmigan (Red Grouse) – Just one report noted; two birds were seen on The Blorenge on the 5th January.
  • Red-legged Partridge – Just two reports were received, both in December; a single bird was at Usk on the 14th and two at Collister Pill on the 26th.
  • Grey Partridge – Amazingly greater numbers of this species were reported than its introduced cousin above, although this might just reflect more being released for shooting. Again both reports came from December, a good covey of 12 were seen near Bassaleg on the 15th and four were at West Pill on the 25th.
  • European Storm-petrel – Two birds were seen off Goldcliff Point on 3rd December, these were the only Stormies picked out from amongst the much greater influx of Leach’s (Chris Jones).
  • Leach’s Storm-petrel – Following strong south-westerly winds at the beginning of December, a large ‘wreck’ of this species was seen along south and west coasts of the UK. The first birds seen in the county were six of Goldcliff Point on 3rd December. During the next seven days over seventy birds were reported from Peterstone to Sudbrook. Whilst this figure may include some ‘double-counting’ it is clear a significant number of birds were involved. In addition to those seen in the channel, a small number of birds were seen flying inland and a corpse was picked up near Monmouth on 15th (many observers).
  • Great Bittern – This winter appears to have been a poor one for this species; only one sighting was reported, a single bird seen at the NWR on 5th February (Chris Hurn).
  • Little Egret – The usual scatter of records was received from the levels, with birds seen between Peterstone in the west and Collister in the east. The highest reported count was of 19 near Llanwern on 10th December. Inland, two or three birds were seen at Gobion in early January.
  • Bateleur Eagle – An escaped falconer’s bird was seen at the NWR on the 7th February, it then spent the next few days and weeks entertaining Glamorgan birders.
  • Eurasian Marsh Harrier – A report was received of a bird at the NWR on 1st January (T. & J. Jenkins).
  • Hen Harrier – Three sightings, all of single birds in the north of the county, were received between 28th December and 16th February. Males were seen at Waunafon Bog and Garnlydan Reservoir and an unsexed bird was noted at Manmoel (D. Spittle, L. Phillips & S. Butler).
  • Merlin – All records were of single birds and the majority related to birds on the levels. Birds were seen from Sluice Farm in the west to Collister Pill in the east; inland birds were reported from Waunafon Bog, Llanhilleth, Mynydd Llangynidr and Ebbw Vale. The dozen records logged consisted of two males, five females and five unsexed birds.
  • Water Rail – As is the norm reports were logged from both the NWR and Magor Marsh; more unusual were two sightings from Newport, one on the 15th December and one on 28th.
  • Pied Avocet – Two were at the NWR on the 18th February.  
  • European Golden Plover – The first report during the period was one bird near Bassaleg on the 7th December, this was followed by birds at the NWR, Collister Pill and Peterstone.
  • Sanderling – A rare winter sighting was reported on the 6th February, a single bird was seen at Peterstone.
  • Ruff – A single bird, presumably wintering on the levels, was seen at the NWR on the 20th and 24th February.   
  • Jack Snipe – Four reports were noted; two at Collister Pill on 26th December, one was at Garn Lakes on the 14th and 27th January, and one was at Llandegfedd Reservoir on 16th January.  
  • Eurasian Woodcock – A single individual was seen at Ynysddu on the 19th February.  
  • Black-tailed Godwit – Varying numbers were present throughout the winter at the NWR and Peterstone, the maximum count received was of 60 on the 19th February.
  • Bar-tailed Godwit – Three reports of single birds were noted. One was seen at Collister Pill on both Christmas Day and Boxing Day whilst another was at the NWR on the 20th February.  
  • Green Sandpiper – This scarce wintering species was seen at five different sites during the period. Most records were of single birds but three were reported on the River Monnow and two at Gobion.
  • Common Sandpiper – In similar fashion to the previous species, small numbers of this species appear to be wintering along the counties rivers. Birds were logged at four sites between the 3rd December and the 11th February.  
  • Turnstone – Just one report was noted, nine birds were seen at Goldcliff Point on the 7th December.  
  • Arctic Skua – Just one bird was caught up in the seabird ‘wreck’ in early December, one flew past Goldcliff Point on the 7th (T. Chinnick).
  • Great Skua – Six records between the 3rd and 11th December indicated a good number of this species had been forced into the channel by the storms. Whilst the ones and twos generally noted may have referred to the same individuals, six on the 8th suggests significantly more were around. Another record of one at Peterstone on the 1st January certainly got one observers year off to a good start (B. Adcock, T. Chinnick, T. Hall, C. Jones, K. Jones, D. Spittle).  
  • Skua sp. – Two birds, not identified to species level, were seen off Goldcliff Point on the 8th and 10th December.   
  • Mediterranean Gull – Two birds were seen during the period; an adult drifted up-channel past Goldcliff Point on the 30th December and a first-winter was seen at Ynysyfro Reservoirs on the 1st January.  
  • Little Gull – One record of this county scarcity was logged, an adult off Goldcliff Point on the 1st January.  
  • Iceland Gull – The first record for three years was noted, perhaps surprisingly, at Brynmawr. What was presumably the same bird, was later relocated, just outside the county, at Pontsticill Reservoir. Between one and three first-winter birds were then seen at this site over the following weeks, coming in to roost (N. Beswick).   
  • Black-legged Kittiwake – All records were associated with the inclement weather in early December. A minimum of 25 were seen on the 3rd, 16 on the 6th and five on the 7th.  All were watched off Gwent’s seawatching Mecca, the mighty Goldcliff Point!  
  • Stock Dove – Two good flocks were seen near Bassaleg, 25 on the 23rd January and 80 on the 29th.
  • Barn Owl – A good scatter of records were logged from seven sites (mostly in the east of the county). All reports were of single birds and, thankfully, none related to road casualties.
  • Short-eared Owl – Whilst not recorded with the same regularity as recent years, between one and three individuals were seen at the NWR between the 24th December and the 10th February. Two birds were also seen at Sluice Farm on the 18th February. No reports were logged from ‘up-country’.
  • Common Kingfisher – Singles were at the NWR, Brynmawr, Cwmbran and Gobion during the period and two birds were seen at Risca on the 13th January.
  • Lesser Spotted Woodpecker – Reported from Silent Valley LNR in mid December and mid January; and from Gobion in early December.
  • Rock Pipit – Two reports were noted, a possible at Collister Pill on the 9th December, and two at Sluice Farm on the 24th January.  
  • Water Pipit – Very few were logged compared to last winter and both reports may relate to the same flock. Five were recorded at Sluice Farm on the 24th January and six at Peterstone on the 6th February (K. Jones & R. Price).
  • Black Redstart – Two reports on consecutive days presumably related to the same bird. One was seen at Goldcliff Point on the 7th December and then it, or just possibly another, was just around the corner at the NWR on the 8th.   
  • Whinchat – An incredibly late individual, a male at the NWR on the 2nd December, almost beat the ‘latest Gwent Whinchat ever’ record, just four days shy of breaking a record which has stood for the best part of 40 years!  
  • Cetti’s Warbler – Recorded from the NWR and Magor Marsh, the maximum count was of 18 at the NWR on both the 16th and 27th January (J. Harper, K. Jones & D. Spittle).
  • Blackcap – Wintering birds frequented Magor, Gilwern, Pontypool, Newport and Abertillery. The greatest number reported was of six at Abertillery on the 27th January.
  • Common Chiffchaff – Only three sites held wintering birds. One was at Peterstone on the 18th December, one was at Gobion on the 3rd January and two were seen at Undy on the 13th January.
  • Bearded Tit – Five reports of ‘pingers’ were logged from the NWR between the 24th December and the 23rd February. (M. Chown, K. Jones, M. Pointon & D. Spittle).   
  • Brambling – Between one and four birds were seen at Silent Valley LNR throughout the winter. Interestingly, a flurry of records occurred as a result of the snowfall in early February and a number of observers reported birds at garden feeding stations; whether these birds came off the local hills or from further afield is anyone’s guess.   
  • Common Crossbill – The number of birds in the county remains low with no discernable invasion for a while now. This winter all reports came from Wentwood with a maximum count of 14 on the 26th February.   
  • Hawfinch – Two records: one at Gilwern on the 16th December and two on the same date at Silent Valley LNR.  
  • Yellowhammer – Three sites played host to this bunting, the highest count for each site was 20+ near Bassaleg on the 23rd January, eight at Bulmore Lakes on the 7th February and one at Silent Valley LNR on the 16th December.  
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