Home Articles The Dipper December 2007 - Newsletter 105
December 2007 - Newsletter 105 PDF Print E-mail

GOS joins battle to save Blaenau Gwent Lapwing habitat

GOS is throwing its weight behind a campaign to try to prevent industrial development on one of the most important Lapwing habitats in South Wales.

The Society is supporting an appeal to the Welsh Assembly Government by the Blaenau Gwent Biodiversity Partnership to safeguard two sites within the county borough used by breeding Lapwing and Redshank, among others.  We are also backing a call to create an urban nature reserve between Tredegar and Ebbw Vale to provide a biodiversity and recreational resource.

Biodiversity Partnership member Rodney Morris has written to Jane Davidson, the Assembly’s Minister of Environment, Sustainability and Housing, expressing concern about the future of Bryn Serth and Rhyd-y-Blew.  He has also proposed the Assembly supports a project to create a reserve between Tredegar and Ebbw Vale ‘that may go some way towards addressing previous mistakes made regarding development allocations’.

GOS Chairman Dave Brassey responded: “We are very concerned about any action that is detrimental to bird life in the county.  The avoidable loss of any habitat is something we must fight, and we are therefore giving full backing to Rodney Morris in his appeal to the Welsh Assembly.”

Story continues on page 4.

Committee commentary

Trevor Russell

A busy agenda for the November meeting addressed whether and to what extent GOS should make a donation to the GWT Wyeswood Common Appeal.  GWT requires £550,000 to purchase and improve 104 acres of land in Penallt, near Monmouth.  Steph Tyler gave a very persuasive digital slideshow (which Julian Branscombe will repeat at our January AGM) and Alan Williams presented a compelling case for spending the remaining balance of Betty Morgan’s legacy, £5,000, as our donation - for this was exactly in the spirit of expenditure that she had set out in her will.  The proposal to donate £5,000 was approved unanimously and will be put to the AGM for final approval.

Treasurer Keith Roylance proposed a change to the constitution to raise the threshold of expenditure that the committee could authorise before referral to the membership at an AGM or SGM, from £1,000 to £3,000.  The £1,000 ceiling had been set in the mid-1960s, at the founding of the Society, and inflationary increases alone have pushed that to exceed £3,000 today.  While it is not anticipated that we will need to spend in excess of £3,000 in a single payment in the near future, it would mean that the committee - the elected members responsible for running the Society - would not need to refer to the membership for relatively low expenditures.  The proposal was agreed and will be put to the membership at the AGM.

The Annual Report 2006 was published and distributed in October to enthusiastic acclaim. Arguably even better that last year’s edition, Verity and Chris were warmly congratulated for producing such a professional document.  But it was that very same time-consuming effort required to create such an exacting standard that threatened their continuation as editors. However they were persuaded that if they received sufficient help in all aspects of its production, they would continue in office to ‘manage’ the whole process.

In a similar vein, Jackie Huybs was warmly congratulated for her first edition of The Dipper, which was distributed in October.  Jackie is a professional freelance journalist and it is hoped that she will continue to bring her skills to bear in the years to come.  But again, her continuation will rely on on-time delivery from contributors to avoid time wasting chasing-up and reformatting.  (Hey, Trevor – the contributors have been pretty impressive so far!  Ed)

The CALM alliance (Campaign Against the Levels Motorway) has learned that Plaid Cymru has reversed its decision to oppose the motorway now that it is part of the power-sharing Government.  It now seems almost inevitable that an expensive court case will have to be pursued, unless an over-arching directive against the increasing CO2 emissions that this extra motorway will create will squash it.  Strangely, there seems to be little environmental opposition, despite the devastating impact it will have across the six SSSIs on the Gwent Levels.

The committee was disappointed to learn that the publication date for the Birds of Gwent has now slipped to February 2008.  Publication is totally controlled by publishers Helm, who are responsible for the sales and marketing of the book.  Discussion then turned to a suitable venue for the launch and enquiries are now underway.

With the AGM fast approaching (January 12), attention was switched to forthcoming committee vacancies.  It seems likely that a couple of officer posts will require substantial help, coupled with six committee member vacancies.  It is disappointing that from a membership of over 400, it’s so difficult to find members willing to volunteer to help run their Society.

Situations Vacant

Vice-Chairman

With Dave Brassey now established as Chairman, we are looking for an extremely patient person prepared to step into Dave’s shoes in his absence occasionally.  Application, in the first instance, should be made to Trevor Russell on 01600 716266, or e-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

County Recorder

Chris Jones is prepared to continue only on condition that he receives lots of support and help from enthusiastic birders wanting to get involved with any of the various aspects of exciting front-line county recording – first arrivals, unusual sightings, rarities, last departures, computerisation of records, analysis, etc.  Give Chris a call if you’d like to get involved on 01633 423439 or email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Committee members

We have six opportunities for members to join the committee and make a contribution to, as well as influence, the way the Society is run.  We meet just five times a year at Goytre Village Hall.  I’m sure we could use your expertise and experience - and you don’t have to be an expert birder!  As evidence, call me for a chat, Trevor Russell on 01600 716266 or e-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Birds of Gwent

There has been a delay at the publishers for the eagerly awaited Birds of Gwent.  It is now expected to be published by Helm in February 2008.  In the meantime, if anyone wishes to pre-order via the Society, please give Andrew Baker your name, membership number and address.  This is so that we can obtain sufficient copies to satisfy the demand for this publication.

Where are the photographers?                                                          

Have you noticed that the photographers in the society have suddenly become shy?  Our website photo gallery used to be regularly updated by new bird photographs being submitted by a number of our members, who enhance their bird watching by photographing the birds they see.  Recent visits to the photo gallery have shown that, with one exception, there have not been any photo submissions since May 17, 2007.

Come on, you photographers within the Society - share your shots with the rest of the membership!  Submitting them to our website is easy - just send an e-mail with details of the photo, species, where taken (in county or out of county) and attach the photo as a j-peg or tiff file and send to our webmaster, Phil, at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and he will upload them to the website.  I look forward to viewing many more excellent photos of species from both within Gwent and out of county or country.

GOS joins battle to save Blaenau Gwent Lapwing habitat (from page 1)

“Both areas are extremely rich in wildlife and support many threatened species,” said Rodney Morris.  “Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council has recently identified Bryn Serth as a Candidate Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC).”

The sites are important hunting grounds for Kestrels and Barn Owls and support a number of UK Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Species such as Skylarks, Reed Bunting and Snipe.

“Both sites are important for nationally and locally declining species of waders such as Lapwing and Redshank,” added the letter.  “The sites are now one of the last strongholds for these valuable species within the Heads of the Valleys area.  At one time, Rhyd-y-Blew supported over 40 pairs of breeding Lapwing and two pairs of breeding Redshank.

“About 10 to 12 pairs of Lapwing currently nest but are vulnerable to disturbance and predation, and most fail to raise chicks each year.  If this continues, these enigmatic birds that have heralded spring along the hilltops with their wheeling display flight and plaintiff call ('pee wit, pee wit ') will be lost from Blaenau Gwent for ever.”

Bryn Serth was allocated for industrial development subject to consideration of the environmental impact, which had not been examined at the time of the Local Plan 1991-2006. The site was subject to a two-year environmental impact assessment, and a planning application for industrial use was turned down on the grounds of loss of local amenity and biodiversity - only for it to be allowed on resubmission.

The Rhyd-y-Blew site has also been an historical allocation for industrial development.  Upon acquisition by the former WDA, the stepped plateaux were reduced and seeded, destroying their suitability for Lapwing despite the Local Plan stating: ‘any development is implemented as sensitively as possible and taking on board the requirements of the Lapwing species’.

“Both sites were allocated for large scale manufacturing developments, but these jobs continue to haemorrhage abroad to countries with much lower labour costs,” said Rodney. “Such continued allocation flies in the face of what is happening in the real world.”

GOS Conservation Officer Andrew Baker said all undeveloped sites had to undergo a ‘Candidate Site Process’ to which organisations such as GOS could contribute by making representations.  An assessment in early 2008 could rule out development in the case of recommendations from Biodiversity Officers, or if given Local Nature Reserve or SINC status.

“I understand that the areas which have planning permission on Bryn Serth are where the Lapwing breed,” Andrew added.  “This area is therefore lost.  The rest of the Bryn Serth site may become a mitigation conservation area, but as the SINC candidate status is based on flora, the management plan may not benefit Lapwings.  Rhyd-y-Blew does not have planning permission on it, but neither does it have SINC candidate status.”

Andrew has promised to make representations - particularly over Rhyd-y-Blew, as work to attract Lapwings has already taken place there – and he believes if the 10 pairs on Bryn Serth were displaced, they may move to Rhyd-y-Blew.

“The best outcome would be protection of Rhyd-y-Blew, with a management plan to produce ideal Lapwing habitat,” he said.  “The LDP that has just run its course had Rhyd-y-Blew designated for industrial development, so we must press for a different designation.”

Annual General Meeting 2008

the Annual General Meeting will be held on Saturday, January 12, 2008, in the Village Hall, Goytre, starting at 7.30pm

A change to the constitution will propose to raise the ceiling of expenditure that the committee may authorise from £1,000 to £3,000 before seeking the approval of the membership at an AGM or SGM.

The committee will also seek the approval of the membership to donate £5,000 to the GWT Wyeswood Common Appeal (see Committee commentary for details).

Tact, diplomacy and some gentle arm-twisting has managed to retain most stalwart officers of the committee in their posts for another year.  But, as the years go by, many are finding that their changing domestic circumstances are forcing them to give up their roles - so we are still looking for people to step into their shoes in due course.

We have been fortunate that Jackie Huybs (pronounced as in ‘bouys’), a professional freelance journalist, has volunteered to become The Dipper editor.  Annual Report editors Verity Picken and Chris Field have been persuaded to stay on, provided they receive substantial help from a team of writers and proofreaders.  Can you - will you - help?

We are still looking for a vice-chairman to stand in for Dave in his absence and County Recorder Chris Jones – as mentioned in Situations Vacant  - needs lots of support and help.

All officers of the Society have to be elected annually, and the remaining current officers have indicated their willingness to stand for re-election - WHICH DOES NOT MEAN THAT THEY CANNOT BE CONTESTED!  New nominations for any and all positions are always invited, and new faces would be a most welcome sight!

The constitution allows for up to eight committee members in addition to the officers, and there are still several gaps to fill.  If you would like to volunteer for any of these positions and would like to have a say in the way your Society is run, please submit your name for nomination.

If you feel cautious about committing yourself, why not come along to a meeting and sit in as an observer? There would be no commitment and - who knows - you might even enjoy it!

Both the proposer and seconder should sign nominations with the agreement of the nominee, or e-mail me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it with details.  Nominations must be received by January 1, 2008.  In the event that any position or seat is contested, selection will be made by a show of hands at the AGM.

The AGM will be followed by a finger buffet.  The trick here is to bring some finger food to be shared by everyone, but then select something that looks far more appetising than your own offering!

Following the buffet, Al Venables will be revealing some fascinating findings from the latest edition of Birds of Gwent.

Outdoor Walk Reports

Exe Estuary & Dawlish Warren - November 11, 2007 Luke Phillips

Seven members travelled down to Devon on a chilly overcast day with a few target species in mind.  A Long-billed Dowitcher had been reported from RSPB Bowling Green Marsh, and a Surf Scoter was lurking off Dawlish Warren.  Most were particularly keen to see the Scoter as its would be a ‘lifer’ for nearly everyone.

Unfortunately the day didn’t quite go to plan.  First stop was at Bowling Green Marsh for the Dowitcher.  On the way to the hide, a birder told us he had just seen it, so everyone was hopeful.  However, on entering the hide we were presented with a very tight, sleeping mass of waders!  There were plenty of Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit and Redshank, with a few Greenshank mixed in for good measure.

We spent a while trying to pick out the bird but weren’t successful.  So we then moved onto a viewing platform looking out over the estuary.  By this time, the tide was on its way out and the birds were moving with it.  Eventually, three lucky members managed to get a view of the Dowitcher with a flock of Black-tailed Godwits which flew from the marsh onto the estuary.  We spent some time searching the estuary for whatever we could find, and this resulted in rather a lot of wader species, Red-breasted Mergansers and Brent Geese.

We then decided to move to Dawlish Warren, as the Surf Scoter had just come through on the pager.  On arrival, we headed straight to the sea.  Everyone scanned every inch of the sea looking for a flock of Scoter, as the elusive Surf Scoter had been hiding with about 30 Common Scoter.  We located a small group just of the headland, so off we went.  Unfortunately, there were only Common Scoter - but we all got good close views.  While looking for the Scoter we saw a Great Northern Diver - which was quite welcome - also a male Eider and a few Gannets.

We then decided to split our efforts; three of us stayed sea watching while the others went over to the hide.  The sea watchers were having very frustrating views of plenty of Scoter but none of us had a 100x scope!  Something that was a surprise was a rather large male grey seal, which was very close in, giving much better views than the sea birds.  One local birder said we were watching the Surf Scoter - but the views weren’t convincing enough, even for some of GOS’s best birders, to string it.  The light started to fade and nothing of great interesting was reported from the hide, so back to the cars it was.

We all got excited when we saw a Warbler flitting around a bush.  It turned out to be nothing more than a Chiffchaff - but it’s always nice to see those when you’re not expecting them.  Further on, we found a few more Chiffchaff.  Interestingly, a Siberian Chiffchaff was reported there a few days after our visit, so did we overlook it?!  We’ll never know.

On the way home, we quickly stopped off at a site that had in the past produced a Devon speciality, Cirl Bunting.  There weren’t any around on this occasion, but we all had an enjoyable - if slightly frustrating – day!

Species list, in order of appearance

Little Egret, Pheasant, House Sparrow, Buzzard, Kestrel, Starling, Sparrowhawk, Fieldfare, Redwing, Magpie, Woodpigeon, Cormorant, Canada Goose, Bullfinch, Songthrush, Blackbird, Robin, Dunnock, Wren, Greenfinch, Greylag, Shoveler, Goldfinch, Siskin, Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Black-tailed Godwit, Avocet, Redshank, Greenshank, Black- headed Gull, Grey Heron, Lapwing, Jay, Mute Swan, Coot, Moorhen, Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Dunlin, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Red-breasted Merganser, Carrion Crow, Raven, Green Sandpiper, Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Long-billed Dowitcher, Common Gull, Kingfisher, Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot, Great Crested Grebe, Brent Goose, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Greater Black-backed Gull, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Pied Wagtail, White Wagtail, Gannet, Common Scoter, Eider, Great Northern Diver, Rock Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Stonechat and Chiffchaff (75 species).

Llanfair Discoed walk - October 14, 2007 Mark Stevens

For the last couple of years, I've been carrying out a breeding bird survey at Llanfair Discoed and always look forward to my visits there.  It's a lovely area - the hedges are alive with Whitethroat, the woods with Blackcap; there are breeding Lapwing and Skylark, and Cuckoo calling from nearby Gray Hill and the adjacent Caerwent MOD base (which, itself is teeming with Meadow Pipit and Skylark).

So, late last year, when Steve Butler was putting together the outdoor programme, I had no hesitation in offering to lead a walk in the village.  However, the wind was well and truly taken out of my sails when the programme was published - the walk was scheduled for mid October.  I had only ever been there between April and June and my hoped-for sightings vanished in front of me!

Never mind - a few 'recces' in late September and early October helped to draft a route that I was happy with.  Indeed, strolling the course a few days before the walk, things were looking good - there were several mixed Tit flocks containing numerous Marsh Tit and some large gatherings of House Martin and Swallow.

I also managed to 'tweak' the route to avoid a bull that had been placed in a field that I wanted to cross.  To be honest with you, I was half inclined to stick with the original route as the bull looked pretty placid to me.  However, I envisaged an image of the Argus headline "Twitchers gored!" and decided that a detour was the right option.

Come the day, 10 hardy souls met me at the car park of the ‘Wentwood Inn’ and pointed out that the establishment was now called the Ban Mai Thai Restaurant!  Although we waited a while before driving on to our start point, I subsequently learnt that two other birders, confused by the name change, arrived just after we had left (apologies Ian and Steve).

As for the walk, it was very enjoyable.  We didn't see a great number of species (31 in total).  All the summer migrants had left, apart from a few House Martin, and the only winter visitor we clocked was Redwing.  However, on the plus side the weather was good, the location was lovely and - most importantly - the company excellent.  That, for me, is what GOS walks are all about - discovering new places and taking in some fresh air with like-minded people... as for birds - well, they’re a very welcome bonus!

For the record, the species seen were: Buzzard, Rook, Carrion Crow, Jay, Raven, Magpie, Jackdaw, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Redwing, Collared Dove, Wood Pigeon, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Green Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Grey Wagtail, Pied Wagtail, House Martin, House Sparrow, Dunnock, Starling, Robin, Wren, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Long Tailed Tit, Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Goldcrest.

South Wales Argus birdwatching column - three years on

Mark Stevens

It is now over three years since I contacted the Argus to ask whether they would be interested in publishing a regular birdwatching column.  It seemed like a good (and free) way to raise the profile of GOS and generate a bit of interest in all the good work our organisation does.

For those of you who don't take the Argus and won’t be any the wiser, they said: "Yes please," and asked if I could send them a piece of about 200 words, which they would publish fortnightly on a Saturday. Pushing my luck, I submitted 600 words and a picture - which they duly printed.

I was pretty chuffed - until it dawned on me that I was saddling myself with quite a commitment!  Being neither a good birder nor writer (in his modest opinion – Ed), there are times when I sit down, scratch my head, and wonder what on earth I will write about.  However, inspiration always materialises from somewhere (thank goodness for the Internet!) and the column hasn't missed a beat.  It may not be a rivetting read but the Argus haven’t pulled the plug.  Yet.

Although it can seem like a chore sometimes, I do enjoy writing the column.  It's nice to prattle on, and if it results in a few more people attending our walks and talks - enrolling on Ian Smith's birdwatching courses or becoming GOS members, then it's worth doing.

One thing that has surprised me is the huge latent interest in wildlife out there.  Loads of people call or e-mail, which is very gratifying, although it annoys my wife a little!  I've spoken to some great people and made a few friends along the way.

There have inevitably been a few dubious ‘sightings’ of birds that I have felt obliged to check out (the Wryneck was a Greater Spotted Woodpecker and the Corncrake a Pheasant), and some wonderful tales, one of which I must recount to you.

A lady rang to tell me that her elderly neighbour had recently decided to have her garden cleared.  The lawns had been completely paved over and her hedges had all been ripped out and replaced with fence panels.  She was rather puzzled that the birds she had been feeding no longer visited.  The caller told me that she herself had feeders in her garden and that one afternoon the elderly neighbour visited for a cup of tea.  When she saw birds feeding she grew increasingly irritable until, upon spying a Robin, she exploded: "You've stolen my Robin... and he's been coming to me for over 40 years!"  Ah well, it made me laugh.

If you have any ideas for content for the Argus column, please let me know.  I would be very grateful and can be contacted on This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or phone 01633 866470.

Birds behaving oddly?

The Report editors are looking for short notes (anything from one or two paragraphs to a page) on unusual or particularly interesting behaviour of birds in Gwent this year.  These will hopefully be included in the Field Notes section of the 2007 Report.  If you've seen anything out of the ordinary, please write up the sighting and e-mail 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.

Chairman’s chatter

Dave Brassey

It’s definitely true what they say about time going faster the older you get.  I cannot believe that at next month’s AGM, I will have been Chairman for a whole year.  It’s flown faster than any Peregrine!

I’m slowly beginning to see what a great team we have in the club and the efforts being made on a purely voluntary basis to bring the beauty, as well as the plight (see the lead article), of birds in our county to a more prominent position.

Jackie is settling in well as The Dipper editor and Phil Thompson keeps our website up to date from his home in the USA.  However, one other member who deserves special mention is Mark Stevens, who writes for us in the South Wales Argus.  Quite a few people have told me how they look forward to his articles.  However, sometimes Mark can run a little low on ideas and is always happy to receive stories, birding tips and event notices for inclusion.

On the birding front, there appear to be record numbers of Brambling in the Pontypool area - so go and see them if you can.

I look forward to seeing you all at the AGM!

Poland – is it for you?

Ian Smith

The excellent November talk by Marek Borkowski on Poland’s extensive wildlife-rich landscapes generated tremendous interest in his pictures and what he had to say about the northeast of that country – as well as many laughs at his dry Polish humour.

After the talk, I both received and heard of other statements of interest in travelling to Poland.  As a result, I’d like to ask if you would be interested in a trip being arranged specifically for GOS members in spring 2009?

This would be an inclusive package covering flights, accommodation, meals and guides including Marek’s extensive expert contacts across the country.  It’s something I experienced in 2006 - and with which I was mightily impressed – including the Wild Boar feast (although that was an extra for a birthday celebration!)

I cannot foresee any change from £1,100 for a nine-day trip departing Gwent/Heathrow - even at today’s prices - and that assumes a minimum number of people are interested.

The plus side is that the trip would not just be about the birds, but about horizon to horizon wildness, mighty trees the like of which you will never have seen in Europe, beaver manufactured carvings and woodland lakes, new flowers and eastern European dragonflies - all overlain with a quiet interrupted just by the gentle sounds of rustling Sedges and – okay, damn it - the deafening song of Thrush Nightingales and annoying ‘clicking’ of Great Snipe interrupting the peaceful night-time moth trapping.

So, getting to the point - please contact me without delay if you are seriously interested in making such a trip in May 2009 and supporting Poland’s wildlife.  Ian Smith - 01600 713561; e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Gwent UKBS report for October/November 2007

Chris Hatch

Sightings, October 2007

Highlights

Two Black-necked Grebes were reported from Ynysyfro reservoir (2nd).  A probable Baird’s Sandpiper was observed at the Newport Wetlands Reserve (3rd).  A Yellow-browed Warbler was also present at the same site (7th), as was a Firecrest (13th).

Newport Wetlands Reserve

44 Avocets and 33 Little Egrets were reported (10th).  Up to five Bearded Tits were recorded (8th).  Three Barn Owls were reported (14th), together with a Short-eared Owl (from 17th). Other sightings of note included a female Hen Harrier (4th) and up to three Spotted Redshank (from 1st).

Other sites

Mediterranean Gulls were recorded at Ynysyfro reservoir (3rd) and Caerleon (21st).  A female Hen Harrier was present at Garnlydan reservoir (1st and 5th), while a Merlin and two Red Kites were also reported from this site (21st).  Red Kites were also recorded at Whitson (11th), Coldra (10th), Brynmawr (15th) and Ebbw Vale (27th).  Single Jack Snipe were reported from Llandegfedd reservoir (17th) and Sluice Farm (27th).  Up to five Bramblings were present at Silent Valley, Ebbw Vale (29th).  A late Hobby was seen chasing Hirundines at Abergavenny (2nd).  Other sightings of note included 15 Little Egrets at Collister Pill (7th), two Ring Ouzels near Brynmawr (15th), a Merlin at Sluice Farm (21st) and a Merlin and a Water Pipit also at this location (29th).

Sightings, November 2007

Highlights

A dark-phase Pomarine Skua was reported from Garnlydan reservoir (5th).  A Black-necked Grebe was recorded at Ynysyfro reservoir (4th).  Single Black Redstarts were reported from St Brides (3rd) and Caldicot (5th).  A very large flock of Bramblings was present at Pantygasseg for most of the month, with the highest count being 522 birds (27th).

Newport Wetlands Reserve

Up to four Bewick’s Swans were present (15th to 17th).  A Short-eared Owl was reported (17th).  Six Avocets were recorded (12th), while a late Hobby was reported (4th).

Other sites

A male Hen Harrier was reported from Brynmawr (3rd) while a female was seen at Peterstone (20th).  A female Red-breasted Merganser was reported from Garnlydan reservoir (4th).  Barn Owls were reported from Tredegar (two on 8th) and Blaenafon (single birds on 9th and 12th). Single Merlins were seen at Trellech (9th) and Black Rock (27th).  Single Red Kites were observed at Ebbw Vale (13th) and Abergavenny (22nd), while a pair of birds were seen at Clydach (28th).  A Water Rail was reported from Ynysyfro reservoir (5th), while 12 Grey Partridge were seen at Rogiet (9th).  On the coast, up to three Water Pipits were present at Peterstone (from 11th), with a Jack Snipe also reported there (11th).  A dark-bellied Brent Goose was observed at St Brides (22nd), while inland, a Pink-footed Goose was present at Llandegfedd reservoir (28th).  Other sightings of note included a Mediterranean Gull at Caerleon (28th), a Red Grouse at Mynydd Garn-Clochdy (25th) and three Red Grouse on the Blorenge (29th).

Wyeswood Common

Julian Branscombe

Gwent Wildlife Trust’s bold and ambitious plans to buy 104 acres of very ordinary dairy pasture at Penallt, near Monmouth, and transform it to a wood pasture landscape will provide superb wildlife habitat, benefiting all sorts of species - birds included.

The Trust is in the midst of an enormous fundraising campaign and, by early in the New Year, it hopes to be in a position to purchase the land - next to Pentwyn Farm - so that it can start creating its long-term vision of a flagship reserve.

In the short term, the Trust wants to introduce organic management and bring the soil nutrient status down to a more natural fertility through silage cuts and nutrient-stripping oat crops.  The two areas of spring-sown oats planned should have a quick benefit for arable weeds and farmland birds.  Yellow Wagtail may take to the combination of crops and adjacent grasslands, while Lapwing may also respond.  The colonisation of Tree Sparrow would be particularly prized, and nest boxes will be put up to help attract them.  But Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting and Linnet will certainly do well on the land.

As the areas of scrub and woodland develop, the overall breeding bird diversity and territory density should increase.  Sylvia Warblers should undergo a population explosion, while Skylark, Meadow Pipits, Tree Pipits, Bullfinch and Yellowhammer should all find good habitat within the combination of rough grassland, scrub and scattered trees.

As belts of woodland develop across the site, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Hawfinch and Wood Warbler are all expected.  Hawfinch are already regularly to be found in the cherries on the slope down to the River Wye on the eastern edge of the acquisition site.  The extensive lengths of woodland margin are expected to support territories of Pied Flycatcher, Spotted Flycatcher and Redstart.  The habitat mosaic to be provided may even ultimately benefit Nightjar, a species that has not bred in ‘semi-natural’ habitat in Gwent in living memory.

Of course, birds are only part of the flora and fauna expected to thrive at Wyeswood Common.  Special effort will be made to ensure that this large site supports 70 or 80 acres of flower-rich grassland.  The Trust expects species like Green-winged Orchid to take over these pastures, spreading from their stronghold in the four ancient hay meadows of Pentwyn Farm.

A very wide range of insects will find Wyeswood Common to their liking: butterflies such as Dingy Skipper and Wood White are expected.  Chemical-free cow dung will provide habitat for dung beetles and dung flies, and their predators - from the enormous Hornet Robber Fly (Britain’s largest fly) to the even rarer Greater Horseshoe Bat.

The expanse of flower-rich grassland, sheltered by scattered woodland and scrub, will be excellent for bees and wasps.  Rare bumblebees such as the Shrill Carder Bee are another conservation priority that the Wildlife Trust aims to help through this project.  The solitary bees that will nest in areas of sparse sward and low earth cliffs around the site are hoped to be found by the Rugged Oil-Beetle, an extreme rarity found in the local area, which has larvae that feed on solitary bee nests.

This diversity of invertebrate life will support varied food chains.  Very soon, Red Kite should be well established in the Wye Valley, to join the Goshawk, Buzzard and Hobby which are already doing well in the area.  The extensive areas of rough grassland and woodland margin at Wyeswood Common will be hunted over by Kestrels by day and Barn Owls by night. Polecats, stoats and weasels will also take advantage of the high small mammal populations, which should include the scarce Harvest Mouse, Yellow-necked Mouse and dormouse, as well as commoner voles, mice and shrews.

One predator that the Trust dreams of attracting is the Honey Buzzard.  There is plenty of potential nesting woodland in the vicinity; what they probably need to establish a bridgehead in Gwent is an area of varied countryside that provides enough food.  The ponds on the Wyeswood Common site, with their good frog populations, could provide food for this species when they return hungry from Africa.  Wasp nests could then sustain them over the summer.

Perhaps attracting Honey Buzzards is a fanciful aim, but one thing is certain – this is a very big conservation project, which will put back important habitats and establish an extensive wildlife-rich area around the existing Pentwyn Farm grasslands.

Furthermore, the Trust intends to use the project to inspire habitat creation by private landowners across the wider countryside between Wentwood Forest and the Wye Valley. There is a lot of woodland and grassland habitat in the area already, but this habitat network needs strengthening if our native wildlife is to have a fighting chance of surviving the changes that global warming is predicted to bring.

The Trust can only secure this with financial support from many quarters.  The acquisition, and initial three-year habitat programme will cost £550,000.  The Trust already has £228,000, with grant applications outstanding.  However, it is certain we will need between £50,000 and £100,000 from the public, Trust members and local organisations.

The committee of GOS has determined to recommend to its membership that the Society donates £5,000 towards the Trust’s plans.  A decision on this will be taken at the Special General Meeting of GOS in January.  The Wildlife Trust hopes that many individual GOS members will also be keen to add their support.  Cheques payable to GWT can be sent to GWT, Seddon House, Dingestow, Monmouth NP25 4DY, while on-line donations can also be made at www.gwentwildlife.org.

In addition, the Trust has just launched a ‘Wildlife Landlords’ scheme, enabling people to invest in 50m2 plots of the acquisition, receiving a certificate and updates in return for their support.  This is the perfect Christmas present for that ‘difficult to shop for’ person - or an antidote to rampant consumerism.  How about it?!

Newport Wetlands

Tom Dalrymple

October

Birds

Compared with September, it was a disappointing month, with all numbers down except Lapwing - peak count 304 on the 24th.  Black-tailed Godwits went down from 211 to 170, Shovelers from 172 to 108, Teal numbers halved from 340 to 165, as did Mallard 365 to 185. The peak Wigeon count for October was 343.  I’m not sure why we weren’t able to hold the birds in September numbers and hope we can lure them back as the fields get wetter.

The seed crop planted for farmland passerines is doing well.  So far it’s attracted counts of 300 Greenfinch, 50 Goldfinch and a handful of Linnets.  The Avocet are showing signs that they might over winter with us, with peak counts of 46 in October.

Birds of prey on the reserve this month included: Marsh Harrier, Female Hen Harrier, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine, Kestrel, three Barn Owl, Short-eared Owl and Little Owl.  Birds of note included: Yellow-browed Warbler on the 7th, two Little Stint, two Spotted Redshank and a Curlew Sandpiper.

Management

Kevin has put the sluice boards back in on the wetlands and we have used some of the Reedbed water to begin to wet-up the fields.  Almost all the stock is off the wet grasslands and what remains will be gone by the end of November.

Tony and Kevin have finished the saline lagoon invertebrate survey.  The survey found higher Chironomid biomass in the lagoon, compared with the virtually fresh water in the more saline lagoons that tend to be favoured by the birds during spring and summer.  The survey, which finished in the first week of October, found that the other two more saline lagoons had Chironomid biomass below the level thought possible for supporting breeding Avocet.  (Robertson, 1993, in Shardlow & Ausden 1997).

Mike ably assisted by our long-term volunteers Keith Jones and Jackie Whant, has laid a temporary pipeline from our third water supply at Monk’s ditch to the ‘foxproof’ ditch in readiness for next year’s wader breeding season.  The sward height and bare ground monitoring for the wet grassland has now been completed.  An indication of the condition of the SSSI ditches, as well as hedge height, on the wet grassland has been mapped this month.

Events/visitors

A quiet month with just one event of note – on October 27, the RSPB education team ran “Winter Slumberland”, a family event showing visitors how different animals survive winter.

November

Birds

The birds are back!  Our winter visitors are here in numbers again: Wigeon 941, Shelduck 435, Teal 293, Pintail 167, Mallard 163, Black-tailed Godwit 260, Lapwing 604.  But the Shovelers are still not up to September numbers.

A high tide count on the 27th revealed a record number of Dunlin feeding on the reserve foreshore - 8104, which is more than 1% of the UK population and represents about a third of the Severn Estuary population.

It was very nice to see four Bewick's Swan at Goldcliff Lagoons on the 15th.  The last recorded sighting on the reserve was January 1, 2002.  The seed crop continues to attract the finches: Goldfinch 692, Chaffinch 462, Greenfinch 200, Linnet 22 and Brambling 10.  The Avocet are still with us, the peak count was being eight on the 18th.

Our unusual sightings both came on the same day this month.  A Swallow - yes Swallow! - was seen on the 25th, and we had a report of a Dartford Warbler at Uskmouth.  The last recorded sighting of a Dartford Warbler on the reserve was January 9, 2004.

Management

Lack of rain in November meant Kevin and Mike had to pump water out of the ditch system to be able to get just one field block up to its normal November level.  As soon as pumping stopped, the field block filled with waterfowl.

Tony Pickup returned for another winter with his ‘Truxor'.  He spent around a week with us increasing the reed water interface, while also providing more feeding habitat for Bittern and some interesting vistas for our visitors.

Most of our time went into getting the visitor infrastructure ready for the centre opening on March 6.  Mike is constructing 30 massive steel grids to make our reed bed sluices safe for curious visitors. Tony and Keith have been busy building new viewing screens for the pools at Uskmouth.

Events/Visitors

Kevin and I went up to Ynis Hir on the 8th to get some tuition on the use of Lapwing nest cameras from Ross Willis.  Dr Andy Hughes (All Reservoirs Panel Engineer) inspected the reed beds as necessary under the Reservoirs Act on the 29th. He passed them as safe for another year.

Bird courses – evenings and weekends - in Gwent, during early 2008

These courses have always been appreciated for their effectiveness and accessibility plus friendly and humorous nature.  All elements including: lectures, handouts and field trips, are designed around people’s requirements.  The next two LEARN courses start in January:

  • Tuesday evenings – ‘Birds of Coast, Estuary & Sea’ in Abergavenny, starting on January 8.
  • Wednesday evenings – ‘Birds of Gardens, Woods and Fields’ in Monmouth, starting on January 9.

And now leap forward to February 29 for a new Friday to Sunday weekend study break -  ‘Birds and their Spring Songs’ will be running at The Hill Conference and Education Centre in Abergavenny next to the Brecon Beacons National Park.

You can visit the GOS website home page to discover more.  But you may prefer to phone me, Ian Smith, directly to discuss any course in more detail or register an interest – given the time remaining to the start of the January courses.  I hope to hear from you soon - tel 01600 713561, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Birding and walking in Eastern Spain, spring 2008

Why not join us birding and walking in Eastern Spain from April 26 to May 3, 2008?

The holiday is based in the picturesque village of Quatretondeta.  Please view the websites for details of the hotel and last year’s trip: www.elsfrares.com and www.mountainwalks.blogspot.com

The price is 750 euros (about £540), excluding the flight.  The single supplement is 90 euros (about £65), but we won’t charge this for bookings received by 31/01/08.  The package is with full board, including wine and coffee at dinner.  The only extras will be if we use the hides at the Vulture sanctuary (35 euros pp) and boat costs at the Albufeira (10 euros pp).  The holiday also includes a free return transfer from Alicante airport to the hotel at 12:00 on April 26 (the return transfer arrives back at the airport at 9:30 the following Saturday).

There is the option of a later transfer at 18:00, returning for 13:00 the following Saturday. This later transfer has a supplement of 25 euros per person.  Contact us, Mike and Jackie Pointon, at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Dipper looking to set best practice standards

You may have noticed a slight change in the appearance of this issue of The Dipper.  This is not a case of change for change’s sake.

We are trying to follow best practice on accessibility to content, including allowing for conversion to other formats with ease.  So we’ve changed the font style and size and made some other minor tweaks to the layout.

If you have any comments or suggestions for improvement, please don’t hesitate to contact the editor.

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