This is one of the popular walks in our Brecon series and today was probably one of the best walks I have had in the beautiful Usk Valley with an excellent diversity of birds and plants. Read what delights were on offer today.
Our walk began from the Star Inn public house in the village of Tal-y-Bont and species seen included Swallows, Blackbirds, Woodpigeons, House Sparrows, Dunnock, Blue Tits, Ravens and Chaffinches. The route took me onto the Henry Vaughn Walk and the Brinore Tramroad. This part of the route is flanked by high hedgerows overlooking open fields and escarpments and there were plenty of flowers on show such as Field Speedwell, Wild Hop, Red Campion, Meadowsweet, Common Cleavers, Greater Stitchwort and Rose Bay Willowherb – the latter is also known as Fireweed in reference to its ability to grow once the ground has either been burnt or disturbed. The seeds can lay dormant for many years waiting for such occasions.
Carrion Crows, Robin, Blackcaps, numerous singing Wrens, Chiffchaffs, Mistle Thrush and Pied wagtails were also seen as the path took me into the forestry section. Mature European Larch, Norway Spruce, Sitka Spruce and Birch dominated the scene and Coal Tits, Song Thrush, Jay and Nuthatches were all heard. Speckled Wood butterflies were enjoying the sunny glades and there was an abundance of Hart’s Tongue Fern growing on the banks – a good indicator of limestone. As the Brinore Tramroad opened up slightly to reveal more open spaces, Bullfinches, a Common Redstart and a Common Buzzard was heard. The tramroad was opened in 1815 and was an early horse-drawn and gravity powered modern railway linking the coalfields of Tredegar with the limestone quarries of Trefil. Many features of this past heritage can be seen along this section of the walk.
Soon I left the forestry and walked into open fields surrounded by mountains with views over the valleys beyond. Willow Warblers were the first species to be heard along with two more Common Redstarts which were chasing each other, flyover Lesser Black-backed Gulls, singing Skylarks and several Linnets. The fields of long grass swayed gently to and fro in the breeze and interspersed with the grasses was White Clover, Meadow Buttercups, Pignuts, Meadowsweet and Field Speedwell. Several Herring Gulls flew overhead as did a small group of noisy Rooks. A Tree Pipit displayed climbing quickly to a good height then calling as it spiralled down to land skilfully on the top of a bush.
The open hillside looks beautiful in the strong sunlight with patches of mature Birch interspersed with Hawthorn and Blackthorn and the occasional Rowan (Mountain Ash). A small spring gently flowed alongside the path where Water Forget Me Nots was growing in dense clumps taking advantage of this little but important water source. The gentle yellow flowers of Tormentil grew in their own areas close to patches of Foxgloves and small clumps of Gorse. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew past as did several family groups of Linnets, a family group of Chiffchaffs, several Long Tailed Tits, another displaying Tree Pipit and a Chaffinch which perched to sing on a bare branch only to be chased off by a Goldcrest which despite it’s small size (9 grammes in weight) obviously felt confident and brave.
As I walked into the area known as Bwlch-y-Waun I had a nice view of a pair of Ring Ouzels which was a lovely surprise. They are very similar to our Blackbirds but the male in particular has a distinctive white collar, less so in the female. A family group of Stonechats was flying around the dense Bracken. A stop under a Hawthorn tree for lunch with views over an escarpment gave me more Common Buzzards, Ravens and a pair of Red Kites. Common Swifts were aerial feeding close by. After lunch and some tea I headed slowly downhill into the valley watching more Tree Pipits, House Martins, Pheasants and Goldfinches as I walked. A telegraph pole in the field below held a pair of Stock Doves which was nice to see. The vegetation changed slightly now with Foxglove being the dominant species with patches of Heath Bedstraw below and several clumps of Spear Thistles in the fields.
As I walked past a disused barn I stopped to watch a pair of Spotted Flycatchers on a fence darting off quickly to catch an unsuspecting fly before returning to the same perch. A nice group of Navelwort was growing close by. Another Red Kite was seen overhead. I always check inside the barn hoping one day to find a roosting Owl but so far luck has not been on my side. The valley holds numerous barns – maybe they are in one of those?
Finally the valley descended onto the canal for the return back to the village with a family group of Pied Wagtails seen feeding on a manure pile. Feather remains of a young Tawny Owl were found which was a surprise and left me wondering how it had met this sad end? A Treecreeper was calling from a Birch copse and a Magpie called overhead. The canal itself was still apart from the ripples left by a few passing barges, but the bankside vegetation was full of species of Umbellifers including Hemlock Water Dropwort and Cow Parsley. Broad Leaved Willowherb grew alongside Meadowsweet, Hemp Agrimony, Mugwort and Yellow Flag Iris.
A Fritillary was briefly seen but it dissaperared before a positive identification could be made. This was not the case however with a Banded Demoiselle Damselfly fluttering around and landing on the nearby foliage without a care in the world. Speckled Wood and Small White butterflies were also seen. A Grey Wagtail preening itself was the last species to be seen on this very memorable and species rich walk.
Pictures copyright of N Davies.