School Nature Walk, Tal-y-Bont On Usk, July 23rd.

Above: Dipper on the Caerfannel River, Tal-y-Bont (copyright ND).

This walk was arranged in conjunction with Anna at the Star Inn in Tal-y-bont and involved fifteen children from Llangynidr Primary School being led by myself on a nature walk around the Usk Valley. The weather was good and along with several parents we set off. I had already walked the route that morning to find items of interest for the group. This started with stopping to look at a group of Rose Bay Willowherb growing and explaining how it got it’s nickname of ‘Fireweed’ (it grows after the ground has been burnt or disturbed as the seeds lie dormant for many years). It was particularly abundant during the blitz of World War II after the ground was disturbed after the bombing. Next I showed the group a pile of feather remains belonging to a Woodpigeon and explained that this was likely to be the result of a kill by a Sparrowhawk. We found three other Woodpigeon feather piles on the walk. Various plants were pointed out along this section including Wild Arum with its bright red berries, Greater Plantain (and its nickname of Rats Tail Plantain), Goosegrass (Common Cleavers) – the children loved this one as they stick to fleeces and other clothing, Meadowsweet with its root that resemble the smell of Germaline and Cow Parsley.

A Golden Ringed Dragonfly was spotted and then we made our way down to the river stopping to look at Himalayan Balsam and then the large Oak tree where we played a group game involving the parents representing trees which are cut down one by one and the children being the animals that depend on them and appreciating how less and less trees can become and how much more they would be dependant on the remaining trees for their survival – a great way to understand deforestation and habitat loss and good fun for the parents too, particularly the last one that had all the children/wildlife surrounding her.

We stopped to look under some logs for insects to tick off the colour charts that were provided and found Earthworm, Woodlouse, Common Slug, Red Ant, Cricket, and Ground Beetles. I lifted a nearby log to show the group a stash of Hazelnuts that had been stored by rodents, and the group were amazed to see the tiny teeth marks on some of the opened shells. I explained that some were made by Woodmice due to the angle of the teeth marks and others that had been split open by Squirrels.

A Dipper was briefly seen flying upstream and some Crow feathers were found offering a chance to explain what a feather is made of and how it works. A large Sandstone slab next to the river was shown to the group explaining its approximate age and showing the ripples across the surface made by the flow of the water over the mud as it settled in layers.

We returned to the Star Inn for refreshments and ended the walk with a quiz showing some wildlife artefacts I brought along. The winner got a prize of a nest box.


Sand Martins and more.

Sand Martin

Above: Several Sand Martins resting from a group of around fifty (copyright ND).

Goldcliff Lagoons near Newport produced plenty of interesting birds today with three singing Reed Warblers, Cettis Warbler calling and a male Hobby flying over the first hide. From this hide we watched Little Egrets, forty Lapwing, one hundred and thirty two Common Redshanks (no sign of the Spotted Redshank today), nine Oystercatchers, four Ringed Plovers and a family group of Little Ringed Plovers – two adults and three fully grown chicks. Another adult was seen elsewhere on the lagoons. A female Kestrel was hovering above the sea wall.

From the second hide was a pair of Greenshanks, eighteen Black Tailed Godwits and a first-year Great Black-backed Gull. The nearby viewing platform offered lovely views of three summer plumaged Knot showing some striking red on their bellies with forty eight Dunlin, fourteen Teal, a female Ruff (or Reeve) and forty five Lapwing mixed in. A Common Buzzard flew across and caused a stir amongst the waders.

Numerous Meadow Brown butterflies were feeding everywhere and several Broad Bodied Chaser dragonflies were on the wing. A single Red Admiral butterfly was seen also.

Above: Summer plumaged Knot (copyright ND).

By the time we reached the sea wall the tide had receded and twelve Curlew could be seen feeding on the exposed mud along with thirty six Shelduck (three of which were fully grown chicks). Four Avocets was a nice surprise and a family group of Pied Wagtails were fluttering about on the sea wall. Finally from the third hide we saw a Little Grebe diving in the shallow water, a Stock Dove feeding on the edge of the vegetation and a male peregrine Falcon appeared above the lagoons and also caused a stir amongst the waders and hirundines.

Back at the car I noticed a large area of Agrimony growing forming talk stalks covered with delicate yellow flowers (see image below – copyright ND).



There are a pair of Common Cranes at the Goldcliff Lagoons in Newport at the moment. They were showing well from the first hide.

Black Tailed Godwit numbers have increased to over forty and the summer plumaged Spotted Redshank is still present.

Black Tailed Godwit

Goldcliff Lagoons Newport – Birds Galore!

IMG_1549 roosting birds

Well what a fantastic visit today with two guests from Caerphilly who were interested in me showing them what was on offer at the lagoons. They were impressed with the variety of species on offer. As we walked to the first hide we watched Goldfinches, Common Whitethroat, Swallows, House Sparrow, Wren, Chiffchaff, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Moorhen, Reed Warbler, Common Buzzard, Woodpigeons, Meadow Pipits, Ravens, Skylark, Reed Bunting, Magpies, Common Swifts, a family group of Pied Wagtails, Starlings and Linnets.

High tide had brought in numerous waders to the lagoons and from the first hide we saw a female Marsh Harrier hunting along with twenty one Little Egrets (my highest count here), Grey Herons, Lapwing, 150 Common Redshanks (also my highest count here), twenty six Oystercatchers (one with a chick), Canada Geese and a flock of three hundred and sixty eight Black Headed Gulls – we scanned through the flock but there were no surprises mixed in. A Little Ringed Plover had three chicks in tow and a pair of Ringed Plovers fed a bit further away. Common Blue

From the second hide the species grew in diversity with a single Bar Tailed Godwit in full breeding plumage along with thirteen Dunlin, four Black Tailed Godwits, three Wigeon, four Greenshanks, two Knot and a first-year Great Black-backed Gull. Numerous Sand Martins were aerial feeding over the lagoons with House Martins and Swallows mixed in.

At hide three we watched a Little Grebe, several Coot, a pair of Tufted Ducks, Mute Swan, Curlew and a flock of fifteen Avocets on the water. The bird of the day for me though was seeing a dark bird in amongst some distant Common Redshanks – and there it was, a Spotted Redshank in full breeding plumage. What a stunning looking bird it was too. It fed for some time before eventually moving out of sight. A male Broad Bodied Chaser dragonfly was seen on the return to the car park.

Good deed for the day!

Whilst driving along the country lane from Rudry to Draethen yesterday morning, I stopped the car as this Grass Snake had stopped in the middle of the lane with traffic coming past. Grass Snakes are distinctive with their yellow neck collar (Adders have a zig-zag marking along heir backs). I used a rag to pick up the snake as this species gives off a foul smell as a defensive measure if picked up.


Tal-y-Bont On Usk Circular Walk


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.

Goldcliff Lagoons, Newport.

A beautiful morning down at Goldcliff today and although the water level on the lagoons was quite low there was still a good mix of birds to be seen. On the way to the first hide I seen Blue Tits, Swallows, Jackdaws, Chaffinch, Magpies, several Wrens calling, Chiffchaff and Blackcap singing, Collard Dove, Blackbird and a lovely start to the walk – a pair of Common Whitethroats in a Hawthorn bush feeding two fully fledged young.

Further along a Reed warbler sang for all the world from it’s favourite clump of reeds diving into thick cover upon my arrival only to pop out again and sing once it felt confident I had passed by. A Reed Bunting was calling and House Martins were collecting mud from the edge of a damp patch for their nests. Meadow Pipits, Herring Gulls, Woodpigeons, Skylarks, Pied Wagtails, Carrion Crows and Starlings were all busy feeding.

From the first hide I watched numerous Common Redshanks feeding and one pair had four fluffy chicks with them. Avocets were showing well along with Lapwing, eight Little Egrets (the most I have seen together here), four Grey Herons, eleven Oystercatchers, Mallards, a pair of Gadwall and a Moorhen (with two chicks). The arrival of five Ravens over the lagoons caused a stir with the waders flying up to intercept them. The Redshank and Moorhen chicks quickly dived into the cover of the reeds and long grass.

The resident Canada Geese were huddled into the bank near to the last viewing platform with countless fluffy young of varying ages amongst the adults. It was like looking at a giant nursery for geese. At the sea wall the tide was at high level but on the exposed vegetation and mud at the far end had twenty three Curlews feeding amongst fifty three Shelduck. One pair had three fluffy chicks with them far out on the mud. Three Cormorants flew past and a pair of Common Buzzards made their way across to the lagoons.

From the nearby hide I watched a splendid male Little Grebe diving alongside some Coot, and the Buzzards sent several wader species into flight including a single Dunlin and a Black Tailed Godwit which had been hidden out of sight by the small island. Finally a lone Little Ringed Plover fed on the exposed mud. Also seen was a Greenfinch, Goldfinches and several Linnets.

The fields were full of Meadow Brown butterflies taking advantage of the plants which included a nice group of Tufted Vetch and Common Vetch and carpets of Meadow Buttercups.


Mallorca Blue Rock Thrush Castel de Santuari

Bird watching in Mallorca – May 12th – 19th. 2015

One of my favourite photographs of the week – the stunning Blue Rock Thrush showing off its cobalt colours in the strong sunlight. (taken at Castle de Santuri). It had a beak full of grubs and landed briefly in this tree before flying across to the nest site on a sheer cliff. (ND).

Well this was some of the best weather I have experienced in May, hitting the high 90s on some days. My partner and I set off from Bristol airport and arrived in Palma around 11am where after collecting our luggage we boarded the transfer coach to the north of the island. We stayed at the Fergus (formally known as the Pollensa Park hotel) in Puerto Pollensa. We had arranged to collect a hire car early the following morning so we just stayed local for today and took in the sites. We had already started to clock up the species en-route to the hotel and in the grounds listened to Fan Tailed Warbler (also known as Zitting Cisticola) and a Spotted Flycatcher was found sitting on eggs. On the nearby beach we watched a few Audouins Gulls feeding close to the bathers.

Audouins GullsAfter collecting our hire car on the following morning of day one we headed off to Albufereta Marsh near Alcudia where the species really began to become more numerous, but not before watching eight Griffon Vultures with two Black Vultures mixed in circling over the ridge from the hotel grounds. Delights at the Albufereta included such birds as Black Winged Stilts, Kentish Plover (with chicks), Woodchat Shrike perched up on a telephone wire, Serens, Sardinian Warblers, Eleonora’s Falcon hunting Dragonflies over the marsh, Ringed Plovers, Red Kite circling and a Corn Bunting bringing beaks full of food to its nest site. Speckled Wood, Large White and Clouded Yellow butterflies were plentiful.

The beautiful Audouin’s Gull catching the rays on Puerto Pollensa Beach (ND).

An afternoon drive along Bee Hive Lane seen a few Blue Headed Wagtails (of the Iberiae race) and several Cattle Egrets. After lunch we headed to S Illiott on the outskirts of Alcudia where a Marbled Teal, two Avocets and more Black winged Stilts were seen. From here we continued away from Alcudia and stopped at the waterworks site which basically is the edge of the Albufera Marsh. Here we watched a Short Toed Lark close up and eight Bee Eaters which were nesting close by. A Tawny Pipit and two Thekla Larks showed well. A Bonelli’s Eagle flying over on migration was a lovely surprise. We made our way to the viewing platform which overlooks a series of small lagoons and always has a good selection of water birds. We were not disappointed and enjoyed views of Shelduck with an astonishing twenty four chicks in tow, Common Sandpiper, three terrapins on the edge of the water, Marsh Harrier hunting over the lagoons, breeding Black Winged Stilts, Gadwall, Little Ringed Plovers, two Marbled Teal and both Great Reed and Cettis warblers singing. A Nightingale serenaded us from the thickets below.

MALLORCA Cattle Egret in Poppy field, AlcudiaA Kestrel hovered over the poppy fields which had fourteen Cattle Egrets at one point feeding within them (see cover picture of one of them).

Day two was anticipated to be 96 so we made the decision to go to Cuber Reservoir where we would be just below 5,000ft in the Serra de Tramuntana Mountains and hopefully cooler. The drive up here is spectacular with over 30km of twisting hairpin mountain roads and spectacular scenery. Hordes of cyclists were already out in force getting some fitness in, some of these groups were there in training for the upcoming Tour de France competition. These cyclists are super fit and I always admire their stamina. Along the journey we counted more Nightingales, Blackcap and a Wryneck to our list. The weather was accurate and although we were high up with a slight breeze boy it was hot, and we felt it by the time we had done the circular walk around the reservoir. Two Black Vultures overhead lifted the spirits though. Another Wryneck was heard calling and Yellow-legged Gulls were on the reservoir itself. A light phase Booted Eagle made an appearance as did another flyover Bonelli’s Eagle. Crag Martins were in low numbers and didn’t seem to be nesting around the Dam this year. Mallorcan Frogs however could be heard calling loudly in the outlet stream below the Dam and a Blue Rock Thrush was seen briefly.

Small Blue, Small Tortoiseshell, Clouded Yellow and Swallowtail butterflies were seen. We didn’t see a great deal of species on this visit which is surprising for this area. We can only assume the heat was keeping a lot of birds out of the open. We stopped off briefly at Embalse de Gorg Blau (the smaller reservoir on the way back to base) and watched a Raven circling overhead with three Eleonora’s Falcons.

A welcome beer cooled us down a little before we drove down to Bee Hive Lane near to our hotel where Thekla Larks were feeding in a ploughed field along with 8 Blue Headed Wagtails and a Fan Tailed Warbler. Back at the hotel (with a very welcome Bacardi and coke by the poolside) we watched a male Peregrine Falcon overhead.
Day three and we started the day off to a visit to the Albufera Marsh, popular as ever with birders and packed with birds. Surprisingly there was not a single Night Heron to be seen roosting in the Tamarisk bushes. A Sandwich Tern flew over the canal and Nightingales and Cettis Warblers seemed to be calling everywhere. Sardinian Warblers and Serens were plentiful. A Great White Egret flew above us and Little Egrets were nesting in the tall Pines across from the canal. The waterways and ditches were relatively quiet bird wise however the occasional Great Reed Warbler kept us entertained.

As we approached the CIM hide an Osprey flew past and from the hide itself we had close views of Ringed, Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Black Winged Stilts, Wood Sandpipers, Curlew Sandpipers, Ruff, Greenshank and several Common terns. A Purple Heron flew across.

MALLORCA Hoopoe, Waterworks site, Albufera

A Squacco Heron showed very briefly and a Purple Gallinule (Purple Swamphen) was feeding a single chick. Close by a single chick was being fed by a pair of Red-knobbed Coots which are doing well since a reintroduction program. Marsh Harrier, Black Headed Gull, Greenshanks, Red Crested Pochards and a pair of Hoopoes were also seen.

After a delicious home-made pizza in a regular stop off in Can Picafort we headed back to the waterworks site where the above photo of Hoopoes was taken. This pair frequented this area all week but was very active. Red-legged Partridges were seen in the fields and from the viewing platform we watched several Pallid swifts mixed in with the Common Swifts, and likewise with the numerous Swallows feeding over the lagoons and fields our patience paid off and we saw a Red-rumped Swallow mixed in. To end the day off we drove along a rugged track at Can Curassa near to Puerto Pollensa which overlooks open fields. We were hoping for Roller but not today. Blue Headed Wagtail and Corn Buntings were seen instead.

On day four we took the second mountain drive this time to Cap de Formentor along equally twisting mountain roads. A stop off along the way at the Mirador (viewpoint) seen a Blue Rock Thrush and a Pallid Swift and several Spotted Flycatchers. Further along we stopped at Cases Velles where thankfully the recent ground work there has been to prepare the fields for the now hundreds of Olive trees that have been planted along with a large section of Grape Vines. This is good news as the area still retains its importance for migratory birds that stop off here and in years to come the Olive trees will be an invaluable food source as the trees mature – you only have to see the abundance of birds that frequent the ones at the base of the Bocquer Valley to appreciate their importance. The sub-species of Common Crossbill was feeding and calling from the pines. They have a Catalan name of ‘Trencanpinyons’ which means ‘pine nut cracker’. Although the skies were clear and the sea relatively calm, no Balearic or Cory’s Shearwaters could be seen from the lighthouse at Cap de Formentor. Several migrants were feeding in the scrub below the lighthouse and a Kestrel and Elenora’s Falcon patrolled the cliff faces.

On the way back down we stopped off again quickly at Cases Velles where a Corn Bunting and Sardinian Warbler were seen and a Griffon Vulture which had obviously spotted lunch dropped quickly down to the ground just out of site behind some tall trees.

After our own lunch we headed back to the Hoopoe site at the Waterworks area. Going through Alcudia we spotted a pair of Carrion Crows. Friends of mine who were out here the week before also reported seeing a Crow. Is this species going to become a regular sighting I wonder? The Hoopoes showed again at the waterworks site and this time we added a Northern Wheatear and a Stone Curlew to the list.

MALLORCA Swallowtail Butterfly, Salinas de Llevante (the salt pans)Swallowtail butterfly – one of several individuals seen with its stunning patterns (ND).

Day five and we had a Yellowhammer calling near to the hotel grounds – a rare vagrant on the island. We headed off to Salinas de Levante – simply known as the Salt Pans down in the south of the island. Hoopoe, Kestrel and Woodchat Shrike were seen along the way. The Salt Pans themselves were teeming with bird species and the air was filled with the calls of numerous species. An interesting mix of birds was seen including Seren, Stonechats (numerous), Fan Tailed Warblers, Blue Headed Wagtails, Cettis Warblers, Black Winged Stilts, Stone Curlew, Kentish Plovers, Whimbrel, Avocets, Common Redshanks, Red Kite, Booted Eagle, Marsh Harrier, Tawny Pipits, Wood Sandpipers, Grey Plover and a Spotted Redshank.

A group of twelve Greater Flamingo’s was out in the deeper lagoon unfortunately a little too far off for a decent photo through the heat haze. From here we visited the nearby Es Trenc site where a few roadside stops paid off with close views of waders feeding such as Little Stints, Common Redshanks, Curlew Sandpipers, a single Sanderling which was a nice surprise, Avocets and the ever present Black winged stilts.

Curlew Sandpiper at Es Trenc (edge of the Salt Pans) (ND).

MALLORCA Curlew Sandpiper, Albufera Marsh On the way back we headed slightly inland and near to the town of Felanitx we headed up to Castel de Santuri – an impressive Moorish castle built on the edge of a sheer rock face. Recently this has been made open to visitors on a more regular basis, and for four Euros each you can walk inside and around the grounds with amazing 360 views over the landscape – you can totally understand why this impressive fortification was built in this location.

The bird life is impressive here too and we weren’t disappointed with fine views of a Raven, a pair of peregrines chasing each other and calling, and later views of the male perched on a rock. A Cuckoo called from the valley below and Nightingales could be heard in the trees below the castle. One of the main reasons for a visit here is that the area holds a small colony of Alpine Swifts – and we had good views of eight in total. However, one memory that will stay with me was of a Blue Rock Thrush that landed in a tree with a beak full of grubs before flying across to the rock face to feed the impatient and hungry young…

We finished off the day with a drive along some of the back roads of Puerto Pollensa where we watched Woodchat Shrike, Eleonora’s Falcon, Fan Tailed Warbler, Great White Egret and a lovely surprise perched up on an electricity wire – a male Red-footed Falcon. We watched it for some time hunting over the open fields.
Our last visit to the Waterworks site gave us our favourite bird – our Hoopoe along with several Bee Eaters, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper and numerous other water birds.

We are very much looking forward to a return visit…

Below is the species list for the week seen in order.

Black Winged Stilt with eggs (Waterworks site) ND

Species list – May 12th – 19th 2015, Mallorca


Butterfly species seen included Swallowtail, Large White, Small White, Small Tortoiseshell, Clouded Yellow and Small Blue.

Wildlife seen included Terrapin, Mallorcan Frog and Brown Rat.