Butterfly Walk 8th July 2017

Thanks to Steve Butler for guiding a group around the edges of Castle Meadows (edges are often more interesting places for wildlife) to look for butterflies. A good range of species were spotted: speckled wood, large white, red admiral, comma, meadow brown, ringlet, tortoiseshell and green-veined white. However, for the second occasion on our walks this year the highlight was a moth – this time a magnificent elephant hawkmoth found in the copse.

A close look at grassland

Many thanks to Sheelagh Kerry of the Monmouthshire Meadows Group for taking us around the meadows this morning and demonstrating just how varied “grassland” can be. Three species of clover, three of buttercup and more than ten of grass can be found in what might look, at first sight, like a uniform habitat.

However we were all distracted by the star of the morning’s walk – a magnificent eyed hawk moth. Grassland may be the home of lots of little white moths, but this definitely isn’t one of those.

Bat walk 5/5/17

A dozen of us joined Mark Langley from Monmouthshire Countryside Services for a dusk walk around the Meadows to look and listen for bats. First stop was the river, but there was too much wind to spot the Daubenton’s bats that can sometimes be seen skimming low over the water in search of insects. We had better luck by the copse where there were plenty of pipistrelles flying around. Mark’s bat detectors brought their calls down to human hearing range, so we could listen to them both navigating and hunting for small insects using high-frequency sound. Working out whether their squeaks were loudest at 45kHz (common pipistrelle) or 55 kHz (soprano) kept us happily – and inconclusively – occupied till well after dark.

Bird Walk 13/5/17

Eighteen of us joined Steve Butler for this morning’s walk around the meadows. The birds managed an equally good turnout, with a record of 44 different species seen or heard. Highlights were a kingfisher flying down the Gavenny and up the Usk, and the first spotted flycatcher that any of us had seen this year. It was great to see one of these declining migrants, which only returned to Gwent a couple of days ago.

Full list: Blackbird, Blackcap, Blue Tit, Buzzard, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff, Coal Tit, Collared Dove, Common Sandpiper, Dipper, Dunnock, Goldcrest, Goldfinch, Goosander, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Great Tit, Greenfinch, Grey Heron, Grey Wagtail, House Sparrow, Jackdaw, Kingfisher, Lesser Black-Backed Gull, Long-tailed Tit, Magpie, Mallard, Mistle Thrush, Moorhen, Nuthatch, Pied Wagtail, Raven, Red Kite, Robin, Sand Martin, Song Thrush, Sparrowhawk, Spotted Flycatcher, Starling, Swallow, Swift, Treecreeper, Woodpigeon, Wren.

Variety is the spice of nature

Interesting to see three sand martins repeatedly landing on the ground, this morning, in one of the bare patches where the grass hasn’t completely recovered from last summer’s Eisteddfod. They flew off as we approached; looking at where they had been sitting it wasn’t obvious why they had chosen that particular place. If they had been house martins then the obvious answer would have been gathering mud to build their nests. But sand martins build their nests in tunnels in river banks, so don’t need mud. My guess is that they were feeding on ants or other insects that were exposed in the bare patch. Most species need a range of different habitats to meet their needs: normally floodwaters or cattle would create variety in the vegetation of our flood meadows, but it’s good to see humans’ activities helping, too.