Wildlife along the Pontypool towpath
For as long as I can remember the Monmouthshire and Breconshire Canal in Pontypool has always been a great place to enjoy nature and wildlife. In my youth I have fished the canal with my friends, floated along it in a canoe and even fallen into it several times.
The man made water ways have become both nature haven and a place that people can enjoy with a host of activities including walking, jogging, dog walkers ,cycling , canoeing, sailing barge boats and fishing. During the lockdown the numbers of people present along the towpath seems to have hit an all time high. Lots of us have been restricted to exercise locally and have discovered the joys of visiting our local stretch of the canal.
With all the activity going on along the canals banks you would think wildlife would be scarce but if you care to look you will see there is lots to find.
Probably one of the most commonest birds you will come across is the Moorhen. This year they seem to be in good numbers. Over a two and half mile mile stretch between New Inn and Sebastopol I must have seen in excess of fifty birds. These birds are getting very territorial now as the breeding season will begin next month and there was lots of fights and squabbles amongst them.
Throughout the winter Goosanders have been wintering along the canal waterway. These much maligned birds by anglers are fantastic to photograph. Goosanders are fish eating ducks. The males have green heads and necks and the females , known as "Red Heads" have a gingery coloured head and neck.
Many members of the Gwent Ornithological Society and the British Trust for Ornithology have been recording the numbers of these birds at known roosts. They are increasingly being being blamed with little scientific facts, along with other fish eating birds like cormorants, for eating all the fish and causing a crash in fish stocks. Some Angling organisations have been lobbying to legally shoot them when found on river beats, reservoirs and lakes. I have even seen comments on social media suggesting people should throw sticks at them whenever they are seen, an awful attitude in my opinion.
I totally disagree with the premise that these birds are responsible for causing such declines in fish stocks. I think the risk to fish stocks that they present its grossly over estimated and the real cause of fish stock reduction is far more likely due to the human impact - over fishing and pollution. Its worrying that people want to cull fish eating birds. Where will all this end? Next it will be Kingfishers, Herons, Moorhens, Otters and just about anything else that has an appetite for a fish. I think people need to learn more tolerance and respect for nature and learn to live in harmony. I have been a fisherman myself and I would much prefer a more balanced and tolerant attitude to nature and never would advocate the culling of these birds.
|"Redhead" catches a Perch|
|A male Goosander washing|
|Flying male Goosander|
If Moorhens are the commonest bird along the canal , then a close second has to be Mallards. The male drakes are starting to look rather dapper now as we approach spring and several were making amorous approaches at the drab coloured females. Mallards whilst many people perceive them as common are actually as species that is in decline.
|Incoming pair of Mallards|
The hedgerows that border the canal waterway are alive with birds. Flocks of Long Tailed Tits, Great Tits and Blue Tits use the hedges like wildlife highways. Robins, Blackbirds, Dunnocks and Wrens are commonplace. The larger trees host both Mistle and Song Thrushes and if you listen at dawn you will hear their fantastic songs join the dawn chorus. I often pop down to the Afon Llwyd river by the aqueduct at Pontymoile and sometimes I am lucky and catch sight of a Dipper.
|Dipper on the Afon Llwyd|
Recently there has been a number of Kingfishers showing frequently along the stretch that I walk. I know of three different birds. I have photographed them all and they appear to be first year juveniles. Two males and one female. You can tell they are juveniles as they have small white patch at the point of their bills. Males have an all black beak and females have a orange lower mandible - knows as "lipstick".
|Catches a small fish|
It is common during the winter months for Kingfishers to inhabit canals. First year birds have to disperse once they have fledged as their parents will force them off their territory so the juveniles have to find somewhere food rich to last the cold winter months. The canals make a perfect place for them to stay with lots of small fish on offer.
|Male Kingfisher waiting patiently|
I have really enjoyed watching these wonderfully coloured birds and I never tire of photographing them.
Its amazing how much nature we have on our doorstep and we should cherish and look after what we have got for future generations.
|This is the third bird - a female.|