An eye in the sky above Gwent

Goldcliff Lagoons (NWR) at sunset

The last couple of months have been incredibly busy for me on the work front and my birdwatching and photography have been rather curtailed as a result.

The desire to get out has always been there but I have lacked the time and on occasions the energy I normally have to get out.  Most of my opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors were restricted to the weekends and for me, 2021 has been plagued with lots of weekends when the weather has been pretty miserable.

I won't blame the weather too much for keeping me indoors as I am a true believer of the sentiment - that it's poor clothing to blame and not the poor weather that stops people from getting out and about to go birdwatching, but this year marked a big change in how I have been viewing the world around me.

2021 marked the purchase of my first UAV - Unmanned Aerial Vehicle or better known as "Drone". After a short demo by my good friend Nicola Johns of a DJI Mavic Mini 2 drone, I fell in love with it almost instantly. Shortly afterwards I was clicking on the "BUY" button in my Amazon cart and before I knew it the drone had arrived.

I then spent quite a bit of my spare time learning how to use the drone and getting plenty of flying experience. I acquired my civil aviation Operator and Flyer ID so I can fly legally. In recent weeks I have enrolled on a course so with UAVHUB so I can take an exam to get my A02 certificate. There is a lot of rules governing the use of UAVs that drone pilots need to be aware of and abide by when flying them. 

Many of my readers have probably already seen the results of my initial early work with the drone in earlier posts but in recent months, when the opportunities have arisen and the weather has been good I have invested what little spare time and energy I have had in flying, what I would describe as one of the most incredible technical marvels I have "played" within my life.

Whilst I love my bird photography I also get a lot of pleasure taking landscape photos. I am very fortunate to live in an area of South-Eastern Wales known as "Gwent" which offers tremendous locations for landscape photography. Gwent has a diverse range of landscape locations from, lowland wetlands, cityscapes, valley towns, river valleys, many thousands of acres of farmland, post-industrial revolution mountainscapes, glorious parklands, and beautiful woodlands.

I've taken lots of pictures in the majority of these locations over the years but all of them have been more or less taken at ground level. The drone however has offered a completely different perspective and added that extra dimension to the photography work I have done.

I find the pictures I get from using it fascinating as you notice things that you had never even known were there, whist at your own eye level.

So this year I have spread my wings and whenever I have had the chance put "my eye in the sky up" to capture some fabulous views of Gwent.

In this post, I am going to review a few of my favourites from this year and also include a contrasting view from the ground.

Gilwern Hill Quarry

My first flight took place on the 4th of April 2021 above Gilwern Hill in one of the quarries.  I must admit I was very nervous but once I got the hang of it I have never looked back.

The quarries are home to lots of pairs of Wheatears that have migrated from as far as West Africa to breed here in Wales.

The Blorenge

I put the drone up over the trig point at sunrise in mid-April on its second flight. I was very lucky to get to the location on time after sleeping a little late that morning.

The drone did not appear to disturb the wildlife at all. As I flew the drone all around me I could hear the calls of Red Grouse and Skylarks were taking to the air singing their hearts out.

Goldcliff Lagoons

It was only going to be a matter of time before I tried the drone out at Goldcliff Lagoons. I carefully plan my flights and ensured I remained outside the boundaries of the reserve. This was the first time I had been able to get a good aerial view of the lagoons and I think they look amazing from above.

I stayed for the evening and was treated to a gorgeous sunset and watched a pair of lapwings putting on a courtship display flight as the sun went down.

Gilwern Hill Sunrise

In early May I returned to Gilwern Hill with the drone for a sunrise. The view is always tremendous even at ground level. One thing with drone photography is that you need to experiment with your composition. It's completely different from 120 meters up and some angles work and others don't.  This picture I feel has quite a lot of depth to it as it shows the sprawl of the countryside. The sensor on the DJI mini 2 is not the greatest and you can get quite a lot of white-out in bright sunlight.

On my walk back along the path to the car that morning I enjoyed watching a Linnet gathering lambswool for its nearby nest.

Pontypool Folly

Many of my readers will be familiar with my Folly pictures as it's a favourite location of mine. The stone Folly is a landscape photographers dream. There have been some huge changes though to the areas this year as a lot of fencing has been erected that has changed the view forever by the looks of things. The drone allowed me to get a totally different perspective on Pontypools most famous tower.

My view from the ground. It's amazing how sometimes when the drone goes up you get to see the sun rising a lot sooner than you would when stood far below. 

Big Pit

The land of my fathers, Big Pit holds a special place in my heart. A number of my ancestors worked at the pit and were brought up in Blaenavon. The photograph was taken from the nearby Coity tip.

I returned to Big Pit later in the year when it had been illuminated with pink and blue lights to highlight baby loss awareness week.

The Bryn and Pant-y-Goytre

An area that is rich in wildlife and one of Gwent's finest locations in my opinion. The area is a triple site of scientific interest and I have enjoyed many hours exploring here over the years. This photograph was taken in late August just before sunset.

I have been fortunate for several years to get some nice pictures of Kingfishers. This year I have not had huge amounts of spare time for hide work but I did get lucky on this occasion when this gorgeous male landed on a perch.

The British

Situated near Talywain, Pontypool, the British is another post-industrial site that has now been largely reclaimed by nature. It remains a great shame that off-road motorcycles ravage the area but the location has some fantastic wildlife.

As I walked along with one of the many paths I came across a Golden Ringed Dragonfly basking in the sun.

These large and strikingly coloured dragonflies are fabulous insects and this was the first time I have ever been able to get close to one of these species.

Pontypool Park

In November I finally got lucky with the weather and decided to visit Pontypool Park to take some photographs of the trees which were turning into their gorgeous autumn colours. I must admit my timing could not have been better as I just caught them at their finest before the leaf drop.

The bandstand at Pontypool Park was looking fabulous. It was renovated earlier this year via a community project having been painted and the ceiling slats being replaced as they had rotted.


  1. Lovely photographs from the drone. Also very interesting commentary. I wasn't aware of Goldcliffe Lagoons, and must check them out. Many thanks.

    1. Thanks for your comments much appreciated. Goldcliff Lagoons is a great place.


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