Surveying the front line


The front line.

Saturday morning I was stood not far from the Shell Grotto on the border of Pontypool Park looking up at the sky. I was recovering my composure after walking up a steep hill that had got my heart racing ( note to self I need to cut down on the Greggs ). I was dressed for just about any weather, with lots of layers. When you go walking these days you have to go out prepared for anything, the weather is crazy at times.

Two fronts collide

It was cold and the grass was covered in dew. There was a light breeze blowing from the West which appeared to be pushing a big bank of cloud towards the East. In contrast the Eastern sky was free of clouds and looked really nice. It appeared two weather fronts were colliding above my head. Where they met the clouds were thinner and behind them, the sun was rising, causing them to burn an intense reddy orange.

The sunrise behind the clouds.

Rolling over the hills of New Inn was a huge wall of mist. It was rising up like a Tsunami wave and it was starting to flow over New Inn and Griffithstown. My view was rapidly turning white.

So why was I stood at 5.30 am watching the amazing atmospherics? Well I was up at "crazy o'clock" to start the first transect of my British Trust for Ornithology ( BTO) Breeding Bird Survey. I love doing the survey. I personally think I have one of the most scenic survey routes in Gwent. I have one transect that starts at the foot of the Shell Grotto and runs almost up to the Pontypool Folly. The route offers panoramic views of Torfaen and beyond. On a clear day you can see the Bristol Channel. Not on this occasion though - well not at that moment would be a better way to describe it.

A huge bank of cloud like a Tsunami wave rolled in.

I usually start my survey about 30 to 45 minutes after dawn. The sun came up and despite its best efforts failed to burn through the cloud caused by the two warring weather fronts.

The huge bank of mist was now rolling over Griffithstown and rapidly heading in my direction. I had been doing some drone work so I thought it would be good judgment to get it down and pack it away before the mist hit.

White out, the mist reaches my position

My view was rapidly diminishing.

I waited, got my clipboard, survey forms and pen out. Then it was a white out. I could barely see the sheep and lambs - who were my only company. They vanished in the white. All I could hear was my name being called by the odd lost lamb ;)


One lamb came out of the mist between a stone wall and looked quite surprised when it was me that answered its calls.

Surprisingly as I began walking my transect the birds continued to sing and call. If anything the gloom and lack of being able to see very far, forced me to focus more on my hearing and listen.

I was pleased to hear a Common Redstart calling nearby which was a first for me on this transect.

I continued on and recorded what birds I heard and glimpsed through the mist. I chuckled to myself how much the weather had changed in a very short period of time. But, every now and then I caught a glimpse of blue sky above. That made me suspect that as I climbed further up the hill towards the Folly that eventually the mist was going to clear.

The blue sky ahead looked promising

My thoughts were correct. As I walked on I eventually rose up above the mist. The clashing weather fronts were causing some weird atmospheric effects. Whilst cloud remained above the Folly, there was a gap where it stood and the valley below - which now had a blanket of mist - an affect called an inversion.

Above the mist

The whispering tree

The inversion.

I completed my first transect and walked on up to the Folly. The view from the Folly was now incredible. I just had to get some photographs and so up went the drone.

Pontypool Folly

The front coming in from the East was winning. The Western cloud was being pushed back. Blue skies were moving in. The sun was getting brighter and its warmth was burning the mist that was hugging the land below.

The view from above

Super wide pano - please view on a computer screen for best results.

Above the clouds

I sat and admired the view and had my breakfast - a bottle of water and a biscuit. Then it was time to walk back down the hill to start my second transect. The further down the hill the better the weather got. By the time I reached the start of my second transect, that begins by the canal bridge near the Jockey pitch I was sweating and wishing I had not worn so many layers.

Now I was walking the valley below in the shadow of the Folly.

My highlight from this transect, was not a bird. Instead it was sightings of mammals. First I watched a number of young Rabbits and then I was very surprised to see two Roe Deer in the next field on my route.

Young Rabbit

Roe Deer.

By the time I finished my second transect the skies had cleared and the sun was shining. Things were boding well for the rest of the day. What a great way to start the Bank Holiday weekend.

My bird list -

  1. Common Redstart
  2. Chaffinch
  3. Jackdaw
  4. Blue Tit
  5. Great Tit
  6. Dunnock
  7. Robin
  8. Blackbird
  9. Song Thrush
  10. Wren
  11. Lesser Black-Backed Gull
  12. Herring Gull
  13. Swallow
  14. Pied Wagtail
  15. Woodpigeon
  16. Chiff Chaff
  17. Blackcap
  18. Willow Warbler
  19. Jackdaw
  20. Goldfinch
  21. Buzzard
  22. Mallard
  23. Moorhen
  24. Linnet
  25. Skylark
  26. Goldcrest
  27. Nuthatch
  28. House Sparrow
  29. Starling
  30. Green Woodpecker
  1. Rabbit
  2. Roe Deer


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