06 April 2020

Garden Wildlife

Since it isn't possible to go out and look for stuff now, I thought it would be fun to look in the garden and see what I could find. Most will be pretty run of the mill stuff but, knowing wildlife, I'm sure some surprises will turn up especially if I can do things with groups I've not bothered with much.
On a familiar note for me, the nice weather has brought out the Bees and Wasps. In fact as you will see it is already too late for the first brood of some species!
This is a female of Fabricius' Nomad Bee (Nomada fabriciana) which is searching the areas of bare earth looking for nests into which to lay its eggs. The female antennae are very distinctive used together with the red, black and yellow colours of the abdomen and small size. This species is a cleptoparasite. The female lays her egg in the host burrow and the first instar larva consumes the host larva and then grows up on the host pollen stores. In my garden it probably lays in the nests of Gwynne's Mining Bee (Andrena bicolor) of which there is currently no evidence. Here is a picture taken last year in February high up above Resolven and feeding on Coltsfoot flowers, about the only flowers present at the time.
The main bees flying currently are Chocolate Mining Bees (Andrena scotica). There is lots of activity along hedge lines with sunbathing on the leaves of Cherry Laurel and Privet. It is amusing to see the males whizz past a female sitting just inside the hedge line, but in the sun, without detecting her. Presumably there is no scent involved? This is the female bee, of Honeybee size:
and this is the male bee:
Click on the image to make it full size and you will see the inserted detail of the antenna which has segment 4 roughly twice as long as segment 3. Afraid this is the kind of detail you need to identify (only some) bees from photographs. This bee visits a wide variety of shrubs and trees, the females to collect pollen for storing to feed the young. Both males and females visit flowers (sometimes different species to those from which the females gather pollen) to sip nectar. Here is a male helping himself to nectar from my Damson flowers and hopefully carrying out some pollination as well.
I noticed a couple of individuals with something sticking out between the segments at the end of the abdomen.
This is the female pupa of a Stylops, a strepsipteran, thought originally to be parasitic forms of beetles but now placed apart. The adult female produces larvae called triungulins which sit on flowers and attach themselves to visiting bees, get taken back to the nest and develop inside the bee larva. Often this parasitism causes an intersex bee to be produced but I also noticed a male similarly parasitised:
The male Stylops is very rarely observed so I'll keep and eye out. He can fly and mates with the females by injecting sperm via her neck.
That's not the only problem for the Chocolate Mining Bee, there is also a cleptoparasitic bee, Marsham's Nomad Bee (Nomada marshamella) laying in its nest:
More pollination of my fruit was occurring by the Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva) visiting the Gooseberry flowers. Fortunately this one is easily identified: 
Unlike the males who were patrolling and visiting my Damson flowers:
Once more if you click on the image you will see the inserted vignette shows the  3rd antennal segment is now about twice as long as the 4th. This species male is also one of those with a large spine sticking down from the mandibles as shown here in an older photograph:
Enlarge, look below the eye when you will see the mandible sloping down to the right and the spine coming off the base at right angles to the left.
A much less numerous bee in my garden is The Buffish Mining Bee (Andrena nigroaenea).The Honey Bee sized females are quite distinctive as they have black hairs at both ends, on the face and final abdominal segment and brownish all the way in between.
The less distinctive male was also present patrolling the Cherry Laurel hedge:
This one is older and somewhat faded, they can be quite a rich orange brown. Marsham's Nomad Bee will also parasitise this species.
A volcano of soil in lawns or, in this case, at the base of a wall reveals the presence of The Common Furrow Bee (Lasioglossum calceatum) most probably, because it has a related but less common bee Lasioglossum albipes which is very hard to tell it from even with the aid of a specimen and microscope.
In the bottom photograph, when enlarged, by the single white dot you can see the basal vein suddenly curves and meets the longitudinal vein at about 90 degrees unlike the Andrenas above where the two veins meet at a shallow angle. At the 2 white dots you can see the hairs emerge from under the previous segment, a way to tell this genus from another called Halictus. The common name of Furrow Bees comes from the fact that the final dorsal abdominal segment of the females has a furrow.
The final Bee to mention in this post is a bit of a nuisance around the house because it nests in holes which is only a problem when they are the drainage holes in doors and windows, particularly wooden ones as they encourage damp and rot. Nevertheless, it is a very attractive bee and a pleasure to see:
This is the male of the Red Mason Bee (Osmia bicornis) and like all males is very busy patrolling and checking out all the local holes for females. 
The name bicornis comes from the two horns found on the female face, used for handling the mud from which individual cells are built for each young and its food. Here is an old picture of the female face: 
Two horns indicated by arrows.

06 March 2020

Horn Stalkball

We came across this ram's skull on a walk in Nant-y-gleisiad Wood, near Resolfen. The decaying horns were covered in Horn Stalkball (Onygena equina), an ascomycete belonging to a specialised family called the Onygenacea. Both horns were covered completely in a creamy-white mycelium which had given rise to hundreds of stalked fruiting bodies, like little puffballs. In fact it used to be called Horn Puffball although it is not even closely related to the puffballs, which are basidiomycetes.

The rounded heads of the young fruiting bodies are white and covered with masses of chlamydospores while ascospores are produced from within. As the fruiting body matures it cracks and turns brown, releasing the ascospores.
What is strikingly obvious is that the fungus is confined to the horns and does not grow on the bony tissue of the skull. Horns are not made of bone but are built out of keratin, a structural protein found in hair, nails, hoofs, skin, spines and feathers. Fungi like Onygena equina are able to break down keratin to amino acids which are excellent organic nutrients, rich in nitrogen. It will also grow on decaying hoofs and this is perhaps where it got the species name equina.
Onygena equina is not common. Most records of it originate from Scotland but there are very few recent records from Wales. As far as I can tell, this is the first record of this species in Glamorgan (VC41).
Onygena corvina is another rare species found in Britain which grows on feathers.

17 November 2019

Castell du
Water pipit at Castell du late afternoon. Kingfisher and green sandpiper also

16 November 2019

Unsurprisingly for the time of year, a Firecrest in the Querus ilex near the mast atop Mumbles Hill.

17 October 2019

Whooper swans

7 adult whooper swans by the mound at Wernffrwd at high water this am

18 April 2019

off inland

The bees started early this year, with a break for the cold snap. My first excursion inland away from Gower found Andrena bicolor working blooms of Tussilago farfara on the hillside opposite Resolven on 26th Feb.

Due to the aforementioned cold period, my next excursion was on 6th April to the area around Gellionen Chapel, partly to get a few records in a square (SN705055) where SEWBREC (in their newsletter) say there are no records recently. Bit early for much but I saw Andrena scotica there:
and found Andrena clarkella next to the chapel:
I decided many years ago, when time permitted, to look for good patches of Bilberry hoping to find Andrena lapponica, a bilberry specialist I never found on the Gower. I also saw a tweet from Liam Olds about having found it at Blackmill near Bridgend. A visit to Cwm Clydach RSPB reserve, on 10th, turned up Andrena praecox, a bee I never found on the Gower during my 5 years looking there, surprising as it is a Willow feeder.
Wandering the roads by car looking for Bilberry not grazed to within an inch of its life eventually brought me to a female Andrena lapponica at the roadside near Rhyd-y-fro:
A dim memory from many years ago took me to woods above Glais (marked Graig Ola on the map) on 13th and I found a superb oakwood/moorland covered in mature and ungrazed bilberry. I found one more Andrena lapponica there and Andrena fulva females (hooray a mining bee it is easy to identify for sure!) also visiting Bilberry along with several Bombus spp. A few other mining bees were on the go, prettiest of which was Andrena ovatula, a species it is absolutely not easy to identify because there is another very similar, wilkella and, of course, Halictus rubicundus also looks very similar:

Looks like a place worth revisiting as the year progresses, (does an NRW sign on a fence mean it is a reserve); it will certainly have a good heather moor community at the end of the summer. I'd be very interested in knowing of any other good sites for a lot of mature Bilberry inland in the far west of Glamorgan (say Swansea valley or westwards) and even on the Gower. Remember maps? This area is a nuisance to work as it lies on the corners of 3 OS maps but I paid for them and am determined to use them!

11 November 2018

A few more fungi

Most people will agree that this has been a good autumn for mushrooms and toadstools with some of the common species being particularly abundant. I don't think I've ever seen so much White Saddle (Helvella crispa) along roadsides and woodland paths.

White Saddle (Helvella crispa) at side of forest road, Pelenna Forest, Ton Mawr

Elfin Saddle (Helvella lacunosa), which is usually described as a common species, is much less common in my opinion but has been turning up too, as has Elastic Saddle (Helvella elastica).

Elfin Saddle (Helvella lacunosa) Pant y Saes

There was a large amount of Sulphur Knight (Tricholoma sulphureum) along the edges of Earlswood Golf Course a few weeks ago. One of the really distinctive characteristics of this specie is the strong smell of the fruiting bodies. Most books describe it as 'gas tar' but it reminds me of naphthalene (moth balls).

Sulphur Knight (Tricholoma sulphureum), Earlswood Golf Course

 While walking along the Coastal Path near the Quays, Hilary spotted a group of tan coloured caps under a planted shrubbery (mostly Hazel and Birch). As is often the case in such places there was a significant amount wood mulch, possibly coniferous in origin. I originally thought the fungus was a Funnel (Clitocybe sp.), and fixed in that conviction I later (and wrongly) identified it as Clitocybe vermicularis. The tan colour of the cap, the lack of any noticeable smell and the small spores (5 x 3 microns) led in me that direction fairly unambiguously using the keys in Funga Nordica However, after preparing a spore print, several days later, I examined the spores under high magnification (x1000) - see photo below. It is fairly clear that the spores are warty/spiny (verrucose) and that rules out Clitocybe, which I hadn't noticed in my preliminary examination at lower magnification. It is, in fact, Tawny Funnel, Lepista flaccida (formally called Clitocybe inverse), which is fairly common and widespread in southern Britain

Lepista flaccida, The Quays

Lepista flaccida, The Quays

Verrucose spores of Lepista flaccida  (from spore print of Quays specimen)