21 July 2015

Plantlife walk at Southgate

Colin Cheeseman of Plantlife and myself will be visiting the cliffs at Southgate on Thursday 23rd July between 1pm and 4pm. The main aim is to inspect the Cotoneaster control work that has been carried out over the last two years. There is an open invitation for anyone interested in finding out more about this work, or the special plants that grow there. The visit will be very informal and we will be meeting at the NT car park SS553873 at 1pm. All are welcome.

02 July 2015

Look out for Cyperus

A few years back, I noted `garden escape` pale galingale Cyperus eragrostis at Brynmill Park (and somewhere else too), in the western suburbs of Swansea. The same species also occurs as an occasional escapee in the Llanelli area.
Over a decade ago (in September 2004), a meeting of the Llanelli Naturalists was held at a brownfield site, located just to the south of the erstwhile entrance channel to the infilled New Dock, Llanelli, an area renamed stupidly and pretentiously `Delta Lakes` by the local planning authority (where is the delta?!). This brownfield area once held various tinplate and associated works in Llanelli`s early 20th Century heyday, but was cleared in the 1980s.
The area had been used by travellers and dumping of garden waste had occurred, with plenty of the more frequent `garden chuck-outs` but also with various native species or less common horticultural stock being discarded. Various weedy adventives were also present and I remember the genus Conyza causing identification issues, as we were not familiar with the more recent colonists.
We were interested too, to find Cyperus - a few plants of Cyperus eragrostis but also another, smaller one with darker inflorescences. It confused us completely and, to cut the story short, it was sent to Kew, where David Simpson identified it as dense flat sedge Cyperus congestus.
Both Richard Pryce and I took some home to cultivate and my plants still survive, though it behaves entirely differently to eragrostis. The latter, with its pale heads is quite handsome and large - a foot or so - and it is perennial whereas the hardly garden-worthy eragrostis is half the size, is an annual and does not germinate until about June. It is seemingly a plant of warmer climes and it dies completely in winter, after setting seed. Both survived (as a plant or as seeds) the few cold winters we experienced about five years ago.
Cyperus eragrostis spreads itself around, albeit in small amounts around my garden and has reached (no doubt via my muddy boots) the lane in front of my house. In contrast congestus, has firmly remained in its planting area - though it can come to dominate that patch (indeed, it receives periodic `culls`). I include some photos below:

                                                        Above: Cyperus eragrostis.
                                                       Above: Cyperus congestus.

Above: comparison of the inflorescences, with congestus on the left and eragrostis on the right.

18 June 2015

Chough report

This is essentially a follow-up to the post about the same time last year. I watch a stretch of cliff coastline between Rhossili and Ramsgrove. I am deliberately vague about exact locations for reasons which are probably obvious, in view of the rarity and protection status of the Chough. In a stretch of coastline about a kilometre in length there are three pairs of Choughs which have bred successfully this year. The next few weeks present an opportunity to watch these wonderful birds moving around in family groups, feeding. Last year (over a slightly greater length of coastline) four pairs bred, producing a total of 10 fledged juveniles. This year one pair was on site in early spring, but disappeared after their nesting area was disturbed by climbers. The other three pairs have all done well. Moving from west to east:
  • Pair A has produced four juveniles. These birds are all without rings. This family is still sticking pretty close to the nest site and is quite difficult to observe. This will change over the next few days and they will make their presence very obvious.
    Pair A defending their territory near to where the juveniles are hidden.
  • Pair B has produced three juveniles. One of the adults is ringed: Left: green, red; Right: metal. The green ring stands out and is easy to see with binoculars; the others are tricky without a photo. The other adult is not ringed, but has a distinctive notch in the tail, visible in flight.
    Two of the three juveniles were ringed in the nest. Both ringed birds have a metal ring and a large striped mauve and white ring on the right leg. On the left leg one bird has yellow, green; the other has yellow, pale (lime) green. These rings can be seen quite easily with binoculars, so this family is very easy to identify. The third juvenile has no ring. This family is already very active, roaming noisily over about a kilometre of coastline. If you spend an hour or so in the area they will be difficult to miss.
    The ringed adult telling me it's time I left the area, in late May.
    One of the ringed juveniles of Pair B.
    The other ringed juvenile of Pair B.

  • Pair C has produced three juveniles, which left the nest this morning. Both adults are ringed. Adult 1: Left: white, red; Right: metal. Adult 2 : Left: lime, green; Right: red. These rings are easy to see with binoculars, making this pair easy to identify. If you get a close view, Adult 1 has distinctive crossed mandibles, which do not impair its ability to feed, it seems. All three juveniles of this pair are not ringed. As these birds left the nest only this morning, they are currently very difficult to observe because the adults, having enticed them out of the nest, immediately guided them to a very well-hidden location which it is impossible to view. This will change over the coming days and they will roam around as a family group in the same way as the family of Pair B.
    Pair C near the nest site last year. Note the crossed mandibles of Adult 1.
    The three juveniles of Pair C just before leaving the nest this morning
    . I have obscured the surroundings so that the exact site of the nest cannot be identified.
Choughs are engaging, characterful birds. They have an extremely distinctive call and are very vocal, both in flight and when either feeding or defending their territory. They perform some pretty amazing aerobatics, which seems to have little purpose other than having fun.  They are often quite easy to approach. I hope I have provided enough information for readers to be able to locate and identify these three families, but kept enough details confidential to protect them.

If you do come to see these birds you will also be treated to three pairs of breeding Wheatears (two pairs feeding young today). The male and female of one pair, with food for the nestlings, photographed this morning:

This has also been a good year for Stonechats, with at least four pairs fledging young in the same stretch of coastline where the Choughs breed. There are seven pairs of Fulmars on ledges showing breeding behaviour, but I haven't seen an egg yet, so maybe not this year! But there's plenty to admire in the Fulmars' flying, anyway:

Both taken on June 15 in one of the Chough territories.

10 June 2015

last weekend

From Clyne Valley came this Western Bee Fly Bombylius canescens, common enough I think but I don't remember seeing it before.
 At Oxwich just inside the Penrice Estate I saw what I take to be Neoitamus cyanurus, a robber fly
 and Pamponerus germanicus at Whiteford Dunes.
 It's been lousy weather so I've hardly run the moth trap but I was pleased to find this Bordered Straw at the northern point, gather there's been a few around. Also saw my first Painted Lady of the year.
Of course there's loads of Bees and Wasps around but it takes far too long to identify them and sort the photos so that I can post any near the time of finding them.

08 June 2015

Geese over Gower

Saw a skein of 30+ geese flying west this morning. Seen from Gowerton over Three Crosses so a mile away but grey, so not Canada, but what are geese doing here at this time of year?

03 June 2015

A distinctive froghopper

The Hemipteran froghoppers, leafhoppers and relatives are a group that I only `dabbled` with when I was actively recording invertebrates about twenty-five years or so ago. One unmistakable species that was said to be `common` in one of the popular generalist field guides of the time was Cercopis vulnerata, which I`d only recorded once (though rather frequently on that occasion), on the free-draining friable, rocky soils in the extensive Crychan Forest, right in the extreme NE of Carmarthenshire. That was in about 1993 - I have the exact date in my files.
A repeat visit to Crychan (a recommended area for the naturalist) in June 2014 revealed that this distinctive species was indeed still present, and a posting on the Carmarthenshire Moth blog prompted a comment from Sam Bosanquet that he also had it around his home near Brechfa in mid-Carmarthenshire (also abutting a forestry area). Last week, (again see the Carmarthenshire Moth blog), I recorded it in the Sawdde Valley, just north of Mynydd Du, but essentially still in the eastern part of the county.
I`ve never seen it in the well-recorded south-east of Carmarthenshire (the Llanelli area/Coalfield etc) and I was wondering if it occurred in the western part of Glamorgan? It`s very easy to recognize!

14 May 2015

Some aliens along the River Neath

The River Neath and its riparian woodland

The narrow corridor of deciduous woodland that runs along the River Neath from Glyn Neath to Neath town is an extremely important habitat for wildlife in Neath Port Talbot. It is rich in ancient woodland species and one of the few places in the county where you can see native Primrose (Primula vulgaris) growing with Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa), Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum), Dog's Mercury (Mercurialis perennis), Sanicle (Sanicula europaea) and Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) under the occasional canopy of Small-leaved Lime (Tilia cordata). Once upon a time, this narrow strip of riparian woodland, dominated by Wych Elm (Ulmus glabra), would have occupied a much wider margin that is currently taken up by grazed, alluvial meadows. 
Among the desirable natives, a number of infamous, high impact aliens well known to all of us, such as Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica) and Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera), have colonised the riparian corridor aggressively in the last 75 years. More recent exotics include the Spanish Bluebell hybrid (Hyacinthoides x variabilis), which in my experience is much more common than pure Spanish Bluebell (both are sold and grown as garden plants), and Montbretia (Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora), a classic garden throw-out species. Cotoneaster species and Wilson's Honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida) are also represented.
Less common aliens which have become well established include Star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum subsp.umbellatum).

Star-of-Bethlehem, Riparian Woodland Glyn Neath

This attractive plant has become well naturalised in the riparian woodland near Glyn Neath, growing among the Wild Garlic and Bluebells. Nearby, there are some colourful patches of Greater Periwinkle (Vinca major Var. major) and a well established clump of Chinese Holly-fern (Cyrtomium falcatum).

Greater Periwinkle,Riparian Woodland Glyn Neath

Chinese Holly-fern, Riparian Woodland Glyn Neath

Star-of-Bethlehem and Greater Periwinkle are hardy garden plants, adapted to the rigours of the British climate and their occurrence as 'garden escapes' in our countryside is not particularly surprising.  But, the occurrence of Chinese Holly-fern doing so well here is fascinating, because it is usually grown indoors as a pot plant. It is a native of East Asia which requires warm, moist conditions to grow. It has been established as a wild plant in the mild climate of the Scilly and Channnel Isles for many years.  It will be interesting to see if  it will be able survive in Glyn Neath in view of the harsher winters that may accompany the new, forthcoming El NiƱo cycle.