11 September 2014

Swallows migrating

Lots of (presumed) swallows migrating over my Gowerton garden this morning at 7.30. They were all heading east; shouldn't they be going south?
Also a very active Red Admiral, and the temperature was only 7 degrees.

07 September 2014

Marsh Fritillary request

Karen Wilkinson wrote:

'George Tordoff from Butterfly Conservation and staff from Natural Resources Wales have, over the last few years, being trying to get a better understanding of the extent and distribution of Marsh Fritillaries across Gower's inland commons. This is quite a challenge as some of these sites are pretty big! We are aiming to identify key areas which can then be monitored annually. This year appears to be a good year for Marsh Fritillaries on Gower and so far this autumn we have recorded almost 400 larval webs, distributed across Welshmoor, Fairwood and Pengwern Commons with a further 140 on other non-notified commonland. These counts are higher than previous years and we have identified additional areas which are supporting large numbers of webs.

We often notice when we are out surveying that we are 'following in other people's footsteps' and it seems highly likely that others are also looking for webs in certain parts of these sites. If it is you we would love to hear from you and find out what you are seeing. We'd happily compare records! I can be contacted at the following e-mail address karen.wilkinson@cyfoethnaturiolcymru.gov.uk '

Dwarf Eel-grass in the Burry

Close inspection on non-flowering plants off Salthouse Point yesterday led me to the conclusion that my previous records of this genus were probably incorrect and that what I’d named previously as the narrow-leaved form of Eel-grass Zostera marina var. angustifolia (see HERE) were in fact Dwarf Eel-grass Z. noltei. This certainly fits in with the results of intertidal surveys carried out by CCW in 2000, 2004 and 2009, the results of which are combined in the distribution map below.
From a distance Dwarf Eel-grass appears as darker patches of mud (top photo), but closer inspection reveals an interwoven root system that traps sediment creating slightly raised domes of drier mud. In the Burry the Eel-grass community (NVC SM1) grows as sparse, mono-specific patches on the open mudflats lying just below the saltmarsh fringe, this being a broken mosaic of the pioneer communities of Common Cord-grass Spartina anglica (SM6) and Long-stalked Glasswort Salicornia dolichostachya (SM8).
Lava Spire Snails
The most obvious animal in these intertidal habitats is the Lava Spire Snail Hydrobia ulvae, which can be found at densities of >2000m-1, although evidence of other invertebrates was plentiful in this extremely productive zone of the marsh. See Ian Tew's earlier post HERE for some of the other inter-tidal fauna.
Lava Spire Snails on Common Cord-grass

04 September 2014

A date with some cabbages in Llanelli

Urban botanising can be fun, with a changing assemblage of interesting weeds to spot, if the Council herbiciders have missed them! A species that has increased in recent years is the cabbage palm Cordyline australis, a native of New Zealand, perhaps reflecting its now-widespread availability as a garden plant. Some forty years ago (!), I noticed one growing on the eastern side of Sandy Bridge, Llanelli, in a peculiar position (immediately next to a supporting wall on wasteground) that suggested it was n`t planted, but I assumed that it was just the subject of an inappropriately-placed planting.
In the early 2000s, I began to notice many small seedlings growing in back lanes, at the base of walls or in cracks in pavements and realised that these were bird-sown seeds that were successfully growing; I have seen the fruit eaten by starlings, blackbirds and probably other species, including once an over-wintering blackcap in November 2001. The popularity of this semi-exotic `palm`, which grows and matures quite quickly, probably accounts for the upsurge of recent records. Incidentally, this year is a `fruiting year`, with many plants flowering and bearing fruit.
I now realise that my original finding of that cabbage palm at Sandy Bridge, back in 1973, was also a bird-sown seedling, emanating from a long-established decorative planting at West End, Llanelli, not far to the east or perhaps from one in a nearby suburban garden. The West End plantings were cut to the ground by the cold weather of winter 1981, but re-grew.
I have also seen many seedlings of cabbage palm in the west Swansea area.

Above: very young Cordyline seedlings in paving near the Asda store, Llanelli. It is this size that can also be often found at the base of walls in backlanes or at the junction of pavements and the fronts of terraced houses. After a while, they are usually weeded out or treated with herbicide. I have teased out plants and grown on to give away as cheap presents!

Above: seedlings of Cordyline australis in front of an abandoned church, Murray St, Llanelli, Oct 2011.
Above: cabbage palm, originally bird-sown, growing out of and displacing paving stones, High St, Llanelli, 4.9.14.

Last week, I had my annual check-up with my dentist, and on the way out noticed a palm growing out of paving in the forecourt of  the next-door hairdressers in Murray St, Llanelli. I had noticed this plant the previous year, but then it only had juvenile leaves and I had assumed (without looking properly) that it was `just another cabbage palm`.  One year on, to last week, it had grown and it was clearly one of the true palms, almost certainly originating from a discarded seed from a commercial date, with Phoenix dactylifera cited as the overwhelmingly cultivated commercial date crop in warmer climes. Last winter`s mild conditions, coupled with the urban `heat bubble`, (plus the fact that it was outside a womens` hairdressers...and all that heat!) must have enabled it to survive a Welsh winter.
Phoenix canariensis is another palm that is cultivated as a garden plant and I have seen it surviving winters at (eg) Mumbles in Swansea and Burry Port in Carmarthenshire, but I`ve never seen one mature to yield fruit; another cultivated palm, Trachycarpus fortunei looks completely different.

                                       Above: Phoenix dactylifera, Murray St, Llanelli 31.8.14.

26 August 2014

Two New Flies for Swansea

Andrew Lucas wrote:
Much of my natural history recording in recent years has been devoted to SN6802, my home 1km square, which includes some of Clydach and a small part of the Cwm Clydach RSPB reserve. In the last week, my efforts have been rewarded with a couple of nice finds 
Phasia hemiptera is an impressive tachinid fly that I found flying around hemp agrimony in the beer garden of the New Inn pub, Clydach on 8 August 2014.  Its size, and the reddish orange hairs on the side of the thorax, distinguishes it from other species in the genus.  I caught a female, but the males are even more striking, with boldly metallic blue and white patterned wings.  In the larval stage, the insect is parasitic on shieldbugs.  The female lays her eggs on a bug, which then hatch and eat the insect from the inside out!
SEWBReC have advised that this is the first record they have received  for P. hemiptera in the City and County of Swansea, although its presence is no great surprise, as it has been found a number of times in the Llanelli area.   The species has been recorded as far north as Inverness, but most records come from southern England and the Welsh Marches. 
Rhingia rostrata is a woodland hoverfly, similar to the much more common R. campestris. It is distinguished (Stubbs & Falk 2002) by the uniformly light side to the abdomen, whilst  R. campestris has a dark line along the abdomen edge.  But it’s a much classier insect than R. campestris, with a bluish thorax and lighter abdomen that is obvious even to the naked eye.  I came across several feeding on hogweed along the footpath near the car park at Cwm Clydach RSPB reserve, again on 8 August 2014.. Rhingia hoverflies are unusual amongst the British Syrphidae, in having long mouthparts tucked away underneath the rostrum that projects from the head.  This allows them to feed on deep flowers that are inaccessible to most hoverfly species.  The larval stage of this species is a mystery, although it is thought to feed on rotting material or carrion, as R. campestris is known to use cattle dung.
SEWBReC and the NBN gateway (https://data.nbn.org.uk/) have R. rostrata only recorded once previously in Glamorgan, near Nicholaston Woods in 2009, although the hoverfly recording scheme (http://www.hoverfly.org.uk/portal.php)  has records from SS69 in 2009, and ST09 in 2001.  It has a similar distribution to P. hemiptera, with the northern edge of its distribution lying in the Lake District
Stubbs, A.E. & Falk, S.J. (2002) British Hoverflies.  An illustrated identification guide. BENHS.

25 August 2014

Singleton Park botanic gardens

Myathropa florea
After reading so much negative news about bumblebees in recent years I was pleasantly surprised to see good numbers of our commoner bumblebee species, namely Buff-tailed Bombus terrestris, Red-tailed B. lapidarius, Small Garden B. hortorum, Common Carder B. pascuorum and the now well-established Tree Bee B. hypnorum, all during a gentle stroll through the botanic gardens at Singleton. Hoverflies were also well represented including this fine Death's-head Hoverfly Myathropa florea (shown above).

08 July 2014

Green Woodpeckers breed successfully

It is well-documented (Birds in Wales Welsh Bird Report 2012, Bird Atlas 2007-11) that the Green Woodpecker is declining in the western part of its range in the UK and is now apparently extinct in Pembrokeshire. In this context I was particularly pleased to find that juvenile Green Woodpeckers have fledged successfully in the extreme west of Gower in Mewslade valley. The adult female is with a juvenile female in the photos below, taken today, July 8.

Although this species is declining further west it seems to be holding its own locally, as the map below shows (Gower Ornithological Society data).

On the map confirmed, probable and possible breeding are shown by different sized dots and present only shown as open squares (all records post 2000).