15 April 2014

Common Ramping-fumitory and Bargeman's Cabbage

Fumaria muralis ssp. boraei

Just for comparison with the White Ramping-fumitory (Fumaria capreolata) in the post below, this is Common Ramping-fumitory (Fumaria muralis). Distinctive features include the rose-pink colour of the flowers which have black tips on the the upper and lower petals. The flowers are also slightly smaller than those of White Ramping-fumitory and there are less flowers in the inflorescence (usually about 15). You are more likely to confuse this species with Tall Ramping-fumitory (Fumaria bastardii) or Purple Ramping-fumitory (Fumaria purpurea), both of which occur in Gower. The upper petal of Tall Ramping-fumitory doesn't usually have a dark tip, while the calyx segments (sepals) of Purple Ramping-fumitory are very large, more than half the length of the flower. If you enlarge the photo, you should be able to see the calyx segments easily - i.e. the small appendages with jagged edges on the sides of the flowers. The size and shape of the calyx segments and the nature of the toothed edges are important features that characterise fumitories.
Common Ramping-fumitory is a very common species of waste ground all over Britain. The specimen in the photograph was growing near Margam in a diverse, weedy community that included some fine specimens of Bargeman's Cabbage (Brassica rapa ssp. sylvestris).

Brassica rapa ssp sylvestris

Bargeman's Cabbage is very similar to Oil-seed Rape (Brassica napus ssp.oleifera) and I always assumed that the large, showy, yellow-flowered crucifers growing along the hard shoulder of the M4 between Briton Ferry and Margam were Oil-seed Rape. It's difficult to make an accurate identification at 50 (or 70) mph! Having seen these plants, just off the motorway, I'm beginning to think that the plants along the M4 are mostly (if not all) Bargeman's Cabbage. Please comment if you have any opinions on this matter.
Bargeman's Cabbage differs from Oil-seed Rape mostly in the features of its flowers and inflorescence. The flowers of Bargeman's Cabbage are smaller and a much richer yellow than those of Oil-seed Rape. The flower clusters in the terminal inflorescence of Bargeman's Cabbage overtop the buds, so the buds are not visible (enlarge photo to check this out). With Oil-seed Rape the flower buds are usually much more visible and often stand clearly above the open flowers.

13 April 2014

White Ramping-fumitory

Fumaria capreolata

It sounds like a nasty condition requiring antibiotics, but White Ramping-fumitory (Fumaria capreolata) is a handsome, large, white-flowered fumitory with a very coastal distribution in Wales. It's not common east of Gower in South Wales, but there seems to be a bit of a hot spot for it in the coastal strip between Margam and Kenfig. The specimen in the photo was found in the vicinity of Kenfig Industrial Estate, growing with Common Fumitory (Fumaria officinalis), a species with smaller, purple flowers. The most common fumitory in our area is Common Ramping-fumitory (Fumaria muralis) which has rose-pink flowers.

06 April 2014

An odd moss on a pavement in Caerau

Back on 5th March an odd specimen of Intermediate Screw-moss (Syntrichia montana) collected from tarmac in Brynheulog, Caerau, proved puzzling as it did not key out well to any species or well-documented forms of Syntrichia. The specimen was passed onto Sam Bosanquet who suggested that it might be S.m. var calva, a taxon recorded only once in Britain in 2011 at a site in Gloucestershire. Sam was sufficiently convinced to forward it onto Tom Blockeel for a second opinion who confirmed the identification and status as new for Wales. Quite surprising what can turn up in the most unpromising looking locations if you care to look close enough.
Syntrichia montana var. calva

Above Brynheulog, the crags at Foel Fawr provided more natural niches for mosses and liverworts including the distinctive Nut-moss (Diphyscium foliosum) shown below, along with Brunton's Dog-tooth (Cynodontium bruntonii) and Woolly Fringe-moss (Racomitrium lanuginosum) .
Diphyscium foliosum

05 April 2014

Barometer Earthstar

Astraeus hygrometricus
 ( fleshy fruit body under humid conditions)

Barometer Earthstar (Astraeus hygrometricus) is so called because the fruiting body is so hygroscopic. It dries out quickly under dry conditions to a hard, leathery consistency and then undergoes an equally rapid transformation back to its fleshy state when it is humid.

Astraeus hygrometricus
(dry, curled-up fruit body)

As the fruiting body dries out, it loses its colour and curls its ray-like limbs around the central, spherical spore producing body. But even after a little rain, the limbs flex outwards to lift and support the spore producing body above the surface of the soil. Spores are released through the pore at the top very efficiently when rain drops hit the surface. The transformation from the curled-up dry state to the upright fleshy state takes about 30 minutes.
This is an uncommon fungus in Britain with a distinct, southern distribution (mostly in England). It is rarely recorded in Wales. Roger Phillips describes it as a vulnerable Red Data List species. The specimens here were found in a little wood near Melin Cryddan, Neath. Unlike our common earthstars, the fruiting bodies persist in good condition through the winter and into spring.

Wernffrwd & Swansea Vale

video grab
Following a build up in the flock to 647 last week, there was no sign of any Golden Plover at Wernffrwd this morning but a Slavonian Grebe nearing completion of its moult into summer plumage was bonus, along with our first Swallows of the year there. A quick evening visit to Swansea Vale just before dusk produced an adult Little Gull that was unbelievably approachable. As it was the only bird on the ground there I thought it might have been sick, but as I approached to within 5m of it and was thinking how best to grab it, it uttered a few alarms chirps then flew off and joined a swarm of Sand Martins, so may have possibly just been very tired? A Dipper was singing close by on the river.

22 March 2014

Beached Bird Survey 2014 - Results

First of all a big thank you to all the volunteers who helped out with the Beached Bird Survey this year.  Usually I mostly receive nil returns for this survey but this year there was only one nil return - indicating the exceptional year (we hope) it has turned out to be.

As a result of my earlier post on this blog requesting help for one stretch of beach I was inundated with independent records of beached birds found on numerous Swansea beaches (the power of electronic media).  Although strictly speaking these records were outside the data collected as part of the organised Beached Bird Survey I have collated these additional records and will submit them to the RSPB as a supplementary record.  Therefore, thanks also to everyone who sent in these additional records.

In total I received records of 984 birds (I received some reports of bird numbers but no breakdown of species identification so this total includes 92 unidentified seabirds).  One thing that is quite clear is that oiling does not appear to have played any part in these figures.
I have summarised the records as a combined total of the Beached Bird Survey and the independent records.  The figures in brackets relates to the Beached Bird Survey:

Guillemot  -  331 (137)
Razorbill   -  451 (119)
Puffin        -  18 (8)
Gannet      -  3 (1)
Fulmar      -  1 (0)
Kittiwake  -  71 (37)
Herring Gull  -  8 (4)
Common Gull  - 2 (1)
GBB Gull   -  1 (1)
Unidentified Gull  - 2 (1)
Gull wings  - 2 (2)
RB Merganser  - 1 (1)
Shag            - 1 (0)
Unidentified seabirds  - 92

Rather grim reading I'm sure you'll agree and the severe weather clearly has taken its toll.  It will be interesting to see the size of the seabird colonies during the coming breeding season.

Alastair Flannagan


05 March 2014

Mewslade Fulmars

Philip Croft wrote:  
The Fulmar is, for me, one of the most remarkable birds of my local patch, in the Mewslade area. They are outstanding fliers, manoeuvring with amazing ease and accuracy, even in strong, gusty winds. A few Fulmars breed in the area. Each autumn the birds disappear out to sea and for a while there are no Fulmars, with their characteristic stiff-winged flight, to be seen. They usually return in December and are then visible around the coast (with occasional absences) for the next nine months or so (photo taken on December 19, 2013).
Although they bear a superficial resemblance to gulls, Fulmars are not closely related to gulls, and are, in fact, very different from them, both in structure and behaviour. They are “tube-noses”, with separate nostrils on the top of a rather complex bill. This feature is perhaps not very attractive, in what is otherwise a very beautiful bird (photo taken on January 8, 2014).

They are fantastically well-adapted to a life in the air and at sea. One of the delights of watching Fulmars flying close to the cliffs is observing how they use their feet as rudders (or ailerons?) for fine-tuning the steering. The legs are very close to the rear of the body and thus the feet are perfectly positioned for steering. Fulmars are as hopeless on land as they are brilliant in the air; those rear-mounted legs cannot support the bird and, at the nest site, they move by shuffling on their bellies.

This winter, birds returned at about the normal time. By mid January I was observing what I will call nuptial behaviour. Fulmars pair for life and are very long-lived (30 to 50 years is not uncommon). The pairs become separated during the time spent out at sea and re-establish the partnership in the breeding area. Mid January seemed very early in the year for nuptial behaviour to be so obvious, since Fulmars generally do not breed until May. In the third week in January, at one nest site in my area (site 1), a pair had become well-established and the birds were involved in frequent nuptial behaviour: widely opening the bill, gaping at each other, cackling; touching bill to bill; throwing the head back and cackling; head waving; neck-nibbling. They were also vigorously defending their site against potential intruders, as shown below (photo taken on January 20, 2014).
Repelling intruders also involves widely opening the bill and cackling; context is important in understanding what Fulmars are up to!

This behaviour has continued at site 1, with the addition of a ritual involving one bird bowing while the other opens the bill (photo taken February 16, 2014).

During February a pair has become well-established at another site in my patch (site 2). The birds at this site have been showing all the same nuptial and territorial behaviour as the pair at site 1. The site 2 birds seem to be even more demonstrative in their nuptial behaviour, with very frequent and noisy bill-gaping, bill-touching, rubbing their necks together, neck stretching and waving and an action which looks like one bird putting its bill inside the other’s open bill. I haven’t managed to capture an image of this action yet, but will keep trying! The photos below are of the site 2 pair displaying on February 22 and February 27, 2014.
At both sites the birds (or one bird of the pair) will leave the ledge and fly around the area, apparently just for the joy of it! I think they are probably still roosting at sea because the birds are quite often absent if I visit soon after dawn. Both of these nest sites are in inaccessible positions: it is impossible to get really close to the nest. Both can be viewed and photographed from vantage points separated from the nest by sheer drops. These positions are not dangerous (as long as it is not too windy) and the Fulmars seem to be completely indifferent to my presence.

I’ll continue watching these two sites and will report again if there is any evidence of actual breeding.

Philip Croft.