29 June 2010

Lesser Wintergreen

Of the three species of wintergreen found in Britain, two can be found in West Glamorgan. One of them, Round-leaved Wintergreen (Pyrola rotundifolia), is a species of coastal dune slacks, growing with Creeping Willow (Salix repens). The other, Lesser Wintergreen (Pyrola minor), was once a less common plant in South Wales. In fact, until recently, it was only known from a very old record made by the famous botanist Joseph Hooker in 1846 from the head of the Neath Valley. In more recent times, Lesser Wintergreen has been discovered in the vicinity of conifer forest near Pembrey and then 12 years ago it was found in a remarkable area of willow scrub near the Amazon site at Jersey Marine. Two features that distinguished this willow scrub area were the occurrence of a very large population of Yellow Bird’s-nest (Monotropa hypopitys) and a high diversity of macroscopic fungi (toadstools). Sadly, most of this scrub was destroyed when the Amazon site was developed and none of the Yellow Bird’s-nest was saved, despite the fact that it is a UK BAP species. However a very small area of scrub was spared destruction and a population of Lesser Wintergreen survives there still (photograph above). More recent discoveries of Lesser Wintergreen in the vicinity of conifer plantation in the Neath Valley and at Whitford, suggest that this species may be increasing in the county.
The biology of Yellow Bird’s-nest and Lesser Wintergreen is fascinating. The roots of both form an intimate relationship with a fungus (e.g. Tricholoma species), which in turn forms a close relationship with a tree. In my experience, Lesser Wintergreen is often associated with willows, even when it appears to be associated with conifers. Furthermore, it seems to grow in places where the fungus, Tricholoma cingulatum, also occurs. This fungus (which is called the Girdled Knight) forms an ectomycorrhizal association with the roots of willows (including Creeping Willow) and, in my opinion, probably forms an association with the roots of Lesser Wintergreen too. When this happens, the wintergreen and the willow are connected by a fungal bridge, across which nutrients can pass from tree to wintergreen via the fungal mycelium. Something similar happens with Yellow Bird’s-nest too. In fact, for that species this is a form of parasitism that it is absolutely dependent on. Lastly, it is probably no coincidence that Round-leaved Wintergreen grows in association with Creeping Willow in dune slacks, where similar, shared mycorrhizal associations are possible.

Photo and text by Charles Hipkin.

Serbian Mediterranean Gull at Blackpill

Red YHE8 has returned to Swansea and was with 52 other Meds on the beach this evening. Not sure if it's been back to Serbia this summer, but I'll report any other sightings when I get feedback from the scheme organisers.
For previous post on this bird and map click http://goweros.blogspot.com/2009/10/serbian-mediterranean-gull.html

Hawk-moths aplenty

A squadron of 38 Elephant Hawk-moths was quite a spectacle as I opened the garden moth trap this morning. Our previous best in over 14 years trapping at our Gorseinon address was 22 on 10th June 1997, so it appears to be a good year for the species, although we are at the peak of the flight period and last night's conditions were very good. Spot the Lime Hawk-moth amongst the elephants, a much more localised species.
The highest catch ever in our area was at Wern-olau, Gowerton on 15th July 1983, when Steve and Sarah Walmsley caught 70 in a single trap.

Mediterranean Gull influx continues...

The June influx of Med Gulls to the WWT Llanelli centre reached 40 birds this morning, this total being 7 more than the previous highest count there. Typically birds gather here in June, then during July disperse elsewhere aound the Burry Inlet (and further afield). Other gathering points around the inlet worth checking out include Sandy Water Park, Llanelli Beach and Burry Port along the north shore, and Penclawdd, Salthouse Point and Wernffrwd on the south shore. Can't help feeling 2010 could be a bumper year...

28 June 2010

The fledging continues...

At WWT Llanelli this week a total of 268 young Black-headed Gulls were counted in the two nesting colonies. Good numbers are now flying around, though there are still quite a few very young chicks in nests (great views from the new Peter Scott Hide). No Mediterranean Gulls attempted to breed this year, though 22 have recently appeared including colour-ringed birds from Ireland, Belgium and Germany. Every year the max count of Meds increases and 22 this early suggests the trend will continue...

26 June 2010

Wild Asparagus at Port Eynon

The Wild Aspargus (Asparagus officinalis subsp. prostratus) growing on Port Eynon Point is one of the rarest plants found in Gower, but has a very tenuous toe-hold on the peninsula, for example at this site it occurs as a 20cm x 35cm patch.

Nearby at Culvor Hole, there was a pair of Fulmars apparently nesting in an old Raven nest.

Off Overton Cliff a minimum of 36 Common Dolphins and 3 Harbour Porpoise were seen, some of the dolphins were only ~500m offshore giving excellent scope views in perfect morning light, as they were jumping right out of the water.

Xylota segnis

This nice, medium sized hoverfly was fairly common and in flight yesterday. Xylota segnis is found throughout Britain. Often sunbathing on leaves or logs about woods, hedgerows and sometimes gardens. Flying May to October.
This shot shows the distinctive abdomen which is very striking when it's flying.

Martyn Hnatiuk's keen (and far too modest) eyes, spotted my earlier mistake when I pronounced this species to be Pyrophaena granditarsa. One of the clues is in the Latin where Pyrophanena granditarsa has expanded front and mid tarsi, whereas Xylota segnis has simple front tarsi. The colour isn't quite right and also the shape of the abdomen is wrong for Pyrophanaena granditarsa.

23 June 2010

Risso's Dolphins off Pwlldu headland

Another useful reference pic taken by Brian Spink back in July 1999, about 2km off Pwlldu. Identification should not be too much of a problem if you get a view like this!

Dragon in Sketty

Obviously the weather has been good for reptiles, but this discovery must have given the finder a shock. The Bearded Dragon (Pogona sp.) was taken to Gower Bird Hospital last week.
Image by Simon Allen http://www.gowerbirdhospital.org.uk/

NB. Please send details of any sightings of non-native fauna (past, present & future) to:
Dr Dan Forman CBiol.MIBiol.EurProBiol.
Conservation Ecology Research Team
Department of Pure and Applied Ecology
Institute of Environmental Sustainability
Swansea University
Singleton Park

Arable weeds above Penclawdd

No sign of the hoped for Annual Knawel (Scleranthus annuus) today, but a field dominated by Hedge Mustard (Sisymbrium officinale), Pineappleweed (Matricaria discoidea) and Corn Spurrey (Spergula arvensis) was unusual and also supported a wide range of other species.
Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis subsp. arvensis form azurea).
Field Bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis)

22 June 2010

Mute Swan cygnets

The only breeding pair of Mute Swans on the Gower Peninsula have manged to produce seven cygnets this year. So far so good with all doing very well. They must have pretty dedicated parents as the cob was seen chasing off a fox last week.

More dolphin action...

In addition to the Bottle-nosed Dolphins seen off Horton this weekend, Richard Wilson emailed me this link of Common Dolphins in Oxwich Bay on Saturday, which is well worth looking at. I think even I could take to sea without overdosing on Stugeron to enjoy an experience like this in these conditions! Well done the Pearce family. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7POhUWHJknY

Rob Colley and crew on their latest cetacean monitoring transect on 8th June, between Gower and Lundy, reported seeing circa 400 Common Dolphins, 2 Risso's Dolphin, 4 Minke Whales and 7 Habour Porpoise. so well worth scanning the sea at present while conditions and chances of seeing cetaceans are so good.

Some images from this trip on the 8th to help you with your identification...

Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) (c) Alan Parfitt

Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis) (c) Alan Parfitt

Risso's Dolphins (Grampus griseus) (c) Steve Rosser

Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis) (c) Alan Parfitt

Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis) (c) Alan Parfitt

19 June 2010

Bottlenose Dolphins off Port Eynon

A pod of Bottlenose Dolphins were showing well off Port Eynon Point today around 2pm. I was told that there were 5 or 6 performing well, with breaches seen often. They were last seen heading west. There have been good numbers of Bottlenose Dolphins in the seas off Gower recently, I have been told, although these sightings have been made largely from boats. Large numbers of Gannets were also noted today, which suggests lots of food available for them.
The weather is good for tomorrow with high pressure, light onshore wind and good visibility. With a bit of luck they may stick around for others to see.

A Sawfly

This cheeky little fellow was taking some rays on the picnic rug the other day. It is a type of Sawfly, family Tenthredinidea(consisting of nearly 1000 European species). Luckily it's distinctive and in my book! Rhogogaster viridis is fairly common in the British Isles in woods and scrubby places.

18 June 2010

Bee Beetle in the Garden

A bit of gardening this afternoon brought a very nice surprise. This Bee Beetle (Trichius fasciatus) was feeding on our Hadspen Blood (Astrantia major). A special thanks goes to the Early bumblebee (Bombus pratorum) worker which led me straight to it!

16 June 2010

Nice day in the Neath Valley

A nice day near Glyn-neath today with lots of insects enjoying the sunshine. I past 2 ponds today. The first was about the size of a tennis court with clear water. This one had at least 8 Four-spotted Chasers(only males identified)

The second one was 1/4 size with very murky water. This one had 9 Broad-bodied Chasers, mostly males with one female observed egg laying.

Also present another couple of Mountain bumblebee (Bombus monticola)

The above bumblebee was at one point chased off by this large and common hoverfly. I've seen Sericomyia silentis defending areas of "air space" before, in much the same way the male chaser dragonflies do over their chosen ponds.

15 June 2010

Whiteford moths on 12th

Moth trapping at Cwm Ivy / Whiteford (Chris Manley, Veronica Shenston and myself) produced 121 species, the highlights of which were 1 Celypha cespitana, 1 Epinotia rubiginosana, 1 Anerastia lotella, 1 Dioryctria abietella, 1 Thistle Ermine, 6 Fox Moth, 3 Oblique Carpet, 6 Pine Carpet, 1 Small Waved Umber, 1 Haworth's Pug, 1 Barred Red, 10 Small Elephant Hawk-moth, 1 Red-necked Footman, 51 White Ermine (including ab. godarti), 2 White Colon, 3 Dog's Tooth, 1 Marbled Coronet, 4 Shore Wainscot & 1 Bordered Sallow.
Male and female Fox Moths with Early Marsh-orchid
(c) Chris Manley
Epinotia rubiginosana (3rd county record)
Red-necked Footman
White Ermine ab. godarti

13 June 2010

Large Marsh Horse Flies at WWT

I've eventually managed to key out these Tabanid flies as Tabanus autumnalis (The Large Marsh Horse Fly)[female has a 16mm wing as a size reference], there being about 15 of them very confiding on the bridge to the Heron's Wing Hide, so I guess just emerged? Note the eyes touch on male but are separated on female, which is the one with the nasty bite!
male (eyes touching)
female (eyes not touching)

Wasp Orchid at Berwick roundabout

Not so many Bee Orchids on Berwick Roundabout this year when compared to the 268 counted last year, but there was a rather nice Wasp Orchid (Ophrys apifera var. trollii).

12 June 2010

BTO Breeding survey TTV's

I completed my last round of summer Timed Tetrad Visits today. I only joined this valuable project halfway through, but I wish I'd started at the beginning. It has encouraged me to look for birds in my local area and is tremendously satisfying if you find something nice. Below is my favourite find of the summer. A Spotted Flycatcher, one of a pair, were found towards the end of my second timed hour. Ieuan Blackmore and myself had one in adjacent square last weekend, but, although looked for yesterday was not found again.

Other highlights have been Grasshopper Warbler singing and a long staying pair of Sedge Warblers(not confirmed yet!!!). Lots of birds flying around with food in mouth and good numbers of fledgelings being fed by parent birds. The Willow Warbler family(parent on left feeding young birds on right, 2 of 4) below is a good example for the BTO code - FL (recently FLedged young or downy young).

...and more fledglings...

The 2010 breeding season continues in good style. Barrie Swinnerton photographe this female Great Spotted Woodpecker showing her offspring where to the local fast food outlet is in Middleton Village.

Monk's-hood at Cheriton Wood

Rob Ladds photographed the Monk's-hood (Aconitum napellus) which was flowering well on the edges of Burry Pill a couple of days ago. Although in the UK the species is only believed to be native of the Welsh Marches, some naturalised populations like the one at Cheriton, can persist for many decades.

11 June 2010

Tree Bumble-bee now in Gorseinon

Following close on the heels West Glamorgan's first sighting of a Tree Bumble-bee (Bombus hypnorum) last week, Paul Larkin text me to say that he's seen one or two on Himalayan Cotoneatser (Cotoneatser simonsii) in his mother's garden today. He invited me round for a look and I was thrilled to get a shot of this much anticipated bee in our area. If you have cotoneaster of currant bushes in your garden it is well worth looking for this uniquely marked bee.
There are various places to submit your sightings. Obviously we'd like to know, but also check out  http://www.bumblebeeconservation.org.uk/tree_bee.htm

10 June 2010

Belated report of a Hobby at Oxwich

This Hobby was photographed by Peter Douglas-Jones at Oxwich Marsh on 23rd May, almost certanly a bird just passing through.

Great Spotted Woopecker close to fledging

Image taken by Mark Newton http://www.welshwildlife.com/ near Loughor Foreshore

09 June 2010

Great Bee Day

I had a very nice recording day today near Glyn-neath. Despite the showery weather there were lots of bumblebees busily feeding on the abundant Common Bird's-foot-trefoil (Lotus corniculatus). A few B. Lucorum (White-tailed bumblebee) queens and lots of workers, presumed lucorum since no terrestris queens were seen, but impossible to say for sure. Among the workers were 2 Bombus monticola (Mountain bumblebee or Blaeberry bumblebee) queens. It is the first time I have seen this species and I'm absolutely delighted. It was tough getting a good feeding shot so I had to take a few flying shots instead. These shots do, however, show the extensive red hairs on the abdomen (reaching up to segment 2) with no yellow hairs. Also note the yellow hairs on the scutellum. These features help separate if from the more common Bombus pratorum (Early bumblebee).

I also saw what I beleive to be a Bombus campestris (Field cuckoo bumblebee) male. This cuckoo bumblebee invades the nest of Bombus pascuorum (Common carder bumblebee). I have seen a few of these this year and every time they've been, "head to tail," covered in pollen.

Also noted today Cinnabar(3), Silver Y(2), Wall Brown(3), Common Blue(9) and Small Heath(15)

08 June 2010

Dance Fly

A couple of insects caught my eye today. The first was this Dance Fly (Empis tessellata), which was quite abundant today. It preys on other flies but also takes nectar. It's long, slender proboscis is used to spear its prey. It catches its prey mid-air, and this is where having those long legs comes in handy? It is frequently seen on open structured plants like Hawthorn blossom and members of the daisy and umbellifer families. In the photo it is nectaring on Wild Strawberry (Fragaria vesca).

The second was this striking looking moth. It looks like a type of grass moth to me but that's as far as I go. I'm sure Barry will be able to shed some light on the matter or indeed another fellow reader.

07 June 2010

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary now on the wing

Paul Tyrrell wrote 'With early summer here, so too is the second of the Gower Fritillaries. The Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, (Boloria selene) is sadly less common than it once was, Although it can still be found in most parts of Wales. On Gower there are still a few colonies on some of our Commons; these photos were taken on Fairwood.