30 May 2012

Dune flora

It's well worth venturing onto the dunes at present to witness the stunning diversity of flowering plants and associated invertebrate fauna. Below is a small selection of dune plants flowering at present :
Japanese Rose (Rosa rugosa)
A locally frequent alien at Kenfig Rivermouth - rather invasive hence
not particularly desirable, but gives off a powerful fragrance.
Sand Cat's-tail (Phleum arenarium), Sticky Stork's-bill (Erodium 
lebelii) and Kidney Vetch (Anthyllus vulneraria) at Baglan
Basil Thyme (Clinopodium acinos) Nicholaston
Common Rock-rose (Helianthemum nummularium) at Nicholaston
Bloody Crane's-bill (Geranium sanguineum) at Nicholaston
Beaked Hawk's-beard (Crepis vesicaria) at Baglan Burrows

29 May 2012

Sea Stock at Kenfig rivermouth

Kenfig Rivermouth 21st May 2012
The embryo dunes around the Kenfig Rivermouth currently support a strong population of Sea Stock (Matthiola sinuata), with over 300 plants counted recently. Outside of Glamorgan the species is known only from North Devon, so it's good to report that it is doing well at a number of our sites. Plants are now starting to come into flower (below right) and can be found just behind the strand-line on most West Glamorgan beaches.
The yellow-flowered sub-species of Wild Pansy (Viola tricolor subsp. curtisii) also occurs here along with a wide range of other fore dune species.

28 May 2012

A Soldier Beetle

A Soldier Beetle (Cantharis rustica)
Martyn Hnatiuk has informed me that the Beetle shown in these photos is a Soldier Beetle (Cantharis rustica) and not the Tanbark Borer (Phymatodes testaceus) as I had initially claimed. I've decided to re-write this post since quite apart from being misleading the original post now makes no sense whatsoever.
A Soldier Beetle (Cantharis rustica)
I wasn't quite expecting a beetle of this size with 'long horns' to be anything other than a longhorn. No wonder I couldn't find a photo match of it online! This species is quite abundant and could possibly have been a feature of one of Martyn's posts on this blog last year and maybe one of mine (identified correctly).
Thanks for letting me know Martyn. We live and learn...and sometimes forget again!

Red-eyed Damselfly at Neath Canal

male Red-eyed Damselfly

A total of 17 Red-eyed Damselfly were at the Neath Canal yesterday afternoon. They were showing along a stretch of canal located in the Penrhitwyn area. Some other notables included Variable Damselfly(12), Azure Damselfly(38), Blue-tailed Damselfly(20), Large Red Damselfly(3), Hairy Dragonfly(50+) and Four-spotted Chaser(1)

More photos and location details can be found on the link below

VC41 dragonfly blog

27 May 2012

Green-winged Orchids at Lewes Castle

West Glamorgan can boast plenty good displays of interesting plants, but Green-winged Orchid (Anacamptis morio) is not one of them. Compared to adjacent areas, where the species can flower abundantly, it is a very scarce plant in our area and this BSBI monitoring site shows one of the reasons why.
sheep-grazed cliff-top turf above Fall Bay
The cliff-top grasslands at the few sites in Gower where this species occurs are grazed exceptionally close by sheep and rabbits, with any thing juicy or succulent like an orchid flower or seed pod also being targeted at night by slugs and snails. Thankfully orchids can be long-lived and will survive in a vegetative state for many years. Successful reproduction must be an extremely rare occurrence where these conditions persist and you can't help wondering about the viability of small isolated populations such as this one.
the best example of a Green-winged Orchid I could find at this site
Whilst the Green-winged Orchid appears to have a rather tenuous hold on the heavily-grazed cliff tops, there are plenty of other species that appear to thrive in these conditions. Western Clover (Trifolium occidentale) is a rather unimposing species, but has a very restricted UK distribution. It flowers earlier than the similar, but much commoner White Clover (Trifolium repens) and smaller, thicker leaves and a notched standard are two good characters to look for.
Western Clover above Fall Bay

Downies out and about

Mute Swan family at Oxwich (c) P. Tyrrell
Following on from the eight cygnets first noted from the hide at Oxwich Marsh by Nick Edwards on the 9th May, then photographed by Paul Tyrrell on the 21st, Gower's only other pair of Mute Swans at Llanrhidian took seven cygnets to water for the first time on the 21st.
Llanrhidian cygnets on 26th (c) B. Stewart
In addition to photographing the Mute Swans at Oxwich on the 19th-20th, Paul Tyrrell also provided conclusive evidence that Gadwall have bred successfully there this year.
female Gadwall with her brood (c) P. Tyrrell

26 May 2012

Criorhina berberina

 I found this hoverfly buzzing around the kitchen window today. I've keyed it out a Criorhina berberina. Stubbs mentions that all the Criorhina are scarce but this species is the most common of them. A few records on the NBN gateway database show it to be infrequent in Glamorgan, records coming mainly from the Gower. Ian Morgan's Notes on the Status of Hoverflies in Carmarthenshire (available online here) show it to be in five 10km squares from that area. It can be a feature of ancient broadleaved woodlands, which in the case of this record is provide by the Gnoll CP.

25 May 2012

Median Wasp in Gorseinon

A beautiful queen Median Wasp (Dolichovespula media) was on the flowers of Cotoneaster horizontalis outside the kitchen window along with a couple of Tree Bumble-bees (Bombus hypnorum), a few Early Bumble-bees (B. pratorum) and a gang of Honey Bees (Apis mellifera). My only other observation of Median Wasp in the county was also in the garden, but back in 2006 when was was watched feeding on Globe Thistle. Hope to grab an image if she returns...

23 May 2012

Cream-coloured Courser heading this way?

Yesterday, I made the visit to see the Cream-coloured Courser at Kington Golf Course which is located on Bradnor Hill , Herefordshire. It's a quite stunning bird which has been there for a few days. However, today it was reported to fly off high in a SW direction. If it follows a SSW direction that would bring it into our area! Seems very unlikely but you never know.

Also it gives me a great excuse to put the video that I took of the bird on here.

Cream-coloured Courser video

22 May 2012

Reddish-bellied Swallow

Reddish-bellied Swallows are occasionally seen on passage and there is often wild speculation about the origins of such birds. I've seen a number of these birds before but I have never come across one that's been on breeding territory, so was interested to hear of this one photographed at Nantgaredig by Joyce Rae.
(c) J. Rae
Whilst initially this might look a possible candidate for transitiva, the largely non-migratory eastern Mediterranean race, Svensson states that occasionally the nominate form can be buffish-red below, especially so towards north-west Africa, this being the southern limit of the nominate form. The breast band is too wide for the N.American race erythrogaster, therefore, this handsome, long-tailed male is presumably just an example of the reddish-bellied form of the nominate race Hirundo rustica rustica.

21 May 2012

Great Skua on Crymlyn Burrows beach last year

Great Skua with sheep carcass (c) R Ross
Late news of a Great Skua that was at Crymlyn Burrows towards the end of last year. Rob Ross came across this bird on 28th December 2011 on the beach at Crymlyn Burrows defending the remainder of it's Christmas pickings! On this same day I was down at Whiteford taking another look at the Arctic Skua which had spent the Christmas there. Earlier in December Steve Hinton found a Pomarine Skua at Gileston (16/12/11). Making for a good collection of "beached" Skuas in Glamorgan in a relatively short period of time.
Great Skua at Crymlyn Burrows (c) R Ross

18 May 2012

Spoonbill at Penclacwydd

Spoonbill "yawning?"
The immature Spoonbill was still at Penclacwydd WWT this afternoon. While I was there the it spent 99.9% of the time asleep, luckily for me when it did raise it's head the Avocet was in the background. Happy days...

17 May 2012


With forests of Western Hemlock, Douglas Fir, Sitka Spruce and the occasional Western Red Cedar, parts of the Neath Valley bear more than a passing resemblance to the Pacific North West. Unfortunately the fabulous native ground flora associated with these forests is missing, but for one exception. Fringecups (Tellima grandiflora) was introduced from the Pacific North West as a plant suitable for wet, shady spots in the garden and is found growing wild in suitable habitats. It does well in our mild, oceanic climate and it sets abundant seed. It loves cool, moist woodland and is very much at home along the streams in Glyn Castle Woods in the Neath Valley. It is also found in the Bishopston Valley. 
At the moment there are only a handful of records for this species in Glamorgan, but it is probably more widespread than we suspect and we'll probably see significant increases in its occurrence in the future.

Hoverfly Help Needed

(c) Ian Tew

Andrew Lucas wrote...
I'm coming into the second year of a study of pollinating insects, mainly bees and hoverflies, in Welsh grasslands. The study involves catching insects in pan traps - or 'washing up bowls' as they are commonly known - in different grassland types.
To protect the traps from grazing animals, I put up a small amount of fencing, and this is where I need some help. I'm looking for volunteers to help with the fence building. No previous knowledge or skills are needed. All the sites are on grassland SSSIs that are not open to the public, so this is a chance to see bits of Carmarthenshire and Swansea that you may not have visited before.
If you are interested, please email me as soon as possible at 599841@swansea.ac.uk The first weekend's work is this Sunday, 20 May, and will continue for the next two to three weeks.
Andrew Lucas
Swansea Ecology Research Team
Department of Biosciences
College of Science
Swansea University
Bryn Crwys 2011

16 May 2012

Petty Whin in profusion

This spectacular display of Petty Whin (Genista anglica) near Tre-Forgan was buzzing with bees and other insects today. Now a very localised species, sights like this are quite special.
On a nearby tip, the diminutive Heath Pearlwort (Sagina subulata) was noted, this being a new species for Glamorgan...
Yesterday the petal-less Sea Pearlwort (Sagina maritima) was noted on the coast at Margam...

the end of a good season for Short-eared Owls

This slightly belated post is a reminder of what a good winter season it has been for Short-eared Owls. Paul Tyrrell sent me a series of great shots of these owls photographed in Gower during the last month or two, but this one was by far my favourite. I know Paul likes to tuck himself away and wait for the birds to come to him, but in this shot it's clear he's been spotted!
(c) P. Tyrrell

Spotted Flycatcher at Oxwich

Spotted Flycatcher is one of the last migrants to arrive back in the UK; this individual was photographed by Alun John by the Oxwich boardwalk yesterday.
(c) A. John

15 May 2012

Liverworts and Hornworts

A selection of our more conspicuous species, noted at Oxwich on Saturday:
Common Liverwort (Marchantia polymorpha subsp. ruderalis) with
cups containing gemmae (used in asexual reproduction), growing over
Crescent-cup Liverwort (Lunularia cruciata) far left 
Common Liverwort - female archegonial heads emerging -
one of the largest thallose liverworts in the UK
Common Liverwort - female archegonial heads maturing -
it's not uncommon to see this species in garden centre plant pots
Smooth Hornwort (Phaeoceros laevis) female plants
not so common, but undoubtedly overlooked

Oxwich last Saturday

A few pictures from the weekend...
Hairy Dragonfly (c) S.J. Stewart
Wall Lizard male (c) B. Stewart
Wall Lizard female (c) S.J. Stewart

12 May 2012

Kittiwake update 12th May 2012

Following up on Jeremy Douglas-Jones' report that more birds were starting to use artificial ledges on the lifeboat house, we were pleased to count 52 birds on the north side of the lifeboat house with 33 on the shelving itself. Even more promising was that there appeared to be some evidence that rudimentary nests were being constructed. There were another 198+ birds still attempting to use the netted off section of pier, so still a long way to go!
To see some of the action click here

Red-legged Partridge in Penrice

A pair of Red-legged Partridges were in Penrice village today. The male was very vocal.

09 May 2012

Hoopoe at Whiteford

Hoopoe (c) Rein Part
Rein Part was very fortunate to find a Hoopoe along the new coastal footpath at Whiteford last Saturday. Even better was that he was able to digiscope it, enabling him to share his good fortune. The bird was feeding avidly on the grass near the clump of Monterey Cypress at SS448955.

08 May 2012

The one that didn't get away

I met a fisherman at Kenfig Rivermouth today who had a shore caught Bass (Dicentrachus labrax) and was keen to show it to me as I was the first person he'd seen. Clearly he had to tell someone - I guess if I'd just seen a Great Black-headed Gull, perhaps I'd have been the same! He said it was the largest he'd ever caught in many years trudging out in all weathers onto Margam Sands and caught it off the beach just south of the Long Arm. I'm no ofishionado (sorry) of marine life, but I was impressed by this fish. Using my binoculars for scale I've calculated it to be 67cm long. Not having a clue about fishing I'd be interested to know if this is as unusual as he made out?

Seasonal Ducks at WWT

Two shots taken by Rob Taylor of two scarce ducks that appeared on The Lagoon at Llanelli WWT over the weekend:
Male Smew 6th May (c) R.H.A. Taylor
Spring records of this winter visitor are unusual and as doubts about the origins of any out of season duck are always raised, it will be interesting to see if it appears elsewhere over the next days or weeks? Behaviour is always helpful in deciding; in its favour, it does not appear to have hung around long either at Llanelli or in Gwent, assuming it was the same bird seen here a day or two before?
Male Garganey 7th May (c) R.H.A. Taylor
Another handsome duck is the Garganey which regularly turns up in spring in small numbers. At least three birds appeared in South Wales on the 7th, so there's no doubt this is the real McCoy.

07 May 2012

Dunlin moving through

May is the month when Dunlin are looking at their best, with their distinctive black bellies making identification very straight forward. It's also the month when birds turn up at unexpected locations, such as at the former Felindre tinplate site, where I saw one last week with a flock of 25 Ringed Plovers and 2 Little Ringed Plovers. Another feature of spring birds is that they are often so much tamer than at other times of the year and you can often walk right up to individuals or flocks, even out on exposed mudflats. The birds above were part of a small group that dropped in on some flooded land within the Corus steelworks last week.

Kittiwakes on Mumbles Pier update

Last week Mark Newton reported seeing the Kittiwakes showing a bit more interest in the artificial ledges on Mumbles Lifeboat house. By Saturday afternoon the main flock was still hanging around the pier, indicating their strong fidelity to the original site, but we did see up to 10 Kittiwakes sitting on the new shelving, providing a little more optimism that birds might eventually start showing signs of nesting. Fingers crossed!