30 December 2013

Rhossili Black Redstarts

Rhossili Black Redstarts

Visiting Alveley, Rhossili, this weekend to repair some hurricane damage to the roof
OS ref: SS42604 87009, I was pleased to see a male Black Redstart on a fence-post who later came and joined me on the roof gutter. Date was 28/12/13. Only my snapshot lens to hand unfortunately.
The next day, his mate, I presume also joined me on the roof and I managed a record shot of her too.
Date was 29/12.13.
I have recorded these previously in Nov and Dec 2005 at this location, and Mother recorded a male about 10 years before that.
Never found one nesting in Gower. These I believe are on migration to Europe.

Jelly Ear and other fungi growing on wood

Jelly Ear (Auricularia auricula-judae)

Autumn 2013 was one of the best years for fungi in our area for a long while and although most of the fleshy toadstools have now disappeared, there are still some fungi to look out for on trees and logs. The Jelly Ears shown here were photographed this afternoon in the Pelenna Valley near Ton Mawr. Jelly Ear is usually associated with Elder (Sambucus nigra), but these were growing on Ash (Fraxinus excelsior). 
There are some fine Beech trees in the Gnoll Park (Neath), but these shallow-rooting trees often tumble over in high winds. So, over the years, the park has accumulated lots of beech logs and stumps that now support a variety of bracket fungi, such as Lumpy Bracket (photographed this morning near the First Pond). One of the conspicuous features of this bracket is the bright green bloom on its upper surface. This is an algal growth that is specifically associated with this bracket fungus and is a useful identification feature.

Lumpy Bracket (Trametes gibbosa)

Nearby, some Oyster Mushroom was also growing on an old Beech log.

  Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus)

Many fungi, like those shown here, use wood as a source of nutrients. Some bacteria can also do this, but otherwise this a very specialised skill in the natural world. Wood is mostly composed of cellulose and lignin, which are both polymers. Lignin has a low nutrient value, but cellulose (the most abundant organic compound on Earth) is a polymer of glucose, which is a high value nutrient. But cellulose does not give up its glucose easily and in order to access it, fungi (and bacteria) have to secrete special enzymes (cellulases) to unlock the cellulose chain. Fungi that specifically breakdown cellulose in wood are often called brown-rot fungi. However, many fungi can break down both lignin and cellulose and this results in a bleaching effect usually referred to as 'white-rot'. Some white-rot fungi are destructive parasites of living trees.  


17 December 2013

Winter botanising near Kidwelly

Today, I enjoyed a short stroll along the minor road that leads from Kidwelly towards the ancient coastal church of St Ishmael, walking from the office complex of Burns Pet Nutrition, past Coleman farm to the entrance of Glan yr Afon LNR. The main purpose was to take some quick photographs of plants that I`d noticed in flower the previous day.
Next to the Burns offices, German ivy Delairea odorata sprawls rampantly out from an adjacent garden. This species is naturalised in SW England and in late 2005 it was superabundant in the small nucleated, hill-top village of Llanybri near Llansteffan, Carmarthenshire. It was clearly well naturalised there, and growing away from gardens (one garden was actually choked with it, and this native of South Africa is very much a nuisance alien in some warmer countries). Fortunately here in Britain, it is mostly kept in check by cold winters and some recent Arctic-like winters certainly restrained it at Llanybri, though it survived at the base of some walls, as it did at Kidwelly. Nigel Stringer also tells me that he found it growing away from the Burns site a few years back, but the aforesaid cold winters put paid to it. I grow it in my garden, where it has shot up over the last couple of years (it was cut to the ground in the cold winters and barely survived), but I have not previously seen it in flower, until this year. The photos below show it growing at the Kidwelly site with a `close-up` (I`m not a good photographer!) of the flowers - you can see that it is related to Senecio (ragworts) and it was once put in that genus.
Along the lane, recently I found some Cyperus eragrostis (pale galingale), growing under a garden hedge. Until last week, there was a fine group of about six plants, but workmen had parked their lorry there whilst trimming trees, so only one damaged individual now remains upright. I`ve seen this alien growing elsewhere around south Llanelli and also in Swansea (some in the Brynmill Park area come to mind).
Growing immediately opposite, and escaping from plantings from a garden, were some plants of lungwort Pulmonaria officinalis, often grown for their spotted leaves (especially in cultivars) and for pleasing late winter flowers that are much favoured by bumblebees that have newly emerged from hibernation.
The lane westwards has long been known to me for its profusion of the invasive winter heliotrope Petasites fragrans, `a pernicious weed` (as one famous gardener called it) but, to me, a pleasing harbinger of spring. The first flowers were out today and a singing great tit made me think `of better things to come`, but the forecast is very wet and stormy tomorrow! It is a native of the Mediterranean lands and one can imagine winter-flying noctuids being attracted to its heavy scent.

Also out in flower for the first time was greater periwinkle Vinca major. It grows quite commonly too at Ferryside, where it is joined by the smaller leaved lesser periwinkle Vinca minor and the considerably rarer Vinca difformis (`intermediate periwinkle` - a different species, rather than a hybrid). I`ve also once found the latter in Swansea, a strongly-growing plant dumped in a backlane in the Brynmill area that was sending its rooting shoots far and wide. All these Vincas are aliens.
Back at the area of the Burns Pet Nutrition offices, two more aliens were noted (I`m afraid that my photography gets worse and both plants were n`t photogenic either!). Leycesteria formosa (Himalayan honeysuckle) was bird-sown (they readily eat the berries) at the base of a wall, and the robust garden spurge Euphorbia characias was seeding itself quite prolifically elsewhere, including into tarmac! There are two subspecies of this spurge, subsp. characias and subsp. wulfenii and they are easy to differentiate when in flower.
Winter botanising then, is n`t all that bad, and interesting plants can be found. I`d driven along this lane on scores of occasions during the past forty years, but walking always brings dividends. Previously, I`d only noticed the abundant winter heliotrope and had even missed three massive clumps of butcher`s broom Ruscus aculeatus along one hedge!

13 December 2013

Brent Geese in Glamorgan

(c) P. Croft
Philip Croft's photograph of a family group of Pale-bellied Brent Geese at Port Eynon last Sunday prompted me to look at the relative abundance and distribution of the two regularly occurring subspecies in our area:

The nominate Dark-bellied Brent Goose (Branta bernicla bernicla) is by far the most frequent race with numbers wintering in the Burry Inlet usually peaking around the 900 mark in the last five years (see plot below: Gower Ornithological Society data), although a maximum of 1,680 was recorded during the 2005/6 winter. These birds breed along the Arctic coasts of central and western Siberia.
The Pale-bellied Brent Goose (B. b. hrota) is much less frequent and singletons or small family groups are the norm, quite often separate from the larger flocks of Dark-bellies. Pale-bellies are also more likely to be seen outside of the Burry with Swansea Bay a favourite spot, however, these birds rarely stay around too long, presumably due to higher levels of disturbance at these sites. The breeding range of Pale-bellied includes Franz Josef Land, Svalbard, Greenland and north-eastern Canada.

There are only two occurrences of Blank Brant (B.b. nigricans) in our area, both birds overwintering with Dark-bellies in the Burry/Whiteford. The breeding range extends from north-western Canada, across Alaska and in to eastern Siberia.

Next time you chance upon some Brents away from the Burry, see if their bellies are pale or dark and it will give you a greater appreciation of these long distance travellers.

03 December 2013

The Bulletin of the Llanelli Naturalists

The ninth Bulletin of the Llanelli Naturalists was issued at the Christmas meeting last night. The bulk of this 59 page publication is a fascinating and detailed account of Carmarthenshire’s bird habitats written by Ian Morgan. The article also includes content of the county’s geology and historical land use, which together with the use colour photographs and old maps throughout illustrate the wide range of habitats found in Wales’ largest vice-county. Anyone interested in obtaining a copy of the bulletin or viewing the back catalogue of excellent quality articles in previous newletters and bulletins can find more details by clicking here.

01 December 2013

GOS Announcement

It is my pleasure to announce that during the recent Gower Ornithological Society AGM I was named as the new Records Secretary/Report Editor and County Recorder for West Glamorgan.

I would like to take this opportunity to express a huge thanks to Harold E. Grenfell and Robert H. A. Taylor for their outstanding work over the years. Harold, one of the founding members of GOS, made significant contributions towards every annual report since the first issue was published in 1968. His eye for detail and commitment to the progression of the society is a major credit to him. Harold’s legacy has provided strong leadership combined with diligence and enthusiasm, which now finds the club in very good health. Robert has committed the last 17 years to keeping accurate records for the society during increasingly challenging times. The combination of his ability, experience and knowledge of the recording area is second to none. During his tenure Rob has also made numerous outstanding finds including the most recent and very popular Isabelline Wheatear.

It will be difficult for me to match what both Harold and Rob have given to the society over the years and I face the daunting task of maintaining their very high standards. However, it’s an exciting opportunity for me to offer a fresh approach and I relish the challenge of developing these roles in the years ahead. Fortunately for me, the task at hand is made less difficult due to the availability of a rich array of help close to hand. The Gower Ornithological Society is full of very able section writers and the committee is full of talented colleagues. I am also pleased to have the support of many members of the neighbouring birding societies that I have had the fortune to know and get on with.

Birding is a fantastic hobby and I couldn’t be happier than when I’m out birding with the company that it brings. I’ve met lots of great people and made good friends through birding in the last few years. My wish is for more of the same in the future with some great birding along the way.

30 November 2013

Abercregan moth light on thursday 28th.

                                       December moth x5
                                       Winter moth x9
                                       Spruce carpet x2
                                       Yellow line quaker x2
                                       Feathered thorn x1.

14 November 2013

Ring-necked Parakeets in West Glamorgan

(c) G. Watkins
Gareth Watkins wrote 'This ring-necked parakeet turned up in a garden on the cliffs at Pennard around dusk last night and is still around this morning. It is eating windfall apples & giving the occasional loud squawk.'

Other than the long-stayer at Singleton, which has been present since 2009, the only other 21st Century records on the system is one that I saw in a neighbours garden in Gorseinon on 30 May 2000 and another which Dave Carrington saw fly over the cricket pitch on entrance to Margam Park. I wonder if there are others out there that have not been reported?

...from Gareth this am 'PS it also like peanuts!'
(c) G. Watkins

13 November 2013

Black-tailed Godwit LY-GYf

Almost all of the Black-tailed Godwits seen in the Burry bearing colour-rings have been Icelandic, including the most recent observation of LY-GYf [code read from L-R as if you were positioned behind the bird - i.e. Lime/Yellow-Green/Yellow flag]. The bird was first seen at Penclacwydd by Colin Wilkie on 16th October and has subsequently been reported by Wendell Thomas, Paul Larkin and myself at Penclawdd (Glamorgan) as well as Penclacwydd (Carmarthenshire).
LY-GYf at Dalton's Point, Burry Inlet on 3rd November
David Price the scheme organiser provided excellent feedback of this bird, which was ringed as chick on 13th July 2013, along with the photos below. David said 'Thanks for the records and picture of LY GYf - one of our "babies". Nice to see it grown up and enjoying the delights of South Wales. The bird was one of a brood of three, which Ruth and my grandson, Eoin, found in a field behind the petrol station at Fljot, adjacent to a bit of a football pitch.  Not a terribly salubrious sounding location, but it was in a beautiful Icelandic valley.  Photos attached of the breeding area and of the bird with its two siblings.'

03 November 2013

Decoy Wood

A deciduous tree (Ash or Sycamore?) competing for light amongst the conifers (presumably Sitka Spruce).

A peregrine shows who is boss!

Every so often, I ask one or two members of the staff employed at the Stradey Estate (on the western outskirts of Llanelli), about any interesting wildlife that he or his collaegues may have seen. This last week, they witnessed a most peculiar event which was reported to me yesterday. A peregrine was seen to attack and kill an Accipiter hawk. This latter bird, they suggested, was a female sparrowhawk but, looking at the photograph that they kindly supplied, shows the dead hawk to have clearly orange eyes, hinting that it is a male goshawk. I would be grateful if readers can confirm or correct this latter presumption please.
The peregrine, whilst standing over the hawk - which it had killed by a peregrine-style bite to the back of neck (see photo) - was then subsequently attacked by a buzzard. Wisely perhaps, the buzzard then `backed off`. Also note the markedly swollen leg of the dead hawk - any suggestions why please?
I am grateful to Vincent Somers-Yeates for supplying the above information and also the two photographs shown below. The dead hawk is obviously shown first, then a photo of the peregrine.

Not a case of hybrid vigour....

Many of you may have seen (at least before the current spate of gales) seed-like structures hanging on stands of Japanese knotweed Fallopia japonica. What you are seeing is the embryonic hybrid between that species and Russian vine F. baldschuanica, a not uncommon (if excesively rampant) garden climber.

Some at least of these seeds are fertile, and if sown will give you the hybrid Fallopia x conollyana (`the railway-yard knotweed`). I have grown this hybrid from seed collected from both Pwll (Llanelli) and Gelli Aur (near Llandeilo), but these plants (which were grown in 2007-08), were rather floppy in growth form and did not prove to be hardy in one of our more ordinary winters, let alone the more severe ones that we subsequently experienced in recent years.
The hybrid has, however, been found growing wild elsewhere in Britain and Europe, albeit rather rarely. An informative article, written by JP Bailey, is found in Watsonia 23: 539-541 (2001) for those who are interested.

02 November 2013

Stormy seas

(c) C.M. Manley
A bit of a howler today with 89 mph winds recorded at Mumbles Head. Chris Manley photographed these Sea-slaters (Ligia oceanica) which were pouring up the cliffs to escape the storm. Chris said "There were thousands and I was getting covered in them as I sat taking photos."
(c) C.M. Manley

Broad Pool

The uncommon saldid bug Chartoscirta cocksii hopped out of a sample of Sphagnum moss collected from wet heath adjacent to Broad Pool today.
Chartoscirta cocksii on Sphagnum papillosum

30 October 2013

Pectoral Sandpiper at WWT

A Pectoral Sandpiper made a fleeting visit at Penclawydd on the 28th - spotted by Wendell Thomas, Geoff Charlton, Malcolm Holding and Dave Williams (who managed to grab a few shots before it flew out on to the estuary with a group of Redshanks).
Quite a strong cap a broad supercilium for a Pec...
(c) D. Williams
...but unfortunately no buffy wash!
(c) D. Williams
Pectoral Sandpiper is a rare visitor that breeds in North America and north-east Russia.

26 October 2013

Drysiog farm, Bryn.

                Yellow stagshorn on conifer stump, the first i've
                seen for many a year.

21 October 2013

Wood-chip Fungus

Agrocybe rivulosa on woodchip, Melincwrt

Agrocybe rivulosa was first discovered in Holland in 2003. By 2004, it was found in Britain and has since spread throughout the country, growing exclusively (as far as I am aware) on wood-chip or mulch. This large troop of specimens was found this weekend on a wood-chip pile in Melincwrt, near Resolven. This is the first time I've seen it in Neath Port Talbot.
Because it is a new addition to the fungus 'flora' of Britain, it isn't described or illustrated in many books. For example, it isn't included in the revised edition of Roger Phillip's Mushrooms.  However there are several good photos on line and one in the Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms & Toadstools (Paul Sterry and Barry Hughes, 2009). There is also an illustration in the Collins Fungi Guide (Stefan Buczacki, Chris Shields and Denys Ovenden, 2012), but that doesn't show the most distinctive features of this species. The young, expanding fruiting bodies have a distinctive ring on their stems and a pale, wrinkled cap. The wrinkled-skin like appearance of the cap cuticle is very noticeable, as shown in the photo below. The gills are pale at first, then turn a dark grey-brown due to spore production.

Young specimens of Agrocybe rivulosa

Older specimens seem to develop a darker cap colour (see top photo), especially when wet, but this feature is rarely mentioned in guide books.

20 October 2013

Fishy Tales from Llanelli: a Modern Mystery

My neighbours` daughter, who lives in Dafen, Llanelli, brought me a fish yesterday that her cat had brought to her house last Friday (18th October). She had shown it to her brother, who has a general interest in natural history and fishing, and he thought that it was a sturgeon. It was clearly a very immature specimen, being just over 9" or so long.

Sturgeon can achieve considerable size, with the largest British ever one taken by rod actually being caught in Carmarthenshire, at Nantgaredig on the R Tywi back in 1933; another was caught in Pembrokeshire waters more recently.
For Glamorgan, Lewis Weston Dillwyn in his always very useful Materials for a Fauna and Flora of Swansea (1848), stated that, ` in some years they are much less frequent than in others`....and....`in March 1836, one was caught in the weir opposite Singleton and weighed about 210 lbs. In June 1808, a large sturgeon was taken close to Loughor, and another has been caught nearer to the mouth, in the same river.`
TW Barker`s very slim Natural History of Carmarthenshire (1905) simply offers the snippet, `a sturgeon makes its way up the Towy [Tywi] at rare intervals, much to the detriment of the nets of the coraclemen`.
The 1933 Nantgaredig individual was 9ft 2" long and weighed 388 pounds, and a famous photograph of this catch shows it strung up and towering over the man who caught it, a Mr Alec Allen. After the latter died in 1972, he arranged for his ashes to be scattered into the Tywi at the very spot where he had caught this Leviathon.
So, is the Dafen find of last Friday really one of this rare fish? It would be nice to think so, with perhaps this unfortunate juvenile making its way up the Afon Dafen (a small, much modified minor river) which is quite close to the finder`s home.
However, an internet search shows that non-native sturgeon are sometimes stocked into fishing lakes with online quotes suggesting, ` some shady angling waters have been buying sturgeon from the pet centres and letting them out`. They apparently can be bought for garden ponds and are non-native Russian species, in particular, `sterlets` Acipenser ruthenus. I don`t know what degree of regulation is applied by the authorities, but also close to where the cat brought in the afore-mentioned individual, is Dafen Pond, a site that is much used for coarse fishing and owned by the local authority. I hope that this is not a repeat of the fiasco that occurred in the Millennium Coastal Park Llanelli, where in arguably unrestrained eagerness to let out ponds to a fishing group, the lease was given to a particular group of fishermen (long since disappeared!), who alledgedly introduced the non-native topmouth gudgeon, which has since required a very expensive eradication programme (paid ultimately by the taxpayer) undertaken by the Environment Agency (now part of NRW). I hope that the latter are nowadays more careful in their monitoring of fishing waters.

16 October 2013

Can you spare a morning for Gower Tree Sparrows this winter?

Andrew Lucas wrote:
Regular readers of Gower Wildlife will know the effort put in to try to support western Gower’s dwindling tree sparrow population.  A small breeding group at the derelict Newton Farm near Scurlage was present for many years, but despite nestboxes and supplementary feeding, appears to have disappeared.  However, birds are still occasionally seen, most recently a single bird in a garden in Rhossili in 2013.

I met with colleagues from the City and County of Swansea recently to discuss what we should do now.  We have a number of initiatives with local farmers, many of whom are very enthusiastic about farmland birds in general.  But we also need a systematic survey of likely areas where tree sparrows my still be present.  They can be very secretive, and often live in places that birders tend not to go.

There are five key tetrads that need checking for tree sparrows – and other farmland birds like yellowhammers and reed buntings – this winter.  They are SS48 J, P and N, and SS49 F and K.  In addition, there is a sixth area, a group of three 1km squares near Rhossili.  There are loads of footpaths to walk, so if everyone who reads this blog just spared one morning this winter to look at a tetrad, we would have comprehensive information on how many tree sparrows are still present, and where we should target future efforts.  And, for the rarity-minded birder, don’t forget: the 2009 gyr falcon was found during tree sparrow survey work!
If you decide to take a look, please let me know.  You can contact me at andrew.lucas@naturalresourceswales.gov.uk .  Many birders (appropriately enough!) are now using twitter, where you can find me at @AndrewLucas103.  Tell me what you find even if you don’t see any birds.

I’m sure that, between us, we can get all six areas looked at least twice this winter.  I know many of you are already busy with WEBS or the winter thrush survey.  But, working together, I’m sure we can find out more about Gower’s most enigmatic bird.

15 October 2013

Garden Hedgehogs

Video HERE from last night showing one of the two that are visiting our hedgehog feeding station (i.e. cat food under a stone step, where the cats can't reach it). Looks like it's either cleaning its face or scent marking?

13 October 2013

Invertebrate miscellany

A few common insects recorded in and around Gorseinon this morning; still plenty to see despite the weather:
Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum) queen on Small Scabious
captured during last nights moth trap session
Glossosoma boltoni (a caddisfly)
captured during last nights moth trap session
Stenodema laevigatum (a mirid bug)
a grass bug tapped off oak
Adalia decempunctata (10-spot Ladybird)
tapped off oak
Pinalitus cervinus (a mirid bug)
3 of these captured during last nights moth trap session

10 October 2013

(Very) Likeable Leaf Warbler

With the long run easterly winds and reports of eastern vagrant birds turning up recently, across the country, Darren Coombs, Rob Jones and I decided to try our luck at an isolated wooded area on Baglan Dunes, this afternoon . On approaching the wood, which is right next to the Wales Coast Path, we split up to cover more ground. But not too far apart, in case two of us missed what the other one sees! Or even worse, one of us not seeing what the other two see!!

It wasn't long before we'd all homed in on a small flock of Tits moving through the bushes. Long-tailed Tits and Blue Tits mainly, but maybe something else in with them? As we regrouped Darren described a bird, which he'd seen very briefly, as a small Phyllosc with a bold supercillium. We all knew what it might be. We waited along what seemed to be the most sheltered stretch of the wood hoping for the bird to show. It did; a very smart Yellow-browed Warbler! Excellent, but no sooner had it shown itself it was gone again. We hoped that it would again return to the same sheltered stretch so waited some more.

After 40 minutes or so our patience was rewarded with some delightful views of this stunning little warbler, which is not much bigger than a Goldcrest. It was particularly active and caught numerous flies while flitting through the bushes, and occasionally it would sit right out in the open and give mesmerising views.

09 October 2013

The reason they are so glossy...

...In actual fact the juveniles, which is what we mostly see here appear rather dull unless seen in bright sunlight. Click HERE to see a short phones-scope video clip of one of the five Glossy Ibis that have been visiting the deep water lake at Penclacwydd over the last few days, the birds coming in at irregular intervals for a quick brush up, usually staying only 5-10 minutes before heading off again. It's suspected that they are feeding in the fields to the north of the centre, but no one has tracked them down yet. Still hoping to see one in Gower one day!