31 July 2013

Polecat at Pennard

(c) J. Mullet
This unfortunate animal was found dead in the centre of road by Jo Mullet on Saturday 27th July 2013 (11.30am) on the B4436/ Pennard Road, Gower [SS 56781 88792]. Although never a pleasant sight, road casualties are the easiest way for non-specialists to contribute to the understanding of these and other secretive mammals. So, should you find a Polecat, Otter or any other vertebrate carcass please do make the effort to inform the relevant organisation. You can find out all about how to submit such records HERE.

any ideas?

On Golden Samphire, seen by Alan Gregg at Overton very recently. Surely a Tephritid fly maybe a Terellia? Not my field.

28 July 2013

Long-billed Dowitcher at WWT

Wendell Thomas called to say he'd found this rather splendid summer plumage Long-billed Dowitcher this morning. Other birds present included the long-staying Lesser Yellowlegs, the 'black' Ruff, Spoonbill, 400+Black-tailed Godwits, a few Med Gulls and 41 Greenshank. Good to see so many people I haven't seen in a while enjoying this wader spectacle. Click HERE for a video of the dowitcher.

26 July 2013

Kittiwakes on Mumbles Pier

A full count from the pier this morning revealed 325 adults, with 76 apparently occupied nests, mostly on the artificial ledges. 34 nests were with young (another 5 were obscured) with the total count of young being 48. These figures show the site is well on the way to being recolonised to its former level, and congratulations are in order to all concerned. The photos show the differences in nest size and chick size, clearly some birds got a much earlier start than others. This video [click here] provides an intimate view to one of the artificial ledges. Many thanks to Fred Bollom for arranging access.
a well-built nest with two well-grown chicks 
a rudimentary nest with two very young chicks
AON 1993 to 2013

Serrated Wintergreen

Photo below of Serrated Wintergreen (from subalpine conifer zone on Mt. Hood Oregon) shows the unremarkable bilberry-like leaves (see Ian Morgan's earlier post and my comments to Barry's subsequent post).


Craig-y-Llyn revisited

Llyn Fawr from Craig-y- Llyn
David Barden, Julian Woodman and myself carried out another search for Serrated Wintergreen (Orthilia secunda) along the cliffs at Craig-y-Llyn (the Rhondda Cynon Taff section) on the 24th. Unfortunately, as with Ian and Nigel’s visit last month [see here], we were again unsuccessful, but the hike up the slopes wasn’t without reward. Vascular plants of note included Beech Fern (Phegopteris connectilis), Fir Clubmoss (Huperzia selago), Grey-leaved Whitebeam (Sorbus porrigentiformis), Lesser Meadow-rue (Thalictrum minus subsp. minus), Mountain Male-fern (Dryopteris oreades) and much Roseroot (Sedum rosea). A 2m x 2m patch of Mossy Saxifrage (Saxifraga hypnoides) & a few plants of Cowberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) were perhaps the best finds of the day.

Julian on one of the more gentle slopes 
Grey-leaved Whitebeam (left) and location of Mossy Saxifrage near the very top of the cliff (non-flowering patch in bottom right of picture)
Lesser Meadow-rue
Mountain Male-fern
Mosses and liverworts were very prominent and diverse, with species worthy of mention including Straight-leaved Apple-moss (Bartramia ithyphylla), Micheli's Least Pouncewort (Lejeunea cavifolia ­to be confirmed) and Sharp-leaved Blindia (Blindia acuta), but most impressive were the sheets of Robust Rustwort (Marsupella emarginata var. aquatic) on the normally dripping rock faces.
Straight-leaved Apple-moss
(plucked shoot showing silvery leaf sheath)
Robust Rustwort
Robust Rustwort (detail)

Moths were very prominent with well over 100 Northern Spinach being disturbed from the Bilberry and Heather along with smaller quantities of Apotomis sauciana, Green Carpet, Grey Mountain Carpet, Common Carpet, July Highflyer, Twin-spot Carpet, Holly Tortrix and Smoky Wave. A single Dark Green Fritillary was seen on the wing and the mines of Mompha raschkiella were plentiful on Rosebay Willowherb, locally frequent at the base of cliffs where cliff falls had created disturbed ground. Birds noted included singing Lesser Redpolls, Reed Bunting and Grasshopper Warbler at the base of the scree slopes. On the way up and down a large patch of Ivy-leaved Bellflower (Wahlenbergia hederacea) with white flowers was noted, the flowers are normally blue. Very many thanks to Julian for organising this excellent visit.
white-flowered Ivy-leaved Bellflower

21 July 2013

New moth for the county

Owain Gabb trapped this Least Carpet (Idaea rusticata) at his home in Mumbles last night, which is a new vice-county record. The only other Welsh records appear to be a couple of old Pembs records. It will be interesting to discover if this is the start of colonisation or just a wanderer that has arrived on the easterly air flow?
(c) O. Gabb

20 July 2013

Mothing at Horton

A very enjoyable evening's mothing was spent in the company of 'Jake' Gilmore, Mike Powell, Paul Parsons and Dave Morris. We ran three traps on the parched cliffs from dusk until just after 01:30 and we recorded 135 species. Those of most interest included the following micro-moths: Coleophora albitarsella 1 (7th vice-county record), Batia lambdella 1, Agonopterix nanatella 1 (Nationally Notable b), A. nervosa 10, A. rotundella 2 (Na 8th vcr), Metzneria aprilella 2 (Nb New vcr - to be confirmed), Teleiodes sequax 7, Aethes tesserana 1, Aethes francillana 1, Cochylis hybridella 1, Sparganothis pilleriana 2 (Na 6th vcr), Acleris bergmanniana 1, Agriphila inquinatella 2, Mecyna asinalis 5 (Nb), Epischnia bankesiella 1 (Na), Thistle Ermine 1, Pempeliella dilutella 24, Oidaematophorus lithodactyla 1, along with the following macro-moths Grass Emerald 8, Small Emerald 1, Mullein Wave 1, Small Blood-vein 5, Lesser Cream Wave 1, Silky Wave 16 (Red Data Book 2), Wood Carpet 2, Chestnut-coloured Carpet 11 (Nb), Fern 2, Haworth's Pug 1, Annulet 7, Scarce Footman 11, Crescent Dart 9, Devonshire Wainscot 1 (Na), Small Rufous 2, Small Purple-barred 5 and Marsh Oblique-barred 2 (Nb). Non-lepidopterans of note included Tawny Cockroach 10+ (Nb), the attractive hoverfly Helophilus trivittatus 1 and Glow-worm 2 females, attempting to compete with the moth lights! More pictures from this night will be posted on the Glamorgan Moth blog here.
Agonopterix nanatella

19 July 2013

Iberian Chiffchaff video

The video that I was able to take of this bird back in May is now live and can be found via the link on the post below.

17 July 2013

Iberian Chiffchaff at Pwll, Llanelli

Sometime during the week before 20th April 2013, a bird with a song that was unknown to the original finder (Ian Morgan, IKM) was heard coming from an area of wet, scrubby pasture next door-but-one from his garden at Pwll, Llanelli. The unseen bird would seemingly also sing from his neighbours` dense boundary hedge. It was constantly singing over the next couple of weeks and the observer eventually resolved to specifically pay attention to this bird, but it was not until 6th May that good views were achieved as it sang from a tall Sycamore in the boundary hedge. Realising that he had a type of Chiffchaff, contact was made with Barry Stewart and Rob Hunt, the latter playing a recording of the bird over the telephone that IKM immediately recognised as the same song. Shortly after, Barry and Rob, accompanied by several others arrived to fully assess the identity of the bird, as well as taking photos and recordings of the distinctive song.
(c) M. Hipkin
Iberian Chiffchaff Phylloscopus ibericus is a very rare spring visitor to Britain, but is becoming increasing more frequent, possibly as a result of greater awareness and better understanding of its identification characters. The appearance of the bird at Pwll, fits in well with the arrival pattern of overshooting birds in Northern Europe. Identification was relatively straight forward as this was a singing male that incessantly gave the diagnostic song phrases (and calls) of Iberian Chiffchaff. It was frequently in close proximity to a singing nominate Common Chiffchaff P. Collybita collybita allowing direct comparision. The subtle structural and plumage characters were also consistent with Iberian Chiffchaff; such as the wing length being intermediate between Common Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler; compared with Common Chiffchaff it also showed whiter underparts with a yellowish wash on the vent, throat and fore-part of a bolder supercilium and subtly greener upperparts.
The following video by Mark Hipkin [click here] and a spectrograph taken from one of Rob Hunt’s iPod video recording [click here] shows one complete song phrase, it matching close those of Iberian Chiffchaff shown in British Birds (Collinson & Melling, 2008), allowing for the echo effect on each call element.
Recording made on 7th May 2013 (c) R.O. Hunt
The bird was last heard on 8th July, though it sang less frequently in the latter weeks of its presence.  It is new to Carmarthenshire and a second Welsh record.
Barry Stewart & Ian Morgan
Reference: Collinson, J.M. & Melling, T. (2008) Identification of vagrant Iberian Chiffchaffs – pointers, pitfalls and problem birds, British Birds, 101, April 2008, 174–188.
(c) M. Hipkin
(c) M. Hipkin

16 July 2013

Lesser Yellowlegs revisited

The Lesser Yellowlegs continues to please at Penclacwydd and these photos taken today by Adrian Morrison are a significant improvement on my earlier efforts. Other wader numbers continue to build steadily; counts by Wendell Thomas & co. this week have included Ruff 1, Greenshank 19,  Redshank 67, Knot 4, Black-tailed Godwit 320, Little Egret 60 and Spoonbill 1.
(c) A. Morrison
(c) A. Morrison

14 July 2013

Swansea verges in full colour

Recently I have noticed a number of verges, roundabouts and miscellaneous patches of ground have been lit up by drifts of annuals coming into flower. For example the old raised beds in Parc-y-Werin, Gorseinon are ablaze with Common Poppy  (Papaver rhoeas), Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus), Bullwort (Ammi majus), Mexican Aster (Cosmos bipinnatus) and a mystery white Silene-like flower I can’t find in my books.
Parc-y-Werin, Gorseinon
edge of Gorseinon Common alongside A4240
Today, along Mumbles Road, similar drifts of colour were made up by plants including Cornflower, Pink Bachelor's Button (Centaurea pulcherrima), Musk-mallow (Malva moschata), Californian Poppy (Eschscholzia californica), Corn Marigold (Glebionis segetum), Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis), Tricolour Chrysanthemum (Ismelia carinata), Red Flax (Linum grandiflorum rubrum) and Rose Mallow (Lavatera trimestris 'Silver Cup'), etc.
edge of Gorseinon Common alongside A4240 & Mumbles Road

Among these mixes of largely non-native annuals are a surprisingly diverse mix of more traditional annuals such as Pineappleweed (Matricaria discoidea), Sun Spurge (Euphorbia helioscopia), Petty Spurge (E. peplus), Redshank (Persicaria maculosa), Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis), Lesser Swine-cress (Lepidium didymium), Wall Speedwell (Veronica arvensis), Knotgrass (Polygonum aviculare) and Shepherd's-purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris).
Parc-y-Werin, Gorseinon

Whilst the dominance of non-native species used won’t please the purist, there is no denying the exercise adds interest to otherwise monotonous swards and the abundance of insect life around these areas suggests there are benefits for some groups. Aesthetically the wilder-looking patches are delight and I look forward to encountering more patches on my trips around the city.

07 July 2013

Lesser Yellowlegs at WWT

This rare American wader was found by Wendell Thomas, Rob Hunt and the rest of the Sunday morning gang at Penclacwydd this morning.

06 July 2013

Garden wildlife

Wool-carder Bee (Anthidium manicatum) collecting 'wool' from Rose Campion (Lychnis coronaria).
Britain's largest crane-fly Tipula maxima on the bedroom wall, the legs an impressive 4" from front to back.

04 July 2013

Usk Reservoir

Went last week with Nigel Stringer to look at the Carmarthenshire (N) side of this upland reservoir. It was nice to see the open areas within the surrounding woodland so floriferous as sheep are excluded. The underlying rock is the relatively (in a Welsh context) base-rich Old Red Sandstone and it was good to see, for example, well-grown plants of Alchemilla glauca and Trifolium medium amongst many others, with bumblebees again including the scarce upland Bombus monticola (which was also seen the previous week at Craig y Llyn in Glamorgan). We also saw the shingle specialist 5-spot ladybird at the lake margin.
One plant caught our eye - the narrow-leaved form of Heracleum sphondylium (hogweed) - listed as forma angustisectum in Arthur Chater`s unbeatable Flora of Cardiganshire, but also known as var. angustifolium.  It was frequent along a considerable length of track on the north side of the lake. Barry Stewart actually also reported this taxon in an earlier `Gower Wildlife` posting on 22 August 2011, after he`d found it at Bach y Cwm, along the Afon Clydach. Interestingly, Arthur Chater notes that JH Salter remarked that he`d found it at three sites " in the mountains usually in moist, sheltered gulleys". I recall a sighting of this form alongside the Tywi about 20 years ago (various `upland `plants get carried downstream) and I seem to remember that I`ve had it somewhere too - but without the tiresome task of checking my paper records, I can`t say where! I wonder if Salter is right, and this form of hogweed is more prevelant in the uplands?
Talking of uplands and floral diversity Mynydd Myddfai, which is immediately north of the Usk Resevoir, would have been the stamping ground of the `Myddygon Myddfai` or the `Physicians of Myddfai` - medieval medicine men who often used herbal remedies and who are also associated with Llyn y Fan Fach and its plant-rich crags. Many plants are listed in their medicinal glossaries and place names near the reservoir include `Pant y Meddygon`. Perhaps it was here they collected some plants in the days when cattle rather than sheep grazed the uplands - the Welsh for shepherd is actually `bugail` ie `cowherd`- but now the hill pastures are sheep-shaven and mostly monotonous. Also gone, seemingly, are the small white orchids Pseudorchis albida found by HH Knight in the same area in 1908.
Would n`t it make a good project to reduce the grazing intensity of sheep on this relatively small upland of Mynydd Myddfai north of the Usk Reservoir, with its connections with Welsh culture and great biodiversity potential? Now, that`s an idea for the National Park authorities!
                                         Above: narrow-leaved form of hogweed.

01 July 2013

Craig-y-Llyn, Glamorgan vc41

Visited by IK Morgan & RN Stringer, 21.6.2013

The main purpose of the visit was to see whether we could relocate serrated wintergreen Orthilia secunda, last recorded at this locality by AH Trow and JH Salter in 1905. According to the Flora of Glamorgan (Wade et al, 1994: 151) previously, in 1892, Trow had found it at one locality and, on the 1905 visit they found it at a second site at Craig-y-llyn, but with Trow noting in 1911 that the 1892 site was `almost inaccessible now`.

IKM had visited Craig-y-llyn with Julian Woodman in July 1997 to look for Orthilia and other plants, but on that rather cursory visit, Orthilia was not seen (though other species of interest were). The notes relating to Orthilia in The Flora of Co Fermanagh by Ralph Forbes and Robert Northridge, newly published in 2012 acted as a catalyst for IKM to try to search again for Orthilia and it was decided to make Craig-y-llyn the target for one of our weekly botanising visits in June. The excellent `Fermanagh Flora` contains some very comprehensive and useful notes (on pp377-8) regarding the occurrence of the species in that Northern Irish county, saying that it is found `in dense clonal patches….in crevices….on dolomitized sandstone scarps, and scattered in steep submontane, mossy, Calluna-Vaccinium-dominated heathy slopes`. They also remark that `when one has got one`s eye in for it, the rather pale, grey-green, wintergreen, serrated leaves can be picked out amongst other foliage and moss all year round`. It flowers only very sparingly in Co Fermanagh and we can assume the same to apply to the more southerly site at Craig-y-llyn (and Craig Cerrig-gleisiad in Brecs, where it also has been recorded) – so one has to search for the vegetative clonal patches, hidden under Vaccinium or Calluna. As we approached Craig-y-llyn via the track to Llyn Fawr on 21.6.13, we scanned the amphitheatre of cliffs for good rock faces and gullies to search. We had intended to start near the eastern part and work westwards and, accordingly we ascended the steep talus slopes that are covered in dense Vaccinium myrtilus and other vegetation. This climb itself was quite tiring. En route, old empty 2013 `tent nests` of bilberry pug Pasiphila debilata were common in this area of bilberry, most were brown and withered, with the larvae having vacated them, but a few individuals were still to be found, perhaps reflecting the late, delayed season this year. An adult latticed heath Chiasmia clathrata clathrata was also seen, as well as the common beetle Phyllopertha horticula.
 Upon reaching the intended first gully, we realised that what had looked reasonably easy from down by the lake was actually quite difficult. This first gully  (at SN918030) was very floriferous, with flushed areas holding an attractive suite of plants akin to an Alpine meadow, with abundant Geum rivale, Angelica sylvestris, Sanguisorba officinalis, Valerianella officinalis, Succisa pratensis and Tussilago farfara, many of which were in full flower and being visited by bumblebees that included the very local Bombus monticola (as well as the common B. pascuorum). On rockier areas, were strong, flowering plants of Rhodiola rosea and some clubmosses. It was when we started to work our way laterally along the cliff faces that we fully realised how difficult it would be, some sections being relatively easy, but others difficult or dangerous, requiring descents and ascents to avoid steep drops that may not be apparent amongst the deep swathes of Vaccinium. It also proved difficult to climb some sections of actual cliff face to search for Orthilia amongst the Vaccinium. Progress was slow but we worked westwards, passing groups of whitebeams Sorbus porrigentiformis and searching for Orthilia, though again, we could not climb most outcrops above.

After a few hours covering a disappointingly short distance, we decided to call it a day and descended back down to the lake/reservoir. How little we covered was apparent when we looked back at the cliffs, the area being that represented in the accompanying photograph below. We only covered that area of cliff eastwards of the prominent tree on the skyline!
We see no reason why Orthilia does not survive at Craig-y-llyn but it will need perhaps repeated efforts, or collective efforts by groups of fit botanists focusing in on this species. In the days of Trow and Salter, the general area would have been sheep-grazed with only those areas inaccessible to sheep holding luxuriant vegetation, on ledges and the like. Perhaps these botanists were likely to have targeted these ungrazed areas as likely to hold species of interest. The fencing off of the area around the lake many years later, presumably linked to the establishment of the forestry below has resulted in a resurgence of vegetation –itself of great value in our overgrazed uplands (and hence the lovely herbaceous swards on the afore-mentioned flushes), but it does make traversing the area a little more difficult and the locating of Orthilia even more so!
As well as the suggestions given above with regard to locating Orthilia, it may be worth considering a (snow/frost-free) late winter visit, when much of the vegetation has died back and when perhaps its grey-green hue may stand out amongst the darker green bilberry? In June, the bilberry can also look fresh and very slightly glaucous (as well as having finely serrated leaf margins), so beware! Craig-y-llyn is a wonderful place and I`m sure that it will yield other noteworthy natural history records of all taxonomic groups - after adequate searching. Some plants of Dryopteris carthusiana were seen near Llyn Fawr at SN91939 03470.

Forbes, R.S. & Northridge, R.H. (2012) – The Flora of County Fermanagh. National Museums Northern Ireland.
Wade, A.E., Kay Q.O.N. & Ellis, R.G. (1994) – Flora of Glamorgan. The Natural History Museum, London.

I.K. Morgan & R.N. Stringer, June 2013.