29 September 2013

Long-billed Dowitcher at WWT

A belated post of the bird seen in July (see here for details). This is the nicest shot I have seen of this bird, taken by Ken Fifield.
(c) K. Fifield

26 September 2013

Coming to a wood near you...fungi!

Fungal foray collection, Neath Valley, September

Mushrooms and toadstools seem to be coming up in abundance this autumn. A short walk through a Sitka Spruce forest near Pentreclwydau this week turned up about 20 species in 30 minutes, including some of the specimens shown in the photograph. I'll post more photos of individual species over the next few weeks. In the meantime, one of the most interesting species found this week was Orange Grisette (Amanita crocea). The Grisettes are a group of Amanitas that have a volva (a sac-like structure at the base of the stem) but don't have a membranous ring on the upper part of the stem - the volva can be seen in the specimen lying down in the photo (below). The floccose markings on the stem are an important diagnostic feature.

This is probably our most attractive Grisette species. It is usually associated with birch trees, and although it is widespread, it has a local distribution in Britain.
Other Amanita species seen in the Pentreclwydau forest this week were Grey Veiled Amanita (Amanita porphyria) and Blusher (Amanita rubescens).
The most notorious Amanita species is Death Cap (Amanita phalloides), which is deadly poisonous and responsible for more deaths than any other species in Europe. Death Cap does occur in our region, sometimes appearing under trees in parks (e.g. Clyne Gardens). It is variable in colour, but the fruiting body usually has a yellowish-green cap and the stem has both a membranous ring and a volva. It is frequently associated with oak and beech.

23 September 2013

swansea university

2 spotted flycatchers together outside my window this afternoon, been a long time since I saw one in the UK.

22 September 2013

Oxwich beach

Front: Prickly Saltwort and Babington's Orache
Middle: Sea Radish and Babington's Orache
Back: Curled Dock & Sand Couch
In the western half of Oxwich Bay there is only the smallest area of obvious strandline vegetation at the very western end of the beach car park, between the slipway and the wall by the Oxwich Bay Hotel. However, even in this small patch there is a good assemblage of standline plants, most now producing an abundance of seed to increase the chances of survival in this highly dynamic environment.
Left to right: Seeds of Sea Rocket, Sea Radish, Babington's Orache,
Frosted Orache, more Babington's Orache and Curled Dock.
A striking and seemingly familiar bee was feeding on some Sea Rocket, but it wasn't until we saw lots of them all over the Ivy-covered walls in the village did it click that it was The Ivy Bee (Colletes hederae), its discovery, survey and distribution in Gower having been well documented by Ian Tew last year [see here], this being the 'place' where I'd seen it before.
The Ivy Bee on Sea Rocket
An unexpected bonus was a single rosette of Sea Stock (Matthiola sinuata) at the rear of the beach car park. This species is listed as 'Vulnerable' nationally and the closest plants I've seen are part of a small but well established population around the foredunes either side of Nicholaston Pill. Hopefully the species will become better established in the western half of the bay.
Sea Stock

Hornets in Carmarthenshire

Following reports of hornets in the Llandeilo area, Nigel Stringer and I went on Friday (20.9.13) to the National Trust property at Parc Dinefwr, on the western outskirts of that town. Here, the NT own an extensive deer park, stocked with fallow deer and white park cattle and where the Trust is doing a first-class job in managing the many veteran oaks and other trees. I managed to get some photos of the hornets - the first live ones I have seen - and they are reproduced below; I was impressed by their large size.
They were quite docile (unless provoked!) and they may be overlooked elsewhere, in spite of their size. In Carmarthenshire, there is an early 1960s record by Chris Handoll from Laugharne and they were next seen by Ken Day at Dinefwr Court in 1999. A 2009 record (with photo) from Llanfynydd is also known of. Additionally, Nigel and I saw one near Edwinsford, north of Talley last Friday.

Mystery fungus

Found under a privet hedge, Overland road, Mumbles by Rob Ladds, who likens it to a moose with a moustache! Any suggestions as to the species?

21 September 2013

Autumn Gentian

Autumn Gentian, Glyncorrwg

Autumn Gentian (Gentianella amarella) is an uncommon species of coastal, calcareous grassland in our area, e.g. south Gower cliffs. But the plant shown here was part of a fairly large inland population on a heathy verge at the side of a forestry road near Glyncorrwg. Other plants growing with it included Heather (Calluna vulgaris), Deergrass (Trichophorum cespitosum) and Heath Rush (Juncus squarrosus), all species typical of the acidic heathland or moorland that forms the upland matrix around the ubiquitous Sitka Spruce plantations. This is a surprising community for Autumn Gentian, a species normally regarded as a calcicole. However, forestry roads are often dressed with limestone grit, and in Neath Port Talbot (NPT) where natural calcareous soils are rare, this provides opportunities for species which would otherwise be absent or very scarce. So it is with Autumn Gentian, which I have never seen in NPT before.

20 September 2013

Fabulous Phalaropes

(c) A. Morrison
Two juvenile Grey Phalaropes were found at Penclacwydd by Dianne Browne today. They were still present up until the centre closed in the evening and I managed to take a little video [see here]. The attached shots were taken by Adrian Morrison.
 (c) A. Morrison

19 September 2013

Sawflies in the Garden

The rather striking larvae of the sawfly Tenthredo scrophulariae have caused considerable damage to the foliage of my Moth Mullein (Verbascum blattaria) plants in the garden this year. However, I'm sure the plants will look just as good next year and I'll be keeping an eye open for the equally striking adults next summer. Compared to our garden moth list of over 700 species, this is only the third species of sawfly that I have managed to identify here, the others being Phymatocera aterrima which appears annually on our Garden Solomon's-seal (Polygonatum x hybridum) and Caliroa annulipes, which infested a dwarf willow (Salix wehrhahnii) for one year only.

17 September 2013

Blackening Brittlegill and other fungi

Young Russula nigricans

Blackening Brittlegill (Russula nigricans) is a very common toadstool of deciduous woodlands and hedgerows. It seems to be particularly abundant this year. Fresh specimens are usually a dirty white colour but specimens turn black with age (photo below shows the collection above after 24 hours).

Blackening reaction 24 hours after collection

These fruiting bodies were abundant in the hedges along Plas Road, near the village of Cilybebyll in the company of equally abundant Purple Stocking Webcap (Cortinarius stillatitius).
There were also abundant fruiting bodies of Inocybe aghardii on Morfa Tip last week where Mark had found a nice population (60+ spikes) of Autumn Lady's-tresses (Spiranthes spiralis).

Inocybe aghardii, Morfa Tip

Inocybe species (Fibrecaps) are difficult to identify in the field and need to be confirmed by microscopic features. They are brown-spored and this results in the characteristic brown colouration of the mature gills. Inocybe aghardii is fairly common in coastal areas, often growing in sandy areas near Creeping Willow (Salix repens). It can be confused with another Fibrecap called Inocybe dulcamara, which also occurs on sand dunes near willows, e.g. Crymlyn Burrows.

Inocybe dulcamara, Crymlyn Burrows

The young fruiting bodies of Inocybe dulcamara have a prominant cortina (a web-like veil across their gills) which breaks away as the cap expands to leave a fibrous ring on the stipe (see photograph above).
All Fibrecaps are poisonous and should not be tasted. Some are very poisonous.

15 September 2013

Glamorgan Glassworts

Yellow Glasswort (Salicornia fragilis) left, and
Purple Glasswort (S. ramosissima) right 
Salicornia is a very difficult genus and of the seven recognised British species, five have been recorded in Glamorgan. The commonest species are Purple Glasswort (S. ramosissima), which generally occupies the upper saltmarsh where it can be very abundant in salt pans, and Long-spiked Glasswort (S. dolichostachya), a species most frequent as a lower marsh pioneer.

Of the less frequent species One-flowered Glasswort (S. pusilla) is the easiest to identify as all the other species have flowers in threes; it can be locally frequent on the higher saltmarsh. Last week I found Yellow Glasswort (S. fragilis) along the shore between Loughor Bridge and Loughor Yacht Club (see photo above). It seems likely that I have been overlooking this species as the Flora of Glamorgan states it is 'Abundant in the North Gower Saltmarshes', so one I'll be keeping an eye out for it elsewhere.

The final species, Common Glasswort (S. europaea), is perhaps the most tricky. I have not yet specifically looked for it this year, but in 2010 there was an abundance of apparent Common Glasswort on the sand/mudflats off Penclawdd, However there were no records of this species for the Burry in the county database I inherited from Quentin and the Flora of Glamorgan not only lists just two records, but paints a confusing picture over the taxonomic status of the species, which casts doubt on the county status of this species. Perhaps it's time some material was sent to the Salicornia referee?

Those with an interest in food probably already know that this is an edible species and Neil & Elsbethe Edwards told me they enjoyed 'Samphire', which was bought locally in Mumbles last week, served blanched as a starter. Unfortunately they couldn't tell me what species!

09 September 2013

A Mole not in a hole!

Yesterday morning Robbie brought this feisty specimen back to his owners at Wernffrwd, which fortunately found refuge under the fridge and when eventually recaptured by the human occupants of the house, appeared unharmed. For such a common animal it's surprising how rare it is to see a live specimen and it took no time for it to vanish into the grass when it was released. The shot below was the best we could do to capture it in its natural habitat. Thanks to Neil and Elsbethe for smashing mug of tea too!

Barrel Jellyfish

This Barrel Jellyfish (Rhizostoma octopus) was photographed by Geri Rees at Whiteford on the 4th.

Bird seed aliens

These three grasses were found not far from our garden bird feeders here in Gorseinon last week; left to right: Green Bristle-grass (Setaria viridis), Hairy Finger-grass (Digitaria sanguinalis) and Cockspur (Echinochloa crus-galli).
It's the first time I have seen Hairy Finger-grass, but the other two have regularly appeared in the garden for many years and are possibly established garden weeds. Greater Quaking-grass (Briza maxima) was also a well established garden weed, but appears to have died out over the last couple of years.
Flower detail:
Green Bristle-grass
Hairy Finger-grass

04 September 2013

Good for bees, bad for bees

There were Shrill Carder Bees (Bombus sylvarum) near the Kenfig River, today, where Barry Stewart recently discovered an encouragingly healthy population of this threatened species. At least 4 individuals were found including one on Red Bartsia (Odontites vernus), briefly, before having a quick go on a Bramble (Rubus agg.), then Hoary Mustard (hirschfeldia incana) and away. However, at a decent stand of Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens grandulifera) three were found nectaring alongside a number of other Bumble Bee species; none of which seemed to be in any rush to leave the banquet. At this time of year Himalayan Balsam, a much maligned invasive species, clearly provides an important source of food and may even be a major benefit to threatened bee species? Some of the more traditional sources of nectar to the Shrill Carder Bee were less obvious today such as Creeping Thistle (Crisium arvense) and Red Bartsia, however, Himalayan Balsam was in profusion. I imagine that this rich source of food will be important to 2nd generation queens that must survive the winter to continue the population again next year?

Last weekend, at Brunel Dock, this rather striking Conopid Fly had me stumped for a while. Appearing to me to be half hoverfly and half potter wasp; I was wondering whether I had stumbled across something new to science! The halteres finally caught my attention and directed me away from wasps, to flies and eventually, with the aid of Chinery (and the internet), to Physocephala rufipes. The larvae of this stunning fly parasitise bumble bees and occasionally social wasps. Thanks to David Clements for confirming the identification and adding that it's a male.