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.