26 June 2014

nice looking fly

Seen on a recent trip to the waterfalls. Recorded as few records from Wales by Stubbs and Drake but showing well enough on NBN. Chrysops viduatus.

Phone picture courtesy of Hilary Jones.

21 June 2014

Turtle Dove sighting on Gower

Apologies for the delay in posting this message but I was advised by Rod Hanson during the RSPB walk last weekend that he and his wife have recently observed a Turtle Dove on Gower.  If anyone is birdwatching in the area between Ilston and Pengwern Common it would be worth keeping an eye open for this now rare sight in West Glamorgan.

Turtle Dove on Gower


19 June 2014

Mediterranean Gulls confirmed breeding

sub-adult pair on 8th April, W. Thomas
After a long and patient wait, today Wendell Thomas finally obtained proof of the first successful breeding record of Mediterranean Gulls in Carmarthenshire. Wendell's video, which can be seen HERE, shows the young gull being attended by one of its parents at the Lagoon at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust Llanelli. Both parent birds are sub-adults (both are only in their 3rd calendar year) and although they were seen mating and nest building earlier in the season, the rapid growth of vegetation on the island quickly hid all activity until today.

...here's a photograph of the rapidly growing chick taken on the 22nd by Lyndon Evans

17 June 2014

More breeding success in south-west Gower

(c) G. Howe
Gordon Howe has informed me of an additional pair of Chough that have bred successfully, plus he photographed three recently fledged Peregrines. What a great breeding season we appear to be having!
(c) G, Howe

16 June 2014

Peach Leaf Curl

Taphrina deformans is a fungal pathogen that causes Peach leaf curl. I don't recall seeing this striking gall-former previously and was quite struck by its appearance in a garden in Horton today. There are very few Welsh records on the NBN, which does not mean it's not elsewhere of course, but if you have seen this gall former locally I'd be interested to hear. The hosts are said to include Peach Prunus persica and Almond P. amygdalus, so I guess any fruit-growers out there will know more about how frequent this species is locally?
Thanks to Jack for letting us into his parent's wonderful garden.

15 June 2014

Chough breeding success

Choughs are much rarer than their relatives in the corvid family, such as Carrion Crows and Jackdaws. They are intermediate in size between these two, and superficially similar to both. All three, as well as Ravens, occur on the south Gower cliffs. Four predominantly black corvids, but so different. The Chough is special. Its red bill and legs set it apart from the other similar species, but there is so much more to it than that. The Chough feeds in a different way, probing and digging (sometimes they really do dig, not just probe) with its decurved bill in the short clifftop turf.
Feeding in January 2014

When flying they will often put on an exhibition of aerobatics that seems to have no point other than to have fun. The call of the Chough is distinctive (imagine Chough is pronounced to rhyme with “plough”, rather than “enough” and you’re not far off), and it is a very vocal bird. Usually Choughs guide you to where they are by their incessant calling. They are very engaging and often quite easy to approach when they are busy feeding. It is easy to become a Chough enthusiast.
 Pair 1 making a lot of noise near the nest site

Choughs are resident in south Gower; throughout the winter they are around on the clifftops probing and digging for prey, usually in pairs or small groups. It gets a bit quieter in the spring as the serious business of breeding begins. There is then a period of wondering how many birds are breeding and at which sites. In my clifftop area (Thurba-Mewslade-Rhossili) the tension is over: on June 13 the first juvenile Choughs appeared. Three birds at first, then it became clear on June 14 that there are eight juveniles from three pairs, and this is all in about a kilometre of coastline. One pair is a new one at a new site, as far as I know. The three broods are four, two and two, with the four being from the longest established pair (Pair 1). One bird in Pair 1 has a green and a red ring on its left leg; this is quite easy to spot and makes this pair, which I see very frequently, easy to identify.
 Pair 1 with their four offspring, June 15, 2014
  The smallest of the brood of four looked a bit weak at first but looks fine now:
June 15
The whole brood look to be in good condition:

Both of the birds in Pair 2 have colour rings. Pair 2 near their nest site:
The top bird in the photo has an unusual bill with crossed mandibles (which doesn't seem to be a problem). This is one of their two offspring:

Pair 3 came as a complete surprise to me when I came upon them, with one barely fledged juvenile, on June 13. The adults made it very clear that I was not welcome, so I quickly left.
One of the Pair 3 adults displaying aggression towards me
A day later the two adults were on top of the cliff nearest to the nest site with two juveniles, obviously recently fledged. Both of these adults do not have rings. Both juveniles seem to be doing well.

At this stage it looks like a very successful breeding season for the local Chough population.

13 June 2014

A large eel

Grey Herons often eat fish, usually quite small fish. Occasionally a Grey Heron will catch something larger. This one, at the Millennium Wetlands on Thursday, June 12, caught the largest fish I have ever seen a  heron catch and manage to eat. The eel was wriggling so violently the heron had to drop it and stab it repeatedly, trying to kill it. The heron then picked up the eel, flew a few metres and landed.
It was still thrashing about, so the heron dropped it again, stabbed it again, picked it up, walked along the shore.
The eel was still alive, so it was dealt another fearsome puncture wound.
With the eel still wriggling slightly, the heron dropped it once more and stabbed it again, as the Black-tailed Godwit flock arrived.
The eel had finally stopped moving and in two gulps it was gone, leaving a grey Heron with a very thick neck.

09 June 2014

Crab Spider

I saw this Crab Spider, Misumena vatia, on a Marsh Orchid at the Millennium Wetlands. The Crab Spider does not spin a web in order to feed. Instead it lies in wait on flowers and vegetation for a suitable prey species to visit and swiftly ambushes the insect. It then injects venom into the prey with the slender fangs. I thought that the victim in this case was one of the solitary bees, but I am grateful to Barry for telling me that it is, in fact, one of the bee-mimic hoverflies.

This species is able to change its colour to match the background, but white is the closest it can manage in this case.

08 June 2014

Churchyard Frillwort

During a visit to the graveyard of St Teilo's Church in Pontarddulais today, I noticed for the first time a lovely patch of frillwort in fruit. The identification of these beautiful liverworts requires microscopic examination of their spores, which in this instance turned out to be our most widespread species, Common Frillwort Fossombronia pusilla.
spores and elaters from the black capsules
visible in the top photograph

06 June 2014

Are we loosing our yellow dune species?

Yellow Dunes, Baglan Bay

In classic descriptions of coastal sand dune ecosystems, the first significant ridges of dunes are called yellow dunes. They are dominated by Marram Grass (Ammophila arenaria) but are characterised by large areas of open, mobile, unstable sand. This is the quintessential sand dune habitat where a number of iconic, sand dune species are found; species more or less confined to this habitat and not found anywhere else. Good examples in our area are Sea Holly (Eryngium maritimum), Sea Bindweed (Calystegia sepium), Sea Spurge (Euphorbia paralias) and Sea Stock (Matthiola sinuata). 

Sea Holly 

Sea Bindweed

Sea Spurge

While we concern ourselves with saving things like Fen Orchids (Liparis loeselii), a species with a notorious habit of undergoing wild and natural fluctuations in population size (like many other orchids), we may be taking our eye off the ball.
I was with a field course class of Biology students yesterday on Oxwich Dunes, along with Nick Edwards, Ian Tew, Penny Neyland, Laura Roberts and Wendy Harris. Nick talked to the students about how Oxwich has changed in the last 60 years. It's mostly a story of gains and losses. There has been a significant gain in stable grassland, complete with a diverse and beautiful flora, but this has been accompanied by a significant loss in open, mobile sand dune habitat. I was amazed particularly by the lack of yellow dunes where, in a thorough search, we counted only 2 Sea Holly, 1 Sea Stock, no Sea Bindweed and no Sea Spurge. Similar losses of yellow dune habitats and their associated species have been noted elsewhere, e.g. Nicholaston Dunes, Kenfig Dunes. 
Fortunately, Swansea Bay still has actively accreting sand dune systems, so places like Crymlyn Burrows and Baglan Bay still support significant areas of yellow dunes. Yet, even these have been eroded greatly and reshaped by winter storms in recent years (particularly last winter). Nevertheless, these places are now very important refuges for our 'real' sand dune flora. Unfortunately they are the most threatened and least protected of all our local coastal ecosystems.
Is this a significant issue? Perhaps I can answer that with a quote from an article on Sea Holly (by Malke Isermann and Paul Rooney) which has been published in one of the recent issues of The Journal of Ecology. What they say may surprise you:

'In many coastal regions, in both temperate and Mediterranean parts of Europe, Eryngium maritimum (Sea Holly)...... is one of the rarest and most threatened plant species, mainly because of habitat loss and land-use change.' 

In many European countries where it used to be a characteristic species of coastal dunes, Sea Holly is now a Red Data Book species. But, unlike Fen Orchid, it is not included in the EU Habitats and Species Directive. How long before Sea Bindweed, Sea Spurge and Sea Stock join it in the endangered species club?
While climate change and alternative (green?) energy projects put pressure on our coastal ecosystems, we need to at least preserve as best we can places like Crymlyn Burrows and Baglan Bay. Perhaps we can look forward to a time when large areas of yellow dunes will be a common site on all our beaches again. But, unless we can conserve those sites that are important refuges for yellow dune species now, there will be nothing left to colonise them. You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone! 

04 June 2014

Whitethroat breeding

Whitethroats are always a feature of summer on the south Gower cliffs. In May and June there is a often a soundtrack of the scratchy, rhythmic song and harsh calls of these attractive warblers. In spring and early summer they are often quite easy to see, singing from an exposed perch or in a brief, jerky songflight. They nest in scrub, quite often bramble. Once a pair is feeding young they forage relentlessly and often noisily, catching a variety of larvae, insects and spiders. I have been watching a pair nesting in Mewslade valley over the past 10 days or so. It has been interesting to see the variety of prey collected to take to the chicks. Some examples are shown below.

I don't have the knowledge to identify what all of these food items are, but perhaps someone can help on this!

The chicks obviously responded well to their varied carnivorous diet, because they fledged yesterday (June 3). It was difficult to count them, but my best guess is there were five juveniles. One of them is shown below.

There are other breeding pairs of Whitethroats in the Mewslade area, so I hope this performance will be repeated several times over the next few weeks.

03 June 2014

Wheatears around Mewslade

Wheatears arrive here in mid March and are usually around until mid October. This year my first local sighting was on March 15 (two days later than in 2013). Since then there have been signs of breeding behaviour in three local spots. The site just east of Thurba Head has produced the first success of the season, with three obviously newly fledged juveniles present on May 31. The site is shown below.

 On May 31 one young bird was accompanied by the adult male and was soon abandoned. This bird allowed me to get close (photos taken May 31).

The adult female was about 70 metres away and was doing a much better job of looking after the other two young birds.

I returned to the site yesterday (June 2) and found the juveniles without the adults, foraging independently. There were at least three, possibly four of them. The change in the juveniles, in both size and plumage, in just over 48 hours was remarkable (photo taken June 2).

 I returned again today (June 3), to find the adult male with two juveniles, both looking more mature after a further 24 hours: