09 December 2015

Honey-buzzards in NPT

video grab (C) R. Sharp
Rebecca Sharp of the Neath Port Talbot Biodiversity Forum is midway through compiling a series of short videos revealing the intimate behaviour of pair of Honey-buzzards that reared two fledglings in NPT earlier in 2015 - wonderful footage of very rare and elusive birds.

You can either view them via the NPT Wildlife facebook page

Or, you can click on the links for the first two videos directly:

14 November 2015

Fungi in grassland

November is a good month to look for fungi in meadows, verges and sand dune grasslands. For example, Meadow Waxcap (Hygrocybe pratensis), which is one of our largest waxcap species, is fairly common on unfertilised garden lawns and in parkland. It's usually a subtle apricot colour (sometimes more orange) and often grows in conspicuous groups which can be spotted from a distance. Like all waxcaps it has rather thick gills which are widely spaced.

Meadow Waxcap, Margam Park

Another conspicuous species which always occurs in large groups, often in roadside verges, is Trooping Funnel (Clitocybe geotropa). It's a tall, robust species, usually beige in colour. Mature specimens have the typical funnel shape exhibited by many Clitocybe species.

Trooping Funnel, Melincwrt roadside verge

Sand dunes are surprisingly good places to look for fungi and our local coastal systems have a very diverse mixture of interesting species. One of the most beautiful is a type of Blewit named Lepista sordida (I don't know if it has a common name). It's similar to Wood Blewit (Lepista nuda), another species which occurs sometimes in grassland and on sand dunes, but it's smaller and has a much more intense lilac colour.

Lepista sordida, Baglan Dunes

Lepista sordida, showing gills

Whiteford Burrows is an excellent place to look for sand dune fungi.

09 November 2015

Armadillo Weevils have arrived in Swansea

Otiorhynchus armadillo, female
Similar in appearance and habits to the commonly seen Black Vine Weevil Otiorhynchus sulcatus, Armadillo Weevils, Otiorhynchus armadillo, are recent arrivals from continental Europe, where they are a serious pest species. So far only recorded from a handful of other locations in the UK (in which they appear to have become successfully established), they have now been confirmed from Swansea. In contrast to O. sulcatus, which is parthenogenetic, there are males in O. armadillo. In fact, spotting a mating pair of what superficially looked like O. sulcatus in my garden is what piqued my interest and led to the subsequent identification of the individuals as O. armadillo. Identification was kindly made by M.G. Morris after I approached him for assistance as the recently introduced O. armadillo is not included in his 1997 key to broad-nosed weevils. Viewed side by side, O. armadillo is somewhat stouter and broader and of a slightly lighter colour than O. sulcatus. O. armadillo also lacks spines on the undersides of the femora. It tends to move more slowly and in a more deliberate manner, and does not death-feign as readily as O. sulcatus. While O. armadillo is reasonably easy to distinguish from O. sulcatus, it is very similar to O. salicicola, another recent arrival from the continent, which could cause confusion if the latter also becomes more widespread. Max Barclay, curator of beetles at the Natural History Museum, has published the definitive paper on O. armadillo and O. sulcatus in Britain.

Barclay, M.V.L. (2003). Otiorhynchus (s. str.) armadillo (Rossi, 1792) and Otiorhynchus (s. str.) salicicola Heyden, 1908 (Curculionidae: Entiminae: Otiorhynchini) – two European vine weevils established in Britain. The Coleopterist12, 41 – 56.v

Thanks are due to Paul D. Brock for photographing the specimens

 Otiorhynchus armadillo, male

Otiorhynchus armadillo, mating pair

Alien flora

Encountering a non-native shrub in a wild situation invariably kicks off the thought process of 'could this be the next Japanese Knotweed?'. After encountering Japanese Silver Berry Elaeagnus umbellata, which was self-seeded and fruiting on sandy the soils of Margam Tip today, I was interested to read that this nitrogen-fixing shrub often grows vigorously and competitively in infertile soils and in parts of North America and is listed as a "prohibited noxious weed". Another one of an ever-growing list of ‘ones-to-watch'...

02 November 2015

Autumn Knights

A number of attractive Knights (the name given to fungi in the genus Tricholoma) can be found in the conifer plantations in the Neath and Afan valleys. Some like the Birch Knight (Tricholoma fulvum) are associated with Sitka Spruce (as well as Birch) and often grow in large groups. The cap is dark brown and often quite slimy. The creamy coloured gills develop rusty blotches, which is a good identification feature.

Tricholoma fulvum

The Ashen Knight (Tricholoma virgatum) is an attractive species with a shiny, grey, fibrous cap. Although it is often described as a species of deciduous woodland, it often grows with Spruces and Pines in our plantations.

Tricholoma virgatum

There is a large area of pine plantation on Foel Fynyddau (the hill above Pontrhydyfen and Cwmafan), where you can find Macedonian Pine (Pinus peuce), Scots Pine (Pinus sylverstris subsp. sylvestris) and Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta). With such a large area of pine forest you might expect to find some nice pinewood species. The best is undoubtedly Yellow Knight (Tricholoma equestre) which is also called Man-on-horseback (for reasons unknown to me!).

 Tricholoma equestre

Yellow Knight is a really interesting species. In Britain it is mostly known as a species of Scottish pinewoods and it appears to be very rare in southern Britain, so its occurrence in the pine plantation on Foel Fynyddau is notable. It is sometimes recommended as an edible species, but recently there have been a number of serious poisoning incidents associated with it and it also seems to accumulate mercury under certain conditions. Perhaps these two things are related.

21 October 2015

Some fungi this autumn

Just a few images of some of the species I've seen this autumn, which overall has been a little disappointing. It started well enough at the end of August with a tasty display of Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius) in a small woodland near Ystalyfera. Like other edible fungi, this beautiful species is often over-collected and this has led to its decline in many parts of the country - a matter of some concern.

Cantharellus cibarius in a wood near Ystalyfera

September was a month of glorious weather but it was a poor month for mushrooms and toadstools. October has been better. Some of the reclaimed coal tips in Neath Port Talbot have been particularly good, at least as far as some of the common species like Brown Rollrim (Paxillus involutus), The Deceiver (Laccaria laccata) and Woolly Milkcap (Lactarius torminosus) are concerned.

Paxillus involutus on coal tip near Ton Mawr

Laccaria laccata, on coal tip near Ton Mawr

The cracked cuticles of the The Deciever caps shown in the photograph here are unusual, but it gives the specimens a striking and attractive appearance. It is a very variable species (hence its common name).

Lactarius torminosus on coal tip near Rhigos

Perhaps one of the best species seen on the coal tips was Pale Poisonpie (Hebeloma fragilipes). This pale capped species is much less common than Poisonpie (Hebeloma crustulineforme), which has a brownish flush in the centre of its cap.

Hebeloma fragilipes on coal tip near Ton Mawr

Hebeloma crustulineforme on coal tip near Crynant

Webcaps (Cortinarius species) are a large group of species in Europe and are often difficult to identify. Some, like Frosty Webcap (Cortinarius hemitrichus) are quite distinctive and have a subtle beauty.

Cortinarius hemitrichus on coal tip near Crynant

A number of Webcap species can be found in our conifer plantations where they are often associated with Pines and Spruces. This year there was a nice display of Cortinarius vibratilis in the conifer forests near the Maes Gwyn wind turbines.

Cortinarius vibratilis in a conifer plantation near Banwen

This is a seldom recorded species and its occurrence this year in Neath Port Talbot may be a first for Wales. 

10 September 2015

An afternoon in the Pelenna Valley

Forestry Road in the Pelenna Valley with typical tall herb flora in verge 

There's a nice walk along a quiet forestry road in the Pelenna Valley that goes from Ton Mawr to the Coed Morganwg Way near the top of the Melincwrt Valley. Wet, Purple Moor-grass verges are full of Bog Pimpernel (Anagallis tenella) in places and the gravelly edges of the track have a fairly typical forestry track flora, which includes Trailing St John's-wort (Hypericum humifusum) a characteristic species in this type of habitat in Neath Port Talbot.

Hypericum humifusum, Pelenna Valley

The conifer plantations along the road are good places to look for fungi in autumn, but yesterday there was little to see except a dried up troop of the Birch Knight (Tricholoma fulvum), which grows with Sitka Spruce here, and some Whitelaced Shank (Megacollybia platyphylla), which grows on buried wood. One of the identification features of this common toadstool is the presence of white mycelial strands that arise from the base of stipe, which can be seen in the photo below.

Megacollybia platyphylla, Pelenna Valley

At this time of year the tall herb flora along the track has lots of conspicuous Rosebay Willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium) and Hemp Agrimony (Eupatoria cannabinum). These are good places to look for inverebrates at this time of year. For example, an  Elephant Hawkmoth (Deilephila elpenor) caterpillar was seen chomping its way along the midrib of a Rosebay Willowherb leaf.

 Elephant Hawkmoth caterpillar on Rosebay Willowherb in the Pelenna Valley

Nearby, a hornet-mimicking hover fly, Volucella zonaria, was feeding on some Hemp Agrimony flowers. This large, handsome hoverfly first appeared in southern Britain about 75 years ago and it has been extending its range westwards ever since, particularly in the last 20 years. Numerous individuals have been recorded in South Wales in recent years. Judging from its torn, weather-beaten wings, this individual must have 'been around the block a bit', but it was a powerful flier nevertheless, with a loud buzzing flight.

Volucella zonaria on Hemp Agrimony in the Pelenna Valley

Pennard weasels

Been meaning to say. Eve and I walked along the cliff top at Pennard towards 3 Cliffs when two weasels rushed along and across the path in front of us; a few moments later one dashed back again. I readied the camera in case the second one followed but to no avail.
Lots of Autumn Lady's Tresses though, which I hadn't realised was an orchid.

07 September 2015

A good year for Marsh Harrier sightings

The video link HERE shows one of at least five different Marsh Harriers that have appeared at Llanrhidian Marsh during the course of 2015, this being a good total for an area well away from known breeding sites. With sightings elsewhere in the county, 2015 may prove to be one of best years on record. The map below shows the distribution of all sightings in Glamorgan, with those seen in 2015 in black.

05 September 2015

Fulmar Success Story

I am very pleased to be able to follow up my earlier post with good news. The Fulmar chick at the nest site on Lewes Castle is now flying. Since I first saw the chick on July 30 I have visited the site every 3-5 days and, if possible, photographed the chick as it developed. The nest site is the area behind a boulder on a ledge, and the gap between the cliff edge and the boulder edge is only a few centimetres, so unless the bird lines its head up with the narrow gap it is impossible to get a decent shot. Although I have visited 11 times, sometimes staying for over an hour, I have never seen an adult feeding the chick, or present on the nest ledge. Clearly being a Fulmar chick is a lonely business.

Every time I have visited there have been no climbers on Lewes Castle, which has been a great relief to me. I would like to thank any climbers who have deliberately kept away from the site in order to help to ensure this bird's survival. It is now OK to climb there again for a few months.

This is the chick when I first saw it at the nest site on July 30:

Three days later, on August 2, the chick had visibly developed:

A further five days later, on August 7, the bird was substantially larger and had some staining which may indicate that it had recently been fed:

At this stage it is showing signs of losing some of the downy feathers on the head. On August 12 a lot more had been lost from the back of the head:

When I next visited, on August 16, the bird was almost bald:

I have never been able to follow the development of a Fulmar chick before, so I was surprised to see this apparent avian alopecia. I wondered if the bird had a problem of some kind. The next time I was able to get a decent view of the bird was on August 22. I was pleased to see that, over the course of six days, it had grown a good covering of feathers on the head:

At this stage the bird was very preoccupied with preening. This was still the case on August 27, and the bird was now looking quite mature and only very slightly smaller than adult-size:

At this stage (August 27) the bird still had some fluffy down on the head. I caught glimpses of the wings, which appeared to have well-developed coverts and secondaries. I did not see the primaries. When I next visited, on August 31, the bird looked very much like an adult:

On this visit I could see that it had well-developed primaries. It looked as though it should be able to fly perfectly well. It was therefore no surprise, when I visited on September 2, to find the nest site empty. This suggests that it took about 48 days from hatching to fledging, which is about normal, I understand. I returned to the nest site early on September 5 and found that the young bird was present again: I presume it had roosted there. It was preening and doing a lot of wing-stretching, showing a perfect pair of wings:

It has been very interesting to watch the development of this bird. I hope there will be a repeat performance next year.

25 August 2015

A real long-winged conehead.....

A real long-winged conehead - even if it has short wings! Following on from the last-but-one posting (which actually is of a short-winged conehead, in spite of its long wings), I include a photo of an early instar long-winged conehead, an individual at a brownfield site at Burry Port, Carmarthenshire on 25th July this year ( a new county record).
Note the virtually straight ovipositor, which differentiates females of that species from the short-winged conehead, even when the long-winged conehead is young and has n`t developed the long wings of the adult. The ovipositor in the short-winged conehead is markedly curved.
So, we have the almost absurd and confusing scenario whereby the previous conehead posted on the Gower Wildlife blog is really a short-winged conehead (albeit the macropterous form with long wings) and the individual below, is an early instar long-winged conehead, which has n`t developed its long wings yet! It`s easy to get confused in these circumstances - indeed, I`d assumed that my Burry Port conehead was a short-winged (a species that is frequent on the Carmarthenshire coast) until it was pointed out to me that the ovipositor was straight - so, no need for any embarrassment!
It is certainly worth looking out for long-winged coneheads in the Swansea area (as they`re likely to be around if they`ve already arrived in SE Carmarthenshire) and remember: the straight versus curved ovipositor is the easiest way to tell them (females only) apart.

Above: a young female long-winged conehead.

17 August 2015

360 cafe

A patch of Rock Samphire next to the 360 Cafe on Swansea seafront was covered in hoverflies today; lots of Scaeva pyrastri and 1 S. selenitica, but best was the very striking Dune-fly Villa modesta, a species of short-tongued bee-fly.

14 August 2015

Long-winged Conehead spreading west

(c) Alannah Ruthen
Alannah Ruthen photographed this female Long-winged Conehead Conocephalus discolor [see comments] at Craig-cefn-parc earlier this week. Although the species has been present in the county since 1999, when Rob & Linda Nottage recorded it at Coryton in Cardiff, this is the first record I'm aware of here in West Glamorgan. Please do look out for this species and please report any sightings, preferably with a photograph. It prefers drier habitats than the similar Short-winged Conehead C. dorsalis, this being well established in coastal marshes.

30 July 2015

Mewslade Fulmars breeding

Last year I wrote about the Fulmars of the cliffs near Mewslade. I did not follow that up with a further post because the story of last year was not a happy one. The Fulmars at what I called site 1 were sitting, incubating for several weeks, only to abandon the site in mid July. Site 1 is on the cliff known as Lewes Castle, which is the eastern boundary of Fall Bay. Lewes Castle is much used by climbers, and I have little doubt that the Fulmars abandoned because of disturbance by climbers.

I have been watching the same site this year and have seen all the nuptial behaviour which I described last year. From late May until recently there has been an adult sitting at the site, incubating the egg. Fulmars lay only one egg per year and incubation is a lengthy process: about 50 days. It is impossible to look down into the nest site so I have not seen the egg, but the behaviour of the birds made it easy to deduce that there was an egg being incubated. This morning I could see a chick in the "nest" (Fulmars do not build a nest as such: it's essentially just bare rock, although I have observed the adults "housekeeping": moving bits of debris and throwing them out.).
An adult at the nest site, incubating in June this year

The chick in the same place, today, July 30

A closer view of the chick

This is progress compared to last year and I do hope that this young bird will make it. It will probably fledge at the end of August or beginning of September (the fledging period is around 46-51 days). It is therefore essential that there is no climbing on Lewes Castle until September. Anyone who does climb there before then will probably kill this bird.

Scaeva selenitica at Nitten

Back on the 16th July, I set a few light-traps in the Nitten Field at Mewslade in the hope of trapping some migrant moths, as the weather looked favourable. It transpired that it wasn't especially good for migrants, although there was an excellent selection of resident moths along with a selection of non-lepidopterans. Perhaps the pick of the crop were a couple of Scaeva selenitica, an uncommon partial migrant hoverfly, which looks superficially like the much commoner S. pyrastri. It's the first time I have seen this fly in Gower, so I assume they were immigrants rather than from a resident population.

28 July 2015

A Walk in the Park....

I had to take someone for a regular appointment at Singleton Hospital today so, rather than spending my time in the waiting room, I took a short walk in the adjacent Singleton Park and the grounds of the university. There has been some clearance within the wooded gardens immediately north of the university, and I chanced upon about half-a-dozen plants of small balsam Impatiens parviflora, a particularly unspectacular member of the balsam family (photo of flower below). I estimate the grid ref to be SS631921 and it was found along a path some 20ft or so approximately westwards of a large clump of Gunnera, and with a large man-made decorative rock outcrop in the background (in case anyone wants to re-find it).

Elsewhere in the park, I noticed water bent Polypogon viridis (a grass that is rapidly spreading in the Llanelli area of SE Carmarthenshire) and grey sedge Carex divulsa, the latter at the base of railings edging a pathway where the university grounds meets the hospital to the west.
It was good to see the more biodiversity-friendly management of the park grounds, with areas of uncut grass (presumably to be cut, hay-meadow style, in due course) and sizeable dead tree stumps which will provide a niche for deadwood invertebrates. Full marks to the park authorities!...and I wish that Carmarthenshire would do the same, rather than removing old trees in public areas, with sometimes very dubious justification.

21 July 2015

Plantlife walk at Southgate

Colin Cheeseman of Plantlife and myself will be visiting the cliffs at Southgate on Thursday 23rd July between 1pm and 4pm. The main aim is to inspect the Cotoneaster control work that has been carried out over the last two years. There is an open invitation for anyone interested in finding out more about this work, or the special plants that grow there. The visit will be very informal and we will be meeting at the NT car park SS553873 at 1pm. All are welcome.

02 July 2015

Look out for Cyperus

A few years back, I noted `garden escape` pale galingale Cyperus eragrostis at Brynmill Park (and somewhere else too), in the western suburbs of Swansea. The same species also occurs as an occasional escapee in the Llanelli area.
Over a decade ago (in September 2004), a meeting of the Llanelli Naturalists was held at a brownfield site, located just to the south of the erstwhile entrance channel to the infilled New Dock, Llanelli, an area renamed stupidly and pretentiously `Delta Lakes` by the local planning authority (where is the delta?!). This brownfield area once held various tinplate and associated works in Llanelli`s early 20th Century heyday, but was cleared in the 1980s.
The area had been used by travellers and dumping of garden waste had occurred, with plenty of the more frequent `garden chuck-outs` but also with various native species or less common horticultural stock being discarded. Various weedy adventives were also present and I remember the genus Conyza causing identification issues, as we were not familiar with the more recent colonists.
We were interested too, to find Cyperus - a few plants of Cyperus eragrostis but also another, smaller one with darker inflorescences. It confused us completely and, to cut the story short, it was sent to Kew, where David Simpson identified it as dense flat sedge Cyperus congestus.
Both Richard Pryce and I took some home to cultivate and my plants still survive, though it behaves entirely differently to eragrostis. The latter, with its pale heads is quite handsome and large - a foot or so - and it is perennial whereas the hardly garden-worthy eragrostis is half the size, is an annual and does not germinate until about June. It is seemingly a plant of warmer climes and it dies completely in winter, after setting seed. Both survived (as a plant or as seeds) the few cold winters we experienced about five years ago.
Cyperus eragrostis spreads itself around, albeit in small amounts around my garden and has reached (no doubt via my muddy boots) the lane in front of my house. In contrast congestus, has firmly remained in its planting area - though it can come to dominate that patch (indeed, it receives periodic `culls`). I include some photos below:

                                                        Above: Cyperus eragrostis.
                                                       Above: Cyperus congestus.

Above: comparison of the inflorescences, with congestus on the left and eragrostis on the right.