25 October 2009

Firecrest at Crymlyn Burrows

The Firecrest has got to be one of my favourite birds. It's tiny, with a striking appearance and a bold white eye stripe that looks too big for its head and a most amazing coloured back made up of greens and yellows, all blended to make a rich olive. My desciption doesn't really do it justice. It is always very busy, moving around while feeding on tiny insects in bushes and trees. The bird I saw today was feeding in a Butterfly Bush (Buddleja davidii) which are now well past flowering but clearly still holding lots of small insects. On two occasions it also flew out of the bush to catch insects, flycatcher style. A true jewel of the autumn passage of migrant birds and one to brighten up a rather grey day.

21 October 2009

Med Gull [White 35J7] back in Bracelet Bay

Details received of White 35J7, seen back in Bracelet Bay on 19th Ocotber, show it to be another well-travelled individual, having spent last winter in s-w Portugal. Most of the birds we see generally move between the Benelux countries and southern coasts of the British Isles and northern France.

19 October 2009

Lichens on Twigs - Charles Hipkin

At this time of year when leaves are falling off our deciduous trees, the abundance of mosses, liverworts and lichens that live as epiphytes on tree bark is much more apparent. Among the lichens, some of the most obvious are the larger, foliose species of Parmelia. But close inspection will reveal a beautiful mosaic of smaller lichens, especially on the smooth bark of twigs in well-lit environments. Arthonia radiata and Lecidella elaeochroma (shown in the photograph below, taken on a walk along the Old Railway Trail in Afan Argoed) are common on smooth-barked trees. At a glance they look similar, but under a hand lens you should see that A. radiata has irregular (sometimes star-like) shaped apothecia while those of L. elaeochroma are roughly circular [click on the image to see detail of these two species].

Lecanora species belonging to the Lecanora subfusca aggregate are also very common, especially L. chlarotera. Unfortunately, species in this group are often difficult to tell apart without microscopic examination. In the photograph below (which was taken near the parking area on Crymlyn Burrows), you can see L. chlarotera with the pale red brown apothecia (upper right) and L. argentata with the darker brown apothecia (upper middle) – the lichen on the upper left is Lecidella elaeochroma again. The apothecia of L. chlarotera have a coating of mica-like granules on their surface but those of L. argentata do not show this feature. L. argentata is very under recorded. Note that the apothecia of Lecanora species have a distinct white margin.

Physcia species are small, foliose lichens with narrow lobes. Two species encountered commonly on woody twigs are P. adscendens and P. aipolia. Both are very distinctive and the photograph below shows both species side by side for comparison. Physcia aipolia is the one on the left with the abundant, dark apothecia. In contrast, the thallus of P. adscendens produces prominent hair-like cilia and the ends of the lobes have a mass of powdery soredia. However, P. adscendens rarely produces apothecia. The lichen on the far right of the photograph is Lecidella elaeochroma again. All these lichens were found growing on young oak twigs near the car parking area on Crymlyn Burrows.

Large yellow patches of Xanthoria parietina are often found on the twigs and trunks of trees near our coast. Along the Coed Morganwg Way, near Bryn, exposed Larch twigs are covered with the smaller Xanthoria polycarpa. Note the abundance of apothecia which almost cover the thallus.

Also see: http://goweros.blogspot.com/2009/10/afon-argoed-lichens.html

18 October 2009

Serbian Mediterranean Gull

I have just received details of the colour-ringed Mediterranean Gull 'Red YHE8' that was present in Bracelet Bay on the 13th October. Apparently this is the first Serbian bird to be seen in Wales. Also present that day were 'White 34H2' and 'White 38J0', both Belgian birds; White 34H2 (ringed as a chick in 2002) is quite well travelled having been seen in France and Germany as well as visiting a number of sites in South Wales. White 38J0 appears to simply commute between Belgium and Swansea.

16 October 2009

Earth Balls at Cilifor

The stone-like fruiting bodies of Common Earth Ball (Scleroderma citrinum) were found to be fairly frequent around the bases of the birches on the east side of Cilifor Top (SS505925), though few other fungi were noted, possibly due to the recent dry conditions. Scleroderma citrinum is the only mushroom that plays host to Boletus parasiticus, an extremely odd little bolete that actually parasitizes this puffball. See http://www.mushroomexpert.com/scleroderma_citrinum.html

15 October 2009

Shaggy Soldier in Gorseinon

I first noted this bird seed alien growing in the gutter of Pencaecrwn Road, Gorseinon in 2003. It has reappeared in the same spot every year since and seems well-and-truely naturalised in this niche! There are other surprises amongst Gorseinon's 'pavement flora', perhaps the most usual noted to date being Marsh Arrowgrass (Troglochin palustre) found growing in association with Jointed Rush (Juncus articulatus) in a gutter kept permamnently wet by a leak.

Red-legged Partridge in Newton

Peter Douglas-Jones wrote: 'This Red-legged Partridge, reportedly the survivor of two, walks from garden to garden in the Marytwill Lane/ Brynfield Road area of Newton. It has taken peanuts from my hand. It is a fussy eater (in contrast with my Wood Pigeons), preferring its peanuts halved and skinned. It knows how much it wants and then stops (again, a contrast with the pigeons, which do not know when to stop). I first saw and photographed it on 6 August and last saw it on Sunday 4 October. It flies weakly; enough to get onto a high garden wall out of reach of foxes, but perhaps not safe from cats. I took scores of shots of it dust-bathing. Voice; a low companionable grumble, such as I might have with a favourite neighbour. Barely audible further away than ten or 12 feet.'

Oxwich Marsh feeding station

A fairly busy morning with 90 birds processed, including 2 more new Cetti's Warbler, a Jay (photo above) and 28 Reed Bunting, 6 of which were retraps. This brings the total for new-ringed Reed Bunting in the marsh up to 115 for 2009. This is a much higher total than in previous years and may be a result of the management that has taken place in the last couple of years? Also of interest, a Chaffinch was controlled, having been ringed in the Nitten Field (Mewslade) only 7 days ago!

14 October 2009

Western Conifer Seed Bug in Baglan

Another Western Conifer Seed Bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis) has come to light (possible literally). It was found and identified by Claire Miller and Becky Sharp of the Countryside and Biodiversity Units of Neath Port Talbot CBC. It appeared on their office window, on the 1st Floor of the Quays Building, Baglan on 30th Sept 2009. The record predates the specimen found in Swansea on 7th October and replaces it as being the first reported Welsh record. For more information see http://goweros.blogspot.com/2009/10/western-conifer-seed-bug-in-swansea.html

13 October 2009

Reedbed management at Oxwich Marsh

There has been a considerable amount of management carried out by CCW at Oxwich Marsh over the last few years, aimed at fen restoration. When complete the work will restore a significant area of open-marsh habitats that should be beneficial for a wide range of species. Access and viewing are also to be improved at the site, which should prove popular with birdwatchers, and it is hoped that some of the site's former glory can be recaptured.

12 October 2009

Alien import!

This 16mm long pyralid moth accidentally imported from India in Cassia fistula pods has been provisionally determined by Martin Honey at the Natural History Museum as Trachylepidia fructicassiella. Unsurprisingly, it appears not to have been reported from the UK previously. At the end of July a few small wasps appeared (presumably parasitoids of the pyralid), followed by the first moth on 3rd August. Yesterday's freshly emerged adult was at least the 9th to appear from the two pods, known locally as 'Viagra Sticks'!

Late Black Tern

A very late juvenile Black Tern at Tutt head today and a winter plumage Guillemot. Adult Mediterranean Gull made up a great trio in the same binocular view.

10 October 2009

Oxwich Marsh feeding station

A total of 37 Reed Bunting were trapped this morning at the feeding station with 6 being retraps; the oldest of these having being ringed in the marsh on 12th April 2007. Two Cetti's Warbler (photo above) were also ringed, these being only the 10th and 11th of the year so far. It appears that this species may have suffered higher mortality than usual last winter, and recovery at Oxwich Marsh at least seems slow.

Tagged Red Kite at Three Crosses

This tagged Kite was just north of Three Crosses today. It was ringed as the eldest chick from a brood of 3 to the north of Swansea by Gwyn Roberts in June 2007 [Gwyn has just informed me that I actually helped him ring this brood, so good to see an old friend!]. This is the only sighting since it fledged.

09 October 2009

Honey Fungus in Gorseinon

Honey Fungus (Armillaria mellea) is one of the most feared of garden pests and it’s been in our garden since for at least three years, with noticeable dieback of part of our privet hedge. The RHS states 'There are no chemicals available for control of honey fungus. If honey fungus is confirmed, the only effective remedy is to excavate and destroy, by burning or landfill, all of the infected root and stump material'. However Nigel Stringer did tell me of an old wives tale, that by spreading flour over the affected area it encourages another fungus (species unknown to Nigel) which will suppress and eventually kill off the Honey Fungus. I did treat the affected area last year and less has appeared so far this year, but time will tell!
Note that this is a good time of year to look for waxcaps on garden lawns which can be surprisingly good for this group...

08 October 2009

Whinchat at Oxwich Marsh

A late Whinchat with 2 Stonechats along the fence in Oxwich Marsh today was my first sighting of this species at this site in many hours of observing there.

07 October 2009

Brown Hare on Crymlyn Burrows Beach!

Today, while on my birding circuit of Crymlyn Burrows and the nearby Golf Course, I was amazed to be joined on the beach by a Brown Hare. The tide was right out and I was the only person on the beach. I was looking at the waders for something unusual when I noticed an animal run onto the beach from the dunes. My first thought was that it was a small dog but on closer inspection it was clearly a Brown Hare. I was standing dead still about 100 yards from the dunes. The Hare spent about 2 mins on the beach coming in my direction the whole time. At a range of about 30 yards it finally noticed me and sprinted back to the cover of the dunes. While sprinting back at one point the Hare started prancing a bit like Antelope do (to show how physically strong they are) when they are running away from danger. It truly was an amazing experience and one I will never forget.

Other highlight from today 8 Lesser Redpoll and 5 Redwing over Golf Course and 20+ Reed Bunting around the saltmarsh.

Western Conifer Seed Bug in Swansea

This image of the Western Conifer Seed Bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis) possibly constitutes the first Welsh record of this rapidly colonising North American squashbug (Coreidae)[now pre-dated]. Ian Tew was given the photograph by Chris Beynon, who found the specimen on the 7th floor of the Faraday building in Swansea University; he then passed on to Tristan Bantock for identification.

Tristan wrote: The bug has again attempted to colonise the UK from Europe during autumn 2009 and records have been flooding in from the south coast. This is, however, the first record for Wales (to my knowledge). I have also had several reports from inland areas with large stands of pines; these must relate to locally bred individuals and are highly suggestive of established populations. Surely it is here to stay and it is a truly spectacular creature!

For further information check out these pages:
If you happen to be lucky enough to find one for yourself please make sure that the record gets passed on. Note that there are other similar looking species so try and capture an image for verification.

06 October 2009


For many years now, Goldfinches have nested in our front and rear gardens and visited my peanut feeders during the summer, only to disappear in the autumn. This spring, I invested in a couple of Niger seed feeders and have lately added a sunflower heart dispenser. The result has been dramatic. Instead of just a handful, I now have up to 30 Goldfinches at any one time and I believe that the numbers are still increasing. They do irrupt and leave periodically, but are rarely away from the garden for more than a few minutes. Many are juveniles, but there are about equal numbers of adults as well. All are finishing off their body moult, with the adults, instead of sporting red faces, now having a delicate shade of orange behind the bill. I am confident they will stay for the winter, but really should put up my mist nets to find out just how many birds are involved……

Med Gull [White C378] returns again!

Just received details of a couple of colour-ringed Mediterranean Gulls seen recently in the Bay. White 3C78 (originally bearing White 46E), was ringed as a chick near Antwerpen, BELGIUM on 4th June 2002 and was seen in Bracelet Bay in its first winter by Harold Grenfell on 03 February 2003. Since then it has returned most winters and has been seen by a number of local observers. It appears not to be a very widely travelled bird when compared with some, other ports of call only being Pas-de-Calais & Somme in FRANCE and Oost-Vlaanderen in BELGIUM, where it possibly breeds. In 2009 Harold saw it again on 8th March, it was then seen in Pas-de-Calais in July before returning to Bracelet Bay where I saw it on 25th September.

White 35E2 was ringed a chick at Oost-Vlaanderen, BELGIUM on 21st May 2005, it was seen again in the colony in May 2008, and appeared in Bray harbour and Dublin IRELAND in Jan-Feb 2009 before I saw it at Blackpill on 21st September.

If you see a colour-ringed bird please report it to the scheme organisers found via the very useful c-r birding website at http://www.cr-birding.be/

05 October 2009

Turnstones under Mumbles Pier

At least 60 Turnstones around Mumbles Pier this afternoon at low water. No Purple Sandpipers as yet, but no doubt they will show themselves soon. Mediterranean Gulls outnumbered Black-headeds feeding on bread being thrown out from a car in Bracelet Bay.

Merlin at Crymlyn Burrows

At this time of year passerines can be seen in large numbers. Flocking together at sites where food sources occur often near the coast. Crymlyn Burrows often has flocks of finches made up mostly of Goldfinch, Linnet and Greenfinch with small parties of Skylark and Meadow Pipit also found in good numbers here. These numbers of birds inevitably attract the attention of birds of prey. The Merlin, Britain's smallest falcon, prey on these smaller birds. They like large open areas where they can watch the flocks of birds at distance before launching their surprise attacks.

Today a female Merlin was at Crymlyn Burrows sitting on a low post for a couple of minutes before flying off low over the ground which is how they perform their surprise attacks. Merlins are not too uncommon around our coast at this time of year and are recorded at Crymlyn Burrows most years.

Afon Argoed lichens

1. Porpidia macrocara
2. Porpidia tuberculosa
3. Rhizocarpon reductum
4. Baeomyces rufus
Charles & Hilary Hipkin noticed this amazing rock while walking on the Penhydd Trail in Afan Argoed on Saturday. Charles wrote: These are all crustose lichens that grow on acidic rocks. You can find them on any walk in upland areas of the Swansea and Neath Valleys. The reddish stained lichens in the photo are all Porpidia macrocarpa . It produces very large black apothecia and extracts iron from the rock, which gives rise to the red colouration. Rhizocarpon reducrum is somewhat similar but has a black-lined, cracked prothallus with lots of small black apothecia. Both are very common on acidic rocks in the uplands. The plain white lichen (but often with a few apothecia) is Porpidium tuberculosum. It’s an extremely common lichen on acidic rocks, in upland areas and walls and gravestones in the lowlands. Baeomyces rufus has short-stalked brown (or pinkish-brown) apothecia at this time of year which make it very conspicuous. It is called the Brown-beret lichen. It’s not as common as the others, but now is a good time to look for it.

04 October 2009

Oxwich Marsh feeding station

The first ringing session at a small winter feeding station recently set up was reasonably successful this morning with a total of 15 Reed Bunting being netted, this being a UK BAP priority species. Two Marsh Tit and a late Reed Warbler [both shown above] were also notable captures. 65 Reed Buntings were ringed at this site over summer months and the project aims to reveal more about the Reed Bunting population in the marsh as the season progresses.

01 October 2009

A good season for Forest bugs

I don't remember seeing so many Forest bugs (Pentatoma rufipes) before. One or two have dropped out of every bush I've beaten for caterpillars and since the begining of July there has been one outside or sometimes in all my moth traps.