31 May 2011

Two of Gower's eyebrights

Euphrasia cf. arctica subsp. borealis
Eyebrights are notoriously difficult to identify to species; not only are most species similar in appearance, often with different subspecies, but they also hybridise freely. So it was nice to be shown a new species, provisionally identified by Julian Woodman  from CCW as Euphrasia arctica subsp. borealis. We also noted one of the larger eyebrights, E. rostkoviana subsp. rostkoviana, which is locally abundant in some of north Gower's fields. These are two of eight species recorded in West Glamorgan.
E. rostkoviana subsp. rostkoviana is one of the larger-
flowered species, shown here growing with Yellow Rattle 
If you're unsure about an eyebright's identification (as I often am!) it's best to record it simply as Euphrasia officinalis agg.

29 May 2011

Little Hills Farm

The fields of unimproved marshy grassland at Little Hills support a fantastic assemblage of plants and insects including key species such as Marsh Fritillary (Eurodryas aurinia) and Soft-leaved Sedge (Carex montana), but it is the quality and richness of the habitat mosaic across the site that is most impressive.
Heath Spotted-orchids
Heath Spotted-orchids (Dactylorhiza maculata) are locally abundant along with Meadow Thistle (Cirsium dissectum), Devil's-bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis) and a wide range of sedges. The farm is private land but is pretty much an extension of the habitats on Pengwern Common where a similar range of species can be seen, the western margin being a particularly good area to explore (~SS631917).
Marsh Fritillary eggs and cuckoo-spit on
Devil's-bit Scabious
For more pictures from Little Hills check out http://moonmoths.blogspot.com/
Thanks go to CCW staff for inviting us to join them on one of their monitoring visits.

26 May 2011

Upper Neath Valley

Mountain bumblebee (Bombus monticola)
 It was nice to make a couple of return visits to the Upper Neath Valley earlier this week. The weather was a bit blustery but at least it remained dry. Great to see Bombus monticola was present again this year. Only one very ragged worker noted.
Heath Bumblebee (Bombus jonellus)
 Confirming Bombus jonellus is no easy task with a number of very similar looking bumblebees. Armed only with a camera and by taking loads of photos the bee above shows pale hairs on the hind tibiae which eliminates B. hortorum & B. ruderatus which have black hairs. Male B. lucorum has tripped me up in the past but the lack of yellow face hairs rules out this species. I think!
Field cuckoo bumblebee (Bombus campestris)
 A couple of cuckoo bumblebees above had me deliberating for some time. The one on the right is certainly an intermediate form of Bombus campestris which is a very variable species. Although not a classic form of the bee, the left one appears to be a pale phase of the same species? This species is a cuckoo of Common carder bee (Bombus pascuorum).
Bracken Chafer (Phyllopertha horticola)
 Bracken Chafer is sometimes known as Garden Chafer and there were reasonable numbers of them quite widespread.
Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages)
Some very worn individuals of this species were on the wing with this one above in by far the best condition. Having watched the ferocity of their long lasting aerial battles it is little wonder why they look so worn out!

24 May 2011

Busy Plovers

chick hiding under clover after a gull went over 
A pair of Little Ringed Plovers with young at site in Port Talbot Docks were extremely tolerant of vehicles passing within yards of where they'd chosen to let their chicks feed. In fact one chick actually went through a fence and under my car at one point (parked I hasten to add!).
male LRP on guard duty
Breeding Ringed Plovers also present at another site not far away probably on second attempt.
male RP calling to female

23 May 2011

Narrow-bordered Bee Hawks on Welsh Moor

Paul Tyrrell wrote 'Have been out on Welsh Moor over the past few weeks, and have been able to find and photo, what I think is the Narrow-bordered Bee Hawkmoth (Hemaris tityus). I seem to remember you asking me to keep an eye out for them, as Welsh Moor is a good spot. First seen on 30th April, and have seen several since, although Saturday 21st May the only one found was dead.'

These are excellent sightings Paul of one of Glamorgan's BAP Priority moths and that's a great action shot of one nectaring on Lousewort. Like the Marsh Fritillaries you saw at this site last week, the larval foodplant is Devil's-bit Scabious.

Carmarthenshire Hoverflies

Following on from recent hoverfly postings, I can recommend that anyone interested in recording this group will find Ian Morgan's detailed account of Carmarthenshire's Hoverflies very useful. You can find this at http://yrefail.net/dig/DIG_Vol33.pdf

Water Stick Insects at Broad Pool

Jeff Hinton wrote 'I don't know if it's a particularly noteworthy sighting but I saw my first water stick insect (Ranatra linearis) whilst pond dipping near Broad Pool on Sunday 8th May. All together I came across 3 of them, one of which was heavily infested with mites. During the same trip I also found numerous final instar Emperor dragonfly larvae and was surrounded by Four spot chasers, Broad bodied chasers and, slightly unexpectedly, Hairy hawkers (I've never seen these at this site before).'

Although I have seen this distinctive species at a couple of sites, I know very little about it's preferences so would be interested to discover if and where others have seen it locally?

21 May 2011

Henbane at Cwm Ivy

Locally Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) is a very rare plant and Peter Sturgess has been monitoring a small population that he found near Cwm Ivy in 2008. With help from Peter and Andy Cole, Neil Edwards and myself saw 12 plants at one site, a few of which had started flowering.
each flower about an inch across
Due to todays breezy conditions Neil kindly held the base of the plant to steady it while I took a few shots and afterwards he commented how it had left his hands all sticky. I hope he washed them before eating as I've just read that it can be toxic, even fatal, in low doses. Apparently plants produce hyoscyamine, scopolamine, and other tropane alkaloids and common effects of Henbane ingestion in humans include hallucinations, dilated pupils, restlessness, flushed skin and occasionally tachycardia, convulsions, vomiting, hypertension, hyperpyrexia and ataxia.

This plant was also discovered at Port Eynon car park in 2001 by the late Tony Lewis. He later found out that apparently dozens of seedlings appeared there in 2000 but were destroyed with only a few surviving to flower in 2001. These are the only modern West Glamorgan records I am aware of, so please do make a note if you come across it elsewhere, but best not to touch it!

Old wellies

Last winter I obtained a new pair of wellies and decided to put my old pair to good use. In each boot I poked a hole in the toe for drainage and trimmed off the legs, leaving enough heel to provide protection from the elements. I then used garden wire to narrow the foot hole and stuck the left foot in a conifer and the right foot on an ivy-covered post. To my amazement, I checked them today and both left and right boots are currently occupied, though I'm not sure yet who the occupants are.
welly nest-box in leylandii
So next time you go to throw out and old pair of boots, you may want to consider providing some alternative housing for your garden birds!

19 May 2011

Gall on Yellow-cress

There’s a large population of Creeping Yellow-cress (Rorripa sylvestris) on the shingle banks of the Tawe River near Pontardawe. This year most of the plants in the population have been infected with the gall midge Dasyneura sisymbrii, which also forms similar galls on Winter-cress (Barbarea vulgaris) and Hedge Mustard (Sisymbrium officinale). The gall is roughly spherical, creamy coloured and about the size of a small pea. Galls are fantastic things. They can be caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi , mites and insects such as beetles, aphids, midges , sawflies and gall wasps. But whatever the causative organism, the plant is stimulated to grow abnormally (like a tumour) to produce a distinctive structure that gives protection and food for the gall former. Gall midges are flies (two-winged insects) whose larvae feed and develop inside the gall structure.

Vagrant Emperor sightings request

In recent weeks a dragonfly blog has been set up specifically to share and help record dragonflies within the VC41 boundaries. Adrian Parr contacted this blog with regards to Vagrant Emperor sightings. Adrian is a member of the British Dragonfly Society and Migrant Dragonfly Officer. He is working on an article documenting the recent extraordinary numbers of this species in the British Isles, to be published this summer. It would be great if you have been fortunate enough to have seen this dragonfly and are able to contribute to building a picture, to be presented in this article. If you have seen this species or know someone who has and have not yet reported it to a county recorder, then please provide contact details to

Adrian Parr at adrian.parr@btinternet.com

Mike Powell at mike.powell2@coorsbrewers.com

VC41 dragonfly blog at vc41drogonfly@gmail.com        and details will be forwarded on.

Adrian provided a nice bit of information which shows what a remarkable dragonfly the Vagrant Emperor is and also how remarkable the recent "invasion" has been.

These last few months have seen record numbers of Vagrant Emperor dragonflies reported from the UK. This species normally breeds in sub-Sarahan Africa, but is a very powerful migrant, having reached both Iceland and the New World (the Caribbean) in the past. Prior to this year, there had been only some 30 records from Britain in the past 100 years.

To check out the VC41 Dragonfly blog follow the link below.

VC41 Dragonfly Blog

17 May 2011

Afan Argoed

Chrysotoxum arcuatum: hoverfly of more upland wood edge

Cercopis vulnerata: a froghopper which I've never seen in such large numbers

last lot from Parkmill I promise!

Syrphus ribesii: Hoverfly

 Nomada fabriciana: thanks Andrew Grace of Hastings (see below)

Tetrix undulata: small grasshopper like animal, adult at this size

Rhagio scolopaceus: Downlooker/ snipe fly look on sunny tree trunks

Pyrochroa serraticornis: a cardinal beetle, antennae look wrong (female) so maybe I am?

even more from Parkmill valley

14 spot ladybird: Propylea 14 punctata

Garlic hoverfly: Portevinia maculata

Myathropa florea: a hoverfly

Melanostoma scalare: a hoverfly

Maybe Lissonota setosa: a big ichneumon which lays on goat moth larvae if it's this species.
Mick Massie suggests possibly Dolichomitus imperator to be seen on www.natureconservationimaging/images/Dolichomitus-imperator-1.jpg

but on the same site is Ephialtes manifestator which looks uncannily similar. Neither of these lays on goat moth, end of excitement!

Hornet seen by Penny Neyland but not photographed, 3 seen in widely differing places during the whole week, they must be getting common now.

more from Parkmill valley

Helophilus pendulus; hoverfly

Gastrophysa viridula: beetle on Rumex

Ferdinandea cuprea: hoverfly

Eristalis pertinax: hoverfly

Episyrphys balteatus; hoverfly

Last week in Parkmill Valley

Dun Bar caterpillar on Hazel

Sloe Bug: Dolycoris baccarum nymph

Sloe Bug: Dolycoris baccarum adult

Dark Bush Cricket: Nymph

Xylota segnis: hoverfly

Andrena haemorrhoa: solitary bee


Hoverfly: Sericomyia silentis

Hairy Dragonfly: Brachytron pratense

Both seen on a windy but sunny sunday morning last. Also there was Calopteryx virgo the Beautiful Demoiselle.

In my garden

Clytus arietus, a wasp beetle who's larvae live in wood, none in my garden!

A not so useless plant!

Bombus pratorum worker


Glands = x
I'd always regarded Laurel, whichever it is, as a useless plant but on sunday noticed it was receiving the attention of a lot of bees and wasps. This included my first Bombus hypnorum in my garden! The animals were visiting the base of the underside of the leaves which, as shown above, have 2 pairs of glands either side of the main rib. The gland received much licking and obviously produce something to the liking of these creatures. Sugar solution or waxy substances come to mind. Any ideas?

15 May 2011

Soldier Beetles

Soldier beetles (Cantharidae) are so called because their bright colours resemble the uniforms of soldiers and sailors. There are 41 species on the british list, they prefer tall vegatation like umbellifiers where they will prey on dead or injured insects. Little is known about their early stages but an interesting titbit is that their larva will venture out in winter to feed and have gained the nickname of "snow worms".
Rhagonycha fulva

Cantharis rustica

Cantharis livida

There is sparse coverage of this genus in print, but Peregrine Productions at www.bombus.freeserve.co.uk sell a printed card of the 15 most common species, which is ideal as a place to start identification of this family.

Day Listing Neath Port Talbot

Tree Pipit
 I day listed NPT yesterday ie tried to record as many different species within the boundaries of the county inside a 24hr period. I was a long and physically exhausting day visiting a number of sites but, I was pleased in the end to record 91 species. Tree Pipit made me work for the tick and I had to revisit a nest site that I had found during the week to included it.
Tree Pipit nest
I visited 12 different sites yesterday and would probably gone on a bit longer had the wind not got up so much at the end. It was interesting that of the 91 species recorded, only 25 of them came after 09:00. There were a few annoying absentees from the day which included Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dipper, Goldcrest and Treecreeper. If you would like to see the day's list in full and the sites with the times the birds were recorded please follow the link below.

NPT Day List 14 May 2011