30 August 2011

Galls on Mint, Dog Rose and Germander Speedwell

Plant galls often attract attention and they are usually conspicuous at this time of year. They result from the invasion of a plant by another organism, commonly an insect (e.g. a midge of wasp), or a mite (a type of Arachnid), but also by viruses, bacteria, mycoplasma and fungi. They are very common and can often be identified quite easily, particularly if you can identify the host plant. The British Plant Gall Society produce some very useful keys and Plant Galls by Margaret Redfern , one of the more recent editions in the Collins New Naturalist series, is a very readable, scholarly piece of work.

The photographs (above and below) were taken on and near Baglan dunes this weekend:

The Robin’s Pincushion (caused by the wasp, Diplolepis rosae) and the Germander Speedwell Gall (caused by the midge, Jaapiella veronicae) are very common , invariably described and illustrated in the guide books and therefore easy to identify. However, I was unfamiliar with the Mint Gall and the guide books were of little help. I think it may be caused by Aceria megacera (a mite), but my identification is tentative and comments (and correction) will be very welcome.

The Robin’s Pincushion is also called Bedeguar, a very old Persian name for this iconic, natural phenomenon. At this time of year the ‘pincushions’ are often bright red in colour, so they are easy to pick out. It usually grows on Dog Rose (Rosa canina)

28 August 2011

Autumn plants for Bees

Iceplant and Viper's Bugloss
The only species of bumblebee that I could find in the garden today was the Common Carder Bee, but there were good numbers noted feeding on the following flowers [+ the number of bees noted on each].
Viper's Bugloss (Echium vulgare) [16]
Wall Germander (Teucrium chamaedrys) [12]
Marjoram (Oreganum vulgare) [4]
Butterfly-bush hybrid (Buddleja x weyeriana) [2]
Iceplant (Sedum spectabilis 'Iceberg') [2]
Perennial Cornflower (Centaurea montana) [2]
Nemophila 'Five Spot' (Nemophila cultivar.) [1]
Nicotiana Sensation mixed (Nicotiana hybrids) [1]
Midnight Candy (Zaluzianskya capensis) [1]
Butterfly-bush hybrid 

A Touch of Autumn

It really felt like autumn yesterday afternoon as a cool breeze blew birch and poplar leaves around Baglan Energy Park. I love this site with its sandy areas of brown field compartments, which provide habitats for an incredibly diverse flora. It always seems to me that nature is trying to win something back here after hosting decades of industrial enterprise. Species, otherwise rare in Neath Port Talbot (and Glamorgan), include Wall Bedstraw (Galium parisiense), Deptford Pink (Dianthus armeria), Yellow Bartsia (Parentucellia viscosa), Sharp-leaved Fluellen (Kickxia elatine), Basil Thyme (Clinopodium acinos), Common Calamint (Clinopodium ascensdens), Distant Sedge (Carex distans) and Autumn Lady's-tresses (Spiranthes spiralis) which is shown below.

This fabulous little plant is a harbinger of the autumn and the last orchid to flower. Until yesterday I had never seen it in Neath Port Talbot although Elsa Wood found it previously in Gwrhyd Meadows near Pontardawe in 1991, one of its few inland sites in Glamorgan. It is predominantly a plant of coastal, calcareous grassland in Wales – there’s a nice population on Mumbles Hill.

Mushrooms and toadstools are synonymous with autumn and yellow waxcaps are currently putting on a good show in the short turf around the energy park. There are a number of confusing yellow species. Persistent Waxcap (Hygrocybe persistens - photo below) is variable in form and similar to the Golden Waxcap (Hygrocybe chlorophana), which is a more common grassland species. The pointed projection on the cap (the umbo) is a useful diagnostic feature. The cap is quite sticky in young specimens and it often splits at the edge.

The autumn flavour was enhanced by the conspicuous bunches of berries on trees and shrubs planted around the energy park. I’ve posted a selection of photos - Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), Alder Buckthorn (Frangula alnus), Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) and Whitebeam (Sorbus aria) below. Bring on the season of 'mellow fruitfullness'!

All photos taken yesterday afternoon at Baglan Energy Park.

27 August 2011

Yellow Wagtails moving through

(c) D. Roberts
Dai Roberts photographed this Yellow Wagtail at Llanrhidian this week, it being  1 of 4 birds seen there that day. Others have appeared elsewhere locally, including 6 at Castell-du seen by Paul Larkin. As mentioned previously this is a much scarcer bird in the west of the county (see http://goweros.blogspot.com/2010/09/yellow-wagtail-cardiff-v-swansea.html). The map below shows the best places to see the species locally and now is probably the best time to go out and look.
sigthings of Yellow Wagtail
large red dots = 2000 onwards
small red dots = pre 2000
small black dots = 2011

24 August 2011

Field Digger Wasp

Field Digger Wasp (Mellinus arvensis)
This female Field Digger Wasp was found on a track above Goytre. On one side of the track there was fair amount of erosion of the bank which had exposed a lot of bare soil, perfect nesting conditions. The bank was North facing and in the shade but an interesting fact about this digger wasp is that it much more readily makes nests in shaded areas than other digger wasp species and it also has an ability to remain active at lower temperatures. It follows that this wasp can be found flying late in the year sometimes into November.

23 August 2011

Broad Pool reflections

Quite a good sunset last night on a very still evening produced some nice reflections.

22 August 2011

Upper Neath Valley

Black Darter (Sympetrum danae)
 I saw my first Black Darter today. Most commonly found in upland habitats where it likes acidic shallow ponds, lake margins and moorland blanket bog. Now is a good time to look for this species with many records coming from the last couple of weeks in August and through September.
A Burying Beetle (Nicrophorus vespilloides)
 This Burying Beetle flew past me at close range and its striking markings were quite noticeable even in flight. If the strong markings were not impressive enough these beetles, often working in pairs, are able to bury the carcasses of small animals (birds, mice, etc) in the ground. They do this by digging shafts under the corpse before dragging it in. The female then lays the eggs next to the corpse.

Summits disease

The most striking of hoverfly enemies is the entomophagous (insect eating) fungus - Entomophthora muscae. It attacks a wide range of Diptera, with Melanostoma (scalare - this species) being particulary open to attack. The fungus enters via the digest tract and expands until it can be seen forcing itself between the abdominal plates. Before the fly dies the fungus somehow makes the fly crawl to a high point, straighten its legs and open its wings, giving the fungal spores the best chance of dispersal. This action by the fly is known as "Summits disease". The above photos were taken by Paul Parsons on the weekend in the Llynfi valley and shows the fungus's actions perfectly.


Just above Neath Abbey the River Clydach flows through a small wooded valley where the remains of what was presumably a mill lie at the base of a small waterfall. Invariably mosses are the dominant plants at such sites and extensive mats of Endive Pellia (Pellia endiviifolia) were noted along the base of the cliff to the left of the waterfall. This is an easily recognised thalose liverwort characteristic of base-rich sites.
note symmetrically branched tips of thallus
A peculiar narrow-leaved form of Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium cf var. angustifolium) was found growing above the waterfall, which was attracting good numbers of insects including several female specimens of the rather local hoverfly Leucozona glaucia.
narrow-leaved form of Hogweed
Leucozona glaucia

Marsh Mallow

(c) D. Rich
Dave Rich wrote 'On Friday, while driving along the marsh road near Wernffrwd, I came across a large number of flowering Marsh Mallow (Althaea officinalis) close to the road. On Gower, the plant is found on the upper parts of the salt marsh between Wernffrwd & Llanrhidian and at Cwm Ivy. It is a soft, hairy, greyish perennial with lovely lilac-pink flowers. In the past, it was used to treat mouth ulcers, throat infections & gastric ulcers.In more modern times, it was the original source of marsh mallow in sweets.'
Now is really good time to see this scarce plant in flower and as can be see from the Glamorgan distribution map, it also occurs up the Loughor almost as far as Pontarddulais.

19 August 2011

Gipsy Cuckoo Bee

Gipsy Cuckoo Bee (Bombus bohemicus)
During my visit to the Upper Neath Valley today I found this Cuckoo Bee. Luckily it sat well enough for me to take a few record shots and luckier still they show enough detail to confirm its identity. The key feature in this particular case is the antenna. First of all the antenna of this bee has 13 segments which make it a male (females have 12 segments). The markings of this bee are consistent with Vestal Cuckoo Bee (Bombus vestalis) and Gipsy Cuckoo Bee. The most reliable means of separating the two is by looking at the respective lengths of the 3rd and 5th segments of the antenna. In the Vestal Cuckoo Bee the 3rd segments is much shorter than the 5th segment but the Gipsy Cuckoo Bee shows the 3rd segment near equal length to the 5th, as shown below.
Antenna detail
The host species for the Gipsy Cuckoo Bee is the White-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lucorum).

17 August 2011

Spider-hunting Wasp

Spider-hunting Wasp (Anoplius nigerrimus)
I found this Spider-hunting Wasp today in the Upper Neath Valley. Its behaviour at first was reminiscent of a large Ant running quickly over the ground and inspecting holes under rocks. As the name suggest they hunt spiders, often many times larger and heavier than themselves. The thought of spiders hiding themselves away for fear of meeting this tenacious wasp seems strangely satisfying to me!  
Hunting Spiders!

16 August 2011

Eglwys Nunydd Reservoir

Any news Mark of access for birders being reinstated ?

15 August 2011

Port Eynon Salthouse

There were no terns to see yesterday so an nice sky over the Salthouse had to do instead.

Nocturnal Tree Bee!

A Tree Bee (Bombus hypnorum) in the moth trap last week was a first for me. Apart from this one I've not seen one for a few weeks - perhaps they forage at night!
worker Bombus hypnorum

14 August 2011

Goshawk over Nicholaston

After the poisoning of a juvenile Goshawk in Gower last year, it was good to see a 2011 juvenile terrorising South Gower's Woodpigeons today. The lower silhouetted bird in this distant photograph shows the characterisic bulging secondaries, long tail with sharp tail corners and large size, the accompanying Buzzard giving an idea of scale.

07 August 2011

Azalea Leaf-miner

The first Glamorgan record of this recent colonist was made on 15.May.2006 by Dave Slade in his Cardiff garden. We did not have to wait very long before it appeared in the west of the county as we recorded it in our Gorseinon garden just two months later on 18.July.2006 and there are now 34 records from nine Glamorgan sites. Probably overlooked due to its small size (just a few mm long), it is probably most abundant in urban sites where larval foodplants are more plentiful.
29.Jul.11 : 1 of 3 records from our garden this year. 

05 August 2011

Garnwen, Maesteg.

Leptura rubra. This Longhorn beetle was on the track that constitutes the East/West Glamorgan border.

Brynmill Sliders

This 2 kilo reptile, identified by Simon Allen at the Gower Bird Hospital as a Yellow-bellied Slider (Trachemys scripta scripta), has been accused of dinning out on ducklings in Brynmill Park Pond. There may be up to 6 of these North American 'Sliders', perhaps not all this species, lurking in the pond; but do they really eat ducklings? Personally I've never seen or heard of good evidence of this myself. Certainly the ducklings at the Wildlfowl & Wetlands Trust seem to do just fine despite a similar number of large Red-eared Sliders (T.s. elegans) being present. I'd be interested to hear if anyone has seen or heard of Sliders causing problems elsewhere.
(c) Simon Allen
Other terrapins recorded in our area in recent years have included Common Snapper (Chelydra serpentina) [1 record] and Red-eared (Terrapin) Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) [31 records, though it seems likely that some of these may be Yellow-bellied Sliders that have been misidentified].

04 August 2011

Thurba insects

Following some early morning checking of moth traps it was good to spend some time with Tristan Bantock, Ian Tew and Ray Wilson bug-hunting at Thurba. Tristan specialises in Hemiptera (check out his website http://www.britishbugs.org.uk/) and wanted to search for a Local ground bug associated with Buck's-horn Plantain found on coasts in the south-west of the UK. After reaching the outer part of the headland it wasn't long before Ian found one under a dessicated plant (stressed plants being preferred according to Tristan), quickly followed by a few more. Ray took this cracking image of one of these 5-6mm long bugs with its distinctive stalked eyes.
Henestaris laticeps (c) R. Wilson
Other good insects noted included the Nationally Notable Plume-moth Agdistis meridionalis, with its unusual resting posture (see below), Chalk Carpet, Annulet, Humming-bird Hawk-moth and another good bug Dicranocephalus agilis.
Agdistis meridionalis (c) R. Wilson
For more of Ray's photos check out his website at http://www.raywilsonbirdphotography.co.uk
Ian (hidden) behind Tristan and Ray
in good Henestaris habitat on Thurba 

Good time to look for the Fen Raft Spider

Paul Tyrrell wrote: 'Myself and Jamie Bevan (CCW warden at Crymlyn) went down to the Tennant canal on the morning of the 30th to look for Fen Raft Spiders, and with Jamie's help I managed to see eight individuals. As he told me, this is the best time to see them as the females tend to sit out in front of the nursery web which she constructs to keep the young spiders safe from predation. So when you find a web with an egg sack, or young spiders in it, and there can be well over two hundred in a web, there should be a large female near by, although you may find them without a web, once there young have dispersed.'
Web with egg sack
young spiders in the bottom left hand corner 

More Skink news

On 28th July Dave Carrington wrote: 'The parents of a child on our children's summer play scheme brought this lizard to Kenfig yesterday. Two of these came as hitch hikers in a crate from South Africa. We are not sure what species it is but it does bear some resemblance to internet images of the skink Trachylepis striata. I'd be grateful if anyone with knowledge or a field guide could assist with identification.'
(c) D.G. Carrington
If you scroll down to the reptile reported by Simon Allen on the same date, these look to be the same species.

03 August 2011

Terns at Pembrey Harbour

 I visited the Tern roost at Pembrey Harbour over the last couple of evenings. As one of the last sandbars in the Burry Inlet to flood on the very high tides, large numbers of Terns gather here. There was a Roseate Tern here on the 1st which I missed by about 5mins and it wasn't seen at all yesterday. But, I could hardly describe myself as disappointed leaving this location on either night since the spectacle that these most elegant of birds make when gathering in such high numbers is always captivating,

01 August 2011

Aquatic Common Lizard (Zootoca vivipara)

I was looking around one of my favourite ponds today when I spotted something unusual.

I peered into the pond and saw a palmate sitting on the benthos, then next to the newt I saw a common lizard walking along beside it...... I hadn't heard the plop of it jumping in when I approached so I was slightly confused. I removed it from the water and placed it in some heather and moved away so I didn't pose a threat, straight away it jumped back in to its original spot......

I then started recording it's behaviour....

I was triyng to encourage it out of the water, I never thought it would be so keen to dive in!

Watch full screen if you can and switch from 360 to 720HD in the bottom right corner it will be better quality....