29 August 2012

Glossy Ibis at Penclacwydd

phonescope shot through Liz's 'scope

Whilst doing some botanical work yesterday, our group decided to make a small diversion and we popped into the Sir Peter Scott hide to look for Small Red-eyed Damselflies. A visiting birdwatcher, Elizabeth Boughey, was the only person in there and she drew my attention to a bird she was unfamiliar with - I was amazed to see a Glossy Ibis at close range, this constituting only the second record of this species at Penclacwydd. Well done Liz!

Another harvestman in Pontarddulais

Another species discovered in relatively recent times is Dicranopalpus ramosus. This is a much more conspicuous species than Sabacon, so the first British record from Bournemouth in 1957 and its subsequent rapid spread throughout southern counties is probably a good reflection of its true status. It is an easy harvestman to identify, not just because it has large claw-like palps, but it has a unique resting position whereby it sits appressed to the leaf, trunk or wall with legs splayed out together at right angles to the body. It is not uncommon locally but like most obscure groups is poorly recorded, so is worth noting/photographing if you come across it.

28 August 2012

Grass Snake at Penclacwydd

Clive Jones spotted this Grass Snake in the Deep Water Lake from the first platform beyond the Sir Peter Scott Hide, on Sunday. Luckily for me I was standing right next to him when he did! We thought the Snake was at least 3ft long.


The rare British harvestman Sabacon viscayanum is, apart from populations in the western Pyrenees and adjacent areas, virtually confined to Wales (with just one or two records on the English side of the border with that country). It is particularly relevant to Gower as it was discovered as a British species by R.H.R. Abbot only in September 1980 at Parkmill. He was a student/staff member at Manchester University, helping the late myriapodologist Gordon Blower on one of his regular surveys on Gower. Since then, it has been found at quite a few other sites, mostly within Wales. Typically, Sabacon occurs under loose, flattish stones (often on the underside of the stone) in shaded, damp, rocky areas in incised `cwms`, but I`ve also had it under rotting wood in a willow carr-covered dune slack at Merthyr Mawr and in similar circumstances at Tywyn Burrows, Carmarthenshire. You have to look for this species -it does not occur out in the open on walls etc like many common harvestmen, and it is this secrecy, combined with its restricted geographical distribution, that perhaps led to its late discovery as a British species. On the Carboniferous limestone I`ve found it under deeply-embedded rocks in mossy, shaded ash woodland at two sites in Carms., and it was in this habitat that it was initially discovered at Parkmill. It is known from the outer part of caves in the Pyrenees, so a subterranean habitat suits it well. Incidentally, also look out for the hard-to-find and rare, cryptic harvestmen Trogulus tricarinatus (one record on Gower limestone) and Anelasmocephalus cambridgei (two records on Carms. limestone ridge); both `play possum` when disturbed and remain motionless -something that Sabacon can also do, before suddenly `coming alive` and running off surprisingly fast. One of Barry Stewart`s incredibly good photographs that accompany this note shows Sabacon `playing dead`.
Sabacon is out at present (and will be at least well into the winter, with young instars in Spring) and it would be good if more records could be made. It is small (body size, excluding legs, =<5mm) but distinctive with a vaguely brick-coloured body and blue-grey legs and, especially withs its `boxing-glove` pediplaps.
At first-and on unsubstantiated grounds- it was suggested by one of the early recorders (not the initial discoverer, though) that Sabacon was an introduction, as it was recorded near a quarry. As remarked previously, I suspect that it belongs to that suite of taxa that colonised the British Isles directly along the Atlantic seaboard, rather than via the `traditional` SE (North Sea/Dover etc) route. Anyone undertaking surveys in SW England and Eire ought to look out for this harvestman.
I thank Barry Stewart for his excellent photos - as he told me, he has now been afflicted by the `opilio-virus` (for which there is no known cure!).

26 August 2012

Stag's-horn Clubmoss

The photo shows some Stag's-horn Clubmoss (Lycopodium clavatum) which was found today on a north-facing, mossy bank growing among heather, near Resolfen.

This is a very uncommon plant in Glamorgan and records of it in the county since the 1970s are few and far between. The Resolfen population is quite large (about 10 square metres) and the habitat it occurs in may have survived here for many decades, narrowly missing destruction by the development of conifer plantation. Amazingly, there were also scattered plants of Fir Clubmoss (Huperzia selago) growing along side it and nearby there was a small population of Round-leaved Wintergreen (Pyrola rotundifolia).
Clubmosses are vascular plants, related to ferns and usually associated with montane habitats. They are not mosses. The occurrence of this relict community in the middle of the Neath Valley gives us a fascinating glimpse of what must have been a more widespread feature of local vegetation once upon a time.

25 August 2012

Autumn Lady's-tresses at Mumbles

Today we counted 353 flowering spikes of Autumn Lady's-tresses (Spiranthes spiralis) in the tightly mown sward of the grassy banks behind Bracelet Bay, Mumbles (SS627872). I'm not sure if the mowing regime is relaxed to allow these plants to flower, but hopefully they'll have sufficient time to set seed before the mowing is resumed. 
Another interesting plant we noted was this clover, which keys out as Hungarian Clover (Trifolium pannonicum) [but possibly just a white form of Red Clover T. pratense], although the illustrations in Stace aren't quite correct, so we're seeking more expert advice (click here for more images of this plant).

Baird's Sandpiper in Pembrokeshire

View back from beach. Baird's Sandpiper in foreground in line with centre telegraph post
 Clive Hurford, one of Cardiff's finest birding exports, found this Baird's Sandpiper earlier in the week on a local patch. I made the trip to West Angle Beach, a beautiful location, yesterday and despite the weather, I was treated to a very enjoyable time watching this particularly attractive wader. It was fascinating to watch it in the changeable weather conditions, at both close range and from afar. It's ability to lie low to avoid being seen by potential harm was admirable, albeit a little worrying at times. On a few occasions it was attacked by some feeding Rooks, birds that I had previously not had a bad word to say about! Hopefully, there will be one found more locally in the not to distant future?
juvenile Baird's Sandpiper

If you'd like to watch some video that I took of the bird, from yesterday, then please follow the link below.
Baird's Sandpiper video

22 August 2012

Brimstones around Llanelli

The brimstone is regularly seen in SE Carmarthenshire, albeit in small numbers. Its food plants - buckthorn Rhamnus carthartica and alder buckthorn Frangula alnus are very localised, the former on the thin ridge of Carboniferous limestone that delineates the coalfield edge and the latter sparingly in hedgerows on often rather peaty soils. Alder buckthorn has been included in landscape plantings and these have now led to increased numbers of brimstones encountered. Barry Stewart made an interesting observation many years back when he was working at WWT Penclacwydd - he noticed that our local brimstones preferred alder buckthorn for their egg laying. I`ve since grown on many plants from berries, the now-mature bushes that I`ve planted around and in my garden often attract brimstones and their speckled green caterpillars can sometimes be found. The photo shows a female that was initially attracted to a Buddleja in my garden at Pwll, Llanelli and I was in the process of trying to sneak up to take a photo when she kindly landed on a flower of Knautia macedonica right at my feet- very obliging!

21 August 2012

Gypsy Cuckoo Bee. Again.. (Or maybe not!)

Gypsy Cuckoo Bee (Bombus bohemicus)
We are lucky that in our area it is possible to find many of the bumblebee species that make up the British list. The Gypsy Cuckoo Bee is one that can be locally common in these parts, and that is not surprising given that the host for this cuckoo bee is the White-tailed Bumblebee which is abundant. What is interesting is that the Gypsy Cuckoo Bee is often uncommon in many parts of Britain where the White-tailed Bumblebee thrives. It's also worth noting that I've only seen this species once before, last year (19/8/11), and that individual was also a male.

19 August 2012

Small Red-eyed Damselfly at Penclacwydd WWT

male Small Red-eyed Damselfly
Rob Taylor found some Small Red-eyed Damselfly flying in front of the Sir Peter Scott hide at Penclacwydd, this afternoon. I managed to get down to see them late afternoon by which time, the numbers on view from the hide had risen to being 50+. Alongside the good numbers of very territorial males, an ovipositing tandem pair was also on view.
Apart from size the diagnostic features for male Small Red-eyed Damselfly are found on the abdomen, which is divided into 10 segments. Segment 1 (S1) is attached to the thorax, and the segments are numbered sequentially to Segment 10 (S10) which is the very end segment. On male Small Red-eyed Damselfly there is more blue on the abdomen, S1 is completely blue and blue is found on the side of S2 and even the underside of S3. On male Red-eyed Damselfly the blue near the thorax is confined to S1 only. The other difference lies at the the other end of the abdomen; male Small Red-eyed Damselfly show complete blue on S10 and S9 but also a significant amount of blue on the side and underside of S8. On male Red-eyed Damselfly the blue is confined to S10 and S9.
I've included a record shot of a male Red-eyed Damselfly, taken earlier in the year at Neath Canal, for comparison.
male Red-Eyed Damselfly
The Small Red-eyed Damselfly was first discovered in the UK in 1999, at Essex (Brooks). Since then it has been spreading west through England but that expansion seems to have slowed considerably recently. An early feeling is that this find may represent one of, if not the, first records for Wales. However, similar resources show a lack of Red-eyed Damselfly in Wales when we know it has been established for a number of years. It will be interesting to hear news of any records previous to this one, from Wales. Whatever the case it is now in Llanelli and it would seem likely that it is to be found between there and the English border? With 50+ flying today it would appear that now is a good time to look for it.
I've attached a link below which will take you to the British Dragonflies website page for Small Red-eyed Damselfly where further photos and a distribution map can be found.


17 August 2012

A lot more terns in the Burry

Fantastic numbers of terns entered the Burry Inlet to roost on the evening tide today. Positioned on the mound at Wernffrwd I counted 1,707 Common Terns coming into roost along the route shown by the solid blue line. Several hundred more also arrived by the dashed blue line, but as I could not discount these being recycled birds  they are not included in the total. However, a group of 6 Little Terns arrived via this route, so undoubtedly many additional Commons will also have used this route too. A few Arctics and around 30 Sandwich were also seen today, but no Black or Roseate.

The red line shows the more typical pattern of tern movements on the high tide in recent times: Birds frequently gather off Pembrey/Burry Port then as the tides pushes up, they fly up the estuary, generally following the north shore, some then cut across from Llanelli to Salthouse Point and join the gull roosts anywhere between the point and Weobley. Not infrequently birds head right up to Loughor Bridge and may join the gull roost there, or more typically feed for a while before eventually heading back down the estuary mid-channel. They may then inspect or join the south shore roosts, but sometimes ignore them altogether and head straight out towards the lighthouse.
a dread of terns and gulls
Whilst the choice of roost site is highly unpredictable, the routes are predictable and it’s helped me connect with both Roseate and Gull-billed Terns that were initially found at Pembrey and Penclacwydd respectively. The best viewpoints that I know of to see terns in the Burry are shown by the black dots. Definitely worth chancing your arm this weekend as this is by far the highest number of terns I have seen since I started watching the estuary in 1989. The best time to witness all this activity is the hour or two before and after high water. At other times the birds appear to feed out in Carmarthen Bay. The weather of course also strongly influences these unpredictable birds, but following the guidelines above should improve your chances of success.
The end of a memorable tide.

This video is a strong candidate for the worst Common Tern video ever, but gives an impression of the way in which terns were constantly arriving all along the shore between Wernffrwd and Weobley. Click Here

16 August 2012

Crown Vetch on the Neath Canal

Crown Vetch (Securigera varia) is a scarce alien in the west and the appearance of a large population on the Neath Canal just west of Glyn-neath following clearance work suggests a seed bank may have been present from a formerly established population.

A more established alien is Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) which has its stronghold in South Wales and it is a common sight along forestry tracks and disturbed mineral soils in the north of the county, such as here on Hirfynydd.
from New Atlas

15 August 2012

Terns in the Burry

There were fantastic numbers of terns in the high roost at Wernffrwd this evening. It was impossible to count them accurately because of the constant movement of birds into the roost and disturbance caused by a young Peregrine, but I estimated there were ~800 Common, ~50 Sandwich, 20+ Arctic, 23+ Little, 1 Roseate & 1 Black. Unfortunately I only had my macro lens with me, but holding it to the scope I did manage a shot of sorts of part of the Little Tern flock; good to see a high proportion of juveniles amongst these. With The Gull-billed Tern last month 2012 is turning out to be excellent for terns - a Caspian would be nice next...

13 August 2012

Two new moths for Gorseinon

Although insect numbers have been significantly down during 2012, the garden moth trap produced 84 species over the last two nights, proving that there are still reasonable numbers of moths out there. Despite 17 years of trapping we do still encounter the odd new species for the garden and on Sunday morning Glamorgan and possibly Wales' first Cydia amplana was in the trap. This tortrix moth is a scarce migrant that has been appearing in small numbers along the south coast in recent days. Small Argent & Sable, a heathland species so presumably a wanderer, was another addition to the garden list this morning.
Small Argent & Sable
Cydia amplana

Boat trip 9/8/12

It was such a great day that it was difficult leaving any photos out. As you will see, in the end, I hardly left any out! All the bird photos on the post below.
Minke Whale (c) D. Roberts

Minke Whale

Common Dolphins (c) V. Shenston

Common Dolphin (c) D. Roberts

Grey Seal (c) D. Roberts

Compass Jellyfish (Chrysaora hysoscella) (c) D. Roberts

Boat trip (the birds) 9/8/12

Manx Shearwaters

Manx Shearwater (c) D. Roberts

Manx Shearwater (c) D. Roberts

Pomarine Skua above mixed feeding party (c) D. Roberts

Great Skua

Storm Petrel


Common Terns (c) D. Roberts

Common Terns

10 August 2012

The Sun

Today's sun spot activity shows 11 dots...or is it 13? It was 17 until I wiped my screen!

09 August 2012

Minke Whales south of Gower

Minke Whale
I was lucky enough to be part of a Boat trip, today, that successfully tracked Minke Whales in the waters between Gower and Lundy. Rob & Jenny Colley, Keith Naylor, Jacqueline Hartley, Dai Roberts, Len Moran, Veronica Shenston, Laura Roberts and myself were treated to spectacular scenes and came away very pleased with the day. This particular Minke was found by Veronica, very nice it was too! Hopefully I'll get a chance to put together a post to do the trip justice in the next few days but, I couldn't resist putting this photo up to whet the appetite. My special thanks go to Rob Colley for a truly unforgettable day

08 August 2012

Lots of Leucozona

female Leucozona glaucia
 A very impressive number of Leucozona glaucia were to be found along the Neath Canal, today. I'm usually only used to seeing one or two in this area , on any one day, but today they were by far the most common insect. I'd estimate well over 200 individuals between Resolven and Rheola.
male Leucozona glaucia
 Among all the L. glaucia was also this solitary L. laternaria, and it was nice to see it alongside it's close relative, which, incidentally is not unusual.
male Leucozona laternaria
Also today, 1 male Banded Demoiselle, 1 male Beautiful Demoiselle and a Kingfisher were some nice additions to the day.

Hoary Plantain in West Glamorgan

Hoary Plantain (Plantago media) is a familiar species of calcareous grassland in parts of Britain (including the Vale of Glamorgan) but is uncommon as a native species in West Glamorgan and Wales in general . This is odd given the occurrence of very suitable habitat in south Gower. However a small but persistent population occurs in grassland in the Quays, near Briton Ferry, where this plant was photographed today. It was probably introduced there in seed mixture along with the giant form of Lady's Bedstraw (Galium verum), Musk-mallow (Malva moschata) and Fodder Burnet (Poterium sanguisorba Ssp. balearicum) with which it grows. It's easily passed over, but it has an attractive inflorescence (by plantain standards!) which appears purple or pinkish. The  filaments of the stamens are much longer than those of Greater Plantain (Plantago major) and the scape (stem) is not grooved like that of Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata). Like Ribwort Plantain it's a grassland species and it often grows with it. All the plants in the Quays' population appear to have multiple rosettes of leaves at their base, a feature which has been noted by others. The photograph below shows the distinctive, long (>5mm) filaments.

07 August 2012

Med Gull (Ringed) : Bracelet Bay

One adult Med Gull sporting some "bling" amongst several on the rocks below the car park at Bracelet Bay last Sunday morning,I didn't count them but there were more Med Gulls than BHGs at Blackpill a little earlier.