30 November 2012

Waxwings in Killay

Mike Kirby photographed this flock of 21 Waxwings outside his house today after they fed on berries in his garden in Killay. Sounds like they may have moved on as he only saw them for a total of five minutes. There are over 120 in Cardiff at present so do look out for this species, there will be plenty to follow for sure...

28 November 2012

Waxwing in Penmaen

Rosemary Mason reports a single Waxwing in Penmaen today at 1pm.

26 November 2012

Juniper, Butcher's Broom and a very small moss

cliffs between Horton and Slade where Juniper,
Butcher's Broom and Starke's Pottia grows
South Gower is the only place in Wales where Butcher's Broom (Ruscus aculeatus) [below left] is considered to be native. In addition to being found in woodlands such as at Nicholaston, it also grows on the cliffs and there is a good population to the west of Slade. Click here to see the rather odd flower and fruit of this species.
Butcher's Broom
Our native Juniper (Juniperus communis) [flat bush on ledge, above right] is also restricted in Glamorgan to the south Gower cliffs, growing prostrate on exposed rock ledges where it avoids fires - unlike Gorse once burned it does not regenerate.

In the same habitat the tiny Starke's Pottia (Microbryum starckeanum) was found fruiting this weekend. This is an uncommon species that likes thin lime-rich soils and the height of these plants, including capsules, is less than 5mm. Note the tiny basal rosette of leaves are mostly hidden by the leaves of larger species in the photo below.

23 November 2012

Polypody sp at Crawley Bluff

The polypody ferns are at their best at this time of year and can be found on walls, tree trunks or dune ridges. In addition to Western Polypody (Polypodium interjectum) which is abundant on the dunes, there are some very good patches of Southern Polypody (P. cambricum) growing on trees in the woodland and scrub below and to the east of Crawley Bluff (voucher at NMW). However, it is unusual for Southern Polypody to grow on the ground and I have suspicions the hybrid (P. x shivasiae) might explain these seemingly intermediate plants noted under scrub below the bluff. Collection of material with ripe spores later in the season will hopefully resolve the matter.
distribution of Southern Polypody
distribution of Western Polypody
Spindle (Euonymus europaeus) is frequent in the woods in this area and its distinctive seed capsules make it particularly prominent at this time of year.

Nearby, bryophytes growing in profusion on a damp north-facing dune cliff included Wall Scalewort (Porella platyphylla) and Long-beaked Thyme-moss (Plagiomnium rostratum).
Wall Scalewort
Long-beaked Thyme-moss

22 November 2012

Gower Ornithological Society AGM

(c) M. Hipkin
A reminder that the Gower Ornithological Society AGM is tomorrow (Friday) night. Business usually does not take too long then there will be a presentation of 'Highlights from 2012' given by myself. Non-members welcome (£1 entrance). As with Ian Tew's excellent talk last month the theme will not be restricted to birds alone.

09 November 2012

Is the Ash destined to follow the Elm and the Larch?

This magnificent Dutch Elm (Ulmus  x hollandica), with a 4.05m girth, standing at the entrance to Rhydgoch Cemetery in Pontarddulais, clearly has suffered little ill effect from the ravages of Dutch Elm Disease. One of the reasons why English Elm (U. procrea) is said to have been so badly affected during the outbreak in the 1970’s was the lack of genetic diversity - the species does not to reproduce well sexually, being largely cloned from limited stock brought in during Roman times. By way of contrast, the Ash is far more sexually active. A higher level of genetic diversity should in theory improve the chances of more trees being resistant to the pathogenic effects of the fungus Chalara fraxinea, but predicting the level of impact it will have on our Ash woods and specimen trees seems likely to remain a subject of much debate. The best article I have seen so far on this topic can be found from the following link: Ash Dieback BSBI

With the dramatic reduction of Larch and now possibly Ash from our landscape, interesting times lie ahead. What will the status of the Gower Ash Woods Special Areas of Conservations be in 10 or 20 years time? I remain optimistic there will still be a lot of interest there - deadwood invertebrates could be worth studying before the situation changes!

The Kingfisher

Adult male has all black bill
Paul Tyrrell wrote: The kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) is one of our most colourful and in my opinion beautiful British birds, but also one of the most difficult to see. Most people, if they see anything at all, see just a flash of bright blue or emerald green and orange.

Here in Gower, now is one of the best times to see these great little birds, there are two main reasons for this; the first being that many of the inland birds move down to the coast for the winter, where the temperature can be one or two degrees higher, this may not sound like much but it can make the difference between the water ways freezing or not, which to a kingfisher may mean life or death, the second is simply with the loss of leaves and the die back of water side vegetation they are just easier to spot.
Female has orange lower mandible
At this time of the year most if not all of our streams and rivers will have at least one kingfisher on them. I myself have seen them at Bishopston Valley and Pwlldu where I saw one flying across the bay. Ilston Valley down to Three Cliffs and Oxwich. The sea wall at Cwm Ivy and any of the pills along the marsh road are also excellent places to look out for kingfisher. I have also been told by others who have seen them in Clyne Valley, Blackpill and in cold weather, even Oxwich point.

So next time you’re out and about near any of our local waters and you catch a glimpse of this wonderful bird, take the time and find somewhere out of the way, sit down quietly, watch and wait, you may be there for some time, but not always and if you are lucky enough to see a Kingfisher at close quarters it's something you will never forget.

All photos (c) Paul Tyrrell

08 November 2012

Larch.... the swan song ?

There are some spectacular autumn colours this year and larch, which never disappoints, is particularly striking in the Neath and Afan Valleys at the moment. The photo above was taken today, looking west down the River Afan towards Rhyslyn near Pontrhydyfen. I love the way the golden larch canopies bring the darker coloured spruces and pines into relief. None of the other conifers in our plantations support such a rich biodiversity of plants and lichens. These deciduous forests have been a sanctuary for wood warblers, a surrogate home for bluebells and usually become carpeted with bryophytes more typical of upland oak woodland as they mature. The light and 'airy' nature of larch woods also provides ideal conditions for lichens,  like Parmelia perlata (below) and Usnea subfloridana which often cover the twigs and branches.

And even in a poor year for toadstools, there's always some Larch Bolete (Suillus grevillei) to be found.

If you take a drive along the A465 to Glyn Neath, you'll get a good picture of the amount of larch forest that is bedded into the Neath Valley. Its removal (or death) will reveal a radically different landscape - you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone!
Forty years ago I had mixed feelings (mostly negative) about conifer plantation, but larch has melded gracefully into the local environment. I will miss this.

07 November 2012

Now that's what I call fungus (volume 23!)

Honey fungus as far as I can see (thanks Charles Hipkin for suggestion made blind). No wonder this poor Sycamore in Singleton Park looked so ill this summer.

06 November 2012

A spiny harvestman in Gorseinon

Sandra noted this large species on a wall in the street when we were walking the dog this evening. Note the prominent trident and spiny margins around the body margin and leg bases.
Odiellus spinosus
Odiellus spinosus

Dotterel Days by Colin Richards

(c) C. Richards
Colin Richards who is a very familiar name in the local birdwatching scene, and further afield, has recently completed a book on Dotterels. A bird many of us will have shared unforgettable moments with in remote locations. I'm looking forward to seeing the book which Colin hopes to have available for the forthcoming W.O.S. conference. I've included a passage from the introduction below.

"The high tops are very special. For the naturalist it is a chance to be mysteriously transported 2500 kilometres to the north and experience wild, virtually Arctic conditions where man's influence is not easily visible. The mountain tops can be dangerous, with snow storms any time of the year, when one feels insignificant and vulnerable to the elements. Yet at other times, under clear blue skies, it is a magical world with breathtaking views in all directions and perhaps, a Dotterel nearby!"

Please follow the link below where further details can be found on how to acquire the book, with a foreword by Iolo Williams.

Dotterel Days flyer - click here

05 November 2012

Gorseinon sunset

No apologies for yet another sunset as this one was simply beautiful (no Photoshop honest!). Photographed from the bedroom window 5 minutes ago.

Tree-hunting in Swansea

Tulip-tree with 8.61m basal girth
Like so many good articles in British Wildlife, Steven Falk’s ‘Tree-hunting in Warwickshire’ inspired Sandra and myself to venture out in yesterday’s dreary weather to see what we could find around Swansea. We knew about a large Tulip-tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) in Sketty and with a rough grid-ref it wasn’t difficult to spot. The girth around the base measured 8.61m (5.57m around the main trunk at 1.5m), which must make it one of the largest trees in Swansea. There was also a sizeable, multi-stem Horse-chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) nearby with a basal girth of 4.47m (2.04m at 1.5m along the widest trunk). Not far away were two Dawn Redwoods (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) with 2.5m girths at breast height (gbh – measured 1.5m above ground).
two Dawn Redwoods forming a single crown
We also measured an Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) by the tea (& cake!) shop at Perriswood Archery & Falconry centre that had an impressive 3.54m gbh. How long will we see these graceful trees in our landscape? Are the press just getting carried away, or is this another potential Dutch Elm Disease epidemic in the making? Only time will tell...
Ash at Perriswood
We also had time for a casual look at a few of the veteran trees on the edge of the Penrice estate by Mill Wood, which looked most impressive. One hollow Beech (Fagus sylvatica) had Porcelain Fungus (Oudemansiella mucida) fruiting inside the trunk.
hollow Beech
Porcelain Fungus

01 November 2012

Sticky Groundsel in Gorseinon

Just to prove that it's not too late in the season to find flowering plants of interest, Richard & Kath Pryce noted Sticky Groundsel (Senecio viscosus) and Shaggy Soldier (Galinsoga quadriradiata) growing as pavement weeds not far from the dental practice in Alexander Road. Both are uncommon in the county, the latter more so.
Sticky Groundsel