31 December 2012

Melincourt Waterfall

A visit to a waterfall seemed appropriate after all the rain we've received this month and the walk up to Melincourt turned out to be surprisingly dry, at least until we arrived at the falls! Here, the force of the spray was too great to allow a full frontal shot, so we satisfied ourselves with more distant, partially obscured images.

The humid conditions of narrow, shaded valleys such as Melincourt provide ideal conditions for mosses and liverworts to flourish and the ground, rocks and tree trunks were festooned with various shades of green.
Greater Featherwort (Plagiochila asplenioides)
growing on wet rocks
Pellucid Four-tooth Moss (Tetraphis pellucida)
growing on a fallen tree
Wishing everyone very best wishes for 2013 and fingers crossed we'll see less rain and a little more sunshine!

30 December 2012

Yews within the Parish Churches of Gower

The photographs of Yews (Taxus baccata) in parish churches across Wales in Archie Miles’ Heritage Trees of Wales inspired Sandra and myself to brave the persistent wet weather and investigate the parish churches within Gower over the Christmas period. Of the 17 churchyards visited, 11 were found with Yew growing within the boundary walls. The largest specimen measured was at Llanrhidian, with a very respectable girth of 6.31m, though this would be a little less if the Ivy were to be removed. The second largest tree measuring in at 5.13m was at Ilston, where another 3.13m specimen also grows alongside Box with a basal girth of 2.61m. All other Yews measured were less than 5m.

The largest tree in each churchyard is ranked from largest to smallest below (apologies for the poor quality of the photos but it was dull and raining at almost every site!):

(1) 6.31m Llanrhidian (St. Illtyd & St. Rhidian’s Church)
Gower's Parish Champion Yew

(2) 5.13m Ilston (St. Illtyd’s Church)

(3) 3.72m Nicholaston (St. Nicholas’s Church)
largest Yew just out of shot to the left

(4) 3.68m Penmaen (St. John the Baptist's Church)

(5) 2.99m Bishopston (St.Teilo’s Church)

(6) 2.98m Reynoldston (St. George’s Church)
the church has four Yews, one on each side of
the church, this being the largest  by the entrance

(72.52m Oxwich (St. Illtyd’s Church)

(8) 1.45m Llangennith (St. Cenydd’s Church)

(9) 0.65m Oystermouth (All Saints Church)
fenced off and in poor health

(10) 0.15m Pennard (St. Mary’s Church)

(11) 0.14m Cheriton (St. Cadoc’s Church)
the smallest Parish Yew!

Parish Churches without Yews are:
  Llanddewi (St. David’s Church)
  Llanmadoc (St. Madoc’s Church)
  Penclawdd (St. Gwynour’s Church)
  Penrice (St. Andrew’s Church)
  Port Eynon (St. Cattwg’s Church)
  Rhossili (St. Mary’s Church)

It’s quite feasible of course that other large Yews grow elsewhere on the peninsula, for example there is a 4.01m Yew in the Mumbles British Legion car park, which currently qualifies as Gower’s third largest specimen. We know very little of parish churches away from the peninsula although there is some useful information on the Woodland Trust ‘Ancient Tree Hunt’ website which I would recommend exploring to those with an interest in veteran trees.

28 December 2012

Gower Black Poplars

Black Poplar (Populus nigra subsp. betulifolia) is a rare species in Britain and identification is confused by the multitude of hybrid poplars commonly planted in both urban and rural situations. Ian Morgan made me aware of two trees in the Swansea area, the most photogenic of the two being found in Parc-y-Werin, Gorseinon, which until August 1996 had a companion that was inexplicably removed. The girth of the existing tree was measured at 3.03m this year and the stump of the felled tree is of a similar size – one day I shall take some sandpaper down to clean up the stump and count the rings.
Parc-y-Werin Black Poplar 05-Nov-12
Alfie sniffing the old stump
Another tree is located in a hedgerow in Cwm Ivy. This is a much more difficult tree to photograph and measure as the trunk is gnarled and twisted, but a girth measurement at 70cm height of 3.38m suggests this may be the older of the two trees.  Earlier this year I also saw a tree on the Neath Canal, Melincryddan, though no measurements were taken.
Veronica Shenston at the
Cwm Ivy Black Poplar 27-Dec-12
To put these humble trees in context, yesterday we visited Brecon where Britain’s largest Black Polar grows – we measured the girth of this spectacular Champion tree as 7.03m.
Sand at Brecon Black Poplar 26-Dec-12
Brecon Black Poplar 26-Dec-12

23 December 2012

Domestic Diversity

A couple of interesting breeds encountered this week:
Highland Cow on Fairwood Common
Rambo (breed unknown) above Rhossili beach

Gower Yews

Yews (Taxus baccata) are a frequent sight in churches and cemeteries throughout the UK. The National Champion stands at Ashbrittle Parish Church in Somerset and has a girth of 11.59m. At 11.28m, the Welsh Champion at Discoed in Powys is the UK’s second largest Yew. In Gower we’ve only measured a handful of Yews to date and the largest we’ve come across is a tree in Llanrhidian Church that has a girth of 6.31m. I'm sure others have looked before us and undoubtedly there are bigger trees around, so we’d be interested to hear if you know of any good examples of these living historical monuments.

19 December 2012

Natur Cymru art competition

Huw Jenkins of Natur Cymru wrote: Gower Wildlife - this is a great blogsite. You’re obviously keen and enthusiastic naturalists but are there any artists amongst the contributors or your readers? I hope so, because we at Natur Cymru (quick commercial: ‘the quarterly magazine that flies the flag for the wildlife of Wales’) are running a wildlife art competition. The challenge is to create a front cover. Unlike other magazines that have switched to digital photography we always use an original work of art. First prize £250 cash sponsored by WWF Cymru and three great runner-up prizes. Full details on our website: Natur Cymru

18 December 2012

Nice light

Nice light on the Gower, today. The Kestrel was at Mewslade Valley and the Stonechat was at Port Eynon. The Kestrel deserves a special mention since during visits I've made to Mewslade Valley in recent weeks I've found it to be very approachable. Anyone needing a photo of a Kestrel would do well to make the visit to see it. Even if you don't need a photo, to be given the trust of such a stunning bird and be able to approach quite close is truly special, and well worth the effort.

13 December 2012

New harvestman for Wales

I collected this large (leg span 114mm) unfamiliar species off Wendell Thomas' front door frame when delivering his Christmas card today. It looks remarkably like Opilio canestriniiwhich according the Spider and Harvestman Recording Scheme website has not been recorded in Wales [id confirmed by Peter Harvey, this being the first Welsh record and to date only noted at 13 other UK sites].

12 December 2012

Tree Sparrows in Gower 2012

Andrew Lucas wrote:
In 2012 Tree Sparrows seemed to become more elusive than ever.  Although a single bird was seen at Newton early in the year, and another - or the same - bird was in a garden nearby, things did not look good when they disappeared from their known breeding site at Newton Farm.

However, I was contacted by the RSPB recently to say that one of their surveyors for the Volunteer Farmer Alliance had turned up three, or maybe four pairs just west of Llandewi in summer 2012.  It seems that tree sparrows have wrong-footed us again!  Unfortunately, the RSPB have not been able to make contact with the surveyor (if you are reading this, please get in touch!!!), but they were happy to release information on where birds were seen.  Breeding probably occurred at three locations and was suspected at a fourth.
So, for winter 2012, with the generous support of the City and County of Swansea, a new feeding site has been established nearby.  Two feeders are near a disused quarry just south of Llandewi at SS461884, shown by the red arrow.  This a very convenient location, only 100m from the road on a public right of way!  Already, a flock of about 50 chaffinches has been attracted to the area.  Who knows what might be with them?

If you visit, let me know if you see any Tree Sparrows.  The seed is in a dustbin near the feeders, so feel free to refill them if you think they need it.  But, most importantly, please observe the country code.  In particular, keep to public footpaths and make sure you leave gates as you find them.  Tree Sparrows are farmland birds, and we rely on the goodwill of local landowners, who have been very supportive over the years.

Good luck!
Andrew Lucas
07968 838152

11 December 2012

Waxwings in Neath

Waxwings are now being picked up with some regularity in the Neath town centre area. The most reliable spot seems to be the ornamental sorbus sp which can be found next to Stockhams Corner roundabout; end of London Road.
Please be advised, don't come between one and a berry - they can be ferocious!

06 December 2012

Lyell's Bristle-moss in Gorseinon

The poplars in Parc-y-Werin, Gorseinon have an interesting assemblage of mosses and liverworts and today I noticed the distinctive Lyell's Bristle-moss (Orthotrichum lyellii) growing on the nearest poplar to the car park. It's distinctive characters, best seen when dry, are the slender upward curving branches that are covered with a dusting of brown gemmae (asexual propagules).