30 October 2013

Pectoral Sandpiper at WWT

A Pectoral Sandpiper made a fleeting visit at Penclawydd on the 28th - spotted by Wendell Thomas, Geoff Charlton, Malcolm Holding and Dave Williams (who managed to grab a few shots before it flew out on to the estuary with a group of Redshanks).
Quite a strong cap a broad supercilium for a Pec...
(c) D. Williams
...but unfortunately no buffy wash!
(c) D. Williams
Pectoral Sandpiper is a rare visitor that breeds in North America and north-east Russia.

26 October 2013

Drysiog farm, Bryn.

                Yellow stagshorn on conifer stump, the first i've
                seen for many a year.

21 October 2013

Wood-chip Fungus

Agrocybe rivulosa on woodchip, Melincwrt

Agrocybe rivulosa was first discovered in Holland in 2003. By 2004, it was found in Britain and has since spread throughout the country, growing exclusively (as far as I am aware) on wood-chip or mulch. This large troop of specimens was found this weekend on a wood-chip pile in Melincwrt, near Resolven. This is the first time I've seen it in Neath Port Talbot.
Because it is a new addition to the fungus 'flora' of Britain, it isn't described or illustrated in many books. For example, it isn't included in the revised edition of Roger Phillip's Mushrooms.  However there are several good photos on line and one in the Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms & Toadstools (Paul Sterry and Barry Hughes, 2009). There is also an illustration in the Collins Fungi Guide (Stefan Buczacki, Chris Shields and Denys Ovenden, 2012), but that doesn't show the most distinctive features of this species. The young, expanding fruiting bodies have a distinctive ring on their stems and a pale, wrinkled cap. The wrinkled-skin like appearance of the cap cuticle is very noticeable, as shown in the photo below. The gills are pale at first, then turn a dark grey-brown due to spore production.

Young specimens of Agrocybe rivulosa

Older specimens seem to develop a darker cap colour (see top photo), especially when wet, but this feature is rarely mentioned in guide books.

20 October 2013

Fishy Tales from Llanelli: a Modern Mystery

My neighbours` daughter, who lives in Dafen, Llanelli, brought me a fish yesterday that her cat had brought to her house last Friday (18th October). She had shown it to her brother, who has a general interest in natural history and fishing, and he thought that it was a sturgeon. It was clearly a very immature specimen, being just over 9" or so long.

Sturgeon can achieve considerable size, with the largest British ever one taken by rod actually being caught in Carmarthenshire, at Nantgaredig on the R Tywi back in 1933; another was caught in Pembrokeshire waters more recently.
For Glamorgan, Lewis Weston Dillwyn in his always very useful Materials for a Fauna and Flora of Swansea (1848), stated that, ` in some years they are much less frequent than in others`....and....`in March 1836, one was caught in the weir opposite Singleton and weighed about 210 lbs. In June 1808, a large sturgeon was taken close to Loughor, and another has been caught nearer to the mouth, in the same river.`
TW Barker`s very slim Natural History of Carmarthenshire (1905) simply offers the snippet, `a sturgeon makes its way up the Towy [Tywi] at rare intervals, much to the detriment of the nets of the coraclemen`.
The 1933 Nantgaredig individual was 9ft 2" long and weighed 388 pounds, and a famous photograph of this catch shows it strung up and towering over the man who caught it, a Mr Alec Allen. After the latter died in 1972, he arranged for his ashes to be scattered into the Tywi at the very spot where he had caught this Leviathon.
So, is the Dafen find of last Friday really one of this rare fish? It would be nice to think so, with perhaps this unfortunate juvenile making its way up the Afon Dafen (a small, much modified minor river) which is quite close to the finder`s home.
However, an internet search shows that non-native sturgeon are sometimes stocked into fishing lakes with online quotes suggesting, ` some shady angling waters have been buying sturgeon from the pet centres and letting them out`. They apparently can be bought for garden ponds and are non-native Russian species, in particular, `sterlets` Acipenser ruthenus. I don`t know what degree of regulation is applied by the authorities, but also close to where the cat brought in the afore-mentioned individual, is Dafen Pond, a site that is much used for coarse fishing and owned by the local authority. I hope that this is not a repeat of the fiasco that occurred in the Millennium Coastal Park Llanelli, where in arguably unrestrained eagerness to let out ponds to a fishing group, the lease was given to a particular group of fishermen (long since disappeared!), who alledgedly introduced the non-native topmouth gudgeon, which has since required a very expensive eradication programme (paid ultimately by the taxpayer) undertaken by the Environment Agency (now part of NRW). I hope that the latter are nowadays more careful in their monitoring of fishing waters.

16 October 2013

Can you spare a morning for Gower Tree Sparrows this winter?

Andrew Lucas wrote:
Regular readers of Gower Wildlife will know the effort put in to try to support western Gower’s dwindling tree sparrow population.  A small breeding group at the derelict Newton Farm near Scurlage was present for many years, but despite nestboxes and supplementary feeding, appears to have disappeared.  However, birds are still occasionally seen, most recently a single bird in a garden in Rhossili in 2013.

I met with colleagues from the City and County of Swansea recently to discuss what we should do now.  We have a number of initiatives with local farmers, many of whom are very enthusiastic about farmland birds in general.  But we also need a systematic survey of likely areas where tree sparrows my still be present.  They can be very secretive, and often live in places that birders tend not to go.

There are five key tetrads that need checking for tree sparrows – and other farmland birds like yellowhammers and reed buntings – this winter.  They are SS48 J, P and N, and SS49 F and K.  In addition, there is a sixth area, a group of three 1km squares near Rhossili.  There are loads of footpaths to walk, so if everyone who reads this blog just spared one morning this winter to look at a tetrad, we would have comprehensive information on how many tree sparrows are still present, and where we should target future efforts.  And, for the rarity-minded birder, don’t forget: the 2009 gyr falcon was found during tree sparrow survey work!
If you decide to take a look, please let me know.  You can contact me at andrew.lucas@naturalresourceswales.gov.uk .  Many birders (appropriately enough!) are now using twitter, where you can find me at @AndrewLucas103.  Tell me what you find even if you don’t see any birds.

I’m sure that, between us, we can get all six areas looked at least twice this winter.  I know many of you are already busy with WEBS or the winter thrush survey.  But, working together, I’m sure we can find out more about Gower’s most enigmatic bird.

15 October 2013

Garden Hedgehogs

Video HERE from last night showing one of the two that are visiting our hedgehog feeding station (i.e. cat food under a stone step, where the cats can't reach it). Looks like it's either cleaning its face or scent marking?

13 October 2013

Invertebrate miscellany

A few common insects recorded in and around Gorseinon this morning; still plenty to see despite the weather:
Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum) queen on Small Scabious
captured during last nights moth trap session
Glossosoma boltoni (a caddisfly)
captured during last nights moth trap session
Stenodema laevigatum (a mirid bug)
a grass bug tapped off oak
Adalia decempunctata (10-spot Ladybird)
tapped off oak
Pinalitus cervinus (a mirid bug)
3 of these captured during last nights moth trap session

10 October 2013

(Very) Likeable Leaf Warbler

With the long run easterly winds and reports of eastern vagrant birds turning up recently, across the country, Darren Coombs, Rob Jones and I decided to try our luck at an isolated wooded area on Baglan Dunes, this afternoon . On approaching the wood, which is right next to the Wales Coast Path, we split up to cover more ground. But not too far apart, in case two of us missed what the other one sees! Or even worse, one of us not seeing what the other two see!!

It wasn't long before we'd all homed in on a small flock of Tits moving through the bushes. Long-tailed Tits and Blue Tits mainly, but maybe something else in with them? As we regrouped Darren described a bird, which he'd seen very briefly, as a small Phyllosc with a bold supercillium. We all knew what it might be. We waited along what seemed to be the most sheltered stretch of the wood hoping for the bird to show. It did; a very smart Yellow-browed Warbler! Excellent, but no sooner had it shown itself it was gone again. We hoped that it would again return to the same sheltered stretch so waited some more.

After 40 minutes or so our patience was rewarded with some delightful views of this stunning little warbler, which is not much bigger than a Goldcrest. It was particularly active and caught numerous flies while flitting through the bushes, and occasionally it would sit right out in the open and give mesmerising views.

09 October 2013

The reason they are so glossy...

...In actual fact the juveniles, which is what we mostly see here appear rather dull unless seen in bright sunlight. Click HERE to see a short phones-scope video clip of one of the five Glossy Ibis that have been visiting the deep water lake at Penclacwydd over the last few days, the birds coming in at irregular intervals for a quick brush up, usually staying only 5-10 minutes before heading off again. It's suspected that they are feeding in the fields to the north of the centre, but no one has tracked them down yet. Still hoping to see one in Gower one day!

08 October 2013

Jack having trouble with the Cryptic

 It's always nice to see a Jack Snipe. I particularly enjoy visiting the marshy area just beyond the sea wall at Cwm Ivy, during the winter, where there's always a chance of brief flight views of a Jack Snipe amongst the Snipe. My previous views of them have more often than not been of birds flying away and so I was delighted to come across this rather bold individual, today, at the salt marsh in Neath.
In reality the bird wasn't that bold and behaved in a rather typical Jack Snipe fashion by keeping completely still while I approached. I imagine that to a predator flying overhead this bird would be fairly difficult to see, but it still needs a little bit of work on perfecting side profile concealment!

Giant Ichneumon

At 62mm from its head to the tip of its extraordinarily long ovipositor, Rhyssella approximator is one of our largest ichneumon wasps, a group of parasitoids for which little information is readily available, so I am grateful for help from Mark Pavett at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff for a provisional identification. I am hoping that Mark will in addition to confirming the id will provide some information on its status in Wales.
What I presume was the same same individual was seen hanging around a log pile while I set up a moth trap at Horton yesterday evening, but it was very active and I was unable to catch or photograph it. Therefore, I was very pleased to find it in the moth trap this morning especially as it compensated for the general paucity of moths in what turned out to be rather wet and blustery night on the coast. Thanks again to Cathy Dorran for letting me run the trap at their top location and to Mark and Sue at Port Eynon.
Between these two trapping locations I stopped to check the tube-light by the gate to the Burrows Caravan Park, where in addition to finding seven Feathered Ranuculus (more than what was in either moth trap!) there also a nice specimen of the harvestman Opilio saxatilis.

07 October 2013

The knights are drawing in

The knights (Tricholoma) are a group of chunky toadstools, many of which have specific, mycorrhizal associations with trees. Here are some that are in our forests at the moment (all photos taken in Neath Port Talbot).

Tricholoma ustaloides

 Tricholoma ustaloides is a species associated with Beech (Fagus sylvatica) - the specimens above were photographed in the beech wood in Pelenna Forest. The slimy cap and the clear white area at the top of the stipe are characteristic features

Girdled Knight

The Girdled Knight (Tricholoma cingulatum) has a specific association with willows and may be found in willow scrub or in dune slacks (in association with Creeping Willow). It also forms a mycorrhizal association with Round-leaved Wintergreen (Pyrola rotundifolia). When this happens, the wintergreen roots become connected with the willow roots by the underground fungal mycelium.  In Neath Port Talbot it frequently grows with willows at the edge of conifer forests, where Round-leaved Wintergreen is also found occasionally. The Girdled Knight is so called because of the woolly girdle or ring on its stem, a good identification feature that will separate it from all the other Knights you are likely to find.

Birch Knight

The Birch Knight (Tricholoma fulvum) is a brown coloured toadstool, usually with yellow flesh. It grows commonly with birch but also with spruce and pine. Specimens that grow with pine usually have a paler (less yellow) flesh and have been named Tricholoma pseudonictitans by some mycologists. All forms exhibit the brown discolouration of their gills.

Tricholoma pessundatum

These specimens of Tricholoma pessundatum were found in the Pelenna Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis) forest. It often grows in quite large groups. It has a brownish cap, dark in the centre but paler towards the edge where it is conspicuously spotted with dark, droplet-like marks. It is regarded as an uncommon, northern (mostly Scottish) species in Britain, but it may be more common than people realise in our spruce forests.

Larch Knight

The Larch Knight (Tricholoma psammopus) is, as its name suggests, a species found in larch forests (RIP!). It has a pale yellow cap and a stipe which is speckled near the top. I guess we'll be seeing less of this in the future.

Grey Knight

 The Grey Knight (Tricholoma terreum) is one of a group of confusing grey-capped species. It grows with pines - these were photographed in the Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta) plantation on Foel Fynyddau. The felt-like texture of the cap is a good identification feature.

Sulphur Knight

Lastly, the remarkable Sulphur Knight (Tricholoma sulphureum) which is usually found in deciduous forests - specimens here photographed in Briton Ferry woods. Sulphur Knight is more or less yellow throughout but its most characteristic feature is the peculiar and unpleasant smell. This is difficult to describe, but some people liken it to coal gas, although I can often detect a sickly sweet mothballs odour as well.  

05 October 2013

Migrant moth invasion at Horton

Convolvulus Hawk-moth
A light trap left overnight at Horton produced one of the best autumn assemblage of migrants I have recorded in Gower. In total 54 species were noted, 13 of which were migrants, these being: Diamond-back Moth 2, Rusty-dot Pearl 5, Rush Veneer 42, Palpita vitrealis 1, Vestal 9, Gem 1, Convolvulus Hawk-moth 1, Turnip Moth 2, Dark Sword-grass 8, Pearly Underwing 5, White-speck 1, Small Mottled Willow 1, Scarce Bordered Straw 2 and Silver Y 10. Very many thanks to Cathy Dorran for being so accommodating.
Palpita vitrealis
Scarce Bordered Straw

04 October 2013

More fungi

The spruce forests in the Neath Valley are putting on a good show this year. Many of them have birch and willow mixed in with them, particularly at the edges where there can be a rich diversity of fungal species. Below, just a small sample of stuff seen in the Rheola area.

Collared Earthstar

Collared Earthstar (Geastrum triplex) is an iconic fungus. I love the way the arms unfold, then bend back to lift the fruiting body out of the ground.

Candlesnuff Fungus

Candlesnuff Fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon) is one of the most common fungi in our woodlands, usually growing on the wood of broadleaved (non-conifer) species.

White Fibrecap

White Fibrecap (Inocybe geophylla) is a small, poisonous species which often grows in groups. It also comes in a beautiful lilac form, now regarded as a separate species (Inocybe lilacina), which is common in Gower woodlands.
Lepiota pseudolilacea

Lepiota pseudolilacea is a type of Dapperling (it doesn't have a common name that I know of). It usually grows at the edges of the forest. It is similar to the Stinking Daperling (Lepiota cristata), which is much more common and differs in having a strong, unpleasant smell. 
Variable Webcap

The Webcaps (Cortinarius) are a very large group of species, with over 100 species in Britain. Variable Webcap (Cortinarius anomalus) is one of the more common representatives. The young gills usually have a violet tint. In the photograph you can see the cobweb like veil which covers the gills before the cap expands. This veil is called a cortina, and is a feature of this group of fungi. Hence the name, Cortinarius. In older specimens the cortina disappears and the gills become dark brown in colour due to the production of brown spores. As the common name suggests, this is a very variable species and may in fact be a collection of similar species. It often grows with birch at the edges of conifer forests. If you walk or bike along the forestry roads, your bound to see it sooner or later. 

01 October 2013

Fungi on stumps and trunks

An assortment of fungi seen in the last week growing on stumps and around the bases of tree trunks. 
Shaggy Scalycap (Pholiota squarrosa) is a common toadstool that grows in clusters at the base of living and dead trees.

Shaggy Scalycap

Alder Scalycap (Pholiota alnicola) is less common but may be found in wet woddland in association with Alder, Willows or Birch.

Alder Scalycap

Sticky Scalycap (Pholiota gummosa) occasionally turns up along forestry roads, usually growing on discarded fragments of timber (sometimes buried).

Sticky Scalycap

Two of the most common species that cluster on stumps and fallen branches are Sulphur Tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare) and Sheathed Woodtuft (Kuehneromyces mutabilis).

Sulphur Tuft

Sheathed Woodtuft

Lastly, the unmistakable Porcelain Fungus (Oudemansiella mucida), which is usually found on Beech - showing well  in Briton Ferry Woods this week.

Porcelain Fungus

oil beetles

at this time of year?

At the BWARS conference this weekend a very interesting talk on Oil Beetles by John Walters:


pointed out that there are up to 3 species around at this time of year, of restricted distribution possibly because they are nocturnal, on limestone grassland in areas with lots of solitary bees. If anyone is feeling adventurous it might be worth bludering around in the dark with a head torch. He pointed out that some he has found live in very small patches so best of luck. To save me writing any more, details will be found in these sheets from buglife as well as on John's website: