30 December 2014

A Starling Spectacular at Pwll, Llanelli.

 About 4.30pm yesterday afternoon (29/12/14), I chanced to look out of the south-facing kitchen window of my home at Tyrwaun (at the western end of Pwll, Llanelli), and was amazed to see the sky literally filled with starlings. Grabbing my camera, I could see that the whole southern aspect of the sky, from the c SE (at `mid Pwll`) to the SW (over Ashpits Pond, just E of Burry Port) was absolutely filled with a gyrating huge flock of starlings. It seemed that they were looking for somewhere to settle for the night, as some smaller sub-flocks would descend and one such group actually briefly landed in my neighbours` garden, as well as in nearby trees and adjacent willow carr.

However, the flock then seemed to continue flying approximately westwards and may have alighted in the Ashpits Pond area but, equally, the flock may have continued onwards to roost in Pembrey Forest or elsewhere. 
Forty-five years ago, I recall likewise large concentrations flying over my old school (Llanelli Boys` Grammar School) and these similarly huge flocks  caught the attention of the pupils (as well as the general public). Those 1970 flocks actually did roost in Pembrey Forest and the scattered concentrations of hollies and Cotoneasters that still grow under the pines there may have emanated from their droppings. 
Presumably, yesterday`s big flock (which, at a conservative estimate, was 5000+) was weather-driven from harsher conditions elsewhere in the UK or the Continent.

Above: two photos showing just part of the flock. The white speck in the top photo is the moon.

28 December 2014

Very early daffs

Although the first half of the Winter has at times felt more like Spring, we were surprised to see a flowering patch of Daffodils at Burry Green on Christmas Eve. I have also noted plenty of wild species flowering unseasonally at the end of what has been one of the warmest years on record.

24 December 2014


Apologies for the lack of activity in recent months - rest assured I have not abandoned the site and normal service will be resumed in due course...
...In the meantime wishing you all a great Christmas and a prosperous New Year
Barry & Sandra

19 December 2014

bees and wasps of the gower(ish)

oxybelus argentatus female  IMG_3116Oxybelus argentatus female IMG_3116
During the last 3 summers I have made a start on recording local Hymenoptera from the Bee and Wasp groups, initially on the Gower during the first year, but for the last 2 years mainly on Crymlyn Burrows. I am now in the throes of posting all the pictures on my flickr site so that they can, where possible, be used by others as an identification aid. I would also like help as I am only a relative beginner myself so if there is anyone out there with the expertise to see that I have made a mistake please let me, and everyone else, know. I am epsecially keen to know why. As a caveat I would like to point out that not all these insects can be identified from a photograph. Because of this 99% are supported by a specimen (in my possession), photographed alive after chilling from the side, above and face on where possible. The ultimate aim is to permit me to record as much as possible without recourse to this, photographing in the field by handholding.
crymlyn burrowsAncistrocerus gazella male IMG_4815
Each picture is supported by a filename giving the species, sex and picture number and locality is mentioned below as well. In the case of an enquiry I can track down the specimen from this information. The flickr site is here:
with pictures from these groups in Gower albums (Crabronids, Sphecids, Tiphiids, Vespids, Eumenids, Chrysids and Pompilids) as well as Crymlyn Burrows.
There will be Bees to join these wasps sometime after the new year.
For further, much more authoritative information see the Bees, Wasps and Ants recording Scheme site:
including these superb Flickr pages by Steven Falk:
Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

09 November 2014

Plum Woodlouse in Plantasia

There were good numbers of Porcellionides pruinosus (Plum Woodlouse) wandering over the soil and stonework in the hot house at Plantasia today. Greg Jones informs me he's previously only recorded this synanthropic isopod twice in Glamorgan, on both occasions in manure heaps in allotments at Maudlam and at Llanharan. The only other occasion I recall seeing this species was in 1989 when Ian Morgan showed me large numbers of this quick moving woodlouse in the enormous mature heap located by the old farm house where I lived at Tir Morfa, Penclacwydd. Sadly the cows and hence the manure heap along with its associated fauna have long gone from the now abandoned buildings.
Another synanthrope enjoying the hot house climate was the moss Vesicularia vesicularis, which was growing and fruiting abundantly on the small balcony below the waterfall. There's very little information available on line about this species, but it is mentioned as occurring in greenhouses elsewhere.

21 October 2014

Convolvulus Hawk-moth

Sent in to the university last week from Alan Martin of Fforest, presumably in Glamorgan, a photo of a Convolvulus Hawk resting on his step and unfortunately trodden on by a visitor to his house!  Record dated 11th October, can't paste the picture in because I'm so computer illiterate. I have the original e mail to forward to the county moth recorder if he wants to see it.

14 October 2014

A bryophyte excursion to the top of Glamorgan

view looking east over Llyn Fach with Craig y Llyn to the right
Last week, on the 10th, Sam Bosanquet, George Tordoff and myself surveyed the mosses and liverworts on the section of Craig y Llyn above Llyn Fach, i.e. that part that lies within Neath Port Talbot at SN9003Peaking at 600m in the plantation a little way south of the crags, this also happens to be the highest land in Glamorgan.
Sam & George examining the highest terrestrial bryophytes in Glamorgan,
the plentiful epiphytes on the spruce behind are of course higher!
A total of 135 bryophyte taxa were recorded taking the total for tetrad SN90B to 163, promoting it to the 4th spot in Glamorgan's bryo-diversity league, but with the caveat that many squares have still not yet been looked at! Three 'Nationally Scarce' species were recorded, Tall-clustered Thread-moss Bryum pallescens on the track adjacent to the trig point, Slender Fringe-moss Racomitrium sudeticum on a small stone enclosure, with Orange-bud Thread-moss Pohlia flexuosa on the crags themselves. The main discovery however, was a assemblage of locally rare species in a small cave on the lower cliff sequence, which included Fine-leaved Leskea Orthothecium intricatum, Spotty Featherwort Plagiochila punctata and Recurved Rock-bristle Seligeria recurvata, the latter new for the county.
Slender Fringe-moss
Fine-leaved Leskea
A few non-bryophyte species of interest were noted including a larva of the sawfly Abia candens, found feeding on Devil’s-bit Scabious. George and myself, being comparative novices are indebted to Sam for his patience in sharing his expertise on what was a memorable excursion.
the small cave in which Sam found Recurved Rock-bristle
Fountain Smoothcap Atrichum crispum

Great White Egret

The Great White Egret, according to the current (2009) edition of Collins Bird Guide, is a two star vagrant to the UK. This seems out of date: changes can be rapid with egrets. I have old bird guides which show the Little Egret's range coming nowhere near the UK, yet they are now a common sight on many estuaries, including, of course, the Burry Inlet. It seems the Great White Egret is moving into Britain in a similar way. It breeds on the Somerset Levels and keeps turning up here. My last two visits to WWT Llanelli have provided sightings of a Great White Egret. This morning it was something special: the bird was feeding vigorously and came very close to my position in the Michael Powell hide. Despite rain and low cloud, the views were so good that I was able to get the photos below.

The bird was determined to be photographed, because when I moved on to the British Steel hide it followed me (Penclawdd in the background):

 and then carried on as before:

A magnificent and very co-operative bird.

08 October 2014


Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria), Rheola Forest

It's been a bit of a weird autumn for fungi so far. After a wet August followed by a warm September, things were looking promising, but the long dry period then curtailed a sustained appearance of fruiting bodies. However,  Fly Agarics were particularly good in Neath Valley forests and it was a fantastic month for Boletes, including the highly prized Cep (Boletus edulis). It was also a good month for Slimy Spike (Gomphidius glutinosus) and Larch Spike (Gomphidius maculatus) in Afan Forest Park. See below for a selection of others.

Beech Milkcap (Lactarius blennius), Glyncastle Forest

Conifer Dapperling (Lepiota felina), Rheola Forest

Dusky Puffball (Lycoperdon nigrescens) Pentreclwydau

Grisette (Amanita vaginata), Pelenna Forest

The more typical autumn weather which we are experiencing now may kick-start a new flush of fruiting bodies.  

19 September 2014

hanging on

After many peeks under wood at Crymlyn Burrows beach over the summer with no success I was pleased to see Nebria complanata hanging on at Cwm Ivy beach strandline under one of only 3 pieces of wood on about 1 km of beach! I saw a man and child carrying wood from further north back to, presumably Broughton. Hats off for enterprise but something really needs to be done about this, but how? Would be nice if effort went into cleaning the beach and not burning the biodegradables. I was amazed last year to discover a whole thriving community of wood nesting bees and wasps on the strandline at Crymlyn Burrows but only the really big wood survives the depredations of the barbecue crowd.

11 September 2014

Swallows migrating

Lots of (presumed) swallows migrating over my Gowerton garden this morning at 7.30. They were all heading east; shouldn't they be going south?
Also a very active Red Admiral, and the temperature was only 7 degrees.

07 September 2014

Marsh Fritillary request

Karen Wilkinson wrote:

'George Tordoff from Butterfly Conservation and staff from Natural Resources Wales have, over the last few years, being trying to get a better understanding of the extent and distribution of Marsh Fritillaries across Gower's inland commons. This is quite a challenge as some of these sites are pretty big! We are aiming to identify key areas which can then be monitored annually. This year appears to be a good year for Marsh Fritillaries on Gower and so far this autumn we have recorded almost 400 larval webs, distributed across Welshmoor, Fairwood and Pengwern Commons with a further 140 on other non-notified commonland. These counts are higher than previous years and we have identified additional areas which are supporting large numbers of webs.

We often notice when we are out surveying that we are 'following in other people's footsteps' and it seems highly likely that others are also looking for webs in certain parts of these sites. If it is you we would love to hear from you and find out what you are seeing. We'd happily compare records! I can be contacted at the following e-mail address karen.wilkinson@cyfoethnaturiolcymru.gov.uk '

Dwarf Eel-grass in the Burry

Close inspection on non-flowering plants off Salthouse Point yesterday led me to the conclusion that my previous records of this genus were probably incorrect and that what I’d named previously as the narrow-leaved form of Eel-grass Zostera marina var. angustifolia (see HERE) were in fact Dwarf Eel-grass Z. noltei. This certainly fits in with the results of intertidal surveys carried out by CCW in 2000, 2004 and 2009, the results of which are combined in the distribution map below.
From a distance Dwarf Eel-grass appears as darker patches of mud (top photo), but closer inspection reveals an interwoven root system that traps sediment creating slightly raised domes of drier mud. In the Burry the Eel-grass community (NVC SM1) grows as sparse, mono-specific patches on the open mudflats lying just below the saltmarsh fringe, this being a broken mosaic of the pioneer communities of Common Cord-grass Spartina anglica (SM6) and Long-stalked Glasswort Salicornia dolichostachya (SM8).
Lava Spire Snails
The most obvious animal in these intertidal habitats is the Lava Spire Snail Hydrobia ulvae, which can be found at densities of >2000m-1, although evidence of other invertebrates was plentiful in this extremely productive zone of the marsh. See Ian Tew's earlier post HERE for some of the other inter-tidal fauna.
Lava Spire Snails on Common Cord-grass

04 September 2014

A date with some cabbages in Llanelli

Urban botanising can be fun, with a changing assemblage of interesting weeds to spot, if the Council herbiciders have missed them! A species that has increased in recent years is the cabbage palm Cordyline australis, a native of New Zealand, perhaps reflecting its now-widespread availability as a garden plant. Some forty years ago (!), I noticed one growing on the eastern side of Sandy Bridge, Llanelli, in a peculiar position (immediately next to a supporting wall on wasteground) that suggested it was n`t planted, but I assumed that it was just the subject of an inappropriately-placed planting.
In the early 2000s, I began to notice many small seedlings growing in back lanes, at the base of walls or in cracks in pavements and realised that these were bird-sown seeds that were successfully growing; I have seen the fruit eaten by starlings, blackbirds and probably other species, including once an over-wintering blackcap in November 2001. The popularity of this semi-exotic `palm`, which grows and matures quite quickly, probably accounts for the upsurge of recent records. Incidentally, this year is a `fruiting year`, with many plants flowering and bearing fruit.
I now realise that my original finding of that cabbage palm at Sandy Bridge, back in 1973, was also a bird-sown seedling, emanating from a long-established decorative planting at West End, Llanelli, not far to the east or perhaps from one in a nearby suburban garden. The West End plantings were cut to the ground by the cold weather of winter 1981, but re-grew.
I have also seen many seedlings of cabbage palm in the west Swansea area.

Above: very young Cordyline seedlings in paving near the Asda store, Llanelli. It is this size that can also be often found at the base of walls in backlanes or at the junction of pavements and the fronts of terraced houses. After a while, they are usually weeded out or treated with herbicide. I have teased out plants and grown on to give away as cheap presents!

Above: seedlings of Cordyline australis in front of an abandoned church, Murray St, Llanelli, Oct 2011.
Above: cabbage palm, originally bird-sown, growing out of and displacing paving stones, High St, Llanelli, 4.9.14.

Last week, I had my annual check-up with my dentist, and on the way out noticed a palm growing out of paving in the forecourt of  the next-door hairdressers in Murray St, Llanelli. I had noticed this plant the previous year, but then it only had juvenile leaves and I had assumed (without looking properly) that it was `just another cabbage palm`.  One year on, to last week, it had grown and it was clearly one of the true palms, almost certainly originating from a discarded seed from a commercial date, with Phoenix dactylifera cited as the overwhelmingly cultivated commercial date crop in warmer climes. Last winter`s mild conditions, coupled with the urban `heat bubble`, (plus the fact that it was outside a womens` hairdressers...and all that heat!) must have enabled it to survive a Welsh winter.
Phoenix canariensis is another palm that is cultivated as a garden plant and I have seen it surviving winters at (eg) Mumbles in Swansea and Burry Port in Carmarthenshire, but I`ve never seen one mature to yield fruit; another cultivated palm, Trachycarpus fortunei looks completely different.

                                       Above: Phoenix dactylifera, Murray St, Llanelli 31.8.14.

26 August 2014

Two New Flies for Swansea

Andrew Lucas wrote:
Much of my natural history recording in recent years has been devoted to SN6802, my home 1km square, which includes some of Clydach and a small part of the Cwm Clydach RSPB reserve. In the last week, my efforts have been rewarded with a couple of nice finds 
Phasia hemiptera is an impressive tachinid fly that I found flying around hemp agrimony in the beer garden of the New Inn pub, Clydach on 8 August 2014.  Its size, and the reddish orange hairs on the side of the thorax, distinguishes it from other species in the genus.  I caught a female, but the males are even more striking, with boldly metallic blue and white patterned wings.  In the larval stage, the insect is parasitic on shieldbugs.  The female lays her eggs on a bug, which then hatch and eat the insect from the inside out!
SEWBReC have advised that this is the first record they have received  for P. hemiptera in the City and County of Swansea, although its presence is no great surprise, as it has been found a number of times in the Llanelli area.   The species has been recorded as far north as Inverness, but most records come from southern England and the Welsh Marches. 
Rhingia rostrata is a woodland hoverfly, similar to the much more common R. campestris. It is distinguished (Stubbs & Falk 2002) by the uniformly light side to the abdomen, whilst  R. campestris has a dark line along the abdomen edge.  But it’s a much classier insect than R. campestris, with a bluish thorax and lighter abdomen that is obvious even to the naked eye.  I came across several feeding on hogweed along the footpath near the car park at Cwm Clydach RSPB reserve, again on 8 August 2014.. Rhingia hoverflies are unusual amongst the British Syrphidae, in having long mouthparts tucked away underneath the rostrum that projects from the head.  This allows them to feed on deep flowers that are inaccessible to most hoverfly species.  The larval stage of this species is a mystery, although it is thought to feed on rotting material or carrion, as R. campestris is known to use cattle dung.
SEWBReC and the NBN gateway (https://data.nbn.org.uk/) have R. rostrata only recorded once previously in Glamorgan, near Nicholaston Woods in 2009, although the hoverfly recording scheme (http://www.hoverfly.org.uk/portal.php)  has records from SS69 in 2009, and ST09 in 2001.  It has a similar distribution to P. hemiptera, with the northern edge of its distribution lying in the Lake District
Stubbs, A.E. & Falk, S.J. (2002) British Hoverflies.  An illustrated identification guide. BENHS.

25 August 2014

Singleton Park botanic gardens

Myathropa florea
After reading so much negative news about bumblebees in recent years I was pleasantly surprised to see good numbers of our commoner bumblebee species, namely Buff-tailed Bombus terrestris, Red-tailed B. lapidarius, Small Garden B. hortorum, Common Carder B. pascuorum and the now well-established Tree Bee B. hypnorum, all during a gentle stroll through the botanic gardens at Singleton. Hoverflies were also well represented including this fine Death's-head Hoverfly Myathropa florea (shown above).

08 July 2014

Green Woodpeckers breed successfully

It is well-documented (Birds in Wales Welsh Bird Report 2012, Bird Atlas 2007-11) that the Green Woodpecker is declining in the western part of its range in the UK and is now apparently extinct in Pembrokeshire. In this context I was particularly pleased to find that juvenile Green Woodpeckers have fledged successfully in the extreme west of Gower in Mewslade valley. The adult female is with a juvenile female in the photos below, taken today, July 8.

Although this species is declining further west it seems to be holding its own locally, as the map below shows (Gower Ornithological Society data).

On the map confirmed, probable and possible breeding are shown by different sized dots and present only shown as open squares (all records post 2000).

07 July 2014


on the first night in 5 years when I've noticed migration in my garden in Sketty and sorry for the delay. Third Glamorgan record unless I've misread the excellent Moths of Glamorgan or anyone's had one post publication...............

Diasemiopsis ramburialis looks a bit tired! Exif says taken on 14/06/2014 so trap set the night before. I remember a Red Necked Footman which might well also have been a migrant, certainly never seen one there before.

Hedgehog survey - request for volunteers

Dr Dan Forman from Swansea University is helping recruit volunteers for this very worthy survey. Click HERE for more details and/or email Dan at southwalesmammalgroup@gmail.com

06 July 2014

Mediterranean Gull update

This video from Lyndon Evans shows Carmarthenshire's first home-bred juvenile Mediterranean Gull is just a couple of flaps away from successfully fledging... CLICK HERE

03 July 2014

Small Hairy Screw-moss up a tree in Morristion Hospital

Small Hairy Screw-moss on Ohio Buckeye
Among the collection of trees in Morriston Hospital car park are two beautiful Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) trees and a moss-clad specimen of Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra). Among the epiphytes growing on the latter were some nice cushions of Small Hairy Screw-moss (Syntrichia laevipila) along with a surprising quantity of Sessile Grimmia (Schistidium apocarpum), a species more characteristic of base-rich, siliceous rocks.