Thursday, 15 October 2015

‘A year in the life of a National Trust woodland - autumn at Dolmelynllyn

Yesterday I returned to Dolmlynllyn to film ‘autumn’, the third season in ‘a year in the life of a National Trust woodland’.

Rhodri Wigley was an excellent guide and laid on several activities; removing sapwood from cleft fencing stakes, a dangerous tree survey, pruning of small trees, volunteers thinning an overgrown piece of woodland and the building of the village bonfire at Ganllwyd. Here are the short films in English and in Welsh:

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Teifi Marshes: a small butterfly, a big badger and some buffaloes!

Nathan Walton wrote about the Teifi Marshes reserve (Wildlife Trust of S & W Wales) and the Welsh Wildlife Centre there, in the Spring 2015 issue of Natur Cymru. Kate and I arranged to meet Nathan at the reserve on our way down to Skokholm in early September; as his first job in conservation was with NWWT there is always plenty to talk about!

Brown Hairstreak. Photo by Maggie Sproule
The small butterfly is the brown hairstreak, one of five British hairstreaks. It has quite a limited range in Britain, but SW Wales is a hot-spot for them. The females lay eggs on blackthorn, avoiding hedges which are cut every year with a flail. We knew it was the right time of year and asked Nathan if we could see one; ‘Yes, on hemp agrimony outside the kingfisher hide’! Ten minutes later local entomologist Maggie Sproule was showing us our first-ever brown hairstreak. Maggie told us: ‘It has been a wonderful year for sightings at the Wildlife Centre, helped by the fact that so many are nectar feeding.  One day I was watching a female and waited to see how she would stay nectar feeding.  I first saw her at 14:00 on a hemp agrimony plant and kept checking every ten minutes.  She was still there, on the same plant but a different head over two hours later, and didn't leave until the plants were in the shade’.

After this experience we sat outside the Centre with a cup of tea and a bun, and enjoyed the view over the Teifi Marshes towards Cardigan town. The big willow badger certainly dwarfs the small boy!

On our walk round the 2-mile Wetland Trail we enjoyed seeing a group of water buffaloes. Nathan told us ‘we had eight females on site that arrived middle of March. Six of them were pregnant although it wasn’t clear as to when they would ‘drop’. Due to good herbage on the reserve, they developed quicker than anticipated and the first female gave birth in the middle of August. 

Blissful Buffalo. Photo by Nathan Walton.
It was decided to take them all off the reserve so as to allow birthing within farm buildings of the owner. The female and calf along with three others were easily rounded up. The other four were new to the reserve and so herding them into the pen was not so easy. They were extremely nervous and charged whenever we got near. Over a few days we managed to get them towards the holding pen by creating smaller compartments that were electrified and then shutting them in. They finally came off the reserve on 14th September after passing their TB test. They will be back next season and have done a fantastic job this year on the reserve, keeping vegetation managed and water areas open’.

The Teifi Marshes reserve and the Centre are readily accessible on foot or by bike from Cardigan over the old bridge; the Centre is reached by car via Cilgerran village.

Blogpost by Geoff Gibbs 24th September 2015.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Natur Cymru Hydref / Autumn 2015 - Rhif / Issue 56

Publication date: 15th September 2015
Cover price £4.50, or quarterly by subscription £18 pa (individual) or £32 (group/organisation)

Zero-till and cover crops – the new agri-revolution ● Mike Donovan. Agricultural management focussed on looking after the soil

Lovely Dyfi – progress in the Biosphere ● Andy Rowland. Community involvement in the extended Dyfi Biosphere Reserve.

Wentwood Forest revisited ● Colin Titcombe. The history and wildlife of this great Welsh forest.

The limestone grasslands of north-east Wales ● John Osley. Colourful grasslands in beautiful landscapes.

Spoilt rotten – the wonders of colliery spoil tips ● Liam Olds. The invertebrate wildlife of these rich and often overlooked habitats.

Sefydliad Morgan Parry Foundation ● Roger Thomas. Hyrwyddo addysg a datblygu cynaliadwy / Advancing education and sustainable development.

Weaving the web: towards a natural garden ● Malcolm Berry. A new approach to growing food and benefiting garden wildlife.

Dartford Warblers in south Wales ● Hannah Meinertzhagen. A study of the habitat types favoured by this new colonist of the Gower Peninsula.

Green Bookshelf ● Julian Hughes, David Saunders, James Robertson & Rowan McShane

Discoveries in science ● Bob Griffiths, Iwan Edwards & Barbara BrownSpread of the New Zealand flatworm – a new citizen-science survey.

Islands roundup ● Ben Porter and Geoff Gibbs. Rare migrant birds on Ynys Enlli / Bardsey Island this spring.

Buglife ● Steven Falk. Promoting spring forage for invertebrates.

Woods and forests ● Rory Francis. Saving the Celtic rainforest at Llenyr

Life lines ● Ben Wray. Alien invasion on the Dee! The Chinese Mitten Crab

From the Garden ● Bruce Langridge. A Welsh mycological revival

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Sand Martins, Seagulls and the Garfish

If you walk West along the beach towards Porth Dinllaen, there is a magnificent set of Sand Martin nests, tunnelled into the collapsing cliff bank. It was busy, busy towards the end of August. The chicks peering out of the nests looked big and hungry. When the parent returned with food, only 1 of 3 was happy.

While I was admiring the view across the bay, from just beyond the Tŷ Coch, a seagull struggled to take off from the sea, with a snakelike Garfish swinging beneath its wings. Quite a heavy load. On the sand the fish made several attempts to wriggle free. Juvenile gulls tried to share the prize but the catcher was feeling selfish. 

What slime mold!?

On the stump of a Scots Pine which was felled 19 years ago a beautiful slime mold has taken up residence. The shape and the colour changes each day. On the second day it had gone very pale but was colourful again a couple of days later.

Looking at photos on the web I thought it might be Red raspberry slime mold Tubifera ferruginosa and I've been told that if it develops into 'miniature cigars' that will confirm its identity. It could be a first for Maentwrog Nature Reserve!

Are these miniature cigars?
22nd August
23rd August
25th August
26th August
27th August

Llanfairfechan - end of summer

Small Copper
Back from the Bird Fair at Rutland Water, lovely sunny day here if rather breezy – no day trips to Ynys Enlli (Bardsey) today! The Robin breeding season is over, they have moulted and the pairs have split up. Heard several Robins singing, the function is to defend individual feeding territories – this is the autumn / early winter song which gradually fades out leading up to December. These singing birds could include females, whereas from Christmas onwards only male Robins sing. Read all about it in The Life of the Robin by David Lack.

Not all birds have finished breeding though – lots of House Martins and Swallows about (the Swifts have all gone), and Woodpigeons carry on singing (and laying eggs) until October. No luck with Turtle Doves though this year; when I was living in North Wales in the late 1960’s, Turtle Doves were common breeders in NE Wales and a few bred on Lleyn and Meirionnydd. Now these have all gone - read about it in The Breeding Birds of North Wales by Brenchley et al (2013). I haven’t seen a Turtle Dove anywhere in Britain this year.

Getting a bit late for good butterflies, but quite a few showy ones on our Buddleia including a Painted Lady the other day and several Commas. Then this morning a Common Blue appeared (very scarce round here this year and our first in the garden for 2015), plus a very smart Small Copper. This picture was actually taken just up the road in August last year.

Several Purple Hairstreaks seen on our butterfly transect route earlier this month, we try to do this every week for Butterfly Conservation. Viewing one of these individuals I even saw the ‘hairstreak’ mark on the hindwing, usually they are too high up on the oaks or ashes to see this. They lay eggs on the oaks and visit the ash trees for honeydew. 

Geoff Gibbs

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Wasp scrum down

I was up on Mynydd Rhiw enjoying the summer weather with fine views across Llŷn. At the summit were loads of insects and on the rocks by my feet was a wasp scrum down. It looked a bit violent and I didn’t want to get too close in case I disturbed them.

Looking back at the film footage it looks like 6 or 7 wasps were killing a queen. Or were they mating?

In the middle sequence there was a pair of wasps stacked on top of the back of the queen whilst another stack of 4 wasps approached from the front. Was the wasp at the front a brave volunteer to confront the queen or a conscript?