A shufti at some Tufties

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I’ve blogged about Tufted ducks (Aythya fuligula) before (back in January 2016 and, quite recently, when I caught them landing at Cosmeston Lakes) but, with that adorable little topknot of dark plumage, they are just such delightful creatures that I can’t resist sharing some recent photos. I hope they make you smile as much as me.

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Signs of Spring, 2

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Determination. Persistence. Resistance. Constancy.
Humans have cleared the land of ‘weeds’; laid a gravel path edged with a concrete strip; planted a bed of ornamental shrubs (many of which have died); and mulched that garden bed with metal chips yet, in spite of all that destruction of its habitat, this little Colt’s-foot (Tussilago farfara) has managed to push through and begin to flower.
Admiration!

A yodelling duck?

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The Long-tailed duck (Clangula hyemalis) is an uncommon visitor to south Wales – the RSPB website recommends looking for them ‘from seawatching points around the coast in winter, particularly in northern Scotland, Shetland and Orkney’ – but this one has been over-wintering in Cardiff Bay with a raft of 8 Greater scaup (Aythya marila), and I finally got to see it a few days ago. (I had tried a couple of times previously but on those occasions the Scaup had Coots and the odd Great crested grebe accompanying them.)

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The Long-tailed duck is a smallish sea duck that dives for the small fish, crabs and bivalve molluscs that make up its diet. It doesn’t breed in Britain but heads north to the Arctic regions, to Iceland and areas in northern Europe and northern America, so I guess this little guy (only the males have the really long tails) will be heading off soon to find a mate.

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I didn’t hear this particular duck make any sound but apparently their call sounds something like a yodel and that is reflected in the names it’s known by in the northern isles of Shetland and Orkney: calaw, caloo and coal-and-candlelight are all derived from the sounds the duck makes. I think I would’ve been rather surprised to hear a duck yodel but I certainly feel privileged to have been able to sit and enjoy watching it.

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with two of its Scaup friends, a male (front) and female (behind)

Lizards of Tanzania

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I’ve been going through my travel albums (always fun) to see what other creatures I’ve encountered in foreign parts that I can share with you and I found some of the many lizards I saw during my trip to Tanzania in August 2014.

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My photos show two different individuals, photographed several hours apart, and I think these may be female Agama lizards, of which there are some 37 species in Africa, but I don’t know that for sure. So if anyone does know, please do add a comment below. I also have some photos of the males but they deserve a post of their own!

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Gwas y gog

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While sitting watching some water birds at Cardiff Bay the other day, I heard the familiar call of a wagtail and turned to see two Pied wagtails bobbing about on the gravel path behind me but then was delighted to also see that they had a friend with them, a lovely little Meadow pipit (Anthus pratensis). I had seen a pair of Meadow pipits nearby the previous week but not been able to get close enough for good photos. This time I was in luck, probably because I was sitting down so there was no movement to catch its eye. I was able to slowly pivot round far enough to catch a few shots of the bird foraging for insects in the short grass.

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The Meadow pipit looks a bit like a song thrush but is smaller, about the same size as the wagtails this one was feeding near. Once very common, their numbers have been in decline over the last 40 years so they have now been added to the amber list, reflecting an increasing level of concern for their conservation. They tend to nest in moorland and heathland, habitats that have declined significantly in extent in recent years, which is likely to be the most significant factor in their decline.

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The Meadow pipit has long been associated with the Cuckoo, which often lays its eggs in the nests of these little pipits, and the association is reflected in the Meadow pipit’s many common names. In Hampshire it’s known as the Butty lark – Butty meaning friend or companion; in Durham it’s the Cuckoo’s sandie and the Cuckoo’s titling; and in the Welsh language it’s Gwas y gog which translates as ‘servant of the cuckoo’.

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Permission to land

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‘Cardiff Bay approach, Swan 1702, level two hundred.”
‘Swan 1702, Cardiff Bay approach, descend and maintain one hundred.’

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‘Down to one hundred, Swan 1702.’
‘Swan 1702, Cardiff Bay Tower, cleared to land.’
‘Swan 1702, roger, cleared to land.’

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‘Cardiff Bay Ground (er, Water), Swan 1702, off runway 28T at alpha five.’
‘Swan 1702, roger, alpha five.’

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‘Swan 1702, swim straight ahead to gate bravo five.’
‘Straight ahead to bravo five, roger, Swan 1702.’

The sad tale of the hungry limpet

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I never find many shells on the scrap of beach at the bottom of Penarth cliffs, though it’s a good place for dollops of seaglass and the very occasional fossil but, if I do manage to find any shells, they’re usually limpets, probably Common limpets (Patella vulgata).

Things I didn’t know about limpets until just now:
— they can live to the ripe old age of 16
— they are herbivores, feeding on the exceedingly tiny algae that cover the seaside rocks
— they have a tongue with teeth that are so sharp they can scrape the algae off the rocks like a file
— the ‘glue’ they use to attach their single foot to the rocks is so strong it can withstand a force of 75lbs per square inch
— well-fed less-stressed limpets produce flatter shells, whereas hungry limpets produce more dome-shaped shells, so the former inhabitant of the peachy coloured shell I picked up may well have died hungry!

Signs of Spring, 1

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I went for a lovely long walk around parts of Cardiff Bay yesterday and it was sunny and warm, so warm that I had to strip off my scarf and the thin jumper I was wearing over my t-shirt and under my fleece. Spring was definitely in the air and, on my return walk home, I discovered I wasn’t the only one to be feeling the temperature change. These crocuses were putting on a glorious display in the churchyard of St Augustine’s and in the small grassy area just down the hill from the church. Beautiful!

Fungi on fungi

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Like most organisms, fungi have complicated relationships. They can be saprobic, deriving their nourishment from dead and decaying wood and leaves; they might be mutualistic, enjoying symbiotic relationships with plants, animals and cyanobacteria where both parties benefit; and they can be parasitic on plants and even other fungi. As well as being the instigator of these many complicated relationships, fungi can also be the victim, succumbing to the needs of animals, plants and other organisms that are looking for nourishment. The topic of fungal relationships is a large and incredibly complex area to cover in a short blog post so let me just show you a few images I’ve captured of fungi (and moulds) feasting on fungi.