‘Mud, mud, glorious mud
Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood
So follow me follow, down to the hollow
And there let me wallow in glorious mud.’
I never saw Cardiff Bay before the Barrage was built in the 1990s but, from photos I’ve seen, I believe much of the foreshore was a lot like this, as much of the coastline to the east of Cardiff still is.
I caught the train to Barry Docks last Friday, hoping to get a good look at an uncommon bird (a Great northern diver) that had been making itself at home there for the previous week or so.
Unfortunately, the bird spent most of the two hours I was there happily swimming and diving several hundred yards away on the other side of the dock, but it was a gloriously sunny day and I did find lots of lovely wildflowers still in bloom around the edge of the docks so I was happy.
On our Glamorgan Bird Club trip to Dawlish Warren National Nature Reserve, we came across this small group of ponies. The Teignmouth District Council website reports: ‘Helping to keep the grasslands in shape, Dartmoor ponies are used in the winter months to help produce ideal conditions for rare flowers and invertebrates. These are “working”, wild animals, so DO NOT feed them or try to stroke them.’
Not having read this before we saw them, we did stroke them and, luckily, they were friendly enough, but they were much more concerned with doing their job as ‘eco mowers’ than basking in human attention.
Last Sunday I joined ten hardy souls from the Glamorgan Bird Club (and two of their equally hardy children) to brave the strong polar winds and occasional stinging rain showers to check out the birding delights of south Devon. After a brief stopover at Labrador Bay for the Cirl buntings (see yesterday’s post), we headed to the National Nature Reserve at Dawlish Warren, to check the beach, sand dunes, and mudflats of the Exe estuary.
We had immediate success sea-watching from the beach, with good views of two Red-throated and one Great northern diver – both new birds for me, as well as Great crested grebes, Cormorant and the always-impressive sight of a Gannet crashing headfirst into the waves to dive for fish.
Though half of me got soaked during the walk out to the hide at the end of the sandspit (must invest in good, lined waterproof trousers!), the effort was worth it for the wealth of waders to be seen, feeding along the water’s edge and hunkering down on the sandy beach against the biting winds. As well as large numbers of Oystercatchers and Brent geese, there were also Dunlin and Ringed plover, Shelducks and Sanderlings, Turnstones, Bar- and Black-tailed godwits and a couple of Curlew, plus the ubiquitous gull species.
Later, we stopped further up the Exe for a quick look over the river, where I managed to snap three Grey plover amongst a flock of Dunlin flying past. It was a long but grand day’s birding and, with four lifers to add to my sightings’ list, I was well pleased.
I find the constant reports of dwindling biodiversity, increasing numbers of creatures at risk of extinction, and the destruction of the environment to build yet another road quite depressing so it’s nice to be able to write about a conservation success story. Though the Cirl bunting was once a common bird throughout southern England and Wales, changes in farming practices meant that its population had plummeted to just 118 pairs in 1989. But, thanks to the RSPB and a small number of supportive organisations, plus environmentally aware farmers and The Countryside Stewardship Scheme (which compensates farmers for making small areas of their land more wildlife-friendly), the Cirl bunting population has increased to at least 862 pairs, and the birds have been reintroduced to an area in Cornwall where they had previously died out.
On a Glamorgan Bird Club trip to England’s south coast last weekend, our group called in at the RSPB’s Labrador Bay reserve, which was created especially for these gorgeous little birds and, despite the freezing cold, strong winds blowing over this stunning coastal site, we were privileged to see three Cirl buntings dotting about in the hedgerows.
You can read more about the Cirl Bunting Project on the RSPB website. Oh and, in case you’re wondering, Cirl is pronounced Sirl, and the word comes from the bird’s Latin name Emberiza cirlus, which, apparently, comes from the Italian zirlare, meaning to chirp. Let’s hope these little birds keep on chirping, and increasing, in the years ahead.
Herb: “Don’t look now but there’s a human over there with one of those black pointy thingies covering one eye, looking in our direction.”
Alby: “Do you think it’s going to hurt us, Herb? What should we do?”
Herb: “Those things don’t usually hurt. Maybe if we just keep perfectly still, it’ll go away.”
Alby: “I think it’s still there. Can you take a look, Herb?”
Herb: “Yep, still there. It’s making a clicking noise.”
Alby: “What should we do?”
Herb: “Let’s do something really weird. That might scare it off.”
Who would’ve thought that trees value their personal space? Well, they do … or, at least, some trees, particularly those of the same species, do.
Next time you go walking amongst trees, look up and you may notice gaps in the tree canopy, where trees appear to be avoiding touching each other. This phenomenon is known as crown shyness (sometimes also called canopy shyness, intercrown spacing and canopy disengagement). There have been various hypotheses to explain crown shyness: these include ‘reciprocal pruning’ caused by the trees rubbing together in windy conditions; ‘photoreceptor-mediated shade avoidance response’, a long-winded term for trees adapting to the shade caused by their neighbours; and the idea that trees are actively limiting the spread of insects by not touching each other (though, presumably, insects could simply crawl down one tree, across the ground and up the next!). Whatever the true reason, crown shyness can create some lovely patterns in the canopy and I’ll be looking up more often from now on.