Square-bashing: ST3990

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I spent last Friday square-bashing with my friend Hilary, and what a brilliant day we had.

170628 ST3990 square-bashing (1)

For the uninitiated, square-bashing consists of taking a square kilometre that has very few existing biological records and walking the roads, tracks and paths through that square to see what you can find. Each month, my local biodiversity records centre SEWBReC publishes the details of just such a square in the counties they cover, Glamorgan and Gwent, in the hope that keen folks like Hilary and I will rectify the lack of records.

170628 ST3990 square-bashing (2)

Although the term square-bashing is not meant to be taken literally, we did have to bash our way through one field in our square kilometre, where the public footpath was completely overgrown (spot Hilary in the photo below), but on the whole the countryside was beautiful, with rolling farmed fields, old narrow lanes and, the best part, an ancient holloway (more on that in tomorrow’s post).

170628 ST3990 square-bashing (3)

Hilary’s something of a whizz when it comes to plants so she recorded those and I did everything else – insects, fungi, birds, you name it! As I’m not a whizz at anything, I mostly take lots of photos and then have to work out the IDs when I get home, which takes time but helps me learn. I have just a couple of outstanding queries but reckon my total will come to around 80 and Hilary has about 90 plants on her list, so it was a very good result indeed. Here are some of my finds – can you identify them?

Cootlets, cootlings or cooties?

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160627 Coot chicks (7)

The coot is a beauty but what of its chicks,
with their red baldy heads and orange hairy necks?

Those gawdy colours soon change as they mature
to the timeless greys and blacks of haute couture.

But what should we call these gorgeous wee cuties?
Should they be cootlets or cootlings or cooties?

160627 Coot chicks (8)

The Welsh sheep

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When I relocated from New Zealand to Wales in 2015, it didn’t occur to me that I was swopping one sheep-filled nation with another but so it has turned out.

170626 Welsh sheep (1)

Wales has around 10 million sheep; Welsh lamb is considered a delicacy; beautiful wool is produced locally; and I sometimes hear the same lewd sheep jokes that I used to hear in New Zealand.

170626 Welsh sheep (2)

The Welsh have taken their worship of the sheep one step further than New Zealand – there’s a National Wool Museum and, no, I haven’t been – but New Zealand still has a higher sheep to human ratio than Wales, at 7 to 1 as opposed to a measly 4 to 1.

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I met this friendly Welsh local on my recent birding trip to Lliw Reservoirs.

Birding at Lliw Reservoirs

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170625 Lliw Reservoirs (3)

I celebrated the solstice with an outing with my Glamorgan Bird Club buddies to Lliw Reservoirs north of Swansea or, perhaps that should read, I sweated through the solstice – it was one of the hottest days of the year and the middle of a mini heatwave. Still, you know what they say about mad dogs and Englishmen (and Welshmen and a Kiwi) …

170625 Lliw Reservoirs (1)

It’s a superb location. The two reservoirs were built in the second half of the 19th century, and still supply water to communities throughout south Wales. We only walked up one side of both reservoirs, through broadleaf woodland and then out onto open areas of grass and scrub and moorland, but there’s an 8-mile circular walk, which would be brilliant in cooler weather and includes large open commons of heath moorland on the hilltops.

170625 Lliw Reservoirs (2)

We heard more small birds than we saw (but that’s helping me learn their songs); buzzards and magnificent red kites were soaring overhead; we heard then saw the elusive grasshopper warbler in flight; dragonflies and damsels and the odd butterfly flitted about; and there were lots of lovely wildflowers (my particular favourites were the foxgloves, tormentil and bog pimpernel). Oh and, most importantly, the locals were friendly and the cafe serves delicious ice cream!

The skimmers

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When the birds disappear behind the leaves of the trees during the summer months, my eye turns to the other creatures that delight and amaze with their aerial displays, and the dragonflies are some of the most impressive. In recent weeks I’ve seen my first Skimmers.

170624 Keeled skimmer

Keeled skimmer (Orthetrum coerulescens)
I was on a walk with my bird club buddies in the hills above Swansea this week when I saw my first Keeled skimmer. It was flitting back and forth quite restlessly in a boggy reed-filled area, perching on the reeds and other vegetation but only for short periods, so I was lucky to get some reasonable photos. I love the brilliant blue colour, called pruinescence, which is actually a covering of wax particles and which can be rubbed off during mating or if the dragonfly accidentally rubs against vegetation. Keeled skimmers are mostly found in western Britain and fly from June through to September.

170624 Black-tailed skimmer

Black-tailed skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum)
Though very similar in appearance to the Keeled skimmer, the Black-tailed skimmer has, as its name implies, a darker end to its abdomen, and it’s much more common, as it’s happy to live around any pond, lake or stream, rather than the acidic moorland that the Keeled skimmer prefers. Though it is more common in southern parts of Britain, it has gradually been extending its range northwards, and its flight period is a little longer than its keeled cousin, being on the wing sometimes as early as late April right through to October if conditions are mild enough.

Yellow

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Yellow is the colour of the week as far as the wildflowers are concerned.

170623 Bird's-foot trefoil (1)

These are some I’ve seen: Bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculata), Yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor), Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria), Dyer’s greenweed (Genista tinctoria), and Yellow-wort (Blackstonia perfoliata).

Baby Blackcap

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Okay, it’s probably more of a toddler than a baby but ’tis the season for young fledglings to be out and about, learning the ways of the world from their parents, so I thought I’d share some shots of one of four young Blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla) that were harassing their parents most vociferously at Cosmeston recently.

This little one wasn’t quite sure what to make of the human with the camera pointed in its direction. I feel it was giving me a rather angry look in the photo above right and the caption for the image below might well read, ‘Are you still there?’

170621 Blackcap fledgling (4)

March of the caterpillars

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Perhaps that should really be MUNCH of the caterpillars because these little creatures are really the ultimate food processors. They eat ravenously, they ingest determinedly, they process interminably, and, yes, they pooh prodigiously. What a life!

170620 Oak eggar larva (1)

They can be covered in bristles: watch these ones as people with sensitive skin often get a rash from touching them because they can contain chemicals to deter predators from eating them. They can be dull to blend in with the vegetation on their favourite food plant. They can be patterned in startling colours and patterns, again as a warning to predators – ‘Don’t eat me!’

These particular caterpillars are the larvae of two moths and one butterfly. The hairy ones are the moths, Oak eggar (Lasiocampa quercus) and Yellow-tail (Euproctis similis), and the spiky black one with white dots is the rather surprisingly coloured caterpillar of the Peacock butterfly (Aglais io).

Meet the Robins

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Let me introduce you to Mr and Mrs Robin and their two children. They live at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park. Mr (or Mrs – I can’t actually tell male and female robins apart) came to greet me when I was standing by one the lakes yesterday, watching the ducks. He (or she) hopped over to within inches of where my hand was resting on a railing and looked at me with something akin to desperation. “Do you happen to have any food, lady?” Then, Mrs (or Mr) Robin popped up on to the closest fence post and also gave me a pleading look, “Please!”.

Luckily, I did have some seed in my bag so spread a little on top of another fence post. They were there immediately, picking up two or three seeds and flitting into a nearby tree. And then I saw the reason for their desperation – two ravenous fledglings were nagging them for food. Truth be told, the fledglings were probably old enough to feed themselves and did, in fact, pop down and peck around a bit. But Mum and Dad obviously still felt obliged to feed their youngsters if they could. I was very pleased to help out.