What’s on the teasel, 1

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This is the sight that greeted me as I wandered home through Dingle Park the other day.

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A Sloe shieldbug (Dolycoris baccarum) had its head buried deeply into the gaps between the spines of a teasel flower head. The tiny purple flowers had finished so it wasn’t nectaring, and I would’ve thought the flower head too tough for it to be sucking plant sap, so what on earth was it doing?

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This little Green shieldbug nymph (Palomena prasina), watching from a nearby grass stem (you can see it in the background of the first image), looked as confused and bemused as I was.

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After a few minutes, the Parent bug backed out of its spiny possie but it didn’t move from the teasel.

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This was a good opportunity to get a photo of the underside of the bug … but I never did discover what it had been doing.

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Clouded yellows

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Some days are just good days! On the same day that I finally caught up with the Spotted flycatchers at Cosmeston, I also saw my first Clouded yellow butterflies, and I’d been chasing those for a couple of weeks as well.

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Colias croceus is primarily an immigrant – it has occasionally been known to overwinter but is usually killed by the cold and damp of British winters – and flies in for the summer months from southern Europe and north Africa. Way back in 1947, there was a huge migration, with numbers estimated at 36,000, but most years the numbers are much less, and this year very few of my butterfly-watching friends have seen any. So, I count myself very privileged indeed to have seen two at Lavernock Nature Reserve last Sunday.

Chasing a Spotted Fly

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There’s a local birdwatcher I follow on Twitter who always makes the most amazing sightings and I read his tweets – 6/8 ‘Spotted Flycatcher, 2 Garden Warblers, 40 Willow Warblers and 2 Tree Pipits’ and 8/8 ‘Grasshopper Warbler, 2 Spot Fly, Redstart, 2 Garden Warbler, 2 Lesser Whitethroat, 25 Willow Warbler, 2 Sedge Warbler’ – with great envy. These particular sightings were all at Cosmeston, one of my local country parks, so I decided to go looking for myself.

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Spot the bird

Warblers can be difficult to identify but I’d never seen a Spotted flycatcher (Muscicapa striata) so I made that my target. And it took me three visits and many many photographs of Chiffchaffs before I finally found them, by chance, not in the area where they’d been reported to be.

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There were two birds and they were unmistakable as they were doing exactly what their name suggests, catching flies. From a perch in trees, they sat scanning the surrounding air space, then flying out quickly to grab their prey before returning to their perch to scoff it. Spotted flycatchers are migrants, arriving in Britain in April-May and then leaving again in September. It may be that these two birds were stocking up on food before heading off on their long journey to spend the winter in Africa. Intrigued? There’s an excellent article by the British Trust for Ornithology here.

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Not one but three!

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So, my question today is how many moths does it take to make a colony?

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I passed through Lavernock Nature Reserve again yesterday and found two more Jersey tigers (Euplagia quadripunctaria). I can tell neither of these is the same as the one I saw three days earlier because the spots on their wings are all different (see inside bottom edge of right wing in these photos of all three, as shown below). I’m hoping this means there is now a colony of Jersey tigers becoming established in the reserve, rather than immigrants all arriving at the same time.

Fluttering at Lavernock

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Now, I know I’ve been posting quite a few butterfly photos lately but I just adore them and, as summer will soon be over and they’ll disappear for another year, I can’t help but share their beauty while I can. So, as well as that gorgeous Jersey tiger I showed you yesterday, here are just a few of the 16 species of Lepidoptera from Lavernock Nature Reserve on Thursday: there were 4 Brimstone butterflies; large numbers of Common blues; this pair of Large whites mating; 5 Painted ladies; 2 stunning Peacocks; 4 Red admirals; 2 Silver Y moths that just wouldn’t keep still for a sharp photo; and only my second-ever Small copper that got scared off when someone came walking down the path towards me.

A Jersey tiger!

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Ooo look, a Red admiral … hang on a minute … what’s that???!!!

I went looking for migrant birds at high tide at Sully beach – and found nothing more exotic than some Rock pipits and Turnstones – but my walk home, along the coastal path, took me through Lavernock Nature Reserve and there I got lucky. There I found an altogether different migrant, a beautiful Jersey tiger (Euplagia quadripunctaria).

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Obviously, it’s not a mammal that’s swum across the Channel from Jersey: it’s a moth. It may also not have been an immigrant, as colonies have become established in a couple of places along the southern English coast in recent years. It is still, however, not so common in Wales, with only 24 records in the national database.

As you can see, it has gorgeous and quite distinctive markings – just look at that bright orange underwing! – so there was no mistaking what it was. Let’s hope a few other Jersey tigers arrive to establish a colony in Lavernock’s wonderful wildflower meadows.

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The almost inedible parsnip

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While we’re on the subject of wild vegetables (see yesterday’s Wild carrot post), I must mention the other umbellifer that’s currently in full bloom, the Wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa). Unlike the Wild carrot, the root of the Wild parsnip is, in fact, edible, though it’s described as hard and wiry so doesn’t sound worth the bother to me. I’ve also read that the sap of the plants can cause severe rashes and burns in some people so handling doesn’t seem advisable. And, anyway, who would want to deprive the insects of their tasty feast or spoil the glorious sight of a field of parsnip in full bloom?

 

The Wild parsnip is the ancestor of the cultivated parsnip, which is one of my favourite winter vegetables – roasted, in soup, stir-fried, yum! – and its culinary use probably dates from the early Middle Ages. The wild variety can be found growing, often in large groupings, on the chalky grasslands of southern England and Wales. In Cosmeston Lakes Country Park, one particular field is like a forest of yellow, some plants taller than my 168cm, and you can smell the scent of parsnips as you walk along the tracks through the field. Delicious!

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The inedible carrot

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I’m finally starting to get a handle on the various umbellifers to be found in this land and the progression of their flowering through the seasons. Here in Wales, one of those currently in full flower is the Wild carrot (Daucus carota).

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Its leaves smell of the edible carrot but I’ve read that the roots of this wild variety are ‘thin and wiry and bear little resemblance to the thick, orange tap-roots of the cultivated vegetable’ so that firmly rules out any foraging! I also read, in my copy of Richard Mabey’s trusty Flora Britannica, that edible carrots ‘were developed from a distinct subspecies, ssp.sativa, probably native to the Mediterranean, and brought to Britain in the 15th century’. Fascinating!

Meanwhile, the Wild carrots continue to grow straight and about 3 feet tall in my local wild places, to the delight of the hoverflies, sawflies, soldier beetles and other assorted insects that seem particularly to enjoy them. They have quite distinctive feathery leaves and often, but not always, a very tiny pinkish-red flower in the exact centre of their umbel. Also, when they’ve finished flowering, the umbels contract to a nest-like shape, which is why one of their common names is Bird’s-nest.

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Three Aeshnidae

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The Aeshnidae are one of the five families of dragonflies to be found in Britain, and the family is made up of twelve Emperors and Hawkers. In the past week I have been privileged to see three members of the family during my local walks.

The Southern hawker (Aeshna cyanea) (above left) is relatively common in Wales. In Aderyn, the national biodiversity recording database, there are 3312 records of Southern Hawker sightings and these are spread across 225 of the 275 10-kilometre grid squares that divide up Wales.

If the recorded numbers are anything to go by, the Migrant hawker (Aeshna mixta) (above right) is half as common as the Southern, with 1662 records in 143 grid squares, and its coverage across Wales is more spasmodic. This was only my second sighting of this slightly smaller Hawker but then I have only been living in Wales two years so my personal statistics aren’t really relevant.

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This last creature is the most recorded of the Aeshnidae, with 4098 records in 221 of Wales’s grid squares, but, rather than reflecting how common it is, that may be because it’s one of the easiest dragonflies to identify because it’s the biggest. This is the Emperor (Anax imperator). I often get buzzed by these stunning creatures hawking over fields of wildflowers when I’m out walking – and they sound like a small helicopter approaching! – but I rarely get lucky enough to see them perched so I was particularly chuffed to get this photo.

Fungi at Cefn Onn

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I braved the rain showers and intermittent rumbles of thunder for a wander around Cefn Onn Park, in north Cardiff, last weekend. I hadn’t been there for quite a while and, after the recent rains, I had an inkling there might be some fungi around. I was right! There were actually rather a lot of crusty, brackety, slimy, smutty and generally mushroomy things to be found. (No, I’m not going to ID them – I just enjoyed seeing some fungi again.)