I enjoyed a lovely long meander around Cardiff’s Bute Park on the weekend, strolled the riverside paths, strode along the towering lime avenue, and scuffed through the occasional deep drift of autumn leaves. It was magical! I took a ton of photos, as I always do, and when I was editing them later that evening, I realised I had one scene that was almost a perfect fit for an image I took last year. In fact, it was exactly one year, one month and one day ago. These are those two images, the oldest first.
I’m sure you’ve all seen wagtails of some description. They’re those cute little birds with the long tails that continuously bob up and down, seemingly not able to sit still – my mother would’ve said they had ants in their pants! Wagtails come in several varieties; on the left below is a Pied wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) and on the right a Grey wagtail (Motacilla cinerea). Nothing unusual here. But then …
This little birdie was on the rooftop of my neighbour’s garden studio a couple of days ago.
It sat, bobbing and calling, for about 10 minutes, so I was able to watch and get some photos (though it was distant and through double glazing, so my images are not the best). Though the colours of both wagtail species vary as the birds mature and through the seasons, this little one appeared to have the head of a Pied wagtail and the body of a Grey wagtail. So, I tweeted photos to the RSPB (The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) and they responded that it was ‘either a partially leucistic Grey wagtail or colour variation due to being between plumages or a geographical variation and the Grey wagtail has flown over from a different continent.’ It’s one of Nature’s little mysteries …
I had another post lined up for today but, when I found out it was International Sloth Day, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to share these photos with you. Now, I know this is not environmentally correct. I know I really shouldn’t have had a sloth hanging off me. But, when it was offered, I just couldn’t say no, and I think you can see how hilariously happy I was for this short five minutes.
These photos were taken when I was managing an NGO near Cusco, Peru, back in 2011-2012. The British charity I was working for, Globalteer, runs an after-school programme at Picaflor House in the small town of Oropesa, near Cusco. On this day in August 2011, we were about to farewell a fabulous group of people who had been volunteering at our project and who all chipped in to give our children an extra-special treat, a visit to a local wildlife refuge and sanctuary.
The children were overjoyed, the refuge were very happy for the financial support of the entry fees and, just as we were leaving, one of the rangers brought this sloth to show us, offering to hang it off me as they looked. I wasn’t allowed to touch it – human germs! – which is why my arms are constantly outstretched, but it truly was one of the most incredible experiences of my life!
International Sloth Day was the brainchild of The Sloth Institute, in Costa Rica, one of many environmental organisations helping to research, rescue and release back into the wild these magnificent creatures. I don’t know enough about the organisation to endorse them but I would urge everyone to do what they can to help preserve the sloth and its environment all around the world.
Today was the fiftieth anniversary of one of the saddest days in Welsh history. Wales is a country that has seen more than its fair share of mining disasters but they usually involved the men, the Welsh miners, explosions, and cave-ins. On this day, 21 October 1966, the tragedy was even worse, as the 144 people who died included 116 children, happily attending the village school when a colliery spoil tip collapsed, sending a huge landscape down the hillside, obliterating everything in its path. Today, in Wales, we remembered the children of Aberfan.
True story: It was last Sunday and I was at my local cemetery, almost prostrate on the grass getting these shots of Apricot Club fungi (Clavulinopsis luteoalba) when these two old women came up behind me.
“Are you okay, dear?” one asked.
“Oh, yes,” said I, “just getting photos of these fungi.”
“Oh, that’s good,” said the other old dear, looking rather dubious about the actual existence of any fungi, so small were they in the grass. “Neither of us knows CPR so we were wondering what we were going to do when we saw you lying there.”
As I read recently, ‘Fungi have a long history of zealous but misunderstood enthusiasts.…’
A snippet from my volunteer work on the ‘Dedicated Naturalist’ Project, helping to decipher and digitise, record and publicise the life’s work of naturalist extraordinaire, Dr Mary Gillham.
Thanks in part to the slide-perusing efforts of one of our most fervent supporters and advisory board member, Catherine Duigan of Natural Resources Wales, we have come to realise that Mary Gillham was a sucker for donkeys.
Catherine is Irish and has been blogging, on her own blog and for the Mary Gillham Archive Project website, about Mary’s adventures in Ireland, where the donkey still played a vital part in industry and transportation, especially in the more rural areas and on the Irish islands Mary visited.
In her book This Island Life: Discovering Britain’s Offshore Gems (Halsgrove, 2007, p.20), Mary writes about the use of horse- and donkey-power on Cape Clear Island, County Cork:
Most ploughing, and certainly harrowing, and lighter jobs, were dependent on horse power. Horse, donkey and mule might be teamed together to pull the heavier implements and we also encountered the less usual hinny, the sire a horse stallion and the dam a mare donkey, jennet or jenny. This is the opposite cross to the one producing a mule.
You’ll find some delightful reproductions of Mary’s donkey slides in Catherine’s blogs (here and here) but I couldn’t resist hunting out a few more. They capture a wonderful slice of local Irish life which, I imagine, has now mostly disappeared so Mary’s archival records are helping to preserve these important and thoroughly charming aspects of Irish cultural and social history.
I’ve been planning a ‘berry’ blog for a while and have been photographing all the lovely berries I’ve seen while out on my wanders but then, in the process of collecting together my various photos for this blog, I began to wonder what actually is a berry? Is a berry a fruit? Should I include hips and haws? Should I only include the fruits of those plants that have berry in their name? At that point, I gave up and decided a berry by any other name would look as pretty and I would include all the lovely reddish-coloured things I’ve seen growing on assorted trees, bushes and plants, whether they be berries, drupes, hips, haws, pomes, or just plain fruit. So here you go …
When the Dock bug found out that his cousin the Green shield bug had received a blog post all to himself, he was not amused. Was he not as lovely? Was he not as worthy of attention? Well, yes, angry little Dock bug, you most certainly are, so here is your moment in the spotlight!
Coreus marginatus is the Dock bug’s scientific name, and he’s a largish (13-15mm), broadish, reddish-brownish sap-sucker. Luckily, his sap-sucking is restricted to the leaves of docks and sorrels so he’s not the pest that some other members of the squashbug (bugs on squash plants) family can be.
Mr and Mrs Dock bug seek each other out in the springtime to create the new generation, then, once hatched, their offspring, like most True bugs, go through five nymph stages before emerging as adults from about August. I’ve only ever seen the adults, in the shrubs, bushes and hedgerows alongside many of my walking trails, but there are plenty around – three sitting close together on one sunny leaf just last week. As well as inhabiting much of southern Britain, the Dock bug can also be found throughout Europe, in many Asian countries and in parts of North Africa.
I make no apology for the fact that you will be seeing increasing numbers of fungi on this blog in the coming months. For me, they provide the cheery colours and intriguing shapes in the landscape after the glory of the wildflowers has faded and, even if you don’t particularly like fungi, there will be pretty pictures to peruse.
The Blackening waxcaps (scientific name Hygrocybe conica) have been some of the first to appear in my local waxcap hotspot, Cathays Cemetery. The fact that its 110-acre grounds have remained largely undisturbed since the cemetery closed to new burials about 35 years ago means its grassy spaces are ideal for waxcaps, as the hygrocybe species are sensitive both to pollution and to agricultural chemicals.
Blackening waxcaps start life in a variety of colours, from yellow and orange through to red – sometimes all those shades in just one little mushroom – then, as they age, they blacken, eventually turning jet black. As you might guess from the ‘conica’ in their scientific name, they have a conical shape, so I think you can see why they are often called the Witch’s Hat waxcap. Meetings of their covens are happening all over Europe right now!