The Brimstone flyers

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Recording the biodiversity around us can sometimes be a tricky business. Take, for example, the Magpie: there’s a bird called Magpie (Pica pica) and a moth (Abraxas grossulariata) and even a fungus (Coprinopsis picacea). The same is true of the Grayling: there are both a butterfly (Hipparchia semele) and a fish (Thymallus thymallus) of that name. Then there are the Brimstones: in this case, it’s even more confusing as both are lepidoptera – one’s a butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni) and one’s a moth (Opisthograptis luteolata). And by sheer coincidence, I saw both Brimstones yesterday.

170726 Brimstone butterfly

I spotted the butterfly drinking from a Buddleja bush while I was out walking and the moth came to visit me here at home. I had left my windows open until around 10pm and this little moth came into my kitchen. I tried putting it out but it flew straight back in again and is still sitting on my kitchen bench, despite the window again being open. Not that I’m complaining, as it’s a beautiful little creature.

170726 Brimstone moth

The Butterfly bush

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Buddleja davidii is not called the Butterfly bush for nothing.

170724 Buddleja & butterfly (1)

Running through the town where I live there’s a rail trail – the path of a former railway line that was closed to rail traffic back in the 60s and is now a wonderful walking and cycling trail, lined with trees, shrubs and wildflowers. At one point along the trail, there’s a group of several Buddleja bushes that have now reached small tree height and are currently covered in their gorgeous lilacy purplish flowers. When I walked past today, they were alive with butterflies: I counted at least nine Red admirals, three Commas, two Speckled woods and a selection of Whites.

An added bonus was a Southern hawker dragonfly that was also patrolling the area. Just brilliant!

170724 Southern hawker

Home to House martins

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Take a blob of mud, mix with grass or straw, and build! A rounded shape works well. Add an interior lining of feathers, moss and other soft vegetable matter et voilà! You have the perfect nest in which to raise your brood of House martins.

170723 House martin nest (1)

There’s a street near my home, where the houses have the perfect architectural feature for House martin nests. Just below the eaves and above the first floor windows there are small abutments, the tops of which provide perfect little ledges where the House martins can prop their mud-pellet homes. On a recent walk past I counted twelve nests, though not all appeared to be occupied.

Of course, House martins (Delichon urbicum) would once have built their nests on cliffs – and some still do – but many have now become urban dwellers. The little colony in my local street is not uncommon as they prefer to dwell in groups, occasionally in large groups of several hundred nests though small groups of five to ten are more usual. Old nests are refurbished by returning birds, though not necessarily the original builders, and new nests are built where there’s space available, taking only one to two weeks to construct.

170723 House martin nest (8)

Though most humans live happily alongside their avian visitors, some get annoyed by their noise and the mess they create. Luckily, House martins and their nests are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 so it’s illegal to remove an active nest. I would feel privileged indeed to have a nest of these gorgeous little birds attached to my home.

Spots before my eyes

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170722 6-spot Burnet moth (1)

I have never before seen as many 6-spot Burnet moths (Zygaena filipendulae) as I saw last Monday in one of the fields at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park. I stopped counting at one hundred and there were many many more. They are gorgeous little flying machines and glowed like wee red bumblebees as they flitted from the sunshine-yellow ragwort flowers to the more subtle but no less glorious lilac and purple blooms of knapweed, meadow thistle and teasel. They were wondrous to behold.

The Pimpernels

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For Floral Friday this week I bring you the Pimpernels.

170721 Scarlet pimpernel

First, the pimpernel flower many of you will be familiar with, Scarlet pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis), also known as Old man’s weathervane and Poor man’s weatherglass due to its habit of shutting its petals when the weather becomes wet or dull. (I imagine they will be very firmly shut against today’s wind and rain!) The flower also functions as a timekeeper as it opens its petals around 8am and closes them at 2pm, even when the weather’s fine.

I only learned quite recently that the Scarlet has a subspecies, the Blue pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis ssp. foemina). This is supposedly quite rare and mostly found in southern England, though the one in my photographs is growing in my friend Hilary’s south Wales garden.

170721 Bog pimpernel

As its name suggests, the Bog pimpernel (Anagallis tenella) prefers watery places, marshy areas and soggy peat bogs. Its delicate pink flowers sprinkle the ground like petals under a blossoming cherry tree.

170721 Yellow pimpernel

There is also a yellow-flowered pimpernel – you guessed it, the Yellow pimpernel (Lysimachia nemorum) – that is commonly seen in established deciduous woodland and alongside shaded streams. Although it carries the name pimpernel, this lovely little plant is actually a separate genus and is more closely related to plants like Creeping-Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) and Yellow loosestrife (L. vulgaris).

How many of these lovely pimpernels have you managed to see?

Not so Common darters

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170720 Common darter (1)

I haven’t been seeing a lot of dragonflies this year – probably just me not going to the right places, rather than an actual scarcity – but I have seen two Common darters (Sympetrum striolatum) in the past week. Although I blogged about these beauties around this time last year, I thought I’d share these latest images to celebrate National Dragonfly Week, which is happening right now.

170720 Common darter (2)

I had a bit of luck this week as I finally managed to photograph one of these lovely creatures in flight. It’s not the sharpest of shots but I’ll take it.

170720 Common darter (3)

Aliens in a Cardiff park

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On Sunday the Mary Gillham Archive Project teamed up with the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society to replicate a walk that Mary Gillham had participated in many moons ago, looking for aliens in Cardiff. Of course, I don’t mean the little-green-man type of alien – these were alien plants, though the definition of alien in this case seemed quite diverse. They may have been non-native plants that had arrived in Cardiff in the sand that served as ballast in the days of sailing ships, like Canadian Fleabane (Conyza canadensis). 

They may arrived in shipments of imported grain or bird seed or perhaps in bales of wool, like Hoary mustard (Hirschfeldia incana) and White mignonette (Reseda alba). Or they may have initially been decorative plants, like the Large-flowered evening primrose (Oenothera glazoviana) that was introduced from North America in the early 17th century and has since become naturalised. 

As well as those plants named above, we also saw the following aliens: Small-flowered evening primrose (Oenothera cambrica) (introduced to cultivation in Britain in 1775); Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus) (a garden escapee); French bartsia (Odontites jaubertianus) (mode of introduction unknown); Wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum subsp. raphanistrum) (presumed to have spread as a weed of cultivation); Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) (probably introduced by the Romans); Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) (an escapee from cultivation); and, of course, the notorious Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) (introduced as an ornamental garden plant in 1839).

The aliens are among us and they’re thriving! 

Much of the information about the origins of these plants came from the Online Atlas of the British and Irish Flora.

A tale of three bindweeds

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170718 Bindweed (3)

There are, in fact, five species of bindweed in Britain but I’ve only encountered three so far. One, the Field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) is, I think, the easiest to identify: it’s quite small, and its flowers are a delicate swirl of pink and white (as shown below).

170718 Field bindweed

Then there are the two bindweeds that have large white flowers, Hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) and the aptly named Large bindweed (Calystegia silvatica). To my untrained eye, these two look remarkably similar but I have recently learnt how to tell them apart so I thought I’d share that little snippet of knowledge. My wildflower key tells me that Hedge bindweed has an epicalyx of 2 bracteoles that don’t (or scarcely) overlap, whereas the Large bindweed has strongly inflated, overlapping bracteoles. Okay, so you might now be thinking, “Huh?” Well, the photos below show the difference: Hedge, left, and Large, right. Easy now, right?

Oh, and one more thing I found out while looking at all those bindweeds. The flowers often look like a little fairy has come along and snipped pretty patterns in their petals with miniature scissors. A fanciful idea I admit, but it’s almost true – these have been created by bees and other insects desperate to get at the sweet nectar inside so they cut their way into the flower bud before it opens.

Birding at Goldcliff Lagoons

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170717 Goldcliff reen

I thoroughly enjoyed my first visit to Goldcliff lagoons and Newport Wetlands with my Glamorgan Bird Club buddies this week. As their names suggest, these sites are perfectly suited to water birds and waders so in the two photos below the birds include Black-tailed godwits, Dunlins, Ringed and Little ringed plovers, Black-headed and Herring gulls, Oystercatchers and Turnstones, Lapwings and Shelducks.

170717 Waders (1)170717 Waders (2)

Apparently, 67 species were seen (or heard) though my personal list only totalled 44 – this is because the birds are mostly quite distant at these sites, and I don’t have binoculars, and I can only see so far with the 300mm lens on my camera, so some birds just elude my eyes.

I did, however, manage to grab a blurry shot of a water vole that a fellow birder spotted, and saw some lovely butterflies and moths, and my sightings did include my first ever Knot and Common gull, so I was happy.