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.

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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.

Two more leafhoppers

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I’ve been leaf-turning again and one thing you’re almost sure to find if you turn over enough leaves is a leafhopper. These are two recent finds, their identities now confirmed by the national recorder. Both are small – around 4mm long when adults, and both can be seen from around June to September.

170712 Eurhadina cocinnia

Eurhadina cocinnia
These little guys have a preference for oak trees but can also be found on other deciduous tree, and are common throughout Britain.

170712 Eurhadina loewii

Eurhadina loewii
E. loewii prefers Sycamore trees and, occasionally, Field maple, and lives in most English counties and in south Wales, but hasn’t yet crossed the Brecon Beacons.

The two photos below are interesting, I think. The one on the left shows E. loweii in its larval form and the photo on the right shows an empty skin, after the larva has gone through one of several moults between its emergence from an egg until the time it’s ready to pupate.

End of the day

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It’s 8pm and I hear them before I see them, squawking, arguing, flapping furiously. And then they arrive, all at once, circling and swooping and jostling, each trying to grab the best vantage point on the steeple, finials and rooftop of the church across the road. I’ve counted at least 40 but there are many more on neighbouring building roofs, chimney stacks and tv aerials. They don’t stay long, perhaps 10 minutes, and off they fly, to roost for the night.

170715 Jackdaws (2)

They’re jackdaws (Corvus monedula), members of the crow family, sociable, curious, intelligent, and devoted to their partners. I am particularly attracted to their bright blue eyes.

170715 Jackdaws (1)

 

Fireweed, Bombweed

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170714 Rosebay willowherb (5)

It takes a while to learn the differences between the different willowherbs (and the ease with which they hybridise doesn’t help!) but this, the Rosebay willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium), is probably the one most people know best. It was a garden escapee originally, first recorded growing in the wild in 1769, and was considered quite scarce until World War I, when the plant took advantage of woodland areas where timber had been felled (and the area burned) to assist the war effort. Rosebay willowherb’s liking for areas that have been burned is the reason for its common name of Fireweed and is why, during World War II, it thrived in London’s bomb craters, thus earning the plant its other common name of Bombweed. Some people curse it for its invasive tendencies but, for me, there is no prettier sight that a stand of Rosebay willowherb glowing in the bright summer sunshine.

A little hoverating

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I admit to not taking as many photos of hoverflies this year as last. This is partly due to an overwhelming fascination with everything, meaning I tend not to focus on one family for long (I’m sure this will pass once I’ve lived in Britain a few more years and have seen a lot of the more common species of everything), but also because the area where I now live has less hoverfly-friendly habitats. Still, I do photograph them when I see them, especially any newbies. Here are a few …

Leucozona glaucia and Leucozona laternaria
These are not hoverflies I see very often but they are quite distinctive and that makes them easy to identify, not something you can say about many invertebrates. They’re woodland species but can often be found grazing on the hogweed flowers that frequently grow along woodland rides and edges. The two species are almost identical, except for the colour of their front legs (not always easily seen) and their scutellum (much easier – that’s the half moon shaped bit on their backs between their wings). The scutellum is yellow in Leucozona glaucia (above left) and dark in L. laternaria (above right).

170713 Merodon equestris

Merodon equestris
This medium-sized hoverfly looks a lot like a bumblebee, but the shape of its head and its large eyes are easy ways to tell that it’s not. In their top-notch field guide Britain’s Hoverflies, Stuart Ball and Roger Morris note that Merodon equestris is ‘believed to have been introduced into Britain in daffodil bulbs imported from Europe around the end of the 19th century’. That’s because the larvae of this hoverfly develop inside bulbs and have a particular liking for daffodils.

Xylota segnis and Xylota sylvarum
These are just two of the seven members of the Xylota genus – I have yet to see the others. With their lanky legs, they look a bit like sawflies and they also prefer gathering pollen and honeydew from leaves rather than flowers, so they’re not your run-of-the-mill hoverflies. I find these quite difficult to tell apart but X. segnis has a black bottom (above left) whereas X. sylvarum’s is yellow (above right) (not easy to see when they’re resting and covering their bottoms with their wings, as in my photo).

A 10 lepidoptera day!

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It’s Monday. I’ve had a meeting about a forthcoming fungi presentation, followed by a busy morning on the computer and feel I need a blast of fresh air so decide to do one of my local walk circuits, taking in one side of Cardiff Bay and Penarth Marina. And I’m so glad I do ’cause the air is alive with butterflies and moths. They are common enough species but I am amazed and delighted to see such a variety and so many in just a 2-hour walk.

There are Comma (Polygonia c-album), Common blue (Polyommatus icarus), Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus), Large skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus), Meadow brown (Maniola jurtina), Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus), Six-spot burnet (Zygaena filipendulae), Small skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris), Small white (Pieris rapae), and Speckled wood (Pararge aegeri). This is my idea of heaven!

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A blast of orange

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170711 Orange Ladybird (1)

When I’m out and about on my wanders, it’s usually a preponderance of Harlequin ladybirds that I see but this day was different. Instead of Harlequins, there seemed to be beautiful little Orange ladybirds (Halyzia 16-guttata) wherever I looked. And there weren’t just adult ladybirds – almost every leaf I turned over had their larvae as well. And this was across two different parks, not just in one location.

We are constantly warned that the invasive Harlequins, first recorded in Britain in October 2004, are a serious threat to Britain’s native ladybirds, and surveys have shown that most native ladybirds are in serious decline, partly due to the Harlequin but also due to habitat loss. Perhaps the Orange ladybird is fighting back. It has apparently adapted to living on different tree species, first the sycamore and more recently the ash, so this may be aiding its apparent increase in abundance. I certainly hope so!

Don’t forget that we can’t know what’s happening with British ladybirds (or, indeed, any other living species) unless sightings are recorded. You can record yours through your local biodiversity records centre or directly with the UK Ladybird Survey website here.

Bird babies

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While it was a pleasure to see the Little egrets at Roath Park on Thursday, it was the other birds that brought me the most joy, especially because there were so many babies to be seen.

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Cygnets, cootlets, ducklings, all at various stages of development, could be seen swimming, being fed by their parents and learning to feed themselves, and just sitting dozing in the warm sunshine.

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Even the base of the Scott memorial lighthouse has become a nursery for a family of seven little coots.

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I defy anyone to look at these and not smile!

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Little egrets

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After reading reports of a Great white egret being seen at Roath Park lake last Wednesday evening, I decided a visit was in order for Thursday. Unfortunately, the Great white had flown the coop but I did manage to see Little egrets, which was almost as good.

170709 Little egrets (3)

Twenty years ago these birds were a rarity in Britain but, with the warming of our climate, the Little egret (Egretta garzetta) has been expanding its European range and was added to the British breeding list in 1996. They are still not that common in Cardiff so to see two birds together at the lake was a treat. (Apologies for the photos: the birds were a bit distant for my lens and their bright white makes them difficult to photograph in full sun.)

I wonder what their larger, much more common cousin and frequent lake visitor, the Grey heron, made of their visit.

‘A Natural History of the Hedgerow’

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170708 hedgerows (1)

Reading John Wright’s excellent book A Natural History of the Hedgerow and ditches, dykes and dry stone walls (Profile Books, London, 2016) has led me to look at the countryside with slightly more knowledgeable eyes, at least when it comes to field boundaries.

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Not only does Wright’s book provide a superbly researched history of the hedges, dykes, ditches and dry stone walls that divide up the countryside, it also provides detailed information on the plants, birds, invertebrates and animals that inhabit Britain’s hedgerows, as well as including practical details on how the various boundaries are constructed and maintained.

Now, when I go out on my rural rambles or I’m being transported through the countryside by train, car or bus, I can recognise where hedges must once have grown by the broken line of mature trees marching across a field, I shake my head at the neglect of the hedgerows on so many farms (though I can appreciate the sculptural beauty of ancient hedgerow trees), I can spot where farmers have removed existing boundaries to create huge open fields, and I can appreciate how well-maintained hedges add an extra dimension to the landscape.

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Wales and England now have legislation in place to protect hedgerows that meet certain criteria but it would be good if all hedgerows were protected and if more was done to ensure existing hedges were also properly nurtured and maintained.