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Llantwit Major on a sunny spring day

On Saturday we went westward to the town of Llantwit Major, just fifty minutes away on the Valley Lines train. The weather was unbelievably warm and sunny and there were quite a few people taking advantage. I had an ‘artistic attack’ on the beach and tried to capture some shots of the beautiful shaped cobbles, shells and driftwood but, before long, I reverted to type when I spotted some bloody-nosed beetles on the cliff path. Watching courting butterflies and being dive bombed by the occasional bumblebee showed me that, at last, spring has truly sprung.

Searching for Spring

It has been raining for weeks now and our garden is so saturated that it is out of bounds, unless we decide to create a mud bath. In a search for some hope of spring, we braved the elements and went for a long walk in Forest Farm. Despite drizzly beginnings, the weather brightened occasionally and, as there was a rugby match on in town, the bird hides were deserted. We were treated to the sight of a beautiful female kingfisher; I tried to capture a photo by holding my compact camera lens up to the eyepiece of my binoculars. The result is less than impressive but at least I know what the bird is supposed to look like! We also had an unparalleled view of a green woodpecker plus various blue tits, great tits, chaffinches, grey wagtails and a little goldcrest. Seeing snowdrops and a primrose made it feel as though we were at least heading in the right direction.

Enough bees… three flies!

I have been enjoying a love affair with bumblebees this year but I did also see some pretty impressive flies too. Here are three of my favourites:

Tachina grossa Hailey Park, Cardiff. August.

Tachina grossa Hailey Park, Cardiff. August.

Tachina grossa: The giant tachinid fly is very large (~20mm) and rather distinctive with its jet black, hairy body, bright yellow head and huge eyes. The tachinid flies are parasites; the female lays her eggs on moth or butterfly caterpillars then the fly larvae hatch out and devour their host from the inside out, which isn’t a pleasant thought.

Lucilia cuprina Hailey Park, Cardiff. September.

Lucilia cuprina Hailey Park, Cardiff. September.

Lucilia cuprina: Nobody likes these flies but this specimen is attractive when seen close up, in my opinion. The female greenbottle fly lays her eggs in meat, fish, corpses, infected wounds and excrement. The maggots feed on decomposing tissue and are occasionally used to debride human tissue. But apart from that… 🙂

Phasia hemiptera Pontisili Reservoir, Brecons. August.

Phasia hemiptera Pontisili Reservoir, Brecons. August.

Phasia hemiptera: Another member of the tachinid family, this is a stunning fly and looks like something dreamt up by Hans Rudolph Geiger with its metallic wings; the colour indicates that this is a male. Unfortunately, the female parasitises one of my favourite insects, the shield bug.

Brecon Beacons National Park

For us from Cardiff, a Bank Holiday out in the Brecon Beacons meant a train ride to Merthyr Tydfil and two bus journeys but it was a pleasant enough trip. When we arrived at the Information Centre the place was crowded with visitors and the Summer Fayre was in full swing; the stalls distracted us from taking our first walk for a while. In the centre’s secluded garden, where we ate our lunch, there was a herb bed and, amongst the flowering marjoram, fluffy little carder bees, red-tailed and buff or white-tailed bumblebees. Once we set to walk out amongst the bracken and heather we soon saw a few birds and more insects, especially on the thistle flowers. The nearest hills, a gentle three mile stroll from the Centre, were populated with sheep sheltering from the sun under trees and bushes. At the top we enjoyed the stunning views and a quick breather before walking back down to the Centre for a cup of tea and then the bus back.

to Brecon.

Japanese Butterbur March 2013

Yesterday, as I was walking along the banks of the River Taff towards Cardiff, I spotted some Common Butterburs (Petasites hybridus) flowering by the water; these plants are easily recognisable by their waxy pink flowers and large rounded leaves. But right next to them were hundreds of smaller plants; they looked similar, but not the same, and have since been identified as Japanese Butterbur (Petasites japonica). I reported the sighting to SEWBReC who confirmed the species identification and told me that the last time these plants were seen in the Llandaff area was back in 1983!  I counted more than five hundred individuals and there were probably at least as many more again pushing their way through a thick mulch of dead Japanese knotweed stalks.

Small IS beautiful: Lichens in Bute Park

It was a very chilly day in Cardiff yesterday but, ignoring the temptation to stay indoors, I went instead to Bute Park to meet Alan Orange who works as the Curator of Lichens at the National Museum of Wales. After a comprehensive, illustrated slideshow, we trooped outside and didn’t have to walk too far before finding our first lichen. These composite organisms, part fungus part alga, cover many of the trees in Bute and can look yellow, green or grey to the naked eye. I’d not given lichens as much attention as they clearly deserve because, apart from being fascinating, some are really beautiful when examined through a hand lens or the eye of a camera. Here are photographs of some of the specimens that we saw; I’ve done my best to label them accurately but, if there any inaccuracies then, as always, I’m happy to be corrected! Here’s a Wiki on the subject.

Treegazing in Bute Park

Tony Titchen in Bute Park

I spent this afternoon, in the company of at least a couple of dozen other people, being led around Bute Park by a dendrologist of some repute, Tony Titchen. Tony told us that in Bute we have one of the best tree collections in the whole of the United Kingdom with a record number of ‘Champions’; these are the tallest or broadest trees of their kind in the UK and likely to be the oldest too!

Although it was a rather cold and wet day, the mood of our group remained bright as we squelched our way from tree to tree learning interesting facts about each specimen. Although Tony’s knowledge was encyclopaedic, he pitched his presentation just right for those us us who were not nearly so knowledgeable and he held our attention from beginning to end. By the time we got back to our starting point, my hands were so cold I could barely hold my camera, although they proved more adept at holding a hot cup of coffee. Here are a few of the many photos I took – I’ve done my best to remember the names but, as usual, there are some as yet unidentified species in amongst the ones labelled. Also, I couldn’t resist slipping in another couple of fungi photos for good measure.

Glamorgan Canal Local Nature Reserve: Whitchurch, Cardiff

Today, a friend and I went to visit the bird hides at Forest Farm – we had hoped to spot a kingfisher or two but the Rangers were hard at work around the water’s edge, cutting reeds and coppicing trees. Their presence, and the sound of chainsaws, meant that we would be unlikely to see kingfishers and so instead we went for a walk along the nearby Glamorganshire Canal, through the wildlife reserve. Apart from a few garden birds, a couple of herons, some mallards and moorhens, we saw no other wildlife. However, having had our appetite whetted on the recent fungi walk at Bute Park, we started noticing that there were some entirely different specimens in this habitat and these provided a target for my camera. It was a beautiful morning, the weather dry and mild; leaves falling from the trees like ticker tape and the earth had a damp, nutty, autumnal smell. A wonderful place to visit.

Flying beauties of Bute Park

Poplar Hawk-moth (Laothoe populi)

Yesterday I had a very enjoyable morning watching George from Butterfly Conservation open three moth traps set the night before in Bute Park. This Poplar Hawk-moth sat obligingly on my hand whilst I took a photo. These are some more of the many beauties that I saw…

Bug hunting amongst the nettles.

Yesterday, we went bug-hunting amongst stinging nettles and other plants bordering a field behind Llandaff Cathedral. The weather was mainly overcast with occasional brief bursts of sunshine and a brisk breeze. These are just a few of the beasts that we spotted in an hour or two before succumbing to the desire for coffee and cake.