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Garden Bioblitz 1st June 2014

We decided to take part in the Garden BioBlitz this weekend and so, on Sunday afternoon with camera in hand, we took a two hour jaunt around the garden to see what we could see. Aside from all the usual birds that chomp away on the feeders, we spotted quite a few other garden visitors; most are welcome but a couple perhaps not so much if you are trying to grow vegetables! Here are a few of the sightings… hope I have the Latin names right!

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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.

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.

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…

Swallow-tailed moth

Not a great shot but taken in the doorway one evening at the beginning of August. This is a Swallow-tailed Moth (Ourapteryx sambucaria) which, whilst not rare, is not often seen as it has such a short season and, like many moths, is more active at night.

Swallow-tailed moth.

Ruddy Ducks at Arundel WWT

It seems that these chaps are threatening to oust our British indigenous white-headed ducks by interbreeding with them, using ‘aggressive courting behaviour’ according to a wiki on the subject. This particular trio were safe and sound at the Arundel Wildlife and Wetlands Trust Centre in West Sussex.

Ruddy Ducks (Oxyura jamaicensis) at Arundel WWT. February 2011

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.