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.

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A bumblebee walk at Forest Farm

Today I joined a group of enthusiasts led by Sinead Lynch of Bumblebee Conservation. It was an overcast day as we walked amongst rough grassland stopping to catch or photograph the many bumblebees flying and feeding on the Himalayan balsam, knapweed and other flowering plants. Of course, there were lots of other interesting creatures apart from bees inclduing a particularly high number of large orb weavers amongst the long grass many of which seemed to be trapping small crickets and grasshoppers. We spotted red-tailed bumblebees, cuckoo bees and a huge queen who evaded photographic ‘capture’!

Llanelli WWT

It’s not all about birds at Llanelli WWT Centre. This weekend, I spent a few hours walking around in the blazing sunshine, just admiring the site. The coincidence of the nearby air show at Swansea and the likelihood that herds of people had gone to the seaside meant that we were almost alone, which was lovely. We saw some lapwings and loads of wading birds but, most of all, we enjoyed seeing the butterflies, dragon flies and damsels. Perhaps not so much the twin lobed deer fly which gave a very painful bite to an unsuspecting ankle!

Parc Slip Nature Reserve, Tondu

Last weekend, I attended an interesting course on amphibian and reptile ecology and conservation. The first day we spent learning how to identify and differentiate between the various species and between genders of the same animal. Apparently there are no, or very few, common newts in South Wales, where I live, which saves a lot of trouble when it comes to identifying a small newt in my pond as it must be a Lissotriton helveticus, the palmate newt. Did you know that frogs prefer to spawn in shallow, temporary ponds whilst toads like deeper, permanent ponds? I didn’t. I’ll never be able to confuse a grass snake with an adder if I come across these species and I’ll know not to pick up a frog or toad with dry hands as it damages them. If I see a snake basking in the sun, I won’t disturb it because it’s either warming itself or digesting a recent meal. I could go on…. 🙂

After the morning’s lecture, we went for a walk around the conservation area and looked under and near artificial refuges (sheets of black corrugated bitumen roofing on top of which reptiles can bask and under which they can shelter). In the space of a couple of hours, we saw grass snakes, slow worms, a lizard and an adder plus a great crested newt. The grass snakes were particularly interesting as we had a graphic, and rather smelly, example of their first defence mechanism i.e. the snake defecates on its aggressor, and the last ditch ‘playing dead’ behaviour. Here are some photos; I couldn’t ‘shoot’ the adder for fear of disturbing it unnecessarily.

Spring has sprung in Bute Park!

Today a friend and I walked into Bute Park to photograph and monitor any wild flowers along the river path; we have decided to do this regularly to see how the woodland changes through the year and gauge the impact that Himalayan Balsam may have on other plants. The weather was the best so far this year and the birds were singing all over the place. When we weren’t looking down, we looked up and spotted a heron, two goldfinches, two siskins, two chaffinches, some long-tailed tits and a sweet little goldcrest. As for the flowers, they are beginning to show, particularly the crocuses and daffodils of course, but also the wild garlic, celandines and dog’s mercury. The bees were out in force too, collecting pollen amongst the crocuses whilst the sun shone.

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.

Bute Park in December

A cold, soggy day but not raining so I went for a walk in Bute Park. Apart from the trees and a few birds and squirrels, there was little sign of life … or so I thought. But, in reality, there were buds on the trees, bulbs pushing through the wet earth and some thriving plants such as butterbur and wild garlic. The Park never really sleeps.

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.