Bugs are like buses

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I hadn’t seen any Dock bugs (Coreus marginatus) for a couple of months and then suddenly, at Cosmeston the other day, I saw 11 on one plant!

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Now that I’ve read up on them, I understand the sightings gap: it seems adults mate and lay their eggs in the springtime, the nymphs munch away on dock and their other favourite plants for a couple of months and, by August, they have developed into new adults. And here they are …

The aphid-eaters

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Do you remember last Friday I blogged about the abundance of ladybirds at Cosmeston? They were feasting on the huge numbers of aphids on the Wild parsnip plants. Well, it turns out the ladybirds have had some competition for those aphids this week, as the migrating Willow warblers move through. I don’t think we need to worry though – there are more than enough aphids to go around!

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Cardiff’s lovely Little gull

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I mentioned a few days ago, in my post about the autumn passage of birds now getting  underway, that a juvenile Little gull has recently been spending time in Cardiff Bay. As it’s such a lovely creature, I thought I’d go back and try for another look and more photos. My camera gear’s not the best so these shots aren’t the crispest you might see but I think you’ll agree this is one beautiful small gull.

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The Little gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus) is perfectly named (minutus, as you might have guessed, means small, minute): in the photo below you can clearly see its petite stature in comparison to the Black-headed gulls and Feral pigeon perched near it.

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According to the RSPB website, between 400-800 Little gulls over-winter in Britain but, locally, here in south Wales, they are uncommon visitors, mostly seen on passage in spring or autumn. My first-ever Little gull sighting was during this year’s spring passage, in Cardiff Bay on 10 April, but that bird spent much of its time flying around in the centre of the bay, visible only through ’scopes and binoculars.

So, it’s been especially nice that our current visitor has been flying, perching and feeding much closer to shore where I, and many other people, have been able to get a better look at it. Soon, I’m sure, it will head south to meet up with others of its kind who will spend their winter around the coastlines of the Mediterranean and western Europe. Fly well, little beauty!

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Encounters with Green woodpeckers

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I’m sure I’ve written before on here that Green woodpeckers can be darn tricky to get good views of. They’re very skittish birds, taking fright and flying off at the slightest noise, yaffling as they go.

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So, I was really thrilled at Lavernock Nature Reserve last Wednesday to get quite close to two of these beautiful birds. Initially, I wasn’t sure if I had seen the same bird in different parts of the reserve, as the sightings were an hour apart, or whether these were two different birds, but a close look at their facial markings has confirmed they are different – a real bonus!

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I think the reason I did manage to get reasonably near both times is that these are juvenile Green woodpeckers (Picus viridis) – you can tell that from the black mottling in their plumage – so they haven’t yet learnt to fear all humans or, perhaps, their senses aren’t yet as acutely honed as their parents’.

These are both male birds – you can tell from the red feathers in the ‘moustache’ markings on either side of their beaks. And both were intent on feeding on ants from the many anthills that dot the wildflower meadows at Lavernock (as you can see in the very short video below). Perhaps that’s another reason why they were not so concerned about me.

Green woodpecker feeding

The quickness of the wing

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‘The quickness of the wing deceives the eye.’ So write Brett Westwood and Stephen Moss in their brilliant book Wonderland: A year of Britain’s wildlife day by day (John Murray, London, 2017). They’re describing those butterflies that ‘fly so haphazardly and so fast that they are little more than hallucinations, a flicker of motion at the edge of our vision, making us question whether we’ve seen one at all.’

The Small copper (Lycaena phlaeas) is one such butterfly but, I find, with a pinch of stealth, a sprinkle of luck and a tablespoonful of patience, it will settle and even pose for photos. And the outcome is no hallucination but rather a delicious creation, even a gourmet would admire.

The autumn migration is underway

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It’s that time of year, tinged ever so slightly with sadness but enlivened with occasional moments of great excitement, when bird populations begin their autumn migration. My local Swifts have headed south for the winter and I shall miss their dawn and dusk screaming, the sound of summer for me, and there have been good numbers of Swallows and House martins swirling above Cardiff Bay, in a final feeding frenzy before they too head south.

I’ve spotted small flocks of Willow warblers and Chiffchaffs, moving through my local nature reserves and parks, stocking up on nutrients before they also begin their long flights. And, this week, a Spotted flycatcher became my 186th bird species for 2018, when I saw it passing through Cosmeston.

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As well as those birds that are departing for sunnier wintering spots, there are also birds returning from their colder breeding locations to spend the winter in Britain’s relatively warm climes. I saw my first two returning Turnstones, still in their summer plumage, during a wander along the Ely embankment on Wednesday.

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Also at Cardiff Bay this week have been a couple of those birds that provide birders, local and distant alike, with a quickening of the heart rate. First, a first summer Arctic tern arrived to join the Cardiff Bay bird population, and then a juvenile Little gull also joined the party, though neither bird has been welcomed by the local gulls.

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I saw both birds being chased and mobbed on Wednesday, and a little later that same day my friend John caught some amazing shots of a Black-headed gull almost drowning the Little gull – luckily, it escaped. (Bird xenophobia? No one seems to know why the local gulls are being so aggressive.)

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Above, Arctic tern being chased; below, Little gull also being pursued

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Let’s hope further newcomers are given a warmer welcome to our local waters and, indeed, let’s just hope for further newcomers – there’s nothing quite like an exciting sighting to quicken a birder’s pulse!

What do ladybirds eat?

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I googled ‘What do ladybirds eat?’ today because I was trying to work out why there are so many ladybirds – about a 50 / 50 split between 7-spots and Harlequins – on the Wild parsnip plants at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park. It turns out ladybirds are particularly keen on aphids and, as you can see in some of my photos, there are rather a lot of aphids on these plants. Good news for the ladybirds!

A family of Linnets

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I went for a wander along the Ely embankment yesterday and was delighted to discover a family of five Linnets, two adults and three exceedingly cute juveniles, all feeding on Herb Robert seeds. They started off with Mum and Dad feeding the youngsters but the kids soon got impatient and wanted more food more quickly.

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Mum or Dad has just plucked one of the Herb Robert seed pods while …

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… youngster is watching to see how this food-gathering process works.

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“Now if I can just reach …”

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“Gotcha!”

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“Now I’ve got the idea, I can help myself.”

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Youngster looking rather pleased with itself.

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Two more lovelies

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As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, last Sunday’s birding didn’t only produce some nice bird sightings, it also featured an abundance of beautiful butterflies, including two newbies for me.

I’ve been keeping an eye out for Clouded yellows (Colias croceus) for a couple of months now, as these immigrants can fly in from the southern parts of Europe and even north Africa as early as June. The occasional sighting has been reported in my area, with one being seen at Lavernock as recently as last Friday, but I hadn’t managed to spot one myself … until last Sunday.

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Ace birder Gareth spotted the first as we walked along the coastal path at Rumney Great Wharf, on the eastern side of Cardiff, and then a second was spotted soon afterwards. And then, as we retraced our steps back to the starting point of our walk, I spied two more, obviously a male and female engaged in their pre-mating aerial display. Luckily, their focus on mating meant I was able to get some open-wing photos, which, though not particularly sharp, are quite difficult with this butterfly, as it usually zooms along at quite a rate of knots.

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The second butterfly, which was again spotted by Gareth, was a first-ever sighting for me. This is a Wall (Lasiommata megera, until recently called a Wall brown), so named because of its liking for sunning itself on rocks, banks and, you guessed it, walls (though this one was not living up to its name!).

This particular Wall had been in the wars and was missing half of one wing and a third of the other, but was still flying well enough. I’m not sure I would have spotted it myself as, in flight, it looked very much like a small Meadow brown or a Gatekeeper, so I’m particularly grateful for Gareth’s sharp eyes.

I’ve had a fabulous summer of butterfly sightings, with my species total now on 34, but will these two be the final two species I see for 2018? Only time will tell.

Birding along Rumney Great Wharf

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It was hot! In fact, it was not just hot, it was scorching but, along with 15 other brave souls, I joined the Glamorgan Bird Club’s outing last Sunday to walk part of the coastal path along Rumney Great Wharf. We started at Parc Trederlerch, where fishermen were trundling their mountains of gear to favourite sites for a day’s fishing, and Swans, Coots, Tufted ducks and Moorhens flocked to be fed by strolling families.

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From there we walked down towards the sea alongside Cors Crychydd Reen. Despite being choked with weed, the reen was home to Little grebes, Coots and Moorhens, all with young, as well as countless, though elusive Reed warblers.

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A Buzzard was hunting from a post overlooking the adjacent landfill site, where gulls, Swifts and assorted hirundines were diving and swooping for food.

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Tucking in to the blackberries as we walked, we were charmed by the sounds of Willow warblers and House sparrows, Goldfinches and Greenfinches, like this one perched high in a tree.

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When we reached the sea wall, we turned left towards Newport. Here’s the view in both directions, firstly looking west over Cardiff Bay towards Penarth Head and then west across the very dry foreshore. The heat shimmer didn’t make bird-spotting easy.

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Linnets entertained us as they bounced around the bushes and reeds.

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We didn’t see a huge number of waders – maybe it was too hot even for them. A large mixed flock of Redshanks and Dunlins flew east, we had good ’scope views of Ringed plovers and Dunlins at the water’s edge, and gulls abounded. There was one Common gull amongst this lot perched on the posts and a Little egret further along doing the same.

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There were also a ton of dragonflies and hoverflies, bees and butterflies – I’ll post more on two of those lovelies in tomorrow’s blog.

And for those who like the nitty-gritty details – I saw 42 bird species: Black-headed Gull, Carrion Crow, Buzzard, Chiffchaff, Common Gull, Redshank, Swift, Common Whitethroat, Coot, Dunlin, Goldfinch, Great Black-backed Gull, Green Woodpecker, Greenfinch, Grey Heron, Herring Gull, House Martin, House Sparrow, Jackdaw, Kestrel, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Linnet, Little Egret, Little Grebe, Magpie, Mallard, Moorhen, Mute Swan, Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Reed Bunting, Reed Warbler, Ringed Plover, Feral Pigeon, Rock Pipit, Shelduck, Starling, Swallow, Tufted Duck, Willow Warbler, Woodpigeon, and Wren. Also seen by trip participants were Blackbird, Blackcap, Blue tit, Canada goose, Collared dove, Cormorant, Curlew, Great crested grebe, Pied wagtail, Skylark, Robin, Stonechat and Whimbrel, bringing the total club list to a very respectable 55 species.