115/365 The gulls are back in town


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The Lesser black-backed gulls mostly disappear during the winter months – I’m not sure where they go – but, come the Spring, they return, and they’re very good at making their presence felt. They often wake me very early in the morning, sometimes by jumping about on my roof, other times with their screeching calls. I’m hoping you can imagine the noise by looking at this series of photos.

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114/365 Blue runner


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Ground-ivy (Glechoma hederacea) is a type of dead-nettle, common in woodlands, lurking under hedgerows and scrambling over dampish spaces. Richard Mabey’s Flora Britannica tells me this pretty little plant was once known as blue runner because of its blue-ish flowers and its habit of spreading via overground runners. Another interesting titbit: ‘before hops became widely used in brewing, it was once one of the chief bittering agents in the making of beer’, which is why another of its common names is ale-hoof.

113/365 Superb Sully stroll


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I caught the bus to Sully this morning, walked along to the western end of the bay, then retraced my steps and walked along the coastal path all the way back to Penarth, about 7½ miles in total. And it was superb, especially the stroll along Sully Bay. I’d timed my walk to be there just before high tide, as that often pushes the birds up closer to the path that runs along the top of the beach, and this was a high high tide so, with some stealthy sneaking along behind the trees, I managed to get really close to a flock of six Whimbrels.

And, to my delight, the Whimbrels had two Bar-tailed godwits with them. I’ve never managed to get so close to either species before so I was really chuffed. And, if you’re wondering why the godwits don’t look the same, the bird on the left (below) is a male in his summer breeding colours, while the bird on the right might be a juvenile or a non-breeding adult.

111/365 Reed warbler


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There are thirteen species of warbler that regularly breed in Britain and I find them some of the trickiest to identify as several are typically LBJs, little brown jobs.

190421 reed warbler (1)

The Reed warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) is, I think, one of the easier, partly because of its recognisable warble and partly because it lives up to its name by living almost exclusively in reeds.

190421 reed warbler (3)

But it’s an elusive little bird so I’ve never managed to get clear photos of it … until today, when this little beauty was so intent on finding food that I was able to watch it for over ten minutes. Just perfect!

190421 reed warbler (2)

110/365 A smelly Saturday


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It doesn’t matter what name you call it by – Ramsons, Londoner’s lily or Wild garlic – it smells. Some people even find the smell overwhelming but I don’t mind it, and when you see Ramsons flowering en masse, they’re really very lovely.

190420 ramsons (1a)

According to Richard Mabey in my ever-useful Flora Britannica, Ramsons were ‘unmistakable and abundant enough to figure in Old English place names’ and he gives the following examples: ‘Ramsey Island off Pembrokeshire; Ramsbottom, Lancashire; Ramsdell, Hampshire; Ramsholt, Suffolk; Ramshope, Northumberland; and Ramshorn, Staffordshire’.

Here in Penarth, the banks of the stream that flows alongside Alexandra Park are carpeted with Ramsons at this time of year, and their growth is also lush in the wild gardens in Cardiff’s Roath Park and under the trees in Bute Park’s woodland trail. Get sniffing!

190420 ramsons (5)

109/365 Welcome back, Whitethroats!


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Did you know that the Whitethroat (Sylvia communis, also known as the Common whitethroat to distinguish it from the Lesser whitethroat, Sylvia curruca) is one of thirteen birds on the British list that has the colour white in its name?*

190419 whitethroat (1)

At least this is one bird that is relatively easy to identify, both because of that prominent white throat and because of its distinctive warbling song. And that’s how I managed to spot my first four Whitethroats of the year today at Cardiff’s Grangemoor Park, singing their hearts out, having just arrived back in the country after spending winter in the Sahel, just south of the Sahara.

190419 whitethroat (2)

* This is according to Stephen Moss’s excellent book Mrs Moreau’s Warbler: How birds got their names, Guardian Faber, London, 2018.

108/365 Smut in Bute Park


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One of my Facebook friends recently made the comment that you can never have too much smut so I immediately thought of him when I saw how much smut was to be found in Cardiff’s Bute Park this afternoon.

Before you think this blog is descending rapidly towards the gutter, let me quickly say that the smut to which I am referring is Microbotryum silenes-dioicae, a smut that occurs on the anthers of Red campion (Silene dioica) flowers. It’s a type of fungus that produces brown, powdery spores so it’s very easy to spot, as you can see below – the photo on the left shows a normal Red campion flower, the flowers on the right are smutty.

107/365 Merry as a martin


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I braved the school holiday crowds for a walk around part of Cardiff Bay today ’cause I wanted to see how the Sand martins were settling in to their chosen nooks and crannies. It was a delight to see so many of these charming little birds swooping back and forth over the waterways, merrily chattering all the while, and they seem to be actively nesting in almost every one of the old docks.

I watched them for a long time and loved every moment but I couldn’t help but feel sad that so few of the people there today even noticed them. They were missing something very special.

106/365 Snoozing


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190416 female mallard

Some days, when it’s grey and misty and still a bit damp from the morning’s rain, the best thing to do is tuck your head under your wing and snooze the afternoon away – at least that seems to have been the opinion of this female Mallard on the Ely embankment today.