Spindle ermine

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It could be Halloween, with reports of ‘ghostly silken webbing’ that ‘can look rather sinister’ and give trees ‘an eerie appearance’. As well as covering parts of trees and hedgerows, apparently the webs are sometimes ‘so extensive that they can cover nearby objects such as benches, bicycles and gravestones’.

But this is June and in my local woodland, the one I showed you in yesterday’s post, the webs, though plentiful, are nowhere near that dramatic. These are the communal dwellings of moth larvae and, though there are several species of ermine moths, as the caterpillar-filled webs I’ve been seeing have all been on Spindle, I think I’m safe in assuming these are the larvae of Spindle ermine (Yponomeuta cagnagella).

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Although these are the first webs I’ve seen, the Butterfly Conservation website reports that Spindle ermine is a common resident, though it is less common in northern parts of Britain. Look for Spindle trees and you might well see these webs for yourself.

A local woodland

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I write often about my wanderings in my local woodlands so I thought I’d share one of my walks in a series of landscape images. There are, in fact, several separate areas of woodland, sandwiched together, and this is just one of them, a combination of ancient woodland and a newer area of trees planted to mark the turn of the millennium. Not surprisingly, the ancient part has many huge old trees, is cool and dark in the summer when their foliage shades the paths. Above, along the plateau at the top of the hill, is the millennium woodland with its wide open rides and small meadows. This area has more wildflowers and is where I look for butterflies, dragonflies and other insects. Often, I don’t see a single soul when I walk here, which, for me, just adds to the attraction – it’s my own little piece of paradise.

Baby Moorhens

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Following on from yesterday’s ‘baby’ theme, today we have some baby Moorhens from Cosmeston Lakes Country Park.

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I tend to avoid the lake, cafe and car park areas of the park as those are where most of the people congregate but, yesterday, I wanted to check out the dipping pond for dragonflies so walked that way.

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Though there were no dragons to be seen, there were three generations of Moorhen, an adult, one of an earlier brood of chicks, and at least six of the latest brood, in all their fluffy feather cuteness.

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Baby Brimstones

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We’ve watched Brimstone courtship (Butterfly courtship, 24 May 2021) and we’ve seen Brimstone eggs (4 May 2021), now let’s have a look at what hatched out of those eggs, the Brimstone babies … well, we might want to call them caterpillars or, more scientifically correct, larvae, but I couldn’t resist the alliteration of that title.

According to Peter Eeles’s Life Cycles of British & Irish Butterflies, the Brimstone butterfly progresses through five stages, called instars, taking around 25 days from the day it hatches from its egg to the time it moults into its final instar. Six days after that, it pupates. By returning to Buckthorn trees where I’ve previously seen eggs, I’ve managed to find most of these stages, including, on Saturday, a final instar.

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Eeles writes that, as early instars, the larvae tend ‘to rest alongside a rib on the leaf underside’ (shown in my first two photos) but from the third instar, ‘the larva now rests on the leaf upperside’ (above). In its final instar the larva has a typical resting pose, where it almost hangs off the leaf (below left), and it ‘exudes an amber liquid from the tips of the fine hairs that cover its body … This liquid may be distasteful to birds and therefore act as a deterrent’. The tiny orange globules can be seen in the photo below right. Now to find a pupa …

Summer yellow

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We’ve rain today, the gentle soft rain that I’ve come to associate with life in Wales, but I’m not complaining. It’s much needed, by the land, its plants and its beasties, after a couple of weeks of strong sunshine and baking heat. To counteract the dull grey I see out my window, I’m about to compile today’s post, a little video full of summer sunshine, with some of the yellow-flowered wildflowers currently in bloom. I know I’ve done this before, and quite recently, but I do so enjoy the bright cheeriness of yellow.

Pictured today are: Bird’s-foot trefoil, Creeping buttercup, Creeping cinquefoil, a Dandelion species, Dyer’s greenweed, Evening primrose, Meadow buttercup, a Melilotus species, Mouse-ear hawkweed, Nipplewort, Pineapple weed, Reflexed stonecrop, Silverweed, Smooth sow-thistle, Tormentil, Wood avens, Yellow iris, Yellow loosestrife, Yellow pimpernel, Yellow water-lily, and Yellow-wort.

A select club

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A couple of years ago, I discovered through chats to local Butterfly Conservation Senior moth ecologist George that three rare moths use Dyer’s greenweed (Genista tinctoria) as their larval food plant. (There’s a Butterfly Conservation factsheet about these here.)

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The larvae create little homes for themselves by spinning together the leaves at the tips of Dyer’s greenweed shoots, and, yesterday, after much careful searching, I finally found a ‘spinning’ that was occupied.

George has now confirmed for me that this little beauty is the larva of the nationally scarce moth Mirificarma lentiginosella. And he writes: ‘You now join the select club of people who have seen this species in Wales: you, me, and C.G. Barrett who recorded it in Pembrokeshire in the 1800s’. As you can imagine, I am extremely pleased to have joined this select club!

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Wolf’s milk

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Two species of the slime mould Lycogala can be found in Britain, Lycogala epidendrum and Lycogala terrestre, and it’s only possible to distinguish one from the other by checking the colour of their spores, grey and pink respectively. To do that I’d need to revisit these lovely globules of Lycogala in a week or so – I’ll try to remember, and update this post accordingly.

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Both Lycogala species are commonly known as Wolf’s milk, though I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps someone thought the orange-pink substance they secrete when poked resembled the milk of wolves? North American’s apparently call it Toothpaste slime, which makes me glad I don’t use their brands of toothpaste!

The light and the dark

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I’ve seen three Painted lady (Vanessa cardui) butterflies on my local walks so far this summer, two that looked as they usually do …

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And one particularly darkly coloured creature. I don’t know what would have caused this variation, though there is some scientific evidence that very cold temperatures when a butterfly is pupating can lead to darker than usual wing colouring.

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Southern marsh-orchids

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Mostly, I only see four species of orchid: Early purple, Common spotted, Bee and Pyramidal, so I find it tricky identifying other species. And the fact that many species of orchid hybridise with each other also complicates the identification picture. So, when a Twitter pal tagged me for help identifying a Southern marsh-orchid (Dactylorhiza praetermissa) I couldn’t assist, but decided to try to find some for myself to learn more about their appearance. I found one specimen during a recent visit to Aberbargoed (though not at the grasslands) and several at Cardiff’s Grangemoor Park.

The first thing I realised is that you can’t rely on colour. I found another orchid that looked the perfect shade of purple but didn’t have the right markings – perhaps a hybrid of Southern marsh and Common spotted. The two key things for Southern marsh-orchids, it seems to me, in non-botanist speak, are that the upper petals all reach skywards, like a person holding their arms in the air, and that the larger, lower petal has two cascades of spots that sometimes merge in to one but always fall in the centre of the petal, not spreading outwards. I’m sure there’s a more succinct way to phrase that but I think it’s best we each have our own ways to remember key points.

More urban gull chicks

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As I meander around the local area on my daily walks, I’ve been keeping an eye out for more examples of Lesser black-backed gulls nesting in our urban environment. For the birds, I guess any small flat space on a roof top is the same as a ledge on a cliff face, and they are certainly very good at finding and using those spaces for their nests. Both of today’s examples are from the health care sector, the first on top of a building at Llandough Hospital and the second, with two well-grown chicks, on the rooftop of Nuffield Health Cardiff Bay Hospital.

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