215/366 Mr Warty

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Or it might be Mrs Warty – I’m not sure how you tell the gender of a Common toad, and this one wasn’t hanging around to let me have a second look anyway. Those warts aren’t really warts, of course – they’re swellings above glands in the skin that can secrete a poisonous substance that acts as a defence mechanism.

200802 toad (1)

Though they’re not the most attractive of creatures, toads are, according to my Fauna Britannica, ‘highly intelligent, learn quickly and can be tamed, and they are extremely long-lived (40 years at least)’. Apparently, they also have ‘a marked homing instinct and will return to the same resting spot in some damp corner time after time’, so perhaps I need to go back for another look at this one.

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214/366 Butterfly eggs

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This Painted lady is only the fourth individual I’ve seen this year but she was by far the best, not because of her appearance, which is a little ragged around the edges, but because she was laying eggs … and I’d never seen a Painted lady egg before.

200801 painted lady

At just 0.65mm high, the egg is tiny and, in my reference book, it’s described as green but, to my eye, this one is more of a pale turquoise – the plant stem is green. And the plant is a thistle – Creeping thistle, I think, though it was a young plant with no flowers, which makes it harder for me to identify but probably more nourishing for the teeny tiny caterpillar to munch on when it emerges. Now if I can only find this exact plant again in approximately a week’s time …

And following hot on the heels of finding that Painted lady egg, today I spotted a female Common blue butterfly laying her eggs in a sheltered clearing. You can perhaps see in the photo how she is angling her body to deposit an egg underneath the foliage.

200801 Common blue egg laying

So, once again, I was able to find the newly laid egg and take some photos. According to my book, these eggs are usually 0.5mm in diameter and just 0.25mm high, so really tiny. I have no chance of finding this egg again but I’m really glad I had the chance to see it.

213/366 Common lizards

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As well as the lovely Grayling butterfly spotted on Wednesday’s walk in Aberbargoed, we had a wonderful surprise when my friend Sharon spotted these two tiny reptiles, basking on a wooden boardwalk in the Grasslands National Nature Reserve.

200731 common lizards (1)

The reptile known as the Common lizard and also the Viviparous lizard, once had the scientific moniker Lacerta vivipara but is now Zootoca vivipara. Viviparous is a zoological term meaning ‘bringing forth live young which have developed inside the body of the parent’ (Oxford Dictionary), though what apparently happens in this lizard’s case is that the young hatch from their eggs as they are deposited outside the body (Fauna Britannica).

200731 common lizards (2)

As their name suggests, these lizards are common in Britain, though I’ve only seen them twice in my five years’ residence in Wales, which is why Wednesday’s sightings were such a delight. You can find out more about them on the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust website.

200731 common lizards (3)

212/366 A tip top butterfly

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I had big plans to see more of Britain’s butterfly species this year but, in the immortal words of Robbie Burns, plans and schemes ‘gang aft agley’. The Covid 19 lockdown put a stop to all the butterflying plans I was hatching and I’ve missed seeing an awful lot of species this year. But, yesterday, I did manage one more species for 2020, that master of camouflage, the Grayling.

200730 grayling (1)

I have a friend who lives not far from Aberbargoed, with its Grasslands National Nature Reserve and the neighbouring coal spoil tip, so I was able to combine a delightful socially distanced walk with some butterflying. It was a little late in the month – last year I visited the tip in mid July – but we got lucky, with wonderful close sightings of just one individual.

200730 grayling (2)

In his Life Cycles of British & Irish Butterflies, Peter Eeles notes that the Grayling was once known as the Rock Underwing, a testament to its ability to blend in perfectly with the surrounding earth and pebbles when it lowers its forewings. Fortunately, when the Grayling is feeding, it raises its forewings and we were able to see more clearly its two eye spots.

200730 grayling (3)

211/366 Rhubarb and custard

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From Brett Westwood and Stephen Moss’s Wonderland: A Year of Britain’s Wildlife Day by Day:
‘Common and widespread though it may be, this small, neat dragonfly is always worth a second look. The males are brick red and the females yellow, so I use the aide-memoire “rhubarb and custard” to remember this.’

200729 common darter (1)

Which dragonfly is being described? I’m sure many of you worked out it was the Common darter, which is flying now in my local parks and reserves, though in quite small numbers so far.

200729 common darter (2)

210/366 Today along the Ely

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This morning’s wander took me down to Cardiff Bay to walk the path along the embankment of the River Ely, my first walk that way for a while, as there tend to be less interesting birds to see during the summer months and more people to avoid. And so it was, though there is never nothing to see.

200728 4 house martins

House martins were still filling the air with their calls and zipping swiftly back and forth, hunting low over the water then taking insects back to feed their young, which must be second or even third broods now.

200728 5 swan

Large numbers of Coot and Mallard were feeding on the water weed or sitting preening on the water’s edge of the embankment, and several Swan were floating regally past. A couple fell out and were half-heartedly chasing each other.

200728 6 juvenile gcg200728 7 gcg

I saw only three Great crested grebes, a low number for this location. Two were adults and one a well grown juvenile that was snoozing amongst the weed.

200728 8 pied wag

And I saw only two Pied wagtails, which is also a small quantity for the embankment. Their jaunty striding back and forth always makes me grin.

209/366 Song thrush fledgling

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I hope this little Song thrush fledgling managed to find its parents, or they found it. I spotted sitting in the middle of a footpath but it managed to hop into the vegetation at the side of the path as I approached, and I could hear what might have been adult birds peeping softly from the surrounding bushes and trees. Fingers crossed!

200727 song thrush fledgling

208/366 A pod of peas

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The Pea family (properly known as the Leguminosae) is a large one, and its members are easily recognised by their flower shape. I see them a lot during my meanders – Red and White clovers, the Bird’s-foot trefoil and Melilotus species, Tufted and Bush vetch are all common hereabouts.

Those that follow are the peas I see less often, starting with Meadow vetchling (Lathyrus pratensis), which is not an uncommon plant in my area – it’s just that I’ve seen it more often since lockdown started, as my walks have taken me along the less-used footpaths across local farm fields and meadows.

200726 3 meadow vetchling

Grass vetchling (Lathyrus nissolia) is less common – or, perhaps, less easily found, as it’s a delicate plant, easily lost amongst the long grass in which it grows, unless you manage to spot its one or two bright pink flowers on fine, tall stems.

Broad-leaved everlasting pea (Lathyrus latifolius): I’ve found this lovely, sprawling pea in two local parks, both former rubbish dumps. It seems an aggressive climber and rambler, adorning bramble and low scrub with its attractive blooms. It is a favourite plant of the Long-tailed blue butterfly so I know where to look if this pretty migrant butterfly ever decides to fly as far as south Wales.

200726 5 broad-leaved everlasting pea

Goat’s rue (Galega officinalis) is new to me, and I’ve only seen it in one location, near a large local hospital, perhaps blown in by the constant comings and goings of traffic. My Flora Britannica says it ‘was introduced … in the sixteenth century as a vegetable and medicinal herb, and later grown for ornament’. It certainly has very beautiful flowers.

200726 6 goats-rue

207/366 At home in the bindweed

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I had to chuckle during this morning’s brief stomp between bouts of heavy rain. The local slugs, which I thought would be at home in such conditions, sliding on the grass, slithering over leaves, were more literally ‘at home’, sheltering in the deep flower cups of bindweed.

200725 slugs in bindweed (1)200725 slugs in bindweed (2)200725 slugs in bindweed (3)

206/366 Fledging

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From an initial count of three chicks, the local Lesser black-backed gulls nesting amongst a neighbour’s chimney pots have managed to raise one to fledging. I’ve been watching it practising its flying skills over recent days and, finally this morning, it has left the shelter of its nest site.

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Though it was pottering around the rooftops for a while, I can no longer see the chick. Now follows the dangerous time for this fledgling of learning to find its own food, finding shelter against bad weather, escaping domestic cats and dogs in the various neighbours’ gardens, and avoiding cars on roads…. Good luck, little one!

200724 lbb chick (18)