300/366 Four-spotted orb weaver

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If you suffer from arachnophobia, look away now! This spider, found recently in one of the outer fields at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park, was the biggest spider I’ve seen in Britain. That’s still not big when compared to Tarantulas or Huntsmen or other large species but it was big enough to make me feel both a teeny bit freaked out and totally fascinated at the same time.

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This is a female Four-spotted orb weaver (Araneus quadratus), a species that’s apparently quite common in Britain and can be found in a variety of habitats, from grassland and bogs to gardens and woodlands. As with many spiders, females are larger than males. In this species, females can grow to 17mm long, while the males are only half that size.

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This beauty was slowly making her way through the long grass at the edge of a bramble patch. Because of the size of her body, she was struggling to stay upright, and several times overbalanced. But those long striped legs are obviously quite strong and she easily managed to pull herself upright again.

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I spotted this orb weaver because her apricot colour stood out from her surroundings but, according to the Naturespot website, adult females are like chameleons, able to change their colour to coordinate with their surroundings, though that process can take about three days to complete. Fascinating!

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299/366 Blooming now

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Today’s blast of colour is brought to you by the colour purple, with splashes of pink and blue and lilac. All these gorgeous wild plants are still flowering in my local area and, on grey days, when we here in Wales are once again in full Covid-19 lockdown, seeing these on my daily exercise walks is a spirit-lifting delight!

For those who want to know, these are: Buddleja, Bush vetch, Common knapweed, Creeping thistle, Devil’s-bit scabious, Field scabious, Hedge woundwort, Herb Robert, Ivy-leaved toadflax, Meadow crane’s-bill, Musk-mallow, Purple toadflax, Rosebay willowherb, Teasel, and Tufted vetch.

298/366 The last Meadow brown

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Meadow brown butterflies have a long season, on the wing from early June to the end of October, and those dates are exactly what I’ve observed in my area this year and last.

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In 2019, I spotted my first Meadow brown on 5 June and the last was a single butterfly seen on 7 October.

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This year, I saw my first Meadow Brown at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park on 1 June.

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And, as September was drawing to a close, I kept a special eye out for these lovely butterflies, each time taking a photograph and asking myself, ‘Will this be the last Meadow brown of the year?’

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I knew time was fast slipping away for them and, on 5 October, again at Cosmeston, it really was the last time I would see a Meadow brown in 2020. That butterfly is the one shown below … and I’m already looking forward to seeing them again next June.

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297/366 Candlesnuff

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With our weather much wetter and temperatures not too cold, October should be a good month for spotting fungi but I haven’t been finding much during my daily meanders. So, it was good to spot a piece of wood with the early stages of Candlesnuff (Xylaira hypoxylon) fungi growing out of it.

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I’ve blogged about this lovely fungus before so to find out more about it, click on The right snuff, December 2016.

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296/366 A gull’s history

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Yesterday’s inbox contained an email with the life history of this ringed Lesser black-backed gull I found at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park and reported to the BTO’s ringers on 5 October. This bird was first ringed on Flat Holm Island, in the Bristol Channel off the south Wales coast, on 1 July 2017. A couple of months later, on 6 September, it was spotted at Cosmeston, and then it headed 1200 kms south to Matosinhos, a port and fishing town in Portugal, where it was seen twice in October 2017, on the 27th and again on the 31st. The bird wasn’t seen again until my recent report so it’s anybody’s guess where it’s been for the past three years.

201022 ringed lesser black-backed gull

295/366 Salmon in the Bay

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During yesterday’s walk along the southern edge of Cardiff Bay, I spotted this huge metre-long fish cruising along sluggishly very close to the embankment. Turns out it was a Salmon, possibly returning to the Bay after having spawned somewhere high up in the River Taff.

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Sadly, this fish has probably now reached the end of its life … but what a life! As Will Millard kindly explained on Twitter, this Salmon may have

been born in the Taff, migrated to sea, possibly even as far as Greenland, to pile on weight, mass and muscle over a few years, before returning, hundreds of miles home to spawn and then die. It’s sad when any animal comes to the end of its life, but what a story & other life is sustained from the salmon carcass. In parts of Canada and Alaska whole forests gain massive parts of their nutrients purely from salmon dying at the end of the salmon run.

Will also explained that Salmon often develop skin infections during times of stress, which may explain the pale, ‘cotton wool’-like appearance of parts of its skin.

294/366 Goldeneye

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No, I’m not blogging about a James Bond film, though our recent visitor to Cosmeston Lakes Country Park is almost as exotic, and certainly as handsome as any of the many James Bonds. This is a drake Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula), a diving duck that’s a little smaller than a Mallard.

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This drake was first picked up by our best local birder last Friday evening so I strode along to the lakes early Saturday morning and had distant views of it on the west lake. The Goldeneye appeared to have left Saturday afternoon, as another local birder couldn’t find it, but I was back at Cosmeston early Sunday, sitting quietly on a bench next to the east lake, when Mr Goldeneye popped out from the vegetation right in front of me and I was able to get these closer photos of him.

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Though Goldeneye are known to spend their winters in small groups on reservoirs and inland lakes, and in sheltered coastal bays, they are not a common sight in my part of south Wales, so it has been a treat to have the chance to see this stunning bird.

293/366 Stigmella aceris

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I’ve been hunting for leaf mines in recent days, the mines made by the larvae of the micro moth Stigmella aceris, which can be found at this time of year on the leaves of Norway and Field maples. Unfortunately, I haven’t made any finds of my own but my Twitter pal Gareth had the honour of finding the first mines in the Vale of Glamorgan last week so I went and checked out his find site to get a look at the mines for myself.

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According to the UK Moths website, this moth was classified as rare until 40 years ago, when it began increasing its range ‘dramatically’. It can now be found throughout central and southern England, and also in south Wales – it was found for the first time in Cardiff in November 2019.

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I’ve never seen the adult moth, which has the common name of Scarce maple pigmy – and probably never will – but you can see a photo of it on the British Lepidoptera weebly site here.

And now I’m heading out to check more Maple trees before their leaves all fall and turn to mush …

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291/366 Back for the winter

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It was wonderful yesterday to see that Goosanders are now returning to Cardiff Bay after their breeding season. I’m not exactly sure where these birds would have spent their busy summer months as, according to recent copies of the Eastern Glamorgan Bird Report, they haven’t been recorded breeding locally for many years.

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Goosanders can often be seen in the Bay over the winter and, yesterday, three birds were fishing in the River Ely where it flows in to Cardiff Bay.

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There were two females and this handsome bird, which I think is a male in eclipse plumage, i.e. transitioning from summer to winter colours. I took a little video of it preening, if you want to take a look.

(Apologies for the spot in the video – it’s inside my camera, rather than on the lens, but I haven’t been able to take my camera to be cleaned because of our lockdown restrictions.)