338/366 Leaf mines: Acidia cognata

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Though the UK Fly mines website says the leaf mines of the little orange fly Acidia cognata are made in October-November, I’m sure the mines will still be visible this month, and possibly further into the winter, so this is one to look out for now when you’re out walking.

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One of the plants this fly mines – this is the one I’ve found these mines on – is Winter heliotrope (Petasites fragrans), which is particularly noticeable now, due to the pretty pink flowers that appear from November to February. Other favoured larval plants are Butterbur (Petasites hybridus), a plant very similar to Winter heliotrope, and Colt’s-foot (Tussilago farfara), the leaves of which don’t appear till after the flowers, so approximately from April onwards.

After hatching, the Acidia cognata larvae create a corridor on the upper surface of the leaf. As the larvae grow, the mine widens and eventually becomes more of a blotch, especially if there are several larvae on a single leaf and their mines meet. I’ve found these mines in two local patches of Winter heliotrope but not found any sign of them in other locations, so distribution does seem a little random. If you spot any, please do record your sightings as, like many leaf-miners where the adult flies are not often seen, this species is probably under-recorded.

337/366 The anvil

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At the moment there are plenty of juicy berries on the trees and bushes, but when those disappear, or the ground’s too hard to probe for earthworms, snails become an important source of winter food for our Song thrushes. But how to get inside those protective shells to the body within? The answer is shown in the photo below – find a suitable stone, or similar hard object, and bash the snails on it.

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336/366 Wagging all the way

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When days are short and skies are grey, a bobbing, tail-wagging, chissicking Pied wagtail is sure to bring a smile. There are always a few Pied wags around in the summer months but, come the chilly days of winter, many more come to town, where it’s slightly warmer and the urban pickings presumably a little richer.

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335/366 In praise of Beech

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In his ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, Keats wrote of a ‘light-winged Dryad of the trees’ singing of summer in ‘some melodious plot of beechen green’. The beechen green has now become beechen gold and brown, but I can still imagine Dryads singing of the beauty of mighty Beech trees, in all their autumnal finery, and even performing paeans in praise of their statuesque forms once those golden leaves have fallen.

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334/366 From flower to seed

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The seedheads of Old-man’s-beard – or perhaps you prefer to call it Traveller’s-joy – the native British Clematis vitalba, are a feathery delight, and I can rarely refrain from taking photos of them.

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I also relish the delicate vanilla fragrance of the plant’s spiky flowers.

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So, imagine my delight during today’s walk when I found both flowers and seedheads on the same plant. Spring and autumn, scent and seeds – a delicious, if slightly strange combination.

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333/366 Striped snail

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And now for something completely different….

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I don’t often look at molluscs but these banded beauties caught my eye when I was walking across the Cardiff Bay Barrage earlier this week. I’m fairly sure they’re Cernuella virgata, Striped or Banded snails.

The presence of dark-on-light spiralling bands on their shells is one defining feature, as is their semi-spherical, rather than flat, shape, and the small open umbilicus. And they’re usually found on coastal sites, particularly in calcareous grassland, which fits the Barrage location.

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332/366 Redlead roundhead

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Redlead roundhead – try saying that name several times at speed – a real tongue-twister! Its scientific name is also a bit of a mouthful: Leratiomyces ceres, the ceres epithet a reference to the red of its cap, though I’ve found they’re more of a rusty red than cerise.

This fungus is an ‘alien from Australia’ that favours wood chip, particularly on sandy soil, and it owes its spreading distribution to the way many park departments cover areas of ‘gardens’ with chippings of trees from wide and varied sources. I found this particular specimen on the Cardiff Bay Barrage, growing on bits of wood washed down the Rivers Ely and Taff during flooding events.

331/366 Leaf mines: Phyllonorycter leucographella

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I stumbled across these leaf mines by accident but I simply can’t resist including them … because the tiny striped larvae are so darn cute!

201126 phyllonorycter leucographella (1)

These are the larvae of the moth Phyllonorycter leucographella, the adult of which is also rather striking – you can see photos of it on the UK Moths website here. As the website reports, this moth is a recent arrival to Britain, first spotted in Essex just 40 years ago, but for such a small creature – its wingspan is only 7-9mm – it’s managed to fly and settle far and wide, from Yorkshire in the north of England to Pembrokeshire in the west of Wales, and all points in between. This may partly be due to the fact that its larvae feed on many garden plants: I found an abundance of leaf mines on an orange-berried variety of Firethorn (Pyracantha coccinea), which explains why the moth’s common name is Firethorn leaf miner.

As you can see from my pictures, the larval ‘mine’ is like a blister, centred over the midrib on the upper side of the leaf. The larva, which, with black blobs on a white body, is very distinctive, can often be seen through the membrane of the mine, especially when it’s feeding at the edge of the blister. You can read more about this leaf miner, its life cycle and preferred larval plants on the UK Fly Mines website here.

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330/366 The Bay on Monday

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Monday’s walk saw me striding out on a circuit of Cardiff Bay, a walk of just under 8 miles that day as I meandered here and there to look at particular things. (This panorama of the Bay was taken in April a couple of years ago and a few things have since changed but I just wanted to give those unfamiliar with the Bay a general idea of my walk. The Bristol Channel is to the right; Cardiff city centre at the top, slightly left of centre; the view is as seen from the town of Penarth.)

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These are some of the birds I encountered on my circuit: three of four Redshanks that flew in to the embankment of the River Ely where it flows in to the Bay.

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A Grey heron using some of the old dock infrastructure as a lookout.

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A pair of Goosanders on the embankment near Mermaid Quay – the red-headed female mostly snoozing, her partner using the time out of the water to spruce himself up.

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One of a pair of Mute swans also preening, then snoozing.

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One of many Great crested grebes that make their home in the Bay.

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I counted 20 Turnstones in total on Monday; this one had lost a chunk of feathers on its back, perhaps an encounter with a bird of prey that the Turnstone was fortunate to survive.

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And, last but probably the most numerous, one of hundreds, perhaps thousands of Black-headed gulls to be seen around Cardiff Bay.

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