A celebration of seed heads, plant life of the future . . .
The highlight of yesterday’s stomp around Cardiff Bay was this male Shoveler quite close to the boardwalk at the wetlands reserve.
He was standing on a submerged log, body up out of the water, so he could preen. As you can see, he was looking a bit scruffy, only part way through the moult to winter plumage (shown below in a photo taken in December a couple of years ago), and was mostly still wearing his breeding colours. He was having a good scratch and preening with that large beak, shedding several feathers during the time I watched him.
While out walking on Wednesday I spotted this large expanse of something white on the side of a huge old fallen tree and, of course, I had to investigate.
As I got closer, I realised it was the slime mould Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa, a mass of tiny translucent white tubes, often branched, clustered together like terrestrial coral or sea anemones.
As this plasmodium stage of a slime mould often only lasts a day or two, the timing of my walk was very lucky indeed.
Wire-dotter, pylon-swarmer, dusk-dancer, aerial-clinger … these are just some of author and poet Rob Cowen’s descriptions of these shimmering birds, the Starlings, in his poem ‘Starling’ from his recently published book The Heeding (Elliott and Johnson, London, 2021). I’m not a great reader of poetry but this work is magical, and includes the stunning illustrations of Nick Hayes – I highly recommend their work.
And Starlings are also magical: musicians that entertain with their broad repertoire of trills and whistles, flutes and warbles; murmuraters that fly en masse with remarkable precision; fashionistas that dazzle with the greens, purples and blues of their iridescent plumage.
This is the sequel to yesterday’s post …
30 September: While I was searching for the larval mines of the moth Ectoedemia decentella on the few Sycamore seeds I could reach, I found one seed with a hole in it. Thinking it might be relevant, I brought it home and later posted a photo and query on Twitter. Butterfly Conservation senior moth ecologist George replied that this is ‘the exit hole made by a tortrix [moth] larva – likely Pammene aurita, though Pammene regiana also feeds on Sycamore seeds’. Then followed a discussion, prompted by George, between he and 3 other moth-ers about whether Pammene regiana makes an exit hole like this. No one knew for sure.
1 October: The next morning, when I picked up the little group of three joined seeds, I noticed what looked like frass sitting below. I mentioned this on Twitter and was advised to put the seeds on tissue in a jar in case the larva was still inside.
2 October: My tweet: ‘Exciting news: we have a larva! Not from the original hole. I put that seed, with 2 attached, in a jar, and a larva has emerged from one of the other seeds. It’s currently doing a circuit of the tissue – hoping it will pupate.’ It wasn’t until later, when I was looking at the photos I had taken, that I realised the photo above shows where that larva had begun to eat its way out of the seed (indicated by the yellow arrow).
3 October: The larva pupated. I haven’t been able to get a good image as it’s under the tissue and seems partly stuck to the glass jar. And I realised that I’ll now need to wait until at least next May, maybe later to see which moth emerges. What’s that about patience being a virtue?!
On 29 September, SEWBReC (the South East Wales Biodiversity Records Centre) posted the following tweet:
Calling keen members of #TeamLeafmine. [The county moth recorder] is hoping for Glamorgan records of seed miners of Acer species this year: Etainia louisella on Field Maple / Ectoedemia sericopeza on Norway Maple / Ectoedemia decentella on Sycamore.
Being a keen member of Team Leafmine, I had to take up the challenge. Field maples are quite common locally so the mines in their seeds have been the easiest to find, though they’re by no means common. I’ve managed to find them in two locations so far.
There are not so many Norway maples in my area – they’re not native, of course, and seem mostly to have been planted in parks, in housing developments, along roadside verges. So far, I’ve found Ectoedemia sericopeza mines on Norway maples at two sites.
As for the mines in Sycamore seeds, well, I quickly realised that most of the local trees are quite tall so the seeds are unreachable. And trees planted in parks and gardens often have their lower branches trimmed off, which also doesn’t help. The solution I’ve found is to search through seeds once they’re fallen off the trees, though they are then very brown, often dirty and sometimes damaged so the mines are not easy to spot. I’ve failed in this search so far but I have found something else in Sycamore seeds … more on that tomorrow.
‘And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.’
~ William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II, scene I, lines 15-17
When the Duke in As You Like It referred to finding tongues in trees, I think Shakespeare was probably thinking more of the whispers of rustling leaves that finding Alder tongue fungi on the cones of Alder trees, but I like the quote and the way Shakespeare highlights how eloquently Nature speaks to so many of us. And it fits well with all the Alder tongues (Taphrina alni) I’ve been finding lately.