A gruesome sight

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Today’s post is a bit gruesome but, I think, interesting enough to share. This was the sight that greeted me when I stepped out of my front gate Monday morning – a frozen Toad. Not only was the creature itself frozen stiff but, when I tried to move it, I found the Toad was also frozen to the pavement. After Sunday’s dusting of snow and the continuing chilly temperatures, the freezing wasn’t so much of a surprise as seeing the Toad itself. I presume it must have been living somewhere under the flagstones and gravel of my front yard. Such a shame to see it dead rather than alive.

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Common wall mosses

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The bryophytes are a whole division of the plant kingdom that I’ve tended to avoid, apart from taking the odd photo of ‘moss looking gorgeous with raindrops’.

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It’s time to change that, and I’m starting simple. These are two of the mosses commonly found on our local stone walls. First up, Wall screw-moss (Tortula muralis), which the excellent Nature Spot website tells me is ‘the commonest moss on many mortared or base-rich walls – both of brick and stone … It also grows on concrete, roof tiles and other man-made structures, as well as outcrops of natural, base-rich rock’. The webpage also has some key identification features and some excellent photos.

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Growing next to the Wall screw-moss on a local wall, I also found the lovely hemispherical tufts of Grey-cushioned grimmia (Grimmia pulvinata), the most common of the Grimmias. Once again, Nature Spot has a detailed list of ID features to check. Mosses can be tricky to identify so my self-education in this field will progress very slowly, I’m sure, but I have had these two verified so it’s a positive start.

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Feather: Buzzard

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Like many people who enjoy walking with nature, I pick up the odd thing that attracts my eye: nuts and cones, galls, pebbles and fossils, skulls (small creatures – I only have a couple). And feathers, some of which I thought I’d share over the coming weeks. From the location where I found these two – under tall trees at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park, and from the markings, I think these are Buzzard feathers.

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Holly flowers

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Holly flowers are tiny, tucked away in the crooks of branches, inconspicuous behind the mass of glossy evergreen leaves. And that’s my excuse for not having noticed them until quite recently.

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I’ve since read that Holly (Ilex aquifolium) is dioecious, which, if you’ve been following this blog for a while, you might remember from my March 2020 post, Wild word : dioecious, means that Holly’s male and female flowers occur on separate trees. I think the flowers I found are male, as the female flowers have small green spheres in their centres, which, if pollinated, would grow in to the red berries we all associate with the Holly tree.

Bullfinch and Bramble

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At this time of year, I often see Bullfinches on Bramble bushes, nibbling on the seeds of those desiccated fruits that weren’t consumed by the berry loving birds in the autumn. This female was feasting happily close to one of the paths at Cosmeston last Monday.

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Hairy curtain crust

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This colony of Hairy curtain crust (Stereum hirsutum) was making an impressive display on a fallen tree I passed today.

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These fungi often start out hugging the wood they’re growing on (the scientific description is resupinate, with the fertile surface adnate to the substrate), then form wavy edged brackets are they age.

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The upper surface is hairy (hence the epithet hirsutum), and the lower surface smooth, with no obvious pores.

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Pussy willow

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They call them pussy willows,
But there’s not a cat to see,
Except the little furry toes
That stick out on the tree.

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I think that very long ago
When I was just born new,
There must have been whole pussy cats,
Where just the toes stick through.

And every spring it worries me,
I cannot ever find
Those willow cats that ran away
And left their toes behind.

~ ‘The Willow Cats’, Margaret Widdemer (1884-1978), American poet, novelist, and Pulitzer Prize winner

Wild word: pupa

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Pupa: Noun (pl. pupae); An insect in its inactive immature form between larva and adult, e.g. a chrysalis; Origin: late 18th century modern Latin, from Latin pupa ‘girl, doll’ (Oxford Dictionary).

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I don’t find pupae very often so I was very pleased to find these – all the black oblong shapes, not just the one outside the leaf – the pupae of the leaf-mining fly Cerodontha iridis. More about that creature in my blog post of 7 December.

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The big wet

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We’re half way through Storm Christoph – it drenched much of the country last night and is forecast to blast us again later today and all of tomorrow. It’s times like these I am thankful I live in a town that’s mostly built on a clifftop, though even here the heavy rainfall has caused surface flooding on the already sodden ground. I can enjoy the reflections but my thoughts are with those much less fortunate.

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Grazing

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Cardiff Bay Wetland Reserve is not just about wetlands; there’s also a large swathe of grass where, during spring and summer, Bee orchids thrive (when the council operatives don’t cut them!) and where wildflowers bloom in abundance (ditto!). At the moment many hungry small birds can be seen in this area (when they’re not disturbed by dogs that should be on their leads in a nature reserve), searching for much needed insects and seeds. During my recent walks along the adjacent footpath, I’ve enjoyed seeing a pair of Meadow pipits, a male Stonechat, and several Pied wagtails grazing contentedly together.

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