Here’s a word that’s not in the Oxford Dictionary because it’s now considered obsolete but, as Oxford University Press has a habit of somewhat arbitrarily removing words from its dictionaries (since 2007 it was deleted words like ‘buttercup’ and acorn’ from its Junior Dictionary) and replacing them with modern lingo (like ‘cut-and-paste’ and ‘analogue’), I’m doing my bit to revive words before they’re forgotten.
Psithurism, then, is a noun used to describe the sound of rustling leaves. It is, apparently, an adaptation of the Ancient Greek ψιθύρισµα (psithurisma) or ψιθυρισµός (psithurismos), which are derived from ψιθυρίζω (psithurizō, meaning ‘I whisper’) and from ψίθυρος (psithuros, meaning ‘whispering’ or ‘slanderous’). Can you hear them rustling? And, here’s a little test: what’s the word for leaves like these that wither but stay attached to the stem?
Following on from yesterday’s blog about our Glamorgan Bird Club outing to Parc Cwm Darran, we also ventured a little further north to Rhaslas Pond. I presume the pond is artificial as it has a grassed-over dam running along the north side and concrete to the south. And, as it has a large black drainage tube running into it, I further presume that is, or was, a reservoir or drainage pond for the huge ugly blight on the nearby landscape that is the Dowlais opencast coal mine.
Despite its industrial connections, the pond is very well frequented by both local and passage-migrating birds, and it provides a crucial breeding site for endangered birds like Lapwing and Curlew, amongst many others. As soon as we arrived, we saw birds – a friendly little Stonechat was dotting around in the long grass, a Pied wagtail was ‘chissicking’ merrily along the old roadway, and I saw my first-ever Fieldfares grazing on the grass nearby.
On the pond itself, there were lots of Wigeon, Tufted ducks, Mallards, Great crested grebes, my first-ever Goldeneyes, Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls, Goosander and a single Mute swan. We also saw Red kites flying overhead.
Though this was another stunning location and the birds were sublime, there was a bitterly cold wind blowing so we didn’t linger too long. There are plans afoot to destroy this pond and the surrounding landscape to excavate another huge opencast mine. Let’s hope local authorities realise the madness of allowing such a mine and, rather than destroy the pond and surrounding land, recognise its environmental value and turn it into a local nature reserve for all to enjoy.
I’ve only had a couple of visits to Cosmeston Lakes Country Park this month because my volunteer work on the Mary Gillham Archive Project has been taking up a bit more time as we try to get as much as possible done before the project effectively finishes at Christmas – though, having said that, I did spend four hours at Cosmeston last Friday trying to replicate, for the project website, photos Mary had taken in the early days of the park. These are a couple of those: Mary’s photo of the west lake in September 1987 on the left, and my photo from the same spot thirty years later on the right.
But I digress … apart from the berry-eating visitors, the Redwings and the Mistle thrushes, and finally managing to grab a couple of half-decent photographs of a Green woodpecker, I haven’t found anything particularly noteworthy bird-wise at Cosmeston during November. I have, however, been impressed by the numbers of insects still around, despite the fact that it has been noticeably colder, with daytime highs in the low teens and several overnight frosts.
On 5 November, the ‘fireworks’ at Cosmeston were these lovely little Common darters. In an area shaded from the cool westerly wind but warmed by the bright sun, each had claimed itself a fencepost to bask on. And, nearby, a lone bumblebee looked like it wanted to snuggle for warmth into this seed-head ‘duvet’ of Old man’s beard (Clematis vitalba).
On 24 November, though my focus was on finding the exact spots where Mary had taken her photos, I did still have one eye on the wildlife and noticed quite a lot of flies about. Like the dragonflies of two weeks earlier, these two flies and one hoverfly were favouring sheltered spots on wood to make the most of the sunshine.
The name ‘bryony’ is entirely appropriate for this plant as it comes from the Greek word bruein which, apparently, means ‘to be full to bursting’. However, though the berries of Black bryony (Tamus communis) are cherry-red and luscious-looking, please don’t be tempted to eat them as they are deadly poisonous.
There are, in fact, two plants with the bryony name in Britain, White bryony and Black, but they are not part of the same plant family. Rather surprisingly, Black bryony is the only member of the yam family to grow here but, again, don’t be tempted to eat its roots. In spring and summer, Black bryony’s long tangling vines can be found rambling over, under and through the shrubs and bushes of hedgerows and scrub-lands, and in autumn and winter, though the heart-shaped leaves brown and drop, the masses of red berries brighten up the countryside for many months.
In recent days, on my regular walks, whether in suburban streets or in the local parks and nature reserves, wherever I see berries there are birds, usually thrushes, gobbling down as many berries as they can find.
A Song thrush found its golden treasure trove in a tiny, but well-planted-for-wildlife garden amongst the apartments of Penarth Marina, and, below, this thrush, at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park, looked to have chosen a berry far too big for its beak but it persevered and, eventually, by applying a little pressure to squash the berry a fraction, down the hatch it went.
I caught the train to Barry Docks last Friday, hoping to get a good look at an uncommon bird (a Great northern diver) that had been making itself at home there for the previous week or so.
Unfortunately, the bird spent most of the two hours I was there happily swimming and diving several hundred yards away on the other side of the dock, but it was a gloriously sunny day and I did find lots of lovely wildflowers still in bloom around the edge of the docks so I was happy.