Though it’s hard to believe today, as I look out the window at yet another grey rainy day and the temperature is set to go down all day not up, here is yet another sign that spring really is just around the corner. I spotted these Marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris) blooming in a muddy pond in Cardiff’s Heath Park last week.
birding, birdwatching, blackbird, British birds, chaffinch, coal tit, Common Gull, Cosmeston, Cosmeston Lakes Country Park, Gadwall, Great tit, long-tailed tit, Marsh tit, nuthatch, Pochard, Reed bunting, robin, shoveler
7 January Gale-force winds were blasting across the exposed areas around the lake today but, with blue skies overhead, the park was full of people out walking, despite the chill. The wee birds were hungry and I was greeted with much happy peeping wherever I scattered seed and virtually mobbed at the dragon tree in Cogan Woods, by Great, Blue, Coal and Long-tailed tits, Dunnocks and Robins, Chaffinches and Nuthatches, Blackbirds and a Reed bunting were all happy to accept any tasty little morsels.
On the lakes the birds were mostly hunkered down, as it was too windy for flying. Teal, Gadwall, Pochard and a Shoveler were some of the highlights.
17 January After much scrutinising of the huge numbers of gulls that you nearly always find at Cosmeston, I spotted my first Common gull of the year.
23 January A regular Cosmeston-going birding friend had reported an adult Yellow-legged gull the previous day and I fancied a good walk so I headed to Cossie for a look. These was no sign of the gull but I was delighted to see one of the Marsh tits that frequents a particular spot in Cogan Woods, and it became bird number 67 on this year’s list, before I strode quickly home in pouring rain (yep, drenched!).
I’ve been to Cosmeston a couple more times this month but those outings were more about braving the rain to satisfy my cravings for fresh air and exercise than nature-watching, particularly as it’s been too wet to have camera and binoculars out and about. Let’s hope February is a bit drier.
I don’t consider myself a twitcher – by which I mean one of those obsessives who cares only about adding ticks to lists and accumulating huge numbers of bird sightings and will travel long distances at word of a sighting to get them – but I have set myself a personal challenge of seeing 200 species of birds in Britain in 2018 if at all possible. So, when a relatively scarce bird happens to be seen in a Cardiff park, and that park is a favourite place of mine for a walk, then, of course, I’m going to go for a look.
The bird is a Firecrest (Regulus ignicapillus), cousin to the Goldcrest I blogged about a couple of days ago, only ever so slightly bigger and an equally elusive little bush flitter that is currently enjoying the bushes alongside the River Taff in Bute Park. It was first sighted by a local birder, further up the Taff, on 4 January, and I did go looking then. I couldn’t find in that day – but I did enjoy a delightful walk along the riverside trail.
Then, on 11 January, the bird – presumably the same one, as they are not very common hereabouts – was spotted further down the river, almost in the heart of Cardiff, by a local RSPB staffer out for a lunchtime run. On Thursday I went for a look and was really lucky to meet two other birders who already had the bird in their sights (when I passed by again later, on my way to the train after a long walk in the park, the bird had temporarily disappeared so I was really glad I’d seen it earlier). Typically, this little Firecrest wasn’t still for an instant and the bushes it favoured meant the light was not great for photographs but it was a real treat to see and to watch its insect-catching antics.
Officially, Winter heliotrope (Petasites fragrans) is a non-native invasive; unofficially, I think it’s got a rather lovely flower, which is particularly nice to see in the dead of winter, and its vanilla smell is divine.
According to Mabey’s Flora Britannica, it was brought to Britain as a garden plant in 1806, and the GB non-native species secretariat website states that it was first recorded in 1835 – presumably they mean the first record of it straying outside the bounds of the gardens where it had been planted. Though native to the Mediterranean and North Africa, it’s made itself at home in Britain, where it favours roadside verges, woodland margins and rough grassland. It seems very adaptable: in my local area, it favours sloping banks, a sunny slope in Dingle Park and a very wet and shady, steeply sloping streamside in Alexandra Park.
It can be difficult to get rid of because it grows very readily from the smallest discarded stem, sending its ‘roots’ (actually underground stems called rhizomes) spreading horizontally in all directions. Sneaky!
My local fungus group has a new challenge going for the month of January, to find a ‘living fossil fungus’. Sounds weird? Well, the ‘living fossil’ is the Ginkgo tree (Ginkgo biloba), a tree that’s been around since the time of the dinosaurs (read more about this beautiful tree on my sconzani blog here), and the fungus is Bartheletia paradoxa, a basidiomycete that only grows on Ginkgo leaves and has characteristics that are unique amongst basidiomycetes (for the science geeks out there, here’s a link to an expert article).
The fungus was not formally recognised until 1932 and was first found in Britain, on the leaves of a Ginkgo at Kew Gardens, in 2008. There are still very few official records for it but, as members of our fungus group are now discovering, it seems to be on almost every Ginkgo tree we can find.
As you can see from the photos, the fungus looks like black spots on the fallen leaves. Of course, autumn is long gone and the winter winds that have been roaring across Britain this past week have blown away a lot of fallen leaf litter but it’s still worth looking look around any Ginkgo trees you know of in your local parks. I found these leaves on Wednesday around the magnificent Ginkgo avenue in Bute Park, behind Cardiff Castle, and I have another couple of places to go looking in the next few days. So, do see if you can find yourself a ‘living fossil fungus’ as well.
It was fairly quiet bird-wise on my first monthly visit to Cosmeston Lakes Country Park on 2 December, though there were still good numbers of the various thrushes (Mistle, Song, Redwing and Blackbird) around. A Great spotted woodpecker in the west paddock was a nice surprise – I initially thought it a Jay when I saw that peachy belly. The Tufted ducks amused, as always, and, while I sat watching them, the Brown rat I’d seen before at that particular spot came snuffling around for food. There were two more rats foraging by the boardwalk near the café.
It’s a thrush takeover! On 6 December, I’d scarcely left the house to walk to Cosmeston than I was spotting Redwings, Song thrushes, and a Mistle thrush, plus Goldfinches and Chaffinches, in the trees just across the road. And when I got to Cosmeston it was more – much more – of the same, plus the first Fieldfares I’ve seen there. In Cogan Wood, the little birds were hungry so I shared my flapjack with them – there were even two Nuthatches and a half dozen Long-tailed tits picking up the crumbs on the ground. And the prize for the most colourful birds goes to the pair of Bullfinch that were munching on hogweed seeds.
On 15 December, I finally got a reasonable, though not brilliant photo of a Fieldfare – they are very skittish so it’s hard to get close to them. I finally found a spot behind the berry trees they were feasting in, then just had to be patient and wait for one to pop up to the top of a tree.
In Cogan Wood, one of the resident Marsh tits popped out to say hello – first sighting I’ve had since earlier in the year as they seem to disappear during the breeding season. And there was a Stonechat at the top end of the west paddock. There had been a pair of Stonechats in that area in the autumn but they seemed to have disappeared when the park staff mowed that field, so it was good to see one there again.
Something else happened at Cossie during this visit, something that’s never happened to me before. A squirrel climbed up my leg, not once but four times – the first time it grabbed my finger, the second time it touched my camera. I didn’t have food but it obviously thought I did. It certainly made me laugh.
Over the summer months my eye has been distracted by all the little creatures that move – butterflies and moths, dragonflies and beetles, and all manner of other insects – but now that it’s winter and those creatures have mostly disappeared (you’ll notice one crept in to one of my photos!), my eye is again drawn to the more static beauty that surrounds me. Take, for example, this small grove of trees at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park.
I spent perhaps an hour here the other day, looking in wonder at the incredible variety of tiny lichens and bryophytes to be found on the tree trunks. I haven’t tried to identify these but I’m determined to return to them over the coming months to see which I can put names to and find out more about. For now, I just want to share their beauty.
I was sorting through / clearing out files on my laptop earlier this week when, amongst my New Zealand images, I came across a temp folder of flowers. The shots were taken on 20 September 2014, when I was back in New Zealand for a couple of months, and the setting is the glasshouses of the Wintergardens in Auckland Domain, the photos taken, no doubt, on one of my many long strolls in that magnificent park. So, on this, the coldest day of winter so far here in Wales, here are some bright and cheerful hothouse flowers to offset any chill you might be feeling. Enjoy!
With temperatures hovering around zero and a brisk wind making it feel even colder, our eleven intrepid Glamorgan Bird Club members were well wrapped up for last Wednesday’s birding at Parc Cwm Darran (and Rhaslas Pond, but more on that tomorrow).
The park sits on the site of the old Ogilvie Colliery, which was active from the early 1900s through to 1975, and various buildings and pieces of mining equipment can still be seen around the park. The scenery was stunning, with glorious old trees dotting the landscape, as well as areas of more modern plantings. One of our party was a local and showed us one particularly beautiful hidden gem, a waterfall cascading over the edge of an old quarry into a pool below.
The birds were also stunning. We had good ’scope views of a male Crossbill, who sat very obligingly atop a tree for at least 15 minutes; we enjoyed sightings of several birds of prey, including four Buzzards, one of which came flying low straight towards us out of the quarry; and I saw my first Siskins of the year. The prize for the most entertaining birds, however, must go to the seven Indian runners, who looked to have Mallard in their genes and who were convinced we had food for them, running out of the water towards us and following us as we walked along the lake edge.
The full list of the 44 species seen (these include those seen at Rhaslas Pond) is: Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Wigeon, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Goosander, Great Crested Grebe, Red Kite, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Kestrel, Coot, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Green Woodpecker, Magpie, Jay, Rook, Carrion Crow, Raven, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Goldcrest, Wren, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Starling, Blackbird, Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Robin, Stonechat, Dunnock, House Sparrow, Pied Wagtail, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Siskin, Common Crossbill and Bullfinch, though somehow I missed the Green woodpecker and Mistle thrushes.