S was for a sunny Sunday saunter and this superb surprise Slow-worm.
As well as the lovely Grayling butterfly spotted on Wednesday’s walk in Aberbargoed, we had a wonderful surprise when my friend Sharon spotted these two tiny reptiles, basking on a wooden boardwalk in the Grasslands National Nature Reserve.
The reptile known as the Common lizard and also the Viviparous lizard, once had the scientific moniker Lacerta vivipara but is now Zootoca vivipara. Viviparous is a zoological term meaning ‘bringing forth live young which have developed inside the body of the parent’ (Oxford Dictionary), though what apparently happens in this lizard’s case is that the young hatch from their eggs as they are deposited outside the body (Fauna Britannica).
As their name suggests, these lizards are common in Britain, though I’ve only seen them twice in my five years’ residence in Wales, which is why Wednesday’s sightings were such a delight. You can find out more about them on the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust website.
I’ve seen a few Grass snakes before but only when I’ve been on organised reptile rambles so I wasn’t entirely sure whether this quite small, sadly deceased creature was a Grass snake or a Slow worm. My Twitter pals quickly confirmed it was indeed a snake.
I found it in a local lane during this morning’s walk. It must have been basking in the sun when it was run over by a passing vehicle. Isn’t its skin amazing?
I saw my first-ever Common toad (Bufo bufo) spawn when I was checking out the local ponds yesterday. Their structure – double rows of dark round eggs within long see-through strings – is unmistakable.
I couldn’t find any Common frog (Rana temporaria) spawn but that might be because the spawn has now all hatched into tadpoles. There weren’t too many of those either – perhaps the local Grey heron or other birds have been feasting on their version of caviar.
And the only other critter that was swimming about in the murky, still muddy water was this Water boatman (Corixa punctata), scooting along on the surface in that haphazard way they do.
I was walking with my friend Sharon around Cosmeston today when we spied a refugia and couldn’t resist having a look underneath. This is what we found … but what is going on?
These are Slow-worms (Anguis fragilis), and there look to be two of them intertwined. We assumed they were mating but I’ve been reading that they don’t usually mate until May, and that males and females differ in colour and appearance – these appear to be two females. And what’s with the ants? Are they trying to attack the Slow-worms, irritate them so that they move away?
Answers on a postcard … or in the comments below. Thanks, and if/when I find out more, I’ll update this post.
p.s. I’ve been told by a friend that if one Slow-worm finds a nice warm place to bask, others will join it – so just friends enjoying the warmth together, I think. And the ants don’t like them ’cause the Slow-worms will eat their pupae but the ants can’t harm the Slow-worms.
Azure damselfly, Bird’s-foot trefoil, Bugle, Common blue butterfly, Common whitethroat, Coot, Cosmeston, Cosmeston Lakes Country Park, cuckoo spit, Dingy Skipper, Flax, Hawthorn blossom, Large Red damselfly, Mallard ducklings, Scarlet pimpernel, Swallow, tadpoles
I literally dipped in and out of Cosmeston on 2 May, for a quick look at the dipping pond to see if I could spot any Water voles. I dipped on the voles but I did see Ma Mallard and her two gorgeous ducklings, and a gazillion tadpoles.
11 May I needed to stretch my legs after spending the previous day sorting out after my birding trip so off to Cosmeston I headed. I came in from the north end via Old Cogan farm, where a pair of Swallows was sitting on the wires. I suspect they nest in the old barn as I see them there often over the summer months.
Apart from those Swallows, it was quiet on the bird front and, as a cool wind was blowing, there were no butterflies about either. So, I took lots of photos of newly blooming wildflowers …
While doing that, I found an interesting little critter mooching around on some leaves (it looked like a weevil without a long snout but I haven’t positively identified it), and I spotted my first cuckoo spit of the season (I just know you’ll be delighted with that find!).
15 May A brief walk through on my way home from Lavernock. I wandered along the edges of Sully brook and then, once again, stopped for a few minutes at the dipping pond. The bad news was that mother Mallard only had one duckling remaining – fingers crossed it makes it to adulthood. The good news was that I saw my first damselflies for the year – both Azure and Large reds were out in numbers.
17 May I passed through Cossie again, this time on my way home from Sully. A Common whitethroat was showing well in the reeds near the cafe, and a Coot was shepherding her three young offspring around the west lake. The chicks were well developed, which bodes well for their survival.
20 May This time my 3-hour mooch was all concentrated at Cosmeston. I went early to avoid the Sunday crowds and the scorching sun, and walked the east and west paddocks from one end to the other and back again, along the various trails. I was looking particularly for orchids but saw only leaves, a few with the stalks of flower buds just emerging, and for butterflies. The Dingy skippers and Common blue butterflies were out in good numbers, and it was a pleasure to watch them flitting to and fro.
24 May I went early again to Cosmeston but not early enough, as the rain came in almost as soon as I arrived and I didn’t have a coat with me. I lingered long enough to enjoy the glorious Hawthorn blossom that covers the hedgerows like summer snow, before striding quickly homewards.
birding, birdwatching, British birds, Chiffchaff, Common frog, Cosmeston, Cosmeston Lakes Country Park, Gadwall, Great Crested Grebe, Hawfinch, Meadow pipit, primrose, Reed buntin, Sand martin, Scaup, treecreeper
11 March This visit to Cosmeston started with me being yaffled at by a Green woodpecker – I always think they’re jeering at me, trying to lure me into stalking them for that ever-elusive close-up. I resisted and walked on, then paused to watch a Magpie trying to carry off a very large twig / small branch, proof that nest-building has begun.
Masses of pale Primroses were flowering prettily along the western boundary path, and the lake was overflowing the boardwalk at the west end due to recent heavy rain.
I paused near there, as I always do, to look at the gulls and finally, FINALLY, spotted the drake Scaup that’s been visiting the Cosmeston lakes on and off in recent weeks, this time in company with a female Tufted duck, which could be why some interesting hybrids are occasionally sighted locally.
I walked up Mile Road and then off the main track to where the bird hide used to be (it was burnt down by vandals last year and has not been rebuilt), and spotted a Treecreeper hopping up a nearby tree, then turned to see a group of five Gadwall on the east lake, much closer in than usual.
I watched them a while then was charmed to also watch a pair of Great crested grebes displaying – more on those here. I wandered on, up Mile Road to the top end where I head back in to suburbia, and was farewelled by a large flock of perhaps fifty Fieldfare and Redwing that flew up from the area of Old Cogan Farm and landed in the trees above me.
16 March I only walked through Cosmeston as part of a longer walk from Sully to Penarth, so I didn’t linger long but I did manage to get closer views and better photos of the Scaup, as it was sitting right off the boardwalk and ‘swan feeding area’ near the cafe. And I also detoured past the dipping pond to check out the Common frog eruption – see more on the frogs here.
19 March I stomped off to Cossie with snow still on the ground (but steadily melting) after the ‘Mini-beast from the east’, the second instalment of cold weather to blast us this month. The most notable wildlife effect was in the large numbers of Meadow pipits to be seen, sometimes in singles, at one point a flock of at least 20 grazing together.
It was also a day of confusing birds: there was a female Blackbird with a pale bib, making me think she might be a Ring ouzel, and two Chiffchaffs pretending to be Reed warblers, presumably because there were more insects to be had close to the water – behaviour also seen at another site in south Wales that day.
And, another sign of spring, I saw my first Sand martins of the year, three of them, hawking back and forth on the east lake.
23 March Once again, this was a walk through rather than around Cosmeston, as I was doing the same walk as a week ago, from Sully back home. As I had recently stocked up on bird seed, I was sprinkling small amounts here and there as I strolled, and was delighted to see three male Reed buntings come down for a snack in one spot – such handsome birds. The other highlight was the Chiffchaffs, at least six crisscrossing the lane between the two lakes, flycatching the multitude of little gnatty things flying about on this sunny day.
29 March Well, I wasn’t intending to make another visit to Cossie this month but then one of my birding friends spotted a Hawfinch there on the 27th and I couldn’t let that pass without at least having a look for it. (For non-birders, Hawfinches are usually difficult to find, though they have been having a good winter this year.) So, trying, somewhat unsuccessfully, to dodge heavy rain showers, I headed over to Cosmeston early this morning. I knew the approximate location to look but it certainly wasn’t easy spotting anything in the dense trees. Luckily, I had listened to the bird’s call on the RSPB website before I set off and that’s how I found it … by listening very very carefully and then following that sound. The bird was very high in a tree and almost obscured by intervening branches (my photo is a heavy crop) … but I was very chuffed to find it!
Here’s a sign of spring, if ever there was one – well, hundreds of signs of spring, in fact – as the frogs are out and croaking at Cosmeston’s dipping pond.
Though they come in a variety of colours, ranging from light green and yellow through to olive and light brown, these are all Common frogs (Rana temporaria). They’ve long hind legs for hopping and swimming, big eyes for spotting females, and strong front fingers for gripping on to those females once they find them. At dinnertime, they have a preference for small invertebrates like slugs and snails, and they, in turn, are much enjoyed by herons, crows, hedgehogs, otters, and rats.
Frogs have a special place in human culture: they have been used to predict the weather – bright healthy skin foretells fine weather, dull skin rain; they are the subject of numerous superstitions – a frog in the house is a portent of death or something similarly awful, yet frog bones might be worn around the neck as a cure-all; they feature in idioms – if your voice is a bit croaky, you are said to ‘have a frog in your throat’ – and in fairytales – a frog is transformed into a handsome price after being kissed by a beautiful princess. And I haven’t even mentioned one of the most well-known frogs of all, Kermit.
If you’ve been following my ‘wild’ life for a while, you’ll remember that, in August last year, I went on a reptile ramble at the Wildlife Trust of South & West Wales’s Parc Slip Nature Reserve. Well, last Wednesday our team of trusty Mary Gillham Archives Project staff and volunteers went for another ramble, partly because we enjoyed the last one so much and partly as a way of farewelling the lovely Natalie, a university student who’s been working with us since last September. Though tinged with sadness at saying goodbye to Nat, we had an exciting ramble.
I thought perhaps the persistent drizzle might mean we wouldn’t see many reptiles but I was wrong. In fact, the reverse might actually have been true – the rain may well have encouraged the beasties to stay put under their refugia – except, that is, for one large adder, which I almost stepped on, as it was lying in the grass close to one of the shelters. So, though we didn’t see any lizards this time, we saw more adders, grass snakes and slow-worms than last year. Oh, and the bird’s-nest-shaped dried-grass vole nests under some of the refugia were really cute too.
One of this week’s wildlife highlights happened last Tuesday evening …
I had been in the office volunteering all day and had been too lazy (and the weather had been too hot) to walk home, so I had an early tea then went out for a 90-minute walk. And I am SO glad I did because …
I was walking down an old railway line that’s now a foot- and cycle path when I spotted a cat intently watching something in the long grass at the edge of the path. It was tapping then jumping back, tapping then jumping back. As I approached, the cat slunk off, not pleased it had been interrupted but I’m so glad I scared it off because …
What I found in the grass was a Slow-worm (Anguis fragilis) – a young one, I think, from the colour. I only had my point-and-click camera so couldn’t get very good photos and, of course, it wouldn’t stay still. It obviously wanted to escape the cat’s attention so decided to slither across the path but it was having trouble with the asphalt and wasn’t making any headway so …
I picked it up and carried it across to the other side and let it go in the long grass on that side. Good deed done and such a special moment!