On Friday, after I’d paid a visit to the tree I’m following, I enjoyed a stroll along the trail in Cardiff’s Bute Park that meanders through mature woodland alongside the River Taff. Despite this summer’s drought conditions, the recent rains have revived the local trees and plants so everything was looking wonderfully lush and vibrant.
A female Goosander sailing down river was a pleasant sight. Both males and females can often be seen on this part of the Taff from autumn through to spring.
Near the far river bank, a Grey heron stood tall on one of the many exposed rocks and boulders. The river is quite low at the moment.
There weren’t a lot of signs of autumn yet – only the leaves of the Horse chestnuts were yellowing and curling up and beginning to drop.
A Speckled wood was well camouflaged on the woodland floor. There weren’t many butterflies around, just half a dozen Speckled woods and a few Small whites.
A Mallard enjoyed a snooze near the river’s edge.
I liked the colours and patterns of the pebbles and the occasionally blue sky reflected in the river water.
This was one of two Mute swans feeding.
I’ve seen this particular Carrion crow many times before when I’ve walked this way. I know it’s the same crow, not because of how it looks but because it has virtually no voice. It tries to croak but hardly any sound comes out.
Most of the wildflowers have finished flowering but this Green alkanet was a pretty exception.
Just a few hints of autumn showing here. I love how this path meanders through these magnificent trees.
The woodland trail finishes just below Blackweir, where the current low water level means many rocks and boulders have been exposed. This was the perfect spot for a group of perhaps 20 Grey wagtails to fly-catch, and watching their aerial antics was the perfect end to my wander alongside the Taff.
I expected my tree, this magnificent Acer pictum aka Acer mono, to be looking a little autumnal when I visited it in Cardiff’s Bute Park on Friday, but no.
There were leaves that almost looked burnt, were dry and curling up, but that looked more like a hangover from the several weeks of drought and high temperatures we had in July and August, rather than the slow changing of colour you’d expect to see during autumn.
Spot the Speckled wood butterfly perched high in the canopy – one of two I saw up there.
Most of the foliage was still looking lush and vibrant and very green.
Though a few lay scattered beneath the tree, most of its seeds were also still attached. I brought a couple of seed pods home, thinking to look at the seeds inside them. It wasn’t until I checked them later that I realised all the seeds had burst out of their pods. Next time …
The Church of St Mary and St Peter in Wilmington, and the adjacent priory to which it was once attached, date from about 1100AD. You might think that’s pretty old – and it is – but the Yew tree in the church grounds is even older – it is truly ancient.
Scientific testing has dated the Yew to around 1600 years old, meaning it must have been planted around 400AD. Its girth measures approximately 23 feet (7m), though the trunk has now split in two, and both its trunks and huge branches are supported by a variety of posts and chains. As I only had my zoom lens, I wasn’t able to get a good photo of the entire tree but I hope to revisit next time I’m in East Sussex. It was a truly humbling experience to see such an incredible tree.
First off, let me just say I have not started blogging about hairstyling: the Hairstreaks are a group of butterflies, so named because of the thin streak of white across their underwings, that usually live their whole lives in the upper canopies of various trees. This year, due to the extremely hot dry weather, their tree-top food sources have dried up, forcing them to come down to ground level for sustenance.
I spotted this lovely little butterfly purely by chance. I was wandering along the Glamorgan Canal in Forest Farm Nature Reserve, north of Cardiff, taking photos of the Demoiselle damselflies, when something small and brown fluttered down to water level, settled briefly on a leaf, then was chased off by one of the Demoiselles (hence the poor images). The White-letter hairstreak (Satyrium w-album) can usually be found in the tops of Elm trees and suffered a severe decline in numbers due to Dutch Elm disease killing off so many Elm trees in the 1970s but it seems slowly to be recovering. Its name comes from the shape of the letter W on its lower underwing.
I can’t take the credit for spotting this Purple hairstreak (Favonius quercus) – my friend Jill noticed it sitting on the woodland trail as we explored Abbot’s Wood in East Sussex last week. (This was my third new butterfly of the week!) Purple hairstreaks usually live in the tops of Oak trees, mostly in southern areas of Britain. Unfortunately, I only managed a couple of quick photos and didn’t get to see its purple-coloured upper wings.
You may well have noticed that many (most?) of the Horse chestnut trees around you are starting to look a bit manky. Their leaves have become covered in white and brown blotches.
Those blotches are actually leaf mines, home to the larvae of Cameraria ohridella, the Horse chestnut leaf-mining moth (the brown blobs in the mines). According to the UK moths website
This species was discovered near Macedonia in 1985, and since then has spread rapidly to other countries in Europe. It was first discovered in Britain at Wimbledon in south-west London in 2002, but possibly had arrived the previous year, as it was quite plentiful. It is thought that the species may be expanding partially due to accidental transportation by man, either by road or rail. It has now been found quite extensively in the south-east of England.
Obviously, since that website entry was written, the moths have now spread from south-east England to south Wales and, indeed, to parts much further north. You’re mostly likely to see the blotches between June and September and, though you might not like the look of them, they’re not thought to inflict any permanent damage on the tree because, of course, the leaves are shed in the autumn anyway.
I paid a visit to Mono, my tree, yesterday and was slightly surprised but much relieved to see it didn’t appear to be suffering any ill effects from the continued heatwave and drought we’re having here in south Wales and, indeed, throughout much of Britain. I guess the tree has very deep roots and will also benefit from the shelter of the trees around it.
I was certainly enjoying the shelter its canopy afforded me from the fierce sunshine.
And looking up into its branches, I noticed my tree now has seeds, which means I obviously missed its flowering. Apparently, the greenish-yellow flowers appear in April-May in upright clusters.
The seeds – actually called samaras – are really winged nuts, of the type that are commonly found on ash and maple trees. Mono’s are between 2 and 3cm long, inclusive of the wing, and are greenish in colour when still hanging on the tree, though those seeds that have already dropped off have dried to a light brown, with their wing-like structure clearly visible. All the better to spread those seeds on the wind when the time is right!
What a difference a month makes!
With a friend visiting for a week and then a week away on a birding trip, I hadn’t managed to visit Mono, my tree, until the very end of the month. In the few short weeks since my last visit, encouraged by some brilliantly fine weather and a definite rise in daytime temperatures, Mono’s buds have burst open to reveal her splendid summer foliage.
The scientific description for her leaves is as follows:
leaves depressed-orbicular; 7-15cm wide, deeply to rather shallowly 5- to 7-lobed, cordate to somewhat truncate at base, usually glabrous on upper side, short-pubescent to glabrous except for the axillary tufts of hairs beneath, the lobes deltoid to lanceolate, entire or with few coarse teeth, acuminate and awn-tipped, the petioles 4-12cm long, glabrous to short-pubescent.
I shall attempt to translate: the leaves are roughly circular, if somewhat heart-shaped, and range in size from 7 to 15 cm across. They are smooth on top, though sometimes have short hairs on the underside. Each leaf has between 5 and 7 projections that are roughly triangular and shaped a bit like the head of a lance. The edges of the leaves can be smooth or slightly jagged, like the teeth of a saw, and the stalk that joins the leaf to the stem ranges from 4 to 12 cms long, is sometimes smooth, sometimes a bit hairy.
The upshot is that Mono, my tree, an Acer pictum aka Acer mono, is looking absolutely stunning in her lush and vibrant new foliage!
I love this little miracle that happens every spring, and I couldn’t resist having ‘bud burst’ as this week’s words after seeing many beautiful examples when I was out walking on Monday.
During winter, deciduous trees look so bare and barren, yet, safely enclosed within the protective cases of their ‘bud scales’, tiny leaves are beginning to grow. Then, once temperatures start to warm up, the trees’ roots absorb more water and the sap begins to rise. The leaf buds grow and swell to the point when their scales just can’t contain them any more and then, one day …
Shazam! The buds burst out and begin to expand and soak up the spring sunshine!
If you’re a regular around here, you may recall that in August 2017, I posted a mini-series of posts about some of the galls you can find on Oak trees, which included the Oak Marble gall (see the post here). You might also remember that in late October, I was excited to discover a creature had hatched out of one of my galls and I initially thought it was the gall causer, a minute wasp called Andricus kollari. It was not – turns out it was one of the 29 other species of hymenoptera (bees, wasp, ants and sawflies) that can also be found living in an Oak marble gall (more on that here) (and I never did identify it).
Well, this time, maybe, just maybe, I have seen the gall-causing wasp itself, A. kollari. A while ago, while out walking, I found a small Oak sapling that was absolutely covered in marble galls and, when I found one that had no holes in it, I couldn’t resist bringing it home. The tiny wasp you see in these photos recently hatched out of this gall and the size of the hole it made, plus comparisons with online photos, has led me to think that this time I may have seen the gall causer. I couldn’t be one hundred percent certain of my identification without killing the wasp and getting an expert to check it but I didn’t want to do that. And, of course, I could be totally wrong yet again. In the meantime, the wasp has been returned to the area where I found it so, weather permitting, it can continue its life cycle.