Birding along Rumney Great Wharf

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It was hot! In fact, it was not just hot, it was scorching but, along with 15 other brave souls, I joined the Glamorgan Bird Club’s outing last Sunday to walk part of the coastal path along Rumney Great Wharf. We started at Parc Trederlerch, where fishermen were trundling their mountains of gear to favourite sites for a day’s fishing, and Swans, Coots, Tufted ducks and Moorhens flocked to be fed by strolling families.

180807a Parc Tredelerch

From there we walked down towards the sea alongside Cors Crychydd Reen. Despite being choked with weed, the reen was home to Little grebes, Coots and Moorhens, all with young, as well as countless, though elusive Reed warblers.

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A Buzzard was hunting from a post overlooking the adjacent landfill site, where gulls, Swifts and assorted hirundines were diving and swooping for food.

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Tucking in to the blackberries as we walked, we were charmed by the sounds of Willow warblers and House sparrows, Goldfinches and Greenfinches, like this one perched high in a tree.

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When we reached the sea wall, we turned left towards Newport. Here’s the view in both directions, firstly looking west over Cardiff Bay towards Penarth Head and then west across the very dry foreshore. The heat shimmer didn’t make bird-spotting easy.

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Linnets entertained us as they bounced around the bushes and reeds.

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We didn’t see a huge number of waders – maybe it was too hot even for them. A large mixed flock of Redshanks and Dunlins flew east, we had good ’scope views of Ringed plovers and Dunlins at the water’s edge, and gulls abounded. There was one Common gull amongst this lot perched on the posts and a Little egret further along doing the same.

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There were also a ton of dragonflies and hoverflies, bees and butterflies – I’ll post more on two of those lovelies in tomorrow’s blog.

And for those who like the nitty-gritty details – I saw 42 bird species: Black-headed Gull, Carrion Crow, Buzzard, Chiffchaff, Common Gull, Redshank, Swift, Common Whitethroat, Coot, Dunlin, Goldfinch, Great Black-backed Gull, Green Woodpecker, Greenfinch, Grey Heron, Herring Gull, House Martin, House Sparrow, Jackdaw, Kestrel, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Linnet, Little Egret, Little Grebe, Magpie, Mallard, Moorhen, Mute Swan, Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Reed Bunting, Reed Warbler, Ringed Plover, Feral Pigeon, Rock Pipit, Shelduck, Starling, Swallow, Tufted Duck, Willow Warbler, Woodpigeon, and Wren. Also seen by trip participants were Blackbird, Blackcap, Blue tit, Canada goose, Collared dove, Cormorant, Curlew, Great crested grebe, Pied wagtail, Skylark, Robin, Stonechat and Whimbrel, bringing the total club list to a very respectable 55 species.

The Painted Ladies

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A google search on “Painted Ladies” will take you to San Francisco, as this is the name used by Americans to describe the local Victorian and Edwardian buildings, particularly houses, that have been repainted in multiple colours to highlight the details of their architectural style.

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Britain’s Painted ladies have also been painted in multiple colours but not by human hands – these are the masterpieces of Mother Nature.

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And they are not static – they fly, and not just around our local meadows and gardens – these beauties fly all the way from North Africa and the Middle East to dazzle us with their kaleidoscope of colour.

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Some years – 2009 was one – these butterflies arrive in huge numbers – and I do mean huge. That summer, tens of millions of Painted ladies arrived in Britain and the skies were filled with fluttering colour. I hope I live to see such a sight.

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It’s a biggie

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At first glance I thought this big brute was a hoverfly, ’cause I know there are some very large hoverflies, but one look at those eyes told me otherwise. Meet Tachina grossa, the largest Tachnid fly in Britain and Europe.

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As you can see, it feeds on pollen and nectar and, though it’s harmless to us humans, it’s no friend of moths. The female Tachina grossa lays her eggs on living larvae, in particular the large hairy caterpillars of the Oak eggar moth and the Fox moth. The fly larvae eat the caterpillars from the inside, eventually but not immediately killing them.

So, it may look kind of cute in the photograph below but I’m just glad I’m not a large hairy caterpillar.

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Three in one day

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Many of you probably knew that last Sunday 29 July was International Tiger Day but I’ll bet you didn’t know that Tuesday the 31st was Jersey Tiger Day!

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Well, of course you didn’t because I just made that up. And why?

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Because that was the day I saw my first Jersey Tiger moths for the year.

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And I didn’t just see one – I saw three of these most gorgeous of moths.

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Want to know why I was so delighted to see them? Read on …

The flower of the moment is …

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The flower of the moment is Fleabane (Pulicaria dysenterica) or, at least it is at Lavernock Nature Reserve.

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I’ve read that Fleabane usually grows in ditches and damp meadows so, despite the recent drought conditions, I guess there must be water somewhere below the wildflower meadows at Lavernock, as they are currently awash with these bright golden flowers. And, at a time when most other wildflowers have dried up and died off, the Fleabane is providing a much-needed source of pollen and nectar for butterflies and other assorted mini-beasties.

Gordon the Gull

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Gordon is a bit of a character.

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He taps on the floor-to-ceiling windows in my friend Jill’s bedroom some mornings, early, to check whether she might have any food for him.

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Jill doesn’t actually feed him anything but, as a Herring gull, he’s a master scavenger and a skilled opportunist, so will pounce on anything tasty looking that she puts out for the smaller birds.

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Gordon also vigorously defends Jill’s backyard from potential gull interlopers, mostly by screeching loudly from the roof when they come near.

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Gordon may sound like a nuisance but he’s also a bit of a charmer.

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I mean he is rather handsome, don’t you think?

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I succumbed immediately to his charms so, when we bought ourselves fish and chips after a particularly long day out and about, I insisted we got a portion of chips for Gordon.

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And, the next morning, when I put them out for him, Gordon was in seagull heaven. He wolfed those chips down like only a ravenous, greedy gull can.

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I think Jill’s very glad I don’t visit too often as Gordon might easily come to expect such preferential treatment.

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Banded demoiselles

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One of the many highlights of my recent walk around Arlington Reservoir in East Sussex with my friend Jill was being able to get quite close to several pairs of Banded demoiselle damselflies (while simultaneously heeding Jill’s warning that if I fell in the stream – actually the Cuckmere River – she wasn’t going to rescue me – ha!).

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And actually this was off the main Arlington trail, as there was an old church that looked interesting not far away and we’d headed off down a public footpath towards it.

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Although I’ve seen a number of Beautiful demoiselles at my local nature reserves in Wales, I haven’t seen any Banded … and they are such gorgeous creatures, especially the bright blue males when they’re flying. Makes me believe in fairies!

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If you’re ever in the area, Arlington is a lovely place for a walk, with colourful and insect-rich wildflower meadows and plenty of birdlife, just the right amount of exercise in its circular walk and a cafe with icecreams at the end.

Birding at RSPB Dungeness

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I had never been to RSPB Dungeness until my visit with my friend Jill two weeks ago but, if you can get past the fact that there’s a nuclear power station buzzing away just down the road, then you should be able to appreciate what a wonderful place it is. (British people seem to take nuclear power stations for granted but, as a nuclear-free New Zealander, I still find them quite scary places and really rather menacing!)

180731 Dungeness nuclear power station180731 RSPB Dungeness

This is a unique landscape of low rolling shingle banks, interspersed with patchy areas of low scrub and large shallow pools – it’s water bird heaven!

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Our first highlight was seeing the Common terns that breed at Dungeness. Terns are such agile flyers and to see their young fledglings was a real treat.

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Eqyptian geese have also bred here, and we saw a pair with two well-grown goslings.

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I had my best-ever views of a Snipe that decided to come out and poke around the muddy edges of one of the pools. These are normally such secretive birds so it was a real pleasure to watch this bird foraging.

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And the Snipe was joined by not one but two Wood sandpipers.

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Each of the six hides on the two-mile-long main trail offers different views, different birds, and, after motoring down to a cafe near the lighthouse (and that power station), we also stopped off on our return to check out the two shorter trails and hides on the opposite side of the road. Here we had good, though distant views of a Greenshank and a Bar-tailed godwit. Cracking!

As well as the birds, the wildflowers added lots of pretty colour to our wander, and we were entertained as we walked by large numbers of beautiful butterflies and debonaire dragonflies, though it wasn’t quite so pleasant watching an Emperor dragon biting the wings off a Gatekeeper.

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Here’s my bird list for the day (not including a lot of smaller birds that were flitting about the bushes while I was marvelling at the butterflies): Teal, Lesser black-backed gull, Tufted duck, Mallard, Herring gull, Common tern (with young), Cormorant, Sandwich tern, Common sandpiper, Wood sandpiper (2), Snipe, Egyptian goose (and goslings), Ringed plover, Pochard, Little grebe, Great crested grebe, Lapwing,Coot, Dunlin, Goldeneye, Reed warbler, Redshank, Woodpigeon, Oystercatcher, Grey heron, Great white egret (2), Greylag goose, Mute swan, Black-headed gull, Shelduck, Shoveler, Carrion crow, Swallow, House martin, Greenshank, Bar-tailed godwit, Pied wagtail, Gadwall and Magpie.

An ancient Yew

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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.

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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.

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Big butterfly count

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Just before we move away from this week of butterfly blogs, I do want to put in a plug for Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count that is happening right now. It runs from 20 July to 12 August, so there’s still plenty of time to join in, and it’s super easy. Even if you’re not too crash hot on identifying butterflies, I’m sure you can count from one to, say, twenty, and there’s a handy pictorial chart you can easily download to help you work out which flutterby is which. And, for the smartphoners, which is probably most of you, there’s even a handy app you can download to help identify and record your sightings – though I do think you should at least try to work them out for yourselves.

And if you won’t take my word for the fact that it’s a truly wonderful feeling to sit quietly somewhere and watch and count butterflies, then maybe you’ll listen to / watch Sir David Attenborough.