Eyecatching blue

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There’s just something about a blue-coloured flower that catches my eye and this Chicory grabbed me by the eyeballs as I walked home from Penarth Marina yesterday.

Although Chicory (Cichorium intybus) is a native British wildflower, these particular plants were not truly wild; they’re growing in a series of large wildflower beds planted around the edges of Penarth Marina Park. (Interestingly, the park itself is also artificial – it was once part of the inner basin of Penarth Docks, then became a rubbish dump, before being repurposed as a park in the 1980s – details and photos here.)

Chicory, also known as Succory, used to be widely cultivated. Its spears (buds) and leaves were eaten, and the dried and ground root has been used as a substitute for coffee. I think I’ll stick with my cup of tea, thanks.

A Nuthatch moment

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This Nuthatch is pretending to be calm and aloof and not interested in the fact that I’ve just been dishing out food to the other small birds. But really …

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‘Hey lady, have you got any seed for me?’

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‘Maybe you put some in here.’

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‘Nope. I don’t see it.’

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Rest assured, it did get some seed. It just had to come down out of its tree to get it.

I found a new plant!

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In case you think I’ve made a profoundly important botanical discovery, perhaps I should clarify that title: although I have noticed this plant growing in one particular place at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park during my walks in the past couple of weeks, Monday was the first time I had a close look at it, took some photos and worked out what it was, and it is a plant I had not previously seen.

This is Blue fleabane (Erigeron acris), a member of the daisy family, though why it is called Blue fleabane I have no idea as the flower petals I’ve seen are pink, and both my plant ID guidebook and the various online sites I’ve looked at describe them as lilac or purplish.

This is a coastal plant, which usually grows in dry areas of grassland, on sand dunes or on stone walls. That fits with the site at Cosmeston, where it’s growing in a very dry, stony location and it’s probably only a mile to the sea as the crow flies. As you can see from the fluffy seed heads in my photos, it’s actually at the end of its flowering period – usually between July and September – so I have been very remiss in not noticing it before now.

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Friday’s walk 3: a Clouded yellow!

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Having enjoyed some wonderful bird sightings on Sully beach, I walked on along the Wales coastal path, through Swanbridge and past St Mary’s Well Bay to Lavernock. This lovely nature reserve, perched high on the cliffs above some of south Wales’s most dramatic coastline, is the best place I know to see butterflies over the spring and summer months.

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However, this was late September and there was a cool wind blowing so, although the Devil’s-bit scabious was still flowering, I didn’t really expect to see many butterflies this day. How wrong I was! Not only did I see three Small coppers, a couple of Red admirals, a Painted lady and a Common blue, as well numerous Small whites and Speckled woods, I was absolutely delighted to spot this glorious Clouded yellow, a butterfly we don’t see very often in this neck of the woods.

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Friday’s walk 2: Rocky the pipit

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Before leaving Friday’s walk along Sully beach, I have another bird encounter to share.

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There were a lot of Rock pipits foraging amongst the rocks and piles of seaweed, more than I have seen before on Sully beach.

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One bird was reasonably close to where I was sitting so I had the camera up, trying to get some photos of it, when I noticed what seemed like rather odd behaviour.

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The bird hopped down from the seaweed on to a flat stone and started to stamp its feet and shuffle back and forth, looking for all the world like it was practising its line-dancing moves.

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Because I had the camera up to my face and was zoomed in on this one bird – let’s call him Rocky – I didn’t realise that there was actually another Rock pipit standing very close by.

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Rocky was focused intently on this other bird. He puffed up his chest and strutted about and did some more line-dancing moves, but the other bird didn’t seem very impressed. If this had been springtime, I would have said Rocky was trying to impress a female but it’s autumn.

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Next thing, Rocky’s done with the dancing and flew straight at the other bird.

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They bumped chests, flapped wings and generally fluttered about for a couple of minutes, presumably each bird trying to assert its dominance through this display.

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The other bird relinquished the rock, and the seaweed, to Rocky, who looked rather pleased with his success. I’ve since read that Rock pipits can be very territorial so I assume Rocky was defending his patch on the beach from the intruder. It was certainly fascinating to watch.

Friday’s walk 1: along Sully beach

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I try to time my walks at Sully with a mid-morning high tide – that way I don’t have to get up too early for the bus and I miss the early morning dog walkers. Yesterday was one such day and, though there was a cool wind blowing, it was a lovely day for a long walk. At first, I just sat and scanned the beach and the shoreline and the sea.

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Several Turnstones were browsing the big deposit of seaweed the tide had rolled in and then this Dunlin flew in to join them.

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With my bins I followed it in and saw it plop down to join a small number of Ringed plovers by the water’s edge. To me, their dark eye masks make Ringed plovers look like bandits, though very tiny and very cute bandits to be sure.

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One of the banditos only had one leg but it seemed to be managing to hop along okay. That made me think of Hop-along Cassidy but I was mixing up my masked men – the Lone Ranger was the one who wore the mask and, of course, he was no bandit.

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At that point a dog and its owner came tootling along the beach, which put all the birds up … and I realised there were, in fact, two Dunlins (the two lower birds in the centre of this photo).

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I took this opportunity to walk further along the beach and found myself a spot on the stone wall edging a slipway, a location where my birding friend Ceri said he’d seen a large number of waders the previous day. I hadn’t been sitting there long when a Wheatear flew right over my head and on to a boulder about 10 metres in front of me. I’m not sure who got the biggest surprise!

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A large group of waders flew across from Sully Island and landed on rocks near the water. They were a bit far away to see clearly but most seemed to be Ringed plovers, a group of perhaps 30.

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People walking along the coastal path above me scared my little Wheatear friend away but then I realised there were actually two birds flitting along the rocks and scrub.

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They’re such lovely little birds and this one managed to catch itself a snack, which reminded me that it was almost lunchtime, time for me to be moving along on my walk. More tomorrow …

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Blooming autumn

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Last week we had our first two named autumn storms, this week we’ve had glorious clear days but rather chilly overnight temperatures, so I think it’s fair to say autumn has well and truly arrived. Amazingly, though, wildflowers are still blooming in large numbers. Here are the species I’ve found during my walks around Cosmeston Lakes Country Park this week.

 

Definitely a Dunlin

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Here’s another beautiful wader from my recent bird club walk at Kenfig National Nature Reserve.

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The Dunlin (Calidris alpina) is probably the British wader most people have seen – even if they didn’t realise what it was. With 9,600 breeding pairs and 350,000 Dunlin over-wintering in Britain, it’s certainly the most common.

And because it’s so common, it’s been given a huge number of common names by the folks that live in different parts of these isles. Some of my favourites are: sand mouse (Westmorland), peewee (Northamptonshire), pickerel (Scotland), bundie (Orkney), and sea lark, from several different locations.

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