Wild words: primaveral

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Primaveral: adjective, meaning of, relating to, or taking place in early spring (as in, for example, the primaveral blossoming of the Cherry plum tree in my photo).
According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word appeared in the English language in the early 19th century, having come possibly from the Catalan primavera, the Spanish primavera, the Portuguese primavera, or the Italian primavera, which all mean ‘springtime’. And those words probably came from the Latin prīmum vēr, meaning first or earliest spring.

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Fluffing up

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The biting wind seems to find the smallest crack in your several layers of clothing to nip at exposed flesh, your hands feel frost-bitten even though you’ve got your thickest gloves on, and the tip of your nose is so cold that you can no longer feel it. Yet there on a fence post directly in front of you, equally exposed to the wintery weather, is a chirpy wee Robin, singing its heart out, seemingly oblivious to the chill. How does it do it?

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Well, the answer is in the fluffing up of its feathers. If you’ve ever slept under a down- or feather-filled duvet, you’ll know how incredibly warm feathers can be, and that’s especially true for our wee Robin. You see, feathers are a brilliant form of insulation material – feathers trap air close to the bird’s body so, in winter, they trap the warmth of the bird’s body heat. The more fluffed up the feathers are, the more warm air they trap, the more cosy is our little Robin.

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Gone looking!

180211 Off on holiday

Thanks for dropping in to my little corner of the internet. I’m off on holiday for a week or so, hoping to find lots more lovely creatures and plants to share with you all. My daily posts will continue though, so check below for the latest.

Leafminer: Phytomyza ranunculi

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You might think there are no insects around in winter but you’d be wrong, as I’ve been discovering in the past week or so. In my checks for blooming wildflowers, I’ve seen the odd Lesser celandine and Buttercup flower and, looking more closely at the plants, I’ve noticed leaf mines on some. And where there are leaf mines, there are insects laying eggs and larvae developing from those eggs to create the mines.

These particular mines are created by Phytomyza ranunculi, an incredibly tiny fly which I haven’t yet seen. But I have seen – and can show you here – a larva and a puparium. I brought home a couple of Lesser celandine leaves, intending to take better photos of them, but I didn’t reckon on them shrivelling up overnight. On the positive side, when I picked up one leaf, a tiny larva was sitting underneath, presumably having popped out of the leaf as it dried up.

A couple of days later I brought home another couple of leaves, for the same purpose, but this time left them in a sealed container. The next day, when I opened it, I saw this tiny speck in the bottom of the container and realised a larva from one of the leaves must have pupated. I’m trying to hatch it so I – and you – get to see the fly. Fingers crossed!

Birding at Ogmore and Kenfig

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Wednesday dawned clear and frosty so on went the layers of clothing, scarf, hat, gloves and boots, in the backpack went the camera, binoculars, a spot of lunch and rain jacket (this is Wales and I was once a Girl Guide so I was prepared!). I’d scanned tweets, posts and blogs so knew vaguely what to expect and left the house hopeful.

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And I did not despair, nor was I disappointed. On my first Glamorgan Bird Club trip of the year, to Ogmore – both the river and the beach – and then on to Kenfig National Nature Reserve, I added ten new birds to my 2018 list, including two lifetime firsts in the Slavonian grebe and Short-eared owls.

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At Ogmore, the weather was glorious – blue skies, and heat in the sun, if you managed to shelter from the chilly breeze. There were gulls galore, mostly Herring and Black-headed, a sprinkling of Common and a single Med, as well as, further down river, a Great black-backed gull – what beasts they are!

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A Kingfisher added its flash of turquoise, to the mostly white, grey and brown colours of the other birds (Little egret, Cormorant, Mallard, Redshank, Canada goose, Mute swan). But I don’t mean to imply the other avian species were boring – just look at these dazzling Goldeneyes!

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As we wandered further towards the river mouth, a Stonechat popped up to survey the humans adorned with bins, scopes and cameras, all staring in the opposite direction, to peep briefly, ‘Look at me!’. So I did.

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At Ogmore beach, we were hoping for Purple sandpipers but, even with 21 pairs of eyes surveying every nook and rock cranny, we lucked out. Turns out the birds were spending the day across the bay at Newton and Porthcawl. But hey, the scenery was glorious, with glimpses of the recent dumps of snow across the water on Exmoor.

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Sandwiches devoured, we headed to Kenfig and stomped down to the pool, where I almost immediately got on to my first lifer of the day, the little black-and-white Slavonian grebe that’s been overwintering there. It’s small, a frequent diver, and was distant but was plainly see-able through bins and scopes, if not such a great subject for my camera.

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By this time, the sun had clouded over, and even a stroll through boggy fields, over wonky stiles, around the lake’s edge in search of White-fronted geese failed to keep the chill from my bones – and we didn’t see those geese. But, a small stalwart seven of us – the others peeling off to heated cars and homes – decided to head for a high point to survey the dunes for the Short-eared owls that have recently been sighted hunting at dawn and dusk. Another lifer! Two birds were seen, one flying low, back and forth amongst the dunes, the other gliding high, with a Kestrel for company.

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And to finish off a wonderful day’s birding, we got the call that tea, coffee and cake awaited us at the Kenfig office, and spotted these two Greenfinch amongst trees along the way. Just perfect!

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We saw 62 species in total: the full list can be seen on the Glamorgan Bird Club’s website here.

Ring-ting!

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‘Ring-ting! I wish I were a Primrose,
A bright yellow Primrose blowing in the spring!
The stooping boughs above me,
The wandering bee to love me,
The fern and moss to creep across,
And the elm-tree for our king!’

~  from William Allingham, ‘Wishing, A Child’s Song’. Allingham (1824-1889) was an Irish poet and man of letters.

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I’m following a tree: January 2018

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If I hadn’t decided to keep the title of my 2018 tree-following blogs fairly simple, I would probably have titled this post ‘The mysterious case of the tree with the confused identity’!

The tag on the tree, which is growing in Cardiff’s Bute Park, names it Mono maple (Acer mono). That seems fairly straight forward but, when I checked it on the Cardiff Parks website, I found it labelled Painted maple (with Mono as an alternative) and its scientific name listed as Acer pictum. So then I looked the tree up in the Cardiff Council Horticultural Database, where its common name is given as Korean maple and its scientific name as Acer pictum (a.k.a. Acer mono). So then I went to The Plant List, which is meant to be the definitive list: there I was informed that Acer pictum is the accepted name and Acer mono is a synonym.

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And then, after a bit more searching, I found an extremely helpful blog post from the JC Raulston Arboretum at North Carolina State University, where they use the common name Painted maple and explain its scientific name as follows:

It was first described in western literature by the Swedish botanist Karl von Thunberg in 1784 but was widely known as Acer mono after it was introduced to the west in the 1880s. Its name continues to cause confusion with some authorities using A. pictum to cover the entire species while other botanists break it down into several subspecies including A. pictum subsp. mono.

And, in response to a question from a reader:

… many taxonomists disagree on the name of this maple. According to van Gelderen, they should all be Acer mono since he contends that Acer pictum is an invalid name. In any case, there is much disagreement over whether they constitute different varieties or subspecies or are just part of a large very variable species. A. p. subsp. pictum has short hairs on the back side of the leaf, while A. p. subsp. mono has no hairs on the abaxial surface.

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As even the experts can’t agree, for the twelve months that I will be following this magnificent tree, I am simple going to call it Mono. More next month …

Why not join the tree following community. You can find out more here.

Wild words: apricity

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This wonderful old word doesn’t appear in the Oxford Dictionary online, presumably because they’ve replaced it with something trendy like ‘mansplain’ and ‘youthquake’. Well, call me old-fashioned but I much prefer something old and meaningful to these modern inventions.

So, then, apricity (thanks to the Merriam-Webster) ‘appears to have entered our language in 1623, when Henry Cockeram recorded (or possibly invented) it for his dictionary The English Dictionary; or, An Interpreter of Hard English Words.’ And it means ‘the warmth of the sun in winter’, something even this gull was seen, last week, to enjoy and appreciate.

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A stroll at Sully

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At 9:20am yesterday I was on the bus to Sully, looking forward to seeing what seabirds might be scavenging along the shore at the 10:16 high tide. A bonus was seeing my first pheasant of the year in a passing field.

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Walking down the long narrow path to the beach, I was immediately rewarded with the sight of Black-headed gulls and Oystercatchers looking for worms in the neighbouring field, and a Rock pipit flew up from the shore to join them in their foraging.

The beach looked empty as I strolled along the ‘coastal path’ – really just a line of rocks and mud here – but a flurry of loud peeping made me turn my head and bring the camera up in time to catch this flock of Turnstones flying in.

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Further east, scanning the water’s edge with my binoculars, I finally spotted an interesting little group of 3 Turnstones, a Little ringed plover and a Grey plover, the latter two year ticks for me, and I’d not seen a Grey plover so close before (I’m still talking a couple of hundred metres away but see-able with bins and long lens). I watched them for perhaps 10 minutes before two loud women and their dog scared the birds off.

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Last, but mostly certainly not least, as these beautiful birds are endangered in Britain, 28 handsome Curlews were using their long curving beaks to probe the playing fields that abut the coastal path in search of worms. After 15 minutes’ watching I left them to their feast, with a silent ‘thanks for being the icing on the cake of my lovely morning at Sully’, and strolled on …

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