Alder flowers


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It’s almost two months to the day since I blogged about the first Hazel I’d seen with both the male and female flowers open (Flowers and catkins, 15 January). Perhaps I’ve been remiss in looking for these, but yesterday I spotted my first Alder tree where both types of flowers had opened. The reproductive systems of the two plants are remarkably similar, both with long dangling pollen-shedding male catkins and much smaller pink anemone-like female flowers, except that the female Hazel flowers develop into a nut and the female Alder into a cone. It’s the female flowers that I find particularly eye-catching.

230312 alder female flowers

The Coot and the Zebra mussels


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I’ve been learning a lot about mussels this week, in particular about the Zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha). This invasive mollusc is native to the Caspian and Black Seas, spread from there to western Europe during the 19th century, and was first noted in Britain around 1824. By the 1970s it had spread extensively, through rivers and other waterways, around the coastline, into lakes and harbours. According to Cardiff University’s Professor Steve Ormerod, Cardiff ‘Bay has somewhere between 10 and 35 million of them covering every hard surface.’

230311 coot and zebra mussel (1)

The reason I have been learning about Zebra mussels is because of the Coot in my photographs and my curiosity about what it had found and was eating. I asked the question on Twitter and information came pouring in, in particular thanks to Steve Ormerod, who confirmed the identification and provided a link to a research paper he co-authored about the rapid colonisation of Cardiff Bay by these mussels when the Bay was first formed (see details and link below). Steve was able to tell me that Tufted ducks are the ‘classic predators’ of these mussels, and he was a little surprised to see a Coot also predating them, though did say that the mussels are ‘a lipid, protein and calcium-rich source for waterfowl’.

230311 coot and zebra mussel (2)

As for my Coot, it seemed to have worked that out for itself. Having dived for the mussel, it swam over to the water’s edge and proceeded to pull off all the vegetation and, presumably, any smaller mussels attached to the big one and ate all that. It then bashed the bigger one on the rocks like a Song thrush smashes snails on a stone, and down the hatch that went too. Happy Coot, and happy me, after watching and learning about something new!

230311 coot and zebra mussel (3)

Alix, Muriel, Richard J. Knight & Steve J. Ormerod, ‘Rapid colonisation of a newly formed lake by zebra mussels and factors affecting juvenile settlement‘, Management of Biological Invasions, 2016, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp. 405-18.

Cold weather Skylark movement


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Despite almost constant rain, I trekked down to Cardiff Bay today to see for myself an example of what’s called ‘cold weather movement’ in bird populations. As you can see from this photo, the hills behind Cardiff are still white with the snow that fell across much of Britain yesterday, though none remains here at sea level.

230309 skylarks and snow (1)

And it’s that snowfall that caused a large number of Skylarks to leave their usual hilly pastures and head down to the Bay to feed on the grassy areas of the Barrage. One local birder counted 88 Skylarks there yesterday. Today, in a fenced off area, protected from the returning dogs and their humans, just a dozen birds remained, but it was still worth getting soaked to see such a phenomenon.

230309 skylarks and snow (2)

Tracks in the mud


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After a morning’s rain, yesterday remained very dull and grey. Rather than let that put me off taking photos, I decided to use the conditions to my advantage, looking at scenes with a black-and-white eye rather than colour, focussing on shapes and textures. The huge banks of mud outside Cardiff Barrage are always interesting but my eye was caught in particular by the tracks being made across the flat areas of mud by Black-headed gulls searching for food. Their meandering twists and turns reminded me of a drunk returning home after a heavy night at the pub!

230308 gull tracks in mud

A second Little egret


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Once upon a time the Little egret (Egretta garzetta) was a common bird in Britain, then became extinct (probably due to hunting and climate change), and is now becoming common again, though we don’t usually see them very often in my bit of south Wales. So, imagine my delight yesterday when I saw my second of the year at my local country park. I spotted a distinctive white blob from the opposite side of one of the lakes and hightailed it around to where the Little egret was sitting in a tree. Unfortunately, the bird was almost invisible amongst the dense trees and impossible to photograph clearly. So, today’s photograph is of Little egret number one, seen flying over one of the park’s outer fields back on 26 January. Here’s hoping we see more of these gorgeous birds as their numbers continue to increase.

230307 little egret

Farewell to the winter thrushes


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It’s now been over a week since I’ve seen any of the dazzling thrushes that brighten the local trees and fields during the darkest months of winter so I assume they are on their way back to their breeding rounds in Scandinavia. Farewell, and safe journey, to all the beautiful Redwings and Fieldfares. I’m already looking forward to seeing you again later in the year.

230306 winter thrushes

Fit to bursting


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I was checking this Yew tree for galls – found none – but it was absolutely covered in flower buds that were almost literally about to burst open. A few more days and this male tree will be spreading a sea of yellow pollen all around anytime the wind blows or someone brushes against its branches. How do I know it’s a male tree? Well, in a previous post, Flowering Yew trees from way back in March 2016, I blogged about Yew flowers so, if you want to know more about these fascinating trees, just click on that link.

230305 yew flowers

Wobbling no more


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I was hesitant with my identification of this fungus at first as previous examples I’ve seen have been yellow and jelly-like – poke them and they wobble.

Then I read, on the First Nature website, that ‘in dry weather this fungus becomes a hard orange bracket’. Also, this particular fungus feeds on other fungi, crusts in the Peniophora genus, and I couldn’t see any crusts on this branch. First Nature explains it again:

Very little or none of the Peniophora may be visible; this is because Tremella mesenterica feeds on the mycelium of the Peniophora fungus, and that can be deep inside the timber rather than on its surface. The fruiting body of the crust fungus does not even have to be present, therefore, and so it may look as though Yellow Brain is feeding directly on the host wood.

So, reassured by the website’s explanations, I believe I can confidently say this is Yellow brain fungus (Tremella mesenterica). Happy Fungi Friday!