Cycle of life

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As I look around me on my daily walks, I see dying leaves falling from skeletal trees, I note that the butterflies and most other insects have now disappeared, I watch the winter bird migrants munching on the final berries, and I notice how short the hours of daylight are becoming. Yet, in the midst of all this death, decay and gloominess, I am cheered to notice signs of life and renewal. It seems awfully early for Pussy willow – maybe it’s not that. Whatever it is, it’s lovely.

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A slimy Monday

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Cosmeston was relatively quiet yesterday. A few Redwings flashed their rusty flanks at me, indignant that I had interrupted their grazing in the west paddock, and a pair of Mistle thrushes screeched their football-rattle call from the tree tops as the Redwings flew up to join them. Carrion crows and Grey squirrels hovered on the periphery, watching as I fed seed to a posse of passerines in Cogan Wood, but the hoped-for Marsh tit did not appear. So, I abandoned the birds, headed up and along the muddy woodland tracks where few people venture, eyes down and searching for fungi. Within minutes, my hand was scratched from reaching too carelessly through brambles, my fingers were filthy from picking up rotting wood to examine more closely, my camera was speckled with dirt from being plonked on the ground for better close-ups, but my reward was this most wonderful slime mould. I don’t know its name but I am a huge admirer of these enigmatic organisms, and this one was a beauty!

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It’s National Tree Week

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Brain child of one of Britain’s leading tree charities the Tree Council, National Tree Week is an annual celebration of trees and their importance to the wellbeing of everything and everyone on planet Earth. Events are held throughout Britain, with an estimated 250,000 people getting digging and dirty to plant trees. You can find out more on the Tree Council’s website.

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Winter 10

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If you’ve been following for a while, you’ll know I’ve been trying on and off to learn the names of, and a bit more about, the British wildflowers I find on my meanderings. And, to that end, I follow a weekly happening on Twitter called #wildflowerhour. You can read more about that in my previous blog here. During winter they run a challenge to find and name at least 10 wildflowers each week and share them on social media using the hashtag #winter10.

Blue fleabane

Earlier this week, I decided to see what I could find as I walked firstly through Lavernock Nature Reserve and then homeward through Cosmeston Lakes Country Park. And, er, actually, for this week my hashtag needs to be #winter11. These are they: Blue fleabane, Bramble species, maybe a Hawkbit species, some kind of Buttercup, a Dandelion species, a Daisy and Devil’s-bit scabious, Yellow-wort, a thistley thing and Red clover, and Common ragwort. You can see I’ve still got some learning to do!

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My bogey bird

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On Thursday, at long last, I saw and got photos of my bogey bird – not great photos, because it didn’t stop still for a single moment and was mostly obscured as it poked and prodded its way along the shrubby water’s edge at Cardiff Bay Wetlands Reserve – but I’m still absolutely delighted to have seen the bird.

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Though I’ve heard these birds in various locations, I’ve only ever seen a Water rail (Rallus aquaticus) once previously, at Forest Farm Nature Reserve, back in February 2016. At the time, I didn’t realise how lucky I was to have good views of it as it did a circuit of the pond in front of one of the hides. Now I know better.

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My failure to see a Water rail during the intervening 2 years 9 months was not simply down to bad luck or bad field craft. These are notoriously secretive birds, seemingly relishing concealment and a quiet life in the very thickest of wetland vegetation, though quiet they are not.

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Various adjectives have been used to describe their call: squealing, grunting, snorting, piglet-like. (You can listen for yourself here.) Though it was constantly chattering away to itself, this particular Water rail made none of those more raucous sounds: its one-sided conversation was more of a sharp-voiced running commentary on the chilliness of the weather, the lack of insects, the number of pesky mallards.

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This Water rail was smaller than I remembered, about half the size of the more numerous and extrovert Moorhen, and, to my eye, it was much more handsome. Its head, chest and underbelly have the rich blues of the Moorhen but its brown-and-black back is mallard-like, and it has a lovely blue-and-white stripey area on each flank. The cheeky white bobbing under-tail  is the same as its bigger cousin though.

Crepidotus calolepis

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Happy #FungiFriday! I actually found these little oysterling fungi a few weeks ago but forgot to share them at the time.

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Crepidotus calolepis is a bit of a mouthful but these little beauties don’t have a common name. Here’s what fungi expert Pat O’Reilly says about its scientific name:

The generic name Crepidotus comes from crepid- meaning a base such as a shoe or a slipper (although some sources state that it means ‘cracked’), and otus, meaning an ear – hence it suggests a ‘slipper-like ear’. In the past mushrooms in this genus were sometimes referred to as slipper mushrooms. The specific epithet calolepis may come from the roots calo- meaning beautiful and lepis, meaning with scales.

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O’Reilly is doubtful about the presence of Crepidotus calolepis in Britain, suggesting that the British records are, in fact, scaly forms of Crepidotus mollis, the Peeling oysterling, but my find was confirmed from photos by two other British experts so C. calolepis it is!

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Glistening silver and gold

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They glisten silver and gold in the late autumn sunshine these Carline thistles, with their thick fringe of papery bracts and heads of soft golden down. I blogged about the flowers last year; now here are the ‘everlasting’ seed heads that can be seen all through the chilly months of winter.

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A goose roost

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Have I gone from the sublime (yesterday’s Hen harrier) to the ridiculous (today’s Canada geese)? Maybe. But to me all birds are interesting so geese today it is!

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With their constant honking conversation, I could hear these birds before I saw them, sitting, standing, arguing with their neighbours, walking about, feeding on excess seeds from the farmer’s recent planting.

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A local birder recently reported 280 Canada geese on the lakes at Cosmeston, which is just a short distance as the goose flies from where these birds were resting at Lavernock, and by my reckoning there were over 200 in this field yesterday.

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I have walked this way on two consecutive mornings this week and have seen the geese both times but, even as I watched them, I doubted that the farmer would let them stay much longer.

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As I was leaving the area yesterday, I heard shooting, saw geese flying off in small groups and also saw large flocks of Woodpigeons and Jackdaws take to the air, so I assume the farmer is now actively chasing all potential seed-eaters off his fields.

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Just a few Woodpigeons!

Hen harrier!

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‘It flies so low that sometimes it seems to be stirring the grass, its long legs trailing through the heather like a keel. A slow tacking flight: float then flap.’ This description of a Hen harrier’s flight pattern is from the library book I’m currently reading, Raptor: A journey through birds by James Macdonald Lockhart (4th Estate, London, 2016) and, by sheer coincidence, I watched a Hen harrier fly just like this yesterday.

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I was at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park, walking along the central hedgerow in the west paddock, on the lookout for winter thrushes, and had just walked down into a dip in the field when, with a loud whooshing sound, a large bird flew almost over my head.

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I immediately turned and looked up, swung up the camera and clicked as many times as I could before the hedgerow blocked my view. Walking quickly up out of the dip, I watched the bird, pursued by a couple of Carrion crows, dodge eastwards, then veer back west and head down over the west lake reed beds and on towards the coast.

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But what was it? It seemed quite large but I didn’t think it was a Buzzard. There had been a Sparrowhawk harassing the smaller birds a couple of days previously, but the flight didn’t seem right for that – not the flap, flap, glide that Sprawks are known for. This bird had been flying very low and relatively slowly.

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I had been out walking for about 5 hours by this time and was getting cold, so decided to head home. Hot cuppa in hand, I grabbed by trusty RSPB Handbook of British Birds, transferred my photos on to my laptop and opened up Photoshop. As the day had been gloomy, the shots all needed lightening and heavy cropping to get a better look at the bird. When I consulted my handbook, I found a bird that matched but couldn’t believe it was right. Luckily, my birding friend John was online so I flicked him a message with four photos … and waited.

Yay! He confirmed the match, a Hen harrier (Circus cyaneus), from its colouring either a female or a juvenile – it certainly looks exactly like the juvenile image in my book. This is quite a rare bird locally so I was absolutely over the moon to have seen this beauty.