281/365 The golden marbled butterfly

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According to my recently acquired Life Cycles of British & Irish Butterflies (Peter Eeles, Pisces Publications, 2019 – if you like butterflies, this new book is a must!), the Wall was once known as ‘the golden marbled Butterfly, with black eyes’ – such a wonderfully descriptive name!

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Wall butterflies are not common in my part of south Wales (they’ve suffered severe declines throughout Britain in recent years) so I was absolutely delighted, during Sunday’s bird club trip to Steart Marshes, to see not one but three of these lovely creatures. The first was braving the blasting wind along the coastal path at the edge of Bridgwater Bay and there were two more enjoying the much more sheltered warmth of the car park near Steart village, flitting from dandelion to dandelion in their quest for nectar.

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Though the butterfly on the coastal path looked a little battered – understandably, given its exposed position, the two Walls in the car park looked very fresh so, although the Wall usually has only two generations a year, I assume these were part of a third generation that can sometimes appear in early September.

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280/365 Steart’s Longhorns

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On the way back from Portland (and again yesterday – as part of our annual round of field trips), Glamorgan Bird Club members visited the WWT (Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust) reserve at Steart Marshes. It was blowing a gale during our first visit and it had been a full-on weekend so we only visited one hide, Polden. There were few birds to be seen but we spent an interesting hour in the hide, being entertained by the local residents.

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And they appear to have found us extremely entertaining as well, coming right up to the windows to check us out – those smears on the glass are nose prints!

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Although we weren’t entirely sure of their breed, the WWT website confirms these are Longhorns, a traditional British breed. Their horns weren’t actually very long but some looked to have been trimmed and perhaps these beasts weren’t yet fully grown.

The cattle, owned by local farmers, are used to graze the saltmarshes as part of WWT’s environmental management programme. And, perhaps due to the unique taste their meat acquires from that diet, they have apparently ‘been attracting the interest of some of London’s finest eateries’.

I’m not a meat-eater so I definitely wasn’t sizing up their palatability but their handsome features and evident curiosity were very appealing.

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279/365 A yellow Red-veined darter

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What’s bright yellow, flies like a helicopter, has relatively huge eyes that are half reddish-brown and half blue, and can sometimes be found in marshy, reed-filled areas in the south-west of Britain?

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I wasn’t sure until I looked it up but it seems this stunning creature that I photographed at Cosmeston a couple of days ago is an immature male Red-veined darter.

278/365 Happy National Fungi Day!

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As today was National Fungi Day in Britain and we’ve had good quantities of the rain needed to stimulate fungal growth, I caught the train in to Cardiff today for a fungi foray around Heath Park and the new part of Cathays Cemetery. Here are some of the fungi I found …

277/365 Lifer: Great reed warbler

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I’ve left the best till last. We saw a lot of nice birds during our long weekend at Portland Obs but this bird was the undoubted star.

It was late morning, on Saturday 28 September, and a few of us were standing in the Obs front garden, watching for a Firecrest that had been seen there, when keen-eyed Tim noticed a brown bird hopping about in a buddleja right in front of us. It looked like a Reed warbler but was too big, and our experts almost immediately realised it was a Great reed warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus). The bird disappeared for a short time (John raced inside to tell the other birders, and I went in to grab my camera), then, luckily, it reappeared and proceeded to munch on some blackberries growing alongside the garden wall. Unfortunately, it didn’t linger long, soon disappearing along the side of the buildings.

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Several people had noticed the bird had a ring on one leg so this Great reed warbler must have been the same bird that had been caught and ringed in the Obs garden 10 days earlier. Amazingly, it had lingered in the surrounding scrub and bushes without anyone spotting it.

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The largest of the European warblers, the Great reed warbler is only occasionally seen in Britain – it breeds in Europe and Asia and overwinters in sub-Saharan Africa – so, this bird had somehow lost its way during migration.

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If you want to see much clearer photos of this cracking bird, check out Martin Cade’s photos and reports on the Portland Obs blog here (when it was first ringed) and again here (when the bird was re-found, during Saturday afternoon, in the Obs back garden).

276/365 Ruffing it

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When we spotted this white-headed Ruff at RSPB Lodmoor, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was the same bird we’d seen at this same location on our 2018 trip to Portland. Of course, as the bird wasn’t ringed, there was no way to tell for sure but it certainly was a handsome bird, a ‘satellite’ male as I explained in last year’s post here.


275/365 Black-tailed godwits

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For me, the Black-tailed godwits were a highlight of our walk around RSPB Lodmoor. They’re not uncommon birds but I don’t see them on my local patch and don’t often get close views of them.

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There were several at Lodmoor but the little beauty shown below was feeding quite close to the western path. That feeding was a constant repetition of probing the mud to locate some choice morsel, raising its beak from the water and throwing back its head to gulp down said morsel, then plunging its head down into the water again. If its frequent gulps were any indication, the bird was finding plenty of food.

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Black-tailed godwits are handsome waders that can be seen almost year round in Britain. Though local populations migrate to overwinter in Africa, birds from Iceland come to Britain to enjoy our relatively milder winter climate.

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274/365 Egrets and herons

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On the way to Portland last Friday our birding group stopped off at the RSPB’s Lodmoor Nature Reserve on the outskirts of Weymouth. It’s a wonderful environment for birds, with small lakes and large reedbeds, open saltmarshes and hedge-enclosed pathways, and it always turns up a good variety of birds.

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Now, I’ve only been in Britain four years so I don’t remember the ‘old days’ when twitchers would race across the country to see a Little egret or a Great white egret, but even I can see how much these birds have increased in number in a very short time.

At Lodmoor, there were several Little egrets (above) – I didn’t count the ones I did see, and I’m sure there were several lurking amongst the reeds that I couldn’t see and, amazingly, there were six (!) Great white egrets (below), for a time all congregated in one spot. Now, that was a sight to see.

I was also impressed by the large numbers of Grey herons, especially those at nearby RSPB Radipole, all lined up along the edge of the reeds, sheltering from the strong westerly winds.

191001 herons and little egret

273/365 Corn buntings

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I’m just back from the annual Glamorgan Bird Club 3-day trip to the Portland Bird Observatory, one of the highlights of my birding year so, be warned, the next few days’ blog posts will be a bit birdy!

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En route to Portland last Friday, we stopped for a short time in the car park at Maiden Castle hill fort, near Dorchester. You may well think that an odd place to go birding but we are almost certain to spot Corn buntings there, birds we never see in my part of Wales. And we were certainly not disappointed – in fact, we saw more Corn buntings this year than I’ve ever seen before, and many were enjoying a fun splash in the puddles along the dirt road leading in to the site. A delight to watch!

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272/365 A polypore

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Sadly, between one visit to Cosmeston and the next this spectacular fungus had almost been obliterated.

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I think it’s a specimen of Polyporus squamosus, also known as Dryad’s saddle, which can grow to 60cm across, usually on the wood of deciduous trees, sometimes singly, occasionally in limited layers.

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This one had been munched on top, probably by a slug or snail, but I imagine its downfall came at human hands, or feet, as it was growing in an area of woodland that is often frequented by children. A shame, as I was looking forward to following its growth.

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