211/366 Rhubarb and custard

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From Brett Westwood and Stephen Moss’s Wonderland: A Year of Britain’s Wildlife Day by Day:
‘Common and widespread though it may be, this small, neat dragonfly is always worth a second look. The males are brick red and the females yellow, so I use the aide-memoire “rhubarb and custard” to remember this.’

200729 common darter (1)

Which dragonfly is being described? I’m sure many of you worked out it was the Common darter, which is flying now in my local parks and reserves, though in quite small numbers so far.

200729 common darter (2)

210/366 Today along the Ely

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This morning’s wander took me down to Cardiff Bay to walk the path along the embankment of the River Ely, my first walk that way for a while, as there tend to be less interesting birds to see during the summer months and more people to avoid. And so it was, though there is never nothing to see.

200728 4 house martins

House martins were still filling the air with their calls and zipping swiftly back and forth, hunting low over the water then taking insects back to feed their young, which must be second or even third broods now.

200728 5 swan

Large numbers of Coot and Mallard were feeding on the water weed or sitting preening on the water’s edge of the embankment, and several Swan were floating regally past. A couple fell out and were half-heartedly chasing each other.

200728 6 juvenile gcg200728 7 gcg

I saw only three Great crested grebes, a low number for this location. Two were adults and one a well grown juvenile that was snoozing amongst the weed.

200728 8 pied wag

And I saw only two Pied wagtails, which is also a small quantity for the embankment. Their jaunty striding back and forth always makes me grin.

209/366 Song thrush fledgling

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I hope this little Song thrush fledgling managed to find its parents, or they found it. I spotted sitting in the middle of a footpath but it managed to hop into the vegetation at the side of the path as I approached, and I could hear what might have been adult birds peeping softly from the surrounding bushes and trees. Fingers crossed!

200727 song thrush fledgling

208/366 A pod of peas

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The Pea family (properly known as the Leguminosae) is a large one, and its members are easily recognised by their flower shape. I see them a lot during my meanders – Red and White clovers, the Bird’s-foot trefoil and Melilotus species, Tufted and Bush vetch are all common hereabouts.

Those that follow are the peas I see less often, starting with Meadow vetchling (Lathyrus pratensis), which is not an uncommon plant in my area – it’s just that I’ve seen it more often since lockdown started, as my walks have taken me along the less-used footpaths across local farm fields and meadows.

200726 3 meadow vetchling

Grass vetchling (Lathyrus nissolia) is less common – or, perhaps, less easily found, as it’s a delicate plant, easily lost amongst the long grass in which it grows, unless you manage to spot its one or two bright pink flowers on fine, tall stems.

Broad-leaved everlasting pea (Lathyrus latifolius): I’ve found this lovely, sprawling pea in two local parks, both former rubbish dumps. It seems an aggressive climber and rambler, adorning bramble and low scrub with its attractive blooms. It is a favourite plant of the Long-tailed blue butterfly so I know where to look if this pretty migrant butterfly ever decides to fly as far as south Wales.

200726 5 broad-leaved everlasting pea

Goat’s rue (Galega officinalis) is new to me, and I’ve only seen it in one location, near a large local hospital, perhaps blown in by the constant comings and goings of traffic. My Flora Britannica says it ‘was introduced … in the sixteenth century as a vegetable and medicinal herb, and later grown for ornament’. It certainly has very beautiful flowers.

200726 6 goats-rue

207/366 At home in the bindweed

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I had to chuckle during this morning’s brief stomp between bouts of heavy rain. The local slugs, which I thought would be at home in such conditions, sliding on the grass, slithering over leaves, were more literally ‘at home’, sheltering in the deep flower cups of bindweed.

200725 slugs in bindweed (1)200725 slugs in bindweed (2)200725 slugs in bindweed (3)

206/366 Fledging

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From an initial count of three chicks, the local Lesser black-backed gulls nesting amongst a neighbour’s chimney pots have managed to raise one to fledging. I’ve been watching it practising its flying skills over recent days and, finally this morning, it has left the shelter of its nest site.

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Though it was pottering around the rooftops for a while, I can no longer see the chick. Now follows the dangerous time for this fledgling of learning to find its own food, finding shelter against bad weather, escaping domestic cats and dogs in the various neighbours’ gardens, and avoiding cars on roads…. Good luck, little one!

200724 lbb chick (18)

205/366 Sightings at Slade Wood

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On Wednesday I ventured on to public transport for the first time in four months – suitably masked, of course – for a visit to Slade Wood, near Rogiet. This was a site where I’d seen Silver-washed fritillaries and White admiral butterflies last summer so I was hoping for more of those but, unfortunately, huge areas of the woodland have been felled over the winter months, which has destroyed a lot of the butterflies’ habitat.

200723 1 peacock200723 2 gatekeepers

I did still see a lot of butterflies on the Buddleja bushes – in fact, probably more Peacocks than I’ve seen in one day before, and I got some pics of a pair of Gatekeepers mating – but only spotted one Silver-washed fritillary (and didn’t manage a photo) and no White admirals. There was also a butterfly consolation prize in the form of a Brown argus, a butterfly that’s not common locally, which was in Minnett’s Field, a nearby meadow managed by Gwent Wildlife Trust.

200723 3 brown argus

Though the butterflies were a little disappointing, the birds were a huge bonus as I managed to find a family of Spotted flycatchers, with two adults and a couple of juveniles (below left), which I’d not seen before.

And the flycatchers were joined at their watering hole, a couple of muddy puddles, by two beautiful bright Siskin.

200723 6 siskin and spot fly200723 7 siskin

I may not have seen what I was expecting and I was saddened to see how many trees had been felled but I still had a wonderful day out. The sense of freedom was exhilarating, and Nature certainly didn’t disappoint!

204/366 Musk thistle

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This gorgeous thistle was a new plant for me when I discovered it in a local farm field a couple of days ago. It’s a Musk thistle (Carduus nutans), also known as Nodding thistle, and it’s precisely the nodding habit of its growth that alerted me to something new.

200722 musk thistle (1)

Its flowers, though a glorious and vibrant pinky purple, droop downwards, nodding on long spineless stems and, in fact, compared to the upright habit of other thistles I see, this one’s growth habit overall is very droopy. It’s a bit of a sloucher, though, as its name suggests, those flowers have a musky smell that bees find particularly attractive, and several butterflies seemed to like it too.

200722 musk thistle (2)

The Plantlife website provides some interesting facts about the Musk thistle: apparently ‘its fleshy stem is edible and said to be delicious after peeling and boiling’ and ‘medicinally, the leaves have been used as a tonic to stimulate liver function, whereas the flowers have been used to reduce fevers and purify the blood.’

200722 musk thistle (3)

203/366 Preening Stonechat

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For the first time in who knows how long a pair of Stonechats overwintered at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park and, came the Spring, they bred, the first time this has ever been recorded at Cosmeston. The two offspring are now well grown juveniles and, if you’re lucky, the family can be seen feeding and flitting about together along the hedgerows and amongst the wildflowers in Cosmeston’s meadows. I caught up with them during a walk last Thursday and was delighted that at least one of the family was happy to be photographed and videoed.

202/366 More misc minis

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Some snippets from the insect world around me:

200720 common red soldier beetles

A sure sign that it’s now high summer, Common red soldier beetles (Rhagonycha fulva) can be seen everywhere, especially on the flowers of umbellifers, demonstrating why they are often called bonking beetles.

Also caught copulating, these Green-veined white butterflies (Pieris napi) were being annoyed by a third of their kind, trying to get involved in the action.

200720 small copper

On the subject of butterflies, the second brood of Small coppers (Lycaena phlaeas) is now on the wing. This stunning specimen was only the second Small copper I’d seen this year, so was a very welcome sighting.

200720 nettle weevil

There’s nothing cuter than a weevil. This one is, I think, a Nettle weevil (Phyllobius pomaceus).

I found this odd: a colony of ants, farming a horde of aphids on this ragwort plant, have extended their nest up the very stem of the plant.

200720 meadow grasshopper

To finish this post, first, a Meadow grasshopper (Chorthippus parallelus) nymph and …

200720 long winged cone-head nymph

… another nymph, also often a meadow dweller, this time a cricket species, a Long winged cone-head (Conocephalus fuscus).