I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen a Ring-necked duck (Aythya collaris) so I was delighted when, ten days ago, a juvenile female was spotted at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park, and I managed to get a very distant view of it on 18 October.
I’m the first to admit I would not have been able to identify this bird without the local, much more experienced birders sharing their photos on social media. When its head is tucked in, which seems to be most of the time, only its pale eye ring distinguishes this bird from the female Tufted ducks that surround it, at least to my inexperienced eye.
Late last Sunday, 25 October, the exciting news came that a second Ring-necked duck had been sighted at Cosmeston, this one a 1st winter drake, so I headed along on Monday for a look. I got much closer views of the first bird, the juvenile, but couldn’t find the other – turns out, it had flown over to Cardiff Bay. This is a common phenomenon during the winter months – the various duck species fly regularly back and forth between the lakes and the Bay.
So, for yesterday’s exercise walk I headed down to Cardiff Bay where, in spite of occasional heavy rain showers, I managed to locate both Ring-necked ducks, though this time the drake kept its head tucked in throughout my visit. That’s the juvenile braving the weather in the photo above, and the 1st winter drake below. If I manage to see the drake again and get a photo of it with its head up, I’ll be sure to share.
If you suffer from arachnophobia, look away now! This spider, found recently in one of the outer fields at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park, was the biggest spider I’ve seen in Britain. That’s still not big when compared to Tarantulas or Huntsmen or other large species but it was big enough to make me feel both a teeny bit freaked out and totally fascinated at the same time.
This is a female Four-spotted orb weaver (Araneus quadratus), a species that’s apparently quite common in Britain and can be found in a variety of habitats, from grassland and bogs to gardens and woodlands. As with many spiders, females are larger than males. In this species, females can grow to 17mm long, while the males are only half that size.
This beauty was slowly making her way through the long grass at the edge of a bramble patch. Because of the size of her body, she was struggling to stay upright, and several times overbalanced. But those long striped legs are obviously quite strong and she easily managed to pull herself upright again.
I spotted this orb weaver because her apricot colour stood out from her surroundings but, according to the Naturespot website, adult females are like chameleons, able to change their colour to coordinate with their surroundings, though that process can take about three days to complete. Fascinating!
Yesterday’s inbox contained an email with the life history of this ringed Lesser black-backed gull I found at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park and reported to the BTO’s ringers on 5 October. This bird was first ringed on Flat Holm Island, in the Bristol Channel off the south Wales coast, on 1 July 2017. A couple of months later, on 6 September, it was spotted at Cosmeston, and then it headed 1200 kms south to Matosinhos, a port and fishing town in Portugal, where it was seen twice in October 2017, on the 27th and again on the 31st. The bird wasn’t seen again until my recent report so it’s anybody’s guess where it’s been for the past three years.
No, I’m not blogging about a James Bond film, though our recent visitor to Cosmeston Lakes Country Park is almost as exotic, and certainly as handsome as any of the many James Bonds. This is a drake Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula), a diving duck that’s a little smaller than a Mallard.
This drake was first picked up by our best local birder last Friday evening so I strode along to the lakes early Saturday morning and had distant views of it on the west lake. The Goldeneye appeared to have left Saturday afternoon, as another local birder couldn’t find it, but I was back at Cosmeston early Sunday, sitting quietly on a bench next to the east lake, when Mr Goldeneye popped out from the vegetation right in front of me and I was able to get these closer photos of him.
Though Goldeneye are known to spend their winters in small groups on reservoirs and inland lakes, and in sheltered coastal bays, they are not a common sight in my part of south Wales, so it has been a treat to have the chance to see this stunning bird.
You might think, as I certainly did, that the much cooler overnight temperatures we’re now experiencing here in south Wales would mean an end to the hawking flights of dragonflies over our fields and along our hedgerows but I was rather dramatically proved wrong during yesterday’s meander around Cosmeston Lakes Country Park. I didn’t spot just one or two Migrant hawkers but seven (!), the most I’ve seen in one day ever. These are three of them, two of the males and the solitary female. A delight of dragonflies!
After the strong winds and heavy rain of recent days the last thing I expected to see at Cosmeston yesterday was this Clouded yellow butterfly (Colias croceus). I was initially surprised at what good condition it was in but, in his Life Cycles of British & Irish Butterflies, Peter Eeles writes that ‘In good years, this species can produce up to three broods in the south of England, with the third brood emerging in late September and October.’ Presumably, this is also true for south Wales and, as several other butterflies have had additional broods this year, I wonder if this saffron beauty is one of a newly emerged third brood.
This year I saw my first Brown argus butterfly (Aricia agestis) on 11 July and thought I’d seen my last on 26 August, a short but very sweet season of sightings. Then, to my astonishment and absolute delight, I discovered two more on the same day, 16 September, one at Lavernock Nature Reserve and the other at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park.
These had to be the product of the first brood of butterflies breeding and so were a second brood, not something I’d seen before with this butterfly. As the local populations of Dingy skippers have also produced a second brood and the Small coppers a third brood this year and nothing has changed in their environments, I can only assume this has been caused by the warmer climate.
I haven’t managed to find the Lavernock Brown argus again but the Cosmeston butterfly was still in the same spot last week. A late summer-early Autumn treat!
My title says ‘inspection’ but I was tempted to invent a new word and write ‘insection’, as my inspection was really a personal challenge to see how many different insects I could find on the copious number of Common ragwort plants currently in bloom at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park. All except three of these photos were taken during one 45-minute period on Wednesday – the Small copper and two flies were seen the following day. The broad diversity of species just shows how important Ragwort is as a late summer food plant for insects.