Did you know that the Whitethroat (Sylvia communis, also known as the Common whitethroat to distinguish it from the Lesser whitethroat, Sylvia curruca) is one of thirteen birds on the British list that has the colour white in its name?*
At least this is one bird that is relatively easy to identify, both because of that prominent white throat and because of its distinctive warbling song. And that’s how I managed to spot my first four Whitethroats of the year today at Cardiff’s Grangemoor Park, singing their hearts out, having just arrived back in the country after spending winter in the Sahel, just south of the Sahara.
* This is according to Stephen Moss’s excellent book Mrs Moreau’s Warbler: How birds got their names, Guardian Faber, London, 2018.
I took myself along to Grangemoor Park today, hoping its central hillock would block the cool north-easterly winds so that I might find some butterflies on the warmer, sheltered, river side … and I did. The three Orange-tips – all males – were my first of the year, as was the single Green-veined white (at least, I think it’s a Green-veined white – I do find the whites can be a little confusing).
The four Peacocks were mostly too zippy to photograph, until I caught one enjoying the sunshine on a wooden railing. And the two Brimstones were also speeding along the edge of the pathways, until one stopped to refuel and I managed to grab a couple of snaps of it. I love butterflies!
#30DaysWild, 30 Days Wild, Bee orchid, Blackcap, Brimstone butterfly, Common blue butterfly, Common spotted orchid, Emperor dragonfly, Grangemoor Park, Holly blue butterfly, Large skipper, long-tailed tit, Meadow Brown, Pyramidal orchid, Southern marsh orchid
Day 9 of #30DaysWild saw me at Grangemoor Park, a place that used to be Cardiff’s rubbish dump: when it closed in 1994, it contained an estimated four million cubic metres of garbage, both commercial and household. Now, it’s not only a public park but also a SINC (Site of Importance for Nature Conservation), and is home to a wonderfully diverse range of flora and fauna. My photos show just some of what I discovered there today …
Meet the Stonechat (Saxicola torquata), the bird whose song sounds like two pebbles being rapped together, hence its common name.
These little birds, about the size of your average Robin, usually live a little north of where I live in south Wales, preferring the plantations of conifers that grow in the Welsh valleys and the heathland of the Brecon Beacons. But, come the cooler temperatures of autumn they begin to move south to over-winter in slightly warmer climes.
I saw my first local bird at the Cardiff Bay Wetland Reserve on 17 September, a pair at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park on 6 October, and then a solitary female at Grangemoor Park last Sunday, 8 October.
Stonechats are not always easy to spot, as they duck down amongst tall grass and wildflowers in their search for insects and seeds, and their colours act as good camouflage. But, luckily, they also have a habit of perching on the tops of those grasses and wildflowers and on low shrubs so they can keep an eye out for threats – and humans with cameras! – so I have managed to get a few distant photos.
I had my first wander around Grangemoor Park yesterday and I’ll definitely be going back, though perhaps when it’s a little drier underfoot. With an extensive area of grass and scrub that rises up to two central mounds (from which you get quite good 360-degree views over Cardiff), this land wasn’t always a park. You have only to look at old maps to see that, once upon a time, the River Ely meandered through Penarth Moors here but, once the river was realigned, the hollows thus created were used as one of Cardiff’s rubbish tips. When the tip was full, Cardiff Council had a load of underground drains built, as well as ventilation pipes to allow the methane to escape, covered the lot with tons of clay – hence the very soggy ground, edged it all around with a solid stone wall, and changed its designation to a park in 2000.
That may sound like a sad history but, according to locals, the park now hosts quite a broad range of flora and fauna, and I certainly saw many of the stirrings of Spring. There were bumblebees and flies, a butterfly and a ladybird, masses of primroses almost hidden under bushes, golden coltsfoot and dandelions in bloom all around and horsetail pushing through everywhere, as well as incredibly vibrant lichens and a healthy growth of Oak curtain crust fungi. I will be going back!