Southern Marsh Orchids

Southern Marsh Orchids

Sunday 29 December 2013

Visitor from Afar?

Taking a walk on Kenfig beach today, ambling along the new strand line being created and moved forward by the incoming tide, I noticed a rough looking medium size seed. On examination, it was obviously dense, hard and covered in uneven wrinkles. It is around 22mm long and 25x30mm wide.



Side View

As far as identification goes, the prime suspect, at the moment is Juglans nigra (J. neotropica is far less likely), the Black Walnut of Eastern North America, the range of which includes Florida, and large numbers of its seeds to find their way into the gulf of Mexico and the Gulf Stream, then potentially to our shores, via the North Atlantic Drift.
It is also grown as an ornamental tree in larger UK gardens, parks and collections and it is possible that this one originated here, but as Black Walnut seed can remain buoyant in salt water for up to fifteen months and they are known to be carried by the Gulf stream, in large numbers to the beaches of the Eastern seaboard of North America, it is just as possible that this is a true long distance traveller.
As I write this, I can see a Coconut I picked up at Kenfig a few years ago. It bears all the hallmarks of one brought here by the Gulf Stream. It is small, the nut is about the size of a cricket ball and still mainly enclosed in its coir husk, which is covered in tiny holes, made by insect larvae burrowing through it. The nut itself has the chalky tube of a Serpulid worm, proving it had been at sea for some time.

Sunday 22 December 2013

A rare Glamorgan fern at Tonyrefail

December isn't exactly the busiest month on the field botanist's calendar, but just occasionally it turns up something as interesting as any summer month!

A couple of weeks ago, a circular walk from Tonyrefail in the late afternoon gloom took me past a bank on which was growing an odd-looking fern, with the overall appearance of a small Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina) but with the more leathery leaves and linear sori (groups of spore-cases) characteristic of the spleenworts (Asplenium spp.). A return visit and closer inspection confirmed my initial suspicions, that this was the county rarity Lanceolate Spleenwort (Asplenium obovatum).

Fresh fronds of Asplenium obovatum at Tonyrefail - this was one of the larger plants.
This somewhat obscure species is most closely related to Black Spleenwort (Asplenium adiantum-nigrum), from which it differs in the smaller, paler-green fronds that taper at both ends, the shorter petiole, and the blunter pinnules.

Pressed specimens of Asplenium obovatum. The tendency of the lowest pinnules to be smaller - and to deflex slightly - is evident in the top frond (which has its top surface uppermost), while the bottom frond shows the clusters of spore-cases that mark it out as being an Asplenium.

The plants were growing on a lightly-vegetated south-facing retaining bank, with plenty of exposed stone. I'm familiar with this species from West Devon, where it is local in exactly the same habitat. The Tonyrefail population seems to be quite healthy, with over 40 plants of various sizes.

The retaining stone wall on which Asplenium obovatum was growing - the pale-green fronds caught my eye.

Asplenium obovatum has only ever been known from four sites in Glamorgan. Of these, only two seem to be extant - one at Penmaen in the Gower and another localised only to ST19M (jointly Glamorgan & Monmouthshire)... so it was a nice botanical 'Christmas present' to add another site to this list!

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Llandaff Cathedral

During an amble around Llandaff Cathedral yesterday a total of 29 species of bryophyte were noted on the walls, masonry and between the cobbles. The list included two noteworthy calcicoles, Curving Feather-moss Scorpiurium circinatum and Shady Beard-moss Didymodon umbrosus, both in the more humid habitats around the base of the cathedral walls. Unfortunately I never took any photos in situ, but for the record below is a pic of Shady Beard-moss taken under the microscope.
Perhaps the most prominent species was Common Liverwort Marchantia polymorpha subsp. ruderalis, which was abundant between the cobbles at the base of the building along with other species of general interest such as Rigid Beard-moss Didymodon rigidulus, Spiral Extinguisher-moss Encalypta streptocarpa and Wavy Beard-moss Didymodon sinuosus.  A more methodical search would certainly produce a longer list and maybe a few more surprises.

Winter flying bees recording scheme

Thanks to Nigel, I have entered the B terrestris onto the BWARS recording scheme.  Unknown to me there is a specific winter Bumblebee recording scheme that other folk may want to use.  The link is :  It doesn't take long to fill in!

Tuesday 17 December 2013

It's back again!

The Bumblebee from a previous post was out again today, despite an air temperature of only 8 degrees.  Hopefully these pics allow a better id, and using the Natural History Museum bumblebee key here: I would say it is possibly Bombus terrestris.
If Nigel happens to be reading this, do you agree?

Monday 9 December 2013

Another day in the garden

I posted a little while ago about the insect activity on the Fatsia japonica bush in my garden, see here:  Today's warmer sunny weather once again brought out a lot of insects (for the time of year!) looking for nectar.

There were 4 species of  hoverfly, Eristalsis tenax (Drone Fly) the most common (about 20 or so at any time), a few Scaeva pyrastri with their very distinctive white comma shaped markings, a couple of Episyrphus balteatus (the Marmalade Fly) which can be identified by the double black bands on each tergite, and a fourth species which I didn't manage to id unfortunately.  Both S pyrastri and E balteatus are often migratory species which breed in the UK.  E balteatus is also notable for variable colour.  Darker specimens mean the development of the larval stage was in relatively cool conditions, and sure enough the specimen below was comparatively dark.

Episyrphus balteatus (Marmalade Fly)
Eristalsis tenax (Drone Fly)
There were many species of other Diptera, most of which I could not begin to id, but there more obvious, and strangely photogenic were Flesh Flies, Blue-bottles and Green-bottles:


There were also quite a few Yellow Dung-flies (Scathophaga sp).  I gather these are normally predatory on other insects, but in this instance it appeared to me that they were nectaring rather than hunting.
Scathophaga sp

Also feeding were a single Bumblebee, a Vespid wasp and a Red Admiral butterfly.  Not bad for mid December!
 Nigel - this is the Bumblebee!

Water Cricket

On my way over the hill between Maerdy and Aberdare, I stopped for lunch at a place called Cefnrhos-gwawr and before moving on, took quick a stroll. In a small pool, where water was draining from a bog, across a seldom used forest ride, I saw what I at first took to be pond skaters, but with quite a striking pattern on the abdomen. I took a couple of poor photos and at home, identified them as Water Crickets (Velia caprai). They are, apparently common and I've certainly seen them before, in various places, though there are only eighteen records from three sites on MapMate.
They have a preference for running water, while pond skaters prefer still water.

Please excuse the poor image. I had to blur out the dazzling reflection of the flash, to the left of the subject.
Water Cricket (Velia caprai). Please excuse the poor image.

Wednesday 4 December 2013

Dare Valley Country Park

Finishing a job a little earlier than expected, I took the opportunity to visit my local country park, to look for Cobalt Crust fungus (Terana caerulea). I searched for the couple of hours available, but failed to find any. However, the visit wasn't in vain as I came across a Kidney-spot Ladybird clamped down on a fallen Sallow branch and on another Sallow branch I discovered groups of slime mould sporangia, though of what specific slime mould I don't know.

Kidney-spot Ladybird

Slime Mould Sporangia

A different group of sporangia. Note the stalks on those to the right.

Sunday 1 December 2013


Our Vitis 'Brant' grapevine produced a huge crop this autumn. We harvested most of it but left some for the birds - so far only Starlings have taken advantage, with small flocks plundering the grapes on a regular basis over the last week or so.

George (Llandaff North)

Saturday 30 November 2013

Nantyffyllon moth light last night.

                                   Winter moth (x4)
                                  December moth (x2).

Friday 22 November 2013

Another late insect

Spotted this Common Darter basking in the sun this afternoon on a south facing wall in the garden.
There are only two later records than this one on Mapmate for Glamorgan , both in 2006.

Some late butterflies

Despite the nights becoming increasingly cold, it's been nice to see some butterflies flying this late into November. A peacock was seen here at Parc Slip yesterday and today at Cwm Colhuw (near Llantwit Major) there was a red admiral flitting over the scrub. The highlight was definitely seeing a rather fresh-looking clouded yellow there however - brightened up a chilly autumn morning!

Monday 18 November 2013

Publishing to this blog

Just a reminder that George and I are keen to receive posts to the blog from others.  Indeed it would be good not only if more people were posting, but also to expand the range of topics and taxa. 

If you would like to have the option of publishing on here, please send your email address to me on amantell20(at)gmail(dot)com and I will add you to the list.

Saturday 16 November 2013

Late record of a Common Wasp

Nothing particularly unusual about this insect, other than it is the latest date in the year I have seen still flying.  It was feeding rather lazily on the blossom of a False Castor Oil plant (Fatsia japonica).  I am pretty sure it is a Common Wasp (Vespula vulgaris) rather than the similar looking Tree Wasp.  The Fatsia must be one of the latest flowering plants around as it is just getting into the swing of things and looks like it may keep going a while longer.  It was attracting a surprising number of insects in the weak sunshine this afternoon despite the low temperatures.

There are surprisingly few records of this species in Mapmate (124) but I guess people tend to not record such a ubiquitous species!  This is the latest November record, the only other being one of Barry's from 2nd November.

Here are some close-ups of the wasp, which if you read the comments below you'll see I am struggling to id.  If anyone reading this can offer any suggestions I would appreciate it! 

Also a late record of the very common hoverfly Eristalsis tenax from the same plant on the same day.


Wednesday 13 November 2013

Rare insects from the Llynfi valley, Maesteg.

                             Vagrant emperor found by Craig Furlong on 12th November

                      The horsefly Atylotus fulvus,  found by Paul Tabor in July.

Tuesday 29 October 2013

Great Burnet in Cardiff

I was surprised to see this flowering plant of Great Burnet Sanguisorba officinalis growing by the Taff Trail in Gabalfa, Cardiff at the weekend. I've walked and cycled past this spot countless times over the last few years and never noticed the plant before - my guess is that it has been there all along but that the flower heads are usually mown off before it has chance to flower. Perhaps the mild autumn this year has encouraged a late flowering and enabled it to escape the council strimmers?


The Flora of Glamorgan (1994) says that this species occurs on damp grasslands, river banks and cliff ledges, and is common in the uplands but very local in the Vale. Cardiff isn't mentioned, but the distribution map does show an isolated post-1960 dot in the 5x5km square to the south of Gabalfa.

There's no evidence of it having been planted and I assume it is a relic of the floodplain grassland flora which occurred here in the past. Meadowsweet and Pignut occur nearby and are perhaps also survivors from a time when this area was less urban.

Late butterflies

Tony Messenger reports (via Richard Smith) that there were 8 species of butterfly at Lavernock Point on Friday 25th October - an impressive total for the time of year (I've only seen Red Admirals of late). The highlight was 3 Clouded Yellows, one of which was a female of the pale Helice form.

Apparently the first Clouded Yellow seen at Lavernock this year was on 2nd August, and singletons have been seen most weeks since. This species has certainly had a good year - I saw one in Monmouthshire in August and several on Gower in September.

Clouded Yellow at Forest Farm
(photo: 'Bob Fleming's Wildlife Garden')

Monday 21 October 2013

Biodiversity offsetting

This article on the invertebrate charity Buglife's approach to Biodiversity offsetting on the Woodland Trusts blog is well worth a read if you have a moment.  See As are the other articles on the blog.

In a nutshell, it is a new approach that would allow a developer to go ahead with a scheme provided they paid into a central fund that would be used to compensate for the loss of habitat by enhancing or recreating habitat elsewhere.  That's a simple summary of a very complex situation, for example ancient woodland by it's very nature cannot be recreated, (which Defra have recognised apparently) but some brownfield sites potentially could be.  I can see advantages and disadvantages, and as it is one of the big new things Defra are promoting (along with the Ecosystem Services concept) it's worth keeping abreast of it. 

It's also worth noting that the Vale Council's Draft LDP identifies a number of brownfield sites for development, notably quite large areas of land in Barry Docks.

Sunday 20 October 2013

Linyphia triangularis

Money spiders are a species-rich and difficult group that I've never tackled seriously, but Linyphia triangularis is one of the few readily identifiable species, being quite large (for a money spider) and having a distinctive tuning fork mark on the carapace.

I found a female on our garden Olive bush today, resting upside down in a horizontal web. Apparently the species is ubiquitous on stiff-leaved bushes, so the Olive is probably an ideal plant for it.

I didn't get a photo but there are some good ones on the Eurospiders website. Mine was a dark specimen very similar to the second one illustrated.

Bloody-nosed Beetle

A breezy but pleasant stroll in the afternoon sunshine along the coast at Gileston turned up this very distinctive beetle lurking under a stone.  
 Bloody-nosed Beetle (Timarcha tenebricosa)

It is a Bloody-nosed Beetle, one of the largest of the Leaf Beetles (Chrysomelid) beetles in the UK; this one was just a little short of an inch long.  It is apparently quite common, although I have not seen many before, but it does seem to have a strongly coastal distribution in Wales at least.  The larvae feed on Bedstraws and Cleavers

Like many insects it not only uses its strong exoskeleton for defence, but also has chemical weapons in its arsenal.  The common name is a bit of a hint here!  If you gently breathe on the beetle it instantaneously triggers the production of a red irritant liquid from the mouthparts which you can clearly see in the pic below.

Saturday 19 October 2013

Any ideas?

                                This 1cm long pupa was found on the underside of
                                a Beech leaf in Dunraven gardens yesterday. There
                                were a few Harlequin ladybirds in the ice tower also.

Friday 18 October 2013

Hawthorn Shieldbug

I've not seen many Shieldbugs this year, the only others being a single Bishop's Mitre and a few Green Shieldbugs.  I spotted this one in the garden yesterday, funnily enough not far from a Hawthorn hedge.

Hawthorn Shield Bug (Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale)
They are unremarkable creatures from a distance, but as with many insects if they are seen close-up the texture and colours can be stunning.  Hawthorn Shieldbugs can be separated from the similar looking Birch Shieldbug (Elasthomus interstinctus)  by their larger size, and the fact that the 'shoulders' (the pronotum) stick out much further.

Unlike many other insect groups, many shieldbugs are easily identifiable without specialist equipment and keys though a x10 hand lens is sometimes useful.  The laminated fold-out AIDGAP Guide to the Shieldbugs of the British Isles produced by the FSC is a good place to start at a very modest cost if you are interested!

This is a reasonably common species I believe, although there are comparatively few records from Wales on the NBN Gateway:
Distribution of Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale in the UK according to records accessible through the NBN Gateway
Hawthorn Shieldbug

Source: NBN Gateway

Sunday 13 October 2013

Odiellus spinosus

Odiellus spinosus is Britain's largest harvestman.  The body of females can be up to 11mm long, although there are smaller-bodied species with much longer legs.  The specimen in the photo below was in my garden a few days ago.
Odiellus spinosus

Close-up of the trident

It is quite a distinctive species (for a harvestman!); the best pointers for id are the overall size, the sharply truncated saddle (the darker band running along the dorsal surface of the body), presence of the spiny armature and most distinctively the prominent forward pointing trident on the anterior of the body.

The distribution of O spinosus is strongly skewed to the SE of England.  I am aware of other recent records in Glamorgan, so it may be expanding its range.  It would be interesting to hear if readers of this blog find new records of this relatively distinctive species in Glamorgan.

Source: Spider Recording Scheme/British Arachnological Society (2012) Website and on-line database facility

It was life Jim, but not as we know it!

A different sort of natural history, but this is a photo of an Icthyosaur tooth that I found back in the summer.  It was poking out of a chunk of Jurassic limestone (Blue Lias formation) on Rhoose Point which gives it a hard to comprehend age of between 195 and 200 million years.

At that point in time the rock in which is embedded would have been somewhat nearer the equator under a warm tropical sea.  Europe and North America were joined forming the continent of Laurasia.  The earliest mammals were evolving on land.

The detail visible on the tooth is quite remarkable, it is possible to see different patterns of wear on the striations on opposite sides of the tooth, and internally the enamel is clearly differentiated from the core of the tooth, together with what looks like a perfectly circular nerve canal.

Saturday 12 October 2013

Another Slime Mould

A week ago, today, while doing a thrush survey near Mountain Ash, I had to climb up through a beech plantation and was stunned by the number and variety of the fungi growing there, most of which I couldn't identify, but forming a dull grey patch on a rotting log was a beautiful slime mould, with translucent white tentacle-like growths. I'm pretty sure it is a Ceratiomyxa and may be C. fruticulosa, but I'm not 100% certain.

Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa?

Fungi etc.

I spent an enjoyable couple of hours down at Coed Y Bedw on thursday - plenty of amazing fungi about. I admit to knowing next to nothing about fungi but they're certainly pretty abundant at the moment. I believe this one is stag's horn fungus Xylaria hypoxylon?
I don't know whether I'd describe the next one as attractive or not but it's certainly striking. Not technically a fungus but a myxomycete or slime mold. I think it is Fuligo septica or charmingly known as dog's vomit slime mold...
There were also plenty of the more 'traditional' toadstool-type fungi but I don't know the name of this one - can anyone point me in the right direction please? It was frequent at Coed Y Bedw:

Friday 11 October 2013

Ta da!

Thanks for your patience.  After a quick bit of research it looks like I need to add people as 'authors' before you will be able to add posts.  To do that I will need an email address from you, the one you use to log into Google blogger.

 If you want to send me an address I will be very happy to add you to the list.  I will treat it with confidentiality.  Can you send them on to me at amantell20(at)gmail(dot)com please?

Apologies once again for any frustration this has caused.



Thursday 10 October 2013

Posting on this blog

Dear all,

Apologies to anyone who has tried to add posts to this blog but has found they are unable to.  I'm not sure why that is happening, but I will look into it over the weekend and hopefully sort the problem out.  I thought I had set the access controls to allow anyone to post but obviously that hasn't worked properly.  If anyone has any words of wisdom on what might be wrong please add a comment below or email me on amantell20(at)gmail(dot)com. 
This is me.  Only I'm better looking.
 I will pop another post up once things are working as they should.