Tuesday, 12 December 2017

La Nina effect

La Nina has the effect opposite to El Nino and are both of the same current oscillation in the Pacific ocean. Whereas El Nino gives the UK warm wet winters, La Nina usually gives us cold dry winters. This years La Nina has been stated to be 3 times stronger than anything previously recorded. The cold weather usually hits around Christmas to New Years Eve and lasts till March, but with some short warm spells in between. The last La Nina was in 2010 and the UK had a very cold winter but with little snow (in Wales anyway). During the 2010 cold spell is when I recorded a Stonechat dying in mid-air up top Llangynwyd from the cold and a Gyr Falcon was seen in Glamorgan that winter on the 17th Dec 2009 in temperatures of -10c. So what will this "monster" La Nina bring ?. In 2010 in the valley My. Ty-Talwyn and its fields were a haven for birds feeding on the ground for worms etc and I recorded some of the highest totals for Gulls, Thrushes, Starlings and Waders seen in the valley, the forestry's were also very important holding large numbers of Crossbill, Redpoll, Siskin and Bullfinch (which feeds on the heather). Most other species then vacate the valley to warmer coastal climes.

Bearing this in mind I took a trip up My. Ty-Talwyn to see if anything showing could give some credence to the La Nina effect that is to come. Everything looked to be normal as I past the Waun-y-Gilfach houses and along the road adjacent to the forestry. All that changed when I hit the fields and drove into a wall of birds, Fieldfares and Redwings were everywhere, Starlings were present in huge numbers. 100's of Gulls and Lapwings were in the fields. So I park up in the middle and started to scan and count the birds present.

91 Black-headed Gulls were present and this beats the previous record for the valley of 70 at the Paper Mills in 1990. There were also 12 Common Gull in the flock, first time to be seen since 2012. 135 Herring Gull and 2 Lesser Black-backed Gull made up the rest.

A very large flock of 108 Lapwing were in the fields, previous record count is 147 here in the winter of 2010 [the last La Nina year]. Also present were 400 Starling, 160 Fieldfare and 220 Redwing. The reasons the bird gather here is that the fields although high up [225mts ASL] are the first in the area to become unfrozen after a cold spell and in mild years can stay unfrozen all winter.

So if La Nina lives up to its reputation My-Ty Talwyn could be a good place to find those valley winter rarities this year. I'll be making regular visits after Cold spells to do more counts.

Most of the birds were hard to get close to but I did take some record shots as seen below.

**** Update 14th Dec. 2017 - as conditions have become milder over the last few days, bird numbers have dropped :- 19 Black-headed Gull (-72), 14 Common Gull (+2, may have missed a few on first count) and 34 Lapwing (-72), all other species numbers about the same. ***** 

**** Update 27th Dec. 2017 - Black-headed Gull, Common Gull all gone, Lapwing (8), now only a small flock. Other species numbers are constant and look to be spending the winter here. ****

 Black-headed Gulls
 Common Gull (centre)
 Loose flocks of Lapwing

Friday, 24 November 2017

My Ty Talwyn

Had to scrape the frost off the car this morning, but My Ty-Talwyn was baked in sunshine. 2 Red Kite, 4 Buzzard and a Peregrine were in the air. While winter thrushes were much in evidence, with a flock of Fieldfare numbering 18 and 2 flocks of Redwing numbering 26,28 for a total of 54. Starling numbers were about average for the time of year on 160 in 3 flocks of 120,30,10. A count of 46 Herring Gull were in a single field as were 320 Jackdaw, which is a sizable flock for here. Other birds present included Mistle Thrush (1), Song Thrush (1), Blackbird (2), Meadow Pipit(3), Skylark (2) and Raven (4). As I was leaving I looked back at My Ty-Talwyn from Waun-y-Gilfach (about 1 1/2 miles) and I could see a flock of 8 Geese passing over My Baeden and flying south-east, but they were too far to identify other than they weren't Canada's. It will be interesting to see if a flock is reported nearby later on the Glamorgan sightings page.

Stopped at the Ivy Bank at the Halfway House., Llangynwyd and there was still a small patch of Ivy still in bloom, amongst the last few remaining flies I managed to find an "Eristalis pertinax", so this now becomes my latest date for hoverflies in the valley. I think Paul Tabor has had one in December a few years back.

 confiding Meadow Pipits

Monday, 13 November 2017

Margam Abbey

Over the past month there has been a large eruption of Hawfinch from their eastern European breeding grounds for reasons not yet clear and they have been moving westwards in hundreds of thousands. This is a phenomena that has not happened before. They are being spotted all over Britain, current estimates is that there are 20,000 birds in Britain but experts believe that could increase dramatically over the winter as there are some 400,000 birds on the move.

Paul Parsons had found a small flock of six birds at the back of Margam Abbey last week, which is an ideal place for them to hang around and feed. Many people have been to see them and they have been reported up until at least this morning, so I decided to go and have a look.

When I arrived I immediately found a single bird in a Yew tree next to the Stone Museum, but couldn't get close enough for a photo and it promptly flew off when 3 Mistle Thrush landed in the tree. I hung around for about and hour but there were no more sightings and no sign of the flock, perhaps early morning is best when the sun is on the other Yew trees at the back of the Abbey. Poor weather forecast for the next few days means I'll have to wait a while to have another crack.

I also visited the small pond nearby as I haven't seen Mandarin in a while. A male bird was loosely mixing with the domestic ducks and was not ringed or pinioned, so I take it as a wild/feral bird rather than a collection individual.. Other birds there included Little Grebe and Tufted Duck. I also saw a Nuthatch hiding nuts in the chimney bricks of one of the houses nearby.

 Margam Abbey - The abbey was founded in 1147.
 Yew Tree in the Abbey graveyard that held the Hawfinch, next to Margam Stone Museum building that holds the original Bodvoc Stone from Llangynwyd.
  Mandarin - playing hard to get at the woods pond.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Llangynwyd massif

Ha!, just as I confidently predicted the hoverfly season was over and put up graphs and statistics for the year, we get a warm (16c) fine, calm and sunny day, so I stopped off at the Half-way House ivy bank for a look. To my surprise I recorded 6 species of hoverfly and they were Rhingia rostrata (f), Rhingia campestris (m), Melanostoma scalare (m, 2f), Platycheirus scutatus (m), Episyrphus balteatus (2m) and Eristalis pertinax (f). These constitute my first November hoverflies for the valley.

There was a surprising numbers of flowers still in bloom, very unusual for the time of year and included Hogweed, Angelica, Upright Hedge Parsley, Red Campion, Common Ragwort, Creeping Thistle, Gorse, Dandelion and Meadow Buttercup. This has allowed a few other insects to survive this long and included Common Carder Bee, White-tailed Bumblebee, Honey Bee, Ivy Bee, Red Admiral and a Ruby Tiger caterpillar crossing the path.

With the sun still shining I then went up top Llangynwyd, where last week it was virtually birdless, but this week My Ty-Talwyn was back to its former self with many good birds for the area noted. The first fields held 13 Meadow Pipit, Stonechat and 4 Snipe in the wetter channels. While overhead a flock of 27 Redwing passed by going east with a young male Peregrine in pursuit but being unsuccessful in catching any of the flock. A little time later a Great Black-backed Gull also passed by going east. The fields above Cwm Nant Gwyn had a flock of 580 Starling, while the heavily berried trees along the bridleway held the top prize of a fine male Ring Ouzel. Also amongst the berry [Hawthorn] trees were 4 each of Blackbird, Song Thrush an Mistle Thrush as well as 6 Redwing. Finally at the large field at My. Baeden there was a small finch flock that included 16 Linnet, 12 Chaffinch and 3 Reed Bunting. Also present were 4 Raven and Buzzard including the pale individual.

 Melanostoma scalare
 Rhingia rostrata - high up in the ivy, hence the crap photo
 Rhingia campestris - much lower down
 Common Carder Bee
Ruby Tiger - caterpillar [I think]

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Hoverfly round-up 2017

The hoverfly season is now over, you might get the odd records on fine autumn/winter days but the season is essentially over until March 2018, when I start recording all over again 😊. Below are a couple of graphs showing how the 2017 season fared against previous seasons. 2017 started off with a bang recording numbers and species well above previous years and this continued up until the end of August. This is when numbers plummeted due to two factors 1) The Welsh weather returned to its norm of long periods of mist and rain interspersed with big storms and strong winds 2) I was out of the country for 3 weeks in September. I recorded  13 new species during the year taking the valley total to 128.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Photos taken of some of the Hoverfly specimens determined by HRS

Before taking specimens of hoverflies I managed to photograph a few before potting, the ones below are a mixture of what can be done by photos and what can't. Of the 283 species in Britain only 125 can be identified from photographs with any confidence and the Hoverfly Recording Scheme [rightly so] will only accept records of the other 158 species if a specimen has been provided or you have proved yourself as a proven observer. Of the 126 specimens taken I still managed to get 4 wrong under magnification at home before sending them to Roger Morris including the Pipiza and Xylota below. Which just goes to show three years of intense study is still not enough to identify all hoverfly species. 

 Pipiza noctiluca - not conclusive from photo
 Cheilosia albitarsis - dark-legged variation, not conclusive from photo

 Chrysogaster solstitialis - can be ID'd from this photo
 Melangyna lasiophthalma -  can be ID'd from this photo
 Platycheirus Scutatus - can be ID'd to scutatus agg. [3 species] but no further from photo
Xylota jakutorum - the second tergite [body segment] looks longer than wider in the photo [squared in jakutorum] suggesting "florum" but the micro-hair colouring on the legs under magnification say otherwise. So these two species can't really be separated from photos.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Hoverfly specimens

I've just received back the list of hoverfly specimens that I had gathered through the year from Roger Morris of the Hoverfly Recording Scheme. There were eight new species for the valley taking our list to 128. We are getting ever closer to our goal of 150 [130 being the highest total for a Welsh 10km square. Our 2 - 10km squares stand at 102 & 100 per 2016 records]. The new species are recorded below, with a list of other species determined also.

121.   Cheilosia lasiopa - 08 May 17 - Bryn Cynan, Llangynwyd.

5th record for Glamorgan and first since 2010 [Swansea].

122.   Trichopsomyia flavitarsis - 19 May 17 - Bryn Cynan, Llangynwyd.

Common in Glamorgan, last record being in 2009 [Portenyon]

123.   Cheilosia ranunculi - 21 May 17 - Garnwen, Maesteg.

2nd record for Glamorgan, first being in 2006 [Portenyon]

124.   Cheilosia carbonaria - 14 Jun 17 - Blaencaerau, Caerau.

A new species for Glamorgan and only the 2nd record for Wales, the first being from Pembrokeshire in 2010.

125.   Platycheirus occultus - 21 Jun 17 - Darren Woods, Llangynwyd.

Common in Glamorgan, last recorded in 2014 [Neath]

126.   Cheilosia vernalis - 04 Jul 17 - Tir-Iarll Park, Llangynwyd.

Formerly very common in Glamorgan but mainly coastal, last recorded in 2009 [Portenyon]

127.   Pipiza noctiluca - 18 Jul 17 - Moel Troed-y-Rhiw, Llangynwyd.

Formerly common in Glamorgan but last recorded in 2002 [Blackwood]

128.   Eupeodes nitens - 22 Jul 17 - Lletty Brongu Woods, Llangynwyd.

Only the 2nd record for Glamorgan and 3rd for Wales, following records from 1993 [Bangor] and 1997 [Merthyr]

Other species determined included :-

Neoascia podagrica (7), Sphegina clunipes (3), Melanogaster hirtella (7), Parhelophilus versicolor (2)
Sphaerophoria interrupta (2), Platycheirus angustata (2), Syrphus vitripennis (5),
Platycheirus scutatus (4), Sphegina elegans (4), Cheilosia proxima (10), Sphaerophoria philanthus (2)
Pipizella viduata (1), Melangyna labiatarum (1), Chrysogaster solstitialis (1), Cheilosia albitarsis (1),
Xylota jakutorum (2), Myathropa florea (1), Dasysyrphus pinastri (1), Platycheirus albimanus (2)
Cheilosia scutellata (9), Cheilosia pagana (2), Orthonevra nobilis (2), Syrphus ribesii (3),
Eupeodes luniger (2), Eupeodes corollae (2), Chrysotoxum cautum (1), Platycheirus granditarsus (1),
Eupeodes latifasciatus (1), Xanthandrus comtus (1), Cheilosia impressa (1), Pipiza austriaca (1) and
Melanostoma scalare (1).

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Pale Buzzard, My. Ty-talwyn

My. Ty-Talwyn, Llangynwyd was pretty quiet this afternoon, no evidence yet of large passage migration of Wood Pigeons and Thrushes or even Hawfinch, which are having an eruption year on the continent, and some experts say there could be as many as 400,000 on their way to Britain this winter. Did see 5 Redwing though, otherwise all the usual stuff like Skylark, Starling, Mistle Thrush, Corvids and 6 Raven. Quite a few Buzzard were about I counted 7 different individuals but no Kites. One of the Buzzards was very pale and always worth a second glance just in case.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Welsh Twitching

A few rare birds for Wales and Britain have turned up the last few days. So Colin, Sid and myself did a bit of twitching.

 13th October - Common Rock Thrush - 3rd record for Wales and British lifer for me [photo by permission from Colin Gittins] @ Pwll Du quarry, Blorenge, Gwent
14th October - American Golden Plover - Welsh tick for me - Gann Estuary, Pembrokeshire.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Halfway House. Llangynwyd Ivy now blooming

Some fine weather had me visiting again the Ivy Bank at the Halfway House on the way up to Llangynwyd. This time it was in full bloom. I recorded 11 species of Hoverfly, which is a good count for the time of year. There was also a little bit of Common Ragwort and Devil's Bit Scabious along the path. The Rhingia rostrata was still present, other good late records included 3 Sericomyia silentis, 3 Syrphus ribesii and 2 Helophilus pendulus.

 Sericomyia silentis
Helophilus pendulus

The other feature at this time of year are the moth leaf mines which become more noticeable with less greenery about. I have ID'd a few today including these below.

 Stigmella Tityrella on Beech
 underside of Hart's-tongue fern showed feeding signs of Psychoides verhuella/ filicivora - probably verhuella

Also present around the Ivy was 10+ Red Admiral and amongst the 30+ Honey Bee were 2 Ivy Bee a recent colonist of the valley.

 Red Admiral
Ivy Bee

From here I went up My. Ty Talwyn hoping for some bird migration, but the area was virtually void of birds. So I moved down to Parc Slip nature reserve and fared not much better, with the highlights being 1 Wigeon and 2 Eurasian Teal on the main pool. There was also a single Southern Hawker dragonfly but no hoverflies.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Some scenic shots from South Africa

 Augrabies waterfall - nearly dry because of drought
 Blue Moon Bay Hotel Gardens, Saldanha
 Endless Karoo near Poffadder
 Cape of Good Hope - Atlantic Ocean
 Cape of Good Hope - Indian Ocean [take from same spot]
 The Iconic sign

 Klein Cedarberg at dusk and my chalet
 Ceres escarpment
 Kgalagadi at dawn
 Kgalagadi red sand
 Klein Cedarberg main complex
 Cedarberg rock paintings
Table Mountain complete with tablecloth

Cape Town area

We spent the last three days of our trip around the Cape Town/False Bay area and visited The Cape Of Good Hope, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Strandfontein Sewage Works, Gordon's Bay promontory, Stony Point Penguin Reserve, Harold Porter Botanical Gardens and even went on a Pelagic Trip [although this wasn't one of my highlights due to sea-sickness 2 1/2hrs into a 9hr trip].

 African Penguin
 Booted Eagle
 Cape Cormorant
 Cape and Bank Cormorant
 Cape Francolin
 Cape Rockjumper
 Cape Sugarbird
 Cape Teal
 Cape White-eye
 Crowned Cormorant [immature -I think]
 Egyptian Goose
 Orange-breasted Sunbird
 Red-winged Starling
 Rock Kestrel
 Southern Boubou
 Spotted Eagle-Owl
 Spotted Thick-knee - keeping an eye on me while facing the other way
 Southern Double-collared Sunbird
 White-breasted Cormorant
Helmeted Guineafowl