Lepidoptera Lifer!

silver1Whilst on my way to work yesterday I noticed a species of fritillary butterfly feeding on a Buddlea bush. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a decent photo on my phone so I returned this morning and was able to get some better shots with my camera.
I was delighted to see that they were a pair of Silver Washed Fritillary – a new one for my list and a lovely looking butterfly too. Several Red Admirals, Large Whites, Peacock and Speckled Woods were also taking an interest in the same bushes.

Mindfullness and nature walk for SAMYE Foundation Wales.

oystersWell the weather was excellent, warm but with a gentle breeze as twenty eager participants met me at the Travellers Rest pub car park (my thanks to the landlord for allowing us to use the car park, thanked in return with drinks at the end from all on the walk). After my introduction and health and safety pep talk we headed down the road to join the Rhymney Valley Ridgeway Walk to take us along the Cefn Onn Ridge, through a mixture of Beech woodland, past open fields and disused lime kilns and quarries.

Straight away we were welcomed by the song of a Blackcap singing from deep within the canopy and a Blue Tit and Blackbird was heard also. The variety of plants was plentiful and we started to look at Red Dead Nettles, Hart’s Tongue Ferns and Enchanter’s Nightshade. The Ramsons (Wood Garlic) had gone over but the scent from the leaves was still very strong. A dead Rat on the path gave us a laugh as Loraine had asked if we would find anything edible – needless to say the offer of this as food wasn’t taken up. Many in the group joined me to see a hidden patch of Common Twayblade orchids I know of.

As we walked further along I pointed out some Cramp Ball fungus – also known as King Alfred’s cakes with an explanation as to why they had this nickname. A large group of Ganoderma (Artists Fungus) was pointed out growing on a Beech tree. The fungus was giving off the brown spores that will spread onto the neighbouring trees, deposited on the wind. A large group of Oyster Mushroom on a rotting log was an unexpected surprise. Numerous ‘spit’ like substances were on the grass fronds formed by the Froghopper insect which in-cases itself in a foamy substance to protect it from other predators by giving off an unpleasant taste. Another warbler was heard singing, this time a Chiffchaff.

Passing a disused lime kiln we continued along the path stopping off to look at Jelly Fungus, a group of Dryads Saddle growing on a tree stump and Southern Polypody fern growing from the trunk of a Hawthorn. The group marvelled at the size of many of the Beech trees and we estimated their age to be around 300 years plus. Either way these trees would have seen a lot of history. A group of Wild Cherry had one tree which was sadly dying, and already there were tell-tale signs of Beetles boring into the soft wood and pecking holes from Woodpeckers.

The tiny yellow flowers of Agrimony grew along the entire stem and close by another large group of red Dead Nettle was growing. Self Heal, Hawkweeds and more Enchanter’s Nightsahdes grew alongside these plants. At the fork in the path we turned left and followed the path gently uphill for a short distance where I showed the group a vein of Baryte passing under and across the surface of the path. Passing through the gate we wntered a lovely ancient Beech woodland where Bracket fungus was growing on several of the trees. Some of the Beech trees here are very old and have formed amazing shapes. As we entered a clearing just before the quarry, several Ringlet butterflies were showing themselves well and a Speckled wood butterfly was resting on a Bramble, enjoying the strong sunlight on it’s wings.

Several fine specimens of Common Spotted Orchids grew alongside the path with a deep colour, so different from the greens of the Twaybaldes. At the disused quarry we sat on the grass grazed short by the local Rabbits where Wild Thyme, Tormentil, Birds Foot Trefoil and the tiny white flowers of Eyebright all grew. We enjoyed drinks and snacks here in the warm sunshine before following the path downhill for a while before re-joining the path at the start of the ancient Beech woodland. Turkey Tail fungus was growing on a tree stump and another Blackcap serenaded us with a Wren giving off it’s alarm call at our presence. A Woodpigeon egg shell was found. Many birds deposit the eggs once the young have hatched some distance away from the nest site to avoid attracting any predators.

We stopped to enjoy sampling some Wood Sorrel with it’s bitter taste caused by Oxalic acid in the leaves. We re-joined the original path and laughed at another Blackcap that seemed to be following us, singing all the time, but staying well hidden in the deep foliage. I spotted a Tawny Owl breaking cover and flying above the path but unfortunately only one other person got to see it.

Purple Moor grass and some other species of plants were spotted on the return walk and back at Blaen Nofydd farm at the start of the walk we stopped to speak to Ian Griffiths, a friend of mine who owns the property, and he told us some of the local history of the area which was fascinating. He also had a spring on the property where many of the group got to sample the water purified by passing trough the limestone.

We returned to the pub for some drinks and snacks and reminisced on the plants, fungi and birds seen on the walk. My thanks to the SAMYE Foundation Wales for their positive feedback to me for the walk and for the excellent company. For further details on SAMYE Foundation contact Samye Foundation Wales on 02920 228040 or email at admin@sfwales.org

Beautiful Burnet moths feeding.

What a delight today to see numerous Five Spot Burnet moths on the wing and feeding on a variety of plants such as Tufted Vetch and Creeping Thistle. I took the below photo of several feeding on a thistle head. It was so relaxing watching them flying and feeding, and flashing the lovely deep reds on the wings. burnet

Nature’s defences.

The strange ‘spit’ like substance formed by the Froghopper insect is an ingenious way of protecting itself from predators as they dislike the taste of the foamy substance. This is a common sight on the stems of grasses and plants. I remember seeing this as a young child and often wondered what had caused it.froghopper

The Welsh Poppy.

poppyA walk this week in the beautiful Llangyidyr Valley saw a good mix of plants. It was particularly nice to see Common Butterwort in flower and in good amounts too. Also of note was Cow Wheat, Lousewort, Marsh Valerian, Eyebright and Cotton Grass.

I particularly enjoyed finding a group of Welsh Poppies growing and just had to take a photo (see above).

Spain wildlife trip May 15th – 20th 2017

bewheatearMay 15th and Malaga here we come, well Mike Cram and myself that is. Mike and I have done many trips before to Spain finding the sites and the birds ourselves, but this was a treat for us in that we decided to hire a guide, sit back and let someone else do the driving to the different sites for the birds. So after meeting up with Peter Jones, Senior Wildlife Guide at the 2016 Rutland Bird Fayre and being inspired with what was on offer, we booked up through www.spanishnature.com and were picked up by Peter at the airport. We set off straight away to the first site locally on our way to our accommodation. Peter said that apart from the birds we should see a good mix of butterflies and plants too so I was getting excited now. We soon turned off the main road along a dusty track that led to a bridge over a river, with excellent habitat along the way and we soon started to clock up some good species including Bee Eaters, House Martins, Pallid Swifts, Spotless Starlings, two Black Kites circling, Collard Doves, Booted Eagle, Red-rumped Swallows, Little Egret, Crested Larks, Seren, a pair of Turtle Doves and a Jay. Ravens were numerous and we counted over fourteen feeding together. A Little Owl perched obligingly on a disused building and Little Ringed Plovers fed alongside a river. Woodchat Shrikes with their striking chestnut heads were here and there and a Spanish Sparrow called from another disused building. Just before we reached the bridge over the river we had excellent views of a pair of male Golden Orioles chasing each other over the olive grove and a Melodious warbler showed well as it sang from a low shrub. hollyblue Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Swallows, Common Swifts and House Sparrows were added to the list and whilst at the bridge we listened to the croaking calls of Marsh Frogs with Nightingales, Cettis Warblers and Blackcaps all around us. Sardinian warblers called from the scrub and a Grey Wagtail fed along the stream. Peter spotted an Egyptian Mongoose but sadly we missed it as it quickly scurried into deep cover. Here and there were Pomegranate bushes in bloom and a tree called Melia with its stunning purple blossom. At another stop off we saw three Short-toed Eagles circling and butterflies included Meadow Browns and Wall. Another stop off this time within the Serra de las Nieves gave us Crested Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Woodlarks, Griffon Vultures, Common Crossbills, Common Redstart, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Chaffinches, Red-legged Partridges scurrying into cover, Rock Bunting, Cirl Bunting and the Iberia race of Green Woodpecker. Now the species of flora and fauna came into its own with lifers for me including Tri-coloured Convolvulus, Blue-spotted Butterfly, Hummingbird Hawk Moth, Narrow Bordered Burnet Moth, Sage Skipper, Knapweed Fritillary and Iberian Marbled White. Also seen were Small Copper, Orange Tip and Gatekeepers. A Black Kite and Common Buzzard were also seen. poppiesWe reached our apartment late afternoon and were introduced to Peter McCloud who owns La Guzmana, www.laguzmana.com Situated close to where we would be visiting the majority of the sites, this lovely villa with its numerous rooms to rent was well placed, with a swimming pool to use and 5 acres of ground to explore. So this was to be our bed and breakfast base for the next five nights. Day 2 – Serra Blancoquilla. A road side stop to scan a high ridge added Alpine Swifts, Choughs (red-billed), Black Wheatear and a fly over Golden Eagle to our list. A Dartford Warbler called from the adjacent thick scrub and eventually gave good views – albeit quickly. Lang’s Orchids was another lifer for me and further along at another road side stop we watched a Short-toed Eagle this time carrying a snake. Rock Sparrows, Black-eared Wheatear, Lesser Kestrel and Woodpigeons were seen along with eighty six Choughs which was great to see. At an olive grove stop we watched Fan Tailed Warblers, Short-toed Lark and Thekla Lark. A ploughed field rewarded us with two pairs of Montagu’s Harrier hunting which was a lovely sight. Calandra Larks, Hoopoes, Linnets and Crag Martins added to a fast growing list. Late morning saw us visiting Serra de Yaguas – Spain’s largest salt lake. There was a good mix of birds to view from the roadside including Black Winged Stilts, Greater Flamingo’s, Gull-billed Terns, Kentish Plover, Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Common Redshank, Gadwall, Avocet and a distant White Stork. We visited a hide which overlooked a lagoon and added Coot, Red-crested and Common Pochards, White-headed Ducks, Little Stint, Iberian Wagtail (blue-headed race), Great Reed Warbler, Shelduck, Lapwing and Little Grebes. Lifers included Scarce Swallowtail butterfly (paler with stripes on the wings), Black Veined White butterfly, Broad Scarlet and Epaulette Dragonflies. After dinner we headed off to Puenta de Piedra where we watched a White Stork at its nest site complete with one fast growing chick, fourteen Black Kites sat in the bare trees and two more Lesser Kestrels. At the Mirador de Cartarranus we watched 10,000+ pairs of breeding Greater Flamingo’s in the centre of the salt lake and at a nearby rough track that led to a large disused farm we watched several Yellow Wagtails (adults and juveniles), Little Owl, four more Montagu’s Harriers, Melodious Warbler, Hoopoe and a Black Rat. That evening back at our accommodation we saw a Garden Dormouse scurrying through the Lawson Cypress hedge and at dusk we counted 29 Greater Mouse-eared Bats leaving the roost site which consisted of several bat boxes on the eaves of the inner courtyard. calandraDay 3 – Serra de Ronda area. From the villa in the early morning whilst waiting for Peter we listened to a distant Cuckoo and a Short-toed Eagle flew overhead. Elsewhere at various stops we watched numerous Blue Rock Thrushes, Wren, Peregrine Falcon, a family group of Stonechats and several Iberian Ibex on the tops of the ridges. Iberian Wall Lizards were seen here and there and a stop to look at a Woodchat Shrike gave us an Orphean Warbler singing in the background which we managed to see as well. More Hoopoes were seen and a Nuthatch added to the list. This stunning Cork Oak woodland had a good mix of birds too including Sub-alpine and Bonelli’s Warblers which are always great to see. New species of butterfly for me included Spanish Gatekeeper, Moroccan Orange Tip (the male was an incredible bright yellow), Holly Blue and Bath White. A Brimstone was also seen as was a small herd of Red Deer and a large Carpenter Bee was also a lifer. More Lang’s Orchids were seen along with the last of the flowering Peony’s but a Sawfly Orchid was a welcome lifer with its delicately patterned flowers. On the way to our lunch stop we saw several Oscillated Lizards on the road. Mike coined the term ‘squashilated lizards’ for those that didn’t make it safely across. Cueves de Gatteau – cave of the cat so named due to its large entrance hole with what looks to be two smaller holes above representing the eyes of a cat gave us numerous breeding Alpine Swifts but sadly no White-rumped Swifts were in yet. A Woodchat Shrike perched up on a post had a small lizard in its beak, no doubt food for a hungry youngster close by? Another river stop gave us more Cettis and Melodious Warblers, Kingfisher flying downstream, two light-morph Booted Eagles overhead and a pair of Isabelline Warblers (formally known as western Olivaceous Warbler). A Dingy Skipper was a lifer. A Spectacled Warbler at a nearby mountain track was heard only. That evening in the villa grounds we added Short-toed Treecreeper to the list. Day 4 – Ossuna Triangle and surrounding areas. The Ossuna Triangle is an area 21x15km and comprises Marcheta and Ecijia. A pair of Stone Curlews had a chick with them as they scurried along a path not far from the road with several other adults seen under the shade of the Olive trees in the groves. Numerous species were seen in the area and included Iberian Grey Shrikes (10+) and a lifer for me. Four Booted Eagles were circling together and we added Common Whitethroat to the list. A stop at an abandoned railway bridge gave commanding views over several large fields and a damp area where we counted well over sixty Common Pratincoles feeding. Peter was hoping for Little Bustard that can be seen here and so scanned the fields hard. A fly-by Glossy Ibis was nice. Oil Beetles scurried about on the ground – large black beetles with red markings making them look quite intimidating. Eventually the scanning paid off as Peter picked out a distant pair of Little Bustards along with two Black-bellied Sandgrouse close by which was unexpected. sawflyOur guide took us to a series of derelict buildings where Rollers breed and we were not disappointed as we had views of two pairs flying about, calling and chasing each other from a safe disance as not to disturb them. A pair of Lesser Kestrels perched up on the ruins and several Hoopoes and Red-rumped Swallows were flying about. As we left the area I spotted a shape on the skyline at the top of a large field and it turned out to be a Great Bustard which was a welcome find for the trip. A Short-toed Eagle gave excellent close views as it slowly but purposely drifted over the same field. As we were leaving the area along the main road I spotted a raptor perched up in a dead tree across a field – this was worth a quick scan as I thought I saw a light belly. As suspected it was one of two Black-winged Kites – a great bird to see and very rewarding. After dinner we visited two lagoons to see what species were present, and at Laguna de Lintejiuela we added Sand Martin, Black-necked Grebe and Purple Gallinule to the list. The distant Tamarisks had 40+ pairs of Cattle Egrets breeding in them and Mike picked out several Night Herons. Laguna de la Ballestrera gave us a large group of Gull-billed Terns and I picked out two Whiskered terns mixed in. Waders included a Ruff, several Curlew Sandpipers in breeding plumage, Kentish and Ringed Plovers, Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a Black-winged Stilt. Back in the mountain area in Ronda we watched a Peregrine mobbing a light-morph Booted Eagle and several Yellow-legged Gulls passed overhead. Day 5 – Grazelama area. This is a region I am familiar with from previous visits but it was nice to be back in this area of stunning mountain scenery, fields of cereals and Coriander with their white flowers, reservoirs and lush covered hillsides of many varieties of flora. Hoopoe and Bee eaters were the first species seen along with more Black Wheatears and Blue Rock Thrushes. A drive along a rough track through some lovely woodland gave us Robin and numerous Bonelli’s Warblers, Nightingales, Blackcaps, Seren, a Golden Oriole calling and in an open area a Booted Eagle chasing off a Honey Buzzard. Reed Warbler was new for the list and a Small Heath butterfly was a lifer for me. We followed the rough track up onto the mountain top where the area opened out. Broomrape was growing in groups here and there but had sadly gone over. Spanish Broom including an endemic species was lovely to see with its bright yellow flowers. A Sub-alpine Warbler called and as usual we were never far away from numerous Griffon Vultures following the contours of the ridges. As we descended we stopped to look at a smart female Stonechat which was soon joined by the brighter coloured male and two lovely Hawfinches flew across the open valley giving quick but excellent views. Elsewhere in the region at a number of stops we watched Rock Buntings and Seren feeding at a water trough. We had passed several Lang’s Orchids again at the roadside and Peter promised me that we would see a species of orchid I have always wanted to see – and true to his word along a short section of roadside there they were – Lizard Orchids – a lifer and one species I have always wanted to see, and I was not disappointed. Cleopatra butterflies added to my lifer list and more Spanish Fritillaries were seen. Panopses Blue butterfly was a lifer too and several groups of Pyramidal orchids were also found. lizardorchidSwallowtail butterflies showed well and we got to see an endemic species of tree – Pinsapo Pines, pre-glacial trees and endemics too. The pines were quite brightly coloured which added another dimension to the trees. Jerusalem Sage was also a lifer and on the track back down we watched several Black Wheatears, Blue Rock Thrushes, a male Black Redstart with a Cuckoo and Golden Oriole heard calling. After lunch we visited another site within a wooded area where we were shown a Cork Oak believed to be around 600 years old. Yellow Lupin and Spanish Lavender were lifers but as I knelt down to take a photo I found several Tongue Orchids – also a lifer. Bee Eaters showed close in the area and as we followed a track through the wooded area we also found Blue Lupin and several more Sawfly Orchids along with a few ‘monochronic’ varieties. At our last mountain stop of the trip we enjoyed views of a number of mountain species including Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Black-eared Wheatear, Black Redstart and of course the ever present Griffon Vultures. A few more Ibex were seen on the tops. Well it was a brilliant five days with two bird lifers for me and numerous butterfly and plant species which were lifers. The company was great and our guide was second to none. Well recommended as a trip and a return trip to see the area again and of course meet up with Peter will always be a possibility? We had a total of 125 bird species which was an excellent amount and beautiful weather too which always makes a difference and the trip ended on a high with a pair of Monk Parakeets on the runway lights at the airport. Our thanks to Peter Jones, Senior Wildlife Guide www.spanishnature.com for the excellent company, plenty of birds and wildlife and for the driving to some incredible sites, to Peter McCloud of La Guzmana www.laguzmana.com for the comfortable and excellent accommodation.
Pictures: Black Eared Wheatear, Holly Blue, Poppies, Calandra Lark, Sawfly Orchid, Lizard Orchid and Ronda landscape.