Recorders Newsletter 20

Recorders Newsletter 20

Recorders Newsletter 20

Recorders Newsletter 20 (Autumn 2009)

This September, the Wales Biodiversity Partnership held its annual get-to-together at the University of Glamorgan in Pontypridd. As part of the event we, in the RCT Countryside Section, arranged and led a walk over Llantrisant’s two Commons. About 30 ecologists from various parts of Wales came along. Suffice to say they seemed to love it, and the glorious oranges, yellows, russets and browns of Llantrisant Common SSSI speckled with a thousand flowering heads of devil’s-bit scabious. Down on a cattle trodden stream bank, where Cornish moneywort thrives (and believe me getting cattle trodden is essential for its survival) 30 ecologists eagerly huddled round to glimpse a carpet of the subtle beauty of this scarce and diminutive plant in amongst the ‘old penny’ sized leaves of common pennywort and the unbelievable delicate and beautiful ivy-leaved bellflower. Then we went onto the Graig Common, via an ancient high hedged lane, where we witnessed the early benefits of bracken management with carpets of dog violet, and bitter vetch, red campion, devil’s-bit scabious, betony and saw-wort, and marvellous views across the beautiful Border Vale to the distance shapes of Exmoor on the far blue horizon. It all made me realise how lucky we are.

Migration in Miskin

Saturday, September 12th 2009 was a calm, warm sunny day. On the previous Friday evening, and through most of Saturday, I’d noticed groups of swallows flying from a west to south-east direction over Miskin. After tea on Saturday evening I stood in the front garden – leaning against the car – and for an hour watched well in excess of 700 swallows (probably over a thousand) passing overhead flying in the same southeasterly direction. Every few minutes they came through in little bursts of 10 or 20 or occasionally 50 birds. Most seemed to be short tailed juveniles, but perhaps 1 in 10 had long adult tail-streamers. Touchingly, as they went they chirruped re-assuring contact calls to one another. From the height they were flying, they could obviously see the Bristol Channel, and they were all heading for it. I was just amazed and delighted to witness migration in action. By 7:15 pm the flow of birds stopped and on the Sunday I saw just a few dozen following the same flight path. This all reminded me of Graham Powell’s report from September 21st last year when at Llanilid (Llanharan) he was ‘mesmerised by the number of swallows flying east. I counted at least two or three hundred birds a minute passing low overhead, with over 3000 birds passing in the 15 minutes I was there. Absolutely amazing’. Paul Marshman has also previously described watching hundreds of swallows moving south through the Rhondda in the autumn (and again this year Paul has seen up to 500 birds moving through on one day). These swallows are moving from further north or west and have funnelled down the south Wales Valleys to emerge on the edge of the Bristol Channel. Paul suggested that these might well be Irish birds heading south to their winter roosts in deepest South Africa.

To show that the seasons are ‘on the cusp’, Paul also reminded me that in a few weeks he’ll be anticipating Icelandic redwings migrating on the same routes down the Rhondda, and away from artic winter blasts which will follow.

What does it all go to prove? Well firstly, it all confirms that wildlife watching is something you can do very nicely from your own doorstep. Secondly that those earlier reports from Paul and Mike got me thinking, and when I started seeing groups of swallows on the Friday evening, I remembered what they had witnessed, and kept watching the western sky. If I hadn’t, I would have missed something very significant and rather moving.

Weather

I hardly need to relive the wash out summer we had, although on the positive side May and some of June was pretty dry and warm, and again we’ve had a splendid September. However Julys and Augusts do seem to have turned (hopefully only temporarily) into the semi-monsoon wet season. To illustrate this, Paul Marshman (PM) measured 14.2 inches of rain in Llwynypia in July 2009, compared with 30 inches for the previous 6 months. For Paul this was the wettest July since 1998 and second wettest in the last 30 years, and telling, 3 of the 4 wettest Julys over that period have happened in the last four years. Glyn Jones in Treforest also reported a wet July, with 11.15 inches of rain and 5.1 inches of the drizzly variety in August. When I visited Kent in August, it was obvious that they had had very little rainfall all summer, and all was warm and sunny - there was brown grass and ripe Victoria plums everywhere. It’s not very far from Pontypridd to Tenterden, but the very strikingly different weather conditions must have impacts on wildlife and must help to explain some of the biodiversity differences.

Birds

I had some very interesting feedback from Wayne Morris on the kite, which spent last winter at Clydach Vale. As Wayne said ‘the emerging view is that it was a yellow-billed kite considered to be a sub-species of black kite and resident to South Africa’. So the bird, which got so use to hot buttered toast for breakfast at Clydach Vale was probably an aviary escape.

The BBCs Springwatch programme gave a lot of attention to the fate of Britain’s cuckoos. So it was very nice to hear that David Gordon heard his first birds of the year at Cefnpennar on April 29th, with two birds singing by late May. Mark Evans (ME) had cuckoo at Dare Valley Country Park from June 12th ad Paul (M) had singing birds from Glyncornel from late May. I checked up on the Springwatch 2009 Cuckoo Map (which they posted on their web site) and it was very noticeable how reports from RCT were all from the northern half of the Borough, with the most southerly report coming from Tonyrefail. It is interesting that a local issue i.e. the disappearance of cuckoos from the south of the Borough, which we started to pick up from your reports over five years ago, is now something which is being noticed and reported at a much greater national scale – it suggests that cuckoos have big problems everywhere.

Good news from one of our most endangered summer migrants came in the sightings of spotted flycatcher at Cefnpennar (ME and David Gordon), and Helen Bradley at Glyncornel (early July). Nightjar (another one of our favourites) was present at Gwaun Helen, Cefnpennar on May 31st (ME) and Mark also had the record for the latest or is that earliest ‘churring’ bird.... when he heard one at 3:50 am on Graig Y Llyn on June 27th. Two ‘churring’ birds were also present on the cleared forestry above Glyncornel, Tonypandy on May 28th (PM).

Ade Williams reports a fantastic sighting of a peregrine in May, ‘Returning from Cardiff on A470 early afternoon. On taking the turn off for Tonteg at Upper Boat I saw a Tiercel Peregrine carrying a pigeon (could not id both until it landed) across the dual carriageway over the Taff landing atop a small electricity pylon on the Tonteg Rd. I stopped close by, grabbed the bins' and watched for 1/2 an hour whilst the Tiercel plucked and ate most of the pigeon whilst 2 Magpies tried to take advantage in the hope they could pirate the kill. They left after a few minutes but returned with troops, now 4 Magpies. These caused the Tiercel to leave with the pigeon remains, flying back across the Taff and out of sight toward Hawthorn’.

Red kite was present at Cefnpennar on April 21st (ME) and Mark also had willow tit at Hirwaun Sidings in early May. Swifts arrived en-masse in Pontypridd on May 5th, and the next day in Aberdare, when after not being present at all ‘the Valley suddenly seemed full of them’. The last few swifts left Pontypridd on August 10th or 11th.

Kevin Oates sent through bird reports from the Countryside Park at Barry Sidings, Hopkinstown, including suspected breeding goldfinches, regular sightings of kingfisher on the ponds, nesting moorhen and the arrival of a pair of Canada geese.

I had further reports of the barn owls in the Council building in the Rhondda. Two young have fledged and were ringed before doing so. The building works, which first alerted everyone to the birds, are now actively ‘building-in’ barn owl ‘friendly’ features. Mark Evans and Mike Hogan also heard a barn owl on Hirwaun Industrial estate in late May and heard another barn owl at Blaencynon in late June.

I saw a female redstart on June 30th in woodland on slopes below Rhiwsaeson Hill fort, Cross Inn and I saw another (probably migrant bird) with a female wheatear on Llantrisant Common on September 9th. Strinda Davies had 11 mistle thrushes on telephone wires at Llanharan on September 8th. I assume this was a family group, which with 11 birds suggests a good nesting season (damp wet ground of summer being good for worms and perhaps good for mistle thrushes?).

InSeptember little grebe were present on the lower lake Clydach Vale together with 10 moorhen and coots (PM). The raven roost in the Cynon Valley which Mark Evans monitors had a count of 344 ravens in 45 minutes in early August ...and finally Paul Marshman reports that two red kite have been present in the skies over Llwynypia this September.

Birding in Glamorgan

The launch of a new book about bird watching in Glamorgan takes place on Sat 18th October at Kenfig National Nature Reserve. Some of our best bird watching sites are included. The event at Kenfig (10-1) will feature a guided walk, bird ringing demonstration, library trolley and refreshments. And you can buy the book at a reduced price! An order form is enclosed with this newsletter for those who can’t make it.

Dare Valley Country Park Exhibition

Dare Valley is one of the sites included in Birding in Glamorgan. The new exhibition, which opened in June, features birds and bird watching, with indoor activities for families and an excellent view of the bird feeders.

The exhibition also highlights the different habitats in and around the Country Park and features excellent photos from the RSPB and Mark Evans.

Wildlife Garden

Theresa and Eddie Charnock of Miskin sent an excellent resume of wildlife in their, and their neighbours’ gardens, which obviously combine to form a real biodiversity refuge. The records included the very noteworth sighting of a tree sparrow during very cold weather in January (this is the first report of an RCT tree sparrow for quite a while) and breeding goldfinches and bullfinches. They feed the birds (with a variety of food) throughout the year, which they have noticed having a beneficial effect on the survival of young birds. Unfortunately a greater spotted woodpecker and chaffinch have been killed flying into windows, despite bird of prey silhouettes being put on all back windows (I also had a young song thrush crash into one of our windows, and kill itself, this spring). The ladybird and lacewing boxes, which they have made and set up, have also been a big success and it was good to hear that frogs are using ‘the marshy feature at the end of the garden’. It all goes to show what wildlife gardens can achieve.

Wildlife Gardening Course

A Wildlife Gardening course is being run at Garth Olwg, Church Village this autumn, beginning on Friday 6th November 9.30 to 12.30 for 6 Fridays. Cost £40. For more details contact 0800 0749133 (freephone)

Mammals

We are always glad to hear about brown hare (a local biodiversity action plan species) and Tony Yule saw one on the Llanharan Ridge on June 12th. Over recent years the open countryside between Llanharan and Tonyrefail had consistently produced records of brown hare, while very few are reported from elsewhere.

Lily Davies told us of a pipistrelle bat handed into Glyncornel with a fishing hook in it and found attached to a tree. The RSPCA treated the bat and I believe it was happily released back into Glyncornel’s grounds. Laura Palmer also told us of a probable pipistrelle roost in a building in Pontypridd. There was also good news from one of the lesser horseshoe bat maternity roosts, with the highest count yet recorded this June.

An unusual sighting was the young mink that David James saw in his and a neighbours garden at Plasdraw in July. Given their catholic taste and wide ranging nature it is perhaps surprising that we don’t get more mink reports from back gardens.

Invertebrates

Despite the unpredictable weather butterflies seem to have faired reasonably well this summer. The mixture of warmth and wet encouraged lush grass growth and the ‘brown’ family (whose larvae are all grass feeders) reacted well. Meadow browns and ringlets were both common, and speckled woods were particularly abundant along woodland edges. There were also reasonable numbers of grayling butterfliesat Dare Valley Country Park on July 8th with large numbers of two other grass feeders, the small skipper and small heath.

Two of our rare species; dingy skipper and small blues (in large numbers) were both recorded at Beddau – as a clue if you want to find small blues first look for kidney vetch (larval food plant) in a sunny situation. I was delighted to see dingy skippers at Dare Valley Country Park (a new site for the species) on June 16th and a few weeks later (on July 10) I saw 10 or more dark green fritillary at same site, with at least two egg laying females. Dark greens were also present at Clydach Vale in late June (Paul Marshman and Ben Williams) with up to up to five in mid July. There was good news for the beautiful small pearl bordered fritillary, which seemed to have good flight season.There were up to 20 at Buarth-y-Capel, Ynysybwl on June 15th , with good numbers at Parc Eirin and a number of other Tonyrefail sites (Richard Smith, Barbara Williams and Ben Williams) and similar numbers at Clydach Vale. Mark Evans, Mark Powell and Kevin Hughes reported adults from various sites on and around the Hirwaun Industrial Estate, and I also found a new colony south of Hirwaun. I was very very glad to find small pearl bordered frits on Llantrisant Common, which is the first record for this Site for at least ten years and five were still flying at Cors Bryn-y-Gaer, Hirwaun as late as July 13th.

Much to everyone’s relief, the iconic marsh fritillary, had a better year than in either 2007 or 2008. This isn’t to say that they teemed in their thousands, but the sunnier, warmer May and early June weather ensured that reasonable numbers of adults flew on their core sites. The first record was from Tonyrefail on May 21st, and in early June, Barbara Williams, Ben Williams and Richard Smith saw up to 39 in one field and up to 105 adults within a complex of 8 adjoined fields. Ben and myself saw one male marsh fritillary at Parc Eirin on June 2nd, while Mark Evans saw seven on the Blaencynon SAC, Hirwaun on May 31st and Karen Wilkinson of CCW had 10 at the same site on June 9th. A similar number were found at Bryncarnau Grasslands SSSI, LLwydcoed on June 4th. Russel Hobson while at Cors Bryn-y-Gaer saw the last adults of the year on June 23rd

I am indebted to Richard Smith for the excellent coverage of our fritillary butterflies. Richard collates a ‘frits about’ email newsletter during the summer, which keeps a running story of the fate of all the fritillary butterflies of Wales. For more details drop me a line.

Other important butterfly reports included green hairsteak at Hirwaun (ME) in early May and wall brown from Llwynypia (PM). Not so long ago the wall was a common butterfly in our area, but for some unknown reason its numbers have crashed, and these days any sighting of a wall brown (which can look a little like a fritillary butterfly) is certainly very noteworthy.

The national press covered the massive painted lady migration, which occurred in May. I certainly witnessed part of that mass movement on the morning of Sunday 24th May when in an hour 60 or so painted ladies passed me in a field at Miskin. All were flying purposefully on the same east to west bearing. Unfortunately the dreadful July rains certainly reduced the numbers of home grown painted ladies produced from these Spanish parents, and we never did get the bumper summer numbers hoped for. Having said that, I have had up to 7 red admirals on the Michaelmas daisies, and small tortoiseshells at last had a good summer, with lots of adults flying around in late August.

I’ve had a flurry of dragonfly and damselfly records. The beautiful blue male broad-bodied chasers seemed to be everywhere with reports from Cwm Colliery (Beddau), Buarth y Capel (Ynysybwl), Carnetown (Abercynon), Clydach Vale, Llantrisant Common and Hirwaun. I saw the equally blue, but more delicate keeled skimmer at Llantrisant Common and the exquisite beautiful demoiselle was at Parc Eirin and Miskin. Common blue and blue tailed damselflies were both present at Buarth Y Capel and Alan Rosney had 4 damselflies in garden pond large red, common blue, banded demoiselle and emerald. During the Wales Biodiversity Partnership walk on the Graig a golden ringed dragonfly was found and admired by many.

Mark Evans and Mike Hogan have been busy moth trapping and some highlights included Devon carpet, small seraphim, and oblique carpet all from sites at Hirwaun.

Amphibian and Reptiles

One benefit of the wet summer is that our amphibian species should have fared well. A new great crested newt site was found in the Beddau area to add to our increasing understanding of the species distribution. Helen Bradley saw 4 newts (probably palmate newts) in the pond at Glyncornel.

Plants

16 green winged orchids flowered amongst the graves in Cefn Y Parc Cemetery, with two flowers appearing in main field. Margaret Harding sent us some excellent photos. As previously reported the hay meadow management at Cefn Y Parc Cemetery is seeing real benefits in the superb wildflower meadows with fantastic numbers of common spotted orchid, black knapweed, bird’s-foot trefoil, rough hawkbit, and cowslips which cross with primroses in the hedgerows to produce the occasional false oxslips (which look like a primrose flowers on a cowslip flower stalks). Margaret kept us informed of the fate of bee orchids on the grass verges around Llantrisant and Paul Denning reported twayblades in the old quarry in Miskin.

Paul Marshman relocated areas of grass vetch in Llwynypia, while Sue Westwood of CCW located new Cornish moneywort areas on Llantrisant Common SSSI. Ben Williams recorded 20 plants of Monkshood on River Clun, Pontyclun. Like Cornish moneywort, Monkshood is something of an RCT (and in particular Ely Valley) specialist in Welsh terms.

Horse Chestnuts

Last year Mark Evans reported a new leaf-mining moth in the Cynon Valley called Cameraria ohridella which feeds on the leaves of horse chestnut trees leaving the leaves with a very distinctive, variegated look, with mottled brown feeding chambers on green leaves. This year I noticed that the moth has now found large numbers of the horse chestnuts in the Pontyclun area changing the ‘whole look’ of trees. Once seen the evidence is unmistakable and something that can’t be missed, it will be worth looking out for them next summer.

iSpot

This is a new website, from the Open University, for wildlife recorders. The site allows you to post photos of your sightings and see what others have submitted. It is appealing to beginners and experts to explore the site and aims to develop identification expertise at all levels. Definitely worth a look, especially if you have a photo of something you can’t identify, or want a second (or third) opinion! www.ispot.org.uk|

The Open University has started a Neighbourhood Nature course, another strand of their Open Air Laboratories project, of which iSpot is part.

Thanks again for all the reports and records, and apologies for any I have lost or forgotten,

Richard Wistow
Ecologist
Rhondda Cynon Taf CBC
Llwyncastan
Library Road
Pontypridd