Saturday, 31 May 2008

Seeing the Changes 102

In Oxwich, there was lots of orchids, including the Pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis). There were also masses of Yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor), Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis), Annual stonecrop (Sedum annum) as well as budding Biting stonecrop (Sedum acre) on the dunes. In addition to Common blue (Polyommatus icarus), there was lots of Small heath (Coenonympha pamphilus) butterfly activity as well as the striking presence of the Chrysomela populi beetle and Bush cricket nymphs. Lots of Common wave (Cabera exanthemata) moth on the rattle.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Seeing the Changes 101

In Bynea, the Thrift (Armeria maritima) is visited by a Caddis fly (probably Glyphotaelius pellucidus) and the Prickly sow-thistle (Sonchus asper) is in flower. Between Swansea and Blackpill, lots of Dog rose (Rosa canina) and Burnet rose (Rosa pimpinellifolia) are blooming. Also joined by Yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor), Buckshorn plantain (Plantago coronopus) and Sea stock (Matthiola sinuata). On the Fennel in that location spotted my first Pine ladybird (Exochromus 4-pustulatus).

Birder's Bonus 23

It looks as if the House martins (Delichon urbica) have ceased nesting under the eaves of the old Sports Pavilion at Swansea University. They used to be present there in numbers but the laying down of the all-weather sports track has removed convenient sources of their muddy building materials. I bet nobody thought of that.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Eager for Beaver?

The obsession surrounding the 're-introduction' of the eradicated UK beaver gathers momentum in Scotland ( and Wales ( but not yet in Beverley Yorkshire (so-called because of its former burgeoning beaver populations). The animals intended for the scheme are European beaver (Castor fiber) and are likely to be taken from Norwegian populations. There have been supposedly 'successful' reintroduction in Latvia and Russia but the plans fit somewhat oddly with concerns about 'alien species' by some of the same UK bodies associated with the beaver projects ( and The main argument seems to be that the beaver is not an alien but a natural resident that was 'unfortunately' removed and 'belongs here'. The whole debate ( about what is 'alien' and what 'natural' is very complex (the new claim that there are about 988 alien species in Scotland seems a gross under-estimate when one considers the impact of gardening and agriculture). It can be argued that the beaver has been absent from UK locations for hundreds of years, land use has changed dramatically in that time, human populations have altered and we cannot be certain what wide-ranging effects beaver re-introduction might have on water systems and other species(except that the programme will be costly). I appreciate that the Coypu (Myocastor coypus) was 'South American' but it proved very costly to eradicate this large rodent (not too different from the beaver in its life-style) from the Norfolk Broads where it was suggested it was causing serious damage to the ecosystem. I am not anti-beaver but the present developments seem to be driven by personal enthusiasms that might well quickly change.

My friend, Simon Allen of the Gower Bird Hospital, seems currently relatively unenthusiastic about introducing an effectively new species (such as the beaver) into local, already marginalised wildlife populations. He notes that some people don't appear to appreciate the wildlife that we have (without adding to their excuses?), sending me the above image of the trap that was removed from a location near Neath with a fox cub in it.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Abbotsbury Bounces Back?

News ( that that Dorset-based swannery which suffered an outbreak of the deadly H5N1 strain of avian 'flu ( currently has 'record numbers of cygnets' is encouraging. It is claimed to show that more than Barnes Wallis' dam buster's bomb can 'bounce back' on the Fleet lagoon (the device was tested there before the World War 2 attack on the Ruhr dams). It must, of course, be noted that the numbers of cygnets produced is to a large extent dependent on the management of the swans (in terms of nest sites provided, failures to remove 'surplus' eggs, encouragement of efficient breeding pairs to take on extra eggs etc) because in some years (given the limited capacity of the site), productivity has been deliberately restricted. The claim that the swans have developed 'immunity to the disease' seems a touch optimistic. This news story interestingly has emerged at the start of the Centre's 'visitor season' and presumably will help ensure that people are not put off from coming to see the swan flock.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Post People?

The possible fate of Earth after the demise of its entire human population is explored again in a TV programme 'Life After People' ( Given the presumed impacts of anthropogenic (caused by human intervention) factors on global climate and world ecosystems, disappearance of we primates would not be uniformly negative for the planet. The programme apparently has lots of fancy computer-generated images to appear to show how relatively quickly most of the evidence for human presence would disappear (the Pyramids, the Hoover dam, the Mount Rushmore Heads and the Great Wall of China are predicted to be among the last to go). A very high percentage of the animals and plants that have been domesticated (in one sense, 'hitching a ride' on human success) would mostly also be in serious trouble. Some environments (notable the seas) are suggested to really benefit from the removal of human pressures. I presume that amongst the varied reasons for producing this type of programme are entertainment (we like a horror story and it even generates advertising), to scare our species into behaving a little more responsibly (this seems unlikely given the recent demos against fuel charges and potential increase in 'road tax' on high polluting vehicles marginally increasing public understanding of the impact of humans on world ecosystems. Naturally, quite a high degree of speculation involved (no matter how convincing the graphics). The actual global outcomes may well depend on a) how much damage is done to the planet before our convenient extinction (extinction being eventually, sooner or later, the likely fate of all species) and b) whether any set of circumstances in the short to medium term would 'take out' our entire species globally with no possibility of a 'come back'. Further, if 'b' proved not to be the case, would we learn? One thing seems self evident, there is plenty of scope for the Earth to 'bounce back' without us.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Seeing the Changes 100

Black knapweed (Centaurea nigra), Southern marsh orchid (Dactylorhiza praetermissa), Tufted vetch (Vicia cracca) and Thrift (Armeria maritima) were in flower in Bynea. The first of the Ribbed melilot (Melilotus officinalis) was also peeking through and there was a profusion of Bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara) along the cycle route. In Loughor, the pink flowers of the alien Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) were in evidence.

Birder's Bonus 22

Tragedy for the two Blue tits (Parus caeruleus) using the ornamental vase in my garden as a nest site (Birder's Bonus 17 Posted 24th April 2008)! I had worried about their possibly getting flooded out in heavy rain but I discovered the vase on its side today with 5 small bodies along side it. I suspect neighbourhood cats who regularly frequent my garden. I know it's highly anthropomorphic (a 'crime' in my area of Science) but I much preferred seeing my two small residents busily popping in and out of their clay home from the early hours to the well-stuffed fleabags coming into my garden to lurk or defaecate. Goodbye guys and thanks for the memories!

Friday, 23 May 2008

Seeing the Changes 99

In Swansea, Tutsan (Hypericum androsaemum), Wood speedwell (Veronica montana) and White mignonette (Reseda alba) are in flower. In Bynea, the Southern marsh orchid (Dactylorhiza praetermissa) and Marsh stitchwort (Stellaria palustris) were both blooming.

Birder's Bonus 21

Much e-excitement on the campus about the Herring gulls (Larus argentatus) ground-nesting behind some old furniture opposite a car park. This is obviously a bit of a deviation from their normal cliff top breeding locations (where they can avoid terrestrial predators such as fox) and it is likely that these birds are part of the 'over-spill' from the populations nesting on the flat roofs of the University Buildings (Wallace, the Science Tower etc). The birds in the 'RSPB-protected' nest may well run into trouble with local cats and other local wildlife (including Jackdaws). Birds in roof-top locations are often discouraged from nesting by introducing trained birds of prey (e.g. a Harris hawk) or even a robot raptor. It will be interesting, if the 'proud parents' get to the stage of 'diving-bombing' and c***ing over people who stray too near the nest for the bird's comfort.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008


A report ( suggests that House mice introduced about 150 years ago from whaling boats to Gough island (a British-owned, World Heritage site) in the South Atlantic have become a major predator of the chicks of endangered seabird species including petrel, shearwater and the Gough albatross. The mice (there are estimated to be more than 0.5m on this small island of about 6500 hectares) can reportedly reach about three times the size of their commensal cousins (circa 100g) and have switched their diet from seeds, spiders and insects (presumably in short supply on Gough) to eating the defenseless chicks of ground nesting birds. Although the fat-rich chicks are much larger than their 'predators' (they are more than 300 times their size), the parent birds cannot defend them when the mice 'attack' the nests at night (mice are generally nocturnal whereas the birds depend on vision). It has been estimated that currently the mortality of chicks on the island has reached 60%. The birds essentially nest on the island because it was free of terrestrial mammal predators. This lack has apparently also benefited the mice (normally limited by cats, owls and birds of prey) allowing them to increase in size without becoming more prone to being attacked. The RSPB are horrified by this development but one can't help being impressed by how the highly adaptable House mouse has evolved to exploit this niche! Of course, if unchecked, the situation is likely to be unsustainable (once the birds stop breeding in numbers, the mice will have little to eat and their numbers are likely to crash). Looks like another job for the removers of inadvertently introduced species!

Monday, 19 May 2008

Going to Town?

There is a recent report from Natural England ( suggesting that much of our wildlife is disappearing from the countyside at an escalating rate with some species becoming 'urbanised'. They broadly suggest that many birds and insects are now more likely to be found in urban gardens and on 'brownfield' sites than on intensively-farmed lowland agricultural areas. This may reflect the lower levels of disturbance in these 'new' areas. Some 40 species of insects are now exclusively found in towns where there have also been large increases the numbers of some bird species (e.g. Great tit, Green woodpecker, Goldfinch and Pigeon). More than half the summer roosts of some bat species are in man-made structures less than 30 years old. It is suggested that wildlife conservation is largely concentrated on protected areas (e.g. national parks) with surrounding locations being increasingly threatened by development and climate change. Many people seem to hope that conservation issues gain a stronger priority when planning to develop airports, roads, major housing developments, flood defenses and tidal barrages etc. There are, of course, several ways of looking at these phenomena. In one sense, the UK countryside is an artificial construct that resulted from early agricultural processes and the wild animals we associate with it were those that adapted to the environments that were created. In modern times, one could argue, the balance has switched so organisms benefit by adapting to urban environments where they are actively (bird feeders) or indirectly (increased numbers of the small birds detailed above as prey items, along with 'high rise' nesting sites for Peregrine falcon etc) encouraged. Human waste also encourages a whole range of organisms who find the material provides easy pickings. It could also be (because there is a less obvious direct economic influence) that, for some species, 'townies' are more tolerant than country folk. We have to go back an awful long way before humans were not a major influence on UK wildlife. In what real sense is Natural England natural?

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Seeing the Changes 98

On the dunes of Llangennith, Sea spurge (Euphorbia paralias) and Hoary stock (Matthiola incana) were in flower. A small bee, probably Panurgus banksianus, was also active. Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) lurked in the hedgerows.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Don't Count On It!

News that Channel 5 is to carry a story of a 'Mathematical Dog' (Maggie) claimed to be able to do additions and subtractions by pressing a buzzer is further indication that anything that has been invented will be re-invented. The whole concept appears taken from the early 1900's when Kluger Hans (Clever Hans) the famous calculating horse (,GGLR:2006-25,GGLR:en) was trained by maths teacher Wilhelm von Osten. This animal was thought (by moving its leg repeatedly) to be able to do maths problems (including square roots) and to answer questions (by moving its head) posed in a variety of languages. Von Osten appeared convinced that the horse was demonstrating its intelligence as being about the same level as a reasonably educated person but it seems that the animal was actually responding to subtle cues from its trainer (slight, inadvertent movements or a slight intake of breath) by ceasing moving its leg when it reached the right answer. It couldn't answer any question when its trainer (who was probably not aware of what he was doing) couldn't see it on a blackboard that was in the horse's view! I suspect that the dog 'genius' trainers are only too aware of what they are doing, so this is really a party trick involving clever training. Don't expect your dog to start doing your accounts any time soon!

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Seeing the Changes 97

The first froghopper (Philaenus spumarius) nymphs were cuckoo spitting in Bynea. In addition in that location, the Small white (Pieris napi) was in flight and the hoverfly (Helophilus pendulus) basking. In terms of flowers, Hemlock (Conium maculatum), Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris), Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris), Cut-leaved cranesbill (Geranium dissectum), Sea arrow grass (Triglochin maritima), the reed Juncus effusus, Smooth sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus), Mouse-ear hawkweed (Hieracium pilosella) and Nettle (Urtica dioica) were all prominent. The last three mentioned were also in Loughor along with Common comfrey (Symphytum officinale). Loughor was also 'blessed' with the Common earwig (Forficula auricularis), the beetle Harpalus affinis, a Spotted cranefly (Nephrotoma appendiculata) and the fly Ophyra leucostoma. In Gorseinon, the Broad-leaved willowherb (Epilobium montanum) and Himalayan cotoneaster (Cotoneaster simonsii) were in flower.

Seeing the Changes 1470

Traveller's joy ( Clematis vitalba ) in flower in Loughor.