Friday, 31 July 2009

Birder's Bonus 56

The National Botanical Gardens Wales near Carmarthen seems to be a real boon for birds. House sparrows (Passer domesticus) can sleep in its Great Greenhouse. Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) can beg in its walled garden and Coot (Fulica atra) can, with delicate parental punishment, encourage their maturing chicks to become independent feeders.

Extinction Central?

It has been claimed that a 6th mass extinction event is occurring in the Southern hemisphere ( that is broadly equivalent to the Cretaceous-Tertiary event (perhaps related to that wiped out the dinosaurs some 65 m years ago. Humans (via their population increases, pollution generation and transport of alien species) are blamed for the apparent loss of species in Australia, New Zealand, South America and the numerous Pacific Islands. It may be worth adding one or two points. Firstly, humans in the Southern hemisphere are generally poorer than those in the Northern half of the world, meaning that conservation is less likely to receive substantial support. Secondly, many of the locations in the Southern hemisphere are islands and, as such, are home to specialist endemic (limited to that location only) species which are especially vulnerable to pollution events and the effects of deliberately and accidentally introduced alien species. Clearly, humans are having important effects on species in Northern latitudes but there may be a greater time lag. One could also argue that the Northern hemisphere generates a greater human impact in world terms than the South.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Taking the Wind Out of Their Sales?

The news that RSPB Scotland has formally opposed the Viking Energy Project (what would have been Scotland's largest community wind farm in the Shetland Islands generating 540 MW of electricity) raises several issues ( Their major concerns appear to be that the turbines would endanger some rare birds including the Golden plover and the Whimbrel. This position results in pessimistic noises from some business-related individuals ( It is actually very difficult to do a proper analysis on the costs versus benefits of such a development (in one sense, global warming wouldn't be good for the birds). The difficulty is that on such issues, business and the bird lobbies tend to have the loudest voices. Even the RSPB recognises that there are benefits in 'green' energy generation. It seems to me that one cannot get much movement towards renewables without causing local problems for some people and some organisms but the results of doing nothing may well be worse.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Seeing the Changes 220

In Oxwich, the rain had brought out interesting orange fungi. There was lots of Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis), some Hop trefoil (Trifolium campestre), a few Lesser butterfly orchid (Platanthera bifolia) and a local white version of Rest-harrow (Ononis repens). The Stone bramble (Rubus saxatilis) had ripe fruit. In addition to the whirling masses of Gatekeeper, Meadow brown, Common blue and Small blue butterflies, there were now many Six spot burnet moth (Zygaena filipendulae) and the first appearance (the wings were not yet fully inflated) of the Grayling butterfly (Hipparchia semele). Dark bush cricket (Pholidoptera griseoaptera) were much in evidence. Beetles were represented by the first annual appearance of Cteniopus sulphureus and the Garden chafer (Phyllopertha horticola). Fly species seemed to be pre-occupied in mating and these included both hoverflies (Melanostoma sp) and robberflies (Pamponerus germanicus). Lots of activity amongst the flowers by the solitary bee Colletes halophilus.

Birder's Bonus 55

In Oxwich, got some nice shots of Linnet (Acanthis cannabina) returning with food and House martin (Delichon urbica) in a feeding frenzy over the dunes. The following day, in Bynea, Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) were desperately eating thistle seeds in the pouring rain.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Seeing the Changes 219

The Mountain ash (Sorbus acuparia) is full of berries in Swansea and interesting fungi have appeared after the heavy rains. In Loughor, Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum) berries is starting to redden.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Biological Control and Japanese Knotweed II

It has been announced that Dr Dick Shaw and his team at CABI hope to go field trials in an attempt to use a jumping plant louse (a psyllid) as a vector to introduce a leaf spot pathogen (mycosphaerella) to the masses of highly damaging Japanese knotweed in the UK. I can certainly appreciate the importance of trying to deal with this alien plant (Swansea is Japanese knotweed central) which was introduced as an alien species by gardeners who thought it was rather attractive. The hope is (and many laboratory tests appear to have been carried out to establish this over some 7 years) that both the vector and the disease agent are highly host specific and will simply die out when the host plant is eradicated. The results of their tests are available on the DEFRA web site for public consultation ( I personally retain some reservations about the whole process (and have been contacted by both local newspapers and radio on this topic). Less than 50% of biological control attempts have the desired effects and some attempts (e.g. the Cane toad in Australia and the mongoose in Hawaii) have led to environmental disasters that persist to today. In deed, psyllids are major problems for Eucalyptus trees in many parts of the world and you can't test for every eventuality when the agents go 'wild' over what might be quite an extended period. Japanese knotweed is a particular problem as biological control tends to work better when it is directed to the reproductive stages of problem plants but this weed can propagate itself without sex via tiny bits of root that remain in the soil (only very high temperatures will destroy them). The Western Mail carried a story on this ( and I raised some of my concerns in a radio programme (

Where Are All the (Green) Heroes?

Given their citizen's reputation for a 'green' lifestyle, it is somewhat surprising to learn that 6 of Europe's 10 biggest carbon polluting power stations are coal-fired establishments located in Germany ( According to the organisation 'Sandbag', these power stations annually belch out a total of around 118 M tonnes of carbon dioxide (the fact that Poland has the number one polluting location is less remarkable). The usual reasons for the reliance on coal are advanced including security of supply (not always dependable in the case of natural gas from Russia) but, given the German Government's generous subsidies for solar energy etc, the outcomes are disappointing.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Buzzed Off the Road?

There has been a lot of debate about the decline of Bumblebees in the UK. It may be a small contributing factor but, whilst running along one side of the Loughor Bridge road (about 100-150M in length), I counted 13 carcasses.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Seeing the Changes 218

In Bynea, the Bramble (Rubus fruticosus) had black berries and Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) was heavily in berry. In that location, there was also lots of Marsh sow-thistle (Sonchus palustris), Red bartsia (Odontites verna), Marjoram (Origanum vulgare) and Knot grass (Polygonum aviculare) in flower. In Penclawydd, a Green-veined white butterfly (Pieris napi) appeared between the showers. In Loughor, the alien Snowberry (Symphorocarpos albus) had its snow berries. Meadow grasshoppers (Chorthippus parallelus) hopped and a Buff-tip moth (Phalera bucephala) pretended to be a bit of Silver birch twig.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Biting Off More Than They Can Chew

There is one of these whimsical stories about a Florida alligator and a Burmese python being found locked in a mutually destructive embrace in the Everglades ( It seems that the snake, which had lost its head, had tried to swallow the alligator and had burst in the attempt. Of course, the fact that the python is not native to the location (a redundant 'pet'?) may have mean't that it was not skilled in its selection of appropriate prey. Another possibility is that the python, whilst resting with its prey inside it, had its head bitten off by a third predator and the subsequent decay of its muscles led to the bursting of its body.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Piggy in the Middle?

It's difficult to know where the UK is in relation to the pandemic of swine 'flu but it does seem a bit strange that this country is apparently third (after Mexico and the USA) in terms of the number of cases confirmed and the reported deaths (now including a few individuals with seemingly no underlying disease conditions). This is even more strange, given the provision of anti-virals and our distance from the initial outbreak. One can't help but wonder whether the levels of reporting might vary a bit from country to country. The latest levels of swine 'flu in the UK and its apparent virulence (in some individuals) seem to have surprised even some experts ( Some even suspect that the viral agent might increase in virulence. Although a vaccine is reported to be near to human trials, it will be months before it is available in meaningful quantities. It looks as if autumn will be quite exciting.

Birder's Bonus 54

A Herring gull (Larus argentatus) chick was trapped in a brier patch in Bynea. Eventually managed to free itself, after some encouragement.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009


So it has finally been confirmed by Dr Karen McComb of Sussex University that cats exploit people ( The evil felids have apparently learned to 'hide' otherwise irritating cries for food within 'pleasurable' purring. This results in the poor, targeted human having a sense of urgency triggered in their brain so that they feel compelled to hand over food. I never did trust those sneaky moggies!

Seeing the Changes 217

Visted in Loughor by a Grass eggar (Lasiocampa trifolii) moth. Much later, after the rain in Bynea, blessed by a Gatekeeper butterfly (Pyronia tithonus) and a 6-spot Burnet moth (Zygaena filipendulae).

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Bladdered Badgers

There was a report of a drunken (having eaten fermented cherries) European badger (Meles meles) bringing traffic to a halt in Germany ( The poor animal had diarrhoea but fell asleep on the motorway. It had to be pushed to safety with a broom.

Seeing the Changes 216

Hemlock (Conium maculatum) is in seed in Penclacwydd. In that location, Bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara) and Bramble (Rubus fruticosus) berries were now in shades of red. In Bynea, Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) had many a sloe. Common fleabane (Pulicaria dysenterica), Water pepper (Polygonum hydropiper), Common figwort (Scrophularia nodosa), Marsh woundwort (Stachys palustris) as well as Marsh mallow (Malva officinalis) are in flower and a Common shrew (Sorex araneus) lays dead on the cycle path. In Caswell, the Traveller's joy (Clematis vitalba), Bell heather (Erica cinerea), Lesser burdock (Arctium minus) and Wood sage (Teucrium scorodonia) are all in flower.

Bee Bereavement?

Bees are very important insect pollinators. Some species are, of course, also commercially-important because they produce honey and bees-wa...