Sunday, 26 February 2017







Driving rain dominated the day, keeping the birds tight into the trees and me counting wayward leaves and raindrops. I finally managed to acquire a few legitimate sightings, occasional glimpses of mainly solitary birds, visibly irked by the demands of their hunger.

It was the second year running that the count was washed out by the weather, but I guess that in itself is something of an accurate reflection of a rainy day in January, if not the throng of winter sunshine.

Walking through the Sanctuary it was something of a surprise when the fringe, skeletal trees broke away into dozens of starlings, as if to air an apology for the lack of avian activity. They were quickly joined by a car crash of corvids, as the jackdaws took to the deepening grey skies. Their collective lines were scruffy by comparison, as the cumbersome individuals overlapped one another in a series of near misses, vocalising their presence like helium damaged horns.

As the starlings swooped over the outermost hillside field, they dislodged a number of meadow pipits from the shallow grass. Previously hidden from view, the pipits settled again a little way along, giving me just enough time to count them before they once more drained into their camouflage.

While the resident moorhen remained sensibly undercover, the five mallards cast doubt on the adage, "nice weather for ducks", as a significant number were conspicuous by their absence. The family of Canada geese have remained since the summer, the two youngsters looking healthy, strong and impervious to the weather. Their springtime activity will certainly be interesting.


Sunday 29th January 2017

80+ Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
42 Jackdaw (Corvus monedula)
15 Meadow pipit (Anthus pratensis)
13 House sparrows (Passer domesticus)
09 Carrion crow (Corvus corone)
08 Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)
05 Blackbird (Turdus merula)
05 Mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos)
04 Canada Goose (Branta Canadensis)
03 Blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus)
03 Dunnock (Prunella modularis)
02 Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus)
02 Robin (Erithacus rubecula)
02 Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)
02 Coal tit (Periparua ater)
01 Song thrush (Turdus philomelos)
01 Magpie (Pica pica)
01 Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris)
01 Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)

Monday, 2 January 2017

UK Hedgehogs
(Erinaceus europaeus)

On an early evening between Christmas and New Year's Eve, I step outside to breathe away the excess of cake, mince pies and chocolate. It is dark, and cold enough to assume the layer of frost that will decorate the garden by morning. The soft glow of Christmas tree lights illuminates me from the hall. It is a silent night, until movement in the grass draws my attention to the furthest side of the garden, where the street light silhouettes the scampering form of a hedgehog, already on the driveway and quickly beneath the stationary car. From this distance, they all appear too small for winter survival. I move to the edge of the driveway but its knowledge of the darkness is far greater than mine, and it is nowhere to be seen.


The garden is just a few valley miles from the Sanctuary. I became aware of a hedgehog presence in the spring of 2015, tripping over a huddled ball of spikes on the darkened path. Possibly tempted in by the regular overspill of bird food, or the vast number of slugs and bugs in residence, I endeavoured to entice its return with nightly portions of mealworms. They don't all run away, and pretty soon the garden was on the list of nightly food-stops for many a neighbourhood hog.

Active throughout the spring, summer and autumn months, they appear to have their own nightly routine which undoubtedly includes the use of several local gardens.

video

Though their differences in size can help narrow down the identification of certain individuals, it has largely proved difficult to distinguish one from another, and estimate the number of hedgehogs that visit the garden. As many as five individuals have been spotted at any one time.


It is wonderful to see the small, awkwardly shaped garden finding purpose for these animals. The changeable weather during 2016 has encouraged the hedgehogs to remain active well into December. January and February still lie in wait, as does March and the ever unpredictable April, so regular nourishment is provided in the hope their weight is sufficient to cope with the winter months ahead.
The Hedgehog Preservation Society can provide advice for all hedgehog related concerns.

video

No matter which report you read, the message is the same: the population of UK hedgehogs is in serious decline. Some reports suggest the UK population has fallen from thirty six million in the 1950s to a figure now numbered in hundreds of thousands.
Without intervention, this small mammal cannot survive this continuing decline and extinction seems somewhat inevitable.


Loss of habitat appears to be a major reason for the decline in the hedgehog population, which makes gardens an increasingly valuable resource. It also means we can provide them with the help they need, literally on our very doorsteps.

Friday, 5 February 2016

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2016

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2016


It was far from an ideal day. The sky remained a stormy shade of grey and the uninviting wind proved boisterous throughout. With the rainfall teasingly sparse, many of the regular birds seemed reluctant to risk the blustery breezes, but could be found seeking shelter in the verges of the Sanctuary's woods. As such, the results of the survey were not necessarily as expected, or consistent with brighter days. Nonetheless, they were a record of natural events.


54 Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
43 Jackdaw (Corvus monedula)
13 Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)
12 Mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos)
08 House sparrows (Passer domesticus)
07 Blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus)
07 Long-tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus)
06 Carrion crow (Corvus corone)
03 Robin (Erithacus rubecula)
02 Blackbird (Turdus merula)
01 Great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)
01 Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)
01 Herring gull (Larus argentatus)
01 Magpie (Pica pica)
01 Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)
01 Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris)
01 Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus)
01 Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)


Saturday, 9 January 2016

Into 2016

The close proximity of different habitats naturally increases the variety of native species, and improves the biodiversity of an area.
From South Wales to South Africa, this young swallow (Hirundo rustica) is living proof of the far reaching impact of the mini wetland known affectionately as Baboon Island.
At the sanctuary, the mini wetland surrounding Baboon Island opens out onto grass and hillside fields, before dropping steeply into damp, deciduous woods, with rivers that meander the valley to the South Wales coast, and the captivating beauty of Gower.
Just beyond the sanctuary, the Brecon Beacons rolls away into Mid Wales, hosting regions of ancient woodland, coniferous forests, heaths,  scrub, lakes, waterfalls, and so much more. It is greedy with habitats, and so vitally important to the past, present and future of Wales. Both enchantingly bleak and bustling with natural beauty, this is a truly magical place, into which the sanctuary is intrinsically woven by its wildlife.

 I am a big fan of Baboon Island. Of course, the first thing you notice is the hamadryas baboons. The reason for visiting the sanctuary is to see, appreciate and enjoy such exotic animals, and the baboons tick all the boxes from Adorable through to Zany. Some years ago, appreciating the needs of their rescued animals, Jan and Graham recognised how the natural landscape could be moulded into a functional environment now known as Baboon Island, and in the process generated a mini wetland habitat that continues to grow and thrive.


I love the way the baboons have embraced the island as their territory and home, but the way it has become the permanent and transitory habitat for a variety of native wildlife, is just as exciting. This is an ecosystem in its own right, that stretches far beyond the sanctuary, UK, and mainland Europe.
Marsh Thistle
Cirsium palustre)
Foxglove
(Digitalis purpurea)
Plants
with a preference for damper conditions have settled naturally around the island. Their seasonal growth attracts a variety of hungry invertebrates, which ensures the pollination of future generations, both locally and further afield.

Greater bird's-foot-trefoil (Lotus pedunculatus)

Common marsh bedstraw (Galium palustre)

Creeping forget-me-not (Myosotis secunda)

 
Skullcap (Scutellaria glaericulata)

Square-stalked willowherb (Epilobium tetragonum)

Ranunculus sp.

Mid-summer and the grass, reeds and wildflowers see-saw
in the breeze around Baboon Island

Bombus Sp.
Bombus Sp.


 
Bombus Sp.
Honeybee (Apis mellifera)

Pyrausta sp.

Small tortoiseshell butterfly (Aglais urticae)
The small tortoiseshell butterfly shows how perfectly adaptable it is to life near the water's edge, camouflaging itself against the dirt.

Peacock butterfly (Aglais io)


The Green veined white butterfly (Pieris napi) pops up in several habitats across South and Mid Wales, pollinating as it goes.


Comma butterfly (Polygonia c-album)
Speckled wood (Pararge aegeria)

Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus)
Meadow brown butterfly (Maniola jurtina)

Brimstone (Gonepteryx thamni)


Large skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus)
Green hairstreak (Callophrys rubi)
Orange tip butterfly (Anthocharis cardamines) [male]
The female doesn't have the orange tip synonymous with the name, and is therefore easily confused (by me, in particular) with similar white butterfly species.
Large white butterfly (Pieris brassicae)

Red admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
Brightly coloured insects drinking nectar from equally vibrant flowers is the essence of British summertime.
Turning sunlight into food, plants are a primary producer of energy. Herbivores are a primary consumer, and get their energy directly from the plants.
It is all very tranquil and idyllic, particularly beneath a giving sun.
Dingy skipper (Erynnis tages)

Elephant hawkmoth caterpillar (Deilephila elpenor)

Longhorn beetle (Rhagium bifasciatum)

Green shield bugs (Palomena prasina) [mating]


Crane fly (Tipulidae)


Mayfly (Ephemera vulgate)

But life is a journey of energy that flows through us all, transferring from species to species, influencing the prospect of survival and extinction, as well as the shape of our environment.

The natural balance is precariously delicate so a darker side must exist.

The success of a species is invariably balanced by the opportunity for predators.




Secondary consumers get their nutrition from eating the herbivores, while the tertiary consumers feed from other carnivores. Either way, it begins to get a little gruesome.




Scorpion fly (Panorpa communis)
Scavenger, feeding off dead insects
and plants.
The omnivores are more adaptable, or less fussy, and will get their energy by eating both plant and animal. Living alongside these consumers are species that help keep the ecosystem running efficiently. Detritivores feed off decomposing organisms, and recycle the remaining nutrients back into the soil to be re-used by other plants, the primary producers.
Okay, extremely simplistically put, but what it means is watch your back.

The modern lifestyle has detached many humans from the natural world, where survival belongs to the vigilant and the lucky. It puts the stresses of supermarket queues into perspective.

Blue-tailed damselfly (Ischnura elegans) enjoying a leg.
Both dragonflies and damselflies are carnivorous, as adults and larvae, but also have many predators of their own, including: spiders, birds and frogs.
Four-spotted chaser dragonfly (Libellula quadrimaculata)


Broad-bodied chaser dragonfly (Libellula depressa)



Watching dragonflies and damselflies up close provides a completely different perspective - they are just so expressive.

Golden ringed dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii)

Emperor dragonfly (Anax imperator)
Ovipositing (laying eggs) in the water and on the leaves around Baboon Island.
Dragonflies and damselflies can be at their most vulnerable when laying eggs.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum)
Dragonfly and damselfly mating is quite a ritual, remaining attached as they fly and hover over the water and amongst the reeds, before finally laying their eggs.

Common darter (Sympetrum striolatum)

Southern hawker (Aeshna cyanea)

Emerald damselfly (Lestes sponsa)

Azure damselfly (Coenagrion puella)
As the name suggests, males are azure blue, with a dark flat bottom U-shape on segment  2 at the top of the abdomen (half seen here). Females can be greener, with extensive, darker markings along the abdomen.
Azure damselflies ovipositing (laying eggs) on the water around Baboon Island.
Exhausted, one of the males calls on a friend for support.
Azure damselfly (Coenagrion puella)

Large red damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula)


Harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis) [larvae]


Seven spot ladybird ( Coccinella 7-punctata) [larvae]

Seven spot ladybird (Coccinella 7-punctata) - Aphid and the ants.
Ladybirds can be quite the gardeners' friend, enjoying nothing more than a meal of aphids, the scourge of many a crop. Yet these true bugs are known to acquire protection from a rather unlikely source. Ants herd and defend aphids from predators in return for highly nutritious honeydew, secreted when the ant rubs the aphid's back with its antenna.


Common lizard (Lacerta vivipara)
I have come across a few common lizards at the sanctuary. The two photographs [below] were actually taken at the Parc Slip Wildlife Trust Visitor Centre near Bridgend, and shows one having lost its tail. The original was likely shed while under attack from a predator. When detached, the tail continues to move, keeping the predator preoccupied while the lizard makes its escape. Predators include foxes, crows, and hawks, which means the sanctuary lizards must keep on their toes.



Common toads (Bufo bufo)
Toads and frogs appear in their thousands around Baboon Island, with some found barely 1cm long. Many enter the food chain early. Come springtime, the larger individuals walk the sanctuary paths, making use of the small ponds.
 

Palmate Newt (Lissotriton helveticus)
Palmate newts utilise the water surrounding Baboon Island, as well as fresh water sources across the region. Common (or smooth) newts (Lissotriton vulgaris) have also been spotted at the sanctuary, though I am yet to see a great crested newts (Triturus cristatus).
Pondskater (Gerridae)
Wherever there is water they are there.

Pied wagtail (Motacilla alba)
The pied wagtail is certainly attracted to the abundance of invertebrate at the sanctuary, with a seemingly impressive catch-rate.
It is an adaptable species that can be seen in several different habitats, including the town centres.

Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
In the summer months, the swallows and house martins  are an irresistible sight, sweeping along and into the water in search of food. Agile, graceful, and hardy, the energy stored here will help them reach Sub-Saharan Africa where they winter. From there, who knows where the food chain will go?

House martin (Delichon urbica)

Swift (Apus apus)
Another summer visitor


Canada goose (Branta Canadensis)
Canada geese are frequent visitors to the sanctuary, with this one arriving just in time for spring. Sometimes in pairs, they seem to prefer the smaller, private pools beyond Baboon Island.
Mallard duck [female] (Anas platyrhynchos)
Mallard female with her ducklings (Anas platyrhynchos) on the river.
Mallard duck [male] (Anas platyrhynchos)
As with the resident moorhen, there is a turnaround of permanent mallards around Baboon Island, dividing their time between the sanctuary and other freshwater habitats.
Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)

Herring gull (Larus argentatus)
Wherever there is food available, it seems a gull will be in attendance, and the sanctuary is no different. The herring gull is a red list species of conservation importance, and is one of many gulls known to make an appearance.
Black headed gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)

Jackdaw (Corvus monedula)
Baboon Island has also become a water source for the local wildlife, such as many (many) jackdaws, as well as the sanctuary horses and a...


...visiting otter. Not necessarily this one, seen a little way down the River Tawe, but an otter has been spotted making use of the sanctuary's facilities. With otter numbers seemingly on the increase, it's possible more will come this way. They can have territories of up to 20 kilometres, which can take them into the Brecon Beacons or down to the coast, depending if they turned right or left at the Tawe.
Otter (Lutra lutra)


Earlier in 2015, Graham suggested I look around the back of Baboon Island. Having crafted a new waterway, he correctly anticipated a positive impact on the wildlife there, with many of the aforementioned species on display.
 
Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)
 As I sat engrossed by something beneath the water, repeatedly snapping at the surface for food, a lapwing descended for a stroll around the adjacent field. Perhaps attracted by the fallow land, or the abundance of insects on offer, it settled for a while, contentedly moving amongst the foliage. Having previously seen one in surrounding fields, it was my first sighting of this red status species actually on the sanctuary's land.
A couple of curlews, another red status species, were spotted in the fields just beyond the sanctuary in May '15. The curlew is Europe's largest wading bird, and usually spends the winter on the coast. It can be seen congregating in numbers on the Loughor Estuary, or at the Llanelli Wetland Centre, but comes inland for the summer, looking strangely out of place away from the shore.


Curlew (Numenius arquata)


Of course, there will always be the more familiar birds moving freely between the sanctuary and various surrounding habitats, many of which are essential for the distribution of plants, dispersing pollen and seeds over a wide area. Some are easily seen on a daily basis, while others are shier, or less abundant.
Carrion crows, jackdaws and magpies are plentiful around the sanctuary, and you don't have to look too hard for jays and rooks either. The prevalence of these particular corvids means they are too easily dismissed or overlooked, but their behaviour is nonetheless fascinating, and their adaptability undeniable.

Magpie (Pica pica)
Rook (Corvus frugilegus)

Jay (Garrulus glandarius)


Carrion crow (Corvus corone)
This particular crow was fishing down on the Tawe.

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) [male]

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) [female]


House sparrow (Passer domesticus) [male]

House sparrow (Passer domesticus) [female]

Blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) [juvenile]
Getting to grips with the adult world
Blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus)

Great tit (Parus major) [juvenile]
Keeping under cover, the great tits are guaranteed to alert the woodland to your presence, when out taking wildlife pics.
Long-tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus)
This prominent member of woodland birds is one of the finest nest builders around, constructing an elasticated snug of lichen, moss, feathers, and spiders web.

Coal tit (Periparus ater)
If in doubt, the white stripe running vertically down the back of the head is clear indication of the coal tit.

Robin (Erithacus rubecula) [juvenile]
Dunnock (Prunella modularis)
Along with the sparrows and chaffinches, the dunnock is a staple species at the sanctuary, often seen amongst the field-side foliage.

Song thrush (Turdus philomelos)
Loud and incessant, the song thrush is usually heard before it is seen.

Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)
The nuthatch is also usually heard before it is seen, tapping on tree branches in search of food. A familiar species around the sanctuary, and much like the treecreepers and wrens, can always be found in the surrounding woods, often near water.

Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris)

Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)
Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus)

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)
Although not as prevalent as the chaffinch, the goldfinch is regularly seen at the sanctuary, while the bullfinch, greenfinch and siskin prefer the privacy of the woods.

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)

Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris) [male]


Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris) [female]









Siskin (Carduelis spinus)
Lesser redpoll (Carduelis cabaret)
The lesser redpoll is a less common finch and can be found in neighbouring woodland, with its unmistakable red crown.

Willow warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)
Both the willow warbler and the wood warbler are summer visitors to the sanctuary, and can be seen in the surrounding woods, along with the resident chiffchaffs (Phylloscopus collybita). Telling them apart can be tricky.
Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)
Spotted flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)
The spotted flycatcher is another red status species, and one of the last summer visitors to reach the UK. As its name suggests, it is an expert flycatcher, and can often be found in the trees alongside the Tawe, where flying insects are numerous.

Meadow pipit (Anthus pratensis)


The meadow pipits can be seen in the sanctuary's hillside fields, and on the many farms and open grasslands around. The summer visiting tree pipit (Anthus trivialis) can also be seen through the district, although this is not as common. The rock pipit (Anthus petrosus) can be seen further south, on the coast.


 
Great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)
The great spotted woodpecker is a familiar species in South Wales, and is easily found in the sanctuary's woods. They are also a keen visitor to local garden feeders, particularly in winter time, or when the weather makes finding food problematic.

Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) [female]
Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) [male]
Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) [juvenile]
UK visitors between April and September, the redstarts can be seen in woodland and farmland hedgerows.



Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) [male]
 At first sight, it looks like they've damaged their bill. Then you wonder how they ever manage to eat anything at all, but the bill is perfect for getting seeds from conifer trees. It is a curious and wonderful looking bird, but I've never seen one lower than a tree canopy. The males are a colourful red compared to the browner female.

Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) [male]

When you're out walking on heathland, or near the coast, and you here the repeated sound of stones coming together, there is likely a stonechat nearby. In my experience, not particularly skittish and willing to pose for a little pic.
Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)
Few visiting birds make more of an impact than the cuckoo, famously replacing the eggs of pipits, dunnocks and warblers with their own. But the number of visiting cuckoos is in decline, making it another red list species. There is nothing better than chasing the cuckoos call on a spring / summer walk, hoping to catch a glimpse as it breaks its cover from the trees.  Despite the decline, they currently continue to return to this part of South Wales.


Common buzzard (Buteo buteo)



Red kite (Milvus milvus)

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)

Buzzards, kites and sparrowhawks routinely police the skies above the sanctuary, looking down on the wide range of feeding opportunities: small mammals, amphibians, birds and carrion.  Buzzards and kites circle outwards over an expansive territory, while the sparrowhawk is more frequently seen darting through the surrounding woodland. They seem to be doing very well in South Wales. Hardly surprising given the different habitats from which to chose their  prey.
Slightly further afield: Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) [Whiteford woods, Gower] and a Hobby (Falco Subbuteo) [Parc Slip Wildlife Trust Visitor Centre], both of which are likely to be found closer to home.

Most of the mammals in the area go unnoticed, living mainly under the cover of darkness.



Grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)
Aside from pets, the squirrel remains the mammal you're most likely to see. Very adaptable, with the ability to colonise the merest rumour of trees, there is a healthy population around the sanctuary woodland - and just about anywhere else in Wales.


Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus)
Rabbits can also be found in the surrounding fields, as are foxes. One goes with the other, if childhood tales can be believed.


Red fox (Vulpes vulpes)
An incredibly adaptable species.
In order to survive, an animal has to establish the correct balance between energy spent and gained while acquiring food. I look at fox hunting and see the amount of energy being spent by hounds chasing the fox, and immediately recognise the flaw - human involvement. As a global species, we tend to be very bad at balancing nutrition with exertion (myself more than most).



American mink (Neovision vision)
The River Tawe flows just behind the sanctuary, where another mammal makes its home. Like the grey squirrel, the mink was introduced from the USA, and as such has acquired a bad press for doing what comes naturally. There are calls for minks to be culled, which is a short-sighted, cruel and lazy solution to a genuine problem. Just a personal opinion.
The river provides a wonderful experience, and it is never long before you encounter one of its many residents.



Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)
The first time anyone sees a kingfisher they get a little excited. That iridescent flash of turquoise blue, zipping along the water, immediately prompts a childlike smile, and they turn to convey their findings to the nearest available person, as if to relive the moment again.
Keeping alert, a walk along the river will usually reward you with a brief sighting or two. Capturing that moment is something altogether different.


Grey wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)
Both the grey wagtail and the dippers have seemingly healthy populations on the Tawe, making regular appearances all the way to the sea.


White throated dipper (Cinclus cinclus)

Goosander [female] (Mergus merganser)

Goosander (Mergus merganser)  [juveniles]

Goosander (Mergus merganser) [male]
After the mallard, the goosander is probably the second most common duck on this stretch of river, and can be seen raising their ducklings here.
Cormorants and herons are common and can be seen fishing from the riverside or in the shallows. They can also be seen crossing the sanctuary in flight.
Grey heron (Ardea cinerea)

Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)

Coot (Fulica atra)
Coots and swans can be found in local ponds throughout the area, with some mute swans raising their cygnets down on the marina, and into Swansea Bay.

Mute swan (Cygnus olor) [cygnet]

Making it this far down the river, you might want to explore Gower, where gannets and seals can be found fishing off Langland Bay.

Gannet (Morus bassanus)

Grey seal (Halichoerus grypus)

This page has provided a very small selection of the wonderful wildlife to be found in this part of Wales.
From the sanctuary, you'll need transport to travel to Gower, and deeper into the Brecon Beacons, but you'll also need the time to take in all there is to see.
Throughout 2016, we will continue exploring the area, and chasing the energy, beginning with RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch on the 30th and 31st January.
And maybe we'll see how many hedgehogs are making a home in the sanctuary's hedges later on in the year.

Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)

I am in no way an expert, just a very interested passer by, so please do not hesitate to correct or comment on any of the aforementioned identifications or information.