Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Wallace and Svalbard

You may be forgiven for thinking what's the link between those two as there isn't (to the best of my understanding) any record of the great Naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace going to the frozen north, in fact he's more famous for his trips to the Amazon and the Malay Archipelago

The simple fact is that we had two talks last night and the title reflects the subjects of them both

Julian Carter of the National Museum of Wales led off with his personal account of how he had learned about Wallace during the design and build of an Exhibition that was on at the museum and is now. From the description of that exhibition
On his death 100 years ago, Alfred Russel Wallace was widely praised as the 'last of the great Victorians'. But who was he?
Wallace was many things - an intrepid explorer, a brilliant naturalist, a social activist, a political commentator – overall a remarkable intellectual. In his time, he collected over 125,000 animal specimens, published more than 800 articles and wrote 22 books.
Wallace is most famously associated with co-discovering the process of evolution by natural selection alongside Charles Darwin. Yet we have all heard of Darwin, whilst Wallace has become more of a forgotten figure.
It seems to me that Wallace had a fascinating (if at times stressful) life and contributed to many things such as mapping and surveying the world in addition to his seminal work on evolution.

Joan Andrews one of our past presidents then talked to us about a trip to Svalbard that she and another of our past presidents Tricia Woods took in 2014 and showed a range of photographs of the various wildlife that she had encountered. I was impressed by how close they had been able to get to some Polar Bears, Walrus and many of the birds, and wish I'd been there with my camera

That was the last of our indoor meetings for the season so we will be focused on going out and seeing some wildlife across the summer whilst our 2015/16 programme  is developed - look out for it towards late summer, but please come back here and also take a look at, and join in the other information sources we have on-line and try and join us at one of our outdoor events

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/CardiffNaturalists/
Twitter https://twitter.com/cardiffnats

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Neil Price: Hemiptera: The Real Bugs

Dr Neil Price, an entomologist working for David Clements Ecology Ltd, talked to the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society on Tuesday 17 March 2015 about the Hemiptera. This order of insects is also known as the true bugs.  They are characterised by distinctive and elongated mouthparts, designed for piercing and sucking. They mainly feed on plants, but many species are predatory.

We were introduced to a number of bug families within the sub-order Heteroptera. There were some familiar shield bugs, an ant-mimicking mirid bug, seed bugs, and bed bugs. Bugs can have distinct smells and can often be noisy (stridulation). Neil recommended an online identification guide for the identification of British Hemiptera: http://www.britishbugs.org.uk/

There are a variety of ways to survey for Hemiptera: sweep nets, pooters, beating vegetation over trays, light traps, and large expensive-looking vacuum-cleaner devices. Neil has recently been involved in sampling Hemiptera on brownfield sites (land altered by human activity, especially post-industrial areas). These areas are increasingly being recognised as important for wildlife, and may be home to around 12-15% of Britain’s rare insects.  Brownfield sites have micro-habitats favourable to many insects, including bare loose substrates, short vegetation and scrubland.

Survey work on four brownfields sites within Buglife’s West Glamorgan Stepping Stones project revealed a diverse range of Hemiptera.  Neil talked about the species encountered on four of the five West Glamorgan brownfield sites: Pluck Lake in Swansea (25 species), and Bryn Tip (19), Cymmer Coal Tip (21), and a site within Tata Steelworks (14), in Neath Port Talbot (NPT). The project is monitoring invertebrates, reptiles and plants and aims to restore and manage a total of 48 hectares of brownfield habitat.

Finally, Neil told us to be on the look-out for the Western conifer seed bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis), a large invasive squashbug species from North America that feeds on pines. It was introduced into Europe in 1999, and is spreading along the south Wales coastline.

You can report Western conifer seed bug findings here: http://www.nonnativespecies.org//factsheet/factsheet.cfm?speciesId=1964

Buglife's West Glamorgan Stepping Stones project:
https://www.buglife.org.uk/campaigns-and-our-work/habitat-projects/west-glamorgan-stepping-stones

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Track a Tree

An invite from our friends from the North... 

Merthyr 

click on the poster for a larger version 


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

In Search of the Wildcat

At last night’s (16/2/2015) meeting, Chris Hatch gave an illustrated talk about the wildlife of the Scottish highlands. Chris is a self-employed ecological consultant based in South Wales, who works as a wildlife photographer and as a world-travelling wildlife tour leader. He is part of the Wild Media Foundation, a company that uses photographic images to draw attention to nature conservation issues.

Chris started his photographic tour on the high mountains of the Cairngorm National Park, with ptarmigan and arctic hare. These hares are killed in large numbers by gamekeepers in the highlands, because they can pass on tics to grouse (hunters pay up to £1,000 per day to shoot grouse on the big estates). The moorlands below the peaks were the setting for spectacular images of merlin, hen harrier, black grouse and other wildlife.

We detoured to the Moray Firth, to look at seals, bottlenose dolphin, puffin, gannet, artic tern and other seabirds; accompanied by interesting facts on the threats some of these species face. On the positive side, white-tailed sea eagle and other species are benefitting from reintroduction programmes, which in combination with eco-tourism initiatives benefit the local economy.

Back in the Cairngorms, ospreys are fed fish from a local fish farm near a hide in one eco-tourist location. Chris showed photos of a range of birds encountered in the pine forests, including the large capercaillie which feeds on pine needles. The pine forests are also a stronghold for the red squirrel, one of Chris’ favourite animals to photograph.

Chris took many of his bird of prey shots in the Cairngorms using a make-shift hide and bait taken from a friend’s roadkill-stocked freezer. This is also how he eventually managed to get his shots of the elusive Scottish wildcat, which is seldom photographed in the wild. The wildcat is a powerful animal, about half-the-size-again of the largest domestic cat. Its main distinguishing feature is its blunt rounded tail with dark bands around it. The Scottish wildcat is a sub-species of the European wildcat and its population is down to around 400 individuals in total; with the main threat being inter-breeding with female domestic cats. A charity “Highland Tiger” is helping to save the Scottish wildcat, with one of its main aims being to get people to neuter their domestic cats.

Find out more about the Wild Media Foundation here:
http://www.wildmedia.org/about_us_team.asp

Highland Tiger – saving the Scottish wildcat:
http://highlandtiger.com/

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Members evening

Once again a wonderful set of talks from the members of the society about all sorts of things

I never fail to be entertained on these evenings and the best thing is getting ideas of places that we'd like to go and see ourselves and things we'd like to learn about if we had time

We had Christine and Paul with Cyprus and Morocco respectively and Phill with a whirlwind tour of Northern Europe's top sites. Linda entertaining us with how you can use the new books that are coming out to review and revise the things you have previously identified Barbara enticing us to visit the Ger region of France with some of the wonderful scenery (and apparenrtly food & drink ) of the area

Oh! and I followed up with some California girls (and boys)


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Tidal Lagoons in south Wales

Last night, I went to a presentation given by Tidal Lagoon Power at the Penarth Pier Pavilion. This was part of an evening organised by Gwyrddio Penarth Greening (PGP). I will give a short briefing here on tidal lagoon developments in south Wales.

Joanna Lane, the Wales Public Affairs Manager of Tidal Lagoon Power Ltd, talking about the proposed Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon and plans for further tidal lagoons in four areas around the coast of the UK (Severn, Thames, west coast of NE England into Scotland, and The Wash), including a proposed tidal lagoon between Cardiff and Newport.

The final planning decision on the Swansea Tidal Lagoon will be made this summer (June 2015). If successful, work on site will begin this September, with a two-and-a-half year build envisaged. The technology is ingenious (see the video: http://vimeo.com/60176151), but both the turbine and construction techniques are well-tried and tested elsewhere (e.g. the Netherlands). At Swansea, a 9.5 km breakwater wall will enclose a tidal area of around 11.5 km2. Water will be held in the lagoon on the outgoing tide and kept out on the incoming tide. Given two tides, electricity will be generated four times a day as the water released in both directions drives 26 low-head bulb turbines. The power generated will be equivalent to 90% of Swansea’s domestic use. The lagoon infrastructure is designed to generate this power for at least 120 years. The proposal incorporates plans for 10 km of marine ecosystem restoration and mariculture (e.g. mussels, oyster, samphire, seaweed, and possibly algae for biofuel in collaboration with Swansea University).

Tidal Lagoon Power’s business model depends on the eventual completion of six tidal lagoons, which will generate around 8% of the UK’s electricity. Locations around the UK enable differences in the timings of the tides to be exploited, so that demand can be met around the clock. The other lagoons will be considerably bigger than the one in Swansea, as this first UK tidal lagoon is also acting as a demonstration project for future developments and a starting point for a new tidal power industry. Different considerations will come into play at each proposed site. At Swansea, for instance, no rivers enter the lagoon, it backs onto a brownfield site (Swansea University is building its new campus on part of this site), and there is a focus on providing public access and civic amenities (e.g. sports).

The proposed tidal lagoon between Cardiff and Newport (tidal range 9.2 m) will have a breakwater wall running for around 20-25 km, enclosing a tidal area of around 70 to 80 km2. The tidal range will be converted to electrical power using 60 or 65 turbines. It is likely to extend from the coast around 2 km from Cardiff Bay to around 2 km from the mouth of the River Usk in Newport. This lagoon is likely to be more problematic from the environmental impact assessment point of view than the one in Swansea, because the river Rhymney may flow into it and it will incorporate wetlands. Some of this area is of conservation importance at the European level, which will oblige Tidal Lagoon Power to create compensatory habitats in collaboration with Natural Resources Wales. The company acknowledges that this is a “new science”, and that importance lessons can be learned from the Cardiff Barrage experience.

A pre-application for the Cardiff and Newport Tidal Lagoon has just been submitted (November 2014), with a full planning application expected around 2017 and a goal of generating power around 2021. There is an opportunity for the Cardiff Naturalists' Society and similar stakeholder organisations to get involved at an early stage of this proposal.

Stephen Nottingham

Friday, January 16, 2015

Cardiff Bay Birdwatch - 11th January 2015


CARDIFF BAY BIRDWATCH   Sunday 11th January 2015

by Linda Nottage

Clear, dry and partly sunny weather tempered by a strong, chilly wind provided decent conditions for some excellent birding. At least 25 members and friends, including a welcome group of students, assembled outside Channel View Leisure Centre for this annual joint fixture for CNS and the Wildlife Trust. We followed a leisurely clockwise direction around Cardiff Bay through Hamadryad Park to the Cardiff Bay Wetland Reserve (CBWR) as far as the St. David’s Hotel before retracing our route back to our cars for a picnic lunch.
 
 
The Hamadryad inlet sheltered various ducks, coots, moorhens, a grey heron and a pair of mute swans prematurely going through the motions of nest-building. Small birds flitted elusively between the trees disturbed by magpies, but we managed to identify linnets and a reed bunting.
 
 
 
The zig-zag boardwalk at CBWR enabled a close study of the flocks of tufted ducks and, after a while, the rarity we hoped to see – a lesser scaup – emerged from behind some willows. Telescopes provided even clearer views than our binoculars so that subtle identification features such as its pale grey bill with a small black tip and a purplish sheen to its head confirmed ID without doubt (probably this same bird was seen here during our 2011 & 2012 Birdwatches). A small flock of Canada geese, mallards, coots, little and great crested grebes mingled with the tufties. Cormorants were much in evidence throughout the day.
 
A party of at least a dozen linnets and 2 or 3 reed buntings kept returning to feed on the mown patches where colourful prairie plantings of wild flowers had been grown last summer. A male kestrel hovered and swooped over the wetlands where some glimpsed a kingfisher and others had watched a female stonechat. With such a large, strung out group it was inevitable that not everyone spotted all 40 species recorded on the day. A few of the birds were identified only from their calls in the wetlands – teal, water rail and Cetti’s warbler.
 
 
After our luck with the lesser scaup, another hoped-for bird was a great northern diver known to be frequenting the Bay. Richard Cowie spotted it first and, after some frustratingly long dives, the diver remained on the surface to preen giving us all chance to view it well through the telescopes.
 
As we walked back over Clarence Road Bridge, we paused to admire a handsome drake goosander on the Taff. At that moment an adult peregrine chose to perform a full range of aerobatics complete with stoops on magpie and feral pigeon, flying around our heads 2 or 3 times to our delight and causing a raucous commotion among the gulls.
 
On returning to Channel View, some departed but after enjoying our picnic lunches the rest drove towards Penarth Marina and a free carpark where another flock of linnets, around 30, was seen. From there we followed the path alongside the River Ely as far as the old Custom House.
 
 
Turnstone and grey wagtail feeding at the water’s edge were additions to our morning tally. The day’s only disappointment was our failure to locate the black redstarts which Rob and I had enjoyed on a recce a few days previously. Two of our party did manage a glimpse but it seems the strong wind had driven them into hiding. Below the Penarth cliffs with their bands of pink and white gypsum, winter heliotrope was flowering with its delicious almond scent.
 
Clouds were gathering as we strolled back alongside Penarth Marina, enjoying close views of one of the striking continental race cormorants. The rain held off and we departed well satisfied with an exceptionally exciting Cardiff Birdwatch, full of highlights and an introduction to new venues for several participants.   
 
Photos 1 and 3 (St David's hotel and group on bridge) by Linda Nottage.
Photos 2 and 4 (linnet and group with binoculars) by Bruce McDonald.

                                                                                                
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