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.

                                                                                                

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Rob Parry: Parc Slip Nature Reserve

Last night, Rob Parry, Conservation Manager of The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, talked to the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society about Parc Slip, one of around 100 nature reserves that the Trust manages. The 200 ha Parc Slip site (Tondu, near Bridgend) was once an open cast mine, with restoration starting in the 1980s. The large hole was filled and covered with topsoil. This afforded the opportunity to create habitats. Today, the site is a rich mosaic of wetlands, wet meadows, mixed woodland and other habitat types, alongside traditionally managed agricultural fields.  The past few years have seen a new visitor centre and an elevated hide (The Mary Gillham Hide) constructed, and a field scraped to create 14 large open water areas with smaller ponds. Natural Resources Wales provided funding for this latest phase of habitat creation, with the most recent work being to create a shingle bank for wading birds. Students are studying the recolonisation of the scraped field area.

Parc Slip is a noted reserve for amphibians and reptiles, included great crested newt, adder and grass snakes. Rob explained how the newts and grass snakes are individually identified by digital photography. You can join rangers on weekly reptile rambles, during which reptiles are monitored; which is part of the reserve’s extensive education programme.  

Part of the agricultural land is managed for lapwing, which includes rush cutting and grazing by highland cattle. Snipe, teal and little ringed plover are among the other birds of note to be seen here. The reserve is also important for rare damselfly species, orchids (e.g. bee orchid) and a range of wetland meadow and field boundary plant species, and harvest mice.

Rob concluded his talk with a brief look at developments on other Trust reserves in the area, including Taf Fechan near Merthyr Tydfil. He was thanked by Rob Nottage for the insightful talk on how the nature reserve is managed and for all the hard work he has put into making Parc Slip such a biodiverse and successful nature reserve.

For further information on The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, Parc Slip Nature Reserve, and the Trust’s other reserves, visit:
 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Gall Update

by Bruce McDonald

In the December 2013 newsletter we published an introduction to galls, including those we had encountered on some of our field trips. This is an update on some that we have come across more recently.


This slightly cashew-shaped gall (above) is Taphrina pruni and it has altered what started out as a sloe. It is caused by a fungus and the common name of Pocket Plum derives from the action of the fungus which destroys the stone and seed leaving an indentation. These were abundant in 2014 along the stretch of sea-wall from the Britannia Inn at Llanmadoc on Gower and down towards Whiteford Point around Grid Ref SS 4466/9416. The gall starts off greenish and ends up shrivelled and blackish - it is closely related to Taphrina alni, the tongue-like gall on alder cones (see last newsletter for photo). It has been a good year for sloes and despite extensive foraging to produce Sloe Jelly, this was the only location at which I noticed it. The sloes were spotted in June - a few months later the sea-wall was breached and the footpath closed.


The next one is Andricus grossulariae (above), one of the Oak Tree's many galls, especially Turkey Oaks. It is similar in appearance to the Hedgehog Gall or Andricus lucidus but the latter has each spine tipped with a small knob. With grossulariae the projections are flatter. This was spotted at RHS Wisley and was first found in the British Isles in 2000. It is spreading rapidly and has been found as far north as Cheshire, although SEWBReC does not have it recorded on their public database. One to look out for, as it should not be long before it is found in South Wales.
 
 
On Esher Common was a pear tree dripping with fruit but it also sported the gall seen above. This has the instantly-memorable name of Gymnosprangium sabinae although European Pear Rust is probably easier to cope with. This rust fungus was once confined to mainland Europe and seldom seen in the UK, but is now becoming more common. It infects both Pear and Juniper and needs both to complete its life-cycle. It is a biotroph with the spores from the pear unable to re-infect the pear directly but needing to find a juniper through wind-born dispersal. Having infected the stems of juniper the spores from this can then seek out a pear to infect.
 
The final one was found on the Community Orchard at Wenvoe, which we visited in early September. Galls on grasses are not easy to identify and Redfern and Shirley in their key ID guide British Plant Galls comment: “Galls on grasses are not well known; they are difficult to find and their host associations are often unknown”. Having said that, the photo above shows a gall which tends to fit the description, “stalks of panicle and of individual spikelets shortened, spikelets broad and bunched together, their parts thickened, green and leaflike”. So Aceria tenuis caused by a mite is a potential candidate.
 
Photos by Bruce McDonald
 


 
 

 

 
 


 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Cardiff Naturalists’ Society Indoor Meetings Jan-March 2015

The first meeting will commence on Tuesday 13th January the speaker Rob Parry, and the subject “The Wildlife of Parc Slip Nature Reserve”.
The talk will cover the recent developments at the Wildlife Trust’s Parc Slip Nature Reserve in Bridgend, including the creation of several wader scrapes, which are now overlooked by the Mary Gilham Elevated Hide.  Parc Slip nature reserve supports a variety of habitats, from meadows and wetlands to scrub and mixed woodland, which together attracts a plethora of wildlife.

Our members evening on Monday 26th January, is held to enjoy members Wildlife and Holiday, photographic contributions to the evening. Members who wish to contribute please contact Hilary Wicks.

Monday 16th February the speaker is Chris Hatch and the subject “In search of the Wildcat”.
A photographic journey through the highlands of Scotland, in search of the wildlife to be found there with a particular emphasis on looking for the elusive Scottish Wildcat.

The meeting on Thursday 26th February is a combined meeting with Cardiff Group South and West Wales Wildlife Trust and the student Wildlife Society Cardiff University and will be held in the Wallace Lecture  Theatre, ground floor, Cardiff University, Park Place, Cardiff.
The speaker Richard Wistow and the subject “Colliery Spoil Biodiversity” (please note the change of tittle).
The Colliery spoil sites of the South Wales valleys are a unique and valuable habitat supporting a suit of colliery spoil species. However, it is only recently that their biodiversity value started to become recognised and we have only just started to understand that importance. However, it is not just ecology; colliery spoil also has a fascinating geological, landscape and historic story which has yet to be fully told.  As it stands colliery spoil; is poorly understood and undervalued without a better understanding an effective conservation strategy cannot be developed.  In my talk I hope to describe some of the key issues associated with colliery spoil biodiversity and to help raise the profile of these superb habitats.

The meeting held on Tuesday 17th March the speaker is Dr Neil Price and the subject  Hemiptera: the real bugs”.
The lecture will introduce the group to Hemiptera, a largely under recorded order of insects in Wales. It will include a section on morphology, classification and survey methods: there will also be a section on keys and guides. There will be a focus on some on some of the more frequently recorded species in Wales, with a range of habitats being discussed. The speaker will draw upon his own experience of surveying for this group in Wales and will discuss a number of case studies.

The last meeting on Monday 23rd March will be in two parts a talk by the student awarded the Cardiff Naturalists’ Bioscience Prize.
The speaker for the second part to be arranged as soon as possible.

All Meetings unless otherwise stated will be held in Lecture Theatre 0023(023) Ground Floor Metropolitan University, Llandaff Campus, Western Ave, Llandaff, Cardiff.
All meetings are held  7.30pm to 9.00pm


 
 
 
 
 

 
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