Teifi Marshes, home to the Welsh Wildlife Centre

The week of 13th to the 17th of July, I went to Teifi Marshes, the home of the Welsh Wildlife Centre. It’s owned by the fourth largest Wildlife Trust in the UK, the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales. Nestled on the banks of the River Teifi between the town of Cardigan and the village of Cilgerran, Teifi Marshes is known for its Otters. We stayed in a tiny but cosy cottage near the visitor’s centre, with access to the reserve well after all the other guests had left. That meant we stood an even better chance of spotting Otters as they’re a nocturnal mammal, but we didn’t have much luck.

We arrived at our cottage at 5 in the afternoon and began the process of unpacking. But we didn’t get very far before I spotted two Scarlet Tiger moths sitting right in the open in a flower bed! They are classed as a ‘local’ species in my moth book, which means they are only found in less than 300 sites across the whole of the UK! They are called Scarlet Tiger because of the beautiful red hindwings, visible in the second photo. Scarlet Tiger is also a new species for my pan-species list, which I am hoping to expand this holiday.

Scarlet Tiger

Scarlet Tiger

Scarlet Tiger, showing hind wings.

Scarlet Tiger, showing hind wings.

A pan-species list is a list of species which covers all groups (fungi, plants, invertebrates, mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and amphibians) found in a certain place. My list is of all species found in Britain and I only started putting together my list this spring. It had 781 species at the beginning of this trip but we’ll see how it expands.

After everything was unpacked, I decided to explore the area close to the cottage. The visitor centre closes at 5pm, so I already almost had the whole place to myself! Right next to the cottage is a play area for small children. I found that it was full of wildlife too! Two small Toads were found but were hard to get a good look at as they hopped into a tussock of long grass as soon as I spotted them. I also found a lot of wildlife on the umbellifer-like plants around the play area, mostly Meadowsweet and Hogweed. A large larva had made itself a tunnel of silk from which it fed on the flowers of a Meadowsweet and when I disturbed it it quickly retreated into its tunnel. Lots of Hoverflies were enjoying the sweet nectar of the umbellifers, and there were especially large numbers of Marmalade Hoverfly darting about. Also, annoyingly, Horseflies, or Cleg Flies, were aplenty. I managed to fight them off for most of the duration of my walk, but their persistence paid off when one managed to bite my hand when I was looking at a Brown-lipped Snail!

The following morning it was still drizzly as it had been for the whole journey. I did manage an early morning walk to the river viewpoint though, with the hope of finding Otters. Unsuccessfully.

Both male and female Blackcaps were present, the male singing its socks off in a tree a metre away from me. Males and females are similar apart from one striking feature: the colour of their cap. The female’s and juvenile’s cap isn’t black at all, but in fact brown. The male’s cap is a glossy black though! During my adventures with bird ringing in southern England, I was fooled by a juvenile Blackcap. We had caught a brown-capped Blackcap in the net during a ringing demonstration, and my trainer asked me whether it was male or female. I confidently said “female!”, but had forgotten about juveniles. My trainer didn’t hesitate to point out a few minuscule black feathers in the cap, therefore making it a male!

Moving on from the Blackcaps, I was surprised to see a group of 5 Curlew fly over the river. I had first mistaken the silhouettes of the birds for those of gulls, which are abundant over the river. But their long, curved bills were the stand out feature when I looked through my binoculars! But then, out of the corner of my eye, a spotted a shape. It was swimming downstream, low in the water and diving regularly. Otter? Unfortunately, no. It was in fact a Cormorant, but it fooled me! It was the only Cormorant we saw on the trip which is surprising, I was thinking we’d see a lot more due to the abundance of large water bodies.

After breakfast, we embarked on another walk, longer this time. We went on the Wetland Trail, one of the most popular trails for wildlife spotting. It was marked as 2.8km on the map, but it was tiring after visiting all the hides. Throughout the walk we were spurred on by the soundtrack of Sedge Warbler song – the reedbeds punctuated by small shrubs are perfect for them! However the drizzle which was still coming down beckoned the snails onto the path. We had to watch our step the entire way as Brown-lipped, Garden and other snails saw this as an opportunity to cross to the other side. Sadly we saw nearly as many crushed shells as intact ones, other people didn’t seem to be paying attention. From then on I moved every snail I could to safety!

Most of the snails were crossing over the tarmacked path where most of the hides were. From the tarmacked path we spotted an Oystercatcher piping as it flew over the reedbeds and five more Curlew from a hide.

I must say that Eurasian Oystercatchers are currently my favourite waders. They often nest near human habitation, they have been known to nest in flower pots on patios and are sometimes approachable. They are an unmistakable wader with the mix of black and white and a bright red bill. They are found all over the country, inland and coastal, so they are seen more often than strictly coastal birds like Sanderlings. Also 12 species of Oystercatcher (genus Haematopus) are spread over the whole world, so it’s not only Europe which can enjoy them!

We had lunch at the Glasshouse Cafe in the visitor centre, from which you could see the nearby village of Cilgerran, which we walked to afterwards. The village was certainly different to the rural setting around our cottage but it was a chance to find some suburban wildlife: House Sparrows which were absent in the reserve. Also the loose stone walls harboured a lot of plants, including Maidenhair Spleenwort, Wall-rue and some hardy Herb Roberts.

The following morning got off to a good start. My dad found a moth in the sink when he got up, put it in one of my pots and showed me when I had breakfast. It was a Dark Arches moth which I have caught in the moth trap before at home. It may just be a coincidence but I think it is often found indoors more than other species. I think this because I have found another one at home, but not in the trap. It was in fact on one of our towels! Maybe they like the warmth of human habitation?

Today’s walk was to Poppit Sands, the closest patch of coastline to the reserve. It was near enough to low tide, and there were lots of shells on the beach. Many of them unidentified, I have little experience with shore life as we live far from the coast. We did see a few Compass Jellies though, which were spectacular:

Compass Jellyfish washed up on the beach

Compass Jellyfish washed up on the beach

There were lots of birds down by the beach. When we were just about to walk onto the beach I spotted a Red Kite circle over ‘the last pub before Ireland’ before heading west (in the direction of Ireland). The Red Kite was being mobbed by Corvids, namely Jackdaws and Carrion Crows, of which there were a lot. On the way back to the reserve I saw a Buzzard being mobbed by around a hundred Jackdaws! None, apart from one or two, were very persistent and gave up after a few minutes. Also from that pub we had a great view of a feeding Whimbrel, with a huge flock of Canada Geese. I was hoping to spot some dune fungi by the beach, but unfortunately none were to be seen.

I got up at 4:45 am the next morning because I had set the moth trap and was anxious to see what we’d caught.

  • 2 Brussels Laces. These were the only scarce moth we caught in the trap, and a new species for me. They’re quite a drab moth, similar to the Willow Beauty, but much smaller.
  • 2 Scalloped Oaks. I’ve caught their similar cousin, Scalloped Hazel, in the trap at home. Scalloped Hazels are browner and fly earlier in the year. The Scalloped Oaks look ‘fresher’:
Scalloped Oak

Scalloped Oak

  • 1 Elephant Hawk-moth. I was really pleased when I caught an Elephant Hawk-moth in the trap, as they seem to avoid me. It’s the first ever one I’ve caught in my trap, whereas other people have caught 22 in one night!
  • 2 Clouded Borders. I was really thinking we would catch more as I catch numbers in excess of 10 at home. They’re related to the magpies, Clouded Magpie and Magpie.
  • 1 Magpie. The Magpie we caught in the trap was the first I’ve ever seen and it was also the second largest moth in the trap, after the Elephant Hawk-moth. They’re larger than Clouded Borders and covered in spots instead of black patches.
  • 7 Uncertains. These are the common LBJs (Little Brown Jobs) of the moth world, but they have a great name!
  • 2 Riband Waves. There are two forms of the Riband Wave: the banded and non-banded. I find that they are both abundant but some nights I catch more of one than the other. Both Riband Waves we caught were non-banded.
  • 2 Buff-Tips. I am always amazed by their camouflage. When I discovered one on the bug house next to the moth trap in the morning I actually thought it was a twig!
  • 1 Buff Ermine. These are common moths and I never fail to catch them when I put the trap out at the right time of year.
  • 1 Buff Arches. This concluded the buff moths of the night, but it’s the prettiest of the three.
Buff Arches

Buff Arches

  • 1 Common Wainscot. This is quite a drab, pale moth which is average sized. It flies earlier in the year than other wainscots.
  • 1 Snout. Snouts are a large, odd moth. They actually look like the have a snout which gives them a comical appearance.
  • 1 Drinker. After catching one in the trap in Wales, the Drinker became my favourite moth. It also has a snout like the Snout, but when I saw it wiggle its nose it looked like it had just sneezed!
  • 2 Shaded Broad-bars. These confused me for a while as I have never caught them before. Their colour can be quite variable, ranging from yellow to brown.
  • 1 Spectacle. These moths are distinctive as they have marks at the front of their head resembling white-rimmed spectacles!
  • 1 Southern Wainscot. It was great to catch one of these as they are a localised species and a reedbed specialist, so this reserve is a great place for them!
  • 3 Lackeys. Two males and a female caught in a trap. The females are larger than the males and usually paler, but the colour is variable.

So not as many as I thought I would catch. But there were still a few new species for my list: Southern Wainscot, Shaded Broad-bar, Magpie, Lackey, and Brussels Lace.

For today’s walk we went to Cardigan Castle. Good for history but not so good for wildlife! The walk there was quite good though, as we followed the river most of the way. One of the highlights was when I spotted a lone Sand Martin fly upstream, had to pick out from the 100+ Swallows and House Martins also hawking above the river. It’s my first one this year! I also managed to find a Small Tortoiseshell flitting between buildings,  which I expect is one of the few I’m going to see this year as sadly they don’t seem to be doing well.

Unfortunately that was the end of our incredible holiday. Sadly no Otters, but that doesn’t matter as I was amazed by the amount of wildlife we saw in less than a week!

At the beginning of this post, I said that I was hoping to expand my pan-species list this week. I was very successful! I added around 50 new species, including 18 plants!

West Sussex Garden Diaries

I recently created a YouTube channel as I love filming wildlife. David Attenborough has been my idol for a very long time as I think he is an excellent presenter. I really want to be like him and travel the world one day filming nature’s wonders, but I thought I’d start in my own back garden! My new channel will be called West Sussex Garden Diaries and I hope to record as much wildlife as I can in my rural garden in West Sussex. I have already created a few videos, including 2 moth trap ones and one documenting some of the June wildflowers, but here’s my introductory video to help you to understand what the channel will be about:

The other videos can be found by searching for jimmymac2 on YouTube.

What my grandkids might not be able to see – Foxes

Some people might think that the Fox is an unusual choice as something my grandchildren might not be able to see. They are so common they can even be found in cities, right? But they’re wrong. Foxes can be found in today’s cities, but what about the cities in half a century? The only reason Foxes hang on in cities is because there are spaces  for them to shelter and there is lots of food to be found on the street. But cities will develop – that’s inevitable. Cities will become neater, leaving no shelter. Cities will become cleaner, leaving no food. That’s another habitat lost.

I am incredibly lucky to have foxes breeding in my quiet village. This year for the first time I have seen cubs, three of them, run past my living room window while I’m watching Countryfile, so young and full of life. But as all cubs do, they’ll grow older and have to fend for themselves away from their parents’ territory. But dispersing is like an assault course – they have to cross road after road before they reach unoccupied suitable habitat.

Even though there will be much less suitable habitat in the future and fewer Foxes will survive to adulthood, there is still some hope left. Our Fox family has chosen an excellent place to live as there’s lots of food on offer. A house down the road feeds them chicken and we often see a Fox trot past the window, looking content and with a huge chicken breast in its mouth. However, I wouldn’t advise feeding Foxes, especially if you have limited time. If you start feeding them they will come to depend on you, but sooner or later you’ll be absent for a long period of time or even move house, leaving no food for the Foxes. A way you can help though, is by being careful when driving in the evening. Our Foxes come out at anytime after 8pm, sometimes earlier. Drive slower, always watch the road and if it is dark then put your headlights on as soon as the sun sets.

Film Review: Creation (2009)

Title: Creation
Made by: HanWay Films & RPC (Recorded Picture Company)
This is the sad story about Charles Darwin as he struggles to write his most famous book, On the Origin of Species. He fights a mental war with the memory of his late daughter, Annie, which keeps haunting him in nightmares and illusions. He never says it, but Annie must surely be his favourite child as she is interested in everything he is and enjoys the stories he tells. He also has to write the book under the influence of his wife, Emma, who sought refuge in religion after the passing of her daughter. All historians should enjoy this film, as it reveals a lot about Darwin’s personal life and habits as well as what naturalists were like at that time. Did you know that he skeletonised pigeons? Did you even know he almost went mad writing his book? It also reveals how an average Victorian lived and behaved, including the wacky cures many doctors thought would work, and etiquette used in the era. A must watch for any naturalists and collectors.