27 May 2013

Moths, Cowslips, Buttercups and Orchids

Ardd Fotaneg · Botanic Garden

Well it had to happen.  Eleven successive dry Tuesday mornings and then rain on the twelfth.  Fortunately early on it wasn’t too bad so Sue Davis and Marigold Oakley did their own wildlife walk.  Marigold is a moth recorder and had set her moth trap the previous evening in the walled garden.  But with the weather so chilly and windy it was perhaps not a surprise to find that they had just 2 moths in it  – and it didn’t take too long to identify them as they were both well marked, and known to her as regulars in her trap at home!  They were a Common Quaker and a Flame Shoulder.

One of the plants they had been asked to look out for were Cowslips and like others before were intrigued by those on the Broadwalk – and then became very excited at what they first thought might be either a Cowslip or Oxslip in the meadow on the eastern side of one of the lower Rock of Ages features (and another a little lower down).  Howard has since confirmed that it is a cowslip.   They also saw one Water Avens plant in the same area of grass – this was mentioned on TV Chelsea Flower show as being a plant which grows in damp places.

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Many thanks to Sue and Marigold who are only able to join us every other week.  And this week with Jan on Skokholm we were down to just four – Howard, Michael, John and myself.  And the weather was back to its normal dryness and, unfortunately, with a strong, cold wind. The plan this week had been to start surveying some of the Waun Las fields, so armed with a field map, John’s phone and the Garden leaflet we set off to see how Spring was progressing.  With the May temperatures still at least a couple of degrees below normal and following on from the four previous relatively cold months, the general consensus everywhere has been that everything is a month behind ‘normal’.  Of course, some plants are more daylight-dependent rather than temperature-dependent so the Bluebells were out even though the Primroses hadn’t finished.

We traipsed up the hill past the ruined farm cottages with the Swallows swooping in and out, past the Whorled Caraway meadow and up to the top.  Even on this rather gloomy day the views back across the Garden to the distant hills was really rather spectactular – and more people should experience it! Lots of birdsong all around us but no bird experts and the leaves were now making it difficult to spot them.

One of the plants we were asked to look out for was the Bulbous Buttercup.  Unlike the Meadow Buttercup it is low-growing and we found it up on the top hay meadows.  Indicative of the cold was a Rove Beetle.  These beetles are completely harmless though their habits make them unappealing. They are found in or near decaying organic matter, especially dead animals and are usually very active.  But this one was almost comatose.

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Also up there near the sign just before the road, we found lots of orchid leaves – indeed one already had a flower stem.  It was difficult to be certain of their identity but they are probably Butterfly Orchids and should be out in a few weeks time.  Another find in the same area was the Field Forget-me-not, a plant which grows in wet meadows.

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By now with the wind whipping across these high meadows we were getting a bit chilled, so back down the way we came and into the Whorled Caraway meadow. To be greeted by half a dozen ‘wild’ ponies, one of which didn’t mind being stroked.  The grass here was cropped very short and it took us a while to find what we were looking for.  But there they were, lot of fronds growing mainly amongst the spiky grasses that the ponies hadn’t eaten.  The Whorled Caraway is the county flower of Carmarthenshire and regarded as a signature plant of the diminishing damp, ‘rhos’ (rough) pastures which used to be such a feature of the county.  But too early to see the actual flowers.

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Of course we shouldn’t forget the Bluebells.  At this time of year they are coming into their own and, despite the fact that they are allegedly a woodland plant, they are very common in fields and hedgerows.  Mixed in with Red Campion they form a spectacular sight.  But, returning back past the Bull we came across what looks at first sight like an Orchid.  This is the Common Bistort, a lover of wet meadows, pastures and roadside verges. In the north of England it is called ‘Pudding Dock’ (or sometimes ‘Passion Dock’). This is because it was commonly used to create a traditional pudding around Eastertime, probably originating as a cleansing, bitter dish for Lent. Nowadays, many local places have their own take on the basic recipe of Common Bistort leaves, nettles, onions, oatmeal and bacon fat. No such a meal for us but back to the restaurant to warm up and have lunch.

Thanks to John James and Susan Davies for the photos.  We meet in the Stable Block every Tuesday morning around 10am, weather permitting.  If any member or volunteer wants to join us then please contact Colin Miles.