14 Jun 2014

Too numerous to count

Colin Miles

June 10th 2014  – dry and humid. As any reputable Meteorologist will tell you, there is no such thing as average weather.  Last year we had prolonged spells of very cold weather and the Spring was very late.  This year has been a complete contrast and the Winter has been exceptionally mild with no more than a couple of days of moderate frost.  But despite the almost complete absence of frost there have also been no warm spells, the temperature during January and February only just exceeding a modest 10C on about 4 days.

The response of plants to these different conditions varies depending on whether they sensitive to day length or temperature.  Orchids seem to fall very much into the latter category as can be seen from the Early Purple Orchid counts of the local Carmarthenshire trust.  In 2012 the warm Spring meant that by the time they did their April count most were nearly over, whilst in 2013 they were very late and difficult to find.  This year they again reflected the fact that the temperature in the earlier months had in fact been pretty much average and we had an average number appearing.

Here in the Garden we searched for Early Purple Orchids but found none.  Nevertheless we do have four other species, the Common Spotted, the Southern Marsh, the Heath Spotted and the Greater Butterfly Orchid.  These have responded to the warmer conditions of April and May and have appeared in abundance and much earlier than ‘normal’.

Last year we did a ‘proper’ count of the Greater Butterfly Orchid, carefully marking sections and doing a police type search, 6 abreast from one end to the other. This year we decided that this wasn’t a good option as there were simply too many to count and there was a danger that we would trample on them. However, what also became obvious was that they were ‘on the move’. A few years ago there were confined to the section of the meadow beyond the Beech stump. Now that is very much overgrown with rank grass and there are no Orchids there. Last year they were confined mainly to a section beyond that but this year they were still there, in even greater numbers, but they had spread to further beyond the oak stump.

The other notable feature was with the Purple Orchids, as apart from the fact that they were readily hybridising, this year we noted the appearance of the Heath Spotted Orchid.

Despite the fact that it was not a ‘Moth’ day we did find quite a few day flying ones, a Yellow Shell, Beautiful Golden Y and a Silver Ground.

But the star of the show has to be the Forester Moth which we had previously identified as an Emerald. It is a moth which has declined considerably in numbers since 2000, with hardly any Carmarthenshire (or anywhere in W.Wales) records since then.

Caterpillars were also well in evidence, the Fox Moth and the Drinker Moth being two that we could identify but there were two which we couldn’t. The green one with the 2 white stripes seems awfully like a picture of an Alfalfa Caterpillar but I rather doubt it.  And as well as Moths there various Butterflies including a Common Blue – there are dozens of these near the Science Block.

Of course at this time of year everything is starting to bloom as can be seen from this little montage below.

And then there are the insects, whilst viewers of Springwatch will be pleased to note that we also have Whitethroats chicks – these were in the Meadow not far from the entrance.

Thanks to Peter and John for their photos and all the other members who contributed! If any volunteer or member is interested in joining us please send an email to Colin Miles – you DON’T have to be an expert in anything, just interested. If you click on the Wildlife Walks heading on the left-hand side under News you will see a list of the last 10 Wildlife Survey blogs. If you find an injured bird, hedgehog or other wild animal and want help and advice then phone the Gower Bird hospital. on 01792 371630.