Friday, 13 December 2013

December Social

We held our annual Merioneth Nats social meeting yesterday at my house, Quillet, Llandrillo, sadly, for the last time, as I will be moving to Preston before Christmas.  Recording in the county will continue from a static caravan in a nearby site which we will be using as a base several times during the year.

Some of the usual members, enjoying the fireside food and chat 

As usual I forgot to take any photographs until it was almost too late but these give a flavour.  Twelve people gathered for soup, bread and cheese with other goodies including Polly's gorgeous home-made brownies and a magnificent chocolate cake brought by Paul.  We decided to stick next year to a monthly meeting, on the fourth Thursday of each month [except in January, as the caravan site will be closed then].
We talked a bit about data flow and how to avoid duplication of records, by submitting them through the Vice-county Recorder in the first instance. We also looked at the distribution map of the county, newly decorated with brightly-coloured
dots showing the number of records, black= 51-100, red= 101-150, blue=150-200 and green=>200 records.

I couldn't reproduce the dot map, but this distribution map, taken as a screen shot from the county Mapmate database shows pre and post 2000 species density.  We have a huge amount of work to do before 2020!!

Spurred on by these data, Martin, Clare, John and I decided to do our planned walk in an unrecorded square so we chose one near Parc, SH83X which had no tetrad records at all!  We came home triumphant with about 110 records in the bag enabling me to put a red dot on the map straight away!

Not bad for Friday, December 13th!

This seems a good occasion to thank all those who have turned out and supported my meetings month after month - also everyone who came to Caerdeon providing more records there, too.  I am looking for even more help.  I am getting rather creaky in the knees and would be delighted to have any offers of practical help in leading meetings in the more remote parts of the county.  Eventually I would like to find someone who would share the recordership and eventually take over from me, so if you feel you fit the bill, please say.  The requisite skills, it seems to me, are a degree of botanical knowledge and organisational skills, but above all a passion for botany - and, really importantly, knowing what you don't know!!!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Glanlafar 28th November

Paul Green and Andrew Graham in the field
We had no great hopes of the meeting on Thursday but it turned out a really lovely day.  It was a window in the cold, grey days of late November, mild and not too damp and we were six recorders eager to go. As usual we collected a number of ruderal records as we left the cars but then we reached the Open Access moorland where Paul and Andrew veered off towards an interesting-looking wet patch and immediately saw Rhynchospora alba, White Beak-sedge,     and Vaccinium oxycoccus, Cranberry. There was also a tiny stem of Menyanthes trifolia, Bogbean, [what else could it be?] and an equally minute piece of Drosera rotundifolia, Sundew.

Rhynchospora alba
Photo: John Crellin 

We followed an old drover's road towards the "Roman Practice Camp"  marked on the OS map at Dolddinas - I wish we had done our homework, as the Snowdonia National Park [SNP] website says: "This group of practice camps, about two miles south of Tomen y Mur, is among the best preserved in Britain." The  work of investigating the site by aerial photography has been done relatively recently and has exposed the extent of Roman activity in the whole area around Trawsfynydd.  Sadly, we didn't appreciate this importance as we ate our lunch - we simply noted the outline of one of the camps on the ground!

Lunch near the Roman Practice Camp

The extensive wet moorland of the Migneint is straddled by huge pylons carrying electricity for the National Grid and a new road has been created across the moorland to enable the re-cabling of the network. We picked up this road after lunch to reach some abandoned mine-workings where we were very pleased to find three Clubmosses, Lycopodium clavatum, Stag's-horn, Huperzia selago, Fir and Diphiastrum alpinum, Alpine Clubmoss.

                                Huperzia selago
Lycopodium clavatum
The Fir Clubmoss was so small that I wondered at first if it could be a diminutive L clavatum. A reminder from "Poland" that L clavatum has very long [4mm] hair tips to the leaves was enough to confirm that we had both species.

With a flurry of roadside records from the indefatigable Mari as we returned to the cars at the end of a long day, we made the grand total of 134 records - a most satisfactory meeting.  We are sure that there would be more records to come during the summer months - for instance a previous record for the tetrad, Carex magellanica, Tall Bog-sedge, would not be easily found outside its flowering time.  Maybe it would be a good target for Caerdeon in August next year?

Poland, J and Clements E J, 2009: The Vegetative Key to the British Flora

Saturday, 30 November 2013

France in October

A month in France, neatly slotted in between two meetings of the Merioneth Naturalists/Grwp Natur Meirionnydd!

Falcaria vulgaris
Photo: wikimedia commons
I didn't stop botanising, of course and it was good practice identifying unknown plants using Poland, The Atlas Flore d'Auvergne and Grey-Wilson/Blamey's Flora of Britain and Northern Europe.  I was without internet access for much of the time [now, thankfully, sorted] so I couldn't get to the links Martin Rand provided for other French floras.  But I did track down a Phyteuma sp, a Rampion, [not in flower] with the aid of the white hydathodes at the tooth ends.  There was a lot of Geranium columbinum, Long-stalked Geranium,  which I never find in Merioneth, and more than one species of Setaria and some old friends, Campanula rapunculoides and Dorycnium hirsutum, both still flowering. I had some fun with Apiaceae, mostly past flowering, although  Daucus carota was almost the most common weed along the field banks. I identified Falcaria vulgaris, Longleaf and Pepper Saxifrage, Silaum silaus, but there were several which defeated me.

Soup addicts in the charming village of Charroux
A highlight of our time there was the Fete de la Soupe in the heritage village of Charroux where up to 40 local residents and chefs made their speciality .  We each bought our bowl and spoon for €7 and then wandered round the various stalls sampling the offerings - and very tasty they were!

Try our soup - it's different


Le Buget at nightfall
We had some nice walks and good food, but a lot
of the time we were working on the house and garden - the latter still looking much like a building site.  but we can now walk dry shod from front and back doors.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Moel Fferna 24 October 2013

A pause among the heather
How can we be so lucky?  After a week of very heavy downpours we set off in bright sunshine which stayed with us most of the day.  It was not the most productive botanical excursion but a really nice walk in lovely country.  We drove as far as the open moorland and then connected with the North Berwyn Way towards the summit of Moel Fferna.

On the North Berwyn Way

We left the path when David spotted a patch of bright yellow vegetation which looked promisingly different, and proved to be a dense stand of Narthecium ossifragum, Bog Asphodel, with Cranberry, Vaccinium oxycoccus but there were few other bog plants to be seen.  We then paid the price for leaving the path as we had to struggle through rank heather for much of the last part of the journey, so, of course we made that the excuse for a lunch stop.  Then off again through more difficult walking conditions - but at last the summit was reached!

Some of us did reach the summit!
We decided that as time was getting short and the terrain not very appealing we should return more or less by the route that we had come out - so we failed to botanise the small river which runs through the valley.  But there is always another day, and we were well ready for a cup of tea back in Llandrillo!

Records for the day were few, but it was good to find that we added 28 new hectad records in our score of 42 new species for the tetrad.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Cofnod conference

Cofnod [Welsh for a record] is our North Wales Local Records Centre and yesterday was their annual conference - a chance to meet recorders and ecologists from all over North Wales.

There was a good presence from BSBI - four Vice-county Recorders, including our retiring President Ian Bonner, who gave an interesting presentation on his progress towards an Anglesey [VC52] flora
Ian Bonner at Abermenai
Photo:Louise Marsh

I took a poster highlighting our local groups in North Wales [where every county now has one]


BSBI Local Groups
There are ongoing programmes of field trips in all the North Wales vice-counties.
Everyone is welcome and it is a brilliant opportunity for people interested in plants to enjoy days in the field with like-minded people and there is always something new to learn!
Anglesey Flora Group 
A field day with the Anglesey Flora Group
Merioneth Naturalists/Grwp Natur Meirionydd
Dolgoch Falls near Tywyn, Merioneth
Caernarfon Group VC49
Teaching in the field
FlintshireRecording VC51
Orchis mascula, Early Purple Orchid,
in Flintshire woods
Denbighshire Group VC50
Epipactis phyllanthes, Green-flowered Helleborine,
at Alyn Waters

Nigel Brown, who is Curator-Manager of Treborth Botanic Gardens,  University of Bangor, gave a fascinating talk on his twenty years of moth-trapping in the Gardens. One of his students talked about his work on the polymorphism of the Common Marbled Carpet  as an example of the practical uses of this work  - apart from the continuing fascination of these beautiful insects.

Other talks on mammal, amphibian, reptile and bird recording showed the versatility of Cofnod's database and online recording facility. The Amphibian & Reptile Conservation Trust, in particular, uses Cofnod to produce distributional maps of their records.  The BSBI of course deals with a larger number of species/ records than many of the groups currently using Cofnod's database and we have our own Distributional Database, but I left the conference feeling confident that for botanists in North Wales anyway, the promise of reaching an overall data exchange agreement is now closer than before.

Cofnod put on another great day of networking and learning about the work of recorders of other biological groups.  Their hospitality was as ever generous and I am sure I am not alone in taking away ideas of ongoing benefit.  Many thanks to Roy Tapping, Aisling Carrick and all the team, for such a good show.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Roses Workshop, September 2013

Kate Thorne offered this taxonomic training workshop as part of the BSBI's annual programme of meetings, which are advertised nationally. Members of the Society are welcome to attend free and learn from experts at events which would be quite expensive if they were run, for example, by the Field Studies Council.  They are designed for all levels from complete beginners to vice-county recorders [VCRs]. Last year a Sedge training day was attended by at least four VCRs - and another meeting was designed to introduce people newly interested in botany to the important plant families of Britain

Ruth's amazing rose-petal cake
Kate has cultivated a wide variety of native roses in her garden in rural Shropshire, so we were able to see them "in captivity" before we went out to see them in the wild.  The day started with a small group - just six of us - enjoying coffee in Kate's farmhouse kitchen before we got down to work, with remarkable cakes, appropriately decorated by the creative Ruth Dawes with rose-petal icing!

Roses in Kate's garden

We looked at the three main groups within the genus, Dog Roses, Downy Roses and Sweet Briars, and the characters which separated them.  That made it so much easier to assign them to species - as with many groups it is much easier to recognise the salient features when all the extraneous information is cut away. We also discussed the complex, asymmetric reproduction of hybrid roses, in which the seed parent often provides four-fifths of the genetic material as against the pollen parent.

Rose identification near the Stiperstones
After seeing the plants in Kate's garden we went off to look at roses in several sites near the Stiperstones, and were able to practise our new knowledge. It's such a lovely area - and we finished off with a splendid tea at The Bog Visitor Centre, which is "a gas-lit Victorian former school..... one of the few remaining buildings of a lost lead and barytes-mining village." Their cakes were superb and sent us home well-satisfied with our day.

Thanks to Ruth Dawes for all the photographs

Saturday, 21 September 2013

BSBI Recorders' Conference, September 2013

Always a highlight, this year's conference was no exception although the format was different, with all activities taking place at The Gateway in Shrewsbury, and members staying at the Premier Inn instead of the more familiar Field Studies Centre at Preston Montford.

The weekend kicked off after an excellent buffet lunch on Friday afternoon with some challenging talks  - needless to say Fred Rumsey and Richard Bateman both had their audience on the edge of their seats, talking about alien ferns and orchid taxonomy respectively. How delightful to hear of the slimming down of Dactylorhiza classification! Jim McIntosh's talk about his stay on Tristan da Cunha was taxing in a different way with his pictures of botanising in a barren and very difficult terrain. Saturday's talks included Pete Stroh's on a new Red List for England and a delightful vignette by Irina Belyaeva-Chamberlain, our new Salix referee, on her father's interest in Salix cultivars and how it aroused her own deep knowledge of the genus.

Workshops occupied the rest of the weekend's indoor activities:  The Big Database was on the menu at most sessions.  This is constantly evolving so it is well worth updating one's understanding of the immense versatility of its search functions.  Other interests included Conifers by Matt Parratt, Charophytes by Richard Lansdown and Roses with Roger Maskew.  As ever, there was so much enjoyable fare to absorb, what with all the networking to be done as well!

A gaggle of botanists watching Tim Rich at the river's edge
Sunday morning was fine and dry as we walked the "Loop" within the River Severn, trying to update records for the town. I concur with Arthur Chater's remark: "I specially enjoyed the Sunday morning walk with so many good botanists discussing identifications of such a wide range of species." I always feel sad at the end of this event so it was good to have Wendy's company on my way home.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Traeth Glaslyn - 26th August

What a lovely day we had - a super reserve and we were blessed by the lovely late summer sunshine that has been such a wonderful compensation for the long, cold spring. We were 9 members, one of the best turn-outs ever: I've circulated a list of 165 species seen, and there may be more to come. I think we all felt there is more work to be done in this area, and I look forward to a return visit at a different time of year.

Looking north up the Glaslyn river
to the new bridge carrying the A487 
We spent a long time recording in the lane which runs alongside the reserve and perhaps we would have been wiser to get up to the alder carr at the north end first.  However we made an excellent list with several names new to the hectad mostly due to more accurate recording such as Pastinaca sativa subsp sylvestris, Wild Parsnip rather than P. sativa s.l. Non-native species included Red Oak, Quercus rubra, Wilson's Honeysuckle, Lonicera nitida and Lodgepole Pine, Pinus contorta, all planted, and a lot of a Michaelmas Daisy, Aster, provisionally determined as  Aster x salignus.

Persicaria minor

On the reserve itself we were pleased to find Eleocharis parvula, Dwarf Spike-rush, washed up in the more brackish pans to the south of the area we covered, and Persicaria minor, quite abundant in many parts of the northern, less-brackish areas.  It was a pity to see so much Crassula helmsii but it seemed to be well-confined to a single area, perhaps where the vegetation was less robust and it could get established.We got a very good list of other freshwater and brackish marsh plants but didn't find the iconic plant of the reserve, the Welsh Mudwort, Limosella australis. Better luck next time!

Osprey watching at lunchtime

We had an idyllic picnic in the sun on the water's edge and the crowning delight was seeing an Osprey flying over the river.  We set off home in ones and twos, well-contented with the day's work.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

June and July - the summer slipping away

Anglesey -
Burial chamber near Moelfre
Anglesey - Cors Bodeilio:
Dactylorhiza purpurella

I have deserted Merioneth and this blog almost since Caerdeon.  Only a few days after that was over [when it was still very cold and un-summery] we had the BSBI AGM in Anglesey.

Almost straight afterwards we were in France. Martin and Clare Rand arranged a wonderful botanical holiday just south of Auxerre, in the heart of the Burgundy country. We stayed in a gite big enough to take 11 of us in comfort, with a large kitchen and open-plan living room, and its own pool. This was more than welcome as the weather got quite hot as the week went on. 

Botanising in Burgundy
The botanical highlights were numerous including some wonderful arable weeds such as Althaea hirsuta, Hairy Mallow and Legousia speculum-veneris, Venus’ Looking-glass.  Perhaps the highlight for me among so much superb habitat was the woodland with many orchids including my favourite Cephalanthera rubra, Red Helleborine. Martin’s knowledge of the region and its botanical riches was amazing and enabled him to take us straight to the best areas for plants and grand scenery.

Le Buget at nightfall

From there John and I went to Le Buget, our “second home” in Auvergne and we managed some good botany though the grain harvest was well under way and many of the arable weeds had disappeared.  Most of the time, though we were working hard in the garden, clearing heaps of building rubble and laying doorsteps etc.

I returned to Llandrillo in early July to find a garden looking more like a jungle and clearing it really has had to be a priority, but we had a good field meeting during the last week of July.
Yellow Water-lilies [Nuphar lutea] on Llyn Cwmorthin
Five members of Merioneth Nats met in Tan–y-Grisiau, among the extensive slate workings of Ffestiniog.  We recorded in two tetrads, notching up 170 records altogether including updating Andy Jones’ 1997 record of Floating Water-plantain, Luronium natans.  

Luronium natans
Photo: chinch gryniewicz
Coincidentally, I was sent another record of the same special plant with a superb photograph which I’ve put in here – it gives a much better idea of it at its best than my poor efforts!

Disused quarry house by Llyn Cwmorthin

Disused house below Llyn Cwmorthin 
The walk up to Llyn Cwmorthin was interesting with many relics of former quarrying times and showing the uplands so much more populated than nowadays.  What a bleak life it must have been - but giving rise to so much of the richness of Welsh society and culture.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Cwm Bychan [Nantmor]

Juniperus communis subsp nana
For Merioneth Nats’ field meeting in June only three of us came and we worked hard for our sparse 80 records. We were pleased with the number of young Dwarf Juniper, Juniperus communis subsp. nana plants we saw, though.

Guy - a botanist photographer at work!
The weather was still unseasonably cold and there was not as much to see as we had hoped.   It was tough country and Guy and Lucia's cheerfulness kept spirits up as we had to struggle through shoulder-high bracken and rhododendron back to the car park at the end of the day.  

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

May 2013 Dolgoch Falls

Such a long time since I wrote this blog and memories of the May Merioneth Nats meeting at Dolgoch Falls have receded into the past.  I do want to record it however and upload a few photos, as it was such a good day.  Heather made it seem very easy by letting me have contact details of local landowners, particularly of Eileen Jones, Clerk to the Community Council who manages the woodlands at Dolgoch Falls. She made us feel very welcome and the farm owners did too.  I have been as remiss about sending our records to Eileen as I have about keeping up this blog!

We met at the Dolgoch Falls Hotel and were detained for ages by the garden escapes and other exotics around the lower reaches.  Wending our way upwards we were now alongside the falls and now diverting round mine adits and impassable stretches of the river. There was a fine suite of woodland plants but nothing amazing.  Not only did we not find the hybrid Hymenophyllum [H x scopulorum] which Heather had hoped for but we only found one of its parents, H. wilsonii, Wilson’s Filmy-fern.  The other parent, H. tonbrigense, Tunbridge Filmy-fern, has perhaps not been seen here since 1960.

A mine adit
Reading Fred Rumsey's paper on H.x scopulorum
The stream at Nant y Mynach
Eventually we made our way out onto the open hillside and thence down towards the road again.  After we scoured the roadside for [mostly reseeded] plants, Heather left us to take the direct route home, while we tracked back to the cars alongside a slow-flowing stream, where we collected some nice aquatic records.  These included a putative Callitriche obtusangula, which was later determined by Richard Lansdown as ‘only’ C. stagnalis, and a Water Crowfoot which has still to be determined but may be Ranunculus penicillatus.  I had intended to return to get more material, but I fear that this will now have to wait for another year!

Friday, 10 May 2013

France - Spring in the Auvergne

Early Purple Orchids growing beside the road
I have just taken a week's French leave - away from the bare meadows of Merioneth with the trees  showing hardly a hint of green, to the lush countryside of the Auvergne in Central France.
The weather wasn't that much better though and we had violent thunderstorms the second day I was there - just as we did in Morocco in March!

Le [petit] ruisseau - le Grand Vallon!

The little river that runs by the house turned into a raging torrent with great quantities of soil washing down and being left in sandy shoals as the water receded.  It is interesting to speculate how much fertility has been lost with the change in land use from pasture to intensive wheat and rape cultivation.  But the unimproved meadows were still wonderful with lots of Meadow Saxifrage, Saxifraga granulata with Myosotis ramosissima and M. discolor, Early and Changing Forget-me-nots, growing together.

Saxifraga granulata
The crater of the Puy Pariou

 One day we took our Dutch guests and their two children to the ChaĆ®ne des Puys, an area of extinct volcanoes near Clermont Ferrand.  In the morning we walked up through Hazel coppice and beech woods to the top of the Puy Pariou through sheets of Wood Anemones and Cowslips while higher up  there were Oxlips, Primula elatior, too. But the prize for me was these Herb Paris, Paris quadrifolia plants, just coming into flower.

In the afternoon we took this little train to the top  of the Puy de Dome [1464m] where there is a famous observatory manned by military and civil personnel, but closed to the public since a bomb exploded there in 1976.  It was bitterly cold!  We donned every scrap of warm clothing we had with us as we tried to find somewhere sheltered from the biting north wind.

The weather was lovely again as I left France, but it didn't last long and as I write I wonder whether the plants know it's almost summer and that we will be at Caerdeon in three weeks' time!

Saturday, 27 April 2013


This area is notable for outcroppings of micro-gabbro so we had hoped to see some good base-rich-dependent plants.  Unfortunately, we were just too early as the weather still hadn't caught up, but we did see Wheatears, Swallows and House Martins - the first ones I had seen this year - so spring must be almost here!
Broadwater on a grey and misty day

We started off from  Llech Llwyd, where Elwyn Roberts, the farmer, had let us park, and walked down across sheep-grazed, improved pasture to a boggy area near the shore of the curious Broadwater, the almost land-locked estuary of the River Dysynni.  There were so many brackish-loving plants to be seen but without flowers so  that even with the indispensible 'Poland' to aid identification, we soon felt we could use our time better and decided to go on to the quarry.

Walking along the lane it seemed we had moved on in time with the hedgebanks full of the first Stitchwort, Stellaria holostea, the first Dog Violets, Viola riviniana and the hillsides ablaze with early-flowering Gorse, Ulex europaeus.

Viola riviniana - Spring is on the way!
Blackthorn winter

Arum maculatum already  in flower 
Smiling in spite of the weather!
We reached the quarry where we had a damp lunch with a low-lying grey  mist. Roadstone is still being extracted here and we found some curious plants in the settling tanks, including a Stonewort, Chara sp. [one of those curious 'honorary' vascular plants],  Typha latifolia, Bulrush, and a great swathe of Equisetum telmateia Great Horsetail.

Some people were almost ready to give up by then but the tougher souls said that we should try the other dolerite outcrop at Foel Fendigaid a couple of miles further north where we found more interest in a small flush and further on a grassy hillside which posed us a couple of challenges.
Foel Fendigaid 
We had been discussing the possibility of finding Upright Chickweed. Moenchia erecta [which has been recorded here in the past], when sharp-eyed Heather L found a different plant of the Caryophyllaceae, which we eventually decided was a Spergularia, tentatively identifying it as S media mainly on the characters of the scarious stipules.  Later, Annie found some strange woody stems over two metres long crawling about in the dead bracken, which stumped us for a while, until we decided they were the over-wintering stems of Solanum dulcamara, Bittersweet, only just beginning to leaf, and not enough to make identification easy!

A Minotaur beetle, with its prominent thoracic 'horns'
The joy of our group outings are the many skills that members bring along.  Expertise in bryology, lichens, and in many classes of invertebrates are just a few of their subjects. I feel so lucky to have these opportunities.
I have passed the burrow exits of the Minotaur Beetle Typhaeus typhaeus so many times without connecting them with this fellow. He lives on rabbit and sheep dung, but lets the female do most of the work of excavating shafts underground where the eggs are laid.