Sensational Sunday completely passed us by in a blur of forks and rakes. For the fifth and last time this year, I opened the back door to the smell of half dried hay this week. A wonderful scent to be savoured, flavoured, before the dew lifts and manual fluffing or turning begins. Heard of Seedlip? Click here for more. As a nearly full time teetotaller I wonder what a distillate of a Welsh hay field would taste like? Could you capture this essence of summer in a glass? And enjoy it?
So whilst most of the country would have been glued to their devices following the triumphs of Murray, Rode, Whtitlock and Dempsey in Rio, we struggled under windless gloom, trying to undo the damage of an unexpected 4 mm of rain on the final tranch of cut grass. (By the way, how strange that the exploits of Team Great Britain, currently still second in the Olympic medal tables are celebrated without a thought, whilst the concept of our unusual union of four nations ever again managing to survive and thrive in a post Brexit world, still seems to preoccupy much of the nation’s media).
Admiring the colours lurking in the sodden mossy surface (Pink Waxcaps – Hygrocybe calyptriformis)…… the tiny, and adult toads and frogs; and dueting, echoing unseen hedgerow Redstarts, and disturbed, but placid, Bombus. Struggling to relocate their tiny nest entrance hole once the familiar terrain of guarding stems and leaves were carelessly, and unwittingly, shorn by the power scythe’s shearing blades…Gingery bumbles of pastured, B. pascuorum, with their carding expertise they’d picked the warmest, driest spot in the hay meadow to construct their combed mossy nests at the base of the South facing slope… Click here for more on Bombus pascuorum. I left clusters confused at dusk, but fortunately by dawn order was restored, holes had been found, and with a quick recheck of bearings after emerging from the nests, their hard work of food collection could begin again in earnest.
Then on Monday morning, the real delight of a sunny, blue sky morning, and even better the promise of 2 days of high temperatures to finish the job and get the hay off the field and undercover. Increased mechanisation is planned for next year – creaky joints demand it, (and after I wrote this, Fiona’s work induced tendonitis confirmed the need for such change.)
A few days earlier, our wedding anniversary had us thinking about a day away from toil – in the end a scarf restocking request from Etcetera in St David’s gave us the perfect solution. So an early start to avoid the worst traffic and then the lovely drive down to the pretty city, appropriately the scene of our first ever student holiday together. Scarves supplied, on for a coffee in the visitor centre, where once the camper van was parked up in a deserted car park all those years ago….and smokey swifts spied. Click here for more, but sadly no images of the actual exhibition, which had been taken down when we visited.
A few of Elly Morgan’s smoke fired birds proved perfect for a stain spattered wall, hung later, and happy in their new home beside the swallows…Sadly we never hear swifts in the valleys here anymore, and this year the swallows have been less successful than usual. Whether the neighbours’ marauding cats have scared them, or they have suffered from food shortages in the gloomy weather, I’m not sure. But we’ve been restricted to occasional dusk gatherings around the yard, when attempts to fly into the barn through under rafter spaces are practised with considerable skill.
The dressed crab and sewin bought in the St.David’s butchers made the perfect anniversary meal, but we were forced to retreat indoors after a crab salad starter, when swarming ants descended, on the table, seeming to prefer light surfaces. Why?I don’t think these were the yellow meadow ants I’ve written about before, but their darker cousins. Usually timed for the end of July, their late taking to the skies again reflects the strangeness of much of this summer here – Warmish. Cloudy. But Dry. An unusual combination.
Common Lizards are now spotted so frequently around the garden, that I no longer rush for a camera when one is glimpsed, and they seem less fazed by me, so when I do decide to photograph them, they are usually very obliging. But two merited recording this year. The first on the slate topped wall outside the front door, a favourite heat store, had obviously lost its’ tail a little earlier and was successfully regrowing a new version… whilst the rusty chicken must be another favourite warm haven, since the mature lizard seen here last year was replaced this month by a darker and smaller juvenile.
Knowing that lizards are great creatures of habit makes it easy to point them out to visitors – as happened last week when we were really fortunate that a group of naturalists visited Gelli Uchaf to “bioblitz” the property. Organised by Kate Smith, from the West Wales Biodiversity Information Centre (WWBIC – click here for more), and including Richard Pryce, the county’s plant recorder, and Dave Bannister the county’s butterfly recorder, the brief was to survey the property’s 11 acres and record any species of plants and animals found. Fortunately we had a dry and part sunny day, and it was a most enjoyable occasion, during which a number of interesting finds were made. Richard has a well honed, thorough approach including clip boards, GPS to record with accuracy any finds made, and an aerial photo of the location to work from. Lunch was taken, by some, on the hoof in the fields, but there was enough time for tea and cake on the terrace – and to see the basking young lizard.
Richard’s knowledge is immense and working as a team with his wife Kath, it was amazing what they found, much of which I’d never noticed before. In the end he produced 24 pages of notes, which will in due course be typed up, so perhaps more detail in the future…
It was pleasing for me to find a Broad leaved Helleborine, lurking beneath mature Hazel trees on a North boundary bank of our hay meadow. We’d found a plant here 2 years ago, but not seen it last year. Richard explained that this semi-shaded location was typical habitat for Helleborines, and it reinforces the benefits of leaving uncut edges to hay fields.
What really impressed me was the thoroughness with which Richard approached the task – surveying many different areas and, for example, in a 15 yard section of one of the lower meadow ditches finding 5 different plant species, which I’d never even noticed before, including Bulbous Rush, Juncus bulbosus, below … and tiny flowered Bog Stitchwort, Stellaria uliginosa …
A significant highlight was Richard fishing out on the end of Colin’s walking stick, a glutinous mass of what I would have assumed was just algal gloop, from one of our meadow’s ponds and declaring that it was quite an unusual insectivorous plant called Lesser Bladderwort, Utricularia minor. Apparently there are only 3 (post 2000) records of this in Carmarthenshire, so it’s nice to see that it’s colonised a pond which we had dug out about 15 years ago, presumably brought in by an itinerant bird or mammal.
A little bit of research reveals that these are highly adapted plants which use the small ‘bladders’ formed along the stems as traps for catching water invertebrates, which are then digested as a supplementary nutrient source for the plant.
What’s more the genus ranks as one of the fastest moving plants in the whole plant kingdom. Click here for more, including a video you can watch of the trap in operation ( though with our limited internet data for the month, we can’t yet!). Apparently once the unfortunate invertebrate touches the trip hairs at the mouth of the bladder, (visible on the last photo of the plant), the pent up energy in the flexed bladder wall is released, the wall bends outwards 100 times faster than a shutting Venus Fly trap, and consequently sucks water, and the prey, into the now enlarging bladder. (Cleaned up and free of the attached algae, the bladders become a bit more obvious when viewed from above)…This process of bladder filling creates turbulence which prevents the animal from making a speedy exit. Meanwhile the plant produces a special mucillage type plug at the bladder’s entrance, sealing any route out. An individual trap can be re used many times over, and at the end of the year has a role in sinking the floating plant to the base of the pond to escape winter freeze ups. It does flower as well, so next year, I shall be on the look out for these small yellow structures.
Richard also found, much to Fiona’s delight, a Lemon scented fern growing on one of the lower field banks. A few butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies were also seen, including Common Darter dragonflies ovipositing in tandem, dapping abdomen tips onto the pond’s surface, in what what has been a generally poor year here for these insects with the lack of warm sunshine for them to take wing. (A picture of these from a couple of years ago, below.)
I must again say a big thank you to Kate, Colin, Josh, Dave, Richard and Kath for visiting us, for this wonderful survey, and for all the hard work that they put in.
2 days after writing the above, the exposed bumblebee nest had been trashed overnight, probably by a fox keen to consume the queen’s honeypot and associated larvae. The bees were distraught, if bees can indeed experience such behaviour, but interestingly not at all aggressive to this passive observer…
The latest dozen plants in the Gelli Uchaf plant palette for the last 2 weeks of July has been added to the separate webpage, and the garden has taken back seat with all this field based interest, but Hydrangeas and Clematis are having another lovely year and great to appreciate at the end of such busy days…
Thanks for reading.