Saturday, 16 February 2019

Grotting in the Garw


It is clear from George's spreadsheet of records counts for VC41 that there are lots of tetrads in remote places which need some attention. Much of the Garw Valley in Bridgend county falls into that category. I like these old villages, which have 'paid the price of coal' (Mark Knopfler), and the way they are almost reinventing themselves as they recover from their mining legacy. 
But they are hard work! Nevertheless, on a nice day, like yesterday, you can take an easy, if long walk from the Bwlch (above Abergwynfi, in NPT) along the new, limestone-gravelled road that gives access to the Llynfi-Afan Wind Farm, which is what we did. The road also gives access to parts of SS99B (formally 15 records), SS89X (39) and SS89W (13).

Funaria hygrometrica is plentiful in the gravel and bare peat along the road, often with other common pioneers such as Ceratodon purpureus and Bryum dichotomum, but many of the calcicoles that one might expect such as Trichostomum crispulum and Ctenidium molluscum, which are so abundant along forest roads, are not here yet. The surrounding moorland is heavily grazed and unexciting but some of the peaty tracks have lots of Lophocolea bispinosa.
From Blaengarw there are a number of forest tracks which ascend through Scots Pine and finally into Sitka. There was more L. bispinosa here and lots of Calliergonella lindbergii along the roads, but there is lots more to do.

Calliergonella lindbergii

After all this the tetrad totals are still modest; SS89W = 43; SS89X = 60; SS99B = 45 and SS99C = 60; but the Garw will look a bit darker on the next tetrad map. There are also some exposed rock (Darren Goch) and gully habitats above Blaengarw in SS99B which were not accessible to us on the day and we (or anybody else) may try to get to them in the future. 

North-facing gulley above Blaengarw

Friday, 15 February 2019

More Treasure in the Bracken and some Blorenge Delights

I haven’t posted for a while as I have hardly been out of the home or the office, but this week I managed to get out to the Blorenge near Abergavenny, where I found myself in an area of bracken-infested Vaccinium heath with frequent scattered boulders.  Remembering my visit to Craig y Cilau about this time last year when I found Tritomaria exsecta in similar bracken-infested and rocky habitat, I jokingly set myself the challenge of finding some T. exsecta on the Blorenge.  Amazingly, the first small rock I looked at (centre of pic) had a nice patch of Tritomaria and there were patches on other rocks nearby.  

Afterwards I checked the spores and they turned out to be nice and smooth – Sam comfirmed that it is the first record of T. exsecta for Monmouthshire since 1956.   It would be worth searching out boulders in bracken in other areas just in case the habitat turns out to be 'a fairly predictable locus' for the species.

I didn’t see many other bryos of great interest on the rocks, although there were some nice patches of Barbilophozia attenuata here and there. 

Whilst at the site I thought I would pay my respect to the large population of Andreaea rothii subsp. falcata on gritstone pavement next to the Foxhunter carpark, which I first saw about 21 years ago.  In places a small amount of water seeps from surrounding vegetation and across the rocks and in damp runnels there were a few patches of Bryum alpinum. 

  Sam informs me that this species still qualifies as a county rarity with only 5 records and that it was recorded at this very spot in 2017.  Whilst trying (and failing) to take a reasonable photo of the Bryum (I think my camera is finally starting to wear out after 17 or 18 years of use!) I noticed a dark patch of lichen out of the corner of my eye and sure enough when I took a closer look it turned out to be Umbilicaria deusta.   

The Blorenge has had some serious moorland fires in the past – the worst I recall was about 20 years ago, when the majority of the hill was burned, with pockets of peat smoking and reigniting for weeks afterwards.   About 10 years ago, just as the heathland vegetation had recovered, there was another extensive fire.  I recall visiting the area just south of the transmitter a year afterwards and was quite impressed by how large areas of bare peat had been quickly colonised by Marchantia ruderalis and also Polytrichum longisetum (pic is from back then and I expect that is longisetum in the centre).  

Today the vegetation has again recovered well, with extensive areas of heather and patches of Vaccinium vitis-idea here and there.  A close look, shows that there are still frequent bryophyte-dominated patches between the clumps of heather, but now instead of Marchantia, these are mainly dominated by Campylopus introflexus, with little bare peat.     From where I was standing I could see about 100m away some more patches of damp looking vegetation-free gritstone pavement, so I thought I would take a look to see if there was more U. deusta.   I didn’t find any of this lichen but there was a lot of Lasallia pustulata (an associate of U .deusta at most of the sites I have seen it).

There were also frequent patches of Stereocaulon – which on closer inspection turned out to be mainly S. dactylophyllum, which I haven’t seen for years.  

Also on the damp rocks was abundant Rhizocarpon lecanorinum – it also occurs more rarely on scattered boulders on the Blorenge, but perhaps these damper rocks is its preferred habitat as I have seen it in some abundance in similar habitat at Ogof Fynnon Ddu in the upper Swansea valley, also growing alongside Lasallia.   

Some blocks screes on the Blorenge support very nice bryophyte communities and some of the more exposed screes and scattered blocks that have escaped burning also have some very nice lichen communities.   Umbilicaria torrefacta is one of the more interesting lichens present – I have mainly seen it on the hill north of the transmitter, which has been less affected by fires, but it also occurs in small quantity on a handful of boulders immediately south of the transmitter and during my visit I spotted a few small patches on a couple of rocks resting on top of the gritstone pavement where the Stereocaulon was frequent. 
 Many of the scattered rocks through the heathy areas are, 10 to 20 years on, still bleached by fire damage - there is some re-colonisation, but it is slow and I doubt if I will live long enough to see species like U. torrefacta re-colonising.  The pic shows small colonies of what look like Rhizocarpon geographicum and probably represents getting on for 10 years of growth.

On returning to the car park I took a quick look at a colony of Lycopodium clavatum that Sam and I bumped in to about 20 years ago – it occupies a south-facing bank on an old spoil heap and must have really suffered during last years hot weather, so it was good to see the colony had survived and is looking relatively healthy.   

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Rhiw Forgan

The Alun Valley area is the gift that keeps on giving...

Yesterday we walked to the top of Rhiw Forgan to see the fire service operating a robo-cutter on a large area of dense gorse and Molinia. I'd not been to this part of the site before, and an area of limestone outcrops and short calcareous grassland (SS893761) immediately grabbed my attention. It certainly didn't disappoint, with large patches of Entodon concinnus and Thuidium assimile, and not far away numerous small patches of Racomitrium canescens. I checked the latter two species under the microscope and both look pretty convincing.
It turns out that CCW also recorded T. assimile from this same habitat patch (in 1995), but it is a new subsite for Entodon and a new site for R. canescens (though Sam has recorded it in the adjacent tetrad to the west, at Merthyr Mawr).

What other goodies await at this site? There must be plenty.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Back to Cwm Parc and other things

In an effort to get SS99N up to a respectable number, we spent a misty afternoon in the plantation above Cwm Park (RCT) - don't get excited! There's been quite a lot clear felling up there, so it's all in a bit of a mess at the moment. The forest road was disappointing, but some extensive patches of Campylium protensum were interesting and of course some nice patches of ubiquitous Colura. The total for the tetrad now stands at 76 which is probably a fair representation for the area.
Twenty minutes in a small arable patch near Margam Park  (SS88C) was more fun with Riccia glauca (and sorocarpa), Physcomitrium pyriforme, Tortula modica (and truncata), Phascum cuspidatum, Dicranella staphylina, frequent patches of Leptobryum pyriforme and Bryum rubens and lots of the other usual suspects. Because arable land is so rare in NPT, it is a joy to find even a small patch like this. The new total for the tetrad is a disappointing 68, so a bit more work in order there.

Riccia glauca in arable plot near Margam Park

Physcomitrium pyriforme in arable plot near Margam Park

A casual stop at the side of the road at Ynysygerwn, near Aberdulais, yielded a fabulous population of Riccia sorocarpa growing on some bare earth beneath a young Cherry tree.

Riccia sorocarpa, Ynysygerwn

We've spent some time recently trying to nail those little Bryum erythrocarpum agg. specimens that are so common along forest roads. Our data is imperfect but Bryum ruderale seems to be well represented although B. violaceum and B. subapiculatum are also out there.

Friday, 25 January 2019

Poking about in Bridgend

Nothing exciting to report from East Glamorgan I'm afraid, but I have made a couple of brief visits to tetrad SS97J on the way home from working in the Alun Valley. Most of this tetrad is dominated by Bridgend and Waterton Industrial Estates, but mercifully there is a 100m stretch of the Ewenny River in the south-west corner which has a convenient riverbank footpath. This helped boost the tetrad total to 57 taxa, including Cinclidotus fontinaloides, Didymodon sinuosus, Hygrohypnum fluviatile and Fissidens crassipes on a riverside rock.
The most surprising find was the first moss I saw after getting out of the car - several cushions of Dialytrichia mucronata on a wall top several metres above the Ewenny River. I've not seen it in such an exposed location before.
The previous week I'd called in at Bridgend Industrial Estate and recorded a few grots. There are plenty of vacant plots on the estate, so it is probably worth another pit stop sometime to mop up a few more species...

Scapania paludicola and Matt's other finds

Matt Sutton has been busy in Pembrokeshire, looking for species that I missed whilst recording for The Mosses and Liverworts of Pembrokeshire.  He has made numerous new hectad records over the last couple of years, and found Ditrichum lineare new to the county in 2017.  Last year he made two additions - Bryum moravicum near Kilgetty and Scapania paludicola near Llangolman - as well as finding notably disjunct rarities such as Porella obtusata on the south coast near Saundersfoot and Cephaloziella turneri in a gully on the north coast near Strumble Head.  Although VC45 is probably the most intensely recorded county in Wales for bryophytes, diligent searching is bound to turn up new things.

Matt's Scapania paludicola is particularly welcome because it helps with a longstanding puzzle.  This species was thought to be very rare in Britain, but my CCW colleagues began finding it in pH-neutral mires across much of Wales and the Atlas suggests it is something of a Welsh speciality.  However, forms of Scapania irrigua mimic the leaf shape and arched keel of S. paludicola and I have long held a nagging doubt that the widespread Welsh plant might just be extreme S. irrigua.  This was not helped by the complete lack of gemmae on Welsh plants, unlike a couple I was sent from Scotland as Recorder for Hepatics.  Matt's find had dark gemmae, finally putting my mind at ease.  I am now confident that the Welsh mire Scapania really is S. paludicola.  Matt's plants were alongside typical neutral mire species: Sphagnum papillosum, Aulacomnium palustre and Straminergon stramineum.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Bonfire fungus

I've been checking Funaria-covered bonfire sites for fruit bodies of bryoparasitic fungi for ages, so I was pleased to finally spot some little orange apothecia near the car park at Cwm Llwch (Brecon Beacons) at the weekend.
Using the bryoparasitic pezizales website, the large, smooth, elliptical spores are a good fit with Octospora excipulata (web link here), which seems to be the commonest of the three fungi recorded as parasitic on Funaria.