Thursday, 2 April 2020

Before the lockdown - some nice surprises in my home hectad

The relatively care-free days of social distancing (but no lockdown) seem a long while ago already, but as I write it's only been 10 days. On Sunday 22nd March, sensing what might be coming, I took a trip to Cwm Cydfin near Leckwith - a tricky to access wooded stream valley that runs down into the River Ely. This short valley straddles three different tetrads so the GPS needed to be regularly checked to be sure which square I was in at any particular point.

After a bit of scrambling over fallen trees I came to a nice soft cliff section. The whole valley is calcareous so it was no surprise to find Fissidens incurvus, Eucladium verticillatum and Riccardia chamaedryfolia here, in fact the latter species was surprisingly frequent down the entire length of the stream. More of a surprise was Rhynchostegiella teneriffae, new for my home hectad ST17.

A little further downstream, a very rotten oak log that bridged the stream supported plenty of Tetraphis pellucica and a few patches of Nowellia curvifolia - also new for ST17.

The five south-easternmost records on the map above were all made by me in the last four years, suggesting this species is spreading into the less humid areas of the county.

To round off a fun couple of hours, a Scarce Fungus Weevil Platyrhinus resinosus was found on an ash log with numerous Daldinia fruit bodies on it.
This little valley proved a lot more productive than I expected, and added 38 new tetrad records for ST17L, S and R.

Sunday, 29 March 2020


Due to that pesky virus keeping us close to home, I now have few excuses for not doing some outstanding jobs around the house.  Last Friday I looked at the lawn and whilst deciding it didn’t need cutting just yet, I spotted some Calliergonella cuspidata fruiting.  I occasionally see this species fruiting, but I think always in fairly wet habitats like flushes and I don’t think I have seen it fruiting in such a dry lawn before – perhaps it is a symptom of the very wet 6 months we have just endured.  

While taking the photo I remembered that I had spotted a nice patch of male Lunularia in one of our flower beds last autumn, so thought I would get a pic of that – unfortunately the patch had almost completely degraded, but there was one male bit still showing. 

Later that day, I made use of my daily exercise allowance by walking along some of the lanes near home, returning along the canal towpath.    The only bryo that caught my eye was a lovely patch of fruiting Bartramia pomiformis, on a small rock embedded in a lane bank.  

Walking past a pile of mixed clay and rubble by the canal, something shiny caught my eye and it turned out to be a small ammonite – a bit of a surprise as it not the sort of fossil you expect to see in Devonian country. Further fossicking resulted in a few more ammonite specimens and bits of broken Gryphaea and belemnite.     

I’ll see what else I can find in the garden over the next few weeks – might have to eke bryos out a bit, but there are plenty of other groups to get my teeth into.  After a week of working from home I am now up to 22 bird species on my new list “Staring out of spare bedroom window whilst taking part in telephone/ Skype sessions”.   Perhaps I’ll start a separate list for each window of the house!   

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Daltonia update

Daltonia splachnoides habitat in Pentreclwydau Forest

Apologies for labouring on this subject, but I thought this might be of interest. Firstly, we have searched for Daltonia in 5 likely sites in NPT over the past few days. Most trips have been disappointing, but we have managed to locate a large population in Pentreclwydau Forest where at least 10 willow trees have conspicuous tufts, probably 30 + plants in total. This may be just the tip of the iceberg. There are lots of willow here and the habitat is more 'typical' of the places described in Irish Sitka forests and Brechfa, i.e. willows in the vicinity of streams and wet ditches. Some of the tufts are relatively large (15mm or more in diameter) and they occur in places where they are easy to spot. In fact the glossy, dry colonies, that stick out like little shelves, are fairly easy to see from a couple of metres away. It looks as if the population has produced lots of sporophytes although some  have finished fruiting and several don't seem to have any capsules. Judging by the size of the population and the size of some plants, I guess it has been in this forest for several years. 
We now have Daltonia in 3 NPT tetrads, making a total of 4 for VC41. There must be more sites in the county, but it has a long way to go to catch up with Colura. Presumably it is a more recent colonist but I also suspect that it is a bit more fussy about where it grows. Daltonia associates on the Pentreclwydau willows include: Zygodon conoideus (abundant), Radula complanata, Lejeunea patens, Colura calyptrifolia, Orthotrichum pulchellum, Metzgeria temperata, Cryphaea heteromalla, Ulota bruchii, Ulota crispaUlota phyllantha, Hypnum andoi, Brachythecium rutabulum.

Large Daltonia tuft on willow, Pentreclwydau
Daltonia splachnoides with abundant capsules, on willow in Pentrecwydau  Sitka Spruce Forest

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Confusing Brachythecium - well, to me anyway.

I know I only post things on here when I need help, sorry! Hopefully in the future I'll be able to contribute more than questions on relatively common species. And this one probably is common...

I've been pottering around Craig Cerrig-Gleisiad a few times over the last couple of weeks. Once with the Gloucestershire group, but it got me hooked and I went back. I collected this 'Brachythecium' on a big boulder at the base of the cliffs at SN969221. Thought it was Sciuro-hypnum populeum, but it doesn't have the long nerve. So then I wondered about B. velutinum - which it seems quite close to, but is this the right habitat?
I'm struggling to get it to fit anything else so any help you can give would be most welcome.

Sorry, I don't have any images of it in situ, but this is my specimen, dry. Not much change when moist although the leaves do look slightly concave.

It has capsules though they have lost their lids; however I can see the seta is definitely papillose at the top, though it appears smooth below.

Branch leaves are similar to stem leaves though slightly narrower. Here's one of each:
Stem leaf (x40)

Branch leaf (x100)

Most leaves - both branch and stem - have this long, twisted leaf tip.

Leaf margins are smooth to faintly denticulate. Mid-leaf cells are quite long and narrow. Not sure if you can make out the measurements but they're 52 - 80 (110) x 5.5-8┬Ám.

Leaf bases mostly have this brown colouration and don't seem to be decurrent (this is half a leaf, split down the nerve on the left).

I'm starting to wonder if it's just an odd B. rutabulum, but don't think it is. So Brachytheciastrum velutinum? Any other suggestions? Maybe not even Brachythecium?

Thank you all.

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Daltonia splachnoides in NPT

Daltonia splachnoides on Willow at edge of Sitka Spruce Plantation, Abercregan

While self-isolating in the Sitka Spruce plantation above the Cregan Valley we were very lucky to come across a willow with several small colonies of Daltonia splachnoides. Ever since Sam told me to look for it in the NPT spruce forests, several years ago, we have kept an eye open for it - there have been many disappointing excursions. Well, at last!

Strangely, although the site has lots of seemingly suitable and similar willows, we were only able to find it on one tree.  It was growing on the north-facing side of the trunk in an epiphytic community with lots of Metzgeria temperata and Orthotrichum pulchellum as well as Hypnum andoi, Radula complanata, Ulota phyllantha, Frullania dilatata, Peltigera membranacea and a Cladonia sp. The site is more open than the Brechfa and St Gwynno Forest habitats where Sam has found it, but this is a very humid environment nevertheless.
This is the first record for NPT, the second for VC41 and (I think) the most southerly in Britain.

Daltonia splachnoides community on Willow, Abercregan

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Wye Valley

Earlier this week I visited a replanted woodland in the lower Wye valley. Apart from a small area with natural rock outcrops, it had a rather dull bryo flora and I only managed to record 45 species.  The most interesting part, with the rocks, had lots of Anomodon viticulosa, some fruiting,

sheets of Porella platyphylla and a small patch of Porella arboris-vitae,

but strangely no Neckera crispa, which is usually common in this sort of habitat in this part of the world.   As I hadn’t seen the rather rare moss Seligeria campylopoda for a while, I had a good look at scattered pieces of limestone on the woodland floor, but no joy.  

On my way back to the office I made a lunchtime stop at Wyndcliff to see if the Seligeria was showing there.  I looked in the area I saw some with a BBS excursion back in 2001, but still no luck and as the path quickly became horribly muddy, I turned around to find a drier route.  Walking back towards the car park I spotted a rock with a bonus patch of Amblystegium confervoides.  

Across the road the path was much drier and I quickly found a small rock with three or four young sporophytes of S. campylopoda, but I couldn’t get a good pic due to the dark conditions under the yew trees.   I didn’t have much time left, so I quickly walked on towards the base of the cliffs where there were abundant patches of Marchesinia mackaii – a reasonably common species on shaded limestone in Wye valley woods.  

On the return walk to the car I managed to spot a nice fruiting patch of S. campylopoda on a small rock wedged between two large mossy boulders and managed to get some reasonable pics.

Back at the office I came across a file note from the 1950s, which mentioned that the first area of wood I had visited had been recently clear-felled and replanted and had little botanical interest.  Judging by the age of the trees today, I suspect it must have been clear-felled again about 30 years ago, so not surprising it was poor in woodland bryophyte species.     

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

OK it's not a bryophyte but...

Onygena equina growing on the horns of a ram's skull, Resolven

...I know you lot have eclectic tastes.
We saw this on a walk on Resolven Mountain this afternoon. Growing on the horns of this ram's skull is a fabulous colony of Horn Stalkball (Onygena equina), an ascomycete in the Onygenaceae. I've only ever seen it once before. It only grows on the horn tissue and not on the bone of the skull. Unlike bone the horn is made of keratin (hair), which is a fibrous structural protein. Keratin is not easy to break down and few organisms can use it as a source of food - several fungi can do it. The reward for being able to break it down is the availability of a rich source of organic carbon and nitrogen in the form of amino acids.
There is a bryophyte in the photograph!

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Before the floods

I had a few spare hours last Friday but without aceess to a car, so I took a train ride to Treforest Estate to boost the coverage in tetrad ST18D. Little did I suspect at the time that this area would be among the worst hit by Storm Dennis less than 48 hours later.

The most interesting habitat proved to be the damp, NE-facing retaining wall which separates the railway line from a lane alongside it. Among the 17 species present here were several patches of Preissia quadrata spreading along mortar lines and adjoining stonework. Peter Sturgess has recorded this species from the same habitat in an adjacent tetrad.
The Taff riverbank felt like familiar hunting ground from my time spent exploring this habitat in Cardiff, with characteristic species including Homalia trichomanoides, Cinclidotus fontinaloides and Dialytrichia mucronata. There was also a small patch of Anomodon viticulosus, only the second time I've seen it by the Taff, and some Fissidens crassipes on riverbank rocks. Two days later these rocks would've been under several metres of water, and some of these bryophytes might now have been scoured off.
Epiphytes near the river included what appears to be Pylaisia polyantha on a fallen sycamore branch. There were no mature capsules with lids to make the identification straightforward, but the combination of multiple generations of capsules, evenly thickened exothecial cells walls in the capsules (photo below, bottom right) and some flat-ended basal cells in the leaves are hopefully sufficient to rule out Hypnum resupinatum.
The visit increased the total for this tetrad by about 50, from 28 to 78 taxa. I just had time to call into ST08Y before catching the train home. This tetrad already had a decent total of 47 taxa but was lacking in epiphytes, so it was quick work to boost it to 63 taxa after checking a few Ash trunks.

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Moss on a pole

Well, on the stump of a pole.  Dicranum montanum was a long overdue 'lifer' for me and it was reassuringly distinct enough in the field (photo above) to immediately suspect it as being a good a candidate for montanum, though I only got round to checking my voucher last night.  It would appear to be genuinely scarce in Glamorgan, this being the first record since 2005, when it was recorded at Pencoedtre by an unnamed 'EcoTech' surveyor/subcontractor.  The only other 21st Cent. record was made by Sam in 2002 at Blackmill SSSI.  Given the unspectacularness of the habitat for this record (a weathered telegraph pole at a coal mine washery), there is possibility it occurs more widely.  The very sprawly-curly leaves of dry plants impart a distinctiveness quite different from the potentially confusing Dicranoweisia cirrata.

Sunday, 9 February 2020

A sweet surprise on the Sugar Loaf

St. Mary’s Vale on the southern flanks of the Sugar Loaf, just on the outskirts of Abergavenny, apparently supports a dry south-eastern example of a wet western oak woodland community, and a few areas do indeed have quite a western feel, with a bilberry ground layer and scattered hard-fern.  The ground layer doesn’t have the luxuriant moss layer seen in western versions of this woodland community, but if you search around you can find scattered patches of species like Rhytidiadelphus loreus, Dicranum majus, Pleurozium schreberi and Plagiothecium undulatum.    The locality also has a well-known population of Bazzania trilobata, which is confined to quite a small area on the north-east facing slope of the valley.    

During a visit to the site last week, I quickly paid my respects to the Bazzania and then wandered along the slope further up the valley, hoping to find that the Bazzania was more widespread than thought.   Eventually I came to a small area with a very steep bank above a hollow, which pleasingly had about 15 patches of Bazzania - a reasonable distance from the main population.   

     The shiny patches are Bazzania - flash reflecting off the broad round-backed stems.

In a nearby rocky area the ground was an almost continuous sheet of R. loreus and it was good to see that much of it was fruiting.

On a couple of rotting logs were a few patches of Nowellia curvifolia, which I don’t see a lot of in this part of Wales.  Every time I see this species I am reminded of the town of Todmorden, where I spent many teenage days fishing the canal and where one of my working class heroes, John Nowell, was born, after whom the liverwort genus Nowellia is named.  Nowell was an illegitimate and impoverished handloom weaver, who somehow in his few hours of free time became a skilled bryologist, regularly corresponding with giants of botany like William Hooker, Wilhelm Schimper and William Wilson.  If anyone is interested in finding out more about Nowell, Mark Lawley wrote a brief biography about him, which is available on the BBS web site
, but a more detailed account was published in the BBS Bulletin some years earlier - Foster, W.D. (1980). Famous Bryologists. 1. John Nowell of Todmorden (1802–1867). Bulletin of the British Bryological Society 35, 13–20. 

On my way back to the car I walked past a couple of small stones poking out of the soil, which had patches of a tiny pale-looking liverwort, which I assumed was young Diplophyllum albicans, but then I noticed some red gemmae and thoughts turned to a Tritomaria; however, the lens revealed a tiny spiky Scapania, presumably umbrosa – a check of the gemmae under the microscope showed they were mostly twin-celled and thin-walled.   Sam tells me it is new to Monmouthshire.

I didn’t see much else of any great interest, apart from a patch of Cololejeunea minutissima on a riverside tree, which I don’t think I have seen in this valley before, and some gorgeous coral slime mould.        

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

North-west VC35

I made a couple of quick stops in north-western VC35 to top up two tetrads on my way to the Brecon Beacons today. The first was SO11Q, where a previous urban list in 2005 totalled fewer than 50 species. Half an hour on Beaufort Hill produced 60 species, which combines with 16 that I didn't repeat from my previous visit to take the tetrad to a respectable 76. Highlights were:
  • abundant Ptychomitrium polyphyllum (49 previous VC35 records, mostly in the west) on iron slag (photo above)
  • some Didymodon ferrugineus on a track
  • two patches of Sanionia uncinata (photo below) on a willow in a pool (25 previous VC35 records, mostly from the Black Mountains)
  • fruiting Brachythecium velutinum on iron slag (photo below) (mostly lowland in the county) 

SO10P was even more productive, as there was very little overlap between today's 51 species in urban Tredegar and the ca60 recorded previously at Scotch Peter's Reservoir; the tetrad total is now a good 101 species. Frustratingly I left my phone in the car so didn't capture any images of Schistidium platyphyllum (until recently thought to be a scarce species) growing among abundant plastic refuse on the Afon Sirhowy. Highlights were:
  • Schistidium platyphyllum (10 previous VC35 records but widespread on the upper Sirhowy and Rhymney) frequent by the Afon Sirhowy
  • fruiting Syntrichia latifolia (first fruiting record for VC35) along with S. virescens on roadside Lime