Search This Blog

Friday, 6 June 2014

In South Crychan

Crychan Forest straddles the boundary with Breconshire right in the NE of Carmarthenshire, and two 10km squares are represented - SN83 & SN84. Yesterday (5/6/14), we drove past the village of the famous hymn writer, `William Williams Pantycelyn`, to the southern part of Crychan with the intention of finding a particular moth (that I`d last seen in `North Crychan` twenty years ago) and a particular invertebrate, as well as some general moth recording.
The Crychan Forest is extensive and is part of a group of large forestry areas, with the huge forest complexes of Irfon Forest and Tywi Forest to the north - home to goshawks, red squirrels and the fugitive pine marten. Inspection of the earliest OS maps show a survival of  hillside oak-birch woodland at Crychan and it was this core area that was extended hugely by later forestry plantings. In the Middle Ages, the group of ridges that underly Crychan was called `Cefngornoeth`....the `bare ridge`, perhaps implying `bleak` or `desolate`.

                    Above: a view into the heart of Crychan from Allt Craigrwyddon. Click on it to enlarge.

The `target moth` that I was after was the small purple-barred, a species that I had, two decades ago (on 21.5.1994), recorded as frequent in the northern SN84 part of Crychan. Yesterday, it was pleasing to find a small population almost straight away, on the eroding slopes of Craig Llywel, where the foodplant heath milkwort grows on the highly fissile shales. On the coast of our county, such as at Pembrey, it feeds on the very closely related common milkwort, whilst inland, it is also known from rides in the Brechfa Forest (Sam Bosanquet). Major Robertson noted it as `common in colliery meadows` in Victorian Glamorgan in the 1917 Transactions of the Cardiff Naturalists` Society, and it must have similarly been common on the Carmarthenshire coalfield too.

                                         Above: Craig Llywel, home to small purple-barreds.
                                         Above: heath milkwort, the caterpillars` food-plant.
                     Above: the moth itself - small purple-barred, several of which were spotted.
[at this point I should apologise for all the `moth in tubes` photos....all flew away after release, so no naturalistic photos!].

Near the quarry, this plastic container was noted up a tree - perhaps part of pine marten monitoring?

Above: note artificial nest box in tree - a pine marten was recorded from Crychan as long ago as the 1870s, when one was startled out of a magpies` nest and killed.

Moving to another site near the southern edge of Crychan lead belles were frequently flushed from heathery habitat:

                                        Above: many lead belles were flushed from this site.
Above: lead belle...the out-of-place rear wing re-adjusted itself when the moth was released and it flew off with no problem.

Not requiring searching for was this ruby tiger that landed close-by during a tea-break - easy mothing!
....and, very conveniently, so did the other of my `target species` - the attractive red-and-black leafhopper Cercopis vulnerata, that I`d also recorded on my visit in late May 1994, when it was a new county record. It is cited as `common` in many guides but it is very rare or absent in west Wales (there are a couple of north Ceredigion records and none that I know of in Pembs). It may be that it likes the more `continental` climate and drier soils of Crychan. I`ve not seen it elsewhere in Carmarthenshire.

                                        Above: the unmistakable Cercopis vulnerata.

Nearby was the more open slopes of Allt Craigrwyddon with its view southwards:

A nice find on a dry roadside bank was a brown form of the pyralid Pyrausta purpuralis. The compiler of this particular blog mistook it for P. despicata, until gratefully corrected by Sam.
Above: another `moth-in-a-tube`: Pyrausta purpuralis (a brown form).

Finally, for the botanists amongst you, a nice sight was a group of wild service trees Sorbus torminalis in flower, growing in a roadside wood at Babel Hall.
Above: wild service tree, a rare native related to rowan, but with maple-shaped leaves.

Crychan is a special place and deserving of further exploration, both in terms of its moth fauna but for other wildlife too. It was the last place from where there was a reliable sighting of high brown fritillary (several seen by the late Dafydd Davies in 1976) and there is `good` wildlife still to be wood ants occur, for example?; will anyone be lucky to see a pine marten? (or better still, find some fur for DNA analysis)....and there are other `creatures of the night` to entertain the moth trapper - nightjars. I remember a night-time trip to hear them when, again, I was harassed by midges!
Thanks to Nigel Stringer for the turn next week!


  1. There are many 10s of those red & black leaf hoppers in our garden in Brechfa. I had no idea they are uncommon in Carms! Actually, I've only noticed a few here in recent years whereas this year there are loads. Most intriguing...

    Also, the Small Purple-barred I've had in central Carms was on wet heath at Pyllau Cochion (where I was yesterday), though it should be on the tracks in Brechfa Forest too.

    Lastly, I'm afraid the Pyrausta is a worn, rather brown P purpuralis. The pale markings on P despicata are in different positions.

  2. Had a hand in erecting the pine marten boxes with Alan Enoch of FE back around 1994.
    Have recorded small purple barred and lead belle in the past in that area. A lot of clear felling has happened since and its difficult pinpoint the exact. This was at the time when all I did was paper record, and somehow when I transferred the records to my Mac in1995 I lost somehow about 2 years of records.

  3. Thanks Sam for the correction re the Pyrausta - I`ll modify the `main text` in case anyone is confused by the comments.
    I`ve only ever seen the red and black leafhoppers in Crychan and I remember discussing this species with Adrian Fowles who told me of its similar rarity in Ceredigion. So, good to know that it occurs at Brechfa too.
    Thanks too to Bryan....I also knew Alan Enoch! Good to know that you`ve had lead belle and small purple-barred in the area in the past.