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Friday, 8 August 2014

Bannau Sir Gar

We went today to the high cliffs above Llyn y Fan Fach, in the western Brecon Beacons, and the highest point (c 780m) in the three counties of SW Wales. The aims were to search for a particular rare plant (not seen since 1983), to look for a particular moth and, finally, to search for rusts on the rich assemblage of upland plants that adorn the high cliffs. We succeeded in finding the moth (to be named later), and I hope that the photos below convey both a feeling of this very special wildlife-rich upland site and the effort that sometimes is needed to find your target species.

Above: the distinctively-shaped Fan Foel can be seen from many parts of Carmarthenshire and the boundary with Breconshire lies astride its crest.

Above: a sideways view of Fan Foel itself, with the horizontal layers of Old Red Sandstone, red as this rock was laid down from sediments from arid areas that were iron-rich, hence the red colour.

Above: the towering cliffs before us, reached after a trek up a long track from the car park below. The botanically-interesting areas lie on the steep, rock outcrops, away from grazing sheep. The route was to take us up the gully that forms a diagonal cleft in the cliffs.

Above: a view of the lake, home to the legend of `The Lady of the Lake`, a tale that every Welsh child was taught at school.

Above: at the top of the grassy talus slopes and just below the cliffs, getting steeper and feeling higher up than the photo conveys - one slip and you won`t stop rolling and bouncing to the bottom!

Above: getting steeper...looks easy, does n`t it? - but there`s rare plants in view, as its too steep even for sheep to reach. Care was taken when inspecting this area - and there was a dead sheep nearby that had fallen.

Above: also on the steep slopes - lots of moths were seen flying over this (and other) areas, but catching these swift-flying moths was both difficult and dangerous.

Above: some of the superb flower-rich crags. It was only when I downloaded this photo that I realised that my companion, Nigel `Sherpa` Stringer was also climbing up just below me (see bottom left).

Above: in the ravine, with more steep outcrops festooned with rare plants - just think what regular moth trapping would catch here! Sadly, the site is too distant and difficult for that. There has been a little trapping at the foot of the cliffs though, by myself and also Jon Baker and Sam Bosanquet.

Above: at last! The moth that I was after - and of which we saw many score on the wing - the grey mountain carpet. Some risks were taken to catch this individual! (The botanists among you will notice the mossy saxifrage in the background). NB. Important correction (see comments section below) - the moth has been identified by George as twin-spot carpet, so my reference to GMC in my text should read TSC. Thanks George and sorry for any confusion caused.

The grey mountain carpets were commonly seen on the more vegetated, sheep-free steeper slopes and they will also doubtless be on the cliffs in the adjacent SN72, had we looked. Apart from these many grey mountain carpets, no other moth species was seen (though five common species of butterfly were). I`d first found grey mountain carpets on these cliffs, when I set out an actinic trap at this site in about the early 1990s, and I also recall another daytime visit (in 1991?) when I saw many of these moths on the wing.

Higher up the gully we found our way blocked by a landslide so, rather than take a risky diversion, we descended the way that we came up and left the search for the rare plant (the montane dwarf willow Salix herbacea) for another visit. We did see some of the other botanical riches, such as rose-root. lesser meadow-rue, sea campion, mossy saxifrage, club-mosses, green spleenwort, and many others, often in profusion. Thinking of this profusion, and the plants favoured by certain scarce moths such as thyme (which was abundant), it`s not difficult to fantasise about which moths may be present.
We found some potentially-interesting rusts though, which pleased Nigel.


  1. I had a sudden thought: had I got onto the Welsh Tourist Board website by mistake?! Nice to see Grey Mountain Carpets though, I wonder if by any chance they occur on Mynydd Llanllwni which is only a couple of miles from here.

  2. Cracking moth and excellent botanical records reported there, Ian. A word of caution, though: if you slipped and fell on those slopes, you could seriously injure some of the roseroot and lesser meadow-rue and if your navigation was just a tiny bit off, you could end up recording in Powis by mistake!

    I checked out your Pant Nant-fforchog site a couple of days ago and will trap there at some point (hopefully before the end of the month). As well as Cotton Grass, there were Sundews, Bog Asphodel, Marsh St. Johns Wort, etc. I will post if I catch anything.

  3. The whole purpose of the habitat/landscape shots is to emphasise that moths are habitat dependent, to re-emphasise that there`s a lot of unsurveyed moth habitat in the county and, critically, to try to get local moth-ers to trap/survey away from home. That way, we can get a feel for the differing moth communities that occupy Carmarthenshire`s surviving semi-natural habitats. Constant trapping at one site, whilst providing certainly valued and useful records in a very under-recorded county, will only yield those that are resident at that site and chance wanderers. Good luck to anyone who tries Mynydd Llanllwni - it possibly may be not high enough and not topographically varied enough for grey mountain carpets, but I`d be happy to be wrong. Perhaps rocky stream sections, where sheep graze less, may offer the best chance.
    Good to hear that you`re considering Pant Nant Fforchog Steve, and have recce`d it already. Good luck with Haworth`s minor, for example. Heath rustics will also be out soon.

  4. Grey Mountain Carpet could be on Mynydd Llanllwni - it does support a few upland species outlying from Mallaen/Mynydd Du - but I doubt it. It does have big potential for good moths though. So far there are records of 77 species of Macro (see list below) but many seasons have no records at all.
    Oak Eggar, Fox Moth, Drinker, Emperor Moth, Peach Blossom, Buff Arches, Grass Emerald, Large Emerald, Lesser Cream Wave, Riband Wave, Oblique Carpet, Silver-ground Carpet, Lead Belle, Common Carpet, Galium Carpet, Purple Bar, Chevron, Northern Spinach, Green Carpet, July Highflyer, Twin-spot Carpet, Ling Pug, Common Pug, Grey Pug, Narrow-winged Pug, V-Pug, Double-striped Pug, Clouded Border, Sharp-angled Peacock, Brown Silver-line, Brimstone Moth, Early Thorn, Scalloped Oak, Swallow-tailed Moth, Common White Wave, Common Wave, Clouded Silver, Light Emerald, Barred Red, Small Elephant Hawk-moth, Swallow Prominent, Coxcomb Prominent, Red-necked Footman, Buff Footman, Wood Tiger, Turnip Moth, Heart and Dart, Flame Shoulder, Large Yellow Underwing, Least Yellow Underwing, True Lover's Knot, Pearly Underwing, Ingrailed Clay, Double Square-spot, Square-spot Rustic, Red Chestnut, Beautiful Yellow Underwing, Bright-line Brown-eye, Glaucous Shears, Broom Moth, Antler Moth, Clay, Smoky Wainscot, Dark Brocade, Dark Dagger, Light Knot Grass, Brown Rustic, Small Angle Shades, Angle Shades, Dark Arches, Clouded Brindle, Dusky Brocade, Small Dotted Buff, Scarce Bordered Straw, Silver Y, Straw Dot, Snout

  5. Thank you for all that detail, Sam, you've obviously gone to a lot of trouble compiling that list! Sadly, for largely domestic reasons it's difficult for me to trap away from home
    and I'm not likely to be putting a trap on the mountain any time soon, but I'm interested to know if any 'mountain moths' come down here (Emperor Moth has done so in the past) and there are several species in your list that I haven't encountered so far.

  6. Firstly - and most importantly- the moth I caught (and almost certainly all the others that I saw) at Bannau Sir Gar is/are not grey mountain carpet - but rather the similar twin-spot carpet. My apologies to all for this error and thanks to George for letting me know of my mis-identification. My mind was `programmed`, as it were, for GM carpet and I did n`t even check my photo when I got home and quickly wrote the blog.
    Thinking again of the possibility of GMC on Mynydd Llanllwni, I also think it unlikely after further thought. If it were to be anywhere it would be on the steep outcrops of the Rhandirmwyn area but there are no old records from that area, or from the crags of the Pysgotwr (where I`ve been a few times in the last couple of years).
    Back to my `record` of GMC at Bannau Sir Gar...I was puzzled as to why the moths were so abundant, when they are supposed to finish by early August...but twin -spot carpet is said to be still in flight in August.

    1. You can be forgiven that confusion, Ian. When I first saw the Twin-spot Carpet a fortnight ago I thought it was a Grey Mountain Carpet until I read the details in W&T and realised that it wasn't likely, and your TSC was paler than mine which makes the confusion more understandable.

  7. That list for Llanllwni was a two minute job, copying from the database and then removing duplicate names. I can do it for other places, eg recently for the Botanic Gardens and for all Mat Ridley's records.

    1. Sam, it's wonderful what can be achieved when you know how! I've had a practice by excluding the species the have occurred here (from memory, I haven't checked) and have ended up with this list: Oak Eggar, Lead Belle, Galium Carpet, Purple Bar, Chevron, Ling Pug, Narrow-winged Pug, Small Elephant Hawk-moth, Red-necked Footman, Wood Tiger, Turnip Moth, Pearly Underwing, Beautiful Yellow Underwing, Glaucous Shears, Dark Brocade, Light Knot Grass, Scarce Bordered Straw. I don't see any reason why most of these shouldn't turn up here in due course.

    2. More a case of 'whistle and they'll come to me' Steve. It's a game of patience, and mine hasn't run out yet!