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Monday, 1 June 2015

A Tale of Windy Woe

I`ve been too busy to post on the blog for the last week or so and the inclement weather (the Met Office says that May was wetter, cooler and more sunless than normal) meant that light trapping was a failure. I can, however, report on an unsuccessful `moth mission`(on 26/5) to the cliffs around Llyn y Fan Fach and, as a separate, subsequent blog, on a more fruitful search for moths on brownfield sites around Llanelli.
Regular readers will recall that I have made, in the last couple of years, annual visits to the tall Old Red Sandstone cliffs that tower above the corrie lake of Llyn y Fan Fach, located at the western edge of the Brecon Beacons and just within Carmarthenshire`s boundaries.
This year, one aim had been to try to locate least willow Salix herbacea (not seen since the 1980s, and which we did n`t re-find) but, of course, I was on the lookout for moths too. However - and as others have experienced - wind  has been a problem and nothing was in flight. We (Nigel Stringer and I) had planned to ascend the major gully located in the SW section of the cliffs, this being a relatively easy route compared to our clinging climb of the steeper cliffs of the central section last summer. En route we also inspected the lower parts of the steep, ungrazed cliff sections nearby.

Above: a very rare beast - the last `Mountain Ape` left in Carmarthenshire, the incredibly agile and `steep slope proficient` Nigel Stringer, looking for rusts on the upland vegetation, where `sheep dare not roam`. With fresh early Australopithecus discoveries in the news last week, palaeontologists should give him a good `looking over`, given the well-known geological dictum, `the present is the key to the past`!

Above: `don`t look down` - we must be mad. What are two `H&S-averse` pensioners doing up a cliff like this?

The steep slopes, away from the impact of sheep are floristically-rich and doubtless hold an interesting moth fauna. Sam Bosanquet had Acleris caledoniana at this site last summer and there must be other undiscovered `good` moths.

                                  Above and below: several stands of early purple orchids were seen.

Above: curious bedfellows on the steeper cliffs - cowslips and heather/bilberry etc; also roseroot. What moth assemblage does this vegetation support?

Above: one of the `Arctic-Alpine` specialities - roseroot, here at its only Carmarthenshire site.

After traversing some of the steeper slopes and inspecting the cliff vegetation we were glad to reach the ravine that we intended to ascend. This is probably the `easiest` ravine-route up the cliffs, which can almost be walked, and we were, perhaps unexpectedly aided by the wind, as the strong, gusting northerly wind was funnelled up this wide gully when it hit the semi-circular amphitheatre of cliffs around the `llyn`. The strong wind actually `pushed` us upwards, as well as blowing the sleeve right off my arm! Now, some explanation is needed here.... my `jacket` was one of those cheap (actually it cost me a pound only!) foldable plastic macks that were so favoured by older ladies visiting the seaside on rainy summer days in the 1960s! In contrast, Nigel always comes well-prepared, with suitable clothing (and with some elegance too - shirt, tie etc), whereas I dress like (and have the ways of) `Compo` in `Last of the Summer Wine`. The event did made us laugh and made up for the lack of moths.
The gully ought to have been a good place to find moths and other invertebrates but, in their absence, my mind turned to other areas of natural history and I was intrigued by some yellow growths on some wet rock faces.

                                                Above: the mysterious yellow growths.

Nigel, who has a great knowledge of fungi and some other lower plants, explained:
"Trenepohlia [its name] is a genus of filamentous green alga which is found free-living on tree trunks or wet rocks. The filaments have a deep orange colour due to carotenoid pigments which mask the green colour of chlorophyll. Interestingly, this alga can form a symbiotic relationship with a specific fungus to form a lichen".

Above: about the only invertebrate spotted - the mostly upland click beetle Ctenicera cuprea. (photo: Nigel Stringer).

Finally, the ONLY moth seen was the very common Cydia ulicetana, beaten from gorse down by the car park!
On the way home, we stopped at the Sawdde Gorge near Pontarllechau, a marvellous (flat and sheltered!) site with lots of wych elm, small-leaved lime and other good moth habitat - I`m sure that some scarce moths would be found here by the adventurous nocturnal moth trapper. A few common daytime moths were seen at this site, as well as the rare in Carmarthenshire (only the 4th sighting) and colourful leafhopper Cercopis vulneraria (shown below).

The next blog will be more `mothy` - thank goodness!


  1. Excellent blog, Ian - and worryingly inspiring, too. I will do my very best to avoid going up those slopes in the dark, even though are not too far away. Irrespective of moths (or the lack thereof) it's almost worth doing just to find Roseroot, which I haven't seen for donkeys years (on Skye). Pont-ar-Lechau had me puzzled; it's known to us lesser mortals as Three Horseshoes - there's peregrines nearby, too. Better luck with moths on your next trip.

  2. Pont ar llechau is the name by which I knew the site in my schooldays (it was a locality that we visited on geology field trips). The name `bridge on the flagstones/slates` is quite descriptive, as the underlying rocks are micaceous sandstones that split easily (the mineral mica lies in flat planes within the rock).

  3. Great account Ian - Well done with your scoop proving that the Abominable Mountainman is fact and not fiction - what a terrifying looking creature!

  4. Yes - and people were looking in Tibet for him! I TOLD you that he was living in Carms!

  5. I am intrigued by the Leafhopper, which is now abundant in our garden (although I don't recall seeing it here until a couple of years ago). I also saw (and badly photographed) two of them by the big chimney at Nant-y-bai Mine on Saturday, which seemed a remarkably inland location for it.

  6. I`ve only had it at Crychan, where I saw it first c 20 years ago, and again last year, so it`s certainly established there. Also, you previously told me of your Brechfa colony (the furthest west in Carms?) and there`s my recent record from near Ffinant, Pontarllechau and your Rhandirmwyn one. It seems to be sort of `north-eastern/eastern` distribution in the county, though it`s certainly not in the SE Llanelli area.