Part 3 – Rhiwleddyn Nature Reserve
It is wonderful to wander through places that have been left alone and to find indigenous plants that could have been growing there for hundreds of years, or in some cases, even thousands. But areas that have in one way or another been ‘disturbed’ often bring forth species of flora and fauna not seen in areas that haven’t, as in the next part of my wander around the reserve.
Brambles and nettles threaten to take over this small, scrubby area in the midst of the reserve, but there are plants tough enough to hold their own there, one being Common Sorrel.
The tall stately Great Mullein with its large beautiful grey-green velvety leaves sometimes graces a disturbed scrubby patch. It’s a biennial plant, so flowers appear during each plant’s second year. It is a locally common plant, but its appearance in a specific area each year is not predictable; which makes it more of a treat when you do find it. Each plant usually produces a single flowering spike; one with multiple spikes may indicate that it was nibbled by rabbits in the early stages of its growth.
White horehound, is one of the scarcer plants to be found within the reserve. Its presence here is tenuous year on year, as it is constantly under threat of being out-competed by rampant ‘coarse’ vegetation such as nettles and brambles; its survival largely dependent upon diligent scrub-clearing and management by the reserve management team and Wildlife Trust volunteers. The plant is also found, in greater amounts, on the Great Orme.
White horehound is important as it is the only food plant of the larvae of the Horehound Moth Wheeleria spilodactylus. Inhabiting chalky soils, this is a localised species of plume moth, largely confined to the Isle of Wight and a few scattered localities in Wales and Southern England. The exceptionally well-camouflaged caterpillars appeared on plants here earlier in the year when I took this photograph; they are evidence that the battle to maintain its ongoing presence is important to this species of moth.
I haven’t seen the moth myself, but found this perfect picture of one, appropriately taken on the foodplant on the Great Orme by John Martin. Respecting the copyright of the image, this is the link to it. http://www.ukmoths.org.uk/species/wheeleria-spilodactylus/adult-on-foodplant-2/
A little grasshopper sat basking, sheltered from the wind and very well camouflaged on a bramble leaf. I doubt I’d have seen him if I’d not caught sight of him land there.
This is him/her greatly enlarged
Another tough plant here is the Lesser Burdock. I like the plant with its round prickly flower heads and tufts of purple flowers that will soon dry into ‘burrs’ and stick to anything that brushes against them. I approached the plant to photograph it; as I did so, I got excited to see that a little butterfly had the same idea and had only my second sighting so far this year of a perfect little Brown Argus.
The poor thing was fighting to stay put in the strong wind and I was struggling to keep my camera lens focussed on it. I was vaguely aware of a small fly sharing the same space on the plant as the butterfly, but was too intent on the matter in hand to pay much heed to it. It was small and yellowish and flitting about a fair bit, but at the time it didn’t click that this might be a fly I’d been hoping to find for the past few years that is a burdock specialist.
It wasn’t until the next day, when I looked at my images properly that I realised this little fly was indeed most likely a Banded burdock fly-Terellia tussilaginis and that I’d almost missed it!
At least it gives me good reason to show more images of the lovely little butterfly.
I was getting a bit fed up with the wind now but battled on towards the top as I wanted to get an image of the stunning view of Llandudno that you get from this side of the Little Orme headland. It was only when I got there I remembered that I had actually been somewhat sheltered from the full force of the wind! it was still so strong it took my breath away and I had to lean against a rock to brace myself, not only to steady the camera but also myself. Worth it though, what a view!
I didn’t stay to lingeringly admire the view, and was quickly on the way back down to seek a calmer spot. Facing now in the other direction and looking down onto the fields below I had the random sight of a male Pheasant, not a bird I see often. He was looking a bit bedraggled and was clearly limping. Had he been been shot and survived, hit by a car, or even attacked by a fox or dog? Fortunately he seemed still to be able to fly well enough.
A little further on I spotted a little splash of blue in the short grass in front of me and much to my surprise here was one of the Reserve’s special treasures – a single stem of the lovely little Spiked Speedwell. This is a plant that is cultivated and grown in gardens, but only grows in the wild in the Breckland grasslands of East Anglia and very locally in Wales and Western England.
A few metres away, standing a little taller, a single flower stem of Dropwort, another specialist of calcareous grassland, this one being bent almost to the ground by the strength of the wind.
Hawthorn is one of the few species of tree that is not nibbled by rabbits or sheep in its early stages and that can also withstand exposure to the strong, salt-laden winds the headland is subject to. Most are contorted into weird and wonderful shapes, but this one, although short has grown large and spread fairly evenly.
I met up with the young Robin again on my way back down.
And a beautiful Comma butterfly landed on the bare earth of the track.
The sheep were where I’d left them, settled down comfortably now for an afternoon siesta in the sunshine.
Looking up from the track below I saw they were still watching me, with definite smug, self-satisfied smiles on their faces.
I was more than happy with my final wildflower tally for this walk, which included (in no particular order!): Common calamint; Common rock-rose; Black horehound; White horehound; Hedge woundwort; Water mint; Lady’s bedstraw; Spiked speedwell; Dropwort; Wild thyme; Common cinquefoil; Centaury; Carline thistle; Goldenrod; Lesser burdock; Common sorrel; Great mullein; Harebell; Perforate St John’s Wort; Wild clematis; Yellow-wort; Wild fennel; Marjoram; Wild carrot; Hemlock; Ragwort; Ploughman’s spikenard; Yarrow