The Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)

Grey Wagtails are a bright active bird, rather more colourful than their name suggests.


They prefer to live along fast flowing sections of rivers & streams and are native residents across much of Britain, particularly western areas like Wales.

An ideal location would be one with plenty of rocks & pebbles to perch upon and with rocky banks that present ideal nesting hollows & cracks. The further addition of some woodland shade would provide the perfect abode with plenty of insects just waiting to be made a meal of. The two pictures in this post illustrate just such a location and the wagtail in the first picture is holding a scrumptious beak-full of wiggly insects.


Grey Wagtail populations are susceptible to harsh winters, amongst other things, and they are currently considered to be of amber conservation status (RSPB).

Like all Wagtails, the Grey Wagtail bobs & wags its long tail almost constantly. If you are lucky enough to find an upland river where Dippers & Wagtails share the stage, you’d be forgiven for feeling that you were viewing the next energetic dance craze! If you’re visiting my neck of the woods, look out for the action along the Afon Dulas.

For more Wagtail pictures, pop across to my galleries at Natures Universe.

Meadow Saffron at Llanmerewig Glebe

The Meadow Saffron (Colchicum autumnale) is an uncommon and delicate pink flower; a member of the lily family. It is a wild native of Britain and Europe.

Meadow Saffron Llanmerewig Glebe (Fisheye)

Whilst somewhat similar to a crocus they can be easily distinguished by the fact that they have six stamens (as opposed to the three stamen of a crocus). The plant produces leaves in the spring and then a flower in autumn, after the leaves have died off. The flower is borne on a pale & fragile stalk; this combined with the lack of leaves, gives rise to its common name ‘Naked Ladies’. The entire plant is poisonous due to the presence of colchicine. Indeed it is this poisonous nature that has contributed to its removal from many meadows across the country. Another common name for the plant is ‘Autumn Crocus’ due to its flowering time and similarity to crocuses; however this name is now reserved for Crocus nudiflorus, the autumn flowering crocus.

The alkaloid poison colchicine has been extracted from these plants for various medical uses. Amongst others, it is believed to inhibit the formation of uric acid crystals and may therefore be useful in the treatment of gout. Its ability to inhibit cell division has also encouraged its use as a cancer treatment. It is also a purgative. A valuable medicinal plant but not one to be experimented with, Colchicine is extremely poisonous.

Llanmerewig Glebe

Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust are managing a colony of these flowers at their Llanmerewig Glebe reserve. The small reserve is an oasis of tranquillity located only a few miles from the main Newtown – Welshpool road, near to Abermule. The land belonged to the church at Llanmerewig for many years and is a good example of a traditional agricultural meadow of the region.The picture above shows the meadow on a fine September day.

Saffron Splash

We visited the reserve on a glorious day in early September, when the Bees & Butterflies were certainly enjoying the late source of nectar provided by the Meadow Saffron. Swallows flew low, topping up before their long autumn journey; whilst a group of House Martins hunted insects slightly higher off the ground. There were signs of a Fox kill from the previous night and a Sparrow Hawk was seen flying at pace down the hedgerow. Finally a Buzzard was seen, and heard, wheeling high above neighbouring farm land.

I recommend the reserve as a place to quietly take a few moments out from a busy life and must compliment the Wildlife Trust on helping to preserve such a beautiful wild flower, of which I understand, there are few in Wales.

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Pipistrelle – Bat Report

Spent a few enjoyable hours recording bat calls last night – here’s a report on some of our insect eating friends, including some recordings to listen to: 

Date: 3rd August 2010 

Sunset: 9:05pm 

Duration: 9:00pm to 12:10am 

Location: Foel Friog  

Weather: 100% Overcast, quite a dark night; 14degC; occasional spots of rain; little breeze, almost still. 


Bats account for about 1/3 of all the mammal species on this planet. They often seem to have had bad PR, yet they are remarkable creatures that are generally beneficial. 

In the UK, all of our bat species eat insects and we have 17 species that breed here. If you go for countryside hedgerow walks late on a summer’s evening or watch around your house night light, then you may be lucky enough to see bats flying around. The group of species most likely encountered in these circumstances are the Pipistrelle . These are small fast flying bats with great acrobatic ability, turning quickly to catch midges & the like. 

Many bats use ultrasound to echo locate  their prey. This sound is too high pitched for human ears to hear (save for a few low notes from Noctules (in the UK) that may be heard by young people with good hearing). This is where a bat detector can be a fun & useful piece of equipment. There are several different types available but that is outside the scope of this article. Suffice to say that the following recordings were made using a frequency division  detector linked to my netbook computer. Analysis was done using Batscan v.9 and Audacity v1.3. 

A few Pipistrelle facts: 

  • Main food is small insects esp. midges; a Pip can eat 3000 midges in one night
  • Can live for up to 12 years but 5 years is more common
  • Typical wingspan is 20cm with a 4cm long body
  • 3 species in UK, Common, Soprano and Nathusius
  • Typical weight is 6g but may be more
  • Covered in brown fur, more reddish above & yellowish below
  • One of the most common bats in Britain
  • Mating season is Aug – Sept, when males have a territory
  • Young are born in July and leave the roost within 4 weeks

The following sections may seem a bit techy but I hope there’s a little bit of interest for everyone who might be interested in bats … 

Soprano Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pygmaeus) 

Recorded hunting rapidly up and down a mixed woodland edge at just above head height, some 25m from the river. The details of the ultrasonic calls can be seen on the sonogram below: 


This recording was made at approximately 10:20pm. Further analysis of the call showed the Peak Frequency to be 54.95kHz +/- 0.05kHz. The pulse repetition rate was measured as varying from 8.75 pulses/s up to 18 pulses/s. The peak frequency analysis can be seen below: 


The peak frequency of 54.95kHz is very typical of the Soprano Pipistrelle (average often quoted as 55.5kHz). 

To listen to these Soprano Pipistrelle bat sounds … 


Common Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) 

Recorded hunting along hedgerow above our hide night light. Lights attract insects at night and this makes it a great zone for bats to hunt in; it’s also a good place for you to watch them. The sonogram below shows how the Common Pip’s call is similar to that of the Soprano Pip but at not quite such a high frequency. 


This recording was made at approximately 11:30pm. Further analysis of the call showed the Peak Frequency to be 46.70kHz +/- 0.05kHz. The pulse repetition rate was measured as varying from 7.75 pulses/s up to 14.5 pulses/s. The peak frequency analysis can be seen below: 


As previously mentioned the Common Pip’s peak frequency is slightly lower, measured here at 46.70kHz and often quoted to average around 46.5kHz. 

To listen to these Common Pipistrelle bat sounds … 


The call of Pipistrelle bats is sometimes said to be a ‘hockey stick call’. This is because the call starts at its highest frequency and then falls in pitch whilst gaining power; this creates a sort of hockey stick shape when seen in a detailed sonogram , as below: 


A Noctule Bat was also recorded in concert with the Pipistrelles but a clean solo recording was not made. 

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I hope this has helped to interest you in our British Bats

May I take this moment to suggest Batbox detectors and either NHBS or Alana Ecology as suppliers of wildlife & field equipment; thanks to them for the good service they provide. 

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