If you are planning a cottage
holiday in Wales for the month of April, why not try and spot
Top Row - From Left to Right
1. Common Dog Violet Viola riviniana
There are around 500 species of violet in the world. They are
typically found in moist and slightly shaded conditions such as
hedgerows. Common Dog Violets may be found in abundance in the
hedgerows around Cilybebyll as well as in a few spots at Plas
Farm. They are a favourite food plant of many butterlfies.
2. Welsh Mountain Lamb Ovis aries
In the Welsh hills, lambing is often not complete until
the end of the month, which means there are still plenty of cute
new born lambs to see as you walk around the farm. Hill farmers
put their ewes to ram later than in lowland regions as the five-month
gestation period is timed to ensure the lambs are born when the
weather is warmer. Although temperatures are steadily rising,
the grass does not begin to grow until the soil reaches the critical
temperature of 6 degrees centigrade. A cold snap in April can
mean a shortage of grass. The field in front of the holiday cottages
are filled with lambs and their mothers at this time of year.
3. Orange Tip Butterfly Anthocharis cardamines
The orange tip butterfly is a colourful symbol of spring
time. It appears late in April and may be spotted about the farm,
never far from it's favourite food plant - the cuckoo flower.
The butterflies each live for about 18 days. The bright orange
tips to the males' forewings (the females lack the orange) are
believed to be aposematic, acting as a warning to birds that the
butterflies contain toxins derived from the larval foodplants.
It is notable that many other butterfly species also have very
brightly coloured males, but plain females. One reason for this
is that males are far more active, constantly flying in search
of mates, and in constant danger of being attacked, so they need
to advertise their toxic nature. The beautiful mottled green markings
on the underside hindwings are an extremely effective camouflage.
The colour is not caused by green pigment, which is rare amongst
butterflies, but is an optical illusion caused by a mottling of
black and yellow scales. As with many other butterfly species,
female Orange-tips must mate within a couple of days of emergence,
after which they appear to lose their attraction to the males,
so the staggered emergence is nature's way of ensuring that there
are plenty of males available when the females emerge. The pair
in the picture were mating on a cuckoo flower in the rush pasture
on the mountain behind the holiday cottages.
- From Left to Right
4. Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe
A wide variety of birds may be seen at Plas Farm due
to the varying habitats that exist at the farm. At the top of
the farm, grassland turns into open mountain heathland. One of
the birds seen here, sometimes resting atop a fence post, is the
Wheatear. It spends most of its time on the ground - hopping or
running around. It eats insects and nests in rock crevices and
rabbit burrows. It it blue-grey above with black wings and white
below with an orange flush to the breast. It has a black cheek.
In flight it shows a white rump and a black 'T' shape on its tail.
It is a summer visitor and passage migrant having spent the winter
in central Africa. Its English name has nothing to do with wheat
or ears, but is a bowdlerised form of white-arse, which refers
to its prominent white rump!
5. April Landscape at Plas Farm
April is when the countryside becomes green as the leaves
come out on the trees. Some species are earlier than others. This
picture shows Welsh oak (already in leaf) alongside a bare Mountain
Ash. There is an old country saying "Ash before oak expect
a soak, oak before ash expect a splash." In 2007, the oak
came before the ash so we are in for a fine summer!
6. Jackdaw Corvus
April is a great time to watch the tremendously bold colony
of Jackdaws that live at Plas Farm, nesting in the old farm buildings.
The Jackdaw is Wales's smallest crow - smaller than a Carrion Crow
or Rook, but about the same size as a Jay. Like all the crows, Jackdaws
are inquisitive and intelligent birds. Adult Jackdaws are all black
apart from their grey nape, shoulders and ear-coverts and light
grey (almost white) eyes. The bill and legs are black. Their call
is an unmistakable high-pitched metallic sounding "kyow"
or "tchack", after which it is named.
Row - From Left to Right
7. Crab Apple Blossom Malus sylvestris
The Crab Apple is native to Wales and is an ancestor to
the many varieties of edible apples that we eat today. Towards the
end of April, the Crab Apple trees at Plas Farm display a beautiful
fragrant blossom that is a sight to behold. It is also highly fragrant.
The name ‘Crab’ is probably derived from the amazing
shapes the wild apple tree is able to create. Its low trunk, hanging
branches and vivid aura can give the impression of a giant crab-like
creature. The scientific name of the species “Malus”,
is derived from the Latin root word ‘mal’, meaning bad
or evil, because it refers to the association of the Apple with
the fall from paradise. The other scientific Latin descriptor is
‘sylvestris’ which means 'of the forest or the woods’.
8. Bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scripta
Of all the spring flowers, bluebells capture the character of the
season, when warmth has returned but the canopy of leaves has not
yet closed. They grow so closely together that they appear to blend
together like a carpet – one of nature’s most stunning
displays – under a canopy of green woodland trees. Wales's
bluebell woodlands are of international importance - the British
bluebell represents over 50 per cent of the world population of
the flower. However, interbreeding with Spanish bluebells and the
resulting hybrids is posing a threat to our native variety. The
Spanish bluebells were introduced to British gardens in the 17th
century, but it wasn't until the 20th century that they escaped
into the wild. As a result, a third of bluebells are either a Spanish
or hybrid variety, and one in six bluebell woods contains a mixture
of all three species. The bluebell woodlands at Plas Farm contain
only native British bluebells, as you will be able to tell by the
deep violet colour, drooping bells and strong sweet scent that fills
the air as you stroll through the woods near our holiday cottages.
9. Common Lizard Lacerta
The common lizard is one of only six types of British reptile.
They hibernate from October to March. The lizard in this picture
was spotted sunning itself on the metal of a calf feeding trough
in rush pasture on the hillside behind the holiday cottages. Lizards
are active during the day and spend the morning and afternoon (but
not the intense heat of midday) basking in the sun either alone
or in groups, going to find food when their body temperature reaches
30 degrees Celsius. They hunt insects, spiders, snails and earthworms.
They stun their prey by shaking it, and then swallow it whole. They
lizards can grow to 18cm in length, although they are usually between
10 and 16cm long. After emerging from hibernation, the males defend
breeding territories from other males. The young develop over 3
months within egg membranes inside the female's body, which they
usually break out of as she gives birth. They may however remain
inside the egg membrane for several days before breaking out (using
their heads rather than an egg-tooth to rupture the membrane). Litters
of 3-12 young are born from June to September, after which time
the mother shows no parental care. The young feed actively from
birth and quickly disperse.