Colin Booker and I visited Carlton Marsh nature reserve today. It was my first visit and I was impressed by the range of things to be seen.
Golden bloomed grey longhorn beetle (Agapanthia villosoviridescens)
Early in the walk, we found a golden-bloomed grey longhorn beetle – minus one horn (antenna) – on hogweed. This is the second species of longhorn beetle that I have seen in one week and it may be an indication of how these species are expanding their ranges northwards.
Another insect seen was a large hoverfly, for which my suggested identification is Cheilosia illustrata.
Fly killed by Entomophthora fungus
We also spotted a fly, on the underside of a leaf, which had been infected by an Entomophthora fungus. This fungus causes the fly to change its behaviour so that it walks up a plant. It then dies but it doesn’t fall from the plant because fungal hyphae grow from its feet to attach it to the plant. Spores of the fungus are then carried away on the breeze.
Mignonette (Roseda lutea) & musk mallow (Malva moschata)
There was a wide range of plant species to be seen.
Wild carrot (Daucus carota)
Wild carrot is a common plant but the flower head is very attractive when viewed closely.
Greater knapweed (Centauria scabiosa)
The 2017 season has been another successful one for the Wakefield peregrines. The same two adults have now bred on the cathedral in three successive years. This year, they had four eggs, with the female laying the first egg within two hours of the time when the first egg appeared last year. We believe that one egg was accidentally punctured by a talon and, as a result, only three of the four eggs hatched. The three young peregrines have been given orange rings with the codes PAA, PBA and PCA. PBA is the only male.
As usual, the adults did a good job of raising the youngsters. They fledged on a very windy weekend and ,as a result, there were a couple of mishaps. Instead of being able to spend time jumping up onto the wall above the box and running along the wall flapping their wings, the youngsters tended to get whisked away by the breeze and a couple found themselves down on the ground. The young male, PBA, was returned to the tower almost immediately but a female, PCA, landed late in the evening and was returned the next day, after a medical check organised by the people at Wise Owl Bird of Prey Rescue. PCA had a limp but no broken bones.
Juveniles PBA & PCA
All three of the youngster are now flying freely, putting on some good displays as they chase each other in the skies above Wakefield. As usual, they have chosen the roofs of the tower blocks as their favourite base.
These three youngster bring the total fledge since breeding began in Wakefield to ten. We look forward to hearing news of sightings of Wakefield birds in other cities at some time in the future.
A big event on the peregrine calendar is the ringing of the peregrine chicks. This year’s ringing took place on Saturday, 27th May, when the youngsters were three weeks and four days old.
The youngsters were collected from the nestbox and ringing was carried out inside the spire, out of sight of the parents. This was done by members of the Sorby Breck Ringing Group. The ringers are licensed to ring birds such as peregrines, which are given special protection as “Schedule 1” birds.
Ringing a peregrine
The young birds were fitted with metal BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) rings. This type of ring carries a number which can be reported to the Natural History Museum if a bird is found dead or injured. Each peregrine was also given a plastic ring carrying just three letters. These letters can be read on live birds using binoculars or telescopes. The plastic rings provide the opportunity for receiving information about the movements of the peregrines in the future. The three rings used were orange and carried the letters PAA, PBA and PCA. PAA and PCA are females, whilst PBA is a male.
Taking measurements of a peregrine chick
The chicks were weighed and this was the key to deciding the sex of each youngster. Females are larger than males and the largest of the Wakefield chicks weighed 1.1 kg. The smallest chick, the male, weighed only 750g. As you can see form the picture, other measurements were taken.
Barn owl chick
Whilst they were in the area, the ringers arranged to ring four barn owl chicks which are growing well in a nestbox maintained by Danny Kirmond.
Little owl chicks
Danny also has a little owl box containing a brood of young little owls. The ringers were able to ring those. When they went to do this, they found an adult in the box, so they took the opportunity to ring that too.
Adult little owl
It was quite a productive day for the ringers and we are grateful to them for taking the time to deal with our peregrines.
The peregrines on Wakefield Cathedral have been incubating four eggs for almost five weeks. The first hatching was expected on Tuesday, 2nd May, 34 days after the laying of the third egg.
On Tuesday afternoon, it was clear that something was happening because the female fidgeted a lot and looked down towards the eggs frequently. She also refused to take anything when the male tried, several times, to make a food delivery. Eventually, she shifted position and we could see that at least one egg was hatching.
First Sighting of a Chick
Our first sighting of a chick came later on Tuesday evening, when the female left the chick and eggs briefly to relieve herself by reversing up to the edge of the nestbox. Judging by internet comments, a lots of people, including at least one in Australia, were glued to their screens as they waited to see how many eggs would hatch. For peregrines, it’s normal for most of the eggs to hatch almost simultaneously, whilst the remaining egg hatches a couple of days later.
It was the following morning when we saw that three eggs had hatched. The female fed the chicks and then, for the first time, allowed the male to go near them so that he could sit on them whilst she took a short break.
Unfortunately, one egg was damaged at some point during the incubation period. The damage was first noticed a few days before the hatching. It looks like a puncture caused by a talon. In the picture, you can see that the female has relaxed the toes of her left foot so that they curl up. This is what the birds do instinctively as they approach the eggs to avoid causing damage. However, accidents do happen and it isn’t unusual for an egg to be damaged. As three chicks hatched together, the damaged egg must have been the last one to be laid.
I was walking around Fitzwilliam Country Park this afternoon when I spotted lots of metallic black/blue beetles on the leaves of an alder. I think the alder is Italian alder (Alnus cordata).
Alder Leaf Beetle on Italian Alder
I believe that the beetles are Alder Leaf Beetle. This species has been absent from the UK for about 60 years and it began to be recorded again in about 2004. It is likely that it was reintroduced to the British Isles by the plant trade.
Alder Leaf Beetle (Agelastica alni)
There were many beetles on this and other trees, singles and mating pairs. You can see holes in the leaf in the picture above. This species causes significant damage to alder and can reduce leaves to skeletons. It was recorded at RSPB Old Moor in 2012 and it has been recorded at Wintersett since 2013.
The weather has been a bit cool but I have put out the moth trap on a couple of nights this week. There was a threat of some overnight drizzle, so I used my usual arrangement of a tripod and umbrella to protect the mercury vapour bulb, which might shatter if exposed to rain.
The catch was much lower than I would expect on a summer night, only two moths on each occasion. The first night produced early grey and a male muslin moth. The second night gave another early grey and a powdered quaker.
Clockwise from left: Early Grey, Muslin Moth and Powdered Quaker
All of the three are common but it was the first time that I had caught powdered quaker in my garden. This brings the total number of macro-moths found in the garden to 89 but I think there is further to go because I regularly log new species.
This year’s clutch was completed with the laying of a fourth egg just after 3 a.m. on 1st April. The birds have, therefore, been incubating for a little over two weeks and they are well into their usual routine. The female incubates throughout the night and the male takes over for an hour or two early in the day. He usually returns to do another shift – often lasting 2 to 4 hours – in the afternoon.
Peregrines begin incubation with the laying of the penultimate egg, which was on Wednesday, 29th March. Last year, the first hatching was 34 days after the laying of the third egg. Using this as a guide, I would expect the first hatching this year to be on Tuesday, 2nd May. Factors such as the outside temperature can affect incubation time, so this date is only a guide and hatching could begin a day or two either side of this date.
The first three eggs should hatch very close to each other and the fourth egg should hatch a couple of days later.
It’s the time of year for morel mushrooms to appear but they can be hard to find. They are significantly less common in the north-east of England than in some southern counties and they are more numerous in some years than others. It was pleasing, therefore, to hear a report of some interesting mushrooms appearing amongst some bark mulch in the garden of a house at Stanley.
Common and Back Morels
When a couple of us investigated, we found two species emerging from amongst the wood chips. We saw several black morels, which we decided were Morchella elata, but we have since been informed that this name is out of date and they should now be called Morchella importuna. One of the morels was different from the others and we decided that this was the true or common morel, M esculenta, but the best information that we have at the moment is that this is of the same species as the others. I understand that the exact number of species of morel has not been agreed by all and the relationships between the different morels are being studied using DNA analysis. Colour can’t be relied upon for identification.
Morels are sought after by mushroom enthusiasts because they are considered to be delicacies. They are picked in many countries and they are often dried and stored to be eaten later. Having said this, there are some very toxic lookalikes and you must be warned against trying to identify any edible fungi by using information from an article such as this. Always get an expert to identify anything that you intend to eat.
During a walk at Howell Wood, South Kirby, I found masses of opposite-leaved golden saxifrage (Chrysosplenium oppositifolium) in flower along the banks of a stream.
Opposite-leaved golden saxifrage
This is an attractive and common plant but it isn’t as well known as some of the other spring flowers.
Opposite-leaved golden saxifrage
Lots of chiffchaffs are now singing in local woods. I heard blackcaps in Seckar Wood at the weekend and they have been singing at Stanley Ferry Flash today. An interesting sighting reported today by Mark Archer is a little ringed plover on the new balancing pond at Stanley Ferry.
Spring isn’t the obvious time for searching for fungi but I gave it a try today. My first significant find was a white growth on the side of a silver birch stump in Seckar Wood. It looked like a blob of foam that was creeping down the stump and it felt soft, similar to a marshmallow.
False puffball (Enteridium lycoperdon)
Again, some knowledgeable members of the British Mycological Society Facebook Group helped me out. They tell me that it is a slime mould and is probably Enteridium lycoperdon. This species is also known as the false puffball but I should say that slime moulds aren’t classed as fungi.
In the woods over at Newmillerdam, I found an attractive group of orange-brown fungi.
Velvet Shank (Flammulina velutipes)
I think this is an old clump of velvet shank. This is a species that normally appears late in the year and can be seen from late autumn through to spring.