t was a warm, muggy cloudy morning for our last walk of the season where our aim was to find autumn lady’s tresses, a tiny spiralling flower hiding in low grass. Amongst the damp grass along the main path we passed white, red and bladder campion as well as agrimony, lady’s bedstraw and, as the path widens out to the sunny bank, harebells. Here also we had rock rose, eyebright, fairy flax and quantities of autumn gentian, common centaury amongst field scabious, small scabious. On the bumpy knoll where the leaves of the pasque flower could still be seen, we found devil’s-bit-scabious and plenty of yellow-wort and our target spoecies – autumn lady’s tresses. A number of our walks have been rained off this year so it was good to finish with such a rewarding morning at the flower rich site.
A lovely morning for our wildflower walk with a full range of wonderful colours from white hedge bindweed, sneezewort, wild carrot, white water lily to the yellows of wild honeysuckle, yellow loosestrife, fleabane, ribbed melilot and greater spearwort to the pink hues of purple loosestrife, goat’s rue, common centaury and slender speedwell. This handsome puss moth caterpillar was camouflaged well amongst the willow and we spent a while admiring it.
I’ve just returned from a few days photography in Wiltshire/Dorset where I’ve been photographing firecrest, great bustard and Dartford warbler and, as the spring weather continued, today I went over to Brockadale to see what spring flowers were on offer. The cowslips are not yet in bloom and the highland cattle seem to be making a bit of a mess of the meadow so I’m not sure how well the cowslips will do this year. The wood anemone on the hillside are spreading well but deep in the woods, they somehow looked more at home in the dappled spring light.
Earlier today, Chris Swaine tweeted his sightings of a small flock of waxwings near the former Slipper pub in Crofton. Although there seems to be hundreds of waxwings up and down the country at the moment, these are the first we’ve heard about in the Wakefield district.
The changing and breathtaking colours of some of our magnificent trees, together with flocks of visiting birds on their long migration journeys, and a bounty of fruits and seeds for them to feed on are proof that autumn has arrived. However, thanks to Pauline, on the 27 October we were witness to a less obvious clue if not, indeed, a very spooky sign of the season. We met along the disused railway, now a fantastic public walkway, starting behind the Co-op stores on Leeds Road, Outwood. There, on the timber post and rail fencing we found hundreds of ‘Halloween ladybirds’ as they are known in the USA, because they gather in their overwintering areas during September to November before hibernating, often in buildings. Such large gatherings of insects are known as aggregations.
Here in the UK this beetle is known as the harlequin ladybird (Harmonia spp) and is an unwelcome invader. The adult is very variable in appearance with a range of colours and patterns (see photos). Unlike many of our native ladybirds it produces multiple generations and a single female may lay up to 2,000 eggs in a lifetime leading to large populations. The life cycle then proceeds to a larvae (see attached photo), which can shed their skins several times before forming a pupae, and then after several days the adult emerges. The larvae and adults feast on aphids and when these have been devoured they sadly eat and out-compete our native, treasured ladybirds, bringing a ghostly end to autumn.
It was a warm, clear morning for our last flower walk of the season. The lack of rainfall has taken its toll on the vale which, on first glance looked dry and parched, lacking the lush green and purple haze of scabious present on previous visits at this time of year, but further into the vale we began to see the flowers that we hoped to see. All three scabious were identified, small, field and devil’s-bit although not as abundant as previous years, red bartsia, harebells, fairy flax, betony and restharrow were all plentiful as were yellow-wort and autumn gentian. We failed to find autumn ladies-tresses although one of our group had seen it on the vale in the last few days but just failed to locate it! Corn sowthistle, common rock-rose, milk-wort, ladies bedstraw, agrimony, yarrow, white campion and the wonderfully named traveller’s joy were a delight to see. Large numbers of meadow and common grasshoppers jumped about around our feet and a buzzard soared above the vale, a really beautiful last outing of the season.
The weather was overcast but pleasant for our botany walk at this nature reserve near Kippax which is managed by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.
The group identified over fifty species of wildflower during the walk including clustered bellflowers, wild basil, burnet saxifrage, white bryony, field scabious and masses of knapweed. It was surprising to see a white version of greater knapweed. Harebell and yellow-wort were also seen.
What a scorching day for our walk around Rabbit Ings, we were fortunate to be accompanied by one of the rangers, Tom, who let us take the cars up onto the established heath area where heather is now thriving, saving us the long walk up the hill. Goats-rue was abundant, also imperforate St John’s wort, lesser trefoil and weld. Under the shade of young birch we found individual yellow-wort, beautiful clumps of common centaury amongst white bedstraw, wild carrot, viper’s bugloss and trailing tormentil.
In the bright sunshine small skippers, ringlets and meadow brown butterflies fluttered. Water has unexpectedly gathered in an area just below the car park attracting a heron, the swans have managed to rear four cygnets this year and there were numerous swifts darting about.
A pleasantly mild day as we set off from the car park down towards the Pinfold passing yarrow, lesser trefoil, common cat’s ear, cut leaf crane’s bill and pignut pausing briefly at the Pinfold to admire foxglove, heath groundsel, red and white campion. Continuing down to the pond which was completely encircled by a mass of bright yellow lesser spearwort, the banking was dotted with heath bedstraw amidst tormentil and bird’s foot trefoil, lady’s bedstraw was flowering interspersed by a few poppies. Lesser stitchwort and field mouse-ear crept through the grass along the tarmac road to the left; we then crossed the road towards a waving sea of harebells, ox-eye daisy, agrimony and wild mignonette.
We were pleased to see a few butterflies, meadow brown and ringlets and of course a particular joy at this time of year are the foals running loose but not straying too far from their mothers.
It was a clear, warm day as we stopped to admire the first clump of sweet violets; sadly the distinctive perfume was indiscernible. To the right of the path lesser celandine interspersed with dark bluebells covered the field, we were convinced the bluebells were native as the flowers drooped mostly to one side – the flowers in the Spanish variety go all round the stem.
The goldilocks buttercup was hard to find amongst the celandine, the flower never looks complete as it only has two or three sparse petals. Entering the wood, the dry floor was carpeted with tiny common dog violet and early dog violet with a few patches of wood anemone, a little past their best. The spurge laurel which flowered in January now has plenty of seed pods which will turn black later on. Turning left onto the sunny bank at the edge of the field a variety of bees and peacock butterflies were feeding on the ground ivy, lesser celandine, barren strawberry and field speedwell.