Yesterday, Sunday 18 March, during another arctic blast I witnessed a male mute swan, known as a cob, chase off an unwelcome visitor to the lower lake at Nostell Priory. The newcomer was no doubt seen as being too close to the resident pair’s nesting and feeding areas, possibly threatening their breeding success this year. Male mute swans are fiercely territorial and this encounter was no exception. With the female swan (called a pen) watching from nearby, the cob suddenly started to display a range of aggressive postures towards the pretender and the whole lake became a battleground with goosander, tufted duck and coots caught up in the cross fire desperately trying to find cover and safety. Eventually after nearly an hour the intruder flew away to find a new territory. Images of the encounter are attached.
This week during the current Arctic weather I have been unable to reach my usual local wildlife watching countryside haunts. However, while travelling along Thornes Road, Wakefield I stopped briefly for a look at the lake at Thornes Park. There were the usual suspects such as Canada geese, mallard and quarrelling moorhens. Less obvious was a goosander busy diving although I am not sure if it was actually finding any fish to catch.
The park appears to support a good population of stock dove which are relatively common in the UK, but is often overlooked or just confused with various pigeon species although it is an attractive species in its own right. My final sighting was a rather flamboyant lone male mandarin duck not deterred by the larger bustling mallards. Mandarin ducks appear to have escaped from private collections and feral populations are now becoming established in various parts of the UK. Their natural home is north-east China and Japan.
My visit, albeit brief, highlighted that urban green space areas such as Thornes Park so close to city centres with their old trees and quieter areas are vital places for our own well being and offer massive potential for making contact with wildlife, although the difficulties associated with developing their future care and management are very much appreciated.
Images of a general view of the lake, goosander, stock dove and mandarin duck are attached.
We are well into the winter but there are still some interesting fungi to be found.
Common candlesnuff is easy to spot on decaying treestumps and smaller pieces of dead wood. However, if you want more of a challenge, you can watch out for beechmast candlesnuff, which grows only on the seed cases of beech trees.
To find beechmast candlesnuff, you may have to turn over the fallen leaves to get to the beechmast that is in the correct, damp condition for the fungus.
Another common winter fungus is velvet shank.
This fungus has a slimy cap and is often seen sprouting from logs.
A much less common fungus that appears about now is scarlet elfcup.
To find scarlet elfcup, look for mossy logs or smaller pieces of decaying wood on mossy ground.
If you are lucky enough to find a red, cup-shaped fungus, you can’t be certain about the id without using a microscope because scarlet elfcup is almost identical to ruby elfcup. One feature used to tell the two apart is the microscopic hair on the underside of the cup. For scarlet elfcup this hair is twisted and tangled but it is straighter for ruby elfcup.
This microscope image shows the hairs on one of the specimens in one of the images above.
Exciting news in recent weeks has been the identification of a peregrine that has taken up residence at RSPB Old Moor as PAA – a female from this year’s Wakefield Cathedral brood.
Young peregrines don’t breed until two or three years of age and they can travel great distances during that time. PAA hasn’t moved a huge distance from Wakefield but she hasn’t needed to. She has found a great site, with plenty of available food, on which to spend to the winter. It is normal for peregrines to settle on a suitable location in which to get through the difficult months of winter.
PAA spends much of her time sitting on pylons which overlook the reserve. She comes down to the lakes frequently to catch prey and she spends a significant time on islands which can be seen from the Family Hide and the Wader Scrape Hide. She feeds on the islands, she bathes on the water’s edge and she spends long periods sitting on posts on one particular island. She seems to have a fondness for moorhen but she has also been seen to take common gull and golden plover.
As well as entertaining the human visitors to the reserve, PAA has made her presence known to the avian visitors. She has been seen to bully and chase away a marsh harrier, buzzards and sparrowhawks. Also, her menacing presence on the pylons has probably been the reason why the starling murmuration has not got going this year. The starlings would normally settle on the pylons before murmurating.
It’s great to see one of Wakefields young peregrines thriving and we hope to hear more news of it in the future when it reaches breeding age.
One of the things that I have learnt in recent months is that a great place to look for interesting fungi in late autumn is amongst the moss in patches of grass which have not been pampered for many years.
Neglected lawns, the outfields of cricket grounds and the mossy grass amongst the graves in churchyards provide a great habitat for some interesting species. meadow coral is a common species but you have to look closely to find it.
You should also see the yellow tongues of other Clavulinopsis species. A microscope is needed to identify these positively at the species level.
An interesting capped mushroom is the common powdercap. This species can be very small but it is attractive. It is also host to a rare mushroom called the powdercap strangler. You would be very lucky to find this but you should google it to learn more about it.
Earth tongues are always of interest to enthusiasts and they can turn up anywhere where there is mossy grass. The commonest is Geoglossum cookeanum, which I found by a main road in the centre of Ackworth, and the one which is next is G fallax, which I found in a north Leeds churchyard.
These two earth tongues have been positively identified by looking at their spores under a microscope.
An exciting find for me recently was caterpillar club fungus, which I spotted in another churchyard in north Leeds. This fungus infects the larva of a moth, beetle or other insect which has pupated underground. The yellow arrow indicates the remains of the pupa. This fungus is cultivated in the far east, where it is used in traditional medicines.
Colin Booker and I had a look on Heath common yesterday to see if there were any interesting fungi.
As we had hoped, we started finding colourful waxcaps almost immediately.
Some waxcaps are indistinguishable without the use of a microscope but a few are quite recognisable, such as the parrot waxcap, which comes in a range of colours but has characteristic green colouring in its stem or cap at some stages in its development.
Slimy waxcaps live up to their name and the caps of heath waxcaps can be quite sticky.
Amongst the grass, we found lots of bright yellow stems of a Clavulinopsis species.
There are a number of these small yellow fungi and a microscope is needed to be able to name them with confidence.
This tiny Cystoderma species is one to keep an eye on because it could be the host for an unusual and rare parasitic species of fungus called Squamanita paradoxa.
The dung left by the ponies which graze the common has provided a habitat for the egghead mottlegill mushrooms. These were one of the few little brown mushrooms that we could identify positively.
I couldn’t resist a second visit to the common today and I found a ring of field bewit – quite a distinctive fungus, with a brown cap and a pale violet stem.
I’ve been spending some time searching for waxcap mushrooms (Hygrocybe) whilst in West Wales. Today, I looked in the graveyard of the small chapel at Berea, near St Davids and I found something interesting.
On some of the gravestones, there were a number of chrysalises, tucked into recesses in the stonework.
Species of moths and butterflies can over-winter as adults, eggs, larvae or pupe, depending on the species. The large white spends the winter as a pupa.The area around St Davids is often windy, being flat and very close to the sea, and the pupae were on the sheltered sides of the gravestones.
Each one was held in place by what looks like a single strand of silk. I don’t know whether this is really a single strand or is made from lots of individual strands.
Chilly evenings and shortening daylight hours remind us that summer is now slipping away and autumn is here. This is confirmed by a bounty of sloes and elderberries, together with a good crop of acorns. A further sign of the changing seasons are fewer wildflowers in the surrounding countryside. Even so, this remains a good time to enjoy watching butterflies, especially comma and the other species that overwinter as adults rather than eggs, larva or chrysalis. They now gorge themselves on life giving nectar offered by flowers in many of our local ornamental parks and gardens to help them survive the winter and breed next spring. This also includes red admiral, which can currently be seen in very large numbers around Wakefield. This species can be seen flying during milder days well into November and sometimes beyond. This may suggest it overwinters in a reduced state of dormancy compared to our comma, peacock, brimstone and small tortoiseshell. Indeed, there is growing evidence to suggest this butterfly is beginning to be accepted as a resident, especially in the south of the UK.
Photos of red admiral feeding on Buddleia x weyeriana and comma feeding on Sedum spectabile at a Wrenthorpe garden during the past week are attached. In addition, to our garden flowers look out for our native ivy. This is starting to flower now and is a magnet for a wide range of insects searching for nectar at this time of year. This important plant is one of our few native evergreen plants sheltering many wildlife species during the winter months.
The Society’s final outdoor meeting of a full summer programme for this year attracted a very good attendance on 13 August 2017. Members were greeted with a fine sunny morning and treated to some special wildlife sightings as we walked around part of the Nostell Priory parkland, which is managed by the National Trust.
The bottom lake provided good views of various dragonflies and damselflies, including brown hawker and common blue damselfly patrolling around a large area of fringed water-lily with its attractive yellow flowers. Large bracket fungal fruiting bodies of Ganoderma spp on old oak trees and a giant polypore (Meripilus giganteus) at the base of a mature beech tree were also noted. Eagled eyed members spotted a couple of caterpillars of the comma butterfly feeding on nettles at a woodland edge. The white markings on their backs are thought to resemble a bird dropping, perhaps a good defence mechanism. See attached image. Possibly, the highlight of the morning was the appearance of a purple hairstreak butterfly high in the canopy of an oak tree, which is the food plant of its caterpillars. Although the adult butterfly may sometimes be seen at lower levels it spends much of its time searching high in the tops of oak trees and occasionally other species for honeydew from aphids. For this reason it is easily overlooked and under recorded and certainly it was difficult to photograph on the day. Other butterflies seen, included red admiral, speckled wood and meadow brown. Other interesting wildlife included a hornet’s nest in an old veteran tree and knopper gall on oak.
The knopper gall is caused by a small wasp (Andricus quercuscalicis) laying its eggs in the young acorns of pedunculate oak. This tiny insect forms a second generation in the spring when it lays its eggs and forms small galls on the male catkins of turkey oak (Quercus cerris), which can be found in small numbers at Nostell Priory. At this time of year the acorns become increasingly wrinkled as they develop. In some years this can reduce the number of viable acorns produced. However, many may remain unaffected and perhaps this insect may not be the threat to our native oak that it once feared to have been.
Encouraged by the visit I returned to Nostell on the 17 August to photograph the giant polypore, which was by then much larger. I also noted a further three purple hairstreak butterflies in the same area, together with a brown hawker and migrant hawkers. Images of the brown hawker, which rested for a matter of seconds on a fence post, together with the migrant are attached.
The indoor meetings resume on Tuesday September 12th at 7.30 p.m. at the Quaker Meeting House, Thornhill Street, Wakefield WF1 1NQ with a presentation by Steve Rutherford when he will take us on a journey around the islands of the UK.
The start to the fungus season has been a good one. Many fungi are emerging in lots of locations.
Colin Booker and I took a walk at Walton Colliery Country Park and started finding many fungi as soon as we set out. Amongst lots of earthballs beneath some birches, we found a number of blushers.
There were also dozens of Russulas beneath trees. They are difficult to identify but I think the commonest, shown on the left of this image, was the grass-green Russula (R aeruginea). The yellow one was probably the ochre brittlegill (R ochroleuca). The red one defied my attempts to identify it.
We located a single woolly milkcap and a couple of boletes.
This single orange birch bolete (Leccinum versipelles) was growing beneath silver birches, as would be expected.
We also found this peppery bolete (Chalciporus piperatus), with it’s quite distinctive shiny cap. It gets its name because of its peppery taste. Having said this, never eat any fungus as a result of any identification that I make on this site, or any other!
A day or two later, this evening, I was walking at Ackworth when I spotted a vivid yellow in the grass. I found that this was covering what looked like a dehydrated mushroom.
Having seen a lot of boletes this week, it was interesting to find that the colour was caused by a fungus – Hypomyces chrysospermus – that specialises in feeding on boletes. First they turn white and then a bright yellow colour.