Members will be saddened to hear of the sudden and unexpected passing of Michael Wilkinson while out walking with his wife Janet. Michael has been a regular member at the Wakefield Naturalists’ Society meetings for many years as well as a regular member at the RSPB local group and our thoughts are with Janet and his family at this time. Anyone wishing to attend Michael’s funeral is welcome to do so and the service will take place at Pontefract Crematorium at 1pm on Tuesday June 4th followed by refreshments at the nearby Kings Croft Hotel.
Instead of ‘birding’ our group were looking at the huge variety of wildflowers now establishing in this relatively new RSPB nature park. Just looking around the edge of car park area we saw bristly ox-tongue, cut leaved cranesbill, spotted medick, water figwort, wood forget-me-not and in the fenced area clumps of weld and celery leaved buttercup. Coming down the hill the grassland glowed golden with meadow and creeping buttercups interspersed with the bright white of ox-eye daisy, to the right of the path yellow rattle grew amongst the crosswort, hairy tare, red campion, a clump of hemlock water dropwort and our last pause was to admire a single stem of salsify, a garden escape but still a pleasure to see.
Once again, the Quakers have decided to schedule an annual meeting on the same night as Wakefield naturalists’ Society meeting despite our having booked the room in January and used the venue on the second Tuesday of the month for the past 20yrs. This means that we have had to postpone our September meeting by one week and it will now take place on September18th 2018 at the usual time of 7.30pm.
I apologise for the inconvenience and hope that as many of you as possible can still make it to the meeting
In the centre of Hemsworth, I spotted some black berries on a plant growing in a car-park. I then noticed the small white flowers, which were obviously those of a Solanum – the group of plants that includes potatoes and tomatoes.
The commonest Solanum is woody nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) and I am very familiar with the purple flowers and red berries of that plant but this plant was obviously something new to me. Checking a field guide later, I found that this plant was black nightshade (Solanum nigrum). This particular Solanum occurs in many countries throughout the world and the chemicals that it contains lead to the plant having many medicinal uses.
I can’t recall seeing black nightshade previously. By looking at a distribution map, I found that our part of Yorkshire is at the top end of its main English range, so I wouldn’t expect it to be as uniformly distributed and common here as it is in some parts of the south and east. Also, one article that I found suggested that the berries ripen only if there is suffcient sunshine, as there has been this year. Perhaps our usual weather does not allow this plant to fruit well in our area in normal years.
I like finding new things in this way: in a built-up area, close to home. This shows that you don’t need to travel to nature reserves to make discoveries.
In these continuing dry conditions, there are still relatively few fungi around but it is still worth spending some time searching.
A week ago, I spotted a large and conspicuous white fungus on a tree-stump at Nostell Priory. On closer examination, I found it to be Volvariella bombycina, which goes by the common name of silky rosegill. This is an uncommon species, so it was pleasing to find it growing in our area.
The scientific name of this species refers to the bag-like volva from which the fungus emerges. The remnats of this can be seen at the base of the stem. The common name refers to the texture of the cap.
The very dry conditions created by this summer’s hot weather don’t give much promise for a strong start to the fungus season. However, two of us went out to search several local sites last week in the hope of finding one or two species on trees, for which moisture would not be the problem that it is for those species that grow on the gound.
We were searching a pile of rotting timber, on which there is usually something to be found, when we spotted some bright orange caps beneath a covering of dried grass. The mushrooms were growing on a well rotted sycamore stump.
There aren’t many mushrooms that are such a bright orange colour and this one took a little while to identify. The splitting of the cap, caused by the dry conditions, almost led us in the wrong direction but the mushroom was found to be Pluteus aurantiorugosus.
This species is not common and the CATE databse, operated by the Fungus Conservation Trust, contains no previous records for Yorkshire.
I’ve been running a moth trap since mid-April after I received one for my birthday and I’ve had some success catching a variety of species of moth which I will probably show at one of the indoor meetings. As well as moths, I usually catch a few other insects such as wasps, flies, and midges, but last night I caught a rather splendid burying beetle – not quite as good as the lesser stag beetles that Francis has caught – but nonetheless a great find in the trap. I have no idea how common these are around Wakefield, probably quite common, but a first for my garden!
Today, Stanley Ferry Flash produced my first sightings this summer for purple hairstreak and gatekeeper butterflies. The purple hairstreak was sheltering (out of the sun?) high up in a willow bush and surprisingly some distance from the site’s main areas of oak trees where egg laying would normally occur. Other butterfly sightings included large skipper, several small tortoiseshell, numerous ringlet and meadow brown. Dragonflies and damselflies included brown hawker, four-spotted chaser, numerous black-tailed skimmer and common darter, together with emerald damselfly around the new large balancing pond just south of the main Stanley Ferry Flash.
It was Swift Awareness Week last week. Work was a bit busy then but, a week later, I have finally put up two swift nestboxes that I was prevented from putting in place earlier in the year.
By doing a little research, I found that swifts are more likely to use a box if the interior is dark, so I painted the insides of my two new boxes black.
It did not seem right to expect swifts to lay eggs on a perfectly flat surface, so I created a nest concave for each box. The simplest way that I could think of to do this was to cut a set of circles of decreasing size in pieces of card and glue these together. I also thought the birds might prefer a box that looks a little lived-in, so I glued a few feathers, from our budgerigars, into the concave.
The main way to increase the probability that the boxes will be used is to play the calls of swifts to attract them to the boxes. To do this, I bought a couple of small speakers, or tweeters, and a small, cheap amplifier unit. the tweeters are attached to the boxes and the amplifier is in the house. This set-up plays swift calls from an SD card and is turned on and off using a timer plug.
Finally, I placed the boxes below the eaves of the house.
I have missed this year’s breeding season but I hope that some swifts will have a look at the boxes before they return to Africa for the winter.
There was a good turn out of Society members at our field meeting on Sunday 10 June at the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve at Thorpe Marsh. We were well rewarded with a wide variety of interesting bird, plant and insect species as we walked around flower filled meadows, woodland, becks and lagoons. A check list with images attached included a recently emerged black-tailed skimmer dragonfly, caterpillar of the yellow-tail moth feeding on sallow, yellow barred long horn moth, wasp beetle and common cudweed, a low growing annual plant growing in a clinker track (a former railway). Other sightings included adult garden chafer beetle, adult cinnabar moth, caterpillar of vapourer moth, male and female forester moths, banded agrion damselfly various hybrid orchids, buzzard, together with whitethroat, oystercatcher and cuckoo all calling in the background. Thorpe Marsh extends to 77 hectares and is packed with a variety of habitats and as we discovered it is developing into a very valuable home for a wide range of wildlife.
The next field meeting is on July 15 at Epworth Turbary Nature Reserve and further details are available by checking the Outdoor Meetings on this website.