Autumn butterflies

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.

comma on sedum

comma on sedum

Red Admiral butterfly

Red Admiral butterfly

August field meeting at Nostell Priory

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.

comma butterfly caterpillar

comma butterfly caterpillar

purple hairstreak butterfly

purple hairstreak butterfly

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.

4.meripulus giganteus

4.meripulus giganteus

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.

migrant hawker

migrant hawker

brown hawker

brown hawker

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.

Fungi

The start to the fungus season has been a good one. Many fungi are emerging in lots of locations.

Blusher (Amanita rubescens)

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.

Russulas

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.

Woolly Milkcap (Lactarius torminosus)

We located a single woolly milkcap and a couple of boletes.

Orange Birch Bolete (Leccinum versipelle)

This single orange birch bolete (Leccinum versipelles) was growing beneath silver birches, as would be expected.

Peppery Bolete (Chalciporus piperatus)

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!

Hypomyces chrysospermus

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.

Hypomyces chrysospermus

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.

Fungal Finds

During a walk at Fitzwilliam Country Park, I came across some common puffballs (Lycoperdon perlatum). They were just pushing up through the moss and I thought they looked very striking.

Lycoperdon perlatum

There were quite a few Russulas growing beneath silver birches and young oaks. I identified one of these as green Russula (Russula aeruginea).

Russula aeruginea

At Ackworth, I found a clump of fungi which seemed to be a species of Agaricus. For these, I needed the help of the experts at the British Mycological Society. Agaricus bohusii was suggested initially but Geoffrey Kibby, who has published a number of authoritative guides to fungi, suggested that this fungus was a particularly scaly example of Agaricus subperonatus.

Agaricus subperonatus

Agaricus subperonatus isn’t a common species, so this was an interesting find.

 

Wrinkled Fieldcap

I was walking by the River Calder, near the Hepworth Gallery, when I spotted a mass of fungi on a pile of woodchips.

Wrinkled Fieldcap (Agrocybe rivulosa)

I did my best to identify them using books but again needed the help of the British Mycological Society and I found that they are Agrocybe rivulosa.

Wrinkled Fieldcap (Agrocybe rivulosa)

This species arrived in the UK just over a decade ago and has probably been encouraged to spread by the increasing use of bark and woodchip mulches. It is now common and widespread in Britain.

Wrinkled Fieldcap (Agrocybe rivulosa)

A common name used for this species is wrinkled fieldcap.

Insects at Hemsworth

After a train journey from the south of England, I stretched my legs by walking back to Hemsworth, from Fitzwilliam, using the scenic route.

Lucilia sericata

By the path, I found common green bottles feeding on hogweed and they were very striking when looked at closely. This species is one whose maggots can be used to clean wounds very effectively. They will eat dead tissue whilst leaving living tissue alone.

Graphomya maculata (female)

I identified another very striking fly that I saw as Graphomya maculata, also feeding on hogweed. It’s said to be found in damp areas and these were photographed on the edge of marshy ground.

Graphomya maculate (male)

Also on the hogweed, I found a true bug that I believe to be Grypocorus stysi. This species is said to feed on both flowers and small invertebrates such as aphids.

Grypocorus stysi

 

 

A Visit to Brockadale

Colin Booker and I took a trip to Brockadale yesterday, with the expectation of seeing lots of butterflies. However, we found very few flowers on the knapweed and this was one reason why butterfly numbers were low.

Marbled white

We saw a few marbled white and a single dark green fritillary.

 

Green-veined white

A highlight was the sight of banded demoiselles flitting around by the river.

Banded demoiselle (male

Banded demoiselle (female)

The demoiselles are found at the foot of the field in which musk thistle is often to be found.

 

Musk thistle

Although it wasn’t especially sunny, we saw at least five common lizards basking on logs.

Common lizard (pregnant?)

One lizard looked quite plump. Common lizards(Zootoca vivipara) are viviparous, i.e. they give birth to live young. This typically happens in July, so there is a good chance that the plump lizard was pregnant.

Common lizard

Peregrine Casualty

Unfortunately, one of this year’s young peregrines died earlier this week following a collision with a building. The female PCA was found near Sainsburys, Ings Road and was cared for by Jean Thorpe, of Ryedale Wildlife Rehabilitation.

PCA being X-rayed

PCA was examined by Mark Naguib, a vet who has lots of experience in dealing with raptors. Mark found that the bird had dislocated an elbow joint at least 24 hours earlier. He tried to put the bones back into place but this proved to be impossible and the decision was taken to end the bird’s life whilst it was still under the anaesthetic.

The decision was not an easy one but it was based on the fact that peregrines rely so heavily on the use of their wings to hunt their prey. PCA would never again have been able to live freely and to hunt as a peregrine should.

Dislocated elbow joint

 

We are grateful to Jean and Mark for the time and effort that they have given to caring for PCA.

It’s always sad to hear of the death of a peregrine but we must stand back and look at the whole picture. The Wakefield peregrines have now fledged ten young. We know of four deaths, all caused by collisions, and this means that there are, potentially, six new peregrines out there somewhere. If fifty percent of young peregrines survive the first year, that should be considered to be a good result. In their lifetimes, our two adults need to produce only two new peregrines that go on to breed successfully to replace themselves. I think there is a good chance that they have succeeded in that task.

Carlton Marsh

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.

Cheilosia illustrata

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)

 

Fledging of the Peregrines

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.

Juvenile peregrines

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.