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.

Wild flowers at Anglers Country Park

Anglers CP has always been a favourite for bird watching but the wildflowers are also improving year by year: dog roses, guelder rose and dogwood are in full splendour at the moment edging the path as we passed the right hand field, full of meadow buttercup, lady’s smock and red clover. Interspersed amongst these flowers were northern marsh orchid, although possibly these have hybridised with southern marsh orchid, and also a few common spotted orchid. Yellow flag, lesser stitchwort and mouse- ear grew by the water’s edge as we turned right towards the bird hide. Hundreds of orchids can be seen along this path, still coming into flower, a real feast for the eyes. As we turned back onto the main path, broad-leaved willow-herb and cut-leaved cranesbill were coming into flower alongside clumps of creeping buttercup, red campion and hemlock.

northern marsh orchid

northern marsh orchid

Peregrine Ringing, 2017

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.

Peregrine chicks

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.

Urban Birding

For those who like to observe wildlife close to home, here are a few sightings from Chantry Bridge.

My first visit at the end of April found a male goosander alongside the
common species such as 20+ mallard, which included six tiny ducklings. A
pair of swans had a nest with seven eggs, five of which hatched on or
around the 9th May. The pen Y567 has attempted breeding here before and
the BTO tell me that she was ringed as a cygnet at Lemonroyd Lock, Methley. Her
mate in the past was Y127 but the present male has only a metal BTO ring so
there are no informative numbers to be seen.

Regular species that can be seen or heard on most visits are blackbirds,
pied and grey wagtail [both of these I believe to be breeding], sand
martins, grey heron (just one) wren, robin, goldfinch, chaffinch, willow
warbler and titmice.

An unusual sight last week was a jay (a first here for me) being mobbed
by a pair of carrion crows. Then, as I raised my head above the parapet,
a kingfisher appeared below me and flew at great speed downstream and
out of sight. Urban birdwatching at its best!

 

 

 

Baby bird boom

Happily, this spring appears to have been kind to many baby birds with good numbers of fledglings of various species seen during my local wanderings.  At home, noisy queues of starlings and house sparrows jostle for position at the garden feeding stations. The photo shows a female house sparrow feeding one of her young.

house sparrow feeding young

female house sparrow feeding young

Elsewhere in the garden young blackbirds appear to be somewhat vulnerable as they are unable to fly at first when leaving the nest.  However, they continue to be well cared for by their own parents who are busy finding food and watching over them.  The parents are never far away and seldom abandon their young.  Fortunately, the garden has good foraging areas, together with a solid shrub layer of mixed native species such as hazel and hawthorn to provide food and cover from predators. Blackbirds and robins appear to have had two broods and young dunnocks are also regular visitors searching for leftovers beneath the feeding table.

Dingy skipper and small yellow underwing moth

A walk around Haigh provided me with good views of yellowhammer and dingy skipper, while Billy’s Wood produced small yellow underwing moth. At both Billy’s Wood and Haigh, the leaves of common spotted orchid were showing so it wont be long before these beautiful flowers are in full bloom

dingy skipper

dingy skipper

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer

small yellow underwing moth

small yellow underwing moth

 

Peregrine Chicks, 2017

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.

Hatching

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.

First Feed

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.

Damaged Egg

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.