Burying beetle in the moth trap

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!

Burying Beetle (Silpha vespillo)

Burying Beetle (Silpha vespillo)

Butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies at Stanley Ferry Flash

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.

Emerald Damselfly

Emerald Damselfly

Large Skipper

Large Skipper

Purple Hairstreak

Purple Hairstreak

Giving Swifts a Little Help

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.

Swift nestbox.

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.

The effect of painting the interior.

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.

Nest 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.

Tweeters.

Finally, I placed the boxes below the eaves of the house.

Swift boxes (left) and house sparrow boxes (right).

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.

Field meeting at Thorpe Marsh YWT Reserve

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.

Yellow tail moth caterpillar

Yellow tail moth caterpillar

Yellow barred long horn moth

Yellow barred long horn moth

Black tailed skimmer

Black tailed skimmer

common cudweed

common cudweed

Wasp beetle

Wasp beetle

Wild flowers at Brockadale

Beautiful Brockadale -what a variety of flowers and butterflies! Although we were too early for bee orchid, common spotted orchids were just coming into flower, perhaps a couple of weeks later than usual..  The car park is always a good place for meadow cranesbill, dovesfoot cranesbill, French cranesbill and cut-leaved cranesbill before heading onto the reserve. Moving on down the path passing bladder campion, white campion and white bryony, we turned left for a short distance as we had been told about a large patch of purple milk vetch which we may well have missed.  We ended up on the main bank which was a mass of yellow rock rose mingled with hairy rock cress, greater stitchwort and fairy flax.

purple milk vetch

purple milk vetch

common spotted orchid

common spotted orchid

 

Bramham Park wildflowers

A glorious morning for a tranquil walk along the wildflower paths of 18th century Bramham Park, for a very small charge we were able to enjoy this peaceful garden awash with swathes of ramsons interspersed by leopards bane and the tilting heads of water avens.  Large groups of twayblade were coming into flower amongst sanicle, pignut, common dog violet and tormentil. Milkwort nestled in the short grass with green field speedwell and sticky mouse-ear.  Beautiful bugle sat amongst the barren and wild strawberry, while bulbous buttercup had still to reach its peak. In a few weeks time orchids will fill the unmown corners so a return visit would be worthwhile, a truly magical place to spend a morning.

water avens

water avens

Bramham Park

Bramham Park

 

Dawn Chorus and Bluebells

Sunday 6 May was International Dawn Chorus Day, a worldwide celebration of nature’s symphony. It is celebrated annually on the first Sunday of May, and is a great opportunity to get out early and listen to the sounds of birds as they sing to greet the rising sun.

Events took part all around the country, and on Saturday 5 May (albeit a day early) I joined members of the RSPB’s Wakefield District Local Group as they guided a walk around the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The walk started at 7am and there were plenty of birds singing. As we wandered around the park we listened to and viewed many species, and learnt a great deal from Paul and Sarah our expert guides. We encountered blue tit, great tit, blackbird, song thrush, chaffinch, goldfinch, goldcrest (one for my year list), chiffchaff, blackcap, great spotted woodpecker, nuthatch, tree creeper and wren.

The park looked stunning in the morning sunlight. The trees were in full blossom and the sunshine made everything look more vibrant. The woodland was carpeted in a haze of blue.

Bluebells at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park

All too soon the walk was over, and we headed to the cafe for a quick drink before heading home. I would encourage everyone to get out there and enjoy what nature has to offer. You don’t have to be an expert, get up too early or travel far to hear bird song – your back garden is a good start.

Stromatolites at South Elmsall

Following a fruitless trip to search for adders yesterday, three of us decided to visit a particularly interesting quarry at S Elmsall. The quarry is a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of some shapes that can be seen in the wall of the quarry. These shapes are the remains of ancient structures called stromatolites. Stromatolites are of interest because they provide the earliest signs of life on Earth, with some of the traces in the fossil record being 3.5 billion years old.My knowlege of geology is superficial but what follows is my understanding of what can be seen in the quarry.

South Elmsall Quarry

Stromatolites develop very slowly in shallow and highly saline water and they look like boulders. They are created by mats of single-celled organisms, such as cyanobacteria or algae. Mineral particles trapped by the organisms gradually build up in layers to form the stromatolite. Follow this link if you would like to see modern stromatolites.

Click here to see modern stromatolites.

The following photograph shows a small piece of fossilised stromatolite and it has been polished to reveal the layers.

Fossilised stromatolite

In the wall of the quarry, there is a clear horizontal boundary. Below this line, there is a layer of grainstones. Above the line, there are the fossilised remains of a reef and within that zone.

Quarry wall

You can see domed shapes that are the fossilised remains of stromatolites. The remains date from the late Permian period, making them more than 250 million years old.

Stromatolite

 

 

Hetchell Wood flower walk

Hetchell Wood was a delight in the spring sunshine with plenty of bluebells, lesser celandine interspersed by common dog violet and barren strawberry.  Amongst the dogs mercury and greater stitchwort, sanicle was almost in flower.   Taking the path across the meadow we stepped carefully to avoid the beautiful cowslips, common twayblade and wood anenomes continuing along the path flanked by shimmering white blackthorn bushes we scanned the bottom of the coppiced hazel looking for toothwort eventually finding this fine growth of the parasitic plant. The circular route took us past wonderful clumps of marsh marigolds with golden saxifrage clinging to the mud beneath.  Yellow archangel and green alkanet on the roadside verge were admired before we reached our cars.  A beautiful walk on a fine morning..

Toothwort

Toothwort

Cowslip

cowslip

 

Spring Mushrooms

Note: Please do not eat any mushrooms that you collect from the wild as a result of anything that you read on this page. You should not eat wild-collected fungi unless they are identified for you by an expert.

Spring isn’t the time when most people would think of searching for mushrooms but there are one or two species to be found.

Common Morel (Morchella esculenta)

A real prize for foragers is to find morels. These are amongst the most delicious of all mushrooms but they are not at all common in Great Britain. They are ascomycetes, so they do not have quite the same structure as many of the more familiar mushrooms. They are said, by some, to prefer to grow alongside woodland rides and on woodland edges, on the drip-line of trees. These two were amongst a small group growing on the grassy edge of a wide path through woodland.

St George’s Mushroom (Calocybe gambosa)

Another one to watch for at this time of year is St George’s mushroom, which grows from about the time of St George’s day onwards, until around June. These resemble the edible mushrooms that you can buy in the supermarket (Agaricus bisporus) and the common field mushroom (Agaricus arvensis) but they belong to a different genus, Calocybe. An obvious difference is that they have white gills. Also, they have a distinctive mealy smell, similar to the smell of damp flour. They are popular for eating in some European countries.

St George’s Mushroom (Calocybe gambosa)

The ones that I found were on a reclaimed colliery site, growing beneath trees. The main part of fungi that grow on the ground is an underground network of very thin threads called the mycelium. Many fungi are mycorrhizal, which means that the mycelium has a relationship with the roots of a particular plant. You will find the fungus growing near only those trees or plants with which it can form this relationship. The St George’s mushroms that I found were growing in a ring and this indicates that this fungus is proabably not mycorrhizal. Instead, it is probably saprobic, which means that it feeds on dead organic material in the soil. The mycelium gradually spreads outwards, over the years, as it feeds.

St George’s Mushroom (Calocybe gambosa)