Swan skirmish at Nostell Priory

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.

mute swans fighting

mute swans fighting

mute swans fighting

mute swans fighting

Thornes Park in Winter

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.

Mandarin Duck

Mandarin Duck

Goosander Thornes Park Lake

Goosander Thornes Park Lake

Thornes Park lake

Thornes Park lake

Stock dove at Thornes park

Stock dove at Thornes park

Peregrine in Residence at Old Moor

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.

Photo: Clive Barraclough

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.

Photo: Ian Bradley

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.

Photo: Jeremy Hughes

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.

Earth Tongues and Other Interesting Fungi

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.

Meadow Coral (Clavulinopsis corniculata)

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.

Clavulinopsis species

You should also see the yellow tongues of other Clavulinopsis species. A microscope is needed to identify these positively at the species level.

Common Powdercap (Cystoderma amianthinum)

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.

Geoglossum fallax

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.

Geoglossum cookeanum

These two earth tongues have been positively identified by looking at their spores under a microscope.

Caterpillar Club Fungus Cordyceps militaris)

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.

Red admiral autumn

Today we had some beautiful warm October sunshine which not only tempted me out for a walk but brought out plenty of red admiral butterflies as well as a few speckled wood and large white. It’s great to see butterflies still on the wing and the local ivy patches on the edge of Ryhill are in full flower and very attractive to these late insects. There were around 30+ red admirals on one strecth of ivy alone, plus the odd late speckled wood basking in the sunshine on the nettles lower down. The hawthorns are looking good too being laden with berries as well as having superb autumn colour

Red Admiral butterfly

Red Admiral butterfly on ivy flower

Red Admiral butterfly

Red Admiral butterfly

Speckled wood on nettle

Speckled wood on nettle

hawthorne berries

hawthorn berries

Red Admiral butterfly

Red Admiral butterfly

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.

Wildflower walk, Old Moor RSPB reserve

A lovely morning for our wildflower walk with a full range of wonderful colours from white hedge bindweed, sneezewort, wild carrot, white water lily to the yellows of wild honeysuckle, yellow loosestrife, fleabane, ribbed melilot and greater spearwort to the pink hues of purple loosestrife, goat’s rue, common centaury and slender speedwell. This handsome puss moth caterpillar was camouflaged well amongst the willow and we spent a while admiring it.

Puss moth caterpillar

Puss moth caterpillar

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