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
Red Admiral butterfly
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
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.
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.
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.
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
After a train journey from the south of England, I stretched my legs by walking back to Hemsworth, from Fitzwilliam, using the scenic route.
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.
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.
We saw a few marbled white and a single dark green fritillary.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last week Wakefield enjoyed a mini heat wave, which was encouraging for our local butterflies. This week we have seen an abrupt and very wet change in our weather with any sunshine in short supply; a real dampener for any butterfly activity. However, today just after 3p.m. after the main showers, I called into Nostell Priory. It was still gloomy with occasional spots of rain as I walked around the wildflower meadow and orchard in the gardens. Despite the weather there were several ringlet butterflies flying amongst the tall grasses and occasionally some would rest to open their wings to bask (see attached photo) even though there was no direct sunshine. However, this behaviour is not unusual for this species which is not deterred by overcast drizzly days. Happily, ringlets appear to have extended their range throughout much of the Wakefield district over recent years.
ringlet butterfly at Nostell Priory
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
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.
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.
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!