Black Nightshade

In the centre of Hemsworth, I spotted some black berries on a plant growing in a car-park. I then noticed the small white flowers, which were obviously those of a Solanum – the group of plants that includes potatoes and tomatoes.

Black nightshade (Solanum nigrum)

The commonest Solanum is woody nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) and I am very familiar with the purple flowers and red berries of that plant but this plant was obviously something new to me. Checking a field guide later, I found that this plant was black nightshade (Solanum nigrum). This particular Solanum occurs in many countries throughout the world and the chemicals that it contains lead to the plant having many medicinal uses.

Black nightshade (Solanum nigrum)

I can’t recall seeing black nightshade previously. By looking at a distribution map, I found that our part of Yorkshire is at the top end of its main English range, so I wouldn’t expect it to be as uniformly distributed and common here as it is in some parts of the south and east. Also, one article that I found suggested that the berries ripen only if there is suffcient sunshine, as there has been this year. Perhaps our usual weather does not allow this plant to fruit well in our area in normal years.

Black nightshade (Solanum nigrum)

I like finding new things in this way: in a built-up area, close to home. This shows that you don’t need to travel to nature reserves to make discoveries.

 

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.

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)

 

Spring Sightings

During a walk at Howell Wood, South Kirby, I found masses of opposite-leaved golden saxifrage (Chrysosplenium oppositifolium) in flower along the banks of a stream.

Opposite-leaved golden saxifrage

This is an attractive and common plant but it isn’t as well known as some of the other spring flowers.

Opposite-leaved golden saxifrage

Lots of chiffchaffs are now singing in local woods. I heard blackcaps in Seckar Wood at the weekend and they have been singing at Stanley Ferry Flash today. An interesting sighting reported today by Mark Archer is a little ringed plover on the new balancing pond at Stanley Ferry.

Grass Snakes at Stanley Ferry

It’s still quite early in the year but three large grass snakes (Natrix natrix) were seen recently at Stanley Ferry Flash. These snakes must have emerged from hibernation recently.

Grass snakes often live in marshy places or near lakes and ponds, where they hunt for amphibians. They lay eggs amongst rotting vegetation, where the heat produced by the decomposition of the vegetation keeps the eggs warm. They may, therefore, sometimes make use of compost heaps for egg-laying.

In addition, the first cowslips (Primula veris) are now flowering at Stanley Ferry.

Botany Group Visit to Townclose Hills

The weather was overcast but pleasant for our botany walk at this nature reserve near Kippax which is managed by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.

White Bryony

White Bryony

The group identified over fifty species of wildflower during the walk including clustered bellflowers, wild basil, burnet saxifrage, white bryony, field scabious and masses of knapweed. It was surprising to see a white version of greater knapweed.  Harebell and yellow-wort were also seen.

White form of Greater Knapweed

White form of Greater Knapweed

 

Harebells

Harebells

Easter sightings

Local walks over the Easter break have revealed some of the usual suspects. No real surprises, but it is just nice to see familiar species and some at more or less the time we might expect to see them.  However, the cowslips at the Balk area near to Stanley Flash are perhaps slightly early with some flowers beginning to go over.  At the flash itself there are abundant goat willows in flower providing a useful nectar source for insects such as over wintering Peacock butterflies and bees although none where seen on my walks this time.

Goat willow

Goat willow

Cowslip

Cowslip

At Bretton Park, wood anemone are providing a welcome sight in the woodland around the upper lake.  This plant can be an indicator of ancient woodland, which is an area that has been treed in some way for around four hundred years and therefore they are an irreplaceable and valuable habitat.  Occasionally wood anemone may also be found in some of the district’s meadows or hedge banks and here it is possible they may be ‘ghosts plants’ from a long lost woodland.  Also, the upper and lower lakes at Bretton Park have once again attracted frogs to spawn.

Wood anemone

Wood anemone

Frogspawn

Frogspawn at Bretton CP

Bramham Park flowers

Bramham Park is always a delight for any naturalist and never more so than in June when it is awash with wildflowers.  Abundant common spotted orchids were amongst the unmown grass interspersed with bee orchid, yellow rattle and twayblade.  To the side of the path sanicle, lady’s mantle and yellow pimpernel flourished under the beech trees Arriving at the obelisk pond, small toadflax, monkey flower, red pimpernel and wall lettuce grew amongst the gravel and stone. The mown lawn area has encouraged thyme, selfheal, milkwort, tormentil and rock rose to thrive in a pattern of purple and yellow in the short grass.  The long grass to the right of the Gothic temple is home at this time of year to leopard’s bane, hedge woundwort, heath speedwell, water avens and columbine. Once again a lovely, tranquil visit to Bramham Park.

Common spotted ortchid

Common spotted ortchid

Leopard's bane

Leopard’s bane

Wild thyme

Wild thyme

Heath speedwell

Heath speedwell