A Ramble with the Nats, 17 June 1871

150 years ago today the West Riding Consolidated Naturalists Society had a ramble through Coxley valley. Here’s how it was reported in the local press a week later:

EXCURSION AND MEETING OF THE WEST RIDING CONSOLIDATED NATURALISTS SOCIETY.

Notwithstanding the unfavourable appearance of Saturday last, the day appointed by the above society to visit the district of Coxley valley, a fair representation of most of the societies comprising the union arrived by different trains at Horbury Bridge and, uniting together, started about three o’ clock on the ramble, by way of Water Lane, up the beautiful and retired valley of Coxley. The whole company expressed themselves delighted with the locality, and although occasional showers fell during the afternoon, which rather marred the pleasure of the party, keeping them to a great extent on the beaten track, yet the bursts of sunshine which at intervals lighted up the wooded slopes of the valley, and other peculiar aspects of the day, proved a rich treat to the observant and enthusiastic naturalist.
The air was fragrant with the odour of the wild rose, the wayfaring tree and other odoriferous plants which are here found in abundance – the woods resounded with the sweet notes of the warblers, and the denizens of the lake-like pools sported on and beneath the surface of the waters, giving an appearance of life and motion to the otherwise quiet and sequestered scene.
There was plenty of work for the botanists, both in the way of land and water plants; but in consequence of the extra quantity of water in the dams, specimens of several of the rarer plants could not be observed. The meadows a little above presented a very interesting appearance, more particularly with respect to the flora. The Plentago Media, or Hairy Plantain, is here found in abundance, and was in full bloom.
At this point a second party of naturalists from Clayton West district joined the principal company, and the united body now taking to the right of the valley and up the steep embankments, passed through several fields to Middlestown, then by way of Smithy Brook and Thornhill Edge to the place of meeting – at the house of Mr Garthwaite, the Savile Arms Inn, Thornhill.
Thanks to Nev Ashby of the Horbury and Sitlington History Group Facebook page for spotting this.

Wakefield Naturalists, established 1851, were prime movers in getting the West Riding Consolidated Naturalists Society together, it later became the Yorkshire Naturalists’ Union, which in turn gave rise to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. I don’t recall wayfaring tree in Coxley, or hoary plantain for that matter. The note about where the rarer water plants were is useful because in an account of a similar meeting that I’ve seen they mention sundew gets a mention and I’ve always wondered where that would have been growing. Mill dams would be continually changing level, so it’s not surprising that marsh plants were able to become established.

Sparrow Box Soap Opera

blue tit

Some day we will get it right for the birds!

First we put up a blue tit box and sparrows nested in it, so we replaced it with a sparrow terrace with three nest holes and the blue tits nested in it.

Now the blue tits are sub-letting to a group of wrens.

As I went to make our morning cuppa, passing the back door something caught my eye, I looked out at the sparrow box and in the half light could see a little head appear from hole number one. I was amazed to see a wren fly out and it was quickly followed by three more, they had obviously been using it as an overnight roost.

We had spotted a wren yesterday coming out of hole number three, while at the same time a blue tit was taking great interest in hole number one. Another blue tit attempted to investigate the middle hole but the one at hole one in no uncertain terms let it know it wasn’t welcome, although it didn’t seem bothered by the wren.

wren

We watched three wrens this evening. One popped in the middle hole then joined the other two in hole one.

It would be lovely to think that we could have blue tit and wren making a nest in the terrace this Spring and a bonus would be a sparrow in the middle. Well, who knows what will happen with these contrary birds!

Barbara Bell

Wayside Flowers

wild flowers

As today would have been the first of our outdoor meetings, Richard and I decided we would spend our one hour walk to Smithy Brook, between Middlestown and Thornhill, recording the species we saw.
After all the glorious sunny weather over the last six weeks, today was disappointingly overcast, breezy and quite cool, however it actually made it easier to stop and identify the plants as no-one else seemed inclined to be out and about.
We counted 59 plant species but only eight birds, as the cooler weather seemed to have dampened their spirits: we usually get skylark, sparrows and various finches and tits along the lane but today we heard chiff-chaff and yellowhammer and watched a buzzard soaring over the fields.
Because of the cooler weather we didn’t see a single butterfly. We would normally see speckled wood along the sunken lane, then peacock, small tortoiseshell and orange tips along the more open stretch.

Smithy Brook Valley

Smithy Brook Valley

When we looked closer at the wild flowers, we spotted common vetch alongside the more conspicuous bush vetch and we almost missed a patch of ground ivy, nestling among the grass and herbage on the sunken lane. Over the last few weeks we have watched the countryside changing as the hawthorn hedges turn from fresh green leaf to frothy white blossom, giving off that wonderful musky sweet smell of spring.
Bluebells, white and red campion and Herb Robert were just a few of the species along the lane with wild garlic, white comfrey and yellow flag alongside Smithy Brook. A field dotted with meadow buttercups and the bright yellow of a patch of birdsfoot trefoil add a little brightness to the morning.

Barbara Bell

Spring Walk

Jack-by-the-Hedge

Setting out on our morning walk we are surprised by the piping call of three oystercatchers as they skirt the edge of Coxley Woods. 

Our regular one hour walk involves a lot of road walking but is proving enjoyable with plenty of signs of spring in the hedgerows.

We have seen lots of dogs mercury and celandine in scrubby areas and over the last week jack-by-the-hedge has come into flower. Chiff-chaff singing and buzzard mewing are much easier to hear without the distant roar of traffic.

Low Lane is a delight with sweeping views across the Calder Valley, grey partridge bursting from the field and a skylark singing in the spring sunshine.

Barbara Bell

Wakefield Climate Change Group

Jenny Sergeant, a member of the Nats from way back in the 1970s, has asked me to pass on this invitation Wakefield Naturalists’ Society membbers:

All are invited to participate in the Wakefield Just Transition Forum,
Lightwaves, Lower Yorks St WF1 3LJ on
Friday  June 21st 6:00 – 8:00pm
Friday July 19th 6:00 – 8:00pm

What is the Forum? .. well the group doesn’t exist yet… the hope is to create a community forum so that together we can support and realize

Wakefield’s Climate Emergency Declaration which was recently passed unanimously by Wakefield Council
If you are interested – just turn up at Lightwaves at 6pm on Friday 21st June. We can take it from there together.
The next meeting will be 19th July.
These two meetings have been arranged by a partnership of non-party political Wakefield Trades Council and Wakefield Friends of the Earth. It is hoped that the Forum will draw involvement from individuals and groups from across the Wakefield District: Voluntary organisations, community associations, societies, trade unions, businesses and employers, designers, engineers, faith groups etc etc.
Lightwaves at 6pm on Friday June 21st or Friday 19th July.
Any questions, thoughts, please get in touch in the first instance via Wakefield Trades Council   WfandDistrict-TUC@gmx.com

Spotted Redshanks, the Wyke, 1973

spotted redshank

 

These spotted redshanks appear on the cover of The Aire Valley Wetlands, compiled and published by Richard L. Brook and the Wakefield Naturalists’ Society in 1976. I’d originally drawn them for a much-delayed 1973 Bird Report, to show autumn migrants at Horbury Wyke but Richard retained the drawing because of the Wyke’s remarkable likeness to Mickletown Ings, which he considered a key wetland in the Aire Valley.

Aire Valley Wetlands, 1976

Richard and I had recorded four spotted redshanks at the Wyke between the 14th and 18th September, 1973. This was Yorkshire’s only inland record of more than two together during the year, which saw an exceptionally good autumn passage for this wader, although Richard suspected that increased coverage might account for this, with reports coming in from Wintersett Reservoir, and from the sewage farms at Stanley, Knostrop and Heckmondwike.

Also shown are three ruffs in autumn plumage, the male still displaying, and a curlew sandpiper which, at that time at least, had not been recorded at the Wyke.

The original cover also included, in flight, two redshanks (with white wing-bars) and one spotted redshank (trailing legs).

Coloured version drawn on an iPad for Wild Yorkshire Blog

A Fitting Tribute

Richard Brook, for many years our Conservation Officer, died, aged 74, a year ago on 20 April, 2017. I showed some of his slides of local wetland habitats on members’ night, including this surprisingly open view of the top end of Newmillerdam, as it was in 1973.

In the 1980s, Richard ran a commercial nursery specialising in daffodils and developed the award-winning ‘Tripartite Narcissus’. It has three flowers on each stem and is still available globally. Last year it was exhibited at The North of England Horticultural Society’s Spring Flower Show at Harrogate.

Richard’s Tripartite Narcissus on the Order of Service from his funeral.

A friend of Richard’s from the Daffodil Society laid some on his coffin at the end of his funeral service.

Richard’s cousin, Philippa Coultish, tells me that the family has now sold Richard’s house at Crigglestone and cut back the jungle that had grown up around it over the past ten or twenty years: “All the daffs are coming up in the garden. The people who have bought it are excited to have the garden…I dont think they realise how fast it will all grow in the summer!”

By coincidence in yesterday’s Gardener’s World, on BBC2, Nick Bailey did a piece on daffodil breeding, interviewing Johnny Walkers, Honorary Vice-President of the Daffodil Society at Hever Castle, Kent, so, as I’d been in touch with him via Twitter, I told him of the coincidence of it being the anniversary of Richard’s death.

“I hope it was a fitting tribute,” he tweeted in reply.

Richard was a pioneer in habitat mapping; this method of recording habitats wasn’t adopted by Natural England (then the Nature Conservancy Council) until some years after he had first used it to record local wetlands.

Leventhorpe Lagoon, 1973

I’ve been making a start on archiving the colour slides taken by Richard Brook (1943-2017), for many years the Conservation Officer of the Society. He photographed the East Ash Lagoon at Leventhorpe from the lagoon’s northwest corner on Sunday, 2 September, 1973.

He could see the potential of these lagoons as nature reserves and he documented every one of them – along with subsidence flashes and sand quarries -within five or six miles radius of Wakefield, so his collection of slides form a unique record of post-industrial West Yorkshire. I’m putting together a small selection of his slides for members’ night.

Potteric Carr

Banded demoiselle (male)

Highlights of our July field meeting at the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Potteric Carr reserve included a female marsh harrier hunting over Huxter Well Marsh; such a regular sight that it did little to disturb the herons, little egrets, lapwings, little grebes and great-crested grebes on the lagoon.

Small skipper

We spent most of our morning in Loversall Field where the dragonfly ponds attracted banded demoiselle, emerald, common blue and blue-tailed damselflies and four-spotted chaser and common darter dragonflies but the star of the show was a male emperor dragonfly, Britain’s largest species.

Brimstone butterfly (female)

Skippers and ringlets were the most frequently seen butterflies but we also recorded commas, meadow browns, single male and female brimstones and a red admiral.

Four-banded longhorn beetles (Leptura quadrifasciata)

In addition to four-banded longhorn beetles we saw soldier beetles, Rhagonycha fulva and click beetle. Whirligigs were gyrating on the surface of the ponds, with great-crested newts coming to the surface amongst the pondweed.

Large-flowered hemp-nettle

Wild flowers included yellow-wort and this large-flowered hemp-nettle growing in the wild flower meadow area by the visitor centre.