While in the garden on Tuesday 24 March I spent some time watching two buzzards soaring higher and higher above me in a beautiful clear blue sky. Only when I looked down I noticed three very mobile butterflies – peacock, brimstone and comma. No doubt these butterflies have recently emerged from hibernation and are now busy searching for early flowering plants for nectar, which can be in very short supply at this time of year. In spring brimstone are said to nectar on dandelion, primrose, cowslip, bugle and bluebell. Comma may be seen looking for nectar on sallow and blackthorn flowers. Peacock may search blackthorn, cuckooflower and dandelions for early sources of nectar. I attached photos of the peacock and small tortoiseshell butterflies taking a short break to bask in a sunny sheltered corner of the garden on 26 and 27 March respectively.
The big butterfly count 2018 is now well underway with records from all parts of the UK being invited. The count is organised by Butterfly Conservation and runs until the end of August and is open to everyone and is easy to take part in. It only takes 15 minutes during bright weather and full details are available at www.bigbutterflycount.org. The count is an annual check on changes in butterfly numbers, which is important in helping to identify how various butterfly species are reacting to changes to their environment and potentially may flag up early warnings for other wildlife losses.
The garden is proving to be an ideal place to sit each day with a cup of tea for 15 minutes and watch visiting butterflies. So far small white butterflies occupy top spot with holly blue holding onto second place, which is surprising for a species once uncommon in the Wakefield district. Some of the same individuals appear to stay in the garden for several days patrolling a long hedge, which contains plenty of ivy looking for suitable egg laying sites. Images of a female holly blue feeding on common fleabane and a tiny egg placed just below a developing ivy flower bud are attached. There are generally two broods each year. The holly blue overwinter has a chrysalis with the adults emerging in early spring when the first eggs are generally laid on holly. These form the second brood of adults at this time of year, which lay eggs on ivy although other shrub species may be used.
Other species continue to visit the garden, but not necessarily in the 15 minute recording time. These include large white, green veined white, speckled wood, ringlet, meadow brown, gatekeeper, comma, small tortoiseshell and a single small copper.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Happily, this spring appears to have been kind to many baby birds with good numbers of fledglings of various species seen during my local wanderings. At home, noisy queues of starlings and house sparrows jostle for position at the garden feeding stations. The photo shows a female house sparrow feeding one of her young.
Elsewhere in the garden young blackbirds appear to be somewhat vulnerable as they are unable to fly at first when leaving the nest. However, they continue to be well cared for by their own parents who are busy finding food and watching over them. The parents are never far away and seldom abandon their young. Fortunately, the garden has good foraging areas, together with a solid shrub layer of mixed native species such as hazel and hawthorn to provide food and cover from predators. Blackbirds and robins appear to have had two broods and young dunnocks are also regular visitors searching for leftovers beneath the feeding table.