Misty morning and glimmers of hope for nature conservation

Today during my regular lockdown walk the early morning mist added another visual permutation to a now very familiar landscape.  A background of electricity pylons and other urban paraphernalia, together with the busy M1 motorway were magically masked away.  Suddenly a mature common ash tree (see attached photo) stood proud of all the urban tangle albeit for a short while only, but perhaps just long enough to give a glimpse back in time to its early life when the future of this species was more assured.  Sadly, this arboreal, landscape and wildlife treasure is threatened by ash-dieback.  This is a highly infectious fungal disease originating in Asia and first recorded in England in 2012, although it may have been in the UK since 2002.  The fungal spores can spread in the wind and also by human transportation, especially by unknowingly moving infected young plants ready for planting elsewhere.  Current estimates suggest we may lose around 50% to 80% of the UK’s ash trees in the next few years.  At the moment scientists are working to discover genes with resistance to ash-dieback and this may offer glimmers of hope for ash trees in the future.

 

ash tree at Brandy Carr

ash tree at Brandy Carr

Much more heartening this week on the same walk has been the sighting of a tree sparrow.  This is a very scarce bird although there has been some signs of a recovery in the UK in recent years.  It has a brown cap and black cheek spots, unlike the house sparrow.  See attached grab photograph taken at Lindale Lane, Wrenthorpe.

tree sparrow at Lindale Lane Wrenthorpe

tree sparrow at Lindale Lane Wrenthorpe

On 24 November 2020  I watched two red kite methodically surveying the fields between Wrenthorpe and Brandy Carr and Kirkhamgate.  This species almost became extinct in the UK, but has now made an incredible comeback thanks to reintroduction programmes and legal protection.  See attached photo taken from my image stock.

Red Kite

Red Kite

Little Egret in Wrenthorpe

At a recent meeting of Wakefield Camera Club, I was asked to identify a bird seen perched in a tree at the bottom of a garden in Wrenthorpe. Expecting a jay, as this is the bird that most often crops up, I was totally suprosed to be shown an image of a little egret perched high in a tree in the middle of Wrenthorpe! The garden likely backs on to Balne Beck whcih flows through the centre of the village and the egret is feeding along the beck and maybe even taking fish from garden ponds. Whateever it’s doing there, it illustrates just how much the bird life of Britain is changing. I remember twitching a little egret in Chesire or somewhene when it was a real rarity for Britain back in the 80s. How far we come and now these beautiful birds are commonplace at most of the waters around Wakefield and even, it seems , in more urban areas too. Thanks to Robert Bilton for sending the images.

Little Egret in Wrenthorpe

Little Egret in Wrenthorpe

Little Egret in Wrenthorpe

Little Egret in Wrenthorpe

 

The case of the silent witnesses and the lawyer’s wig

Recently my island of green which lies off the coast of the Wakefield city centre has been transformed.  Trees have released their leafy loads from the summer skies to form a mosaic of colours and shapes on the landing fields of autumn.  Together with being a visual treat there are also the unmistakable sounds, which keep in step as we walk through deep layers of fallen leaves.  This year this is amplified by a mass percussion section of snapping and crunching acorns under foot.  Many will be taken by jays and other wildlife.  Some will soon start to germinate to provide future generations of the nation’s favourite tree the oak.  The leaves will be collected by a silent army of worms and other allies.  Taken to underground bunkers to help form and improve tomorrow’s soil.

Another silent witness is the field maple, which has suddenly come forward to show its autumn glories.  In summer the leaves get their colour from a green pigment called chlorophyll.  In autumn as the leaves die the chemical balance of this and other pigments changes to expose the beautiful yellows and golds.  The attached photo shows a single leaf still attached to a tree at Brandy Carr.  A small to medium size tree and hedgerow shrub the field maple is our only native maple.  It is a most valuable landscape and wildlife tree. The early flowers are a timely source of nectar and pollen for insects.  Aphids feed on the leaves that in turn attract bluetits and other birds, together with insects such as hoverflies and ladybirds.  In addition the seeds are eaten by small mammals.  Also, the timber is prized by wood-turners and carvers.

field maple at Brandy Carr

Yesterday during my local walk I noticed my silent witnesses have coincidentally arrived with the emergence of a fungus called Lawyer’s Wig.  In part this may be because when young the shaggy white scales on the cap of the fungus may resemble a lawyer’s wig .  Also, it is perhaps more commonly known as shaggy ink cap and the attached photo show the fungus growing in a grass verge at Carr Gate.  It shows the cap of the fruiting body is beginning to self-digest quickly dissolving into a blacky inky slime.  Indeed, during the 17th and 18th centuries it is believed the liquid may have been used for making legal documents and bank notes, because the lack of any fungal spores may otherwise have suggested a forgery.

shaggy ink cap at Carr Gate

shaggy ink cap at Carr Gate

When is Autumn?

Meteorological autumn was on 1st September and astronomical autumn has entered the calendar this week.  However, the natural world around us has already started to spirit away our memorable summer into the four seasons departure lounge.

Surrounding hedgerows are laden with hawthorn berries and rose hips; hopefully these will attract flocks of winter visitors such as fieldfares and redwings provided the local blackbirds remember to leave them some.   At this time of year necklaces of hedge bindweed bugle the close of this plant’s beauty and the beast’s summer season (see photo).  In the wild the flowers are visited by insect pollinators, but elsewhere, especially in gardens,  it may be difficult to control and quickly grow to the exclusion of other plants.  Local oaks appear to have produced a bumper crop of acorns – a bounty for seed eating animals and birds such as squirrels and jays during the winter.

.hedge bindweed

Elsewhere on my walks around Wrenthorpe, Brandy Carr and Carr Gate there is a further changing of the guard in the species of butterflies.  Small numbers of speckled wood and small white still hold on faithfully to shortening days of fading sunlight albeit in reducing numbers.  In the garden a red admiral has been a regular visitor to the flowers of the buddleia x weyeriana during the recent warm spell, together with a comma nectaring on ivy flowers in readiness for hibernation.

comma on ivy

comma on ivy

red admiral

red admiral

Now I wonder if the single swallow I saw flying over Jerry Clay Lane on Sunday will be the last one I see until next spring?

Getting into the Groove

These days I am doing the same local walk so often I can imagine I am cutting a groove in the tarmac along Jerry Clay Lane, Wrenthorpe.  This lane is my gateway to a small island of surviving countryside around Brandy Carr and Carr Gate.  I guess due to the Covid-19 outbreak the verges along the lane have not been cut back allowing many plants the opportunity and freedom to flower and hopefully seed.  In particular the hedges are entwined together with flowering  bramble and dog rose (photo attached).  In turn they are attracting a wide range of pollinating insects.  I wonder if giving wildlife a chance like this will catch on.  My first meadow brown and large skipper butterflies of 2020 were seen here on the 31 May.  A photo of a large skipper nectaring on an elder bush close to Brandy Carr Road is attached.  Also, there appears to be a good emergence of small tortoiseshell butterflies probably resulting from eggs laid this April and early May by the overwintering adults.  Certainly the caterpillars feeding on the garden nettle patch at home dispersed some time ago.   Astonishingly researchers have found them to travel up to 55 metres from the nearest nettles looking for sites to pupate.  Bird sightings along Jerry Clay Lane this week include buzzard, kestrel, great spotted woodpecker, blackcap, whitethroat, yellowhammer, chaffinch and a lapwing has returned after an absence of two weeks.

arge skipper near Brandy Carr Road

arge skipper near Brandy Carr Road

dog rose

dog rose

Further into the walk looking towards Ossett church the yellow sea of oil seed rape has ebbed away exposing ribbons of scented mayweed and poppies around the field edges.  The attached photos show the changing landscape on 2 May 2020 and scented mayweed and poppies on 2 June.

Ossett church from Carr Gate

Ossett church from Carr Gate

poppy and scented mayweed

poppy and scented mayweed

Elsewhere in our local park the marsh orchids are flowering.  Photo attached.  They are most likely to be hybrids.  Wakefield is close to the southern limit of the northern marsh orchid and close to the northern limit of the southern marsh orchid and offspring showing characteristics from each species may be expected.  Similarly, both species may also hybridise with common spotted orchids.  So the jury remains out for another year on trying to positively identify them.

4.hybrid marsh orchid

4.hybrid marsh orchid

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

Spring butterflies

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.

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.