Some wildlife followers may see winter as a season of relative emptiness and in some ways a time that is almost unused by nature itself. To others the return of falling snow and ice over the past few days may create a mini wild arctic landscape of the mind right on our doorsteps. The bounty of local hawthorn berries along Jerry Clay Lane and Trough Well Lane at Wrenthorpe have been hungrily foraged by redwing, fieldfare, mistle thrush and blackbirds. Now their attention is turning to plantings in urban areas and in particular gardens with apple trees. Indeed, blackbirds and mistle thrush have become obsessive feeders of fallen apples and are now increasingly unfriendly to any other birds attempting to muscle in on their valuable windfalls. Attached photos show a mistle thrush in between courses in a small orchard close to Jerry Clay Lane and a blackbird standing guard over fallen apples at Wrenthorpe Road.
blackbird feeding on apples at Wrenthorpe Road.
blackbird feeding on apples at Wrenthorpe Road.
Many birds and animals are now fighting for survival to take them through the worst of the weather to spring. Just putting out any unwanted apples on the lawn and keeping bird feeders topped up, together with a supply of fresh water can make a massive difference to them and repay us with memorable close-up views of nature in our own backyard. Attached photos show close encounters with Grey squirrel and nuthatch at Nostell Priory by the bottom lake over the New Year period.
Grey squirrel at Nostell Priory
nuthatch at Nostell Priory
Together with the bird sightings our local lockdown walks have also revealed several wildflowers in bloom even at this time of year. These include red deadnettle, daisy, dandelion, cow parsley and hogweed. Perhaps winter is not so bleak after all.
As with all the previous autumn indoor meetings, we are unfortunately having to postpone the December meeting. I was really looking forward to Tom Aspinall’s talk on bees as it came highly recommended. I will reschedule it for next year hopefully when things should be a lot better. I will review with the committee about how we progress things going forward in the new year and it maybe that we have to consider using Zoom. I’ve used Zoom for several of my lectures and joined other clubs in Zoom meetings – not thee same as meeting in person but at least we can meet up.
I think I will miss the December meeting altogether and not replace it with an outdoor meeting as we are still in Tier 3 and technically shouldn’t meet up. However, I am hoping that we can get together for a field meeting in January,
I wish you all a happy Christmas and look forward to a brighter season in 2021.
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
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
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.
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
I’m a bit late in posting this but by now you will be aware thtat we will not be having the November indoor meeting and, worse still, we woun’t be able to have an outdoor meeting either due to the lockdown. The good news is that I have secured Mike Watson for next November so we won’t miss his talk on the Canadian Rockies. It was a lecture I was looking forward to.
I may consider Zooim meetings for next year and certainly for the AGM but I’m hoping that before any of thar, we will bve able to meet up for mince pies andf an outdoor meeting in December after the lockdown. I’ll be back with more on that soon.
I hope you are all doing well and keeping safe. This is to inform everyone that the October meeting has been cancelled due to the government restrictions during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However, we can’t let a little thing like COVID-19 dampen our spirits and with this in mind I would like to propose an outdoor meeting in place of the traditional indoor one.
October is a good month for fungi so I thought it might be a good idea to meet at Brockadale for a fungus foray. There is a ‘rule of six’ in place but generally there are only around 8 or so on a typical field meeting. Do feel free to come along and if there are more than six of us, we can split into groups for the walk round. I am of the opinion that being outdoors and with a bit of common sense with distancing, the likelihood of us spreading anything is minimal. The meeting is, of course, educational which should allow us to have an increased number.
I am trying to reach a local fungi expert to guide us as we don’t have anyone in the Society that feels able to lead us round. I propose we meet at 10:00 in the car park on Ley’s Lane and the date I propose is Sunday 25th October. This is a little later than our normal meeting but it will be a better time for fungus hopefully and allows us to take stock of the situation before committing.
I think it is fair to say that the November meeting will be cancelled too and replaced with an outdoor meet up but I will send notice of any changes at the end of October
It is with great sadness that I have just learned of the untimely passing of one of our members, Karen Nicklin, who has dies sudden;ly and unexpectedly on 24th September 2020.
Karen has been with the Society for at least 10years and has been a popular and active member and was a regular face at our meetings, Karen had a great love for the outdoors and nature, in particular, a passion for ospreys which she dedicated a lot of time to as a volunteer warden at the Loch Garten reserve in Scotland. As a really keen walker and hiker, Karen spent time planning and undertaking walks that combined nature and the landscape and I remember well the talk she gave recently at our members’ evening when she wowed us with views of the spectacular scenery and wild flowers from a recent trek in the Austrian Alps.
Karen was also an active member of the Wakefield RSPB Members’ Group and was regulalry seen on the doorway greeting visitors. Karen also worked as a volunteer warden at RSPB St Aiden’s where some of us had the pleasure of speaking with her on our recent field trip there in early September, little realising it wouuld be the last time we ever saw her.
Our thoughts are with her family at this sad time.
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.
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
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?
How can one of the UK’s largest and most distinctive moth caterpillars go under the garden radar at home for so long without being seen until Sue found it feeding on her prize fuchsia. This is one of Britain’s largest caterpillars growing up to nearly 9cm long with an eye popping front end and a punk rock style spike at the rear. See attached photo. This is the caterpillar of the elephant hawk moth. The adult is one of our most elegant moths and beautifully photographed by our president, John Gardner. in his post on 27 May 2020. The caterpillars also feed on rosebay and bedstraws before settling down in the autumn to pupate as a cocoon in leaf litter and soil. The adults emerge and are on the wing during summer feeding on the nectar of night scented flowers such as honey suckle, which by coincidence is growing just next to the fuchsia in the garden.
elephant hawkmoth caterpillar
Also going unnoticed under the garden radar until this summer have been some grasshoppers. Quite a surprise in such an urban area and particularly as I have now been looking after the garden for over forty years!
A more obvious insect seen in the garden in the past two weeks has been the silver Y moth. This is a regular migrant often seen flying fast and somewhat erratically during the day searching flowers for nectar and in the attached photo can be seen on heather.
silver y moth
I hope everyone is safe and well and surviving the current problems. The COVID-19 outbreak has disrupted many things including the WNS outdoor meetings of which we only managed the August event and that was changed from the advertised at the last minute. Often, the field meetings didn’t go ahead not because we decided against it, but that the reserves were generally shut and so things were outside our control. Unfortunately, the same fate is set to befall the September indoor meeting as the Quaker Meeting Room is unavailable upstairs due to ongoing decorating and remodelling. We are able to use the lower floor but the Quakers have imposed some strict guidelines regarding sanitizing, hands and surfaces, staying 2m apart, no refreshments and, worst of all, wearing face masks.
At the ,moment. I am unsure how many of the regulars will turn up and due to either the restrictions or due to feeling cautious. I have no issues in our meeting up but not everyone may feel the same. With this in mind, and given the unavailability of the upper room, I have cancelled the speaker for the September meeting. I think in all honesty, I will cancel the October speaker too and then we will see how things have panned out from then. However, I would hate for us not to be able to meet up at all and so at the committee meeting this week, we proposed to have the September and October meetings as outdoor field meetings. This will commence with a walk around St Aiden’s on Sunday September 13th but I would suggest meeting a little earlier to ensure we get parked as it is busy with the general public just now. Those wishing to join us should meet in the car park at 09:45. There have been some excellent birds at the reserve lately, including spoonbill, curlew sandpipers and other waders. The October meeting will take place probably on 25th October and will likely be a fungus foray but I need to finalise the details and will advise once I have things firmed up.
Going forward, it is hard to say when we are likely to meet in the usual place and so I am looking to canvas opinion as to whether we make all the foreseeable meetings outdoor meetings, have the indoor meetings online via ZOOM or simply cancel the meetings until further notice. I would be very grateful if members could let me have the preferred choice. Many of the camera clubs are running weekly meetings on ZOOM but it may not be for us. I’d like to hear your thoughts.
I look forward to your comments and to seeing those of you who can make it to ST Aiden’s and do keep safe.