Additions to the Peregrine Prey List

We carried out a check of the tower yesterday, for the final time before the start of the breeding season. We found some of the usual remains, such as little grebe, teal, golden plover and snipe but we also found a couple of unfamiliar items.


One was soon identified as the head of a knot. The peregrines take a lot of wading birds during the winter months but we haven’t identified this species before.

Jack Snipe

A second head was initially thought to be from a redshank because of the presence of some red and orange on the beak but it was later identified, with some assistance, as coming from a jack snipe. A study of urban peregrines by Ed Drewitt contains some interesting information about their diet. The study contains a list of prey items for urban peregrines at three sites in the south west and it shows that peregrines at Exeter and Bath had taken 7 jack snipe between them, by 2007. For comparison, they had taken 111 common snipe.

Algae Under the Microscope

Members of the Ackworth Shool Natural History Society had a look at some algae under the microscope this evening and I took some pictures, using my mobile phone, of what they saw.

Spiral Algae

The first image shows a collection of all sorts of things, including a spiral alga.


Blanket weed might be a nuisance if you are trying to get a wildlife pond established but the culprit, spirogyra, looks quite striking under the microscope. The chloropasts, the structures containing the plant’s chlorophyll, are arranged in a distinctive helical pattern.

Volvox and a Diatom

The samples that we looked at contained many diatoms. These are single-celled algae which have interesting geometric shapes. We also saw volvox. This is an alga that grows in spherical colonies. In the picture above, the spheres inside the large sphere are daughter colonies. Volvox is unusual because it is able to swim towards light using many flagella on the colony’s outer surface.

Willow Bracket

Next to Hemsworth Water Park there is some very marshy woodland, in which there is a particularly fine display of marsh marigolds every spring. That’s something to watch out for in the coming weeks.

Willow bracket (Phellinus igniarius)

There are some large crack willows in the wood, in varying stages of growth and decay. Yesterday, I spotted a fine bracket fungus on the side of one of the trees. After a bit of research, I identified it as willow bracket (Phellinus igniarius). There is some interesting information available on the internet describing how the ash of this fungus was chewed with coca leaves or tobacco by the aboriginal people of North and South America. The ash enhanced the effect of the other substances because of its high pH value. Pictures are available of the containers that they used for storing the ash.

Willow bracket (Phellinus igniarius)

As with some of my earlier fungus finds, the knowledgeable people of the British Mycological Society group on Facebook confirmed the identification that I made for this species.

February meeting: Extra-ordinary AGM

This is an advance notification that at February’s meeting we will be calling an extra-ordinary AGM to re-present the WNS accounts. The reason for this is to comply with the Charities Commission rules which states that we should present the accounts to the members 14 days in advance of our AGM. As we were unable to do this due to the original AGM being too soon after Christmas to get in all the bank statements from the peregrine account, our auditors have suggested we make the AGM null and void. However, the Society doesn”t wish to have to repeat the AGM business, hence an extra-ordinary AGM to present the fully audited accounts. This should only take five minutes and we would advise thta the accounts are now online for anyone to look at ahead of the meeting.

After the business, we will be heading off to Spain to have a look at some of the iconic species of birds that this vast country has to offer, such as this beautiful pin-tailed sandgrouse.

Pin-taiked Sandgrouse

Raven over Anglers Country Park

Chris Swaine, a regular birder at Wintersett, just Tweeted this great image of a raven over Anglers Counrty Park. This is a very unusual bird for the area and Chris informs me that he also saw it just before Christmas and Pete Smith also heard one there just before Christmas. It must be the same bird blogging around the area and I’m hoping I might just get it on the garden list if it flies over Ryhill!

raven overr Anglers Country ParkThe wedge shaped tail is unmistakably raven as are the long narrow wings. Ravens are definitely on the increase and expanding their range as a breeding bird, no longer confined to the coast or mountains but are nesting in ciities on cathedrals and tower blocks.

You can follow more of Chris’ sightings on Twitter @Croftonbirder

Otter at Ackworth

I’ve seen mink on the Went at Ackworth School in the past and I’ve recently spent some time trying to get trailcam video, without success. I was very pleased, therefore, to find out earlier today that some of the groundsmen put out a camera before Christmas and managed to get a very exciting set of clips.

The camera recorded the expected mink but it also recorded visits by an otter. It is great to see that otter are now living in Ackworth after being missing for many years because of the effects of persecution and insecticides such as DDT.

You will see that the otter pauses to scent-mark the dark object – probably a broken brick – before entering the river. The fox that visits the same spot also pauses to leave its scent.

Although the distinctive tapering tail of the otter allows us to be sure about identification, it would be nice to get a shot of the otter’s face and this will be the objective in the coming weeks.

Black Redstart in Ossett

John Hamilton Tweeted his sighting of a rare visitor to the district that he stumbled upon in Ossett – a black redstart! The bird has been seen in North Ossett churchyard and may have been around some time as there has been an influx of these beautiful little chats into the country in recent weeks. Eddie Andrassy has been up there and saw it the next day on Saturday 7th January. So, if you are that way out, it might be well worth a visit to the church to see if the rarity is still around. Do let us know if it is still there.