Swallows and Apples

Studies increasingly show us that just looking at pleasant landscapes and watching wildlife can significantly improve our personal health and well- being.  It is sometimes referred to as Nature’s Health Service especially in terms of helping to manage the stress of modern day life.  Therefore, connecting with nature has never been so important as it is at the moment while our normal activities are suspended due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Fortunately, at a time of great need nature is not in lockdown, indeed its currently on overdrive moving apace receiving a helping hand from a long spell of fine weather.  This has been very much in evidence this week during my permitted walks from home, which have taken me around Brandy Carr and Carr Gate.  Wildlife sightings have included watching a pair of lapwings busy feeding in a paddock and later seeing them being dive bombed by a swallow.  This turned out to be quite innocent as the swallow was swooping down low to collect what appeared to be a small piece of white tissue presumably for nest building?    Nearby there is hedgerow containing several mature oak and surprisingly several midland hawthorn. This species flowers before the common hawthorn, also its leaves are less divided and importantly looking closely at the flowers it has two or three stigmas later forming two or three seeds in the berry.  The common hawthorn only has a single stigma and only one seed in the berry.  Confusingly these two native species hybridise so this is a good time of the year to tell them apart by counting the stigma rather than trying to find the seed in the autumn. 

Continuing the walk the oak are clearly in leaf well before the ash.  So are we in for a splash and a dry summer as the old country rhyme goes?  Also, I noticed one particular oak tree is holding a mass of oak apples,  These are caused by the gall wasp, Biorhiza pallida.  The eggs are laid in a dormant leaf bud and the tree reacts by producing this apple like growth around the egg and larva.  These are not apples you can eat.  However, on the plus side insects are vital for pollinating a wide range of blossom.  The attached image shows a busy bee helping to ensure there will be a good crop of apples in the garden again this year.

Comma returns to garden egg laying site for another year

Yesterday I watched several peacock and small tortoiseshell butterflies making their now regular visits to the garden.  Most are just passing through, but yesterday I noticed a comma circling around a sheltered corner containing a small, well established patch of stinging nettles currently only about one foot high.  It alternated between settling on the nettles and then resting on a small nearby log left as deadwood habitat (photo attached).  When the butterfly had finally left the garden I noticed it had laid several single eggs on the upper side of the leaf.  The egg is tiny and the attached photo shows it resting against a sting spine/hair.  Another spine/hair in the top left of the photo helps to give some sense of scale.  This patch of nettles has been used by commas in the past and it is good to know it remains a suitable egg laying site for them.

comma butterfly

comma butterfly

comma butterfly egg on nettle leaf

comma butterfly egg on nettle leaf

Today a brimstone butterfly paid another fleeting visit, but a peacock stayed much longer nectaring on a flowering currant.

peacock nectaring on ribes

peacock nectaring on ribes

Flowers before foliage in spring

Over the last week my permitted outdoor exercise with some variations has been based on a walk from Wrenthorpe via the nearby Wakefield Junction 41 Industrial Estate, Lawns Lane, Brandy Carr Road and along Troughwell Lane back home.  The industrial estate is busy with large haulage vehicles and not an obvious place to see wildlife, but it has been extensively landscaped.  In amongst the mixture of plants there are a number of native tree and shrub species.  In particular, some maturing wild cherry trees sometimes known as gean look very spectacular at the moment with masses of  white flowers. Together with its good looks it is a superb tree for wildlife, the flowers are an early source of nectar and pollen for bees and the cherries are eaten by many birds in the autumn.

In between the many warehouses there are small areas of rough and disturbed land.  These habitats  can sometimes be hostile places for plant growth, but not for coltsfoot.  This is one of our first plants to flower in spring.  Producing a mass of yellow blooms early in the year may help to attract insects before they are obscured by their large leaves, which are silver-white on the undersides.  During spring coltsfoot is one of several species which flower before their leaves unfold.  Some are much less noticeable and, therefore, more easily missed on my walks like the flowers of the common ash tree.  Ash trees are wind pollinated and perhaps it may help their pollen to travel further if their flowers are not obscured by the leaves.  See photo.  Also, at this time of year there is still the opportunity to spot birds singing high in the trees before they too are obscured by their leaves. See photo of song thrush taken near Lawns Lane.



common ash flowers

common ash

song thrush Wakefield wildlife

song thrush


Spring Walk


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