Pauline Brook

It is with great sadness that I announce the passing of Pauline Brook who died today in the early hours of the morning. Pauline was a great character at the club, occupying her seat on the front row at every meeting, she always took my ribbing of her in great spirit and she always cointributed sightings and annecdotes as only she could. Pauline was a great friend and very popular amongst the club members and known to us all I think. As her health failed in recent years, she attended less and less but remained a keen naturalist and enjoyed watching the birds coming to her feeders in front of the window at the retirement home. Pauline was a really keen botanist and was a founder member of the Wakefield Flower Group. Her knowledge of flowers and her great personaility will be sorely missed at our club meetings.

Wildlife Under the Garden Radar

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

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

silver y moth

September indoor meeting replaced with outdoor meeting

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.

Field Meeting; August 9th 2020 Rodley Nature Reserve – Cancelled

Well, I had hoped this meeting would go ahead as we are now getting out of lockdown, but looking at the reserve’s web site, Rodley Reserve is NOT open this weekend. What I am proposing for thiose who do want to meet up on Sunday 9th, is that we meet in the car park at Anglers CP and we will walk around Wintersett reservoir.

Meet: Anglkers CP Car park

Time 10:00

The next big issuue is whether the September indoor meeting will take place but the committee will meet before than and make a decision. We will have to take into account the practices imposed by the Quakers with regard to use of the meeting room. An email will be sent to all members shortlly advising of what is to happen.

Field Meeting July 12th RSPB Blacktoft Sands

Due to COVID-19, the resreve remains closed to the public therefore, today’s field meeting is cancelled. The weather is set fair so I hope you can all get out and enjoy some wildlife after the heavy rains of this past week. I will make sure there is an August field meeting that we can all attend safely as the threat from the pandemic eases while out in the open air.

Raindrops and Ringlets

Not deterred by the unsettled weather at the end of June, I planned to start the new month with a walk using footpaths around the village of West Bretton avoiding the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which remained closed due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.  Come the morning of 1st July with a forecast of grey skies and intermittent drizzle I was beginning to have second thoughts.  However, the clouds started to thin, albeit slightly, allowing some weak sunshine to filter through coaxing the temperature to slowly lift.  So I was soon more hopeful of seeing some wildlife and set off.  The conditions underfoot, indeed almost up to waist level in the tall grass, was very wet.  Nevertheless, in places there were clouds of ringlet butterflies fluttering carefully amongst a mass of raindrops delicately balanced on narrow leaves shimmering like precious gems.  An ephemeral gift of heavy overnight rain.

ringlet

ringlet butterfly

Other butterflies included a small number of meadow brown, two small tortoiseshell, a single small skipper and good numbers of the caterpillars of peacock butterfly feeding on nettle.  During a brief shower towards the end of the walk I shared the shelter of a tall hedgerow with a bumble bee attracted to the flower and pollen of a field rose (Rosa arvensis). So even on this occasion rain didn’t stop play.

field rose and bumble bee

field rose and bumble bee

Brockadale Field Meeting

Although we’re still in a state of lockdown, easing of restrictions meant that it is possible to travel around a bit more. With this in mind, Hreather and I headed off to Brockadale on the day of the proposed meeting as we weren’t too sure if other members might turn up on the off chance too. Although we didn’t bump into any othe WNS members, we did have a great morning, spent mainly on the slope noted for marbled white butterflies. The weather was very warm, muggy and overcast which meant that butterflies were out but not really on the wing. Within moments of arriving at the slope, we found a marbled white with wings outspread on a thistle. This was followed by a dark-green fritillary also wings oustretched and sunning. Both these were quickly photographed before they had time to move on.

In addition to the super butterflies, there were a great many plants to admire including lots of pyramidal orchids, white bryony, black horehound, knapweed, minionete agrimony and lots of others that were beyond my limited plant knowledge.Birds included whitethroat, yellowhammer, blackcap and willow warbler but no cuckoo, a very scarce bird this year. The site was very busy with dog walkers and families by the time we left, way more folks than normal, probably due to other sites still remaining closed to the public.

Here’s hoping we see you all at the next field meeting in July, although the location may have to change as the RSPB reserves may well be still closed to the public. I will send an email if things chnage and update the website where necessaary

marbled white butterffly at Brockodale

marbled white butterffly at Brockodale

dark green fritillary at Brockadale

dark green fritillary at Brockadale

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

A distinct lack of moths!

I have been putting the moth trap out quite regularly over the past couple of weeks but each time I go to empty it I find it quite devoid of trappoed moths! Whether it’s the clear cool nights that are causing me bother I just don’t know, but compared to the past couple of years at this time, it’s incredibly quiet. This morning the trap contained only two moths which is about the norm just now; a small magpie and a really beautiful elephant hawk moth, my first for the year. I stuck this handsome lad on a yellow flag iris growing in my small water feature, totally unnatural of course, and done just for art’s sake 🙂

elephant hawk moth on yellow flag iris

elephant hawk moth on yellow flag iris

Getting Ready for Summer

The Corvid-19 outbreak lockdown rules have recently been relaxed.  Even so at the moment I continue to be loyal to my local walks all taken within one and half or so miles from home rather than travelling further away.  This has now become a very familiar landscape to me, but it is beginning to show signs it is ready to change and leave spring behind.  The pristine fresh green tree leaves are now more sombre with many sycamore covered with ‘honeydew’ a sticky substance excreted by feeding aphids.  The tiny caterpillars of moths blown in the wind abseil down from the tops of oak trees on fragile silken threads like miniature SAS commandos.  All these insects are a timely food source for hungry young birds and their exhausted parents.  Similarly, the yellow fields of oil seed rape are fading fast turning their energy to the job of seed production.  Even so their narrow field margins remain a refuge for some wildflowers to shine especially flaming red poppies.  Photo attached.  Elsewhere yellow is intensifying around paddocks full of buttercups and young rabbits.

poppy and oil seed rape

poppy and oil seed rape

9.rabbit and buttercups

9.rabbit and buttercups

On the 11 May I reported the progress of the small tortoiseshell butterflies caterpillars that have transformed the garden patch of nettles into their dining room.  They continue to devour their host plant leaving only a skeleton.  It is a reminder they will soon start to pupate and then emerge to announce a changing of the guards and summer has arrived.

small tortoiseshell caterpillars

small tortoiseshell caterpillars