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.
Yesterday, Sunday 18 March, during another arctic blast I witnessed a male mute swan, known as a cob, chase off an unwelcome visitor to the lower lake at Nostell Priory. The newcomer was no doubt seen as being too close to the resident pair’s nesting and feeding areas, possibly threatening their breeding success this year. Male mute swans are fiercely territorial and this encounter was no exception. With the female swan (called a pen) watching from nearby, the cob suddenly started to display a range of aggressive postures towards the pretender and the whole lake became a battleground with goosander, tufted duck and coots caught up in the cross fire desperately trying to find cover and safety. Eventually after nearly an hour the intruder flew away to find a new territory. Images of the encounter are attached.
mute swans fighting
mute swans fighting
Last week Wakefield enjoyed a mini heat wave, which was encouraging for our local butterflies. This week we have seen an abrupt and very wet change in our weather with any sunshine in short supply; a real dampener for any butterfly activity. However, today just after 3p.m. after the main showers, I called into Nostell Priory. It was still gloomy with occasional spots of rain as I walked around the wildflower meadow and orchard in the gardens. Despite the weather there were several ringlet butterflies flying amongst the tall grasses and occasionally some would rest to open their wings to bask (see attached photo) even though there was no direct sunshine. However, this behaviour is not unusual for this species which is not deterred by overcast drizzly days. Happily, ringlets appear to have extended their range throughout much of the Wakefield district over recent years.
ringlet butterfly at Nostell Priory
On the edge of a large nettle bed close to Engine Wood I watched a male small tortoiseshell butterfly establish a courtship territory. It was basking in the morning sunshine and suddenly taking flight high into the sky to investigate every passing small tortoiseshell butterfly. Other males were chased away before eventually, a female was attracted back to the nettle bed where I managed to take the image below. It appears mating takes place well inside the nettle bed and afterwards the female goes off in search of suitable nettles to lay her eggs. Sadly, nettles are often cleared away as part of clean ups in the garden and countryside. My encounter shows how valuable nettles are to wildlife. Indeed, they are vital food plants for the caterpillars of small tortoiseshell, peacock, comma and red admiral butterflies. The other image is of a roosting male orange tip butterfly that I found earlier in the morning
small tortoiseshell mating
orange tip male roosting
autumn colours at Nostell Priory
Nostell Priory seems to be proving popular with WNS members just now with Roger heading there last Friday and bunping into Barbara and Richard, and us there today also bumping into Barbara and Richard! I suspect we will make it one of the outdoor field meetings again next year!
I saw much of what Roger had on his visit with the exception of firecrest but for me it was the autumn colour and good selection of fungi that were the attraction. The woodland around the lower lake was superb in the late autumn sunshine on Remembrance Sunday and the temperatures were positively balmy. We had plenty of fly agaric, honey fungus and the shaggy scalycap pictured here. I only saw female goosander but they were still great to see and the occasional whistle of the wigeon was a delightful sound. We had a single male shoveller on the water too and plenty of goldcrests, treecreeper, nuthatch and long-tailed tits in the woodland.
shaggy scalycap (Pholiota squarrosa)
goosander at Nostell Priory
At the last indoor meeting Richard and Barbara mentioned they had recently watched the courting and mating behaviour of mallard ducks, including them bobbing their heads up and down. We wondered if this was normal for this time of year. By happy coincidence we bumped into each other by the lower lake at Nostell Priory on 11 November and witnessed the same behaviour at close range (see image). After some research it appears Mallard start to pair up in October and November. Nest building may start during March and is generally done close to water. However, I recall during June 2012 a female built a nest in a flower bed outside Wakefield Town Hall on the busy Wood Street, a long distance for the ducklings to walk to find the nearest water. This may happen in towns and cities where Mallard are attracted to the plentiful supply of food from passersby at our urban lakes and ponds in such large numbers, that sometimes there are not enough suitable nest sites for them all.
mating mallard ducks
Other birds noted walking around the middle and lower lakes included grey wagtail, firecrest, goosander, tufted duck and wigeon
wigeon at Nostell lower lake
Images of some spectacularly early bluebells in flower, together with flowering dog’s mercury, and a feeding small tortoiseshell butterfly taken on 17 March at the Nostell Priory estate woodlands help to show how some of our wildlife are responding to the recent spell of settled, and at times, pleasantly warm weather, especially in the shelter provide by mature woodlands at this time of year.
Dogs Mercury in flower
Bluebells appearing at Nostell
Pauline’s report on 16 February of the area’s first flowering colt’s-foot of the year encouraged a visit to a good spot for this plant on my regular walks around the Nostell Priory estate. I saw the first flowers here much later at the start of this month. However, recent wildflower sightings over the last few days have included primrose, dog’s mercury and male yew trees that have been dusting passersby with clouds of pollen. Interestingly, the female and male flowers on dog’s mercury and yew trees grow on separate plants. Another welcome flower of spring noticed on my walks at Nostell is the lesser celandine growing in woodland and damp places. It belongs to the buttercup family whereas the greater celandine is a member of the poppy family. It just shows common English names can be confusing. An image of the lesser celandine is attached. Bird sightings have included the usual woodland suspects together with frequent calls of a green woodpecker. The lower lake gives opportunities to still get good views of the goosanders and grey herons, images of which are attached.
Goosander (female) at Nostell
I guess most of us are agreed that so far this January it has either been too wet or too windy to really enjoy getting out to enjoy our local wildlife. However, a brief sunny spell on Monday 20 January 2014 tempted me out to have a look around Nostell Prior gardens and parkland, not to mention the cafe. The walk in front of the house and around the lake is on good paths, unlike others elsewhere in the district, which are under water or deep mud due to the bad weather. The effort was worthwhile with good numbers of teal and other water birds on the lake including two goosanders, although there was thirty one of this species here earlier in January along with a buzzard and a sparrowhawk. Perhaps, the highlight of the day was some snowdrops suggesting that, whilst we have had some fairly wild, weather it is been relatively mild. Winter aconites were also out in flower close by.