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

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

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

Not going far – seeing more

On the 12 April I noticed a small tortoiseshell butterfly egg laying on the garden patch of nettles.  These have now hatched and, characteristically, the caterpillars have formed a communal silken web around the uppermost leaves for protection whilst they continue feeding.  Six days before, a comma had used the same patch of nettles for egg laying (see reported dated 13 April 2010).  Comma eggs are laid singularly and the caterpillar also spins a silk web on the underside of the leaf.  At this stage they are less conspicuous than the small tortoiseshell butterfly so I am not too surprised not to have found a caterpillar so far..

On the 14 April while sitting next  to the nettles armed with a cuppa and a piece of cake I noticed an orange tip butterfly egg laying on the flower of a garlic mustard sometimes known as jack-by-the-hedge.  I was unable to see any eggs without causing damage.  However, it appears they are laid singularly.  This may be a blessing, because as they grow the caterpillars may be cannibalistic and no doubt more so when food is in short supply.

On 6 May in accordance with the official Coronavirus outbreak advice of stay home stay safe I once again got myself comfortable with a cuppa and another piece of cake next to this tiny and yet action packed patch of nettles.  I was soon joined by a small tortoiseshell butterfly.  This time I could clearly see her carefully releasing the eggs from her ovipositor on the underside of one of the uppermost leaves.  See attached photos.    Eggs are normally laid in batches 0f 60 to 100 so I am not sure how many may survive particularly as the caterpillars have very large appetites.  So during this very dry spell I have been busy watering the nettle bed to ensure there is a supply of fresh growth for the growing numbers of caterpillars.  Not sure this is reflecting too well on my horticultural credentials!

small tortoishell eggs on nettle

small tortoishell eggs on nettle

small tortoiseshell egg laying

small tortoiseshell egg laying

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.

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.

colt'f-foot

colt’f-foot

common ash flowers

common ash

song thrush Wakefield wildlife

song thrush

 

Burying beetle in the moth trap

I’ve been running a moth trap since mid-April after I received one for my birthday and I’ve had some success catching a variety of species of moth which I will probably show at one of the indoor meetings. As well as moths, I usually catch a few other insects such as wasps, flies, and midges, but last night I caught a rather splendid burying beetle – not quite as good as the lesser stag beetles that Francis has caught – but nonetheless a great find in the trap. I have no idea how common these are around Wakefield, probably quite common, but a first for my garden!

Burying Beetle (Silpha vespillo)

Burying Beetle (Silpha vespillo)

Spring Mushrooms

Note: Please do not eat any mushrooms that you collect from the wild as a result of anything that you read on this page. You should not eat wild-collected fungi unless they are identified for you by an expert.

Spring isn’t the time when most people would think of searching for mushrooms but there are one or two species to be found.

Common Morel (Morchella esculenta)

A real prize for foragers is to find morels. These are amongst the most delicious of all mushrooms but they are not at all common in Great Britain. They are ascomycetes, so they do not have quite the same structure as many of the more familiar mushrooms. They are said, by some, to prefer to grow alongside woodland rides and on woodland edges, on the drip-line of trees. These two were amongst a small group growing on the grassy edge of a wide path through woodland.

St George’s Mushroom (Calocybe gambosa)

Another one to watch for at this time of year is St George’s mushroom, which grows from about the time of St George’s day onwards, until around June. These resemble the edible mushrooms that you can buy in the supermarket (Agaricus bisporus) and the common field mushroom (Agaricus arvensis) but they belong to a different genus, Calocybe. An obvious difference is that they have white gills. Also, they have a distinctive mealy smell, similar to the smell of damp flour. They are popular for eating in some European countries.

St George’s Mushroom (Calocybe gambosa)

The ones that I found were on a reclaimed colliery site, growing beneath trees. The main part of fungi that grow on the ground is an underground network of very thin threads called the mycelium. Many fungi are mycorrhizal, which means that the mycelium has a relationship with the roots of a particular plant. You will find the fungus growing near only those trees or plants with which it can form this relationship. The St George’s mushroms that I found were growing in a ring and this indicates that this fungus is proabably not mycorrhizal. Instead, it is probably saprobic, which means that it feeds on dead organic material in the soil. The mycelium gradually spreads outwards, over the years, as it feeds.

St George’s Mushroom (Calocybe gambosa)

Swan skirmish at Nostell Priory

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

mute swans fighting

mute swans fighting

Thornes Park in Winter

This week during the current Arctic weather I have been unable to reach my usual local wildlife watching countryside haunts. However, while travelling along Thornes Road, Wakefield I stopped briefly for a look at the lake at Thornes Park. There were the usual suspects such as Canada geese, mallard and quarrelling moorhens. Less obvious was a goosander busy diving although I am not sure if it was actually finding any fish to catch.

The park appears to support a good population of stock dove which are relatively common in the UK, but is often overlooked or just confused with various pigeon species although it is an attractive species in its own right. My final sighting was a rather flamboyant lone male mandarin duck not deterred by the larger bustling mallards. Mandarin ducks appear to have escaped from private collections and feral populations are now becoming established in various parts of the UK. Their natural home is north-east China and Japan.

My visit, albeit brief, highlighted that urban green space areas such as Thornes Park so close to city centres with their old trees and quieter areas are vital places for our own well being and offer massive potential for making contact with wildlife, although the difficulties associated with developing their future care and management are very much appreciated.

Images of a general view of the lake, goosander, stock dove and mandarin duck are attached.

Mandarin Duck

Mandarin Duck

Goosander Thornes Park Lake

Goosander Thornes Park Lake

Thornes Park lake

Thornes Park lake

Stock dove at Thornes park

Stock dove at Thornes park