Instead of ‘birding’ our group were looking at the huge variety of wildflowers now establishing in this relatively new RSPB nature park. Just looking around the edge of car park area we saw bristly ox-tongue, cut leaved cranesbill, spotted medick, water figwort, wood forget-me-not and in the fenced area clumps of weld and celery leaved buttercup. Coming down the hill the grassland glowed golden with meadow and creeping buttercups interspersed with the bright white of ox-eye daisy, to the right of the path yellow rattle grew amongst the crosswort, hairy tare, red campion, a clump of hemlock water dropwort and our last pause was to admire a single stem of salsify, a garden escape but still a pleasure to see.
In the centre of Hemsworth, I spotted some black berries on a plant growing in a car-park. I then noticed the small white flowers, which were obviously those of a Solanum – the group of plants that includes potatoes and tomatoes.
The commonest Solanum is woody nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) and I am very familiar with the purple flowers and red berries of that plant but this plant was obviously something new to me. Checking a field guide later, I found that this plant was black nightshade (Solanum nigrum). This particular Solanum occurs in many countries throughout the world and the chemicals that it contains lead to the plant having many medicinal uses.
I can’t recall seeing black nightshade previously. By looking at a distribution map, I found that our part of Yorkshire is at the top end of its main English range, so I wouldn’t expect it to be as uniformly distributed and common here as it is in some parts of the south and east. Also, one article that I found suggested that the berries ripen only if there is suffcient sunshine, as there has been this year. Perhaps our usual weather does not allow this plant to fruit well in our area in normal years.
I like finding new things in this way: in a built-up area, close to home. This shows that you don’t need to travel to nature reserves to make discoveries.
Beautiful Brockadale -what a variety of flowers and butterflies! Although we were too early for bee orchid, common spotted orchids were just coming into flower, perhaps a couple of weeks later than usual.. The car park is always a good place for meadow cranesbill, dovesfoot cranesbill, French cranesbill and cut-leaved cranesbill before heading onto the reserve. Moving on down the path passing bladder campion, white campion and white bryony, we turned left for a short distance as we had been told about a large patch of purple milk vetch which we may well have missed. We ended up on the main bank which was a mass of yellow rock rose mingled with hairy rock cress, greater stitchwort and fairy flax.
A glorious morning for a tranquil walk along the wildflower paths of 18th century Bramham Park, for a very small charge we were able to enjoy this peaceful garden awash with swathes of ramsons interspersed by leopards bane and the tilting heads of water avens. Large groups of twayblade were coming into flower amongst sanicle, pignut, common dog violet and tormentil. Milkwort nestled in the short grass with green field speedwell and sticky mouse-ear. Beautiful bugle sat amongst the barren and wild strawberry, while bulbous buttercup had still to reach its peak. In a few weeks time orchids will fill the unmown corners so a return visit would be worthwhile, a truly magical place to spend a morning.
Sunday 6 May was International Dawn Chorus Day, a worldwide celebration of nature’s symphony. It is celebrated annually on the first Sunday of May, and is a great opportunity to get out early and listen to the sounds of birds as they sing to greet the rising sun.
Events took part all around the country, and on Saturday 5 May (albeit a day early) I joined members of the RSPB’s Wakefield District Local Group as they guided a walk around the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The walk started at 7am and there were plenty of birds singing. As we wandered around the park we listened to and viewed many species, and learnt a great deal from Paul and Sarah our expert guides. We encountered blue tit, great tit, blackbird, song thrush, chaffinch, goldfinch, goldcrest (one for my year list), chiffchaff, blackcap, great spotted woodpecker, nuthatch, tree creeper and wren.
The park looked stunning in the morning sunlight. The trees were in full blossom and the sunshine made everything look more vibrant. The woodland was carpeted in a haze of blue.
All too soon the walk was over, and we headed to the cafe for a quick drink before heading home. I would encourage everyone to get out there and enjoy what nature has to offer. You don’t have to be an expert, get up too early or travel far to hear bird song – your back garden is a good start.
Colin Booker and I visited Carlton Marsh nature reserve today. It was my first visit and I was impressed by the range of things to be seen.
Early in the walk, we found a golden-bloomed grey longhorn beetle – minus one horn (antenna) – on hogweed. This is the second species of longhorn beetle that I have seen in one week and it may be an indication of how these species are expanding their ranges northwards.
Another insect seen was a large hoverfly, for which my suggested identification is Cheilosia illustrata.
We also spotted a fly, on the underside of a leaf, which had been infected by an Entomophthora fungus. This fungus causes the fly to change its behaviour so that it walks up a plant. It then dies but it doesn’t fall from the plant because fungal hyphae grow from its feet to attach it to the plant. Spores of the fungus are then carried away on the breeze.
There was a wide range of plant species to be seen.
Wild carrot is a common plant but the flower head is very attractive when viewed closely.
During a walk at Howell Wood, South Kirby, I found masses of opposite-leaved golden saxifrage (Chrysosplenium oppositifolium) in flower along the banks of a stream.
This is an attractive and common plant but it isn’t as well known as some of the other spring flowers.
Lots of chiffchaffs are now singing in local woods. I heard blackcaps in Seckar Wood at the weekend and they have been singing at Stanley Ferry Flash today. An interesting sighting reported today by Mark Archer is a little ringed plover on the new balancing pond at Stanley Ferry.
It’s still quite early in the year but three large grass snakes (Natrix natrix) were seen recently at Stanley Ferry Flash. These snakes must have emerged from hibernation recently.
Grass snakes often live in marshy places or near lakes and ponds, where they hunt for amphibians. They lay eggs amongst rotting vegetation, where the heat produced by the decomposition of the vegetation keeps the eggs warm. They may, therefore, sometimes make use of compost heaps for egg-laying.
In addition, the first cowslips (Primula veris) are now flowering at Stanley Ferry.
The weather was overcast but pleasant for our botany walk at this nature reserve near Kippax which is managed by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.
The group identified over fifty species of wildflower during the walk including clustered bellflowers, wild basil, burnet saxifrage, white bryony, field scabious and masses of knapweed. It was surprising to see a white version of greater knapweed. Harebell and yellow-wort were also seen.
Local walks over the Easter break have revealed some of the usual suspects. No real surprises, but it is just nice to see familiar species and some at more or less the time we might expect to see them. However, the cowslips at the Balk area near to Stanley Flash are perhaps slightly early with some flowers beginning to go over. At the flash itself there are abundant goat willows in flower providing a useful nectar source for insects such as over wintering Peacock butterflies and bees although none where seen on my walks this time.
At Bretton Park, wood anemone are providing a welcome sight in the woodland around the upper lake. This plant can be an indicator of ancient woodland, which is an area that has been treed in some way for around four hundred years and therefore they are an irreplaceable and valuable habitat. Occasionally wood anemone may also be found in some of the district’s meadows or hedge banks and here it is possible they may be ‘ghosts plants’ from a long lost woodland. Also, the upper and lower lakes at Bretton Park have once again attracted frogs to spawn.