Reflecting on lockdown sightings

From Stuart in Penistone. First and foremost many thanks for the latest wildlife news from all the contributors; week after week the observations have been fascinating.

Lynn and I have continued our daily walks and now often reflect on what we have seen since the Lockdown began on the 23rd of March.

On one walk, just after lockdown started, we had stopped to look at the buds of a horse chestnut tree and felt their stickiness. As the weeks progressed these buds swelled and burst with the soft pale leaves, these expanded rapidly and it was not long before we saw the first flower spikes beginning to develop. Next these flower spikes came into full bloom like large candles, they are a beautiful flower, a rich white mixed with delicate pink tones. Now, these last few days we have been past this very same tree again and the flower heads are fading. This is just one example of the huge changes we have all seen these past 10 weeks as we have watched spring unfold.

This past week I have also been checking my list of records and mopping up some obvious omissions with regard to the birds, so this week I have made it my aim to record both Linnet and Meadow Pipit while up around Hartcliffe and that mission is accomplished with both species present. On one of these walks I also spotted my second Red Kite of “lockdown”, this was near Hartcliffe too and very high up in a clear blue sky but even there a Crow was still giving it a hard time!

An unusual mayfly visitor

The unusual record was a mayfly called Ecdyonurus torrentis, this individual was trying to lay eggs on our wet patio (see photo BUT this is not the actual insect I saw, this one is a male of the species).

Male Brook Dun Spinner – Ecdyonurus torrentis

How it got to our garden I can only guess, the river is only about half a mile away as the mayfly flies but it is certainly not in line of sight and mayflies are not the strongest of flyers. Having said that who am I to try and second guess one the most successful types of flying insect that this planet has ever seen, having been around for over 300 million years. Bye for now, Lynn and Stuart

Bank Holiday Monday outing

-a fabulous afternoon with birds and butterflies

Yes, what a fabulous and memorable afternoon I had this last Bank Holiday Monday, out in glorious sunshine and warmth, no breeze (about 24 deg.C!). Everything I had hoped for – and more.

There were Green Woodpeckers calling, one seen in flight; Willow Warblers, Whitethroats, Blackcaps, Chaffinches, Blackbirds were all singing; plus Goldfinch, Magpie and Carrion Crow. I stood enthralled with at least 36 House Martins swooping and descending together to collect mud (see separate post)

And of course I went for the butterflies, especially Small Blue butterflies. There were 66 Small Blues in total, a very pleasing and encouraging count.

For more on the small blues see separate post.

There were 52 Small Heath – they seemed to be everywhere, 19 Common Blue, including no less than three mating pairs – a busy day for the Common Blues, eh! And then three Green-veined White, three Cinnabar moths, eight Small White, a Meadow Brown and a possible Marbled White. However missing from the day – I did not see any Brown Argus or Small Copper, which could have been expected.

Later, I witnessed a freshly-hatched female Small Blue taking up much needed mineral salts from the wetted track and simultaneously (only a metre away) a Dingy Skipper doing the same. 

I came home very weary but in high spirits from such a special day! Alwyn

House martins in action

Enthralled by at least 36 House Martins swooping and descending to collect mud

I stood enthralled and watched at least 36 House Martins swooping and descending together to collect mud (for nesting) from a small area of wet ground and a shallow puddle, created by some sort of leakage running down the side of the track that leads down from the housing estate.

Everywhere was so very dry and this seemed to be the only wet patch in the vicinity. The martins must have been desperate to get their nests made and start laying. Hence the large numbers seen at once. It was an equivalent of a feeding frenzy. Alwyn.

Small Blue Monday

-the amazing small blue butterfly

I counted a total of 66 Small Blues on my Bank Holiday Monday excursion -a very pleasing and encouraging count- including a female ovipositing

The Small Blues were difficult to count because they (mostly males) were solar-powered, scurrying about looking for females. Fortunately, the Small Blues don’t travel far before settling, flying low in short bursts only.

Here are some more images taken on the day …

I found almost all of the Small Blues in a particular area where kidney vetch is regenerating very well.

Here’s another image of a Small Blue collecting salts from a muddy patch. Alwyn.

More information on Small Blue butterflies can be found on:
http://www.barnsleybiodiversity.org.uk/small_blue.html

Barnsley Butterfly Atlas

A request for help with the Barnsley Butterfly Atlas … 

Following a suggestion from Alwyn, a trustee of the Barnsley Biodiversity Trust, the Barnsley Butterfly Atlas project was launched in May 2017 by Sorby Natural History Society and Barnsley Biological Record Centre, with support from the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership. The project aims to map the distribution of all the butterfly species found across the area of the borough of Barnsley in the 20 year period from 2000 to 2020. [Perhaps with the lockdown we need an extra year?]

So now we are asked to contribute our records of butterfly sightings … from our usual patch or perhaps somewhere different that has not been recorded so much before.

How far have we got: There are distribution maps from data held by BBRC at 07 January 2020 on this Sorby NHS webpage; they show where more recording is needed. http://www.sorby.org.uk/groups/sorby-invertebrate-group/barnsley-butterfly-atlas/

For further information from the start of the project:  https://discoverdearne.org.uk/barnsley-butterfly-atlas/
For information about local butterflies: http://www.barnsleybiodiversity.org.uk/butterflies.html
For tips on identifying butterflies: http://butterfly-conservation.org/50/identify-a-butterfly.html

To get the ball rolling, here are some butterfly records from Peter and Annefie’s walk on Saturday …
Date: Saturday 2 May 2020
Location: Falthwaite & Lowe Wood LWS
Comment: On Wild Garlic and other flowering plants near Stainborough Dike
Grid Reference: 4-figure /1km square: SE3103 [Six-figure reference: from SE318039 to SE314039]
Observer: Peter and Annefie Roberts
Species: Brimstone (2), Comma (1), Holly Blue (1), Orange-tip (Males & Females, numerous), Small White (numerous), Speckled wood (1).

We will send them to Barnsley Biological Record Centre (BBRC): barnsleybrc@btinternet.com.
[Note the change of email address during the lockdown]

Sharing observations IX

From Ron. Since we have a bit more freedom now from our lockdown I have started visiting ‘my’ Badgers again, the first time this year.

From Doug. A couple of things to report from South Yorkshire Buildings in Silkstone Common.

We have been seeing Large Red Damselflies in the back yard where we have a small pond; we could not find any evidence that they had emerged from the pond until Friday when we found an exuvia.

A neighbour told me that he had rescued a Grass Snake from a cat. He returned the snake to the gardens where it apparently was none the worst for its encounter!

From Colin and Linda. Our Barn Owls are leaving the nest box earlier and earlier. On May 21st they returned to the nest box seven times with a rodent in 90 minutes! We read that modern boxes have a raised entrance to prevent chicks falling out. Unfortunately our old box does not have this feature. We are trying not to worry!

Moths. Colin’s birthday moth trap was finally premièred. At 2 am we had to switch it off because of rain. Nevertheless we still had a male Poplar Hawk moth, a Brown Silverline, a Common Swift and a yet unidentified individual.

Pete Wall has a moth trap in Ardsley and has sent us these images.

Small Magpie Moth and Garden Carpet he thought but ‘there are about 200 that all look the same to me or at least all equally dissimilar’! However Kent and Doug say that Pete’s ids were right.
Pete also had the wasp beetle Clytus arietus.

Kent also found evidence of a Sparrowhawk in his garden. It must have been disturbed!

From Arthur and Pat. Not a great deal this week! We had a stroll through the Dearne Valley woods and on the way near Rotherham road we did find a clump of Common Mallow – I think it’s the first time we’ve seen it in this area. It was heavily infected with Mallow or Hollyhock Rust galls.

From Alwyn. I went for a short walk locally, denied me for months. I went to Cross Lane between Penistone and Thurlstone, where I’d seen the Bradenfelda aberration of the Wall Brown butterfly.
I was out for almost an hour, in the breezy air, warm sunshine. I saw three Wall Browns, nine+ Small Whites, an Orange Tip, a Small Tortoiseshell and a Peacock butterfly. Overhead were eight or nine Swallows and in the field four or five Lapwings. What Joy to be out and about again, at last! Here are two Wall Brown images:

Hedgehogs … On Thursday 21 May, about 10.15pm, I watched SIX Hedgehogs feeding together in my very small garden. They were jostling for position to get closer to the food that I put out nightly; no social distancing there! Normally, I’m only seeing three at a time but I have always suspected more – lots of Hedgehog poo continues to litter my garden! The best count I’ve ever had!

Varying sizes but too early for young Hoglets just yet – varying ages, perhaps? May is the courting and mating month. Babies are then born in June and remain in the nest. In July, mother and babies leave the nest together. In August, the Hoglets become independent. Something to look forward to in the coming months. Amazed and thrilled!

From Stuart. Lynn and I have continued our daily walks near Penistone but we have nothing new to report, that does not mean to say it has not been interesting – because it has – and you would have to have a heart of stone if the song of a Blackcap hiding deep in brambles or a Swift screeching overhead did not bring a smile to your face.

With changes to lockdown, I have been allowed to go out fishing and fortuitously I have access to some lovely stretches of the River Don around Penistone, with as a bonus, a jewel of a bird, the wonderful Kingfisher. 

This also gives me the opportunity to start recording some of my favourite insects: namely mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies. So in this past week I have recorded the following mayfly species (at the adult stage) within the Penistone area; Baetis rhodani, Baetis muticus, Paraleptophlebia submarginata and Rhithrogena semicolorata .

Please note that the photo is of the insect sat on a small stone that I have picked up. You NEVER pick mayflies up by the wings even though it looks the obvious choice. If you do you may as well just kill it because the wings are that delicate they will be damaged at a microscopic level and are then unable to complete their lifecycle.

I will keep recording on the river and see what else turns up over the coming weeks as many species have short flight periods and as one species fades another will start to peak.

From Pete Wall. I would like to thank everybody who voted for Willow Tit in the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust online “Wildlife World Cup of Yorkshire” We won, Yaaay! -bringing a bit more awareness of Willow Tits and Barnsley Wildlife in general!!

We have also secured some more funding for YWT volunteers to work on the current and possibly more Yorkshire Water sites in Barnsley. I’m looking at YWS Wombwell and Cheesebottom on the Don as potential new ones. It’s great that the Yorkshire Water sites are turning up some good records! Thanks everyone, that really helps!

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust are also doing a garden ‘Bioblitz’. I thought Barnsley Nats and Biodiversity people would like to participate. Apart from showing what great wildlife we have I would like to demonstrate how enthusiastic Barnsley folk are to the rest of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust! Also it would be great if some of our experts would offer their services to help ID? It’s on Saturday and Sunday 20th – 21st June.

“We’re on a mission to discover how many different wildlife species we can collectively record in Yorkshire, in 24 hours! We’re challenging folk in every corner of Yorkshire to look for and record what they can see from their own doorsteps. Whether that’s looking and listening out of a window, peering into and under pots and window boxes, exploring the nooks and crannies of a terraced yard, or scouring a leafy garden – we want to know what you see and where you see it!” 

https://www.ywt.org.uk/great-yorkshire-creature-count

Social media …

Barnsley Nats posts on both twitter [and more occasionally facebook]. You can see what we post, ‘retweet’ and ‘like’ on our social media page.

A twitter post tagged @Barnsley_Nats with an image to identify recently had us thinking. Kent and Doug agreed it was a type of ichneumon wasp. However these are notoriously difficult to id at species level without using a microscope …

Shared observations VIII

From Colin and Linda – Barn Owl monitoring continues. On Wednesday 13th May the male bird came out of the nest box, dusted itself down (preened and stretched its wings) and then made nine return visits (with rodents) in 67 minutes! Friday 15th May was our 20th recording evening – and what an evening with both male and female birds hunting! The chicks must be well on their way!

From Doug. I look forward to hearing all the reports contributed each week. Highlights for me this week are that the moth trap has had moths in for the first time for many weeks. A male Bullfinch has been visiting the feeders, along with the return of the Nuthatch. Lastly after thinking that the Masonry Bee colony in the backyard had succumbed to the wet winter they are back in large numbers over the weekend.

From Michele and Phillip. Last Saturday, the day when we should have been on a Nats field visit, we had a walk to the fields off of Stocks Lane, we did plants all the way (well nearly): an extensive patch of Meadow Buttercups dotted with Dandelion seed-heads; andwe saw White Clover, Ivyleaf Speedwell and Ribworth Plantain.

The Hawthorn has come into full bloom and we spotted some galls on Rowan caused by the Eriophyes Pyr mite. And we also had a female Orange Tip butterfly.

From Adam. I am working from home at the moment: my computer is near the back-window which lets me keep an eye on what is going on in the garden – I pop out several times a day with my insect book. I’ve had quite a few Orange-Tips and Peacock butterflies (especially when it was really warm a few weeks ago) and a few different bee species. I think we have a Buff-Tailed Bumble Bee nest in our roof and I’m enjoying watching them out of my bedroom window. My insect ID skills are very basic, but I spotted a bee-fly (Bombylius major) on 14/04/20 which was feeding on a honesty plant.

I’ve been focusing on learning grasses and developing plant id skills. There’s some nice speedwells out at the moment – I’ve noted Veronica montana and Veronica serpyllifolia over the last few days. On my daily walks I have been walking in the area between the Trans-Pennine Trail and Stainborough, near to the water treatment reservoirs. [Boylins!] I didn’t realise how good a spot it is, loads of transitional scrub area between the woods and fields. I have heard a Willow Tit call on two separate occasions, on the path that runs parallel to the TPT. There’s a great field that has been full of Cuckoo Flower (Cardamine Pratensis) and Field Wood Rush (Lazula campestris) and it is now being dominated by Meadow and Bulbous Buttercups. Kestrels are regularly perched on the perimeter fence.

From Susan M. Nothing very spectacular to report but on my walk at Long Fields in Darton it was nice to see that in spite of the dreaded virus, Mother Nature is carrying on regardless. All the usual wild flowers are out and making a good show. I especially like the Hawthorns in bloom, they are spectacular, especially if there are a few together. Also worth admiring are the Horse Chestnut blossoms, wonderful. 

As well as the usual flowers, ie dandelions, buttercups and daisies my list was not bad: Jack by the Hedge (Garlic Mustard); Cow Parsley; Herb Bennet (Wood Avens); Ribwort Plantain, Red Campion, White Dead Nettle; Ramsons (Wild Garlic); a few Bluebells made a nice show along with Stitchwort and with very messy Herb Robert tangled in long grass. I had to look up Archangel to confirm, it looks a bit like nettles but with complicated yellow flowers, worth a good look I think. I also has Ground Ivy, Forget me nots and Germander Speedwell. Close inspection of the Speedwell will reveal that there are two rows of hairs down the stems, you may need your glasses!

More locked-down wildlife in Penistone from Stuart. Lynn and I today (Wednesday 13 May) have been able to take a longer walk following the amendments to the lockdown. It has also meant we can now take a flask with us and have a sit down because everyone knows Brits, especially Yorkshire Brits are fuelled by tea. We walked up to the Hartcliffe area and had a nice view, and enjoyed the song of a Whitethroat and then on the way back spotted two Golden Plover; I just wonder if these are the same pair as we saw a few weeks ago (only about 100m from our first sighting). This time they were very settled perhaps they will stay and nest? Also spotted two Brown Hares chasing each other – perhaps they thought it was March again. It was cold enough with the wind from the north!

Last week, after another walk, I was sitting in the garden and spotted a small ladybird on my chair. I took its photo as I did not recognize it. I sent the photos to Derek Whiteley at Sorby and he feels this was a Hieroglyphic Ladybird, usually found in heathy areas; it probably should not have been in our garden so I think it may have hitched a ride on my jacket from our morning walk.

I have been watching the Peregrine nest at Wakefield (on the live webcam feed) and the chicks are growing fast. There was one amusing little cameo on Tuesday morning (12 May), the male brought in a cock Blackbird and after an exchange of screeches pushed it towards the female brooding the chicks. But she screamed at him all the more. I think in Peregrine talk she was saying “what on earth is that! There are four chicks here at that is hardly big enough for one, begger off and try again!” And he did, he picked it up and flew away! Five minutes later he returned with the same bird and the female once again gave him short shrift, the poor bloke could not win. He went off again and I did not see the conclusion because I then got shouted at for not doing the washing up!

From Gill R. We have been back to Rockley (our last visit was with Barnsley Nats earlier in the year). There are lots of Heron youngsters, growing; with so many Herons will there be any fish left? No Kingfisher this time. Blackcap and Chiffchaff – and FOUR Swallows swooping over the barn to the left, my first sighting of 2020. There was also a Grey Wagtail calling high up in a tree, despite holding a bee in its beak. And then there’s the allotment … There’s lots to see there when you take your time: this morning a pair of Linnets flew and landed in my plum tree. A Blackbirds’ nest is in the back hedge where I believe there is a Goldfinch nest and another pair has a nest in the privet archway in the opposite plot. 

From Rick R. Jill H asked last time about odd nesting places for Great Tits. Here’s one from The Gower, May 20th,two years ago, with one nesting in a Chinese Dragon garden ornament. 

More recently up on the hill towards Penistone in the last couple of weeks we saw a Treecreeper, and then a Kestrel tearing up a Field Vole on a gate post.

From David Sw. Like most other folk I have spent a lot of time sorting out the garden and I have been keeping a garden record out of interest. The sheer number of wild plants on my list tells me I am quite a lazy gardener! More anon …

From Peter and Annefie. Escaping from the garden, we visited Wharncliffe Crags and Woods on Saturday and had a quiet picnic amongst the bluebells. The shapes of some of the trees are amazing and the nearby old wood pasture was a surprise. Like Catherine and Mark last time, we saw lots of Green Long-horned Moths around the oaks. Well worth a visit now that we can go further afield.

And finally how to entertain yourself during lockdown – from Graham. Go outside at dusk. When the bats come over, throw a couple of mealworms in front of them. They will deviate with remarkable agility and catch one in mid air. If you have a bat detector see if you can hear a change of note at the moment they gulp. The long spring evenings will simply fly by!

Shared sightings VII

From Doug. I spent a couple of days last week visiting “Boylins” which had been a good site for butterflies before the new reed beds were built. The site has started to recover and is yet again good for butterflies. I recorded Orange Tip, Brimstone, Dingy Skipper, Small Copper, Comma, Peacock and Speckled Wood.

Alwyn reports Large White, Small White, Green-veined White, Orange Tip female and Speckled Wood butterflies in his Penistone garden.

Kent reports his best night moth trapping so far this year in Ardsley on May 10 with 14 species: Garden Carpet 1, Common Pug 2, Muslin 3, Flame Shoulder 1, Bright line Brown Eye 1, Spectacle 3, Bee Moth 1, Coxcomb Prominent 2, Oak Hook Tip 1, Toadflax Pug 1, Red green Carpet 1, Epiphyas postvittana 2, Sycamore 1, Cabbage Moth 1.

From Catherine and Mark. We’ve had some lovely insect sightings in the Dearne valley this weekend, including a Golden Bloomed Long-horned Beetle, a Wasp Beetle and a couple of day flying moths: Silver-Ground and Green Carpet.

Mark also acquired a new hoverfly for his life list. He’s been looking every year and finally found it on his doorstep – the Ramsons Hoverfly.  It comes out with the flowers needless to say… A shorter walk on the local Common gave loads of Small Copper butterflies and a couple of Dingy Skippers.

And I don’t know if anyone else has noticed but it seems to be a bumper year for Green Long-Horned Moths. We’ve seen clouds of them around the trees and bushes for a couple of weeks now.

From Stuart. This past week we have seen large swarms of Hawthorn Flies (also called St Mark’s Flies) whenever the sun has come out to lift the temperature so allowing the black gangly legged males to display.

This has not gone unnoticed by the local Starlings many of which now have young to feed. They have been filling up on those insects still on the ground and in the grass. Some were holding them in their beaks like a puffin with sand eels before flying off to feed to the greedy noisy chicks!

On the morning of Tuesday the 5th of May, I was taking the bins out after my porridge and looked up to see the fantastic sight of six Swifts racing across the sky; I now look forward to seeing them more and more over the coming weeks.

From Peter and Annefie.
 Swifts also came back again to around Locke Park Tower last week, just like the Barnsley Bird Atlas cover.

The usual bird suspects in our garden were joined this week for the first time by a Nuthatch. We could hear it tapping away at a decaying branch of our willow tree. Fun to watch its antics as it went up and down.

For more

Barn owls …

Over 15 years ago, Colin and Linda were given a Barn Owl box which has been used over the years by Stock Doves, Kestrels and Tawny Owls but never a Barn Owl.

Then in late April this year, while bat detecting, they noticed a Barn Owl flying from the box and then the following night a Barn Owl showing well next to it.

They continue to have regular sightings of the male Barn Owl hunting and returning to the nest box with food for the female which must be brooding eggs.

For more on Colin and Linda’s barn owls go to the comments on this post

Shared observations V

Eupeodes luniger – a hoverfly, hovering!

From Alwyn. ‘This hoverfly (Eupeodes luniger) is doing what they do best – hover!’ Alwyn is spending his time at home and in his small garden and is thankful that we have been having an exceptionally sunny springtime. He has been busy recording any wildlife and mini-beasts found there at this time. “I’ve counted about 16 different species of Hoverfly in the last few days in my garden, including the Heineken Hoverfly, with its long beak – so called because ‘it reaches parts other ones can’t reach’; some are as small as 4-5mm.”

Heineken Hoverfly – Rhingia campestris

From Doug. Hello All. Hope you are all keeping safe and well after the fifth weekend of the lockdown. It has been very quiet on the moth front in Silkstone Common this week and quite quiet for Kent as well with his moth trap at Ardsley. We both think that it is due to the cold nights.

On Friday I had my daily exercise with a walk in Hall Royd Wood which had a good display of spring flowers which include Wood Anemone, Common Dog Violet, Lesser Celandine, Greater Stitchwort, Bluebell and my favourite Yellow Archangel. There were chiffchaffs singing as I approached the TPT. On Saturday repeating the same walk I heard Curlew calling. The highlight of the week was a large Red Damselfly in the backyard.  Cheers, Doug.

From Kent. A couple of nights ago I trapped a Lime Hawke Moth in my garden here in Ardsley.

From Ron and Joyce: We have managed to tick most of the summer migrants off on our daily lockdown walk. From our garden in Doncaster Rd we have had three displaying Buzzards, one Sparrowhawk and one ‘fly-over’ Osprey.

From Geoff. All three of us at home watch out for birds and butterflies in the garden. I have been out and about and I’ve recorded lots of spring plants and several butterflies not seen in the garden. Migrant birds have not been numerous at Worsbrough Reservoir. I’ve only seen Swallows over the water on one date. A single Common Sandpiper was present on the spillway a week ago but my most entertaining sight was a female Mallard with a family of 11 ducklings swimming around the spillway pond.

From Michele and Phillip. Not much different to report in this urban area. Three honesty plants in flower, sparrows plentiful, one oxeyed daisy. And the trees on Shaw Lane are starting to show leaf. In the garden we’ve had two Blue Tits (visit every day and come very close to the window), a Robin, a very vocal Blackbird, hoverflies, and bees white tailed and red tailed. Phil’s seen four newts at Cortonwood.

From Arthur and Pat. We had an interesting time this afternoon (St George’s Day!) sitting in the sun in our front garden and watching a female Red Masonry Bee (Osmia rufa) prospecting along our sunny wall, presumably looking for somewhere to lay her eggs. She kept returning to one spot, and we shall watch later to see if it fills with mud – though where she would find that I don’t know!

[‘It’s surveying for a suitable place to dig a nest. It will just be a narrow shaft in which it will lay its eggs, provision the nest with food (pollen) for the next generation and then seal it off with mud. They’ve been doing this every year as long as bricks and mortar have existed and before that in something else. They are solitary and don’t occur in large numbers so a few small holes will be of no consequence to your home, and they are important pollinators so best to let them get on with the vital work.’]

Today Pat also found a chrysalis case – intact – under some leaves in a cool shady spot. That has been provisionally identified as a hawkmoth pupa: we put it back again, as we know nothing about keeping or handling such items. Does anybody? We found a nearby spot yesterday lunchtime which was like a butterfly frenzy, and recorded seven different species within the hour or so that we watched. Orange Tips a-plenty: beautiful! Hope everybody is keeping well and active. Cheers Arthur and Pat.

From Monica. I enjoy sitting and watching the flowers, bees, butterflies and birds in my garden, and now lambs in the field behind my house. On Saturday April 25th I had a Red Admiral. At the moment the Marsh Marigolds are glorious. My tadpoles are very active in this warm weather. A couple of days ago I was sitting by my pond digging out a few unwanted plants nearby when one of the frogs appeared just in front of me and stared up at me as if he/she was very concerned I might be up to no good! Take care and stay well, Monica

From Annefie. Last Sunday, the day after St Mark’s Day, we saw the first flies named after this Saint. They hovered in the sun near an old hedgerow with their long legs dangling beneath them. Apparently they spent most of their life as larva in the soil, feeding on rotting vegetation. Their purpose in their short adult life is to mate and lay eggs and they have an important role as pollinators. Seen any on your walks perhaps?

From Stuart. The first sighting I want to report is a complete odd-ball. And, I want to say now (just to be very clear!), that I was not under the influence of alcohol or prescription medication when this observation was made!

It is Thursday morning, April 23rd, at 10:20am – I am sitting in our summer house and looking out into the sky. High in the sky I could see a bird wheeling, I just assumed it was a buzzard but people may remember that a couple of weeks ago I reported seeing a red kite catching a thermal over Tesco`s in Penistone. So this bird needed to be checked carefully just to be sure. I picked up the binoculars to get a closer look, immediately I could see it had a long neck so my first thought of a buzzard (or red kite) was quashed. It must be a lone goose, but no… it was white! So, it`s a swan…but no its neck is not long enough and its legs are sticking out beyond its tail. I supported myself on the garden fence and fine-tuned the focus wheel – it was a spoonbill! Plain as the nose on your face, a spoonbill over Penistone

[One or two Spoonbills have now been seen in the Dearne Valley; so Stuart’s (the first sighting) was probably en route!]

During the week Lynn and I have continued with our daily exercise walk around Penistone and kept our eyes and ears open for the delights each day brings. So to continue…..  The number of Willow Warblers we have heard singing has continued to rise and so has the number of Swallows we are seeing both on the wing and sat on telephone lines. Whilst sat on the wires you can hear them chatting to each other and we can only imagine what they are saying.

A bird that I do not see as often as I did 30 years ago around Penistone is the Yellowhammer but at last we saw one after hearing its distinctive call; “a little bit of bread but no cheese”. This was in the Hartcliffe area above Penistone, it was a stunning sight on top of a fence post in full sun against a clear blue sky.

We have also, just this last week, seen out first Orange Tip butterflies – a lovely sight in the spring sunshine. Back in the garden our Hedgehog is now out and about in the early hours of darkness, the first time we have seen it this year. Of course I say “our Hedgehog” but clearly have no way of proving it is the one we had all last summer. But it is nice to think it is. Best wishes to you all, Stuart & Lynn.

From Catherine and Mark: We had an unexpectedly wonderful walk on Monday. You may remember the forecast was not great but the sun came out late morning. We saw all sorts of lovely critters by the river. A Cardinal and Tortoise Beetle and a Green Nettle Weevil were among the highlights, and dozens of Green Long Horned Moths – so pretty to see and so hard to photograph their dance round the bushes… We saw 8 species of bee, 9 species of butterfly and 12 species of hoverfly. Here are images of the Green Nettle Weevil and the Hoverfly Dasysyrphus albostriatus.

We have also continued to enjoy the birds on the riverside. Lots of Blackcap but also Garden Warbler too. And a Lesser Whitethroat as well as plenty of Common Whitethroat. But the highlight was an evening walk when we saw a Great White Egret around the ponds! I guess it went for a bit of a detour one evening from Carlton Marsh! Catherine and Mark. 

And here’s another photo from Alwyn of a species of Fly (Helina reversio) busy blowing bubbles, sitting on a leaf of his Apple Tree, ugly little creature, about 7- 8mm big. I hope it doesn’t put you off your food. Keep safe, fit and healthy. Alwyn.

Shared observations IV

This Wednesday evening would have been a Barnsley Nats meeting so it seems timely to post. And first of all an image from Alwyn of a Goldfinch on the cherry blossom trees in his Penistone garden. More from Alwyn later.

From Doug.  This is the end of our fourth week and I hope that you are all keeping well. Not very much to report this week what with the moth trap numbers low and species static. However new bees seen this week are Oranged Tailed Mining Bee and Ashy Mining Bee (Andrena species) but no Nomad bees have been seen as yet.

A friend who lives at Darton has been watching a pair of Tree Sparrows using a nest box in his neighbour’s garden. Dennis Giggal has told us that he has a resident hedgehog in his garden off Park Road. Jill has been recording butterflies with Orange Tip, Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock seen.

From Catherine.  Thanks to all of you who are compiling and sending out the sighting updates. It is really interesting and heartening to read it all. All well here. Especially seeing all the wildlife in the garden and on our exercise walk. It’s so extraordinary, especially in the evening, to sit out and all you can hear is the birds… The Dearne delivered again Easter weekend with sightings of two grass snakes! One was swimming in the river and the other much further upstream was in the riverside brash… I doubt we’d have ever seen them if we hadn’t been forced to stay close to home.

We’ve now had Tawny Mining Bee; and Red Mason Bees – the ones that love the bee hotels – are quite numerous now as well.  And finally the hoverflies are out. You’ve probably seen all the drone flies that are about. Invariably hovering in sunny spots… we’ve never seen as many… but slowly other species are joining them too. I think four species in the garden now. Plus a bee fly and the Honeysuckle Sawfly have put in an appearance. And it’s a grand year for butterflies isn’t it? We’ve had an Orange Tip in the garden every day for a while now.

From Gill R.  In our garden on Easter Saturdaythere was a Brimstone butterfly; only the second time I have seen one. And then when we were sitting having a spot of lunch on Easter Sunday – wham! – a female Sparrowhawk had hit the window. She rested catching her breath in the now dead hawthorn tree across the breadth of the back garden and was empty taloned! and it looks like the cock pheasant is exceeding the government’s guidelines for exercising because it is still shadowing the females. It is easily identifiable because much of its tail feathers have disappeared and last week one was sticking up like a rudder, but no longer! It was a very amusing sight and much needed in these grim times.

From Stuart: With the end of this first three weeks of the UK lockdown, we are now starting another three weeks and the daily routine is now starting to become ominously normal. More of my observations from our single daily exercise walks around Penistone: one really nice sight of this past week was a pair of Golden Plover (in a field near Hartcliff tower for those who know the area). Also my first record of the year of a Willow Warbler which are now increasing in numbers by the day.

Back at home, in my garden, I was moving some plant pots around and came across some woodlice. Yes, I know that is not at all unusual. But some of them were different so I took one to my microscope to have a closer look. It turned out to be Porcellio spinicornis (I don’t think it has a common name).

And, it should not be in Penistone at all but somewhere in limestone country. But, I suppose as far as it is concerned the lime mortar in and around our old house is near enough and I am only a stone’s throw from the old Woodhead railway line which would have had tons of limestone ballast around. Nature always seems to find a way.

Another ‘mini-beast’ from Alwyn. Alwyn also tells us that, when having a beer in his garden hoping to see an Orange-Tip butterfly, he spotted instead a very large (hungry?) caterpillar on garlic-mustard.

Following research, he identified it as an Angle Shades moth caterpillar. The Angle Shades moth is an unusual moth that rests with the wings folded longitudinally, looking very much like a withered autumn leaf. So we look forward to a photograph later in the year.

A comment from Stuart.  I am sure many reading this will have numerous wildlife and associated books and this time has given us all the perfect excuse to look at the bookshelf and find the books you have long since forgotten about.  I found such a book lurking in a dark corner; it was given to me many years ago by an old uncle when I was just a lad. It is called Birdlife Throughout The Year, it was written by John H Salter before the first world war. It is fascinating to read his observations at a time when industrial pollutions were still increasing but before the impact of more modern mechanised farming. Here is one quote which makes you think:
…..The brook is transformed into an inky drain, foul with the smell of bleach-works, but the Whitethroat and Sedge-Warbler still nest amongst the briars and brambles which overhang it. The field pond in the hollow becomes the rubbish tip to neighbouring back yards, but, as long as it has its fringe of willow and a few tufts of sedge and rushes the Reed Bunting still makes its home. Upon the first occasion when we listened to the note of the Quail, its voice came from a patch of rye grass not two miles distant from Manchester City Hall. No farther from the same centre, but in the other direction, the Cuckoo paid visits, to suburban villadom and, sitting with open window on quiet nights, one might even hear a distant Corncrake…

A question from Alwyn: Here are sparrows feeding on the cherry blossom petals in his garden. How common is this? 

Sharing observations III

It is good to know that many of you are finding lots to see in your gardens and nearby on your walks, with Redwing and Fieldfare on the move back and the first Sand Martin, Swallow and other summer visitors arriving.
Of course in addition there have been different bees and butterflies in our gardens, moths identified by our moth trappers, and a number of nesting birds. Thanks everyone for your emails and online news.
Here are some of these contributions …

From Doug: This last week’s bird highlight has been a Raven flying from the Worsbrough area over Silkstone Common. The two Buzzard have been seen on a daily basis. The moth numbers have been varied with two different species recorded from last week, Brindled Beauty and Twin Spot Quaker.
There does seem to be more activity on the bee-front this week which include Common Carder, Early, Buff Tailed and Red Tailed (all Bombus – bumblebees).  Jill has had a female Orange Tipped butterfly – the first for us this season. Doug.

Arthur and Pat saw a Brimstone fluttering over the River Deane near Old Mill Bridge and their first violet of the year (V riviniana).
      They have had a fair crop of stout brown and white fungi sprouting from their lawn in urban Barnsley; they have been identified as Saint George’s Mushroom albeit two weeks before St George’s Day, so rather early.

From Alan: I have been painting the garden shed today and the only company I’ve had has been a hoverfly that seemed to be guarding a clump of daffodils. It came over to see what I was doing occasionally, no doubt saying ‘you’ve missed a bit there mate’ before flying back to his patch.
Strangely no butterflies for such a fine warm day. I had a quick look at the tortoiseshell that I had put in an egg box in the shed; it had fallen on its side so I fear the worst for it.

From: Annefie: Good to spot the Little Owl in the hawthorn tree on our local walk.

From Catherine and Mark: Seeing much more of the wildlife in the garden and on our local patch is a wonderful silver lining of the lockdown.
We went for a walk near Stairfoot in the sun last weekend. We were amazed at the size of the seasonal pond in the nature reserve area which we visited about this time last year.

It filled most of the old quarry floor and there were a lot of water birds enjoying it including Gadwall, Little Grebe and two pairs of Tufted Duck!
It was a glorious spring walk in the sunshine and we saw our first bee fly of the season as well as a glorious view of a male Yellowhammer in full breeding plumage.
Exercise walks down the Dearne have been our greatest joy, watching the Kingfishers, Sand Martins and lots of raptors. We think a pair of buzzards seems to be roosting in the nearby woods and wondering if they might nest…..
An evening visit delivered four species of bat – the two Pipistrelles, Daubentons, and a Noctule.
The Hairy Footed Flower Bees are still active in the garden. The males patrol the flower borders and have proved to be very aggressive, chasing off any other insects they encounter including bumble bees several times larger! I have posted a photo on the website.
[See comment on Shared Observations II post]

From Stuart – locked down in Penistone … Lynn and I are continuing with our new routine and during our daily “exercise walks” continue to see beautiful things. On one walk we were laughing at the new lambs playing and chasing each other in some spring sunshine and in the same field Lapwings seeing off a Carrion Crow. We often see Brown Hare in one field too and the Curlew with their haunting calls which we simply love to hear (this is all within 20 mins walk of the town centre).
Some new things this week too on Wednesday spotted my first Brimstone butterfly of 2020 near the river Don, this was seen while I was watching both Brown Trout and Grayling feeding at the surface of the river. They were feeding on new emerged midges. On Thursday (9th April) I saw my first Swallow of the summer, always a very welcome sight.
Then, on the same day, when back at home in the garden we heard a crow high in the sky mobbing something. You may remember from my last note that our garden (postage stamp size!) is just across the road from the Tesco supermarket in Penistone and quite a few birds use the warm air rising off the large park and huge roof space for natural lift. It was a pair of buzzard last week; this time an even greater sight – the wonderful Red Kite. I have seen odd ones around Penistone in previous years but this was the first over the town centre for me.

Photo competition

Later this year, the exhibition ‘International Garden Photographer of the Year’, is due at Cannon Hall. Hopefully all open by late August when it arrives here!

The photo competition ‘Beautiful Barnsley’ is a good opportunity to celebrate the landscapes, green spaces and biodiversity of Barnsley, from the moors to the Dearne valley. The competition is now closed so we will now wait to see the results.