‘Tails’ from my garden

I thought you all might be interested in some ‘tails’ from my garden recently.

A first tail – forget White-tailed Sea Eagle or even Rose-coloured Starling – here is a picture of a Starling with a ‘Leucistic’ white tail. It didn’t affect its performance in any way but it looked quite individualistic and a bit dapper, amongst its mates and juveniles.


A second tail: A big fluffy moggy came into my garden (all teeth and claws). It clobbered one of my adult Robins, which managed to escape the cat’s sneaky attack, albeit with the loss of its tail. Once again, this didn’t seem to affect its performance and it now continues to live a normal life, recovering from its near-death fright.

Third tails: A trio of juvenile Long-tailed Tits have spent the best part of a week in my garden (still present today). No adults in sight but they make a merry band, in their immature plumage of mainly brown and white and no pink, except their eyelids, as yet. With their ruffled plumage and reddened eyes, they look a bit like they are recovering from a heavy night at the pub.

Plucky little fellas, they were initially intimidated by the aggressive, noisy and squabbling Starlings on the fat ball feeder, not to mention the numerous House Sparrows flying about constantly feeding their young… They soon learnt to play to their strengths, as only they could (and perhaps Blue Tits can do) and found that they could feed quite happily by hanging upside down, on their backs, pecking calmly at the lowest fat ball, at the base of the feeder, unfazed by three or four noisy Starlings flapping wildly only inches above.

A great joy to see!  Co-existence but not exactly peaceful. Best Wishes, Alwyn

Recent sightings in July 2020

These images are from some of the highlights over the last two or three weeks.

My recent visits to local grassland sites have been rewarded with very pleasing numbers of grassland butterflies. In particular, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Ringlet, Small Skipper, Small Heath and the whites have been quite abundant. I almost felt like I’d been transported to the Victorian age!

Former Wentworth Railway Station Site
[This is now a Barnsley council brownfield site, to the west of Skiers Spring Wood.]
A total of 86 Meadow Brown. Good numbers of Ringlet, Gatekeeper, Large, Small and Green-veined Whites, and Small Skipper, along with several Six-spot Burnet Moth, Small Tortoiseshell, and numerous Meadow Grasshoppers.
A total of 189 butterflies.

Koyo Bearings Meadow and track on Dodworth Muckstack
A total of 63 Meadow Brown. Pleasing numbers of Ringlet, Gatekeeper, Small Heath, Small Skipper, Small and Green-veined White, Six-spot Burnet Moth, along with Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Comma, Shaded Broad Bar Moth and a few Meadow Grasshoppers.
A total of 216 butterflies.

Hugset Wood /Silkstone Golf Course boundary path
11 Comma, four White-letter Hairstreak and several Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Peacock, Small Skipper, Small Tortoiseshell, Small & Green-veined White, Ringlet and possible Essex Skipper.
A total of 49 butterflies

Plus I had my first ever Six-belted Clearwing Moth and more -worth a separate post!

Six-belted Clearwing sighting

Six-belted Clearwing

I have never seen a Six-belted Clearwing, Bembecia ichneumoniformis, before, let alone in the Barnsley area. Apparently they are considered nationally scarce and usually found in Southern England on chalk hills and downs, at the occasional quarries and southern rough grassland/ground. Very rarely seen, they are under-recorded generally. They inhabit similar locations to Common Blues, Small Blues and Dingy Skippers.

Their larvae are ‘miners’ and burrow into and eat the roots of Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Kidney Vetch and sometimes Horseshoe Vetch.

This one came out into the open, and kept flying fast and low but briefly settled for just a second or two.Fortunately, I managed to capture this record shot before it flew out of sight.

I had gone to check for a second brood of Small Blues in the Darton – Woolley area and found only three on this site and sadly, none on other sites. Even so, this is evidence of a partial second brood.

I also recorded 18 Small Skippers and 3 Essex Skippers, along with 7 Marbled Whites, several Large, Small and Green-veined Whites, Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers and Ringlets, a Small Tortoiseshell, an old Common Blue and a Shaded Broad Bar moth, Scotopteryx chenopodiata. The weather was warmish, dry, with gathering clouds and sunny intervals, no wind. Alwyn.

White-letter Hairstreaks and other butterflies

Yesterday I spotted two White-letter Hairsteak butterflies between Silkstone and Barnsley when on our dog walk from home yesterday. There were nine different species of butterfly on one tiny clump of thistles. The photo with the Ringlet shows their different sizes. Julia

14th week of lockdown

The caterpillar became a moth.
From Kent. You will remember that when Doug and I visited Gypsy Marsh a few weeks ago we found a couple of moth caterpillars which I took home to rear. The one feeding on bramble pupated and this female Vapourer has now emerged. The female Vapourer is an example of an almost wingless moth, whereas the males are fully winged.

And in answer to Rick’s request last time whether someone could identify the caterpillar (moth?) on his next door neighbour’s garage: David S says that it’s the caterpillar of the Vapourer Moth (Orgyia antiqua). So two sightings!

From Doug. Hello All. A few weeks ago (27 May) Paul B was querying an Ichneumon Wasp found in his moth trap. I have since found a site on the internet which may be of some help in the future – it’s the Natural History Museum’s “Beginners Guide to Identifying British Ichneumonids”  https://www.nhm.ac.uk/content/dam/nhmwww/take-part/identify-nature/british-ichneumonid-wasps-id-guide.pdf. Although it only covers 22 commonly encountered species (less than one hundredth of Britain’s Ichneumon Wasp species) it’s nonetheless a useful introduction to a fascinating group for which records are needed.

The glowworm transect continues with 19 glowworms glowing on the last two visits. Stay safe and well, Doug and Jill.

From Colin and Linda. After all the recent bad weather we were getting worried about ‘our’ Barn Owls. So this evening, July 6th, our 71st, we were not very hopeful, but as we sat silently we were treated to a fly past right over our heads!
For more on Colin and Linda’s barn owls go to:
http://www.barnsleynats.org.uk/barn-owls/

An opportunity – Conker trees are under attack – by a small leaf-mining moth. Infected trees are weakened and produce smaller conkers. You can help by taking part in the new Citizen Science project at http://conkertreescience.org.uk. Good to join in – we saw some the other day.

And a message:
We are hoping that we can be back in the Town Hall for our Autumn programme of talks and presentations, starting on Wednesday October 7th. More news when we know.

In the meantime, enjoy getting out and about and continue sending us information about sightings and wildlife Always good to hear from you.
Keep well and safe. Barnsley Nats

Larvae -on leaves and in the hoverfly lagoon

From Catherine. One of the short walks I have managed was down to the river. The huge stands of nettles were covered with an eruption of ladybird larvae! Literally dozens of them, so although only a short walk it was so rewarding. Mark and I spent a happy time identifying the species.

These were mainly 7-spot. These have four yellow/orange spots on their abdomen and the same coloured spots on their thorax/head. The smaller grey one is the third instar and the larger black one the fourth instar.

We also saw a 14 spot, with the large pale stripe down its thorax and abdomen, and finally the wonderfully spiky 24 spot, though not the best photos! 

I also managed to attend the online FSC course on ladybird larvae identification. It was an excellent free course, just over an hour and can be viewed on YouTube: https://youtu.be/bcUrBmZ-DS4

Mark is now delighted that he has rat-tailed maggots in his hoverfly lagoons! Many hoverfly larvae live on plants eating aphids etc, but the rat-tails are the larvae of some species that are semi-aquatic, breathing through long air tubes. Hoverflies are important pollinators of plants but some species need stagnant water to breed, lay eggs, and for the larvae to develop. You can make your own hoverfly haven by using a small container of water and adding fallen leaves or organic matter. [Warning: it smells!]

Watch Professor Dave Goulson, the leading national expert in pollinator ecology, show you how to attract hoverflies into your garden with your own hoverfly lagoon. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ujFpW8U1t4 > o/�Lt

Along another stretch of the Dearne

From Annefie. Last Sunday we walked from Darton to Haigh along the Dearne, then on to Woolley Edge and back through the fields, an area we had not explored before. The river meanders and runs quite clear with the banks covered in a variety of vegetation.

Although it was a rather windy day, we saw a good number of butterflies, especially lots of Tortoiseshells and Ringlets, but also Small Whites, Red Admiral, Comma, Small Skippers and a Gatekeeper.

Gatekeeper

On our way back we searched for the Small Blues and found some patches of seeding kidney vetch with a few grasshoppers, but alas, no Small Blues.  We may have to wait for the next brood! We also encountered a number of Burnet moths (Narrow-bordered Five-spots).

Narrow bordered five-spot burnet moth

Midges and an entire ecosystem

From Stuart. As I write this it is the longest day; when I wrote the first of these reports spring was just getting going – now it is summer. It has all been very odd.

Lynn and I went to Worsbrough Country Park last week (between the rain showers), it was like Blackpool promenade! But, the wildlife was getting on as normal and it made a nice change to see some ducks and other waterfowl. I also did a bit of fish spotting. The carp, that are now common in the reservoir, were competing very well with the ducks for bread being thrown into the water by some children out with their mum.

Back at the mill I was looking into the mill pond and could see a shoal of small roach just under the surface, they were feeding on tiny midges trapped in the surface film, as they sipped these off the surface they never made a ripple. Some of the midges that did escape were getting caught by beautiful blue damselflies or a grey wagtail that was hunting the margins.

Just goes to show how important these tiny midges are. I am sure at some point a kingfisher would be taking the small roach and maybe a sparrowhawk would have a pop at the wagtail.

An ecosystem ticking away like a well-oiled machine, like the Mill behind me that was milling flour. A mill with over 400 years of history and yet on the first day the mill turned a wheel, all those years ago, tiny midges would have been emerging from the mill pond and no doubt small roach would have been taking them. I will leave you with that thought. Best wishes Lynn and Stuart, Penistone.

Goldfinches harvesting seeds

From David Sw. While sitting in the front room reading, I spotted something which piqued my interest; a couple of Goldfinches landed on the fence then dropped down onto the lawn, and I wondered what they were up to. I edged across the room so as to observe without disturbing them and I found they were hopping around inspecting the wildflowers (some would say weeds) growing in my lawn.

I have quite a relaxed attitude to gardening and my lawn is awash with all manner of wildflowers (no green stripes here), but the Goldfinches were interested in the Cat’s-ear (Hypochaeris radicata) which grows in abundance amongst the grass. Each bird picked a plant then started to inspect it, ignoring the open flowers and unopened buds, instead seeking out the old closed flower heads. Once selected, the bird hopped onto the base of the flower stalk then worked its way along it, using its own body weight to bend the stalk down to the ground, securing the flower head.

With everything set it pecked furiously at the old flower head, showering the cotton wool like seed fluff everywhere and leaving the nice, new, succulent seeds behind, which it then ate at its leisure. Flower head spent, it moved on to inspect the next plant, repeating the process.

This was a lovely piece of behaviour to witness, and something I have never seen before and it just goes to show how important weeds can be – happy relaxed gardening everyone. David

Change for caterpillars …

From Alwyn. I am attempting to rear four Orange Tip caterpillars all the way to butterflies. The caterpillars undergo a total of five instars (moulting stages) before forming a pupa or chrysalis. They stay in this form for 10 months until next April/May before the adult butterflies emerge. So a long wait!

The process starts when the fifth instar caterpillar, about 31mm long, assumes the pupating position (curved bow-like) on a selected plant stem. A silken thread girdle is spun around its abdomen centre which holds it in place, rather like a rock climbers’ rope. The tail end is attached by small hooks (cremasters) to a silk pad for final stability. It stays like this, motionless for up to 24 hours before the transformation into a chrysalis begins.

The transformation starts with a bump growing on the caterpillar’s head, which quickly develops into a ‘pixie-like’ pointed cap. Then the chrysalis shell seems to envelop the caterpillar from head downward fattening out in the middle (to accommodate the wings?) and continues down the abdomen to the tail end. A little writhing and wriggling dislodges and discards the headpart and the chrysalis is formed: a lovely, elegant ‘gondola’ boat shape form with two pointed ends and a triangular middle area, still attached firmly to the stem. Here is the transformation process sequence, utilising photos from two different caterpillars


Yes a long wait for 10 months before the adult butterflies emerge next April/May.

Very satisfying though to watch the process of how the chrysalis forms. Alwyn.

See more in the comments on this post …

Cardinal in Ardsley

Cardinal beetle on ox eye daisies at Ardsley -I saw it and then of course managed to knock it off into the undergrowth before photographing it.

After 10 mins or so I fortunately managed to relocate it due to it being roughly the same colour and size as a ferrari amongst the green-ness. I hope you like the “dreamlike” effect I created by the soft focus! Pete W.

12th week of lockdown

From Doug. Hello All. I hope that everybody is keeping safe and well, especially with our new freedoms, so please take extra care. Jill and myself have been watching the parents of juvenile Starlings, House Sparrows and Goldfinch, feeding them from the feeders in the backyard this week.

A little further from home whilst driving back from one of my glowworm transects (11. 45 pm) I spotted something fluttering on the road in the car headlights; thinking that a car had clipped a bird, I prepared to stop, only to see a Tawny Owl staring back with an indignant look. Seconds later it flew off leaving a large dead rat behind. Obviously it had been struggling to take off when I disturbed it, robbing it of its supper! 
Cheers. Doug

Mayflies on a car roof

From Stuart. Lynn and I have continued with our daily walks this past week and on some days even needed an umbrella!  But, of course we did need the rain.

Well we have had another unusual mayfly event or perhaps it is these unusual times that is making us take more notice of what could be very common events – I will let you decide. So to continue….

Our smallest UK mayfly is Caenis rivulorum, with a fore wing of around 3mm in length. As larvae they live in the silty areas of rivers and when they emerge to the adult stage it is often in huge numbers and at this time of year. This generally takes place around an hour into darkness which means it is often missed by most people.

Like many mayflies they are not strong fliers so it was quite a surprise to find hundreds had tried to egg-lay on my van roof one night last week (we are good ½ mile away from the River Don at its nearest point and not in line of sight).

Having noticed this I then checked other cars (and vans) as we set off on our morning walk, almost all had egg bound females stuck on them, again in the hundreds.

This is a modern phenomenon with mayflies because bright shiny car roofs are very new to an insect that has been around for 300 million years. 

And, of course it is a problem because every one of those egg-laying females has in effect failed to complete its life cycle at this very last point – all that effort wasted.

The reason they get it so very wrong is that they use horizontally polarised light to “detect” the surface of the river and by pure coincidence shiny dark flat surfaces, as seen on a car roof, reflect light in the same way. Sometimes nature just cannot win!
Stuart & Lynn.

Gypsy Marsh visit June 2020

From Kent. Doug and I walked over the area of Gypsy Marsh on Monday, where we heard Willow Warbler and Chiff Chaff.

The ground was covered with Orchids and Ragged Robin and large clumps of Deschampsia grass and the odd plant of Crested Dogs tail, Cocks foot and Common Bent. Reed Mace, Greater Spearwort and Skullcap were there amongst others.

Doug found (and I collected) two moth caterpillars, one feeding on Bramble and the other on Ribwort Plantain . We also found some insect eggs on Bramble.

All specimens are now being reared at home! Perhaps someone will be able to recognize and identify these. Might be a Vapourer or Tussock.

RSPB site manager Heather Bennett visited the day afterwards and was impressed with what she found …

11th week of lockdown

Walks slightly further out now and possibly with a friend, good news!

From Doug. Hello All. I hope that everybody is keeping safe and well, much better than our weather at the moment.

The weather has put a stop to my mothing this week, so Jill and myself have been watching the birds on our feeders in the back yard. We have had an increase in visits mainly from juvenile Blue and Great Tits, Starlings, Goldfinch and Nuthatch.

The glowworm count is now up to 6.

On one of my walks in Knabbs Wood I spotted on a fallen log, probably oak, a fungus which I think is Pleurotus cornupiae ( Branching Oyster Mushroom). Cheers, Doug and Jill.

More from others in comments.