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

13th week of Lockdown

From Michele and Phillip. A group of Dryads Saddle fungi, Polyporus squamous, located on a dead tree stump on a footpath close near where I live. Five in total, this is the largest. Phil’s hand is in the picture to give you some idea of the size. We were only out walking the dog when Phil spotted them. 

From Doug. Hello Everyone. Last Saturday Kent, Jill and I went to Gypsy Marsh to admire the Orchids (over a 100 spikes!). Well worth a visit. While there we also saw Painted Lady, Ringlet, Common Blue and a longhorn beetle Strangala maculata.

In the evening I met Annefie and Peter to count glowworms at Thurgoland, fifteen in total; all done with social distancing! While writing this I have just spotted a Siskin on the feeders in the backyard. Stay well and safe. Cheers, Doug and Jill

From Howard. A neighbour once said ‘your garden is like Jurassic park’. I took it as a compliment. Here is my jungle. No dinosaurs seen yet but plenty of other life.

From Rick – a question. I was taking a break from the heavy schedule and noticed this. Maybe someone can identify this caterpillar (moth?) on my next door neighbour’s garage. 12mm long, with red dots and whitish tufts. June 23rd 4pm bright sunshine.

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.

In a garden pond and garden

From Andy. Hope you all are keeping safe and well. I wanted to let you know about my ‘little garden pond’ that is just coming to life. It is a small sandbox that used to belong to my grandson in which I have created the pond.

Observations over last month: I have seen a damsel fly nymph resting on the bottom. This was confirmed by Pam at the British Dragonfly Society as a Large Red Damselfly larva, although she stated that they don’t start to colour up till they emerge from larval case. It scores a 10 in Pond Health so I must be doing something right.

You can see the three caudal gills at the rear of the abdomen. Also there are midge larvae, water lice, and pond snails. And other things in there which I will keep you posted on.

On the bird nesting front the usual Blue Tits have fledged last month,a wren has built a nest but not moved in. A Robin keeps stalking me when gardening to get worms for young. Two Wood Pigeons’ nests, one at front and one at back. Blackbirds’ nests two, sadly one of females was killed by a magpie nesting at the back of our house.

One morning in May, Anne and I witnessed and filmed the Magpie kill and devour the female on our front lawn. The photo was all that was left of it. Although my grandson would say “It’s only nature”. Keep safe and well, Thanks Andy

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 …

Great Yorkshire Creature Count

The Great Yorkshire Creature Count: 24 hours in search of the wildlife on our doorsteps took place on Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st June.

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust is on a mission to count all the plants and animals that are hiding in our gardens, yards and window boxes in just 24 hours – and they need our help! https://www.ywt.org.uk/great-yorkshire-creature-count

A number of Barnsley naturalists took up this worthwhile challenge.

River Don fishpass

Trevor has alerted us to the good news this last week for the river Don with the completion of the Masbrough Weir fish pass at Forge Island in Rotherham.

With Sheffield City Council also finishing the fish pass on Sanderson’s weir, this opens the entire migratory route from the North Sea to spawning grounds in and upstream of Sheffield.

Perhaps soon there will be a sustainable salmon population in the River Don after an absence of around 200 years. An adult salmon was found in the river Don in Sheffield last year so they are on their way.

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.

Rose and blue

From Ron. I think every birder in the Barnsley area will have made the pilgrimage to Cudworth to see Barnsley’s first ever Rose Coloured Starling. Well worth the trip.

We also managed to get up to the Small Blue site, before the sunny weather broke. I think we saw more Small Blues than ever this year, the colony seems to be thriving. Regards Ron and Joyce.

Camping out in our garden

From David S. My long-suffering other half Esther has really missed going camping this year, so last weekend with the weather being so fine (seems like a distant memory now), we decided to spend it camping in the garden.

With the tent set up, fire-pit in place, camping chairs ready, a good book and a beer to hand we spent the next two days in the glorious British countryside (imagination required at this point). Thankfully our garden has high fences around it and I keep the borders full of lovely flowers to attract my beloved bees, so it does feel away from the world and you soon forget you are surrounded by other houses.

Esther was comfy with her nose buried in a book and I was scampering around the garden with an ID book, hand lens and capture pot on a bug hunt.

There was a good number of common bumblebee species on the flowers and a selection of solitary bees which I had no hope of identifying apart from two, an Ashy Mining Bee and a Red Mason Bee. The only other thing of note was a cluster of Black Bean Aphids being farmed by some Common Black Ants for the sticky honeydew that they produce. I got a blade of grass and tried to move an aphid to see how the ants would react and I was not disappointed, in a flash a gang of ants were savaging the grass blade.

Later in the afternoon we saw something very unusual, there was a Kestrel doing its trademark hovering right above us at about 60/70 feet, checking out the garden. Not seeing anything it fancied it moved on, and I watched as it systematically worked down the street doing the same thing over each garden before peeling off. In all the years we have lived here we have never seen this before and it made me wonder what had forced it to look for new hunting opportunities.

Finally, I had wrestled into my sleeping bag, got comfy and was just dropping off when we were both brought sharply back to awake by the shrill yelping alarm call of a Little Owl, which sounded really loud in the dead of night. This too was a first for us, we have never heard an owl of any species before in the garden – strange times indeed. Happy camping everyone. Regards, David.