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.

Bistort, pignut …

From Adam. Last week I was out walking around Silkstone Common/ Hood Green.

The highlights were spotting a clump of Common Bistort (Bistorta officinalis on the road verge of House Carr Lane, (although I have read that sometimes the more vigorous cultivated version Suberba can escape nearby gardens) and coming across Pignut (Conopodium majus) for the first time this year in the fields below Hood Green

On the topic of insects I have attached a couple of pictures of something that caught my eye in my garden today. After a scan of my insect book it looks to me like Arge pagana – it has an obvious orange abdomen and black stripes on leading edges of wings. I wondered whether anybody in the group had any thoughts?

In search of caddis and stoneflies

From Stuart and Lynn. The warm weather of spring appears to have left us for a while here in Penistone and we are back to the normal British mix of wind and rain. But, of course we would probably all agree that we did need some of the wet stuff if only to give the gardens a drink.

With the last of the warm weather I had a walk to look around Wigan Spring near Hartcliffe (on open access land). [It’s in Brockholes Local Wildlife Site]

I was on the hunt for adult stoneflies and caddis however the long dry spell has all but dried the area out. Eventually I did find some water and it was long before I netted some stoneflies and the odd caddis. The adult stoneflies were Leuctra nigra and the adult caddis were Wormaldia occipitalis (archive photo attached). Both would be expected from that habitat but it is always nice to find them.

Combat or copulation?

From Rick. Things must be getting bad. I’m paying attention to insects! [Rick’s main interest of course is geology.] At 10am, on 6th June after the shower, but in bright sunshine, on the patio.

At first I thought of an invasive killer eating our bees, but on closer inspection I think its copulation, not combat. I’m pretty sure they’re bees, but no idea why they aren’t the right colour, or doing this sort of thing on the wing. Maybe one you guys will know? Rick

Damsels and dragons at Highstone Farm

– breaking out of lockdown

’Twas the Glorious First of June. I decided to take up David Allen’s kind invitation and had a most enjoyable afternoon in the fresh air, pottering and looking around to see the beautiful wildlife at Highstone Farm. Sunny, warm, 25 degC, no breeze -ideal!

Notable sightings included Azure, Blue-tailed and Large Red Damselflies, 4-Spotted Chasers and Broad-bodied Chasers galore!


The Broad-bodied Chasers kept landing close to me, one almost perched on my foot as I sat by the pond – a thrilling and memorable encounter. I wasn’t able to photograph the Emperor Dragonfly (recently emerged that afternoon) and 4-spotted Chasers that were about around the large pond.

However I photographed a mating pair of Hoverfly, Helophilus pendulus (one of the ‘footballers’) – not witnessed this before.

Small Tortoiseshells, Speckled Woods and Small Whites were about. Lots of Bees everywhere.

The Early Purple Orchids skirted by daisies were also a joy to see. In fact there were lots of flowers in bloom everywhere, both horticultural and wild.

Surprisingly no photographs of birds but many seen and heard: Song Thrush, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Robin, Dunnock, Chaffinch, Blackbird, Nuthatch, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Goldfinch, Grey Heron,Magpie, Pheasant, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Swallow, Canada Geese with 3 young and more were all present.

There was however a lovely specimen of Dryad’s Saddle Bracket Fungus Cerioporus squamosus- sometimes known as Pheasant’s Back mushroom.

Rearing Orange Tip butterflies

– quite a challenge!

Rearing Orange Tip butterflies. This week, I have started rearing four Orange Tip caterpillars, found on the seed pods of the Garlic Mustard plants in my garden.

The caterpillars are now indoors, in the gauze cage that I had used originally to rear my Painted Ladies a few years ago. They are still on the same plants (in a small vase) and they are munching away, day and night, at the long seed pods and are hopefully free from parasitic flies, birds etc.

Currently about 12mm long, they will develop (hopefully) to about 3.5cm.

Difficult to see and photograph because of their very small size (short and thin). They are well camouflaged, mimicking the seed pods along which they are resting.

You might notice the presence of small clear beads of liquid topping the black hairs on each caterpillar’s back. No one really knows their purpose, perhaps a guard against predators?

The caterpillars will eventually pupate at the 5th (and final) Instar into a Gondola boat-shaped Chrysalis, fastened to a stem with a silken girdle around its waist and a silk pad at its tail end.

Then it’s a long wait until next Spring when they will metamorphose into beautiful adult (Imago) butterflies.

These caterpillars are cannibalistic and the female Orange Tip usually only lays one egg per plant.

I’m hoping to photo-document their progress if I can, that is if they don’t eat each other! Lots of fun! Alwyn.

10th week of lockdown

From Doug. Hello All. This last week I have been setting the moth trap in Knabbs Wood and retrieving it at 3.45 am most days. I had a day off from moth trapping on Sunday as I commenced the Glowworm survey for 2020 on the TPT at Thurgoland, it was probably the driest that I can remember with the grass scorched and the trees with reduced leafage, but the transect was successful with one Glowworm recorded, possibly the earliest record I have. Stay safe and well. Cheers Doug and Jill.