‘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.

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.

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

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 …

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.

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.