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.

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

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.