Diario del proyecto Meanwood Valley bioblitz

miércoles, 07 de junio de 2023

Species Of The Week Number 36: Cow Parsley

Possibly the most abundant flowering plant in Meanwood right now, Cow Parsley is a classic plant of the English countryside. However there is more to this plant than meets the eye.

Cow Parsley has fern-like leaves and small white flowers arranged in umbrella-shaped clusters called umbels. The umbels consist of multiple individual flowers, each with five delicate petals. Also known as Wild Chervil, it is commonly found in meadows, hedgerows, and along roadsides.

After the flowers are fertilised, Cow Parsley produces small, flat fruits called schizocarps. These schizocarps will split into two parts, releasing the seeds within. The seeds are then dispersed by wind helping the plant colonise new areas.

It is a larval food source for the caterpillars of the Orange-tip butterfly and attracts other pollinators including bees and hoverflies and overall is an important part of the biodiversity of the Meanwood Valley.

This all sounds lovely and bucolic doesn't it? However...

Whilst is native to Europe it has been introduced to other parts of the world including North America where nasty Cow Parsley can become invasive, outcompeting native plant species and disrupting ecosystems. Cow Parsley sales are actually illegal in Massachusetts and it has attained the status of 'noxious weed' in Washington.

It is visually appealing - but also technically edible. The leaves and young stems can be eaten raw or cooked, with a flavour similar to - surprise surprise - Parsley. Sounds yummy? DO NOT EAT IT! Cow Parsley is very similar to the deadly poisonous Hemlock so - unless you want to risk tremors, paralysis, breathing difficulties, muscle damage and kidney failure - leave it well alone.

One person's innocent flower is another person's deathly invader it would seem.

Publicado el miércoles, 07 de junio de 2023 a las 08:59 AM por clunym clunym | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

lunes, 29 de mayo de 2023

Species Of The Week Number 36: Azure Damselfly

Damselflies are smaller, slimmer versions of Dragonflies. You can tell them apart as at rest Damselfies' wings are closed up alongside their body whereas a Dragonfly sticks its wings out like an aeroplane.

Azure Damselflies are quite common near ponds and watercourses where their presence is quite a good sign of water quality.. There are actually 7 species of small blue damselflies in the UK and telling them apart is a bit tricky. The Azure Damselfly has a U shaped black band on the second segment of the male's abdomen. The females are green rather than blue.

When they emerge and after a bit of displaying and showing off, a male and female create a kind of heart shape, with the male holding the female's head and the female curling round to access sperm from the base of the male's abdomen. They often then remained intertwined whilst the female then deposits her fertilised eggs - using her ovipositor - into plants in the water. Its thought that the male hangs around to stop another male from re-mating with the female.

The eggs develop into nymphs which feed up in the pond for a year or two, undergoing successive moults as they grow, eventually climbing up a plant stem until the adult form emerges.

According to Wikipedia, Damselflies have been around for at least 299 million years. So in just 1 million years time they will have a big anniversary celebration with cake and party hats, no doubt. Cant wait.

Publicado el lunes, 29 de mayo de 2023 a las 07:02 PM por clunym clunym | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

martes, 23 de mayo de 2023

Species Of The Week Number 35: Flame Carpet

Flame Carpet. Common Quaker. Hebrew Character. Early Thorn. Brindled Pug. Whether you love or loath them, you cant deny moths have the best names in all the animal kingdom. And all those moths have turned up in the Meanwood Road Project's moth trap in the last month.

The lepidopterists bible, the Field Guide to Moths of Great Britain and Ireland, tells us that the Flame Carpet has two generations each year and flies between May and September. It is a relatively common species and is can be found in moorland as well as woodland. Fear not though, it cant be found in your carpet.

We are the proud owners (thanks to the National Heritage Lottery Fund) of a posh battery-operated light trap. If you want to find out what moths are in your garden drop us an email at meanwoodroadproject@gmail.com We can bring it over and set it up one evening (it turns on automatically when it gets dark) and pop back the following morning to help identify any moths - which we can then release. No moths are harmed in the making of this wildlife survey.

We are also planning moth and wine evenings on Sugarwell Hill in the coming weeks, where we set the trap up and then wait around drinking wine and see if owt turns up. The first one is this Thursday, 25th May, and we'll be on the hill behind the Farm from about 9pm to midnight alongside students from the Ecology course at Leeds University. Everyone welcome (particularly moths)! BYOB.

The Flame Carpet is a member of the Geometridae family of moths which has over 300 species recorded in the UK. Whoever named all the species had a bit of a thing about carpets and was probably on the wine themselves when they decided on other species names. So we also have Fortified Carpet, Oblique Carpet, Dark-barred Twin-Spot Carpet, Galium Carpet and Sharp-angled Carpet to look out for on Thursday.

Publicado el martes, 23 de mayo de 2023 a las 04:57 PM por clunym clunym | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

jueves, 18 de mayo de 2023

Species Of The Week Number 34: Blue Tit

One of our most popular garden birds, 98% of British gardens report Blue Tits although they are strangely absent from Orkney and Shetland. Blue Tits are a success story with a 25% increase in population since 1966. There are around 15 million Blue Tits in the UK.

Blue Tits are the biggest user of garden nest boxes. They collect moss, wool and leaves to create a cup-shaped nest. Sometimes they add aromatic flowers to the nest - this has been shown to reduce the amount of micro-pests on the fledglings. The female Blue Tit lays an egg a day for about 10-12 days. Each egg weighs 1 gram. The eggs are incubated for 2 weeks and the young are then fed for 3 weeks until they fledge. The feeding becomes increasingly frenetic as the nestlings grow and demand more and more. The (now dishevelled) parents continue feeding the youngsters outside the nest until they learn to forage for themselves.

Blue Tits rarely travel far, so the ones visiting your feeders in winter are probably the ones nesting locally the previous Spring. Starvation alongside cat predation is the biggest cause of death.

As older readers will recall, in the last century Blue Tits used to be notorious for removing the tops of milk bottles, when doorstep milk deliveries were a big thing. Strong evidence suggests social learning within the Blue Tit population as the practice started in South East and North East England before slowly expanding across the country to its peak in the 1980's. Its demise was not only due to the reduction in milk deliveries but also the introduction of skimmed and semi-skimmed milk. Blue tits are actually lactose intolerant! The fats in the cream which rises to the top of full-fat milk don't contain lactose.

Publicado el jueves, 18 de mayo de 2023 a las 09:51 AM por clunym clunym | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

miércoles, 10 de mayo de 2023

Species Of The Week Number 33: Marsham's Nomad Bee

Species of the Week #33: Marsham's Nomad Bee
There are an amazing 270 species of bee in the UK. They break down into families. One of the families is the Apidae. 34 of the Apidae family are Nomad bees. Nomad bees are the closest we get to having a cuckoo in Meanwood.

Cuckoo's are famous for laying their eggs in the nests of other birds, leaving the host parents to feed the young cuckoo. Nomad bees are their equivalent in bee world, exhibiting the trait known as kleptoparasitism.
Marsham's Nomad Bee is one of them.

The female Marsham's Nomad Bee will first sniff out and evaluate the nest of its quarry. When the nest is unoccupied it sneaks in and lays its egg. When the egg hatches into a larvae the larvae kills the host egg, and devours the pollen and nectar store which the host has collected for its own, now dead, youngster.

It is not surprising that we can encounter Marsham's Nomad Bee in Meanwood because it specifically targets the nests of the Chocolate Mining Bee of which we also have plenty. Unfortunately the presence of the Chocolate Mining Bee is not because we have secret chocolate mines underneath the fields of Sugarwell Hill - but because the bee is chocolatey-coloured. The Chocolate Mining Bee likes to nest in walls.

Nomad bees look more like wasps than bees. The Marsham's Nomad Bee's distinctive black and yellow abdominal stripes are important in identification. The second of those yellow stripes (start counting from its head end) is split with black in the middle of the yellow. This is important as it distinguishes it from its otherwise identical cousin, the Gooden's Nomad Bee.

Final bee fact: Only the female bees can sting.

Publicado el miércoles, 10 de mayo de 2023 a las 10:20 AM por clunym clunym | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

miércoles, 03 de mayo de 2023

Species Of The Week Number 32: White-clawed Crayfish

Meanwood Beck is one of the most important sites in the country for the endangered native White-clawed Crayfish. But sadly I should have written that in the past tense.

The species is at risk because it faces two threats: the invasive Signal Crayfish and crayfish plague. The Signal native to America, it's bigger and outcompetes the White-claw and then adversely affects the delicate ecosystem of our rivers. When signals arrive (mostly via human intervention) it is the death knell for the white-claws. Crayfish plague will also wipe out an entire population.

In January of this year tragically crayfish plague was identified in part of the Beck's population.

An action plan was implemented by the Environment Agency, involving a complex operation to remove as many healthy individuals as possible, transferring them to safe sites elsewhere.

Last week around 50 people - comprising agency staff and volunteers - descended on the Beck upstream of Meanwood with the aim using a pumping system to dry a section of the river bed out and removing healthy individuals by hand, possibly in their hundreds. They would then be transferred to specialised tanks installed on site prior to health checks and relocation.

Unfortunately the difficult pumping operation was unsuccessful we only caught a few individuals. It included this pregnant female with eggs or 'berries' attached to her underside.

The Meanwood Beck White-clawed Crayfish have been surveyed continuously since 1995. Very sadly it is probably now too late to save them.

Publicado el miércoles, 03 de mayo de 2023 a las 09:39 AM por clunym clunym | 1 comentario | Deja un comentario

miércoles, 26 de abril de 2023

Species Of The Week Number 31: Small Tortoiseshell

The last two weeks have seen plenty of Butterflies in the Meanwood Valley including Small Whites, Commas, Orange Tips and Speckled Woods. The Small Tortoiseshell is one of the commonest butterflies in the UK and also emerges in early Spring.

Females lay eggs in May, and they become bright green caterpillars in a few days. Many butterflies and moths feed on very specific food plants and, in the case of the Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars, that plant is the stinging nettle - of which we handily have quite a few in Meanwood. They thrive best when nettles have high water content so dry periods (and global warming) are bad for them.

After passing through the caterpillar stage a pupae is formed which hangs from the underside of leaves for about 4 weeks until a new adult butterfly emerges. This new butterfly itself lays eggs which go on to emerge as a second brood in the Summer. It is these second-brood adults that then overwinter in sheds and outbuildings, even tolerating temperatures of -20, before starting the whole process over again the following Spring.

The Small Tortoiseshell's latin name is Aglais urticae. Aglais was one of the Three Graces, a daughter of Zeus admired for her beauty. Its cousin the Large Tortoiseshell also used to be widespread in the UK but is now effectively extinct here. The small is at risk as well, having declined by 75% since 1976 although numbers in the north are holding up a bit better.

We are hoping to see and photograph many butterflies on The Meanwood Road Project Spring Walk this Saturday (29th April) - where you can meet your neighbours and also have a go photographing wildlife with our new Macro lenses. Meet at the Farm cafe at 11am.

Publicado el miércoles, 26 de abril de 2023 a las 10:06 AM por clunym clunym | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

miércoles, 19 de abril de 2023

Species Of The Week Number 30: Hoverflies

There are more than 6,000 species of Hoverfly in the world and over 280 of those occur in the UK. We have identified just two Hoverfly species as part of the Meanwood Valley Bioblitz so far! Hopefully though that is about to change...

Hoverflies spend all their time pretending to be something else. Mostly they pretend to be bees or wasps with the aim of detering predators who assume they can also sting. This trick is known as Batesian mimicry. Hoverflies are in fact totally harmless, can't sting, and are very much a gardener's friend because the fave food of the larvae of many Hoverfly species is the aphid.

The Hoverfly is an enjoyable fly to seek out for nature lovers - they are pollinators and therefore can be found hanging around flowers. Unlike those other other flies that like hanging around rotting carcasses or poop which is not so nice.

They may be attractive when in adult form but the larvae - maybe not so much. Some Hoverfly larvae are known as rat-tailed maggots due to them looking like maggots with tails. But don't be fooled, the supposed tails are in fact an adaption and are really little snorkels that help them breath underwater. Strange.

Hoverflies are very cool as they can hover (obv) and also fly backwards. They hover with the aid of an adapted wing called a haltere - which acts as a kind of gyroscope.

Here at The Meanwood Road Project we have recently received a lottery grant in order to help us identify even more Meanwood species (latest total = 390). We are spending some of the grant on magnifying 'macro' lenses that attach to your phone so more people should be able to photograph and identify even more Hoverfly species. If you want to help out we can lend you one for a bit (you'll need to get the free iNaturalist App as well).

Macro lenses can really help aid identification on iNaturalist of the smaller species. The two we have confirmed so far are a male Ladder-backed Hoverfly and a Female Marmalade Hoverfly. You can tell the difference between the sexes because the eyes of the males touch in the middle, whilst the females eyes don't.

If your Hoverfly interest has been piqued you could also join the UK Hoverfly Facebook page which has over 6200 members, evidence of how popular these fine insects are.

Publicado el miércoles, 19 de abril de 2023 a las 08:49 AM por clunym clunym | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

miércoles, 12 de abril de 2023

Species Of The Week Number 29: Chiffchaff

Chiffchaffs provide the sound track to early spring. You cant fail to hear them if you walk around Meanwood Valley this week.

Whilst increasing numbers of Chiffchaffs stay in the UK all year-round, most migrate here from Africa. Thats an impressive 2000 kms for a bird weighing in at less than a £1 coin.

One of the earliest migrants to arrive from early April, the males get here first and immediately start to call as they establish and defend a territory, waiting for females to arrive some three weeks later.

Its onomatopeic name in English references its loud repetitive song. Similar names exist in European languages, such as Zilpzalp (German), Tiltaltti (Finnish), Tjiftiaf (Dutch) and Siff-saff in Welsh.

Its song is certainly more distinctive than its looks - a dullish green-brown bird which is easily confused with its cousin the Willow Warbler. The slightly longer wings and paler legs of the Willow Warbler warbler are the best way to differentiate them by sight - but by call is much easier.

Now is the best time to spot Chiffchaffs before the trees are in leaf, as they fly around in the tree canopy singing or picking off insects. Chiffchaffs need to eat about one third of their own body weight in insects every day.

The female builds a nest on the ground, deep within the undergrowth. A couple of years ago one was nesting next to the Urban Farm's pond but I think sadly the young when were taken by local cats, before they left the nest.

As well as being the first to arrive it is also one of the last to leave, with some of the migrating birds still here in early October.

Publicado el miércoles, 12 de abril de 2023 a las 08:44 AM por clunym clunym | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

miércoles, 05 de abril de 2023

Species Of The Week Number28: Smooth Newt

I have a pet newt. I call him Tiny. Because he's my newt. haha.

Obviously I haven't really got a pet newt called Tiny, but I have got a pond and its got loads of Smooth Newts in it. I only realised how many by checking the pond with a torch at night. Amazing! Newts are nocturnal and, whilst I might occasionally come across one when doing some daytime pond maintenance, its a complete revelation at night. My pond is about 2m x 1m and there must be 20 or so Smooth Newts swimming around.

Now is the breeding season and they are looking their best. The adults have a cute flirtatious mating display involving much tail flapping and spreading of pheromones. Eggs are then laid individually and each is wrapped in the leaves of pond plants. At the end of the summer the new newts - which are now called efts - leave the water with the older adults and spend the winter under logs and rocks nearby. Individual newts can live to an impressive 14 years - we know this as each individual can be identified by the particular pattern of spots on its belly.

There are two other newt species in the UK, the Palmate Newt and the Great Crested Newt. I don't think we have got any of them in the Meanwood - but very happy to be proved wrong.

There are Great Crested Newts close by though. When ecologists surveyed the land before the development of Thorpe Park in East Leeds they had to trap and relocate 20 Great Crested Newts as well as 996 Smooth Newts, 1,189 Toads and 119 Frogs.

There is a Leeds pub called the Fox and Newt on Burley Street. I have sadly failed to find the origin of the name. It used to be called the Rutland Hotel until it was damaged by a gas explosion in the 1920's, causing 24 casualties.

Whilst most newts don't travel more than a kilometre from home, others have gone a bit further. In 1994 some female Japanese Red-bellied Newts even flew into outer space. These 'astronewts' made this giant leap for newt-kind as part of an experiment to see what happened when their eggs were laid in a low gravity environment. Happily they returned alive.

Some newts are very toxic. One man from Oregon swallowed a newt as a drunken bet - as you do. He died. Please don't swallow our Meanwood newts, even if you are drunk.

Publicado el miércoles, 05 de abril de 2023 a las 08:50 AM por clunym clunym | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario