Diario del proyecto Meanwood Valley bioblitz

Archivos de diario de abril 2023

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 abril 5, 2023 08:50 MAÑANA por clunym clunym | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

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 abril 12, 2023 08:44 MAÑANA por clunym clunym | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

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 abril 19, 2023 08:49 MAÑANA por clunym clunym | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

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 abril 26, 2023 10:06 MAÑANA por clunym clunym | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario