Diario del proyecto Meanwood Valley bioblitz

Archivos de diario de agosto 2023

01 de agosto de 2023

Species Of The Week Number 45: Grasshopper

We have at least three species of Grasshopper or Cricket (Orthoptera) living alongside us in Meanwood: Field Grasshopper; Green Grasshopper and Roesel's Bush-cricket. There are probably more species but we haven't found them yet. Cicadas are a different but related group - and there is only one species of those native to the UK and it resides in the New Forest.

When Grasshopper populations explode they can transform into locusts and swarm. The largest ever locust swarm was in 1875 and was 1,800 miles long and contained 3.5 trillion individuals. Fear not though, there is currently minimal threat of a swarm of locusts arising from Sugarwell Hill and laying waste to the valley. Our Grasshoppers are not like that.

Orthoptera are very famous for jumping - and with good cause. If you had the same jumping prowess as a grasshopper you could easily spring from the Meanwood Road Recycling Centre to the Rolette Cafe in a single bound.

Orthoptera are also famous for 'singing' - and the best way of identifying our three species is by their songs which they make by rubbing their back legs against their wings.,

Male Field Grasshoppers sing with a single repeated 'chirrup' with a three second rest between sounds. Unless another male is also singing nearby in which case they chirrup four times faster to show how tough they are.

The song of the Green Grasshopper sounds like the ticking of a a spinning bike wheel and comes in bursts of about 20 seconds.

Roesel's Bush-crickets are relentless songsters. Their songs go on and on and on forever. It has been likened to the buzzing of overhead electricity wires.

Warm sunny days and evenings are the best time to hear them. It would be nice if we had some of those.

Publicado el agosto 1, 2023 11:17 MAÑANA por clunym clunym | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

07 de agosto de 2023

Species Of The Week Number 46: Hemlock Water Dropwort

It may look like a peaceful idyll but watch-out, Meanwood is a dangerous place to live - there are at least three local species that can do you very serious harm.

  1. Hemlock Water Dropwort is a nasty piece of work. If you are seeking nausea, vomiting, bloody urine, confusion, convulsions, and ultimately unconsciousness and death then HWD is the plant for you. All parts of it are very toxic.

People accidentally eat it as the leaves look like Parsley and the roots look and smell like Parsnip. Luckily cases of poisoning are rare with only 13 reported in Britain between 1900 and 1978, mostly involving children. However, 70% of them were fatal.

About 20 years ago a group of 8 people in Scotland made the "I'm-sure-its-Parsnip" mistake and made it into a curry with pretty terrible consequences, you can read about that incident online (via the Emergency Medical Journal). In ancient Italy it was apparently used to kill off old people who had become a burden to society.

On the upside...people who die from it apparently do so with a smile on their faces. It has a restricting effect on facial muscles during those final deathly convulsions. You can find this smiling killer growing down on Meanwood Beck.

  1. Giant Hogweed which is also very poisonous but despite my very best attempts I am not 100% certain of my ability to confidently distinguish it from Common Hogweed so be careful of both!
  2. The third in our unholy trinity of Meanwood killers is the blood-sucking Castor Bean Tick, carrier of the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease. Lyme disease is classically identified by a developing circular 'bulls-eye' rash - and complications from it can be fatal. Is it the most dangerous insect in Meanwood? Certainly not because it is not an insect at all - count its legs. Your arachnophobia may be justified.

In better news most of the other 827 species we have so far identified as part of the Meanwood Road Bioblitz are kind and gentle!

Publicado el agosto 7, 2023 08:04 MAÑANA por clunym clunym | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

15 de agosto de 2023

Species Of The Week Number 47: Sparrowhawk

40 years ago when I moved to Leeds the sight of a bird of prey in the city was highly unusual. Buzzards were largely confined to the South West of England, Red Kites had their only remaining breeding outpost in Wales, and Peregrine Falcons were yet to rediscover cities as high-rise nest sites.

In the 1980s Sparrowhawks were only beginning to recover from the devastating effects of organochlorine pesticides (now banned) which saw their populations crash after the second world war. The chemicals had caused their egg shells to become fragile and break during incubation.

Now all these raptors can be regularly seen on or near Meanwood Valley.

Sparrowhawks are most easily seen soaring over the valley with broad bodies and long tails and their distinctive 'flap-flap-glide' flight pattern. They can also be glimpsed hunting small birds through urban gardens with their fast direct flight, avoiding obstacles with smooth acrobatic ease.

The males have a distinctive blue-grey back and wings and orangey chest bars. Females have brown back and wings, and brown bars below.

As with all birds of prey the female is larger than the male - but with Sparrowhawks this is particularly pronounced. Females being around 25% bigger which gives them the ability to catch thrushes and pigeons whilst the males rely more on sparrows (obviously), finches and tits. Overall Sparrowhawks have been known to take more than 120 different bird species, plus a few bats for pudding.

Next time you spot one you can amaze your friends by telling them that falconers in Georgia use Sparrowhawks to catch Quail. These falconers or 'bazieri' are held in high esteem and even have a monument to them in in the city of Poti.

If thats not enough to impress then how about showing off your knowledge of Greek mythology? Greek King Megara was turned into a Sparrowhawk after his daughter Scylla cut off a lock of his hair.

Not a bad way to go to be fair.

Publicado el agosto 15, 2023 09:19 MAÑANA por clunym clunym | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

21 de agosto de 2023

Species Of The Week Number 48: Blackberry

Free food is available all over Meanwood right now, get out there and try it! As Seamus Heaney says in his poem Blackberry Picking:

"You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for

You wont be the only locals taking advantage of the crop. The Meanwood Brewery produces a sour IPA called Enemy of my Enemy which contains blackberries, and Leeds Gin produces a blackberry-infused gin.

The crop is really fantastic this year, maybe because of all the rain we had in July. Round our house we have already had blackberries on our morning cereal, blackberry flapjack for a snack, and a highly recommended beetroot, blackberry and goat's cheese salad.

We are part of a long tradition. In about 500bc in Denmark a woman ate some blackberries and then died and was buried in a bog. Sad. The body of "Haraldskær Woman" was preserved in the bog which is how we know the contents of her last meal.

What distinguishes a blackberry from a raspberry - apart from the colour - is that the middle bit (the torus) stays with the blackberry when picked whilst with a raspberry it stays on the stem, which is why raspberries have that hole in the middle.

A single blackberry isn't actually fruit. It is lots of fruits (called drupelets) growing together as one aggregate fruit. Perhaps surprisingly, Mexico is the world's leading producer of blackberries.

Meanwood blackberries are at their peak now but you have until 11th October to pick them. Thats the date of Old Michaelmas Day when, according to folklore, the Devil goes around stepping, poo-ing or spitting on them. Whilst this may not be technically true (an early example of fake news?), they do start to develop potentially toxic moulds when the weather starts to turn cold and wet. Maybe Haraldskær Woman got her dates wrong.

Publicado el agosto 21, 2023 09:40 MAÑANA por clunym clunym | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario