Welcome to our new feature. The retired author, naturalist and wildlife photographer Derek Bateson has kindly agreed to write an occasional piece on the natural history to be found in Gillfield Wood.

Where photographs accompany the article click on it for a full size image, they are amazing.

Derek’s Nature Notes 4. August 2017

 

Apologies to regular readers, but input to the website over the past few months has been experiencing connectivity problems, hopefully now resolved.

As Summer appears to be nearly over, it seemed appropriate to include this first picture of Autumn, that of Blackberry fruits Rubus fruiticosus agg. as there has been, and still is, an abundance of fruit everywhere, not only at Gillfield, and this is providing a feast, for invertebrates, but  some birds and mammals too.

Willowherbs of various species have also flourished in several areas including the Picnic Site, where there is a stand of what I believe to be Great Willowherb, Epilobium hirsutum, with its pretty purple flowers. These plants are sometimes referred to as Fireweed due to their bright flowers.

Around the western end of the wood, but also in other areas, there are swathes of Nettles, Urtica dioica, and close inspection of the leaves will often reveal woolly or spiky growths, which are Nettle Galls, caused by a tiny Cecid  gall midge, Dasineura urticae. Small slits in the gall indicate that the causer has hatched and departed.

At this time of the year, we seem to get lots of harvestmen, notably Leiobiunum rotundum, one of our commonest species, and sometimes mistaken for craneflies, of which I have not seen many this year.

Whilst setting up the camera and tripod for the Willowherb shot, this fly Phaonia angelicae persisted in perching on the flower which is why I have included it here as it is quite distinctive with its bright orange wing bases making it easy to identify.

Reference has been made above to the proliferation of nettles, and closer observation will reveal that some leaves are rolled and contain a mass of silk threads which are produced by the small white caterpillar.of the Nettle Tap Moth, Anthophila fabriciana a ‘micro’ species which is very common, and the actual attractively marked moth is shown in the next image.

Finally, whilst the Picnic Site was being tidied up recently, one of the volunteers found this colourful bright green caterpillar, with a rather fearsome looking ‘horn’ at the tail end. This is an early instar (I have never seen one at this stage before), of the Elephant Hawk Moth Deilephila elpenor. Included for comparison purposes is a shot of a final instar caterpillar, almost ready to pupate,showing the two pairs of intimidating ‘eyes’, peculiar to this species which will eventually turn into a very pretty, pink and olivebrown/buff moth . 

Derek’s Nature Notes 3, May/June/ July 2017

 

My visits to Gillfield have unfortunately been relatively infrequent of late, and this has been due partly at least to inclement and somewhat windy weather, hence Nature Notes have been rather thin on the ground, but the following entries will bridge the gap until warmer weather returns.

In mid-May, on one visit, I encountered a number of Dance Flies, Empis tessalata enjoying the sunshine and basking on leaves at the west end of the Wood. A nectar feeder, this is a predator on other flies, but will also sometimes bite humans, as I found out!

The last report showed an example of a Harlequin Ladybird, Harmonia axyridis , f. spactabilis, but this image shows the more common form in this area, f succinea with bright  red elytra and 19 black spots.

Next up on 24 May was one of our two common Lacewings, Chrysopa carnea which is a delicate pale green colour, whereas the other species .C. perla is blueish-green. Both species lay their eggs on slender stalks, which are attached to the leaf.

On the same day, there were several Sawflies, Tenthredo mesomelas on nettles, near the ‘bus station entrance on Baslow Road, and they seem to like this area as they appear here every year around this time.

The next beast proved to be somewhat of a puzzle as I only managed one fleeting shot before it dropped down into dense undergrowth. I thought it was some sort of bug instar so I sent it to Jim Flanagan, our Sorby expert for determination. Jim picked up on what I had missed, and we eventually agreed that it was probably a Soldier Beetle, Cantharis sp. which appears to have been predated, maybe by a bird or some other creature.

Around the entrance there are a number of solitary plants with star-like delicate white flowers, and these appear to be Marsh Stitchwort, Stellaria palustris. The distinguishing feature here is that the five petals are cleft, right down to the base rather than split to halfway as in Greater Stitchwort, S. holostea which also occurs here.

Also at the entrance were two tiny yellow flowers on a single plant. These appeared to be in the Hawkbit family, so I referred these to the Sorby expert Ken Balkow who suggested these might be Autumn Hawkbit, Scorzoneroides autumnalis. Further investigation of many photographs, proved this ID to be correct, and although common in this area is new to the site (NEW).

Our pond is proving a success, with many Common Frog tadpoles Rana temporaria this year. The image was taken at the end of June, and no developing legs were visible, but by the end of July, many were showing a pair of hind legs. 

Whilst at the pond, I photographed another newcomer, the Common Pondskater  Gerris lacustris with maybe six specimens present. (NEW)

Also present in the pond, clinging to the undersides of large stones were numerous Water hog-lice, Asellus aquaticus which feed on decaying matter in the pond.   

Finally, I found a single specimen of the Longhorn Beetle Rutpela maculata feeding on Umbellifers along the main track.                                                                             

Derek’s Nature Notes 2 (Early May 2017)

 

In the first half of the month, I managed two visits to the Wood, the first being to the western end and in the middle of the month, to the eastern end. Both visits provided many Diptera, mostly an abundance of early season hoverflies, primarily Platycheirus and Melanostoma species.

This year has provided masses of dandelions everywhere, and although they are not the most popular  foodplants for nectaring insects, my first sighting was of a male Leucozona lucorum hoverfly. This is an unmistakeable species with a broad white band across the abdomen together with its  distinctive  clouded wings.

Much smaller is another hoverfly, this time a female Melanostoma scalare, which looks very dark when the wings are folded over its abdomen, but in fact the female of this species has yellow markings on the tergites (abdominal sections), sometimes likened to the head of a golf club.

Another small hoverfly species which was very plentiful was Platycheirus albimanus and this is more difficult to determine in the field as its abdominal markings are grey and in some light conditions, difficult to see clearly under the wings.

Next up was one of the Dung Flies, but not the bright yellow species we usually see, clustered on cowpats or basking on leaves in the sunshine.  With the help of national  expert Steven Falk, this proved to be Scathophaga furcata a somewhat less bright species, but a welcome addition to our list (NEW).

On the nettles near the ‘bus terminus I spotted a small black weevil which I didn’t recognise which was duly photographed and it was only under high magnification on the computer when a few tiny bluish-green scales could be spotted at the rear of the wing-cases. This gave a clue to the identity of the Nettle Weevil, Phyllobius pomaceus which is usually completely clothed in these scales, so it is assumed that this was an adult which had overwintered, losing most of its scales. A comparison photograph shows the normal mature adult clothed in scales.

Yellow Archangel, Lamiastrum galeobdelon, has been noted previously at several sites within the Wood, but a clump now appears to be thriving in the car parking area at the western end of the Wood.

Near the Scout Hut and the adjacent scrubby areas there are now numerous plants of Ribwort Plantain, Plantago lanceolatum which again seem to like the poor soil. It is quite a striking plant when it flowers as in this photograph. 

Buttercups too are now in full flower, but are sometimes difficult to photograph in bright sunlight due to the very shiny golden petals.  Obviously  Ranunculus sp., but I will leave determination to species to a more knowledgeable botanist.

A very attractive, delicate lilac-coloured flower at this time of the year is the Cuckoo Flower, Cardamine pratensis agg. which acts as a magnet to Orange Tip butterflies which lay their eggs on the undersides of the leaves. Sadly, on this visit there were no butterflies although a male was around in the area later in the morning.

Sunning itself on a Blackberry leaf was my first Harlequin ladybird Harmonia axyridis f. spectabilis of the year. This has black elytra with four red spots. The Harlequin ladybird is known to have more than 100 colour variations on the wing-cases.

As it was a sunny morning there were at least a dozen Green Shieldbugs, Palomena prasina basking, on a variety of leaves. In the winter this species is a dull brown colour, but all specimens seen today were a rich green, indicating that they were mature and ready to find mates.

Like shieldbugs, many of our hoverflies are sun-lovers and none more so than the widespread Eristalis pertinax. At this time of the year, mostly males are seen with their distinctive triangular abdomen, as in this specimen. They can often be seen patrolling their territories or hovering at head height on sunlit paths and rides. 

One of our most striking hoverflies, and easy to identify is the so-called ‘Pinocchio’ hoverfly Rhingia campestris with its very long rostrum making it suitable for accessing nectar and pollen in deep flowers such as Red Campion which other hoverflies cannot reach. Here it is shown sunning itself on a leaf.

Common at this time of the year is another of our small black hoverflies Platycheirus albimanus usually at or around ground level on a wide range of flowers. Examples were also seen recently at the western end of the wood.

More spiders are starting to appear and this female specimen is probably one of the hunting or Wolf spiders Lycosidae sp. Typical of this species she is carrying her egg sac under her abdomen. Despite having recently attended a spider identification workshop, I have had to seek expert opinion on the ID.

Consultation with expert colleagues and The National Spider Recorder suggests that this spider is a possible Pardosa amentata but without a specimen and microscopical examination, this is how it will be recorded (NEW).

Nowadays, the Tree Bumblebee, Bombus hypnorum is seen increasingly frequently, and it is commonly found in urban gardens where it will colonise tit boxes if a natural tree hole cannot be found. It has a white tail and a ginger thorax, so it is quite readily identified although it has only been in this country since 2001.

Derek’s Nature Notes 1 (March/April 2017)

2017 didn’t get off to a very good start, with cool and rather breezy weather making macro-photography somewhat difficult, but I managed a couple of walks. However, several of the Blackberry bushes at the western end of the Wood were showing the distinctive white deserted leaf mines of the micro-moth Stigmella aurella.

 

I then walked down the path to our newish pond and was delighted to find six or more clumps of frog spawn Rana temporaria. Close inspection showed that a number of the developing embryos were in a ‘milky’ egg-sac, suggesting that some eggs were infertile. This may be due to fewer males having found the pond, but there were no signs of either sex on this visit.

 

What was rather a bonus was to find a couple of very healthy patches of Water Star-wort which is likely to be Callitriche stagnalis agg. However, identification can be difficult and I will try and confirm this when the tiny flowers appear in June or July. This plant may have been carried to the site on the feet of ducks and it certainly shows that the pond is healthy. (NEW)

 

A number of small hoverflies were nectaring on Dandelion, but I was unable to get a good shot showing the abdominal spots on the tergites, but I am almost certain that they will probably be Platycheirus albimanus, one of our commoner species with greyish rather than yellow spots.

 

Dandelions, Taraxacum officionale agg. are prominent everywhere at the moment, and most pictures show the bright yellow flowers, or later the seed ‘clock’, although, as in this instance, the developing buds are rather striking.

 

Finding a small dead log, I thought this might be quite productive, and removing a small piece of bark, one of our Striped Centipedes was revealed, and I think this might be Lithobius variegatus, but it scurried off before I could examine it closely.

 

Nearby, were three small Discus Snails Discus rotundatus the characteristic coarse ‘ribbing’ on the shell whorls and the transverse reddish-brown stripes.

 

So small that it was almost missed, was a tiny Silken Fungus Beetle with its silken sheen glinting in the sunlight. This is thought to be Cryptophagus sp. and was not determined to species level, but new to the Wood nevertheless. (NEW)

 

As it was by now late morning, a number of butterflies had appeared on the sunny path. And two Speckled Wood Pararge aegeria were quite cooperative.

 

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