Meanwood Valley bioblitz's Journal

Journal archives for October 2022

October 05, 2022

Species Of The Week Number 2: Wood Pigeon

To celebrate surpassing 100 species identified in the valley so far let's look at one of the most common, the Wood Pigeon.

There are actually five species of 'wild' pigeon and dove in the UK, only three of which regularly occur in Meanwood Valley: Wood Pigeon, Stock Dove and Collared Dove. The two species we don't have in Meanwood - so far at least - are Rock Doves and Turtle Doves both of which are increasingly rare.

We can also see flocks of domestic racing pigeons which are descendants, like the feral pigeons in the city centre, from the Rock Dove.

Wood Pigeon and Stock Dove are superficially similar but easily distinguished - the Wood Pigeon is bigger, and has distinctive white patches on its neck and wings which are visible even in flight. A Wood Pigeon also has a yellowish eye, whilst that of the daintier Stock Dove is black. The Collared Dove is much paler with a black ring around its neck - you don't see these as often in Meanwood.

We know from studies of ringed birds that the average life span of a Wood Pigeon is 3 years, but the record is 17 years from an individual that was ringed when young and caught again in Orkney. We also know that most Woodies are home-loving birds, with the majority staying within 3 miles of where they were ringed.

The Wood Pigeon's distinctive song is loved by some loathed by others, comprises a 5 note phrase split into 3 and 2. It has been described differently in different parts of the country. For instance in Norfolk it apparently sounds like "my toe bleeds, betty". Any suggestions for a Meanwood version?

Posted on October 05, 2022 08:57 AM by clunym clunym | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 12, 2022

Species Of The Week Number 3: Wood Blewit

Eyes down people! The autumn is a brilliant time for finding mushrooms in the valley and our community of citizen scientists have already spotted 8 species with some fantastic common names.

Puffball, Shaggy Inkcap, Sulphur Tuft, Glistening Inkcap, Honeyfungus, Earthball, Bonnets and Conifer Parasol are all mushrooming away in Meanwood right now.

Wood Blewit is widespread and common in the UK and across the world. You can find it in the leaf litter in Meanwood woodland and under hedgerows. When young they have a strong bluish lilac colour in both the cap and in the underneath gills.

We will all have noticed cooler temperatures recently and the Blewits are proof of that - as they only start to appear when the temperature drops to below 17 degrees as they like the cold and will survive a frost quite easily.

Wood Blewit (like some other species) can grow in a ring or circular pattern, known as fairy rings. In the past people thought the rings were where fairies would meet and dance, or that they were a doorway between human and fairy worlds. Those treading inside them were at risk of disappearing, and/or at risk of an early death. So tread carefully friends.

The rings are actually a natural phenomenon resulting from the way the Blewit grows underground. Starting at a single point it grows outwards in a circular motion, searching for more nutrients.

The terms mushroom and toadstool can sometimes be used interchangeably, although toadstools sometimes just mean inedible mushrooms. In either case don't eat them unless you are certain of the identification because mushrooms such as Death Cap were named for a reason...

Overall mushrooms are part of the fungus kingdom which also includes yeasts, rusts, smuts, mildews and molds. Without this kingdom our lives would be bereft of leavened bread, wine and penicillin. So pretty crucial one way or another.

Posted on October 12, 2022 03:06 PM by clunym clunym | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 20, 2022

Species Of The Week Number 4: Whitebeam

If you take the path to the bridge from Rolette Cafe at the moment you will find various trees all resplendent in red Autumn berries, including both Rowan and Hawthorn. However the first tree at the top of the path (after the dead one which sticks up like a skeleton) is a Whitebeam.

It has large shiny green leaves which have a serrated edge, the underside of the leaf is much paler. Whitebeam is hermaphrodite, meaning each flower contains both male and female reproductive parts. The five-petalled flowers will appear in clusters in May, to be pollinated by insects.

I don't know if its the only Whitebeam in the valley, maybe it is? It has almost certainly been planted intentionally, as Whitebeam is only native in Southern England, not in the North.

If you are passing by in the next few months keep an eye out for flocks of winter thrushes feeding on the berries. Redwings and Fieldfares in particular are arriving in the UK in large numbers at the moment (some of our few winter migrants) and have been spotted flying over Leeds this week.

I have always been intrigued by the land to the West of our Whitebeam - on old maps it is marked as 'Paper Mill', it would be great to find out more. That land is also being considered for a future flood mitigation scheme by the Council, essentially allowing it to flood in order to protect properties downstream. If it happens there could be wildlife benefits with a series of ponds created.

Posted on October 20, 2022 09:59 AM by clunym clunym | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 28, 2022

Species Of The Week Number 4: Brown Rat

OK so this one is a challenge! Rats sit alongside mosquitos, vampire bats and bed bugs as species in serious need of some better PR. Their cousin the Black Rat may well have carried the fleas which carried the Bubonic Plague, but... they also have plenty of interesting characteristics that might make you warm to them a little more. Just maybe?

For instance, research suggests that they can produce ultrasonic vocalisations and this is particularly noticeable when the young engage in play, or indeed when they are tickled. So happy laughing creatures then. We are trying to get hold of bat detectors for the Bioblitz (little machines which allow you to identify bats from their ultrasonic calls) - they should also enable us to listen to rats. If we want to. They also are very sociable and live in family groups, regularly grooming each other. Are you convinced of their cuteness yet?

Rats are hugely adaptable and present in every continent except Antarctica. Mostly they expanded their range from China by stowing away in ships. They arrived in the UK around 1700, researchers think.

Whatever you think of them they are just one of the 170+ species so far identified as part of our Bioblitz survey in the valley.

In other news...a species you can perhaps warm to a bit more are our rare White-clawed Crayfish which will no doubt be subject of a later 'Species of the Week'. Meanwood Beck is one of their few remaining strongholds. They were covered in a great piece on the BBC's Autumn watch this week. Check it out here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m001dk37/autumnwatch-2022-episode-2 The Crayfish section starts at about 47 minutes in.

Posted on October 28, 2022 08:51 AM by clunym clunym | 0 comments | Leave a comment