Meanwood Valley bioblitz's Journal

Journal archives for November 2022

November 03, 2022

Species Of The Week Number 6: Weeping Willow

The impressive willow on the corner of Meanwood Road and Stainbeck Road marks an important site for the Meanwood Road Project. Not only did it host one of our pop-up portrait studios in the Summer, but is also next to the infamous 'Welcome to Meanwood' sign. It was the partly the positioning of this sign, and its implication that 'Meanwood starts here' that led to our discussions about the identity of the communities that border Meanwood Road eastwards, down towards Buslingthorpe and beyond. Weeping Willows have have long, narrow and smooth leaves with finely toothed leaf edges. They have long drooping branches that - usually - touch the ground. Our Willow branches aren't touching the ground because the Council came and gave it a bit of a pudding-bowl haircut. Willows have been associated with sadness and mourning such in Shakespeare's Hamlet, with Ophelia drowning near a willow tree: "There is a willow grows aslant the brook that shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream; therewith fantastic garlands did she make of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples that the liberal shepherds give a grosser name, but our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them. There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds clamb'ring to hang, an envious sliver broke; when down her weedy trophies and herself fell in the weeping brook." Conversley, a willow wand in Harry Potter was supposed to have healing powers and there is some logic behind this. Weeping Willow is a member of the Salix genus which has over 300 species in it. They range from tiny shrubs to very large trees. Traditionally, willows were used to relieve pain associated with a headache and toothache. The painkiller Aspirin is derived from salicin, a compound found in the bark of all Salix species.
Posted on November 03, 2022 02:14 PM by clunym clunym | 0 comments | Leave a comment

November 09, 2022

Species Of The Week Number 7: Otter

I have heard rumours of otters in Meanwood Valley. Well, now we know.

Luckily we have an otter expert living in Meanwood, Sylvia Jay, who I was recently introduced to. Sylvia and I met up to talk about otters and also about the Bioblitz, and possible extension of its footprint towards Meanwood Park and beyond. (The plan is to extend it from April next year, particularly if we are successful in getting funding for some equipment such as moth traps, bat detectors and trail cameras.)

Otters are mostly nocturnal and secretive so the best way of confirming their presence is by their spraint - which is the posh name for their poo, and which they use to mark territory. Sylvia had a sample of otter spraint handy (as you do) and so I also got to experience the distinctive smell - which is surprisingly pleasant.

She explained that otters mark their territory on exposed places such as boulders or ledges under bridges. An otter had recently been killed crossing the ring road, so we agreed to survey Meanwood Beck in the New Year to see if the Meanwood otter-rumours still had any substance. (Its unlikely they are living in the valley but they do travel far and wide in search of food.)

A couple of days later, and armed with this new knowledge I was crossing the bridge down past Rollette Cafe on my way to the Urban Farm. I usually stop at the bridge to see if our resident Brown Trout are to be seen below. This time my eyes were taken by a flat boulder forming part of the bridge foundations and, sat on top of it, was a rather encouraging looking 'deposit'. Later that day I scrambled down to collect it. If this was otter spraint it was very recent as the boulder had been completely covered during the recent heavy rain. With a magnifying glass you can make out what looked like small fish bones and scales so I was fairly optimistic, but needed an expert confirmation.

Sylvia was able to give it the thumbs up the next day. So species of this week for this week is very definitely the Otter. Another great reason for looking after this amazing green valley we live in.

Posted on November 09, 2022 10:42 AM by clunym clunym | 0 comments | Leave a comment

November 16, 2022

Species Of The Week Number 8: Seagull (not)

I am sure you already know officially that THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A SEAGULL? Good news for seaside chip lovers - except all it means is there is no species officially called a 'Seagull'. There are gazillions of gull species around the world, at least 25 of which have been seen in Britain.

The species can be frustratingly tough to tell apart - as they are nearly all mainly white with black bits somewhere or other on them. What makes it even harder is that they have different plumages in different seasons, and also different plumages at different ages. This amusing poster shows a simple way of getting over this problem: https://i.redd.it/upigiegrup191.jpg

In Meanwood Valley the easiest place to see gulls on the ground at the moment is on the Woodhouse Cricket Club pitch, next to Meanwood Road. More often than not there's a small flock hanging out on the grass.

There are three main species to look out for in Meanwood:

The most numerous are the Black-headed Gulls. Guess what colour heads they have?.... WRONG! Its winter so they are in winter plumage, and their heads are all white, albeit with a two darker spots. (Neither are they black in summer, more a chocolatey brown). They have a red beak and red legs. Fun fact: well into the 20th century their eggs were harvested for food in commercial 'gulleries', with one in Norfolk producing over 1000 eggs per day.

Herring Gulls are significantly bigger than Black-headed Gulls and are our traditional 'seaside' gull. They look tough and can be aggressive. Mature adult birds have yellow beaks with a distinctive red spot at its base. They have a light grey back and upper wings and white head and underparts. Fun fact: Herring Gull calls feature on the theme tune of Desert Island Discs.

The third species you might see is a Common Gull which in size is between a Herring and Black-headed. Its head is streaked grey in winter and it has a dark eye. It looks much gentler than a Herring Gull. Fun fact: The Common Gull is not as common as the Black-headed or Herring Gull.

If you want to compare pictures of all three species, all taken at the cricket ground in the last few weeks then check out the species in the Meanwood Road Bioblitz or pop over to The Meanwood Road Project Instagram page (the.meanwoodroadproject)

If you are hooked and want to see thousands of Gulls this winter (including even more gull species) then check out the winter roost at the west end of Eccup Reservoir. A local birder, Paul Singleton (@PaulSin85868921 on Twitter) has been surveying them continuously there since the early 1960's!

Posted on November 16, 2022 12:45 PM by clunym clunym | 0 comments | Leave a comment

November 24, 2022

Species Of The Week Number 9: Green Cellar Slug

Not sure this one will get many Instagram likes!

The attractively-patterned Green Cellar Slug has something in common with Meanwood's White-clawed Crayfish and Grey Squirrels in that it is a participant in a battle between native and invasive species. Its arch-nemesis in the battle for ascendancy (equivalent the Signal Crayfish or Red Squirrel) is the Yellow Cellar Slug.

In this instance however it it is Green Cellar Slug that is the invader, being first spotted in the UK in the 1970s as opposed to the Yellow which was first documented in 1685. The Yellow has become increasingly difficult to find so if you do find one take a picture and upload it to iNaturalist. They both have clear yellow slime but the Yellow Cellar Slug exhibits a pale yellow stripe down its back which is the tell-tale sign..

Gardeners don't generally like slugs but both Green and Yellow are in fact detritivores, feeding on decaying plant material in gardens. They don't eat live plants. The best time to find them is at night and in the usual sluggy places, under logs and stones or, obviously, in a cellar.

If you have got to the end of this post then congratulations, you are now an amateur Limacologist (slug-studier). Happy slugging.

Posted on November 24, 2022 02:42 PM by clunym clunym | 0 comments | Leave a comment

November 30, 2022

Species Of The Week Number 10: Common Plume Moth

In 2021 a remarkable 1319 species of moth were recorded across Yorkshire, indicative of a complex and diverse group.

Plume moths look (and fly) more like a type of fly than a type of moth and there are 34 different species of those in the UK. They are named for their slim, feathery wings, which they hold out almost at right angles to the body when at rest.

The Common Plume Moth is also unusual as you can see it at anytime of year - I disturbed this one (see picture on our Bioblitz page) when pruning back a Buddleia earlier this week. Many moths are firmly linked to specific food plants and for the Common Plume Moth its plant is Bindweed - of which I have plenty despite my best attempts at getting rid of it!

I'm sure you know that moths go through four life stages: egg, caterpillar, pupae and adult. Common Plume Moth caterpillars are greenish-yellow with a green band, and a narrow broken yellow line running down the middle.

Another species that uses bindweed is the White Plume Moth - pop over to our Instagram page for a picture of that, it is very ghostly.

We are currently trying to fundraise for some moth traps which will help us document many more moth species of the Valley in the Spring and Summer next year. If you want to get involved in this part of the Bioblitz then let me know. I am also looking for a moth expert to help!

Posted on November 30, 2022 12:23 PM by clunym clunym | 0 comments | Leave a comment