Meanwood Valley bioblitz's Boletim

15 de março de 2023

Species of the Week Number 25: Western Honey Bee

Last week we featured a Cherry Plum Tree - because it was the first tree in Meanwood to blossom. Since then not only have two of its branches crashed down under the weight of snow but, when things warmed up, the white flowers became a massive magnet for honey bees. In the warmer days this week it has been covered in hundreds of bees that have just woken up from their winter hibernation.

Bee society is not an equal one. All of the bees harvesting on the tree pollen are female 'worker bees'. We know this because the only thing male bees or drones are good for is reproduction - and as there is no reproduction in the winter all the males were chased out the hive to perish in the cold weather. The queen bee will just makes some more each year as required - she only needs 24 days notice.

The female bees on the other hand do all the work (sound familiar?). Her 'to do' list goes like this: clean out own cell; feed brood; receive nectar; clean hive; guard duty; forage. His 'to do' list on the other hand goes: sex; sex; sex. The male drones don't even bother defending the hive and can't sting. Pathetic.

Despite this there is a lot we can learn from bee society. The Quran even has a Sura (chapter) titled "The Bee" which explains how we can learn from the industry and adaptability of honey bees

The bees are all collecting pollen fro the Cherry Plum Tree flowers. They use the little panniers on their hind legs (known as corbicula) which are getting full of the yellow pollen to take back to the hive. The bee then returns to the hive and deposits the pollen into cells in the honeycomb.

By moving from flower to flower the bee is also pollinating the tree.

Habitat loss, pesticide use and climate change are just some of the risks our bees face

I hope you enjoyed this spot of amateur melittology - the study of bees.

Posted on 15 de março de 2023, 04:14 PM by clunym clunym | 0 comentários | Deixar um comentário

08 de março de 2023

Species Of The Week Number 24: Cherry-Plum Tree

Despite the snow, Spring has stared its battle with Winter for seasonal superiority. One of the first to come out fighting for Spring is the blossom of the Cherry-Plum Tree like the gorgeous Meanwood in our species list that has started blooming over the last few days. It is particularly striking because the white flowers come out before its green leaves.

Cherry-plum blossom is cool in Meanwood but is massive in Japan. A symbol of the impermanence of life, it is celebrated during the annual Hanami festival when people go and look at wonderful forests of blooming trees. They take it so seriously that the Japan Meteorological Corporation even announces the official predicted date for blooming to begin. Which, if you are interested, is March 16th this year. So Meanwood has beaten Japan to it in that respect.

The fruit appears later in the year. It is edible and can be used to make jams, jellies, and other preserves. It is also particularly popular in Georgian cuisine (thats of the European country, not in the time of King George). The Georgians use it to produce tkemali sauce, kharcho soup and chakapuli stew. Sounds yum.

The wood of the cherry plum is hard and durable, making it useful for woodworking projects. It is also used as firewood in some regions.

Cherry plum flowers can also come to the rescue for people "in fear of losing control of their behaviour" -and tbh who hasn't been there at some point? I know I have. Dr Edward Bach used the flowers to create a remedy for this affliction, and they are still used in Bach Flower Remedies today.

Outside of the Meanwood project patch, nip over to my Insta page @ClunyM to see a flock of 20,000 starlings near Ripon. An awesome sight and sound.

Posted on 08 de março de 2023, 03:10 PM by clunym clunym | 0 comentários | Deixar um comentário

01 de março de 2023

Species Of The Week Number23: Great Spotted Woodpecker

There are three species of Woodpecker breeding in the UK. The Lesser Spotted Woodpecker has become quite rare and is mainly confined to the South of England. A single Green Woodpecker was hanging about eating ants on Sugarwell Hill for a short period about a year ago. The Greater Spotted Woodpecker is however quite common across Meanwood.

The reason the GSW is Species of the Week this week is because they have started drumming to herald the spring and the new breeding season. As well as hearing them it is also a good time to spot them now, before the leaves appear on the trees.

GSWs also frequent bird feeders throughout the year. The ones that have visited my garden feeders appear to prefer sunflower seeds to peanuts. When not partaking of this vegetarian diet they will also break into a Blue Tit nest and gobble up its young. Nice.

In terms of nesting, Woodpecker's tend to use the same tree, although not always the same hole, for a few years. This was the case in one of the Poplar trees running alongside Meanwood Beck for 2 or 3 years until a storm took part of the tree down and my local Woodies disappeared last breeding season.

If you want more top woodpecker content there are around 240 species in the world to choose from, including the Middle Spotted Woodpecker (really!) and the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the USA. The last known sighting of the Ivory Woodpecker was in 1944 and it was generally assumed to be extinct. Until one turned up to say hello to a rather excited birdwatcher in Louisiana last year.

Posted on 01 de março de 2023, 11:00 AM by clunym clunym | 0 comentários | Deixar um comentário

22 de fevereiro de 2023

Species Of The Week Number22: Tawny Owl

Who doesn't love an owl? We share Meanwood Valley with these stunning nocturnal hunters and if you are out at night near the woods you have a decent chance of seeing, or more likely hearing, one.

In terms of hearing them, I'm sorry to disappoint but owls don't go 'Twit-twoo'. A male Tawny Owl has quite a deep 'whoo' and the female's call is a sharp 'kee-wick'. None of the other resident owls in the UK (Barn, Little, Short-eared and Long-eared) go 'Twit-twoo' either. Also, they can't turn their heads 360° - its another myth. They can manage 270° though, which is still quite impressive.

One local owl was quite a Meanwood celebrity as it regularly used a daytime roost which was easily visible (once you knew where to look) from one of the well-used paths in the Ridge. I've not seen it there recently though.

Tawny Owls lay 1-3 eggs a few days apart. This means that the oldest one will get most food and, in years when food is in short supply, at least one will survive.

Although their eyesight is not much better than ours, Tawny Owls have incredible hearing and their ears are placed asymetrically on their head which allows them to pinpoint their prey exactly, and drop down on it from a perch above. Rain therefore prevents them from hunting as the noise of the raindrops messes with the soundscape.

A Tawny Owl is never happier than when swallowing a small mammal, although they have quite a sophisticated palate and also sometimes dine out on bats, moths and lizards. By inspecting owl pellets we also know that their diet can extend to fish and even a mallard. I'm not sure which small mammals our Tawny's eat but am hoping to find out - as the good people from the Yorkshire Mammal Group are going to help us out with surveying and trapping them later in the year. If you want to volunteer to help out with the mammal survey let me know.

Posted on 22 de fevereiro de 2023, 11:16 PM by clunym clunym | 0 comentários | Deixar um comentário

12 de fevereiro de 2023

Species Of The Week Number 21: Alpaca

This week we're deviating from our usual wild flora and fauna to highlight one of the more prominent mammals you can see along the Meanwood Valley: the alpacas at @meanwoodfarm

As you enter the farm through the main entrance or cycle path, the alpacas are usually the first animals you will see.

Alpacas are part of the camelid family which also includes camels and llamas.

In South America, there are 2 wild species of camelid: the guanaco, from which the llama descends, and the vicuña, from which the alpaca descends. Both of these species live at high altitudes.

Alpacas were originally domesticated in Peru for their meat and for their fleece and to this day, the vast majority of the world's alpacas are found there.

Around 90% of alpacas worldwide - including the Meanwood boys - are of the Huacaya breed, which has soft and fluffy fibre. The other 10% are Suri, which has long, straight fibre.

They feed on pasture grass as well as hay and they have no teeth in the top front area of their mouths!

Alpacas are commonly confused with llamas, who are much larger, with coarser hair (considered less desirable) and more elongated faces. Due to their larger size they are more often used as pack animals. Alpacas tend to be a bit more timid and gentle than llamas too.

The @meanwoodfarm alpacas are called Eric and Bertie, Eric being the smaller and Bertie the larger one.

If you visit this half term, there's an alpaca-themed self-guided trail for families that you can take part in!

Posted on 12 de fevereiro de 2023, 09:35 PM by clunym clunym | 0 comentários | Deixar um comentário

08 de fevereiro de 2023

Species Of The Week Number 20: Common Snowdrop

Bringing a little bit of joy to Meanwood Valley in February is the Common Snowdrop or, to use its old Yorkshire name, the Snow Piercer. You cant miss these lovely patches of white reminding us that soon Winter will be on its way and Spring will come.

But there is more to our little Snowdrop than meets the eye.

A native plant in mainland Europe, it was brought to England a few centuries ago. It has now naturalised and can be found on verges, woodland and in gardens.

There are also over 2,500 cultivated species of Snowdrop but despite that proliferation it only ever comes in one colour - white*. Snowdrop fans are called Galanthophiles and if they get over excited at a Snowdrop festival it could even be described as a case of Galathomania.

It is illegal to collect the bulbs in the wild as they’re covered by CITES regulations – the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna. If you do happen to get your hands on the variety known as Galanthus plicatus ‘Golden Tear’ then don't let it go - because in 2022 one sold on Ebay for £1,850. See - that's Galanthomania right there.

Not just aesthetically pleasing, the Snowdrop also has practical uses. The flowers can be used in salads (but not the leaves or bulbs which are toxic).

The plant contains galantamine which can be used to help treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) galantamine is a "reversible inhibitor of acetylcholinesterase and it also has nicotinic receptor agonist properties". Which just goes to show how much they know.

But my favourite Snowdrop fact is that when the temperature reaches 10°C the outer petals open up to reveal the nectar inside. 10°C is also the exact temperature at which bumble bees come out of hibernation. So which came first - the chicken or the egg?

*actually some have green bits on the petals.

Posted on 08 de fevereiro de 2023, 05:10 PM by clunym clunym | 0 comentários | Deixar um comentário

01 de fevereiro de 2023

Species Of The Week Number 19: Common Earthworm

When I was 6 I actually had an earthworm called Phillip, I kept him in a matchbox. I now know this was a mistake.

Earthworms' bodies are long tubes made up of ring-like segments called annuli which are covered in little hairs which the worm uses to move and burrow. You may notice a thicker lumpy bit in the middle of the adult worm's body. This is not scar tissue where the worm has been cut in half - but a thing called a clitellum where it stores its eggs.

All adult worms have a clitellum because they are hermaphrodite - ie they are both male and female (I told you it was a mistake to call my worm Phillip, I misgendered it). The clitellum is always nearer the head than the tail - which is handy as its otherwise hard to tell which end to talk to.

Earthworms are all heart. In fact they have 5 hearts. They also have light sensitive cells but no eyes.

Charles Darwin spent thirty years studying earthworms and wrote a book about them. He said "There are few animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world than the earthworm." This is because they break down organic matter, and give structure to soil so it drains better.

How many earthworms are there in the Meanwood Valley? Well. The lowest general estimate I can find is 250,000 per acre. I guess there are maybe 100 acres of undeveloped land in the footprint of the Meanwood Valley Bioblitz? So there could be at least 2.5 million here.

I miss 'Phillip'.

Posted on 01 de fevereiro de 2023, 04:15 PM by clunym clunym | 0 comentários | Deixar um comentário

25 de janeiro de 2023

Species Of The Week Number 18: Lesser Redpoll

Lesser Redpoll is one of the winter visitor to Meanwood Valley. The best place to see them is on Birch or Alder trees, with the young woodlands planted around the Urban Farm is a good place to start. Sooner or later (probably later - Sod's law) a flock of these small finches will appear, hanging upside down and acrobatically feeding on the seed cones. There is a flock of 20-30 birds in the area at the moment.

I say 'Lesser' Redpoll but identifying different Redpoll species is quite controversial in the bird world, even involving DNA analysis. At some point there were officially 5 different species, but this is now generally accepted to have reduced to 3: The Common, the Lesser and the Arctic Redpoll. Some scientists even think they are actually all the same species. I'm sure more people would know about this if academics gave catchier titles to their work: 'Mitochondrial DNA homogeneity in the phenotypically diverse redpoll finch complex' ain't going to fly out the doors of Waterstones any time soon.

Redpolls are tough little things and readily survive temperatures of -50°c in Northern Canada. In order to do so they have developed a few coping strategies. For instance, their winter feathers weigh twice as much as their summer feathers giving added insulation. They also have a throat pouch where they store undigested food until they need it at night, increasing the number of calories they can take on. But perhaps the most unusual adaption is that they actually dig little tunnels in the snow and sleep in them to keep warm. (If you don't believe me there is a video on YouTube).

If you are VERY lucky you might even get a Redpoll visiting your Meanwood bird feeder. Luckier than me anyway, I've not seen one in 23 years of putting seeds out here. Talking of which, this weekend (January 28th -30th) is the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch. It's the world's biggest wildlife survey will have over 1 million people taking part. In the 2022 Birdwatch the Redpoll was the 50th most common species seen in West Yorkshire, that means it was only recorded in about 1 in a thousand of the West Yorkshire counts. By the way you don't need a garden to join in as you can also count species in your local park for an hour. If you want to take part all the details are just a Google search away.

Posted on 25 de janeiro de 2023, 10:18 AM by clunym clunym | 0 comentários | Deixar um comentário

18 de janeiro de 2023

Species Of The Week Number 17: Golden Shield Lichen

Lichens are truly fabulous. Also there isn't much colour around at the moment so this Golden Shield Lichen provides a welcome exception.

The first thing to know about lichens is that they are not one organism but two. A lichen is partly a fungus - but the fungus can't photosynthesise (ie it can't turn sunlight into sugar) so it needs help. It gets that help by providing a home for a green algae which does the photosynthesis on its behalf. Together the fungi and the algae make up the lichen.

The algae of our Golden Shield Lichen is called Trebouxia. Trebouxia can also exist by itself - it just doesn't thrive quite so well without its fungal chum. It also gets everywhere and is found in both polar regions as well as in fresh and salt water and in the desert. I bet it prefers Meanwood though.

The second thing to know about lichens is that many are sensitive to air pollution and are used by researchers to help measure air quality. As a rule of thumb, the smaller and less variety of lichens in an area, the more polluted is the environment. Luckily though Golden Shield Lichen is one lichen isn't that bothered - which is probably why it doesn't mind hanging about near Meanwood Road. In fact it is quite keen on high levels of nitrogen and loves nothing more than a bit of seabird droppings, so is even more common at the coast.

The third thing to know about lichens is that they are are old. Like REALLY old. Humans emerged in Africa about 2 million years ago. Lichens have been here for at least 45 million years, one of the very first organisms to colonise dry land.

There are of course way more than three things to know about lichens. Books have been written on the subject. Lots of books. Just in case you are short of some holiday reading.

Posted on 18 de janeiro de 2023, 06:02 PM by clunym clunym | 0 comentários | Deixar um comentário

11 de janeiro de 2023

Species Of The Week Number 16: Alder

Following on from Hazel in Week 15, the other common catkin to be seen at this time of year is on Alder - the tree of river banks and pond edges. We have quite a few along Meanwood Beck although I'm not sure if any still grow on the eponymous Alder Hill Avenue in Meanwood.

Look out for the long purple male catkins, alongside smaller bud-like female catkins. The small alder cones are also often visible right through the winter.

If you want to know more about Alder first you have to imagine a clog-wearing electric guitarist serenading you on the Rialto Bridge in Venice. Bear with me on this.

Her guitar is a Fender. Nearly all Fenders since 1956 has been made from Alder. According to Fender "Alder boasts many sonic advantages. Not especially dense, it’s a lightweight, closed-pore wood that has a resonant, balanced tone brighter than other hardwoods, with a little more emphasis in the upper midrange. It imparts excellent sustain and sharp attack. It’s very easy to work with and it glues well".

The clogs on her feet are also made of Alder as was the case with clogs throughout the industrial revolution - and they are really comfortable. Alder is reasonably soft and in time will become moulded into the shape of the wearers feet.

Finally the Rialto Bridge itself. Its base is made of Alder too. Alder is unusual in that exposure to water makes it harder, and it doesn't rot. The bridge has been standing on the same Alderwood foundations for at least 1000 years. Pretty impressive I reckon.

Posted on 11 de janeiro de 2023, 03:48 PM by clunym clunym | 0 comentários | Deixar um comentário