I have not checked Colliery Wood, the little nature reserve behind the Chester Moor pub, this year, so decided today I should. The grass is very tall at the moment though a few paths have been mown through. Quite a few butterflies were on the wing Large and Small White, Small Tortoiseshell, Meadow Brown, Small Heath and Small Skipper. A little damp patch by one of the paths had 20+ Small White sipping moisture and minerals.
Some of the Small White butterflies
A decent sized patch of a St. John's-wort looked larger and with more vigour than usual and this is often a sign of it being a hybrid. Having keyed it out in my Stace flower book it came out as Hypericum x desetangsii (Des Etangs' St John's-wort) the hybrid between Perforate and Imperforate St John's-wort. The amount of Wild Carrot here, though presumably not occurring naturally, is quite impressive.
Hypericum x desetangsii (Des Etangs' St John's-wort)
It's a quiet time of year for birds but a pair of Common Whitethroat feeding their young here was good to see. Heading back through Chester Moor village a 8cm tall rush growing in the gutter and in flower looked very out of place. I checked it but it seems to be Jointed Rush, a common species but presumably because of its strange habitat it was only about 10% of its usual height. A bit further along there was another St. John's-wort growing in the tall grass on the bank. This time it was Square-stalked St. John's-wort [Hypericum tetrapterum] growing near to a patch of Bugloss. The latter is not a very common plant in the NE but one of it's strongholds is here and was one of the first plants I noticed when I moved here. It's a very hairy plant and the French call it Langue de Boeu (Ox-tongue) as its rough leaves resemble an Ox's tongue, or so they say.
Square-stalked St. John's-wort
I had the moth trap out last night and though a decent enough catch there was nothing really unusual caught. Still lots of Common Footman and Large Yellow Underwing and the best things were Poplar Hawkmoth, a couple of Buff Footman, two Slender Brindle and a Ruby Tiger.
Having seen the 'Tyne' Helleborine last week and having a day off toda, y I decided to go and have a look at it's cousin Young's Helleborine. This species was first discovered in 1976 and is very closely related to the Broad-leaved Helleborine which varies a fair bit. Indeed, it may only be a variant of this species,and one theory is that it is a hybrid between Broad-leaved and Tyne. The only differences in the flowers are the lip and colour of the bloom. The cup is more shallow, and the lip forms a pointed arrow-shaped epichile coming out from the cup. The flowers are pale green to cream in colour. It is very rare with only a few sites in Scotland and South Northumberland. Scientists, as usual, differ in opinions as to its origins but if it is a
true species, it is one of very few endemic to the UK.
So off I went to Killingworth and found the orchid within minutes. I spent a fair while on my hands and knees looking at them, ignoring the dog-walkers funny looks as they passed by.
Afterwards, a look around the lake produced Great-crested Grebe and Common Tern and several broods of Coot
Coot and chicks
Around the edge was Flowering Rush, not a common plant in the north-east but probably introduced here and a few Common Darter.
As I was close by to another of the Helleborine's sites, Gosforth Park Nature Reserve I had a meander over. This is a private nature reserve owned by the Natural History Society of Northumbria and is open exclusively to members. I have been a member for a long time but it's a long time since I have visited here. I called in at the bird feeders and watched the usual woodland species there including Great-spotted Wodpecker, Nuthatch, Treecreeper and a couple of Blackcap.
Into the reserve and on the pool in the fields to the east was a Little Egret, a nice surprise.
Little Egret (and Lapwing)
Though I mdidn't know where to look for the Youn'ds Helleborine I found 3 remarkably quickly so proceeded to the lake to see idf the Bittern reportedly still present was on show. It wasn't.A few butterfflies were around including a couple of Common Blue in an open patch by the lake which also had Scaly Male Fern (Dryopteris affinis subsp. borreri).
Popped over into Gateshead this morning for a quick look around after checking the moth trap. My MV lamp popped the other night so I had to use my 'black' bulb which always gives poorer results. Bee Moth, Barred Yellow and Coxcomb Prominent were the best of a small catcher with the commonest species being Common Footman .
At Shibdon Pond, a moulting Ruff was present, this is the bird that had previously been at Lamesley water meadows. A single Shoveler was on the pond but left soon after I arrived and a single Common Sandpiper was amongst 60 Redshank. 100 Lapwing and 2 Oystercatcher. There had been 9 Common Sandpiper here yesterday. In the break in the clouds a single Green-veined White appeared in front of the hide so we thought we could get some butterflies and dragonflies today.
The Ruff at Shibdon
Next stop was the water meadows at Lamesley but despite yesterday's rain there is very little water in them. A brood of Shelduck and about 50 feral Grey Lag was all they could muster. However the sun was trying to get out and a few Meadow Brown and Large White butterflies started to make an appearance, mainly feeding on the Meadow Cranesbill by the side of Greenford Road. Checked the Oak trees there and after a little wait, a few Purple Hairstreaks were seen flipping amongst the tree tops but not coming down any lower.
The final stop of the morning was at Kibblesworth brickworks pools. The sky clouded over again so it was always going to be poor. A few Small Heath, Ringlet, Small Skipper and Peacock joined the days butterfly list but despite much searching no Graylings were seen. Walking through the vegetation flushed 50+ grass moths (Agriphila straminella) and a handful of Shaded Broad-bar and 4+ Small Yellow Wave were put out of the adjacent Alders. Some Blue-tailed and a Common Blue Damselfly and 2 Common Darter (one recently emerged but with a damaged wing) were on the Caravan pools with more on the main pool but the only addition was a single Four-spotted Chaser flushed from the grass. A pair of Little Grebe feeding 5 young and a brood of 4+ Tufted Ducks were also present.
As you can see I haven't posted anything for more than 4 months, lots of reasons really, including overall idleness but I thought I should try and continue. I haven't done as much natural history as last year either in the Waldridge area or overall but I have done some so I thought I would just show a few things I have seen the last few weeks and pick it up from there.
So during the last week this is what I was up to.
There is a species of Orchid these days called the Dune Helleborine (Epipactis dunensis) which grows, surprise, surprise in dunes. However in recent years some have been found inland, especially along the Tyne growing on shingle or in woodland in soil contaminated with heavy metals. Though it looks different from its coastal counterpart, with a much whiter flower lip and brown centre and indeed was thought to be a different species altogether, Narrow-lipped Helleborine (Epipactis leptochila), DNA sampling has shown it to be the same species but a variant due to the habitat it is growing in. This variant may one day be split and called a true species in its own right and it already has an English (Nick-)name 'Tyne Helleborine'.
I thought I would go and have a proper look and take some pictures and took myself off to Wylam and a nice stroll along the riverbank. It didn't take me long to find the first 2 spikes both well over a metre high and another 20 or so were further along.
Tyne or Dune Helleborine (Epipactis dunensis)
It's a nice spot for wild flowers and earlier in the year I would have seen some of the other 'heavy metal' species such as Spring Sandwort and Alpine Pennycress, but these were well over now. What was still in flower were things like Rest-harrow, Monkey-flower, Fools' Parsley and Giant Bellflower, all species absent or very scarce around Waldridge.
Monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus)
Common Restharrow (Ononis repens)
With all the flowers and a bit of sun it was not surprsing there were many butterflies about, the commonest being Small Skipper, Meadow Brown and Ringlet with smaller numbers of Comma, Speckled Wood etc. thrown in. The best however were three White-letter Hairstreaks flying arounf the Wych Elms on the south side of the river right next to the train station.
Not so many bird this time of year but a few Oystercatcher and Sand Martin were around, a Common Buzzard flew over and some nice but far too short views of Kingfisher on the pond in the nearby nursery.
Maybe I didn't have to wish for the cold winds and rain to stop before there were more signs of spring. Yesterday I popped down to the Riverside Park (actually Chester-le-Street sewage works) for Sand Martin and a Swallow. The Swallow, my second earliest ever, was flying around with about 25 Sand Martin in the freezing rain but they all seemed to be feeding well over the sewage pans and river. Numbers 90 & 91 for the year for my 'Chester year list' made me feel that spring was here, at least on occasion, despite the weather.
Last Sunday a quick check at Houghton Gate for early Sand Martin did not produce any but did find me watching my first Little Ringed Plover of the year. I thought this bird must have just arrived but was subsequently told it had been seen the day before. Still, a year tick, and a very nice bird.
The cold winds from the north are not doing much for the arrival of spring at the moment. Seven Chiffchaff singing on the fell are doing their best but we could do with some warmer weather, or is that just me? A few Meadow Pipits were settling into their territories and a single Lapwing was displaying and mobbing corvids at Daisy Hill. Fly-overs included a Grey Heron and a Common Buzzard, both nearly over the house and view-able from the garden. Still lots of Siskins around but Lesser Redpolls have been very scarce this winter.