Diario del proyecto Meanwood Valley bioblitz

01 de febrero 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'.

Anotado en 01 de febrero de 2023 a las 04:15 PM por clunym clunym | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

25 de enero 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.

Anotado en 25 de enero de 2023 a las 10:18 AM por clunym clunym | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

18 de enero 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.

Anotado en 18 de enero de 2023 a las 06:02 PM por clunym clunym | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

11 de enero 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".

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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.

Anotado en 11 de enero de 2023 a las 03:48 PM por clunym clunym | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

05 de enero de 2023

Species Of The Week Number 15: Hazel

It is pretty grim outside this week but the earliest signs of a new year's growth can be seen in tree buds, and in particular the catkins adorning local Hazel trees.

Hazel is native to the UK has long been coppiced. This involves cutting down new branches or 'wands' which, as they are so flexible, have a variety of uses including making hurdles for fencing as well as furniture and bean poles. You can actually buy hazel wands locally from leedscoppiceworkers.co.uk. The coppicing process encourages new growth meaning it is a very sustainable resource. Coppiced Hazel trees can live for hundreds of years

The catkins themselves are the male flowers of Hazel, and are accompanied on the same tree (meaning they are monoecious) by tiny bud-like female flowers, with red extensions or styles. Trees are pollinated by the wind not insects. The pollen isn't sticky so it doesn't stick to insect bodies.

Hazel nuts or cobs are eaten by birds and squirrels so you have to be quick when they appear. The nuts used to be harvested commercially in the UK, but this has declined with now only a few cultivated varieties being collected down in Kent.

In addition Hazel leaves provide food for the caterpillars of moths, including the large emerald, small white wave, barred umber and nut-tree tussock. Hopefully we can find some of them in the coming months and add them to the growing number of Meanwood Valley species (which is currently standing at 246)

Anotado en 05 de enero de 2023 a las 05:18 PM por clunym clunym | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

29 de diciembre de 2022

Species Of The Week Number 14: Fieldfare and Redwing

We mostly think of bird migration in terms of summer visitors to the UK such as Swallow, Cuckoo or the warblers that come here from Africa or southern Europe to breed. However it also works the other way round - with birds from Scandinavia and Russia making their way to the UK to enjoy our relatively warm winters.

The most numerous of these are Redwing and Fieldfare, both members of the thrush family, which fly over the North Sea once their crops of local Rowan berries have run out. Having made landfall on the east coast they spread out all over the country and we have flocks of these attractive birds in the Meanwood Valley at the moment.

Redwings are by far the most numerous - I counted a flock of 68 down in a tree by the farm last week. Both species feast on our berries - including Holly, Hawthorn and Rowan - but also feed on the ground when it is not frozen.

The slightly larger Fieldfare is less numerous in Meanwood, although nearly 1 million of them visit the UK every winter. In some years they like it so much that a pair decides to stay and breed somewhere, although this is very unusual.

Take a winter walk around Sugarwell Hill and you've a good chance of seeing them flying around in loose flocks, or feasting on those winter berries.

Anotado en 29 de diciembre de 2022 a las 10:37 AM por clunym clunym | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

20 de diciembre de 2022

Species Of The Week Number 13: Heron v Trout

Head over to the Meanwood Road Project Instagram page to check out this story in full.

We have both Grey Heron and Brown Trout in the valley. This week they met in battle down near Buslingthorpe Lane. Spoiler alert: The Heron won.

Herons are unmistakeable, either stalking prey in Meanwood Beck or flying overhead with neck retracted and legs extended. If you are in any doubt as to what they look like then check out the fabulous 8m high mural at Meanwood Urban farm by Leeds graffiti artist Ralph Replete.

Mostly we see single Herons but they nest together in colonies in trees. The nearest 'heronry' to us is at Eccup reservoir. Partly because they are big and easy to see, the British Trust for Ornithology has been continually monitoring heronries for over 70 years - making it the longest running single-species survey in the world.

Fun Heron fact #1: 400 roast herons were served at the enthronement of the Archbishop of York in 1465
Fun Heron Fact #2: In the Scottish borders it is customary to raise ones hat to a Heron and wish it good morning.

For obvious reasons Brown Trout are harder to spot - even though they can grow to up to 1 metre long.

Fortunately, the one in the picture which lost the battle has probably already produced or fertilised hundreds of eggs. In November females create nests or 'redds' which are grooves about 10cm deep - at which point the male turns up and the eggs and sperm are extruded at the same time. The females then cover the eggs in the redd by moving gravel from upstream. As the young trout grows it is first called called an alevin and then a parr and after a year becomes an adult trout.

If you feel sorry for the Trout that met its beaky end this week then please don't. Trout are carnivores too, and what the Heron is to the Trout, so the Trout is to the mayfly nymphs, beetles, water shrimps and other smaller fish .

Anotado en 20 de diciembre de 2022 a las 09:25 PM por clunym clunym | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

15 de diciembre de 2022

Species Of The Week Number 12: Holly

As we approach the festive season, here is everything you wanted to know about Holly but were afraid to ask:

Why doesn't my Holly have berries?

Because it is a male plant. Only the female holly trees have berries.

Why are some Holly leaves prickly and others smooth?
The posh word for this is heterophylla, meaning "with various or diverse leaves". Scientists have recently discovered that if an animal starts nibbling at smooth Holly leaves it stimulates the plant to grow more prickly ones to dissuade them. You can test this theory yourself by gently pruning a Holly bush whilst making noises like a deer.

What is spinescence?
It means how prickly a thing is. Holly is therefore quite spinescent. So are some people.

Can I eat Holly berries?
Silly question. No No No. They are poisonous. 20 berries could be fatal to a child. Just No.

Why is the woodland to the west of Meanwood Park called The Hollies?
Absolutely no idea. What I can tell you is that it was gifted to the city 101 years ago, and is home to National Plant Collections of Philadelphus and Deutzia. Ex-Leeds University Professor J.R.R.Tolkein allegedly took inspiration from walking in the Hollies for some of the descriptions in Lord of the Rings. In Middle-earth, he tells us, Holly was especially abundant in the land of Hollin.

Anotado en 15 de diciembre de 2022 a las 02:44 PM por clunym clunym | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

08 de diciembre de 2022

Species Of The Week Number 11: Jelly Ear

No species has been photographed more for our Meanwood Road Bioblitz than Jelly Ear. No doubt this is due to its striking ear-like appearance, and unusual wobbly feel.

It is in fact an edible fungus and grows on trees including elder and beech. If you keep your eyes open walking through the Ridge or along the woods on Sugarwell Hill you have a good chance of spotting it.

Whilst edible it doesn't in itself have much of a flavour (not that I've tried it myself), and is mainly used to take up the flavours of whatever it is cooked with - a bit like tofu. It is particularly popular in Chinese cooking where it is also known as Wood Ear. Its alleged medicinal properties include being a cure for a sore throat - when boiled in milk.

Whilst the origins of its name seem obvious the name itself is relatively new. Previously it was known as Jew's Ear because it appears on Elder, the tree on which Judas Iscariot was meant to have hanged himself after betraying Jesus. The 'ears' are supposed to represent his tormented soul, growing out of the wood. The current name of Jelly Ear is a bit more descriptive, and loses any anti-semitic overtones although in the latin version of Auricularia auricula-judae it still remains.

Anotado en 08 de diciembre de 2022 a las 09:25 AM por clunym clunym | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

30 de noviembre de 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!

Anotado en 30 de noviembre de 2022 a las 12:23 PM por clunym clunym | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario