5 February 2016
Tansy Beetle – Geoff Oxford
Tansy Beetle (Chrysolina graminis)
Have you seen any wild tansy flowers over the past year? Not surprising then that the tansy beetle is now so rare that it lives in two places in the UK and is also considered endangered worldwide. It has a comparative stronghold in Nidderdale. A bit of poetic licence maybe there, it grows along the shores of the River Ouse including at its confluence with the River Nidd at Nun Monkton and mainly in the grounds of Beningbrough Hall although it actually can be found along a 30km stretch of the River Ouse around York. A much smaller population was recently discovered in Cambridgeshire and that’s it. It has designation as a conservation priority species in England (section 41 species), which means that public bodies have a duty to protect it, together with its habitat, but changing agriculture and invasive plants such as Himalayan balsam threaten it and certainly around York its sole food plant is tansy (Tanacetum vulgare). Worse still, if the plant dies for some reason they have to walk to a new clump, they don’t choose to fly. Buglife are now working on a Tansy Beetle Champions Project to get local people involved in the conservation of this iconic beetle. By engaging the local community, BugLife will be able to raise awareness of the tansy beetle and improve understanding of the beetle’s habitat and range. The Tansy Beetle Champions project is funded from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Ernest Cook Trust. If you want to help then visit the Tansy Beetle Hub for more information. Do we want to let this beautiful and Nidderdale beetle disappear? Please note the tansy beetle image is by Geoff Oxford (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) via Wikimedia Commons.
More About Tansy Beetles
Newly emerged tansy beetles have fully functioning flight muscles, but over winter these muscles degenerate so much that flight becomes impossible. The adult tansy beetle is approximately 10mm long with a bright iridescent green colouration. The female tansy beetle is generally larger than the male. There is a story (myth?) that the Victorians were so taken in by these large and iridescent green leaf beetles with a coppery sheen that they used them as sequins. The eggs hatch between May and July into larvae, which feed hungrily on tansy leaves. The larvae eventually burrow underground at the base of the tansy plants, the pupae hatch in mid-July and can be seen on tansy plants until September. They burrow underground and spend the winter there until emerging as adults in April. Now the river levels have been very high this winter, I don’t need to tell you that, but there must be a worry that this will impact on the over wintering larva. Let’s hope not.
Adopt a Bat
The Bat Conservancy Trust are looking for folk to adopt a bat. Bats need our help because the places bats roost and the places they find insects, such as trees and woodlands, have been destroyed to make way for buildings and roads. The use of pesticides has also meant there are less insects around for bats to feed on. These chemicals can also harm bats themselves. So they want us to “Adopt a Bat.” According to twitter if you adopt before 8 February you get a free cuddly toy in time for Valentine’s Day, so what are you waiting for? Adoption is £3 per month by direct debit and comes with loads of goodies.
Blue Tit – Dr Roger Litton
Shelia Brown writes, “Just thought I would let you know that the blue tits in our garden are showing great interest in our nest box on the garage wall, we had blue tits nesting in the same box last year, all fledged bar one, a single egg was left in the box when I cleaned it out in October. I am slightly concerned that with the mild weather we are having at the moment, that they might start laying their eggs?” An interesting question, this from the RSPB may help, “conditions in the environment are often the triggers for the hormonal changes to begin. One of the most well-known influences of bird breeding behaviour is day length (or ‘photoperiod’). For birds which are active during daylight hours (‘diurnal’), the lengthening of the days is a sign of the start of favourable conditions for breeding. Change in temperature can also be an important factor, as can abundance of food. In the UK, spring is when most species show a distinct change in behaviour, spending much more time on activities related to breeding such as singing, territory defence and looking for nest sites.” Birds do start prospecting for next sites much earlier than we might expect, I suspect the early bird not only catches the worm but also the best nest sites and Shelia’s nest box is a proven success. Birds also search nest boxes at this time of year for food and this may well be why they are going in and out. They also use nest boxes to roost in, so nest boxes are in no way redundant after nesting is over. I have asked Shelia to keep an eye on proceedings and keep me informed when they actually start to nest, but I suspect and very much hope it won’t be for some time yet. However, Winterwatch on TV this week reported that at least one pair of blue tits had started nesting, I can’t recall where, and hope they aren’t too early and the brood perishes. Sadly, however, it could be that birds are missing the caterpillar glut, because of global warming, and this is affecting nesting success. Un-spring like weather also seems to affect moth and thus caterpillar numbers. These are my views and not necessarily scientific facts.
On this issue of an early spring Rick Brewis and Trish tell me, “We have Honeysuckle leaves out and Blackthorn in flower down Bilton Lane. Nine Roe Deer also seen today.” Apparently 612 wild flower species were recorded on New Year’s Day, by the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI), normally we could expect no more than 20 to 30 different species.
Roger Litton visted RSPB Fairburn Ings recently, “You will recall that, for most of Yorkshire, it was a brilliant sunny day. We were within a quarter of a mile of Fairburn Ings when we ran into fog – and it was foggy for the entire morning while we were there, as you can see from the photos. As a measure of the mild winter, we still have berries on our holly – something which, to our recollection, we have never seen before in mid-January (the birds have usually cleared the tree completely by December at the latest). The berries on our “unpalatable” cotoneaster are always the last to be tackled but, this year, nothing has been near them (as the photo shows). The birds are obviously doing reasonably well elsewhere – and we are, of course, continuing with the feeders.” This is entirely the opposite of the situation in our Bilton, Harrogate, garden, only a few miles from Roger’s. Our cotoneaster berries which usually are left until last disappeared very early and apart from the hard to reach ones are now all gone. What’s the situation in your garden? Roger and Pauline visited Swinsty Reservoir on 30 January, “We managed a partial walk round Swinsty this morning but it really was blowing a gale. The reservoir was fuller than we’ve ever seen it and talk about choppy! We fed the ducks who were VERY keen (I suspect nobody’s feeding them in this weather – just take the dog for its walk and then rapidly back into the car, except for the keen joggers of course). The sun was shining, though.”
Through The Window
Goldfinch – Judith Fawcett
Judith Fawcett reports “Goldfinch through the window this morning (30-1-16) eating Sunflower hearts.”
What do you see “Through Your Window” and have you any photos?
Janice and Tim Scott report “we had a visit from what we assume was a leucistic redpoll on New Year’s Eve. It was white apart from wings, had pink legs and a pink/red patch on its forehead – the only real clue to its being a redpoll. It was around the feeders for about half an hour, although the other birds were not keen on its presence. There was just one other redpoll around at the same time. We haven’t seen it since. How common are they? We have never seen one before.” Most birds are susceptible to leucism. We see it mainly in corvids and blackbirds or more probably we see it most in the most common birds. This also suggests that no species is more susceptible than another. Leucism is a condition in which there is partial loss of pigmentation in an animal resulting in white, pale, or patchy coloration of the skin, hair, feathers, scales or cuticles, but not the eyes. Unlike albinism, it is caused by a reduction in multiple types of pigment, not just melanin. It seems leucism is inherited. For a comprehensive explanation and a reporting form to complete regarding unusual plumage visit the BTO Leucism & albinism.
Helen Watkison emailed me, “redpolls on bird feeder – must have known it was the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch.”