Showing posts from 2014

Hovingham Mammal Walk

I’ve had a walk with the Yorkshire Mammal Group in woods between Hovingham and Castle Howard. It’s a beautiful area of rolling hills and valleys, with much more woodland than here on the Plain of York. There were eight of us in the group, looking out for signs of the animals’ presence, rather than the creatures themselves.

Walking through the woods
First of all there was a distinct smell of fox, which must have crossed the path during the night. The fields here looked like good habitat for brown hares, but we didn’t see any. There were mole hills at the edge of one field and some rabbit droppings. Along the woodland edge, we found the slots of roe deer and also some from fallow deer, which are slightly longer. We saw several grey squirrel dreys in the woods and an actual squirrel running along a fence. There was a clear track across the corner of a field, leading down to a stream where a fallen willow branch formed a bridge. The track continued through the woods on the other side. This …

Attenborough Nature Reserve

I’ve spent Christmas with family in Derby this year. On Christmas morning we had a walk round the Attenborough Nature Reserve, between Derby and Nottingham. Its 360 acres of flooded former gravel pits and islands are now an important site for a huge variety of wildfowl. Over 250 bird species have been seen there. We saw the most common ones - lots of mallard and tufted ducks, cormorants drying themselves with wings outstretched, lapwings and black headed gulls together on a mud bank, great crested grebes in surprising numbers, coots, moorhens, mute swans and some ornamentals such as Egyptian geese.

Robin on Christmas day
Tufted duck Great crested grebes pairing up already Gulls, swans and a cormorant
Brown rat on the path (they get a bad press)
Two-year-old Theo not only completes the jigsaw, but then names all the

Reindeer in York

At the start of the year I wrote a list of the species I wanted to see each month. For some reason I put down ‘reindeer’ for December. There aren’t many around here, but I did find one on the outskirts of York, eating hay in a barn (on the tundra they’d find lichen at this time of the year). The remainder of its herd were out on a school visit apparently. These days, children are so detached from nature that many don’t know that reindeer are real animals!

Yorkshire reindeer eating hay
Reindeer hooves adapt to the season. The tundra is soft and wet in summer, so the footpads become sponge-like to provide extra traction. In winter, when the tundra is frozen, the pads shrink and tighten. This exposes the rim of the hoof which gives it better grip and enables them to dig through the snow to get at the lichen underneath. Isn’t evolution amazing! Merry Christmas.

Winter footwear
Ready for the big night
Thanks to The Farm Shop in York.

My Local Patch Year

In January I spent three days at Spurn Point, helping to clean it up following the tidal surge that swept over the area in December 2013. At home, I put up a Tawny owl box in a tree at the end of my garden and planted up some seed trays with Tansy plants, to help conserve the endangered Tansy beetles that live along the banks of the River Ouse, around York.

Beach litter collection at Spurn
In February I went to another beach clean, at Flamborough this time. I was camera trapping otters along the River Hull and set up my SLR with an infrared sensor, to try and get some better pictures. Towards the end of the month, it was so mild that I went badger watching. I don’t usually start until late April.

Camera trapped otter on the River Hull
By March, hedgehogs were visiting my garden and reptiles were out on Allerthorpe Common, my local nature reserve. I saw adders and common lizards, but failed to find a slow-worm. Others saw them, so they were definitely still around. I tried to photograph Ma…

Volunteering at North Cliffe Wood

This week I’ve been to two volunteer work days at North Cliffe Wood, near Market Weighton. On Thursday we continued the cutting of rush on the heathland area. It’s an invasive species which will dominate the heathland unless kept in check. By cutting it on a three-year rotation, we allow a greater diversity of plant species to get established. We often see buzzards over the woods while working here. This time we saw a red kite as well, which is unusual. It was a bitterly cold day and the only way to keep warm was to work harder!

John (YWT Field Officer) mowing the rush
Volunteers raking up
Sunday was another cold day, but this time we were on the edge of the woodland, cutting back brambles beside the main path, so that bluebells will carpet the area in the spring. The brambles are good for wildlife, providing food for everything from insects and birds to small mammals, badgers and roe deer, but as with the rush they need to be controlled. A roe deer silently wandered past while we were …

Garden Birds

I’ve been trying to film the birds coming to a ground feeder in the middle of my lawn. Placing a camera beside it immediately made the birds suspicious and most refused to come anywhere near it! However, a few did turn up after a while. The woodpigeons took the lead and I’ve had a few unexpected visitors. There was a magpie, which I rarely see in the garden these days, and a jay turned up for the first time ever.

Rooks and jackdaws have been down, but they’ve been too wary to be filmed. Even the collared doves have evaded the camera. The smaller birds are usually on or under my hanging feeder, but I managed to get very short clips of a coal tit and a robin on the ground feeder.
Coal tit and Robin

Allerthorpe Common and the Salt Lick

This morning was unexpectedly bright and clear, so I went down to Allerthorpe Common to carry out a recce for our volunteer work day next Sunday. Now that the leaves have fallen from the birch seedlings, they’re less noticeable and the reserve actually looks rather good! The mature birch trees look beautiful in the winter sunshine – I can almost forgive them for all the seedlings.

The reserve in winter
The main pond
Gorse is always in flower somewhere
I’ve been experimenting with a salt lick in a remote corner of the woods. The idea was that it would attract roe deer and give me a better chance of photographing them properly. For the last few weeks, I’ve had a camera trap watching over it. I’d hoped the deer might come to it at a predictable time of day. The lick has successfully attracted the deer, but their time keeping is totally erratic. Badgers have been interested, though they prefer their peanuts unsalted. Grey squirrels have been around it constantly, but they’re only after acorns…

Damp Work Days

After hard frosts at the start of the week, we’ve had a few days of typical dank November weather. On Wednesday, I joined a large group of volunteers at Wheldrake Ings, where we removed willow trees beside the main track. The idea is to keep the area open and reduce the incursion of woodland into the meadows. We got a good bonfire going to burn the brash and left a few log piles for invertebrates. The recent heavy rain is now filling the floodplain and winter wildfowl are appearing in increasing numbers.

Removing willows down a muddy track...
...leaving just a few log piles
Winter wildfowl are appearing in the floodplain On Thursday, I was at North Cliffe Wood, where we cut and raked up the reeds growing on an area of the heathland. The plan here is to increase diversity of the plant life and encourage the heather in particular. Most of the trees have lost their leaves by now and the woodland is eerily silent.

Raking the rush A red bramble provides a splash of colour in the wood
Common Earth…

Clearing North Newbald Beck

The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve of North Newbald Becksies is fed by several clear chalk springs. The wild flowers here in the summer are spectacular. Today I’ve been working with a volunteer group to clear the main beck which runs from the reserve down through the village of North Newbald. On the upper stretches, overhanging tree branches needed cutting back and brambles were covering the stream. Through the village, much of it was choked with watercress and some areas were full of willowherb, which we dragged out with a crome (or long draw fork).

The beck across the village green, before…
…and after clearing
The water soon runs clear again
Once the vegetation has been cleared, the water flows more quickly and that helps to keep it clear. We left the cleared material on the bank, so that any trapped wildlife has a chance to return to the water. It will be collected up in a few days.

I’ve seen water voles on the reserve in previous years, but was surprised to see two today, right in th…