Showing posts from January, 2014

Sheep Checking

I’m on a rota for checking a flock of Hebridean sheep which are ‘conservation grazing’ in a wildflower meadow at Bishopthorpe, on the edge of York. Today it was my turn, so I counted them, checked their condition, made sure they had water, the electric fence was working and the other fences were in good order. Thankfully, everything was OK and we have 20 happy sheep.

Yorkshire Hebrideans

Velvet Fungus

We had another conservation volunteer work day at the old fish farm today, cutting down a line of elder trees. On one branch, which I was about to throw on the fire, I noticed a rather beautiful brown velvet fungus. It’s called variously Jelly ear, Jew’s ear or Judas’s ear. Apparently Judas Iscariot hanged himself from an elder tree – a poor choice of tree for the purpose. I’d left two camera traps there (see 24th Jan). The camera under the bridge had recorded nothing, but the one on the track, which I’d left in video mode, had filmed an otter at 6am, but with the camera all misted up. For the second time, the otter managed to knock the camera over, in spite of its post being securely buried in the ground. It’s a very strong otter. I must start getting better picture quality, but the damp weather is making it difficult.

The Jelly ear fungus

Sowing Seed

Today I’ve sown four seed trays with tansy seed, collected from plants along the river bank last October. In the spring, I hope to be planting out the tansy plants, to help the tansy beetle which, in Britain, is only found along a thirty mile stretch of the River Ouse, centred on York. I work with the Tansy Beetle Action Group (TBAG), which coordinates tansy beetle conservation. Last year I grew and planted out 1800 plants and helped with the annual tansy beetle survey, in September.

Trays sown with tansy seed

Owl Box

I’ve been hearing noises in the night – tawny owls. I decided to take the hint and install an owl box in the scots pine tree at the bottom of my garden. It took the best part of two days, but it is finally installed and very secure, with 14 large coach screws holding it in place. I’ve still got the wiring to put in for the camera, then I can watch any activity from my living room. I hope the owls appreciate all the effort.

A very desirable residence for a tawny owl

Another Spurn Beach Clean

I’ve had a rubbish weekend. This was the last of three organised clean-up weekends at Spurn Point, following the tidal surge that swept over the peninsula in December. We started on Saturday by cleaning up an area of beach at the top end of the peninsula, then moved into the salt-marsh area behind the beach, known as Beacon Lagoons. This is an important nesting area for Little Terns, which return from Africa in late April and depart again in August. It was covered in bits of broken plastic, fragments of polystyrene packaging, old tyres, bits of fishing net and plastic bottles. I went to a comfy B & B for the night and had unsustainable cod and chips at the local pub. On Sunday the weather started fine, but soon deteriorated. We continued the clean-up of Beacon Lagoons in 40 mph winds and horizontal rain. I filled two more bin bags and recovered a length of rope and a complete fishing net, before the clean-up was abandoned due to the weather.

We're going to need a bigger trailer

Otter Cam

I returned to the old fish farm near Driffield to check the camera traps. The camera under the bridge had two photos on it, both of mink. When I got to the other camera trap, which I’d left on a track connecting the river to a ditch, I was surprised to find it had been knocked over and lay face down in the grass. I’d attached the camera to a post which was well dug into the ground. When I checked the photos, I discovered that it had been flattened last Friday evening, within a few hours of me setting it up. However, an hour earlier it had photographed an otter! As a blurry infrared camera trap photo, it won’t win any prizes, but it’s a start. I can now put out better equipment and maybe get some quality photos in next few weeks.

Winter Walk

I went for a walk down one of the lanes around my house, into an area of intensive arable farming which I think of as ‘the prairies’. One field had been recently ploughed and not yet planted up. There was a mixed flock of rooks and jackdaws feeding there. Past that, there are huge fields of winter wheat, with not much sign of life until I reached the stream, where I saw a small flock of bramblings, high in the trees. In sheep pasture beyond that, there was a single brown hare, looking very like a clod of earth. It was soaking up the last of the sun’s rays just before dusk. Walking back, a barn owl flew over and disappeared behind the trees along the line of the stream. I waited for it to reappear, but there was no further sign of it.

Brown hare watching the sunset Mist coming in over the East Yorkshire prairies at dusk

Cutting and Treating

It was a very wet morning and I wasn’t sure if anyone would turn up for the conservation work day I was supposed to be leading. It was in a privately owned area of heathland, which is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest. Our task was to remove the birch seedlings which are spreading across it. Without constant management this patch of increasingly rare habitat would just become another birch woodland and all the heathland species would be lost. To my surprise, five volunteers turned up, the rain stopped and we got a lot done. During the day, a great spotted woodpecker drummed on a tree, two swans flew over, their wings creaking noisily, and a buzzard, flying low and mewing.

Lunch break - with baked potatoes, of course

Wild Goose Chase

Today I returned to the old fish farm near Driffield (see 9th Jan), to check the camera trap I’d left under a bridge. It was still there, which was a relief after all the rain we've had, but when I checked the photos there was absolutely nothing. I changed the batteries and left the camera there. I then walked along the river bank to one of the tracks that we thought might be used by an otter. I now think that geese may be using these tracks and not otters at all. The sure way to find out was to put up my other camera trap and leave it for another week or so. Will it photograph an otter, or will it be a wild goose chase? I’ll be back in a couple of weeks, to find out.

Pulfin Bog

After another damp start, it soon brightened up and we had clear skies for the rest of the day. I went to a conservation volunteer work day at Pulfin Bog, near Beverley. After all the rain we’ve had, it really lived up to its name – it was very wet underfoot. There is a huge reed bed here, which we mow. Parts of it are dominated by reed sweet-grass (Glyceria), which we cut in the winter months. The common reed gets cut in late summer. The field officer does the mowing and volunteers rake up the cuttings into huge piles, which we burn. If it’s dry enough, we get a good fire going, but in the winter when everything is damp, we just create a lot of smoke! The lake here is great for wildfowl. Today there were lots of greylag geese, mallards, wigeon, gadwall, cormorants, mute swans and a kingfisher.

January skies over the reed bed

Sett Visit

This afternoon I went on a recce to a badger sett I haven’t visited since the summer. It’s on the site of an old quarry. The wooded cliff face at one side and stock-proof fence at the other make it a difficult sett to watch. It’s like a badger fortress, where the badgers always seem to have the upper hand. In 2011, foxes raised a litter of cubs at one end. It’s quite common for foxes to move into part of a badger sett, though I don’t know why the badgers put up with it. Right now there’s no sign of foxes, but the badger paths around the sett look well worn. I’ll be visiting again in the coming months to see what’s going on.

Rabbit Proof Fence

Today I went to the regular monthly YWT work day at North Cliffe Wood. I spent the morning cutting back brambles, which were overgrowing the fence line on the western side and encroaching on the track. At lunchtime, it was agreed that the scruffy rabbit netting along the edge of the track could be removed, so we spent the afternoon pulling and digging it out. The bottom third had been buried to stop rabbits getting underneath. Rabbits are “no longer a problem” apparently. We folded the old netting up and John, the field officer, will remove it from the site. All afternoon, a robin was flitting about, waiting for an opportunity to pick up some worm or grub unearthed by our digging.

In a few months, it will look like this

Spurn Beach Clean

The storm in early December produced a huge tidal surge that swept over Spurn point, a 3.5 mile sand spit jutting out across the mouth of the Humber into the North Sea. It’s an important stop-off point for thousands of migrating birds, both in spring and autumn. As well as removing part of the road, the storm surge deposited a huge amount of litter across the peninsula. Today’s task was to start the clean-up operation. About sixty people turned up, together with the local press and two TV crews, and we spent the day picking up the debris. There were car tyres, fridges, gas bottles and deck chairs, as well as the ubiquitous plastic and polystyrene that we pour into the sea continuously. All that plastic is never destroyed. It only breaks down into smaller pieces, threatening the whole marine food chain.

A load of rubbish
A nice clean stretch of beach By lunchtime, we’d cleaned up a long stretch of the beach on the eastern side, collecting a huge pile of rubbish. In the afternoon, we moved…

The Fish Farm

After a wet start, the skies cleared and it was a lovely sunny winter’s day. I went to a YWT volunteer work day at a new nature reserve, near Driffield. It’s on the site of an abandoned fish farm, and not yet open to the public. The wildlife has already moved in, so it has the potential to be a fantastic reserve. We cut back a line of overgrown willows, along the side of a ditch – first with a chainsaw, then with bowsaws and loppers. By lunchtime we had a fire going well enough to cook baked potatoes. We didn’t burn all the wood though –  two volunteers built an otter holt!

The baked potatoes are on Regulo 7 Kevin and Meg build an otter holt In mid-afternoon, we stopped work and had a walk around the reserve. We saw mallards, teal, wigeon, greylag geese, mute swans, grey herons, cormorants and a barn owl. In the banks of many of the ditches, there are water vole holes.

Otter tracks connect the waterways The paths are crossed by well-worn otter tracks, some with fresh spraint along them. To…

Camera Traps

I took the custom camera trap back to Badger Wood and swapped the memory cards on my two dedicated camera traps which had been down there for a few days. The camera overlooking the mossy log had seen nothing. The birds and small mammals are too small to trigger the camera and there had been no larger mammals. The badger sett camera had recorded roe deer at night and foxes by day and night, as well as the badgers which had been out every night.

Allerthorpe Work Day

I led a conservation volunteering workday at Allerthorpe Common nature reserve, for Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. We cut and raked an area of rough grassland in a corner of the reserve. We had three people brushcutting and three raking up.

It should improve the botanic diversity of the area in the spring. As well as the coarse grasses, we removed some of the brambles. They are good for wildlife, but you can have too much of a good thing. We disturbed a common shrew, which ran away surprisingly fast for such a small animal. I don’t think it liked having its home brushcut. Hopefully, there are lots more small mammals in there that kept their heads down.

Roe Encounter

I went back to Badger Wood and found the custom camera trap’s batteries were flat, as expected. I watched over the mossy log for two hours. Flocks of long-tailed tits passed over, but none came down to the log. Only a robin actually landed and I got several photos.

A few mealworms are sure to attract a robin
A grey squirrel came over to check me out, then went back the way it had come. I was about to give up when three roe deer came across the path about 80 yards in front of me. I managed to photograph them jumping the fence.

Cross the path... ...prepare for takeoff...
...jump the fence
A few minutes later I saw them watching me from the other side. I was in a hide, with the sun behind me, but they knew I was there. They bounded away. I’m always amazed at just how sensitive the woodland animals are to their surroundings - aware of my presence long before I see them. I brought the custom camera trap back home and added another relay to get the camera’s power saving function to work.

The Mossy Log

This morning was clear and bright, so a much better day for getting out. I went down to Badger Wood, to check on the mossy log. While I walked along the woodland path, a roe deer ran across about 100m in front of me. It melted away into the woods, as they are inclined to do. I was delighted to see the log had been cleared of mealworms. I put some more out and changed the camera trap’s memory card. Back home, I checked the card and found pictures of two rabbits, a grey squirrel and two blackbirds. Something smaller must have taken most of the mealworms and failed to trigger the camera.

In the afternoon, I went back and set up my custom camera trap, consisting of an old EOS 350D in a wooden box with a glass front. It’s connected to an infrared sensor. Whether a passing animal triggers the camera or not is entirely unpredictable. I watched the mossy log for a while, sitting in my dome hide with the EOS 60D and long zoom lens. Nothing came to the log, but a roe deer wandered past, over to …

Happy New Year!

I woke to the sound of a pheasant in the garden and was glad I’d remembered to fill the bird feeders yesterday. I put up the new calendars from BBC Wildlife and Buglife. My Tansy beetle photo is ‘Miss September’ in the Buglife calendar, which I’m rather chuffed about. It was a damp start to the day and the forecast showed it was only going to get worse, so I went straight down to Badger Wood to check the camera traps.
The badgers had started their New Year’s Eve revelry at 18:15 and been active through the night until 04:45. A fox trotted past the camera trap at 08:50. My second camera trap was watching a beautiful moss covered log in the wet wood area, where I hope to photograph some of the woodland birds. I’d put some dried mealworms down to attract the birds, but there had been no takers. It’s evidently going to be a while before they find this new food source.