Showing posts from April, 2014

Calley Heath

Today I went to a conservation volunteering day at Calley Heath. With a dozen volunteers we were able to split into two teams. One team repaired a section of fencing that had been damaged by sheep during the winter while the other team, that I was on, put up a new fence down one side of the reserve. This is in a field currently grazed by Belted Galloway cattle. It will create a ‘buffer zone’ between the grassy heath of the reserve and the farmland beyond. The sandy banks and areas of ungrazed vegetation will be good for insects which are this reserve’s speciality.

We started by putting in the line of posts with a Drivall, then rolled out and attached the netting and barbed wire. With a team of people stapling the netting to the posts, the job was completed surprisingly quickly.
Making post holes Driving in the posts
Attaching the netting
Curious onlookers The finished fence
Garden Tiger caterpillar on a glove

North Cliffe Wood

I had a walk through North Cliffe Wood the other day. I usually go there for a conservation workday, so it’s nice to occasionally just visit to see what effect all our hard work is having. The woods are full of birdsong, with great spotted woodpeckers hammering and green woodpeckers ‘yaffling’. One area of brambles that we cut back last year is now a sea of bluebells – it looks amazing!

The bluebells are the best ever
I was beginning to think it wouldn’t happen this year, but great tits have finally moved into one of my nest boxes. They may already be on eggs – one bird spent half an hour in the box this morning while I was trying to film it coming out! The other good news is that the swallows are back. I’ve heard they’ve been in the area for some time, but today is the first time I’ve seen them in the village. Sometimes I get them nesting in my porch and sometimes on the kink in the drainpipe, but there’s no activity around either so far.

Great tits in the box

Skerne Wetlands

I’ve had another conservation volunteering day at Skerne Wetlands, where we continued to remove netting from the old fish ponds. The nets were held up with rope and much of it has now become embedded in the mud and overgrown with vegetation. I spent the day pulling up lengths of rope, like a blackbird pulling out a worm!

Greylag geese carefully guard their six goslings
When we met up at the bridge, we could see Brook lampreys spawning underneath. I tried to get some photos, but although the water is very clear, reflections off the surface made it impossible to get a good shot from above. On the walk down to the ponds, we found three eggs from different bird species. All had been predated, probably by crows.

Predated eggs - duck, partridge and moorhen
It was a warm day and lots of butterflies were on the wing – orange tip, brimstone, peacock and green-veined white (it may have been the small white, but they don’t stay still long enough to be sure!). During our morning coffee break, two kin…

Wheldrake Ings

Today I went to a conservation volunteering work day at Wheldrake Ings, a huge area of floodplain meadows and reedbed bordering the River Derwent. It is still managed in the traditional way as it has been for centuries.

The flooding in 2012 destroyed much of the boardwalk leading to the bird hides. Last year we started on the reconstruction and now we’re on the final stretch leading to the last hide. With a large group of volunteers, we were able to split into three teams – fixing handrails to the hide steps, re-erecting a wooden screen and fixing chicken wire to the boardwalk to make it ‘non-slip’.

Organised chaos? The screen going up The chicken run
Throughout the winter months this place is teeming with wildfowl, but now they have gone north for the summer and it’s relatively quiet. The woodland areas along the riverbank are full of willow warblers, mainly heard and not seen. Curlews are calling across the meadows and mute swans are nesting in the reed-beds.

Nesting swan, oblivious to ne…

A Chilly Badger Watch

It was 5° C, with an icy easterly wind in Badger Wood last night. As the sun went down, pheasants came in from the fields to roost in the trees. They spend most of the day on the ground, but it’s safer for them to spend the night up a tree.

Up my tree, I had a long wait for a badger to appear, only for it to wander off immediately. After another long wait, another badger slowly emerged from the sett and came over to the peanuts I'd left out for them. It ate for ages and then, when it was totally dark, I heard rustling in the leaf litter and another two badgers suddenly appeared – the dominant boar and sow, I think.

The first badger gave way, leaving the two newcomers to eat together. It retreated to the hole it had emerged from, lay on its back and had a good grooming session. It washed its face with its paws just like a cat, but lying on its back with its legs in the air! When the pair had finished eating, they came over to the other badger and they all greeted each other with nuzz…

A Hole in the Ground

A large hole has appeared on the main path through Badger Wood. I’ve been looking into it…

Who lives in a hole like this?

North Cliffe Wood

The second Sunday of the month is the regular date for a conservation workday at North Cliffe Wood. The bluebells in the wood are just beginning to open – they’ll be magnificent in a week or two. I’ve had a camera alongside a track through the woods for the last three nights, hoping to photograph passing roe deer, but with no luck. Instead I got a brown hare, which was a surprise.

The bluebells are just beginning to open Brown hare in the woods
Today we have been checking and repairing the perimeter fence of the heathland area, in preparation for the arrival of some Hebridean sheep. We found a grass snake out in the open. It made no attempt to find cover when we approached and we soon realised that it had been injured, probably by a crow or bird of prey. Tin sheets are left out for grass snakes to hide under, so we moved one over to the injured snake, so that it could take cover. Many creatures have a remarkable ability to recover from injury, so it may be OK.

The grass snake
Afterwards I …

Skerne Wetlands

I had another conservation workday today at Skerne Wetlands, a new Yorkshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve. It used to be a fish farm and some of the old fish ponds were covered in netting to protect the stock from herons and cormorants. Our task today was to remove this netting. The ponds are dry and much of the netting had collapsed onto the ground and become embedded in the vegetation, making it more difficult to pull out.

First remove the rope that supported the netting... ...then untangle the netting from the vegetation
The winter wildfowl have left now, but we saw herons, cormorants and oystercatchers and a pair of swans at their huge nest. At lunchtime we saw what at first appeared to be an odd bird. It was in fact a Noctule bat! This is Britain’s largest bat. Like other bats it’s nocturnal, so it’s most unusual to see one out hunting in the middle of the day.

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) now grows on the pond floors

Checking Tansy Plants and Beetles

The Tansy beetle, which I’ve mentioned previously, is a large iridescent green beetle, found in Britain only along a 30 mile stretch of the River Ouse, centred on York. Locally, it’s known as the ‘Jewel of York’. For the last three years, I’ve helped the Tansy Beetle Action Group (TBAG) with their tansy beetle conservation efforts. The beetles come out of hibernation in April, so I’ve been making a tour of the three sites I’ve been involved with.

Comparison of Green dock beetle (top) with Tansy beetle
At Fulford, just south of York, I planted 1000 tansy plants last year. Most of the clumps have survived the winter, but are currently being nibbled by sheep, which is a bit worrying. In two fenced off areas of older tansy, I found a total of 35 beetles.

Downstream near Riccall, there is a line of fenced enclosures to protect tansy clumps from grazing by cattle. I found 46 beetles there, which is a fantastic total for a rather cold windy day.

Fenced enclosure to protect tansy from grazing by …

Hazel Coppicing Again

I had another conservation work day at Meaux today. It’s a small hazel woodland, which is rare habitat in this part of the country. There was a Cistercian abbey here from 1151 until dissolution in 1539, so it’s likely the monks were the first to coppice this woodland. The present trees are unlikely to be that old, but some could easily have been here for a hundred years. We spent the day making hazel bundles from the brash we cut a few weeks ago. The bundles will be used to prevent erosion along the river banks. The bluebells that carpet the woodland are just beginning to flower and the whole area smells of wild garlic. The woodland is now full of birdsong, most noticeably the incessant chirping of the chiffchaff.

A pile of hazel bundles
We found another interesting fungus. It’s only in the autumn that I go out looking for fungi, so the spectacular ones we’ve come across in the last few weeks have been a surprise to me. First there was the Jelly ear fungus (see 30th January), then the S…