Showing posts from June, 2016

Volunteering at North Newbald Becksies

30 Days Wild, day 30: Today's conservation volunteering day was at YWT North Newbald Becksies nature reserve. It's a superb wet meadow, fed by springs which drain into a clear chalk stream. At this time of year, it is a botanists' paradise.

Our first task today was to remove garden mint which was dumped by a local gardener on the boundary several years ago and has spread into the reserve, competing with the native plants. This year we found much less than in previous years, so we may at last be close to eradicating it.

Pulling out willowherb
The next task was to reduce the greater willowherb which, although native, is also invasive and is taking over areas of the meadow. Where it is the dominant plant, it can be brushcut, but in other areas where it is more thinly distributed, it is best pulled out to avoid damaging other vegetation.

Mullein moth caterpillar
 Yellow rattle
 Marsh orchid
 Common Twayblade, an unobtrusive orchid
 Ragged robin…

Stock Doves in a Box

30 Days Wild, day 29: A month ago I discovered that two eggs had been laid in the tawny owl box on the pine tree at the bottom of my garden. At first I suspected woodpigeons, but then discovered that they don't use boxes or holes to nest in, so these had to be stock doves. The stock dove is easily overlooked, as it's a similar bird to the rock dove (or feral pigeon), with an iridescent green band at the back of the neck.

 Stock dove (centre) with woodpigeons
The tawny owl box
Adult bird returns (29/05/2016)
They always lay two eggs, which are incubated for 21-23 days. On June 16 I checked the box camera to find that, at last, a chick had hatched. The parent birds had shown great dedication over the incubation, but then left the chick on its own for many hours. I was considering intervening, and the possibility of hand-rearing the chick, when thankfully both parent birds returned and started feeding it.

First view of the chick (16/06/2016)
Feeding the chick (20/06/2016)

Taking a Friend Badger Watching

30 Days Wild, day 28: I'm never really sure just how aware the badgers are of me when I'm watching them and to what degree they are accepting my presence, so it's interesting to take a friend along occasionally, so see how the badgers react. I installed my friend in a canvas dome hide, which had been in place for the previous two nights so the badgers would get used to it, and then went up my ladder as I normally do. I had my camera on and he had a connected monitor, so he got the view that I had as well as what was in front of him. He'd never seen badgers before, apart from a brief glimpse of one crossing the road.

 The cubs like honey on their peanuts
There was a light westerly breeze, which worked in our favour, but in spite of that the badger cubs knew immediately that something was going on. They emerged about 10 minutes after we arrived, but just would not come out to the food I'd put down for them. Maybe they'd got a whiff of his insect repellent, which …

Allerthorpe Archive Photos

30 Days Wild, day 27: Back in April, I borrowed and scanned some photos of Allerthorpe Common nature reserve, taken between 1998 and 2000, that had been found in the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust archives. Some had exact dates on them and the same shots had been taken in successive years, at the same time of year. I thought it would be interesting to repeat the exercise, to see how those views of the reserve have changed in the last 16 years. It was difficult to find the exact spot that the original photos had been taken in, but here are my results:

June 1999
June 2016
June 2000
June 2016
June 1998
June 2016
June 2000
June 2016
June 1999
June 2016
June 2000
June 2016
June 2000
June 2016
June 2000
June 2016

Stillingfleet Lodge Wildlife Day

30 Days Wild, day 26: Today I've been to the annual wildlife day at Stillingfleet Lodge Gardens. The gardens are divided into a series of separate areas, each with its own theme. It is all beautifully maintained, while retaining a wild 'cottage garden' feel to the flower beds.

 The Avenue
My trip started with a 'Wildlife Garden Tour' with Vanessa, the garden's owner. She showed us the log piles for beetles, the 'bug hotel' for bees and spiders, the wildlife pond and the wildflower meadow they have created. Many of the wild flowers have not been planted, but have just appeared when the right conditions were provided.

 Thyme bench attracts insects
 Wildlife pond
 Great diving beetle
After a look at some of the exhibition stands, I went on a bumblebee identification walk with Alison Reboul of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. Ten species of bumblebees have been recorded in this garden and we found most of them.

Giant tansy beetle on the Buglife stand

Badger Watching

30 Days Wild, day 25: Today is the start of 'National Badger Week', so naturally I went badger watching. There are two cubs at the sett this year, one slightly bigger than the other. At first they were closely supervised by two adult females, so I assumed they were cousins, rather than twins. Over the last few weeks, I've only seen one female, but she's keeping a close watch on both cubs.

 A snack before dinner
Tonight, big cub appeared at about 9:30 and cautiously approached the peanuts I'd put out for them. Little cub was soon watching from the sett entrance and then joined big cub, anxious not to miss out on anything. Mother was watching, initially from the sett entrance, but then she moved around to my left, so she was downwind of me, and sniffed the air suspiciously. If she's not happy, she'll make a barely audible grunt and the cubs will run flat out back to the sett, without hesitation. This time she was satisfied that it was safe, joined the cubs an…

Canoeing on the Ouse

30 days Wild, day 24: About 40 years ago (when we'd just joined the EU), I had a dinghy with an outboard motor which I used to launch from Linton Lock, on the River Ouse a few miles north of York. Today I paddled my canoe. There has clearly been regime change at Linton Lock. I was charged £3 and told I was not allowed to use the slipway, but had to enter from the pontoons which are too high for a canoe, making the launch unnecessarily difficult.

However, once on the water it was very pleasant, with lots of mallard ducklings around, the odd heron and kingfisher, and sand martins everywhere. I paddled up past Aldwark Bridge, stopped for lunch on a grassy bank and had a 'wild swim' before making my way back.

Heading up river
Sand martin nest holes
Approaching Aldwark toll bridge
Lunch stop
A wild swim

Bats under Kexby Bridge

30 Days Wild, day 23: This evening I went to the annual count of Daubenton's bats which roost under Kexby Bridge. The current bridge over the River Derwent dates from 1650, although a bridge was recorded here in the 1420's. Some stones in the buttresses are coming loose and the gaps that have opened up provide excellent roost sites for bats.

At one time all the bats emerged from a single hole, making them relatively easy to count, but now they are more spread out and counting them is almost impossible. They started to emerge at about 9:50 and by 10:20 my bat detector was buzzing continuously. I could see the reflections of a few of them in the water under the bridge, but many passed unseen. In common with last year's count, the bat group leader didn't turn up, so no 'official' count was taken and I've no idea how many there were!

Daubenton's Bats under Kexby Bridge

Pulling Ragwort at Wheldrake Ings

30 Days Wild, day 22: One of the advantages of being a conservation volunteer is that you get to the parts of reserves that others cannot reach. Today we've been working in the vast floodplain meadows of Wheldrake Ings, normally out of bounds to the general public.

 Volunteers in the meadow
The meadow will be mown later in the summer, but to make the crop acceptable as livestock fodder it must be free of poisonous ragwort. Spraying it would kill off other plants as well, so we pull out the ragwort by hand. It is a glorious place to be at this time of year, surrounded by wild flowers and with curlews calling overhead.

Marsh ragwort
The morning's collection
Field forget-me-not

Fridaythorpe Orchids

30 Days Wild, day 21: About 20 years ago, a short section of the York to Driffield road was straightened, leaving a wide verge which was initially just bare chalk. Over the years the vegetation has grown back and at this time of year it is carpeted with orchids. These are northern marsh orchids, common spotted orchids and confusingly, some hybrids of the two. There are also a few pyramidal orchids.

Orchids amongst bird's-foot trefoil
Northern marsh orchid
Common spotted orchid
Caterpillar of the six-spot burnet moth

Alkborough Flats

30 Days Wild, day 20: In April I went on a water vole and otter survey training day at Alkborough Flats, on the south side of the Humber estuary. While reading up about the site, I saw that it was a good place to watch bearded tits.

I'm not a great birder, but this is one bird I'd like to see, so I went back today to try and find them. I went to the first hide I came to and asked an old man inside if this was the best place to find bearded tits. He said it was and gave me the usual birders' answer, "there was one here five minutes ago".

I sat in the hide for over an hour. There was a flock of avocets on the pond in front of me, some shelduck, a little egret, a few lapwings and the inevitable black-headed gulls. A marsh harrier flew over, there were reed buntings in the reed beds, but absolutely no sign of a bearded tit.

Shelduck feeding
Little egret (photo taken through the hedge)
Marsh harrier
Scruffy reed bunting