Thursday, 30 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

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

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)

Pigeons produce 'milk' for their chicks which has similar properties to that produced by mammals. The second egg failed to hatch, but the single chick is doing well with both parents providing for it. The chick is already well feathered although it will not be ready to fledge for another two weeks.

 A full box (25/06/2016)

 One fat squab with adult today (29/06/2016)

Tuesday, 28 June 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 wasn't the same as mine! After half an hour of messing around, they disappeared into the brambles and mother badger appeared. She sniffed the air suspiciously, then snorted and galloped off down the nearest sett entrance. This wasn't going well.

After an hour, it was getting very dark and I was on the point of calling it a day when one cub appeared again. He now decided all was OK and came out to the peanuts. After five minutes of watching from the sett entrance, the second cub came out too. They ate for about 20 minutes and then suddenly rushed back to the sett, though what spooked them I've no idea. We quietly left at that point, but I turned on my camera trap before departing to see what happened next. The cubs came back to finish their peanuts fifteen minutes later.

Nervous badger cubs

Monday, 27 June 2016

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

Sunday, 26 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

Examining a bumblebee

Saturday, 25 June 2016

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 and finished off the peanuts. The cubs had a good scratch while mum snuffled about amongst the leaf litter, walking right underneath my ladder. She then led the cubs away through the brambles. She'd take them into the adjacent field to look for worms.

Edited highlights

Friday, 24 June 2016

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