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Showing posts from March, 2014

Otters and Hedgehogs

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Thankfully, last weekend’s cold spell was just a temporary blip and spring is now definitely back on track. We’ve had some very heavy rain this week, so I had to retrieve my otter camera and will try yet again next week. At least two otters regularly travel up and down that stretch of river, using the tracks I’m monitoring to visit a pond and bypass a loop in the river. The otters travel at speed – they don’t pose for the camera. If the camera is set to take several pictures at one second intervals, it will only get one shot of the otter before it’s gone.

My garden hedgehog has been out again for the last three nights. It hoovers up some dried mealworms on the patio, then heads across the lawn to the ground feeder in the centre for some bird seed. It evidently prefers this to the earthworms and slugs which are on the lawn in large numbers on a damp evening.

Camera shy hedgehog wanders off Hedgehog on the bird feeder

Badgers and Otters

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Spring was put on hold at the weekend and we returned to winter. On Sunday afternoon we had a massive hailstorm and it was so cold overnight that the hail was still lying on the ground in places on Monday morning. The hedgehog that visited my garden a fortnight ago has gone back to sleep - I don’t blame it!

Hailstones and fog on Allerthorpe Common
Today I revisited a badger sett that has suffered some disturbance in the last few weeks. It’s one that I’ve monitored with camera traps over the last few years, but have found it very difficult to watch because of the lie of the land – it’s on the cliff edge of a disused quarry. It turned out that the damage was not as bad as I’d feared, but I put out a camera trap a week ago just to make sure the occupants were OK. It took a while, but I’ve finally got a photo showing that at least one badger is still in residence.

Badger on a foggy night
From the badger sett I went to the river bank where I’ve been trying to photograph an otter for the last c…

Pulfin Bog

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Today I went to Pulfin Bog, near Beverley, for a Yorkshire Wildlife Trust volunteer work day. We continued mowing and raking up an area of sweet-grass (Glyceria) in the reed bed. Normally we’d have burned the piles, but today it was just too windy. It’s hard work at the best of times, but today’s strong wind made it even harder.

The river is tidal here and the tide was evidently in, because the water level was right to the top of the banks and the reed bed was squelchy underfoot. We had a walk around the reserve in the afternoon. There were fewer birds than last time, but we did see swans and geese on the main pond, a flock of curlews and an egret in the reed bed, and a lovely toad on one of the paths.

Mowing and raking in a gale
Heading to dryer ground for a lunch break Toad heading to its spawning grounds

Tansy Seedlings

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The Tansy beetle is a large iridescent green beetle, found in Britain only along a 30 mile stretch of the River Ouse, centred on York. It used to be more widespread, but has gradually died out elsewhere. The tansy plant, on which it depends for food, has become scarcer due to grazing by livestock and crowding out by invasive Himalayan balsam. The Tansy Beetle Action Group (TBAG) coordinates tansy beetle conservation.

To help the beetles out a bit, last year I grew and planted out tansy plants and removed Himalayan balsam along a half-mile stretch of the river bank, just south of York. For this year’s crop of tansy, I collected seed from plants along the river bank last October and sowed the first of them at the end of January. I now have trays of tiny seedlings which will soon be ready to transfer to larger plug plant trays.

A new crop of tansy plants
The stunning tansy beetle

Reptiles at Allerthorpe

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After a frosty, foggy start to the day and a cloudy morning, the sun finally came out around mid-day. At this time of year reptiles take every opportunity to bask in the sun and get themselves active again, after their long hibernation. Allerthorpe Common has three reptile species - adder, common lizard and slow-worm. Today I found a common lizard and four adders, all of them females. They’re not easy to find, as they’re masters of camouflage. You expect them to be sluggish in the spring sunshine, but at the approach of heavy boots, they can simply vanish into the undergrowth. Great care is needed to avoid disturbing them.

Spot the lizard
Two adders, superbly camouflaged
Adder basking in the spring sunshine

Heathland Maintenance

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Today we had another volunteer work day at the privately owned heathland site where we’ve been cutting and treating birch regrowth. It’s a massive job but we’re making good progress. It’s been an amazingly warm day – the forecast said 16 degrees, but it may have been warmer. We’ve heard great spotted woodpeckers drumming and green woodpeckers ‘yaffling’, a tawny owl hooting and buzzards mewing. Brimstone butterflies were on the wing – it’s great to see them so early in the year.

At the end of the day, we had a walk around the reserve. The botanist in our group identified the Hard Fern, a species which is locally very rare. We found a large clump of the stunning Scarlet elfcup fungus and saw two roe deer jump the fence into the reserve.

Hard Fern (Blechnum spicant)
Scarlet elfcup (Sarcoscypha austriaca)
Two recent finds on Allerthorpe Common nature reserve are this magnificent Minotaur beetle and a beautiful moth, which I’m told is the Pine Beauty.

Minotaur beetle (Typhaeus typhoeus) Pine Be…

My Garden Wildlife

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Just a quick update on goings-on in my garden. There was a period of a few weeks when the garden birds deserted my hanging feeder. Maybe there was better food available in the fields and hedgerows. Anyway, they’re back now and the feeder is once more emptied every day. Seed dropped by the smaller birds attracts larger ones – the collared doves, wood pigeons, rooks and sometimes a pheasant. I’m delighted to see the first hedgehog of spring back in my garden (and have logged it on http://www.hedgehogstreet.org/). They too take fallen seed from under the hanging feeder. Life is returning to my garden pond - the newts are back and the marsh marigolds are growing rapidly. There’s still no sign of activity in the tawny owl box, but if the owls don’t take it this year there’s always a chance the jackdaws will.

The first hedgehog of spring
The usual suspects - collared dove and wood pigeon... ...rook... ...and an alien predator.

A Bad Hare Day

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Sometimes it all just comes together – and sometimes it doesn’t! This morning I was up at 5:30 to watch brown hares in the fields behind the village. There was a hard frost and it was still dark when I got to the corner of the field I wanted to watch. I set up my dome hide and camera and waited. Before long, two hares came through the hedge at the far end of the field and ran across to the other side. At least four more appeared later and chased around a bit, but didn’t do any boxing. None ever came close enough for a photo. In previous years, I’ve watched a barn owl hunting along these field margins, but not today. As I was packing up, a roe deer ran across the next field, disturbed by an early-morning dog-walker. I’ve hopefully found a better place to sit next time, where I might get closer to the hares and stand a better chance of getting some photos.

Brown hare giving me the run-around

Allerthorpe Common

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I’ve been volunteering at Allerthorpe Common for 15 years now, but only leading the work days for the last three years. It’s a remnant of lowland heath which was saved from destruction when the remainder of the common was planted with conifers in the 1960’s. Three reptile species – adders, slow-worms and common lizards – live here, on an island of heath surrounded by conifer plantation and intensive arable farm land.

Today we started by clearing up two trees that came down over the perimeter fence during the February gales. An old birch tree was easily dealt with using hand tools, but the larger conifer needed chain sawing. By mid-morning we had both trees tidied up, leaving the fence and ditch clear, and the dog-walkers’ path open again.

We then turned our attention to clearing birch seedlings, brambles and anything else growing along the fence line - only the wild honeysuckle was spared. It was good to see that loads of frog spawn has appeared at the end of the main pond. The frogs h…