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Showing posts from July, 2014

Yorkshire Whale Watching

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Today I attended a ‘National Whale and Dolphin Watch’ event at Flamborough Cliffs Nature reserve, organised by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust on behalf of Sea Watch Foundation. Events taking place around Britain this week will produce a snapshot of the distribution of dolphins, whales and porpoises. We were stationed on the cliff top with a wide view over the sea. It was almost flat calm – ideal conditions for spotting cetaceans. Just below us, kittiwakes were still nesting on the cliff face, most with well grown chicks. Long lines of gannets passed by throughout the day, heading to their feeding areas. It’s been a good year for cetacean sightings along this stretch of coast, but today although we watched for nearly six hours, we recorded no dolphins, whales or porpoises.

Is it a whale? No, it’s a fishing boat! There were Kittiwakes on the cliffs below Lots of Gannets, but no cetaceans

Boardwalks, Balsam and Badgers

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I’ve had another two conservation volunteer work days this week. On Wednesday, I was at Askham Bog, which was Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s first nature reserve. This large area of wet woodland, wild-flower meadows and ponds acts as a natural sponge, absorbing a huge amount of water that would otherwise add to York’s flooding problems. It’s a fantastic haven for wildlife on the very edge of the city.

Boardwalk through the York jungle
We were brushcutting the edges of the boardwalk, cutting back overhanging branches and sweeping up leaf litter which will rot the boards if left to accumulate.

Damselflies and Dragonflies hunt over the ponds
On Thursday I was on the banks of the River Hull, near Beverley, pulling invasive Himalayan Balsam. It’s only on a short stretch of riverbank, so it’s vital that it be eradicated before it spreads further down the river. Himalayan Balsam is becoming a massive problem in our countryside as it spreads rapidly, displacing our diverse native plants and creating …

More Ragwort

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This week I’ve had two conservation volunteer work days, pulling ragwort. The plant is poisonous to livestock, especially horses (and giraffes apparently). We remove it by hand to avoid the use of herbicides that would kill other plants as well.

Calley Heath - before...
...and after.
On Wednesday we were at Calley Heath, where the meadow was full of yellow – lots of ragwort and a bewildering array of hawkbits, hawkweeds or hawk’s-beards – all very difficult to tell apart. With a large volunteer group we got a huge area of ragwort cleared in a short space of time.

Ragwort is the food plant of the Cinnabar Moth caterpillar Red Soldier Beetle on Ragwort
Thursday’s work day was at Kiplingcotes Chalk Pit. This old quarry provided the chalk used to build the Beverley to Market Weighton railway line. Now the vegetation on the thin soil of the quarry floor is closely cropped by rabbits, while the higher slopes are rich wild-flower meadows, buzzing with insects. There was much less ragwort here than…

Filming Badgers Again

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The badger cubs are still doing well and growing up fast. They’re not quite as careless as they were a few weeks ago – no longer wandering about in the open at 6:30pm! They emerge more cautiously now, with the first of them out at about 8:30. I think the same one always comes to the peanuts first, others gradually turn up later and there’s a little one that only appears when the food is all finished!

Cubs inspecting the camera
Some evenings only a couple of them will take peanuts and the others head straight off to the fields to find worms, or rummage amongst the brambles, often travelling in a convoy tunnelling through the thick undergrowth. The opportunity to film them in daylight won’t last long, so I’ve been trying out a miniature camera, to get some shots from a different perspective.

Camera on a tent peg

Rooks and Bats

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I’m regularly woken by rooks coming to my bird feeders at dawn, so decided to take part in the BTO’s Garden Rook Survey. I thought I’d have to count them, which would be difficult, but fortunately the survey is more about different behaviours than precise numbers of birds involved. They’re very wary - I only have to peep through the bedroom curtains at them and they fly off. When the rooks arrive, at about 5am, jackdaws soon follow and they will all feed together. Some of the rooks have learnt to cling to the pole and peck seed out of the feeder. They drop enough food to keep the other birds fed!

Sort the rooks from the jackdaws
Juvenile jackdaw begging from an adult
Rooks clinging to the feeder pole
On Wednesday evening I went to my first meeting of the North Yorkshire Bat Group. The meeting place was on Millennium Bridge in York and the plan was to walk around the adjacent Rowntree Park and along the river bank. I’d never been to a bat group meeting before, so didn’t know what to expect…

Swallows Fledging

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The four swallow chicks in my porch have semi-fledged! Last week I could see that the nest was looking rather crowded and knew they’d be gone soon.

Ready to go
I was out all day on Sunday (helping with some bike race) and the chicks were in the nest when I got home. On Monday morning they’d gone, but they all came back again in the evening to roost and the parents were feeding them. I suspect this happened on Sunday too. This morning the nest is empty again.

Feeding the chicks
I see from my records that the 2012 brood fledged at the same date, although they’d hatched 6 days later (Last year’s nest was abandoned due to cold weather).

Fen Bog

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It’s difficult to pick a favourite nature reserve, as they’re all so different and vary so much with the seasons, but one of my favourites must be Fen Bog, on the North York Moors. It’s in a hidden valley surrounded by moorland, with a boggy mire in the centre.

Volunteers pulling bracken
I usually only visit once a year, when Yorkshire Wildlife Trust have a conservation volunteer work day there. This year we’ve had two days, cutting back the bracken on the valley sides which threatens to engulf the reserve. The denser patches are cleared with brushcutters while thinner and steeper areas can be pulled by hand, minimizing damage to the surrounding vegetation. It’s one of those reserves where the results of our work can be clearly seen from one year to the next. Areas of dense bracken we brushcut last year just needed a tidy up by hand this year.

Small pearl-bordered fritillary
Large skipper sipping nectar from a thistle
This is a great place to find some interesting insect and plant species …