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Showing posts from September, 2014

Tawny Owls in the Village

Tawny owls are quite vocal at this time of year, apparently reaffirming their territories in preparation for the next breeding season. Last night we had one (or was it two?) hooting in the village. Back in January, I put up a nest box for them in a tree at the bottom of my garden, but so far there is no evidence that they’ve found it. However, they’re supposed to be quite good at finding boxes, so there must be a fair chance they’ll nest here next spring.




Tophill Low

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I’ve been meaning to visit Tophill Low for some time, but never seemed to get around to it. I decided to go on the next sunny day and yesterday was it. Tophill Low is actually a Yorkshire Water treatment works, supplying drinking water to Hull, but it’s also a nature reserve with SSSI status. There are two reservoirs which attract great numbers of wildfowl, together with ponds, woodland and grassland.

I found a hide overlooking a reed bed, with a strip of open water, and settled down to watch for a few hours. There was a line of stick ‘perches’, obviously put up for kingfishers, which I took to be a good sign. Sure enough, after about 15 minutes waiting, a kingfisher landed on one of them. It was a female, with an orange lower bill. The male has an all-black bill. It flew off down to the far end of the lagoon and disappeared.

Female kingfisher
I watched the moorhens and mallards for a while, and a flock of long-tailed tits flew over. Then a huge bird of prey appeared and landed in trees …

Conservation Grazing

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White Park conservation volunteer at work Yesterday I checked the White Park cattle that are ‘conservation grazing’ on Allerthorpe Common. These are huge but docile animals, descended from the Britain’s original wild cattle. They were domesticated in the middle ages, but by the 1970’s there were only 60 animals remaining. Now there are about 2000, half of which are in the UK. They’re good for conservation grazing as they prefer the coarse grasses that other breeds won’t touch. I just wish they’d eat birch seedlings too! I made sure they are all present and in good condition, and filled their water trough from the bowser.

Very dead pigeon and its ring
Walking back to my car, I came across the long dead body of a medium sized bird, underneath the power lines. I noticed that it had a ring on one leg, which I realised was the type used on racing pigeons. I reported it to the Royal Pigeon Racing Association and they have informed the bird’s owner, in Doncaster.

Tiny flowers of Eyebright, curre…

Badger Communication

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On Friday night I got to the badger sett early and settled down for a long wait. The badgers hadn’t been fed peanuts for a couple of weeks, so I wasn’t sure if they’d find them at all. From my high seat, 10ft up, I could see badgers moving around amongst the brambles, but for a long time none came near the food.

The first two arrivals
Eventually, one came to the hole in front of me, paused for a while, and then came out to the food. Within a few seconds, another badger appeared over to my left and came straight across to the peanuts. It was quickly followed by a third badger. More appeared from different directions and within a couple of minutes I had seven badgers in front of me. I was amazed at how quickly the news had spread – it was just as if it had been announced on the Tannoy!

Feeding frenzy
They have incredibly good hearing so I suppose they just heard the chomping of teeth on peanuts and came running. They soon started squabbling over the last few peanuts. I sometimes feel guilty…

Wild Swim

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At the beginning of the year, when I started this blog, I compiled a ‘to do’ list for the year. It was mainly a list of species that I hoped to see and photograph, but one of the items for August was a wild swim. August was cold and wet, so it didn’t happen, but with improved weather from the start of September, I decided that it had to be done.

Gormire Lake
After a bit of research, I chose Gormire Lake near Thirsk as the best spot. It looks like a volcanic crater, but was actually created by glacial activity. During the last ice age a massive glacier carved out the Plain of York, leaving the North York Moors to the east. The lake is just below the escarpment, with Whitestone Cliff towering 150 metres above it.

As the morning mist clears, clouds remain above the cliff edge, leaving Gormire Lake and its surroundings in their shadow. This may account for the lush vegetation. Ancient woodland surrounds the lake, part of which is the YWT nature reserve of Garbutt Wood. In the damp areas arou…

Spurn Migration Festival

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On Saturday I got up early and went to the Spurn Migration Festival. I checked in, asked to go on the first available ‘migration walk’ and was told to get into a Land Rover. This took me to a large elderberry bush at the roadside, surrounded by people with telescopes. They were looking for a Barred Warbler apparently. After 15 minutes without seeing a thing, I walked around the corner onto a coastal path where another group of birders were assembled. This time, even I could see the Wryneck perched on a rock – the first time I’d seen one. After failing to get a decent photo of it, I realised that the person standing next to me was Ben Hoare, the Features Editor of BBC Wildlife Magazine. I knew he was going to be at the festival, but was surprised to bump into him so soon. We walked back up the road to Westmere Farm, which had been my starting point, and had much needed bacon butties.

The elusive Wryneck
Next, we took another Land Rover to the bird observatory, where we saw a variety of b…

Balsam and Bumblebees

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Last weekend I went back to Fulford Ings to see how our Tansy plants were settling in (see 25/08/2014). I was slightly alarmed to find that many of the tops had been nibbled off by rabbits. They don’t touch the mature plants in the area, but I suppose these young plants will be tastier.

The Himalayan Balsam has now gone to seed, but it’s still worth pulling up to reduce the number of seeds that get distributed. I spent several hours clearing an area that is encroaching on the wildflower meadow at Fulford Ings. If I can get back there sooner next year, I should virtually eliminate it from the stretch of riverbank that I’ve ‘adopted’.

Going... Going... Gone.
Yesterday I went to a conservation volunteering work day at Askham Bog. We were mowing and raking an area of reed bed. It was all very dry, which makes the job so much easier - the reeds are very heavy when wet. The mower accidentally took the top off a white-tailed bumblebee nest, giving us a good view inside. The wax cells in which bum…