On Saturday 27 January, members of Starbeck in Bloom, the Harrogate and District Biodiversity Group and HDNS all joined forces in Starbeck Library to organise the Big Garden Birdwatch for the RSPB.
Since some of us do not have our own gardens, Starbeck in Bloom decided to open up Belmont Field and Starbeck Library garden for a community event. Armed with binoculars, and on behalf of the Harrogate Biodiversity Group, Malcolm Jones led children of various sizes (and adults) on a walk around the library perimeter. Despite the poor weather, they were rewarded with several sightings including a flock of long tailed tits, which caused great interest amongst the ‘new’ birdwatchers.
After this, the participants came indoors and set to work on various craft activities involving birds. For most of the morning the library was full of children working together round a table, absorbed in their set tasks of making bird feeders, bird mobiles and learning about different foods to attract different birds. The usual HDNS photographic display was on show in the main library and refreshments were available.
The Starbeck Big Garden Birdwatch was a credit to the organisers who had worked so hard to involve the local community and to teach them about birds. This was a free event and it was good to see such hard work being rewarded. Hopefully there will be many more joint events organised in the future.
27 January 2018
Leader : Colin Slator
Eleven of us braved the early morning icy conditions to enjoy a walk starting at High Batts NR. After a brief visit to the hide on the reserve where we saw a good variety of birds at the well- stocked feeders, we started walking along public rights of way towards Ripon through Ripon Parks. Colin shared his encyclopaedic knowledge of the locality in relation to future and past gravel extraction activities, changes in the course of the River Ure, and changes in land use and ownership that he has witnessed over his long association with the area since the reserve was first set up in 1973. We scanned the hedgerows for Yellowhammers, Bullfinches and Tree Sparrows and the copses for mixed flocks of Goldfinch, Redpoll and Siskin. A small flock of Curlew flew into view several times. A very dark Buzzard was the first raptor we saw sitting in the emerging sunlight, but that was soon followed by a fantastic sighting of a large sub adult Peregrine Falcon sitting on a fence post preening. Bird of the day, it sat for several minutes allowing us to photograph it before flying off. By now the sun was warming us up and it was a beautiful day with small pockets of mist floating across the winter fields. As we walked we could see how different land management strategies over the years had changed the fortunes of several species, none more so than Otter.
After a festive lunch at the Golf Club we just about timed it right to witness a spectacular Starling murmuration over the reed beds near the river, viewed from the bridge over Ripon Canal. Although they were distant, the sheer number of birds was astounding. The numbers increased for about fifteen minutes, each time it looked like that there were no more to come, even more arrived to swell the ranks and put on an extended display. Nicholson’s Lagoon had a large number of Mallard, a single male Pintail, several Goldeneye, and a Goosander. Wigeon, Teal and Tufted Duck completed the line-up.
Many thanks to Colin for leading and to Muff for organising the meal booking.
Leader: Nick Gaunt
On a cool, overcast but dry day nine members were shown around High Batts Nature Reserve by Will Rich. Given the time of year, flowering plants weren’t particularly memorable, but a few fungi were identified such as Birch Polypore, Candle-snuff , Dead Man’s Fingers, Jelly Ear and the only puffball to grow on wood, Stump Puffball (Lycoperdon pyriforme).
Thankfully, there was a good number of mosses and liverworts including some in a calcarious ‘scrape’ that are restricted to base-rich areas, such as Entodon concinnus, Ditrichum gracile and Thuidium assimile. The dominant ground cover in the burnet rose scrubland was of the mosses Hylocomium splendens, Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus, Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus and Pseudoscleropodium purum. Trees on the river bank held the flood-zone mosses Leskea polycarpa and Syntrichia latifolia, which looks black and shrivelled when dry but instantly unfurls bright green leaves on moistening.
Elsewhere the trees supported the pleurocarps Hypnum cupressiforme, Rhynchostegium confertum, Cryphaea hetermalla, acrocarps including Orthotrichum affine and Zygodon viridissimus, and the liverwort Metzgeria furcata.
After lunch, which we took in the ‘Hotel’, Will led us ‘off piste’ to the northern edge of the reserve to see a small waterfall that held, amongst others, the semi-aquatic moss Platyhypnidium riparioides and the liverwort Lunularia cruciata.
Members listened intently as the features of some of the mosses were described and did their best to come to terms with the scientific names!
Bird life was sparse but good views of goldcrest, redwing and a couple of kingfishers were had. Sadly, the hawfinch recently seen in the reserve didn’t show.
Overall, a good day was had by all.
Leader: Andy Woodhall, Mid-Yorkshire Fungus Group
Our day in Hackfall Woods got off to a promising start, with the morning’s weather being mild and bright. A group of twelve of us set off (one was following) with our fungi books, magnifying glasses and packed lunches at the ready.
Although Hackfall appears to be a natural wood, the landscape is in large part a result of design and work undertaken by the Aislabies in the eighteenth century. It is now an English Heritage Grade 1 listed garden.
We had scarcely left the car park when we had our first fungus sighting – Ergot Claviceps purpurea formed in the inflorescences of some of the grass. It is very poisonous. We did not need to venture much further before finding other species such as Jelly Ear, Angel’s Bonnet, Elder Whitewash, Honey Fungus and Turkeytails. Several of these were growing on dead elder trees. Nearby, found on ash were Cramp Balls or King Alfred’s Cakes Daldinia concentrica. Then we found Dead Man’s Fingers and Candlesnuff, weird and creepy fungi to find at this time of year around Halloween.
We lunched on Kent’s Seat at Alum Spring, where we also had the chance to admire the lichens, ferns and mosses which were growing very profusely around us. As well as fungi we had a few diversions such as tiny tree snails and slime mould.
We then found more of the dreaded Honey Fungus Armillaria mellea. This is a dangerous parasite of trees and shrubs and spreads by long, black cords resembling bootlaces. Other common fungi included The Deceiver (so-called because of its variable appearance, not because it is poisonous), Sulphur Tuft, Common Inkcap, Oak Stump Bonnet and Coral Spot.
In total we found 44 fungi. A few of us were interested in tasting the edible species (although this did not apply to me).
Later in the afternoon it began to rain and as we headed back towards the cars it rained more and more, and the paths became very muddy. Fortunately, our health and safety contact telephone numbers were not required and we each got back in one piece. The rain certainly did not spoil our day.
Many thanks to our leader, Andy Woodall from the Mid-Yorkshire Fungus Group, for a lively and entertaining day of mycology, and for patiently answering all our questions. I was sorry that we did not find any magical Earthstars (my favourite fungi) but those can wait for another day.
After a good run through in the minibus, a Merlin was seen flying over a field as we approached Spurn on a bright day with a fresh southerly wind. A sea-watch first at the Warren produced Arctic Skuas, Gannets, Fulmars, Sandwich and Common Terns and a Brent Goose, while packs of Common Scoters and Teal were moving through. Near the sea-watching hide, a Whinchat was found on a fence where it gave close views, a good start! As wewalked along the road from the Warren checking the bushes, it was obvious that there was a distinct lack of passerines with only Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler seen. During a lunch stop by the Crown and Anchor Inn a Wheatear was found below the sea wall and the report of a Pied Flycatcher in the car park was worth investigation, but the bird did not oblige. After lunch we visited Kilnsea Wetlands, with the prospect of seeing both Pectoral and Curlew Sandpipers our main objective. The Curlew Sandpiper gave good views along with Greenshank, Ruff and Dunlin but the Pectoral Sandpiper remained elusive, though we did cover all the possible sites. Seven species of duck were also seen including Pintail, Shoveler and Wigeon. High tide was approaching as we returned to the centre to obtain close views of waders in the estuary. We were greeted with a fantastic display of Grey Plovers and Knots, some still in their breeding plumage, Bar-tailed Godwits, Sanderlings and Dunlins, there were thousands of waders all along the tide line, together with 12 Little Egrets. Speculation was made of the possibility of a Whimbrel and one member persevered until he found one! A great ending to an excellent days birding with 80 species being recorded.
Many thanks to all the members who worked hard to produce such a good list. See: Spurn Point Species List 03Sep17
Leader: Charlie Philpotts
The 8 naturalists were undeterred by the drizzling rain and the poor forecast as we got ready in the car park, at one of the most unlikely places to begin a natural history field trip. Surrounded by derelict mining buildings in a potholed wasteland of a car park beside an arterial road, none of us apart from Charlie our leader had ever been here before. Things did not look any more promising when we set off through a rubbish -strewn gap in the hedge and appeared to be crossing the back gardens of a terrace of houses. Then suddenly, through a gate up a wooded bank and we were into the Ledston Luck nature reserve, relatively recently regenerated from the old coal mine by a team of volunteers including Charlie. Here there was a profusion of flowers, in particular the yellow Tall Melilot which in places formed an almost impenetrable forest; the Pea family was well represented generally with both Hairy and Smooth Tare and masses of Common Bird’s-foot-trefoil, which seems to be having a very good year at all sites. The orchids were well past their best, apparently the season is much in advance of normal, but we saw the relics of many thousand Common Spotted, also Southern Marsh, and some hybrids, but none of the Bee Orchids which would be seen there earlier in the year. There were several small ponds which were well vegetated with different species of rushes, sedges and reeds and should be good for Odonata in better weather. The plant list was growing rapidly and we set off back to change locations.
By remarkable luck the only real rain which fell in the whole day now occurred as we drove to the next site, Townclose Hills, where we lunched on the picnic benches then set off onto this SSSI magnesian limestone outcrop. Here there were many of the same flowers but also many new ones; the overwhelming impression was one of ‘bioabundance’. Fields of marjoram were knee-high, dotted with Clustered Bellflower, Agrimony and a vivid purple background of Greater Knapweed. There were positive thickets of Restharrow, both spiny and not, and Yellow-wort, Field Scabious and lots of those yellow hawk-somethings which we did not have time to identify. The orchids again were more or less finished but the remains of hundreds of Common Spotted and hybrids were visible. This is quite a large site and the flower recorder was developing writer’s cramp by the time we returned to the car park to move to our final location, Ledsham Bank.
This site is described in the YWT book as “a botanists’ dream”; a small secluded north-south valley on the magnesian limestone. Here we found, amongst much more, abundant Pyramidal Orchid, still more or less in full flower, and plentiful clumps of the relatively rare Dyer’s Greenweed. Any one of these three locations could have occupied us a whole day!
The plants dominated this trip, but we did see other orders – several butterflies, including skippers, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Ringlet and at Ledsham Bank a beautiful Marbled White which posed for close-up photos. One specimen of the blue- bruising boletus Boletus purpureus was found, and a livid white Coprinus-type fruiting body. Birds were mainly heard rather than seen but there were yellowhammers at Townclose Hills. And Keith saw a toad.
This was an excellent day and we owe thanks to Charlie Philpotts of the Hardy Orchid Society who organised these trips so efficiently and led them with his infectious enthusiasm. Everyone felt that these were sites to be returned to in another year.
Leader: Kevin Walker
A splendid turnout of 15 enthusiastic botanists assembled at the entrance to the quarry on a fine sunny morning, under the leadership of the Head of Science of the BSBI, Dr Kevin Walker. The disused Duck Street Quarry is a habitat of both biological and geological significance that, in common with the lead mine which we visited later in the day, is a good example of how Britain’s old industrial sites have given us many important wildlife habitats.
As soon as we came through the gate we became aware of the richness and diversity of the limestone flora. Kevin amazed us all with his knowledge of the plants, not only recognising them from tiny portions, but giving us tips for identification, showing us the commoner grasses and sedges and how to recognise them, and demystifying some of the daunting yellow dandelion-type flowers.
The naturalists scrambled up spoil heaps to admire frog orchids, ventured underground for close encounters with the pallid and starfish like green spleenwort, and viewed from a respectful distance the intractable genus of Hawkweeds. There is a full plant list attached, but other highlights and specialities included the delicate Knotted Pearlwort, Limestone Bedstraw – easily identified by its completely invisible backward pointing prickles – Brittle Bladder-fern and a truly gigantic Southern Marsh orchid, probably a hybrid, with a 20cm spike.
After such a dry season, mosses are not at their best, but some typical limestone specimens were found by Nick, such as Ctenidium molluscum, Entodon concinnus, Ditrichum flexuosus and the liverwort Scapania aspera.
The sun also brought out some butterflies – David’s search for a dark green fritillary was eventually successful; there were flocks of Common Blue males (where were the females?), also Green-veined White, the increasingly rare Small Heath and many Ringlets and Meadow Browns.
After lunch we walked to the disused lead mine in the valley bottom, on the way admiring (with binoculars) a stand of Melancholy Thistle; less popular was a narrow track completely full of shoulder-high nettles, a challenge for those wearing shorts! We walked down the moor to the beck, over typical moorland vegetation dominated by Heath Rush, to reach the old lead workings, where the challenging conditions favour certain tolerant species such as Leadwort and Spring Sandwort. Remarkably, Kevin managed to find what was apparently the only example of Leadwort (or Alpine Pennycress) which was easily visible – with a powerful hand lens. Other specialities found here were Mossy Saxifrage, Rustyback Fern and Rigid Buckler Fern, and the moss Philonotis fontana which grows in waterlogged areas.
Finally we climbed out of the valley, all feeling we had learned a great deal and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Many thanks to Kevin for his very knowledgeable leadership and instruction, and to Colin Slator for kindly giving us access to the quarry.
Nidd Gorge Biodiversity Project 1999 – 2018, Bio-Blitz Day
A biodiversity project will be held in Nidd Gorge on Saturday 22 July 2017, comprising a Bio-Blitz day. This will be an all day event continuing into the evening. It is being held to improve knowledge and awareness in our area. The data should help in combatting proposed developments or roads at or near Bilton Fields and Nidd Gorge since it should comprise hard evidence of different and sensitive habitats in the area.
This will be a community exercise and is intended to harness the spotting skills (amateur and professional) of the general public in order to indicate the presence of all forms of wildlife: botany, entomology, ornithology and mammals including an evening bat walk.
A hub with tables and gazebo will be set up on the south bank of the viaduct at Bilton, close to the Greenway. Individuals will be encouraged to look for wildlife in the area and report back to the hub. Every scrap of wildlife data will be valuable, from the mundane to the rarity. In this digital age, we will be asking people not to pick flowers, but to take photographs and to use plastic cases to contain insects and bring them back for identification and study.
On the day we will need the help and expertise of as many individual HDNS members as possible. If you would like to come and help with identification (if only for an hour or so), or to help in any other way, then please contact Keith Wilkinson MBE, Honorary Chairman, Nidd Gorge Advisory Partnership, contact details as follows:
Tel: 01423 564708
Visit led by Charlie Philpotts on Sunday 25th June.
Our focus was on orchids, and 13 species (including hybrids), were found, but as we explored, the diversity of other wild flowers growing in these 2 reserves was a delight and our tally, including other wild flowers, was over 100 species. Augill Pastures, SSSI, lies 260m above sea level, and is a rare area of ‘unimproved neutral northern grassland’, including a steep bank down to Augill Beck. Waitby Greenriggs reserve is a section of the old Stainmore Railway and Eden Valley branch line. A diverse grassland flora has developed on the limestone, including Bird’s-eye Primrose, Herb Paris, Greater and Lesser Butterfly orchids and three sub-species of fragrant orchid growing together. Charlie was a knowledgeable, enthusiastic leader, who was always ready to share his passion for orchids. He particularly loves these 2 reserves and has visited them for some years. His wife loves scouting ahead for good specimens.
At both sites we were treated to swathes of orchids, with perhaps the bank at Waitby Greenriggs being the most memorable example. The least frequent orchid was the Northern Marsh Orchid, Fly and Bird’s Nest orchids numbers were a little higher, and other orchids were frequently numerous. The list of other plants seen is not comprehensive as this was beyond our small group, but certainly some ‘gems’ were spotted, rarely or not seen before, by members of the group. Our thanks again go to Charlie Philpotts and his wife Julie, for leading this visit on one day of their ‘holiday’.