We arrived on Redcar seafront and immediately felt at home as we spied the ‘Stray Café’ . A Bettys by the sea, wonderful! But first things first, sea watching. High pressure over the UK was dragging in low cloud and drizzle from the North Sea and reducing the visibility with it.
An hour’s watch saw Teal and Common Scoter flying north in quite large numbers, along with small groups of waders, Gannets, one Red-throated Diver, and one or two Arctic Skuas. There were Sandwich and Common Terns on the beach along with Turnstones and Ringed Plovers. Most skuas, shearwaters and divers were further out to sea with light winds, unlikely to push them inshore.
Next, we went to South Gare, which has its own charm. Conditions were ideal for the high tide roost at the tip. We picked out Sanderling, Dunlin, Redshank, Ringed Plover, Curlew and Oystercatcher, but still very little was moving on the sea. The local fishermen were not having a very good day and commented that the water was dirty, presumably from a fuel spill. After lunch the River Tees tidal estuary was exposing estuarine mud as the tide ebbed away. There we found a Bar-tailed Godwit, a juvenile Knot and Whimbrel and more Redshanks, none showing any inclination to do anything but sleep. They must have had a long flight to get this far.
South Gare is an area of reclaimed land and breakwater on the southern side of the mouth of the River Tees.
It has a uniquely diverse habitat. The land is made of from thousands of tons of basic slag from blast furnaces. The high limestone content of the slag produces a base rich soil that is attractive to lime loving plants. The area consists of tidal mudflats, scrub, grassland, sand dunes, rocks, freshwater and salt pools. This is one for the botanists! The group quickly spread out to search the area. We found unusual species and some stunted versions of common plants. The plant list ( click HERE to view) was finalised by Muff Upsall and Sonia Starbuck. This vegetation can be very good for attracting migrants such as warblers and flycatchers. This day we saw a pair of Stonechats and small flocks of Linnets, Goldfinches and Starlings.
En route homeward, we called in at Scaling Dam on the A171. This is a shallow reservoir attracting both dabbling and diving ducks. We saw Tufted Duck, Mallard and Heron with Willow Warbler and another Stonechat on the moorland edge, bringing the total bird count to 53.
Many thanks to Colin for leading a greatly enjoyable trip with some really interesting places, birds and plants.
The field trips for 2015-2016 are now on this website under Calendar , or click here. There is also a list (and booking forms for the bus trips) in the printed copy of the Autumn Newsletter. Or click HERE for the electronic copy. Colin Slator has done a sterling job arranging these for us and they are always worth attending. Reports of past excursions can be found on this website (under NEWS items).
Please note the usual precautions: Stout footwear and suitable outdoor clothing should always be worn. Unless otherwise stated a packed lunch is essential. Members take part entirely at their own risk and are responsible for their personal safety and the security of their belongings.
Colin gives the following message regarding this autumn’s outings:
Make sure you read the details about the outings especially regarding times and food! Of course the weather can’t be guaranteed, so some events may be altered slightly to work around any inclement precipitations!
Enquiries to Colin Slator: 0793535 2890
Our Autumn newsletter is now published. As usual it is an excellent read giving details of past and future events in our society. Well worth settling down on one of these rainy days to enjoy it. All members will get a copy or to read it here follow the links – ‘About HDNS’ –> ‘Reports and Publications’. Or click this shortcut!
This year we have included a list of the lecture evenings offered by High Batts see page 71 in our newsletter. For more details of the High Batts Society click here
We gathered as usual at Trinity Methodist Church and mounted a rather splendid nearly new minibus. Colin Slator, our leader and driver, welcomed us aboard. There was plenty of room for us as our party only numbered eight including Colin, unfortunately Sue Harrison and Jack and Muff Upsall were unable to attend.
By the time we reached Top Hill Low Water Treatment Plant the weatherwas quite pleasant so as we walked to the first of the marsh hides we were able to enjoy plenty of insect activity. By the time we had visited all the hides we had recorded ten species of butterfly including Painted Lady, three species of bumblebee and numerous Common Darters one of which hitched a lift on Colin’s cap! On the HDNS visit to Top Hill Low in January 2011 we were obviously looking at a range of winter birds so the pools and scrapes were not of as much interest as at this time of year.
A full morning in all the hides rewarded us with good views of three Green Sandpipers,
other wader species were scarce but brief views of a Kingfisher and Sedge Warbler added to our list which by then included Mallard, Shoveler, Shelduck, Cormorant, Grey Heron, Little Grebe and 85 Greylag Geese. Drama was provided by a female Marsh Harrier that put everything up several times.
The “O” reservoir held 27 Great crested Grebes and the “D” reservoir had a good range of waterfowl including 37 Tufted Ducks and one Red-crested Pochard, one of our number said it “had a bill like a carrot”, a good description! Five species of Gull were also on the reservoir.
A change of plan took us to Sammy’s Point at Spurn in pursuit of a Red- footed Falcon, no luck there but we did pick up on the tail end of a big movement of Pied Flycatchers along with Redstarts, Whinchat, Wheatear and several Willow Warblers. Seven Swifts hurried southwards down the point whilst the estuary side provided us with 70 Golden Plovers and the calls of Whimbrel. There was a Spoonbill on the ponds at Kilnsea Wetlands.
Finally on to Hornsea, first the sea front, good numbers of Little Gull over the sea and better still two birds on the beach with Black headed Gulls. Common Tern and unspecifiable “comic” terns passing all the time going south.
By the time we visited The Mere the light was failing but our glorious leader was determined to locate the reported White-winged Black Tern, plenty more Little Gulls but sadly not the elusive tern. Another Marsh Harrier was our final bird of the day, so into town for Fish and Chips with a check list total of 72 species of birds.
Thank you to Colin for an excellent day out.
NOTE: Click on thumbnail to see photos full size. Return here with the back button. Photo Editor.
There have been some very good views recently of a juvenile cuckoo being fed by the foster parent. At one point the meadow pipit perched on the cuckoo to feed it. The photos below are courtesy of Nidderdale Birders, taken near the carpark at Scar House.
A few photographs from the recent Members’ Day
It was a pleasant morning as the six naturalists met up at Quarry Moor car park and distributed themselves into three cars. First stop was the National Park Centre on Sutton Bank where we practised parking-fee avoidance thanks to Will’s inside knowledge. The usually rewarding birdfeeders were empty so we proceeded to a small wildflower meadow which was rich in Common Spotted Orchids; Twayblade and Yellow Rattle were also to be found and then Colin’s sharp eyes spied the single Bee Orchid. Ringlet butterflies fluttered among the plants, presumably scattering their eggs on the grass.
From this limestone grassland we crossed to the other side of the site to an area of typical heathland with Bilberry, Silver Birch and heather. Dan pointed out some of the plants we might otherwise have missed, such as Sheep’s Sorrel and Wavy Hair Grass; however there was again no sign of the elusive Turtledoves.We then proceeded to YWT’s Fen Bog nature reserve. This splendid site is part of the SSSI of Newtondale, and is also an SAC on account of its many special plant communities. Click HERE for website. (See http://www.ywt.org.uk/reserves/fen-bog-nature-reserve )
Before we even entered the reserve, a Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary was spotted and successfully netted by Colin; it was a beautiful male and settled co-operatively in Colin’s jar so that the black outlines of the cells on the fringes of its underwing could be seen, confirming that it was not a ‘large’. 6-spot Burnet moths were also plentiful and an Orange Underwing was seen. As we walked towards the reserve entrance a Dark Green Fritillary fluttered around us – 2 of our target species already achieved!The valley bottom of Fen Bog is dominated by Purple Moor grass, Bog Myrtle and Common Cotton grass, with stands of open water populated by Bog Bean and Lesser Spearwort.
The sloping sides of the valley are heather clad and we followed a reasonably dry peaty path, with muddy patches where we soon found Common Butterwort, Round Leaved Sundew, Twayblade, Heath Milkwort and Bog Asphodel. Cross-leaved Heath and Bell Heather gave a beautiful purple background against which we posed for a group photo.
There was an exciting flyover of Crossbills, presumably travelling between one stand of coniferous woodland and another – Colin counted 16. Both Sue and Will got glimpses of lizards – or were they the tail end of adders….?
We then ventured down the steeply sloping and heavily vegetated sides into the
valley bottom, where the tussocks and Bog Myrtle made for difficult going, especially for those with short legs!
The first small pool yielded a beautiful powder-blue Keeled Skimmer, the first of several. Dan wandered off botanizing and soon produced the Bottle Sedge and identified the scattering of Orchids as Heath Spotted. Sue then spotted a Whinchat which treated us to some good views.
We began to return along the valley and added Cranberry, the curious Marsh Arrowgrass and either Star- or Flea- sedge to our tally, then decided to try the northern corner of the valley bottom for the Large Heath, our only remaining target species. There was plenty of Common Cotton Grass, its food plant, and soon we encountered our first, passing close with a leisurely fluttering flight. Two more were seen as we exited the reserve.Our next stop was a brief visit to the Hole of Horcum, where our target species were ice creams and giant flies. Jack managed to spot the fly on top of a hogweed plant at the edge of the car park and a quick photo was snapped, from which Jim identified it as Tachina grossa
.The final destination was Ellerburn Bank, a tiny limestone grassland reserve nearby.Click HERE for website. Unfortunately, the map was far from clear and there were no signs so that we took a track which led only to a barley field.
But on the way Dan, who was walking in the grass down the centre of the track, disturbed an Adder! Colin deftly netted it and we were all able to examine it closely. The diamond markings were pale, indicating a female, and it was apparently not full-grown. It attempted to strike the inside of the net and its orange-red eyes and pale mouth could be easily seen. We all took a few steps back as Colin released it from the net but it lay poised to strike, immobile, for several minutes before tasting the air with its tongue and finally slithering away.
Half the party then reluctantly set off to return home, whilst the remaining three embarked on a determined attempt to find the missing nature reserve. Not only were they successful, but also added a possible Fly Orchid to the specialist plants tally, uncovered 3 Slow-worms of various sizes, found a very large Common Lizard and saw 2 Marbled Whites. Altogether a splendid and varied species list for the day.
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Despite the dire forecast of persistent rain, six hardy members met our leader Bob Orange at West Tanfield for the onward journey to Bellflask, which is a working Hanson Heidelberg gravel quarry in process of restoration for wildlife.
Luckily for our party the rain failed to materialise and we had a very pleasant walk accompanied by Brian and Susan Morland, who live on-site where they run a trout fishery and also record the wildlife to be found there, including extensive moth trapping.
At Bellflask we were joined by Bob’s No. 2 Richard in suitable camouflage gear and his son Harry, who seems to be taking an interest in the natural world. These youngsters definitely need encouragement – there are too many of us old fogies in the conservation movement and we’ll soon be pushing up daisies, so we need the younger generation to take up the baton. Apologies for the mixed metaphors but you get the message!
Bob, who manages this quarry amongst others, showed us how the gravel is extracted and water levels are managed, whilst Brian gave us the conservation angle. Brian always has some interesting views and he was particularly critical of the propensity of some managers of nature reserves to put tit nest boxes up everywhere. He felt that this was detrimental to the tits themselves and led to an imbalance. When the food ran out the tits would be unable to feed their chicks and the invertebrate population would have suffered severe losses.
The working quarry at Bellflask supports good numbers of Sand Martins (c350 pairs) and nesting Oystercatchers and Little-ringed Plovers. The restored gravel pits are home to Great-crested Grebes and other water birds, with the reed beds supporting Reed and Sedge Warblers, Reed Buntings and the occasional Bittern. Avocets and other waders also breed. Harriers, Ospreys and Little Egrets are regularly seen on passage. This is an ever-changing environment but nature takes advantage of the niches it provides. We are lucky that Bob, who is a keen naturalist, is in charge of developments at Bellflask, though I should add under Brian’s critical eye!
During our walk Brian showed us the contents of one of his moth traps, which included the beautiful Elephant Hawk Moth. He also let us enter his sanctum, the so-called naughty house, where he can work on his projects in peace listening to his favourite sixties music.
Many thanks to Bob, Brian and Susan for a very enjoyable and informative morning.
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The forecast was for showers, some thundery with hail, but it was hoped we may escape some of them. Having arrived at Wykeham, we watched the dramatic westward advance of storm clouds filling in the view over Fylingdales Moor. We were still hoping to pick out a raptor in the sunshine at this point from our vantage point on the sunny side of the valley. Inevitably the storm caught up with us and Colin became insistent we retreat, with haste, to the minibus. As if to impress upon us the urgency, an enormous crack of thunder helped clarify the situation! Hefty hailstones accompanied the ensuing deluge. Had this trip been in March we might have been disappointed with the weather. In May, we were astonished!
This was the pattern for the day, look, listen and make for the minibus!
However, the species total for the day was an impressive 75. Highlights were, from Sutton Bank, Siskin and Garden Warbler. Filey Dams provided Barn Owl, Little Grebe and Common Sandpiper and Cuckoo (heard). From Filey Brigg Country Park we walked along the top of the Brigg, the southern side of which has seen three recent landslips in the boulder clay. On the northern side we saw a good variety of nesting seabirds, Fulmar, Kittiwake, Guillemot and Razorbill. Even at a distance it is possible to see the sheer numbers of Gannets on the cliffs at Bempton.
A fine evening and stop at Scarborough was notable for the summer sound of Sandwich
Terns traversing the bay, reinforcing that it was in fact May, not March. The roofs of Harrogate may have been white over with hailstones and 3degrees showing on the thermometer, but we arrived home warm and dry, having seen some amazing weather. The bird list was as varied as the habitats we had visited, despite everything.
Once again many thanks to Colin for leading an unforgettable trip to sites in North Yorkshire which were new to some members and favourites to others who have been there in better weather and know the magic of a day’s raptor watching at Wykeham.
Our first stop was WWT Martin Mere which is known for its collection of global ducks which have been pinioned and afford close range views, which is not how many of us usually get to see ducks! They also run a breeding programme for these species, which was interesting to hear about. The same fences which keep the ducks safe from predation also provide a haven for small passerines, nesting with impunity close to the public path on the other side. Here we listened to a Blackcap, in full voice and watched a Chaffinch nest-building at close range. A good selection of waders were on the marsh pools, including Redshank, Lapwing, Avocet, Black-tailed Godwits and Ruff, the latter two were starting to acquire their breeding colours, many of the Godwits in full summer plumage looked wonderful.
Three stunning Mediterranean Gulls in breeding plumage were also viewed from the hides. A few Whooper Swans, Pintail and Wigeon were still enjoying the mild waters around the Mere. Acting on a tip off, as they say, we were directed to a site, high in an ivy clad tree, where two Tawny Owls were roosting side by side, which is quite unusual for this time of year. Buzzard and Kestrel were seen over the marshes. After lunch we called in at RSPB Marshside, north of Southport. Here they were in the process of installing an electric predator proof fence which will hugely increase the breeding success of the spectacular number of birds out on the marsh. A large assemblage of Golden Plover, and a second summer Little Gull added to our tally of 69 birds for the day.
We then sought our next habitat, the dunes of the Ainsdale and Birkdale Sandhills Local Nature Reserve.
It is one of the largest areas in Britain of dune ridges and valleys, containing coastal slacks, wet hollows with an ecosystem all of their own, rich in unusual plants and home of Natterjack Toads and Sand Lizards. Both species are threatened by habitat loss and are protected by British and European law, as they were once more widespread, and have suffered from habitat destruction over the last hundred years. They are both very habitat specific and as we walked on the boardwalk and explored the dune slacks, there was a noticeable feeling of a being in a micro-climate, sheltered from the onshore winds. The lizards require a sunny habitat and open undisturbed warm sand to lay their eggs. The toads similarly rely on the warmth of the coastal slacks’ shallow warm water to breed. It was an absolute delight to wander about these dunes, plant- spotting and listening to Willow Warblers marking out territory. We also saw a Stonechat and two Wheatears. Sadly we saw no lizards or toads, but now it’s on the radar, who would not look forward to another visit to such a wonderful site for another look?
Many thanks to Colin for driving and guiding us round such an interesting day.
Martin Mere is probably not as well known for its wild side, but more the captive fowl. The Fylde dune system is perhaps similarly overlooked by many, overshadowed by the famous championship golf courses, and fish and chips shops. But for no longer, we all learned a lot, including where to get the best fish and chips, and thoroughly enjoyed the day!