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!
The field trips for 2015 are now on this website under Calendar , or click HERE. There is also a list (and booking forms for the bus trips) in the Spring Newsletter. Colin Slator has done a sterling job arranging these for us and they are always woth attending. Reports of past excursions can be found on this page (under NEWS items).
Colin gives the following message regarding this summer’s outings:
Some trips could return quite late in the night for this period. I am sorry but it’s the nature of the species we are targeting. Please don’t book if you are wanting to return early for any reason, an early return cant be guaranteed for the trips where it is stated – expect a late return.
The Society now has the use of a good quality telescope and tripod (a legacy from Rodney Waddilove). Various field guides are also available on most trips. 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
Arriving at Seahouses just before 10am the visibility was crystal clear, with excellent views of the Farne Islands. We met up with Muff and Jack who were staying in the area, making eight in total. Low tide enabled us to scan the rocks for waders, revealing Purple Sandpipers, Dunlin, Ringed Plovers, Oystercatchers, Redshank, Curlews and Turnstones. Goldeneye and ‘Cuddy’ ducks were on the sea and in the harbour, both looking resplendent in the sunshine.
The Eider Ducks are locally named after St Cuthbert who established a chapel on Inner Farne 600 years ago. The weather was perfect for a trip to the Farne Islands, and unable to resist the chance to see them at close range, Colin went to enquire. He came back with the news that the ‘Glad Tidings’ was sailing at noon from Seahouses, passing the aforementioned St Cuthbert’s chapel, the cliff nesting sites, the seal colony as well as the Longstone Lighthouse of Grace Darling fame. The Fulmars, early nesters, had paired up and claimed their breeding sites, and Kittiwakes had also returned for the breeding season. Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Cormorants, Shags, Guillemots and a few Razorbills came close to the boat and we got a very satisfying view of the very first returning Puffins. There is a notable colony of about 6000 grey seals which includes 1000 pups born each autumn, and many were basking in the sunshine.
There were also spectacular views looking back at the coastline and our intended destinations once back on shore.
We drove to Budle Bay where the water was still low, but highlights included Red-breasted Mergansers, Wigeon and Little Egret.
The hide at Fenham-le-Moor gave views over to Lindisfarne and a relatively quiet estuary but a fleeting glimpse of Twite and Linnet made up for that. Stag Rocks, north of Bamburgh was our last stop and proved very rewarding, straightaway there was a pair of Long-tailed Ducks and a Black-necked Grebe was close in too. The light was stunning and a scan further north revealed at least 20 Slavonian Grebes amongst the Common Scoters. There were several Red-throated Divers to add to the list, smaller in size than the Black-throated Diver which had been seen flying earlier on in the day.
We drove home with long shadows enhancing the beautiful Northumberland scenery and Sue Harrison started the bird count, 68 species seen! Many thanks to Peter and Colin for driving and thanks also to Colin for leading what was an absolutely superb day out. This trip was definitely worth the travel time and the chance to see a good selection of grebes, sea ducks, waders, gulls and the Farne Islands at close range was not to be missed.
Hawfinches are best seen in winter when the trees shed their leaves, and can be seen in the high branches of the trees around the visitor centre at Sizergh. Disturbance from visitors can scare them off but we arrived early enough, even with a stopover at Hellifield Flash en route. 16 pairs of eyes scanned the Hornbeam trees, but it was Colin who heard and then spotted the first Hawfinch and got the telescope onto it. As we all gathered round, another flew over, which gave the rest of us a brief but good view. Target Species achieved once again! For anyone who missed this trip and would like to see a Hawfinch, visit email@example.com for free Ranger events in March and April.
There are many other woodland species to see, Nuthatch, Tits, Woodpeckers etc. but our trip continued to Foulshaw Moss, a 350 hectare raised mire SSSI, Cumbria Wildlife Trust site noted for its Harrier roost in winter and Ospreys, Adders, Green Hairstreak Butterfly and Emperor Moth in summer. This was a new site for many of us and one to note for future visits.
The next good sighting was a Peregrine Falcon at Warton Crag, sitting high on a ledge,
spotted by Robert Chandler. We were also entertained by a Buzzard being mobbed by a Kestrel. This is a nationally important, Lancashire Wildlife Trust site of limestone crag, grassland and woodland.
The forecast had predicted rain for the afternoon but we arrived in the dry at the Allen Hide at Leighton Moss, prompted by Sue Harrison’s Bird Guide report of Eurasian White –fronted Geese. We got an excellent haul of waders there, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Avocet, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, etc., plus, the aforementioned geese were scoped on the grassland overlooking Morecambe Bay. Our duck tally, which started at Hellifield, increased.
More Pintail, Shoveler, Goldeneye, Wigeon, Pochard etc and the last, but not least, bird of the day was a Marsh Harrier over the lagoons of the main reserve at Leighton Moss.
With the promised rain arriving too late to spoil anything, Colin started the long drive home and Sue Harrison recorded the 69 species seen. Many thanks to Colin and yet again to his Wingman, Will, for a really excellent days birding and tour of the area.
report : Sue Coldwell
Colin’s shaggy-dog stories came thick and fast as the fourteen of us walked from Ripon’s North Bridge up the River Ure on a dry and intermittently sunny morning. As usual Colin proved a canny observer when he rescued a torpid Great-crested Newt from a drain and deposited it in a place of safety.
He next took us to the HBC nature reserve at Little Studley, where Teal and Mallard were seen but the Snipe for which the reserve is noted were unfortunately not in evidence. As we left, a passing Sparrowhawk elicited alarm calls from a number of small birds.
Colin showed us the ruins of some bathing cubicles on the riverbank but it was difficult to envisage on a cold winter’s day how anyone could ever have enjoyed taking a dip in the murky and fast flowing waters.
Our next port of call was the YWT reserve called The Loop, where the river takes a huge meander, threatening to break through and undergo yet another of its many historical changes of course. Reaching the reserve required climbing over several fences and gates, which proved a great trial for some of the old crocks amongst us. We ate our lunch seated rather uncomfortably on an old bowser then proceeded upriver, where the reluctant sun illuminated the Hazel catkins and Silver Birches in spectacular fashion.
Whilst walking along the river, Colin found a muddy bank where he was able to show us the difference between footprints of Otter, Badger and Mink, all of which were imprinted in the same short stretch of mud.
Colin next pointed out the outcrops of gypsum (cause of many a house subsidence in Ripon) on the cliffs overhanging the Ure. After further fence climbing we finally arrived at High Batts Nature Reserve, where carpets of Snowdrops were in full bloom and giving promise of spring.
Our walk had taken us through the Ripon Parks SSSI, an area of wet woodland and watery meadows bounded bythe spectacular River Ure and its floodplain. Highlights of the walk were two large flocks of Curlew, numbering perhaps 300 birds, several Buzzards and a Hare which sprang from its form in the grass at our feet.
Many thanks, Colin, for an entertaining and informative day.
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Once again the BTO are running a Birdwatchers’ Conference in Yorkshire, this time at a bigger venue, Askham Bryan Agricultural College, York. in 2012 we met at Weetwood Hall in Leeds with a maximum capacity of just over 100, this time we can accommodate 300.
Come and join us on Saturday 14th. March, just £20.00 per person, tea, coffee and a buffet lunch included. The Keynote Speaker is Sir John Lawton, plus Stephen Murphy (Natural England), Keith Clarkson (RSPB Bempton) and Gareth Jones (North Yorkshire Police). We will also have two presentations from BTO staff members.
Advanced booking only via Samantha Graham at BTO HQ, – firstname.lastname@example.org – 01842 750050. The programme and a booking form are now available on the BTO website: www.bto.org click on “News and Events” and you will see the link
You do not need to be a BTO member, everybody is welcome!
Regards, Mike Brown,
BTO Regional Rep for Yorkshire-Central,
The date for the trip to Nothumberland is now Tuesday 10th March 2015 – not Sunday 22nd March. See the Calendar for more details.