Winter Walk, 10th December 2019
True to tradition, our Christmas winter walk this year was led by Colin Slator.
Ten of us travelled initially by car from Ripon along hitherto unexplored back roads, stopping here and there to scan the expansive vistas. Snippets of history and geology coloured the views with tales of ownership and family fall-outs and, here and there, we found birds – some Scandinavian Thrushes, a flock of Linnet and also a mixed flock searching the mast from autumn leaf litter – eking out an existence from the depleted landscape.
‘Mindful management and conservation of the land’ was certainly a theme which continued upon our arrival at Bellflask at East Tanfield where we met with Brian Morland. His passionate custodianship of this place was evident. He reiterated what we, as naturalists, readily understand: if we sanitise the countryside imposing neatness and order upon nettles, thistles, ragwort and other ‘perceived weeds’, then we remove the food source for our bird populations. For example, he showed us the micro moth larvae safely bedded down within a teasel seed head, which act as vital store cupboards for future meals.
We felt privileged to be guided round his ‘patch’ where his intimate knowledge was such that he can even identify the many individual Bittern that he has encountered there.
On the day of our visit any sensible birds were hunkered down. However, we still managed a reasonable tally of duck (including Wigeon, Goldeneye, Teal, Tufted Duck and Mallard) and multiple Little Grebe as well as a Great Crested Grebe. As well as the standard Mute swans we also encountered two Whooper swans. The bushes held some mobile mixed flocks which included Gold Crests and Tree Creepers.
I don’t think I need to mention the weather as the accompanying pictures adequately convey the conditions. Suffice it to say our lovely Christmas Dinner at the Black Bull was well earned.
Many thanks to Muff for organising this and Colin for his expert guidance.