Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Spring Walk, Bingley - Sunday 2nd April 2017

We have a lovely Spring Walk along the lesser-known paths of Bingley on Sunday 2nd April.

 River Aire, Bingley - 2nd April 2017 (photo: Chris Chandler)

Starting from the cobbled courtyard by Ireland Bridge (across the road from the Brown Cow pub), we walked upstream beside the river Aire. We then headed through farmland and stables, before doubling back and climbing high up through the woods to eventually join Alter Lane and return to our meeting place.

An early treat was a Dipper on the weir by Ireland Bridge, before we heard the squeaky call of a Great Spotted Woodpecker flying overhead.

All along the path we could hear singing Wrens and Robins, which carried on throughout an early rain shower.  Beautiful Summer Snowflake was in flower along the river bank too.

Summer Snowflake (Leucojum aestivum), Bingley
2nd April 2017 (photo: Chris Chandler)

We found a mass of tadpoles in a ditch by the path, all bunched up at the end. The tadpoles were  probably grateful of the rain.

 Tadpoles, Bingley - 2nd April 2017 (photo: Chris Chandler)

Over on the river we stopped to watch some delightful Grey Wagtails as they looked for insect food on the detritus of the river, and flew from across the river with their bouncing flight style. On a large rock close by the shore, we noticed some animal scat - it was an Otter spraint (poo)! Otters scent-mark their territory with spraint in much the same way as other mammals like cats and foxes do. This might warn other otters that there is a resident on that stretch, either to attract a potential mate, or warn off competition.  It may also serve as a “calling card” for otters moving through an area to advertise their presence.

The spraint is thought to inform otters about age, sex, health and diet of the marking animal. It is black, 3 to 10 cm long, and flecked with bones and scales from the otter’s lunch!

 Otter spraint, Bingley - 2nd April 2017

Further along the river were a group of Goosanders and Mallards, with the males of both species looking resplendent in their breeding plumage.

We reached some stables, which had Pied Wagtails feeding on the rooftops, and we soon found some deer tracks. We compared them to our handy guide to mammal track, and were confident the hoof prints belonged to the of the local Fallow Deer population.

 Fallow Deer tracks, Bingley - 2nd April 2017

And just a little further on we found some deer poo! Again, our guide book came in handy, with the poo we found matching the picture and description perfectly.

 Deer poo, Bingley - 2nd April 2017

By now the weather had improved and we moved beyond the stables to the edge of some woodland.
No more rain!

At this point one eagle-eyed Airedale Otter noticed a Common Buzzard overhead! Before long we noticed another, and then another! One appeared to be performing a display: swooping from a great height down into the woods while making it's cat-like peea-ay call! Awesome!

 Common Buzzard, Bingley - 2nd April 2017
 We also found evidence of a Badger feeding site and toilet!

Believe it or not, this is a Badger toilet!

As the sun came out, we headed up through the woods, hearing more bird song (including singing Goldcrests) and finding more signs of Spring, like this Lesser Celandine.

Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna), Bingley
2nd April 2017 (photo: Chris Chandler)


Les, one of the group leaders, came across empty egg on the ground in the wood. It looked like it had hatched in the nest and been discarded by the parents. It could  have come a nest this year, or possibly last year. After a long discussion, we decided it was likely to be a Common Buzzard egg.

 Common Buzzard egg, Bingley - 2nd April 2017

Another treat was seeing a Sparrowhawk display over the woods! Two Sparrowhawks were flying low over the treetops, when one suddenly few in a fast stoop into the trees. The other bird flew round and around above the other bird, before flying down fast into the trees itself. Wow, not something you see everyday!

 Sparrowhawk egg, Bingley - 2nd April 2017

One last challenge was to cross the muddy field to Alter Lane, and we were accompanied during the walk down into Bingley by the strong and tasty aroma of Wild Garlic on the path side.

A really delightful walk. Thank you to everyone who came and made it such an enjoyable morning.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Big Garden Birdwatch 2017 at St Ives, Bingley - Sunday 29th January 2017

We had another enjoyable Big Garden Birdwatch at St Ives, near Bingley. As usual, we met at the bird hide in St Ives, next to Coppice Pond. We choose the same spot each year so we can easily compare each year's results. At around 10:45 we started our hour of counting the birds visiting the feeders. We had placed extra food out for the birds before the event to ensure we would attract as many species as possible. The weather was dry, still, clear and sunny - perfect.

Lots of helpers for this year's Big Garden Birdwatch

We saw more types of bird than in previous years, with a total of 13 species, although this year we didn't see a Treecreeper. The highlights were three Nuthatches giving us great views - this bird clearly is boss of the feeders here; two lovely Long-tailed Tits, and three tiny Goldcrests high up in the conifers behind the feeding station. The birds were:
  • Coal Tit
  • Blue Tit
  • Great Tit
  • Long-tailed Tit
  • Blackbird
  • Wood Pigeon
  • Magpie
  • Carrion Crow
  • Dunnock
  • Robin
  • Wren
  • Nuthatch
  • Goldcrest
It's interesting that we didn't see any finches during the survey. Finches are seed-eaters and regularly come to garden bird feeders.

  Nuthatch, St Ives, Bingley - 29th January 2017

  Robin, St Ives, Bingley - 29th January 2017

Grey Squirrel, St Ives, Bingley - 29th January 2017

One of the Airedale Otters' notebooks

We will send the result of our survey off to the RSPB so they can add it to many others that will have been done up and down the country. You can see our results from the last four years here: 2016, 2015, 2014 and 2013. The RSPB's results for last year's survey can be found here.

Thank you to everyone who came and help out with this year's count. 

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Winter Wildlife Walk, Hirst Wood - Sunday 8th January 2017

We had a great walk through Hirst Wood and along the River Aire on the morning on Sunday 8th January.

The weather was kind to us, with a mild temperature and no rain or wind. We headed west through the woodland from the Hirst Lock end, listening out for birds as we walked. Blue Tits and Carrion Crows were particularly active, with Wood Pigeons and Grey Squirrels too. We heard a Nuthatch making its loud ringing call, but we couldn't see it.

Under the railway bridge, we looked for Otter spraints on the rocks along the river, without success, but soon found a pair of Dippers. There were several Goosanders on the river. These beautiful ducks are members of the merganser family: fish-feeding ducks that have serrated edges to their bills to help them grip their prey, so they are often known as "sawbills".

 A male Goosander on the River Aire near Hirst Wood - 8th January 2017

 A female Goosander on the canal in Saltaire - January 2017

Following the path around the corner we heard a commotion in the trees. A screeching Grey Squirrel appeared to be hanging by its teeth from a branch! We then realised another squirrel was hanging by its teeth from the first squirrel, and appeared to be biting it! What a racket they made at they wriggle and dangled from the branch. Eventually the squirrel hanging on to the first squirrel's back fell off, and landed amongst the rocks below. It then got up, dusted itself down, and headed straight back up the tree to carry on the fight! They chased each other around the tree, which appeared to have at least three other squirrels in it too, before peace broke out and they all trotted off along the woodland floor.

 Fighting Grey Squirrels in Hirst Wood - 8th January 2017

At Dowley Gap sewage works, masses of Pied Wagtails were bobbing through the air and sat in the trees. These birds, along with the Meadow Pipits we also saw, are insectivorous (meaning they eat insects) and the sewage works is - unsurprisingly - the best place to find insects, even in winter.

Lots of tasty flies at Dowley Gap! - 8th January 2017

We now turned back towards Hirst Lock, but this time went along the riverside path. We heard and saw a pair of Grey Wagtails calling as they made their bouncy flight upriver. There were many Alder trees along the riverbank. Alders like to grow in damp conditions like these. We found the Alder Bracket fungus growing on one dead Alder tree stump.

Alder Bracket fungus - 8th January 2017

There were around a hundred Canada Geese feeding on grass in the field behind the rowing club, and see saw another pair of Dippers on the rocks at Hirst Weir.

Dipper, Hirst Weir, Saltaire - 8th January 2017

We finished with hot chocolate, vimto and biscuits in the Hirst Wood nature reserve! Thanks to everyone who came along.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

From all the Airedale Otters leaders - Cam, Joost, Chris, Les, and Nick - have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

We're looking forward to an eventful and wildlife-filled 2017, with a full programme of event to be published here soon. Our fist event of 2017 will be a New Year Winter Walk on Sunday 8th January, starting at 10:30am at Hirst Wood near Saltaire. We'll be looking for woodland birds, such as Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Jay, and river birds like Grey Wagtail, Goosander, Kingfisher and Dipper. We'll also be checking for signs of any Otters along the river. We'll end with some warming drinks at the new Hirst Wood Nature Reserve. Full details to follow soon.

Also in January we will once again be partaking in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, in our usual spot at the bird hide in St Ives at 10:30am on Sunday 29th January.

We haven't posted many updates on our blog recently - sorry about that! Here are a few photos from our most recent events: Fungi Foray at St Ives on the 16th October, and the Bat Walk at St Ives on 10th September.

Bat Walk, St Ives - Saturday 10th September 2016

Watching Pipistelle Bats on the old Cross Gates Lane.

Spooky lights while watching Daubenton's Bats over the Coppice Pond

Fungi Foray, St Ives - Sunday 16th October 2016

Airedale Otter Luke pointing out a Fly Agaric fungi he found

Our expert Bob Taylor telling us about Fly Agaric fungi

 Common Earthball fungi at St Ives
 Shaggy Scalycap fungi at St Ives

Hope you can join us for our next event!

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Peregrine Falcons, Malham Cove - Sunday 19th June 2016

We had a fabulous day out at Malham Cove in North Yorkshire on Sunday 19th June.

We met at the Yorkshire Dales National Park car park in Malham village, and Les gave us a quick talk on the Peregrine Falcons we were hoping to see up at Malham Cove. The walk to the Cove took us along the stream through the village. Swallows were coming down to a little "beach" by the stream, bringing dry grass in their beaks. The birds then scooped up some mud from the shore and flew off to build or repair their nests (presumably in a nearby barn).

The Swallow flew down with a short piece of grass in its beak...

 ...then scooped up a mouthful of mud before flying off.

Further on, House Sparrows were bathing in the stream by the village shop. On the other side of the village we headed through a small deciduous wood, which was full of birdsong. We could hear Chiffchaffs, Blackbirds, Jackdaws, and Chaffinches, with House Martins overhead. We spotted a family of Wrens on the dry-stone wall by the stream. The family probably nested in a cavity in the wall - the Wren's scientific name is Troglodytes, which means "cave-dweller".

Young Wren, Malham, North Yorkshire - Sunday 19th June 2016

The walk to the Cove is lovely, and the view is very impressive.

Malham Cove, North Yorkshire - Sunday 19th June 2016

A young Wheatear was among the rocks beside the path and was being attended to by its parents. Our visited clearly coincided with many young birds leaving their nests.

Wheatear, Malham, North Yorkshire - Sunday 19th June 2016

The RSPB Peregrine Monitoring Team were waiting at the Cove, where they keep a round-the-clock watch on the nesting Peregrines. They immediately pointed out the adult male Peregrine perched in an Ash tree high up on the side of the Cove!

Peregrine Falcon, Malham, North Yorkshire - Sunday 19th June 2016

The RSPB team gave us a really interesting talk about the Peregrines and answered our many questions. We were shown two stick models of the male and female Peregrine, to help us appreciate their size, and to see just how much bigger the female is compared to the male.

 Most of the kids were off watching Peregrines or searching for moles or fungi!

We heard how the Peregrine suffered terribly in the past from illegal killing by humans and from widespread contamination by persistent toxic agricultural chemicals such as DDT. After the banning of DDT in the 1980s, the Peregrine population has recovered brilliantly to about 1400 pairs (in 2002 - probably more now), from a low of only 360 in the 1960s. Unfortunately Peregrines are still persecuted - they have few fans in the Grouse-shooting industry or among Pigeon fanciers.

The Peregrine had caught a small bird, possibly a Blackbird. He flew around the Cove carrying the prey, while calling to the young Peregrines. He then settled back on the Ash tree and continued to eat the prey.

 Peregrine Falcon, Malham, North Yorkshire - Sunday 19th June 2016

By the feeders near the Peregrine watch point, we could see another striking bird: the Redstart. These birds spend the winter in north Africa and migrate north in Spring to breed in this type of grassy, wooded upland area. A beautiful male Redstart kept watch over its fledgling in the grass.

 Redstart, Malham, North Yorkshire - Sunday 19th June 2016

And searching for insects around the cattle was this lovely Pied Wagtail.

 Pied Wagtail, Malham, North Yorkshire - Sunday 19th June 2016

Thank you to everyone who joined us for this fascinating trip.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Moorland Wildlife Walk, Whetstone Gate, Rombalds Moor - Sunday 22nd May 2016

We had ad some wonderful weather and some surprising sightings on our trip up to the local moors on Sunday 22nd May 2016, at Whetstone Gate on Rombalds Moor.

One of the first things we saw was a lizard, spotted by one of our young Otters. Darting into the thick heather, it was too quick to getting a positive identification; but it was almost certainly a Common Lizard. We also found some old, empty, soft white eggs. Common Lizards are viviparous - meaning they give birth to live young, not eggs. They didn't look like bird eggs - they looked much more like lizard or snake eggs. After some extensive and exhaustive research, we're pretty certain they were Grass Snake eggs. Any herpetologists (someone who studies reptiles and amphibians) out there who can confirm?

 Mystery egg, with pound coin for size comparison
Rombalds Moor, 22nd May 2016 (photo: Joost Smeele)

We also found part of a Red Grouse egg, which looked like it had been the victim of a predator (the egg was smashed and there was some yolk on the inside of the egg). Red Grouse are specially adapted to keep warm and dry in cold upland areas like this, having round, stocky bodies with feathers covering their legs. We saw lots of them the moor - the area is used for grouse shooting, and the land-owners use many techniques to increase their numbers, including burning the heather and suppressing animals that predate grouse.

Highly camouflaged Red Grouse egg - Rombalds Moor, 22nd May 2016

Another abundant bird we saw was the Skylark. You often first notice these by their song, which the sing while hovering high up in the air. When they do this they can be surprisingly difficult to spot, even when they sound like they're right above you! Skylarks are streaky brown with a small crest, which can be raised when the bird is excited or alarmed. Its recent and dramatic population declines make it a Red List species.

Skylark - Rombalds Moor, 22nd May 2016

A Skylark in flight - Rombalds Moor, 22nd May 2016 (photo Chris Chandler)

Probably the most numerous bird on the moor was the Meadow Pipit, which is similar to a Skylark, but smaller, slimmer, and with a thin bill and no crest.

Meadow Pipit - Rombalds Moor, 22nd May 2016

We also saw a female Wheatear, first on the wall, and later feeding among the Sphagnum moss with the Skylarks. Wheatears are summer visitors, breeding mainly in western and northern Britain. They spend the winter in central Africa.

Wheatear - Rombalds Moor, 22nd May 2016

Sphagnum moss itself is fascinating. It is very absorbent and when applied to wounds it soaks up the blood and infection and its naturally antiseptic properties helped heal these wounds. Vast amounts of Sphagnum mosses were harvested from moorland during the First World War to help treat wounds on the front line. They also play an important role in the creation of peat bogs, holding water in their spongy forms long after the surrounding soil has dried out. In this way, they provide essential nutrients to the soil and help to prevent the decay of dead plant material which gets compressed over hundreds of years to form peat.

Unfortunately we couldn't see any Golden Plover on the moor. We know these beautiful birds breed here, but thanks to their spangley golden plumage they can be very difficult to spot. We did see - and hear - lots of Curlews and Lapwing, which is good news as both these species are in decline and are also red-litsed.

Another great find by one of our Otters was an Oak Eggar moth caterpillar (Lasiocampa quercus for fans of scientific names), feeding on heather. A great find.

Oak Eggar moth caterpillar - Rombalds Moor, 22nd May 2016

Thank you to everyone who came and made the event such fun.