Tuesday, 14 November 2017

End of an Era

The RSPB have recently revised their rules for Wildlife Explorer groups. Under the new guidelines, the RSPB will no longer support small groups like the Airedale Otters, focusing instead on larger groups and those based at their nature reserves.

As a result, we have unfortunately had to close the group. It is disappointing, but we must accept their decision.

The group leaders - volunteers Cam, Joost, Chris, Les, and Nick - would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your amazing support for the Airedale Otters over the years. We have had many memorable times at our events, from our first event at Bracken Hall on Sunday 19th June 2011, until our last event, a bat walk at St Ives on Saturday 9th September 2017.

We've found Otter poo and Grass Snake eggs. We’ve seen Bank Voles and Field Mice, Red Grouse and Red Kites, Kingfishers and Goosanders. We've seen Common Lizards, Toads, Frogs, and Newts too. We listened to Skylarks singing, Curlews calling, Buzzards mewing, and bat boxes beeping. We’ve dipped in ponds, swept up bugs, and foraged for fungi. We’ve spotted White-clawed Crayfish in the dark, seen Grey Squirrels fighting in a tree, and counted Nuthatches and Treecreepers in the freezing cold. And a lot more besides!

As well as some great memories, the Airedale Otters have also left the legacy of the nest boxes in Deep Cliffe Wood. Above all, it’s been a pleasure to meet so many enthusiastic and knowledgeable kids and parents.

We hope you all find outlets for your enthusiasm for wildlife.

All the best
Cam, Joost, Chris, Les, and Nick

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Bat Walk, St Ives, Bingley - Saturday 9th September 2017

We had another excellent bat walk at St Ives, Bingley on Saturday 9th September at St Ives, Bingley. We had a great turnout again - thank you to everyone who came along.

As darkness fell, Cam gave the group a brief introduction to bats and their behaviour. We were that after a wet few days it was a still and dry evening, which is ideal, as bats cannot “see” well (i.e. echo-locate)  in the rain and so don’t come out to hunt. All 18 species of British bat are insect-eating - or insectivorous - nocturnal, flying mammals. Understandably, they prefer hunting for insects on still  rather than windy nights.

They hunt using “echolocation”, locating things by their echoes. To do this, bats make sounds and the returning echoes give the bats information about anything that is ahead of them, including the size and shape of an insect and which way it is going.

We shared out our bat detectors, which are small boxes which translate the bats’ high-pitched squeaks into sounds we can hear. As it became dark we set off up Cross Gates Lane behind the golf club, towards the tree-lined fields and derelict barn. At the edge of the golf course, sheltered by the trees, we spotted our first Pippistrelle bats.

Watching bats, St Ives, Bingley - Saturday 9th September 2017

Further on the barn the detectors soon picked up bat activity. Shining torches up at the trees, we soon spotted more Pippistrelle bats. They were flying just under the canopy of the trees – where the branches spread over the lane to form a long high “tunnel” and the insects shelter from the breeze.

After watching and listening at the barns we moved back down the lane and on to Coppice pond, where the water attracts lots of insects and we were able to hear Daubenton’s bats - the “water bat” - moving out over the lake. The bat species can be told apart by their behaviour and the frequency of their calls: how high or low they squeak. Though we did not find it easy to differentiate many species, there was lots of bat activity to keep us occupied.

There was also an eerie mist forming over the water, moving gently over the surface, giving the whole scene a spooky vibe!

Watching the Daubenton's Bats, St Ives, Bingley - Saturday 9th September 2017

We also saw some  white-clawed crayfish in the pond shallows. These are small, fresh-water lobster-like crustaceans. St Ives Estate have undertaken work to encourage the endangered white-clawed crayfish in Coppice Pond. Just like our bat walk two years ago, we found a Moorhen, roosting in a flimsy branch overhanging the pond. This may seem an odd place for us to sleep, but for a Moorhen it's the perfect place to sleep safe from Mink and other predators.

White-clawed Crayfish, St Ives, Bingley - Saturday 9th September 2017

Once again, thank you to everyone who came and made this such an enjoyable event.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Denso-Marston Nature Reserve, Baildon - Sunday 9th July 2017

We had another great event at Denso-Marston nature reserve on Sunday 9th July. Despite the reserve's small size, there's always plenty to see here.

Warden Steve Warrillow made us very welcome and invited us to the new warden's office to see what his moth traps had caught overnight.

Scalloped Oak moth - Denso-Marston Nature Reserve, 9th July 2017

Peppered moth - Denso-Marston Nature Reserve, 9th July 2017

Early Thorn moth - Denso-Marston Nature Reserve, 9th July 2017

We also saw Buff Arches and White Ermine moths, and a Sparrowhawk flying overhead, but the star of the show had to be the Poplar Hawk-moth.

Poplar Hawk-moth - Denso-Marston Nature Reserve, 9th July 2017

The star of the show was this Poplar Hawk-moth (on Steve's thumb)

We then headed out along the river to the far end of the reserve. Here, under the trees, Steve has placed up to 50 wooden boards to create living spaces for mammals and amphibians. We were encouraged to lift up these boards to see what lives beneath.

We found evidence of small mammals living under most of the boards, either Wood Mouse or Bank Vole, although we didn't see any this time. What we did see was lots of Toads, most of which were very dark, but at least one was very pale. Steve explained there can be lots of variation in the colouring of toads, and especially in Common Frogs too.

One of the dark Toads we found...

 ...and a pale Toad we found

Finally, we emerged into the the hot sunshine and headed to the pond for some pond-dipping.

Moorhens - Denso-Marston Nature Reserve, 9th July 2017

Two Moorhens were nesting on the pond, and hawking for small insect prey were two large Brown Hawker dragonflies. Around the reeds and irises at the pond edge were the much smaller Azure Damselflies

Pond dipping

We managed to catch a wide variety of species, and learnt to identify many of them too. There were quite a small  young Smooth Newts, some bigger than others. We also caught plenty of invertebrates: Greater and Lesser Water-boatmen, Hog Louse, Blood Worm, Flatworm, Water Mite, Pond Skaters, Leaches and Freshwater Snail.

Greater Water-boatman (aka Backswimmer)
Denso-Marston Nature Reserve, 9th July 2017

Thank you to everyone who attended and made it such a fun event.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Bird Race, St Ives, Bingley - Sunday, 7th May, 2017

On Sunday 7th May we held the Airedale Otters annual Great Bingley Bird-off! Well, Bird Race, actually. It was a clear fresh morning and everyone met at the Coppice Pond bird hide in St Ives.

A bird race is a competition for the ‘Otters’ to see or hear as many species of bird as possible. All birds must be seen or heard by a young person and validated by an impartial leader. As we didn’t have any of those, Cam and Joost stepped in to lead the two teams!

Cam’s team strode off purposefully through mature woodland towards Lady Blantyre’s rock, the heathland above, open lawns and moorland of the golf course and back along Cross Gates Lane.

Joost’s team dawdled around Coppice Pond, noting lots of water birds on the pond, including a surprisingly colourful Moorhen (green legs; yellow and red beak; plus black, brown and white plumage).

 Moorhen with chicks

We also saw Coot, Canada Goose, Mallard, Mute Swan, and a stumpy, round Tufted Duck diving under the surface, plus open woodland birds like the Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff around the edges. Those two birds look very similar, but have very different calls.

 Willow Warbler (photo Andreas Trepte, www.photo-natur.net)


Joost’s team then set off towards the golf course, looking for thrushes and blackbirds hunting worms and snails on the grass, tiny, noisy, wrens around the dry-stone walls and nut hatches and treecreepers scampering over old oak trees.

Treecreepers always creep up a tree

Nuthatches scurry down the tree (photo Stephen Lilley)

We grabbed a few bonus points with a kestrel and buzzard soaring high over the top meadows (it’s always worthwhile having binoculars to bring those distant birds into clearer view). Finally, a tip-off from Cam helped Joost’s team see a Pied flycatcher – not at all a common sight.

Pied Flycatcher (photo Stephen Lilley)

As an extra treat, we then heard a Wood Warbler, which sounds like a coin spinning on a table! And then a more common Goldcrest - a tiny olive bird which, when agitated, reveals a spectacular orange mohican!


We all struggled back to base, over time and eager to know the result. Somehow Joost’s team had managed to tip the balance in their favour (Les and Chris were helping too!!) with a very respectable 36 species as shown below:

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.