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


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. Sfetr 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.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Spring Migration at St Ives, Bingley - Sunday 10th April 2016

We had a very enjoyable event at St Ives, Bingley, on Sunday 10th April. The focus was on migrating birds, specifically birds that visit the UK to breed during the summer and spend winter in warmer climates further south.

Many of these migrating birds are part of a group of small, insect-eating birds called warblers. These birds can look very similar to one another, but fortunately they all have distinctive songs  - of course, that's why they're called warblers!

We had fun identifying two almost identical warblers: Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff. Willow Warblers sing a lovely descending song, whereas Chiffchaffs (like Cuckoos) sing their name: chiff-chaff-chiff-chaff.

 Chiffchaff - St Ives, Bingley 10th April 2016 (photo: Chris Chandler)

As we walked we heard a Curlew high overhead - a very evocative sound. These wading birds breed on the moors and upland pasture just by St Ives. Curlews also migrate, but generally only go as far as our beaches and coastal mud flats in winter.

We also noticed a Sparrowhawk being mobbed by crows, then a Buzzard appeared overhead, then we saw two Sparrowhawks mobbing two Buzzards! Birds of prey (or raptors as they are often called) like these warm and sunny days in early spring, where they can catch the thermals and display over their territories.

Taking the path round Coppice Pond, we watched a territorial Mute Swan shooing away a Canada Goose, and heard the loud calls of the resident Nuthatches. Some of us were lucky enough to catch sight of a Perch in the pond.

We spotted this crazy Carrion Crow, which kept flying in from near Coppice Pond, carrying what at first looked like a carrot in its bill. On closer inspection, we saw it was carrying three cheesy wotsits! It then burried them in the hourse padock and flew off ...only to return with another beak-full 30 seconds later, and bury those too!



 Carrion Crow - St Ives, Bingley 10th April 2016 (photos: Chris Chandler)

We finished the walk at St Ives visitor centre and saw our first Swallows of the year - always a nice feeling to know summer is well and truly on it's way.


Thanks to everyone who came to the event and made it so enjoyable.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Otter and Spring Wildlife Walk, Bingley - Sunday 13th March 2016

We had a really enjoyable Spring walk along the River Aire on Sunday 13th March, looking for evidence of Otters and signs of Spring.

River Aire - Bingley 13th March 2016

Just like our last Otter walk in Bingley, the weather was lovely - warm and sunny and very Springlike. We were seeing signs of Spring all around as we assembled at Bingley Market Cross. Several large White-tailed Bumblebees were busily foraging among the crocuses by the car park.

White-tailed Bumblebee - Bingley 13th March 2016

We followed the river downstream towards Myrtle Park, checking for signs of Otters. Otters leave "spraints" – what we would call poo – on prominent rocks along the river, to mark out their territory. Unfortunately, there were very few exposed rocks left after the recent flooding, and what there was had been recently washed clean.

Early in walk we found lots of prints in the sand and mud on the river bank; but apart for dog prints, most of these appeared to be from an American Mink. The Mink is smaller than the Otter, and the prints are therefore smaller. Like the Otter, American Mink breeds along the River Aire; but, unlike the Otter, which developed naturally on the UK, the wild Mink population exists because of escapes from Mink farms.

  American Mink tracks - Bingley 13th March 2016

We did find some possible Otter tracks, among the many dog tracks, but they weren't totally conclusive. But, that's nature for you, and it shows how being a wildlife explorer involves finding clues using skill, judgement and experience to interpret them - it's not always straightforward!


  Possible Otter tracks - Bingley 13th March 2016

The trees were full of birdsong - a clear sign the breeding season has started. In the distance we could hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker hammering on a tree. We could smell the delicious Wild Garlic growing on the river bank, and further on we found Lesser Celandine - one of the first plants to flower in Spring.

  Lesser Celandine - Bingley 13th March 2016

On the water were a pair of beautiful Goosander - fantastic "saw-billed" ducks with a striking plumage. A pair of Canada Goose were swimming in the sunshine near to Throstle Nest.

  Canada Goose - Bingley 13th March 2016

By the end of the walk it was a bright and warm Spring day - a lovely end to a really enjoyable event. Thank you to everyone who joined in.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Big Garden Birdwatch 2016 at St Ives - Sunday 31st January

Our first event of 2016 was the annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch at St Ives.

The venue was again 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. The Airedale Otters leaders had placed extra food out for the birds before the event to ensure we would attract as many species as possible.

Robin, St Ives, Bingley - 31st January 2016

We saw species of birds this year than last (eleven instead of eight), but this year we had fewer individual birds. The birds were:
  • Coal Tit
  • Blue Tit
  • Great Tit
  • Blackbird
  • Wood Pigeon
  • Magpie
  • Carrion Crow
  • Dunnock
  • Robin
  • Nuthatch
  • Treecreeper 

 Blackbird, St Ives, Bingley - 31st January 2016 (photo Chris Chandler)

Blue Tit, St Ives, Bingley - 31st January 2016 (photo Chris Chandler)
 
 Great Tit, St Ives, Bingley - 31st January 2016 (photo Chris Chandler)


 Wood Pigeon, St Ives, Bingley - 31st January 2016 (photo Chris Chandler)

It wasn't only birds! Grey Squirrel, St Ives, Bingley - 31st January 2016

It was great to see the young birdwatchers using their notepads to make notes and draw the birds they saw - a great way to improve your bird identification skills.

Some of the lists and drawings by young Airedale Otters at this year's Big Garden Birdwatch

One of the highlights (as well as the hot chocolate and biscuits!) was a Treecreeper which flew on to a tree behind the hide and allowed us to get a close look. These small mouse-like birds forage for insects on tree trucks. They always climb up trees, never down - they fly down to the base on the next tree. Check out the RSPB website for more information on Treecreepers.

Treecreeper, St Ives, Bingley - 31st January 2016

The Treecreeper looked straight at us!

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 three years here: 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, 29 September 2015

Bat Walk at St Ives, Bingley - Saturday 5th September 2015

Thank you to everyone who came to our annual bat walk at St Ives, Bingley, on Saturday 5th September at St Ives, Bingley. We had a great turnout of regular and new members and again the weather was perfect - for bats and humans!

We met in the car park behind the St Ives visitor centre, as Swallows zipped around our heads. As we waited for the the sky yo darken, Cam gave the group a brief introduction to bats and their behaviour. Not that the Otters needed much introduction - they already knew a lot about bats already!

It was a still and dry evening, which is ideal, as bats cannot “see” in the rain and so don’t come out to hunt. British bats include 18 species – all of them quite small. The largest is the Noctule bat which is still smaller than the palm of your hand. They are all insect-eating - or insectivorous - nocturnal, flying mammals.

The most interesting thing about them is how they “see” so well in the dark that they can catch flying insects. They do this by “echolocation”, locating things by their echoes. To do this, bats make shouting sounds. 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. Then, as darkness fell, we set off up Cross Gates Lane behind the golf club, towards the tree-lined fields and derelict barns. At the edge of the golf course, where the trees form a sheltering U-shaped area, we spotted our first Pippistrelle bats.

Watching bats, St Ives, Bingley - Saturday 5th September 2015

At the barns the detectors soon picked up bat activity in series of short, sharp stutters, but the bats themselves were harder to see. With a few torches up in 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.

Looking for crayfish, St Ives, Bingley - Saturday 5th September 2015

As a bonus to the evening, one of our younger members pointed out that there were small fish close in to the lake shore and we saw a few boldly striped perch. We also saw lots of white-clawed crayfish in the shallows. These are small, fresh-water lobster-like crustaceans. Their presence in numbers is encouraging, as St Ives have undertaken work to encourage the endangered white-clawed crayfish in Coppice Pond. Our torches also 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.

Moorhen, St Ives, Bingley - Saturday 5th September 2015

Thank you to everyone who came and made this such an enjoyable event.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Denso-Marston Nature Reserve, Baildon - Sunday 12th July 2015

We had great event at Denso-Marston nature reserve on Sunday 12th July. Warden Steve Warrillow again did a great job in showing us the delights of this lovely little reserve, which is tucked away by the River Aire in Baildon.

Steve had set a moth trap the night before and had kept some of the more interesting species. So after a good look at some fascinating moths, our first job was to help release them back into the wild.

We headed next to the east end of the reserve, where areas of grass and wildflowers had been encouraged to overgrow. This was a great area for bugs, and Steve pointed out that Grass Snakes live here too! After a quick lesson in "sweeping", using a butterfly net to sweep up insects from the grass, we started our bug hunt.

Steve gives us a lesson in sweeping for bugs!

We found plenty of Grass Bugs and red-and-black Soldier Beetles, as well as Harlequin Ladybirds. We found at least three beautiful, delicate Azure Damselflies - one female and two males. Interestingly, we found lots of tiny young Common Toads in the grass too.

Azure Damselfly - Denso-Marston Nature Reserve, July 2015

Young Common Toad - Denso-Marston Nature Reserve, July 2015

Despite threatening to rain at first, the weather improved and we marched over to the west end of the reserve to explore the wood. In the woodland, Steve had placed several wooden boards to create living spaces for mammals and amphibians. We were encouraged to lift up these boards to see what lives beneath.

Lifting the boards

Most of the boards had Wood Mouse or Short-tail Field Vole nests under them. Many had fresh cherries under them, with lots of gnawed cherry stones. It seemed the longer the boards had been in place, the more evidence of life we found. As we lifted one board we saw a Wood Mouse running away!

Pond dipping

We ended with a great pond dipping session. Everyone caught a varied array of species, and clearly learnt to identify many of them too. There were quite a few tiny young Smooth Newts in many of the trays. We also caught plenty of invertebrates with fantastic names! Such as: Backswimmers, Greater and Lesser Water-boatmen, Hog Louse, Blood Worm, Flatworm, Water Mite, Pond Skater, and Phantom Midge.

Large Red Damselfly - Denso-Marston Nature Reserve, July 2015

Around the pond edges were many Azure Damselflies and Large Red Damselflies. Our eagle-eyed Otters also found three dragonfly exuvia (the exoskeleton "skins" from which the adult dragonflies emerge when the dragonfly larvae crawl out out of the pond), from a Brown or Southern Hawker.

Hawker dragonfly exuvia - Denso-Marston Nature Reserve, July 2015

Another really enjoyable event - thank you to all the families who attended.