Monday, 2 December 2013

Airedale Otter Christmas Event, St Ives, Bingley - Sunday 8th December 2013

A big thank you to all our members and their families who came to the Airedale Otters Christmas Event at St Ives on Sunday 8th December.

We started at the visitor centre with a demonstration of woodturning by the West Riding Woodturners Group. It was really interesting for Otters to see how wood can be worked into useful and decorative items using traditional methods. The kids also got to take home games and ornaments made from turned wood.

Woodturning at St Ives Visitor Centre - Sunday 8th December 2013

Heading out for our walk - Sunday 8th December 2013

Continuing the wood and tree theme, we then went on a winter scavenger hunt, looking in particular for different types of tree. Identifying trees isn't as easy in winter as it is in summer, when the trees have their leaves. But, there there are still plenty of clues we can use to help us. Each different tree species tends to have a unique shape, so we can make a good guess at the species just by looking at the tree's silhouette. The bark's colour and texture is another really important clue. Underneath the tree you can look for clues such as dead leaves and fallen fruit, such as conkers from Horse Chestnut trees, acorns from Oak trees, and berries from Holly, Hawthorn or Rowan.

Different tree species can also have different buds on their twigs. The twigs may have thorns, and can branch in different ways depending on the species: opposite each other, or alternating left and right. So you can identify a tree just from a small stick found on the ground!

There were quite a few Black-headed Gulls on Coppice Pond, although none of them had black heads! This is because the birds only have black heads in spring and summer, and moult into different feathers in the autumn, so during winter their heads are mostly white with a small black dot behind the eye. We also saw Mallards, Canada Geese and Moorhens on the pond.

 Canada Goose with Mallards at St Ives - Sunday 8th December 2013

We finished at the bird hide for snacks and mince pies, and hot juice and mulled wine. There were a few visitors to the feeders, including tiny Coal Tits. Coal Tits rarely hang around on the feeders. They like to fly in, quickly grab some food, and immediately fly off into cover to eat. We had some Blue Tits too, who are never as shy as the Coal Tits, plus the ground-feeding Dunnock. We were lucky to see two Nuthatches, if only briefly. And of course, no Christmas birdwatch would be complete without a Robin, and one sat in the fallen pine tree branch in front of the hide - a very festive scene.

Drinks and snacks at the bird hide - Sunday 8th December 2013

Once again, thank you to everyone who came and made it such fun event.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Checking Nestboxes in Deep Cliff Wood, Saturday 16th November

We had another fascinating event at Deep Cliff Wood in Harden on Saturday 16th November, as we cleaned out the nest boxes we made in January 2012, getting them ready for the breeding season next spring.

Checking inside one of the nest boxes

One of the best things about opening the next boxes is you never what what you're going to find. Here’s a full list of what we found this year (and last year's results for comparison):

Box Number 
What we found this year (2013)
What we found last year (2012)
Empty and clean
Bird poo!
Empty and clean
Empty and clean
Complete Blue Tit nest (no eggs found)
Complete Blue Tit nest (no eggs found)
Empty and clean
Partially-built nest
Empty and clean
Bird poo!
Partially-built Blue Tit nest
Blue Tit nest with two eggs
Empty and clean
Partially-built Blue Tit nest.
Empty and clean
Empty and clean
Empty and clean
Empty and clean
Blue Tit nest with one egg
Successful nest
Empty and clean
Empty and clean
Empty and clean
Blue Tit nest and bird poo
Successful Blue Tit nest
Blue Tit nest with three eggs (one hatched)
Empty and clean
Partially-built Blue Tit nest.

Last year, out of the 14 nest boxes, we found at least ten of them had been used. This year, we found only four had been used. What's going on? We don't know for sure, but we have some ideas.

This year, the spring was very cold (it felt like winter would never end!), but we had a lovely warm, dry summer. By the time the warm weather arrived, it's possible many birds had decided it was too late to begin breeding. In 2012, the summer was very cold and wet, whereas the early spring was very warm. It's possible that birds started nesting early but abandoned their nests as the weather became colder and wetter.

We may never know, but by continuing to monitor the nests and comparing the records from one year to the next we may be able to see some patterns in the birds behaviour. It interesting to note that the four nest boxes that were used this year were also used last year. All of the boxes that we found empty last year were empty again this year.

The good news is in nest boxes 3, 10, and 23 we found complete Blue Tit nests. It is likely the birds in these nest boxes successfully raised families!

Nest box 3

The Blue Tit nest from nest box 3

Looking at what we found in nest box 10

The Blue Tit nest and egg from nest box 10

The Blue Tit nest from nest box 23

Nest box 6 contained a partially-built Blue Tit nest. Birds stop building nests for several reasons: maybe one of the parents were injured or killed (possibly by a predator like a Sparrowhawk), or maybe they were struggling with the early cold weather. If, the birds were struggling to find food or keep themselves warm, they may have decided to stop and try again later when the weather improved. Building a nest, laying eggs, and then raising a family is very hard work for a small bird. They will only carry on if they have a realistic chance of raising at least one chick.

All the other nest boxes were empty and clean. Here's hoping these will be used next year.

Whilst looking around we found lots of different types of fungi. This weird-looking black fungus is called Dead Man's Fingers, and you can see why! This fungus often grows on dead Beech trees.

Dead Man's Fingers - Deep Cliff Wood, 16th November 2013

Some Airedale Otters found a couple of Beech trees which had been 'girdled' or 'bark ringed'. This means a strip of bark has been removed from around the entire circumference of a trunk of a tree, killing the tree. Foresters and tree surgeons sometimes use this technique to kill unwanted or damaged trees and thin out a wood or forest. The Otters noticed what looked like red paint above the area where the bark had been removed. On closer inspection we found this was actually a fungus: Red Coral Spot fungus.

Red Coral Spot fungus - Deep Cliff Wood, 16th November 2013

Like last year, we Common Earthball fungus, which often grows near Birch and Oak and there are plenty of those in Deep Cliff Wood. We also found Fairies Bonnets and and Birch Bracket Fungus.

Common Earthball - Deep Cliff Wood, 16th November 2013

Fairies Bonnets - Deep Cliff Wood, 16th November 2013

Birch Bracket fungus - Deep Cliff Wood, 16th November 2013

We also found lots of acorns, which not surprising given the number of Oak trees in the wood. Many of them were germinating - the acorn sprouting roots and shoots, beginning to grow into an Oak. There were two sites in the wood where we found lots of acorns and hazel nuts that had been eaten, probably by a Grey Squirrel. It was interesting that whoever had eaten the acorns, they had chosen a specific place in the wood to eat them.

Germinating acorns - Deep Cliff Wood, 16th November 2013

Who's been eating eating these acorns?

We finished the event with a fascinating and challenging tree quiz: matching the fruits (such as conkers, acorns, haws and rowan berries), with the leaves from the corresponding trees. Tricky, but lots of fun. Well done everyone who took part - we all learnt a lot of new facts about trees.

 Quiz time!

Friday, 4 October 2013

Fungi Foray at St Ives, Bingley - Sunday 13th October

We had an excellent fungal foray in St Ives Estate on Sunday 13th October. The weather was perfect for fungi... because it was damp! But that didn’t put off a large group of us eager to see what fungi we could uncover.

For fungal expertise we welcomed back Bob Taylor of the Sports Turf Research Institute at St Ives. Before setting off, Bob took a few minutes to share his enthusiasm for the natural world and to ‘raise the veil’ on the basics of mycology – the study of fungi.

We learned that fungi are an essential part of the natural process that breaks down fallen leaves and wood to release their nutrients back into the soil. We also learnt that many fungi have close associations with particular trees. Some fungi, called mycorrhizal fungi, work together with plants, with each giving the other access to their ‘food’ - this kind of cooperation is called symbiosis.

 Mushroom - Visual Dictionary - Copyright © 2005-2011 - All rights reserved.

 Bob explains how to identify fungi

In preparation for us starting our hunt, Bob showed us the different parts of a mushroom. which would help us identify them. Experts say that there are up to 15,000 known species of fungus in the UK, but many more remain unknown to science. Bob also showed us how to carefully pick fungi i a way that causes the least damage. Then it was off into the woods!

The first fungus was spotted at our feet, before we had even moved! That set a trend, and the group ferried fungi to Bob for identification in a constant cycle. We all quickly learned to identify Honey Fungus, Earth Balls, Fairies Bonnets, coconut-scented Milk Caps and the “classic Gnome’s companion” Fly Agaric. Fortunately Bob was on-hand to advise us with the more exotic finds, like the radish-scented, red parasol fungi called The Deceiver, a tiny sooty-grey and black club-fungus called Candle Snuff, and a startlingly bright orange finger fungus called Yellow Antler. We also found a rare club fungus, called the Pipe Club (Clavariadelphus fistulosus), which Bob took home to identify. 

What we didn’t do was get very far – there were too many fungi at every step – in the grass, on tree stumps, in the leaves and even some growing on other fungi!

Candle Snuff fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon)

The rare Pipe Club fungus (Clavariadelphus fistulosus) - found by an Airedale Otter!

A fungus growing on another fungus (with some moss too)

 Honey Fungus (Armillaria sp.)

Honey Fungus growing on an Oak tree

Purple Jelly fungus (Ascocoryne sarcoides)

Bob also fixed a few parasol mushrooms on to card for people to take away. These can be left overnight, allowing many of the tiny spores to fall out of the mushroom’s gills and build up lines of colour on the card, leaving a ‘spore print’ (which can be ‘fixed’ with hairspray of artists' fixative).

Bob shows us how to make spore prints

One of the the Honey Fungus spore prints we made

Pressing on, we moved onto the path to Lady Blantyre’s rock, collecting large displays of Sulphur Tuft at the base of trees, Candle Snuff, Ugly Milk Cap (Lactarius turpis), Brown Birch Bolete, and many more. We also collected a huge Brown Birch Bracket fungus weighing nearly a kilogram!

Learning about the huge Brown Birch Bracket fungus (Piptoporus betulinus)

 No fungi foray would be complete without finding a Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria)

As we reached the end of the walk a couple of people walked past with carrier bags of mushrooms they had picked for the table – so we weren’t the only ones out looking for mushrooms!

Thank you to everyone who braved the weather and we hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Bat Walk - Saturday 14th September

We gathered at the St Ives visitor centre for our bat walk. It was a warm(ish), 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.

As ever, the first bat was spotted before it even got dark. As with humans, it seems, there is always one breaking the rules!

We had a quick safety briefing and check on torches and checked our numbers – as we didn’t want to lose anyone when it got dark! Next we handed out bat detectors, which are small boxes which translate the bats’ high-pitched squeaks into sounds we can hear. Then, as the dark thickened around us, we set off up Cross Gates Lane behind the golf club, towards some ‘inviting’ derelict barns.

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 the 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.

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 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.

There is lots of information about bats on the web, if you are interested.  Here are two for starters:
Thank you to everyone who joined us. We hope you enjoyed the event and learned lots about our bats too.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Denso-Marston Nature Reserve, Baildon - Sunday 14th July

A big thank you to everyone who came to our event at Denso-Marston Nature Reserve on Sunday 14th July. We had a great turnout and great weather!

Opening the moth traps

Reserve warden Steve Warrillow made us very welcome, as always. First, Steve suggested we open the moth traps. It's always exciting, because you never know what you might find! The most abundant moth we found was the Poplar Hawk-moth, just as it was at our last event at Rodley Nature Reserve.

Poplar Hawk-moth

There were plenty of moths in the traps, and the two most beautiful were probably the Buff Arches and the Burnished Bronze.

Burnished Brass moth

Next up was... Bug hunting! We were kitted out with large butterfly nets and sent around the reserve to catch anything that moved (or didn't move, for that matter). We found several Harlequin Ladybirds, including their tiny larva. The larval stage of a insect in the stage between the eggs and the full grown adults, such as caterpillars (butterflies and moths), maggots (flies), and those scary-looking creatures in ponds that become dragonflies.

Bug hunting

We found the larva of the Peacock butterfly, which feed on nettles. These are striking black caterpillars with spangly silver stars on them.

Peacock butterfly larva

We also caught some Ringlets (small dark butterflies with pretty ring shapes on their wings), soldier beetles, and all kinds of other tiny bugs.

As we walked around the reserve Steve explained to us about Himalayan Balsam, a plant introduced into the Britain which doesn't really belong here. It grows here so well that it takes all the space a light, making it difficult for other plants to grow. They have attractive flowers, but many nature reserves have to remove them to help our native plants.

Steve explains why we have to remove Himalayan Balsam

Finally we did some brilliant pond dipping. Amongst the many creatures we found were water boatmen, diving beetles, damselfly larvae, leeches, tadpoles, froglets, and tiny young smooth newts. The young newts have feathery plumes at the side of their heads. These are their gills, which will be replaced by internal lungs (like ours) when they become adults.

 Pond dipping

All the while a young Moorhen called out from the pond, and a fantastic Brown Hawker (a type of large dragonfly) zoomed around over our heads. Cam found the skin of a Brown Hawker nymph, possibly from the very dragonfly we could see flying around. This skin cast (called an exuvia) is the skin of the dragonfly while it's underwater in its larval (or nymph) stage. The dragonfly nymph crawls out of the water a pushes itself out of the old skin and pumps up its wings to become a fully adult dragonfly.

The skin of a Brown Hawker nymph

Thanks again to all the children and parents who came along. The Airedale Otters now have their annual break for the summer holidays. Our next event is a Bat Walk at St Ives, Bingley, on Saturday 14th September.

In the meantime we hope you all have a great summer holiday, and hopefully find lots of interesting wildlife on your travels or closer to home. Please bring any interesting stories or items you've found to our next event. Why not keep a nature scrapbook, recording any the interesting wildlife you see? Here's one we've started at Airedale Otters HQ:

Why not keep a nature scrapbook like this one?

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Springwatch Day at Rodley Nature Reserve - Saturday 8th June

Thanks to everyone who came to the  Springwatch event at Rodley Nature Reserve with the Airedale Otters. It was an early start - 8:30 am - but worth it. We couldn't have asked for better weather, or better wildlife - we had moths, mammals, birds, butterflies, dragonflies, newts, and all kinds of mini beats from the pond!

The first event of the day was to open the moth traps. Peter Murphy from Rodley Nature Reserve helped us put names to the each moth as it was taken from the trap. The trap doesn't hurt the moths, it simply uses a bright light to attract them, after which the moths settle down for a rest on the egg boxes placed inside.

Opening the moth trap

One of the first moths out was a fantastic Elephant Hawk-moth! Pink and green - wow! The "Elephant" part of the name comes from the when the insect is still a caterpillar, because it has a trunk-like section just behind its head. The biggest moth we found was the Poplar Hawk-moth - there were three of these in the trap. One of the most striking moths was the White Ermine, which did indeed look as if it was made of a stoat's winter fur (used to trim royal gowns).

Here are just some of the moths we saw:

Elephant Hawk-moth

Poplar Hawk-moth

Common Swift Moth

Silver Ground Carpet Moth

Small Magpie Moth

White Ermine Moth

Buff Tip Moth

Next, mammal experts John and Maxine took around the reserve to open the mammal traps they had set the night before. Most of the traps contained either a Bank Vole or a Wood Mouse (sometimes called a Long-tailed Field Mouse). It was a great opportunity to see the differences between these two mammals: the Bank Vole is large with grey-brown fur, whereas the Wood Mouse is smaller but has bigger eyes and ears and a longer tail, with more chestnut-brown fur.

 Opening the mammal traps

Bank Vole

 Wood Mouse

Wood Mouse

Another Wood Mouse

The group then split up as more events happened around the reserve and people went to have picnics. We had a great time at the pond-dipping pool, fishing out tadpoles, caddisfly and damselfly larvae, water boatmen, diving beetles, and small fish.

Pond dipping

While eating our picnic, we watched a pair of Common Whitethroat (a small songbird, part of the warbler family) flying to and fro across the dragonfly pools. They were bringing food to their chicks in a nest hidden in the long grass by a pond.

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly

In one of the dragonfly conservation ponds we spent a fascinating half hour watching newts. We were allowed to get one out with a net to have a closer look at it and we were able to identify it as a smooth newt, which is the commonest UK newt.

 Smooth Newt

Whilst watching the newts, we spotted something large and pale, writhing around in the pond; on closer inspection, we discovered that this was a luckless dragonfly larvae, being devoured by a newt (rather larger than the newt in the photo).  The head of the dragonfly larvae was in the newt's mouth but it put up a good fight as dragonfly larvae can be quite aggressive themselves and even eat small fish! But then two more newts came along to join in the feast and, from that point on, the dragonfly larvae didn't really stand a chance!  Being a dragonfly is obviously a risky business - we also saw this dragonfly with only three wings, which had probably had a run in with a hungry bird.

 Broad-bodied Chaser (female)

Cardinal Beetle

A fantastic day out thanks again to everyone who attended, and a big thanks to the staff and volunteers at Rodley Nature Reserve.