Monday, 22 June 2015

Wildlife Day, Rodley Nature Reserve, Leeds - Saturday 19th June 2015

Thank you to everyone who came to the Wildlife Day at Rodley Nature Reserve on Saturday 19th June. We had a great turnout and everyone was rewarded for getting up early with some great activities laid on by the reserve staff!

At 8:30 am the reserve team opened the moth traps they'd set the night before. They was an incredible array of moths for us to see, hold and study. We then placed the moths safely in the hedge once they had been catalogued.

Checking through the moths

Buff Ermine Moth

Clouded Border Moth

Common Swift Moth

Elephant Hawk-moth

Elephant Hawk-moth

Ghost Moth (male top, female below)

Buff Ermine Moth

Then it was time for the small-mammal survey. The Rodley mammal experts had laid safe mammal traps near the visitor centre. First we needed to find them; fortunately they were marked with small flags. Around half the traps had something in them: either a Field Mouse or a Bank Vole, though occasionally we found snails inside!

Opening the mammal traps

We then had the opportunity to dissect some Barn Owl pellets!

Pellets are small, sausage-shaped objects, containing the undigested parts of food which are ejected through the mouth. Pellets do not pass through the intestine of birds and are quite different from droppings. They do not smell, and are not unpleasant to work with. They consist of things like bones, teeth, claws and beaks, insect head parts and wing cases, seed husks etc. These are usually enclosed by softer material like fur, feathers and vegetable fibre.

Most birds produce pellets. The more indigestible material there is in the food, the more pellets are produced. The best known birds that produce pellets are the owls and the daytime-hunting birds of prey (raptors). Owl pellets are the easiest to find and study, because they often collect beneath a favoured feeding post or roost. A Barn Owl had been roosting (sleeping) on the reserve recently and the staff had been picking up its pellets as they found them.

Dissecting owl pellets

The day continued with more events: pond dipping, a bug hunt, a wild flower walk, and a trip to the reserve's fish pass. Here's just some of the wildlife we encountered around the reserve:

7-spot Ladybird

Banded Snail

Bullfinch (female)


Common Tern with chick

Gadwall with chicks

Small Copper Butterfly

Thanks again to everyone who came to this fabulous event, and special thanks to the staff and volunteers of Rodley Nature Reserve for making us so welcome.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Moorland Walk, Whetstone Gate, Rombalds Moor - Sunday 7th June 2015

A big thank you to everyone who came on our Moorland Walk event. The weather turned in our favour just at the right time, and after starting out cloudy we enjoyed glorious sunshine by the end.

Our plan was to look for specialist moorland birds - ones adapted to live and breed on the exposed hills. One such bird is the Red Grouse, and it wasn’t long before one flew up from the heather beside the path and landed on a nearby wall, letting out its croaky call as it flew. These birds are adapted to keep warm and dry in cold upland areas, having round, stocky bodies with feathers covering their legs. The bird we saw appeared to be a male - these have a much brighter red “comb” above their eyes, which becomes even brighter during the breeding season.

Typical of view of a Red Grouse, hiding in the heather

Many wading birds breed on moors, such as Redshank, Curlew, Lapwing, Snipe and Golden Plover. Most people associate waders with wetlands, mudflats and the seashore. Their long legs are adapted for wading in shallow water and their long bills for probing mud and sand. Moors are often very wet and marshy, and can also be have quite sandy soil, allowing the long-billed waders to feed effectively.

A Lapwing frequently flew above us as we walked, calling as we passed a his territory, giving us great views of this beautiful bird. Sadly, the British Lapwing breeding population has been declining for a number of years, probably because of changes to farming methods. All around us we could hear the fabulous call of the Curlew - a very evocative moorland sound. We saw several flying and calling nearby, proclaiming their territories.

 Curlew, Baildon Moor (photo: Paul Marfell)

Another bird we wanted to see was the Red Kite, and it wasn’t long before Cam spotted two in the distance towards Bingley. But soon after we saw another, and much closer. A majestic bird of prey, and becoming more common in Airedale since they've been reintroduced into nearby Wharfedale over the last couple of decades. Unlike most raptors, Red Kites don’t catch and kill much live prey, other than some small mammals, young birds, and earthworms. They scavenge for carrion - dead animals - on moors and farmland and by the roadside.

Red Kite, Rombalds Moor - Sunday, 7th June 2015

Watching Red Kites and Lapwing

Another bird we wanted to see was the Golden Plover, a beautiful black, white, and golden-brown bird, and a close relative of the Lapwing. We settled down by some rocks and scanned a flat area of moorland below us. We could hear the birds, making their sad-sounding “peoo” calls, but couldn't see them. We could also hear the songs of Meadow Pipits who, like Skylarks, sing as they rise into the the air.

Looking for Golden Plovers

A welcome surprise while we were looking for the Golden Plovers was a Green Hairstreak butterfly. In the north of England these butterflies specialise on living on moors and bogs. They have dark brown upper wings, but when they are at rest they close their wings to reveal the bright green underside.

Green Hairstreak, Rombalds Moor - Sunday, 7th June 2015
Photographing the Green Hairstreak butterfly

Another really interesting and enjoyable walk, with plenty to see and learn.