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.

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.