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.

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