Sunday, 29 January 2012

The source of the Aire, or Malhamdale.

A grey day in Airedale today, I was hoping for frozen paths and dry conditions which would have made the canalbank and riverside footpaths a little more appealing rather than the mudbaths of late. Our plans for a kingfisher expedition were shelved, another finer day will surely not be far away!

We had already planned a potato buying trip to a garden centre in Gargrave and with first early, second early and main crop safely purchased plus some more bird food, we headed up to Malham. Gordale and Malham becks flowing from the east and west respectively eventually combine to form the river Aire, somewhat incongruously to me at least its area of birth is celebrated by the name Malhamdale not Airedale until it is safely on its way out of the National Park.

Malham can be off-putting, swamped by visitors and in the midst of summer there can be barely room to breathe let alone park a car! A grey damp day like this deters many and the village was quiet as we passed through on our way to Gordale.
This easy walk up to Gordale Scar would normally be swamped by visitors, these harsh conditions show it well, despite the man made path this is tough country in winter and walkers can take it too lightly.
Chilly overnight temperatures mean icicles, now we have a thaw and the damned things are falling like spears as I venture close to the overhanging edges!

Plenty of water gushing down from the falls and no hardy scramblers making their way up today, not for me nowadays but always a joy to look at.

Next we visited the Cove, we were hoping to catch sight of the Peregrines which nest here but they seemed to be absent today, in fact there seemed to be little or no wildlife about which is a little disappointing for a wildlife blog author!

Scanning around with the binoc's I found myself playing spot the can play too!

We were then visited by a blackbird and a robin who just pleaded to be photographed, desperate as I was, I obliged...

Wandering the short distance back into the village we met the guardian and emblem of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, the indomitable Swaledale-

And then just as we were thinking that was it for the day, a very colourful couple of birds appeared...bullfinches! Not oft seen, light was going and camera speed was not great but here are a few images.

A fine end to a lovely little wander, Gordale Scar and Malham Cove will always be amongst our favourite places and the Peregrines will be there another day.

I intend to show the journey of the Aire from its birth, down the valley to Silsden and beyond over the coming months. I may have to necessarily break the journey into manageable chunks but there is much beauty in this dale.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

28th January 2012, Crossbills & blue skies

A great benefit of being a trusted part of the "birding" community is the willingness to share locations of rarely seen birds. Some, like the short eared owls, must be kept to vague description because too much human presence means they will move on somewhere else, today we visited Elslack Moor plantation home to crossbills. This is much easier for the birds if they don't like your presence they disappear into the conifers!

Moving slowly and as quietly as we could we were rewarded:-

Moving through the forest we had a brief glimpse of a weasel plus the usual woodland suspects of wren and robin, a short walk and we returned to the car for a warm up and a coffee. Taking a different path on our return to the wood paid immediate dividends, a small flock and feeding too. Hard to photograph in the treetops but what a joyous song to behold.

A little frustrated at the lack of clear shots but woodland photography is never easy! We will return.

A text from my old school mate lead us over to Barden, kite, buzzard and kestrel had all been seen from the raptor view point. A buzzard flew close overhead while we there chatting, my camera was in the car:-((  We took a short walk upstream beside the Wharfe, a dipper was in clear sight, across a wide river the photo could be better.

My Panasonic bridge camera serves me well while I am learning my SLR craft, focusing through branches is hard for once I got this great tit about right:-)

Walking for the day is done, twilight beckons and all of a sudden a mighty racket from some trees on the far bank of the river Wharfe. Fieldfares and starlings, a strange mixture!

And then the drive home....and a beautiful light over Lancashire! Us border inhabitants have learned to co-exist, some of us even enjoy one anothers company!

What a wonderful day! Tomorrow depending, spuds to get ready for chitting and a kingfisher hunt.

Monday, 23 January 2012

A windy day 21st January 2012

The high winds that have plagued this area for a good few days still refuse to move on, perhaps a woodland wasn't the wisest place to visit but no boughs or branches crashed to earth around me!

Moving quietly around  Low Wood, Riddlesden I saw absolutely nothing, I heard a few birds deep in the bushes and trees but showing more sense than me they kept well hidden and protected.

On the verge of giving up and going home I decided to sit for a while in a sheltered corner of the wood, out of the wind it was quite warm and my trusty flask of coffee was being enjoyed. Someone, maybe John Muir, once wrote that when man steps into nature the natural rhythm is disturbed and only returns when the man settles for a while and nature accepts him, what wise words they are. Within minutes I had small birds all around me.

Robins and wrens  may not be spectacular sightings for some but for me they represent the beauty and fragility of the tiny creatures.

A different song was discernible among the sweet notes of the robin and the chiding wren, a group of long tailed tits arrived in range of the camera. They don't stay still for long, or at least parts of them don't as the following demonstrates rather well:-)

Patience brings its rewards though and a litttle later:-

My best shot yet of these stunning little birds, and there were further treats in store in my little hideaway in the woods.

The smaller birds are the most vulnerable in a cold winter, wrens and long tailed tits particularly so along with another of our tiniest birds the goldcrest. Difficult to see let alone photograph so even a sighting is great, a rare chance today and I managed a reasonable photo too!

Another visit from the strident wren could not be ignored, one tiny stalk of grass prevented me from getting a really good shot but on a day when I thought I might see nothing at all I cannot complain!

A wonderful morning eventually, more learnt about the behaviour and habitat of a few of our most beautiful birds and that is really worthwhile.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Cold ears, blue ears and short ears!

Being entrusted with information as to the location of short eared owls means the exact location cannot be disclosed, some for reasons many would struggle to understand would seek to persecute these beautiful birds.

Locals may recognise the scenery and I will not attempt to disguise that, suffice to say unless you know exactly where to find the birds you could pass by and not notice them.

Incorporating wildlife watching and a decent walk is no hard task on a fine sunny day, even with the low temperatures today we were eager to get out and see things.

Near Barden Moor is as close a location as I will give and our first sighting of the day, a walltopping grouse.

The view towards Simons Seat and up Wharfedale was a little misty but splendid nevertheless.

We drew a blank on our first sweep round for the short eared owls, we did hear a hoot though of a slightly different kind as the Bolton Abbey to Embsay steam express chuffed along the valley, the cold air creating a monochrome feel to the background of the photograph.

Time for a break for us but as we wandered back to the car for a warming drink from the thermos I had a lovely demonstration of the near perfect camouflage of the red grouse.

We decided on a walk in a nearby wood, I'm not sure about public access but it looked inviting and there were no keep out signs, plus ones gate climbing ability should be tested from time to time!

Flocks of small birds flitted around the tall tree tops, nearly impossible to get good photographs when they do that! Not by any means a good shot but this one is a redpoll, verified through binocs.

 The silent and stealthy movement of roe deer in dense woodland plus their colouring can make them very difficult to spot, if you do they will usually have seen or heard you first! Experience with red deer in Scotland has helped me with how to stay un-noticed or least how to not disturb them. Move a little and then wait, move again etc, repeat until deer run away...or that is what usually happens!

The other difficulty is with an automatic camera, getting it to focus where you want rather than where it thinks you want, in woodland this can be a real problem-

A great little break in our owl expedition but now it is time to resume the main event and we head back to the recommended location.

The wind had picked up by now and what was cold swiftly became freezing, numb fingers are just a bit of a nuisance with a camera in hand! Rabbits are plentiful up here but we do not get too many of this occasional variant colour.
The light was decreasing now, soft pastel shades in the sky.
We were both scouring the surrounding area for any sign of movement, occasionally the bent winged scooting flight of the grouse raised our hopes falsely...and then a chance look over a wall, a graceful low flight and perhaps the most beautiful feathering I have ever seen, a dash to get nearer without disturbing the owl and then some hasty pix in ever decreasing light.

We saw three short eared owls eventually, their mesmerising flight is so wonderful to see and what a brilliant day. Now I know where to find them I can work out how to get closer and get better photographs, most importantly this will be achieved by good fieldcraft not intrusion which could disturb these very special and treasured birds.

Many thanks to everyone who reads my blog, the words of encouragement mean a lot.

Game, two halves, result!

With blue skies and freezing temperatures the prospects of a great morning on Barden Moor were high, I was not to be disappointed.

The variety of wildlife to be seen on the moor at this time of the year is not great, red grouse, pheasant and kestrel are the most likely, the smaller birds meadow pipits and the like tend to go nearer the coast in winter.

The cold desolation of a winter walk on a bleak moor is not to everyone's taste, for me it offers the isolation that allows clarity of thought, photographic opportunites that are created by my own fieldcraft and above all peace and quiet.
After leaving this shooters track I wandered off path to try and get a little closer to the plentiful survivors of the inglorious twelfth, skittish and untrustworthy of humans which is really only to be expected the red grouse is a bird of splendid colours.

I made my way to a wood on the edge of the moor, the northern edge had not yet been blessed with sunshine and it was cool to say the least, the firmness of the ground was very welcome after the mud of the last few weeks though!

A kestrel hunted in the distance, the same area I had just left and sometimes I wish I could be a bit more patient.

A few pheasants strutted around in the wood, like grouse they are reared for the pleasure of  those who find shooting such lovely creatures to be a worthwhile "sporting" activity, plenty escape however and there is now a flourishing wild population.

Time to return to the car now and I exchanged pleasantries with a chap who was setting up his telescope near the end of the track back to the car park. He remarked on my off path route and I assured him I was safe and confident as I grew up at Embsay and the moor was my childhood playground, he enquired as to my name, his eyes lit up when I told him and he told me his name.....

My best mate from junior school at Embsay!!! 50 years have passed since my family moved to Silsden  and now I find that our mutual love of wildlife has brought us back together, co-incidence, luck, whatever!!

Mobile numbers were exchanged and we shall now meet up regularly.

After a brew at home I had another canal walk in the afternoon, making the most of a sunny day seems so much less effort than going through the motions on a dull day.

A good few birds to enjoy along the way,

I was able to see but unfortunately not photograph a weasel as it sped across a field in pursuit of a terrified rabbit, hunter and hunted as nature intended.

A young swan preened its feathers before taking up a lovely pose!

Almost back in Silsden now and I looked for the kingfisher I have seen here recently, despite a lengthy search I could not locate it but the view up to Nab End was a worthwhile sight.

One last bird sighting before I gained the streets of Silsden, a cute blue tit chirping away merrily.
Not a bad way to end my two walks!

My old mate has directed me to a location not too far away where short eared owls have been seen recently, fingers crossed for a good day on Sunday 15th!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Bolton Abbey & Strid Woods 11th Jan 2012

I had a free afternoon today, attending the funeral this morning of a lovely man who had lived a full and happy life left me in the mood to be outside, dull and wet weather notwithstanding.

Bolton Abbey and Strid Woods offer some shelter from damp skies, plenty of hopes of good bird sightings, good paths...and at this time of the year free midweek parking.

Almost immediately upon leaving Sandholme car park, (normally £6.50), I spotted a grey heron, the camera was switched on and settings checked, I was delighted at the result in the low light at full zoom across the river.

Soon I reached the Strid where the powerful flow of the river Wharfe condenses into a narrow gorge, the noise was unbelievable as the water crashed through.

Slowing the camera shot down for a long exposure adds a little calm to the turbulence.

The usual suspects of great, blue and coal tits flitted among the trees, a treecreeper too but in the low light photography was once again difficult.

Turning across the aqueduct to return to the car I headed back through the woods, another treecreeper was frustratingly just out of range and a couple of nuthatches appeared and then disappeared.

The Harrison Ford Shelter, great name but no showbiz connection! People tend to scatter bird food around its boundaries and it consequently attracts visitors of the avian and human variety. My sort was in mercifully short supply and I had the place to myself for about fifteen minutes, brambling, great and coal tits and a nuthatch were my guests! Not great light again but the pix were not bad.

The weekend offers chances of cold temperatures, frost and bright skies. After the dullness and slow camera speeds of the last few weeks that would be most welcome!!!