Sunday, 26 February 2012

25th Feb 2012, A Wharfe wander with Isla

Our eldest grand-daughter Isla aged 9 joined us for a walk today, one of the best things about wildlife is being able to share the knowledge you have gained over many years, even better when you can share it with an enthusiastic youngster who wants to learn:-))

Choosing a walk wisely was the first objective, when on my own I don't mind too much if the sightings are few, exploring new areas can be quite fruitless but without venturing into different terrains the predictability could become a bit tedious. We settled on a walk by the river Wharfe starting from Barden Bridge, a favourite area and some wildlife could be fairly much guaranteed, Isla was busy looking in one of our bird books on the way there checking the photographs so that she could identify our sightings, good preparation!

A small bag of bird seed had been packed in my pocket and when we reached the shelter down near the Strid we scattered some and sat back and waited for a short while.

Chaffinches are always amongst the first to tuck in when food is offered.

Coal tits are one of smallest but most delightful birds, they always appear to be in a hurry and rarely linger for long.
Eventually we were visited by a nuthatch, one of our favourites. The great upside down visitor to garden bird feeding stations and a beautiful creature.

A great spotted woodpecker flew past us while we had a snack and a warming drink, a stunning sight and we searched for a better look as we walked on but on this occasion we could not find it.

Not long before the bridge that we would cross for our return we came across a couple of RSPB volunteers who were netting birds, a net strung up in the trees to collect the birds which were then very carefully transferred to soft cloth bags. Each bird was identified, age and sex determined along with measurements and then a welcome release and the birds flew happily back into the trees.

One of the volunteers showed us his arm and the damage inflicted by a sparrowhawk that had been netted the previous day, ouch!!!

We had some brief sights of dippers but I really wanted Isla to be able to see them close up, eventually we got a good sighting.

Flitting in and out of the water as it fed it posed nicely for a while, its mate appeared too but a decent shot of them together eluded me, maybe next time!

Spring cannot be far away now with birds displaying for partners and nesting material being gathered, these catkins are certainly looking springlike.

Grey herons are plentiful around here, we were once fortunate enough to witness one catching a huge trout and we were then treated to the wonderful spectacle of the fish being carefully moved around in the heron's beak until it was in the correct position for the head first all in one swallow. Nothing so spectacular today but there was  a heron-

Various feeders have been placed in the woods, a blue tit was busy feeding at one of them. These were Isla's favourite of the day-

Goosanders are a bird I always find difficult to get a decent photograph of, fine if you just walk past but pointing a camera at them seems to trigger them into flight. I managed to catch this female unawares.

Back to the car now and enjoyed some lunch and hot drinks while we discussed where to head next...we decided on a slightly longer route homewards to take in a couple of places where good sightings were possible. There is a local raptor watch point a short distance away and we parked up there and watched carefully for a while, no raptors today though!  There was a red grouse peeping out from the edge of the moor.

The flooded fields which have resulted from heavy rain that seems to have plagued us recently are sometimes home to birds we don't see locally two often, these oystercatchers certainly seem happy here.

While we watched these a pair of buzzards circled, near enough to get a good view through the binoculars but just too far away for photographs. A grand little day out, more knowledge and a decent walk for Isla and treasured company for us.

Monday, 13 February 2012

13th February 2012, Redcar Tarn near Keighley.

I have a slightly imbalanced working week with a 2.30pm finish on a Monday, now that lighter afternoons are upon us that gives me the opportunity to get an extra expedition in. I do try to bring variation to my blogs, photographs of the same old stuff would bore me as well as readers!

Redcar Tarn near Keighley is not a vast sheet of water, one internet site describes the perimeter walk as an easy one mile, believe me it is a lot less than that but still worthwhile. A good array of wildfowl visit here and the surrounding fields can attract a wide variation of birds, there were no headline visitors today and the light was not great but it was still enjoyable.

A black headed gull, winter plumage, plenty of these around today.

Coots can be comical creatures, especially when disturbed and the volume of their call can be alarming.

This one was skidding its way across the iced section of the tarn, it certainly looks like it is on a mission!

There were plenty of geese around too, various species but they were not for posing and one even launched itself in a hissing attack at me! Respect was shown and I backed away, the pecking height of these things means self preservation is utmost!!

The aggressive one is on the a safe distance!

The consequence of the high number of mallards in the area is some crossbreeding with domestic ducks and some of the seasonal visitors I think.

Neither of the above appear to be a recognisible species, both have elements of ones I know though.

A second circuit beckoned, another black headed gull posed conveniently close to me which was welcome as the light faded.

I managed to avoid another encounter with the feisty goose on this circuit but the wind was getting colder and I was dressed for working not birdwatching, brrr!!! Three resting muscovy ducks were nicely arranged as I wandered back to my car.

Well worth a visit up here if you are in the area, free parking and easy walking.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

12th February 2012, A very short walk!

After yesterday's exertion a late start was somewhat necessary today, the creaking limbs groaned into action quite a bit later than usual! A few jobs around the house were necessary or compulsory before any thoughts of a wildlife trip could be contemplated, toilet cistern investigated and a new washer is needed, touch sensitive lamp dismantled and a new sensor needed....Oh no bl**dy B & Q:-(

Previous missions to said shop have a certain predictible outcome, five or ten minutes to shop, fifteen or twenty minutes to pay and escape the environs of the dreaded place. Anyway off we went, plumbing section located and washers found, except there were several different sorts and I cannot tell one from another!!! Another visit needed with the perished and torn old washer in hand to compare. The sensor for the lamp was equally fruitless, they don't sell them.

As we were in Keighley we travelled the short distance to Low Wood, Riddlesden, run by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. An unnerving screeching sound is a good sign there is a jay somewhere near, usually restless and secretive we found this one in a tree top near us. Trying to get a good angle for a photograph took a while and was not totally successful.

Part of the craft of wildlife watching is awareness of movement, something in the periphery of your vision, a small noise, each must be checked otherwise you will miss something. This, plus the time taken for photographs, is the reason why wildlife walks take so long. We are both fairly well tuned in to our surroundings at all times and we miss very little, the slight movement on the distant tree line was enough for me to aim the camera and hope, and I was pleasantly surprised at how well the roe deer came out in poor light and long distance.

We moved onto the canalbank for a while and then a small copse of trees by Keighley Golf Club, long tailed, great, blue and coal tits were around plus a nuthatch, goldcrest and treecreeper. In the woods the photo's were not successful, dull light and the lateness of the day meant slow speeds and much blurring:-(( Another place to return to though, my map and log of local sightings is ever growing and much valued.

As we wandered back to the car a heron stalked past in a nearby field, no fish here but they will eat virtually anything!

Thanks to all who read the blog, the list of viewers has grown a lot since I first started. Please leave a comment, any suggestions as to improvements will be treated constructively:-))

11th February 2012, A cold and frosty moorland expedition.

Reports of a rough legged buzzard and short eared owls in the vicinity of Bradup high on the moors above Keighley, everything is covered in a hard frost and a day on the moors beckons! Continuing joint problems mean days like this are rare for me now, it will hurt a lot for a few days, but once in while conditions dictate what I feel able to push myself through.

Well gritted roads meant I was able to be dropped off near the junction for Ilkley Road, part tarmac and turning into a moorland track. Ice was much on evidence up here, wildlife was not though and there was little of interest for the camera.

Sheep farming is popular around here, winter vegetable feed to supplement the sparse grass on offer keeps the woolly beasts well fed.

While packing my gear for the day I had considered adding my Yaktrax, eager to keep my pack as light as possible I had left them out...mistake! As I gained height the ice patches became larger the snow compacted became extremely slippery and the extra grip would have been welcome.

The eery light on days like this is well summed up by the view eastwards as some watery sunlight shows briefly through the enveloping dense clouds.

I had no plan for a route and no map to consult, just trusting my local knowledge and instincts normally serves me well on the moors and there is one bird that never lets the wildlife watcher down up here.

"Fancy a grouse m'dear?"

I took a route towards a plantation hoping there might be a few creatures to observe in the shelter of the woods, the gamekeepers up here go to some lengths to protect the birds from predators and I found this trap, probably designed to capture weasels and not operable shortly after the photograph was taken!

The woodland has been partially cleared with single trunks being left to provide roosting points for birds, a good idea but unfortunately there were no roosters of any kind as I passed through.

Time to take to the frozen moor again now and as I was near the summit of High Edge I visited the trig point, a cold and desolate spot but it was here I had my first and only greeting of the day. A lady approached as I was taking a warming drink from my thermos, she sought some confirmation as to her route onwards to Ilkley which I was able to give. Proudly announcing she was seventy and recce'ing a fourteen mile route for her walking group she strode onward, made of stern stuff obviously!

The dearth of wildlife was a little disheartening and I headed back towards Silsden, as I mentioned earlier though the red grouse rarely disappoint:-)

The last stile of the day was a problem, earlier ones had been icy but negotiated slowly and carefully no great obstacle, this one about six feet high was dreadful! Clinging on to the surrounding icy rocks as best as I could it seemed to take an eternity before I reached the ground safely at the other side.

Descending through farmland now there were a few different birds to see, first a lapwing then a single fieldfare.

Tired and aching limbs were relieved to reach Silsden, not the sort of day I can do as comfortably as I would like but worth it nevertheless. Testing oneself against the elements is satisfying when all goes well, carrying the few ounces extra the Yaktrax weigh would have cost me nothing, lesson learned!!!

Sunday, 5 February 2012

5th February 2012, on a (lap) wing and a prayer!

So the threatened snow arrived but no great quantity around these parts and the paths around the house and the drive were soon cleared. A warmer but dull day promised a thaw and as I brushed away the snow it turned quickly to the messy sludge that is the unwelcome residue of winter precipitation.

Discussions about a walk were held, the quiet lane down the valley is a favourite and there is usually something of interest to see.

The humble but much loved sparrow, rear view only as it refused to show its face!

There have been a few murmurations of starlings recently quite near to home, a few of the participants put on a little mini display just for us:-)

Lapwings are a great personal favourite, their wheeling flight and distinctive call stands them out amongst other birds, the plaintive note of their song evokes boyhood memories of the local moors now in the midst of winter we find them feeding on lower level grazing land.

Pheasants now live in some numbers in the lowlands of the valley, wonderful colours and a strange manner and a joy to see in the wild.

Passing through Low Holden Farm we had a chat with the resident farmer, he had been in Austria the previous week at temperatures of -21c! He was having a break from shifting dung from the cow sheds, the warmth from said stuff may have been welcome but the smell was just enough to hurry us onwards!

Four legged tracks across the ice and a hole...we looked in the water and there was nothing evident so hopefully not a bad outcome!

The competition in Dancing on Ice has been tough this year, this moorhen decided to set a high tariff...a single leg toe spin without pike but performed elegantly:-))

Magpies are not everyones favourite, indeed few peoples favourite, but they have a part to play in the world of nature. The rascal of the treetops, along with jays, they will quite willingly rob nests of eggs and young nestlings...but lots of other birds do this too and without the bad publicity.

Mrs Wildlife was trying to attract my attention now, I was watching robins which posed briefly until the lenscap was removed then flew off...I was directed towards a dunnock, cracking little bird oft neglected because it is not spectacular, I love them, their fluttering wings and thin warbling call are a delight.

Wandering back to Silsden now we got a brief view of what we think are winter plumage golden plover, not the greatest photo at long distance and in very dull light.

The snowy lane had been a delight to wander on, to have such peace and quiet so close to home is much treasured and the time spent down here pays off as we see the change in our valley from season to season. The birds are beginning to sing their songs of delight, territorial, partner is simply beautiful!!!!!

4th February 2012, The day the snow arrived

We planned an early start for a riverbank and woodland walk from Barden Bridge near Bolton Abbey, snow is forecast but the weather people seem unable to decide just when it will arrive. A cold but still start to the day and the frozen paths were welcomed after some muddy recent outings, a lovely thrush was our first sighting.

This lovely robin posed for a while as we headed downstream, apart from a few mallards there was little to be seen on the river, perhaps the cold weather has caused the usual goosanders and dippers away to different and warmer climes?
We wandered onwards into the woods and heard the loud drumming of a woodpecker, despite a lenghty visual search we could not locate it. Visitors scatter bird food around the walls and path near the Harrison Ford shelter and good bird sightings are the result. Coal, great and blue tits, chaffinches and nuthatches all seen at close quarters as they fed close to us.

Further into the woods some feeders are hidden away from the path, well worth a little diversion and we were rewarded by another nuthatch.

We crossed the bridge and began the return pausing to stop and look at the ice forming around the reeds beside the river, it was getting much colder now and the extra layers we had carried were very welcome, brrr!

Dippers are normally pretty easy to find here, today they seem notable by their absence until we heard the lovely song of these delighful birds.

Soon after this the leaden sky began to bestow us with snow flakes, nothing too drastic just small flakes but becoming a little heavier. The roads were clear though as we headed back through Skipton, the market traders seemed to be doing little business as perhaps the weather forecast had kept potential shoppers away. I don't know why town centre traffic control systems seem designed to make it difficult to get out of a town but it seemed to take an eternity to escape the town boundary!

Mrs Wildlife was heading home to some warmth while I had plans for another short wander. Leaving the car heater behind I was dropped off at Kildwick, an exploration of the Leeds Liverpool canal and the river Aire beckoned. I don't know what I expected to see but what I did see was very little in the way of wildlife. The frozen canal was a desolate place, a very cold wind permeated even my windproof clothing and my gloved fingers were rapidly numbing.

Diverting to the riverbank brought little reward, a young swan photographed through a hedge was scant consolation on such a cold day.

Nearing Kildwick again as I looped around I decided to call it a day and my return to the canalbank for the walk to Silsden was swift. A weary plod along the rutted path ensued with little to distract me from my mission to head to the warmth of the tap room in my local pub:-))

The boatyard in Silsden provides some warmth to the canal water as the engines of the boats are running and a swan and a few ducks were taking advantage of this thawed patch.

Not the greatest day for wildlife watchers but we still enjoyed it, and the tap room was a splendid place to warm up my frozen extremities!!!