Sunday, 24 June 2012

23rd June 2012. The balance of nature

The dreadful weather of the last few weeks continued culminating in downpours on Friday which deposited a months worth of rain, about 4" or 100mm, in one day. Being quite close to the source of the river Aire means that the level of the water is affected quickly around here, I drove the short distance to Kildwick to see just how bad things were.

Pretty close to bursting the banks and I was grateful for the elevated path I was on, further downstream there was evidence of what I suspected may have happened, sadly the water level had risen above the sand martin nests. Adult birds were flying forlornly, the chicks were not mature enough to fly to safety and the whole colony would have perished.

Part of understanding nature and wildlife is having a grasp and appreciation of the balance of beauty and sadness it can bring, as hard as I tried I could feel nothing but a gut wrenching despair at the way these beautiful little birds had flown thousands of miles and done most of the hard work entailed in raising their new family only for this to happen.

It took me a while to find the enthusiasm to set out in the afternoon, the skies looked untrustworthy and there was a cold wind funnelling down the valley. Waterproofs were packed and use was expected!

Given the sodden state of the fields I stuck to the hard surface of the quiet lane that leads down the valley towards Keighley. The recent weather had obviously interrupted the effort to get this field mown as portrayed by the single mown strip.

I was leant on the gate leading into the field listening to the call of a curlew, the sound grew louder and said bird presented itself for a rare close up!

Further on I got a good view of the flooded fields, somewhere amongst this is the river.

This small and unidentified butterfly entertained me for a while as I followed its fluttering flight through long and wet grass, I emerged looking distinctly incontinent....waterproof trousers still in the rucksack!!

I entered Low Wood Nature Reserve more in hope than expectation, as reported recently the heavy foliage makes spotting difficult. The wet weather has done nothing to spoil the flowers, foxgloves proliferate in here.

Great spotted woodpeckers are seen regularly on bird feeders for some lucky people and that provides the best opportunity for photographs unless you are really fortunate. Today I was pleasantly surprised when a pair flew into close view as I scanned round with the binoculars. A couple of shots, one with a robin in the background, and a more distant view of the pair.

Wandering quietly on through the woods I spotted a young blackbird, a young male part way through the transition of its feathers from its juvenile brown to the black of a mature bird.

The raucous call of jays is unmistakeable, ears alerted I headed towards the commotion. Tracking carefully and as silently as I could I saw movement in the trees ahead, aware that they are very shy normally and hard to watch at close quarters I moved really slowly until I had a good view. A family with a couple of youngsters pleading for food, squawking loudly and moving around on a large branch.

The sorrow of the mornings sight will never leave me but to be privileged enough to witness the success of other birds certainly helps restore the balance in my mind.

Wandering back to Silsden I found this group of mallards, a female and three youngsters basking in the brief sunshine.

I was now hopeful of a completely rain free walk, hah silly me!! The skies darkened and a look up the valley confirmed it was time for a hasty addition of a waterproof covering, the rain blasted down for about fifteen minutes, the wind howled and I was heading straight into it! My face felt as if I was being pebble dashed for a while, it eased thankfully and I reached the outskirts of town as the sun came out again. Deciding to remove the waterproofs before I reached the pub I leant against a wall for a little support, reaching for the waistband of the trousers I glanced up to see a horrified lady who obviously thought there was a flasher at large!!! I don't know who was more relieved when the fabric of my trousers was revealed:-)) At least she had the grace and humour to smile "I really thought you were going to...." "I know, sorry" I offered and smiled back, lesson learned. Time for a well earned couple of pints now.

Monday, 18 June 2012

17/18th June 2012. Ilkley, Bolton Abbey and my moor

A quick catch up for those who do not use Facebook, yesterday we started with yet more dull weather but with a forecast of afternoon sunshine I was urged to get some shopping done. We needed to visit one of those out of town multi-centres that I always suspect will leave me out of pocket! Anyway the necessary purchase, a mini greenhouse after a hedgehog not content with doing a good job of eating our slugs then continued to a dessert of all the baby lettuces, was made we stopped off at Ilkley and had a stroll by the river towards Ben Rhydding.

The stepping stones portrayed the level of the Wharfe quite well:

We had packed some lunch in expectation of the fine weather, as we walked back to the car the blue skies appeared and we took the short drive to Bolton Abbey. Coffee and sandwiches were enjoyed before we had another short walk by the Wharfe.

The sand martins are present in large numbers here, trying to capture there fast flight is a job for patience and not a task when you don't have a large amount of time. Intrusion near the nests is strictly on my not to do list and I contented myself with this shot, resting on barbed wire this one was preparing for take off, all apart from head and feet was a quiver of movement so I was really pleased how this turned out:-))

Grey wagtails are much in evidence on the Wharfe, their chicks are funny as they imitate their parents but unable to fly as far, they often just hop!

A decent shot of a female goosander concluded my pix of what was after all a lovely warm afternoon at last.

Said garden piece was "patiently" assembled!

My normal early finish at work on Monday has been postponed to Tuesday, grand-daughter Isla is representing her school in a cricket tournament, attendance is compulsory!!!

The skies looked interesting this evening though and I drove up onto the moor, as often happens a promised sunset quickly diluted as cloud seemed to rush in, here looking out over Skipton to the hills of Sharphaw and Roughaw with Malham Moor behind.

There was no sign of the short eared owls I am sometimes lucky enough to see up here, in fact it was very quiet. The beautiful and evocative sound of a curlew will always be a favourite, I was lucky to see one right on the skyline.

A couple of days of warmer weather, much appreciated by those of us with ageing joints!

Sunday, 17 June 2012

16th June 2012, Local, wet and windy!

The wet weather continues, it seems a long time since the sun shone for any length of time around here and it was hard to decide where to walk today. As the day progressed I wondered why the heck I bothered in the first place, I saw little of interest and experienced regular wettings from above...I suppose a bright spot is that my waterproofs are still working!

I settled on a wander by the Leeds Liverpool canal with an option to switch to the river Aire, the canal can usually be relied upon to yield some wildlife photo opportunities. Today all I managed was one shot of a preening mallard.

The heavy foliage now on the trees and bushes does make spotting difficult at this time of the year, rain does not help either as the birds seem to like shelter as much as humans, and with rain pouring down I too took shelter for a while.

I took to experimenting with shots of a foxglove and a colourful leaf as boredom set in, as the rain eased I took a track to the river passing a newly sown field of what farmers round here call winter wheat, cow fodder.

The field paths by the river were sodden, ankle deep mud really is no fun and a lack of wildlife made me curse my decision. Another sharp shower had me hastening back towards the car!

I did pause for a while under the shelter of some trees, here the rain was easing and I was getting ready to head homewards.

The skies did brighten a little in the afternoon and eternal optimist that I am I decided on another walk, this time I stuck to the roads and had a short wander around the lanes that lead to the moors above Silsden.
At least there was no mud to deal with but the lack of luck with wildlife continued, these muscovy ducks, appearing to have fallen out, were in the garden of a farm!

One distant shot of a curlew among the sheep was scant reward for braving the weather.

I did take the opportunity of a wide angle view of Airedale.

Yet another soggy weekend walk, hopefully I can bring you some brighter sunnier shots soon!

Monday, 11 June 2012

10th June. Moors, woods, fields and canal.

The opportunity to meet up with a mate with whom I have shared many happy hours on the hills presented itself for Sunday. Sorting a walk out was no great problem and even the weather promised to behave, Mrs Wildlife very kindly gave us a lift to Keighley Gate and the top of the moor, this would enable me enjoy a decent walk without the strain on my joints of the uphill slog:-)

No sooner had we departed from the car when a red grouse appeared on a nearby wall.

It was up here where I had my cuckoo chasing adventure a couple of weeks ago, sure enough we heard one and though it was at some distance the sight and sound confirmed it was definitely a cuckoo.

The warm sunshine was really welcome, hoped for sightings of roe deer in the cleared section of Rivock Forest did not materialise though and I had to be content with some smaller creatures...first a wren then a coal tit chick.

Reaching the edge of the woods and the clear views over the Airedale valley I was pointing out some local landmarks to Simon when we spotted a kestrel landing not too far away. Attempts at getting nearer without disturbing it were futile though.

A short road walk ensued now as we were dropping down towards Jaytail Farm and Riddlesden, a small flock of birds caught my eye and Simon waited patiently as I gathered my shots. I thought at first that they were twite, closer inspection of the photographs said linnet...a juvenile and a male.

A splendid meadow walk with wild flowers all around was reminiscent of Swaledale for a short while.

We were chatting merrily all the time, re-climbing the hills we had conquered and the time fairly flew. There wasn't much in the way of wildlife by the canal which was unusual to say the least. These colourful rhododendrons completed the pix for the day, just over eight miles in bright sunshine and great company, a super walk:-)

Malham 9th June. Peregrines and redstarts

A strange day was promised for us locally on Saturday, mainly dull grey skies, maybe some showers and the possibility of a little sunshine. Not great news but after completing a few domestic jobs we decided to drive up to Malham and a progress check on the peregrines, watching the splendid Springwatch coverage has been great but you really cannot beat seeing these magnificent birds in the flesh, or is that feather!

Wandering up to the Cove from Malham the skies were promising and the sun came out.

Recent rain has swelled the water level in Malham Beck and there was a strong flow in the usually benign waterbed.

The first entertainment of the day was provided by a female redstart which steadfastly refused anything other than a rear view, then teased with a side view before offering another rump shot before flying off!

A climb up the steps provided us with a great view of the two chicks, we witnessed a meal being brought in, the first flight of the eldest chick which was electrifying and more flights from the adults.

A super day and we descended the steps as a few drops of rain began to fall, this turned swiftly into a deluge! Suffice to say that the return to the car was a little hurried!!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Tuesday 5th June, A Bolton Abbey wander

Not a great weather forecast again today, more low pressure means grey skies and the chance of rain. We decided on a short walk by the river Wharfe at Bolton Abbey, there is usually a good chance of some bird sightings there and we added on the option of another short walk on Silsden Moor if the weather held.

First sighting of the day was sand martins, lots of them, and the low light left me unable to get any satisfactory shots:-( A dipper further down river was more obliging, obviously gathering food for nestlings and we were very careful not to disturb its progress back to the nearby nest.

These were taken at 1/80th of a second, a thoroughly unsatisfactory speed for wildlife shots, pushing the ISO up had little effect so bad was the light.

Turning at the aquaduct we headed back up river.

There were not many smaller birds around in the wooded section on this side which is quite unusual, my eye was drawn to a small amount of movement in the undergrowth...close inspection revealed a lovely specimen of common toad.

We were content to enjoy a pleasant stroll through the wood, an aroma of wild garlic and woodland flowers was strong but lovely!

A commotion from the water's edge alerted us to the presence of a common sandpiper, beautiful little birds and this one was uttering loud distress calls. Whether it was a lost partner or chicks we could not work out, it was however loud and incessant!

A few spots of rain fell as we neared the car, despite a lengthy wait while we had coffee and sandwiches the prospects were not good, further walking plans were shelved until another hopefully brighter day:-)