(29) Blog Posts Made in March 2016

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Winter? Spring? Volunteers

Thursday, March 31st 2016

Depending on which way you look the reserve could still be in the depths of winter:  black clouds and no fresh green colours, only browns and blacks.

Depth of winter?

Blue sky does help to make you think that spring is in the air, even if it is cold air!

Spring is in the air?

A pair of Greylag Geese flew over the ponds, winter vegetation, spring sky!

Greylag Geese flying

These birds are resident in this country throughout the year.  They come to Foxglove during early spring and nest in hidden away places.  Once the chicks have hatched they walk them out onto the moorland.

Greylag Goose

Another bird that returns to us in spring is the Chiffchaff, but it comes from much further afield, the Mediterranean and western Africa, where it has spent the winter.  Our first one was heard yesterday, but they were calling loudly today as the bird ringers opened the nets.  Later, two were caught and processed.  Usually the first Chiffchaff has already been ringed, but not so today; both birds were males and new to the reserve.  Will we see them again during the summer?

Chiffchaff

During the morning a trainee was handed a bird bag.  He eventually removed a Wood Pigeon from the bag, a little larger than the Chiffchaff he had handled earlier.  The Wood Pigeon weighed in at 498.5g and the Chiffchaff 7.6g

The welfare of the birds is always paramount and when taking photographs of birds in the hand great care is taken that they are not stressed in any way.  They are held correctly and safely and are always well presented. 

Each time ringing takes place there are different results.  Earlier in the week we were catching more new birds than retraps, today it was 81 new and 78 retraps.  Chaffinch numbers have been low during the beginning of the year but their numbers are increasing and 27 were processed today.  Bullfinches have also been scare recently but have started to make a re-appearance. 

While to the bird ringers were busy, other voluteers were turning their hands to repairing nest boxes and boardwalks, checking water levels and weighing bird seed.  Yesterday volunteers had helped with the activity morning, showing off their craft skills and working with the children.  Added to all of this a cake had been baked, sausage rolls brought in, and owl pellets hunted for.

Identification skills were on show during the monthly flower walk and twelve flowers were recorded, including, what we have almost positively identified as English Elm.  If you look towards the bottom of the flower you can see the stamen developing, and to the right the stigma.  We know where this tree is and will return to take more photographs and examine the leaves to confirm its identity.

English Elm flower

The skill base of our volunteers is amazing and only a fraction of their activities have been mentioned in this blog.  But if you look through earlier ones you can see what a fantastic range of work our volunteers do throughout the year.  A huge thank you to everyone involved today and to all those voluteers who help in any way at Foxglove.  Foxglove benefits tremendously from all that you do.  Thank you.

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Easter Activities

Wednesday, March 30th 2016

The sun gave warmth that defrosted the morning frost, but the chill of the night resulted in a poor moth trapping, only 4 moths, pairs of Yellow Horned .....


 

and Hebrew Character

 I was thankful that the rain from yesterday was not relived today, especially as we had a Children’s Easter Event which included a bird ringing demonstration and an Easter egg quest walk. It was a great morning, the children really enjoying the owl pellets dissection supervised by Glennis, and also the arts and crafts activities which included mask making and basket making amongst other varied things.


 

The demo group in the ringing room let the children release the birds, getting up close to see the Lesser Redpolls, Tits, and Siskins that had just been caught in the mist nets and processed, adults and children really gaining from the detailed and informative presentation by Tony and team.

We ended up following a multi-coloured trail created by Monique and Jenny to the elusive, mythical Greater Golden Oriole nest by the Lake Hide where the chocolate eggs were given out.


Once tidied up and everyone having left I turned my attention to clearing felled timber from the Early Purple Orchid area where I hope none have been damaged.

We now have Common Toad spawn in the scrapes and our Greylag Goose is back on her Island!


Thank you for all the help today, certainly the children appeared to enjoy themselves…. and the adults!
 

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Rain, Mud and Sun

Tuesday, March 29th 2016

The day started early, I had to get in to have a chat with our contractor who was putting some drainage pipe in. It was a fine morning on starting the chat, but soon the black clouds came over, with it cold heavy showers that at times turned to hail, not really the best conditions to do drainage, but at least we could see the flow of water!

The volunteers were a bit few on the ground today with only eight turning up, obviously the demands of Easter Holidays; saying that we seemed to get a fair bit done. Ron and Anne filled the bird feeders in readiness for the bird ringing demonstration tomorrow, and Ken and Eddie put up a couple of motion sensor cameras, will be interesting to see what turns up.


 

The heavy showers did not dampen spirits as we were able to get the drainage pipe put in, a bit of a slippery job in the clay, as well as the last bit of brushwood cleared, and one of the boggy net rides raised with soil/gravel from the path scrapings a couple of weeks ago.


Have I really stopped to look around today? Not really, seemed to be eyes down to the mud in hand. Saying that a Buzzard circled and was calling over the conifer plantation for most of the day, and in the late afternoon sun Coltsfoot has emerged near the Lake beck. The frog spawn that was put in the tanks last Tuesday has hatched out in the Field Centre.

Easter Activity Day tomorrow, and the forecast is not as wet as today... thankfully!

Thank you to all the volunteers for their help today.

 

 

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Amphibians, Birds and Bluebells

Monday, March 28th 2016

Where to start?  Common Toads are still making their way back to the ponds and when the sun shines and the temperature rises their high pitched croak can be heard.  Some are rather shy and try to camouflage themselves amongst the plants!  Asked yesterday how long they live for I replied about 10 years.  However looking it up on the 'net the answer should have been 40 years.

Common Toad

Some of the frogspawn is developing to the comma stage,

Comma stage frogspawn

whilst some is just beginning to hatch.

Just hatched frogspawn

Springwatch reported that some people had photographed Bluebells in flower.  Ours are on course for later flowering.  The leaves can now clearly be seen.

Bluebell leaves

Out on the training area Short-eared Owls have been flying.  This one remained still, in the dusk, so a photograph could be taken.  During the winter there can be an influx of birds from Scandinavia, Russia and Iceland.  They are of European conservation concern and so are on the Amber List of species.

Short-eared Owl

No excuses for more photographs of Siskin.  They are beautiful birds and are feeding in the back garden and outside the kitchen window.

Siskin

This Siskin was caught just as the wind blew its head feathers!

Siskin

This fantastic shot of the Siskin was taken by Sophie and  you can't help but think it is saying 'Aren't I just beautiful?'

Siskin

It is some time since we have had an influx of Lesser Redpolls in the numbers that are present at the moment.  Nyger seeds are their favourite food as they feed well before dispersing in many different directions.  They are coming into breeding plumage, with the chest feathers of the males turning really proper red! 

Male Lesser Redpoll

Females have a red head but their chest feathers remain cream.

Male and female Lesser Redpoll

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Spring?

Saturday, March 26th 2016

Storm Katie is on her way, although it is probably going to be further south where she will be felt the most.  Looking for sayings about March there are some interesting ones:-

'When March comes in like a lion it goes out like a lamb.'

'A dry March and a wet May
Fill barns and bays with corn and hay.'

'As it rains in March so it rains in June.'

'March winds and April showers
Bring forth May flowers.'

If the Frogs spawn in the middle of a pond then it is going to be a dry summer, if at the edge of the pond then it is going to be wet.  You will, I am sure, be pleased to know that our Frogs don't know what it is going to be like, as we have spawn in the middle and spawn at the edge of ponds!

Some of the spawn is already starting to develop and you can see comma like shapes in the jelly.  In the tanks in the Activity room there are many tiny tadpoles just hatched. 

Although much cooler and no sun, Toads were still around, many lying on the bottom of the ponds with just the odd croak heard.  Some were also seen walking back to their spawning ponds.

Common Toad

Primroses are showing their pale yellow heads along Risedale Beck and along the Hazel Avenue.  They must flower and set seed before the canopy of leaves block out the light.  There is one clump growing near the entrance gate on the side of the road.

Primrose

Bird Cherry is one of the first trees to unfurl its leaves.   The flower buds are developing too.

Bird Cherry

Blackthorn flowers are just starting to cover some of the trees, mainly along Risedale Beck.

Blackthorn flower

A Reed Bunting was singing from the Hawthorn tree in the reed bed.  This Great Tit was aware of my presence but kept singing, whilst being photographed.

Great Tit

Although Foxglove is still retaining her winter coat there are signs that spring is on its way and soon the blacks, greys and browns of winter wil be replaced by fresh greens.

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A Sunny Ringing Day!

Friday, March 25th 2016

Weather plays an important part in ringing and for the past six months it has been less than helpful.  Today, sun, no rain and not too much wind, were just right.  Only the garden and dog leg nets were put in as we were expecting the wind to increase steadily - which it did.   Visitors were enthralled by the Lesser Redpolls and Siskins on the Nyger seed feeders.  Doing the dishes is a slow job, as one is easily distracted by the birds feeding outside the window!

Twenty six Lesser Redpolls and 15 Siskin were processed.  The Siskins are so colourful, with their yellow and black plumage.

Siskin

Over the last few ringing sessions there have been many re-traps, birds already ringed that have not been travelling far, but today new birds were in the majority, showing that they are on the move as they look for breeding territories.  A rare visitor to Foxglove this year was a female Brambling.

Female Brambling

Potter traps are set to catch Moorhens, but there is a technique to setting them.  Tony explained how to get it just right.

How to set a Potter trap

Many visitors enjoyed the sunshine.  Singing birds and croaking Toads accompanied them on their walks.

Thank you to everyone who helped today.

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Ring and Mend

Thursday, March 24th 2016

It felt ages since I had walked the Woodland Trail above Risedale Beck, again a peaceful start. Signs of Otters prints and spraints along the beck itself.

Robin, a keen bird ringer at FGC, and his nephew came in to do some conservation work, which means a few jobs to tick off on the work list. They were soon brush cutting, and converting a tree which had gone over across a path. To type it like that seems to belittle what they actually did, but it was a good 3 hours work.

 Tony and Mike were straight out on the wetland, and Jackie also gave a welcome hand, plus took down the Outdoor Classroom wormery for a future touch up, and finished the mink raft they had been constructing.


 

John was back to solving the camera problems at the hides, and also servicing the 4 wheeled trailer.


In the afternoon we were able to put a net out to ring some of the numerous Lesser Redpolls that have been visiting lately. We only had the net out for about 30 minutes and had been able to process a good dozen birds, a lot never ringed before.


 

The rest of the afternoon was spent getting sorted for the long weekend.

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Thank you to all those who helped today.
 

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A Mixed Bag

Wednesday, March 23rd 2016

The morning routine showed the wetland to be nicely holding the water in places we want it held, at least until the next Water Vole engineering project.

It was a chilly start to the day, so I did not expect a great deal in the moth trap; however, to our surprise we had our biggest catch this year with 7 species and 14 moths. The most interesting being the Yellow Horned. However, even the Common Quaker, which is a common moth, looked glorious

Yellow Horned

Common Quaker


Christine had gone out to discover more fungi , this time returning with Beech Bark Spot, and Beech Tarcrust.

Beech Bark Spot


 

Beech Tarcrust

 
Going down  to the Scrapes to gather some pond weed for the frog spawn tanks I had been informed of a Greylag who was sitting with male nearby.  Sadly on return later in the afternoon, she was gone. Admittedly she is fairly near one of our popular routes through the reserve, she may return yet!

Wanting to take out some pond weed near her I had thought I had missed the opportunity, and now she was gone it allowed me to do so, as well as raking up some Phragmites Reed debris which was clogging some of the shallower ponds.

Having got some pond weed for the spawn tanks, there were a few Water Slaters, or Water Hog Louse, very similar to their relative the woodlouse. This one here is the more common of the two British species Asellus aquaticus, a little taster of the pond dipping season to come.


 

Still loads of Common Frogs about, and Toads seen mating.

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A Mixed Bunch

Tuesday, March 22nd 2016

I am starting to form a sort of morning routine on coming in; put grain near the duck feeding platform, check the lake dam, feed/set the duck trap for ringing purposes, then into the van to head to the Field Centre, park up there and walk to check the wetlands. It is a special, peaceful time before actually starting work.

The bulk of our volunteers arrive around 9, and we go out about 9.30. Today’s jobs had us scattered somewhat, really to try to tidy up after our past workings. So the self-seeded Birch which was pulled before I started was dragged by one gang to a burn site, then the two Anne’s gathered frogspawn for the tanks we cleaned yesterday in the Field Centre. John and I went to patch a couple of Water Vole holes… yes, the saga continues, and Ron filled the bird feeders.


I wish it was easy to find the Water Vole holes at the wetland but it is not, it usually means getting wet and muddy, but I am starting to ‘get my eye in’ for looking for the holes that drain our main water inlet ponds. Anyway, the two holes found were filled.
The guys doing the birch had finished a lot of the burning and left Eddie, Brian and Vince to tend to the fire, while the others cleared more wood in the orchard and covered an old burn site.


The two Anne’s had stocked the tanks in the Field Centre, allowing me to finish off with the pumps.


It was a short volunteering day as a leaving party was to be held for Lisa our Reserve Manager who is now heading back to the wilds of Scotland . Lisa, I wish you well.


 

The afternoon was spent with the Dales School cutting back Gorse, and our Honey Bee experts, Alistair and Alison Sheppard checking our Field Centre Hive for any potential problems.  They were also giving me pointers on what to look out for before leaving me to the solitude I started the day with.

Wetland levels rising as I checked last thing, putting up a Short-eared Owl in the process, plus a couple of Roe Deer sprinted away through the conifer woodland.
 

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Prep for Schools

Monday, March 21st 2016

It was another dull day as I drove into the reserve, the proposed re-surfacing work had not started so I was able to go through the usual gate, however I hear that gate is now closed so will have to take the diversion tomorrow.

There seemed more Lesser Redpolls than usual on getting to the Field Centre, plenty on the feeders requiring me to restock with their Nyjer seed, the main difference was their constant song and numbers around the area which seemed to follow me as I walked to checked the levels of the Wetlands.

A pair of Greylags honked annoyed at my presence, and Mallards took off from the ponds in haste to avoid me. Frogspawn was everywhere, but I did not see one frog, only toads sitting on the silt at the base of the deeper ponds unmoving, as yet no strands of toadspawn noticed. I was pleased to see the water levels had increased and were again flowing into the overflow pipes, a promising sight. I put in some marked pegs to show me the levels more easily, then walked the bunds to see if there was other life. A few Wolf Spiders ran across the pond surfaces often mistaken for Raft Spiders as they cling to the surface tension. Pond Skaters did as their name suggests

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The Honey Bees in the Field Centre had finally removed their dead, having a spring clean themselves.

After doing the usual checks and emails, Elizabeth came in to help me with gathering the pond dipping equipment, and checking its serviceability for the coming Easter holiday activities, plus a general stock take of educational equipment/teaching aids. A few mends were required, but generally OK. We readied the tanks for the frog/toad spawn which we keep in the classroom for folk to view in comfort. Felt a little like spring cleaning ourselves.


Elizabeth had noticed the Scrape Ponds were lower than usual, on investigation a Water Vole hole was…again…draining where we did not want it drained, but was easily rectified. The rest of the afternoon I dredged reed and debris from the pond dipping platforms, enjoying the afternoon sun.

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First Day of Spring

Sunday, March 20th 2016

The Met Office first day of spring was 1st March.  The equinox was today, 20th March, so spring is definitely here.  There was blue sky, no wind, sun and some warmth at Foxglove this morning.  Really springlike.  Down at Signy Island Stacey reported that it was not spring like!  They have nine days to close down the station and then begin the long journey north, to spring.

Some of the bird ringers were net mending, ensuring that the nets are ready for the start of CES (Constant Effort Site) in May.  CES means very early mornings, having to be there for dawn.  We have a few weeks to get used to an early start, as so far this year we have been able to have a lie in.

Net mending

There were many visitors enjoying the sunshine.  The Royal Lancers Welfare team organised an Easter Egg hunt for the children which was great fun.

An apology.  Yesterday the blog said that the Frogs had finished croaking and spawning.  They obviously did not read the blog as they were croaking merrily through the Scrapes for most of the day.  Some were a little shy.  You may have to search for the Frog in this photo.

Frog

The Toads were also calling their high pitched sort of croak.  You can see the large hind legs that are used to propel him through the water and also fight off other males when courting the females.  Most of the Toads seen today were males, calling the females to the ponds.

Common Toad

Keeping the camera to hand whilst out and about caught this Greylag Goose on Plovers Pool, whilst another five were taking it easy on the moor.

Grelag goose on Plaovers Pool

Knowing 'our patch' which is Foxglove, we memorise where to look for certain flowers, although we do look rather early, probably from the end of January, ever hopeful.  Today there were flowers where they always are.  On entering the reserve to your right, down the fence line, is a large willow tree and it is always the first to be in full bloom.  Taking photographs against the blue sky, buzzing could be heard and there was a bee collecting pollen.

Bee on willow

The hive bees were active and some were returning with very large pollen sacs. 

We have been told that Lesser Celandine has been in flower for several weeks around the area, but not a one at FGC until today and three were seen, the first on the moor as usual.

Lesser Celandine

Coltsfoot was not open on Wednesday in the back garden, but it was today.

Coltsfoot

The usual Larch tree that is easy to reach for photographs did not let us down and is in full flower with male flowers, slightly brown/green coloured and red female flowers.

Male and female Larch flowers

Risedale Beck bridge rails usually have their own collection of invertebrates but only one Seven Spot Ladybird was found today.

Seven Spot Ladybird

Wildlife is responding to the lengthening days and warm sunshine.  When will the first toadspawn be sighted?  When will the first butterfly make it onto the observation board?

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Photographs

Saturday, March 19th 2016

Those less than young people can remember the days of using film and taking it to the shop to be developed.  A wait of at least a week for them to be returned and the disappointment when that one special photo you really wanted to take, was blurred.  How things have changed.  Digital photography and the development of cameras and iPhones have opened up a new world. 

At FGC we take photos.  Some are taken for the record and you have to tell people what it is you have actually photographed, like this Mole.

 Mole

Orchids are beautiful, but they can frustrate us as to their parentage.  This, said with confidence, is a Common Spotted Orchid, unless someone says otherwise.  The shape and markings on the petals are beautiful.

Common Spotted Orchid

Dawn at the Crater makes you feel on top of the world and it is a magical place, be it a red sunrise

A red dawn at the Crater

or a silver one.

A silver dawn at the Crater

It looks like the Common Frogs, spawning later than usual due to the low temperatures, have come to the ponds, spawned and left, with very few being seen or heard.  There is plenty of spawn so hopefully there will be a lot of tadpoles to watch swimming around.  Now we are waiting the return of the Common Toads. They are usually very co-operative and allow photos to be taken.  Sometimes you not only get the Toad but also the patterns and reflections around the Toad.

Common Toad

It does not matter what time of year or which part of the day, there is usually something that appeals and can be photographed.  Our photos give us great pleasure, not only in the taking of them but seeing the results immediately.  Sharing what you have found is special.  Mobile phones call people to where there is a good opportunity to take something common or rare, usual or unusual.  Our photos are used for education, displays, presentations and reports.

Keep your cameras to hand and you never know what you will record, in plain view or hidden in the grass.

Damselfly

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More In than Out

Friday, March 18th 2016

It was a dull start, a complete contrast to yesterday, no sun and a chill in the air which stayed until I left the reserve. Even the work load was different today, feeling like I was inside most of the time instead of out.


 

I got in a little earlier to tidy up the strimming from yesterday evening by the scrapes, then an inspection of the wetland to see if the work we had done had been successful, sadly not, as the water levels had not risen, we were obviously losing water from somewhere else. A couple of Greylags sat on the far side, probably enjoying the peace until I turned up.

The contractors were busy on the resurfacing of the moorland path, and this was 8.30am.


 

Once at the Field Centre office I found it hard to get out with various computer and office things to attend to, and a meeting just to make the troglodytes feeling complete. Yep, I am definitely an outdoor person with a leaning to a little office, as opposed to the reverse.
One of the major frustrations was trying to email the volunteers to say there will be road re-surfacing on the Ava Road entrance next week; all the Johns and Brians, but not as yet knowing the surnames made an easy job not quite so easy. Sorry if you did not receive an email, there will be signs up directing you anyway. Thank you Elizabeth for your guidance.

I put this photo in from Wednesday because it made me chuckle; Ruth and Elizabeth colouring in easter eggs. They are really artistic, and I would have given them both a gold star! To be fair it is for Easter Holiday events.

Colin came in and thankfully did the bird feeders, which take a good morning's work to do properly, again thank you.
I must admit without all the assistance from our volunteers I would be lost.
Sorry there are few photos, but as I said I have hardly been out.
 

 

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Repairs and Rewards

Thursday, March 17th 2016

The dullish start to the morn was soon forgotten when the sun broke through and bathed the reserve in spring warmth. The sky was a fresh palate of blue, and the birds were in full song. If you like the place in the cold, wet, dull of winter then you will love it in the sunshine.


As Tony was away today I assisted Mike with trying to discover the low water problem in the wetlands. This I hoped they had solved last week, but the major leak that was plugged was superseded by another unknown water-draining-away problem. We decided to see if a Water Vole had dug another hole from the fingers source pond to the one below. This is a narrow stretch of dam which the last Water Vole hole had drained much of the water from. After digging a trench of spade width for about 5 metres it was obvious we had not found the problem. I then, on hands and knees, crawled along the bunds for signs of Water Vole holes. Yes, I found a few, but they did not go further than a foot or so into the bank. Dejected by the lack of progress, and the thought of trying to find a needle in a haystack, I walked on trying to find another source of the problem. Within 5 minutes I discovered an up-flow of water, an obvious hole in the bund. So Mike and now John came over to assist me digging down to the problem and blocking the hole. The hole was about 60 to 75 mm in diameter, and very obvious, stretching below water level from one pond to the lower pond via the 3 metre wide bund, and exiting below the water line. With the bank now solid again we retired for lunch having marked the skimmer pipe to see any increase in water levels.


When I had been walking the bunds I noticed there were more Otter spraints, a lot of activity in the last few days! Also, there were about three piles of frog spawn on the dry grass with white frog entrails, and in one pond half a frog - just the legs! I know that Otters eat frogs, as well as the odd Water Vole, and the extra activity from them here on the wetland is probably down to the large movement of frogs to the ponds.  Maybe not all the spawn left on the grass was a result of a Heron but our Lutra lutra friend.

It is not often I get to see the top of my streamlined head, thanks Mike!

After lunch we ventured out to the scrapes and the leak in one of the wooden dams coming from one of the pond dipping stations.  It was an easy fix in comparison to the wetland problem. We want to raise the levels of the pond here to allow better water access for the educational visits we have coming up. I left Mike to make an extension to the wooden dam, while I glued a few loose boardwalk grips. The glue I was using was more of an experiment, as it will have to contend with hot, cold, wet, and footfall.
While all this was going on John, our resident sparky, was backwards and forwards from wetland hide to Field Centre to lake hide, literally on his bike, to solve the on-going issue of faulty cameras. This is no easy task and requires him to go up and down ladders, working out a system that seems a little bit of a puzzle, at least to me!

 


Whilst we were viewing the Field Centre bird box camera feed, we noticed a Blue Tit coming into the box and taking a mouth full of bedding away.  Shame it was not using our box, but at least Spring is in the air!
I finished the day with some of the last strimming I will be doing, this is for the Pepper Saxifrage.  We anticipate that things may be pushing through … we hope!


Thanks again to Mike and John for their constant help and hard work.

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WI to Fungi

Wednesday, March 16th 2016

The day started with me getting in early to walk with the guys doing the paths so they could get on and avoid damaging our bridges on the moorland. It soon became clear that as they scraped the old gravel off to put new on that they would have to remove it, as opposed to dumping it next to the actual path and potentially damaging the wildflowers. It was decided that they hire a small dumper truck, which is the width of our paths, to extract the spoil and put it on one of the muddy net rides. So off they went to get that, whilst I returned to the Field Centre to talk about up-coming visits.

We had a WI Group in for a tour of the site with Brian and Christine; they were pleased to watch Great Spotted Woodpeckers on the Lake Hide feeders and a Stoat run across their paths. Another chap also came in to say there was a possible sighting of a Long-eared Owl, however I was unable to confirm this.

 

Christine had been out looking at lichens and fungi . Our piles of wood for bugs from wind felled and cut timber also produces great fungi. Here are some examples:

Jelly Ear

Scarlet Elfcup

and a new species for the site Rhopogorahus filicinus, striking black patches on dying stems of bracken

Ramalina fastigiata, which was from Sean's tree surgery efforts on a dangerous Ash tree late last week, gave us access to dead branches which were usually higher in the canopy.

Sadly, although we had more moths last night than the zero of last Thursday, it was only 2... a Chestnut and another Pale Brindled Beauty... if the weather warms up before next Tuesday I am going to get that trap out again!

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‘Many Hands Make Light Work!’

Tuesday, March 15th 2016

It was a dullish day, duller due to it following such a beautiful day yesterday, a slight drizzle dampened the reserve but not the enthusiasm of our Tuesday volunteers, always a chance to get things done which by yourself would be a mega undertaking.

Today was exceptional, over 20 volunteers came in to lend a hand, from clearing up brushwood to cutting the Phragmites near the pond dipping areas. They were everywhere like ants, beavering away with their given tasks.

The initial job was to finish clearing and burning brushwood from last weeks chain sawing; one team carried to the burnsite, one team cleared the old burn site, and a few waited for Brian to get the fire started .

With the fire started the team piled last weeks cut wood on, then swept up the board walks by the Lake Hide bridge and tidied the old fire site below before moving onto the pond dipping area where we were clearing the old Phragmites or Common Reed, (Latin name Phragmites australis), to encourage fresh regrowth.

So I donned the waders, and cut the deeper pond around one of the dipping stations to allow access for the school educational visits coming up next month. I was pleased on my return to the site that a male Reed Bunting was moving through the reed about a foot from the water. That is the reason we do not cut all the reed, as it does form a haven for life outside of the summer months.  Human activity, including the drainage of land for agriculture and development, has resulted in the disappearance of many of the UK's wetlands including important reedbeds. Unsuitable management or neglect can result in a reedbed drying out;  if the reeds are not cut regularly, the habitat will be invaded by willow scrub and will eventually become a wet woodland.

Of course with all the cutting we had to remove the arisings to the fire site . This stuff does not burn well in these damp conditions but the fire from earlier still had a good heat for us to use .

Meanwhile, while all the hustle and bustle was going on John was giving the trailer and ATV a well earned pressure wash, so at least we can service them without the caked on mud.

At the other end of the reserve the contractors had arrived with their mini digger to re-do some of the path surfaces which had seen better days.

It all felt a little like spring cleaning, the prep before the reserve kicks into action, or bloom!

To complete the day we finally finished planting the saplings which we had dug out last week. A busy day which was made all the easier due to Foxglove Covert Volunteers, a big thank you!

The Moth Trap went out this evening, I have great hopes to beat last week's total of 'none', it feels milder, no frost forecast, so fingers crossed, especially whilst bird ringing at Bellflask on Sunday the chap there had caught at least a dozen species... grrrrr!

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Waterblitz in the Sun

Monday, March 14th 2016

We could not have picked a better day for the 'Waterblitz', the sun shone and hardly a breeze. Anne Heathcote, the Regional Officer for the North of England Freshwater Habitats Trust, had pre-arranged a visit to our site to test the wetland area for nitrates and phosphates which could compromise our wetland habitats. Excessive amounts of both can cause algae, fungi, bacteria, and some water plants to grow more rapidly than they naturally would, and therefore tip the balance and smother, or crowd out the less tolerant, slower growing species which tend to be the rarer ones!  As you can see Jenny dropped a 2 pence piece in the grass and spent most of the morning looking for it!

So off we marched up to the Wetland Ponds to take 24 samples. With our little sample bottles filled, and having seen the huge amounts of frog spawn, a Water Vole, Otter spraints .... and no one falling in (though I did have the camera ready), we returned to the Field Centre to do the actual testing. The weather was so kind that we sat at the picnic table, in the sun, recording the results. The overall good news is that the whole area has no, or minute elements of nitrate and phosphate.

If anyone requires any kits for their own ponds contact the Freshwater Habitats Trust, we are waiting for further kits to arrive so we can extend the survey to other water sources around the reserve.  If you want to get more involved with the health of our ponds please just contact me.

When you look at the various clumps of frog spawn, as in the photo above, it is hard to believe that each clump is a separate female frog laying her eggs . In this group alone there are over 20 clumps laid at different times over the weekend, indicating the amount of frogs present. As the clumps mature they tend to spread out to become one mass.

And more Otter spraints!

The afternoon was spent doing various servicing/maintenance work on the machinery while Ruth and Elizabeth got up to date with the Field Centre pricing and stock.

Thank you to Anne and Peter for their guidance with the water testing, and to all those that helped today.

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What a Day!

Sunday, March 13th 2016

The bird ringers were ringing at another site this morning.  Jenny took time out to watch the Great Crested Grebes displaying.

Jenny bird watching

During the session, birds processed included Marsh Tit, Reed Bunting and this beautiful Song Thrush.

Song Thrush

Back at Foxglove, a walk was carried out to check that all the trees, trunks and ponds were still there for the Easter trail.  (Some were not so it is back to the drawing board!)  The lake hide is part of the walk so an excuse to see what was around.  Mallard, Moorhen and Greylag Geese all present and correct.  A photograph of the geese was needed.  Zoom and click and a quick look, there was something hiding behind them in the reeds.

Greylag Geese with something hiding behind them

Patience and it showed itself.  It was the Little Grebe or Dabchick as it is sometimes known.  These birds usually do not arrive on the lake until mid to late summer.  Only one was spotted so we wait to see if a second appears.

Little Grebe

Heading back to the Field Centre, the Common Frogs were croaking in the ponds, but were very wary of footsteps and disappeared  quickly.  Waiting quietly one showed its head.  No apologies for saying this one looked very happy with a smile on its face.

Common Frog

The first Common Toad heading back to the ponds was also seen but it too was shy and hid in the undergrowth.

Hiding Common toad

There were insects flying and in the ponds 3 Spined Sticklebacks, tiny beetles, immature Pond Skaters and this water boatman, probably Notonecta glauca, were recorded.

Water Boatman

Late in the afternoon, taking time out to watch Lesser Redpoll, Siskin and Goldfinch through the kitchen window, they suddenly all flew off.  Nothing to be seen to frighten them but when the back garden was checked the reason for their flight was obvious! A male Sparrowhawk, who was looking somewhat disgruntled that there were no birds around anymore.

Sparrowhawk

Driving out of the reserve three white marks were seen on the heath.  First thought was that it was litter, but they moved.  Three Roe Deer, one buck in velvet and two does.  One of the does had a white mark on her neck.

Roe Deer doe

You can just see the ears of the third deer underneath the buck's nose

Roe Deer

The mist lifted during the morning and the temperature rose.  Many visitors came to the reserve and walked around, thoroughly enjoying the sun, warmth and the peace and quiet.

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News from the Pillwort Bowl

Saturday, March 12th 2016

Pillwort is a water fern but it is not like the land ferns.  A frond of Hart's Tongue fern from a garden, was taken and laid on soil and has been kept moist for about five months.  The back of the frond was covered in sori that were filled with spores.  Over the last month these spores have developed into prothalli.  These will eventually produce new ferns.

Prothalli of Hart's Tongue Fern

Pillwort produced sporocarps from which the spores were released.  These spores have now developed into tiny ferns, looking like pieces of grass. 

New Pillwort ferns

Meanwhile the adult fern is still growing and as the days lengthen and there is more heat in the sun coming through the window, so it is growing more quickly.  In the right hand corner, out of focus, the root of the Pillwort can be seen.

Adult Pillwort

Checking the plastic bowl on a regular basis and topping it up with water, 'things' have started to appear.  Daphnia and Cyclops species are moving around, presumably having spent the winter dormant either as adults or eggs.  Then there was a green 'thing'.  Glasses off to look closer, excitement growing, large magnifying glass out and yes the green 'thing' was a Green Hydra.

A Green Hydra

They are basically a tube, an outer layer and an inner layer which digests the food.  The tentacles around the opening of the tube catch the prey by stinging it.  In this species, because they contain chlorophyll they are not as voracious as other species.  If conditions are right then they reproduce asexually by producing a bud, which is a new hydra which will fall off and start life on its own.  Within a few days of discovery, one hydra has a bud.

Budding hydra

This is a new species for the reserve but it is unable to be entered into the species list at this time, as there is some confusion over its correct name.  The species programme is saying that it is a marine invertebrate!

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A Touch of Spring

Friday, March 11th 2016

I arrived at the reserve today in a thin veil of fog, the sun desperately trying to get through. It felt really mild after the last few days!  A couple of incredibly nonchalant Roe Deer greeted me near the Field Centre, but they didn't hang around while I scrabbled for my camera... hey ho!  The sun did eventually make it through in the afternoon which made the very pleasant day even better.

It is not often I get a decent walk around our site, usually a part here, a part there, but the Friday filling of the bird feeders enabled me to take in areas I had missed during the week.  Frog spawn seems to be everywhere. A flight, or wedge, of 12 Whooper Swans flew over fairly low, but alas passed us by, probably determined to get north to their breeding grounds. A Buzzard was sitting in a Hawthorn on the middle moor.

I was able to get a few more trees planted and guarded, so was happy to finish the day tinkering with the ATV while a Thrush sang loudly outside.

Returning to the office, I was distracted for 10 minutes watching a male Siskin feeding on the Nyjer feeder.  This time I was luckier with the photo, his vibrant yellow colouring almost advertising that spring is around the corner.

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Road Works and Wetlands

Thursday, March 10th 2016

It was a dry, fairly overcast day on the reserve. The annoying cameras at the Lake Hide and Wetland Hides which are not holding their charge had John and I looking at the state of the batteries with a view to retrieving them tomorrow. The solar panels after weeks of cloud and rain have struggled to get the signal to the Field Centre TV screen .

The rain water was still sitting in the potholes on the reserve road, which stirred us into action to get some more road repairs done.  So it was load up the trailer with the wack-a-plate, shovels and gravel and get to it. As with a lot of jobs, you need to do 5 other jobs to make one job happen ... but we got there in the end. Thank you Jonathan and John for your very welcome help.

While our road antics were in full flow, Tony, our wetland specialist, sorted out some of the issues with the wetland levels, he appeared pleased with his efforts when I went up to see how he was getting on. With his quite explicit instructions while he is away for a couple of weeks, I bid him bon voyage. Thanks again Tony.

 

 

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Rain , Rain, Rain .... again!

Wednesday, March 9th 2016

The rain fell on the reserve today - either heavy or not so heavy; it was raining when I started, rained when I finished. The brighter side of the wet stuff was that I was able to see where the water was standing on the road, and the footpaths .... so out came the drain rods, and a spade to clear anything backing up.

Greylag popped in near the Barn Owl nest box on the wetland, together with a statuette Heron standing nearby but looking miserable .

Glennis had been up on the training area, the land west of the reserve, and had noted 5 sightings of Short-eared Owl , the photos were particularly good . There are between 620-2180 breeding pairs in the North and Scotland, with about 5,000-50,000 birds over wintering, hence winter is a great time to see them especially as they are daytime flyers.

Another sighting today was a Weasel whilst I was repairing some board walk slats toward the outdoor classroom, the little monkey was so fast that to focus the camera was near impossible before it disappeared . Stoats are larger than a weasel , and physically heavier, able to take on a full grown rabbit, but for me the main thing to look out for is the black tipped tail that is present on the Stoat. Sadly Weasels prey on Water Voles.

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Trees up , Trees Down

Tuesday, March 8th 2016

Firstly I want to wish Lisa Allen , our Reserve Manager, all the best from the Volunteers and the rest of the gang at Foxglove LNR. I am sure she will enjoy her break and venture forth without us, she will be missed.

It was a typical 'get the jobs done' sort of day, the odd shower did not dampen the amount of effort shown by all, both the weekly volunteers and the Dales School team .

The saplings we failed to plant over the weekend finally got dug in, and we even got the bulk of the 7ft plus standards out the ground ready for another day soon, the amount of soil on the roots should keep them happy until a new home is found. An area of self seeded Sitka Spruce was cleared, and fuelled a steady fire for folk to warm themselves, but to be honest most folk were warm from their labours.

After lunch we cleared the branches down by the Lake Hide bridge.  What was a mess from Sean, our tree surgeon's work yesterday, was soon cleared by the team and it is looking like the site has had a face-lift .

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The Outdoor Classroom seemed to have the hustle and bustle today; Sean cutting log seats and a log bench, and the Dales School team doing a grand job of Gorse clearance around the new plantings nearby.  A few Field Maple saplings went in too!

 

On the ringing front, I was again able to get a Moorhen done with Tony, and the dozen or so Lesser Repolls on the feeders by the Field Centre were crying out for rings.  This weekend I told them.

Sightings today - a freshish Otter spraint on Risedale Beck. SPRAINTS are made up of clearly visible fish bones and scales, with some other small bones, fur, feather and insect fragments sometimes present. All contents are bound by a black tarry mucous. This hardens and dries to pale grey with age.  It has a distinctive sweet-musky odour, which is not unpleasant. Any sightings of these please let me know.

Plus the beautiful rainbowed Turkey-tailed bracket fungus (Trametes-versicolor), this is extremely variable in colouration, often layered in tiered groups on deciduous wood all year round.

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Sightings

Sunday, March 6th 2016

Whilst the volunteers were working yesterday they kept their eyes open and were rewarded with some great sightings of our animals.  A Buzzard flew overhead calling.  It is always a surprise that such a large bird makes such a small noise.   Although the Buzzards fly over the reserve frequently and we assume that it is part of their territory we have never been able to find the nest of 'our' Buzzards.

A Stoat, black tip to tail, was seen carrying a rather large Rabbit.  Frogspawn was recorded in the wetland ponds, which is unusual as the Common Frogs usually spawn in the Scrapes first.  And finally a Hare was seen.  Unfortunately the idea that we might find some minibeasts to photograph to help the children ID the species they discover under the logs, failed miserably.  Snail eggs and two Woodlice were the only species recorded.

Reedmace or Bulrush has been standing tall all winter showing off its chocolate brown seed head.  They are now just beginning to disperse their seeds.

Bulrush seed head

The tiny seeds are carried by gentle breezes. 

Bulrush seed heads

 Larch is in flower now.  The buds will burst soon to show the soft green needles.

Larch flowers

Out on the moor, sheltered down the steep  bankside, Primroses are flowering.

primrose

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Last Worky Day of Winter

Saturday, March 5th 2016

It was the last Worky Day and as has been the case for most of them this winter, we had every weather imaginable, sun, cloud, rain, sleet, hail, snow and dry!  The volunteers were split into groups.  One group carried out the important task of cleaning the hoppers of old seed and refilling them.  This photograph was taken during a sunny spell!

Team Hopper Cleaners

Another group visited the tree nursery where they dug up some trees and replanted them along the Sycamore Avenue.

Replanting Tree Group

It rained and snowed as this photograph shows, the volunteers a little on the damp side!

The Tree Planting Team

Mike and Tony were on the wetland where the water levels in the pools have been variable.  When they had finished things were looking good with the levels where they should be.

Once Tony and Robin had completed chain-sawing at the Outdoor Classroom they headed off to check the owl boxes on the reserve.  Tawny Owls nest early and prefer empty nest boxes, without the clutter of sticks that the Jackdaws had put in them last year.

The final group were at the Outdoor Classroom area which was undergoing a 'make-over'.  We opened up the area so that we have more space for the children and more log piles and log rings for the children to hunt under.  Brambles and Rose were removed, grass cut, trees cut down and cut into children sized pieces.

The Outdoor Classroom Team

There was a fire.  There was blue sky.  There was cloud heading our way!

Fire, blue sky, cloud

At the end of the day we walked onto the moor to look at possible sites for the new Stone Circle.  Tony explained the background to the project. 

Looking at the sites for the Stone Circle

Blue sky again, but look the other way and more precipitation coming.

Clouds

The winter work is heading towards its conclusion and the summer work is waiting in the wings.  During our winter worky days an amazing amount of work is carried out by volunteers.  A sincere thank you to everyone who has attended during this winter.  Your help, support and cheerfulness under some very difficult conditions are really appreciated.

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A Dreich Sort of Day

Friday, March 4th 2016

The day started pretty much as it finished… wet and cold...dreich!  At least I had a warm Field Centre to retreat to after my ramblings, not so easy for the critters out there, I did feel pleased I was filling the feeders for them. Over a dozen Lesser Redpolls descended on the Nyjer bird feeders, quite a sight. A single Mealy Redpoll joined the throng.


Ray came down and gave me valued help with finding the various bird feeders, and a duo of Moorhens in the duck trap turned solo as we approached and one squeezed out before I could confine and bag them both.  Tony enabled me to ring my first Moorhen, a feisty male.


 

The water in the wetlands was more like what it should be, and was up a good inch, but the thaw of the nights snow flurry probably helped as Risedale Beck and the out flow from the Lake was fairly wild.


Winter Worky Day tomorrow , weather forecast is not so bad, so will see you tomorrow if you are coming.

 

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Wetland Bliss

Thursday, March 3rd 2016

The day started cold; ice coated the ponds, puddles and lakes. As the day progressed the sun produced a little warmth which allowed us to shed some layers as the tasks of the day progressed.

Tony and Mike systematically inspected the wetland bungs/dams to work out why we were losing water from the upper fingers, the lower reaches have bben flooded and overflowing. It was not long before the culprit was found .... a Water Vole had made a tunnel, in effect draining the water to where we did not want it. It was a tweak here and there by the persistant duo that soon had the nub of the problem under control.  That may have sounded easy, but a considerable amount of physical digging and dam construction was needed, guys.... we thank you !

Jonathan, our work experience student, did a sterling job of cleaning out a bird seed hopper, as well as helping with digging a few saplings from the nursery to replant elsewhere this Saturday Worky Day. Thank you Jonathan for your guidance today finding the seed for the Friday feeder refill.

 

Sightings of Kingfisher at the Lake Hide, two Barn Owls over the moorland, and Reed Buntings at the Field Centre accompanied the sunshine. More frog spawn was found in the wetland area, as well as on the banks next to the ponds and down by the lake.

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A Pathfinders Day

Wednesday, March 2nd 2016

There was a slight flurry of snow in the early morning before I got to the reserve, giving a more chilled feeling. I knew then that the moth trap we put out the evening before would have limited success having been so cold , but regardless of this a single Pale Brindled Beauty (male) made it worth it.

The Pathfinder group from Help for Heroes visited today and I was able to give them a lengthy tour of the facilities before returning to the Field Centre for lunch and more importantly a hot drink . The bird ringing room providing plenty of interest, and to finish off we had a visit and birdwatch from the Lake Hide . A male Great Spotted Woodpecker pecked at the remaining peanuts in the feeder, with Greenfinch and Chaffinch scratching around below in the debris. The Pathfinders enjoyed the visit and the peace and tranquillity we have to offer.

Could anyone who is attending the Winter Worky Day this Saturday please contact the Reserve Managers , we would hate you to miss out on the hot lunch.

Also, any volunteers who would like to assist us and The Freshwater Habitats Trust with the Waterblitz Day, on Monday the 14th March please contact the reserve.

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Finishing Off

Tuesday, March 1st 2016

Today the volunteers returned to the woodland trail where we were a few weeks ago to finish off removing the straggly Hawthorns.   After the rain, and yesterday’s cold temperatures, the day was very mild with the sun making a welcome appearance too.   The volunteers, joined by the Dales School around lunchtime, worked hard felling, sawing and lopping up the felled trees that were then burnt on a bonfire.

Out on the Wetland a Frog was spotted, and our first sightings of frog spawn have been noted on the Reserve at the weekend.

Thank you everyone who came out today, your hard work is much appreciated.

 

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