(30) Blog Posts Made in December 2017

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Winter Species

Sunday, December 31st 2017

Entering the last few pieces of information into the Species Programme made me think back to what had been recorded during the year.  The species list now stands at 2681 species, with new species added again this year.  I wonder if there will ever be a year when we have none.  Doing this made me look back to what we can possibly find during the winter months.

Cones cover the upper bare branches of Larch trees.  These provide a vital food resource for many small birds which can often be seen flitting from branch to branch, calling quietly.  A pair of binoculars can be useful at this time of year.

Larch Cones

Privet, which grows by the side of the path leading to the middle moor gate, still has dark coloured berries holding fast to the branches.

Privet berries

Green leaves of Honeysuckle show through the vegetation.

Honeysuckle leaves

The reserve can look very dark with little colour as winter draws to a close but when you know where to look, a bright red splash of Scarlet Elfcup can be found.

Scarlet Elfcup

As February arrives we watch and listen for the Common Frogs to return to their spawning grounds.  Warm weather and they return early, cold weather means we have to be patient.

Common Frog and spawn

Later high pitched croaking, more like bird song, heralds the retun of the Common Toad to the ponds via the paths and Access Road.

Common Toad

Finally, if there has been some warmth in the sun, just before the spring equinox, the Opposite-golden Leaved Saxifrage opens its yellow flowers.

Opposite-golden Leaved Saxifrage

Many thanks to everyone who has contributed to Foxglove's 25 years, which we celebrated in July.  Much hard work has been carried out by many people over that time to make Foxglove the very special place that it is now.

Best wishes for a Happy, Peaceful and Healthy New Year.  Raise a dram to 2018.

Robert Burns expresses New Year in that time honoured song, Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?

CHORUS:
For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’lltak' a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie's a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak' a right gude-willie waught,
for auld lang syne.

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Winter tracks and signs

Saturday, December 30th 2017

Mel decided to come into work with me as a volunteer today with our walk into Foxglove taking much longer than usual on account of all the interesting tracks that distracted us. I can only hope that we have similar conditions for our Tracks and Signs workshop on Wednesday 3rd January.

Although the added snow over night is great for spotting animal tracks, and has made Foxglove look especially festive this morning; it did put a stop to our plans to cut the secret heath.

Instead we have busied ourselves with checking up on the ponies, filling up bird feeders and sweeping out the hides, again being distracted by the many signs left behind in the snow.


  

On our meanderings back and forth we found evidence of pheasants, coots, deer and rabbits before stumbling across a half eaten rosehip. Rosehips are an important food source for many birds, with some prefering the red fleshy exterior, whilst others prefer the nutrient-rich achenes within.

Feeding upon the red flesh of the hips and leaving the seeds, as can be seen in the picture below, is characteristic of thrush species, such as Blackbird, Fieldfare and Redwing.

We were both amused to find signs suggesting that bird watching may not be a hobby of exclusive interest to humans after finding tracks leading all of the way up the steps to the tower hide.

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Better Late than Never!

Friday, December 29th 2017

To some, it's the stuff of Christmas, creating beauty in the landscape, ticking off one of the essentials that really make up that feeling of being 'Christmassy'. To others it is the stuff of nightmares, causing difficulties in getting about whether by car or walking, further complicated by either freezing and becoming icy or thawing and turning to slush. Whatever your preference, what had become clear today was that the snow had already arrived by the time the sun rose. For those dreaming of a white Christmas it was a case of better late than never.

Snowy Wetlands

So today was one of those days where the weather dictated the pattern of work, which centred mainly on making sure that all the bird feeders and hoppers were filled and ready for avian visitors and residents. The obligatory breaking of the ice in the ponies' bucket was also high on the list, together with even more admiration for just how insulated their coats are judging by the depth of snow lying on their backs.

Ponies

While doing this, on a day when only three human visitors braved the elements, there was time to look at the range of prints left by birds and mammals, watch the behaviour of different species, and admire the beauty of the snow while it is still with us as the temperature rose slightly and trees increasingly dripped melting water. The forecast is for a thaw tomorrow and the snow will be gone.

Risedale Beck
 
So, enjoy it while it lasts. If the old saying is true that 'a picture paints a thousand words' then these tell much of the story of today. There are several different footprints including Moorhen, Pheasant and Roe Deer.  

Moorhen tracks

Pheasant Tracks

There is the unwelcome guest appearing at the meal causing everyone to scatter.

Female Sparrowhawk

And there is the patient diner wishing for the waiter to serve the meal but too polite to make a fuss (until other Robins appeared).

Robin by feeder

Away from the feeding areas, there were signs but very few opportunities to see wildlife, with one exception. Sadly, the first telltale sign when approaching the Voley Ponds was seeing head movement and being fixed by the yellow and black eye of a Grey Heron who had found one of the few unfrozen pieces of water in the Reserve. Having got to within 10 metres of the bird by chance, there was only going to be one result and it took off towards the area of the Lake to try fishing without being disturbed. Despite that, it was a quiet but very enjoyable day.

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Having a Clear-out

Thursday, December 28th 2017

Although Thursday is one of the regular Volunteer Days, it wasn't really surprising that there was only one volunteer in today, as other volunteers and staff were still enjoying the Christmas festivities and holidays.  So it was a day for small tasks which were important but with no power tools or machinery required. 

The first was to clear two areas of Willow and Birch which were encroaching on to the Scrapes.  These had established in two of the channels that connect the ponds, and the channels will need further clearance to make sure that the water drains properly through this area.  It took about 40 minutes to work through the areas with loppers and bowsaws, making the channels easier to see so that management work can now be identified.

The cut Willow and Birch (and the odd small Ash) were stacked to one side among the pollarded willow, and will be used to make lengths to replace dead hedging around the Reserve.  Despite the activity, there were still plenty of birds around, including a male Blackbird tucking in to one of the apples on a Water Vole raft and a female Kestral using a taller Birch as a viewing point.

The next job was to move onto a patch of Gorse growing next to the path near to Hague Bridge.  This was started just before breaking for lunch, and a chance encounter.  Two of today's visitors have also been sponsoring a couple of the ponies used by the Yorkshire Exmoor Pony Trust, who own Lark and Taurus.  While we quickly established that these were not the two who were being sponsored, they were hoping to get a glimpse of the two Exmoors, so there was an impromptu check on the ponies which also involved feeding a small amount of carrot to them.

Going back to the patch of Gorse, most was cleared during the afternoon and thanks must go to Peter as the lone volunteer who cleared a large part of this while the visit to see the ponies was taking place.  This has opened up the area to allow room for the trees in this area to grow and to encourage plants to grow and flower.  The Gorse will be allowed to dry and then will be taken to be burnt when other areas of Gorse are cleared on the Moorland.

Despite the limited numbers, today has been a successful day when much has been achieved, members of the public have been able to be involved in how the Reserve is being managed, and we can move on to look at the next management tasks.

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Arrivals and Departures

Wednesday, December 27th 2017

A short but intense hail storm accompanied by thunder made an interesting start to the day but, as the sun rose, it became clear that the Wetland was the most affected by the cold.  Previously, the Lake and the Scrapes had been the most frozen, but this time they have remained clear. 

The first job then was to make sure that there was plenty of water for the ponies, so 10 gallons were taken to fill up their water container.  Feeling the temperature of Lark, by pushing fingers under the hairs of his coat, showed just how much insulation they have before both ponies took advantage of the new water supply.  Going back to the Scrapes to put apples out on the Water Vole rafts, everything was very bright, still and clear, especially the water.  So clear and still that the only thing that gave away that there was life around was the tiny black speck of a Water Beetle braving clear water to find refuge under a leaf.

The increased cold has meant that more birds are taking advantage of the feeding stations near to the Field Centre and the hides.  The number of pheasants continues to increase with 18 being counted in the Field Centre Garden in the last couple of days. The usual suspects were there, with a range of finches and tits, Nuthatches and Great Spotted Woodpeckers.  These were tested by dashes through by a female Sparrowhawk with no success, even when she changed her route and suddenly appeared from a different angle.  Perhaps the other birds were warned when all the Pheasants suddenly ducked their heads in unison.

In amongst all of this was a Brambling, one of the first to be seen this Winter. Hopefully this will be the sign of more to come and they will become a more common sight on the Reserve in the next weeks.

One of this afternoon's tasks was to move the sheep off the Reserve.  They have done an excellent job while they have been grazing the Moorland, but as they now require supplementary feeding their impact will be reduced considerably. 

What can be a major operation on some reserves was achieved in a couple of minutes.  It was almost as if they knew what was coming as they had moved from being spread out across the Moorland and the Middle Moor to being close to the gate where they would soon be leaving.  There was no further need for herding skills as they all responded to the farmer's Land Rover and a feed bag and, with the gate now open, all went straight through and are now grazing on the grass on the other side of the fence from the Reserve.  Lark and Taurus will soon be moving to continue grazing the Moorland.

Towards the end of the day, a bright moon and clear sky confirmed that it is going to be below freezing tonight.  The forecast is for -3 Centigrade at least, so no doubt even the clear waters of the Scrapes will be frozen in the morning.

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Brrrr!

Tuesday, December 26th 2017

The sun shone and the sky was blue but lots of layers were needed walking around Foxglove this morning.  A Grey Heron did not appreciate his fishing being disturbed as we wandered through the Scrapes.  Another flew up from the lake.  Of course the camera could not focus on the slow movement of wings that are so effective in ensuring that the Grey Heron flies quickly!  If that makes sense!

The lake looked still and calm.

The lake

Wildfowl food was scattered on the slope and top of the bank.  Of course all the wildfowl disappeared.  We returned to the hide and waited and within minutes some Mallard swam across and out onto the bank and started feeding, followed by seven Moorhen.

Mallard feeding

We felt the full force of the bitter wind as we crossed the moor.  It looked rather bleak.

Moor

Then a walk to check Lark and Taurus.

Lark and Taurus

Heading back to the Field Centre, three Buzzards could be heard calling overhead.  Camera only caught two.

Buzzards

Bugs and beasties were mentioned on yesterday's blog but unfortunately the images were not good enough to go onto the blog.  So you are not disappointed here are some found during the year and for you to look forward to in the coming summer.

One of the blue damselflies that can be found in unexpected places across the reserve.

Damselfly sp

Brimstone butterflies did well this year and we made the most of several photographic opportunities to obtain good images.

Brimstone Butterfly

Bee species were recorded from early April through to September, although some did not appreciate having their photograph taken and waved a warning leg.

Bee on Devil's Bit Scabious

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Depths of Winter

Monday, December 25th 2017

Merry Christmas to all our readers of Foxglove blogs. 

The shortest day has come and gone and now in the depths of winter we wait for signs of new beginnings, with new leaves growing and owls calling as they set up their territories.  Unfortunately we will have to wait a little while yet, but we can revel in the beauty of winter.

The reed bed changes from green to purple, then in winter to fawn as the seed heads wave in the wind.

Reed bed

Close up the heads have their own beauty.

Reed seed head

Glimpses of the low winter sun catches your eye as you walk along Risedale Beck.

Low winter sun

I have to admit that bugs, beasties and colourful flowers are very limited at this time of year.  I did find some living creatures, but more of that another time. My eyes wander skywards but although this cloud is decorative it did not resemble any living thing!

Clouds

Dusk comes early, followed by a long night, but before the sun goes down completely a little light lights up the sky.

Dusk sky

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Berries

Sunday, December 24th 2017

Way back in May when we were able 'to cast a clout' as the May blossom flowered,

Hawthorn or May blossom

we thought it was going to be another good year for Haws.  We were right.  The trees were heavily laden come autumn.

Haws

Birds, mainly those of the thrush family, started to leave tell tale signs of feeding.

Feeding signs

When driving into the reserve during November the Hawthorn trees at the Stone Pile were full of Redwings.  Several were caught and ringed.

Redwing

Now, well through December, the Redwings have moved on, as they have eaten most of the Hawthorn berries.

Hawthorn tree

Holly had a good year too.

Holly Berries

Now not a one left.  (I have not checked those in the ancient hedgelines across the moor.  For some reason the birds usually do not appreciate these ones - not sweet enough?)

No Holly Berries

Although the migrant Redwings have left the reserve there are still plenty of Blackbirds around and many of these are from Scandinavia.   When we raised the nets a week ago 17 new Blackbirds were ringed.  They had the characteristically matt black bills of the Scandinavians, were far heavier than normal, and had the usual longer wing lengths. Some of the birds weighing almost 150g, 50g heavier than 'our' Blackbirds.

The photo below is of a Scandinavian Blackbird.

A Blackbird

Nothing to do with berries or migrants, a recent recovery is of a Black-headed Gull, ringed at the Crater ten year ago and has now been found in Ireland.

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Nests

Saturday, December 23rd 2017

Some members of the ringing team headed to the BTO conference recently.  They found the conference interesting and informative.  One member returned full of enthusiasm for recording nests.  Much work is carried out by the ringing team with the many nest boxes at Foxglove and on the training area. Work will start in the New Year repairing and replacing  nest boxes.

Additional records of nests found can be added to our data. 

Some nests are easy to spot, well nearly, especailly if you know where to look.  This Greylag Goose thought she would remain unseen.  She is fairly well camouflaged.

Greylag Goose on nest

Once hatched the chicks are taken to the lake but are well guarded.

Greylag parents and young

The slope had to be negotiated to reach the grass.  This is the area that was mentioned on the blog yesterday.

Greylag and young

Moorhens build a large messy nest  that was added to as she incubated her eggs.  I am not sure that long strands of plant material were always welcomed.

Moorhen nest

A pair of binoculars is helpful when checking the lake to see if the Little Grebe has nested.  This nest was not too difficult to find.

Little Grebe nest

Away from the lake, nests can be seen in unusual places.  A hollow in a tree provided an ideal site for a Mallard.

Mallard nesting

An angry Robin with a mouthful of food was not going to show us its nest.  We moved away quickly so it could feed its young.  Sightings like this and lots of patience will be needed to locate nests to add to our records.

Robin

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Wintering geese refuges

Friday, December 22nd 2017

Much of the marshland habitats once used by wintering geese has now been lost, having been drained and given over to agriculture. At times this has led to a conflicts of interest between farmers and the birds that have now shifted thier diets from Glasswort mudflats, tidal saltmarsh grasses, and fen vegetation to a diet of crop plants.

Providing and managing refuges for geese, such as the upland fens and grassland areas found dotted about the reserve, is of utmost importance. Although grass is a very important part of the diet of geese they are very inefficient feeders, being unable to make use of the cellulose which makes up the bulk of grass biomass. 

As a consequence geese spend 95% of their time eating grass during the winter months, and prefer areas of open ground with clear views and low disturbance. 

Today we have been trying to ensure that refuge areas ideal for wintering geese are kept short (about 8cm or 3 inches) in the hope of encouraging them to return to Foxglove.

The raised area of grass to the north west of the lake offers an ideal refuge for wintering geese when managed properly. The grassy banks coupled with access to an abundance of clean lake water will hopefully tempt a few more winter visitors.

  
 

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Deer, Ducks and Dust

Thursday, December 21st 2017

The shortest day of the year may have been dull all day, but there is still plenty of wildlife around, so it has actually been far from a dull day.  Walking out to check on the ponies, three Roe Deer were grazing under the woodland edge of the Sitka Spruce plantation, moving off quietly and with little concern when approached.  They showed no urgency as they sauntered off into the cover of the nearby Willow and Birch trees.  The same could not be said of the Mallards on the wetland pools.  Moving towards the ponies meant that each of the pools progressively emptied of the startled birds, with thirteen taking off in total before a Snipe zigzagged away.

On the whole, the rest of the day has been very productive and started with confirmation of yesterday's identification of the Pestle Puffball.  Although there were not many volunteers in today, practical work focused on continuing the maintenance of the footpath through the moorland.  The last remains of the pile of stone and dust delivered last week has now been moved to create the new surface for the path.  It is important to try to maintain a mix of both stone and dust so that this can be compacted down to create a smooth surface.

If work on the path is on an area that is very wet, both stone and dust can sink in taking large quantities of material and become waterlogged.  Part of the work today has been to dig out ditches near and alongside the path to help drain these areas.  The group doing this said they may be some time, and they actually continued until dusk to be able to do as much of this as they could.  This will help prepare the area for work on the path next week or after the New Year.

 

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Willow Wreaths Part 2

Wednesday, December 20th 2017

The second Winter Willow Wreath event was held this morning, with a group of participants who confessed nervously to never having made a willow wreath before.  With the weather being warmer, we were fortunate that the willow was less brittle and easier to bend so there were fewer occasions when the willow snapped than in the previous event.  After half an hour the nervous questions ("What do I do with this bit?"; "Am I doing this right?") had given way to a period of intense concentration while everyone was working on their first wreath.

Once the wreaths had started to take shape, everyone became much more relaxed and there was plenty of conversation about where people had come from and discovering common connections and interests.  By the first break most had started making their second wreath and were ready for tea, coffee and mince pies.

After the break, there was a quick foray to collect foliage and cones to adorn the wreaths.  Back in the Activity Room, the discussion turned to the best way to tie a bow on to the wreaths, how to tell the difference between Scots Pine and Sitka Spruce, and who sang the song "Come Outside" back in the early 1960s. 

There was also time to talk about the importance of Foxglove Covert for bird ringing and at least two of the participants said that they would like to come back to see ringing in progress.  Judging by the smiles and the wreaths created by the end of the event, everybody had a really good time and are looking forward to doing more of the same next year!

In the meantime, although the moth trap did not produce many moths, two of the volunteers went looking for fungi and came back with a good assortment.  They spent the second part of the morning identifying the species, as well as the shredded Sitka Spruce cones that looked like they had been attacked by a woodpecker to get at the seeds.

So it was a very satisfying morning for all concerned, not forgetting the volunteers who helped with Christmas decorations and in filling the bird feeders outside.  There was definitely a feeling that Christmas is just around the corner!

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Footpath Work Begins

Tuesday, December 19th 2017

Work started this morning on moving stone over to the footpath that runs through the moorland. SIx volunteers worked with the Reserve Managers to load the stone from the pile delivered last week on to the trailer, which was then taken to the moorland using a route that minimised damage to surfaces that became increasingly softer as the weather got warmer during the day.

Once the load had arrived at the path it was unloaded and carefully raked out to cover the areas that had suffered damage previously.  Because of the wet areas around the path, some drainage had to be cleared, and the wet patches also meant that in some places double the quantity of material was needed to be able to get an effective surface.

The stone and dust was then compacted down using the vibrating plate to make a flat surface for people to walk on.  The work will take a few days to complete, and is likely to continue during the rest of this week.  

While work continued on the path this afternoon, two of the volunteers have been out gathering Willow ready for tomorrow morning's Willow Wreath Making Workshop, with fifteen people booked on to the event.  The rise in temperature over the next few days, as seen by the sun shining on the rapidly melting ice on Plovers Pool this morning, means that we can resume a number of activities.

Tonight the moth trap has been set out, and it will be interesting to see the results in the morning.  The ice is also disappearing from the pools in the wetland, with one of the ponies clearly enjoying a drink from a pool when they were checked this evening.  It will mean that there will be some chance to remove more vegetation from some of the pools if the weather continues to get milder.  Removing as much as we can by the end of January is an important target in managing the Reserve

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The Best Laid Plans….

Monday, December 18th 2017

Arriving at Foxglove this morning, it became almost immediately apparent that plans for the day would have to be rearranged when it became obvious that there was no electricity for the main gate.  Thanks must go the many people who helped track down the source of the problem, including those who were on holiday and came in straight away to work hard on getting the gate back into action.  Things were not delayed too badly, with the most important jobs of checking the sheep and ponies in the freezing conditions being done quite quickly.

It soon beame clear that today was going to be a lot warmer so that, while the pools on the wetland remained frozen, it was turning into a pleasant day.  It did give us time to move the quad bike and trailer around to the stone pile before the ground softened so that we could minimise any damage that may be caused.  The rest of the day has been spent moving stone nearer to the worksite for tomorrow so that the volunteers can make a start on restoring the path surface through the moorland.

Over the last couple of days, Ian has also been working on tidying the workshop, moving some items to be stored elsewhere, making it a lot easier to get to tools and equipment.  There is still a lot of work to do here but this really is a big improvement and will make getting started on work each morning a lot better.

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Excited!

Saturday, December 16th 2017

No, not excitement that Christmas is coming, but that we might catch some moths in the moth trap on Tuesday night!  The forecast is saying that the night temperature could be as high as 9 centigrade with winds of 10 to 12 mph, which means the trap won't get blown away.  This made me look back at some of the moths we have caught, not winter ones, but those found in the summer.  It also made me hasten for the moth book to check on IDs!

One that needs no checking is the Poplar Hawkmoth.  This is a large moth, with a forewing between 30 to 46mm.  Its flight season is from May to July with some possibly being recorded in early August.  Something that we often discuss is whether the adult moths feed.  The notes state that it does not feed.  The caterpillar enjoys feasting on willows, Aspen and poplars.

Poplar Hawkmoth

From mid May to July, Buff Ermine moths can be caught.  The male is butter coloured whilst the female is off white.   Foxglove provides plenty of food for the caterpillars who can be found from July to October feeding on Nettle, Honeysuckle and birches.

Buff Ermine moth

The Orange Sallow lives up to its name as it is orange, flying from August through to early October, coinciding with one of its food plants, overripe Blackberries.  It also feeds from flowers and takes honeydew.  Interestingly its larval food plants are limes and possibly Elm, so there is limited food at Foxglove.

Orange Sallow

When newly hatched Green Arches is coloured richly green, which fades with age.  The larva feed on plants including Primrose, Honeysuckle, Bramble and docks, from August overwinter to May.  Its pupa stage could be short as the adults are on the wing from June through to July.

Green Arches

You never know what you are going to find in the trap at any time of year and there can be disappointments and excitment when the trap is opened.  Fingers crossed for Wednesday morning.

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Tidying up and taking stock

Friday, December 15th 2017

Another cold start, but this time after a series of short showers that turned to ice, so the first job was to put grit out on to the paths around the Field Centre.  Once the showers had passed it turned into a bright but cold day.

Plovers Pool remains frozen with little sign of wildlife here, but Snipe were seen as they flew away after being disturbed by the ponies.  A round bale of haylage has arrived to help supplement the diet of the sheep, so it was not difficult to find or count them this morning.  They seemed more intent of using the bale as a climbing frame, probably for the most agile to be able to reach the best bits in th centre of the bale.

Bird ringing is planned for the weekend, and so Colin has been doing his normal rounds to fill the feeders.  He has also been refilling the hoppers with chaff which is much loved by bullfinches and other small birds.  The feeding area in the Field Centre garden has been visited by a Grey Squirrel who has clearly been so successful in building up reserves of fat for the winter that, in human terms, he would be considered overweight.  He was happy to wait on the ground to eat anything spilt from the feeders above even when a female Sparrowhawk made a dash across the garden.  He stayed put while everything else vanished.  Judging by the way he slowly left the garden later, he may not have had the ability to get out of the way.

Meanwhile, Ian has been busy all day in the workshop.  Tree tubes that had been stored in there after recently being removed from trees have now joined the rest in the Bullet Catcher store so that they can then be either saved for re-use or for disposal.  Stakes are being graded for use again with trees or for other uses, such as in putting in footpath or step edges.  The workshop is now ready for the next stage which is to work through all the tools to see what condition they are in and to do any necessary maintenance.

 

Preparation for ringing has also included charging two-way radios and boxes which can play birdsong.  One other job that Colin has done today is putting new apples on the vole platforms, and walking through the Scrapes late this afternoon it was obvious that these had been eagerly attacked.  This time, it looks like it may have been Blackbirds as three flew away from one of the vole platforms.  There are a large quantity of Blackbirds around, with up to 60 seen at one time.  Further on, where the Kestrel had been seen successfully hunting a few days ago, a Buzzard was trying the same trick, trying hard to beat its wings fast enough to not quite achieve a hover, giving up to revert to the more normal 'flap and glide' as it circled overhead.

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Foxglove Christmas Party

Thursday, December 14th 2017

Members of Foxglove Covert's Management Team, Reserve Managers past and present, volunteers and guests entered into the festive spirit at the annual Christmas Party held yesterday evening at Wathgill.  The evening started with a very testing quiz based on the Reserve, which had several sections including identifying species and locations found at Foxglove Covert, solving anagrams of the names of species, a wordsearch and even a spot of Maths based on facts related to wildlife.

The four-course meal was appreciated by everyone, although there was sometimes a question of whether attempts to lend a hand might prove the old saying of "Too many cooks..." correct.  But it didn't go unnoticed that the Management Group helped serve the meal and collect dishes at the end of each course.  The skills of the chef were outstanding with the main concern for some being not the quality but the quantity of the excellent food.

 

At the start of the meal, entertainment was provided by the Serenity Duo, who lived up to their promise of starting quietly and building their sound as the evening wore on.  They took a short break to enjoy the meal before running through a string of favourite songs until the quiz results were announced and the raffle was drawn.  Congratulations have to go to the Hayden family who showed their knowledge of Foxglove and its wildlife by consistently being among the highest scorers for each section of the quiz.

 

The commemoration of Foxglove Covert's 25th anniversary was marked by a celebratory cake.  At that point, most felt they couldn't eat any more, so pieces of cake were taken home by everyone.  The anniversary was also marked by a book of photos of the Reserve during its 25 years, presented to Tony to mark his efforts in establishing the Reserve over that period.  Both the cake and the book were donated by Elizabeth who had also done much of the work in bringing everything together to make the evening such a success.

Sadly, while everyone had a really good time, our thoughts were with Elizabeth who had not been able to come along for the evening due to illness, with a bad cough and a cold.  We wish her a speedy recovery and look forward to seeing her (and Lottie) at Foxglove very soon.

 

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Christmas come early

Wednesday, December 13th 2017

Yesterday a small party of Foxglove personnel (Tony, Ian, Whin and Rona) made the long trip down to Sculthorpe Moor Nature Reserve in Norfolk to pick up 28 nest boxes, or so we thought. 

After a short stop on route we arrived at Sculthorpe Moor to be greeted by 34 boxes, all beautifully crafted using marine ply by the reserve volunteer team, and all completely free of charge. We now had the nerve-racking task of fitting 22 barn owl, 6 kestrel and 6 little owl boxes into the back of the van.

In the end we had nothing to worry about, as we were able to stack the boxes into the van realtively easily. It's definately worth noting that we may be able to fit up to 45 boxes into the back of the van in the future, but for now 34 is more than enough to be getting on with.

After making sure that the boxes were stacked securely we said our farewells and thanked the staff and volunteers of Sculthorpe Moor again for such a wonderful early Christmas present. We made excellent progress on the route home and talked of the urgent need for replacements where existing boxes had become damaged and were at risk of failing.

What's really great about these nest boxes, other than their craftmanship, is that they have been constructed using marine ply; a material that gives them a lifespan of between 12 and 15 years!

After a much appreciated stop for a bite to eat (thanks again Sophie) all 34 nest boxes arrived at the Garrison safe and sound.

Considering the longevity of these nest boxes and the fact that construction, supply and delivery cost nothing what-so-ever; Christmas really has come early for us here at Foxglove. Merry Christmas to all of the volunteers and staff at Sculthorpe Moor Nature Reserve.

 

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Nice and Warm!

Tuesday, December 12th 2017

Five volunteers were in today, braving an icy start.  The stone delivered yesterday needs to be moved nearer the site of the proposed footpath surfacing and so the morning was spent with wheelbarrows doing just that.  Luckily the icy weather made using the wheelbarrows easier as there was less chance for slips on the hard surface.  This was an excellent effort from the volunteers and nobody was complaining about feeling cold at the end of the morning.

Reduced numbers after lunch would make further work with wheelbarrows difficult, and so the group continued with burning much of the Gorse that had been cut on the last Worky Day.  As always, burning Gorse gives off an intense heat, especially when the leaves are on fire, so again everyone was warm despite the cold weather.  One volunteer clearly enjoyed this task and called it 'therapeutic'.  

Today was the final session for the regular visitors from the Dales School.  Eyes lit up at the mention of a bonfire and. as they often work with the volunteers, there is little doubt that they would also love to help with this task in the future.

The final rounds of the day included making sure the fire was safe to leave.  During this time, a Robin was making the most of the dying heat from the fire but also the newly exposed patches of grass and cut Gorse to search for food.  Once the fire was safe, it was time to check the ponies just before dusk and to make sure that they had water.  Two buzzards were circling and calling overhead, but, being hidden by being between the ponies, it was the Grey Heron landing within fifty metres which was a surprise.  The ponies were used to cover retreat from the wetland and not disturb the bird, but it had to be only be a matter of time before the thickness of the ice would suggest that there must be more favourable sites elsewhere.

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Frozen buckets and machinery maintenance

Monday, December 11th 2017

Arriving to find the water dish outside the Field Centre completely frozen meant that the day began, as it had yesterday, with a visit to the ponies' water container.

After breaking the ice and topping up the container we had a quick catch up with Lark and Taurus, slipped them a few carrots and went on our way to carry out the rest of the morning checks.

Much of the rest of the day was given over to essential tool maintenance. Although not the best task to carry out in winter, as it involves a lot of standing still and getting cold, it will enable us to carry out essential practical work across the reserve in preparation for a busy Christmas here at Foxglove. From strimming the remaining rank grass on the middle moor, to using chainsaws to tackle larger gorse and coppice stools, a great deal of practical conservation is made easier when machinery is maintained to a good standard.

Around midday we took delivery of 16 tonnes of aggregate that will be used to improve the main path that winds it's way across the moorland and through the middle moor hay meadow.

Don't let these pictures fool you, even with the sun shining it has been bitterly cold at times. And yet, it has still been a great day to be out and about on the reserve.

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And it’s going to get even colder…..

Sunday, December 10th 2017

Today has been mostly cold and grey, with a few spells of weak sunshine, but the predicted snow failed to materialise.  There were one or two flurries but nothing to settle on what still remains from previous days. The ice has started to take a grip and one of the first jobs of the day was to break the ice in the ponies' water container.  Judging by how quickly they moved in for a drink, they were only too pleased with this little bit of help.  

It may seem strange to provide water in the wetlands when there are  a range of ponds, especially as Exmoors can break the ice to get to the water, as Lark did on Friday morning.  However, with predicted temperatures set to plunge even lower, the ice will only get thicker and so it is better to be safe and have water available for them which is relatively easy to get to and keep open for them.

With low temperatures, there will always be a struggle to find food.  One of the first discoveries this morning was the wing of a male Kestrel, so the predator had become the prey.  Further into the Reserve, the apples put out on the rafts for Water Voles had been raided with very little left.  There were no signs of voles to be seen, but incriminating evidence was found on the trail next to the water.

Moorhen tracks were clearly visible, and it is highly likely that these were the culprits responsible for making a quick meal of the apples.  Out on the moorland, a Green Woodpecker was using a Birch tree as a vantage point before flying across Risedale Beck to the conifer woodland.  Although out of sight, its location was given away by frequent calls.

Despite, the cold making the haymeadow surface icy, there were plenty of signs of Mole activity.  Given that they can tunnel up to 20 metres in a day, they are producing a large number of molehills, some of which are following either side of the hard surface of the path, so much so that it is as easy to pick out the line of the path by the small parallel heaps of earth as it is to see the surface.

There was clear evidence of fresh activity this morning with new earth being added to existing heaps.  The forecast for the next few days shows that it will get colder still so it will be interesting to see how this will affect the Moles and their labours.

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Warmer!

Saturday, December 9th 2017

No it is not warmer but I am writing this sitting in the warm, waiting for the snow to arrive!  I thought that it would be nice to have some colour on the blog, so some totally unrelated photos from warmer weather.

One flower that always catches us out on our flower walks, is Large Bittercress, usually only growing in the Scrapes.

Large Bittercress

Cowslips used to grow in net ride 50/51 but have not been seen there for several years.  They are doing well at the start of the Sycamore Avenue.

Cowslip

Early Marsh Orchids only grow in one area of Foxglove.

Early Marsh Orchid

The Crab Apple trees blossomed well and produced a great deal of fruit, which has now fallen from the trees and lies uneaten on the ground.

Crab Apple

Late summer warmth encourages Common Darters to sunbathe before setting off to hunt for insects amongst the flowers.

Common Darter

Depending on the weather, bird ringing takes place throughout the year and it is always a huge pleasure to see a Kingfisher in the ringing room.

Kingfisher

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Colder!

Friday, December 8th 2017

At the start of the day, the cold had really set in.  No weather forecast was needed to feel that the wind was coming from the Arctic and both its icy cold and strength meant this was very much a 'lazy wind' - going through rather than round you.  The fact that the feeling of cold was due to the wind rather than a drop in ground temperature meant that, while it was feeling below freezing, many of the wetland pools remained open.  The lake, being more sheltered, continued with open water throughout the day.

So while the Exmoor ponies started the day with the first rays from a weak Winter sun warming their faces as they stood with their tails into the wind, the Scrapes were offering more shelter for Roe Deer who clearly preferred life in the woodland areas.  Their tracks were once again evident in the light dusting of snow, none being more obvious than when one briefly crossed the Easy Access Trail.

Yet more birds are being attracted to the feeders and today two Jays were taking it in turn to keep control of the peanut feeders to make the most of the opportunity to feed.  The number of pheasants continues to grow as news spreads that there might actually be such a thing as a free lunch.  The number of Redwings continues to grow, while one visitor estimated that he had seen over one hundred Fieldfares on the moorland.  Later Winter arrivals such as Brambling and Lesser Redpoll have yet to show in any numbers with only one or two seen so far.

Towards the end of the day, the wind was no less severe or cold, and still some of the wetland pools remained unfrozen.  A solitary Kestrel, a small black silhouette against the darkening sky, remained fixed in position head on into the wind.  A couple of times it dropped closer to the ground before striking and then flew away to a patch of woodland to consume its prey.  In a difficult time for finding food for most wildlife, one hunter had been successful.

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Cold!

Thursday, December 7th 2017

For the last few days the birds have been flocking to the garden feeders.  Do they know that a cold spell is on its way?  From the comfy chairs, Chaffinch, Bullfinch, Greenfinch, Great Tit and Blue Tit have all been seen.  Nuthatches and Blackbirds have visited too.  We have watched the Great Spotted Woodpeckers feeding from the peanuts then flying into the trees and possibly storing them for later use.

The kitchen window is another ideal place to watch the birds.  Colin has been busy filling containers with a mix of seed, chopped peanuts and fat, which Great Tits and Coal Tits are thoroughly enjoying.  A Marsh Tit can often be seen in amongst the other birds but today there were two.

Blackbirds and Redwings still have plenty of Hawthorn berries to feed on.  Sparrowhawks and Kestrels were also busy. 

Up on the wetland the ponies have settled well and are doing a good job reducing the vegetation.

Ponies

Foxglove has put on her winter coat and the colours are brown and black, but sometimes the light catches the reeds and almost makes them look silver.

The reed bed

The low winter sun caught the clouds and highlighted them with streaks of pink.

Highlighted pink clouds

Stacey emailed me from Signy, which I still find difficult to get my head around!   Down there and up here, there does not seem to be much difference in the weather.  Her first Adelie chicks have hatched

Adelie chick

and a Weddlle seal turned up.

Weddell

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Festive Willow Wreaths I

Wednesday, December 6th 2017

After last night's windy weather we were not overly surprised to find the moth trap completely empty this morning. Thankfully there have been no further disappointments, with many excellent wreaths being created during the first of our festive willow wreath making events.

After an hour or so of wrestling willow whips into a suitable ring-shaped foundation we stopped for a few mince pies before venturing out into the warm winter sun to search for greenery with which to spruce up our wreaths.

You could hear a pin drop in the Field Centre while everyone worked in quiet concentration; fastidiusly adorning their willow ring foundations with all manner of cones, pines and berries.

After everyone was satisfied, and happy with their wreaths, all that was left to do was to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and get started tidying the place up!

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Tracks, Tubes and a New Face

Tuesday, December 5th 2017

Tuesday's Volunteer Group have continued with the removal of tree tubes during the latter part of the day but have also been working on repairs to the access drive and other tasks.

Apart from these tasks, a small group have been repairing the mesh covering one of the boardwalks to ensure that it doesn't become too slippery while another group were busy collecting willow ready for tomorrow's Willow Wreath Workshop. 

Ian Wilson also started today as Reserve Manager.  Ian joins the Foxglove Covert team having worked with the National Trust as a Ranger for the Maidenhead & Cookham Commons. Prior to his work for the National Trust he was Senior Project Officer for The Conservation Volunteers-led Solent Way Project that worked to improve rights of way across the Hampshire coast.

However, Ian is no stranger to the area as he comes from Guisborough and has leapt at the chance to return to the North. 

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Ponies Move Again!

Monday, December 4th 2017

For the last 5 weeks Lark and Taurus, the Exmoor Ponies provided by the Yorkshire Exmoor Pony Society (YEPT), have been doing sterling work munching their way through grass, Gorse and the odd bit of tree on the heathland.  They have certainly made a very big difference to the three areas here, with the vegetation around the heather being nibbled down almost to ground level.

This same picture before they arrived would show large amounts of grass, reed and the shoots of Gorse.  Today they moved to the wetland.  Anyone who saw Countryfile from Scotland a couple of weeks ago will have seen how ponies were being used on the Montrose Basin wetlands as they were proving to eat more of the species that needed to be controlled than the previous use of cattle and sheep.  YEPT were contacted to see if they were happy for the ponies to be moved to this new area and they willingly agreed.

As can be seen, there is plenty of the plants that they favour eating in this area, so they are likely to remain here until the Christmas period when the amount of food available for them will be assessed.  Judging by the way they settled down to eat after having a canter around to examine the extent of their new home, they will be doing their best to consume as much as possible.

In the meantime, there have been some very angry exchanges coming from Kestrels near to the Field Centre throughout the day.  A male and female have been using their full range of threatening calls against two others.  Although they were backing this up with some impressive flying displays, it has been difficult to get a good look at the recipients of this behaviour. It looks like Mum and Dad have had enough of the kids and are being very persistent in making their feelings plain.  Leaving the Reserve this evening after dark, it was nice to hear the noise from the Kestrels had been replaced with the calls of Tawny Owls and a Roebuck.

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Working Towards Spring

Sunday, December 3rd 2017

Yesterday's blog mentioned that the work along the Hazel bank must be completed before Christmas, so that young leaves are not damaged.  Coppicing allows more light and air onto the area and this benefits the early spring flowers and their accompanying invertebrates.  On this particular part of the Hazel bank, it is interesting to note that there is a patchwork of very small, different habitats, allowing for a range of vegetation. 

Wood Anemones are never plentiful at Foxglove so it is always a great pleasure to see their flowers open in the sunshine.

Wood Anemone

Last year Early Purple Orchids thrived and increased their range.  

Early Purple Orchid

Bluebells grew well and yesterday there were several dead, empty seed heads still surviving.

Bluebells

Geum or Water Aven shows its leaves right though the winter.  Come spring the nodding heads provide food for many insects including bees.

Geum or Water Aven

Sometimes one stands out as just not the same.  It is a mutation.

Water Aven mutation

Yellow Pimpernel creeps along path edges and through the undergrowth showing its bright yellow flowers.

Yellow Pimpernel

All of these flowers and many others will soon be showing their new growth, often hidden under a warm blanket of fallen leaves.  As soon as the temperature rises in early spring so the rate of growth quickens.  Leaves flourish followed by the flowers.  As the canopy begins to shade the ground, seeds develop and disperse, ready for the following year.

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A Day of Fire and Ice

Saturday, December 2nd 2017

First the ice.  Although a thaw was on the way, the ice on the access road was still causing problems for the first arrivals for December's Winter Worky Day with one car needing to be pushed to escape being stuck.  A quick inspection of the wetland ponds made it clear that one of the planned activities for the day would not be taking place as the ice was still nearly 2 centimetres thick.  There was no chance that anyone would be able to get into the ponds to carry on with the pulling of vegetation, so it was on to Plan B for most of the 22 volunteers.  

However, one of the other planned activities was starting work on coppicing hazel on the side of Risedale Beck to allow more light to the ground and encourage the wild flowers to grow.  It is always a race to get this done before the plants start growing when doing this work will cause more harm as the emerging leaves and shoots are trampled.  This work will carry on until Christmas to leave the area undamaged but there are already signs of small Primrose leaves as they have reacted to the previous warm weather.

And so to the fire.  Or more accurately, three fires.  Some of the hazel being cut was burnt on the site of a previous fire to avoid causing further damage, while the rest of the volunteers cut the Gorse that was starting to take over the bank next to the wetlands and Plover's Pool.  Much of this was cleared with loppers and bowsaws, with the vegetation again being burnt on a former fire site.  Over on the moorland, chainsaws were used to attack larger stands of Gorse and prepare the cut vegetation ready for burning.

The team working next to Plover's Pool removed all but a small area of Gorse which was left for the sheep to find shelter if the weather was bad.  The amount of Gorse on the moorland meant that, although a large area was cleared, this made little impression and further work will continue here.

The fires (and lots of physical work) helped to keep everyone warm on a day that started out cold.  By the end of the day it was much warmer, but still the ice was on the wetland ponds.  This was another excellent effort by the volunteers who clearly enjoyed the day, so a big thank you to all involved.

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Making tracks

Friday, December 1st 2017

As it's the first day of the meteorological Winter, predictably the weather got warmer, although there was still plenty of ice and snow around.  This gave a good chance first thing to look at the tracks left by wildlife overnight.  For those who have found it difficult to spot the Roe Deer in the Reserve, and the odd one who has said that they didn't believe there were deer around, there were plenty of tracks to be seen around the Lake hide and the Field Centre.

Even more elusive have been Foxes.  While definitely around, their ability to keep out of the way of visitors to the Reserve can be in marked contrast to some of their urban cousins who can be quite brazen as they move around their territories.  Fox prints, like a dog's but more oval in shape, were found around the lake and the Cascade Ponds.

One Fox has been seen recently, which was very much both a chance, and a brief, encounter.  The large male was sitting in the middle of the access road at dusk when he was caught in the headlights of a car before making off into the undergrowth.  He features on the species sightings list kept on the board in the Field Centre, with 29 bird, 22 fungi, 36 flowering plant and 6 mammal species which were recorded during November.

The large number of bird species seen includes those making use of the feeders at the Field Centre and near to the hides.  WIth seed and peanuts available in the Field Centre garden this morning, it became clear that some of the larger birds were using their size to push others off the feeders.  Two Magpies were happy to chase of the smaller finches and tits from the best food but they met their match when the Jackdaws moved in.  This all changed when a female Sparrowhawk used the cover of the building to launch an unsuccessful ambush.  For a few seconds after the flash of dark brown across the grass, no birds could be seen.

The feeders are regularly filled on a Friday morning by Colin, one of the volunteers.  He also checks the small rafts used to put apples out for Water Voles to feed on.  With ice across the ponds, there was no sign of voles but the apples have been put down as the weather is due to warm up and hopefully the ice will melt over the weekend.

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