(29) Blog Posts Made in April 2018

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Owl box checks at Warcop

Monday, April 30th 2018

After the excitement of Friday's owl box checks at Foxglove I was keen to head out again, and so on Sunday me (Ian), Tony, Martin, and Chris (Warcop Conservation) headed over to Warcop in search for owls and owlets.

We didn't have the start to the day that we anticipated, with the first two owl boxes being frequented by Jackdaws, including this rather bizarre individual. Clearly suffering from a severe beak deformity, you could almost be forgiven for thinking it was a member of some strange sub-species of crossbilled Jackdaws.

Eventually we came across our first Barn Owl of the day not long after, however it was the next box that proved most interesting...

Upon dipping down into a gully we could see the box in question, our hearts sank as yet another Jackdaw flew out of the box opening. It seemed that we would find yet another nest box filled with the untidy materials with which these corvids decide to nest with.

Martin got quite the shock then, when he peered in to find a Tawny owl fast asleep in one corner of the box. 

He got even more of a shock to find that both birds were cohabiting the box and sitting on eggs. In the picture below (sorry for the quality) you can make out the Tawny eggs at the back left, and to the front right five Jackdaw eggs.

Presumably the Tawny owl was allowing this to happen much in the same way us humans like to have a well stocked fridge.

While all this was going on Tony was seeing to a Dipper nest not 20 meters away from the Tawny owl/Jackdaw nest box, from which we ringed five chicks.

N.B. All funds towards buying Tony a pair of wellies can be given via the donation box at Foxglove or handed to a Reserve Manager.

Things really got going from here, in quick succession we came across four more boxes frequented by Barn Owls, with six eggs between them (1,0,4,1), and a further two boxes home to Tawny Owls, both with two chicks.

Both Tawny Owl nest boxes had a very well developed chick and the other less so, but still a fair way on. This little chap kept dozing off throughout the whole proceedings, not being fazed in the slightest! 

All in all, a great day out at Warcop. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and if anybody else wants to get involved please get in touch with Tony or contact the reserve managers via foxglovecovertlnr@btinternet.com

I would be remiss not to also thank Sgt Mack for coming in today to help me tidy up the brash collected from the final Heathland paddock, we got a surprising amount shifted in one afternoon!

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More Owl News

Sunday, April 29th 2018

The nest box season is in full swing with the bird ringers going out frequently checking all the nest boxes not only at Foxglove but out on the training area.

They have found some Tawny Owl boxes with eggs.

Tawny Owl box with eggs

Some have well grown owlets.  This one is ready to head back to its nest.

Owlet

On checking the records the following information has been retrieved.

Tawny Owl - GA38988, ringed at Hudswell Grange as a chick in 2007, has bred in the Washdown box for the past 4 years.  She is now an 11 year old female retrapped on Saturday.  She has a one day old chick and one egg!

Another Tawny Owl - GN48735, first ringed as an adult female in Waithwith Wood in 2010, has bred in the same wood every year since and has been caught in all three different boxes there have been in that wood.  She is now at least 9 years old and was retrapped by Stacey last Wednesday night.  Mrs GN48735 has four chicks, about six days old this year.

The bird ringers are at Warcop Training area today checking boxes not only for Tawny Owls but hopefully for Barn Owls also.

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Ponds, Ponies and Owls

Friday, April 27th 2018

Yesterday morning the Field Centre garden could have been used for a masterclass in corvid identification.  Four Rooks, three Jackdaws and a Carrion Crow were all busy feeding off the seed that had been dropped by other birds.  Overseeing this was a Jay that kept to the peanut feeders or retreated to the nearby trees.  Today a Jay was the only one around, but we did still have a Brambling in among the Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Robins.

One check that needed to be made was on the Wetland.  The levels in the ponds are controlled by a series of small dams and pipes.  Two of the pipes have been closed off with caps but one of them can be dislodged if birds feed around it.  Inevitably, when you want to go and check this there is a Greylag Goose right next to where you want to be.  Eventually, but with little grace, it decided that discretion was the order of the day and moved to another pond.

Others enjoying the water were Taurus and Lark who were both busy feeding on the new grass growth in and around Plover's Pool.  With the increased levels of nutrient in the vegetation, they both need to spend a little less time feeding so have spent some of the day lying down to catch up on their sleep.

We also had a group of visitors enjoying the water of the Scrapes and what can be found within, which included damselfly nymphs, whirligig beetles, lesser boatman, blood worms and the odd fish. 

We also welcomed both Stacey, Jenny and Rachel to the reserve who have busied themselves with the 16 larger nest boxes. Unfortunately for me I was moments too late to see this wonderful Tawny owl and her four chicks in one of the large boxes.

This individual was not new to the Reserve having previously been caught last year at nest box 128, and again in a mist net in June (thanks to Rachel for letting us use this picture on the blog).  

As the new kid on the block I felt it only right that I resign myself to ladder carrying duties for the afternoon, thankfully it was all worth while.

This gorgeous female was also no newbie to the Reserve having been ringed as a chick in May 2014, before being caught again in May 2016, and now again in another nest box, the proud mother to three young chicks. 

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The late Early Bumblebee

Thursday, April 26th 2018

Seven of the "Big 8" Bumblebee species have now been seen on the reserve with only the Garden Bumblebee left to spot.

The patch of Red Lungwort (Pulmonaria rubra) found in the back garden of the Field Centre is a great place from which to spot Bumblebee queens at this time of year. Over the last week this patch has seen a shift from Buff-tailed, White-tailed and Heath queens to Common Carder Bee queens and Early Bumblebee workers (as seen in the picture below).  

It would seem that some Early Bumblebee queens made good use of the brief bit of warm weather we experienced a few weeks ago (sandwiched between two cold snaps) and managed to rear their first brood.

The Early Bumblebee is a Spring specialist, and appropriately it emerges much earlier than any of our other bumblebee queens, with males often being spotted as early as April or May.

It is doubtful that even the Early bumblebee will have been immune to the appalling weather we've been subjected to so far this year. Instead, expect to see the stunning Early males, with their characteristic bright yellow facial hair, much later than expected. 

Aside from getting distracted in the garden, and planting more snowdrops (the last of which all seem to have taken very well!), we have been cracking on with the last Heathland paddock. As well as removing vegetation and reducing competition to Heather shoots we've also employed the leaf blower to remove large quantities of leaf from the surface.

The two caged off Yew saplings seem to be doing pretty well and needed only a little bit of TLC. We're now all but finished and will move on to knocking back vegetation over shadowing a really nice patch of Heather just outside of the paddock to the south.

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Moths and Flowers

Wednesday, April 25th 2018

The moth trap was set last night but with cold, wet and windy weather we were not too hopeful that we would have many moths to identify.   However we were pleasantly surprised with 25 moths of 9 species.  Initially the Red-green Carpet sat with its wings closed but whilst we were not looking it opened them so all cameras were suddenly trained on it!  This moth is seen from September through to November and then again throughout March to May, after hibernation.

Red-green Carpet

We have been trying to get a good photograph of the Streamer but it has lived up to its name and 'streamed' away as soon as it was released from the pot.  Today was no different, but careful observation followed it to a Hawthorn tree.  Peering around the thorns we managed to get some good photos.

The Streamer

Early Thorn moths have two generations, one flying from mid February to May and the other July to September.

Early Thorn

Once all the moths had been dealt with we set off to record flowers, in the knowledge that we would end up with more than five on the list.

Silver Birch is 'loved' by the volunteers.  It is invasive and grows quickly, exactly where you do not want it to grow so it has to be controlled by being pulled up.  It does have beauty at this time of year as the catkins form.  The male catkins hang down,

Male Silver Birch catkin

whilst the female ones stand upright.

Female catkin of Silver Birch

Elm flowers do not last long and already we could see the seeds forming.

Elm flowers

Ash has burst its buds to show the flowers.

Ash

Wild Cherry flowers are opening.

Wild Cherry

We are always keen to pass on information that we have been told about.  Today's information was that Lesser Celandine flowers can have between eight and fourteen petals.  Very compelling as we then had to stop at almost every clump of Celandines to count the petals.  The range so far is seven to eleven.  We'll keep counting!

Counting the petals of Lesser Celandines!

Our walk yielded 26 flowers and Field Horsetail.  Some further study was needed with one or two of the flowers but we did need some sustenance, hence the cake, fruit and cups of tea.

Sustenance

Thank you to the volunteers who identified moths and flowers and compiled the lists.

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Vegetation bashing!

Tuesday, April 24th 2018

Today's the day. We knew that the weather was set to remain fine in the morning and deteriorate after lunch.

Peter was finally able to mow the grass around the Field Centre and make a start on the garden.

Another group of us continued vegetation clearance on the Heathland and have made a start on the final paddock, removing a great deal of leaf mould and brash at risk of shading any emerging Heather shoots.

Despite the work carried out there's still a fair bit left to do in the final paddock.

Our third group, comprising of Steve and Eddie set about tackling the remaining Soft Rush around the Wetland ponds. 

After lunch work continued on the Heathland, whereas the Wetland team started removing vegetation further upstream of the inlet to the Vole ponds.

Steve has claimed first sightings in 2018 for Bluebells having happened upon a cluster in the area of the Vole ponds inlet when halo releasing oak trees. 

Halo releasing involves the systematic removal of competing vegetation from around the tree in question, so as to ensure its survival.

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Another day on the MoD Training Estate

Monday, April 23rd 2018

Today was all about finishing off the work carried out last Friday by Tony and I(an). Today I approached Stop Bridge Lane from the other end of Black Beck, all the while admiring the newly emergent Bluebell flowers along the bank side. 

Most of the time along Black Beck was spent getting to the nest boxes rather than actually carrying out any work. It took no time at all to sort out the couple of remaining issues before I was heading off towards Andrew Markham woods.

Nest box 9 of Andrew Markham woods was a little bit more challenging, having been severly damaged by Woodpeckers. The box in question has seen many successful broods in the past, so the decision was made to renovate rather than replace.

The new entrance board and protective plate may look a bit rustic, but they should do the trick; here's hoping that number 9 has yet more successful years ahead of it. 

Next I headed over to Primrose Gill to replace an old box on the steep slopes of the bank under the canopy of veteran Oak trees. 

I don't think I have ever seen Oak trees like these; many have branches that reach out for many meters, stabilised by the bank side and providing useful footing on the steep slopes of the gill.

Not long after the gill meets Dalton Beck I found the nest box I was looking for; many birds would turn their beaks up at a box frequented by wasps (and rightly so!).

I spent a while watching the Dippers in the beck and noticed a strange silvery orb attached to the root plate of a long uprooted tree. Upon closer inspection it appears to be the later, silver-crust stage of the White Slime Mould (Enteridium lycoperdon).

Once considered fungi, Slime Moulds are now classified in a completely different Kingdom. They begin life actively hunting for bacteria to eat, before mating to form large plasmodia that feed on micro-organisms such as fungi, moulds, yeasts, spores bacteria and inorganic particles. This plasmodium phase has the ability to enter a dormant state if conditions become too dry.

As the Slime Mould begins to exhaust it's food source it transitions to the next phase, creating fruiting bodies which in turn release spores and start the cycle over again.  

These pictures don't really do the it justice, my initial thought was that some one had forced polished metal into the root plate, which gives you the idea of just how shiney and bright it looked to the naked eye.

In the picture below you can see the beginnings of a split in the hard silvery casing; soon this split will widen and reveal the brown spore mass beneath. 

To cap it all off I saw two Buzzards flying overhead as I made my way up the bottom of the gill, finally getting a sense as to where it got the name Primrose Gill.

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Species Roundup!

Sunday, April 22nd 2018

Wednesday was not only busy with moths and flora bursting out all over but with investigations into the identity of species and information regarding those species.

Ian and the volunteers had observed some bees working hard on the heath.  With some help from Dr Key, Mel and books this bee was identified as Heath Bumblebee.  At this time of year it is usually the queens that are seen hunting for a suitable place to nest.  A variety of sites may be used, old mouse holes, birds nests, amongst leaf litter or even in roof spaces. The small number of workers in the nest, about 50, visit a variety of flowers.

Heath Bumblebee

This is another new species for the reserve.

Heath Bumblebee

In the moth trap we can catch an ichneumon wasp.  Upon close examination this one was found to have a horse's head on its wing, well the veins arranged so that it looked like a horse's head.  This helped us to ID this species as Ohpion obscuratus, yet another new species.  Unfortunatley the photo does not show the wing pattern - but now we know what to look for hopefully we will be able to photograph it.

Ichneumon wasp

Walking along Risedale Beck eyes stray to bridge rails as these are often haunts for a variety of species.  A Stonefly was observed.

Stonefly

We also found the pupal case that it had emerged from.  This species lives in the beck where there is fast flowing water.

Pupal case of stonefly

An early morning walk around the reserve whilst the nets are being raised usually gives some lovely, special moments.  Approaching Hague Bridge very quietly I saw a Greylag Goose standing up very straight on the tree in the lake.  Another goose was flying around calling and the one on the tree was watching it and calling back.

Greylag Goose

Peacock butterflies were flying and when they landed they had to ensure that their wings were fully open and to the sun's rays so they could warm up.  Paths being a good place to land as they were already heating up.

Peacock Butterfly

There was a dew on Friday night that left some leaves of Wild Strawberry bejewelled.

Bejewelled Wild Strawberry leaf

 

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A Trial Run

Saturday, April 21st 2018

At the beginning of May we start CES (Constant Effort Scheme).  Today was a trial run to ensure that all the net poles were in the correct place, the guy ropes were where they should be and the nets could be raised easily.  Once this was achieved attention turned to the elevator net.  These are the nets that are used in Dividalen and the ringing teams who visited there last summer, were impressed with them, so one was purchased for Foxglove.  You can see from the photograph that there are two nets, one on top of the other, on the poles.

Elevator Net

The nets are raised and lowered on pulleys.

Elevator net

Taking it down requires more people than the usual mist nets.

Taking the net sdown

Once everything was dismantled it was packed back into its carrying bag.

Packing up

As we move into spring the birds pair and begin breeding.  Females begin to sit on eggs so the number of birds caught is reduced.  There was a mixture of birds processed including a Great Tit ringed in a nest box in June 2013, at Primrose Gill, 13km from Foxglove.  Other older birds included a Long-tailed Tit that was at least two years old and a Blue Tit that was coming up to four years old.  Unusually for this time of year, Willow Warblers out numbered Chiffchaffs at least 3 : 1.

Thank you to all the volunteers who helped during the session.  The next time we meet will be a dawn start, around 0600!

It was another sunny day and the flora is responding quickly, everything seems to be blooming all at once.  Common Dog Violets are now to be found across the reserve.

Common Dog Violet

A splash of yellow through the Scrapes is Marsh Marigold.

Marsh Marigold

Tiny white specs show along path edges and  hidden away in vegetation, but there is no mistaking Barren Strawberry.

Barren Strawberry

Wood Anemones can be seen in the deciduous wooded areas, only opening its petals when the sun shines.

Wood Anemone

Blackthorn always flowers first along Risedale Beck.  From one or two flowers on Wednesday, the shrubs are now covered in white blossom.

Blackthorn

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Seeing the results of work over the Winter

Friday, April 20th 2018

Now that we've had a couple of days of warm, sunny weather, there are more opportunities to see how the work shown in these blogs over the last few months is having an effect.  While much of today's work has been in keeping bird feeders and hoppers filled, and in making sure that the Field Centre is clean and tidy for the weekend, there have been chances to stop and look at how well the reserve is looking.

While the slopes facing the sun above Risedale Beck are now awash with Primroses, the area of Hazel that was coppiced back in December is also coming alive with the colour of both Primroses and Wood Anemones.  In some cases, it's difficult to spot the latter as they are developing later in among the Primroses.  It will be interesting to see how well the ground flora develops here now that more light can get to the woodland floor.

The Wetland is also looking very attractive and apart from the Greylag Geese and the Mallards, Snipe were seen there this afternoon.  Although the toads here have been mating later than their counterparts in the Scrapes and Risedale Beck, it was a surprise to find fresh Frog spawn in one of the ponds.  The combination of grazing by Lark and Taurus, strimming the Juncus reeds, clearance of vegetation by volunteers to bring many of the ponds back to having open water, and re-profiling of some of the ponds by Willie Metcalfe, has made this a much more open habitat. 

Having said that, we also have to be careful here not to damage the original system of ponds and clearing vegetation from the one in the foreground of the picture above would cause damage to rare species.

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What a scorcher!

Thursday, April 19th 2018

 

Heading out of the Field Centre on our way towards the Secret Heath we spotted this stunning Oak Beauty moth in a precarious position on the front veranda.

After repositioning the moth so as to ensure it wasn't going to be trampled on we headed off and busied ourselves with burning brash and grass collected over the last few days during our Secret Heath tidy up. 

The sward height of the grass has been lowered in the hope that it will give the Heather a chance, it's likely that we will find ourselves back on the Secret Heath over the coming months in order to continue keeping the encroaching vegetation at bay.

After finishing up and pouring water on the burn site we started work on replacing the damn below the Bullet Catcher pond inlet pipe, which had been damaged during the wet weather of the past six months. 

On the walk back along Leadmill Beck we happened upon many patches of Wood Anemone and Lesser Celandine, including the one below that somehow managed to survive on the very edge of the beck despite the torrents of water of late.

We've seen countless Queen Bumblebees looking for nest sites today, including the first confirmed sighting of the Tree Bumblebee for this year.

Another common sight has been the Tapered Drone Fly (Ersitalis pertinax), a Batesian mimic of bees and wasps. The males can often be seen in woodland clearings defending small territories, and can be easily tricked into defending them against your finger (which happens to be a great way of catching them).  

All in all, a very productive and hot day; we managed to complete the dam allowing water to flow more freely into the Bullet Catcher pond.

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Ninety One

Wednesday, April 18th 2018

It seems like years and years since we last had the moth trap out and caught more than three or four moths.  The warmth last night brought out the moths and we counted 91 of 11 species - absolutely great.  We collect the moths from the trap and place them into containers.

Collecting the moths

Once they are all accounted for we move inside and begin the identification process.  Everything starts on one table and once it is recorded it is placed on another table, so we don't get mixed up.  Those we need to photograph are placed behind us, whilst those that need further examination go on the window ledge.

IDing the moths

Moths have their season, so some of these moths had not been seen for nearly a year so we had to brush up on our ID.  There were comments like 'I know what that is but don't know its name!'  'What about page 132, top right?'  'Has it got a splodge, or a dot?'  'What about a line?'  After a little while our expertise (!) returned.  Once all the moths have been ID'd and photographed they are released.

Once everything is recorded, the moths are photographed and I must admit that they all co-operated!

Photographing the moths

This beautiful moth is Early Grey.  Several species of moth caught during the winter do not feed but it was interesting to find that several of those caught today, including Early Grey, feed on willow catkins.

Early Grey

When we were releasing one of these moths we realised it had a sort of top knot!

Early Grey

The Chestnut moth has a flight season from late September through to May.  In autumn it feeds on Ivy and overripe berries, but in spring, feeds from willow catkins.

Chestnut moth

Hebrew Characters can vary in colour and the black character can also vary in thickness.  Three sat very still whilst photogrpahs were taken, to show some of the differences.

Hebrew Character Moths

I always think that the Clouded Drab lives up to its name.  Once released onto some logs we 'lost' it!  After careful looking it was found next to some dead leaves and was extremely well camouflaged.  For variety this moth also feeds from Blackthorn flowers, which are just opening, as well as willow catkins.

Clouded Drab

 Not satisfied with all the moths in the trap we actually found two more as we walked around!  From a well camouflaged one to one that stood out, Grey Shoulder Knot on the Beech Fence.  According to the information this is quite common for this moth.

Grey Shoulder Knot

A tiny micro moth with red markings was found in the Bird Cherry leaves, although the photograph taken was not very good, it should be enough to ID it.

Examining a micro moth in Bird Cherry

There were many other species found today, some new to the reserve, some old friends, that we see every year.  More information about these at the weekend.

Thank you to everyone who helped today, it was a spectacular day. 

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Heathland Work continues

Tuesday, April 17th 2018

The volunteers task today has been to complete work on removing invading vegetation on the areas of heathland.  Much had already been removed from around the main Heathland compartments but there was still some to finish off.

We had a new volunteer out with us, so there were six volunteers today.  Much of the vegetation was cut with loppers and the root poppers were also used to pull out the smaller Birch trees.  While this was going on some of the larger pieces were removed with a brushcutter

Before and after shots show how much more open thiese areas are now, which will encourage the regeneration of the heather.  Some of the taller more "leggy" heather will need to be be cut down later in the year to encourage new shoots to grow.  Elsewhere, judicious cutting back of some of the Juncus reeds on the Wetland will give better views of the ponds from the Wetland Hide and will hold back some of the encroachment into the open water.  All in all, a good day's work with thanks to the volunteers for their efforts.

 

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Spring?

Monday, April 16th 2018

It's certainly feels like Spring has finally sprung, with lots to see across the reserve. Where I've been continuing to clear vegetation from the Heathland I've seen both Buff-tailed and White-tailed Bumblebee Queens along with a suspected Small Garden Bumblebee Queen looking for a nest site amongst the Heather.

Elsewhere on the reserve Hares have been seen from the Wetland Hide, along with Curlew in flight. Tufted Ducks have finally arrived on the Lake, and the Sparrowhawk continues to scatter the smaller birds in every which way from time to time.

The Northdale Walking Group made best use of the sunny weather, enjoying a jaunt around the Easy Access Trail before settling at the front of the Field Centre on the picnic benches for lunch. Many interesting things where found after lunch when pond dipping on the Scrapes, including Toads, Frogs, Whirligig Beetles and Water Boatman.

 

Tomorrow looks much the same as today, so it will be a great day to be on the Heath and in the beck, looking forward to it already! 

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Slowly, Slowly

Sunday, April 15th 2018

Spring has been very slow to arrive, but with the temperature, both night and day, set to rise then hopefully flora and fauna will respond.  After months of peering under logs with nothing to be seen a few hardy invertebrates were beginning to stir.

Woodlice, large and small were hiding in the cracks in the wood.  There was also a tiny spider.

Woodlouse

Millipedes were also to be found.

Millipedes

Ash flowers are still tight in bud.

Ash flower buds

There is an Elm at the bottom of the quad bike track and its flowers are nearly open, but need another few days to pass the 'flower' test and be recorded on the Observation Board.

Elm Flowers

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Warm, Sunny, No Rain!

Saturday, April 14th 2018

Flowers, like this Primrose, stayed still whilst being photographed.

Primrose

Unfortunately the very busy bees did not.  So mixed photos of splodges and in focus bees!  You can see that they have been out in the sunny, warm, not wet weather, foraging for pollen.  They have been visiting two different species of flower, as some of the pollen is yellow, whilst the other is more orange.  I am not an expert on pollen colour so am unsure which flowers have been visited, but guessing that there are now some willows with pollen I suspect this could well be a food source.

Bees

Bees with pollen

For many years the Toads have returned to one area of the Scrapes, which could easily be observed whilst leaning on the rail of the boardwalk.  I looked closely in this area and not a Toad was to be seen, although I could hear their high pitched croak.  Carefully searching the pond I spotted them just a little  further down.  The question 'Why have they moved?' comes to mind.

Common Toad

In amongst the vegetation the strings of spawn could be seen.

Common Toad spawn

The bird ringers also enjoyed the sun, warmth and no rain or wind day!  Coal Tits are continuing to return to the reserve in preparation for breeding.  Many of them have already been ringed.   Redpoll numbers are still increasing and 13 received their rings today.

Many visitors also enjoyed the change in weather with sightings of Toads, Roe Deer and Whirligig Beetles to add to their enjoyment.

Thank you to the volunteers who helped throughout the ringing session.

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Ponies at Plover’s Pool

Friday, April 13th 2018

Steve had an interesting time finding the ponies let alone feeding them yesterday afternoon. It turns out that one of the gates from the Moorland onto the Hay Meadow had been left open sometime after lunch, and the ponies had taken it upon themselves to move to Plover's Pool a week earlier than planned.

This meant removing the hay spread on the Moorland first thing and bringing it over to Plover's Pool for breakfast.

Next on the list was to put up new signs on all five of the Plover's Pool gates in the hope that there will be no more unscheduled, self-guided Pony tours of the reserve in the future.

As ever, Lark remained cautious of the closed gates, whilst Taurus couldn't care less of the risk of being corralled if there was food involved.

After all of the relevant Pony related activities were completed it was back to the Heath to clear up after the work carried out yesterday

After removing all of the brash down to the bullet catcher I managed to get distracted by the verges outside of the Heath paddocks and decided to tackle the vegetation that was starting to crowd out the Heather there. 

There's still a fair bit left to do, but it's a start. You can already imagine how wonderful it will look when the Heather is in bloom and the bees are busy gathering pollen from it.

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Heathland Horticulture

Thursday, April 12th 2018

As with many British habitats heathland is very much threatenend with over 80% of lowland heaths having been destroyed since the 1800s.

Traditionally used by people for grazing livestock and the gathering of once essential materials such as Gorse, Bracken, Bilberries and Fungi, heathlands have declined in recent years as long-held traditions have been lost to modern day life.

This is particularly worrying due to the vast array of species that depend on heathland to survive. Correctly managed Heath has drier, sandy areas home to Green Tiger Beetles, wetter areas providing anchorage for sphagnum moss - which in turn retain water and provide essential nutrients - and Heather found throughout and providing a valuable source of nectar for pollinator species.

Even the bare patches of ground found in the Heath provide shelter for basking reptiles and ground nesting birds, such as Nightjar and Dartford Warbler.

Low-impact management through the grazing of ponies, heather reseeding and scrub clearance is how we will ensure that our Heath continues to thrive and remains a valuable asset for the reserve.

As you may have guessed, today's volunteer task was comprised of tidying up and continuing scrub clearance activities on the Heath. 

The quick and easy bit of the job has been getting the brushcutter into the larger open areas where Ash, Birch and Willow saplings have been coming through, and outcompeting the Heather.

The difficult bit has been removing the saplings and Bramble suckers that are intertwined with the Heather, and as such must be removed individually and by hand.

Although difficult, slow work it has been very rewarding to look behind you at the bits you've completed, with much of the two adjoined paddocks now finished. It won't take long for our Tuesday volunteers to finish the job!

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Signs of Spring

Wednesday, April 11th 2018

Signs of Spring round two today, and we had a group of 10 come and join in despite the cold, wet weather.

After a short break in the Field Centre to warm up and take a look at the tadpoles and pond mud snails we headed out across the Scrapes towards the pond dipping platforms.

On route the group noticed a whole host of Spring time signs; from the Snowdrops and Daffodils by the Field Centre, to Rooks gathering nest building materials, Willow and Elder buds bursting, and Hazel catkins by the path.

Upon arriving at the pond dipping platforms on the Scrapes we were greeted by the sound of Chiffchaffs and ponds brimming with Frogs, Toads and spawn.

So far so good! 

One of the group managed to find this Caddisfly larvae in its silk-spun twig and leaf case.

After our quick dip in the ponds we continued towards the Moorland via the Lake and Hague bridge.

As always Lark and Taurus proved most interesting, although they paid us no mind, barely lifting their heads from grazing by the far fence. Our next sign of Spring was the Bluebell shoots starting to emerge around the stone circle, and from there we headed back to the Field Centre to warm up and practice our colouring skills...

Back out into the cold and wet, we headed down to Risedale Beck to see the Primroses on the Hazel bank and play a game of Pooh sticks on the bridge.

All in all we managed to see the majority of the early Spring signs that people came to see and a few in the group even spotted a Tawny Owl whilst at the Hay Meadow.

During the afternoon it was back onto the Heath for me, where we continue to remove saplings and other vegetation that is threatening to shade out the heather.

Although difficult to see, a great deal of vegetation has now been cut and is ready to be removed from the paddocks tomorrow.

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Wet and windy

Tuesday, April 10th 2018

Today couldn't have been much more different than yesterday; where there were blue skies, today only grey and rainy.

Despite this a small team of us has been busy tidying up across the reserve, taking brash down to the bullet catcher but foregoing the temptation to attempt a fire in the pouring rain.

After the first round of tidying Brian and John made a start on repairing boardwalk grips towards the main access gate while I created more mess (brash) for us to tidy up throughout the afternoon.

All in all the rain let up only a few times all day, but didn't dampen our spirits, nor stop us doing what we set out to do.

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Signs of Spring with the ESOL Learners

Monday, April 9th 2018

It's been a busy first day back for me (Ian), with the first port of call being today's visit by a 23 strong ESOL Learners group from Colburn.

Although usually confined to the classroom and a rigorous English language course the group has been visiting nearby places of interest with their families over the Easter break.

We started the day with a leisurely walk around the Easy Access Trail spotting signs of Spring as we went; from the bursting buds of the Willow at the path edges, to the multitude of Frogs and Toads on the Scrapes, there's certainly a lot more happening now than before I went away to the Lake District!

After the Scrapes we stopped a while in the Lake hides to watch the Moorhen, Mallards and Greylag Geese basking on the banks in the sunshine.

Rather than completing the Easy Access loop we headed down to Risedale Beck to play Pooh sticks and admire the Primroses along the coppiced banks. 

After lunch we headed back out to the Scrapes for an hour of pond dipping, finding Sticklebacks a plenty as well as the odd Damselfly nymph, Whirligig Beetle and Water Boatman.

After seeing off the group at the gate it was straight back to the Workshop to put togther some much needed signs warning of 'Toads crossing', which will be put up on my way out this evening.

All in all, a very busy and enjoyable first day back. Very much looking forward to cracking on with some physical work with the Volunteers tomorrow.

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Seasonal Crossover

Sunday, April 8th 2018

For the first time in many months the air had lost its chill and it seemed the flora and fauna responded.  Chiffchaffs are usually the first summer migrants to arrive in the ringing room.  But there are exceptions to the rule and this year, for the first time in a long time, a Willow Warbler beat the Chiffchaffs!  This particular Willow Warbler, weighing in at 9.0g, was a bird that had been ringed at Foxglove as an adult last year.  We were very pleased that it had returned to us.

The first Willow Warbler

A little later, not to be outdone, a new Chiffchaff was caught and ringed.   If you look closely, just above the bill, a dark mark can be seen, which is the result of it feeding from Mimosa and Acacia flowers, as it heads on its long journey north.

Chiffchaff

Not to be outdone, Bramblings are still feeding at Foxglove.  Many of these winter migrants have already moved on north to Scandinavia.

Brambling

Redpolls are flocking into the reserve and 55 were newly ringed today.  When a bird has already been ringed, its ring number and address is carefully checked as part of the process.  To our huge surprise one of the ringed birds retrapped today was from Holland wearing an Arnhem ring!  We await more details of this bird when the data is sent to the BTO.  

Redpoll from Arnhem

A Long-tailed Tit was processed and its original ringing date was 05/04/2015 - making this bird at least 3 years old.  Considering the winter we have just had, (well we hope it is now spring!) it is quite amazing that this tiny bird has managed to survive.  Four Long tails were caught today.

Long-tailed Tit

A Reed Bunting ringed at the Crater in 2016 was also retrapped.  It had not been seen since so I do wonder where it has been all this time.  Amongst the other birds caught today were Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Tree Creepers, Nuthatches, Siskin, and some of the Great Tits that had been ringed in the nest boxes last year. In total 151 birds went through the system.

Driving in to the reserve early this morning there was a 'Roe Deer' jam!  I had to wait patiently until these two bucks decided to leave the road; both had their antlers in velvet.

Roe Deer Jam!

The less cold weather also saw moths returning to the Field Centre, in this case Shoulder Stripe.

Shoulder Stripe Moth

Walking around, the high pitched croak of the male Toads could be heard.  Cold weather has delayed their return to their spawning ponds but they seem to be making up for it now!

Toad

I mentioned Lesser Celandine yesterday and some were found with their petals wide open.  Coltsfoot buds opened later in the day.

Coltsfoot

And to round the day off another sighting of a Roe Buck.

Roe Buck

A huge thank you to everyone who helped during the day, making it a very successful ringing session.

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Keep Looking

Saturday, April 7th 2018

The birds have cleared the reserve of berries, or so we thought.  Hidden under the leaves a few Holly berries remain.

Holly berries

Larch flowers continue to develop, with their accompanying water droplets.  The tiny soft needles are also beginning to appear.

Larch Flowers and tiny new soft needles

The weather forecast suggests less cold and a little less rain, so keep your eyes open for the white flowers of Blackthorn.

Blackthorn

Wood Sorrel may also open its buds, showing the delicate purple lines across its petals.

Wood Sorrel

In contrast to the pale yellow of Primrose flowers the buttercup yellow of Lesser Celandines should be showing through the winter vegetation.

Lesser Celandine

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Catching Up After The Wind and Rain

Friday, April 6th 2018

Another dry day has meant that we can start to deal with the after effects of the bad weather earlier in the week (and just in time for more rain tomorrow!).  The Wetland is living up to its name and is attracting increasing numbers of birds, including these Greylag Geese. 

There has been a lot of water running through Risedale Beck and the wind had dislodged a nest box which had fallen into the beck and been washed 500 metres downstream.  Luckily this was caught among some other debris washed down and so we were able to retrieve it.  It will now be repaired and put back in place.  The amount of water has broken one of the stone dams, so this will be rebuilt again to feed the ponds to the side of the Beck.

Over near the Moorland, trees that had already been staked to support them have proved too much for the stakes which have snapped.  This one has already broken the tree ties used on the first stake and has now snapped the bottom of the second stake used.

It has now been double staked to give it additional support.  A key here is still to allow some movement for the tree so that the root system will respond but not leave it loose enough to blow over again.

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Working on the Moorland

Thursday, April 5th 2018

Although there has been a cold wind, today's sunshine has made a welcome change to the recent wet, snowy and windy weather.  The gorse out on the Moorland is now showing lots of yellow as more of the bushes are coming into flower.  The Moorland is also showing more green as the grass is starting to grow and there are signs of other plants emerging.

We had a report yesterday of damage to the mesh that is put on the boards of one of the bridges in the Moorland so that, instead of it stopping people from slipping, it was now a trip hazard in itself.  On closer inspection it became clear that three overlapping strips of mesh had been laid on this bridge and it was mainly the middle strip that was showing signs of wear.

Working with today's small group of volunteers, taking up this strip meant we could check the condition of the outside ones and remove some of the vegetation that had grown around the mesh as well as checking the boards of the bridge for any signs of decay.

While this was going on, it was good to see Lark and Taurus taking time out from grazing the Moorland vegetation to enjoy the sun on their backs.  They were sufficiently content with the warmth and the amount that they had eaten to spend around 30 minutes lying down.  Lark was later seen to be relaxed and totally stetched out, lying on one side - the sign of a very contented pony.

The warm weather brought out a lot of visitors, and even the parties walking past Lark didn't seem to disturb his enjoyment of the sunshine.  They were clearly taking advantage of the new growth as both ponies then moved on to other parts of the Moorland to continue grazing.  Bluebell leaves are now showing on the southern slope below the Stone Circle, so hopefully it won't take too long before this turns blue as the plants flower.

At the end of the volunteers' day, the new mesh has been installed.  We will return to this bridge in the next couple of days to see how the mesh has bedded in and whether we will need to add any more staples to secure it in place.  Thanks to the volunteers who helped get this job done today.

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Water

Wednesday, April 4th 2018

For a change today it rained heavily, but it did stop and we took the opportunity to head out around the reserve.  Needless to say everywhere was wet.

The lake was like a mirror through the mist.

Lake in the mist

The weir was a totally different matter.  Water was pouring over all of its length.

Weir

Coming down the lake, out of the mist, were a pair of Greylag Geese.

Greylags on the lake

We headed onto the moor where all the tiny streams were full to overflowing.

Stream on the moor

Flooded stream

Nothing was stirring but somewhere on the gate a spider was hiding, leaving his bejewelled web behind.

Spider's web

Dropping down to Risedale Beck, its tumbling waters were loud.

Risedale Beck

A change from water - searching part of the middle moor to look for Yellow Rattle seedlings initially did not look promising, then a tiny plant was spotted, less than 1cm high.

Yellow Rattle Seedling

Winter coats became too warm in the early afternoon  and we were pleased to return to the Field Centre for a quiet cup of tea, but the bees decided to disturb our peace by noisily flying out for some warmth.

If you look closely, roughly in the middle of the photograph, you can see a bee with some dark yellow/orange pollen in its pollen sacs.

Active Bees

 

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Spring Isn’t Here Yet

Tuesday, April 3rd 2018

Foxglove had snow yesterday when other areas suffered from heavy rain, so there was snow still lying this morning.  Lark and Taurus had a little hay to supplement the grazing on the Moorland and we have to make sure that we keep a balance between their grazing and looking for food throughout the day and topping up when necessary.

They will have been able to access more of the Moorland vegetation as the day progressed as the temperature rose and a thaw set in.  This has made the Cascade Ponds live up to their name and the odd shower has added to the amount of water going through the Reserve.  The ponies have also had a visit today from the Yorkshire Exmoor Pony Trust who are happy with the them and how we are looking after the two of them.

Despite the weather, we have had five volunteers in who have continued to tidy up after work on the net rides and have been gathering the brash from the cutting to take to a bonfire for burning.

We have also had the chance to work on a couple of Willows which have broken branches and remove these back to the main trunk to avoid damage to the whole tree and reduce the likelihood of infection.  Looking at the second one to be done it was clear that, being fast growing, the Willow had overtaken, and was taking light from, a previously planted Rowan.  This had grown tall and thin in trying to get to the light.

The Rowan has suffered some damage from being rubbed by branches from the Willow but this should grow over in the next year.  It should also now be able to send out more lateral growth to make use of the space and light around it.  Thanks to all the volunteers who came in today when the weather was so unpromising.

 

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A Variety of This and That

Monday, April 2nd 2018

The Little Grebe was fishing and then taking vegetation to his mate, although I do not think she was over impressed with his enthusiasm to start nesting just yet!  The fish was identified as a Rudd.  John was able to catch this great photograph.

Little Grebe with Rudd

Back in the warmth of the Activity Room more excitement as we found eggs from our Mud Snails.  We await their hatching.

Mud Snail eggs

Some of our Holly leaves have brown marks on them.  Upon investigation Christine identified them as Holly Leaf Miners.  The tiny fly Phytomyza ilicis, lays her eggs in the young, newly grown soft leaves.  The larva hatches and begins to mine between the layers of the leaf.  It pupates and hatches out leaving a tiny hole.  However the story has a twist or two.  A parasitic wasp is able to lay her eggs in the larva - yes the wasp larva eats the fly larva - delightful!  Continuing, birds like the Blue Tit, then eat the wasp larva.  Looking at information on web sites we need to take a closer look at these marks, as depending upon the mark left on the leaf, we should be able to tell if the larva of the fly or wasp has hatched or if the larva has been eaten.  And not forgetting this is a new species!

Holly Leaf Miner

Foxglove is often two weeks behind the surrounding area when it comes to flowering times.  The weather has been so cold, spring is very late.  Or are we just used to earlier springs?  Checking the April blog of 2017, there is a photo of a Marsh Marigold in flower, but the best I can do this April are some leaves.

Marsh Marigold leaves

In some of the hedgerows surrounding Foxglove Blackthorn is beginning to flower.  In Foxglove it is still tight in bud.

Blackthorn flower buds

And finally a Redpoll has been caught that is six years old.  These birds only weigh between 9 and 12 grams.  Yet another amazing fact from the bird ringing that takes place at Foxglove. 

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Excitement!

Sunday, April 1st 2018

Yesterday we set up our frogspawn tank in the Activity Room.  This gives children the opportunity to watch the tadpoles develop and change into frogs.

Setting up the frogspawn tank

This morning when we checked them the tadpoles had hatched!

Hatching tadpoles

When they first hatch they remain clinging to the jelly.  After a few days they become more active.  You can see the gills, which become covered as the tadpoles develop.

Gills on tadpoles

Temperatures have been low and the frogspawn in the ponds is developing much more slowly, although it has reached the 'comma' stage.  It is amazing what a little warmth will do!

Frogspawn in the pond

A Buzzard was soaring overhead whilst Curlew, Mallard, Moorhen and Greylag Geese were all adding to the chorus of birds this morning. 

There were plenty of Redpoll arriving in the ringing room, including a control, a bird ringed elsewhere.  When the results were checked 28 had been ringed.

Redpol

Unusually for this time of year there were more newly ringed birds than retraps.  Blue Tit and Great Tit numbers were fewer than of late, but more Chaffinches were ringed.  Visitors, including children, were enthralled at being able to see some of these birds close up.

Thank you to everyone who helped today.

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