Blog Archive (13) Posts Made in May 2020

Tower Hide Maintenance

Sunday, May 31st 2020

Staff from Gilleard Brothers Ltd (Specialists in the design, manufacture and erection of bird hides) have been working on repairing the main tower hide at the lake. This familiar structure, the first hide to be built at Foxglove, was constructed by the same firm and was in need of some TLC! They certainly picked a good week in terms of the weather.

The repair project was originally scheduled for the start of April however, the lockdown meant that the materials were difficult to source and it had to be delayed.

By the end of the working week, some of the top steps were already in place. It is hoped that the job will be completed over the next few days.

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Barn Owl Update

Tuesday, May 26th 2020

Barn Owls seem to be having a very successful breeding season.  Nothing affects their success like the food supply which this year has been remarkable.

This year there appear to be many small mammals such as Field Voles being reported as the nest box rounds are completed. In one box the bird ringers found a stash of forty-six dead voles! The boxes are usually full of owl pellets and food and have a distinct aroma!  These ones were no exception!

The chicks develop more slowly than those of Tawny Owls and take on a prehistoric appearance after a couple of weeks!

This year the broods have been larger than usual and in one case a staggering eight healthy 'owlets' were discovered!

In this box there were five young (still a good number). The mother is pictured alongside them and they are cleaner and much younger than the ones above as you can see.

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Our response to COVID-19

Friday, May 22nd 2020

The reserve is now fully open.

Visitors are politely requested to wear a mask in the Field Centre.

Hand gel will be provided in the entrance way to all buildings including hides.

Please be courteous to others and respect social distancing where possible.

Opening times will remain as follows:

Mid-week 9:00am - 5:00pm

Weekends and Bank Holidays 10:00am - 4:00pm

All organised groups must book in advance by contacting a Reserve Manager on 01748 830045 or 07754 270980 or by emailing:


The safety of our staff, volunteers and visitors remains paramount and the Management Group will keep the situation under continuous review. Should the situation change it may be necessary to consider further appropriate measures. 

The Management Group and staff thank you all, for your continued support.

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Bluebells, Bogbean and Betty’s Benches

Friday, May 22nd 2020

Bluebells always flower late at Foxglove because it is high above sea level. They are an indicator of ancient woodland and grow all around the reserve. This bank in the woodland is managed especially for them.

They are also abundant on the moorland where trees once stood.

In the scrapes, Bogbean has been in flower for a while. The starry, white flowers are a pretty sight. It is an aquatic perennial which blooms from March until June. Its common name comes from the leaves, which are shaped a little like those of broad beans!

Staff have been busy arranging the picnic benches to accomodate the new ones that were kindly donated by Bettys Tearooms. For a short while, it looked as though Gerry and Ian were playing a game of giant Jenga on the front lawn!

The new benches are all in place now and are a welcome addition to the visitor facilities.

Our thanks to Bettys!

The wildlife has been enjoying an undisturbed few weeks, this toad was discovered wandering alongside one of the footpaths today!

The reserve is beginning to re- open gradually and is there to be enjoyed but the need for rigid bio-security measures and a common sense approach to the health requirements of all who visit really must be understood. All are welcome but the availability of facilities is likely to change on an irregular basis and everyone is asked to be patient in such circumstances, to read the interim notices, and consider the reasons why. The Field Centre (Toilets and Kitchen) may not be open – please bring your own hand sanitiser, food and refreshments.

The welfare and well-being of anyone associated with Foxglove Covert Local Nature Reserve is the absolute top priority of the Management Group and Staff.  Access to the reserve and the observance of the government rules by all who visit is mandatory and must be complied with minimising the risk to all comers.

For the time being if you do not have a military pass or a Foxglove Pass then please liaise with the Reserve Managers to arrange a visit.

Within these parameters please enjoy your visit and remember that it is your responsibility to follow the new guidance on staying safe outside your home.

We are very grateful to all of our supporters for helping us work through these plans, and for their continued loyal support. 

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Small Nestbox Monitoring

Wednesday, May 20th 2020

There are over one hundred small nestboxes at Foxglove and each of them are checked by the birdringers in the spring. The first 'round' of checks has been carried out this week and there has been quite a good take up.

It is a huge task and has taken several days to complete. 

In most cases tiny, young chicks were found snug in their lined nests. These newly hatched ones were still blind and without any feathers at all.

Blue Tits and Great Tits line their mossy nests with wool and hair. The ones pictured here are just beginning to grow some feathers. 

In a few cases the young birds were completely feathered and almost ready to fledge. There seem to be more Blue Tits than Great Tits this year (last year the balance was tipped the other way) and the Great Tits seem to be further developed with several clutches ready to fly like the ones pictured below.

Some nests still contained eggs too. The nests with eggs and small chicks will be returned to over the coming weeks so that the nestlings can be ringed. All of this data is submitted to the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) as part of their Nest Record Scheme. Their data are used to assess the impacts that changes in the environment, such as habitat loss and global warming, have on the number of fledglings that birds can rear. The boxes are also part of an Adopt-a-Box scheme and sponsors will receive a letter later in the year about the 2020 breeding season. This scheme gives people the opportunity to sponsor nest boxes and bat boxes on the reserve and was set up to help us raise vital funds for our conservation efforts.

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Owl Update

Saturday, May 16th 2020

This year seems to have been a good one for Tawny Owls. Boxes that have been visited by the bird ringers have had healthy well fed chicks. Most of these will be fledging in a few weeks time.

An interesting find was a Little Owl nest with eggs, the first one that the team have come across in the last five years. 

The enduring harsh winter weather five years ago took it's toll on this species and their numbers dwindled significantly. Here's hoping that this is the start of a noticeable recovery.

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Valued Support

Wednesday, May 13th 2020

The bright spikes of Early Purple Orchids are starting to pop up all over the reserve. The bank that is managed especially for them by clearing the brambles in the autumn, is now full of these striking flowers.

They seem to be a little later than in previous years but are in good numbers.

The area of Blackthorn that was cleared by volunteers including staff and students from Risedale Sports and Community College and Mowbray School has been transformed. This patch was thick with prickly Blackthorn and took a lot of effort to clear. Here is a photograph of the regular conservation volunteer group from earlier in the year (before social distancing came in) having opened up a clearing.

Now, in the same spot, ferns are unfurling in the additional sunlight.

Wild Garlic has spread here too.

There are even a few orchids growing!

Volunteer help is really valued at Foxglove where people get involved in all kinds of ways. Even during this difficult time, people have continued to support the reserve in different ways. A lovely surprise last week was a delivery of some new wooden displays for the Field Centre that Bob had kindly crafted whilst staying at home.

These replace shabby old cardboard ones and have given the foyer a much needed lift. They are really appreciated.

The money donated to Foxglove by the Hunton Steam Gathering Committee at the start of March has been spent on new and much needed tools this week.

These were collected yesterday and will make a huge difference to the management of the habitats. The Management Group members and Reserve Managers are extremely grateful for this generous gift. Our thanks to Ian who nominated the registered charity for this donation and to the HSG Committee members for selecting Foxglove alongside a staggering thirteen other charities to benefit from their hard work.

Finally, the reserve remains closed this week but with Government and MOD advice it is hoped that it may be able to open again in some capacity soon. Please keep an eye both on here and on social media for any updates. 

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Breeding Kestrels

Saturday, May 9th 2020

Kestrels also use the large nest boxes put out by the Foxglove team. They breed a little later than the owls and usually it is the adult female who found is inside the box incubating the eggs.

The male provides the female and the chicks with food throughout the nesting period. The female will only hunt if food is short, risking the loss of eggs or young chicks.
Therefore, it is unusual to discover a male bird on the nest. However, this has been known on occasions and this photograph shows a beautiful adult male. Males are smaller than the females and have a slate grey head while females are all brown.

The bulk of their diet is made up of small rodents but they will also take a wide variety of other prey, including lizards, earthworms, large insects and even bats. Vole numbers affect kestrel numbers: in good vole years more young kestrels are fledged. There have been a lot of small mammal sightings by people out walking this year so hopefully, the Kestrels will do well during this breeding season. 

The timing of egg laying is dependent on the weather, but the female normally lays her clutch of 3-6 eggs in late April or early May. The eggs are a deep brown colour and look a bit like chocolate ones!

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Breeding Barn Owls

Thursday, May 7th 2020

Another resident of large bird boxes is the Barn Owl. Although nesting has been recorded in every month of the year, most pairs lay eggs only in the spring. Early laying females are generally those with the best food supply and first-year birds tend to breed a little later than older, more experienced birds.

It is almost impossible to tell if a Barn Owl is male or female just seeing it fly overhead. However, up close females often have darker brown feathers around the rim of the facial disc as well as darker bars on the tail and small black spots on the chest and underside of the wings. Males are generally lighter and a more pure white underneath. The one shown here is a female with dark flecks on her front and a dark fascial disc.

Barn Owls do not “build” a nest as such but lay their eggs directly onto the previous years’ nest debris – a compacted layer of owl pellets.  The female might also make a scrape in the debris and break up a few recent pellets creating a soft layer for egg laying. In this photograph the chicks are just hatching. Hopefully, there is a similar sight inside the Foxglove Barn Owl nest!

There are lots of interesting factsheets and videos about these stunning birds of prey on the Barn Owl Trust and the Hawk and Owl Trust Websites.

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Hard Work Pays Off

Wednesday, May 6th 2020

The mosaic of habitats that make up Foxglove are extremely labour intensive. Staff and volunteers worked hard all through the winter months to improve some of these for wildlife. The benefits of this toil can be seen everywhere for example in the Orchards that were planted up with new trees. The new apple trees have taken well and have survived the wet winter thanks to the 'mound' planting technique that was used. The big Willow in the background is always left untouched as it is a wonderful feature.

Another example is the reedbed that was managed by cutting. Here is a photo taken earlier in the year when this swathe was cut.

This picture is of the same area today showing the fresh, bright green growth.

Willow was coppiced on the island in the scrapes to open up the area and let in more light. Again, here is the photograph immediately after the work was carried out.

Today it is looking very different.

Sunshine and showers have meant excellent growing weather and the orchid bank that was strimmed is now a fantastic open glade. The Early Purple Orchids that grow here are just beginning to flower. 

So far there are only a few spikes but this number will grow over the next few days.

Finally, the field that is managed for bird seed has been ploughed ready for sowing. Hopefully, with a bit more sun and rain this may be a success later in the year.


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Sylvia Warblers

Tuesday, May 5th 2020

In bird taxonomy the warblers are a large family of insect-eaters. Sylvia warblers live in dense thorny thickets and woodland and there are three species that can be found at Foxglove during May. The Garden Warbler (Sylvia Borin) is a summer visitor and has only just arrived back from tropical Africa. It has an 'anonymous' appearance; an olive brown-grey colour and has no obvious features. 

The Whitethroat (Sylvia communis) is also a summer visitor spending its winters South of the Sahara. The female (pictured here) has a brownish head whereas the male has a grey head. 

The Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) is similar in build to the Garden Warbler but is grey above and olive-grey below. The male has a black cap and the female has a rufous brown one. Since the 1960s, the number of Blackcaps which spend winter in the UK has increased. They can now be seen in some gardens all year round. Scientists believe this could be due to the bird food put out by people which makes spending the winter here a viable option for Blackcaps.

If you see a Blackcap during winter, you can add details of your sighting to Birdtrack, a BTO, RSPB and Birdwatch Ireland project. By collecting information about where birds are when, more can be learned about their changing behaviour and populations.

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Breeding Tawny Owls

Saturday, May 2nd 2020

At this time of year owls are making use of the nest boxes both on the reserve and on the wider MOD training area. This year appears to have been a good 'vole' year and this should bode well for the different owl species that live locally. Tawny Owls are the most common in this part of Yorkshire, these birds are thought to be monogamous and partner for life. 

Interesting finds have been made over the years by the bird ringers. Usually the female is the only adult to be present inside the box however, the photograph below shows a juvenile from earlier in the year alongside the female who was still sitting on eggs! The darker bird on the left is an 'old' chick.

There is a lot of variation in the plumage of these beautiful animals and they can vary between chestnut brown and almost black like the one shown here.

No matter what colour they all have areas of both lighter and darker tones that help to camouflage the bird when perched within its favoured woodland habitat.

Many of the young will be a week or more old by now. The ones pictured here are approximately fourteen days old.

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Wildflowers and Waymarkers

Friday, May 1st 2020

Over recent weeks staff have continued to work in the net rides but without the help of volunteers this has taken a lot longer than usual. Brash was piled up and then a day was spent making this into woodchips which will be used on the footpaths. 

The pruned trees have already turned green again and the rain yesterday seems to have deepened the shade of green overnight. These net rides are perfect butterfly glades and Speckled Wood, Peacock, Orange Tip and Small Tortoiseshell have all been seen on the wing so far.

The cutting back has not only reduced the height for the use of mist nets but it also lets in much more light. On closer inspection, the far end of this ride is covered in the dotted leaves of orchids. In a week or two, there will be a fantastic display here.

Other wildflowers growing along this clearing include Greater Stitchwort, this pretty flower is in the Carnation family. They have an explosive seed-dispersal mechanism. In late spring, when the seed capsules ripen, they can be heard popping as they noisily fire their seeds.

Water Avens have just begun to flower too, a locally common plant that inhabits damp places, such as riversides, wet woodlands and damp meadows.

Finally, one Foxglove supporter (another Tony) has kept himself busy at home by making over one hundred waymarker posts for the reserve! These new posts are made from Larch and have metal strips of colour rather than painted ones. Each strip has had to be carefully fitted into place by hand! 

His hard work in this tedious task is much appreciated.

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Help Support Foxglove

Friends of Foxglove

The Friends of Foxglove Covert is for those individuals, families and organisations who would like to support the reserve through an annual membership subscription. Friends receive a regular newsletter and invitations to attend our various activities and social events.

More Details

Upcoming Events

Winter Worky Day

Sunday 3rd March 2024 | 10am - 3pm

The final winter worky day of the season, join Foxglove staff and volunteers for a fun day of practical habitat management. Bring old clothes and sturdy footwear you don't mind getting mucky and a packed lunch. 

Booking essential for this free event. 

Spring Crafts Day

Wednesday 27th March 2024 | 10am-3pm

Spring themed crafts for kids during the Easter holiday. Come along to enjoy the reserve as spring breaks through and have a go at some kid-friendly crafts in the Field Centre classroom.

No booking required. Donations welcome.


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