Blog Archive (14) Posts Made in June 2020


Sunday, June 28th 2020

Bird ringing took place on Friday as part of the Constant Effort Sites (CES) scheme run by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). During CES visits, ringers operate the same nets in the same locations over the same time period at regular intervals through the breeding season at over 140 sites throughout Britain and Ireland. The Scheme provides valuable trend information on abundance of adults and juveniles, productivity and also adult survival rates for 24 species of common songbird.

In total, 189 birds were processed of which exactly 100 were new. It is surprising that there were only 8 Blue Tits, 5 Coal Tits and 17 Great Tits. There were however, 20 Chiffchaffs, 24 Willow Warblers and a staggering 53 Bullfinches! A highlight of the day was getting up close to an adult Sparrowhawk. Sparrowhawks are excellent bird hunters, catching small species like finches, sparrows and tits; sometimes they ambush their prey from a perch, while other times they may fly low, suddenly changing direction to fool it.

On Saturday, hawks of a different kind could be seen flying over the reserve; the Red Arrows made a spectacular appearance as part of National Armed Forces Day celebrations. The distinctive Hawk fast-jets arrived on schedule at Catterick Garrison, RAF Leeming and the coastal town of Scarborough, where the event was due to take place before it was cancelled due to coronavirus.

Although the cloud was low, the jets were a spectacular sight.

As they passed over the camp they released red, white and blue smoke trails.

It was all over in a few seconds and all that was left was a coloured sky! Head over to our Facebook page for a video of the flypast.

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Around the Reserve

Saturday, June 27th 2020

The middle moor is looking beautiful.

The Rayed Knapweed stands out aginst the yellow buttercups,

and the Oxeye Daisies can be easily seen.

Well camouflaged against some old Gorse, near Plover's Pool, was a juvenile grasshopper.

Close by was a Common Darter, unusually sitting with its wings parallel to its body.

If approached quietly birds can be seen on Spigot Mere.  House Martins and Swallows were feeding and drinking, while Lapwings were sitting on the island preening their new plumage.

Greater Spearwort is flowering throughout the Scrapes.

In a gentle breeze the Cotton Grass is releasing its seeds.

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More Moths

Friday, June 26th 2020

When emptying the moth trap one brightly coloured moth stood out, a Garden Tiger moth.  The number of these moths has declined since the 1980s, probably due to spraying and the tidying up of hedgerows, where many herbaceous plants grow that are food for the larvae.  Once placed on a mossy log it sat still and was very co-operative, opening its forewings to show the colourful hindwings.  This is a slightly early sighting as it usually flies in July and August.

Buff Arches is a beautiful moth, on the wing from late June through to early August.  Its food plants include Blackberry of which there are plenty on the reserve and Dewberry of which there is none.  In captivity the larvae will feed on Raspberry, again plenty of this throughout the reserve.

Buff-tip moths can be so well camouflaged as they look like a broken twig.  Unfortunately it decided to sit at right angles to the twig rather than along it, spoiling the effect!  It overwinters as a pupa in an earthen cell.

One moth was removed from the trap and it did not look familiar at all.  Careful searching in the moth book, soon revealed this to be a Beautiful Snout.  The information gleaned was interesting.  This moth is on the wing from late May to early August, depending on altitude.  The larvae feed on Bilberry and this is not recorded on the reserve, although there is plenty on the training area.  In Kent, Bilberry is absent and the food plant is unknown although another area has reported the larvae feeding on Heather.  Single moths may be found a long way from their usual habitat of open woodland, moorland and heathland.  The trap  had been left at the end of net ride 28, which has had conservation management work carried out over winter and the area is now more open and free from larger trees. 

This moth was first recorded in Yorkshire in 2001. Its range is spreading and there are possible migrants recorded at coastal sites.

Unlike the Garden Tiger - it went that way! when released from its container, but as we have learnt, you always take a photograph in the container before trying to release it on a leaf or branch!  This is the first new species of 2020 for the reserve.  Details will be sent to the moth recorder for VC65.

A white sheet is placed underneath the moth trap when it is set.  Usually there are some moths to see on the sheet when the trap is emptied, not so this time.  A little odd.  Jump to emptying the egg cartons and I wondered if this was the culprit!

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Honey Bees Return

Thursday, June 25th 2020

Over recent weeks, whilst the centre has been quieter than usual, work has been carried out on cleaning and improving the observation beehive. Colonel Alistair and Alison Shepherd from the Richmondshire District Beekeeping Association care for and manage the Foxglove hive. RDBKA is an association for people who keep bees and for others interested in the craft within an area around Richmond town from Masham to Barnard Castle.

The hive was first emptied and cleaned before repairs and improvements were made.

The new bees were then transferred carefully from a nucleus box (known by beekeepers as a 'nuc'). Nucleus colonies, are small honey bee colonies created from larger ones after a swarm or a split. They can also serve as a bait box to try to capture swarms.

Frames from the 'nuc' were installed in the clean hive along with the queen bee (marked with blue paint) who encouraged the others to follow.

They seemed to settle fairly quickly and were making the most of the sunny weather to explore their new foraging grounds. Alison photographed them at the entrance tunnel 'fanning' their pheromones to lead the others to the hive.

Our thanks to Colonel Alistair and Alison for supplying the bees and looking after them and to Bob for all of his hard work cleaning and repairing the hive. Bob also deserves a mention here for the days and days that he has spent reclaiming old wood from past projects so that it can be re-used on the reserve.

Not only will this make life easier when the timber is needed but it will save the reserve hundreds of pounds too. Thank you!

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Wild Orchids

Wednesday, June 24th 2020

Spring is nearly over and the reserve is looking good with many of the flowers out. The wild orchids are now at their peak with the Early Purple having finished and the Northern Marsh and Common Spotted abundant. Best seen near the heath but scattered anywhere the grass is kept short. They have the smallest of seeds and only germinate where the right type of mycorrhizal fungus grows - and that can include a garden lawn and road side verge as well as our reserve. There are always some hybrids so identification can pose problems.

Close up the individual flowers are quite intricate. This photograph is of a Common Spotted Orchid.

Below is a Northern Marsh one.

This year the Early Marsh orchid is only just coming into flower on the fen near Spigot Mere. 

After the brilliance of the orchids a less obvious flower, often overlooked, is on the Alder Buckthorn. Attention was drawn to it by the buzzing of bumble bees. A native tree, it has been planted mainly to provide food for Brimstone Butterfly caterpillars but it also earns its keep as a source of nectar.

This blog post was kindly written by Dr Peter Langham who also provided the photographs.

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Hebridean Sheep

Tuesday, June 23rd 2020

The wetland at Foxglove is managed as part of an Environmental Stewardship Agreement with Natural England. The target species for this habitat are waders such as Curlew, Lapwing, Redshank and Snipe all of which have been present this year. One of the indicators for success is that the sward is kept below a certain height and that the cover of tussocks of grass and sedges is kept below 60% and cover of rushes less than 30%. Natural England advise that the area should be grazed or cut to help achieve these aims. Cutting this area with strimmers is an onerous task and in order to make like easier some Hebridean sheep have been borrowed from Gam Farm in Grassington who support the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. The small flock was delivered on Saturday morning and they were keen to explore their new home.

There is one tup and 14 ewes. The tup has long twisted horns and is easy to distinguish from the others, his name is Thor!

The Hebridean is a breed of small black sheep from Scotland similar to other members of the North European short-tailed group, such as the Shetland and North Ronaldsay breeds. They are perfect for the Foxglove wetland as being lightweight, they do minimal damage to pasture even in wet conditions. They are particularly effective at scrub control, having a strong preference for browsing. In addition, their hard black hooves are less susceptible to foot problems. With another spell of hot weather forecast, it was decided that it would be best for the sheep to be sheared. This morning, they were gathered together in a pen which was surprisingly straight forward.

Ian made the shearing look easy and it took less time than anticipated.

Once sheared they looked completely different.

They were not at all fazed by the process and seemed quite content once they were released back into the meadow. 

Our thanks to Gam Farm for loaning us the sheep and to Ian for his hard work clipping them.

We now have a large sack of 15 fleeces, if anyone is interested in this for wool or crafts then please contact one of the Reserve Managers on 07754 270980.

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Moth Trapping

Monday, June 22nd 2020

The summer is best time of year to trap and study moths. Last week, the Robinson trap was put out in the back garden on a warm, balmy night and the results were rewarding. In total over 60 moths of 27 species were caught and identified. A highlight was 6 Elephant Hawk Moths. These large moths are unmistakable with pink and olive-green forewings and pink and black hindwings. Until recently, this species had only one flight generation between May and early August, but smaller numbers of fresh adults are now reported annually later in the summer, north at least to Lancashire.

Peach Blossom is also unmistakable, with pink and brown petal-like markings on the forewing. These hide in ground cover by day, becoming active from dusk, when they are attracted to sugar and wine ropes. The team were lucky as although it is attracted to light, it often fails to fall into the trap, instead fluttering around in short, hopping flights. Only one was caught!

Blood-vein is fairly frequent in Yorkshire, where it has recently increased and expanded locally into Cumbria and Northumberland. It prefers a damp habitat which perhaps explains why it is found at Foxglove Covert!

The larval foodplant of the Lesser Swallow Prominent is Silver Birch and Downy Birch which are both abundant at the reserve. This moth has a silvery-white forewing that is strongly tapered, with bold black and brown markings along the edges. It is both resident and common.

The Pale Tussock moth rests with its forelegs outstretched. The larval foodplants include Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Crab Apple, oaks, birches, Hazel and elms, all of which thrive on the reserve.

Another common but beautiful moth is Buff Ermine. The number and size of black spots on the forewing varies between individuals. This species comes regularly to light and sometimes in large numbers.

The usual form of the Peppered moth is white, peppered with black on its wings and body. A darker form was frequent in industrial areas in the past but is now in decline (this correlates with levels of atmospheric pollution). A rare aberration with a black forewing and a white hindwing has been recorded.

Pale-shouldered Brocade is a little more tricky to identify as there are other similar species. However, it is usually distinguishable from other members of the group by its broader forewing, with a more curved leading edge.

Thank you to Chris for identifying the moths and for providing the photographs for this blog post. Information was taken from the 'Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland' by Paul Waring and Martin Townsend. Copies of this book are currently available to purchase from the Field Centre at a reduced price.

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Reserve Update

Thursday, June 18th 2020

Staff have been busy replacing the old waymarker posts with new ones. With over 100 posts to install the task is ongoing! The new ones have metal strips instead of painted grooves and hopefully will be easier to maintain.

Work on the Tower Hide at the lake is finally complete and the new steps are ready for a coat of woodstain.

Strimming of footpaths is almost a full time job at this time of year to keep the network of pathways open. The route along Risedale Beck was cut back earlier this week and is looking very inviting.

Along this route is the conifer bank that was thinned out two winters ago and as can be seen here it is greening up well. Bluebells and Primroses are going over but Foxgloves are now beginning to flower in this area alongside the ferns.

Heather is growing well on the heathland paddocks and the early morning mist at the start of the week highlighted thousands of cobwebs beautifully. It is hard to believe that there are so many spiders in this habitat!

A pair of Little Grebes made a nest directly in front of the main hide. If you look closely you can just make out an egg in the centre of the picture. The chicks can now be seen diving in the water from the hide.

The wildflower meadow has benefited from the recent rainfall and is looking spectacular after having struggled to grow during the heatwave.

There is good news up on the wetland too where Pillwort is spreading in certain ponds. Anne Carter (Northern Project Officer for Freshwater Habitats Trust) and Barry Wright (Principal Ecologist for Dryad Ecology) surveyed this special fern on Wednesday and discovered that it is growing well both here and in Plover's Pool and Spigot Mere. Pillwort is an aquatic fern with thin, thread like leaves which unfurl from tight coils as it grows. It has hard spore cases ‘the pills’ at the base of the stems. In the right conditions it forms a creeping mat over bare mud at the margins of ponds and lakes which make it look like a miniature bright green lawn.

Unfortunately Pillwort is declining rapidly throughout its north-west European range and the UK now holds a substantial proportion of the global population. Historically it occurred in about 250 ten km squares in the UK, but is now restricted to just a handful of scattered locations including Foxglove Covert. 

The reserve is re-opening with all trails and hides open as usual. The Field Centre is now partially open; the toilets and shop are accessible however, for the time being the kitchen and activity room remain closed. All visitors are requested to respect the two metre social distancing rule and to use the hand sanitiser provided as they enter the main building. Normal car parking fees apply and 100% of the money taken for this goes directly back into the reserve. If you are not a pass holder then please phone ahead on 07754 270980 to confirm your visit with the Reserve Managers.

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A First!

Monday, June 15th 2020

Greylag Geese visit the reserve in spring.  The first signs of their return is their call as they fly overhead towards the lake and wetland.  They sometimes surprise us as they are disturbed and leave the Scrapes ponds noisily.  Their nests are well hidden, usually.  One year the nest was on the island in a pond next to a pond dipping platform.  It was so well camouflaged very few people noticed it.  She fledged three young.  Sightings of the young are rare as the parents soon walk them off the reserve to the creches out on the training area.

This year was a little different.  Some stayed on the reserve and were caught by Sophie and ringed.  She had her hands and arms full as she prepared to release them.  

This is the first time Greylag Geese chicks have been ringed on the reserve.  Well done Sophie!

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Raptor Round Up

Sunday, June 14th 2020

The raptor breeding season is almost over and it has been an extremely busy one for the Foxglove bird ringing team. This beautiful Peregrine Falcon chick is one of over 100 birds of prey ringed this spring.

Unusually, its nest was on the ground and was shared by three siblings. All were ringed with colour rings so that they can be identified as individuals from a distance with a telescope. They were all in good health and were well fed with full crops.

Another brood of Kestrels was ringed last night bringing the total to over 60. There were 5 healthy chicks.

A new record was the discovery of the latest Tawny Owl chicks we've known. There were four of them, one of which (the white one in the centre of the picture) was still too small to be ringed! Mid June is really quite late for them to fledge.

The team only found one Little Owl nest this year. This small owl was introduced to the UK in the 19th century. It can be seen in the daylight, usually perching on a tree branch, telegraph pole or rock. It will bob its head up and down when alarmed. In flight it has long, rounded wings, rapid wingbeats and flies with a slight undulation. Breeding Bird Survey data suggest that little owl numbers are declining. They eat small mammals and birds, beetles and worms. Here is the adult female.

She managed to rear three chicks, here are two of them at around three weeks old.

Buzzards breed later than the other birds of prey and the ringers have just started to visit their tree top nests, with the help of local tree surgeon (and climber) Sean from Yorkshire Tree Specialists!

Whilst out checking the last few boxes, the group have been keeping an eye on the wild Greylag Geese and so far nine goslings have been ringed too.

Finally, there is an article about the reserve in this weeks Darlington and Stockton Times.

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Ringing Update

Thursday, June 11th 2020

Nestbox monitoring for 2020 is coming to an end and it has been a very busy few weeks for the Swaledale Bird Ringers. Locally, Kestrels have had a productive season with over seventy eggs found in total in the large boxes. Nearly all of these hatched and the chicks have developed well.

Broods have varied in size from three to six. The inside of the box is never particularly cosy with little nest material and plenty of muck!

Some of the chicks are already growing their primary and tail feathers and the new brown colour is beginning to show through their white down.

The five hundred or so small nest boxes have all been visited now too. Pied Flycatchers have had a successful year with well over one hundred chicks being ringed.

Many of these chicks are almost ready to fledge.

The nestling period for this species is around sixteen days. The Pied flycatcher also plays a role in monitoring climate change, by when they decide to nest.  Records show that they now nest two weeks earlier than they did in the 1950s. 

In a few boxes Nuthatches were recorded. These chicks are unusual in that they can be sexed from very early on as the males and females have different coloured plumage. The one shown here is a female with a pale brown underside.

The males have a chocolate brown colour instead and are generally darker in appearance.

The Blue Tits and Great Tits have almost all fledged now and several of the birds that were ringed in the Foxglove nest boxes were caught on Tuesday in the mist nets during CES 4. The final boxes that are part of the Adopt-a-Box scheme were checked today. Thank you to all of the supporters of this; sponsors will receive a letter with the results shortly. If you would like to sponsor a box from as little as £5 per year, please get in touch.

CES 4 was a busy ringing day with over 300 birds being processed. The day was made a lot easier by all of the hard work put in by staff and volunteers to maintain the net rides. Thank you to all involved in this long term project which is in its twenty-eighth year!


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Open Nest Monitoring

Sunday, June 7th 2020

There are many species of birds that don't use nest boxes and monitoring their success for conservation is a much more time consuming task. One of the ringers devotes a great deal of effort to this and is an expert at finding and identifying their nests. Here are some of his photographs from this year's breeding season. First a Blackcap nest. They are one of a group of birds known as scrub warblers, due to their preference for nesting in scrubby bushes. Brambles are a common place for Blackcaps to nest.

Linnets build neat, bowl-shaped nests, often in gorse bushes or in hedgerows.

Reedbuntings nest in amongst the reeds and build their homes from grasses.

Below is the same nest but once the chicks have hatched and are old enough to be ringed.

Whitethroats construct a nest cup of fine twigs and grass, lined with finer grass and roots, and hair is built low down in a shrub by both birds. The eggs are white or creamy-white with sparse blotches of grey or olive, smooth and glossy, and about 17 mm by 13 mm. The male and female take turns incubating the eggs, and both adults feed the young. 

The Yellowhammer typically builds its nest on or very near the ground, and in a tuft of vegetation or close to, or just in, a bush or hedgerow. The nest is a cup of grass, plant stems, then lined with fine plant material or hair. 

Out thanks to Jack for sharing his photos. All of the information collected is submitted to the BTO for 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.

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Interesting Nest Box Finds

Wednesday, June 3rd 2020

Although most of the small nest boxes are occupied by Blue Tits and Great Tits, there are sometimes a few different species to be found too. This is especially the case in some of the ancient woodlands out on the on the wider MOD training area where Pied Flycatchers sometimes make use of the nestboxes to build their grassy nests. These stunning birds are summer visitors and spend the winter months in West Africa.

Occasionally, Redstarts are discovered inside the boxes too. They particularly favour Oak woodlands. Even as young as six days old, these chicks have red feathers showing in their tails!  It is included on the Amber List of species with unfavourable conservation status in Europe where it is declining. 

In conifer plantations, Coal Tits are not uncommon. These ones were photographed inside the reserve. Their nests are similar to those of Great Tits and Blue Tits being made from moss and lined with wool.

A pleasant surprise and a first for Foxglove was a Treecreeper nesting in a purpose built box along the green route.

You just never know what you may find!

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Black-headed Gulls

Wednesday, June 3rd 2020

Some of the Swaledale bird ringers have recently had the opportunity to ring Black-headed Gull chicks in a colony on the moors in the Yorkshire Dales.  These birds are not a 'seagull' and are found commonly almost anywhere inland. The birds in this particular location have had a successful breeding season so far and had chicks of various different ages.

According to the BTO, up until the 1940s, commercial exploitation of Black-headed Gull breeding colonies saw the collection of eggs and the taking of birds for meat. This was a large industry, as can be seen by the trade of nearly 300,000 eggs per year at Leadenhall Market in London during the 1930s! As shown in the photographs here, the eggs can vary in colour from blue/green to brown.


Bird Atlas 2007-11 data reveal the loss of breeding sites in the north and west of the UK since the 1968-72 Breeding Atlas but with gains in the south of England over the same period, a pattern seen in a number of other colonial waterbird species. It is not clear what is behind these changes, but changes in habitat quality and levels of predation may be involved. The species has been amber listed because of the recent decline in the size of the non-breeding population and the importance of Britain and Ireland during the winter months.

The nest itself is made from dry grasses and other vegetation, the amount of material used ranging from very little on dry sites to a substantial pile on wet sites, it is thought that the higher pile is to protect the nest contents from changing water levels. 

The young chicks are pale brown with black markings and are well camouflaged in the rushes. Here you can see a chick hatching out alongside one that is only a day old.

In total, one hundred and seventy two young birds were ringed by the Foxglove ringers and a second visit is planned as many were too small to have a metal ring fitted.

Ringing this species is important as it can help us to understand their migration.  The Black-headed Gull has been widely ringed in Europe and large numbers of recoveries are available from several countries, among them Britain, the Netherlands, Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Belgium. Many of the Black-headed Gulls ringed by the Foxglove team have been recovered in Ireland over the years.

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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

Access to the Reserve: OPEN with limited access

Monday 18th March 2024 |

The reserve is now open, although again with limited access.

Visitors will be able to access the reserve with the use of key fobs provided at the pass office upon entrance to the camp, or will be provided entrance and exit through the access gate by an officer from the camp Guard Room. In this case visitors will need a mobile phone to call the Guard Room when they wish to exit the reserve.

Please be aware that due to these circumstances, entering and leaving the reserve might take a little longer than usual.

Dawn Chorus

Sunday 5th May 2024 | 5:30am-7:30am

A guided walk around the reserve to experience the dawn chorus and celebrate International Dawn Chorus Day.

Walk starts from the Field Centre at 5:30am.

Donation of £5 per person. Free for volunteers and Friends of Foxglove.

Booking essential. Fill in the booking form by clicking the link below. Pay via paypal or in person on the day.


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