The days of grey skies, ice packed ponds and blankets of snow, together with storm Christoph during this January have been enough to make us all shiver and seek refuge. However, this coming weekend 29th to 31st January there is an opportunity to brighten our spirits particularly during these difficult times by taking part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. It is the world’s largest garden wildlife survey and it has been helping us to understand the changes occurring to the wildlife on our own doorstep especially for our more common garden birds since it started in 1979.
It only takes one hour, anyone can take part and best of all it can all be done in the comfort of our own homes or local green spaces while respecting current Covid-19 advice. Last year the UK top ten were as follows 1. house sparrow 2. starling 3. blue tit 4. woodpigeon 5. Blackbird 6. goldfinch 7. great tit 8. robin 9. long-tailed tit 10 magpie. However, at this time of year when natural food is scarce our bird tables can attract surprise visitors. Indeed, every bird counts to the survey and adds to our appreciation and enjoyment of wildlife. I am hopeful the robin photographed at home on 14 January2021 will visit again to keep its place in the top ten. More details about the Big Garden Birdwatch 2021 are available at the following link www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch/
Robin searching for food. 14 January 2021
These spotted redshanks appear on the cover of The Aire Valley Wetlands, compiled and published by Richard L. Brook and the Wakefield Naturalists’ Society in 1976. I’d originally drawn them for a much-delayed 1973 Bird Report, to show autumn migrants at Horbury Wyke but Richard retained the drawing because of the Wyke’s remarkable likeness to Mickletown Ings, which he considered a key wetland in the Aire Valley.
Richard and I had recorded four spotted redshanks at the Wyke between the 14th and 18th September, 1973. This was Yorkshire’s only inland record of more than two together during the year, which saw an exceptionally good autumn passage for this wader, although Richard suspected that increased coverage might account for this, with reports coming in from Wintersett Reservoir, and from the sewage farms at Stanley, Knostrop and Heckmondwike.
Also shown are three ruffs in autumn plumage, the male still displaying, and a curlew sandpiper which, at that time at least, had not been recorded at the Wyke.
The original cover also included, in flight, two redshanks (with white wing-bars) and one spotted redshank (trailing legs).
Coloured version drawn on an iPad for Wild Yorkshire Blog
Sunday 6 May was International Dawn Chorus Day, a worldwide celebration of nature’s symphony. It is celebrated annually on the first Sunday of May, and is a great opportunity to get out early and listen to the sounds of birds as they sing to greet the rising sun.
Events took part all around the country, and on Saturday 5 May (albeit a day early) I joined members of the RSPB’s Wakefield District Local Group as they guided a walk around the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The walk started at 7am and there were plenty of birds singing. As we wandered around the park we listened to and viewed many species, and learnt a great deal from Paul and Sarah our expert guides. We encountered blue tit, great tit, blackbird, song thrush, chaffinch, goldfinch, goldcrest (one for my year list), chiffchaff, blackcap, great spotted woodpecker, nuthatch, tree creeper and wren.
The park looked stunning in the morning sunlight. The trees were in full blossom and the sunshine made everything look more vibrant. The woodland was carpeted in a haze of blue.
Bluebells at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park
All too soon the walk was over, and we headed to the cafe for a quick drink before heading home. I would encourage everyone to get out there and enjoy what nature has to offer. You don’t have to be an expert, get up too early or travel far to hear bird song – your back garden is a good start.
Banded demoiselle (male)
Highlights of our July field meeting at the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Potteric Carr reserve included a female marsh harrier hunting over Huxter Well Marsh; such a regular sight that it did little to disturb the herons, little egrets, lapwings, little grebes and great-crested grebes on the lagoon.
We spent most of our morning in Loversall Field where the dragonfly ponds attracted banded demoiselle, emerald, common blue and blue-tailed damselflies and four-spotted chaser and common darter dragonflies but the star of the show was a male emperor dragonfly, Britain’s largest species.
Brimstone butterfly (female)
Skippers and ringlets were the most frequently seen butterflies but we also recorded commas, meadow browns, single male and female brimstones and a red admiral.
Four-banded longhorn beetles (Leptura quadrifasciata)
In addition to four-banded longhorn beetles we saw soldier beetles, Rhagonycha fulva and click beetle. Whirligigs were gyrating on the surface of the ponds, with great-crested newts coming to the surface amongst the pondweed.
Wild flowers included yellow-wort and this large-flowered hemp-nettle growing in the wild flower meadow area by the visitor centre.
A sure sign of autumn for me is the flocks of titmice passing through the garden along with the occasional Phylloscopus warbler and today’s offering was a lovely chiffchaff/ The bird was fliting in the autumn red and yellow leaves of an Indian chestnut tree in the garden and was in full song. Lots of these birds on the coast, blown in by easterly winds, but not sure if this was a migrant or a UK bird heading south. Most welecome whatever his origins and, as I didn’t photograph him, here’s one I did earlier on the Yorjshire coast
A few recent sightings include a red-necked grebe today on the Rover Calder by Chantry Chapel and a red admiral in my garden in Outwood on 20th October. From a few weeks ago, 51 curlew at Altofts on September 25th
A few interesting birds at Pugneys this morning, with two common scoter on main lake , two white wagtails and willow warbler, blackcap and wheatear all arriving. .
Pauline’s report on 16 February of the area’s first flowering colt’s-foot of the year encouraged a visit to a good spot for this plant on my regular walks around the Nostell Priory estate. I saw the first flowers here much later at the start of this month. However, recent wildflower sightings over the last few days have included primrose, dog’s mercury and male yew trees that have been dusting passersby with clouds of pollen. Interestingly, the female and male flowers on dog’s mercury and yew trees grow on separate plants. Another welcome flower of spring noticed on my walks at Nostell is the lesser celandine growing in woodland and damp places. It belongs to the buttercup family whereas the greater celandine is a member of the poppy family. It just shows common English names can be confusing. An image of the lesser celandine is attached. Bird sightings have included the usual woodland suspects together with frequent calls of a green woodpecker. The lower lake gives opportunities to still get good views of the goosanders and grey herons, images of which are attached.
Goosander (female) at Nostell
There is a great northern diver on the water behind the Swan & Cygnet pub for those who’d like to see this irregular visitor to Wakefield.
The male peregrine has been using the new nest box regularly and seems to have given it his seal of approval, This all bodes well for the 2016 season after this year’s amazing breeding success story.
male peregrine on the new nestbox complete with WNS logo