Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Christmas Event, St Ives, Bingley - Sunday 2nd December

Thank you to everyone who came to the Airedale Otters Christmas event at St Ives and made it such fun occasion.

The weather was great - it was a beautiful bright, sunny day, but quite chilly. We started with a walk around Coppice Pond and a visit to the bird feeders. It was a quiet morning for wildlife, so we soon headed back to the warmth of the St Ives visitor centre with its lovely roaring fire. The rooms were beautifully prepared for us by the Friends of St Ives - many thanks to them. So many Otters turned up it was a tight squeeze!

We had hot dogs cooked on the range, and mince pies, buns and juice. The mulled wine for the grown-ups went very quickly!

Everyone had the chance to make felt bird decorations of Robin, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, or House Sparrow – and to learn to identify these birds as we made them.

A Goldfinch and Blue Tit hanging from our Christmas tree!
This year’s bird song quiz was about the more unusual, weird and funny noises some British birds make.  We heard the Booming Bittern, the yaffling Green Woodpecker, the screaming Swift, and the churring Nightjar – not to forget the Corncrake, which rhymes with corn flake! We also learnt that some birds say their name: Cuckoo, Chiffchaff, and Jackdaw.

Click on the name of a bird above to learn more about the bird and listen to its song again. The quiz prize was a bird feeder and bird ID book, which the winners donated to their local school. Well done!

Finally, Cam got his hands dirty and mushed up a big pile of lard, mealworms and seeds to make some bird feeders. Here are two we made, hanging in an Otter’s garden. 

By feeding the birds in your garden you’ll be helping them survive periods of severe winter weather. This will help them be in the best condition at the start of the breeding season in the spring. Let us know what birds you seen on your feeders this winter.

Thanks again to everyone who came and made it such fun event. We will soon be posting a full list of events for 2013 - along with details of our next event, which coincides with the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch on the weekend of 26/27th January.

The leaders of the Airedale Otters would like to thank all our members and parents for their continued attendance this year. We hope to see you all again in January.

Have a fantastic Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Monday, 12 November 2012

Checking Nest Boxes at Deep Cliff Wood, Harden - Sunday 18th November

Thank you to everyone who came to the fascinating and fun event at Deep Cliff Wood in Harden on Sunday 18th November. We cleaned out the nest boxes we made in January, getting them ready for next Spring.

 Deep Cliff Wood, Sunday 18th November

It was always a mystery when cleaning out nest boxes – who knows what you might find?! Well, out of the 14 next boxes, at least ten of them had been used. 

 Checking the first nest box

Nest boxes 1 and 5 contained only bird poo, which suggests that birds have been using them at night to roost.  Smaller birds, such as Blue Tits and Wrens, often use nest boxes to sleep in during winter nights (up to 60 Wrens were recorded in a nest box once!).

There were two half–built nests, in nest boxes 4 and DJM. Birds stop building nests for several reasons: maybe one of the parents were injured or killed (possibly by a predator like a Sparrowhawk), or maybe they were struggling in the bad weather. If, the birds were struggling to find food or keep themselves warm in all the rain, they may have decided to stop and try again later when the weather improved. Building a nest, laying eggs, and then raising a family is very hard work for a small bird. They will only carry on if they have a realistic chance of raising at least one chick.

 Blue Tit nest from nest box 3

 Blue Tit nest from nest box 12

In nest boxes 3, 10, and 12 we found complete Blue Tit nests. It is likely the birds in these nest boxes successfully raised families!

Checking nest box 6

It was a mixed story for nest boxes 6 and 23. Both had Blue Tit nests, with two eggs in Number 6 and three in Number 23. Hopefully, these Blue Tit families successfully raised chicks from other eggs, but like the half-built nests we found, these nests may have been abandoned before the mother had finished laying all her eggs.

Blue Tit nest from nest box 6

Blue Tit nest from nest box 23

Nest boxes 2, 8, 9, and 11 were all empty and clean. Hopefully these will be used next year.

Here’s a full list of the nest boxes:

Box number
What we found
Bird poo!
Empty and clean
Complete Blue Tit nest (no eggs found)
Partially-built nest
Bird poo!
Blue Tit nest with two eggs
Partially-built Blue Tit nest. Box chewed by squirrel
Empty and clean
Empty and clean
Successful nest
Empty and clean
Blue Tit nest and bird poo
Blue Tit nest with three eggs (one hatched)
Partially-built nest

We also brought some old birds’ nests we had collected, so we could have a closer look at how nests are made and how to tell the nest of one species from another. And there’s no better way of telling how a nest is made than pulling them apart!

 Looking at an old Great Tit nest

The three Blackbird nests were all made of a mud cup, lined inside and out with grass. The Song Thrush nest was similar, but with more twigs and leaves. The larger Woodpigeon nest was made of small sticks woven together. It looked quite flimsy, but was in fact quite strong. 

The Great Tit nest was similar to the Blue Tit nests we found in the boxes: a soft cup of moss, grass, feathers and bits of other things like string. We had one other nest, again similar to the Blue and Great Tit nests, but this time covered over with roof! It had a small hole in the top for the birds to come in and out. This nest was found in roof, under the eaves, so it was probably made by a House Sparrow.

We also had a brilliant game of Wildlife Bingo. I thought the Otters might struggle to find some of the things on the bingo cards, but almost everyone found everything! Well done!

While looking around we found a Common Earthball fungus, which often grows near birch and oak and there are plenty of those in Deep Cliff Wood.

Common Earthball in Deep Cliff Wood

Another lovely day in out in our wood, and the weather stayed mostly sunny too.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Bat Walk at St Ives, Bingley - Saturday 8th September

We had a great evening walk around St Ives estate looking – and listening – for bats.

We met at 7pm and joined up with the Friends of St Ives group, squeezing into the new visitor centre. Bat expert Ian Butterfield told us some amazing bat facts and explained how bats can be identified by their calls, and how we can tell what they are doing by the sounds they make. The bats calls are so high-pitched that people can’t normally hear them. The best way to find bats is with a bat detector, which converts the bats’ calls into sounds that people can hear. So Ian told us what to look and listen out for, and we all piled outside to go looking for bats.

The weather was perfect – the sun had been shining for most of the day and that meant we had a warm and still evening. First, we went searching along the tree-lined paths behind the golf course (see the map of St Ives here). It wasn’t until reached White Cote Barn that our bat detectors started to crackle.  Somewhere above was a bat… Then out of the blue, we saw our first bat – a Pipistelle! At least two of these small bats flew right over our heads along the path. We really needed the bat detectors to keep track of them – they’re so fast – and even then we could hardly keep track.

We walked down towards Coppice Pond, finding more Pipistelles on the way. It was quite dark by now, but not too dark for one Airedale Otter to find this spider running across the road almost under our feet. Someone’s been eating all their carrots!

Spider, St Ives, Bingley - 8th September 2012

It didn’t take long to find more bats hunting for insects over the pond. These were Daubenton’s bats, and they sounded slightly different to the Pipistelles we’d heard earlier. Using our bat detectors we could hear them as they approached, then we could shine our torches on them as they flew low over the water.

 Bat-watching at Coppice Pond, St Ives, Bingley - 8th September 2012

Standing on the little jetty watching bats over Coppice Pond was an atmospheric and enjoyable end to a great evening. Thank you to everyone who came along. You can read more about the Pipistrelle, Daubenton’s and other bats, and even listen to their calls, by clicking on this link.

One of our members brought a dragonfly to show us to the bat walk. She had found it on holiday in Stirling, Scotland, over the summer.

 Common Hawker Dragonfly

We think it’s a Common Hawker dragonfly. If there are any dragonfly experts out there who may be able to tell us a bit more, please get in touch!

Thank you for bring it to the meeting. If any of you have found anything interesting (such as insects, feathers, leaves, spraints, anything!), or have taken any nature photos you'd like to share with the group, then please bring them to the next meeting.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Denso Marston Nature Reserve - Sunday 8th July

This was our second visit to this hidden gem of a nature reserve in our two-year history. We had a pretty good turnout, considering Andy Murray was playing in the Men's Final at Wimbledon at the same time! Thanks to everyone who joined us – we had a great time bug hunting and pond dipping, and the weather was great too!

After a welcome from our host, reserve warden Steve Warrillow, we set out on a ladybird survey. We found lots of ladybirds, like the Two-spot and Seven-spot; but the most abundant was the recent invasive species the Harlequin ladybird.

 Harlequin Ladybirds at Denso Marston Nature Reserve
(photos Angie Wilson)

We even found a Harlequin larva, which will eventually turn into a fully-grown ladybird. This larva this is the stage in the ladybird lifecycle between egg and adult (a bit like a caterpillar is the stage between egg and butterfly).

 Harlequin Ladybird larva (photo Jane Cameron)

The Harlequin is a native of eastern Asia and was introduced into North America in 1988 to control aphids It has since become the most widespread species there. The Harlequin was also introduced on to mainland Europe and arrived in the UK in 2004 and is spreading rapidly. Harlequins have the potential to wipe out some of our 46 resident species of ladybird. If you see any Harlequin ladybirds while you are out and about why not report them here and help monitor the spread of this species, which will help us to understand their effect on our native ladybirds.

We also caught a variety of other bugs in our nets. We found three different types of butterfly: the dark Ringlet, the brown and yellow Speckled Wood, and the brown and orange Meadow Brown; and three types of damselfly: a Blue-tailed, an Azure, and a fantastic Banded Demoiselle.

 Blue-tailed Damselfly

There were lots of other small bugs too, like the Straw Dot Moth, Capsid Grass Bugs, bright green Aphid, and the red Soldier Beetle.

 Peacock Butterfly caterpillars

While we were searching for ladybirds we came across these magnificent caterpillars of the Peacock butterfly. Each one of these caterpillars will soon transform into a chrysalis and turn into a butterfly!

 Peacock Butterfly

During our walk through the reserve we found some patches of carpet, which have been left by Steve to provide shelter for minibeasts. Under these we found lots of young amphibians, like this fantastic Common Toad and Smooth (Common) Newt!

Common Toad
Smooth Newt

Under many of the leaves of the plants on the riverbank were lots of Banded Snails, including the White-lipped Banded Snail. They had all kinds of stripy patterns on their beautiful shells.

Banded Snails

After lots of bug hunting we swapped our bug nets for pond nets. After a good sweep of the pond we captured some very interesting creatures and put them into our jars for closer inspection. These included: Lesser and Greater Water Boatman, Water Hoglouse, Water Flea, Water Snail, and a Leech.

Pond Dippers!

We found some large tadpoles, probably young Toads, and lots of young Smooth Newts with feather-like external gills. We also found two scary-looking dragonfly larvae!

 Brown Hawker Dragonfly larva

This larva was huge and is probably very nearly ready for its transformation into a dragonfly - we think this one will turn into a Brown Hawker Dragonfly (we also saw one of the adults fly over the pond).

These larvae (or nymphs) are formed after a pair of dragonflies mate, the female will then lay her eggs in a pond or lake, either on a plant or just straight into the water. The dragonfly nymph hatches from the egg. They look very strange, almost alien, and don’t have any wings. After about four years in the pond the nymph will crawl up a reed stem and an adult dragonfly will break out from the outer casing. The dragonfly will wait for an hour or so for its wings to dry and will eventually take to the skies. This dragonfly will eventually mate with another and the process begins all over again!

Did you know adult dragonflies only live up to two months? But don’t forget it has lived for up to 4 years as a nymph before this! Take a look at The British Dragonfly Society website to learn more fun facts about dragonflies!

Thanks again to everyone who came to this event, and special thanks to Steve from Denso Marston Nature Reserve for showing us the wildlife on this great reserve.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Peregrines at Malham Cove - Sunday 17th June

On Sunday 17th June we joined up with the Craven Curlews Wildlife Explorers group for their annual Peregrine watch event at the beautiful Malham Cove.

Juvenile Peregrines at Malham Cove

Beginning at the Yorkshire Dales visitor centre in Malham, we all did a fun activity to learn about different birds of prey, what they eat and how they hunt. Everyone did well in the quiz and got lots of stickers for getting the answers right! We walked the short trip up to Malham Cove, passing an unusual Blue Tit nest site on the side of a pub!

Blue Tit nest in Malham village!

We spotted many different birds along the way and record them on our ticksheets.  As soon as we arrived at the cove we could see two Peregrines flying high above us - what brilliant luck!

 Adult Peregrine in flight at Malham Cove

The stunning Malham Cove

The RSPB volunteers gave us a very interesting talk about peregrines and told us how to tell the difference between the males and females - the females have a much bigger wingspan, this helps them when they are brooding lots of chicks! The two adult birds spent most of the time in the air above us, putting on a great show.

The two juveniles eventually landed at the nest site high on the cliff and we got some great views of them through the scopes. These young birds are more brown coloured to camouflage them until they can look after themselves - eventually this will moult and their adult plumage will grow through. When one of the adults landed we got the chance to see the difference between an adult and a juvenile Peregrine.

 Juvenile Peregrines

Adult Peregrine

At one point a Common Buzzard flew over the Cove, but was soon seen off by the two adult Peregrines! We also saw lots of birds on the nearby feeders, including Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, and this fantastic male Great Spotted Woodpecker!

Male Great Spotted Woodpecker at Malham Cove

There were plenty of other birds around in the fields including a female Redstart, a recently fledged Pied Wagtail, Jackdaw, Swallow, Swift and Robin.

A big thanks to everyone that came - we had a fantastic time watching one of the most incredible birds in the country. If you have any pictures, stories or drawings, please send them in to airedaleotters@gmail.com - they may even be featured in our summer newsletter - keep your eyes peeled!

Friday, 1 June 2012

Rodley Nature Reserve Springwatch - Saturday 9th June

We had a great turn out for our early morning visit to Rodley Nature Reserve for their fantastic Springwatch event.

First, we went to see what had been caught in the moth traps overnight. Amongst many interesting moths, we saw a fantastic Poplar Hawk Moth; there was also the even more impressive Elephant Hawk Moth, which was brown and bright pink!

Poplar Hawk Moth

We then set off on a mammal walk around the reserve with reserve volunteer Maxine. The reserve staff had baited and set 20 traps the night before our visit, and 16 of the traps contained mammals - a great result. These were bank voles and wood mice, both male and female. It was a real treat to get a really good look at these nocturnal animals. Each mammal was then released back into the wild unharmed.

Maxine inspects one to the mammal traps

It's a Bank Vole!

Next, we had great fun making dragonflies from pipe cleaners supplied by the British Dragonfly Society, which was apparently more successful than Andy's Christmas pom-pom robins!

Rodley Nature Reserve has several dragonfly ponds, and some of our group went to see what dragonflies & damselflies they could find, while the rest went for a well earned cup of tea!

Thank you to all the Otters and parents who joined us - well worth it!

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Bird Race at St Ives, Bingley - Sunday 13th May 2012

Thanks for all the young birdwatchers who joined us in our Bird Race at St Ives, Bingley, on Sunday 13th May. We split into two teams (Jackdaws and Cuckoos) and set out to find as many bird species as we could in 90 minutes.

In a close-run competition, the Jackdaws won with total of 32 birds seen or heard! The Cuckoos were a close second with 29. Well done to everyone!

The winning team with the Bird Race Cup!

Here's the combined list all the birds we identified:
Canada Goose, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Coot, Moorhen, Woodpigeon, Pheasant (with chicks!), Great Spotted Woodpecker, Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Common Whitethroat, Wood Warbler, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Swallow, Carrion Crow, Jay, Magpie, Wren, Song Thrush, Blackbrid, Mistle Thrush, Robin, Dunnock, Starling, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Goldfinch, and Chaffinch. Phew!

We used our best identification skills, listening for calls and identifying birds by their plumage and behaviour. We visited as many different habitats as possible – something St Ives has lots of: broad-leaf woodland, conifer plantations, a lake, meadows, pasture, heathland and even a bog!

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Update on the Nestboxes in Deep Cliff Wood

Friend of the Airedale Otters, Shaun Radcliffe from the Bradford Ornithological Group, has been keeping an eye on our nest boxes in Deep Cliff Wood in Harden. You may remember Shaun from the visit to Stockbridge Nature Reserve last September. He recently visited the wood and sent us this report:

After the early morning rain had cleared, I arrived at the wood bathed in sunshine. Having not been here since I helped to put up the boxes, the wood is now changed in that the ground is covered with plants such as Bluebell and Lesser Celandine, the latter just showing its bright yellow flowers. The Bluebells will be out in about a week’s time.

The whole area was full of bird song and I noted Great Tit, Blue Tit, Wren, Robin, Nuthatch, Song Thrush, Dunnock and Coal Tit were the songsters. The Nuthatch in particular was very vocal.

Two birds that have migrated here from warmer climates were also singing, sometimes in the wood but also moving about to nearby sites. The Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler are very similar in size and overall appearance although the Willow Warbler is more yellow but their song is very different. The easiest song to recognise is the Chiffchaff which has a call similar to its name “zip-zap, zip zap” whereas the Willow Warbler’s song is more tuneful with a cascade of fluty notes.

Although I did not see any birds entering a nest box, there is plenty of reason to be hopeful as many birds were seen in pairs. One Blue Tit was collecting some nesting material but I lost track of where it flew off to. The material was old sheep’s wool fluff which is found on the ground and pulled it free to use.

Two other birds seen on the ground were Blackbird and Song thrust, both collecting worms so there may be nests nearby.

Other birds seen in the wood was Woodpigeon and Treecreeper but in the distance I also heard a Green Woodpecker.

It may take some warmer weather to encourage the birds to start a family as they rely on the availability of many insects to feed their young.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

St Ives Migration – Sunday 22nd April 2012

Thank you to everyone who came to our Migration event at St Ives, Bingley, on Sunday 22nd April. We learnt loads about migration, and most importantly had loads of fun! The wet weather made us change our plans slightly at the last minute, but it didn’t dampen anyone’s enthusiasm!

First we discussed why birds migrate and, with the help of a large map, found out about some of the journeys birds and other animals make each year. We talked about two bird species that spend winter in Africa and summer near Bradford: Chiffchaffs and Pied Flycatchers (we're hoping that Pied Flycatchers will nest in the boxes we made in January). We learned their calls, and used this to split into teams of Chiffchaffs and Pied Flycatchers!

We migrated across St Ives, looking for the birds’ food as we went. We heard a few Chiffchaffs who were singing in the rain; and with the help of our three Chaffinches (Charlie, Chester, and the quiet one Chesney!), we played some games to learn why birds flock.

The rain came down and some of the Airedale Otters finished the event splashing in the puddles!

More on Migration

There are lots of interesting sites about bird migration on the web. The RSPB have an interactive map showing the incredible journeys made by some animals on their migrations. The RSPB has lots more games on their website.

The RSPB also have a map showing the journeys made by the Ospreys born at RSPB Loch Garten in the Scottish Highlands each year. Click here for more info.

In 2011 the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) attached satellite-tracking devices to five Cuckoos from Norfolk to find out more about their journey to and from Africa. You can follow the cuckoos (called Clement, Martin, Lyster, Kasper, and Chris) on the BTO website.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Bird and Nestbox Survey in Deep Cliff Wood, Harden - Sunday 11th March

Thank you everyone who came to the Airedale Otters event in Deep Cliff Wood, Harden, on Sunday 11th March. The weather was lovely and sunny, and we had great fun finding the nestboxes made by the Airedale Otters at the January meeting and counting the bird species in the wood.

One eagled-eyed spotter found a toad on a stone before we even reached the wood. The toad was very well camouflaged; well done for finding it.

Can you see it yet?

 Common Toad

First we spent some time finding the numbered nestboxes and marking their positions on a map. It took us a while to find nestbox number 6, which was right in the middle of the wood! We checked to see if any birds were using the boxes – none yet, but it’s early days…

Cameron, the Airedale Otters Leader, showed us an old Great Spotted Woodpecker nest he had found.

Old Great Spotted Woodpecker nest hole

 There are quite a few old nest holes in the trees in this wood

We then carried out a survey of the birds in the wood. Wildlife surveys like this are very important in finding out what animals and plants are living in a particular area. The information we gather can tell us if the wildlife is doing well or not. This can help us make sure we are doing the best things for wildlife conservation. We will compare our survey results to one we will do later in the year, so you can see how things change between winter, spring and summer once the migrant species have returned. 

We found lots of birds, many just by listening for the calls. Here’s a full list:
12 Wood Pigeon, 1 Collard Dove, 1 Wren, 4 Robin, 8 Blue Tit, 13 Great Tit, 4 Coal Tit, 3 Pheasant, 1 Nuthatch, 1 Jay, 2 Carrion Crow, 22 Jackdaw, 5 Magpie, 2 Chaffinch, 1 Greenfinch, 1 Song Thrush, 2 Dunnock, 1 Green Woodpecker, and 1 Buzzard.

 Watching the Pheasant

The highlights were the male Pheasant running across the field looking very proud of himself, and the laughing call, or “yaffle”, of the Green Woodpecker. As we made our way back to the meeting point we eventually saw the Green Woodpecker fly across the field and land in a tree, but difficult to see. Then one of the parents at the back of the group spotted a bird of prey overhead – it was a Common Buzzard! They’re not very common in Harden! A brilliant bird to spot.

 Hawthorn Shield Bug

One Airedale Otter spotted a Hawthorn Shield Bug, which had probably just come out of hibernation. The larvae (the young shield bugs) hatch in May and feed mainly on hawthorn berries, unsurprisingly!

 Ollie the Otter!

Did a Grey Squirrel make these scratches?

We also found really interesting scratch marks on a Holly tree in the wood, which is probably the work of a Grey Squirrel. Well, we think that’s what it is. We’ve been investigating and have asked some experts, but no-one seems sure what could have caused it! Badgers? Deer? Rabbits? A chainsaw?! We’ll ask the farmer for his help, and we may have to send a picture to BBC Springwatch to see if they can help!

At the end of the event we gave everyone a quiz about Otters. The quiz is open to all Airedale Otters members. Just complete the quiz by looking up the answers in books or on the internet, and send it back to the Airedale Otters leaders. You can hand in this completed sheet at the next meeting, or send your answers via email. If you answer enough of the questions correctly, we will send you a certificate to prove that you really know all about otters! Good luck!

We will do some more quizzes and practical tests in future, so you can earn more awards to show you are a knowledgeable wildlife explorer.

Remember - spring is here, so keep an eye out for birds building nests, and feeding young; and for birds returning from migration, like Swallows, House Martins, and Chiffchaffs.