Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Bat Walk at St Ives, Bingley - Saturday 5th September 2015

Thank you to everyone who came to our annual bat walk at St Ives, Bingley, on Saturday 5th September at St Ives, Bingley. We had a great turnout of regular and new members and again the weather was perfect - for bats and humans!

We met in the car park behind the St Ives visitor centre, as Swallows zipped around our heads. As we waited for the the sky yo darken, Cam gave the group a brief introduction to bats and their behaviour. Not that the Otters needed much introduction - they already knew a lot about bats already!

It was a still and dry evening, which is ideal, as bats cannot “see” in the rain and so don’t come out to hunt. British bats include 18 species – all of them quite small. The largest is the Noctule bat which is still smaller than the palm of your hand. They are all insect-eating - or insectivorous - nocturnal, flying mammals.

The most interesting thing about them is how they “see” so well in the dark that they can catch flying insects. They do this by “echolocation”, locating things by their echoes. To do this, bats make shouting sounds. The returning echoes give the bats information about anything that is ahead of them, including the size and shape of an insect and which way it is going.

We shared out our bat detectors, which are small boxes which translate the bats’ high-pitched squeaks into sounds we can hear. Then, as darkness fell, we set off up Cross Gates Lane behind the golf club, towards the tree-lined fields and derelict barns. At the edge of the golf course, where the trees form a sheltering U-shaped area, we spotted our first Pippistrelle bats.

Watching bats, St Ives, Bingley - Saturday 5th September 2015

At the barns the detectors soon picked up bat activity in series of short, sharp stutters, but the bats themselves were harder to see. With a few torches up in the trees, we soon spotted more Pippistrelle bats. They were flying just under the canopy of the trees – where the branches spread over the lane to form a long high “tunnel” and the insects shelter from the breeze.

After watching and listening at the barns we moved back down the lane and on to Coppice pond, where the water attracts lots of insects and we were able to hear Daubenton’s bats - the “water bat” - moving out over the lake. The bat species can be told apart by their behaviour and the frequency of their calls: how high or low they squeak. Though we did not find it easy to differentiate many species, there was lots of bat activity to keep us occupied.

Looking for crayfish, St Ives, Bingley - Saturday 5th September 2015

As a bonus to the evening, one of our younger members pointed out that there were small fish close in to the lake shore and we saw a few boldly striped perch. We also saw lots of white-clawed crayfish in the shallows. These are small, fresh-water lobster-like crustaceans. Their presence in numbers is encouraging, as St Ives have undertaken work to encourage the endangered white-clawed crayfish in Coppice Pond. Our torches also found a Moorhen, roosting in a flimsy branch overhanging the pond. This may seem an odd place for us to sleep, but for a Moorhen it's the perfect place to sleep safe from Mink and other predators.

Moorhen, St Ives, Bingley - Saturday 5th September 2015

Thank you to everyone who came and made this such an enjoyable event.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Denso-Marston Nature Reserve, Baildon - Sunday 12th July 2015

We had great event at Denso-Marston nature reserve on Sunday 12th July. Warden Steve Warrillow again did a great job in showing us the delights of this lovely little reserve, which is tucked away by the River Aire in Baildon.

Steve had set a moth trap the night before and had kept some of the more interesting species. So after a good look at some fascinating moths, our first job was to help release them back into the wild.

We headed next to the east end of the reserve, where areas of grass and wildflowers had been encouraged to overgrow. This was a great area for bugs, and Steve pointed out that Grass Snakes live here too! After a quick lesson in "sweeping", using a butterfly net to sweep up insects from the grass, we started our bug hunt.

Steve gives us a lesson in sweeping for bugs!

We found plenty of Grass Bugs and red-and-black Soldier Beetles, as well as Harlequin Ladybirds. We found at least three beautiful, delicate Azure Damselflies - one female and two males. Interestingly, we found lots of tiny young Common Toads in the grass too.

Azure Damselfly - Denso-Marston Nature Reserve, July 2015

Young Common Toad - Denso-Marston Nature Reserve, July 2015

Despite threatening to rain at first, the weather improved and we marched over to the west end of the reserve to explore the wood. In the woodland, Steve had placed several wooden boards to create living spaces for mammals and amphibians. We were encouraged to lift up these boards to see what lives beneath.

Lifting the boards

Most of the boards had Wood Mouse or Short-tail Field Vole nests under them. Many had fresh cherries under them, with lots of gnawed cherry stones. It seemed the longer the boards had been in place, the more evidence of life we found. As we lifted one board we saw a Wood Mouse running away!

Pond dipping

We ended with a great pond dipping session. Everyone caught a varied array of species, and clearly learnt to identify many of them too. There were quite a few tiny young Smooth Newts in many of the trays. We also caught plenty of invertebrates with fantastic names! Such as: Backswimmers, Greater and Lesser Water-boatmen, Hog Louse, Blood Worm, Flatworm, Water Mite, Pond Skater, and Phantom Midge.

Large Red Damselfly - Denso-Marston Nature Reserve, July 2015

Around the pond edges were many Azure Damselflies and Large Red Damselflies. Our eagle-eyed Otters also found three dragonfly exuvia (the exoskeleton "skins" from which the adult dragonflies emerge when the dragonfly larvae crawl out out of the pond), from a Brown or Southern Hawker.

Hawker dragonfly exuvia - Denso-Marston Nature Reserve, July 2015

Another really enjoyable event - thank you to all the families who attended.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Wildlife Day, Rodley Nature Reserve, Leeds - Saturday 19th June 2015

Thank you to everyone who came to the Wildlife Day at Rodley Nature Reserve on Saturday 19th June. We had a great turnout and everyone was rewarded for getting up early with some great activities laid on by the reserve staff!

At 8:30 am the reserve team opened the moth traps they'd set the night before. They was an incredible array of moths for us to see, hold and study. We then placed the moths safely in the hedge once they had been catalogued.

Checking through the moths

Buff Ermine Moth

Clouded Border Moth

Common Swift Moth

Elephant Hawk-moth

Elephant Hawk-moth

Ghost Moth (male top, female below)

Buff Ermine Moth

Then it was time for the small-mammal survey. The Rodley mammal experts had laid safe mammal traps near the visitor centre. First we needed to find them; fortunately they were marked with small flags. Around half the traps had something in them: either a Field Mouse or a Bank Vole, though occasionally we found snails inside!

Opening the mammal traps

We then had the opportunity to dissect some Barn Owl pellets!

Pellets are small, sausage-shaped objects, containing the undigested parts of food which are ejected through the mouth. Pellets do not pass through the intestine of birds and are quite different from droppings. They do not smell, and are not unpleasant to work with. They consist of things like bones, teeth, claws and beaks, insect head parts and wing cases, seed husks etc. These are usually enclosed by softer material like fur, feathers and vegetable fibre.

Most birds produce pellets. The more indigestible material there is in the food, the more pellets are produced. The best known birds that produce pellets are the owls and the daytime-hunting birds of prey (raptors). Owl pellets are the easiest to find and study, because they often collect beneath a favoured feeding post or roost. A Barn Owl had been roosting (sleeping) on the reserve recently and the staff had been picking up its pellets as they found them.

Dissecting owl pellets

The day continued with more events: pond dipping, a bug hunt, a wild flower walk, and a trip to the reserve's fish pass. Here's just some of the wildlife we encountered around the reserve:

7-spot Ladybird

Banded Snail

Bullfinch (female)


Common Tern with chick

Gadwall with chicks

Small Copper Butterfly

Thanks again to everyone who came to this fabulous event, and special thanks to the staff and volunteers of Rodley Nature Reserve for making us so welcome.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Moorland Walk, Whetstone Gate, Rombalds Moor - Sunday 7th June 2015

A big thank you to everyone who came on our Moorland Walk event. The weather turned in our favour just at the right time, and after starting out cloudy we enjoyed glorious sunshine by the end.

Our plan was to look for specialist moorland birds - ones adapted to live and breed on the exposed hills. One such bird is the Red Grouse, and it wasn’t long before one flew up from the heather beside the path and landed on a nearby wall, letting out its croaky call as it flew. These birds are adapted to keep warm and dry in cold upland areas, having round, stocky bodies with feathers covering their legs. The bird we saw appeared to be a male - these have a much brighter red “comb” above their eyes, which becomes even brighter during the breeding season.

Typical of view of a Red Grouse, hiding in the heather

Many wading birds breed on moors, such as Redshank, Curlew, Lapwing, Snipe and Golden Plover. Most people associate waders with wetlands, mudflats and the seashore. Their long legs are adapted for wading in shallow water and their long bills for probing mud and sand. Moors are often very wet and marshy, and can also be have quite sandy soil, allowing the long-billed waders to feed effectively.

A Lapwing frequently flew above us as we walked, calling as we passed a his territory, giving us great views of this beautiful bird. Sadly, the British Lapwing breeding population has been declining for a number of years, probably because of changes to farming methods. All around us we could hear the fabulous call of the Curlew - a very evocative moorland sound. We saw several flying and calling nearby, proclaiming their territories.

 Curlew, Baildon Moor (photo: Paul Marfell)

Another bird we wanted to see was the Red Kite, and it wasn’t long before Cam spotted two in the distance towards Bingley. But soon after we saw another, and much closer. A majestic bird of prey, and becoming more common in Airedale since they've been reintroduced into nearby Wharfedale over the last couple of decades. Unlike most raptors, Red Kites don’t catch and kill much live prey, other than some small mammals, young birds, and earthworms. They scavenge for carrion - dead animals - on moors and farmland and by the roadside.

Red Kite, Rombalds Moor - Sunday, 7th June 2015

Watching Red Kites and Lapwing

Another bird we wanted to see was the Golden Plover, a beautiful black, white, and golden-brown bird, and a close relative of the Lapwing. We settled down by some rocks and scanned a flat area of moorland below us. We could hear the birds, making their sad-sounding “peoo” calls, but couldn't see them. We could also hear the songs of Meadow Pipits who, like Skylarks, sing as they rise into the the air.

Looking for Golden Plovers

A welcome surprise while we were looking for the Golden Plovers was a Green Hairstreak butterfly. In the north of England these butterflies specialise on living on moors and bogs. They have dark brown upper wings, but when they are at rest they close their wings to reveal the bright green underside.

Green Hairstreak, Rombalds Moor - Sunday, 7th June 2015
Photographing the Green Hairstreak butterfly

Another really interesting and enjoyable walk, with plenty to see and learn.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Woodland Bird Race, Shipley Glen - Sunday, 17th May, 2015

Thanks for all the young birdwatchers who joined us in our Bird Race at Shipley Glen on Sunday 17th May. We split into two teams (Pied Flycatchers and Chiffchaffs) and set out to find as many bird species as we could in 90 minutes.

Bluebells, Shipley Glen - Sunday 17th May, 2015

The Pied Flycatchers won with total of 29 birds seen or heard! The two teams recorded a combined total of 32 bird species. Well done to everyone!

Here's the combined list all the birds we identified:
Mallard, Grey Heron, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Woodpigeon, Stock Dove, Feral Pigeon, Pheasant, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Swallow, Swift, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Jay, Magpie, Wren, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Robin, Dunnock, Starling, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, and Chaffinch.

Treecreeper, Shipley Glen - Sunday 17th May, 2015

Grey Herons, Shipley Glen - Sunday 17th May, 2015

Shipley Glen is a steep-sided, wooded ravine (also called a clough), with a stream running into a small reservoir at the southern end. It has some rocky outcrops and is bordered by wildlflower meadows, grazing pasture and moorland. Different bird species like different habitats, so the area around Shipley Glen is a great place to see lots of bird species. It's also a good area for other types of animals and plants. One team found lots of young Common Frogs in the damp meadow, while we were listening for bird calls.

Common Frog, Shipley Glen - Sunday 17th May, 2015

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Wildlife Walk at St Ives, Bingley - Sunday 26th April 2015

We had a lovely wildlife walk around St Ives, Bingley, for our April event. We had everything we could ask for: bright sunshine, some nice wildlife moments and a really good turnout!

We met at 10:30 at the courtyard beside the St Ives visitor centre, as the newly-returned Swallows swooped over our heads. The stables at St Ives are a great place watch these fantastic birds nesting throughout the spring and summer.

Our route took us first up past the golf course, where the Swallows were zooming low over the grass in search of low-flying insects and a male Common Pheasant strutted his stuff. Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers - migrant birds fresh in from Africa - were singing in the trees. These two species look almost identical to one another, and the best way to tell them apart is by their song. Willow Warblers do a lovely, happy, descending song; while Chiffchaffs repeatedly sing their name, "chiff-chaff-chiff-chaff".

You can find out more about these and all the other British birds on the RSPB website: http://www.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/discoverandlearn/birdguide/.

We came to a field where a Little Owl is often seen on the wall, but it surprised us by being sat in a tree for once! It was quite far away so it wasn't easy to see - and they're called Little Owls because they are quite little!

Little Owl, St Ives, Bingley - Sunday 26th April, 2015

We moved on to the old barns, where we often see and hear Pippistrelle bats on our bat walks. This time we spotted a different kind of mammal: a Grey Squirrel, snoozing on a window ledge!

Grey Squirrel, St Ives, Bingley - Sunday 26th April, 2015

Around the top of the estate by Altar Lane some of us were very lucky to see a pair of Treecreepers building a nest! These small mouse-like birds often nest is little crevices in trees and under strips of bark. The birds were gathering grass, small twigs and moss to line their nest in gap in a tree trunk, occasionally making their very high-pitched calls. Meanwhile, the rest of the group were treated to two Blue Tits using an old tennis ball for nesting material!

We made our way past the heath and Lady Blantyre's Rock, near to where we have done Fungi Forays before, and down to Coppice Pond, passing more Chiffchaffs and Treecreepers on the way.

Mallards, Canada Geese, Coots and Moorhens were squabbling on the pond when we arrived. We rounded off the event with a quick look at the bird hide.

 Looking for the Little Owl, St Ives, Bingley - Sunday 26th April, 2015

Thank you to everyone who joined us a great walk in some fine weather! 

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Spring Wildlife Walk, Bingley - Sunday 22nd March 2015

We had a lovely walk along the River Aire on the morning of Sunday 22nd March, looking for evidence of Otters and signs of Spring.

Airedale Otters on the bridge over Harden Beck

The weather was perfect - warm and sunny and very Springlike. We met at Bingley Market Cross and followed the river downstream to Myrtle Park.

We soon spotted a pair of Grey Wagtails bobbing along the river. These relatives of the more familiar black-and-white Pied Wagtail are only partially grey. Their most obvious plumage colour is the bright yellow of their breasts.

It wasn't long before we found our first Otter spraint! Otters leave “spraints” – what we would call poo – on prominent rocks along the river, to mark out their territory.

Cameron, Airedale Otters leader, collects the Otter spraint

The first Otter spraint we found

The trees were full of birdsong - a clear sign the breeding season has started. We could smell the delicious Wild Garlic growing on the river bank, and further on we found Lesser Celandine - one of the first plants to flower in Spring.

Lesser Celandine, Myrtle Park, Bingley

In the sand and mud on the river bank we looked for animal tracks, hoping to see Otter prints. We found some prints; but these appeared to be from an American Mink. The Mink is smaller than the Otter, and the prints are therefore smaller. Like the Otter, American Mink breeds along the River Aire; but, unlike the Otter, which developed naturally on the UK, the wild Mink population exists because of escapes from Mink farms.

Minks tracks by the River Aire

We headed up into the woods, getting a great view over the park towards Bingley, and spotting a Goosander pair on the river.

Looking out over the river

We ended our walk with a visit to Harden Beck, before heading back along the river. Back in Bingley, we heard a Chiffchaff singing - it's a easy song to remember, because like the Cuckoo, it sings its name: "Chiffchaff, chiffchaff, chiffchaff"!

Thank you to everyone who joined us on the walk. See you next time!