Friday, 27 May 2016

Moorland Wildlife Walk, Whetstone Gate, Rombalds Moor - Sunday 22nd May 2016

We had ad some wonderful weather and some surprising sightings on our trip up to the local moors on Sunday 22nd May 2016, at Whetstone Gate on Rombalds Moor.

One of the first things we saw was a lizard, spotted by one of our young Otters. Darting into the thick heather, it was too quick to getting a positive identification; but it was almost certainly a Common Lizard. We also found some old, empty, soft white eggs. Common Lizards are viviparous - meaning they give birth to live young, not eggs. They didn't look like bird eggs - they looked much more like lizard or snake eggs. After some extensive and exhaustive research, we're pretty certain they were Grass Snake eggs. Any herpetologists (someone who studies reptiles and amphibians) out there who can confirm?

 Mystery egg, with pound coin for size comparison
Rombalds Moor, 22nd May 2016 (photo: Joost Smeele)

We also found part of a Red Grouse egg, which looked like it had been the victim of a predator (the egg was smashed and there was some yolk on the inside of the egg). Red Grouse are specially adapted to keep warm and dry in cold upland areas like this, having round, stocky bodies with feathers covering their legs. We saw lots of them the moor - the area is used for grouse shooting, and the land-owners use many techniques to increase their numbers, including burning the heather and suppressing animals that predate grouse.

Highly camouflaged Red Grouse egg - Rombalds Moor, 22nd May 2016

Another abundant bird we saw was the Skylark. You often first notice these by their song, which the sing while hovering high up in the air. When they do this they can be surprisingly difficult to spot, even when they sound like they're right above you! Skylarks are streaky brown with a small crest, which can be raised when the bird is excited or alarmed. Its recent and dramatic population declines make it a Red List species.

Skylark - Rombalds Moor, 22nd May 2016

A Skylark in flight - Rombalds Moor, 22nd May 2016 (photo Chris Chandler)

Probably the most numerous bird on the moor was the Meadow Pipit, which is similar to a Skylark, but smaller, slimmer, and with a thin bill and no crest.

Meadow Pipit - Rombalds Moor, 22nd May 2016

We also saw a female Wheatear, first on the wall, and later feeding among the Sphagnum moss with the Skylarks. Wheatears are summer visitors, breeding mainly in western and northern Britain. They spend the winter in central Africa.

Wheatear - Rombalds Moor, 22nd May 2016

Sphagnum moss itself is fascinating. It is very absorbent and when applied to wounds it soaks up the blood and infection and its naturally antiseptic properties helped heal these wounds. Vast amounts of Sphagnum mosses were harvested from moorland during the First World War to help treat wounds on the front line. They also play an important role in the creation of peat bogs, holding water in their spongy forms long after the surrounding soil has dried out. In this way, they provide essential nutrients to the soil and help to prevent the decay of dead plant material which gets compressed over hundreds of years to form peat.

Unfortunately we couldn't see any Golden Plover on the moor. We know these beautiful birds breed here, but thanks to their spangley golden plumage they can be very difficult to spot. We did see - and hear - lots of Curlews and Lapwing, which is good news as both these species are in decline and are also red-litsed.

Another great find by one of our Otters was an Oak Eggar moth caterpillar (Lasiocampa quercus for fans of scientific names), feeding on heather. A great find.

Oak Eggar moth caterpillar - Rombalds Moor, 22nd May 2016

Thank you to everyone who came and made the event such fun.