Welcome to the Warden's Ramblings 2011 archive page.
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Well, another year done. I left the reserve this evening the last time for 2011 with the hours ticking over nicely towards a new year, jackdaws heading for roost, and circling with common and black headed gulls, also heading for roost. It is always a funny time of year. Another year over, all the walks, children’s visits, with the highs and lows of the year now just memories. Tomorrow is another day and another year. I always feel excited by the oncoming year what new challenges will come forth; will there be any new species found, if there are, hopefully no controversial ones!
Life always throws up the unexpected things.
My car breaking down over Christmas and no money to pay for it! (Merry Xmas!) And tonight getting home and finding I had lost my Leica bins.
Strangely I didn’t feel panic. I rang security, and then drove over. Luckily for me it was coming to dusk as I had been leaving, so it was dark when I returned. I opened the gate and looked to the dead hedge opposite the cabin, no sign of them, this was the last place I had seen them, looking around nervously, a slight pang of panic was rearing up! Then out of the corner of my eye I saw a thin black shape, the straps for my bins! They had slipped down into the hedge. The sense of relief was immense, I and my bins have had lots of adventures over the years, I have lost them a couple of times before, they have been dropped and all sorts of misdemeanours, which I could chat for about for hours, but I won’t.
I then went home, and the New Year ‘Celebrations’ could continue, I had a very nice meal cooked by Spike, had a couple of beers and in bed by 10.30! Trying to get some sleep for the New Year’s birding! Sleep Ha! Midnight came and so did the fireworks, though I must admit not as bad as years gone by. But I always wonder do the people who let these things off realise the distress they cause wildlife and pets and how ridiculously expensive they are! As the fireworks died down I went off into a sleepy slumber, only to be woken up by a text wishing Happy New Year from one of my volunteers, I then resumed sleepy slumber. All was going well till 4 a.m. when another text came through from a member of family. I then thought only 4 hours to go till sunlight, unfortunately no owls calling, damn fireworks would have put them off no doubt! Then just as I was falling back to sweet dreams, a rumble of voices came from downstairs, Emma and co just rolling in at 4.30. I went into a semi-conscious state. Then woke at 6.30 when my alarm went off!
2011 has been a good year. Only two new species of bird’s- Short eared owl and Black bellied dipper. Also not has many new species of moth as I would have liked, but hopefully 2012 will reap bigger rewards. The main thing for me however is the support from Bev, Denso Marston and also the continued support from Andrew and the Friends of DMNR.
I thank you all
Happy New Year for 2012
Denso Marston Nature Reserve Warden
What a busy month November has been.
Well, what a grotty month November has been, it looks like winter may be making a welcome arrival. With a howling wind blowing outside and rain sweeping down the valley and a distinct nip in the air. At least it has blown the fog away. The fog was nice when it started got some nice pictures of spider webs see below.
It has been a very busy month, no more controversial birds! A couple of talks which were nice to do the first being for the HF Walking and Social Club, this was a very nice group very welcoming even if I did set up my talk in the wrong group! I only realised I was in the wrong room when a very nice lady came up to me and asked what castles I would be talking about! And to cap it all whilst I was doing my talk the gentleman who was talking about castles in the next room provided me with some very heart thumping rousing classical music just as I came to a slide showing the Denso Marston display at the Celebration day – it was very uplifting. I must sometime go and see this chaps talk! It sounds brilliant. I wonder if I should for my next talk have some music or even sing.. erm no. I would probably clear the room. The other talk I did went without incident this was for the Bradford Urban Wildlife group.
In total six groups have been or I have visited them this month, the Bradford and Airedale RSPB group made a return visit I led a walk through Buck Woods then back onto the reserve, we saw 2 birds in Buck woods and 23 species on the reserve. I was somewhat pleased and relieved. On that walk we had 3 kingfishers flying in formation then two fell out and all hell broke loose!
Our now very settled and resident heron showed well for the group.
It was nice for a short while at least to have the first frosts of the season which allowed me to take some nice, well I think they are. Frosty plants. Namely nettles.
Some of you may know that I work for Radio 119 in Bradford. Well recently I have moved from there. They have let me outdoors! I have moved to Northcliff nurseries , which is situated in Northcliff park, here I work with guys and girls with learning disabilities – I really dislike that term to me they are just like you and me – normal! There we work on the nursery my new job is the conservation group where our first job was to build a bird feeding station with hide.
It’s been great fun doing this. At the moment I’m teaching the guys how to hedgelaying. It’s great to be outdoors! The nursery is open to the public so come up and have a look – we are open Monday to Friday 9.30 to 4pm.
I have been scribbling as well this last month from months of being dry all of a sudden from the near collapse of my poetry club I started writing again, I am working on the Scottish poems and wildlife poems. This time if I may I would like to put in a couple or so new works that I have done.
The Fieldfare at the top of the tree
Waits at its highest point, looking out
Before moving on
And what of the poppy, I bought earlier
The red flower, the green leaf
And the plastic stem. No pin this year.
What does it mean?
What purpose does it serve?
Now the wrist band has arrived,
This the more apt thing
The wrist band can be worn all year round
Saving money in the long run
Unlike the poppy
With the red flower, the green leaf
The plastic stem
With no pin
That could only be worn once
Like the life that was lost.
It was nice to start writing again. It is so annoying when nothing comes round. It’s like banging your head against a brick wall and just as painful. It saps you too and makes you doubt yourself. So when it peeks through and gives you a hint that something might appear you have to be ready because if you leave it will disappear. A poem will only come out when it is good and ready as my favourite poet Charles Bukowski says when it is ready it will come out, if it doesn’t then you have to accept it just like a lost love, a lost relative or a lost fiver you just have to accept it. I hope it never happens. And on the name dropping thing I was in a well-known supermarket in Bradford the other day and while I was looking for inspiration amongst the tinned peas and carrots across the tanoy came the words ‘would Mr Bukowski please come to the tills.’ I nearly dropped me peas! If he hadn’t died in the mid 90’s I would have believed he had moved from the USA to Bradford. Ahh dream on. How about another poem.
The wood has begun to fall into winter
Leaves slowly stripping themselves of branches
Leaving them, exposed and naked
Life hangs dormant in the chrysalis buds.
The drystone wall, dry all summer
Finds itself shocked by the early winter mist
Damp upon the lichen
That slowly eats its flesh, it finds itself dying.
Weeds, tall are roughly brushed aside
As the deer begins to rut, the male
With velvet erect horns, all but ready for action
Do not blink or you will miss it
It’s nice to raise the morning
When there is no wind.
I think it will be nice to end there. This time no wanderings from afar. But I will end with a picture from probably the most emotionally charged concert I have ever been too. It was high emotion from the start to the finish for the band, the crowd and for me, for me because for those few who know my past, it has put a closure to a very sad time. And to Crass I say thank you for that. I will always be eternally grateful.
Be exactly who you want to be
Do what you want to do
For he is he and she is she
But you are the only you.
From Big A Little A by Crass 1984.
And thank you Eve Libertine and Penny Rimbaud for joining Steve on stage. You made everything complete and for a moment the world good.
Denso Marston Nature Reserve Warden
Life can take so many twists and turns and some thing’s can change your life forever. Sometimes bad things and sometimes good things, the latter are the best kind. At the beginning of September the Fin Whale at Spurn was truly a life affirming event for me and now the defunct satellite has crashed somewhere on the planet, nothing was found on the reserve! It is amazing how these experts make things and fire them off into space then years later the things fall back to earth. Haven’t they heard the old saying “What goes up comes back down”.
As we entered October I had another life changing experience, I made my own soup! I know you ladies out there have been making it for years, but this was my first attempt and it will not be the last! I have been a little shy when it comes to the kitchen. For some reason it scares the hell out of me and it is also not my patch!
I know that sounds ridiculous but both Emma and especially her son Spike use the kitchen and me being the outsider feels that it is their patch. He is a damned good cook and puts all of his energies into what he is cooking. This man must hold the world record for using the most pots, pans, knives etc. in a single meal, but what culinary delights he produces. Now Emma hates cooking and hopefully, if the gods now favour me, I will inch my way slowly into the kitchen. Emma, I know, will swing the doors open for me to barge in and do my bit, Spike would too but I have to edge my way in slowly, very much like the trenches, I will charge forward only to be blocked by the heavy artillery of my fear of the kitchen. I will get there in the end, have no fear, I shall persist. I will be in there by Christmas.
Which Christmas, not quite sure yet!
Now to the reserve. Migrants are still coming through with small numbers of Chiffchaff passing through amongst the flocks of Titmice. Jackdaws have now started coming into roost early with over a hundred recorded a few days ago. I love this time of year with migration now in full swing, you just never know what will turn up. Surprises do happen and it did in the form of a Dipper, not the regular ones we get down on the reserve but the European race the Black Bellied Dipper. It looks almost identical to ours the difference being its belly which is black; our dipper has a brown strip across its belly. Unfortunately it was only seen for one day as the river rose and all the rocks the Dippers use disappeared under water. The numbers of Redwings have steadily risen to several hundred birds passing through, but nothing like the numbers over Oxenhope where twenty nine thousand passed through in a single day. That must have been awesome to see!
An unexpected visitor passing overhead was a Short Eared Owl. Mainly a moorland bird but being diurnal helps to get a great sighting like this.
The regular birds are now building up and visiting the feeding station. The numbers of Long Tailed Tits are getting bigger with other species like Goldcrest, joining them on their sorties through the reserve. With the weather being topsy - turvy at the moment, with the warm conditions, we have a single Red Admiral knocking about and allowing very close up views, always nice to see.
But for the moment its “Look to the sky” and see what comes! That and eating some delicious home-made soup!
Denso Marston Nature Reserve Warden
One of the saddest and at the same time most humbling occurrences I have had in the forty odd years I have graced this planet was a visit to Spurn point to see a dead whale. The whale a Fin Whale was thirty feet in length and a youngster. A full grown Fin will grow to seventy eight feet in length and it takes between five and eight years for the animal to reach sexual maturity. Gestation lasts twelve months and when the calf is born it is ten feet long. The Fin Whale belongs to the family of Rorqual Whales, this includes Humpback and Minke. They are specialised feeders using filters to feed on krill. The Fin whale can swim up to twenty six miles per hour; they are known as the greyhounds of the sea.
Now what, you may ask, has this to do with the reserve migration. This animal was part of several other species of whale that can be seen migrating along the east coast of the UK.
Over the past few weeks migrating birds have been slowly building up and passing through the reserve, I had a total of twenty Willow Warblers and Chiffchaff pass through the reserve a week ago. Swallows have also been passing through. Spurn had a day total of twelve thousand pass through and the main throng of birds are still yet to come! A couple of days ago sixty thousand Meadow Pipits passed through spurn, it is amazing watching them migrate. I used to ‘vis mig’ (visible migration) Listing Mill farm in Gomersal and watch for migrating ‘Mipits’ (this is what we call them in the birding fraternity) and to count several hundred pass over in a couple of hours is a truly joy to see. These ‘little brown jobs’ suddenly packing up and flying south some only will fly as far as Kent, others to northern France and some will head farther south down towards north and east Africa, no doubt joining the other migrants from the reserve such as Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Swallows. What of the waifs and strays that turn up on our shores that set us twitchy birders’ pulses racing and wallet draining? What happens after they get here? It is commonly believed that most of these birds get eaten by Sparrowhawk or the local ‘moggy’ fancying something a little exotic, I guess Bee Eaters are normally found in tins of whiskers! But truth be known nobody really knows what happens to these birds. For example this morning my pager went onto mega alert at 9 am because a Sandhill Crane was seen flying south over the Dunbar home of the father of conservation, John Muir, who left the UK after having a serious accident in the factory, where he worked, cost him the sight of an eye. John travelled to the US and with a loaf in his sack he walked the wilderness down to Texas, because he believed man had lost his roots with nature. By doing this he created the first ever nature reserves.
Where was I? The Sandhill Crane; this bird normally frequents North America then migrates south to Texas, but this bird took a left instead of going straight down and ended up in Scotland. This begs the question why have there been very few records of this species in the UK. The year before last one was found on the Orkneys, this flew south was never seen again, where did that bird end up? A week ago a Sandhill crane was seen over Finland/Sweden is this the same Orkney bird. If it was, where has it been? Could it have stayed in Europe perhaps or stayed in the remote parts of Scotland undetected or is it a completely new bird from America. The bird this morning was last seen flying over Northumberland. Ah, wouldn’t it be nice if it popped into a certain nature reserve in Charlestown!
It is going to be interesting to see what we will be getting in the next week or two. This year we have a very good berry harvest and also the feeding station has been revamped and has already had Robin, Blue tit, Great tit and Jay visiting so the birds have quickly got used to it. Hopefully it will be very busy on there. And if you have a few spare coppers at hand you could give a donation towards the feed we put out over the coming months. A word of warning the price has gone up for a twenty kilogramme bag of peanuts it now just short of twenty pounds! Even the birds are being hit in these hard times.
I was asked by a teacher who had come to visit the reserve from Thackley Primary school, “Should we continue to feed the birds in the garden?” She had seen someone on TV talking about not feeding birds as they become too dependent on the food we put out. To this I replied “We should feed the birds, because in certain areas birds are probably dependent on the food put out in cities for example. It is also argued, that we are getting incorrect numbers of youngsters because, where there is feeding, too many young are surviving and this is not ‘natural’. We have always fed birds in the past, we have put food out for the birds to trap them and eat them. We have lost a lot of farmland birds, like Sparrows and Finches, because farms have become too clean and tidy. Feeding birds helps bring us back into nature.”
As a society we have lost our true naturalness, we have become scared of the outside world. It’s a bad place out there. Is it? No; go and explore the reserve, your local park, walk the canal, have a pint in the countryside a good real ale pint in the fresh air is one step closer to heaven. Go to the hills, it is wild out there; it can be dangerous, bulls in fields, wasps, dogs running riot. But there is also the beauty of the outside air, real air, oxygen, trees, insects buzzing around, flowers, dragonflies darting from one end of a pond to the other and people out walking who are willing to stop and chat. We all need to slow down. Life is becoming too fast. Relax sit down with a pint, or a cup of tea or, the best of all, a mug of marmite, ah bliss!
The pager just gone off again a possible Azure Tit in Wales or it could so it says an “Azure Tit x Blue Tit hybrid – Azure Tit would be a first for Britain, if it is a hybrid,* where are the parents!
I’ll leave you now with a short poem I wrote not two minutes ago
The Fin Whale
Denso Marston Nature Reserve Warden
This ‘ramblings’ is later than the normal, as this month I thought it would be nice write it on holiday. Sitting on a beach with a G.n’T. with a slice of lemon and a little umbrella to help to keep it cool, whilst turning from deathly white to a roasting red beneath a furnace sun! Yeah right!
This month I’m writing from Islay just next door to Jura and a little down from Skye and the Outer Hebrides. It is an island that measures twenty five miles by twenty miles, with as many distilleries and a good stiff breeze blowing from the Atlantic. This is going to be a tough holiday and by heck have I been looking forward to it. The last of the Baildon Children’s Centre visits is all sown up with five excellent events from pond dipping to cloud drawing. This was a nice way to wind down to a holiday when an unexpected event happened; I had to deal with a very distraught person. After a two hour talk down I needed this holiday! Luckily just before finishing for my ‘hols’, whilst working with one of my volunteers, I was luckily enough to catch a rather splendid Southern Hawker dragonfly. Pictures below prove that I can actually catch the damn things!
In the last few weeks there have been signs of migration with an, all too quick, flyover of an Osprey mid-month. Swallow numbers have increased with a late Swift flying over a week before month end. Just before leaving for holiday Chiffchaff and Willow Warblers passed through.
I was hoping for some migrant passage on Islay, it didn’t disappoint. On the first day there were lots of Pied wagtails and as the week progressed they thinned out and other species such as Swallows began to increase. There were good numbers of Sparrows through the island, which was good to see. However the most bizarre thing we saw was a Tardis on the boat (see below), there were even lights on the floor and railings. It did cross my mind that if we were to sink they would just look for the illuminations!
On this trip we remembered to take Simon, complete with ‘bins’ and map he was ready to go.
I wasn’t really sure what we would get on Islay with it being mainly famous for the wintering geese here we were heading for the island mid –August. Traditionally it is a fairly quiet time for birding, as it’s the end of the breeding season and summer migrants are getting ready to move on.
We got round the majority of the island pretty quickly, when you have only a week. It seems always to be a rush to get everything in. Its times like this when you have to decide whether you are a tourist or a visitor. I am firmly in the camp of visitor. A tourist rushes around taking snaps of n everything. A visitor goes round and looks at everything then takes lots of pics!
It took me five days to settle down. When I did, it was a sheer delight getting rid of the outside world and its stresses and strains. Finding my self beginning to relax, I set out to prove this. I decided to get up very early Wednesday morning and set the alarm for five am and got up at six thirty ! (Well it was supposed to be a holiday!). I took Abby the family dog for a walk. She is such an amazing dog, I wish some of the dogs on the reserve were like her, so well behaved and obedient it is unreal, she is a real delight to take out.
I decided after the short walk to go to Sanaigmore Bay this is a small bay which we were told was a good place for Basking Sharks. This species was one I hadn’t seen for over twenty years and I thought it would be nice to try and find one. The previous day as we watched some amazing stags I managed to photograph a female Red Deer. I was surprised how many deer were on the island. So today it was time to try for some fishy stuff.
Another deer pic I’m getting good at this!
Another thing I was particularly looking forward to was seeing the sunsets, which can be pretty spectacular. I thought it would be easier to see the sunset than the sunrise, I slept through them all! Old age creeping in fast- bed and cocoa for 9pm!
(I’ve slightly gone off track, where was I? Took dog for a walk, ah yes.) Once Abby was walked and contented I set off for my first drive of the island. I drove around Loch Gorme which was opposite end of the island from where we were staying. On the way round I hit slow moving traffic, see below
Once out of the way, I soon arrived at Sanaigmore Bay, quickly set up my scope and bins and began sea watching. Now sea watching can be long, very long; some find it boring. I’m the opposite I love it, true you may get periods of bird drought where there is ‘nowt’, but when there is, it can be exciting. Today was that day. From the word go, Gannets were passing through in good numbers, then the first of probably over a thousand Manx Shearwaters passed me by. Ah bliss! Shearwaters are pretty ace; they fly and glide close to the water surface. These birds are long distant migrants, they come from round the corner of Cape Horn Africa then shoot up to northern Scotland. The Manx Shearwater also is the oldest recorded bird with one caught a couple of years ago aged over forty!
I sea watched for nearly two hours and was in a blissful state with all the ‘Manxies’ flying passed. It has to be said however; never sea watch after indulging in copious amounts of alcohol, watching waves through a scope can well have disastrous results. I know having been there and done it! At this point I decided to return to the cottage I needed feeding!
Later that day we returned to the bay hoping to see a Basking Shark. It was however as I expected it to be – very very quiet, only a couple of Gannets and the odd Manx Shearwater.
Undeterred we settled down for a relaxing afternoon, me with eye stuck down telescope. For about half an hour nothing! Then I picked up a black fin, a large fin, a very large fin – a Basking Shark! We watched the shark for what seemed an age then it submerged and it was lost to view. We scanned but no joy. I scanned the nearby hills and came across a Golden Eagle! He was sitting on a rock looking very majestic. Then I looked down again at the bay the shark was up and showing. I called out to Emma, she had got it. It was swimming in a circle she said. Great! But mine was swimming in a straight line. We both looked up and saw two Basking Sharks – splendid. We watched them for what seemed ages. They drifted and were lost to view, so I began packing up as it was nearing tea time, I thought I’d give the eagle one last view, when lo and behold not one but two Golden Eagles. This was getting silly. Earlier we had also had cracking views of Chough. Whilst all this was happening, the sharks returned, so we watched them again and found a third shark. The eagles stood on their perch patiently waiting for us to watch them! The sharks finally did move on and we packed up to leave, stopping every once in a while to look at the eagles.
Just before leaving the bay I had a quick scan (as you do) and saw something move in the water, at first I thought was it the sharks, no a seal, then got brain into gear; it was a ‘cracking’ adult Otter, feeding on fish. It was rolling, diving, coming up for air, crunching on fish skull. We watched him for about twenty minutes, down to about fifty feet. Occasionally looking up at the eagles, who were still there. We finally lost the Otter from view and when we looked up at the eagles one had flown, we put it down to it getting bored waiting for us to look at him! That was a damn good day out watching nature! Oh and we saw a Minke Whale too!
Later in the day I photographed the sunset, breath taking
Thankfully there wasn’t too many comments from last months ramblings concerning a certain photo and the contents of a fridge. This month I will be far more kinder to Emma. Sort of.
One thing about Emma she is a huge softy, when it comes to cuddly animals and whilst driving around the island we came across these beasties. I thought they were Lamas but was told they were Alpacas. I know one thing for sure she would have brought one home if she could!
Later that day I photographed the sunset. The sunsets here were jaw dropping It was a very enjoyable visit and I look forward to going back. I did realise on the way back all the beer and whiskey I drank was all free! I drank them in the distilleries and brewery, now that’s the way to do it!
Hope you enjoy the poem , everything will be back to normal next time!
The gods were smiling
On us yesterday
We saw everything
It was almost unbelievable, in fact
It became laughable
No matter what we did
We hit gold, we could do no wrong
We were with the gods
Today, everything changed
There was nothing, absolutely nothing
Everything had turned normal
Denso Marston Nature Reserve Warden
For those of you who were held on tender hooks concerning the Nightjar at St Ives, I will continue the tale so pull up a chair settledown infront of a log fire with a big mug of tea. Myself and Emma went up to site for about 10pm, after watching Luther on TV, and were joined by volunteer Zoe. At the time personally I thought no way there will be a nightjar where it was, 3 miles from Keighley and just over road and a bit further from home. This species is normally on the heathlands of Norfolk and Somerset. We all stood waiting. Three Woodcock flew over calling. A few moths appeared. The sun was setting, it was a good night. Then at roughly 10.40 from nowhere it appeared, the stiff winged flapping, the white flash on the wings and it flew less than thirty feet from us. (I left the hankies at home!) It then landed and churred. I had got it safely on my Bradford list. Nightjar in Bradford WOW! A celebratory pint was definitily on the cards. We then waited for about 30 minutes and the action had ceased, everyone went away very happy. I returned on the Thursday evening, but no sight or sound. Hopefully it will be still around.
White Letter Hairstreak
During July,I have been keeping a close eye out for the White Letter Hairstreak (left), a species which appeared for the first time last year. I have been looking since the last couple of weeks of June but with no success. However on the first weekend of July I had a visit from the Bingley Watch group, with guests the Airedale Otters group. We did various activities including pond dipping, bug hunting and wildlfower hunts. After the session had finished I had a walk around the reserve and I met up with a chap called Ian, who has just started visiting the reserve. He is an amateur artist and sits on the same bench everyday and draws and paints. Whilst he was drawing we chatted and suddenly out of nowhere, have you noticed with me everything turns up out of nowhere!, a small brown butterfly flew past. At first I thought ringlet, but we persued the insect. After looking for it over the thistles we found it, a White Letter Hairstreak! The first for the year. I was somewhat excited as you can imagine. We watched it for a few minutes then brain kicked in, camera, wheres the camera? It was in the cabin! So I left Ian with my wheelbarrow of nets pots etc and legged it off to the cabin and returned as fast as I left. I took a series of pictures. Now I do see the advantage of the digital camera. I still prefer slides though, but at £15 a roll it is now becoming expensive to do, though I will be continuing using slides for the talks. I must say at this point though, I am having real trouble using the camera, I cannot get my head round the screen thing at the back of the camera, I am used to looking through a microdot hole! I will get there eventually. In the mean time, I will be taking pictures of my foot, knee leaning trees etc and the obligutary headless pose!
The digital camera came up trumps again the hummingbird hawkmoth (right) was found in the garden at home. I think I may have entered the 21st century!
I have just had a relaxing day off, after working six plus days solid on the reserve, preparing the area for the new classroom, I got to use a brand spanking new Timberwolf tracked chipper. If heaven is going to be like this I wanna go! Chainsaw and chipper is all a guy really needs, nothing more nothing less. Whilst using the chipper I have decided to work on a couple of areas, one a woodland area. This area will be thinned more this winter and will provide a new habitat for insects and also will encourage the growth of hazel within this area. The Hazel will be coppiced every few years and the poles used for hedgelaying throughout the reserve. I also felled several sapling Poplars along the river bank, thus allowing more light into the existing woodland and opening the area up so the river can be seen. However this caused alarm to a visitor. I wish people would come and ask me about the work that I do upon the reserve and if they have concerns I would explein the reasons behind the job in hand.
Sometimes I think people just think that I just like going and chopping trees down. I infact love trees more than they think I do. Through the management work that I and the volunteers undertake we ensure the survival of most of the trees on the reserve and also prolong the life of some through coppicing and hedgelaying. I have a huge respect for trees and it does dismay me when people try and detract what I do.
Through the management of the reserve we have increased the bio diversity onsite examples increased the numbers of bird species from a handful to 112, butterflies to 25 species (which includes a locally rare species such as the White letter hairstreak) and dragonflies up to 12 species. We have helped in cleaning up the river. Importantly we have introduced people to the delights of the reserve through just walking through the reserve, introducing children to wildlife through school and group visits and the likes if the new Spider Club. In the club we have a bunch of children who are so passionate about the reserve and the wildlife it beggers believe and this also also applies to their parents who join them each month. They are creating a wildlife area within the nature reserve.
I am so proud to be working on the reserve with the wonderful Spider Club and the team of volunteers who are second to none. I am grateful to Denso Marton for letting this happen. My I feel better for that. The reserve is truly super! Even in the rain! Running the reserve can be daunting at times but as the great poet Charles Bukowski wrote – what matters most is how well you walk through the fire. How true.
Yesterday I worked with the Spider Club then loitered around the reserve for awhile – recording 13 species of butterfly in 30 mins and waited and wished for one very special bird to fly over from the Bingley show, an Avro Lancaster! I waited and waited then heard it but didn’t see it. It flew over the garden at home. What a garden tick! What a beautiful lady she is. She is so special I would take her home to meet my mother!
Now the summer holidays have begun, it is going to get busy. Baildon children’s centre will be down over the next six weeks. We will be pond dipping, bug hunting, tree identifying and lots more. This will keep me busy! So far within the month I have had over a hundred children down on site. Any volunteers!
Isn’t it interesting when you delve into the great unknown, in this case the fridge. This weekend we (royal we) delved in to the fridge; something had died and gone to its maker. Emma kitted up in everthing protective, I almost went and got my chainsaw helmet! Went in all guns blaring, I think she was fired up after seeing the lancaster and pulled out the offending article(s) from the fridge. As you can see she wasn’t impressed! Our funding officer is a lady of all trades. I hid in the garden pretending photogragh flowers. She looked to be having such great time why spoil it!
As I finish this I am thinking how to begin my new article for the Prosider magazine. As some of you will probably already know, I used to write for them a few years ago. Prosider has kindly asked me to write for them again, so watch this space.
Ash I cut down will live in the memory
Its children scattered by the wind
Will grow. And these will die
And spread their children
In the wind. And I will live
And work amongst the trees
I will coppice, and lay
And they will grow then fall
Then rot into the ground
Where they will produce food
The growing wood
Thank you trees
I will end with this quote from Charles Bukowski, "love iz a big fat turkey and everyday iz thanksgiving!"
Three days, and it is still sunny! It has arrived at last, the solstice as come and gone for another year. Did you know this year midsummer was in fact on Friday 24th and, if you really want to go the whole hog, Old midsummer is on the 5th July. It was good that we had Spen Valley Longsword dancing at the open day. They did marvellously, even if a certain member of the team did appear somewhat unfit. It has been a long time since the sword has danced at the reserve. The last time was an early Denso Marston factory open day in 1994. We were leaner and fitter then. And the reason for this week’s sun? The sword danced just before the solstice, the aim of our dance was to bring the sunshine and help the crops grow. Both seem to be working, even if we did miss out a vital ingredient – a sacrifice. Originally it is said that when the sword completed the dance there would be either a member of the team or a man/woman dressed as a fool they would be lead into the centre of the rose (the name of the lock) and then would be be-headed. We can’t do this nowadays due to health and safety, also our swords are blunt, mores the pity because I guess everybody knows someone they would gladly sacrifice.
It is important that we keep these traditions alive because they are what we are. They keep us alive and give a meaning or purpose to the everyday humdrum of daily life. Though I don’t go to as many practices as I should, I still have a strong belief in the sword and what its meanings are meant to be? We all should have something to believe in.
Hope and pray I did both on the run up to celebration day. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who took part in the celebration day and its continuing success. It couldn’t have gone as well as it did without you. I did have several sleepless nights due to the daily weather predictions.
Talking of the weather, its great living on an island with the weather coming from all angles. We are the envy of the world according to weathermen. Who’d want wall to wall sunshine? We’d have nothing to moan about, admit it. During this little heat wave, who of you wished it would rain to cool everything down and so they could get a good nights kip!
I got a really good bird last week, a nightjar or goatsucker to use its oldie name. This bird is an amazing creature; it flies at night looking like a giant moth. The male has a white patch on each wing, this he uses to attract lady nightjars. If you want to attract a nightjar, in the right habitat of course – this being heath land, you should take a white handkerchief in each hand. Raise your hands in the air, then wave your arms up and down in a measured sort of way, very much like a Morris dancer- humming a Morris tune say the “shepherds hay” which is I would imagine optional. You would, to some less adventurous minds, think that you look like a pillock and make some unsavoury remarks or ring the police. It is easier just stand and wait and listen. The call of the nightjar is a long continuous churr, which makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. They also do this at night in the dark. So imagine satanding at Timble Ings on the normal solstice night 21st (fully clothed and sober) on your own, because all the other birders had gone home, to bed and all you had was hoots of owls and mosquitoes lining up to take pot shots at you naked bits – hands, face neck and if your daft enough to wear shorts – knees. A waiting bloodbath you are. The clouds clear and time is stretching towards midnight when suddenly out of nowhere a churrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr literally scares the living be-Jesus out of you. You have then heard your first nightjar. I have seen loads over the years and the call still makes my knees turn to jelly.
This evening we are both out to see if we can find a nightjar at St Ives.
With this hot weather numerous butterflies have been seen on the reserve, with plenty of Ringlets and surprisingly a Painted Lady! But the biggest surprise of all was... see the following pictures:
When I saw the youngster I said out loud “Oh my god there’s Bambi!”
Denso Marston Nature Reserve Warden
Another month flown by! Is it me or is time just passing by far, far too quickly? This month’s ‘ramblings’ has crept up on me without me noticing. As I sit here typing this up after the crack of midnight that has gone into a huge yawn towards the morning, I thought “What shall be the subject this time!?”
Some of you may have been aware we have been up to the Hebrides. It was, let’s say, ‘an experience’! If you like wind, you will love it and if you like barren anarchy and weather chaos you will certainly love it. There was sun and it was hot on day one, then showers, storms, sun, wind, wind and more wind. It is a very weird place, if you let it will bring out all your inner most emotions. Now I’m not about to go all hippy on you, no hair for that sort of thing and I aren’t one for trying to find ones inner calm, I’ve got too much chaos going on for that, but it did do weird stuff! I did find myself going from my usual cheerful grumpiness to absolutely down in the depths of the pits of doom, then raise triumphant back again to blissful grumpy happiness.
Though the landscape on the Uist is fairly flat and featureless, with the odd mountain thrown here and there, you, seem strangely drawn to it. I wouldn’t live there. But I would recommend you going, especially for the wildlife. Don’t believe what you see on the TV about the Hebrides, you have to work for your wildlife and it is not wall to wall otters – we did see one, it was laid on its back at Lochmaddy ferry port and I’m sure the damn thing waved at me! Nice to see though. I ended up with an impromptu wildlife event with the warden – ‘see an otter from a boat’. I was trying to keep quiet and blend in with the surroundings, but I seem to attract people with binoculars. I tried to be anti-social it did work, until I saw the otter. I mimed to Emma that there was an otter, with some very nifty hand movements and arm flapping. Unfortunately for me, a guy, who I had tried to ignore had been watching me like a hawk and when he saw me doing a sort mummified line dance, he made a bee line for me. Also a very sweet old lady, who was sat behind us and must have been clued up on mime language, so I ended up with a crowd. Ah well, as they say, ‘That’s how it goes!’.
All the time up there on the Hebrides there was something missing; something not quite right. I could cope with large areas of peat bog land and the mountains, the bog lands reminded me of some of the Yorkshire Moors but without sea surrounding it and I couldn’t get to grips with the distances. It’s so short, but did take time to get to some places.
I am proud to say that on the Hebrides I drank the worst pint of beer I have ever tasted; it was so bad it was worth recording here. I forget the name it was something like McLeod’s or Mac Peat. It tasted dreadful, it is the only pint I have drunk where the head sank into oblivion in seconds and waved a surrender flag. And as you drank it got deader and deader until I got to the bottom and it tasted like water. I believe it was really just water with peat thrown in to give it colour! Why did I drink it? It was an honour to drink such a bad beer. We did however find a real ale house with four wickets. Hebrides does have a heaven.
Ah yes, something was missing up there; trees. When you get somewhere so barren you forget how you take the things around you for granted. Things like trees. Trees are great, the next time you pass one, hug it. I did.
We did see eighty three species of birds up there with several species of raptor; White tailed Eagle, Golden Eagle, Merlin, Kestrel, Common Buzzard and Hen Harrier. It was wonderful to see the Hen Harrier in its full glory breeding happily with no persecution; it is such a shame that they are violated in other parts of the country. The main family of birds I wanted to see up there was waders, in particular Lapwing and Golden Plovers. We see Lapwings over our reserve in the winter months and it is always a delight to see them. I went with the expectation of seeing quite a lot, but there were very few. Hedgehogs have certainly done the damage. We didn’t see any live hogs, but three road kills. It was sad to see the decimation of the waders, when you look over acres and acres on machair and see only a handful of breeding lapwings it does make you wonder. When things are introduced to an area it has to be looked at very carefully or better still in some cases not done. You never know what damage will be done to the local wildlife.
The one bird I wanted (needed to see- that’s the birder/twitcher in me) to see was the Corncrake. This species has been a lifelong ambition bird and we saw two! One of the most difficult birds to see, my first was in a ditch and we photographed it and then one by the car door in a lay-by, standing practically out in the open with very little vegetation around it, I mean very little and we lost it! These things can just literally disappear. But what a bird! Now all I need to see is an Albatross over the reserve! Ah bliss! One did turn up on a Derbyshire lake swimming with a mute swan so you never know!
All at sea
who's the Noggin?
the Corncrake Ditch
Go and enjoy.
On the way up to Skye we drove through Loch Shiel, here they hadn’t had rain for quite a while and we encountered fire, and lots of it, the whole mountains in the area where on fire. About two hours after we passed it the authorities closed the road. The fires looked pretty scary. The fires started naturally and this got me thinking about the reserve, what would happen if we had a long period of drought and what could happen. We passed the same area on the way back and the fires were still smoking, even though they had had heavy rain.
When I got back to the reserve two weeks later. I was so grateful to see trees.
And so what of the reserve; no White tailed eagles or Corncrakes, but I did find the second ever breeding Willow Warbler on site. I watched the adults taking food in and poo out, at a rapid pace of knots and a couple of days later I saw, what I believed to be, a juvenile with an adult. Bullfinch have bred with a single juvenile being fed by the adult and on the river there has been two lots of Goosanders with juveniles with small cute chicks which make a tear come to the eyes, even of the warden. They were cute. However I did check the nest boxes and found several dead chicks, including a couple that looked ready for fledging. This was, most probably, being due to the lack of food and also the temperature drop throughout May. We did have several boxes fledge a full complement of staff.
Newt Survey on the reserve small pool
An odd way to sword dance
Smooth and Palmate newts
knit one pearl one
Whilst writing this piece, shock and horror, Radio 4 has lost the ‘on hour pips’. They had a momentary silence to announce the hour. Apparently the box that goes pip had died a death. Hopefully they will resurrect it soon.
Now as the sun begins to rise I look across the field and see those large, green and wooden ‘huggy’ trees. ‘Crak crak crak crak’ what Corncrake?
I went to Hebrides to write as well as bird, so here are a couple, for the rest, come to “Verse on the Reserve” on Sunday 19th June.
Bad Gales today
I heard the trees shouting
They creaked, twisted
Then groaned. Some lost
The fight. Snapping, towards the river
Whose parliament sat
Passing judgement as they fell
On the banks and inland
Grass bent over backwards
The trees shook their manes like lions
And the river caught the rain, as it squalled
Bouncing over froths and troths
Erupting from the rivers gut
Trees continued to bend and twist
Around themselves, as the wind cut
Through them like a noose
And the bins on the corner
Let go of their rubbish, exploding
Like a dying mountain
And in the middle of the woods
I took cover
Sheltering from the storm.
Shards broken, snapped bones
Litter the shown grass
Out of the mist
Bone white poles
Stretch through slopping mountains
Not wanting to be photographed
Listen, do you hear them breathe?
Later in the day, they will be
I prefer the comfort
Of not knowing.
Of the blanket of mist
Snatching at the blue sky blinking
Between the clouds
Then it cut through the air
Wings slicing the mist, then
Succumbed as fast as it is eaten
The mist froze
I was coated in mountain sweat
Reluctant to walk.
Having just finished the second cut of the grass areas for the season, I found myself at Tophill Low Water treatment works, where Emma and I went to see (hopefully) a Purple heron that had taken up residence there. “Ah Heron!” I hear you say, “they are big grey and very easy to see”. Grey ones yes, but Purple ones are a different tale all together. They are about the same size length 70 cm to 90 cm with neck extended. This bird can be confused with Grey Heron but as the Collins guide to birds states, note differences: big lanky heron, longer more uniform bill, bayonet rather than dagger, narrow head merges more into bill, wings in front slightly bent, and a hint of jerkiness in wing beats, somewhat narrower neck, which in flight often forms a more angular neck and so it goes on!
We set off, got stuck in traffic in Beverley, missed the right road so drove through Beverley, which I may add is a very pretty place, I’d say better than York. We finally got there. Nobody about, so paid permit fees and looked at site map and set off, luckily we met the warden. I had come from the reserve so was still in warden stuff, so wore a jacket to hide any potential confusion. We got to the hide, it was a massive twitch with seven there in total, though I would suspect several more – hundred more like would have passed through to see this thing (or not, might have been the case). It was a pleasant atmosphere.
People have strange ideas about Twitchers, they think they jump in their cars, planes, boats, bikes or just about anything so they can see their quarry. I have been such person in the past. Some people look at them with scorn, others with pity and mild amusement. Twitching is a very serious game. Let’s describe what twitching is. A Twitcher is a person who goes to see someone else’s bird (not like the milkman, or coalman), for example, several years ago I chanced upon a Night heron, the 4th for the Bradford area. On identifying it, I put it out on the national pagers, where anyone who has a pager (or rings the local hotline or hears about it from me shouting from the roof tops) can then decide if they want to travel to see it. Nowadays, one major factor that can cause problems is petrol and the price of it! Twitchers are clever people they fill up their car with other twitchers and share the cost. It can now be an expensive business. Several years ago a guy who decided on twitching for a year was asked how much it had cost it had cost then, twenty five thousand pounds.
This is serious stuff. All Twitchers and most birders have what you call a ‘life list’ – this is a list where they record every bird they have seen. There is also a year list, which most birders do every year; this is a record of how many birds seen in a calendar year. This can get very competitive with birders trying to get more birds than his/her counterparts. There is no prize at the end of the year, just the satisfaction that you have more than everyone else. That’s where is can get expensive. There are other lists, patch list –which is your local area which you bird a lot, garden list, county list, world list that is for the crème de le crème of birders, these guys travel all over the world to see as many birds as they can. I think at the moment the chap on top, who is British, has over 8000 species on his list. There is also the TV list that is a list of what birds are seen or heard on the TV. That is quite good fun obviously wildlife programmes can give you lots of ticks. Ticks? This is what you do when you see the bird. Back to the TV. The trick of getting a good list is when watching TV is look and listen to what is going off in the background. I was once watching the news and the story was in Washington and the guys were talking and a Chimney Swift flew passed! Another in Asia had a Pratincole species fly past. Its great fun. Try it or get a girlfriend!
The Night heron which I found, attracted nearly a hundred birders and for most of these guys it was a lifer. A lifer is a bird you have never seen before and I was particularly pleased to help add a new species to so many people’s life list.
Now where was I, ah yes Tophill Low; we sat looking out of the hide watching the few ducks that were out in front of us and also with a very pungent smell tickling our noses- Sewage, it clears the sinuses! With being there at the end of the day, most birds were preening and preparing to go to roost. Emma found a couple of ducks particularly amusing as they turned over onto their backs. There were little giggles now and again. She said they looked like cartoon ducks. She was right, they did. Then we saw something that has struck both of us, nature at its most dangerous. Not for us, but for breeding birds. A Little grebe sat on its nest, we presumed it was sat on eggs; this didn’t look to be hatched young. When suddenly the adult left the nest and approached an approaching Coot. Coots will steal other bird’s eggs. Adult Coots will also kill the last born of their clutch to make sure the first born will survive. This is a very good survival technique. Coots are also very intolerant of other species. Back to the tale. The Coot approached the grebe and the Grebe immediately dived then came back to the surface and flicked water at the Coot, this went on for a while and the flicking became splashing the Coot got soaked. The Grebe at one point was really frantic and water was splashing everywhere. The energy this bird used must have been phenomenal. The Coot backed off. The Grebe returned to the nest. The Coot now knew where the nest was. I suspect this may have a sorry end. But the one thing that came across, the passion for making sure its young will survive, took over and to see such a small bird take on such a large bird in comparison was amazing to witness.
Whilst all this was going on there was no sign of the Heron. We waited and waited, most of the guys in the hide left there was only three of us left, and the third guy said he was going to try another hide closer to where the Heron had been seen earlier in the day. We all went down. It was now about 7.45 p.m. birds were going to roost, a couple of Swallows flew by, an amazing feeding party of Sand martins flew through catching the evening’s insects. We got chatting about birding in general and how frustrating it can be to see some birds. The third birder, who came from Leeds, and we never got his name, said how had waited 13 hours to see a Yellow warbler on the Scillies. My record to date was eight and a half hours for (wait for it) a Purple heron! We talked and the light was going and we all said time to go. It looked like another dip – to dip a bird is to miss seeing the bird; our Leeds friend had dipped on Purple heron three times. This looked to be my first dip. But just before we left I took one last look over the trees and reeds and from nowhere a Heron flew over the trees, I shouted Heron! I checked it to make sure it wasn’t a Grey, its back appeared grey, the light was fading it banked, I saw the long bayonet beak and long streaks down its throat and it was a lot slender than a grey, YES it was the Purple heron, a Yorkshire lifer for me. I have waited over ten years to see one in Yorkshire and there it was safely tucked away on my Yorkshire list. Life was good.
We tried to find the bird after it had landed, but it had disappeared into the reeds. We jumped in the car and drove from Tophill feeling very content, and also trying to avoid squishing Rabbits and Hares down the long to road towards Beverley. This morning as I typed this up, the pager went off, the message read E.Yorks Purple Heron at Tophill Low NR still on North Lagoon at 8.55am. As I write this two Bee-eaters are at Spurn and four seen in Todmorden on Monday.
I love spring!
Denso Marston Nature Reserve Warden
On the drive in to the reserve this morning I noticed an old couple on Baildon moor walking down to the village. As I past them I noticed the lady had in her hand a handful of litter, mainly crisp packets. These she will have picked up during her walk. This got me pondering, does she do this every time she is out and why does she do it? It is a very rare thing to see; someone picking litter because they want to or does she feel that she has to do so.
I think more likely she does it because nobody else does it. We are all guilty of this how many times have you come across litter and thought the dirty so and so’s and walked past it without picking it up?
This week we had the opportunity to join Liz Baily and her team of voluntary litter pickers who litter picked the riverside area from Focus to the bridge by Arch Builders, this is where we joined them to give them a hand. I must admit when I saw the amount of rubbish my heart sank, it took me back to when I was working a landscaper, where I spent most of my time litter picking instead of landscaping – that they say is another story.
The volunteers both ours and Liz’s did a Stirling job. It takes commitment to shift other peoples rubbish and also a sense of community which is sadly lacking in certain areas these days. With the work of volunteers like Liz’s and ours, the community is a better place all round.
I have Great tits calling in one tree and chiffchaffs in another tree. The first chicks of the year have appeared with 2 Moorhen chicks. Other birds are actively nest building like Blackbird and long tailed tits. About a week ago we almost had a new species of bird for site when 2 White Storks flew into Esholt sewage farm. These birds originate from Harewood house.
It is nice now that spring has arrived bees everywhere still causing identification headaches! The first butterflies have been seen with Small tortoishell,Peacock and comma. We did have plenty of frogspawn until the Mallards ate them! Hopefully some escaped. Toads have been seen making their way to the pond so hopefully they will breed. The gentleman below I encountered walking across the path, it was nice of him to stop for his picture to be taken.
He was a fine looking specimen as you can see it was also nice to see an adult most toads on site are youngsters.
There are lot of flowers in flower now and most of the trees are either in leaf or flower, here is an elm.
As April fast approaches I am hoping to cut the grass for the first time this year, it appears everywhere else the grass is growing except here. Tomorrow however rain is forecast. Then we will see.
To end this month’s ramblings I thought I’d include a scribbling which I wrote from the concert for birds.
Waiting for the swallows to arrive
Celandines open into an explosion of sunshine
Sweet cicely stings the taste buds with peppermint
Eyes look skyward for the first swallow
Freeing themselves buds break open
As daffodils begin to hang their heads
Not through sorrow, through continuation
For life, blackbirds play flutes to each other
As wrens clash swords their song
Cuts through the woodland
Amongst the spring snow thrown blackthorn
Dunnocks play merry go round
The peacock lands, stares at the sky
Through large wide eyes
Hoverflies hang loose
The shoot off like aliens on the run
Cherry blossom bursts out
Smell me smell me!
The robin whispers from within the thorn
And in the pond
Starved of sunshine the caddis drags his home
He watches as the pond skater’s stretch
The water beyond imagination
As the day ends, the song thrush winds
It’s self-up into song towards a sleepless dawn chorus
While everyone stares towards the sky
Waiting for the swallows to arrive
For life, blackbirds play flutes to each other
Denso Marston Nature Reserve Warden