Blog Archive (32) Posts Made in January 2018
Continued water works
Wednesday, January 31st 2018
We took off this morning where we left off last evening; with the excavator having wound its way all the way up to the Vole Ponds. Thankfully the pump was already set up from late yesterday so we could crack on with draining the lower pond.
Willie then set about clearing the silt that had built up at the bottom of the pond, making sure to leave patches of undisturbed vegetation.
While this was going on the pump was moved to the upper Vole Pond and some additional chainsaw work was needed to clear a path for the excavator.
Despite being smaller, the upper Vole Pond required a lot more attention due to the quantity of silt deposited at the bottom. Once the bulk of the silt had been removed the inlet to the ponds was reopened, and the upper pond quickly began to fill up again.
All that was left to do now was to get the excavator back to the trailer at the lay-by car park and to drive it round to the Cascade Ponds at the head of the Lake.
Unfortunately this was easier said than done, what with all but one of the team over at Warcop putting up owl boxes, and two immensely heavy sections of boardwalk in the way of us and excavator freedom.
Surprisingly we managed to get through the first section relatively easily, which is worth noting as it wasn't particularly fun or easy to lift between four people the day before!
And here's where our luck ran out a little bit; digging out the pond between the two boardwalk sections yesterday made it very difficult to get out of, even after draining the pond for a second time.
Thankfully Willie somehow managed to manoeuvre the excavator up the bank far enough to be able to attach a rope and pull the second section of boardwalk free.
Laboriously winding his way past net rides 61 and 62, Willie was then able to get to the road and circle back round to come into the reserve at the Moorland gate before making his way to the Cascading Ponds.
After a bit of tinkering with the ponds at the head of the Lake Willie was finished, having fixed the Wetland, Scrapes, Vole Ponds and Cascading Ponds for us in less than three days!
Many Thanks Willie
A hectic day
Tuesday, January 30th 2018
The morning started with the team back on the heath removing gorse and saplings, and getting thoroughly pitted in mud in the process.
Some ambitious members of the group even decided to tackle a few old and rather large stumps that had begun to send off runners in all directions.
While all of this was going on Willie was fixing the ponds at the wetland, and a few extra people continued to sort through and remove old timber from behind the workshop in order to turn the area back into a safe and useable timber store.
Half way through lunch we got a call from Willie who had really cracked on, finishing the wetland ponds much earlier than anticipated. This meant that we needed to rush out in order to prepare a route through the scrapes towards the vole pond for the digger.
No small task in itself, as it required lifting and carrying large sections of boardwalk to the side and securing any cables running underneath.
Once clear of boardwalks Willie was able to make his way through the scrapes doing what work needed to be done; in the meantime we had to get ahead of the game and cut a path through to the vole pond via net rides 17, 4 and 5.
Unfortunately, with half of the team in the process of cutting a way through to the Vvole pond, one of the tracks came off the digger meaning that we needed to down tools and head over to give Wille a hand getting it back on.
At this point Steve had to head over to Piave sharpish to give Tony a hand loading owl boxes in preparation for our big day out at Warcop tomorrow, but not before putting the boardwalks back to how they were.
Not too long afterwards Willie was catching up again and made it to the lower pond just in time for us to break the pull cord on the water pump (cue me running back to the workshop for the necessary tools and cord to fix it).
After another short maintenance break we were back on track and well prepared to start all over again first thing tomorrow morning.
Working on the Wetland with Willie
Monday, January 29th 2018
Today marked Willie's first day working on the Wetland for us, navigating a 'maze' of safe passages between the ponds.
Over the next couple of days he will be working to ensure that our interconnected ponds remain interconnected, and will also be helping to remove reed mace from pond 21 to the west of the Wetland Hide.
The job is further complicated by the presence of pillwort in and around pond 16 and the northern edge of 18, which will be avoided at all cost. Despite looking distinctly grass-like, Pillwort is an aquatic fern that is a declining specialist of bare pond edge habitat.
During the late afternoon the channel of pond 8 between 9 and 10 has been cleared and a number of sluices are now working as originally intended, with the water passing over them rather than under.
Whilst Willie cracked on with all of that we continued to make ready nest boxes for the fast approaching nesting season. The pictures below show the inside of one nest box that had been taken over by wasps, with the left showing the wasp nest in situ, and the right showing the rasp marks made by the wasps when constructing the nest.
Wasps usually target weathered, untreated wood, which they will chew and mix with saliva, thus softening the wood fibres and allowing it to be gathered. This wood pulp can then be moulded and arranged into a honeycombed pattern before being surrounded by a protective case.
There were a number of individuals in the nest, with the jury still out on what species of larvae were contained within
Another group of Hymenoptera were particularly busy today; the Foxglove honeybees decided that it was mild enough to venture outside en masse for a couple of hours either side of lunch before retreating to the warmth of the observation hide when the temperature dropped again in the afternoon.
A Damp Amble
Sunday, January 28th 2018
In the dull, brown, grey colours of winter anything different easily catches your eye. Walking across a bridge along Risedale Beck something yellowish stood out. Closer inspection found another Primrose in flower, although looking a little worse for wear after all the 'weather' it has withstood.
Gorse is coming into flower across the reserve, bright yellow against the dark green modified leaves.
Sheltered away, off the path, is a log upon which the Scarlet Elfcup grows. A look and it is beginning to show itself.
Although not colourful, it was a pleasure to see an Early Moth on the front of the Field Centre, the first for a considerable time.
Continuing the amble around the reserve, a colourful lichen, to be found on many of the stones along the access road, was photographed.
Water droplets can hang onto the smallest of plants and defy gravity.
RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch
Saturday, January 27th 2018
Volunteers arrived this morning with binoculars ready, to carry out the Bird Watch.
Not long after the hour had begun, Sparrowhawk flew through the garden and it took a little while for the birds to reappear. But with watchers also in the kitchen checking the feeders our list soon grew.
The final quarter of an hour saw us add Wood pigeon, Nuthatch and Jay to our list.
Only two Blackbirds were seen,
but seven Coal Tits were counted feeding.
Blue Tit was recorded with the highest number, eight, with Great Tit and Coal Tit following closely behind with seven sightings. Seventeen different species were observed.
Unfortunately we could not count the two Buzzards being harried by the corvids as they did not drop into the garden! Neither did the Moorhen, that can often be seen feasting under the feeders.
Thank you to everyone who helped today. The results will be sent off to the RSPB and they will also make the first recording in the Species List for 2018.
Another busy day at Foxglove
Friday, January 26th 2018
We now have a fully replenished seed store, much to the delight of Colin who has been out and about across the reserve filling up the feeders in time for the weekend and the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch on Saturday.
Aside from seed deliveries and feeding station top ups we were also busy sorting through the workshop and wood store, as well as pairing up and fixing net ride poles throughout the morning.
We've had a number of visitors to the Field Centre throughout the day, including this little Field Vole who didn't quite make it past the entrance.
And not long after we also caught more than a glimpse of another type of vole by the pond dipping platforms (sorry for the poor quality, the image is taken from a video that can be viewed on the Foxglove twitter account here).
In other news, we will be getting our wetland revamp next Monday (29.01.18) when Willy comes in to fix the dams. In preparation for this we have been putting in stakes to delineate the sluices and pipes that interconnect the different ponds.
Brash bashing and pothole packing
Thursday, January 25th 2018
As promised yesterday, the morning's task was to tidy up after the mess I made tidying up after storm Georgina. The team quickly removed the brash from alongside net rides 2 and 3 whilst another, smaller one man team, made a start filling in potholes along the main access route.
The brash bashing team then moved on to deal with another casualty of storm Georgina down by Risedale Beck, dragging the long willow whips to a small burn site further downstream.
Natural fractures caused when a tree loses a limb to storm damage can result in an array of effects on wood tissue at the wound, including fibre separation (along the grain) and splintering in various planes (linear, radial and circumferential). This occurrence creates microhabitats that are colonised by microorganisms and succession species.
The benefits of these features as habitat for many rare and declining tree colonising species is such that in recent decades the practice of replicating such damage has become more widespread. The term veteranisation was coined to describe such techniques whereby younger trees are “damaged” so as to speed up the process of production of valuable habitats, found otherwise only on very old trees.
With all of the brash successfully bashed the team split up after lunch, with some catching up with our lone pothole filler and others doing the rounds cleaning signs across the reserve.
Clearing up after Storm Georgina
Wednesday, January 24th 2018
It has been another morning of odd jobs around the reserve; from stock checking and checking nest boxes, to signage improvements and off site quad bike repairs.
Yesterday's work clearing ditches and the vole pond inlet has proved very successful, and just in time for today's downpours with the top pond still filling at 16:30 and getting close to its normal level.
Elsewhere the water level of the lake is as high as I would want to see it, although the mallards and moorhens seemed to be enjoying themselves and are still showing interest in the duck trap (fingers crossed).
In hindsight the late afternoon was probably not the best time to be tackling two big willows that had fallen over net rides 2 and 3 as it was surely the wettest part of today.
So much so that both of these images had to be significantly brightened in order to be able to make out what was going on!
Unfortunately rain stopped play late on, but not before I was able to clear both net rides of vegetation in preparation for potential bird ringing this weekend. All that's left to do tomorrow is to remove the brash and the job's a good'un!
The Thaw Sets In
Tuesday, January 23rd 2018
The rise in temperature over the last 24 hours meant that the snow that had been lying thickly around the Reserve had disappeared from large parts of it at the start of this morning. The moorland had lost its white covering and had instead become very wet as the water started to run off. This was a day for the Volunteers to start on a number of small tasks dealing with the aftermath of the snow.
With much of the water running across paths on the moorland and middle moor, the first task of the day was to dig out the small ditches alongside them to take the water away into the drainage system. Thanks to both the Volunteers and the group from the Dales School who helped with this. Once this had been done, it was amazing to see just how much water was rushing off these areas.
The opposite was true elsewhere. The Vole Ponds were clearly not getting enough water to feed them and the level in the top pond had fallen to expose the vegetation and silt. The inlet that feeds the ponds had become blocked with the large number of leaves washed down with the melting snow, not a difficult problem to solve, but needing both removal of leaves and digging out of some sediment that was blocking the lower half of the inlet pipe and restricting the flow.
Meanwhile, back on the Moorland there was also a chance to do some final work on the path resurfacing of the last few weeks, with an area that needed to be smoothed out being raked and compacted into place.
The snow had also left its mark on some of the young trees. A group of recently planted pines needed to be restaked as they had been weighed down by the snow.
Unfortunately, we have had a couple of these trees that have been too badly damaged, including one that has been completely ring -barked by deer. This means that the tree will not be able to supply sap and nutrient above the point where the bark has been stripped off, and so will have to be replaced. But, apart from that, this was a day of hard work that completed lots of small but very necessary jobs.
And we’re off!
Monday, January 22nd 2018
After weeks of setting the duck trap by the lake we finally had our first Foxglove moorhen of 2018!
After having no success with the duck trap over the last couple of weeks action was required; in the end all it took was a slight opening out of the entrance to the trap and voilà!
This lovely female moorhen was the first to be ringed at Foxglove in over a year, and had not been ringed previously. The only external characteristic that can be used to differentiate between male and female moorhens is wing length; this female had a wing length of 177mm, well below the 190mm threshold that would suggest the bird was male.
We were able to determine that she had hatched before the last calendar year due to the size of the culmen-shield; the extended red coloured upper margin of the beak between her eyes.
For the most part she was very well behaved, although Tony was right to warn me about her talons as she did get me once or twice, and boy are they sharp!
Aside from the exciting goings on at the Lake and inside the Ringing Room I was once again pulling along my little red sled most of the day, this time laden with tools, not seeds, as I went looking for nest boxes and net ride poles to fix and replace.
Many of the nest boxes on our list had been taken over by wasps, which were easy enough to deal with. There were also a number of boxes requiring waterproofing upgrades in preperation for the 2018 nesting season.
All but one of the boxes were easily fixed in situ, however number 12 had to come in for a major over haul.
Thankfully number 12 is now fixed and ready to go back out on the same tree, and as it was only the lid and back board of the box that needed replacing I'm hopeful that it will remain tempting.
On my travels I also came across a number of trees down by Risedale Beck with amazing cavities and ivy coverage; here's to hoping that the bats know about them!
Sunday, January 21st 2018
Another almost white blog, but with a difference.
These willow seed heads, just before releasing all of their white seeds, are visited by an insect - name totally unknown.
A White Plume Moth.
A Chinese Character moth which looks exactly like a bird dropping.
Flocks of Lottis often drop in at the feeders outside the kitchen. They only stay for a few minutes before flying off.
One of the last flowers to come into bloom is the beautiful Grass of Parnassus. Insects can often be found feeding from the nectar and pollen.
The white round seed head of a dandelion flower with a Green Veined White Butterfly.
Our Daisy patch along Risedale Beck in the height of summer.
First Ringing Day of the Year
Saturday, January 20th 2018
Eight trainee bird ringers took part in the first ringing day of January today at Foxglove Covert. Fourteen mist nets were put out just after 9.00 this morning at the start of a very successful day with over 200 birds being processed. As always, the activity attracted the attention of a number of visitors to the Field Centre who came to have a closer look at the birds and the ringing process.
While the day seemed to be dominated by large numbers of Titmice there were some scarcer species with Treecreeper, Reed Bunting, Wren, Robins and a Siskin among those in smaller numbers. What was noticable was the age of the birds; there was a 10 year-old Chaffinch, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Coal Tits all at 8 years old, and altogether 12 birds that were over 5 years old.
The female Great Spotted Woodpecker attracted a lot of attention from visiting families, many getting close to the birds, but this was one that people were happy to just watch from a distance!
The last birds were checked at around 4.00 this afternoon at the end of a very successful day. Many of the birds were ones that had been caught and ringed previously, but this does give us the chance to look at how the birds are faring and how long some of them can live.
Looking back to Summer
Saturday, January 20th 2018
The photos of Foxglove in the snow have been enjoyable, as it turns Foxglove into a magical world. Unfortunatetly my love of snow has decreased over the years, so I thought about summer and looked back to June to see what was about.
Orchids continue to surprise us and appear where they have not been seen before. A Northern Marsh Orchid was in bloom by the Bogbean pond. Unusual, as most of this species grows on the heath. Will it flower again this year, on its own or with others? Something to look out for.
Others bloom where we expect them to. This probable hybrid between Northern Marsh Orchid and Common Spotted Orchid was out on the wetland.
Ragged Robin can be seen throughout the Scrapes. It is a favourite flower of some people. Others are not impressed with its ragged appearance, especially after rain.
White seed heads of Cotton Grass, a sedge not a grass, can be seen gently moving in the breeze, releasing the seeds.
All that can be seen of this sedge now are the old stems and their reflections.
Greater Spearwort usually flowers through to late November but not last year.
Zigzag Clover is one of my favourite flowers. Its bright pink heads are attractive to bees.
Child’s play and winter wreckage
Friday, January 19th 2018
Although wonderful, the wintry weather makes even simple tasks that bit more difficult; something I soon realised when it came to filling the hoppers and bird feeders in preparation for this weekend's bird ringing escapades.
Thankfully there is an alternative to pushing wheelbarrows full of seed through snow drifts and over patches of ice…
And so this morning saw me trudging back and forth with my little red sled laden with hopper and feeder seed; who knew a child's sled could be such a useful practical tool!
Here's to hoping that I can convince everyone of our dire need for a good sledging field in time for next year!
After filling the hoppers and bird feeder, and falling in the odd ditch, it was time to carry out an extended check for snow damaged trees across the reserve.
It has been a great day to walk the Green route, with interesting contrasts between the bare sun dappled ground and the odd patches here and there where snow has managed to get through the branches of the plantation trees.
Thankfully all but one of the trees that have fallen across paths in the last couple of days were easily dealt with using hand tools, with the brash being added to existing habitat piles.
Having spotted the tree that had come down across the dog's leg track today we were able to sort it out before tomorrow's bird ringing. Had it not been spotted it would have made getting to some of the net rides a bit treacherous, something I found to my peril as I fell in yet another ditch hidden by deep snow.
Before long the offending limbs had been removed and the track was once again open for business.
Fingers crossed for a good bird ringing day tomorrow!
Thursday, January 18th 2018
Heavy overnight snowfall meant that Foxglove was covered in up to 5 inches (125 cms) of snow, and looked particularly stunning as the early morning sun lit up the landscape. That was if you had the chance to stand and stare at it as the conditions were also causing chaos on the roads leading to Catterick Garrison. The depth of snow also meant that attempting to drive along the Reserve's access road was only for the brave or foolhardy with vehicles being parked outside the gate.
The snow covered much of the Moorland but Taurus and Lark had little problem in scraping it to one side to find plenty to eat. Looking at where they had been walking to find food showed that most of their hoof prints had exposed vegetation, quite possibly as a result of the combination of their weight and heat from the hoof.
The amount of snow that fell can be seen on the signs and bridge near to the Outdoor Classroom, but this also had an effect on a number of trees. Many of the species with softer wood such as Silver Birch and Willow were bent over under the weight of the snow, making following the footpaths almost an obstacle course. Some had suffered even more, an a Willow next to the Lake had a branch overhanging the trail which had snapped and had to be removed.
Despite the conditions, we did have one Volunteer who made it in to help with work today, so thanks to Peter for his efforts to get here. The first task today was to help sort out parking around the entrance gate and to get cars properly parked on the Square. After that it was important to make sure that the bird feeders were full in the Field Centre garden and at the hides, so a sled was deployed to carry the bird seed and peanuts.
The final task was to continue with the cleaning and tidying of the store for nest boxes. This meant taking them all out, sweeping and vacuuming the floor and then putting around 40 boxes back in their assorted designs. Poles for the net rides were also checked and sorted. This has been a job on the 'to do' list for some time, so the snowy conditions made today an ideal time to get that one ticked off!
Footprints in the Snow
Wednesday, January 17th 2018
You know the day is going to be interesting when a Pheasant appears to be playing 'chicken', apparently deliberately waiting until it can fly across your oncoming car and be missed by as close a margin as possible. In this case, the margin was down to a couple of millimetres. The snow added both to the difficulty in driving conditions and to the scenic quality of the Reserve. First light revealed several sets of tracks in the snow. Heading out to the Moorland, Fox prints followed the path almost to the gate onto the Middle Moor and showed the change from a gentle trot to a run. At one point, this track was crossed by a fresher set of Roe Deer slot marks, with the outline being more defined.
However, on the boardwalk going through the Scrapes, the snow was in pristine condition for much of the way except for where two Roe deer slot marks suggested that the deer had jumped onto the boardwalk and immediately off the other side as the toes were splayed wide. Roe Deer, Fox, Rabbit and Pheasant prints were the most obvious and were found over many parts of the Reserve including Risedale Beck, the Moorland and the Scrapes.
Moving on to the Lake which is still free of ice, the resident Mallard have been joined by others coming in, and there were at least 16 there during the day and had been joined by two Dabchicks. These were seen on the way to do further work on the trees near the Lake that needed ties and re-staking. After that, the three Junipers were checked after their move out from the Heathland yesterday with two of the Volunteers carefully transplanting them to a new location next to the access road.
This left time to make a start on the Bird Box Store in one of the cabins that remains from previous years at Foxglove Covert before the Field Centre was built.
This is still watertight, and so a range of nest boxes can be stored in here. However, it does need a good sort out to clean it inside and to take stock of what boxes we have. So, although there may be snow on the ground, thoughts are already turning to Spring and the nesting season, and care and maintenance of the nest boxes around the Reserve and beyond will become an increasing part of our work in the next weeks.
Another day of Heath tidying
Tuesday, January 16th 2018
Continuing on from Saturday's work tidying up the Heath we got to work chopping and removing the last pile of brash, all the while adding to it by uprooting more saplings that have taken hold in the ditches of the north paddock.
The snow didn't hold off for long, and very soon it was coming in sideways making the whole job that bit more difficult (especially if you were foolish enough to forget your gloves, as I did this morning).
After getting thoroughly pitted in mud, and having finally taken the last trailer of brash over to the burn site, the subsequent fire was a most welcome treat after a hard days graft.
Although the snow has now abated, it continued to come down heavily throughout the mid afternoon but never really threatened to put the fire out.
Blue Skies after the Rain
Monday, January 15th 2018
As is so often the case, Monday is a quiet day after a busy Sunday, and where there had been well over 20 visitors yesterday, there were only a couple seen today. Perhaps the weather at the start of the day put people off. The persistent heavy rain for the early part of the morning meant that Risedale Beck was swollen and carrying a lot of sediment so that its normal clear water was an opaque light brown.
The force of the water would probably not account for one discovery, with the clay pad missing from the Mink raft in the Scrapes. This was in the water next to the raft and so it was an easy job to return it to its rightful place. It's likely that somebody's curiosity got the better of them and they had tipped the raft to see what was inside and the clay pad fell out.
The Mink rafts are a good way of seeing if there are any Mink or other predators around, as they will make use of the platform to have a look around. Thankfully, there are rarely signs of Mink as they will hunt the Water Voles.
By late morning even the showers had died down to be replaced by sunshine. The Heathland was being used by one of its regular inhabitants with a male Kestrel using one of the Scots Pine as a vantage point. Another trying its luck in one of the small pools on the Heathland was a Grey Heron, which flew off as it was disturbed.
Apart from checking the Reserve after the weekend, there was also time to work through the trees planted near to the Lake Hide. Some of these have suffered in recent winds and have been blown over. A simple task for the afternoon was to work along the bank containing some of these trees, putting on stakes and ties to support them to grow in an upright position.
This is a quick and simple job to do, but is very important as it will allow the trees to move in the wind without being blown over and so will encourage them to develop a wider spreading root system to anchor themselves in the ground.
A Gentle Stroll
Sunday, January 14th 2018
It has been dark and grey and black and dark grey for days, but there was something in the sky that caught my eye this afternoon - it was blue! Blue Sky!!!!! Unfortunately it did not last long.
There were many visitors who enjoyed walking around the reserve no matter what the weather.
The lake was quiet, with just the odd call of a Moorhen. Whilst watching a pair of Mallard courting, a movement caught my eye. A Goldcrest was searching for food amongst the vegetation in front of the lake hide. I was really pleased to achieve this photograph, even with all those pesky branches in the way.
It was a bit of a shock to the system to walk out onto the moor from the relative shelter of the central part of the reserve. Not only was the wind blowing but it was really cold. Usually the Moles tunnel along the edges of paths, where we presume the soil is less compacted. Looking at the square of mole hills I let my imagination wander and I fancifully thought that there could have been a house built on our moor at one time.
I have mentioned that most of the Holly berries have been eaten from the trees in the centre of the reserve. Out on the moor, in the ancient hedgeline, a Holly tree, as usual, is still covered in berries. Are they not ripe, not sweet enough or do they just taste plain nasty?
Although the Phragmities are brown and can look dull there are times when the light catches them and they look beautiful. I was pleased with this photogrpah showing the reeds at their best.
Out on the woodland trail the Hart's Tongue Fern found last year is still doing well and another, smaller plant was also found a lilttle distance away. We must have walked past it several times and not noticed it. So much for being observant!
There is one Hazel tree near the Stone Pile that always opens its catkins early. They were open at the beginning of the month but no female flowers could be found. A tiny spec of red heralded the open female flower this week.
Reserve presentation work
Saturday, January 13th 2018
Sometimes the little things matter a great deal. We spent the first part of the day wandering the reserve replacing old signs with new laminated ones, all of which will now follow the same design.
Many of the older signs did not stand the test of time, so here's hoping that the new laminated ones last a lot longer!
After our meanderings, and a brief stop at the Wetland Hide to watch the Heron, we ventured up onto the Moorland to see the ponies. Maybe it was the abundance of sheep, or perhaps a visiting canine, but both Lark and Taurus seemed a little reserved at first before eventually coming over to say hello.
It was nice to have a relatively relaxed start to our Saturday on the reserve, but in the afternoon we knuckled down and busied ourselves with removing hawthorn from the Heath.
Encroachment by trees and scrub is one of the biggest threats to heathland in this country, which is why it's so important to ensure that Hawthorn and other saplings do not take over. The aim is to maintain a diverse vegetational structure and to promote appropriate soil disturbance; in this way the very act of dragging the brash out of the paddocks will help our Heath.
There's a little more Hawthorn to come out, but we're well on our way to finishing up.
I'm very much looking forward to seeing our heathland plant community thrive along with the many incredible invertebrates, reptiles, birds and mammals that also call our incredible heaths home.
Testing the water
Friday, January 12th 2018
Part of today has been taken up with routine maintenance work on power tools which included a trip to Sam Turner and Sons to drop off the brushcutters to be serviced. A new thermostat has also been fitted in the Field Centre to improve the heating as some rooms can be a lot colder than others. While all this was going on, Colin was continuing his rounds filling the bird feeders and putting out apples on the Water Vole rafts.
Work to remove some of the stands of Hawthorn and Willow that have been taking over one part of the Heathland has now been completed. This will leave three small clumps that will include Oak and Holly as well as the Hawthorn. This area will still need to have the Birch regrowth cut back in the next week, while the cut material will be removed and burnt off-site. The two stakes with orange tape on them mark the location of two of three Junipers which will be transplanted out of the Heathland onto an adjacent site.
And now a spot the difference competition! There was still time this afternoon to start work on clearing Reedmace out of one of the Wetland ponds near to the Wetland Hide. With the (slightly!) warmer weather the pond is now clear of ice, so the vegetation on the shallower side of the pond was earmarked for removal. At first, the water seemed to be comparatively warm. However, as it was still close to freezing, the work only lasted for 30 minutes but this is still a case of getting small wins. The milder weather is set to continue at the start of next week, so further work maybe able to take place for a short period before the icy weather returns on Tuesday or Wednesday. If anyone likes the idea of Scandinavian saunas, this may be just the job for you!
While doing this, it was clear that there has been a lot of military activity taking place next to the Reserve this afternoon, with rifle fire, parachute flares and red smoke grenades going off. Most of the wildlife in the Reserve appeared to take this in its stride, with the Exmoor ponies contentedly munching the Moorland grass and three Roe Deer quietly making their way along one of the paths towards the Scrapes, apparently quite happy to tolerate human presence comparatively close to them.
Gorse bashing on the wetland
Thursday, January 11th 2018
It may have taken longer than a morning, but removing (almost) all of the gorse from the wetland within 24 hours is pretty good going!
The team put in a really good shift today; following the brushcutter around, raking and gathering the gorse cuttings, all the while trying their best not to fall into the pools.
Stumbling back and forth through the pools made me think of marshes described by Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings; thankfully however there was little evidence of 'Cold clammy winter' today with the weather being just right for such strenuous activities.
My only regret has been that I forgot to take a picture of the wetland before we started working this morning as the difference made in one day would have been a nice addition to this blog post!
Opening up the wetland by removing the gorse and managing the sward in the run up to Spring will hopefully encourage breeding wading birds to return to the Reserve as we are now on track for repair works to be carried out in the coming weeks.
A stop-start day
Wednesday, January 10th 2018
It was another quiet night for moths last night with only a few midges and no moths found inside the trap; thankfully two Early Moth were captured outside of the trap at the front of the field centre.
Unfortunately we had no luck with the duck trap either, however there has been a lot of interest over the course of the day from the mallards and moorhens that have been enjoying the feed scattered on the banks over the last week or so. Here's to hoping that we're able to trap and ring some soon!
Aside from the traps it's been a stop-start kind of day, with lots of machine maintenance interspersed with many odd jobs around the Reserve. There has been more effort put into tidying up the heath after yesterday's volunteer task, along with a concerted effort to knocking back big patches of juncas grass near to the orchard.
Juncus are especially good at colonising boggy soil, but are also able to ride out the odd dry spell. It's for these reasons that it is often planted in rain gardens designed for bioretention purposes so as to allow stormwater runoff to be absorbed, and contaminants and sediments to be removed. Despite these interesting properties juncas grass will take over if allowed to do so.
The late afternoon has been given over to tackling gorse on the wetlands using various bits of kit, with the aim to continue with this task, and to remove cut gorse from the wetland as part of tomorrow's volunteer task before returning to the heath in the afternoon.
Removing the gorse from the wetland will (and has already) make a huge difference aesthetically, unfortunately you will have to take my word for it until tomorrow as even I was too distracted to take pictures this afternoon!
Jobs Well Done
Tuesday, January 9th 2018
The Tuesday Volunteers got stuck into a range of jobs today, but the first task was to have a quick check on Lark and Taurus to see how they had settled into their new surroundings. They are both clearly fascinated by the sheep on the other side of the boundary fence although the decision about whether to continue with this or enjoy a piece of carrot was clearly not a difficult one to make! They are only given treats like this when they are being checked over as we hope that they will not identify people as a source of food, so again we do ask people not to feed them. Once it was obvious that they were doing well then it was back to get the work started.
The first task was along the Woodland Trail, and two of the volunteers repaired a section of boardwalk where one of the boards had become rotten and snapped. This was soon removed and replaced, with the netting then secured to make sure that the boardwalk would not become slippery. And so on to the next task, with a Sitka Spruce having been damaged during Storm Eleanor, splitting along the lower half of the trunk and leaning into surrounding trees, known as being 'hung up'.
Because the tree had split, which proved to be due to rot at the centre of the trunk, and was hung up, this was not going to be a straighforward job. Having cut through the trunk, the tree was rolled off the stump and then had to be levered and pulled backwards to allow it to drop down. This required all of the six volunteers to pull on the rope while Ian guided its progress and helped lift it over the roots of other trees using a long pole as a lever.
Once it was safely down, the tree's limbs were removed and it was cut into lengths for the volunteers to stack neatly. The stump was then cut to leave in a tidy condition. After a quick break for coffee, the next job was to continue with work on the Heathland and carry on from the work there on Saturday's Worky Day.
Working on cutting he Birch and Willow regrowth included taking out large areas with the brushcutter, but also had the volunteers clearing smaller areas by hand with loppers and secateurs. By walking through the areas where the seed was broadcast on Saturday, this has also helped tread some of the seed into the ground although it has already become difficult to see where much of the seed was scattered.
On the other side of the access road, dealing with the Hawthorns that have started to shade out some of the Heathland was also part of the work task. The ones next to the road have now been cut down and the resulting material will be removed from this enclosure. The aim is to leave two or three small clumps of Hawthorn together with an Oak that is growing well, so that there will be shelter when livestock is put in here to graze again, but reduce the cover of Hawthorn and taller Birch by about half to encourage growth of the Heathland plant community.
Finding Food in the Frost
Monday, January 8th 2018
Yesterday was a busy day day at Foxglove Covert with around 40 visitors to the Reserve. Today promised to be another good day, starting with a very heavy frost which attracted visitors throughout the day, but making it more difficult to find food. Lark and Taurus did their normal ritual of standing next to the Wetland Hide to catch the first rays of the sun before moving on to browse the Gorse. Watching Lark at work showed that he needed to break and bruise the plant first by stamping on it before eating it. Taurus had no such inhibitions and was tearing off lumps to eat.
Clearly the frost took a long time to clear, covering much of the Reserve with ice. There were several family groups walking round just to admire the views before making use of the faciilities in the Field Centre, and we had at least 16 visitors today, many saying that this was their first visit and they would be coming back soon.
Here some were treated to the views from the camera on the Wetland Hide which had caught our attention as there was a tall thin line which was not normally there and which then moved to show itself as a Grey Heron. Focusing on the bird showed interesting behaviour when it first noticed the ponies. Initially both were wary of each other, but then the Heron seemed to start stalking them. The picture below is taken of the Field Centre screen, so is a little bit blurred, but shows the bird making its way over to start feeding between Lark and Taurus, and it seemed to be working over areas that they had just been either walking or feeding on.
Going to check how the bonfire had settled over at the Bullet Catcher from the Worky Day on Saturday showed it was still glowing and so a quick raking in of wood that had not caught fire meant that this could now be burnt as well. Again, a bird arrived to join in with the activity, with a Robin almost going into the fire to see if there was anything to eat.
Towards the end of the day, Susanna of the Yorkshire Exmoor Ponies Trust came to check on Lark and Taurus. It was decided that they should move from the Wetland to the Moorland. Thankfully, both know Susanna, so there was little difficulty in her catching them and getting head collars on.
They moved over quietly before cantering off to explore their new surroundings. Lark discovered that there were sheep the other side of the fence and gave them a meaningful stare before settling to graze. They have plenty to eat in the Moorland, and a good supply of running water, so we are putting signs up asking visitors to keep dogs on leads and not to feed them.
Thoughts of Summer
Sunday, January 7th 2018
Putting the finishing touches to the species list for 2017 made me think back to the summer, full of colour and warmth, well warmth some of the time. Winter colours tend to be rather monotonous, so I thought a blog of summer colour to brighten up the winter days.
Thistles, whilst proving at times to be a weed, provide food for insects including this Small Skipper. On one day in the middle of July 118 of these butterflies were recorded on the butterfly transect.
Brimstone butterflies were frequent visitors and were most co-operative in sitting still.
Fine green leaves almost suddenly appear and then there is a profusion of white flowers carpeting the sides of Risedale Beck. Greater Stitchwort has opened its buds.
The far moor was covered in white umbels of Pignut
In 2016 there were one or two Rayed Knapweed on the moor, last year there were many more of these beautiful flowers.
Searching under leaves many bugs and beasties can be found, including this Cucumber Spider.
The total number of species is now 2687, with 65 new species being added during the year. There are 557 moth species and 352 fungi species, included in that total. When will we find our first new species of 2018 and how many will we have by the end of the year? Lots of looking, searching, watching, rooting and walking will be needed by our dedicated species hunters! Thank you for all your work this year in adding to our species list.
January Worky Day
Saturday, January 6th 2018
Although the freezing wind from the North was not as cold as anticipated, the water temperature in the Wetland ponds was too low for anyone to work in them, so the alternative tasks highlighted yesterday were put into operation. Sixteen volunteers were out today and made an excellent contribution to managing some of the Reserve's habitats.
The volunteers split into three groups. One group moved to the Heathland to scatter the three bags of heather seed taken from the North Pennines. The Heathland is predomiantly the common Heather or Ling (Calluna vulgaris), and the seed contained this and one of the Erica species. Ideally, the Heathland should contain both Erica species found in the Yorkshire Dales, North Pennines and the North York Moors, Bell Heather (Erica cinerea) and Cross-leaved heath (Erica tetralix). By scattering the seed this should diversify the heathland plant community.
Each of the heathland sections was further divided using tape so that the seed in each bag could be shared to give the same coverage of seed in each area. This was particularly important in those areas where there was little or no heather growing, while a more random pattern was used to fill in gaps among the taller heather.
The seed was broadcast by hand, and is so fine that it had to be released very close to the ground to make sure that the wind could not take it too far. After a while, we became quite proficient in using the wind to help get a good spread. We will need to go back into the heathland during this week to cut the Birch and Willow that is growing there together with the small patches of Gorse remaining after Lark and Taurus had been there. This will help work some of the Heather seed into the ground so that we will have a mix of seed on the surface and in the soil which should give a good chance for it to grow.
Another group went to the bullet catcher to burn the cuttings that had been left there from previous work. Given how wet it had been in the last few days, lighting a fire was easier said than done, and it took the best part of the morning session to get the fire going.
But once it did get going, we were well away and all the cuttings that had built up over the last few months were burnt, together with rotten timber that could no longer be used around the reserve. Care was taken with the fire to keep it sufficiently small not to cause heat damage to the surrounding trees.
The third group completed the Gorse clearance job near to Hague Bridge. One side of the footpath still needed the Gorse to be cleared and there were other small patches which, when cut, would add to those removed just over a week ago. All of this was then also burnt, leaving a much more open area amongst the trees.
This was a really good day's work, with all of the work targets achieved, and everyone both enjoying themselves and feeling that a good job had been done. A big thank you to all the volunteers today for a huge effort which has made a significant contribution to managing the reserve's habitats.
Doing these tasks rather than the ponds proved a good decision - a final quick job was to unblock the inlet to the Vole Ponds, and, although this only took 10 seconds, it took a lot longer for hands to warm up again!
Preparation and Planning
Friday, January 5th 2018
Tomorrow is our first WInter Worky Day of the year, and we have at least 15 people booked to come along to help with management of the Reserve. Part of the day is getting everybody together over lunch, so preparation for the day includes ordering food as well as planning the tasks, together with getting the portakabin ready for people to eat there.
Weather can also be an important factor in deciding the tasks, and, given the forecast for tomorrow, this has been the case. One of the most time critical jobs to be done is to complete removal of vegetation, especially Reedmace, from the ponds on the Wetland nearest to the hide. looking at the ponds just now, they still have a thinlayer of ice on them and the wind is going to strengthen and shift to coming from the north. That means that working on the ponds is highly unlikely as anyone doing this will become cold very quickly, but the work must be completed by the end of January so will be done whenever there is a window of opportunity during the month.
So part of tomorrow's work will be seeding the heathland with heather seed sourced in the North Pennines. Again this is an important job to get done this month. This will be broadcast onto the areas where the Exmoor ponies have eaten much of the vegetation, and will require dividing the area up and weighing the seed to make sure that the correct amount of seed is scattered over each of the three heathland areas. More will follow on this tomorrow. Another important job to do tomorrow is to burn some of the material that has been cut and stacked over the last few months.
We are also planning work for the week ahead for both staff and volunteers. The area of woodland planting above desperately needs to be managed. you may be able to see two trees in tubes, together with two Oaks on the left of the picture. The rest of the vegetation is made up of Bramble, and self-seeded Scots pine, Sitka Spruce and Silver Birch. Some of these are at least 5 years old and there is a danger that they can take over the area by crowding out the slower growing trees.
As both the Birch and the Spruce spread so prolifically in open areas (with Birch being a very effective colonising species), thinning the area will take a staged approach. The Bramble needs to be cut back first, followed by removal of the Spruce. Once this has been done, then we can gauge how much of the Birch will need to be removed. Work on this will start on Monday, so one of next weeks blogs should feature this picture again and show the results of our efforts.
Odd jobs and quick wins
Thursday, January 4th 2018
We've been cracking on with and completing many odd jobs of late, alongside the now completed moorland path works.
The recent work carried out to improve the views of the waterfowl platform from the lake hide, coupled with more regular spreading of feed has already proved successful and is well worth the time taken to complete.
Staying with the lake, the duck trap is now cleaned and ready to use. We are likely to start catching and adding to the three Mallard, four Moorhen and one Teal that were ringed on Monday over the coming weeks!
At the moorland edge within the mixed conifer and broadleaved woodland we've been keeping busy righting trees, some of which have then been re-righted after storm eleanor came in and undid some of our hard work. Many of the Scots Pine have been under planted in these areas in order to provide more shelter and bolster the wind shield effect of the existing Larch trees.
Hopefully these Scots Pines will be better prepared to weather the next storm that rolls in off of the moorland, until then the rubber tree ties should do the trick.
Work has also been carried out to remove Gorse around the edges of the heath, and to take out brambles and saplings on the heath and within the ditches that criss-cross them. Despite a really good go at the north west paddock there is still a fair bit to remove!
Another big piece of work that has been well overdue and that I am very happy to have got stuck into is the removal of vegetation from around the Heligoland trap. Work was ongoing well after dusk yesterday to cut back vegetation from the edge closest to the road, which has now been crosscut and removed.
It was great to get all of this removed, it won't be long before we start work within the trap itself and finish off what's left to do on the other side.
Aside from all of this we've had great views of the Sparrowhawk during coffee and lunch break today, swooping in regularly and scattering the birds in all directions.
Unfortunately, despite great views none of us were able to get a good picture of her due to the poor light and weather conditions we've been subjected to!
A Flower Walk with a Difference
Wednesday, January 3rd 2018
We set off on our flower walk, to look for flowers. I had decided that the Red Campion along Risedale Beck did not pass the flower test, but I was persuaded, or should that be out-voted, that it did!
In January we had to agree that flowers were scarce, so we found other things to look at and learn about. This is a Dog Lichen, one of the Peltigera species. Discussion amongst some experts is still going on as to which species it actually is.
Walking up the quad bike track looking at the dead hedge is always of interest. Although many leaves of Herb Robert, not a flower was seen. A Frilly Lettuce, Platismatia glauca was noticed. Looking up its correct name it can also be called Ragged Platismatia. It was last recorded on 29th September 2015.
A fungi that we see quite often is Turkey Tail.
Another is Candlesnuff Fungus, with its white tips,
which turn black once the white spores have been released.
A small furry moss was photographed and unusually the spore cases were held quite close to the moss leaves and not well above them. Again there are variations on its common name, Grey Hair Moss or Grey-cushioned Grimmia. Looking this up in the Species List it was recorded on a boulder along the access track in May 2012. It is still there!
Our wanderings took us through the Scrapes where the sun was catching the Phragmities.
Whilst looking at the ice still remaining on the Voley Pond some holes were observed in an old stem of Bulrush or Reedmace (Typha latifolia). Moving further down the stem it became apparent that the inside of the stem had possibly been eaten. Carefully moving an old piece of leaf, an empty pupa case was found. Some investigation was required. We do have Bulrush Wainscot Moth recorded in Sept 2008 and further searching revealed that this moth pupates in the stems of Bulrush. So possibly an exciting find. Another visit is required and some good photographs needed for possible confirmation.
Thank you to the volunteers who wandered around and were able to add many species to the January Observation Board.
Yesterday the bird ringers were at another site and in the duck trap were three Mallard and nine Moorhen, possibly a record. A good start to the bird ringing year.
Working Whatever the Weather!
Tuesday, January 2nd 2018
They say that we are obsessed with the weather in this country. Given the heavy rain that moved in this morning, that's not really a surprise. It was to the credit of the three volunteers in today that they stuck to the task throughout the morning and continued to move the stone material on to the path to complete one section between bridges on the Moorland.
This has now completed a section of 110 metres of new surfacing, with much of the material being moved with wheelbarrows from a point where the quad bike and trailer could reach. The surface has been compressed down using a vibrating plate and at one point was being done in front of an appreciative audience as a family from Leicester walked past. However, they weren't sufficiently appreciative to join in despite the invitation!
So back to the weather. The rain eased off this afternoon, allowing work to continue in better conditions, but as Storm Eleanor is due to pass through tonight with gusts predicted of up to 80 miles per hour, the moth trap won't be going out tonight.
And back to volunteers. It is one of our Winter Worky Days on Saturday, and food for lunch has to be ordered a couple of days in advance. If you are interested, or intend coming along, and have not yet put your name down for this, please could you do so tomorrow so that the food order can be put in.
Happy New Year
Monday, January 1st 2018
I had the blog for the first day of 2018 almost planned in my head but then the duck trap at another site yielded some photos as did the walk around Foxglove, plus news about ringing for 2017, so all change.
Firstly the duck trap. Three Mallard, four Moorhen and this Teal were ringed today.
The combination of feathers in the wing show that it is an adult bird.
Whilst the duck trap is emptied and the data collected the Mute Swans get fed!
All the bird ringing data for 2017 has now been entered. Numbers are down, a consequence of the poor weather almost all year long (which they were saying at the BTO Ringers' Conference will be a feature of 'normal' expected weather patterns in the future) and linked to that we did fewer Mipits (at the Crater) and fewer Stormies, as the second visit to Cape Wrath could not go ahead.
We ringed 5915 new birds and retrapped 2485 bringing the combined total to 8400. The number of species ringed was 94.
There were many birds today in the back garden including Moorhen, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Greenfinch and Dunnock. Blackbirds were making the most of the thawed ground. A Robin sporting its ring was keeping watch to see what fell from the feeders..
Out on the reserve, some ponds, including the Voley Pond, were still covered in ice. Snow was still to be seen - more to come?
In the Scrapes the still, ice free water showed many reflections.
A mixture of sun, cloud, rain and warmth brought out swarms of tiny flies. On the rails of the bridges were Stoneflies and this very small Globular Springtail.
At the other end of the size scale were the Roe Deer. Three were walking quietly by the pools at the head of the lake, but because of the pesky branches it was difficult to get a shot in focus. We noticed yesterday that their coats are really thick and wooly at the moment no doubt keeping them warm during the bleak winter weather.
I was asked by the Botany Recorder for VC 65 to check on any flowers flowering for the BSBI New Year Plant Hunt. I recorded Daisy, Gorse and Primrose. Greater Spearwort and Red Campion that sometimes manage to remain in flower through to the New year failed! But amazingly I did find Water Figwort passing the flower test.
There is one place where Cuckoo Pint (Lords and Ladies) comes into leaf early. I looked last week and could not see a single leaf, today it was there!
As I left the reserve there was a beautiful sky, but it was cold and unsettled.