The pitfalls of wildlife recording.

June 13th. Warm, muggy and now decidedly midgey.

Whilst we were having a wander around yesterday, a kind gent was trying to install some ‘pitfall’ traps to sample creepy-crawlies. I hope you appreciate my technical terms?

Pitfall traps are designed to catch insects, spiders, flies etc so they can later be identified. They do kill whatever falls into them, but this is currently the standard way that records are collected. It’s certainly uncomfortable having to take specimens, but it leads to a much better understanding of the biota (the things that live there) of an area than anything else. The ‘greater good’ argument. They are basically a cup, buried to the lip so creatures fall and are killed with a solution in the cup. Not ideal..BUT watch this space, as we are going to trial some DNA sampling this summer. More on this in a later blog.

After the earlier walk I offered to help install a series of traps. Digging them in next to the river we were attacked by midges. But when those were installed we moved onto less midgey territory. Once installed we decided to look for a rare spider that has recently been spotted in Swaledale. Getting our feet wet on a roastingly hot afternoon (for us upland types) was rather pleasant. Below is a pic of a spider similar (probably) to the one we were looking for.

The pitfall raps will be removed next week and results will be published here and on our ‘archive’ page.

We also found another oystercatcher on eggs and a pair of Large red damselfly.

Bird ringing demonstration…nah another walk around.

Sunday 13th June. Very warm and sticky. Part 1.

Sadly no one had booked to come on our bird ringing demonstration walk. So we reorganised and had a wander around with a chap (and his wife) who had expressed an interest in the project and who is the Director of the Wildland Research Institute. Find Steve on Twitter @LandEthics

We had another lovely few hours. We found the oystercatchers nest mentioned yesterday and came across a slow worm (which looks like a snake but is actually a legless lizard).

Hopefully we can work with him and his colleagues at Leeds University to further our understand and knowledge of the cluster.

Oh, and he brought me some ‘chicken of the woods’ fungi which I later coated in panko breadcrumbs mixed with a spice/herb mix I’d made, and created ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken …of the Woods’ so he can come again.

Recipe available if you ask nicely!

A good mooch around.

Saturday 12th June.

Saturday was the first day of our BioBlitz (or BioSkirmish as is my preferred name). We had arranged to meet a group of folk, many local, to show them around the cluster and explain what we are attempting to do, how we will attempt to do it and why we will probably get a lot wrong along the way.

I arrived half an hour early and managed to see the the cluster’s first common blue butterfly of the year. Sadly it didn’t reappear on our walk.

It was a lovely afternoon and after introductions and the mandatory ‘spiel’ (stating the bleedin’ obvious about watching what you are doing) we set off. Ragged robin was flowering. Oystercatchers called nearby, probably nesting so we quickly moved on. Yellow rattle and greater burnet were both noticed and were the first specimens to be ‘officially’ recorded for the cluster. Surprisingly there were some primrose still in flower.

Yellow rattle is an interesting plant. It is a ‘semi-parasite’ which feeds on grasses. it can reduce yield in a hay crop by 50%. It slows the growth rate of coarse grasses but that means that more wild flowers get a chance to flower. So if you want to cut down on your lawn mowing AND get more wildflowers in your lawn, get some yellow rattle sown. A win win situation if, like me, you hate grass cutting. A quick look here should tell you all you need to know.

I was too busy chatting to take any pix of the group and after a good walk and 3 hours of chat we parted.

Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and we got a nice thank you message later in the day from one of the group.

Thanks to everyone who came.

Wood Pasture.

“Wood-pasture and parkland are mosaic habitats valued for their trees, especially veteran and ancient trees , and the plants and animals that they support. Grazing animals are fundamental to the existence of this habitat. Specialised and varied habitats within wood- pasture and parkland provide a home for a wide range of species, many of which occur only in these habitats, particularly insects, lichens and fungi which depend on dead and decaying wood. Individual trees, some of which may be of great size and age, are key elements of the habitat and many sites are also important historic landscapes”

That is part of the official description of the rare and valuable habitat that is wood pasture or ‘silvo-pastoral agro-forestry’ as it is also known. The full description is here.

The cluster would once have been wood pasture. In Andrew Fleming’s excellent book ‘Swaledale, Valley of the wild river’ there is a map showing what the land use was in medieval times. I have overlaid this on the current OS map and as you can see it shows clearly the extent of wood pasture many years ago.

Overlay reproduced (with permission) from “Swaledale, Valley of the wild river” by Andrew Fleming

Interestingly enough the north western edge pretty much mirrors that of the Heggs Farm part of the cluster. The land to the west of Heggs has very few established trees, whereas on Heggs, there are many old trees and it looks very like what wood pasture should look like.

Through careful use of grazing and replanting we hope to enhance what we already have and re-establish what wood pasture would have been there. This is something I would love to see so much more of in the Two Dales.

Sunday peregrination.

A clear blue sky and the first warm Sunday of the year. Reeth was very busy as I drove up to the peace that is the Heggs Castle Cluster for a wander, or a ‘peregrination’ as some would have it. The last couple of days has seen a large arrival of swallows in the dale, so I went looking for other migrant birds.

I didn’t hear the cuckoo which has been calling recently behind Heggs House, but found I found plenty of other migrants. Five plus territories of spotted flycatcher (a late arriving migrant) were quite a surprise. Plenty of willow warbler too. A couple of green woodpeckers were ‘yaffling’ loudly, 2 lots of pied flycatchers, a couple of woodcock, common sandpiper, blackcap and a few beatboxes occupied by tits feeding their young. Surprisingly no redstarts were seen. There were no ospreys today, unlike the other day when two flew low overhead. perhaps the Wensleydale birds?

I noted very few bees and a few butterflies. One orange tip and a few whites were seen including a lovely green-veined white feeding on wild garlic.

I also saw a wonderful elm in full leaf. A survivor from Dutch Elm Disease which look stunning at this time of year. Very few left locally sadly.

A lovely walk on a stunning day at a wonderful location.

Plantlife Cowslip Survey completed

24th May: The Plantlife cowslip survey was done on the cluster. They are not particularly abundant but many won’t have been noticed as the flower spikes are nibbled off by grazers and I was only looking for flower spikes.

Just over a hundred were found. Some couldn’t be recorded as the flowers were not ‘out’. 82 flowering plants were recorded of which 44 were ‘L-morph’ and 38 were ‘S-morph’ (don’t ask, just follow the link below!)

It’s an easy and enjoyable survey to do so if you know anywhere with a few cowslips crack on! Find out how

Also noted were peacock butterflies, two common sandpipers, kestrel, buzzard, pied flycatcher and a cuckoo calling close to Heggs House. There were also a few ‘screaming’ swifts racing around.

Moth Trapping.

We are hoping to run some moth traps over one night of the BioBlitz with the VC65 recorder Dr Charlie Fletcher (that’s the Vice County and ours in number 65 explanation here We are in a very under recorded area, not just for moths. I run one now and then in Fremington and have had quite a few ‘firsts’ for my square, so I expect similar for the cluster.

The date is yet to be confirmed but it will be in the second week of our extended BioBlitz and any one interested is welcome to attend the opening of the traps the following morning, getting them identified and then releasing them. It will be an early(ish) start and numbers may be limited.

More details will be published as soon as we have them.

Nesting waders, trees and blanket bog.

On part of the area where we are hoping to re-establish trees, both the issue of breeding waders with the associated calcarious grassland, and blanket bog have been flagged up as a possible concern. I was confident that we were not compromising any breeding waders as I did a fairly detailed survey a few years ago for the BTO in the general area and felt our land in question wasn’t going to be a problem. But there was also this old survey which suggested blanket bog was present high up on the site, even though none shows up on the ‘Magic Map’ portal which shows such things.

So we set off on foot to look for waders and blanket bog. The two areas of concern held no waders, only skylark and meadow pipit with signs of red grouse. A very dwarf nibbled Elder and surprisingly wood sorrel were encountered.

Reaching the top of Fremington Edge we found some pools and wet areas that I hadn’t seen before (its very inaccessible). Out came the probe and we found a shallow area of wet peat averaging about 14 inch (350mm). We were not intending to re-establish trees here, but its nice to know we would not have been damaging any valuable habitat had we chosen to do so.

As we should now have the all clear to crack on, we’re expecting to put the fencing/planting jobs out to tender shortly.