Thursday, 17 January 2019

The First Snowdrops at Scallows

Having completed all of my jobs this morning and it being a crisp, bright winter day I decided it was time to pop out to top up the feeders and see how the snowdrops were doing in the wood.  As usual the feeders nut feeders had been emptied, I suspect by squirrels.  Still, not to be defeated, I have introduced some new ones with a smaller outer mesh in an attempt to keep them out.  A quick search to try and find the tawny owls I keep hearing call was to no avail.  I would be exciting to try to photograph them so perhaps this year I will introduce a tawny nest box.

The snowdrops are just beginning to come into flower now.  There were no signs of aconites yet, although I did see some on the verge side in the village.  It was bitterly cold up in the Wolds too.  Only 2C and now that I am home it has clouded over and threatening snow, although not much I am sorry to say.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Edgelands Walking

Yesterday turned out to be a beautiful afternoon.  Needing to go to the doctors for a blood test, I walked down to the village and then extended the walk by taking in Gooseman's Field our local edgeland and then returning via the cemetery.  Gooseman's field is known locally as The Horsefield on account of the horses that are tethered on there.  I am told that they belong to the local scrap merchant who collects his wares using a horse and cart in traditional fashion.  They are well-looked after and I regularly see them being supplied with water.  Things were quiet on the The Horsefield today but soon the song of skylarks will cascade down from the birds suspended so high that it is often difficult to spot them and the fields will be bright with flowers and butterflies.  In the autumn it is excellent foraging territory for sloes, blackberries and elderberries.












Topping up the Feeders at the Feeding Station and Jet Walking.

As we needed to walk Jet we decided to do so from Wold Newton on the edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds.  Before setting out on our walk we called in at the feeding station to top up the feeders.  I noticed at church this morning that the snowdrops were just opening in the churchyard.  At Scallows they were slightly behind and just showing the merest white.  The altitude is just a tad higher here and some distance from the coast means that temperatures are consistently 2 degrees or so lower.

Our two mile out and back walk with the dog took us up onto the top of the wold and along to 'Badger City' where there was plenty of evidence of activity.  Despite inclement weather with lowering skies and the occasional rain blowing on the chilly wind, views were expansive.  Tea and cake at the village tea shop was a welcome conclusion to the expedition.






Thursday, 10 January 2019

First Session of 2019 at the Winter Feeding Station

It was well past time for another session at the feeding station so on Tuesday morning I set off for Scallows.  I enjoyed a relaxed start as I knew that the sun didn't get round to light up the perches until about 11.00 am.  I was fortunate in my choice of day as I enjoyed superb warm winter light all day. When I arrived the nut feeders were totally empty, although the seed feeders were still quite full.  My suspicions that squirrels were the culprit were confirmed when I discovered one actually inside the 'so-called' squirrel proof cage around the feeder - back to the drawing board.  As soon as I had set up my perches, and even before I had settled in the hide birds, were coming down to feed.  There was a constant to-ing and fro-ing of blue, great and coal tits with regular visits by nuthatches.  Although playing hard to get the male woodpecker paid several calls to the fat and, in the end, I managed a few shots.  I was delighted to see a wren on a few occasions, although it preferred to forage around the base of the rotted log on which I was leaning one of my perches.  A robin was an occasional visitor and chaffinches came and fed on the ground.  When I had eaten my lunch-time apple I threw the core out for the birds and almost immediately a blackbird came to feed.  It would be good to attract some winter thrushes as the winter progresses.  Several pheasants were entertaining; obviously keen to come and sample the wares but so nervous that they scurried off at even the slightest movement.

Being in the hide observing the life of the wood around me is one of the most relaxing occupations that I know.  As I sat there contentedly I enjoyed the clamour of the rooks as they busied with their nests in the meadow and a tawny owl called, presumably in the throes of attracting a mate and defending territory; the female will be on eggs in another month.  There are probably three pairs breeding in the wood and it would be satisfying to find where they nest to try and watch the young when they emerge and sit in the tree still fluffy balls of down.  The buzzard also drifted over the wood, its old nests in the larch trees just in front of the hide.  Hedgerow hazel bushes now have their catkins fully open, the lambs' tails blowing in the breeze, and snowdrops are pushing through the leaf mould soon to be in flower.

Another excellent day.













Sunday, 6 January 2019

Topping up the Feeders at the Winter Feeding Station.

Once home  from our New Year trip to Derbyshire it was time to top up the feeders at the winter feeding station.  The wood is drying again now with the wood floor crisp with dead leaves and beech mast crunching underfoot.  Snowdrops are poking through the leaf cover, although not as far advanced as the ones at Hartington where with flowers are just beginning to open up.  I was surprised to see Lords-and-Ladies leaves emerged and well developed, bright fresh spring-like green against the browns of the winter wood.  As I arrived a buzzard drifted overhead its plaintive, wild mewing carrying on the still air.  The rooks were noisy in the south meadow where they are seeing to their nests already. 

At the feeding station, the feeders were all empty.  As soon as they were filled birds began to come down even while I was standing watching.  Blue, great and coal tits buzzed to and fro in large numbers and a procession of nuthatches came down to pick up the peanuts I had dropped on the ground.  These easy pickings disappear first.  A lone robin hopped around the periphery, waiting for my departure before moving in for its share.  No sign of the woodpecker, but I am sure it would be down as soon as the annoying human presence had disappeared.
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New Year, Hartington. Day 3

For our final day our Nephew and his wife along with their new daughter Sophie came to join us.  The ladies enjoyed a wander into the village shops and tea shop while the gentlemen indulged ouselves in our usual walk to Pilsbury Castle and back.  Out on the upper gritstone side of the valley and back high on the northern limestone with excellent views along the valley.  National Park rangers were repairing a gate and a raven cronked joyously overhead.  Ravens are one of nature's success stories; I remember a time when none were to be found in Derbyshire.  Although we thoroughly enjoyed the walk, the sky was so dull and grey the camera was not troubled at all.

An excellent three days.

New Year, Hartington Youth Hostel. Day 2



A frost greeted us this morning, the first we have seen in a while as the weather has recently been mild, grey and overcast.  Although cold, however, the promised sun did not appear and this and the following day were to be cold but still, grey and gloomy under the high pressure air.  The fields in Dovedale were frosted, though as we approached from the village.  Our walk today followed the river there and back (mostly) rather than the very steep variation up Gypsy Bank to Alstonfield and back down to the River and the awkward walking up Biggin Dale on the way back.  This is because I am under orders to take it easy as I am waiting for open heart surgery for an aortic valve replacement - joy!!
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Despite being circumspect, however, the walk was extremely rewarding on the wildlife front.  Herons were plentiful all along the river often paying us little heed.  Several dippers were showing well, all paired up and ready for the breeding season.

As we entered Wolfscote Dale we were surprised to see a crayfish by the side of the path aggressively waving its claws at us as we approached.  Judging by its size and bright red backs to its claws we identified it as an American interloper, the signal crayfish.  These are an invasive species and can destabilize riverbanks by their burrowing and carry crayfish plague.


Further along we came across a female goosander which we saw on a couple of occasions.  We were also delighted to have excellent views of a kingfisher as it patrolled its territory.  We particularly enjoyed watching it fishing and I ached for my 500mm lens.

As always the walk along the river continued to delight and I enjoyed photographing the waterfalls and dying vegetation.  The alder catkins were ripening and endowed the river bank with purple tinges.






Once back at the entrance to Wolfscote Dale we climbed up and then walked along beautiful green lanes lined with ancient stone walls back to the hostel, pausing to photograph an old and decaying railway carriage which at some time in the past has been pressed into use as a farm building.  I love photographing this type of subject which is very rewarding in close-up revealing beautiful textures, shapes and colours.  Although only 3 o'clock the lowering skies meant that the day was nearly over.