1st, Grosmont – Despite the cold and frosty conditions this morning a few species of moth were attracted to the platform lamps at the heritage railway, including my first ever Oak Beauty (Biston strataria), a species I have wanted to see ever since I started trapping in 2013. This species is uncommon back in East Yorkshire with fewer than a 100 records in VC61, but up here in the Esk Valley it is far more common, and hopefully I will actually record one at Rivergarth once my new trap is up and running. Hopefully this should be by next weekend. Also recorded this morning were Early Grey (Xylocampa areola), Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria) and March Moth (Alsophila aescularia).
2nd, Woldgarth – After what had been a miserably cold and wet morning here in central East Yorkshire, conditions began to vastly improve in the afternoon with some warm sunshine to end the day. Hoping to see my first Bee-flies of the year I spent a peaceful hour or so in the shelter of the walled garden, and whilst I saw none of the hoped for species, I nevertheless had plenty to watch. Best of all were the Hairy Footed Flower Bees (Anthophora plumipes), a new species for my garden list, and whilst most were seemingly male specimens, I did manage to spot at least one female, these being seemingly larger and almost completely black. I suspect I have recorded these busy little solitary bees before, and may have misidentified them as a ‘Masonry Bee’ species in the past.
A dark species of hoverfly was noted as well, but flew away before I could identify it, whilst a single Tree Bee (Bombus hypnorum) and my first outside Wasp of the year also provided plenty of additional interest.
3rd, Woldgarth – The weather was cloudy & relatively mild last night, and apart from a few hours of rain between midnight and 4 am, conditions were reasonably favourable for mothing. In the end 12 moths of six species were noted and were as follows; Hebrew Character x4, Common Quaker x3, Early Grey x2, Clouded Drab x1, Beautiful Plume (Amblyptilia acanthadactyla) x1 & Common Flat-body (Agonopterix heracliana) x1. Only the Agonopterix was new for the year, whilst in my lighthearted ‘Battle of the Orthosia’ Common Quaker remains the early leader with 10 records versus Hebrew Character with 8. Are the cerasi once more on the road to victory?
The first Black Sexton Beetle (Nicrophorus humator) of the year was also recorded in the trap this morning. Thankfully it wasn’t a particularly smelly individual!
After emptying the moth trap I headed indoors to have a shower prior to the Sunday morning repeat of Match of the Day. However as I made my way upstairs I happened to glance out of the window and noticed an unusually large finch feeding along the gravel path to the summer-house. Quickly grabbing my binoculars I was amazed to see that the bird in question was a HAWFINCH, a very rare bird here in East Yorkshire these days! Once upstairs I grabbed my camera and fired off a few quick shots, but after five frames the bird took flight and disappeared into the thick Yews. I waited to see if it returned but unfortunately there was no further sign of it during the remainder of the day.
Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes)
In other news I heard the first Woldgarth Chiffchaff of the year today, a single bird singing in St. Giles Wood while I emptied the moth trap, whilst in the afternoon a single Tree Sparrow was spotted high in the Sycamores, the first Tree Sparrow I have seen in the garden this year. Thankfully this species is relatively common in the local area.
With weather conditions improving in the afternoon I spent an enjoyable couple of hours looking for bees and whatnot, though in the end just two species were noted with a few Buff-tailed Bumblebees and at least two Tree Bees. The latter species has become increasingly common in recent years and might even be the third most common species of bumblebee in the garden, at least in spring anyway. Hairy-footed Flower Bees were also widely conspicuous again, though unlike yesterday I only noted male specimens, whilst a few Wasps and at least one Dronefly (Eristalis tenax) were additionally added to my notebook. Less welcome meanwhile was the lack of butterflies, the early rush a couple of weeks ago having now become an almost distant memory, and a search for ladybirds brought only specimens of the Harlequin variety, the native species becoming harder and harder to find here at Woldgarth.
Finally the weekend bird count took place on what was a warmish spring afternoon with good spells of sunshine, the garden and the neighbouring woods being filled with the sound of birdsong. In total thirteen species of bird were actually observed within the garden itself (for this survey I don’t count fly-overs or heard only’s) and species noted were as follows; Blackbird (x3), Blue tit (x3), Bullfinch (x2), Coal tit (x1), Chaffinch (x3), Dunnock (x2), Goldfinch (x2), Greenfinch (x5), Great tit (x2), Magpie (x1), Robin (x2), Wren (x1) and Wood Pigeon (x4). Meanwhile it would seem that the Siskins, which had been visiting the garden since mid-January, have now left for yet another year, the last observation having come almost a week ago.
4th, Swinemoor – A quick stop at the local wetlands this morning, the weather hardly being ideal anyway what with light rain and murk, but nevertheless it was good to hear a couple of Chiffchaffs in the small wood between Hull Bridge and Weel. I had hoped to see some hirundines, especially as good numbers of Sand Martins and a few Swallows were reported up at Tophill Low yesterday, but what with the poor visibility and low temperatures I unsurprisingly drew a blank.
On the winter floods the number of wildfowl continues to fall, Wigeon having now dropped to perhaps fewer than 50 (less than a month ago they numbered in excess of a 1000), whilst Teal have also reduced to anything between 50 and a 100 (getting exact counts is very difficult due to the nature of this particular location). 5+ Shovelers were also noted but apart from a few gulls, including a pair of Lesser Black-backs, a few Cormorants, and displaying Lapwings, very few birds were about. However it was good to see a few displaying Meadow Pipits, the first I have seen down here this year, whilst the damp weather meant that large numbers of Banded Snails were evident along the reinforced riverbank. The Reed Buntings were also singing well this morning.
Brown-lipped Snail (Cepaea nemoralis)
5th, Beverley Parks – I arose early and enjoyed a good tour of the home patch this morning, completing the full circuit and visiting the still very wet and muddy willow, hazel and birch plantation at the southern edge of the area. To be honest I don’t visit this part of the patch very much these days due to the number of dog walkers whom ‘discovered’ it a few years ago, but thanks to the thick mud and standing water it has been largely deserted by these fair-weather types in recent months. As a result I could enjoy a peaceful, if somewhat squelchy stroll through this still young plantation this morning, hoping perhaps for the first Willow warbler or singing Blackcap of the year. However in the end neither of these delightful songsters were to be heard but three to four Chiffchaffs were noted, whilst in the surrounding fields the larks sang almost continually in the vaulted skies above.
The blackthorn blossom is now very much at its best with the hedgerows laden with glorious white blossom, whilst the very similar hawthorns are now green with fresh new leaves, these providing a light snack if you enjoy a bit of foraging whilst out and about (however avoid areas where crops have recently been sprayed!). The hazels are also starting to leaf, and in the nearby orchard, which hosts a wide variety of apples, some of the trees are just starting to bud-burst. As I continued home, passing by the recently sown spring-cereals, a few species of gull were noted in the fields, including a handsome pair of Lesser Black-backs, whilst a single Oystercatcher was seen passing over as well, calling its distinctive piping call as it cruised low over the area.
6th, Woldgarth – It would appear that my conclusion that the Siskins had departed last week was incorrect, as both today and yesterday a very handsome male specimen was seen at the feeding station. Indeed he was almost as yellow as a Yellowhammer, albeit half the size, whilst his black cap and striking plumage looked wonderful, especially when the sun shone. As I worked outside in the afternoon I was also lucky enough to hear his delightful soft song being delivered from atop one of the smaller ash trees at the edge of the garden.
7th, Woldgarth – I have been unable to get away from the old homestead for the last couple of days but nevertheless I have been keeping an eye on the skies for perhaps the odd hirundine or other migrating birds (an Osprey would be nice!) passing over. Alas nothing out of the ordinary has been noted, whilst singing willow warblers and blackcaps have additionally remained conspicuous by their absence, but at least the resident Chiffchaff has been keeping me company, the two-note songster seemingly signing non-stop from dawn to dusk since he arrived at the weekend. The male Siskin was also noted at the feeding station again, whilst as I looked skywards I enjoyed watching a pair of Sparrowhawks circling above the wood. I wonder where they are nesting this year?
Siskin at the feeding station
8th, Woldgarth – Whilst conditions last night were not particularly promising for mothing, with largely clear skies and temperatures falling as low as 1.4 C, I nevertheless wanted to try out the new 15W Actinic trap before I take it up to Grosmont in the not too distant future. Compared to my 125W MV bulb I couldn’t believe how faint the light was, though the blueish light did make my white Stevenson Screen appear rather eery in the darkness, and part of me expected to find nothing when I went to inspect the trap this morning. However in the end three moths were found, including my first Double-striped Pug (Gymnoscelis rufifasciata) of the year, as well as a single Early Grey (Xylocampa areola) and a Clouded Drab (Orthosia incerta). A large species of Caddisfly was also attracted to the light, this appearing to be a Stenophylax permistus.
In the afternoon a Peacock butterfly flew into my office, whilst another would be spotted in the garden an hour or so later. A smaller butterfly was also noted fluttering through the garden at one point, this probably being a Comma. Meanwhile in late afternoon a Chiffchaff was seen busily feeding in the garden and further interest was provided by the continuing presence of the handsome male Siskin. Still no Swallows though…
8th, Beverley Parks – Yet another fruitless search for Willow warblers on my local patch this morning, though ample compensation came in the shape and form of two Water Voles in the main drainage ditch. This particular drain was dredged and widened last autumn and I was worried about how this would affect the Voles, but as I watched from the footbridge shortly after dawn this morning I was able to watch them go about their business seemly happy and content in this otherwise unlikely location. This time of year is always the best period to see these charming riparian mammals, the combination of longer daylight hours and a lack of vegetation making them relatively easy to spot as they swim along the narrow course of water and occasionally climb up onto the bank. However I do worry about the future for this small colony of Water Voles, with increasing development in the area and the inherent problems of genetic isolation, but at least for the time being they are surviving.
Water Vole (Arvicola amphibius)
9th, Grosmont & Esk Valley – It was a wet and murky drive up to the cottage this morning, the tops of the moors enveloped in low cloud with poor visibility above 250 metres, though despite this I did spot a drumming Snipe over the heather moorland to the west of the RAF base at Fylingdales, this being the first I have seen displaying this year. Meadow Pipits, Lapwings and Red Grouse were also noted up here on the rather bleak and exposed moor-tops. Meanwhile down in the relative shelter of the Esk Valley we passed the weir at Ruswarp, this rewarding us with the briefest of glimpses of a meduim sized wader at the bottom of the weir, either a Redshank or Ruff (unfortunately we couldn’t stop to check), whilst a Grey Heron was also here, this fishing beside the Salmon Leap.
Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)
Upon arrival at the cottage we noted a singing Chiffchaff in the garden, and a Grey Wagtail was on the roof, whilst the spring flowers that we planted last weekend have taken well and are now providing welcome splashes of colour. The mature Sycamore at the bottom of the river has now moved beyond mere budburst and is now starting to leaf, and it won’t be long till the Bluebells and Ramsons (Wild Garlic) will also begin to flower. Forget-me-nots are widely in evidence, these dainty pastel blue flowers thriving around the garden sheds, and other flowering wildflowers (or weeds to some) currently include Barren Strawberry, Sweet Violets, Primroses and Ground Ivy.
The Willows around the village are now in full flower, with both the yellow male flowers and green female flowers widely in evidence, and upon the Horse Chestnut the flower candles are starting to emerge amongst the unfurling leaves. Beside the road down to the river Esk the first of this years Stitchwort is starting to flower, though this area is dominated most by the wonderful bank of Primroses which cover the bank. Down by the river itself the Alders are starting to budburst whilst the birches are also green-ing in the old Iron Works, or at least the top of the trees are anyway.
A walk up to Lease Rigg brought sightings of Buzzards and Sparrowhawks over the woods, and a whole tour around the village revealed at least 12 Chiffchaffs, a decent count for what is a relatively compact area. A few bumblebees were also noted, most numerous being Buff-tailed and a few Red-tailed, though my first White-tailed Bumble was also seen at the top of the Rigg, and a Tree Bee was additionally encountered, a new species for my Grosmont list. A trio of Small Tortoiseshells and two Peacocks were also seen around the village.
The old iron works in early April
10th, Grosmont & Esk Valley – I arose early to check the results of my first night of moth trapping up here at Rivergarth but as I inspected the trap it soon become clear that the overnight rain and cold conditions had meant it had hardly been worthwhile, indeed just the one moth was found, a Common Quaker. Still this was at least a new moth for my Grosmont list, and it has the honour of being the first species to be trapped at the cottage since Mr. Norman, the previous resident and a locally well known bird-ringer and lepidopterist, vacated the property some three to four years ago. What will be next I wonder?
After putting away the trap I headed out on my usual dawn stroll around the village and down to the river Esk, stopping to see if I could find any other moths around the station of the heritage railway. In the end a few species were found, including two new additions to the year list, these coming in the shape and form of two Twin-spotted Quakers (one of which was an ab. immaculata form) and a Brindled Pug, the latter being a new species to me. Two other moth species were noted as well and included one each of Pale Brindled Beauty and March Moth.
After this short diversion I continued my walk down to the river, enjoying the sound of the singing Chiffchaffs, drumming Woodpeckers and a whole host of other typical woodland birds. A Marsh tit was also noted, whilst Treecreepers, which are seemingly abundant in this small wood, were also heard singing their thin and high pitched songs & calls. However the main highlight was the sound of at least two singing male Blackcaps, my first of the year, with one around the old Iron Works & another down by the river.
At the river itself a pair of Goosanders were joined by another as I quietly watched them from my sequestered location amongst the Wild Daffodils on the river-bank, and a further adult male would also be spotted flying over at one point. This is the first time I have seen more than three at any one time whilst exploring my new ‘home patch’. A pair of Dippers also showed well, as did the Grey Wagtails, but it was a half dozen Goldcrests moving through the greening hawthorn hedgerow which entertained me most, this diminutive little bird having always been a favourite of mine. However they are a pain to photograph!
Meanwhile I conducted my first garden bird count at Rivergarth on what was a sunny and pleasant afternoon up at the cottage. I used the same rules that I apply back here at Woldgarth, that is to say that any bird counted in the half-hour survey must actually be seen within the garden (up to the riverbank) and that all counts are a minimum rather a maximum (this to avoid the danger of double counting the same individual birds). In the end 28 birds of 12 species were noted and included the following; Blue tit (x7), Blackbird (x1), Chiffchaff (x1), Chaffinch (x5), Collared dove (x1), Dunnock (x1), Great tit (x2), House Sparrow (x4), Jackdaw (x3), Pheasant (x1), Robin (x1), and finally Wood Pigeon (x1). Hopefully when I get around to setting up a proper feeding station I will be able to attract a few more visitors, especially finches.
Dipper (Cinclus cinclus)
10th, Moorgates – Later in the morning we enjoyed a peaceful stroll along the upper reaches of Eller Beck, this particular area being right on the edge of our extended home patch. The weather was simply glorious with an abundance of sunshine and near perfect temperatures for walking, and best of all we had it all to ourselves, my inherent misanthropic character perhaps getting worse as I grow older. As we progressed along the babbling beck, the peaty colour of which was a stunning deep red in the sun, we noted good numbers of Reed Buntings in the stunted Alders which line its course, though best of all were a pair of Woodcock that we flushed up, a new bird for my patch list.
However the main purpose for our wondering wander this morning was to find a few migrants, this area having produced Ring Ouzels for me in the past, and whilst nothing quite as exciting as these upland thrushes were found, we nevertheless noted a couple of new additions to the year list. The first came in the shape and form of a female Wheatear which flew over us, that distinctive “White-rear” showing well as it passed over. Later another two would be noted up in the rocks above Moorgates, including a very handsome male specimen, and hopefully these upland birds will enjoy a good year this summer.
Distant Wheatear, my first of the year
As we approached the thin birch woods near the summit of the valley I could hear the lovely descending song of our first Willow warblers of the year, the sound of this warm toned leaf warbler having long been one of my favourite birdsongs. Another would be heard towards the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve at Fen Bog, just outside my ‘patch’, and now one can’t help but wonder when the first Whinchats and Redstarts will also begin to appear in this corner of the National Park.
Further observations included displaying Curlews, a few Lapwings, a Yellowhammer, Mistle Thrushes, a single Buzzard, and plenty of Meadow Pipits & Skylarks. However it was disappointing to see no Adders or Lizards this morning.
11th, Woldgarth – A fine spring day with plenty of sunshine, especially in the second half of the morning and early afternoon, though a brisk easterly breeze did make it feel somewhat chilly out in the open. Nevertheless the strengthening April sunshine did encourage a few butterflies to appear in the garden, including a couple of Peacocks and my first Red Admiral of the year, whilst up in the woods the Wood Anemones (or Windflowers) are now in flower, their cheering star shaped white blooms looking lovely on what was an appropriately windy day. Two singing Chiffchaffs were also in the vicinity of the gardens today, the first time I have heard more than one at Woldgarth this spring.
Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
12th, Woldgarth – A ‘White’ butterfly was reported in the garden today but unfortunately I wasn’t fortunate enough to see it myself. However the description seemed consistent with that of Large White and it will have to go down as just a ‘probable’ in my notebook. However otherwise it was a quiet day in the garden, the cool temperatures and grey skies being largely to blame, though the garden Bullfinches remain frequent visitors with at least two pairs visiting the feeders, often together interestingly.
13th, Woldgarth – Finally the first Swallows of the year were recorded at the old family homestead this afternoon, with two males spotted chasing each other over the house and gardens whilst I gave the lawn its second mow of the year. I thought I had heard one earlier in the day whilst I had been working away in my office, the distinctive chattering call being heard through the open window, but it was good to actually confirm their presence for sure with an actual visual observation. Their arrival is four days later than both last year and the year before that, though they have matched their 2013 arrival date and have arrived some four days earlier than they did in 2012. Hopefully their arrival promises better days ahead!
Meanwhile a trio of noisy Herring Gulls flew over the property a number of times during the afternoon, their loud calls making it sound like we were beside the sea (Woldgarth in reality is some 12 miles from the North Sea coast), whilst I have seen no further sign of the male Siskin since the weekend. Has it finally moved on?
The first Swallow (Hirundo rustica) of the year
14th, Woldgarth – It was a largely cloudy night last night with temperatures falling no lower than 4 C, though due to the threat of rain I decided to use the 15W Actinic trap again. To be honest I haven’t really noticed any massive differences between what I trap with the Actinic compared to the MV bulb, indeed the enclosed nature of the walled garden may actually mean that the MV is somewhat wasted here. However come the summer it will be interesting to see whether this trend continues.
In total nine moths of five species were noted, best of the lot being a lovely Streamer (NFY), a moth I have only recorded once before (way back in 2013!). This species is fairly widespread in most of Yorkshire but is not particularly numerous (less than 400 records in VC61), so it was good to trap what was a fine looking specimen in good condition. Other moths included Early Grey (x5), Clouded Drab (x1), Hebrew Character (x1) and an extremely worn Chestnut.
14th, Woldgarth / Beverley Parks – The skylarks were in good song over the fields and pastures this morning, their delightful song being heard as I emptied the garden moth trap this morning. A single Swallow was also chattering above me as I inspected the contents of the trap, as were noisy gulls whom were heading northwards. Every day, especially in the warmer months, a variety of gulls pass over our home, heading northwards in the morning and southwards in the evening. I have always presumed that they are coming and going from their roosts on the Humber some 10 miles to the south, though I don’t really know for sure.
Meanwhile a single Blackcap was heard singing along the lane this morning, my first of the year here at Woldgarth, whilst at least two Chiffchaffs were also in song as I cycled into town. Six Greylag Geese were in the fields and at least one Yellow Wagtail was heard flying over. Yellow Wags haven’t bred locally for a few years so hopefully at least one pair may decide to hang around this summer. Other observations included a few colourful Linnets singing along the hedgerows & a couple of striking Yellowhammers.
Back at home a singing Blackcap was heard in the garden in the morning whilst a female Siskin was spotted at the feeding station. The Bullfinches have also started to nibble on the buds of the apple blossom, one of the more undesirable attributes of this colourful finch. A female Hairy Footed Bumble Bee was also noted buzzing around the flower borders though no butterflies were noted today.
Greylag Geese (Anser anser)
14th, North Cave Wetlands – A long overdue visit to this compact wetland nature reserve on the southwestern foot of the Yorkshire Wolds on what proved to be a warmish morning with occasional sunny spells. The warm sunshine encouraged a few butterflies and bees on to the wing, including two Small Tortoiseshells and a single Peacock, along with Hairy Footed Flower Bees, Buff-tailed Bumblebees and a single Tree Bee. A few hoverflies were additionally spotted but beyond the most common species I am pretty hopeless at identifying these interesting little insects.
However we were here primarily for the birds, in particular the spring and passage migrants, and not long after we arrived we enjoyed our first Sand Martins of the year, along with a single Ringed Plover, a lone Dunlin, and over 50 Avocet. The Avocet are most numerous on Village Lake though small numbers were encountered elsewhere, whilst down at Dryham Ings a single Ruff was also spotted, this being a particular good specimen of this always variable species. Redshanks were about in good numbers, with a few Oystercatchers and two Little Egrets as well, though the number of wildfowl, especially Teal, Wigeon & Pochard, has significantly reduced since our last visit over a month ago.
Elsewhere at least two Willow warblers and a single Blackcap were heard singing, and on the fields at least one of the Wagtails appeared to be a White Wagtail, though it was a little distant to be absolutely certain. I had hoped to see a Yellow Wagtail or two but none were to be found this morning, but it was nice to watch a pair of Great Crested Grebes constructing their nest together, whilst five young Coots were found in one of the smaller ‘dragonfly’ ponds. Finally up to six Stock doves and a trio of Buzzards were also noted. In total 49 species of bird were recorded this morning.
15th, Woldgarth – Four Siskins were at the feeding station this morning, with two males and two females, and it seems that every time I think they have finally left they return once more. The singing male Blackcap, which has been serenading us almost constantly since he arrived yesterday, was also actually spotted today, the rather dumpy and slate grey warbler making his way through the garden Yews, whilst a few Swallows were also seen in the skies above the homestead, at least in the morning anyway.
15th, Swinemoor & Figham – On what was a cloudy and grey start to the morning with spots of rain in the air, I headed down to the winter floods on the other side of Beverley. The floods are now starting to fall with the large areas of standing water now slowly receding, and this has continued to affect the number of wildfowl. Wigeon numbered around 12-15 whilst Teal were estimated at around 30-40, though three Shelducks were good to see, as were a pair of Gadwall, the first I have seen here for a few weeks. Interestingly no Shovelers were noted this morning, though the presence of two large Great Black-backed Gulls meant few birds were in the largest stretch of open water.
However the highlight of the morning would come in the skies above the wetlands as a single WHIMBREL flew over, calling as it did so and showing the key diagnostic features which help to ID this species (including the call). The bird in question came in from the south and then turned eastwards towards the coast and was not seen again whilst I was down by the river, though later in the day three more were found at the same location by another local birder. In the woods to the east two Blackcaps were heard and at least three Chiffchaffs were singing between Hull Bridge and Weel, whilst out on the common itself a Willow warbler was additionally noted.
At Grovehill Lock, a little further down the river, a single Sedge Warbler was singing in the reeds, my first of the year, and here further interest was provided by a trio of Curlews, two Lesser Black-backed Gulls & a few Swallows over Figham Pastures.
17th, North Cliffe Wood – It was a sunny morning at this delightful little wood today, the April sun feeling pretty warm despite the modest temperature, whilst the wood itself provided ample shelter from the keen northerly breeze. As we progressed along the perimeter path it soon became clear that the morning would be dominated by the newly returned warblers, Willow warblers proving particularly abundant with at least nine being recorded. At least five Chiffchaffs were also heard along with four Blackcaps, these so called ‘Northern Nightingales’ proving particularly vocal along the western path and in the central Birch woods. I wonder how long it will till the first Garden Warblers also return to the wood, this plain but wonderful songster being a favourite of mine.
The rain the other day, plus the often delayed nature of the water table in this area, meant that the wood is as wet as it has been at any time during the winter, large areas of black water inundating the birch woods. Indeed in places wellies were essential to navigate the paths and I imagine that some people coming to see the Bluebells may well have problems accessing the wood, at least along the western path anyway. As regards the Bluebells the flowers are slowly coming out but are still easily a week or two from their best. However since the forecast for the week ahead is hardly spring-like, indeed some are hinting at the possibility of snow next weekend, it may be even longer!
Willow warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)
The cool temperatures meant that butterflies were represented by just a single Peacock, this found out on the heath which enjoys a micro-climate of its own, though plenty of bees were noted including Buff-tails, White-tails, Red-tails and quite a large number of Tree Bees. The gorse again hosted large numbers of Seven-spot Ladybirds, as well attracting a few species of hoverfly, including both Eristalis tenax and the very similar E. pertinax. To be honest I am not very good at telling these two apart normally but seeing two alongside each other does help.
Further observations of interest included at least one Swallow over the heath, and another over the eastern arable fields, whilst in the southern most birch woods I stumbled upon a decent sized flock of Lesser Redpolls which numbered in excess of 20 at the very least. This same part of the wood hosted two Roe bucks as well, and I also stumbled upon a plundered Pheasant egg. Along the east of the wood we had the privilege of listening to a Great-spotted Woodpecker busily excavating its nest within the trunk of a dead birch, the bird briefly peering out of its hole before taking flight, whilst Buzzards showed well this morning with at least four being spotted above the wood. All in all a good morning with around thirty species of bird being noted.
Lesser Redpoll (Acanthis cabaret)
18th-20th, Grosmont & Esk Valley – The continuing return of summer migrants dominated the birding scene during our three day visit this week, the highlights being the first Swallows of the year, though even better were a few House Martins over the village, these being the first I have seen anywhere this year. Willow warblers have also arrived at the village since our last visit with at least two being heard, these joining the now less numerous Chiffchaffs (6+) and the Blackcaps (3+). Other avian notes included the usual riverine species such as Dipper, Grey Wagtail, Goosander and Grey Heron, whilst a new bird for the patch list was added in the shape and form of a single Red-legged Partridge near Fairhead Farm. Meanwhile I had hoped to hear my first Cuckoo of the spring, especially as one was recorded just a few miles away on t’ other side of moor on the Tuesday, but as of yet they have yet to arrive here in Grosmont. Maybe next week…..
With plenty of sunshine to enjoy it was perhaps unsurprising that a few species of butterfly were noted, most numerous being Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshell, though a single Brimstone was also spotted, as were a few ‘Whites‘. Judging by their size the Whites were either Small or Green-veined and if I had to ID them I think I would favour the latter since they did not appear brilliantly white. Moths too were noted around the station lights (I didn’t take the moth trap this week), with two species being recorded in the shape and form of a single Water Carpet (Lampropteryx suffumata) and three Early Tooth-striped (Trichopteryx carpinata), both being new species for my personal list.
A walk up Lease Rigg brought me encounters with my first Tawny Mining Bees of the year, these attractively coloured bees being familiar to me back at Woldgarth, whilst another species of Andrenidae was additionally noted, probably A. carantonica. In the garden the first Bee-fly’s of the spring also made an appearance, enjoying some of the recently planted spring flowers, whilst bumblebee species recorded included Buff-tails, White-tails, Carder and Tree. Finally a variety of hoverflies were noted but since my ID skills are severely limited as regards these insects I decided to simply enjoy watching them rather than bother to identify them. Maybe next time….
On the 19th and 20th a Pipistrelle bat was seen flying above the garden in mid-afternoon, this giving good views as it hunted for insects in the warm sunshine. It is not that unusual to see bats hunting by day, especially in spring, but is uncommon enough to be worthy of note. Meanwhile an ever greater diversity of wildflowers are continuing to appear around the village, and whilst many are beyond my ID skills, I was at least pleased to see the likes of Common Vetch starting to flower near the cricket field, as well as Stitchwort, Cowslips, Primroses, Ground Ivy, and Barren Strawberry. In Doctor’s Wood the first Ramson (Wild Garlic) flowers are just starting to appear whilst in the garden the Alkanet is also just starting to flower, this plant being abundant around the cottage. The flower spikes of Wild Arum (Cuckoo-pint or Lords & Ladies) are additionally coming up in a number of locations, and it also won’t be long till the first florets of Cow Parsley grace the country lanes. Finally down by the river the Horsetails are beginning to appear in the damper areas along the riverbank.
19th, Rosedale & Farndale – On a near perfect spring day we made our way across the moors to visit the annual showing of daffodils in beautiful Farndale. However on the way we did stop for a short stroll at the top of the notorious Chimney Bank, reputedly the steepest public road in England, this high hill providing outstanding views across Rosedale to the east. Despite a chill breeze blowing across the exposed moor-tops, our short walk was most enjoyable, the old industrial ruins deserted apart from us, whilst a number of Wheatears, both males and females, were seen frequently. Wheatears are one of those birds I never tire of seeing and it is fantastic to have them back up on t’ moors now that spring is here. Other birds around here included a few Pied Wagtails, plenty of Curlews and Pewits, a couple of Snipe, an abundance of Pipits and a lovely male Stonechat (one day I will actually manage to photograph one of these birds!)
We eventually arrived at Farndale shortly after 10 am and from the car park at Low Mill made our way along the footpath to High Mill, a mile or so further up the dale. The daffodils this year are not that great, this caused by a variety of factors which include the weather and a particular local landowner, but nevertheless the sea of yellow flowers was wonderful to behold, especially on what was such a wonderful day weather-wise. Wood Anemones, Celandines, and Marigolds were also seen in flower, whilst the Ramsons (Wild Garlic) will soon be joining them too, the plants already giving off plenty of aroma.
However the highlight of the morning would be provided by my first REDSTARTS of the year, with two males being seen along our walk. Redstarts breed in modest but stable numbers in the National Park with these southern facing dales being the stronghold for this colourful summer visitor. However they do occasionally occur elsewhere in the area as well. Other birds included a few Willow warblers, Chiffchaffs, a single Blackcap, half a dozen Swallows around the village, two Dippers and a Grey Wagtail beside the river, Bullfinches, Reed Buntings, Treecreepers, and a yaffling Green Woodpecker. Two Peacock butterflies were also noted.
19th, Moorgates – An evening walk in this lovely corner of the National Park brought us some good birding, the rocky outcrops hosting at least three Wheatears (two males and a female) and the usual abundance of Pipits. However the biggest highlight was at least three RING OUZELS feeding in the pastures leading up to Birchwood Farm, whilst latterly they relocated further up the valley and gave some good views as they flew low over us, fantastic stuff for a Wolds birder like me. Willow warblers were also about, as were Linnets, Yellowhammers and Reed Buntings, whilst more distantly both Curlews and a single Buzzard were noted. Finally a single Peacock butterfly was also noted down into my increasingly tatty notebook.
20th, Sleights Moor – On a cloudless morning I made the near 300 metre ascent out of the village and up unto the moor above, heading for the summit of the moor near Breckon Howe (a Bronze Age round-barrow). As I climbed I soon left the woods and gardens of the village behind and entered the land of the rich walled pastures above, these already lush green fields having recently been enriched with fertilizers to hopefully ensure a good crop of silage &/or hay in early summer. However as we climbed yet higher we left this area behind too and entered the unfenced expanse of the heather moorlands above, this open and windswept land being good for little more than sheep and grouse, at least from a farming point of view anyway.
If truth be told the heather moor up here is not particularly species rich, this caused by a variety of factors which need not be expanded upon here, but nevertheless I enjoy birding this area, the lack of other visitors and the attractive views down the Esk Valley and towards Whitby and the North Sea making it a fine place to enjoy a few quiet hours with just a pair of binoculars and a notebook. Birdwise the best today was provided by up to 40 Golden Plovers, the males looking stunning in their full breeding plumage, one of which allowed me to approach fairly close so I could grab a decent enough record picture. I probably could have got even closer but since moorland birds have to put up with plenty of needless disturbance anyway I decided it was best to hold back.
Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria)
At the top of the moor a couple of male Wheatears were encountered, one of which was actually on top of the Howe at one point, and as I progressed towards the Whinstone Ridge at least two Snipe were flushed up from the dense heather and a single male Stonechat was also seen. A count of displaying Curlews revealed at least 5 (all my counts are minimums), though the actual number may have been nearer double figures, whilst displaying Lapwings numbered over a dozen. As one would expect plenty of Red Grouse were additionally noted up here, and Pipits & Skylarks were also seen and heard throughout, whilst overhead a single Buzzard & a Kestrel provided some raptor interest. Indeed at one point both the Kestrel & a Curlew took turns mobbing the Buzzard.
21st, Woldgarth – An overnight frost meant that just two moths were found when I went to inspect the 15W actinic skinner trap this morning, both of these moths being Hebrew Characters. April can be a frustrating time of year for mothing as the weather can often remain decidedly chilly, this being especially so near the North Sea coasts of Britain. Indeed it is worth pointing out that the average night-time temperature in April is the same as it is in November (3.9 C).
Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica)
22nd, Woldgarth – A much better night than yesterday with somewhat higher temperatures, more cloud and the use of the 125W Mercury Vapour bulb ensuring a greater number and variety of nocturnal lepidoptera. In total 10 moths of six species would be revealed upon inspection of the trap at dawn this morning, two of which were new additions to the year list. Indeed a single Pale Pinion (Lithophane socia) was a brand new addition to the garden list, this once unknown species up here in Yorkshire having undergone rapid expansion in recent times. Still with less than 80 records in VC61 (at least according to the Yorkshire Moths website) it is one of the rarest moths I have recorded.
The other new addition to the year list was a single Small Quaker (Orthosia cruda), a moth I only record very occasionally here at Woldgarth, whilst other species included 3 Hebrew Characters, 2 Common Quakers, 2 Clouded Drabs, and 1 Early Grey.
22nd, Woldgarth / Beverley Parks – The first Whitethroat of the spring was heard along the lane this morning, a single bird singing near the entrance to the livery as I headed into town shortly after dawn. Their arrival is three days earlier than last year and is a few days ahead of the long term average, though with the forecast colder weather on the way one hopes they haven’t arrived too early! Other warblers included a single Willow warbler, at least three Blackcaps and four Chiffchaffs, most of these being heard in the always productive area near Old Hall Farm.
In the garden the phallic like flower spikes of Wild Arums (Cuckoo-pint) are now appearing everywhere, one of which is already in flower, whilst the lawn is covered in dandelions, daisies, speedwell, and the odd self-sown Cowslip and Bellis (the pink pom-pom like ones). In the gravel paths an abundance of Forget-me-nots and Dog Violets provide welcome splashes of colour, testament to my dislike of chemical weed killers, whilst the small but much cherished clump of white Sweet Violets is still going strong.
Common Whitethroat (Sylvia communis)
22nd, North Cliffe Wood – Yesterday was my mother’s 65th birthday and as a special birthday treat we went for a walk around this Yorkshire Wildlife Trust woodland near Market Weighton. Though I am sure you are probably getting fed up of hearing about the wildlife and nature of this 82 acre reserve which is dominated by birch, oak and hazel woodland, I nevertheless consider it as one of my ‘home patches’ and as a result try to visit it at least once or twice a month in order to document the changing seasons over here on t’ other side of Wolds. Indeed today was no different and whilst others went off ahead to enjoy the woodland walk, I instead found myself trying to record all that I could, especially as regards birds, flowers and the larger insects.
Birch catkins and emerging leaves
Like our visit only a few day previous, it was the warblers whom dominated the soundscape of the wood, the number of Willow warblers having seemingly increased further with at least 14 being recorded and possibly as many as 20+. Only in the western highlands of Scotland have I heard so many Willow warbs in such a compact area. Six Chiffchaffs and five Blackcaps were also noted whilst other avian observations of note included a handsome and striking Green Woodpecker, Marsh Tits, Treecreepers, calling Stock doves, a pair of Shelduck at the heathland lagoon, and displaying Skylarks and Lapwings over the surrounding fields.
Gorse Shieldbugs (Piezodorus lituratus)
Amongst the fragrant flowering gorse I found numerous mating pairs of appropriately named Gorse Shieldbugs (Piezodorus lituratus), a veritable orgy in fact, these same plants also hosting Eristalis tenax and E. pertinax once again. However interestingly there were very few ladybirds in evidence today. A couple of butterfly species were noted with three Peacocks and a single Small Tortoiseshell, though the cloudier and cooler conditions today meant it wasn’t ideal by any means and I was unable to find any Orange Tips. Still the Garlic Mustard is starting to flower in the hedgerows so hopefully they will start appearing soon. Bumblebees meanwhile were represented by Buff-tails (10+), Carder (5+), and Red-tailed (1), though the best observation was my first Early Bumblebee of the year, these small & attractive bees always being nice to see.
Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)
Finally on the wildflower side the continuing emergence of the bluebells was the most obvious feature of our stroll through the woods, the wonderful scent of these iconic flowers now hanging in the air, though other flowers included my first flowering Wood Sorrel of the year, as well as Stitchwort here and there and a smattering of Wood Anemones. Primroses remain abundant, as is Dogs Mercury, whilst the Celandines are now starting to fade. However the dandelions are now beginning to take their place with their much larger yellow flowers, whilst amongst the Barren Strawberries, Violets and Primroses, the first of this years Bugle is starting to rise up from the woodland floor.
24th, Beverley Parks – Two Whitethroats can now be found in the vicinity of the homestead with another bird being heard near the railway crossing at 7 am this morning. Indeed despite the cold wind which swept across the area today, it would seem that spring is continuing on regardless with a pair of mating Swallows also being spotted this morning. Along the lane the Garlic Mustard has appeared almost overnight and the first florets of Cow Parsley have also now come into flower, whilst in the woods the Horse Chestnuts are now nearing full leaf and are casting heavy shadows once more. They should also start flowering soon.
25th, Woldgarth – Another unseasonably chilly late April day with a bitter northerly breeze making it feel doubly cold, but nevertheless a few bumblebees were still noted buzzing around the garden, all being, as far as I could tell, Buff-tails. The garden itself is now full of an ever increasing variety of colours, the yellow of the daffodils giving way to the tulips which were planted many, many moons ago, whilst the Spanish Bluebells that we inherited with the property are now in full bloom.
Meanwhile a single male Blackcap was seen at the bird feeders this afternoon, a sign perhaps that it is struggling for food due to the current cold spell. Indeed with snow forecast for areas above 150 metres one does fear for the survival of some of these early arriving ‘summer’ visitors.
26th, Woldgarth – Again despite low temperatures, a bitter wind chill and frequent wintry showers, a few bumblebees were noted in the garden, including a Red-tailed specimen, the first I have actually seen in the garden this year (I think). Swallows too were noted and at dawn the male Blackcap was singing away despite the sleet and wet snow, whilst in the afternoon I observed the first fledged Wood Pigeon of the year, a collarless and somewhat scruffy individual being noted in the Ash tree above the feeding station. A scruffy Robin was also noted today, possibly infested with mites picked up from a nest-box which had not been cleaned out properly during the winter.
28th, Woldgarth – A new species of spider was added to the Woldgarth list as I stumbled upon a variety of ‘jumping spider’ (Salticidae) in the bathroom. At first I assumed it was just a small Zebra Spider, a common species in the house and one of the few spiders I actually like to see, but upon closer inspection I realised it was in fact something different. After a quick search through the excellent resource that is the naturespot website, I think I have been able to identify it as Pseudeuophrys lanigera, a relatively widespread spider which is more often than not found around homes. The species has been spreading northwards in recent times after first being recorded down in Devon in 1930 and it appears to have now arrived in this little corner of the East Riding as well.
30th, Woldgarth – For the first time in several days it actually felt like it was spring again at Woldgarth, the garden bursting into life after a week of sleet, bitter winds and temperatures more akin to mid-March rather than late-April. Everywhere I looked a variety of invertebrates were crawling and flying around the flower beds, with Tree Bees, Buff-tails and Hairy-footed Flower Bees all making an appearance, whilst at least a couple of other bee species were noted, including Tawny Mining Bees and Red Mason Bees. Cuckoo-bees were also sunning themselves on the plants along with a few handsome Wasps, and as I looked I found two species of Ladybird (7-spot and Harlequin). Finally a good number of Chequered Hoverflies were apparent, especially in the wilder corners of the garden.
Meanwhile the birds were in fine song, especially the Blackbirds, Chaffinches, Dunnocks and the single Blackcap, whilst the pleasant gentle twitterings of the Goldfinches were wonderful to hear as I watched the World Championship Snooker with the garden doors open wide. The soft whistles and twirrs of the male Bullfinch could also be heard from time to time, whilst overhead the chattering calls of Swallows confirmed that they have managed to hold on through the cold spell. I had hoped to see my first Swifts by the end of April but alas it was not to be, though if truth be told the first is usually seen in the first week of May here at Woldgarth.