March 2016

1st, Woldgarth – Five siskins were at the feeding station this morning, the highest count so far this year, with three males and two females, these joining the usual resident finches at what proved to be a very busy day at the garden feeding station. Indeed my stock of sunflower hearts is depleting rapidly at the moment!


2nd, Woldgarth – At least eleven Siskins were recorded today, smashing yesterdays count of five, with eight males and three females, and one wonders if there are any more hiding in the garden. It has been a strange winter for the local siskins, as I have been hearing them on and off in the neighbouring wood since late November, but it wasn’t until mid-January that a single male finally made an appearance at the garden feeding station. He remained the only siskin visitor for over a month but since then numbers have been slowly increasing, possibly in response to the recent colder weather.

Indeed today saw a period of moderate snowfall in late morning, this giving a light covering of about a centimetre, at least on the grass and trees, by midday. However it would soon melt in the afternoon sunshine here at Woldgarth, though during our test drive of our new car we came upon plenty more snow up on the Wolds, especially around Huggate where a few centimetres covered the fields and roads. During our trip I also noted a flock of about 30-40 Golden Plovers in their favoured field just outside Cherry Burton.

img_6093
A short period of snow, a rare phenomena this winter


5th, Woldgarth – It was a bright but showery day for my garden bird count this weekend, heavy showers of hail and ice pellets sweeping down from the north from time to time and temporarily whitening the ground, but despite the cold conditions a decent variety of birds turned up, including; Blackbird (x3), Blue tit (x2), Bullfinch (x2), Carrion Crow (x4), Chaffinch (x7), Goldcrest (x1), Goldfinch (x7), Greenfinch (x15), Great tit (x2), Long-tailed tit (x1), Magpie (x1), Robin (x1), Siskin (x7), Starling (x2), and Wood Pigeon (x2). In total 57 birds of 15 species were noted, about average for the year so far.

Meanwhile in the afternoon I spotted a hunting Peregrine in the skies above Beverley, and as I watched I saw it suddenly dive bomb a group of feral pigeons near the Minster, though the actual attack took place hidden from my view by a nearby building. However the Peregrine seemed unsuccessful when it reappeared but nevertheless it was a thrill to watch.

bird-counts
Garden bird counts so far this year


6th, Woldgarth – On what was a chilly but bright March afternoon I conducted an informal survey of all the flowers currently in bloom within the confines of Woldgarth, something I have been meaning to do since being inspired by Ragged Robin’s similar such list. In total eighteen types of flower were found, and included, in alphabetical order;

Balkan Anemone (or Anemone blanda), Berberis (just starting to flower), Bergenia, Crocus, Cyclamen, Daffodil (both dwarf & normal varieties), Daisy, Feverfew (this particular plant has flowered throughout the winter), Forsythia (just starting to flower), Grape Hyacinth (or Muscari), Hyacinth (a pink one has just starting flowering in the past week), Kerria (double variety), Lesser Celandine, Lungwort (or Pulmonaria), Primulas (not including Wild Primrose), Snowdrop, Winter Aconite (a few very tatty specimens are still just about flowering in the shade), and Winter Jasmine.

As regards insects it has been a very slow start to the year with no butterflies, just the one species of moth, a single unidentified Bumble Bee back in January, and the odd Ladybird, mostly of the harlequin variety unfortunately. However the weather forecasts are suggesting that it might warm up by next weekend, so, all being well, I should be able to run the moth trap for the first time this year.


7th, Woldgarth – The female Great Spotted Woodpecker is now frequently visiting the bird feeders, especially early in the morning and again in late afternoon. Meanwhile the male Bullfinches have become less tolerant of each other in recent days, one particular male chasing away other males throughout the morning, whilst it also didn’t take kindly to some of the male Chaffinches as well. However the Siskins, Greenfinches and Tits seemed exempt from his aggressive behaviour.


8th, Swinemoor – I headed down to Swinemoor at dawn on what was a cold and frosty morning, the roads being covered in ice in places, especially along the river Hull where water had been able to leach through the riverbank (in this area the river is actually higher than the road and the surrounding countryside). The river itself is running quite high at the moment and is very muddy and unappealing, whilst on the common itself the winter floods are now extensive and cover much of the area between the river and the so called Beverley-Barmston Drain, this natural flood meadow being like a scaled down version of the wonderful Ouse Washes in Cambridgeshire/Norfolk.

Of course all this water is great for the wildfowl and waders whom roost and feed here, the birds seemingly tolerating the frequent disturbance from dog walkers, and as I scanned across the open and windswept pasture I could observe huge numbers of Wigeon and Teal, the Wigeon possibly numbering in excess of a thousand. However due to the large distances involved it can be difficult to records birds here without a scope and since I only had my binoculars with me I could only do a quick check this morning. However birds I did manage to record included; Wigeon (1000+), Teal (250+), Shoveler (25+), Mallard, Golden Plover (20+), Curlew (x2) and Lapwings.

Elsewhere in the area I spotted a Barn Owl hunting along the banks of the ‘drain’, and a Kingfisher whizzed past the Crown & Anchor pub at Hull Bridge as I cycled over the footbridge, whilst as I stood on the riverbank a Little Egret flew past, an uncommon sight in this neck of the woods until a few years ago. Cormorants too were noted in good numbers, whilst a few species of gull were also observed including Black-heads, Commons, Herrings and Lesser Black-backs. Further observations of note included a number of singing Reed Buntings along the river, Skylarks overhead, and the sad sight of a dead fox beside the road. People do drive far too fast along this road!


8th, North Cave Wetlands – Later in the morning we took our youngest niece for a walk around this always interesting Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve, and whilst the weather was pretty grey and unappealing with a bitterly cold wind sweeping across the reserve, we nevertheless had a very enjoyable and bracing walk. A number of interesting birds have been around the reserve this winter, including a redhead Smew, a Green-winged Teal, a Bearded Tit and even a Kittiwake the other day, but unfortunately until today I haven’t been able to get down to the reserve.

Indeed despite my best efforts I was unable to relocate the GW Teal, the lack of reports recently perhaps suggesting it has moved on anyway, whilst I also failed to find the pair of Mediterranean Gulls which have recently returned to the reserve. However I had better luck with the first Avocets of the spring, a single bird being spotted on Village Lake this morning, whilst at Far Lake I had outstandingly close views of a very handsome drake Mandarin duck. Indeed if I had taken a proper camera I could have got some great pics but I was at least able to get a decent record shot with my telescope and iphone.

img_6127
Mandarin (Aix galericulata)

In total 49 species of bird were recorded during our stroll around the reserve with most being fairly typical fare for this time of year. Indeed the usual build-up of Shelducks is now well under-way with at least 75 being recorded this morning, while Oystercatchers have additionally returned with the number of these rather noisy waders now back in double figures. Redshanks, which can usually be found at the reserve throughout the year in small numbers, were also numerous this morning with 30+ counted, most of these being spotted in the flooded fields north of the reserve, whilst a few Snipe were additionally spotted. Overhead a Curlew called as it flew over, a reminder that these wonderful but declining birds should already be returning to the high moors above Grosmont & Goathland, and a sign of the times was the presence of two Little Egrets on the reserve, a bird which until recently would have been a very rare sight in winter.

Great Crested Grebes have additionally returned in recent weeks with at least seven being counted this morning, whilst the much more diminutive Little Grebes were also notably more conspicuous today, with a few doing their characteristic and loud trilling type calls on Far & Carp Lakes. However reminders that we still remain very much in winter were provided by Redwings in the hedgerows and the dozen or so Pochard on the lakes, but with the Willows and Alders now very much in flower one does feel that spring is almost with us. Indeed the church-yard at North Cave was looking lovely as we passed on our journey home, with an abundance of snowdrops and Wild Primroses on show. I wonder is it going to be a case of “In like a lion, Out like a lamb” this March?


9th, Woldgarth – A diminutive Varied Carpet Beetle (Anthrenus verbasci) was found crawling on the walls today, this 3 mm long beetle looking like a very small ladybird with the naked eye. However with a magnifying glass it is far more interesting and it just goes to show that even indoors one can continue to enjoy the wonders of the natural world.

Meanwhile the first nine days of March have certainly proved to be rather soggy, the monthly rainfall total already exceeding the monthly average, and as a result one of our outbuildings has been flooded with an inch of standing water covering the floor this afternoon. No doubt this will soon drain away but nevertheless it is a bit of inconvenience as every time this happens we have to move things to drier and higher locations within the building. It is also unusual to have such wet weather at this time of year, March generally being the 3rd driest month of the year (just behind February and May), but at least the water levels haven’t reached the record levels of June 2007, the month of the famous floods when Hull and many parts of the East Riding were badly affected.


10th-13th, Grosmont & Esk Valley – As ever it was the avian inhabitants of the area which interested me most, and whilst I had hoped that the wonderful spring-like weather may have brought me my first Chiffchaff of the year, I nevertheless had plenty of other compensations, including a female Stonechat up on Sleights Moor on the Thursday, plus another three in roughly the same location on the Sunday. This is the first time I have seen more than one in the same location since last year. Also up on heather clad expanse of Sleights Moor I noted 7 Golden Plovers on the 10th, my first moorland ‘Goldie’s’ of the spring, whilst Lapwings were seen displaying both up here and down in the sheep grazed in-bye land below, their tumbling display flights being one of those wonderful spring spectacles which I always look forward to seeing. However most exciting, for me anyway, was the return of the Curlews, with at least three different birds being heard at two different locations, this long billed wader being one of my favourite birds, and a definite harbinger of spring up here on the moors. A single displaying Meadow Pipit in the same area was another welcome sign of the changing season.

However for most of the long weekend I was actually birding in and around the village, the woods, pastures and gentle rivers providing a good array of feathered residents to record and enjoy. Delightful year round residents such as the Dippers and the Grey Wagtails provided plenty of entertainment, with at least two pairs of Dippers being noted along the river, whilst scarce East Yorkshire species such as Marsh tit and Nuthatch were seen and heard in song. On the river Esk a female Goosander was spotted shortly after dawn on the 12th, with a male being spotted flying south-eastwards later that same day, whilst a pair were seen together heading in the opposite direction on the 13th.

The woods and pastures of Lease Rigg were dominated by the sound of both Song and Mistle Thrushes in song, the latter throughout the day and the former primarily at dawn and dusk, whilst the woods both up here and down by the Esk hosted noisy Rooks at their nesting colonies. In the village some of the large number of Jackdaws which live around the area were spotted checking out chimney pots of a number of properties for potential nest sites, and as I wandered through the local woods I must have heard at least three separate Great Spotted Woodpeckers around the area. In the fallow pastures south of the Rigg a few Green Woodpeckers were also seen and heard, these same pastures being popular with the aforementioned Mistle Thrushes, whilst on the morning of the 11th a few gulls were also noted, including some handsome adult Herring Gulls.

Elsewhere a few Siskins were noted beside the station and also down around the cricket field, and a Buzzard was observed soaring over the in-bye land below Sleights Moor, this causing a panic amongst the local Lapwings, whilst another was also encountered at Green End. By day Skylarks sang over the fields, and by night Tawny Owls were heard throughout the valley, though on the 11th a couple of Tawnys were also heard calling around midday between Esk Valley and Green End. Around the church two of Britain’s most diminutive birds were noted, with Goldcrests and a single Treecreeper amongst the beeches which surround the relatively modern 19th century building. Given the demise of Moorhens, a once common bird which has suffered greatly in the local area due to Mink predation, it was good to see at least two along the Murk Esk during our weekend, and hopefully this is just the start of a recovery of this otherwise easily ignored species. Finally a group of seven honking Canada Geese were seen passing over on the 12th, though unfortunately the village missed out on the mass movement of Whooper Swans reported from other areas of Yorkshire throughout the weekend.

The wonderful spring-like weather at the weekend brought my first butterflies of the year with a single Peacock flittering along the Murk Esk on the 12th and a single Small Tortoiseshell in the riverside garden on the 13th. Moths too provided plenty of interest, a single March Tubic (Diurnea fagella) being found inside the cottage on the 12th, and whilst I wished I had brought my moth trap up with me this weekend, I was nevertheless able to find a few moths in the village thanks to the old fashioned platform lamps at the heritage railway, including three March Moth, a single Chestnut and two Pale Brindled Beauty, the latter being a new species for me.

Given the pleasantly warm sunshine, and the increasing variety of both garden and wild flowers, it was unsurprising to see plenty of honey bees around the area, especially within the village itself. A few bumble bees were additionally noted, though most of these were just passing observations and I was unable to identify most of them, which is actually just as well anyway as my bee ID skills are not very good. However a probable Buff-tailed Bumble-bee was noted buzzing about near the river Esk on Sunday morning.

Whilst wandering from Goathland station back to Grosmont (11th), I came across a number of moorland pools near Darnholm which contained good amounts of frogspawn, the first I have seen this spring. At least four frogs were noted in the pool though they soon disappeared when I approached closer. Meanwhile the strong sun on Sunday (13th) encouraged a Common Lizard to be active on the south-facing hillside above Water Ark, though I failed to find any Adders or other herps in the area.

A pair of roe deer were in the woods beside the river Esk whilst a Stoat was spotted near the ford at Darnholm. Primroses have started to flower around the village, including at the church, at the north end of the station and on the bank beside the National Park car park. The hawthorns meanwhile are starting to ‘green’, especially along the path to the neighbouring hamlet of Esk Valley, whilst Dogs Mercury is coming up in the woods along here. In the garden plenty of daffodils and crocuses are now brightening up the area, though snowdrops have already nearly finished for yet another year. However better things are promised by the leaves of bluebells, whilst the evocative aroma of Ramsons (or Wild Garlic if you prefer) is now noticeable down by the river. Finally along the river quite a bit of Colt’s-foot is now in flower, these cheeringly bright early spring flowers heralding the arrival of spring beside the Murk Esk.


14th, Woldgarth – The first moth trapping session of the year took place last night, though when I actually emptied the trap this morning I found just a single Common Quaker tucked away deep amongst the eggboxes of my Skinner trap. Still it is simply nice just to be able to trap and record moths again, and here’s hoping for a good year for the nocturnal flutterers which live within the garden.

7d1_2418
Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi)


14th, Beverley Parks – A mixed collection of gulls were in the fields near our home this morning, the soggy winter weather and the rain at the beginning of March meaning that some areas of standing water can still be found in the Parks despite the recent fine spell of weather. Black-headed Gulls, whom are very much in a mixed variety of plumages at the moment, were the most numerous, though smart looking Common Gulls were also present in double figures. Larger species were less numerous but included a few Herring Gulls and three Lesser Black-backed Gulls, one of the adult Lesser Black-backs looking particularly smart and resplendent in the golden morning sunshine.

Further notes from the Parks this morning included a few singing Skylarks over the arable fields, at least three singing Yellowhammers throughout the area, and a large and noisy flock of Starlings (100+) down beside the railway line. The countryside was also nice and frosty at dawn, especially in the usual frost hollows near Old Hall Farm.

Meanwhile it is now time to listen out for the first Chiffchaffs of the year around my home patch, the average date for their arrival in the Parks being around the 23rd/24th March. Last year the first was heard on the 19th, the second earliest date since my records began in 2006, though the earliest ever was the 15th March 2007. As I write it seems highly unlikely that this date will be beaten this year but you never know.

img_3787
Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella)


15th, Woldgarth – Cloudier and therefore slightly milder conditions meant that a few more moths were attracted to the light trap during the previous night, four moths being found in the trap when I inspected it shortly after dawn this morning. In total 2 Common Quakers, 1 Clouded Drab (NFY) & a single Hebrew Character (NFY) were tucked away either inside or in the wooden corners of the Skinner trap, and whilst they were all pretty much standard fare for this time of year, it was nevertheless nice to catch up with these familiar early season species.


15th, Swinemoor – After several days of sunshine and light winds, it came as quite a shock to step out of doors shortly after dawn this morning to be confronted with overcast skies, mizzly drizzle and a brisk and chill north-easterly breeze. However despite the weather I decided to head down to Swinemoor to see if anything had turned up on the winter floods since last week, hoping perhaps for a small herd of Whoopers given the large numbers reported passing through elsewhere. However upon arrival it soon became clear that little new had arrived, and indeed if anything the number of Wigeon seemed less numerous than last week, though numbers were still in the several hundred. Teal were also very conspicuous on the extensive floods and easily numbered well in excess of 250+.

Shovelers were also very apparent, numbering perhaps as many as 30, though I was surprised to see no Shelducks, these large ducks usually reaching their peak at this location in March and April. Other than the resident Lapwings no other waders were noted either, though the low light and distances involved made a thorough check for some of the smaller species pretty difficult to say the least. I think I will have to take my telescope next time! Gulls meanwhile were represented by three species with Black-heads, Commons and Herrings being noted, and further interest was provided by a half dozen Cormorants and a Buzzard in the woods east of the common. A pair of large Roe deer were also noted in the fields east of the common.


16th, Woldgarth – The moth trap was put out this evening on what was a partly cloudy, cool and breezy night, though the afternoon sunshine did give me reason to be hopeful for perhaps the odd moth or two when I went to inspect it the following morning (17th). However in the end just two moths were found with another Clouded Drab & an Alucita hexadactyla (Many-plumed/Twenty-plumed Moth) being found, the latter being a new moth for the year list. Hopefully I will have better luck up at Grosmont this coming weekend though unfortunately the weather looks like being unfavourable.


17th-20th, Grosmont & Esk Valley – Our weekend started well bird-wise with the observation of a 100+ Golden Plover towards the south of Sleights Moor, whilst the number of displaying Lapwings has also increased up here on the moor with at least a dozen seen swooping and diving as they perform their evocative display flights. Curlews were again heard and seen in a few places between Grosmont and Goathland throughout the weekend, including at least two together at Moorgates on the Sunday, though overall numbers remain worryingly low. The demise of this iconic upland bird in recent times is definitely alarming.

The Yellowhammers meanwhile have started to sing up here, joining their lowland cousins whom have been singing since late February, the sheltered fields above Water Ark and Goathland being popular locations for this colourful bunting, whilst in the same locations it was wonderful to listen to the Skylarks singing in the vast sky above. A trip to Danby and the National Park headquarters brought Nuthatches and Treecreepers aplenty in the woods around the visitor centre, indeed I don’t think I have ever seen so many treecreepers in one single place before!

img_6327
Looking north from Lease Rigg

Back at Grosmont the usual riverine birds were enjoyed, a Dipper singing on the rocks right beside the cottage garden delighting me as I sat and enjoyed the sound of the river, whilst a Grey Heron gracefully flew past me on Thursday evening, a most impressive sight at close quarters. On Sunday morning a male and female pair of Goosanders were spotted on the Esk, whilst in the village I noted a few Tree Sparrows high in the trees above the station, a new species for my Grosmont list. Interestingly the naturalist Graham Featherstone, whom lives a little further up the valley and writes a wildlife column for the Esk Valley News, also noted his first ever garden Tree Sparrow the next day.

As regards butterflies the majority of the weekend was unfavourable, though during the sunshine on Thursday afternoon we did spot what appeared to be a Peacock butterfly as we made our way across the edge of Fylingdales Moor. I also took the moth trap up this weekend, but owing to brightness of my MV bulb I decided it was perhaps unfair to the neighbours to use it in our riverside garden, after all I don’t want to fall out with them already. This means I will have to buy a lower powered Actinic trap for use at Rivergarth, though I haven’t decided as to whether it will be another Skinner or perhaps a far more expensive Robinson. Decisions, decisions…

However like last weekend the lamps at the heritage railway station proved to be a reasonable substitute for the lack of a trap, and on Sunday morning I found a new moth in the shape and form of a Yellow Horned Moth (Achlya flavicornis). This is a species typically associated with birch woodlands, and given that the neighbouring National Park car park is dominated by birch, its presence was perhaps to be expected. Nevertheless the observation made my day, especially as it is an unknown species back home at Woldgarth and in the eastern half of VC61. Meanwhile a White-shouldered House Moth was also found in the cottage, another new addition to the year list.

A few bumble-bees were additionally noted this weekend, all appearing to be of the Buff-tailed variety, with sightings coming in Grosmont itself, as well as up on Lease Rigg, and right at the edge of ‘my patch’ at Moorgates.

yellow-horned-moth
Yellow-horned Moth (Achlya flavicornis)

In the garden I was pleased to find the first flowering Sweet Violets of the year, these small and dark purple flowers being easily overlooked as they flower on the steep grassy bank leading down to the river. However otherwise no new wildflowers have been noted since last week, though primroses are now flowering widely throughout the Esk Valley, whilst the daffodils in and around the communities which nestle into this winding dale are also cheering to see, the National Park visitor centre at Danby hosting a particularly fine display. A stunning bank of Snowdrops was also admired as we travelled from Lockton to Levisham on the Sunday, the north facing hillside meaning that these flowers have come out much later than elsewhere, indeed the snowdrops have already finished at Rivergarth!

The frogspawn I discovered on the edge of Goathland Moor the other day was still apparent when I passed it again on both the 19th and 20th, though the low temperatures meant that the frogs themselves were inactive. Indeed no further frogspawn seems to have been added since last weekend. Roe deer were also noted again this week, a fine specimen spotted to the north of the Rigg on Thursday evening, and a pair near Alder House on the Saturday, though less pleasing was a dead deer beside the Esk Valley railway line, a victim of one of the services which runs four times a day between Whitby and Middlesbrough. The death is even more of a tragedy as it appeared to be a buck very much in his prime. However on a much cheerier note I noticed the first lambs of the year in the fields north of the Rigg, always a welcome spring-time sight.


21st, Woldgarth – A colder and clearer night than forecast meant that just five moths were uncovered when I went to check the trap shortly after dawn this morning. Of these five just one was a new addition to the year list, this coming in the shape and form of a Common Plume (Emmelina monodactyla), whilst the others were Beautiful Plume (Amblyptilia acanthadactyla), Twenty-plume (Alucita hexadactyla), Common Quaker and Clouded Drab. Hopefully conditions will remain favourable for the rest of the week.

I also spotted my first bat of the year yesterday evening whilst putting the trap out, presumably a Common Pipistrelle judging by the size. One of these days I will finally get around to buying a bat detector!

dsc_8005
Common Plume (Emmelina monodactyla)


22nd, Beverley Parks – I had a good tour of my home patch near Beverley this morning, primarily in the hope of bagging my first Chiffchaff of the year, though despite my thorough check of the fields and woods which surround Woldgarth I came away empty handed once again. Maybe tomorrow. However I did flush a small flock of six Golden Plover from the winter cereals along Shepherds Lane, whilst at the new pond beside the bypass I noted a trio of Greylag Geese. I wonder if they will try and raise a family again this year?


22nd, Woldgarth – Back at home the Siskins are continuing to frequent the bird feeders though overall the number of other visitors has notably decreased with far fewer Greenfinches and Goldfinches visiting during the last week or so. It will be interesting to see how much longer the Siskins continue to remain in the garden, especially as this species is not a breeding bird in this part of the county.

Since my last check of the garden flowers a few more species have subsequently appeared, including Periwinkle, a few Dog Violets, at least one Forget-me-not and plenty of Chionodaxa type flowers (sometimes known as ‘Glory of the Snow’), the latter having been planted myself a few years ago in the ‘spring garden’. Whilst looking for these early flowers I noted a Carder Bee buzzing about them, my first of the year, though overall very few bees were about today with just a few Honey Bees being additionally noted. Interestingly I have yet to see any Droneflies (Eristalis tenax) so far this year, which is a bit odd considering that the bees are active.


23rd, Woldgarth – Despite what was a relatively mild and cloudy night I was disappointed to find just three moths in and around the trap when I went to inspect it this morning. However one of these three was a new addition to the year list, my first Early Grey of the year, whilst the other two were both Hebrew Characters. It is always a close contest every year as to whether Hebrew Character or Common Quaker is the most common spring moth here, with Common Quaker just about taking the prize every year. Indeed so far this year the scores are Common Quaker 4, Hebrew Character 3, so early signs are that is going to be another ‘epic’ Orthosia battle here at Woldgarth.

Still no Chiffchaffs but as I cycled along the local lane I was pleased to see that the first of the Butterburs are starting to appear along the ditches, these joining the Celandines, Ground Ivy, Dead-nettles and rapidly growing Nettles on the verges and field-edges. A surprising amount of standing water remains in the horse grazed pastures, this still attracting a few species of gull, but overall it was a quiet morning with little of note. Maybe the southerly winds forecast for the weekend will bring something new.

7d1_2440
Early Grey (Xylocampa areola)


24th, Woldgarth – The distinctive hands of the Horse Chestnuts are just starting to unfurl here and there as they emerge from their large and sticky buds, the appearance of which I always associate with the return of the Chiffchaff. However yet again not a single chiff, or indeed a chaff, was heard today and with reports coming from all over the East Riding I am starting to feel left out! Surely they will be here by the end of the weekend.

Meanwhile I gave the lawn its first mow of the year in the morning, wanting to get it done before the forecast rain this afternoon, and whilst I would not describe myself as a ‘lawn person’, I must admit it is nice to see a neatly trimmed expanse of green turf. With nieces and nephew also likely to descend upon us in the next fortnight it should also provide plenty of space for them to run around if the weather is kind.


25th, Woldgarth – There was a real feel of spring in the air today as the countryside in this corner of the East Riding of Yorkshire was bathed with warm March sunshine, indeed in the walled garden it was almost too hot during the middle of the day! This spring weather encouraged a few butterflies to flitter through the gardens of Woldgarth, including my first Comma of the year, whilst other species included Peacock and Brimstone. A few droneflies (Eristalis tenax) were also spotted, whilst bees were represented by Buff-tailed, Carder and Honey. In the evening a Common Pipistrelle bat was hunting around the garden when I was putting the moth trap out and all in all it was a most enjoyable Good Friday.


25th, North Cliffe Wood – On what was an idyllic spring morning we went for a walk around our favourite woodland nature reserve, meeting up with my younger sister and her family quite by chance. This made exploring the nature of the reserve all the more enjoyable thanks to the company of my 6 year old nephew and he showed me some of the mosquito larva he had found before we arrived, whilst I showed him the tiny red female flowers of the hazels, my pocket magnifying glass coming in handy, and also pointing out the masses of 7-spot Ladybirds on the flowering gorse.

The gorse also attracted a number of bee species, most numerous being Honey Bees, but a half dozen Buff-tailed Bumblebees were also noted, whilst a single Red-tailed Bumblebee was my first of the year. Nearby a single Tree Bee was seen to pass us and then land upon the dry heathland grass, this allowing me to study it through my binoculars, and latterly a couple of Carder Bees were seen around the heathland pool. Further observations of interest included my first Droneflies (Eristalis tenax) of the year, and along the western perimeter path a dozen or so Mining Bees were recorded, the distinctive holes of this fascinating insect being spotted here and there.

Whilst bees and alike had been very apparent during our woodland stroll, the number of butterflies on the wing was disappointing by comparison, with just a couple of Brimstones being spotted. However these were my first sightings of these lovely bright yellow butterflies this year, this species being the quintessential butterfly of spring. That other herald of spring, the Chiffchaff, was also heard in the wood this morning, my first of the year, with a single bird singing in the birch woodland north of the heath.

On the woodland floor the green spikes of the Bluebells now provide a thick carpet and are almost ready to flower as the sun climbs ever higher in the springtime sky. Indeed two early pioneers were already starting to flower would you believe, these being the earliest I have ever recorded at North Cliffe Wood. Primroses were flowering well, and some Wild Strawberries and Violets were also found (foolishly I forgot to check which type), whilst the attractive flowers of the Larch were additionally noted.

As one would expect a good variety of bird song was enjoyed as we wandered through the oak and birch woodlands which dominate this relatively small nature reserve, the pleasing and gentle coo of Stock doves being heard amongst the otherwise more commonplace birds. A few drumming Great Spotted Woodpeckers were heard as well, whilst above the fields on either side of the reserve the Skylarks sang continuously. To the east and towards the nearby Yorkshire Wolds, a pair of Buzzards and a single Red Kite were enjoying the thermals, they too welcoming the return of the warming spring sun.


26th, Woldgarth – Another quiet night with six moths of four species being uncovered in the trap this morning, the fresh overnight breeze perhaps meaning that conditions were not ideal. Still a single March Moth was nice to see, only the second I have ever recorded here at Woldgarth, whilst the other species included three Common Quakers, a single Hebrew Character and another solitary Early Grey.

With cloudy skies dominating the weather today, it was a much quieter day compared to yesterday with no butterflies and just the odd bee making an appearance. However since we have been away on recent weekends I was at least able to conduct the weekly bird count today, the survey taking place shortly after lunch at around 2 pm. In the end 15 species were counted in the half-hour and included the following; Blue tit (x4), Blackbird (x2), Bullfinch (x2), Chaffinch (x2), Dunnock (x1), Great-spotted Woodpecker (x1), Greenfinch (x8), Goldfinch (x1), Great tit (x2), Goldcrest (x1), Jackdaw (x2), Magpie (x1), Siskin (x1), Wren (x1) and Wood Pigeon (x5). Overhead a variety of gulls were seen dancing about the skies in the fresh to strong southerly breeze, and as I watched from my window I spotted a rodent along the edge of the wood, presumably a little Wood Mouse judging by the size and habitat.


27th, Woldgarth – It was a decent day weather-wise at Woldgarth this Easter Sunday with plenty of sunshine to enjoy, though a brisk breeze did make it feel quite cool, especially out in the open. In late afternoon some thundery showers bubbled up too, with some hail mixed in at times, whilst a bright rainbow arced across the sky as the storm drifted away to the north-east. I wonder if there are any omens associated with thunder or rainbows on Easter Day?

Certainly rain on Easter day is supposed to ‘betoken’ a good harvest, whilst thunder in either March or April is also associated with good harvests of both hay and corn, at least in Scotland anyway. However, as with so many other country matters, opinions do vary greatly on this subject, thunder in March being associated with sorrow for some, whilst a wet March is also not to be welcomed, for example “A wet March makes a sad harvest.” Since nearly 100 mm’s of rain have been recorded this month (the average is usually 46.8 mm), one hopes that this last piece of weather-lore does not prove to be accurate!

In the garden I noticed a few bumblebees buzzing around the spring flowers in the Easter day sunshine, whilst the daffodils are now reaching their glorious peak. In the woods the buds of Sycamores are also starting to swell and burst in response to the strengthening mid-spring sun.


27th, Swinemoor – I made my way down to the other side of Beverley this morning to see how the birds of these seasonal flood meadows were getting on, enjoying the spring sunshine and the near empty roads as I cycled the three miles to Beverley’s northern most ‘common-pasture’. No Barn Owls were about at Hull Bridge this morning but a Kingfisher did make an appearance in the Beverley-Barmston Drain again, whilst overhead feral Greylag Geese and Mallards flew northwards, probably to the nature reserves at either High Eske or Tophill Low. With reports of Sand Martins and even a few Swallows coming from the Humber estuary some 10 miles to the south, I was also keeping an eye out for some early hirundines, but alas I drew a blank. However even more surprising was the lack of Chiffchaffs, and whilst I have heard them elsewhere in the East Riding in recent days, I am still awaiting to hear my first in the Beverley area.

As I reached the banks of the river I noticed more Butterburs starting to flower, the bank just outside Hull Bridge being covered in them, whilst further along the river I noticed some Speedwell just starting to come out, my first of the year. Out on the floods themselves the number of wildfowl and gulls has continued to decrease, though both Teal and Wigeon still number in the hundreds, whilst Shovelers number in excess of twenty. As regards the gulls the dominant species this morning was overwhelmingly the Common Gull (or Mew Gull), with the odd Black-head, Herring and Lesser Black-back amongst them. However about two or three rather dainty and small bodied gulls did catch my eye in the distance, possibly Little Gulls?

As I watched 20+ Golden Plovers flying over the floods, some of which were now in near full breeding plumage, the bells of the Minster, some one and a half miles away, could be heard loud and clear over the wetlands, the peal of the bells celebrating this most sacred of all days in the Christian calendar. Indeed as I headed home to join my family for our own Easter celebrations I noted a few extra birds as I departed the wetlands, including an abundance of displaying Lapwings, a single Redshank, a trio of Cormorants, and a number of Pied Wagtails, whilst amongst the reeds I noticed my first flowering Marsh Marigolds of the year, kingcups for the newly risen King of Creation.


28th, Woldgarth – The garden birds were singing well this afternoon after the morning rain, most lovely of which was the gentle trilling and whistles of the resident Bullfinches. I have never managed to actually find any bullfinch nests in the garden but I strongly suspect that they nest in the large mature yews which border the garden. With the local population of these handsome finches seemingly booming, this following a period in the early 2000’s when they were almost completely absent, it gladdens my heart to see them doing so well here at Woldgarth. Hopefully 2016 will prove to be another good breeding year.


29th-1st April, Grosmont & Esk Valley – The main highlight of our few days up in the village this week was the sudden arrival of Chiffchaffs, these heralds of spring having seemingly arrived all at once since our last visit a week and a half earlier. Indeed on the 29th I heard at least four, and possibly as many as six, around the village, most being concentrated around the birch woodlands which have come to dominate the old site of the Iron Works. Indeed for the remainder of the week it was rare that I couldn’t here at least one wherever I wandered around the village, and now I await the first Swallows and Willow Warblers as well! However not all winter visitors have left just yet and a flock of about a dozen Fieldfares was noted near Goathland on the 31st. Will these be my last of the winter?

Less expected was a single drake Wigeon with three Mallards on the cricket field on the evening of the 30th, a new bird for my Grosmont list which has now increased to 84, though generally the week was unremarkable with little extra to add on previous recent weeks. However unremarkable doesn’t mean undesirable, and whilst drumming Great-spotted Woodpeckers, yaffling Green Woodpeckers, singing Mistle & Song Thrushes, noisy Rooks & Jackdaws, displaying Curlews, a whole host of singing woodland passerines, a good variety of common gulls, and riverine birds such as Dippers and Grey Wagtails may mean little to the tick seeking twitcher or general birdwatching boor, for me they are much cherished members of the local avifauna and all to be celebrated. Indeed in this period of changing fortunes for so many of our birds it is perhaps more important than ever to monitor and record the familiar as well as the less familiar!

It was disappointing to see no butterflies at all during our few days up at the village, especially as the weather was quite promising on a few days, albeit a little cool perhaps, but yet again the lamps along the station and platform of the heritage railway proved an excellent place to look for moths. Indeed it was surprising how many moths could be found given that most mornings were very cold and frosty, with two moths being new for my year list, and one being a brand new species for me, this coming in the shape and form of an Oak Beauty (Biston strataria) on the 1st of April, a moth 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 (VC62) 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.

dsc_7739
Oak Beauty (Biston strataria)

Also new for the year was an Early Thorn (Selenia dentaria), this being found on the fence near the end of the platform on the 30th, whilst other new species for my Grosmont list included Early Grey (Xylocampa areola) on the 1st and Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica) on the 30th. Finally a Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria) and a March Moth (Alsophila aescularia) were also recorded on the 1st.

However, as with the lack of butterflies, it was a poor few days for insect sightings generally, and just a few Buff-tailed Bumblebees were additionally noted down in my notebook. Even ladybirds were hard to find and hopefully warmer conditions in the coming April will provide better conditions for all insects and not just the early moths!

With the grass now growing once more it was good to see the cattle and cows now back out in the low pastures surrounding their home farms, whilst down by the Esk the fields were filled with newborn lambs, at least a dozen of which were born during the four days we were up at the village. Roe deer again showed well during my dawn and dusk walks up and around Lease Rigg, both bucks and does being observed on various dates, whilst a buck with a missing antler was noted on the cricket field. It will be interesting to see whether I can find this individual again, especially as he should be easy to spot thanks to his distinctive appearance.

In the garden the first Forget-me-nots are starting to flower here and there, especially around our garden sheds, whilst the flowers of the Willows are now fully out and look particularly attractive in the sun. The horse chestnuts are starting to leaf, though no ‘hands’ have emerged yet (unlike back in East Yorkshire), whilst the Sycamores are also starting to show leaf emergence, at least down beside the relatively sheltered river. Primroses are abundant and can be encountered pretty much everywhere, even up at Goathland where spring is roughly a week or two later than down at Grosmont, whilst the bank of Primroses near the old Iron Works is host to a large number of pink specimens, these varying greatly in intensity. Finally I spotted my first broom flowers of the year near the National Park car park, though admittedly these few flowers were very much early pioneers and it will be a few weeks yet till the rest are in full flower.


30th, Mallyan Spout & West Beck – On what was a sunny and pleasant late March morning we enjoyed a walk along West Beck, taking in the attractive gorge and the famous ‘Mallyan Spout’ along the way. Rain yesterday meant that the river itself was flowing strongly, the water an attractive peaty colour which looked particularly attractive in the sun, this river being one of the two main tributaries of the Murk Esk which flows past our cottage some four miles downstream. Indeed it is this peaty water which gives the Murk Esk its name!

The famous waterfall was flowing well, the Mallyan Spout being at its best after heavy rainfall, and as we walked beneath the narrow waterfall we enjoyed an invigorating impromptu shower. After passing through the narrow gorge with its thundering waters, we emerged back into a more peaceful and restful stretch of the river, this allowing us to enjoy the bird song of the alder, birch and oak dominated woods. No doubt Redstarts and Willow warblers will soon return to these woods, but for now it was dominated by more common species, especially Mistle and Song Thrushes, as well as Chaffinch, Robin and a host of others. A couple of treecreepers were noted and both Dippers and Grey Wagtails were spotted along the river as well.

On the woodland floor Wood Sorrel was noted, though there was no sign of any flowers just yet, and as we climbed out of the narrow river valley and back up onto the moors above, we returned to the world of the Skylarks and the Pipits, the latter now being very conspicuous as they perform their distinctive song flights. Curlews likewise were heard calling over the high and more remote parts of the moors, and as we enjoyed a rest we noted a Kestrel and a pair of Buzzards in the skies above.


31st, The Two Howes & Simon Howe – The following day we enjoyed another moorland ramble, this time heading up on to the high Moors themselves above Goathland. The primary reason for this walk was to check out the small tarn which can be found up here, this being a well known location for odonata in the summer, and after enjoying this scenic and sheltered location, we continued our slow climb along the path, heading for the ‘Two Howes’, a pair of round barrows which are located on a minor promontory surrounded by a sea of heather moorland. These barrows date back to either the late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age and are relatively well preserved considering their age.

dsc_7719
Goathland Tarn

From here we continued on to another barrow some three-quarters of a mile to the south, the so called ‘Simon Howe’, and whilst the barrow here has largely been eroded, the original ‘kerb stones’ still form a ring on what is an open and exposed location some 260 metres above sea level. A few genuinely ancient standing stones can also be found beside this location, four of which still form an alignment with the barrow itself (their is evidence of a fifth one apparently), though the actual location is dominated by the large walkers cairn which now sits at the heart of the monument. Indeed Simon Howe is a well known landmark of the famous Lyke Wake Walk which crosses the North York Moors from Osmotherly in the west to Ravenscar on the coast, the walkers of which are expected to complete the 40 mile journey within 24 hours.

Nature wise our walk across the moors was dominated by the presence of large numbers of Meadow Pipits whom performed territorial display flights as we wandered southwards, whilst Skylarks likewise were heard frequently, especially at first around the Tarn. I had hoped to see my first Wheatear of the year as well, but unfortunately no ‘White-rears’ were to be seen, but compensations came thanks to a small group of Golden Plovers, as well as displaying Curlews down towards Wheeldale, plenty of Lapwings near Goathland, & a half dozen Hares up on the moors themselves.