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December 2013

2nd, A Black-throated Diver at North Cave
On Sunday evening I learnt that the Black-throated Diver which had been at North Cave a couple of weeks ago had unexpectedly returned and after missing it last time I was determined to not miss out again. With this in mind we made our way across the Wolds as soon as possible this afternoon, and arrived at the nature reserve on what was a grey and murky kind of day with temperatures hovering around 6C. The awful light didn't promise much photography wise but to be honest I was not to bothered about this as I was more keen to simply see the bird as it would be a new one for me and take my Yorkshire bird list up to 220 species.

Arriving in the hide we found it to be pretty much full up with some chaps and their giant lenses taking up the prime positions, but eventually we found a free corner and made ourselves comfortable and began to look for our target. It didn't take long to find it, with the kind gentleman sitting beside me pointing it out on the far side of the lake, and after taking a few distant record shots he showed me a few photos he had taken earlier when the Diver had been much closer to the hide. His shots, taken on what looked like the Canon superzoom bridge camera, were superb and he also showed us some excellent pics of a Kingfisher he had also captured earlier.

6th, Stormy winds
Yesterday proved to be a stormy winter's day here in the East Riding with strong winds buffeting the old homestead and the trees which surround the house roared and swayed about as powerful gusts blew through the woodland. Thankfully we live in a fairly sheltered spot, at least as far as westerly winds are concerned, but despite this the roof top anemometer registered a gust of 52 knots (60 mph) and average winds speeds were as high as 26 knots (30 mph) around midday when the cold front squall passed through the region. The 52 knot gust of today is not a new record, that 'honour' going to the 60 knot (69 mph) gust recorded in January 2012, and indeed it is not even the strongest gust recorded this year, but as far as sustained wind speeds go this was a notable storm and whose after-effects are now bringing misery to many coastal and low lying districts as extremely high tides sweep in off the North Sea, including in nearby Hull which I believe has flooded quite badly near the river.

7th, Santa Specials at the NYMR
We had decided we would spend another day photographing the trains of the North York Moors Railway a couple of weekends ago, at which time the forecast had been looking favourable for a bit of snow or at the very least a decent frost, but come the day it would prove to be just a typically cloudy winter's day with temperatures around normal for the time of year (I perhaps maybe in a minority but the mild winter weather which we have been experiencing lately is really getting me down and I'm yearning for a bit of snow &/or frost). However though the weather disappointed the spectacle of the steam locomotives didn't and we enjoyed visits to the stations at Pickering, Levisham and Grosmont.

The visit to Grosmont was particularly rewarding as we had time to have a look around the yard where the locomotives and rolling stock are kept and maintained and it was great seeing so many of the locomotives at such close quarters, including the beautiful Sir Nigel Gresley which we saw running back in September. A nice little shop could also be found in the yard with many train related items (a perfect place to look for Christmas presents for train mad nephews). As well as Grosmont we spent time in both Levisham and Pickering, the 1930's style station at Pickering being decked out with Christmas decorations which was nice to see.

10th, Moths
Winter Moth (NFY) x3 & hibernating Parsnip Moth (NFY) x1.

21st, Another winter's day at the NYMR
With this being the last weekend before Christmas it was our last realistic chance to watch and photograph the 'Santa Specials' on the NYMR and we therefore decided to make a day of it and spent pretty much the whole day up in this beautiful corner of North Yorkshire. We were again fortunate with the weather with plenty of winter sunshine, especially in the morning, and though no new locos were on show we nevertheless had a grand time and I have to say I do thoroughly enjoy this train photography lark.

26th, Boxing Day Hunt
Today we attended the annual Boxing Day meet of the Holderness Hunt at nearby Beverley Racecourse, and with fine weather the event was well attended with large crowds coming from all corners of this part of south-eastern Yorkshire. I always enjoy these occasions, my usual dislike of crowds and large gatherings being put to one side for rural events such as these. As I have stated previously I am not pro or indeed anti hunt, and as long as the local hunt remains within the law as it currently stands I am willing to tolerate this colourful country tradition, though I am well aware that some of you may have much stronger opinions than I on this still divisive subject.

28th, Rosedale & the Moors
On what was a lovely winter's day we headed up to the North York Moors on Saturday, primarily to view a few properties in the area but also to enjoy the beautiful landscapes of this corner of the British Isles. With one of our properties now nearly sold (fingers crossed that the sale proceeds without any hiccups) our search for a rural hideaway deep within the hills and dales of the Moors has entered a new phase and we were able to check out a few lovely properties yesterday, one of which I have to say I liked very much, especially as regards its position nestled within a quiet and sheltered dale with Cropton Forest to the east and Rosedale to the west.

Another attractive aspect of the house is that it is within an easy cycling distance of Hartoft Rigg, from where one has a fantastic view across Rosedale, certainly the most beautiful of all the valleys in this part of the North York Moors, while the numerous footpaths, bridleways and open access land which abound in the area offer a nature lover such as myself a wealth of potential interest throughout the year with possible garden wildlife including Badgers, Grouse, and even Nightjars, sheer heaven.

Indeed a bracing walk across the moor above the village of Rosedale Abbey offered numerous encounters with Red Grouse, most of course being of a distant nature, but one or two were much tamer and allowed me take some decent enough photos. In the mixed woods on the edge of Cropton Forest Siskins were both seen and heard frequently and thanks to the fact that this part of eastern Yorkshire has seen relatively little rain lately (at least compared to southern and western parts of the country) ground conditions were very good for the time of year (in fact less than half of the normal December rainfall has been recorded so far this month back home in East Yorkshire).

29th, A walk around Huggate & Horsedale
On Sunday morning we went for our customary walk up on the Yorkshire Wolds, and with fine weather yet again it was a joy to walk on these rolling chalk hills with a deliciously crisp and chill wind blowing away the Christmas cobwebs. Walking in the Wolds is always a pleasurable experience with very few people to disturb either ourselves or the wildlife which calls this area home, and in the damper months of the year the free draining and firm chalky soil generally ensures that the ground, for the most part, remains firm and pleasant for walking. Though it has been strange to experience a December with an almost complete absence of wintry weather we can at least be thankful that the weather woes of the North Sea coasts earlier in the month and more recently the flooding in southern and western parts of this island have left this region unscathed (at least so far!).

However though the Wolds are generally quiet and undisturbed, it is not unusual in this festive season to meet more people than usual out and about, and this was the case on Sunday morning with family groups going for bracing walks, many of whom were perhaps discovering the Yorkshire Wolds for the first time much as I had some 20 years ago when I first moved down here from the Pentland Hills of Lothian in the December of 1993. If some of these walkers were indeed newcomers to this often overlooked corner of Yorkshire they certainly saw it at its best what with the low winter sun bathing the countryside in a lovely golden glow, the yellow grasses of the south facing dale sides further emphasising this attractive and warm toned light.

Wildlife wise the morning was dominated by the mammalian life which calls the Yorkshire Wolds home, with a couple of Roe Deer out on the high cereal fields and large numbers of Brown Hares in the grass covered downs. Interestingly a couple of Hares were even seen chasing and boxing each other a little, the mild winter perhaps confusing them too, though it was somewhat half-hearted and didn't have the same intensity as would have been the case in February or March. Bird wise it was very quiet with not even a Buzzard to be seen, though a few Kestrels were spotted as were Skylarks along the wheel tracks of the cereal fields.

November 2013

3rd, An autumnal walk in the Wolds
On a gloriously sunny but breezy morning we headed up to one of my favorite corners of the Yorkshire Wolds near the small community of Huggate and here we enjoyed a leisurely stroll along the winding and contrasting dales of Tun Dale and Frendal Dale. The temperature was near perfect for walking with the mercury hovering around 9 C (48 F) and I don't know about you but it is nice to feel a chill in the air again after what has been a long summer and very mild autumn thus far. Indeed November is probably one of my favourite months of the whole year and in this part of the world at least it is usually when the autumn colours reach their glorious climax, though sadly it looks like this autumn is not going to be quite as spectacular as last year. However with a few chillier nights recently and the ever dwindling daylight hours things are finally starting to move along and hopefully a few of the photos in this post will convey some of the beautiful colours which are now on show up here on the roof of the Wolds.

Our walk began above the largely wooded dale of Tun Dale and as we headed down the winding woodland track we entered a beautiful autumnal world with golds, yellows and reds positively glowing in the low November sunshine. Indeed it was like entering a pre-raphaelite painting by the likes of Millais and as we continued ever downwards one began to see the track as a long nave in a cathedral dedicated to the glories of creation and the natural world, the golden leaves acting like stained glass and giving the whole area a beautiful glow.

Eventually we reached the point where Tun Dale turns sharply to the left and here, near the lowest point of the walk, the woodland track became predictably muddy after all the recent rains. A large group of mountain bikers overtook us at this point, all of them splattered in the aforementioned mud, though they proved a friendly group whom didn't seem to mind me taking a few quick shots as they negotiated the muddy woodland ride.

From this point we split away from the main path and headed up the other side of the dale, leaving behind the woodlands of the first part of our walk and entering the very different world of the grass covered and sheep grazed downs which so typify most of England's chalk hills, the Yorkshire Wolds forming the most northern part of a crescent shaped chain of chalk hills which stretch down and along eastern and southern England. My love affair with these gentle hills was initially a slow burner, as having grown up in the Yorkshire Dales and Pentland Hills of Scotland I was used to an altogether wilder and more dramatic landscape, but as is so often the case it is these initially unpromising relationships which in time become the most long lasting and valuable and though I often flirt with other parts of this beautiful island nation it is Yorkshire and the Wolds in particular which I always return too, this part of the region being almost as familiar to me as the back of my hand.

After stopping for a pleasant cup of reinvigorating tea we reached the point where Tun Dale meets Frendal Dale, and after what had otherwise been a largely gentle stroll we began to climb upwards once more along this particularly deep and perhaps historically important valley. This valley which faces south-west is a haven for butterflies and wildflowers in the summer months, whereas in winter it is fantastic place to watch birds of prey and a number of mammalian species such as Hare, Stoat and Roe deer, all of which were indeed spotted today with the exception of Stoat. A flock of chattering Fieldfare were also seen in the hawthorn scrub near the top of the dale, the first I've seen this autumn/winter, while a variety of grassland fungi species were noted in and around Huggate dykes.

Huggate dykes itself is a surviving fragment of ancient earthworks which were constructed some 3,000 years ago (probably) the purpose of which is unknown though a number of theories have been put forward over the years. Indeed the Yorkshire Wolds is an area rich in archaeological remains with many finds dating back to the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods and even today reminders of the past can be found thanks to preserved barrows, the huge standing stone at Rudston (which incidentally is the tallest such megalith in Britain), extensive earth workings and evidence of a large Neolithic ritual complex in the Great Wolds Valley, which together all point to the importance of this area in pre-Roman England.

6th, Whoopers at North Cave
This afternoon we found ourselves with some free time and despite the grey and overcast skies we decided to pop across the Wolds to the little nature reserve at North Cave. With the reserve pretty much to ourselves we were able to take our time and enjoy the grey November afternoon with no one to bother or disturb us (a rare luxury indeed!), and we also got to see plenty of interesting birds and whatnot despite the otherwise unpromising overhead conditions (though at least the rain held off till after we left the reserve shortly before nightfall).

The first good bird of the afternoon came soon after departing our vehicle with a probable Peregrine seen hunting over Dryham Ings but sadly this bird quickly headed away to the south and would not be seen again during our walk around the reserve. Settling into the hide we found the Main Lake to be unusually quiet with just a few Teal, Tufted Ducks, Grebes, Cormorants, and Gulls to be seen, while around the edge of the lake 'excitement' was proved by a few Redshanks and Lapwings.

However after quarter of an hour or so the sound of geese to the north caught our attention and it was then that we noticed that coming ahead of them were 5 Whooper Swans, a very welcome treat indeed. Having been fortunate enough to spend time in the area near the Ouse Washes when I was younger I have always loved to see these wild swans (as well as their smaller cousins the Bewick's) and as soon as I heard that distinctive 'whooping' call I was instantly transported back to cold and wintry days birding at places like Welney and Welches Dam.

From Main Lake we made our way around the reserve in our usual clockwise manner, and as we passed the newer part of the reserve at the end of Dryham Ings we noted that the five Whooper Swans had dropped in and were bathing as a family at the far side of the lake. In the trees a few Fieldfares were spotted feeding on the abundant haws, while roving bands of mixed tits were additionally noted, and as we continued onwards along the lane a single Stoat was briefly observed at it ran across the track (one of two Stoats we would see during our afternoons walk). The rest of the afternoon passed with little further event with a distant female Goldeneye and a healthy number of Wigeon being the best of the rest.

10th, Red Kites
We enjoyed a pleasant walk in the Yorkshire Wolds this morning during which we had numerous and repeated views of both Red Kites and Buzzards, though it wasn’t until we reached the public highway that we would get some great views of these birds of prey with two beautiful Red Kites circling right over our heads for a minute or two. For a change I actually remembered to bring along my long lens and after a bit of fumbling and cursing as I changed cameras I was able to fire away a few shots before they drifted away and out of sight.

12th, Moths
Juniper Carpet (NFY) x1, Red-green Carpet x4, Light Brown Apple Moth x2, & Ashy Button x3.

12th, North Cliffe Wood
This morning we headed down to North Cliffe Wood in the hope of getting some autumnal scenes with our cameras, and with largely sunny and clear skies conditions were very promising when we arrived shortly after 10am. In the fields beside the reserve the farmer was lifting the Neeps and on the way to the wood we also saw a farmer pulling a trailer full of recently harvested carrots, a delicious sight indeed. However all this agriculture is straying away from the main purpose of our visit and this was to enjoy the autumnal scenes in the woodland.

The first real highlight of the morning came courtesy of some stunning golden Aspens (at least I think they were Aspens) which really did glow in the November sunshine, and as we walked along the western path we went through a short tunnel of these wonderful trees which perhaps have the best autumnal colours of any native British tree.

Continuing onwards through the wood we encountered a few specimens of Fly Agaric, always a pleasing sight, while on the edge of the heath a clump of Parasol Mushrooms were found in varying stages of development, some still shaped like clubs while others had fallen over and were beginning to rot away. Indeed throughout the morning we would come across lots of fungi still going strong despite recent frosts, most beyond my shamefully woeful mycology knowledge, but despite this I enjoyed looking at these fascinating and all too transient organisms.

Heading into the core of the woodland we heard the distant call of a Jay somewhere deep within the trees, while in the wetter areas of the birch woodland we flushed a Woodcock beside the footpath, one of my favourite woodland birds. In fact we would flush another Woodcock later during our walk in a different part of the wood and it would seem that these very handsome but very secretive birds are back in numbers for the winter. Other birds of interest included plenty of Redwings, Marsh Tit, a Tawny Owl, Buzzards, and Treecreeper, whilst the warmish sunshine even meant that odonata interest was still provided courtesy of a late Common Darter on the edge of the heath.

17th, Moorland gold
The autumn colours up here in the North York Moors National Park are now reaching their climax and during a pleasant walk up in the hills and valleys around Goathland and Beck Hole we found some stunning golden hues above the route of the old Esk Valley railway. The Larch was particularly spectacular as it positively glowed in the late November sunshine, whilst the woodland floor was decorated with a patchwork of autumn leaves which have begun tumbling down following the first frosts of the season. This truly is a beautiful time of year to explore & appreciate this corner of north-eastern Yorkshire.

22nd, North Cave Wetlands
This afternoon we managed to get out for a couple of hours and headed down to North Cave Wetlands on what was a cold and showery afternoon. A Black-throated Diver had been reported here on the previous three days but sadly by the time we made it down to the reserve it had departed, which was disappointing as BT Diver is the only species of Diver I have yet to see, but having been cooped up for a few days it was nice just to be out. The reserve was pretty quiet to be honest though a large number of Wigeon were seen and heard, indeed I'm not sure I've ever seen so many Wigeon at North Cave, and Teal were also very numerous, though due to time constraints we were unable to complete a full circuit of the reserve and undoubtedly we missed a few interesting birds as a result.

24th, Nettledale
We went for a short stroll in the Wolds today with the small and compact valley of Nettle Dale providing a pleasant circular walk. Nature wise the walk provided little interest, though a sizeable flock of Fieldfares was seen, and a flock of at least 1000+ Wood Pigeons was also observed overhead, no doubt spooked by shooting nearby. Pheasants were also numerous, a small number being of the attractive dark variety which are so prized by some shooters, and out on the open arable fields a few Hares were spotted as well as a Roe deer at one point. However the stars of the morning were the handsome and friendly Highland cattle whom along with Galloway and Shorthorn breeds are amongst my favourite types of cattle (not for me the delicate and highly strung beasts which many farmers breed these days what with their associated problems with calving, increased feeding costs, and in some cases aggression).

October 2013

5th, A Tornado visits the Moors
This weekend we were very fortunate to see the Peppercorn Class (A1) 'Tornado' 60163 up on the NYMR, a very handsome engine which was up here specially for the LNER weekend. This locomotive is particularly important because it is the only Peppercorn Class A1 in existence, though despite its historic looking appearance it was in reality only completed in 2008, the first steam locomotive to be constructed in the UK since the 1960's. Watchers of Top Gear may also remember it from an episode when the chaps raced from King's Cross (London) to Waverley (Edinburgh) with Clarkson riding on the train.

6th, First Redwings
This morning saw the first Redwings of autumn 2013 in the garden, with at least half a dozen seen amongst the Yews and Hawthorns, though the local Blackbirds and Thrushes didn't seem to take kindly to their presence and kept harassing these seasonal visitors. I always look forward to seeing the first Redwings of the autumn, as for me they are to autumn & winter what Swallows are to spring & summer, though it is interesting to note that this is the earliest date for their arrival on Wold Garth's records, beating the previous record by two days. Whether this will have any bearing on the coming winter is mere speculation but the last time they arrived so early here at Wold Garth we experienced the coldest November and December on my records, and indeed December 2010 would become the coldest in Britain for 100 years!

6th, Moth trapping resumes
After a break of nearly a month moth trapping resumed here at Wold Garth on Saturday night and the change in species since early September has been very interesting with no less than eleven new species being added to the year list which has now increased to 243 (just seven more to reach my 2013 target of 250 !). However the actual number of moths being recorded has significantly decreased with just 29 in the trap when I emptied it on Sunday morning, though a healthy number of species were represented with 16 different types in all, including some handsome species like Red-green Carpet, Red-line Quaker, Green-brindled Crescent, and Feathered Thorn. However the moth of the evening was a Grey-shoulder Knot, a relatively uncommon moth north of the Humber, and also in the trap was the similar looking but much more common Blair's Shoulder-knot, this occurrence allowing me to compare the two species side by side.

Light Brown Apple Moth x1, Ashy Button (NFY) x1, Red-green Carpet(NFY) x4, Common Marbled Carpet x4, Spruce Carpet (NFY) x1, Feathered Thorn (NFY) x1, Dark Sword-grass (NFY) x1, Large Yellow Underwing x6,Grey Shoulder-knot (NFY) x1, Blair's Shoulder-knot (NFY) x1, Green-brindled Crescent (NFY) x1, Red-line Quaker (NFY) x2, Lunar Underwing(NFY) x1, Angle Shades x1, Large Wainscot (NFY) x1, & Silver Y x2.

6th, North Cave Wetlands
This morning we made our way across the Yorkshire Wolds to visit the little nature reserve of North Cave Wetlands, located just west of the pretty little village of, yes you guessed it, North Cave, on what was a lovely morning with a beautiful golden autumn sun bathing the nature reserve. Upon arrival the sound of the resident Greylag Geese filled the air with that evocative sound which so characterise so many British wetland nature reserves, amongst this throng of Greylags a few Canada Geese also being picked out by their honking calls. However within five minutes of our arrival the call of a third species of geese was heard overhead with skeins of Pink-footed Geese heading south-eastwards, undoubtedly on their way to that birding mecca along the north Norfolk coast, and throughout the morning a few more skeins of these wonderful wild geese would be seen and heard as they announced their return to our island nation for yet another winter.

However this would not be the end of the goose-extravaganza and a fourth species would be encountered in Main Lake with three feral Egyptian Geese, a species I have encountered in East Yorkshire on only a handful of occasions in the past. Speaking of feral waterfowl a lone Black Swan was additionally present on Carp Lake, joining about a half dozen Mute Swans which were dotted around the reserve.

The usual array of ducks were also present, most now back to looking their best after their late summer scruffy period, though the number of Pochard & Teal have increased somewhat since our last visit. Calling Wigeon were heard in Far Lake, one of my favourite winter sounds which instantly transport me back to some of my happiest memories out on windswept and bitterly cold coastal marshes where one can so easily forget that the rest of the world even exists.

Beyond the birds other interest was provided by the still numerous dragonflies, most of which were Common Darters or Hawkers, while a few species of butterfly were spotted, most notably Speckled Woods and Small Tortoiseshells. The hedgerows are now laden with the deep red berries of Haws while elsewhere around the reserve the Spindle trees are also in fruit with their unusual pinkish pod like berries covering the trees along the reserves north-eastern perimeter. More excitement was provided by a couple of clueless photographers whom decided to walk right through the middle of the reserve, despite numerous signs telling them not to do so, though the resulting panic amongst the reserves residents did provide an impressive spectacle as hundreds of birds took flight in panic.

8th, More autumn mothing
Red-green Carpet x9, Common Marbled Carpet x5, Spruce Carpet x2, Dark Marbled Carpet x1, Silver Y x1, Blair's Shoulder-knot x4, Large Yellow Underwing x3, Red-line Quaker x1, Copper Underwing x1, Red Sword-grass(NFY) x1, Beaded Chestnut (NFY) x2, Lesser Yellow Underwing x1, Pale Mottled Willow (NFY) x1, Light Brown Apple Moth x6, and Garden Rose Tortrix x1.

22nd, Autumn rains
The weather during the past week or two has been pretty unsettled with lots of the wet stuff falling out of the grey October skies and with little prospects of things improving this week it looks like we will just have to get used to this autumnal weather for the time being. It has also continued to be obscenely mild which has at least made conditions more favourable for butterflies when the sun does indeed shine, and species still being seen in the garden at the moment include those typical autumn butterfly species such as Red Admirals, Peacocks, Commas and Speckled Woods. Bird-wise we still await the first Fieldfares but Redwings continue to be a regular sight or sound around our East Yorkshire home while on many early mornings Skylarks and Pipits can be heard passing over. Feral bands of Greylag Geese have additionally been noted while a few unidentified species of wader were heard on some of the stiller and less windy nights during the past week or two.

30th, Geese, thrushes & a late Red Admiral
Returning to Wold Garth the last few days have seen more Redwings turn up in the garden, perhaps a sudden rush after the recent storms and colder weather in northern Europe but nevertheless a welcome sight as the seasons continue to change here in eastern Yorkshire. Pink-footed Geese meanwhile were seen on Tuesday and again this morning heading southwards to wintering sites in not too distant Norfolk though a sign that summer has perhaps not yet deserted us entirely was the spotting of a single Red Admiral fluttering through the garden yesterday afternoon.