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April 2014

11th, Swallows return
Yet again I find myself apologising for the neglect of my blog but for whatever reason I am finding it so hard to motivate myself at the moment, though despite this I continue to enjoy long walks and cycles in the countryside and recording what I see in my little note book as my love for the natural world and the British countryside remains undiminished and constant as ever. Indeed this is such a glorious time of year to be out and about that I therefore find it somewhat 'wrong' and difficult to justify spending time indoors writing when their is so much to otherwise see, record and simply enjoy in the garden and further afield.

So what has happened in the last month? Firstly the first CHIFFCHAFF of 2014 was heard on the 20th of March, almost two weeks earlier than last year but otherwise being pretty much on time compared to more typical years. Meanwhile singing BLACKCAPS have begun to appear in the last week, and indeed as I write I can hear one singing in the garden (along with the ever chiff-chaff-ing Chiffchaffs), while yesterday (9th April) the first SWALLOWS of the year were seen swooping and chattering in the blue sky above, their arrival like the Chiffchaffs being roughly on schedule.

A morning cycle along the river Hull yesterday morning also brought further Swallow sightings, with a number seen hunting along the course of this gentle flowing river, while Lapwings, Pipits and Skylarks displayed over the fields and the commons either side of the river. When I go on my long cycles I am keeping an ear open for other migrants as well with Willow Warbler being my next likely target. Surely given the fine weather at the moment they will be here by the end of the week.

11th, Moths
The past month has seen the moth trap put out only three times with an almost month long break between trapping sessions in early March and early April. The number of moths being recorded is steadily increasing though the variety of species is still a bit lacking with the year list having increased to a modest 17 (that's even including butterflies!). However it was good to add a new species to the garden list in the form of SMALL QUAKER, a rather cute little moth which seemed to struggle last year, at least locally.

Brown House-moth x1 (10/04 x1) - NFY
Twenty-plume Moth x1 (09/04 x1)
Common Plume x2 (14/03 x1, 10/04 x1)
Early Thorn x2 (09/04 x2) - NFY
Small Quaker x10 (09/04 x1, 10/04 x9) - NFG
Common Quaker x22 (14/03 x3, 09/04 x7, 10/04 x12)
Clouded Drab x10 (14/03 x3, 09/04 x1, 10/04 x6)
Hebrew Character x20 (14/03 x2, 09/04 x7, 10/04 x11)
Early Grey x12 (14/03 x1, 09/04 x4, 10/04 x7)
The Satellite x1 (10/04 x1)

12th-19th, A week in Grosmont
Last week we spent a very enjoyable up at Grosmont, staying in a lovely holiday cottage located just behind the Old School and beside the Murk Esk. Indeed from the garden we could watch Dippers and Wagtails feeding on the banks and rocks of the river below, while from the home it was just a short stroll down the garden path to the railway, the station and the loco yard. Being so close to the loco sheds at Grosmont was a particular highlight of the holiday and it was fascinating to watch the engines being prepared in the mornings and put away in the evenings.

During our visit we were lucky enough to see the arrival of three visiting locos, all up here for the upcoming Spring Steam Gala, with two Black Five’s in the form of 45407 ‘The Lancashire Fusilier and 44871, as well as the 0-6-0 LMS 3F (Jinty) No. 47406. It was also great to see the usually absent K1 62005, a very handsome loco which spends most of its summer’s up in the Highlands of Scotland, and hopefully at next week’s gala we will see this engine in action.

During our holiday we also had the chance to walk along much of the line, with the gentle stroll between Grosmont and Goathland being particularly pleasant, whereas the walk between Goathland and Newton Dale Halt was somewhat more taxing, especially around Fen Bog where underfoot conditions were tricky, but it was nevertheless a rewarding hike through what is perhaps the most scenic and varied stretch of the railway line. Having previously walked from Levisham to Newton Dale Halt this leaves just the stretch between Levisham and Pickering to do.

15th, Farndale in April
Unfortunately we didn’t have any opportunities to get over to Farndale when the daffodils would have been at their best in late March, but nevertheless we made the journey up over the Moors today in the hope of catching the last few blooms before the flowers fade entirely for yet another year. The mild winter and spring has meant that things are somewhat earlier than usual this year and I had feared we would miss the flowers entirely, but thankfully a few daffodils were still to be found between Church Houses and Low Mill.

It was also the perfect excuse to enjoy a lazy stroll along the river Dove, the main river which flows through this beautiful dale, with Wood Anemones & Celandines joining the daffodils in the woods, while Blackthorn blossom adorned the hedgerows. In the fields new born lambs played in the spring-time sunshine while newly returned Swallows swooped around the barns and houses of Low Mill, truly heaven indeed.

15th, Red Grouse in the spring sunshine
Red Grouse are obviously an iconic bird up on the North York Moors, the management of the whole upland landscape being managed for the benefit of these gamebirds, and though I myself have little to do with shooting I nevertheless recognise the importance of the grouse shooting industry to this area, be it socially, economically or environmentally. Indeed the management of the moors for grouse benefits the many other birds and wildlife which call the Moors home, though I am also aware that some species of raptors, notably Hen Harriers are still being illegally persecuted by a small minority of landowners, hopefully something which can be eradicated in the near future with stronger policing. After all I believe that the future of the North York Moors probably lies more with ‘nature tourism’ than it does with traditional game shooting, though whether this will be positive for the Moors in the longer term remains to be seen.

17th, A couple of A4's at Shildon
Yesterday we visited Locomotion, the National Railway Museum at Shildon, for a very enjoyable look around this fantastic museum up in deepest and darkest county Durham. The highlight of course was the two beautiful ‘North American’ A4’s, whom will be both returning to their homes across the North Atlantic very soon, and since I myself missed both the Great Gathering and Great Goodbye (I hate large crowds) I was determined to see the two A4 locos one last time as it is highly unlikely I will ever see them again, at least in this country anyway.

17th, A visit to the Wensleydale Railway
On our way back from NRM Shildon (see previous post) we decided to pay the Wensleydale Railway a quick visit, calling at the stations of Leeming Bar and Bedale. Bedale was a particularly attractive little station and though this line is still very much in its infancy it looks set for a prosperous future with many ambitious plans for the years ahead.

20th, Spring arrivals
Meanwhile the spring birds have started to arrive back in my little corner of Arcadia, with the first Chiffchaff having being heard on the 20th of March, some two weeks earlier than last year but otherwise being pretty much bang on schedule compared to the long term average, the first Swallow on the 9th of this month (again roughly on time) and my first WILLOW WARBLER a couple of days ago on the 13th, that strongly emotive chorus of descending notes being first heard above the delightful little moorland community of Beck Hole. Singing Blackcaps have also been heard during the last fortnight and indeed as I write I can hear one singing away in the garden of my East Yorkshire home, a beautiful sound to behold.

23rd, Bempton Cliffs
Having returned from our week long holiday up in the moors we decided it was time to make our first visit of the year to the outstanding nature reserve which is RSPB Bempton Cliffs in the far north-east of East Yorkshire. A visit anytime between April and July promises spectacular views of the seabirds which make these chalk cliffs home for the spring and summer months, and thankfully yesterday the weather proved kind with light winds and plenty of warm sunshine.

I love photographing the birds at Bempton and with the hazy sunshine yesterday conditions were near perfect with the somewhat diffused sunshine not being overtly strong but otherwise strong enough to allow me to stop the lens down a bit. However rather stupidly I found I had not cleared my memory card from a photo shoot from the weekend and therefore was restricted to little more than a 100 shots or so, and then even worse my battery died (again my fault entirely) leaving me rather miffed to put it mildly. Luckily I had my D90 with me and after switching lenses with my father I was able to grab some shots with his lens which returned me to my usually sunny disposition.

It was at this point that we met some lovely people from Suffolk whom were visiting the area and we enjoyed a nice conversation about the beauty of the birds, the cliffs (something they have very little of down there!) and nature in general. They had recently been to the Farne Islands, a place which I would love to visit again as when we last visited I only had a tiny compact camera, and their descriptions of that weather-beaten island off the coast of Northumberland and the abundant seabirds made my desire to return all the greater.

However apart from these lovely people I was struck by the general unfriendliness of many of the visitors yesterday, birding is supposed to be fun after all, and though it saddens me to say it the worst culprits are often the photographers whom seem to think it is fine to occupy the best spots for hours and hours and not make room for children, families and elderly visitors. I don't wish to rant but I wish someone would teach these men, as lets be honest the overwhelming majority are male, some much needed manners.

26th, NYMR Spring Gala
This weekend was the first part of the annual North York Moors Railway spring gala (the second part being next weekend) and despite an iffy forecast we nevertheless headed up to this heritage railway which I am now beginning to consider as a second home. The forecast originally indicated conditions would be best before 9am before going down hill in the second half of the morning, so with this in mind we began the day early, arriving at the Grosmont sheds around 7.30am. As ever the yard was busy with engineers preparing the locos for the days work ahead, and right bang in the middle of the yard was the star of this years gala, the beautiful A4 Pacific 4464 (otherwise commonly known as ‘Bittern‘) looking resplendent in its LNER garter blue. Beside it stood the Black Five 45407 (Lancashire Fusilier), a handsome loco whom we became well acquainted with during our holiday, though after this first weekend of the gala the loco will be leaving the NYMR (along with another guest Black 5 in the form of 44871).

However one of the locomotives which I had been looking forward to seeing, the K1 62005 (Lord of the Isles), was sadly withdrawn from service, a seemingly minor problem on Friday turning out to be worse than first thought, and though this was disappointing it is often par for the course with heritage railways and something one learns to accept. To further emphasise this fact was the failure of another guest locomotive, the LMS Class 3F (commonly referred to as ‘Jinties’) 47406, which on Friday evening suffered a cracked blastpipe and as a result will miss both weekends of the gala. However last weekend we did have the good fortune of seeing the Jinty arrive at Levisham on a pre-gala service so looking back that was doubly fortunate considering subsequent events.

By 11am some light rain and drizzle arrived and considering the dire forecast for the middle of the day we feared the worst, but thankfully in the end it quickly petered out with the combined rain shadows of the Pennines and the Moors keeping most of the rain down in the south where it belongs. However the grey and leaden skies did not provide particularly inspiring light for photography and it wouldn’t be until after mid-afternoon that things began to brighten up.

29th, Adders near Goathland
What with the successful year for Adders in 2013 (many areas had to erect warning signs to warn walkers last year) and the subsequent mild winter which followed, the number of Adders up on the Moors this year has been relatively high and a walk on the Moors south of Goathland brings almost guaranteed sightings (at least on sunny days). For someone whom grew up in the East Riding of Yorkshire, where reptile sightings are restricted to the odd Grass Snake and the very occasional lizard from time to time, the number of snakes and lizards I encounter up here has taken me aback though as someone whom has always liked snakes I am thoroughly enjoying these reptilian encounters.

Moth trapping news (20th, 23rd & 29th April)
Meanwhile back at home I have had the moth trap out three times recently and though the number of actual moths has been disappointing once again (an observation reflected by a fellow 'moth-er' in the nearby village of Skidby), I was nevertheless ecstatic to record two new species for the garden in the form of a HERALD and a gorgeous WAVED UMBER. New moths for the year have also continued to be recorded with newcomers including Streamer, Shuttle-shaped Dart, and Garden Carpet.

Garden Carpet NFY x1 (29th)
Streamer NFY x1 (23rd)
Waved Umber NFG x1 (29th)
Shuttle-shaped Dart NFY x2 (29th)
Common Quaker x2 (20th x1, 23rd x1)
Clouded Drab x2 (20th x1, 23rd x1)
Hebrew Character x7 (20th x1, 23rd x3, 29th x3)
Early Grey x5 (20th x2, 23rd x3)
Herald NFG x1 (29th)