Saturday 20 July 2019

Glasgow Blue-winged Teal

Found myself with a colleague heading up to Millport on the little Isle of Cumbrae last week for a Field Studies Council Marine Mammals Training Course. Back in the spring, a smart drake Blue-winged Teal had rocked up in this part of Scotland and found it to it's liking. The duck was still present on the day we headed up north (11th July), so we stopped off for lunch at the delightful little Frankfield Loch nature reserve.
Frankfield Loch

The loch was a cracking little site, with a couple of Common Sandpipers, c50 Lapwings, lots of Teal, a few Tufted Ducks and, in the woodland, Broad-leaved Helleborines. Nice. Sadly, I couldn't find our quarry, so we walked up the nature trail to get a better view of the back of the loch. This paid off, and I picked up the sleeping BWT on a muddy island. My colleague was less than impressed as the bird had gone into eclipse and was snoozing. It was admitedly a bit underwhelming, but after a bit it woke up and started preening - slightly better! Only my fourth in Britain and first since a similarly dowdy drake at Berry Fen, Cambridgeshire in summer 2010. It is about time we had a nice spring drake at Wheldrake Ings, long overdue since the last accepted bird back in 1967.

Blue-winged Teal

Broad-leaved Helleborine

Wednesday 3 July 2019

Beautiful Butterflies at Brae Pasture

Co-led a guided walk on the flank of Ingleborough with Colin Newlands, Natural England's Ingleborough NNR manager today. Brae Pasture YWT and High Brae (part of the NNR managed by NE) dazzled with wild flowers, including genuinely fragrant Chalk Fragrant Orchids, Limestone Bedstraw, Meadow Rue, Alpine Bistort and Rock Rose, to name but a few.

Highlights included two stunning Wood Tigers which were unexpected and a tick for me, along with several Northern Brown Argus butterflies, plus an egg we found on a Rock Rose leaf (!). Redstarts had young in the ghyll (the wooded valley) and a Wheatear or two were knocking about. Raptors were noticeable by their complete absence...

 Wood Tiger. Oof!
 Limestone Bedstraw, photobombed by Common Blue

 Northern Brown Argus
 The tiny wee Argus egg!
Brittle Bladder Fern, a limestone scree specialist.

Later on, Bernie and me took a long, steep walk back up over High Brae to look at a flush for Yorkshire Sandwort, a tiny mega rare plant that only grows in this area. We celebrated finding it exactly where Colin had said, only to discover later that we had seen Fairy Flax- doh! Back to the drawing board...

 F*****g Fairy Flax!

Stunning Staveley

Took some colleagues round Staveley NR today, one of the jewels in my work patch. Delighted to see the two Avocet chicks which hatched at the weekend and have clung on to life for a few days! The parents were very vigilant, driving off anything that came close.

Nearby, the Marsh Helleborines were coming into flower, providing a beautiful spectacle in the fen meadow. The site is buzzing, with dragonflies and butterflies everywhere, flitting over a multi-coloured riot of wild flowers while the songs of Sedge Warblers, Cetti's Warblers and Reed Buntings is a constant soundtrack. Gorgeous!

Gorgeous Marsh Helleborines

North Norfolk, scorchio!

It was the hottest weekend of the year so far and the Leadley clan were in North Norfolk. Not only were we lucky with the weather, but also with the birds. I didn't have a great deal of time to go birding, but managed to get a cracking view of the Squacco Heron which rocked up on Stiffkey flood first thing on Sunday enabling my Dad to nip out and see it. I saw my first British Squacco Heron in Norfolk, near Horsey Broad about twenty years ago. This bird was much smarter however, and much closer too!

Stiffkey Squacco Heron. I looked up the origin of the word Squacco and it is Italian apparently. And is the name for this species: so none the wiser really!

Titchwell Freshmarsh. Superb water level management by the RSPB team has created epic wader conditons. Nice work!

Later on, a superb hour was spent at Titchwell, looking through hordes of waders (350 (!) Avocet, 100 Black-tailed Godwit, 25 Bar-tailed Godwit, 6 Spotted Redshank, Green Sandpiper, 10 Dunlin, 40 Knot, Little Ringed Plover, Lapwing, 20 Ruff etc) for a Lesser Yellowlegs. Sadly, it had flown off prior to our arrival. We got back to the car park and got ready to head back to York when a guy told me that it has just dropped back in! Well, it was too close to ignore, so I pegged it back to the freshmarsh and soon picked out this elegant wader, my first since my rejected bird from Wheldrake Ings in 2015! An elegant wader, short-billed with long legs, yellowish but heavily soiled by the gloopy mud. Long wings noticeable, giving the bird an attenuated look. A smart end to a fab weekend.

'Legs. Elegant wader, turning up at the eleventh hour!

Ashes Pasture: Small White Orchid at last!

Last year I tried and failed to find Small White Orchid on Ashes Pasture nature reserve, only to see them up the hill at Colt Park. Today, I took Paul Hudson, the environmental correspondent from the BBC to Ashes to film a piece for BBC Look North about how climate change may impact on upland wildlife. My luck was in (well, I had good directions), and I found three SWOs easily. They seemed to be thriving although Paul wasn't too impressed! The site is looking fantastic and our project is almost complete as work on Reyn Barn is almost at an end.

Ashes Pasture - how upland meadows should look!

Pen-y-Ghent, viewed from nr Selside. Notice how bright green the 'improved' meadows look, a Rye Grass monoculture, grown to produce lots of grass for silage to feed to dairy cattle during the winter and grazed to death by sheep the rest of the time.

Small White Orchid, an Ashes Pasture special that is doing well this year.


The average temperature in Yorkshire has increased by 0.6 degrees in the last fifty years. Not much you may think, but this is having an impact on our weather and the knock-on from this is clearly seen in our wildlife. Butterflies such as Speckled Wood and Ringlet are moving north, the latter having colonised the Ingleborough area in the last few years. We welcome the arrival of new species, but for how long will our upland species and those at the very southern limit of their natural range cling on, before conditions become inhospitable. In days gone by, as climatic fluctuations occurred, wildlife would have tracked north and south over the centuries. Today, intensive agriculture, driven grouse moors, roads, railways and urban areas present huge, impassable barriers to many species. If species can't shift their ranges, they will die out. This is now the reality in Britain for many species as the climate warms. For how long will we find Small White Orchid on the flank of Ingleborough?

Turtles clinging on

I failed to find Turtle Doves on my new survey square near Coneysthorpe this year, so it was good to find four birds north of Ebberston again this year. Three males were busy purring while a fourth, perhaps female bird was hanging out in the elders. Earlier, two Honey Buzzards, several Goshawks and a Tree Pipit had shown well at the Wykeham viewpoint.

Male Turtle Dove, nr Ebberstone, June 2019

Tansfastic Tansy Beetles

Plenty of Tansy Beetles seen next to the River Ouse in recent weeks. The riverbank south of the Naburn Swingbridge near Bishopthorpe is a good spot and several pairs were seen doing their best to keep the population going. This is a York speciality, with the tiny range of this jewel being along the Ouse either side of York. There have been some found in recent years at Woodwalton Fen, Cambridgeshire, but I suspect an introduction (along with the Purple Emperors that have turned up there!) as I can't believe this big shiny critter was overlooked previously as this well-monitored site.

Tansy Beetle, River Ouse nr Bishopthorpe, June 2019